Brother Ivan Shostak, a parishioner of Saint Elisabeth Convent, rings the bells in the bell tower of the long-term care facility for people with disabilities, one of the sites where Saint Elisabeth Convent performs its ministries. His job is an expression of love and solidarity with the patients. We interviewed him about his obedience, how he came to be doing it, and its significance for the people he serves.
You travel a long distance across the city to ring the bells for a dozen minutes. Where do you get the strength and motivation to do it almost daily?
It is my service to the disabled patients among whom we minister. I came here at the invitation of Father Rodion Alkhovik. It was an excellent opportunity for me to learn simplicity, forgiveness, and acceptance of another. I learned all these things from the patients. Their kindness, sincerity and openness are exceptional. They are generous and loving, and there is no trace of falsehood or hypocrisy in their hearts.
Christ told us to be like children (Matthew 18: 3), and they fulfil this commandment of our Lord par excellence. Observing the children from our Sunday school, I noticed how quickly they made peace even when they argued and how easily they returned to being friends. The patients at the care facility are the same - they focus on the good and hope for the best. It is a wonderful skill to learn.
We built a bell tower in the care home. I come to ring the bells, and I do it three to five times per week. It is my way of building a prayerful connection with the patients. I read in the faces of the patients how much my work matters to them. I believe that human beings can connect in the spirit and prayer.
We can benefit others by thinking about them, wishing them well, and praying for them. It happens among believers all the time. No sooner have we thought about a brother or a sister than our telephone rings, and we hear their voice. That is another way to exchange kindness and love among us.
To me, ringing the church bells is like sending a message to the world. The bell chimes reflect what is in my heart. When I have no peace, others can hear it in the sound; likewise, when paschal joy overfills my heart, I could embrace the whole world with it. There is a spiritual connection between me and my work: when I do it, my heart fills up with light, and no darkness remains. And it shows in the clear and majestic sound of the bells.
How did you make up your mind to become a bell ringer?
I have always been enchanted by church bells and dreamed of becoming a bell ringer. It was the Paschal season of 2008. I was not going to church then, but I had read in the news that the churches were opening their bell towers to everyone willing to try their hand at bell ringing. I was not very busy then, so I went to the Metropolitan Cathedral and found a priest. "Father, is there a bell tower at the cathedral," I asked. "Yes, why?" "I have come to ring the bells. They said on television that anyone could come to church to ring the bells on Pascha," I replied. They said, "Our bell tower is too tall, but there is one at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow." You can go there." I did not go that time because I thought it was too far.
Almost a decade later, when we were already visiting the patients at the care facility, a sister asked me if I wanted to take a course in bell ringing. I agreed.
My coach Bogdan was a nice and positive person. He taught me all the techniques. I completed the course and received a diploma.
Then we all decided to build a chapel with bells in the care facility. We settled for a minimalist option at first: a mobile set of bells that we would roll out on the parapet before each prayer service. But Father Rodion said, "Let us go for something more ambitious." But there were a lot of open questions and much uncertainty. Where do we procure the bells? How many? And where to raise the money? We launched a fund-raising appeal and were surprised by how many people responded.
We built the tower, acquired the bells and rang them each Saturday before the liturgy served by Father Rodion at the domestic church of the care facility. We also rang on Fridays before the Moleben with the sisters. I was the bell-ringer. It had always wanted to bring people the good news of God by sounding His messengers. Finally, my dream came true, after more than a decade. As I ring the bells, I share my joy of the Lord. I bring the news of His resurrection; I serve and preach Him. I find a lot of happiness in my job and see it as a great responsibility.
Do your family share your love of Christ and your passion for bell-ringing?
When I was still a newcomer to the Church, my wife thought that I was out of my mind. As I remember myself in those days, I realise how annoying my behaviour must have been for my loved ones. I insisted on them joining me on visits to monasteries. I checked that they were wearing long skirts and kerchiefs. I admire my wife's patience with me in those years. She said to me many years later, "I thought you had gone mad."
Today, I still invite all my family to church every Sunday. even though I know they will refuse. I always greet my loved ones on a Sunday, including my parents and in-laws. It has already become a family tradition for us.
We have two daughters, 21, and 15. Our older daughter came of age when I still was not at church. The younger one used to go to Sunday school and take communion. Neither goes to Church today, but I do not despair. I know that they will want to come sometime.
I found Christ when I became acquainted with my village priest and discovered in him the love and beauty that I had never seen before. My children may have a similar encounter sometime in their lives. If so, I need not rush them. The days when I wanted to push everyone on the right path are now history. Now I am more concerned with my salvation.
How do you imagine your future relationship with the Lord and the Church?
Before I came to church, I saw all churchgoers almost as saints, not ordinary people. Coming to Church opened my eyes to my weaknesses and transgressions. The Church is my hospital; I have come to be healed and meet God.
I have also found joy that I had never experienced before. Like many people of the world, I used to look for excitement in cinema, alcohol or adventures. But there is no greater joy than being at the Church on the night of the Pascha. Yet, as Father Andrey Tkachev says, it is only a small portion of the joy of the Feast of Heaven. The fullness of that joy defies imagination.
I wish to rejoice in the Lord every day of the year, not just on Paschal night, and I know it takes much effort of the spirit. So even when I feel too tired to go to church, I urge myself to overcome my fatigue and come as a good servant of God. I find it a good way to build spiritual discipline.
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We continue to tell you more about the different ministries that we conduct here at Saint Elisabeth Convent. We have already touched upon the topic of bringing God into the lives of disabled children that live in the boarding homes of Minsk.