Excerpt from an informative Orthodox America newspaper article which explains the monastic origins of the Solovki Monastery :
"With their pristine forests abundant with game and their numerous lakes and inlets full of fish, the Solovetsk islands were long a favorite destination for local Karelians during their summer hunting and fishing expeditions. But the long, severe winters, cutting the islands off from the mainland for six months of the year, and the rough sea with its frequent storms discouraged permanent settlers, and until the 15th century the islands remained uninhabited.
"It was then, in 1429, that the monk Sabbatius, who had already achieved renown as an elder at the monastery of Valaam, came in search of a more secluded place, far from the praise of men and conducive to the ascetic life. Hearing of the remote islands of Solovki, he made his way to the shores of the White Sea, where he encountered the monk Herman, living alone near a chapel at the mouth of the River Vyg. Together they decided to move to Solovki. There on the largest of the islands they planted a cross, and at the foot of Sekirnaya Hill they built the first cell. For six years they struggled together, enduring the physical rigors of the harsh northern clime and sanctifying the area by their prayers and ascetic labors.
"In 1435, Saint Sabbatius foresaw that his earthly sojourn was coming to an end. Desiring to receive the Holy Mysteries before departing this life, he journeyed to the mainland, to the chapel at the mouth of the River Vyg where, by God's Providence, he encountered a priest-monk who had come to give Communion to a sick peasant in the area. Having partaken of the Life-giving Body and Blood of Our Lord, Sabbatius peacefully reposed and was buried there at the chapel.
"The following year, Saint Herman was joined by a young monk Zosimas. The night of his arrival on Solovki, Zosimas had a vision of a beautiful church floating in the air, and the surroundings were bathed with light. Thus encouraged, the two monks set about building a cell and stockade about eight miles from the first cell. They began to cultivate the earth and plant seeds.
"In late autumn, Saint Herman set out for the mainland for essential supplies, but was unable to return due to inclement weather. Saint Zosimas spent the winter alone on the island: starvation threatened him, but two unknown men, appearing to him miraculously, left him a supply of bread, flour, and oil. In the spring, Saint Herman returned to Solovki with a supply of food and gear for fishing, and with him was the fisherman Mark, who later received the tonsure and became the first of their disciples. When several hermits settled on the island, Saint Zosimas built a little wooden church in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord and a refectory, and petitioned Jonah, Archbishop of Novgorod, to send an abbot and consecrate the church. This was the beginning of the famous Monastery of Solovki."http://www.roca.org/OA/163-164/163d.htm
This is part of a longer essay, taken from an overview of Solovki published in the superb ROYC - Russian Orthodox Youth Committee of Rocor - Calendar for 1999.