“…why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way as you have seen him go to heaven.’ So from the Mount of Olives, as it is called, they went back to Jerusalem, a short distance away, no more than a Sabbath walk”.(Acts of Apostles, ch.1, verses 9-12)
The Mount of Olives is located east of Jerusalem and has three peaks. The middle peak is associated with the history of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Ascension. This history is first mentioned in the Bible 1,100 years before the birth of Christ and is written in the 2nd Book of Kings, which states that King David was exiled from Jerusalem and went to the Mount of Olives to pray (Genesis XV, 23-30). This history is also mentioned in the books of the Prophets Zacharias (14) and Ezekiel (11) regarding the end of the world.
All four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) narrate the main events of the life of Christ on earth and all are linked with the Mount of Olives, such as the Entrance of the Lord to Jerusalem (Matt:21), the prophecy about the last days of Jerusalem (Luke: 19), the Last Judgment (Matt: 24), the farewell guidance to the disciples, the prophecy about the apostle Peter’s denial, the night after the Last Supper (Matt:26, Mark 14), Christ’s promise to meet with the apostles in Galilee after His Holy Resurrection and, finally, His Holy Ascension mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles 1-12.
Ascetics began to populate the Mount of Olives since the first centuries of Christianity. Archeologists found ruins from the buildings of the first three centuries because they were trying to restore the past of the mountain.
Evidence goes back to the times of Queen Helen, Equal-To-The-Apostles, who built the basilica “Eleon” above the cave where Christ the Saviour talked to the disciples. It is now a monastery of the Carmelites. In 385 AD Silvia Eteria, a pilgrim, described ADifferent building directly above the place of the Ascension as a round church chapel, which was later turned into a mosque. For centuries a footprint of the foot is Christ is kept here. Around 375 AD Melania the Elder built a monastery here and also the House of Mercy. The Mount of Olives was the first home for monasticism in Palestine.
In 432 AD another monastery was built by Melania the Younger. History clearly details the life of the great ascetic of those times, St. Pelagia, the recluse, who lived on Eleon and reposed in the Lord in 457 AD. The readings from the Menaion for February 25th mention the holy event of finding the head of St. John the Baptist in the 2nd and 4th centuries; first by the ascetic Innocent and then by two monks who were travelling to Constantinople.
In the 5th and 6th centuries AD monasticism was blooming in the Holy Land as evidenced by the discovery of many graves of monks. The Lausiac book also mentions the strict ascetics who lived on the Mount of Olives. Twenty-four churches existed during those times on Eleon. All of them were destroyed by invaders many times but were once again rebuilt, Glory to God! These churches existed until the year 614 AD and again were destroyed by the barbarians from Persia. 1,207 Christians were martyred on Eleon after Jerusalem was destroyed. “Eleona” basilica was considered the main shrine until the 10th century. In the beginning of the 11th century Khakim, who occupied the Holy Land, destroyed everything.
In the 12th century destroyed churches were once again rebuilt with the Crusaders’ invasion. After Jerusalem was occupied by Saladin in 1187, the Mount of Olives was given to a Muslim sheikh who destroyed monasteries and other buildings. The churches that were left untouched became degraded and religious life on Eleon stopped. Before the Russian Ecclesiastical mission started to develop in the 1960’s, no people lived here.
In 1847 the Most Holy Synod of the Church of Russia sent its Ecclesiastical Mission to the Holy Land with the goal to represent the Russian Orthodox Church before the eastern Patriarchs, thereby promoting orthodoxy and assisting Russian pilgrims. The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) terminated the activity of the Mission. But soon after its end, in 1858, a new Mission of eleven members headed by Bishop Cyril (Naumov), arrived to Jerusalem. This new Mission was active in many fields and was able to significantly improve the situation and conditions of Russian pil¬grims in the Holy Land. In 1864, Bishop Cyril was called back to Russia. A year later he was replaced by Hieromonk Leonid (Kavelin). Soon afterwards he was replaced by Archimandrite Antonin (Kaspustin), previous rector of the embassy church in Constantinople. Archimandrite Antonin’s role in the history of the Mission would prove paramount.
