History and present day
Traditionally it has been believed that Valamo monastery was founded in the 12th century, or at the latest in the 14th century. Two saints who lived an ascetic way of life on the island, Saints Serge and Herman of Valamo, are considered the foundation fathers of the monastery.
The long history of the monastery includes periods of strong growth but also periods that are characterized by severe difficulties. The first period heyday of the monastery was in during the second half of the 16th century. At the beginning of the 17th century, the monastery was destroyed completely, after which there wasn't any organized monastic life on the island for more than one hundred years.
The monastery started to rise up again after the order of Peter the Great in 1716 to rebuild the monastery. The period from the end of the 18th centure until the beginning of the 20th century can be considered the golden era of the monastery, both spiritually and materially: the construction work started by hegoumen Nazary and continued by hegoumen Damascene resulted in a large monastery, in which the main monastery was surrounded by 12 sketes, i.e. adjacent minor monasteries which were dependent on the main monastery. The economy of the monastery was based on agriculture, but there were also many workshops of different kinds. The brotherhood did their obedience work in the workshops and was spiritually supported by the traditional system of experienced elders guiding less experienced members of the brotherhood. The number of brothers was at its highest in 1913, when the brotherhood included as many as 359 monks and 562 novices.
World War I and World War II had a dramatic impact on the life of the monastery. After World War I and the Russian revolution, the monastery was located on the territory of Finland (which gained independence in 1917). The monastery functioned as part of the Orthodox Church of Finland. During the war, the monastery was evacuated in February 1940. The brotherhood, which then numbered 200, found a new home in Papinniemi village in the municipality of Heinävesi in Eastern Finland.
During the next few decades, as the brotherhood aged and the numbers dwindled, it became less and less certain whether the monastic life would continue. However, the 1970s became a time of new revival. A new stone church was built in the monastery and the brotherhood received new members. Also the monastery developed new sources of income as the number of visitors increased. Now, the monastery has a brotherhood of about ten members and has become the most important center of Orthodox culture in Finland and is visited by large number of pilgrims and other visitors every year.
The Orthodox monastic tradition traces its roots back to Contantinople and through Mount Athos in Greece to the deserts of Middle East and Egypt. The first monks from the monasteries of Mount Athos arrived in Novgorod and Carelia probably as early as in the 10th century. One of these was Saint Serge, who travelled through Kiev and Novgorod to Lake Ladoga, and was the first monk to settle on the island of Valamo.
The life of all Orthodox monks is characterised by the same centuries old rules and traditions, whether they life as hermits, in sketes of a few monks or in cenobitic monasteries. The rules for hermit life were created by Saint Anthonius the Great (251-356), who is considered the founder of monasticism. The rules for cenobitic life (life in a monastic community) were written by Saint Pachomius the Great (286-346). The corner stone of Orthodox monasticism nowadays is considered to be the rule of Saint Basil the Great (330-379).
Saints Serge and Herman of Valamo
According to the chronicles of the monastery monk Serge, who was from Greece, arrived on the island Valamo in Lake Ladoga already in the 10th century. The tradition tells that he was later joined by monk Herman, who was Carelian. The founding fathers Saints Serge and Herman showed the brotherhood way also to Heinävesi. The decisive factor in the selection of the new location for the monastery was an icon depicting Saints Serge and Herman, which was on the wall in the main building of the Papinniemi estate, which was then ownerd by minister Yrjö Herman Saastamoinen. The brotherhood considered the presence of the icon in Papinniemi to be a sign of divine guidance.
From Lake Ladoga to Heinävesi
The revolution in 1917 cut the ties of the monastery to Russia. Soon afterwards Valamo, and other Orthodox male monasteries on the territory of Finland, Konevitsa (Konevets) and Petsamo (Petschenga), were incorporated into the Orthodox Church of Finland. Novices and rassophore monks had been called to military service already before the revolution. After the events the number of postulants to the monastery collapsed, and the number of monks started to decrease. By the beginning of World War II, the brotherhood had diminished to one quarter of the number of monks before World War I. As a result of the new world war, the inhabitants of the monasteries needed to be evacuated. The most valuable items were evacuated from Valamo in February with the help of the trucks of the Finnish army through an ice road that was built on the frozen lake. The brotherhood settled down in the Papinniemi estate in Heinävesi in the autumn of the same year. Also the monks of Petsamo and Konevitsa later joined them there.
By the 1970s almost all of the monks who had come from Valamo on Lake Ladoga were already resting in the cemetery in Papinniemi. Only one old hieromonk, father Simforian, was still able to serve, and the daily cycle of services was on his shoulders for some years.
However, the 1970s proved to be the beginning of a new revival in Valamo. Father Serafim started to translate texts used in the divine services into Finnish. The daily services of the monastery became more understandable for the pilgrims. The internal revival of the monastery also resulted in the idea of building a new church. The new stone church, built with the help of many supporters of the monastery was inaugurated in 1977. In the same year, the monastery started to follow the new (Gregorian) calendar, and the main language of the divine services became Finnish. During these years the monastery also started to receive new members of the brotherhood.
From agriculture to tourism
The agricultural traditions of the Valamo monastery were continued also after the relocation of the monastery from Lake Ladoga to Heinävesi until 1960s. However, visitors became the main source of income soon after. The former living quarters of the monks, which had become empty, were renovated and taken into use as guest houses at the end of the 1960s. The first one - so called white guest house, in which also the famous schemahegoumen John (Alexeev) used to live - was opened in 1969. In the 1970s former barn was converted into restaurant Trapesa, and former carriage shed was converted into a gues house - so called red guest house. The construction of the monastery hotel was completed in 1983. Later several other buildings have been added: the service center, which houses the reception, wine shop, souvenir shop and offices (1986, the cultural center, which houses the library, conference hall and the conservation center (1984) and the Valamo Lay Academy and its dormitory (1989). The annex of the cultural center was completed in the autumn of 2006.
The monastery still gets part of its income from the fruits of the earth. The berry harvest of large number of berry bushes is developed further into berry wines and liquors in the wine factory of the monastery which has been operation since 1998. Also the handicraft traditions are still alive: the old dairy building includes an icon framing workshop and a candle factory in which about one thousand kilograms of traditional beewax candles are manufactured every year for the needs of the monastery.
Hegoumens (abbots) of Valamo monastery 1758-
Hegoumen Ephraim 1758-1781
Hegoumen Nazary 1781-1801
Hegoumen Innocent 1801-1823
Hegoumen Jonathan 1823-1830
Igumeni Varlaam 1830-1833
Hegoumen Benjamin 1833-1839
Hegoumen Damascene 1839-1881
Hegoumen Jonathan 1881-1891
Hegoumen Gabriel 1891-1903
Hegoumen Vitali 1903-1905
Hegoumen Pafnuti 1905-1907
Hegoumen Mavriki 1907-1918
Hegoumen Pavlin 1918-1933
Hegoumen Chariton 1933-1947
Hegoumen Hieronymos 1948-1952
Hegoumen Nestor 1952-1967
Archimandrite Simforian 1969-1979
Archimandrite Panteleimon 1979-1997
Archimandrite Serge 1997-
His Grace Arseny, bishop of Joensuu, was temporatily heading the monastery 2011-2012.