On April 21, 1946, the St. Sergius Lavra, the stronghold of the Russian Orthodox faith and a source of pride and inspiration for the Russian people, was given back to the Russian Patriarchy after a twenty-year-long secular spell.
Sergius, the founder of the Lavra and a saint already in his lifetime, started his hermitage in 1337 by building a shelter and a small church in a clearing in the middle of the thick forest. Over centuries, this tiny complex had grown into the spiritual center of Russia and a unique architectural site.
Despite the distance of his hermitage, word of St. Sergius soon spread, and people started coming to him for advice or to join him. So great was his work that Patriarch Filofey of Constantinople gave Sergius his blessing to open a monastery.
Before the great battle on the Kulikovo field on September 8, 1380, Prince Dimitry Donskoy of Moscow came to seek St. Sergius` blessing before leading his army against the Tatar-Mongol troops. After a major victory had been won, Moscow Princes became the patrons of the Trinity monastery. St. Sergius was canonized patron saint of the Russian state in 1422 and declared “Russia’s advocate before Lord.”
In the XV century, Ivan the Terrible, having a particular veneration toward St. Sergius, was baptized in the monastery and sponsored the construction of a church there. The abbots of the monastery were favored by the royalty, and they accepted novices from nobility.
During the Time of Troubles (1598 – 1613) the monastery provided protection for Russian troops and they successfully withstood a 16-month-long Polish-Lithuanian siege (1608-1609). The monastery also donated many of its valuables to the army and allowed to use its facilities as a hospital. In the later 17th century, Peter the Great, the Russian Emperor-to-be at the time, took refuge behind the monastery’s walls, hiding from his enemies.
In 1919, regardless of the protests, the holy relics of Saint Sergius were exposed, and on April 20, 1920, Laura was closed per the decree of the Soviet of People’s Commissars, with all the brothers dismissed. The authorities assigned the monastery’s buildings to various civic institutions – a common practice of the Soviet regime.
A unique monument of the fortress architecture, with four centuries of making, the Lavra saw much damage and destruction in the 1930s. Many of its valuables had been stolen by the Soviet authorities, and it was in need of an extensive restoration which did start in the 1040s and lasted for several decades.
Following Joseph Stalin's temporary tolerance of the church in the years of World War II, part of the Lavra was returned under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church; the monastery life revived, and the holy relics of St. Sergius returned home. The first service after reopening was conducted on the Easter night on April 21, 1946.
In 1993, the St Sergius Lavra was included on the UN World Heritage List.