Brother Alexander is the man in charge of the monastic horse stable. He has been around horses from six years of age. In the past, he excelled in hurdle racing, a spectacular sport in which the rider jumps over tall barriers on a horse. We interviewed him about his coming to the farmstead. What difference did it make in his life? And how does he see his tomorrow? Read more to find out.
Is horse riding something that anyone can do? If so, how do you choose your horse? How do you know that it is right for you?
Let me teach you how to ride a horse right now! It is not rocket science. The first thing you need to do is relax. And then enjoy the sensation of being one with your horse. Breathe the air, and relish the calm and quiet around you. Move along with it.
You asked me how to find a horse that suits you. See the herd of horses out there? Come closer and take a look. Listen to your intuition. It will tell you which horse will be yours. Just realise this! - Do not be afraid to approach your horse. Just go over to it with confidence. Do not hesitate.
But do not look the horse in the eye. Why? Because horses are intuitive. They can sense your state of mind and will react immediately. A human’s eyes are windows to his soul. If it reads fear in them, it will start acting out to show that it is more powerful. And horses have a lot of power.
My horse’s name is Bourbon. I pat him on his back, he will even let me pull him on his tail. He understands I am being playful. We are close friends. Horses like to be treated as equals. They cannot understand words, but they hear the tone of your voice. They do not listen to what you say, but how you say it.
Where did you learn how to handle horses and talk to them?
I spent much of my life — caring for horses … I began when I was six, and since then the horse stable has become my life. My family sent me to a summer camp. One summer day, a team of riders from Ratomka came and did some demonstrations. I was a little boy then, only a metre twenty. But I was not afraid to come to a huge horse and felt excited. I asked for a ride. That was the first time I had ever ridden a horse. But soon, I could not imagine my life without horses. The riders told me about the horse riding centre at Ratomka and invited me to come. I was six then, but I still remember the joy and excitement of the moment.
Soon, I learned how to love horses, and become close friends with them. I could not imagine my life without them, they became an essential part of me. I still feel the same way towards them.
But back then, I spent every spare minute with the horses. I had a happy childhood. I did well at school, and I was progressing well in the sport. My coach must have seen some talent in me and gave me his horse. Together, we took multiple prizes.
At sixteen, I was already a master of sports in horse riding. I specialised in hurdle jumping. It is one of the most exciting and visually attractive sports in which you jump over tall barriers. I had many broken bones and bad falls. Still, I persevered. The more I practised and performed, the more I liked it. It was my life.
What kept you from making a career in sport, becoming a champion?
When I was sixteen, we moved to a different part of the city. I went to a new school, met new friends and discovered alternative pastimes. I began to spend more of my time at parties and discos. I met a young woman. She became pregnant by me at 16 and had a baby girl. I was young, and it became a new responsibility for me. My life changed. I had to start making money, and that got me on a whole different path.
I ended up in prison, as I was making money in illegal ways. I total, I spent eighteen years of my life behind bars. Coming out of prison, finding a job is a challenge. Without a job or money, going back to prison is very easy. And there was no way I could go back to horse riding. I was living by a different set of rules and had a different set of friends. I lived from one prison term to another. Beyond drinking and partying, I had no other interests in my life.
What bought you to the farmstead?
The last time I came out of prison was in 2015. My ulcer opened up, and I went to hospital. I shared the ward with a man. He asked me why I was looking out the window all the time. I was thinking what to do next when I came out of the hospital. I was trying to decide if I wanted to continue with my past life and go to prison again, or try a different life. My neighbour told me about his sister who was going to visit him in hospital. He said that she could help me.
His sister was from Saint Elisabeth Convent. She listened to my story, gave me some money and left a note with the address of the convent. I came out of the hospital and saw a taxi outside. For a moment, I thought I would hop into it and go partying. But I stopped myself. I remembered how weary I was with my old life. I took the man’s sister’s offer. I went to the bus stop and took the bus to the convent. Twenty minutes later, I was on another bus to the farmstead.
How did the farmstead change your life?
It was spectacular. Here, I could go back to working with horses, something I was always passionate about. Life at the farmstead gave me the time and opportunity to do so. It happened by chance. I saw the horses, and something clicked in me. Before coming to the horse stable, I was doing other jobs, but I always came to look at the horses. Back then, the stable was the responsibility of Nun Vera, and she noticed that I was interested. She came and asked me questions about my past, and offered to take a ride in the fields. After eighteen years, I was back on a horse. I found that I had not forgotten any of my skills.
That was also my first experience of God’s love and my chance to find out how much it meant for me. My attitude to faith had always been lukewarm. I could never get myself to come to church. My parents baptised me at four years of age, but I resisted. I could not understand what was going on. When I was in prison, priests came periodically to serve liturgy, but I never attended - I was not interested. While at the farmstead, I saw church prayer more as a daily routine. I attended church offices because I was following the rules. Coming to a confession, I often thought to myself, “What am I going to say to that priest?” It was always the same ritual. “How are you doing,” he asked. “Not bad,” I answered, and walked away.
It all changed five years ago. I went to town, had a party and was walking back to the farmstead when a car hit me. They took me to intensive care, where I spent almost six weeks. They patched me up and put together my broken bones. In the hospital, I began to pray to God. I pleaded with Him to help me recover. They brought me here in a wheelchair, but I got back to my feet quickly. After that, I became more open in my confessions. Gradually, I told my confessor Father Andrey Lemeshook all my life. I opened up to him like to no one else.
He has become like a father to me. I feel a closeness to him, and feel I can share anything with him. I am grateful to him for his ability to give others the benefit of the doubt. He is always willing to give a chance to every willing person.
How do you see your future life? What do you have
There is little in this life that we need more than faith. I never used to think of God in my past life. I partied, drank and did time in prison, and could not imagine any other life. But the life I used to live was a mistake. At 47, I am beginning to understand what real life is about. I met a soulmate, my better half and my joy. We have a closeness in the spirit, not the body. - I told Father Andrey, and he approved.
I see this encounter as a gift from heaven, a miracle that I have not deserved. Perhaps the Lord has seen the change in me. I am learning not to live only for myself, but also for others.
I hoped to have a family sometime in future. Now I believe in the reality of these hopes. I begin to realise the value of the family more and more. I like my job, and I look forward to seeing more people coming here and keeping this place alive.
Interviewer: Olga Demidiuk.
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.