His task was to care for the needs of the huge number of Russian pilgrims arriving to the Holy Land right up to World War I, up to 10,000 people every year.
When Fr. Antonin arrived in Palestine, the only standing building was the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. It stood in the middle of the new construction of the so-called “Russian Compound”, which was intended for the lodging of pilgrims. It was then that Fr. Antonin conceived of the idea of buying pieces of land to build Russian Churches, where Russian pilgrims could pray in their native language.
For 29 years of his activity, Fr. Antonin bought 13 plots with a total area of about 425,000 sq. meters, which became the property of the Mission. In fact, he was personally responsible for the acquisition of almost all the Russian property in the Holy Land: Gorni, Gethsemane, the Caves of the Prophets, the Oak of Mamre, the gardens in Jericho, and the area around the grave of St. Tabitha, including her actual tomb. His inexhaustible energy aston¬ished his contemporaries.
In 1870, Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin) purchased several pieces of land on the Mount of Olives and was able to build a church in Byzantine style dedicated to the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. A 64-meter bell tower was erected and other various buildings to accommodate pilgrims who came from all over Russia, eager to visit the Holy Land.
While excavating, in order to lay down the Convent’s foundation, beneath the present chapel, the builders found the site where the precious head of St. John the Baptist was hidden. Floors were uncovered and they found well-preserved mosaics depicting fish, birds and ornamental designs, sim¬ilar to the mosaics of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Katamon (Jerusalem), which dated back to the 5th-7th centuries. In addition, in the so-called “Residence of the Archimandrites”, they revealed decorated floors with Byzantine-style mosaics, possibly of the 6th century. Many burial caves were also discovered, some with mosaic decorations.
Not far from the site of the discovery of the precious head of St. John the Baptist, a stone was found, on which, according to old history, the Mother of God stood during the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into the heavens.
Before proceeding with the construction of the Church on Mount of Olives, Fr. Antonin built a pilgrim’s hotel, where Russian pilgrims could stay for rest.
The construction of the Church on Mt. of Olives began in the 1870s. However, it was delayed by couple of years because of the lack of money and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. In 1885, 14 years after the beginning of the construction, the Church was ready for consecration. The bell tower construction was happening alongside the Church construction. As often as his workload allowed, Fr. Antonin visited the Mount of Olives to supervise the construction. When he was occupied with other matters, he observed the construction from his Mission residence through a telescope.
When construction of the bell tower was finished, the big bell arrived by steamship to Jaffa port. It weighed 11,123 pounds and measured nearly seven feet in diameter. It was donated to the Mt. of Olives bell tower by a close friend of Fr. Antonin, A. B. Riazantsev, a merchant of Solikamsk. In August of 1885 this bell, thanks to funds provided by countess O. E. Putiatina, was delivered from the wharf to the Russian garden in Jaffa, near the tomb of St. Tabitha. But no one knew how to bring it to the Mount of Olives. Fr. Antonin issued a cry to the Russian people: “Are there any loving Christians who will help transport Jerusalem’s “Ivan Velikyi” to the Mount of Olives? It is very much desired here.”
“And behold,” writes Fr. Antonin, “105 people (two-thirds of them women) arrived to Jaffa on Tuesday and started the work. Despite great difficulty, but due to enormous enthusiasm, seven days later the bell was successfully delivered (by hand!) to the Mount of Olives. In the evening on February 5th, there was a great ringing of the bell which resounded throughout the entire city. Like out of nowhere, the big crowd of the pilgrims arrived and dragged the bell to Eleon, to the place where it was appointed.”
The magnificent bell-tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, known as the “Russian candle,” is now visible from all points in the area of Jerusalem. From its pinnacle one can clearly see the Dead Sea and the region beyond the Jordan River; and with the aid of binoculars, on a clear day one can even see the Mediterranean Sea. Its largest bell is audible for miles, loudly bearing witness before the heterodox to the successes of the Russian activity in Palestine, and causing incomparable spiritual delight for the Russian orthodox people. Fr. Antonin had a particular fond for the deep, “dense” ring.
