Short history of Sihla MonasteryThe history of the Sihla Monastery, of the holy priests and of the founders has remained unexplored and with very scarce data. A history of the hesychasm in the forests of Sihla and even in the Sihla Hermitage has proven difficult to achieve till this day, due to the Secret life that old hermits and monks led.
In the past, Sihla’s secular forests were very wild, full of thickets, very difficult to pass through and devoid of any human presence. Only some recluses who loved quietness, and the forest wild animals ventured to live in a complete wilderness, in a cold and inhospitable climate.
Over time, the numerous hermits scattered through the vast forests of Neamt, Secu, Sihastria, Agapia Monasteries, which led to Hangu, Durau, Ceahlau - a territory acknowledged as “the Romanian Athos” - found Sihla’s forests to be “the hardest desert”. Only those hermits that had reached the highest hesychast training dared to live their life in need here, some of them remaining for decades in total secrecy.
The presence of the hermits at Sihla dates back to the beginning of the XIIIth century, a tradition transmitted orally by the ancient monks. The first written mention occurs in a Serbian deed from 1326, saying that there is a hermitage at Sihla belonging to the “White Church” (“Biserica Alba”) from the Neamt Monastery.
Saint Voivode Stephen the Great, after the battle at Orbic (12 April 1457) against Petru Aron, wanting to shorten his way to the Neamt Monastery, passes over the mountain and at Sihla he finds an old hermit who lived in a cottage under a rock. He tells the prince that before him there had been two other hermits of 91 and 100 years old, whom he had buried, and that before them there had been other old hermits, their presence at Sihla going thus back to the beginning of the XIIIth century. The prince decides to have a small church built from the wood of a single secular fir tree, where the hermit could pray for him. In 1604, Sihla is mentioned in the document called “Princely boundaries” (“Hotarnica Domneasca”), issued by prince Ieremia Movila Voda, in order to establish the boundaries between the Secu and Agapia Monasteries. Bishop Narcis Cretulescu is of the opinion that the hermits of Sihla helped prepare this document.
In the second half of the XVIIth century and at the beginning of the XVIIIth century, at Sihla there lived, for about 40 years, the Pious Saint Theodora of Sihla.
1731 is considered to be the founding year of the Sihla Hermitage.
In 1741, the family of the Cantacuzino landowners, knowing about the sanctity of these places and the difficulties that Pious Saint Theodora went through, will build the big church “in the valley”, dedicated to “The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist”.
In 1763, in the place of the old small church made from a fir tree, Aga Ionita Cantacuzino Pascanu will found the small church “up hill”, which will also be made “from one piece of wood”, dedicated to “Transfiguration”, in memory of her friend Ioan Coroi, accidentally killed in a deer hunt in the precipice that has remained with the name of “Rapa lui Coroi” (Coroi’s precipice), the most mysterious area in the forests of the Sihla hermitage.
The height of hesychasm at Sihla was reached between the XVIth and the XVIIIth centuries. In the middle of the XVIIIth century, with the development of the Sihastria and Sihla hermitages, many of the hermits chose to settle near them, especially in Valea Paraului Negru (the Valley of the Black Creek) and at Rapa lui Coroi. Thus, they could sometimes go to church services or to a nearby confessor.
In the second half of the XVIIIth century, in Sihla’s forests there will live the Pious Josef the Hermit (Cuviosul Iosif Pustnicul), the great confessor of the Varatec Monastery, together with his two disciples, Gerontie and Gherasim.
In 1813, the hieromonk Benedict Ardeleanu from the Secu Monastery, will refound the big church, dedicated to “The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist”, rebuilding it and giving it the appearance it has today. At the same time, he builds a series of sanctums, which will lead to the development of the public life at Sihla Hemitage.
Subsequently, Father Benedict will become abbot of the Secu Monastery (1818-1821; 1822-1833; 1836-1838) and then of the Neamt and Secu Monasteries (1840-1843). We reckon that Father Benedict was the first abbot of the Sihla Hermitage during 1813-1818.
