The small monastery of Optina Desert is on the outskirts of the city of Kozelsk in Tula Region. The religious significance of this monastery is very high both for Russian Orthodox Church and the people of Russia.
The monastery can`t be compared with Troitse-Sergiev Lavra or Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent, as they received their high religious status for the services of the great Russian saints Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov. In the 19th century at the Optina Desert there existed the tradition of eldership, which attracted the pilgrims from all over Russia.
For about a hundred years at the Optina Desert over a dozen elders lived, who received and taught people coming to them. The elder is a monk having a gift of spiritual vision and instruction: «This is the greatest gift given to a human by the God. Besides the physical eyes, they also have the spiritual ones, before which the human soul opens up. Before a human can think, before even the thought occurred to him, they see it with their spiritual eyes, and even see the cause of the thought.
Writers, Russian emperors and common people came to the elders of the Optina Desert. Fedor Dostoevsky said that visiting Optina Desert had a significant religious influence on him, and it was after that he wrote his novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, where the prototype of the elder Zosima was the elder Ambrose from the Optina Desert. Lev Tolstoy also visited the Optina Desert many times. After his visit to the monastery he wrote the story ‘The Father Sergius’.
Elder Leonid (Lev Nagolkin) was the founder of the religious school of eldership at the Optina Desert. The great elders of the Optina Desert the St.Makarius and St.Ambrose were his disciples. The elder Ambrose (1812-1891) spread his spiritual influence over the entire Russia.
In the Soviet time, in 1923, the monastery was closed. The second renewal of the monastery took place in 1987, when it was returned to the church and monks settled there again. The monastery is on the bank of the Zhisdra River near the ancient pine wood.
The square building of the monastery was surrounded by the high wall in the 18th century. Cathedral of the Entry of the Blessed Virgin in the Temple is in the center of the monastery, and near it a three-tier belfry is located. On different sides of the cathedral the Church of the Blessed Virgin of Kazan, the Church of the Blessed Virgin of Vladimir and the Church of the Blessed Virgin of Egypt are located.
When planning a tour to the Monastery of Optina Desert one should understand that it will be a pilgrimage. Common tourists won`t have the adequate impression of the tour.