In 1907, construction of the chapel, named after the feasts of the First and the Second Findings of the Head of St. John The Baptist, was finished. The ancient mosaic floor has a cavity, marking the actual place where His precious Head was found. The feast day of the chapel is on February 24th (March 9th), when the Church celebrates the First (IV century) and Second (452) findings.
The church in the refectory (trapeza) was built later and it is dedicated to the Righteous Philaret the Merciful. Services here are conducted once a month. The feast day is on December 1st (14th).
Overall, the convent’s area is 54,000 square meters, surrounded by a wall, a kilometer and half in length. It has a large olive grove which provides Monastery with olives and oil.
Fr. Antonin reposed in the Lord on March 24, 1894 and, according to his will, was buried in the Church of Ascension on Mount of Olives. Thus, the ever-memorable Fr. Antonin lived in the Holy Land for 29 years, laboring day after day without rest.
Father Parthenius (Nartsissov +1909), a close friend of Father Antonin, continued the foundation of the Russian Convent on Mount of Olives. It was Father Parthenius’s wish to establish a monastic community on the site.
With this in mind, he started performing services twice a week. A trusted friend in his labor was the monk Pambo (+1890), who served as watchman. It was his responsibility to let pilgrims in through the eastern gate when they came up to the Mount of Olives from Bethany. While a male community for the monastery life could not be formed, there were many women, who desired monastic life and were helping churches with their own means. Gradually, a lot of pious girls and rich women, who had Russian citizenship and lived in Jerusalem and its surroundings, began to gather on the Mount of Olives. Among them was Maria Melovidova, who had property in Jerusalem. She was a friend of Fr. Antonin and helped him in his activities.
Her name is mentioned in Fr. Antonin’s diary in 1881. Maria Melovidova was a daughter of the Kostroma priest, she started her monastic life first in the Kostroma Women’s Convent and then in the Moscow Alekseevsky Women’s Convent. She arrived in Jerusalem a year after Father Parthenius and was specially “discharged” from the Moscow monastery at the request of Father Antonin to organize a choir in the Gornenskiyi Convent. As a choir director, her skills in music helped arrange splendor Divine Services in the newly built Russian Church on Mt. of Olives – Eleon. But it is only after the death of Father Antonin when Maria Melovidova was tonsured a nun. She was tonsured by Archimandrite Leonid (Sentzov), the next chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission after Father Antonin. She was tonsured as nun Evpraxia. In 1906, Eleon Women’s Convent was established officially by the Holy Synod, and on August 12, 1906, on the birthday of Archimandrite Antonin Kapustin, the opening of a female monastic community at the Church of Ascension took place, consisting initially of 15 sisters. Father Parthenius was appointed as an Abbot and nun Evpraxia as an Abbess. Within only 1 year, i.e. by the end of 1907, the number of nuns at the convent had increased to 100 people! Glory to God!
At first, the monastery was cenobitic. The services were established and a common meal and obediences were organized. Workshops such as sewing, embroidery (including gold embroidery), painting, beading, chasing, and icon painting were started. Father Parthenius continued his labors in construction, archaeological excavations and gardening, encouraging everyone to work with the example of his tirelessness. In the same years, the chapel of St. John the Baptist was completed at the place where his holy head was found (1907). The foundation was laid for a new cathedral in honor of the Last Judgment over the refectory church of St. Philaret the Merciful. However, it was not destined to be completed. Funds for the construction of the chapel were given by the benefactress Irina Grigorievna Silaeva, who lived in Jerusalem, in her own house not far from the Russian quarter. She rested in the Lord on the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God in 1927. As a benefactor, she was buried near the southern wall of the chapel where every year a memorial service is held.
On the night of January 14-15, 1909, the ascetic life of the Abbot Parthenius was crowned with a martyr’s death. After a hard day of labor, Father Parthenius retired to his secluded home. In the morning he was found lying on the floor covered in blood with a deep wound on his neck. Bloody footprints of bare feet were visible on the floor, things were scattered and boxes were open, as if the murderers were searching for something. The investigation did not reveal the reasons for this tragic atrocity and his culprit. The deeply revered and beloved elder, mourned not only by Russians, but also by foreign friends. He was buried outside the Church of the Ascension of the Lord, near its northern wing at the feet of his beloved elder Father Antonin. “I am a novice of Father Antonin and I want to lie at his feet,” said the ever-memorable Father Parthenius during his lifetime. His wish was granted.
