A Cycle of Goodness: How the Workshops of St. Elisabeth Convent Appeared and What They Give to Other People

The Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt founded the House of Love of Labour—a social structure that was ahead of its time. It provided shelter and employment to those who were deemed useless by the public and those who were devastated both spiritually and physically.
Nowadays, Father John’s heritage isn’t forgotten. The House of Love of Labour of St Elisabeth Convent was founded with the blessing of the Very Rev Andrew Lemeshonok, the spiritual father of our Convent. It preserves the main principle of the original facility, that is, serving one’s neighbour. It is fitting that a nun named after Saint Chionia, an Italian martyr who was orphaned when she was very young, is in charge of the House of Love of Labour.
“Everything Begins with Father Andrew’s Dream”
“Everything in our Convent always begins with Father Andrew’s dream. Father Andrew, just like his heavenly patron Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, is always dreaming of bringing as many people to God as possible,” Nun Chionia (Efimova) says. “The foundation that lay in this place for a long time was overgrown with grass. Every time our Father Andrew drove past this place, he prayed, ‘I wish there was a house where the disabled and socially vulnerable people could find a job and learn about God…’ And the Lord made his dream come true.” 
Apostle Paul said, “[B]ase things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen” (1 Cor. 1:28). We spent a lot of time talking with Nun Chionia about the truth of this apostolic saying with regard to the House of Love of Labour and how helpful labour is for socialisation and rehabilitation.
I believe that the most important aspect of the House of Love of Labour is that the people who come here discover the meaning of life and figure out that it lies in the salvation of their souls. Each one of these people is brought to us by the Lord, I’m sure.
There are various people among our employees. There are high-skilled specialists among them, too. Given that since the very beginning, our Convent focused on helping our weak neighbours, we try and help these kinds of people, too. Spiritual weakness is characteristic of everyone in this world, so when I talk about weaknesses and illnesses, I mean physical illnesses. We provide jobs for people who have various health issues. The House of Love of Labour becomes the only place where these people can get a job because the labour market in the outside world is extremely competitive.
I’m certain that it is thanks to their work and prayers that the Lord covers up all our shortcomings with his mighty hand. As long as the Convent continues to help the sufferers, it will live and develop.
Improve Life to Get Daughter Back
It turned out that among the employees of the House of Love of Labour there are people who went through serious disruption, such as prison. According to Nun Chionia, the basic approach to the rehabilitation and socialisation of these people is by building warm relationships based on trust. You have to try and understand
these people and not tag them as unworthy. Instead, you should support them and give them a chance to improve.
Nun Chionia recalls Vasilissa who had served time in jail for drug abuse. She had a daughter but she lost her parental rights. One day, Vasilissa’s grandmother called Nun Chionia and begged her to give a job to her granddaughter. Currently, Vasilissa works hard to improve her life and her living conditions and dreams of getting her daughter back.
“She is burning with desire to reconnect with her daughter! If you only saw her radiant eyes! That’s what a person who has encountered God must look like. They say that eyes are a reflection of one’s soul; if that’s true, her eyes shine so bright that they are even painful to look into sometimes (smiles). It was in the Convent that she confessed and took communion for the first time. May God help her not to diverge from this path!”
There are dozens of stories like this one. People reject their criminal past and start leading a Christian life, participate in the Sacraments, and have a family. Their lives get better. When one finds God, one also finds the meaning of life. One discovers new experiences. When one realises that he cannot do anything without the Lord, he starts to build his life according to Christian values.
The Lord Is The Only Expert Who Is Always Near
Nun Chionia says that her appointment as the head of the House of Love of Labour came as a shock. She was taken aback by the colossal responsibility that her new position laid on her. Nun Chionia endured some inner struggle with God because she wasn’t happy with His decision. Every time she talked with her spiritual father and with other people, she received one and the same answer: “Do what you can.” Now she perceives those words as her God-inspired motto.
