How has life at the Convent changed in light of the epidemic, and how is everyone coping? We went out and interviewed the people involved.
According to the doctor who is caring for our sisters, all the patients are safely past the crisis point. The sisters who are ill are in isolation in the monastic cells, and the healthy sisters been accommodated at the guesthouse. All are following the recommended treatments and precautions, including mask-wearing and separate dining arrangements.
Nun Maria (Yakovleva): As we have said earlier, several of our monastic sisters were diagnosed with COVID a few days after the Pascha, and the rest were diagnosed several days later. Nearly one-half of our sisters were found to be infected in a screening conducted by the public health services. Seven were taken to hospital, and the rest were allowed to remain at the Convent. I was one of the sisters who had the virus, but I did not need to be hospitalised.
Many sisters diagnosed with the COVID infection were asymptomatic, and felt much better than those who were ill, but their COVID test was negative. This was something I did not expect.
Recently, we were heartened by the news that two of our sisters who were first diagnosed with COVID-19 - Nun Alexia (Yudina) and Nun Paraskeva (Gornostayeva) - are now free from the disease. Nun Alexia has even had some improvements in some of her pre-existing chronic conditions.
With God’s help, Archpriest Vasily Lesko has also recovered. Reportedly, when the doctors who treated him asked him what had given him the strength, Father Vasily replied: “the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the prayers of the people with loving hearts”. Father Vasily is now with his family in a village in southern Belarus.
The sisters who still have the illness are staying in their rooms in self-isolation. The doctors allow them to go for a short walk from time to time, and when they do, they will always wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others. The sisters who are not ill do the cooking, clean up at church and sing at the worship services and do not come into any contact with those infected.
Every other day, the sisters are visited by a doctor from the hospital who takes their temperature, measures their blood oxygenation levels. The doctor is helped by the sisters who are trained in medicine, who monitor the condition of the infected on a daily basis and will call an ambulance if the symptoms worsen. All are receiving good care; all are well fed and are well provided for. Many are on the road to recovery.
We also wrote about some members of our clergy who had tested positive for the virus. One of them, Father Sergius Nezhbort, has already returned home from the hospital and is feeling well. Two other clergy – Father Dimitrius Basalygo and Deacon Boris Bakhvalov are in good condition and are now home in self-isolation. Father Alexander Pashkovsky, who was diagnosed with pneumonia, is also recovering.
We are mourning the death of one of our sisters, Nun Maria (Kovalchuk), who was 83. She had tested positive for coronavirus but also had multiple underlying medical conditions. The cause of death stated in her death certificate is cardiac insufficiency. She resided on the monastic farmstead in Vishnyovka Village.
Father Andrey Lemeshonok: We are not in denial. The people at church have never been immune to illness or death. But people come to church for totally different reasons. They come to be helped. There are a lot of hospitals in our area, and we cannot turn away the people who come to us in a terrible state, some with suicidal thoughts. The National mental health clinic nearby has a separate ward for suicidal patients. I think it would be unfair and completely dishonest to say to these people: “Sorry, there is nothing we can do for you; we have lots of other things on our plate. I think it would be a very mean thing to say and do”.
Situations such as this should bring us to rethink our lives, and reconsider who we are and what we are after. As Christians, we ought to start opening up to Christ at last, and letting Him into our lives.
We wish a speedy recovery to our beloved clergy and monastics and ask you all for your prayers.
In the second part of our interview series with Nun Euphrosyne, Mother Superior of St. Elisabeth Convent, we asked her to talk about her background and her service at the Convent.