In August 1914, there were already 150 sisters in the community. Any of them could be seen performing completely different works: both behind the laying of the walls of the next building, in the kitchen, in the garden, and at handiwork… Some handicraft works of that time are kept in the monastery to this day, including the embroidery of Mother Evpraxia, who was known among the sisters as a skilled embroiderer.
Handicraft workshops continue to work to this day, decorating the services of the church.
Soon the Convent had its own goats, chickens, and cows. The Mission site in Jericho, with its famous banana and citrus plantations, was turned into forage meadows. The sisters sowed grass between the trees, and when it grew, they mowed, dried and fed the animals. Abbott Parthenius and Mother Evpraxia created a special legacy for Eleon, which includes the numerous construction of buildings both large and small, residential and household. There was a great need for these buildings since the number of sisters of the monastery at that time increased significantly.
In September 1914, World War I began. The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, which at that time was under the rule of Turkey, suffered severe difficulties. The declaration of war meant the entry to Jerusalem from Russia was closed. The arrival of pilgrims and clergymen stopped, which did not resume even after the war, because of the bolshevik revolution in the Russian Empire. All the clergy of the Mission and some of the sisters from Eleon and Gornensky Convents, as well as some Russian pilgrims who lived at the Mission were taken to Egypt, to the city of Alexandria. Most of the Eleon sisters remained on their own. The time of hunger and need came. Russian buildings, gardens and farmsteads in Palestine were occupied by Turkish troops, and property was plundered and destroyed. Monastic life on the Mount of Olives ceased, the workshops and the refectory were closed, and services ceased due to the absence of clergy. The abbess of the Eleon monastery, nun Evpraxia, who had serious heart sickness of late, reposed in the Lord in those troubling days for the monastery. The sisters – young nuns and novices – remained as orphans without any help, both spiritual and material. They turned their sorrows to the one Mother – the Heavenly Queen, and many tears were shed by them in prayer to Her in front of Her image of the “Quick to Hear” icon. The sisters of the monastery fell in love with Her splendid, somewhat mournful Face, and they began to resort to it in their prayers.
The icon of the Mother of God of Chernigov “Quick to Hear” was donated from Russia to the Ascension Convent shortly before World War I. Initially, it was not placed in the main Ascension Church but instead it was placed in the Altar of the unfinished refectory church of St. Righteous Philaret the Merciful. It was in this church that the remaining sisters of the monastery began to gather and read the church and monastic rules, since the Ascension Church was sealed and there were no priests. In the monastery of the Ascension, next to the icon of the Mother of God “Quick to Hear”, there is also another especially revered icon of the Mother of God, called “Seeking of the Lost”.
The story of the icon of the Mother of God “Seeking of the Last” is as follows: “in 1911, a group of pilgrims sailed from Russia to the Holy Land to worship holy places. Among them was an elder, who handed out leaflets on the ship with the history and miracles of the icon of the Mother of God “Seeking the Lost”. There were three pilgrims in the group, who later lived among the nuns of the Ascension Convent on the Mount of Olives – schema nun Feodulia, schema nun Fevronia and nun Daria. During the voyage, a storm broke out. It began to threaten the small ship on which the pilgrims sailed so much that they started to pray to the Mother of God with all their hearts and promised Her to paint the icon in Her honor. The ship sailed safely to Jaffa and the pilgrims ordered a large icon of the Mother of God “Seeking the Lost”, which they donated to the Convent of Ascension. To this day, on February 5, an all-night vigil is served in honor of this icon of the Mother of God.”