Below we briefly present the most important periods in the history of Sihla Hermitage, taken from various sources:
1837 – 8 inhabitants (2 Moldavians and 6 Transylvanians);
1840 – Abbot Epifanie – 8 inhabitants;
1860 – Abbot Nil – 9 inhabitants;
1865-1870 – Abbot Hieroschemamonk Iona – 20 inhabitants;
1871 – Abbot Sivestru – 9 inhabitants;
1873 – Abbot unknown – 9 inhabitants;
1874 – 3 old inhabitants, without an abbot. After being plundered by burglars twice and with the death of its caretaker, hieromonk Melhisedec, the hermitage will be closed;
1876 – there are news about the hermitage in the foundation diptych;
1877 – there is information in the correspondence with the Metropolitan Church regarding the misbehaviour of a monk.
At the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth, Sihla Hermitage is almost deserted. Thus, Monk Gherontie Bistriceanu (1865-1939) from the Secu Monastery will strive alone under oath for about 40 years. Despite the risks that he was permanently exposed to because of the burglars, he will ring the bell and read in church daily.
The period between 1925-1951 will be marked by the secret presence of Saint John the Great (Sfantul Ioan cel Minunat), Bishop of Kiev, in the Mountains of Sihla. He had been Assistant Bishop of the Metropolitan Church of Kiev (1915-1918) and had taken refuge in Romania in 1920 because of the atheist-communist persecution in Russia. At first, he went to the Crasna Hermitage – Gorj County, entering as novice brother, his life remaining unknown to the others. After 3 years, as the abbot wanted to cut his hair due to monachism, Saint John will secretly leave the Crasna Hermitage and will withdraw unknown in the Sihla Mountains, spending a few years on Ceahlau as well. Saint John the Great strived for almost 30 years as a true saint who made miracles. In 1928-1930, blessed Bishop John was already known to the hermits in the Sihla Mountains and of the hermitage. Beginning with 1929, Hieroschemamonk Vasian Scripca from the Secu Monastery will withdraw as hermit at the Sihla Hermitage, and Bishop John will chose him as his confessor. Saint John the Great will be known by both Father Abbot Cleopa Ilie, and Protosyngellos Teodul Varzare, the confessor of the Agapia Monastery (1940-1981).
Saint John the Great is considered the greatest, assiduous and saint, hermit of the Orthodox world in the first half
of the XXth century.
Protosyngellos Vasian Scripca (1887-1956), who had entered monachism at Rasca Monastery in 1915, will live for 10 years in a solitary hut near the cave of Saint Theodora and will sometimes meet with Saint John the Great, Bishop of Kiev. Later on, he will become abbot of the Secu Monastery (1935-1950). He will pass to God in 1956. Hierodeacon Cristofor, from the Frasinei Monastery, lived in the forests of Sihla between 1930-1933. On 20 July 1930, he miraculously discovers the holy relics of Pious Pavel the Hermit, relics that had been in the forest for over 200 years. In the XXth century, as they wanted to be closer to the places where Saint Pious Theodora of Sihla had lived, a few great women hermits will strive to live in the Sihla Mountains.
Schema-Nun Isidora the Hermit (Schimonahia Isidora Pustnica), from Manastirea Varatec, will lead a solitary life for 37 years (1900-1937) at Rapa lui Coroi.
Schema-Nun Zenovia, from Manastirea Varatec, starting with about 1900, will lead a solitary life for 25 years at “Claomida’s Foot” (“Piciorul Claomidei”).
Schema-Nun Magalena, from Agapia Noua Monastery, in about 1920, will withdraw to Rapa lui Coroi with 11 novice nuns. In 1937, she moves close to Agapia Veche.
Schema-Nun Valentina Neacsu (1886-1964) will lead a solitary life together with her daughter for about 20 years (1945-1964), after she had been at Giurgeni Monastery for 10 years and another 15 years at Almas Monastery in Neamt. She is buried at Sihastria Monastery. Emilia Neacsu (1917-1979), the daughter of schema-nun Valentina Neacsu, after the death of her mother, will remain in the forest until 1979, being buried next to her hut, on the site of today’s church of the Hermitage of Daniel the Hermit (Daniil Sihastru).
The Sihla Hermitage, during its existence, will be jurisdictionally and canonically dependent as follows:
1731-1947 – subordinated to the Secu Monastery, either independently (1602-1779; 1910-1935) or unified with the Neamt Monastery ((1779-1910; 1935-1950);
1947- until now – subordinated to Sihastria Monastery.
In 1947, through the efforts of Father Abbot Archimandrite Cleopa Ilie, Sihastria Hermitage will be elevated to the rank of monastery, and
Sihla Hermitage will be under its subordination.
