During his interactions with parishioners, the confessor of our convent, Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok, sometimes tells stories from his life, sharing his personal spiritual experience. We have gathered seven such stories, told by Fr. Andrey in different years.
— This incident happened a long time ago, when I was still young. I was unbaptized, and I felt that I was never truly free. I constantly relied on others, and this made me feel suffocated. I felt like I had to pretend to be someone I wasn't. At the time, the hippie movement was popular, and I thought that I could be free by rejecting everything and living my life on my own terms. Once, my friends and I were passing through Odessa, going to the Caucasus. We looked quite exotic with our ragged jeans and long hair. Everyone was looking at us, and that gave us a feeling of freedom, a feeling of being different, rather than being philistines. Suddenly we saw a monk in the street. He was simply walking and eating ice cream, but I was struck by the kind of freedom that I saw in him. I had a feeling that I would follow him anywhere and that my imaginary outward freedom was worth nothing compared to his freedom. It was so ingrained in my memory that a year and a half later I was baptized.
— When I first came to the island of Zalit to see Father Nikolai Guryanov, he was celebrating Liturgy. The Elder came out of the altar to give communion to the people. During the Communion of the children, his face changed. If I saw it alone, then one could say that I was just seeing things, but there was a deeply religious person standing next to me. At that moment we simultaneously looked at each other, and then at the Elder's face.
“Look at the face of Father Nikolai!” we said to each other.
It was indeed the face of a saint. Its radiance deeply touched my heart. I arrived there in a state of darkness. I was in a hopeless state. I felt that by human standards I was in some kind of a dead end. When the Lord showed me His beauty in that person, all the negative things disappeared. The light of God immediately entered my heart, bringing great joy to my soul. This Paschal joy is truly the joy of Life, the joy of Resurrection. The darkness was gone. Such is the action of God Himself, showing us the beauty of eternal love while we are still on this earth...
— When I was serving as a watchman and choir singer at the Holy Ghost Cathedral in Minsk, I knew roughly how every priest lived. So, when I came to confession, I knew the worldly rationale that a priest would be guided by and had a general idea of what he would say to me on this or that issue. This was certainly trickery. I was looking for easy ways for myself, not relying on what the Lord would say through the confessor. The Lord repeatedly showed me the action of the Holy Spirit in my life, but the factor of human communication was stronger. I remember a time when there were only two churches in Minsk – St. Alexander Nevsky Church at the military cemetery and the Holy Spirit Cathedral. One night, I went to confession. There were many people waiting in line. The priest covered the person in front of me with an epitrachelion and said, "Next, come on up, do not linger..."
I did not know what to do. I needed to confess thoroughly, telling God everything about my infirmities. I went to the analogion, and the priest said to me, “Go ahead, and tell me everything that is on your mind…” For me it was a revelation: The Lord hears us and knows all about our needs.
If we believed that the Lord personally acts in our lives, it would change our perception of the things that take place during prayer and the sacraments.
— Once I went berry picking with a pious man, also a watchman at the Cathedral. My companion, who believed in God from early childhood and was a Cossack, told me a lot about himself. He had suffered for the faith, served time in prison, and had almost been shot... So there we were, riding our bicycles to go for berries after duty without getting enough sleep. The place was swampy, and the mosquitoes were huge... I picked a bucket full of large ripe berries and was ecstatic to say the least. However, on the way back I stumbled and dumped my whole bucket straight in the mud... Such is our life! I was all bitten by mosquitoes, and the berries were all in the mud. Everything that happens to us has a deep spiritual meaning. A person who does not see this meaning in his everyday life is spiritually blind.
— Once we were at the river camping in tents, and every day it rained. It was terrible until suddenly the sun came out. It was a true miracle. Imagine it raining all the time with everything being wet, and suddenly the sun comes out. It is the same with human life where there is so much sorrow, sadness and pain, but suddenly there comes a moment of silence, joy and light, like the sun breaking through an impenetrable veil of rain. Moments like this are real, long-awaited and priceless gifts from God. I had such a moment in my life when I was very discouraged and thought that I would die in constant mood swings. I returned home after serving in church, and there was always something wrong. Father Nikolai Guryanov once sat me down and said, "Look at me. We must rejoice!” At that moment, his face shone with such radiance that my despondency was half gone.
— In the mountains of Montenegro there is a church built by ordinary secular people. They began to restore it on their own initiative. To do this, everyone had to work hard: cars do not reach a height of over a thousand meters, so the stones and sand had to be carried there on donkeys. The church on the mountain became the center of these people's lives. It was built not by hired labourers or contractors vying for their interest, but by ordinary people. Once you are there, this can be clearly felt. A church on the mountain is like the banner of Serbian Orthodoxy.
There is silence on these mountains, broken only by the chirping of grasshoppers. You cannot hear what's happening below, and you cannot see anything, only small lights. It is the same with our life... We fuss, run and suffer, but if you look at it from a height, most of it will be insignificant, like some small dots. Imagine our souls ascending even higher, from where our world will be seen as a small circle. We are racking our brains here, wondering what people will think of us, or what they will tell us, but it is such nonsense when you are on a mountain, where you have clouds, the sky and birds flying around you! Such experiences restore our attention to priorities, showing what is real and what is temporary in our life.
When you devote so much energy to the temporary, you are wasting too many nerves! It is better to spend these efforts trying to climb the mountain. This is why our Holy Church calls us to “Lift up our hearts to the Lord”, rising above all worldly cares. All the discord, strife and anxiety are no longer important once you have your heart lifted up to the Lord . Try to do it more often ! If there is no way to climb a physical mountain, then you need to do it in spirit.
— Once I was in Montenegro, living in a tent, and sleeping on stones which was great for keeping fit. There was a small trailer there where I kept my passport, money, holy vessels, gifts etc. Suddenly I heard the popping sound of an explosion from that trailer. The flame was huge, and I was nervous, because I was afraid that the forest would catch fire. Thankfully, there was enough water to put the fire out. God simply held back the flame. Having chastened me sorely, he has not given me over to death (see Ps. 117: 18). Yet the van burned down completely with everything in it. I was in a foreign country with nothing left except a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
In a situation like that one might be a bit wistful, but the beauty I saw in others saved me from despondency. It is amazing how people who did not even know me responded to my loss! They simply brought me to a house, opened the closet and said: "You can take whatever you need." In the meantime, my passport was restored in Belgrade, while we ourselves were in another country. People went to the consulate, spent time and energy… And the Lord provided everything! I saw endless love and incredible care of simple believers, and that was my gain.
My cassock had also burned down. At the Savina Monastery in the city of Herceg Novi on the border with Croatia, they gave me the cassock of the late Archimandrite Justin and the rhason of the late Abbot Barnabas. I felt it was God's mercy on me. These holy robes worn by experienced monks and ascetics warmed my spirit. Had I not lost anything in that fire, I would not have received such a blessing.
Our losses must be dealt with properly. We have to accept the fact that we cannot change or do anything on our own. We need to accept what we have and see God's blessing in it. Creating begins when you stop struggling with yourself and with God, and find the path that you have to walk with Christ.
We invite you to use this link to send Fr Andrey your birthday wishes and prayer requests. He is a wise and God-loving person and will be happy to pray for you.