The Aladzha Monastery

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Life in the monastery

Type: stati | Historic Period:


The name derives from the Greek word λειτουργία – “joint activity”, “public service”. In the orthodoxy this is the main liturgy – the centre of church life for any orthodox Christian. It consists of numerous prayers, chants, Gospel reading and the priest sermons. The liturgy centre is the performance of the holy sacrament “Eucharist” (“Communion”), set by Jesus Christ on the vigil of His cross sufferings.




The Eucharist (from the Greek word “Thanking”) is the greatest wonder performed on Earth, the unexplainable mystery for the believers having accepted the bread and the wine as part of Christ’s body and blood.
Saint Evangelist Luka wrote: “And having taken bread and thanked, he broke it in two and gave some to them, saying: this is My body which is given for you; do this for My memory. He also took the cup after supper, saying; this cup is the new testament with My blood, which is being shed for you.”
The Eucharist is a basic moment in Church life from the very beginning, the sacrament for which the orthodox liturgy is performed.



Eremites’ lives were very hard. They got almost no sleep, and spent their days in work and prayers. In the day, while working, they said psalms learnt by heart. Some of them span wool and wove coarse fabric for sackcloths, the sales of which supported not only themselves but were used to help poor people. Eremites ate just bread and salt and drank water only.
Exhausted from the hard labour, when they felt sleepy, they would start dragging heavy baskets of sand from one place to another in order to keep their minds fresh. That was supposed to teach them to be awake and to win over their own selves. The hard life kindled yet more love to God and they readily bore hardships and deprivations keeping in mind how much Christ had suffered for the salvation of people.
Some eremites took a strict monk’s “schema” (a vow to God), then settled in inaccessible rock niches and remained there for the rest of their lives spending their time in fast and prayers. Deemed saints while still alive, they were a subject of worship by believers. For food, they relied on the alms brought by worshippers and most often placed in a basket tied to a long rope, so the eremite could pull it up without leaving his cell.
As provided under the statutes of community monasteries, individual members of the brotherhood had the right to seclude themselves in separate cells, on the side of the main monks’ complex. They lived there from Monday to Friday. On Saturdays and Sundays they returned to the other brothers to take part in the joint services, to be given communion and warm food, and on Sunday evening they went back to their cells with some handiwork and food provisions for a week.
This practice existed at the Aladzha Monastery as well. It is evidenced from the remains of several cells on the side of the main rock complex.


Monastery cuisine

As provided under the medieval monastery statutes the daily meals of the monks were turned into a kind of a cult ritual through the ”brothers’ tables”. This was the meaning of the God’s apostle table.
All monks together with the abbot of the monastery used to get together to eat the same food and drink the same wine at the same table. An exception to this rule was allowed only in case of illness of a brother or for old-aged monks.
It was strictly forbidden to take food to the cells or keep any cookware.
It was adopted as a general rule, three meals cooked from whatever God’s Providence had provided, to be put on the table every day. Except for Wednesdays and Fridays, cheese and 4 cups of wine for each brother were served on the table daily. During the Easter holidays more and richer food was served to support the brothers who would be exhausted and tired of vigils and fast. In the fasting period food was scarce – the use of butter /olive oil/ and wine was not allowed, except for Saturdays and Sundays.
The traditional monastery cuisine treats digestion as the most important process going on in the body and being a key to health and spiritual perfection. The members of the brotherhood spared long periods of time for meals. They ate calmly and stopped eating when they felt full. Apart from that, they always had supper early and avoided raw foods in the late hours.
The monks grew almost everything themselves. That is why they always had mainly seasonal and local fruit and vegetables on their table. Meat was served rarely and consisted basically of fish or birds. Meat of four-legged animals was given to the sick and weak only. Dairy animals were bred in many monasteries for cheese-making.
On the plateau above the monastery, ploughed with a wooden plough, the monks sowed wheat for feeding. Another source of subsistence was the century-old forest. The monks, as well as any other Christians, treated the forest with special attention. It was a special world to them, a symbol of everything carrying respect and fear, excitement and worship. Despite their fears, the monks were very much dependant on the forest. That was where firewood for winter came from. Honey came from the forest (in 13thІ-14th century sugar was unknown), as well as fruit, game for the table and pastures for the flocks of sheep and goats.
Soups were often present on the monks’ table in the monastery kitchen. They were thinner and in many cases contained no fat. Here is a recipe of the so-called “Eremite’s soup”1.1, that reached us from the past.