The Far Caves (or the Caves of St. Theodosius)

In 1051 St. Anthony of Pechersk (aka Antony or Antonii, +1073, commemorated 10 July) moved a second time to Kyiv (Kiev) from the Esphigmenou Monastery on the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) at the direction of his hegumen—the monk Theoktistos—as instructed by God. On this occasion, St. Anthony settled into a small cave (about 14 feet square!) in the forest south of Berestovo; this cave had originally been dug out and used by presbyter Hilarion (aka Ilarion or Hilary, + ca. 1053, commemorated 21 October), who became Metropolitan of Kiev this same year (1051). The location of this cave was not too far from the Varangian cave St. Anthony had previously lived in along the right bank of the Dnipro (Dnieper) River. By no later than 1056 St. Anthony had been joined by twelve other monks, including at least St. Nikon (+1088, commemorated 23 March) and St. Theodosius (Theodosii; tonsured 1032, +1074, commemorated 03 May, transfer of incorrupt relics commemorated 14 August) of his original followers from his first stay in Kyiv. The cave was enlarged enough to include a church and cells (living quarters) for all of the community; a section of the cave also served as a necropolis (cemetery) for deceased monks. The underground church—the Church of the Annunciation—still exists, although the iconostasis was rennovated (reworked, rebuilt, or replaced) in the XVIIIth century.

The communal life of this small band of brothers proved to be too much, though, for St. Anthony, who preferred to live as a solitary. Circa 1057 he told his brethren: "Live together. I will give you an abbot [the first was St. Varlaam (Balaam, +1065, commemorated 19 November)], but I want to live in solitude as before." At first he simply closed himself up in one of the cells of the cave. Soon, however, he moved to another nearby hill to the north  (~200 yards) and dug a new cave for himself, which eventually became the Near Caves or Caves of St. Anthony. (Note: at some point as the monks expanded their living quarters, all of these cave complexes—the Varangian, Near, and Far—were eventually connected.) When Hegumen Varlaam was transferred to oversee the Monastery of the Holy Great Martyr Demetrios, the brethren unanimously asked St Anthony to appoint St Theodosius as abbot, which he did.

The community of monks continued to grow, and the Far Caves were expanded to follow suit. During the period ca. 1058-1062 a second, also underground church—the Church of the Nativity—was built in the Far Caves (iconostasis XVIIIth century). Eventually, however, the brotherhood became too crowded during common prayer, even with two chapels; the physical limitations of the caves, with expansions, could not keep up with growth. To solve this problem the idea came to them to build a church above ground. Circa 1062, St Theodosius found a convenient place not far from the cave, and, with St. Anthony’s blessing, he asked Prince Izyaslav for this land in order to build a new monastery. Soon a large wooden church of the Dormition of the Theotokos was built, along with cells and an enclosing wall. (One record has Varlaam responsible for building this church in 1058.) The brotherhood moved there in 1062, and the monastery quickly grew to something on the order of 100 monastics. However, it should be noted that the caves continued to be used as cells and places of worship for hermits (only the Soviets stopped this), and even continued to grow: a third church—the Church of St. Theodosius—was built in the first half of the XVII century. That is, this religious community—what eventually became known as the Kiev Pechersk Lavra—supported both eremetic as well as cenobitic monasticism. The caves also continued to be used as a necropolis until the start of the XVIIIth century (although relics from other places are still brought there).

A visual tour of the Far Caves ("click" on image for further detail):

No later than the XIVth century pilgrims began to arrive in significant numbers, eager to see "the Holy Kyiv caves." In the XVIIth-XVIIIth centuries, the configuration of the cave passageways was changed in order to accommodate the large number of pilgrims, while still providing for the needs of the hermits living there. (Ca. 2000, the length of the Far Caves was 293 meters, and the total length of the Varangian Cave was ~200 meters.)

To help understand the holy relics of the Caves, a brief review of the burial rites practiced is in order. First, the open parts of the body of the deceased are thoroughly washed. The hands are then placed on the chest and the face is covered (in the Russian Orthodox tradition, at least, to look at the face of the deceased after the body is prepared for burial is strickly prohibited). No embalming is performed of any type (this is true for all Orthodox, even today). Next, the body is laid on a board and placed in a cell or burial niche, which is then closed up (e.g., with bricks). After a period of at least several years—long enough for the flesh to have decayed away—the burial place is opened, and the bones are taken out and placed into a kostnica (aka ossuary; in the caves of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, often placed in a loculus). Note that the use of ossuaries was a common practice by the Jews at the time of Christ—between about 20 BC and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This practice continued to be (and is) followed by many Christian communities. At times fragrant liquids (myrrh) are miraculously found on, or flowing ("oozing", "streaming", "gushing") from, the exhumed remains. Even more miraculously, there are times (very, very, very few) when the body is found generally intact ("incorrupt"). For Orthodox, we believe that there is a direct correlation between the sanctity of a person's life and the state of their bones or bodies after death, or on the presence of myrrh.
For centuries, and in monasteries especially, it has been observed by the Church that often only one or two bodies, among many buried in the same place, remain incorrupt. This would have no meaning were it not for the fact that, through long-term empirical observation, it has also been ascertained that these incorrupt bodies, as well as skeletal remains bearing a certain color or fragrance, are almost always those of individuals who lived exceedingly and exceptionally virtuous lives. The supernatural phenomenon which we acknowledge, then, is not the incorruptibility or exceptional quality of remains as such, but the virtuous lives to which these attributes attest. Likewise, when we venerate relics, we are not venerating the miracle of bodies that do not decay (indeed, there are instances in history where the bodies of corrupt people have remained whole after death); rather, we approach relics, whatever their state of incorruption, out of awe for the virtues that once adorned these precious remnants of the human body. Relics, like Icons, are, of course, Grace-bestowing; but ultimately they serve to lift us up and beyond their material form to the Saints who bequeathed them to the Church. Their final reality is understood only by those who attain to this communion with the Saints, which is ultimately communion with Christ Himself, to Whom the Saints have been joined and Whose majesty and power they reflect.

In the Far Caves, the incorrupt relics (whole in body) of forty-two monks who asceticized at the Kiev Pechersk Lavra have been available to pilgrims for veneration. There are also 31 myrrh-bearing heads of unknown saints in the Far Caves.

A spiritual tour of the Far Caves ( eventually you will be able to "click" on image to read paterikon):

In recent years, long-lost, collapsed tunnels (e.g., from earthquakes) have been discovered; at least seventeen newly revealed Saints of the Far Caves lie therein. In addition, the following relics are enshrined in the Far Caves:

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