Nun Taisiya (Yakovleva) recalls the miracles of God’s intercession and how they changed the course of her life.
Nun Taisiya was born on 27 March 1980 at Lapichi military base in Mogilev Oblast. Her father was in the military, and her mother a musician. In 2002, she completed her first degree at the Belarusian State Economic University. She joined Saint Elisabeth Convent in 2009 and worked at the treasury, maintenance department and the garage. From 2016, she has been in charge of the coloured metal workshop. She took monastic tonsure in 2020.
My first miracle was my baptism. I had just turned three when this happened. At that age, I was very active, but I could not talk. People did not know what to say. I was making sounds, my hearing was all right, but I could not say a word. In the evenings, I used to cry a lot.
We were on a visit with my mother’s family in a village in the southern part of Russia’s Ural Mountains, my mother’s relative saw he problem and said: “She should be baptised, sooner the better.” My mother agreed. They took us to a church with my sister in the morning, and the sacrament of baptism took place. My life changed a lot afterwards. I stopped crying, and then, after a few weeks, I began to talk, confidently, in complete sentences. I am grateful to God that my mother agreed to have me baptised, there were a lot of parents at the time who would have objected.
– My second miracle was my entry to the Economic University in Minsk in 1997. Just before I applied, my mother gave me a prayer book, and I started reading the morning and evening prayers. I was thinking, “Here I am reading the prayers, God is hearing me, and all is going to be according to my plan.” So I came to Minsk, took my exams, and found out that I am half a point below the threshold for acceptance. They turned me down. It was a shock.
I stopped reading the prayers. I could not believe it: I had been asking God, I had been reading prayers to Him, and He did not give me what I wanted! I almost felt betrayed. But later, I realised that this was providential. It took me close to a decade to realise this.
My parents agreed to pay for my tuition at the university of my choice. My dad took a loan.
God open my eyes to so many things throughout these five years of my study. I had a hard time then. My father was in the military, money was short, and paying tuition was making our difficulties much worse. There were times when I was going hungry, as I could not afford to buy enough food. The challenge was to get top grades in all the subjects and final papers. If you did, the university reduced your tuition by 25%. So when most other students were socialising and enjoying the big city, I was having to sit over books and study hard. God taught me concentration and self-control. He turned an outwardly negative and uncomfortable situation into a useful and valuable opportunity for me to grow as a person. I think it was a genuine miracle. With hindsight, I can say so with full certainty. I had to practise self-discipline a lot – studying at university and living in residence was a great challenge. I often got up at three or four in the morning to be at the library by seven. I had a great incentive to stay focused and disciplined. If it had not been for this pressure, I may not have become who I am now. There were just too many temptations to do many things and visit many places. But there was simply no time for such exploration. I needed to study. At the end of each semester, I used to go to the Church of Alexander Nevsky at the Military Cometary in Minsk, and I used to put candles there. I never read any prayers, but I always carried the icon of my patron saint with me.
My third miracle was meeting my spiritual father. In 2003, my former teacher of foreign languages told me about the Cathedral of Peter and Paul and its priest (Andrey Lemeshonok) who was giving inspiring talks there to everyone who would listen. I agreed to go with her. So we enter the cathedral and stand at the door. I can hardly hear as he speaks. But that was the first time I saw a nun. That was nun Joanna (Orlova) – she was recording Father Andrey’s talk. After the talk, another nun, Euphrosyne (Laptik) picked him up and drove him back. I did not know back then that she was the Convent’s Mother Superior. So I came, and I just listened without thinking into the words, but I felt very relieved. His words sounded like the breath of fresh air.
On Tuesday, I met Father Andrey face to face, and on Sunday I suffered a loss. A friend from university was driving with her husband and both died in a car accident. That was on 21 September. The pain of the loss was unbearable and was in deep despair. I could not believe it – I was talking to them just eight hours before, and now they are both gone. I was powerless to change this. Nothing could bring them back. So I went to Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral on Saturday for a confession with Father Andrey. I came up to the stand, and I could not say anything. I was just crying. He asked my name, put the cover over my head and forgave my sins.
