Holy Trinity Monastery is a Russian Orthodox Monastery in Jordanville, NY open to visitors. It features a museum, gift shop, multiple sites of worship, a large cemetery, and beautifully decorated buildings.
by Chris Clemens
There’s no mistaking that Upstate is one of the most picturesque areas in the country.
I have friends who have moved away seeking greener pastures. When they return to they’re always immediately reminded of the rolling hills and greenery that make the land so memorable. So, it’s no wonder that some Russian Orthodox monks made their way to Jordanville during the early 1900’s. It’s also no surprise they determined upon first sight it was the only place befitting of their new home.
A Monastery Is Built In Upstate
Fr. Panteleimon and four others set out building their first structure featuring a house and church. It was later dedicated with a special service on July 17, 1935. Typically a dedication service is a joyous event, and this one definitely started that way. But toward the end of that service the wooden structure caught fire. The monastery’s hopes waned as everyone in attendance watched at the incredible misfortune unfolding in front of them.
The group’s strong spirit and fortitude would later pay off though, and weren’t to be dissuaded by the catastrophe. They collectively determined their original dedication to God must not have been worthy. The group thought that God must have wanted greater consecration.
They built anew right away but this time they used stone. With new buildings materials assigned, they upped the ante even more. This next church would be even bigger in hopes the effort would be pleasing to God.
Visiting Holy Trinity Monastery
I visited the monastery with a friend one sunny summer day. By chance we had the great fortune of spending a few hours with Brother Angelos. This 24 year old Russian Orthodox monk from Scotland offered to be our personal guide during the visit.
He walked us around the property and discussed the history of the Orthodox church. With the Great Schism separating Christians into “west” and “east” divisions, the world became a differently place culturally. He told us how the Schism impacted the culture and history of the countries.
We first met in the bookstore of the monastery where we began our conversation. It was quite obvious that at least 80 percent of the books available for purchase were in Russian. There were only just a few shelves with books in English.
In addition to books, you can purchase icons made on site, soap made by the nuns who live down the road, jewelry, incense and candles–much of which is either made on site or by other monks at a different brother monastery.
Brother Angelos explained that even though many Russian immigrants have settled in this area of the world, there aren’t abundant resources for those who speak English as a second language but still want to honor their Orthodox heritage. The monastery serves as a bit of a pilgrimage for those longing for the culture and traditions of Russia.
In fact, during our visit, a group of about thirty Russian Orthodox Christians from Toronto were spending the weekend.
The Grounds At Jordanville
Our new friend walked us out to the Baptistry, and then the main church. He explained there actually were five churches on the grounds. We were standing in the largest and most grand of the bunch.
The second church was directly below the nave of the main church. That one is used for smaller gatherings or in the winter when it costs less to heat the smaller space. There were icons of saints and images from the Bible painted on the walls and ceilings, and icons of saints hanging everywhere.
One of my curiosities about the Christian faith has always been with the worship of relics–either an item that has once touched the saint or an actual remnant from their body. Without counting, the number of relics just in the churches we visited (3 of the 5) would easily rival that of the largest Catholic collection of relics in the entire U.S.
One of the main differences between Catholic Saints and Orthodox Saints is that Catholics require a vetting process overseen by the Holy See. That process often takes decades at even the quickest pace before someone can be named a Saint. In the Orthodox church the process is much less stringent. If an Orthodox Christian feels as though they gain strength from praying to someone who isn’t ‘officially’ a Saint, then so be it.
The beauty of Orthodox sanctuaries has always enamored me. The peace and stillness from a dark, quiet nave is a setting that can only be understood from having stood in one. The iconostasis, artwork and deliberate glorification of faith through imagery inside the sanctuary of the church rivals most museums.
Holy Trinity’s Museum And Cemeteries
Speaking of museums, on the property behind the church is another large building that includes a museum. In here you’ll find Russian church artifacts, military collectibles, cultural and religious art and antiques that date back in some cases over a thousand years.
On your way, there from the church, you’ll notice a small, stately cemetery. Take a moment to stop and pay respects to those monks and priests who have been buried in the plots here. The crypts at the rear of the church are where the highest ranking officials now rest in peace.
We said our goodbyes to Brother Angelos and thanked him for his hospitality. In parting he told us we needed to head up the street and see the two other cemeteries and another church. So, of course, we did.
The cemetery up the road is available to any member of the Russian Orthodox church who would like to have their loved ones buried there. This cemetery also includes yet another small, elegant church. At the time we arrived that church was being used for a prayer service by the Toronto visitors. A nearby monk tending to a grave insisted that we not miss the opportunity to see the inside. We did step in but made every attempt to make our presence as nonintrusive as possible.
A Church In The Woods
Thus far I’ve mentioned visiting three churches, but that there are five on the campus. One of the two remaining is in the refectory where the monks reside, and not accessible to the public.
The fifth was one that was a bit of a mystery. Brother Angelos told us that directly across the street from the entrance to the bookstore, next to the available dormitory house, was a path that led back deep in to the woods. If we were to follow it, we would eventually find a pond and somewhere near that pond was one more church.
It was rarely ever visited by anyone and hadn’t been used in years.
It was the tale of a small, wooden church that was the legacy of one sole monk who once lived at the monastery. Slowly but surely he dedicated himself to building a small church in the woods somewhere in the 1970’s. Though the path was longer than we anticipated and quite unmarked, the opportunity to find a sacred piece of art slowly being overtaken by the nature around it was unmatched.
Standing in the middle of tall grass next to a quiet pond such a distance from the nearest bunch of humans and seemingly in the middle of nowhere was a beautiful experience–and one that I was grateful to share with a dear friend.
We spent the car ride home basking in the delight of having had the opportunity to visit and explore one of the most beautiful regions of Upstate New York and for having made a new friend at the monastery.
The grounds in Jordanville and the history set forth by Fr. Panteleimon in the 1930’s allowed Russian Orthodoxy and culture to span the globe and bring people together right here in Upstate New York. Should you be passing through this part of the Adirondack Region, stopping at the very least to see the outside is strongly recommended.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens