December 7, 1996 marked a very important day for St. Elisabeth Convent. On that day the Sisterhood in honor of St. Grand Duchess Martyr Elisabeth was founded. On the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk and Slutsk had vested the first sisters of mercy in their white vestments during the service at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. The first place where the sisters have come was the National Mental Health Hospital in Novinki (located near Minsk). In a year, the construction of the first church would be started there. Three years later Metropolitan Philaret would give his blessing for creation of the Convent. Today our home of mercy is not limited by the walls of the convent, as the hospital became its inalienable part as well…
The sisters who stood at the origins of the sisterhood tell their stories about this memorable day.
“Your work is apostolic” : A story by nun Anfisa
20 years… A significant period. It passed quickly, like 2 years or even 2 months… Quickly and imperceptibly, but at the same time rich on results and events. However, the beginning was quite simple. Fr. Andrew gathered all the “lambs” together and said that it was enough feeling sad and that we had to start serving others. Those words were his blessing for our ministry. This is how our sisterhood had appeared.
When Metropolitan Philaret handed out our vestments, he said that St. Catherine blessed us on our apostolic way as well, and wished us strength. We did not understand anything, but we knew that that was what the Lord wanted. We vested and went to serve. The first sisters, who were blessed for that obedience, were headed to the Hospital in Novinki.
Everything happened then somehow imperceptibly and natural. It was just the Divine Providence. God acts very delicately, simply and invisibly day by day. In three years the first sisters have settled down here, in Novinki, to devote their whole life to serving God as monastics.
Our ministry is just an everyday labor. There are no high words or revolutionary slogans to describe it. Everything is quite simple: you should notice a person. The feeling of altruism ends quite soon, it is strong only at the beginning. And then there is only everyday labor left, and this is really hard. There might be a person sent just for you, and you just have to bring him his lunch. But you find yourself to be too busy, you have a lot to do and you need to go somewhere to deal with your own business… So this is it: you have to stop at the right moment, because to bring the lunch to this person is much more important. Our ministry is an everyday study, where we are learned to notice a person and to look in his eyes. Perhaps, even this would be enough to help him.
“Everything was grounded on the Father’s boldness and the God’s grace” : A story by sister Julia
Earlier everything, that has happened within 20 years, seemed unreal to me. When any circumstances confuse me at my obedience of wherever else, I always recall what the sisterhood and the Convent have begun with. On the one hand, they have begun with the words of Fr. Andrew, who told us about building and edifying. On the other hand, everything has started with my absolute unbelief.
To be honest, everything we were talking about then seemed impossible to me. This 20-years-long way proved to me that there is nothing impossible for God! Now I am sure that He can easily perform something real and tangible from the beliefs and ideas, which in my opinion were unrealistic. This concerns not only the construction of the Convent, which is the material embodiment of the ideas, but the ministry itself and the people visited by our sisters. At the very beginning everything was grounded only on the boldness of Fr. Andrew and the grace of God. That was clear to me. Fr. Andrew says even today: “When I look back I ask myself, how could this all came to my mind?”
Despite my personal attitude and feelings, I understood – God let me understand – that the Convent would be organized.
“Novinki” is a dreadful word for people. It is not compatible with edifying, transfiguration or any other notion describing changes for the better. It is a territory, on which nothing was possible until 1996. People were afraid of that word. When Fr. Andrew offered to visit the hospital there, I was afraid too. Now I understand, that God acts more obviously when you try to deal with something impossible. Just look how many people opened up and came to the church thanks to our work!
I visit the narcological department. Every time I come there it feels like the first time. You cannot get used to this, because every time you come there you see people in bad condition, unconscious people, people tied to their beds… People are just dying there. So, you may ask yourself, is there really anything you can do here?
If there is God’s blessing, then it will grow even on the soil, which seems dead to us. I understand that the narcological department is not just dead soil, but cement. I go through this cement for the last 20 years. However, I understand also that I do it with God. Now I can say that trees can grow even on stones. These people are such trees. They always confess and partake of the Holy Communion. And this very experience of turning the unreal into the real is what “Novinki” gave to me. What is more, I learned that there are no insoluble life situations.
Fr. Andrew always says that without God’s blessing nothing would happen. Our Convent and everything that we see around seems natural to us today, but there would be nothing without the blessing of Fr. Nicholas Guryanov and the boldness of Fr. Andrew, our spiritual father. I come to the Convent, I see its walls, and only my own memories remind me about the wasteland which was there earlier. Today it seems as if it was always like this… The sisterhood and the Convent became a part of my life. In 1996, I thought that all these things were temporal in my life, and today I understand that my life depends on them. My whole life!
I remember well the day of December 7, 1996. There were not many sisters, just a bit more than 20. Metropolitan aspersed us with the holy water, put his hand on our heads and read the prayers. That was a kind of a real initiation, and it felt really like God’s blessing or even a tonsuring. On that day, my personal miracle happened. My parents, who lived 300 km far from Minsk, came to the city, certainly guided by the Holy Spirit. I had not told them about the ceremony of initiation. Just imagine that exactly on that day they decided to visit St. Peter and Paul Cathedral! My mother saw me and cried. That is how significant that event was.
“That was the birth day of the sisterhood”: A story by nun Juliana
What is surprising is that the birthday of the sisterhood concurred with the appearance of our first choir. Then it was an ensemble consisting of only six people on the kliros of St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Fr. Georgy Latushko blessed to create a new choir. I gathered likeminded people and we started to rehearse. Well, when the time came, the abbot wanted to listen to our singing so that he could understand whether he was not mistaken about us.
We were to sing several church chants after the Holy Communion. I was very anxious and did not realize at once that something unusual was taking place in the cathedral. Metropolitan Philaret was standing on the solea, and the sisters in front of him were dressed in strange white kerchiefs and aprons (I did not know then that it was called “vestment”). Among the sisters, I saw several spiritual children of Fr. Andrew, the future nuns. Only a little bit later I realized that it was the appearance of the sisterhood and the Convent. In ten years, our small choir was transformed into the Festive choir of St. Elisabeth Convent. The seeds of all the undertakings sown by God in 1992 with the coming of Fr. Andrew grew as the small white sprouts. In 20 years those sprouts turned into the large Christian community, which is gently referred to by loving people as “Elisabeth’s children”.