In March 1915, a new sorrow fell on the Mouth of Olives and Jerusalem: a black cloud of locusts flew in from the west and flew east across the Dead Sea. This was repeated twice, the first time the locusts were not harmful, but in May the wingless locust appeared. This invasion severely damaged trees and fruits. “Billions were noisily walking on the ground, – wrote one of the monastery sisters, – a clear visible punishment from God, which we had never seen before. We fought the all-devouring locust all day long for a month, beat and burned it and read the akathist… ”. The sisters endured all the difficulties with courage. The only consolation in their half-starved and anxiety filled life they found was in prayer and communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ in the nearest Greek church “Little Galilee.” At that time, Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Damian, a great friend of Russia, provided great support to the monastery by giving the sisters bread and flour. After the death of the abbess nun Evpraxia, the rassaphore nun Maria (Sushkova), who knew the Arabic language and was at that time the head of the Russian section in Jericho, was appointed the head of the Mt of Olives Convent. Suddenly, the Turkish military authorities demanded the removal of every single sister from the monastery to accommodate their soldiers. The Greek Patriarchate, represented by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Damian, accommodated Eleon sisters in the buildings of several Greek unoccupied monasteries in Jerusalem. The sisters gratefully accepted this offer but still kept a close eye on what was happening in their monastery. Having learned from the Arabs of the village that the soldiers were robbing the monastery property and their belongings, they asked the Jerusalem Patriarchate to intercede for them. His Beatitude Patriarch was not slow to report to the Sultan about what was happening in the monastery, expressing his protest to what was happening. Soon the soldiers, by order of the Turkish authorities, were removed and the sisters were able to gradually return to their native monastery. The exile of the Russian nuns lasted 17 days, after which they were allowed to return to the Convent and pray at the Holy Sepulchre. Upon their return, the sisters found the monastery in a terrible mess: the crosses were removed, the paintings in the chapel of St. John were smeared with lime, and the iconostasis in the refectory was broken. It took a lot of effort to return things to order and times were hard, the country was plagued by hunger and epidemics.
Finally, on November 1918, Jerusalem was taken by British troops. English soldiers were stationed on the Mount of Olives. They lived for a whole month, helping the sisters of the monastery, supplying them with bread, tea and sugar.
On January 1919, the elder sisters and clergy returned to Jerusalem from Alexandria, they had not left Egypt for those long five years. They lived in hardship, but, as if on duty, were awaiting an order to return to Palestine at any moment. With their return, a peaceful life on the Mount of Olives gradually began to settle. Knowing about the plight of the sisters, the new government tried to help them with food, clothing and medicine. Young and physically stronger nuns got jobs on the construction of the road leading from Jerusalem to Jericho. The sisters with weaker health were forced to work as cleaners in the city, mostly in the apartments of the Brits and in the monasteries of the Greeks. Contact with the outside world and engaging in non-monastic business led to sorrows, tears and temptations.
In 1924, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia appointed Archbishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky) to travel to Jerusalem as an observer of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission.
Bishop Anastassy held this position for 11 years until 1935. It remains amazing the energy, foresight, enterprise, patience, endurance, and love for the homeland and the people this man possessed. He managed to establish the life of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission during that difficult time, and he preserved many places in Russian Palestine and Russian monasteries in the Holy Land.
As a spiritual pastor, Bishop Anastassy, fulfilled all the administrative duties assigned to him by the Synod in good conscience, always putting spiritual matters first. One of them he considered was the preservation and nourishment of our monasteries in the Holy Land (including the Eleon monastery, which had a high number of sisters at that time) – these living keepers of monastic traditions. The Bishop not only closely followed the spiritual life of the monastics, but also personally knew all of them, their spiritual growth and shortcomings. He set the divine services in monasteries to a high level, and often served and preached in all our ten churches in the Holy Land, performing tonsure of monks and nuns worthy of this rank. Bishop Anastassy always emphasized the fact that monasticism was the guardian of piety at all times of Christianity.
In 1924, Eleon convent, numbering about 200 nuns, received the official status of a monastery and its superior nun Elisaveta (Vinogradova), became its Abbess. She was elevated to the rank of Abbess with the presentation of the baton by the Bishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky) in 1924. She started to supervise the monastery in 1919.
During her rule of the monastery, an ordeal occurred – an earthquake in Jerusalem and its environs in 1927. The church, the bell tower, the abbot’s house and many sisters’ buildings were damaged, and the hard work of restoring the monastery lay ahead. Mother Elizabeth, after everything she experienced, suffered a serious illness and could no longer find the strength to address these concerns. It became necessary to appoint a new abbess. Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovisky), chairman of the ROCOR Synod, chose the nun Pavla (Klyueva) of the Lesninsky Monastery, whom His Eminence knew personally.
In October 1929, Mother Superior Pavla arrived at the Holy Mount of Olives Convent and took up her duties. Thanks to her wise management, the monastery gradually returned to a normal monastic life, having been shaken during the war. The work of the sisters outside the monastery was partially stopped, and the beginning of the revival of true monastic obediences, namely handicrafts, was laid, which in the future contributed to the restoration of the monastery. Abbess Pavla even organized exhibitions and sales of handicraft works of the sisters for the English-speaking population of Jerusalem. After that, the monastery began to receive orders from everywhere for church handicrafts and icons which funded monastery buildings and structure repairs.
In 1934, due to ill health, Abbess Pavla retired, taking monastic schema vows with the name of Antonia. The newly appointed abbess of the monastery was nun Margarita. She ruled the monastery for only a few days and died on July 15, 1934 in a German hospital in Jerusalem from pneumonia.
In 1934, nun Melania (Nenyukova) became the abbess of the Russian Convent of Ascension. She arrived to Eleon from Yugoslavia two years before, on the recommendation of His Holiness Patriarch Barnabas of Serbia, who personally knew her as a wise nun with high spiritual qualities. With the blessing of Vladyka Anastassy, she carried out difficult and costly renovation of the Church of Ascension, which had suffered greatly from dampness and from the earthquake of 1927.
The overhaul of the church and the renewal of the painting lasted four years (1937-1941) and were carried out by the nuns themselves and the artist G.A. Aleev. Due to a lack of funds, the temple could not be completely renovated – the dome remained intact. Due to the circumstances, after the death of Abbess Melania, for a relatively long period from 1944 to 1951, the former Abbess Pavla was forced to bear the abbess’s cross again – from already 10 years ago as she retired and became schema-abbess Antonia over the years.
From 1951 until 1975, the monastery was headed by Abbess Tamara (Tatiana Konstantinovna Romanova), a princess of imperial blood, daughter of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov (the court poet “K.R.”) and great-granddaughter of Emperor Nicholas I.
Due to her name and connections, Matushka Tamara financially improved the life of the monastery and strengthened the status of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. During her times, a 100th anniversary of the Russian Spiritual Mission was celebrated in 1958 with the presence of the representative of the King of Jordan Hussein. With her active participation, Russian pilgrims from abroad (Europe and USA) resumed their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which also contributed to the flow of funds to the monastery and made it possible to carry out a number of household works to improve the life of the Convent. Matushka Tamara renewed the monastery’s coenobitic way of life and, finally, forbade work outside the monastery for sisters, and arranged a common meal in monastery refectory. She was able to renovate the bell tower, the dome of the Ascension Church, sisters’ buildings, water cisterns, and install the electricity and water supply. A great merit of Matushka Tamara was the admission of the Arab Christian girls, many of whom later dedicated their lives to Christ and became nuns in the monastery.
Archimandrite Dimitri (Biakai), the missionary leader and a spiritual father of the monastery, helped Matushka Tamara greatly. Archimandrite Dimitri accepted the Mission in a very sad state. There were almost no sources for its existence, for all sources of income remained in Israel. From the male monastic staff of the Mission, only a few people remained, and at the same time it was necessary to serve three monasteries and a number of Mission churches. After all, even in the Arab zone there are about 25 land plots in very important ecclesiastically-historical localities.
There is information that at first, upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Father Dimitri settled in Gethsemane and served as the confessor of the Gethsemane women’s monastery and the Bethany community of the Resurrection of Christ. He was also the rector of the church of St. Mary Magdalene.
After his appointment as Head of the Mission, Father Dimitri, probably around 1952, moved to the Mount of Olives Convent, where other members of the Mission, expelled from the main building near the Trinity Cathedral in Jerusalem, also lived. The Ascension Monastery of Olives, which had vacant rooms and cells after the war, officially became the residence of Archimandrite Dmitry (Biakai) and the headquarters of the Mission headed by him. He received an office and a cell in the “House of the Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission”, called by the sisters “Archimandrite’s House”.
In the last years of his life, Fr. Dimitri was very sick, lost his sight and therefore wore dark glasses. Back in the 1950s, doctors discovered that he had progressive diabetes mellitus and later – glaucoma, which struck the optic nerve, which caused his vision to fall sharply, and blindness came. Doctors failed to restore vision to Fr. Dimitri. According to the expertise of several independent doctors, his blindness was irreversible. Due to a serious illness, Father Dimitri could no longer manage the affairs of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission. In 1968 he handed over the matters and all the documents to the mission to Archimandrite Anthony (Grabbe) who had arrived to Eleon. Fr. Dimitri himself remained as a member of the brotherhood of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem.
Despite his infirmities, Father Dimitri never missed the services in the church, where his cell attendant – nun Apollinaria and other sisters took care of him. At the end of his life he became seriously ill and the services were read to him in his cell.
Father Dimitri died in 1985 at the age of 77, he dedicated 34 years to the ministry of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in the Holy Land. His grave is located a few meters from the altar of the main temple.
Archimandrite Modest (┼1984) was a long-term confessor of the Ascension Convent.
Among the spiritual fathers of the Eleon, one cannot but mention the Archimandrite Methodius (Popovich, ┼1997). Father Methodius lived in Palestine for 63 years. He led an ascetic life for 49 years on Eleon, in the skete on Pharan (Judean desert) and in the monastery of Sts. the Forefathers at the oak of Mamre.
Archimandrite Nectarius (Chernobyl) left abroad during World War II. In Soviet Russia, he was subjected to imprisonment and exile for his faith. Once in Germany, he joined the brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev. After which he re-located to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville (USA). In the monastery, he bore many obediences – a choir director, a mechanic, a gardener, a bookbinder and a typesetter in a printing house. By the decree of the Holy Synod in 1966, Abbot Nektarios was transferred to Mt. Athos, to the Ilyinsky skete. And in 1968 Abbot Nektariy was sent to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem for a period of 1 year. The trip was the last and Fr. Nektarios, having stayed in Jerusalem for 33 years, becoming the most memorable spiritual father for both Mt. of Olives and Gethsemane monasteries, peacefully reposed on July 31, 2000 on the Mount of Olives, where he was buried in the monastery cemetery.
From 1975 until 1984 the Monastery was headed by Abbess Theodosia (Baranova). Between 1977 and 1978 the second minor renovation of the Ascension Church was done, during which the murals were restored by nun Taisia (Ostryakova), who was already 80 years old, with the help of other sisters. The overhaul of the church and the restoration of the dome were carried out at the expense of the benefactress from Switzerland Ekaterina Sergeevna Fisher (┼1991). In 1984, Abbess Theodosia was transferred as an abbess to the Gethsemane monastery.
Abbess Paraskeva (Zelberkrein) was appointed, from among her Eleon sisters, as an abbess and headed the monastery from 1984 until 1989. During her times, the 100th anniversary of the consecration of the Holy Ascension Church (1886-1986) was celebrated with the participation of Metropolitan Vitaly, Archbishop Anthony of Geneva and Archbishop Paul of Australia.
From 1989 to 1993, the Eleon Monastery was ruled by Abbess Barbara (Epova ┼2003) from Australia. The head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission (REM) in Jerusalem (ROCOR) was then her compatriot, Archimandrite Alexei (Rosentul). Since then an active pilgrimage of “Russian Australians” began to support the Holy Land, giving their material support to monasteries, and replenishing nuns and priests.