As Sihla Hermitage had been forsaken (in 1942 there were 2 hermits, namely an old monk and a novice), Father Archimandrite Cleopa Ilie will start restoring the hermitage.
The Sihla Hermitage starts to have clear periods of abbotship and achievements.
1947-1950 – Abbot Father Clement Popovici;
1951-1970 – Abbot Protosyngellos Visarion Prepelita (1914 – 31.01.1972), who gives the hermitage a new look, restoring the churches (1951-1954), the houses, the belfry, building the guest house, a new stable, a stone cellar, new fences and gates etc.
1955 – 9 inhabitants;
1960 – 4 old inhabitants, including the monk who was in charge of the guest house;
1967 – 8 inhabitants.
In 1956, Protosyngellos Visarion Prepelita, helped by the Holy Spirit, discovers all the relics of Saint John the Great, Bishop of Kiev, which he puts in a small coffin and secretly buries in the big church of the hermitage.
1971-1972 – Abbot Protosyngellos Veniamin Barbacaru.
In 1972, Archimandrite Victorin Oanele becomes abbot of Sihastria Monastery and will pay special attention to the Sihla Hermitage, sending Hieromonk Chiril Saramet and Father Paisie Olaru there.
1972-1982 – Abbot Hieromonk Chiril (Calistrat) Saramat.
During this abbotship, the general restoration of the big church dedicated to “The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist” will take place (1973-1974), including the fresco painting of the interior, through the efforts of the abbot of the Sihastria Monastery, Archimandrite Victorin Oanele.
In 1982, Hieromonk Chiril Saramet will go to Mount Athos, becoming a confessor under the name of Calistrat, at the Romanian hermitage Prodomu, where he will stay until his death, in 1990.
1972-1984 – Father Hieroschemamonk Paisie Olaru (1897-1990), known in the entire monastic world and by the believers by the name of Father Paisie of Sihla, will be the most well-known and sought confessor in the whole country. In 1984, being ill, he goes to the Sihastria Monastery for good, where he will pass to God on 18 October 1990. He has been proposed for canonization.
1982-1983 - Abbot Hieromonk Pamvo Buhaescu;
1983-1986 – Abbot Hieromonk Laurentiu Popa;
1986-1990 – Abbot Monk Andrei Ionescu;
1990 – at present – Abbot Protosyngellos Pahomie Catana.
The current abbotship, begun on 15 May 1990, is the longest period of stable leadership and of the greatest changes, which have led to unprecedented growth of the Sihla Hermitage. In terms of construction and material endowment, the hermitage has been refounded, becoming a strong monastic settlement, highly frequented by believers or pilgrims from all over the country and from abroad.
The following things have been done:
1991 – a new guest house (xenodochium), founded by Archimandrite Victorin Oanele, abbot of Sihastria Monastery;
1996 – the new belfry, the House of the Abbot, the House of the Workers, the terraces of the buildings, the paths paved with quarry slabs, suspended cable line for the electricity network through the forest from Sihastria to Sihla;
1999 – the House of the inhabitants (the monks) with 36 rooms and annexes;
2004 – the New Holy Water Font, through the effort of Archimadrite Victorin Oanele;
2006 – new library building, access road to the hermitage;
2007 – the Chapel Museum, a new complex of warehouses, a new bakery;
The hermitage community increased to 25 inhabitants in 2008, the largest number in its history, who have daily held, for about 20 years, a varied programme of services, similar to that on Mount Athos.
The biggest event of the current abbotship is the canonization, on 20 June 1992, of Pious Saint Theodora of Sihla. The commemoration service on 7 August 1992 was held in the presence of His Holiness Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, back then Metropolitan of Moldavia.
On the commemoration of Pious Saint Theodora of Sihla on 8 August 2008, Sihla Hermitage enjoyed for the first time the presence of His Beatitude Teofan, Metropolitan of Moldavia. On this occasion, His Beatitude Teofan, who had taken his vow at Crasna Hermitage – Gorj County, walked in the same places that Saint John the Great, Bishop of Kiev, had once walked and who had striven for three years as novice brother at the same Crasna Hermitage, coming to Sihla Mountains afterwards. on the november 2011 The Sihla Hermitage was renamed in The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist Monastery from Sihla.