|“Young Omsk eparchy like a bride who adorns
herself with flowers, adorns itself with temples ”
Bishop of Omsk and Semipalatinsk Grigoriy, 1900.
The beginning of 20th century in Siberia was marked by intensive building of Orthodox temples. Young province of Russian Empire getting more and more important in economical aspect had to think about spiritual too. No wonder that Omsk being the capital of Siberia and residence of governor-general took an active part in this process.
40 kilometers away from Omsk, near Cossacks’ settlement Achair at the bank of Irtysh river there was an Orthodox female commune. And in 1905 one of the most respected saints of Russian Orthodox Church Ioann Krondshtadskiy consecrated this place for building a new temple. Cossack community presented this land to the Church and Orthodox female commune was transformed in convent. The building was sponsored by emperor Alexander the III, Trans-Siberian railroad and local population. Years went by and the new convent obtained more and more relics and then in 1913 it was blessed by archbishop Adronnik with the icon of St Efrosiniya Polotskaya from ancient Russian city of Novgorod.
But then came the revolution of 1917… Most of the temples were closed down or even blown up, many priests were arrested and killed. Sacred icons were burnt as well as church books and relics. Chaos governed Russia. Achair convent was closed down but even more dreadful future awaited it – in 1930-ies it was converted into prison camp… Political and criminal convicts were taken here from different parts of Russia. Here they were placed in non-heated barracks made of thin planks which were affected by snow and rain, wind blew through it. And just take into account 40 degrees of Siberian frosts! They were fed with low quality oats which was almost lethal for alimentary canal. Guards never shot prisoners, illnesses and hunger were the best butchers… Bodies of the dead were thrown into near-by ditches. The camp existed for 16 years and every day here about 35 people died which makes a total of 200 000…
Till 1991 the lands of the former convent and camp were not used at all, it was closed area. In 1991 the ditches and the places where barracks used to be, were shown to metropolitan of Omsk Feodosiy who was startled by it. He asked sovhoz “Lesnoy” the owner of the land to give 2 square meters for installation of the cross in memory of all people who died here. The cross is a Christian symbol of resistance to all troubles and misfortunes. It reminds about affront, sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.
A bit later the director of sovhoz granted 38 hectares of land for building of a new convent. Thanks to the help of administration of Omsk region and especially its governor Leonid Polezhaev but also to many different companies and citizens of Omsk the new convent is built and open not only for nuns who live here but also for numerous believers and simply people who want to see a jewel of Orthodox Church in the heart of Siberia. Most of the people enter the convent through Northern gate which also comprises a bell tower and gate church in the name of St Anastasiya. However there are 3 more gates to the convent – Western, Eastern and Irtysh gate. The latter is facing south and the bank of the river – this is where the name comes from. Nevertheless, Northern gate is right in front of highway and it is certainly the most picturesque one.
Once at the territory of the convent, you cannot but admire quiet but still magnificent beauty of Siberian nature. Small evergreen pines, delicate, leafy birches and green grass in combination with forest flowers – all this presents a perfect background for Temples and it is really hard to understand why so many people died in such beautiful place. Near from the Northern gate you will see a temple in memory of St martyr Dmitriy Solonskiy. In Russia he is considered to be the protector of warriors that’s why many military men – young soldiers as well as their experienced commanders come here to pray; mothers, wives and brides come here to put a candle for their well-being. This is the first temple built at the restored convent. Metropolitan of Omsk Feodosiy prays here every Saturday.
In the north-eastern part of the convent stands a small summer temple in memory of St. martyrs Vera, Nadezhda, Lyubov and their mother Sophiya made in the best traditions of Russian wooden architecture. This temple is built specially for wedding ceremonies. But it also comprises ground floor church in memory of St martyr Sylvester (he was canonized in 1998). This church symbolizes solitary confinement cell where this prominent Omsk priest was killed. According to witnesses’ reports he was stabbed in heart with red-hot ramrod and crucified.
In the south-eastern part of the convent there is another notable building – the house of mother superior of the convent. However this splendid building serves also contains a library, Sunday school and chapel in memory of St Feodosiy, archbishop of Chernigov. The present mother superior – Vera who lives here has a lot of different responsibilities as the convent has 50 hectares of arable land, cattle farm and hen house.
But the most precious possession of the convent is sacred spring with healing mineral water. This spring was consecrated by patriarchy of Russia Aleksiy the II in 1993. In 2000 which is an important anniversary for all Christians, metropolitan Feodosiy consecrated a new temple of “Ioann Krestitel na vodah” (Ioann Christener at waters). A cross installed inside of the temple and water runs through it. The water ascends from 1168 meters depth and its temperature is 37 degrees C. The temple is built for christening and it has 2 fonts for men and for women. Because of the high temperature the pond where the water from sacred spring runs is hardly ever freeze and even in winter you can see fish swimming in its crystal clear depths.
The main temple of the convent is situated in its geographical center. As in old proverb: “All roads lead to Rome”, almost all roads in convent lead to Uspenskiy cathedral. This is the biggest temple having 9 domes each symbolizing one of Orthodox festivals. As the temple in memory of St martyrs Vera, Nadezhda, Lyubov and their mother Sophiya, this one also has a ground floor church. The interiors of the temple are made in style of great Russian painter Victor Vasnetsov.
The territory of the convent also hosts 3 more temples – chapels in memory of St prince Vladimir and St patriarchy Tikhon as well as temple in memory of St Konstantin and Elena. The convent’s hotel is near from western gate.
So this is Achair Cross Convent, its story being not long but rich in different events provokes various emotions – joy, pride, respect but also sorrow, grief and indignation. Nevertheless we all hope that in future this convent will not see any more gloomy days and its spirit will bring us peace and prosperity…
A place to remember, a place never to forget.
And never to forgive the crimes of the communist regime.