Lay sister Julia Kostukevich
Members of the Sisterhood in the name of the Holy Martyr Elisabeth and sisters of the Convent, originating from the Sisterhood, have been coming to the National Mental Health Centre since 1996, sharing their warmth and love with those in need of it.
In the evenings, two or three times a week, the sisters meet with the hospital patients, speak about confession and Communion, and help them prepare for a priest's visit, occurring once every three weeks and giving each patient an opportunity to go to confession and to take Communion.
The different departments of this mental institution treat adults and children with epilepsy, various phobias, depression, neuroses, schizophrenia, anorexia, alcohol and drug addictions, and many other diagnoses.
Sister Julia Kostyukevich has been serving as a religious nurse in the Mental Health Centre from the very beginning of the Sisterhood 26 years ago. The department that she visits treats 60-70 men for alcohol addiction.
These patients' reaction to visits of a religious nurse varies and may include aggression or ridicule.
At the beginning of Julia's service, she considered it a big victory when she was able to get some response from at least one in twenty people. However, the number of such victories increased every year.
There were times when Julia's department showed up "in full muster" for confession and Communion.
Read about one of such visits that took place on the eve of the feast of the Kazan Icon of the Theotokos, described in Sister Julia's own words:
“On the evening of July 20, I was walking to my department to speak about the confession planned on the following day.
As usual, I was in a state of anxiety. Confessions at the hospital are always like passing a difficult exam, usually causing my spiritual warfare to escalate the day before. I was asking the Lord to help me stand up to the challenge.
The situation in my department was very tense on that day. One of the patients (a follower of Islam) began to raise his voice. Immediately there were people who picked that up. A few patients came who were slightly drunk. Someone began to threaten, waving his fist in my face.
Several people sat next to me and were "on my side". I was very sorry for the people who started this noise, yet my heart was already in horror, and my imagination painted the coming confession in the most grave and terrifying colours.
My following day was filled with anticipation of something terrible. I did my best asking the Mother of God, St. George with all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven and all saints, particularly the Royal Martyr Nicholas II (not yet canonised back then) to accompany me to my department on that day.
I trembled so hard while approaching the porch of my long-suffering department 34, I could hear my teeth chatter. Before that day, I had thought that it only happened in movies. My soul was trembling in a silent cry to all the saints and the Mother of God, asking them to encircle me all around, to escort and protect me...
On the Feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, commemorating victory over the Hagarenes, my hope was that the Mother of God would protect me from my inner Hagarenes (passions, evil and selfish emotions).
Kazan Icon of the Mother of God painted in our Convent
Truly, the Lord does not allow anyone to be tempted beyond their strength. On that day, July 21, the confession went peacefully. The person who had been screaming the day before was transferred to another department in an acute condition. Those having threatened me were already sober. They even went to talk with the priest after he had heard everyone's confessions.
The Lord calmed the storm. My soul was celebrating the victory of the Mother of God over the Hagarenes, a small, local victory that was common for Her. Everything went calm.
I was sitting on the couch next to the hospital patients. The confession was ending (or maybe it was already over). Suddenly a man came up and asked me if I was alone.
I said, "Yes".
“What about the people that came here with you—where are they?” asked the man.
My heart sank. Was he talking about those whom I asked with tears in prayer to surround and shield me on all sides? God only knows. One way or another, this incident stuck in my memory, because there was no one else came with me to my department that day.”
How dreadful would our lives become if we had no words to say “Forgive me” and “Lord will forgive, and I do also”? No worldly wisdom could bring order and restore peace among people without the aid of forgiveness.
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