In July, we remember schema-monk Piotr (Piotr Polyak) who departed to God in 2011. He worked for many years at Saint Elisabeth Convent. He lived a difficult life and knew many falls and victories over sin. At all times, he had genuine trust in God and was committed to serving God and the people. Here is his life story.
As Father Piotr told us, his parents came from Russia's Krasnodarsky Kray. His father died in the war, and his mother, while still pregnant, moved to the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine. There, in the village of Kiselitsy of Putily District, she had her son Piotr in April 1943. They lived less than half a kilometre from their village church. Piotr made friends with the priest's children and spent the greater part of his early childhood years at the church. He even helped to build it as he stayed overnight. When the persecution of the Church began, the boy was prohibited from going to church. Yet he still kept in touch with an elderly man who secretly kept religious books and let the boy read and copy from them.
As a child, he was lively and strong-willed. One day, he broke some rule at school. The teacher opened his school bag to write a note for his parents and found copies of religious texts there. Immediately, she reported the boy to law enforcement. They took the boy into custody and sent him to a correctional facility for adolescents in Saratov Oblast for five years. After his release, he learned about his mother's death. In those years, orphaned children were encouraged to enter military schools, and Piotr decided to dedicate his life to military service as a commando. After finishing military school, Piotr went on to serve in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Angola. He was promoted all the way to major.
He was discharged from the army for health reasons and settled in Pskov Region. He rented several hectares of land and engaged himself in agriculture. The business went well. The crops were good, and so were sales and incomes. Inevitably, the local bandits became jealous. They attacked his estate demanding money. However, the military officer with a licence to carry a weapon did not give in. He shot at his attackers. He wounded several men, two died of their injuries. Informally, the police did not doubt for a minute that he was right to use lethal force and even thanked him for sparing the neighbourhood of the bandits. They offered him a choice: a conviction for homicide and a nine-year prison sentence, or going into hiding at a monastery where they would not look for him.
Piotr chose the second option and ended up at the Pskov-Pechersky monastery. There, he found many retired military servicemen among the monks. At first, he missed his farm and his successful farming business, but eventually, he came to like the well-established routine of monastic life and especially the worship services. At the monastery, he received guidance from Father Jon Krestyankin. During his moments of weakness or temptation, he immediately went to him for help. Father John listened to him, anointed him with holy oil, and Piotr felt relieved.
In 1993, he began to have strong pains in his throat. The doctors attributed the problem to his past blast injury and said that they could not help him. A young doctor who saw him said it was cancer and referred him to the hospital in Pskov. His condition deteriorated so badly that he had difficulty walking without support. Father John tonsured Piotr as a monk.
Father Piotr recalled, "It was Christmas night. They brought me to a ward and placed me in a bed. At that point, something happened to me that had never happened before. I was in a light haze, but I was not sleeping. That was when the Mother of God came to me. At Pskov-Pechersky monastery, there is a church of Michael the Archangel. I saw a light coming from behind the choir stand where I had never been before. The Mother of God, dressed in red, stood on her knees. I am not sure what it was, but several days later I was able to walk. I learned that the doctors had already told the brothers to prepare for my death. They had a coffin made for me with something carved on it. It looked ugly to me."
Nobody knows exactly how he came to Minsk. What we do know is that Father Pavel (he went by that name before becoming a schema monk) had been hospitalised to a mental clinic, and a sister of charity referred him to Saint Elisabeth Convent after his discharge. Father Andrey Lemeshonok asked him to go to the men's farmstead in Lysaya Gora and take charge there.
At that time, it had fifteen residents, most of whom suffered from drug and alcohol dependence. Father Pavel was put in charge of these brothers. At that time, there was little that they could do in the way of work, and they did little more than occupational therapy to keep themselves busy.
The farmstead occupied 140 hectares of land. In the middle stood a semi-crumbled building of an animal farm. As the person in charge, Father Pavel was taking care of multiple agricultural. management and financial tasks. In doing so, he benefited greatly from his extensive professional and life experience. He could complete the tillage and planting works even with a very limited budget.
The director of the nearby collective farm had great respect for him. He admired his business acumen and always helped him out with fuel, heavy machinery and equipment. A local private farmer was also very helpful, but most useful of all was Father Pavel's phenomenal ability to find solutions even to the most difficult problems.
The collective farm had a stockpile of fertiliser in a run-down warehouse full of fertiliser ready to collapse at any moment. The farm director offered him the fertiliser in exchange for the fertiliser. As a retired military officer, he weighed all the risks, and as a manager, he assessed the benefits and accepted the deal. He found two people to help him. One was a former mountain climber and the other a licensed crane operator. He made the necessary arrangements, hired a mobile crane and did the job. The farmstead's crops flourished
Every weekend, he received a large team of helpers. Father Pavel always prepared well for each visit. He would spread white sheets over the improvised tables and served the treats. He always gave a welcoming speech over dinner. After many years, the visitors still have fond memories of their welcoming host and his words of appreciation and encouragement.
One of his major weaknesses was binge drinking. He could have several lapses in a year, each ending in hospitalisation. After returning from the hospital, he asked everyone for forgiveness and went back to his work with great zeal. After his last episode and hospitalisation, he left the farmstead and was given a new obedience at the Convent.
He began to work as a guard and was responsible for keeping order and cleanliness on the Convent's grounds. He supervised a team of other guards and cleaners and oversaw the distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy.
He did his job with excellence and did his best to keep the area neat and clean. Even during the heavy winter snowfalls, he made sure that the cleaners always put the snow in neat piles, and showed them how to do it with great patience. Nobody ever saw him sitting idle. On the contrary, he always insisted that movement is life.
His dream was to become a schema monk. He had collected money from his pension and placed an order for the vestments with the monastic workshop. The set of vestments was hanging in his wardrobe. He approached the diocese several times to request tonsure as a schema monk but was repeatedly turned down. Finally, the time came when the Lord responded to his prayers. He was tonsured to the great schema with the name Piotr.
After tonsure, Schemamonk Piotr kept silent. As he walked around the courtyard, one had the impression that he was present in some other place, where there were only Him and the Lord. He treated everyone with compassion and always listen sympathetically to their misfortunes. Everybody liked him for his kind disposition and understanding. He welcomed the homeless, people with drug and alcohol problems, the hungry, the needy and the lonely. He took particularly kindly to alcoholics. He understood their condition, sometimes helped them with their wine ache and took them to hospital.
In July 2011, he underwent surgery to remove an inflamed lymphatic node. Later that day he had oedema on his head and his blood pressure dropped. He could not get out of bed, and he had difficulty breathing. The nun who cared for him was giving him water through a tube, and he was swallowing with visible effort. She asked him if he would take communion, and he agreed enthusiastically. They sent for a priest, and Father Piotr took communion. Afterwards, he became delirious and breathed rarely. The nuns read a canon for the departure of the soul, and he expired.
"I have attended many funeral services here at the convent, but the funeral service for Father Piotr was special," remembers Nun Yevgenia. "As we were singing the hymns and bidding our farewells, I felt a blissful calm. There was no sadness or sorrow, all I felt was peace in my heart. I realised then how much of a blessing it was for him to be a schema monk. In the world, funeral services are accompanied by a lot of crying and sadness; this one was filled with peace and awe!"
"Amid the birches planted here is a small bench," remembers Nun Susanna. "He used to spend a lot of time here. Look! The snow has melted, and there is not any grass anywhere else in the courtyard except under his bench. I went around and checked..."