From 1993 to 1997, Abbess Juliana (Zarzar) was appointed as an Abbess, an Arab by nationality and a native of Bethlehem, who was raised in the Gorny monastery from infancy. She was the headmistress of an Orthodox missionary school in Chile, where she later returned after her almost five-year abbess obedience.
From 1996 to 2021, the nun Raphaela (Abu Lel), an Arab by nationality, carried the obedience of the abbess of the monastery. During 3 months in 1997, she was at the head of the monastery in the absence of an abbess (Mother Juliana left to Chile, and a new abbess had not yet been appointed). Mother Raphaela joined the monastery at the age of 13, in 1954, on the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs. She performed various obediences as a church choir-singer, reader, embroiderer. She also sewed and knitted beads, etc. Nun Raphaela mastered embroidery of several mitres which are still used during divine church services. She perfectly knew the liturgical rules, and spoke Arabic, Russian and English languages. Nun Raphaela was called the “peacemaker” because she always knew how to mitigate various conflicts between people. In 1997, Archbishop Hilarion (Corporal – the future First Hierarch of ROCOR), after the appointment of Abbess Moissea, awarded nun Raphaela the right to wear the pectoral cross for the excellent performance of her service as a leader, as well as for many years of conscientious service on Mt of Olives Convent.
For quite an extensive period of time, i.e. from 1997 until 2017, Abbess Moisea (Bubnova ┼2021) was the Abbess of the Ascension Convent on the Mount of Olives.
During her management of the monastery, in 2007 the “Act of Canonical Communion” was signed between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Matushka was very fond of Russia and often visited it, she also participated in the work of the Inter-Council Presence Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate on the organization of the life of monasteries and monasticism. After the unification and the establishment of a visa-free regime between Israel and Russia and Ukraine, the state of the monastery improved significantly. Abbess of Moses undertook costly restoration and renovation work in both churches and the chapel. During her time managing the Convent, the bell tower “Russian Candle” was completely renovated, mainly at the expense of benefactors from Russia. New bells were installed, a new cross was erected on the Ascension Church, the hotel and the refectory were renovated, the kitchen was refurbished, roofs were covered, and repairs were made in many cells and buildings. Many sisters from Russia, Ukraine, Romania and other countries also joined the monastery at that time.
In 2017, Abbess Moissea retired for health reasons and the monastery was headed by one of the oldest and most respected nuns of the Eleon Monastery, nun Varvara (Novikova), a native of Odessa. Matushka Varvara took part in the construction and repair works of the monastery and continues this work, already being the Abbess of the monastery.
From 2017 to this day, Abbess Varvara (Novikova) is the abbess of the Russian Convent of Ascension on Mount of Olives. The head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the ROCOR is Archimandrite Roman (Krasovsky). The head office of the Mission itself is located on the territory of the Convent of Ascension on Mt. of Olives.
The monastery nowadays consists of many sisters from the USA, Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, Romania, Estonia, and Belarus.
And finally, the chronology of the abbesses of the monastery for more than 100 years of history:
- Nun Evpraxia (1904-1914),
- Abbess Elizabeth (1919-1929),
- Abbess Pavla (Kluyeva) (1929-1934),
- Nun Margarita (1934),
- Abbess Melania (Nenukova) (1934-1944),
- Schema-Abbess Antonia (Kluyeva) (Abbess Pavla) – 2nd time: 1944-1951,
- Abbess Tamara (Romanova) (1951-1975),
- Abbess Feodosia (Baranova) (1975-1984),
- Abbess Paraskeva (Zelberkrein) (1984-1989),
- Abbess Varvara (Epova) (1989-1993),
- Abbess Juliana (Zarzar) (1993-1997),
- Nun Rafaila (Abu-Lel) (1997 (3 months)),
- Abbess Moisseia (Bubnoff) (1997 – 2017),
- Abbess Varvara (Novikova) from 2017 up to date.
This is, in short, the history of our monastery! With deep gratitude, we will always remember the builder and founder, Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin), and his faithful companion, Abbot Parthenius. We will never forget prayerfully all the subsequent workers of our monastery. Our monastery gives us inexpressible happiness and it is where we are called to serve and work. Memory eternal to them!
Glory to Thee, our God!