It seems that Raifa Monastery of Our Lady is a sanctuary of peace. Tourists are told that the frogs in the pond do not croak in order to avoid interfering with services. In fact, this is a place of constant work in an effort to change people and the world around them. The traditions established four centuries ago continue today in both the holy and secular realms.
According to tradition, when the first chapel was built here in the 17th century, monks devoutly prayed to God to be delivered from the croaking of the local frogs, which interrupted prayers and the singing of hymns. Their request was heard, and the frogs fell silent. French frogs were even brought here, and they too fell silent. Local frogs, transported a kilometer away, can suddenly croak again.
In fact, one of the builders of the chapel, Hieromonk Filaret, arrived from Moscow’s Chudov Monastery in 1613 in search of piece. He came to the lake and future site of the monastery and, soon enough, a religious community began forming around the hermitage.
Filaret died in 1659, and two years later Lavrenty, the Metropolitan of Kazan, gave his blessing for the creation of a men’s monastery. In 1668, the monastery received its primary relic, a copy of the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Georgia. The fate of the original icon is unknown, as it participated in a procession in Arkhangelsk in the middle of the 20th century and then disappeared. Thus, the Raifa copy is even more valuable.
At the end of the 17th century, a fire destroyed the monastery. Some monks left for other places of retreat, but many remained and decided to rebuild the monastery.
The bell tower over the holy gates dedicated to the Archangel Michael was the last prerevolutionary building to be built. According to legend, the abbot of the monastery, Veniamin, was considering whether the dilapidated tower needed to be rebuilt. He asked the first person to pass by, a young girl, who responded, “Build!” As soon as monks began their work, the Kazan merchant Mikhail Atlashkin arrived, saying that he wanted to donate a million bricks to the project.
The name Raifa is in honor of the Venerable Fathers that lived in the caves and monasteries of Mount Sinai next to Raifa Desert. In the 4th century, they were martyred at the hands of attacking nomads. This history was echoed in the 20th century, when the monastery was closed permanently in 1928. In 1930, a few hieromonks, a novice, and two laypersons stood at the monastery for a vigil during the monastery’s feast day. They knew that their actions would lead to their arrest and execution, as the secret police had already tried their fellow believers living in surrounding villages.
In 1933, the monastery was converted into the State Security labor commune for political prisoners and later as a colony for juvenile delinquents. A special production technical school established nearby is still in operation today and was only separated from the territory of the monastery in the 1990s. The monks work with these troubled children, who are slowly but surely changing for the better.
The monastery began to revive in 1990, when Abbot Vsevolod first came to Raifa. He was not frightened by the ruined walls and the removed cupolas, but rather set out to work. In 1992, Raifa Monastery held its first official service since 1928, and a cross was hoisted above the Georgia Cathedral. Once again the domes of the Trinity Cathedral, Sofia Church, and the bell tower over the holy gates shone in honor of the martyred Holy Fathers of Sinai and Raifa. Now the stream of visitors does not cease on weekdays or weekends.
In the new century, the monastery opened up its own publishing house, which produces books, the newspaper Raifa Bulletin, and the children’s app Firefly. The press service of the monastery has maintained a website for several years.
The monastery has about nine acres of land for subsidiary farming, as well as a 25-room monastery hotel called Pilgrim House. The monastery’s well-known Pritcha vocal quartet sings so well that it seems as if a string quartet is playing. In addition to Orthodox spiritual songs, their repertoire includes folk songs, ballads, and original works.
The Raifa orphanage, which opened in 1994, is a particularly important part of the monastery’s work. At first, troubled youth and abandoned children lived on the second floor of the Cathedral of the Georgian Icon of Our Lady. Later they moved to a building on the site of a dilapidated prerevolutionary hotel. Now, 20 people from 8 to 18 years old live in the shelter. A monastery bus takes them to a regular secondary school. At the monastery, the youth sing in the choir and learn music, fine arts, humanities, and the law of God. They have visited Disneyland and many European cities and have even been hosted at a reception of the Head of the Russian imperial Family, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Leonida Romanova. Graduates of the orphanage study in Kazan universities but always come home to the monastery in their free time.