I continued to go to church from September to December. I went to morning and evening services. I just stood there because I felt less pain as I was there. When I went for a confession with Father Andrey in December, he looked at me and said: “Looks like you are doing much better, and you are hurting less”. I could see that he had been worrying about me. As I was at church after forty days from the accident, I felt as if my friend was standing next to me. Her spirit was alive, and her physical death was not the end. She still lives, but differently. The feeling of despair had left me.
Six months later, Father Andrey invited me to come to the Convent. He made the offer in August 2004. Initially, I thought that he could not be serious. I was still wearing jeans, a short-sleeved shirt; I was dying my hair white, and I was not covering it. I was using blue eyeshadows, and I was wearing my fingernails very long. I was so remote from what a monastic was supposed to look like. He was the only one who had not asked me once to leave the church for wearing jeans. He had not made a single comment about my looks. In this way, he gave me the green light. He did not care if I was wearing jeans or a skirt. I had come to church, and that was the most important thing. Coming to church was also very liberating. I kept coming to Church on Tuesdays, and each time I was leaving I was looking forward to my next visit. I was working long hours then – 12 – 14 hours a day. I came, I listened to the talks and went back to work. He took charge of me, he guided me towards the Convent. He trusted me deeply, and he had great hopes. I made a point of coming to listen to his sermons every Saturday, even when I was not feeling well or the weather was too bad for going outside. I just went, because I felt a needed it a lot.
My fourth miracle is finding a connection with my saint. Many will tell you that we do not get to choose our saints, it is the saints who select us. This must be true for Saint Alexander of Svirsky. Here is some background to the story. In 2013, I was already living at the Convent as a novice, and I was having some trying times. I was working at the garage then. One night, I saw a dream. In principle, we should not trust our dreams, but I remember that one very well, and it had an impact on my life. I saw an elder with a white beard in a schema. He was wearing a monastic cap. I was standing and weeping, and he came up to me and patted me on my head. I must have been on my knees, as he appeared a lot taller. He kissed me and said: “It is going to be all right”. I woke up and tried to remember the name of the saint. I could not. At first, I thought it was Theophyl of Kiev, whom I venerate a lot. Then I presumed it was Saint Ambrose of Optina, but his description did not match the dream. On Monday, a sister came to me at the garage and showed me the image of Alexander Svirsky. I knew it was him that very moment. I cannot say that I never prayed to him, I just did not single him out. Now I knew that the saint has pastoral care over me.
Soon, my life at the Convent also changed. I was given a new job at a construction site. The nun, the senior sister at the convent, advised me to go on a pilgrimage. We arranged it for 2015 and made plans to visit the relics of Saint Alexander Svirsky. We came, stood at the midnight office, and when it ended, and they opened the case with the relics for us. We kissed the relics, I cried without stopping. I was not crying with repentance. I do not know what it was. The midnight office was over, the Moleben is finished, the liturgy begins, and tears are still streaming from my eyes. I went for a confession, and even there I was still crying. I did not stop until I took communion.
I could not explain what it was. I returned and told Father Andrey about it. He said: “You have come back a completely different person”. I still do not know exactly what happened. But I have felt the pastoral care of my saint very much since then. He helps me stay strong, and I still sense a strong connection with him and his intercession.
The fifth miracle, perhaps the greatest in my life, is taking monastic tonsure on 26 March 2020. Here I am, clothed in a chiton, and standing before the solium at church. The choir is singing the hymn “Thy fatherly embrace”. I am given a new name and I become a new person. I am different; it is just the shell that is still the same. I am thinking: “Is this happening to me?” I repeat after the Metropolitan the vows of faithfulness to God. And I realise the great calling on me to transform from within. I must justify God’s trust in me. God knows how much time and effort it will take to overcome my old sinful self with the grace of God that descended on me on this day, to eschew the habit of living comfortably by the rules and laws of the earth. God gives me the chance to rise above myself and grants me the blessing of inner flight. I have been given a lease of God’s grace, and I have a great responsibility not to squander it.
On 27 March, a day after taking my vows I had my fortieth birthday. Just like it took the people of Israel forty years of wandering around the desert to find their promised land, I found mine after forty years of rambling. The three days at the Church of John of Shanghai passed like an instant. How liberating our Lord is, in his infinite love of man! It is my great calling to carry this love in my heart throughout my life, to have no fear and not to betray it. I must follow through, holding on to Christ, and saying “Glory to God for all things”.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds