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Life In Isolation At The Spaso-Kamenny Monastery

Spaso-Kamenny was the first stone monastery in Russia's north. Established in 1260 on an island in Lake Kubenskoye, about 500 kilometers north of Moscow, it played an important role in expanding orthodox beliefs. In 1937, the historic Spaso-Preobrazhensky cathedral was blown up by the Soviets. Today, the monastery is considered one of the main pilgrimage centers of the region. In the winter, there are just a few people living there, maintaining and restoring it.


The view of Kamenny Island and Spaso-Kamenny monastery. The island is only 120 by 70 meters, and the land is eroding.
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The view of Kamenny Island and Spaso-Kamenny monastery. The island is only 120 by 70 meters, and the land is eroding.

Abbot Dionysius and Kirill, a guest of the monastery, shovel snow. Kirill’s life is strongly connected to the monastery. He comes for periods of up to a week, and takes part in religious ceremonies and routine life there.
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Abbot Dionysius and Kirill, a guest of the monastery, shovel snow. Kirill’s life is strongly connected to the monastery. He comes for periods of up to a week, and takes part in religious ceremonies and routine life there.

The view of Kammeny Island from the bell tower shows the ruins of the historic monastery cathedral destroyed by the Soviets.
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The view of Kammeny Island from the bell tower shows the ruins of the historic monastery cathedral destroyed by the Soviets.

Abbot Dionysius, Ivan, and Kirill talk inside the new church, which is still under construction. Ivan is the leader of the building works, which will resume in spring, and now funded by the government.
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Abbot Dionysius, Ivan, and Kirill talk inside the new church, which is still under construction. Ivan is the leader of the building works, which will resume in spring, and now funded by the government.

Abbot Dionysius conducts a service in the small church. When construction on the larger church is completed, all services will be held there.
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Abbot Dionysius conducts a service in the small church. When construction on the larger church is completed, all services will be held there.

Ivan stands at the bell tower as ice fishermen work in the distance. The people of the monastery have a varied relationship with the fishermen, who occasionally have been accused of property damage or theft. On the other hand, people from the monastery have responded to emergencies for them.
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Ivan stands at the bell tower as ice fishermen work in the distance. The people of the monastery have a varied relationship with the fishermen, who occasionally have been accused of property damage or theft. On the other hand, people from the monastery have responded to emergencies for them.

Abbot Dionysius eats lunch. With a lack of things to do in Spaso-Kamenny during the winter, people spend hours musing on philosophical or political topics in the monastery cafeteria.
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Abbot Dionysius eats lunch. With a lack of things to do in Spaso-Kamenny during the winter, people spend hours musing on philosophical or political topics in the monastery cafeteria.

Nadezhda’s husband Alexandr lived alone on the island as a volunteer. He worked hard to save the land and ruins from the locals who were trying to dismantle the stones for their needs. When financial support to the monastery increased, Alexandr became the first churchwarden. After his death, Nadezhda continued his work.
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Nadezhda’s husband Alexandr lived alone on the island as a volunteer. He worked hard to save the land and ruins from the locals who were trying to dismantle the stones for their needs. When financial support to the monastery increased, Alexandr became the first churchwarden. After his death, Nadezhda continued his work.

Abbot Dionysius inside the unfinished church.
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Abbot Dionysius inside the unfinished church.

The small islands in the distance are not the mainland, but the part of Kubena river delta system.
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The small islands in the distance are not the mainland, but the part of Kubena river delta system.

The churchwarden Ivan scales a net-caught pike. Net catching is illegal, but as a local, Ivan considers himself free to do it. He says that he never uses nets during spawning.
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The churchwarden Ivan scales a net-caught pike. Net catching is illegal, but as a local, Ivan considers himself free to do it. He says that he never uses nets during spawning.

Abbot Dionysius skis cross-country from the mainland to the island, as he lets others use his snowmobile. Like many around here, he has skied this way since childhood.
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Abbot Dionysius skis cross-country from the mainland to the island, as he lets others use his snowmobile. Like many around here, he has skied this way since childhood.

A calendar with the image of Mary hangs alongside mobile phone chargers in the monastery's living quarters.
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A calendar with the image of Mary hangs alongside mobile phone chargers in the monastery's living quarters.

Sunlight streams through a monastery bedroom window.
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Sunlight streams through a monastery bedroom window.

The churchwarden, Ivan, rides with Kirill to Spaso-Kamenny, about 10 km from the bank of Kybenskoe lake. During the winter the island is accessible by snowmobile or skis. It is possible to walk on the frozen lake surface by foot, but the journey can take three or four hours. In summer, locals use boats. A few weeks each year, the church is inaccessible when there is ice on the lake, but it is too thin for walking. In that case, a caretaker remains alone at the monastery.
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The churchwarden, Ivan, rides with Kirill to Spaso-Kamenny, about 10 km from the bank of Kybenskoe lake. During the winter the island is accessible by snowmobile or skis. It is possible to walk on the frozen lake surface by foot, but the journey can take three or four hours. In summer, locals use boats. A few weeks each year, the church is inaccessible when there is ice on the lake, but it is too thin for walking. In that case, a caretaker remains alone at the monastery.

Nadezhda and a guest prepare dinner in the monastery kitchen.
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Nadezhda and a guest prepare dinner in the monastery kitchen.

A few years ago, radio was the only method of communication for the monastery's inhabitants. In 2013, an electrical line was installed, providing lights and Internet service.
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A few years ago, radio was the only method of communication for the monastery's inhabitants. In 2013, an electrical line was installed, providing lights and Internet service.

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