Alexander Vikovitsky is a former professional football player. However, he had to abandon his career in sport because of a bad injury, and his life took a sharp turn for the worse. He was falling rapidly into an abyss, and only by coming to the farmstead, he could avoid a catastrophe. We interviewed Brother Alexander about his work, faith, his way of salvation and hopes for the future.
Tell us about your obedience at the farmstead.
I look after the goats. Some are just a few months old, others are newborns. My work takes great care and attention to detail. We take the little goads away from their mothers soon after birth to get more milk from the mother goats. We feed them milk from saucers. I must keep the milk at a certain temperature; even when the mild is only 2 - 3 degrees below the norm, the little goats may not survive. The older goats need to be given warm water four times a day. I put my hand in the bucket to check the water temperature.
My day starts at 5:30 in the morning and ends at 11 at night. I start with the little goats - I sweep the floor, add the feed to their mangers. It takes me about one hour to complete.
Then I take care of the older goats, I feed them, give them water and check if all the goats are OK. If I notice a problem, I call the vet immediately. It is pretty much the same routine every day- feed the goats, give them water and do all these at the same hour of the day.
All my goats are friendly and curious. Each has a distinct personality. Some compete with all the others for a place at the manger, others wait patiently. They are very different, just like people.
I think I am a hard-working person, but I still get tired. I cannot be idle for very long, so I use every minute to do some work - like mending a manger or fixing a fence. I have a lot of endurance from sport. No matter how exhausted I feel, I still get myself to rise to my feet and do my job.
The residents of the farmstead come from some very disadvantaged backgrounds. How has the farmstead helped you overcome your life difficulties?
My life has a lot in common with those of the other brothers. I am a former professional footballer, I practised with the main cadre of my team. But when I was 21, I suffered a severe injury to the knee. I should have waited for it to heal, but I was worried that someone else might come and take my place. The injury got worse, and eventually, I could no longer play, and even walking was a problem. I had surgery, and I could walk again, and even play football, but not professionally. My career in sport ended before it began.
I felt bitter. I took to smoking and heavy drinking. Before my injury, I never even had a beer. I went in the wrong direction, and it gives me shivers to remember the way I was then. What was I thinking? Any money that I earned I spent on alcohol.
I had crossed the line, I lost all meaning to my life... but God had mercy on me, and led me to the Convent. Father Andrey gave me his blessing to go to the farmstead. Here, we are working for the glory of God to change from within. Inner change is our goal, we think about it often. We read about it in the Gospel, and our fathers the priests remind us about it all the time.
The search for inner change put me on the way to salvation. At the Convent, I began to put my talents to good use. I went back to playing football, I benefited from my experience in construction and village work. All the doors are open here - they give you the chance to test your abilities in many areas. But there are no easy jobs here.
I feel fortunate to work at the goat farm. That was not my first job here. Getting it was a kind of promotion for me.
Last Autumn, the Convent conducted a football championship, and brothers from the farmstead also participated as a team. We took the first prize. Nun Rebecca (Pereira), who played football professionally before becoming a nun, watched my play and liked it very much. Later, Father Andrey permitted me to try my hand as a coach for the primary school students of the Convent's school "Ichthys".
How has your faith in God assisted your return to normalcy?
Having faith in God is common among footballers in general. Many teams have a tradition of going to church before important games or championships.
Faith was something that remained hidden from me for a long time. I did not find God until I realised that nobody else could help me. I did not go to church, I was just asking Him for his mercy, in my own words. Today, I am building a relationship with Him. I ask for His help in my everyday tasks. I always think about my life, my actions and my goals in it.
I have the sense that I have grown spiritually. I have learned to evaluate my progress and make plans for the future. I have also learned to notice my weaknesses and address them. Pride is the biggest among them. I have become conscious of the need to be gentle and humble in my disagreements with others, and stop seeing myself as someone who knows best.
What future do you see for yourself?
I want to find a goal in life and be of benefit to myself and others. That depends on my ability to change from within. As a former athlete, ambition and perseverance are some of my strong points. But when taken too far, ambition can grow into selfishness, and it is nothing good even in football. But you cannot play football without ambition, either. Finding the right balance is a challenge. How is it possible? In the broad sense, all my brothers and I are one team, and Father Andrey is our coach.
My biggest dream is to find someone to love and have a family. I want to have children. I would like to meet someone who believes in God. Father Andrey supports me in my intentions, but he also reminds me that I still need to build my character to remain on track. I thank God for being here. I do not know where I would have been without the farmstead.
Misha is a loveable boy with big blue eyes. He grew up at the farmstead of Saint Elisabeth Convent where disadvantaged women find shelter. Nun Barbara, in charge of the farmstead, shared with us the boy's story.
Saint Elisabeth Convent owns a bee yard at farmstead about a dozen kilometres outside Minsk. The bee yard is the responsibility of Nun Joanna Orlova. We interview her about the details of her obedience.
For every woman resident of our monastic farmstead, summer is a busy time. We interviewed several women about their daily work as a chance to learn to give love to one another, know God's will and follow it.
As our Patron Saint Grand Duchess Elisabeth wrote, God's image in a person may dim, but it can never be destroyed. Today, we asked Ruslan Gurin, a brother from our monastic farmstead, to share his story of his progress.
Why was the church at the Convent farm consecrated in honour of the "Inexhaustible Chalice" icon of the Mother of God? The answer to this question lies in the history of both the icon and our mission farm.
The Convent is running two rehabilitation centres for men and women in difficult life situations who are struggling with alcohol and drug dependencies and have no home or family. Some 200 people are presently under their care.
This year the women’s farmstead of Saint Elisabeth Convent celebrates its 10 year anniversary. It was established in 2011 in a former military base near Vishnyovka village, some 25 kilometres from Minsk.
We follow the footsteps of our Convent’s heavenly patroness, Saint Elisabeth, therefore helping disadvantaged poor people is one of our top priorities. We have established two rehabilitation centers near Minsk - for women and for men.