Perhaps, this is the reason why the workshops located in the three-storied building of the House of Love of Labour have almost outgrown their limits. Ceramic Workshop, Sewing Workshop, Gold Embroidery Workshop, Icon Setting Workshop, Stone Workshop: that’s where our sisters make their products with love and prayer. They also make stuffed toys and paint nesting dolls. A Social Support Group for mentally challenged persons named Dobrodel was launched in the House of Love of Labour last spring.
Every workday begins with communal prayer. The workers read morning prayers. They pray for each other, for unity, and ask saints to bless their work. Some workshops add akathists to their prayer rule.
“Work in the Convent is always accompanied with prayer. I’m not a great person of prayer but I’ve long been aware of the fact that you cannot do anything without God,” Nun Chionia believes. “Every day, you stumble upon tasks and problems that you cannot solve. Who can you run to? The Lord is the only expert who is always near.
When a stitch goes awry, you pray, ‘Lord help me!’ We do our best to make the highest quality items, stitch by stitch. A seamstress can foresee certain difficulties with some kinds of textiles (e.g., velvet, which has an exceedingly smooth surface), and she starts asking God for help. That is how, aside from the joint prayer, every worker prays in private in his or her own workplace.”
Unity of Opposites
When I looked at the employees of the House of Love of Labour, I recalled Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) who said that great salvation is born of unity. How can people retain the unity, acceptance of each other, and mutual understanding if they are so different? Many of them have broken lives and crippled souls, and each of them definitely has his or her own personality and ideas of justice… I shared my thoughts with Nun Chionia.
“Father Andrew teaches us that the beauty of unity is that it consists of different people,” Nun Chionia replies. “It is never the case, and God doesn’t need it to be the case, that all are the same. People are in constant motion day by day, and their disposition depends on their mood, situation, and even their physical condition.  I was sad yesterday but the Lord comforted me, and I’m joyful and happy now.”
There is a concept of the so-called unity of opposites. It points at spiritual matters directly: if we learn to combine our differences and work together instead of competing against each other, that’s when unity occurs. 
Father Andrew says that living properly is when you as a strong person pray for yourself and for that weak person who cannot go to church. When you see that a sister is sleeping, cover her with a blanket, fluff up her pillow, and pray for her.
When we accept each other with all our weaknesses and flaws; when we “carry each other’s burdens” according to the apostle’s words—that’s when true unity and genuine love of God are born.
People Helping People
There is a construction site of a new production floor below the windows of the House of Love of Labour. Looking at the workers and their machines, I recalled a story from the life of Saint Moses of Optina: monks of his monastery criticised his idea to build a new guesthouse because the monastery couldn’t afford it. In fact, Saint Moses undertook that construction project so as lay builders could get jobs to feed their families.
People can distort and besmirch even the best idea. As a rule, people are unwilling to grasp the full picture of some phenomenon before criticising it. That is why we decided to find out what the motivation behind the Convent’s manufacturing efforts is and who are the people whom you really help when you buy products made in St Elisabeth Convent.
“First of all, people help those who work here,” Nun Chionia responds. “For example, our seamstress makes five baptismal sets. She put her effort and prayer into these items, and her love and prayer will then pass on to someone else’s family because new Christians come into this world. The donations of their relatives return to the Convent and are invested in construction and in our workers’ wages. That is how the cycle of goodness works.
A church that is built by communal effort has a strong foundation. That’s precisely how our Convent is being built. Our workshops provide jobs for those who will never be able to find jobs in the mainstream labour market. That is the primary idea behind our Convent: we’ve got to attract as many people as we can and lead them to God.
We have to be courageous! Father Andrew says that with God, you can always find the right solution. Sure, life can be difficult at times. However, the Lord leads us through temptations to increase our spiritual maturity and strength. We genuinely pray only when we encounter hardships. God’s help always comes as a response to our prayers.
October 11, 2018
St. Elisabeth Convent
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