In my childhood and adolescence, I always liked bright colours. I found inspiration in their variety in nature. Likewise, I always enjoyed my encounters with many different people and personalities. When I chose to become a monastic (a decision that came unexpectedly), my first thought was, "How am I going to wear black"? It was like cutting off a crucial part of myself. In my mind, I also understood the ridiculousness of my doubts.
Living at the convent, I understood the nature of my misgivings. People see black has been the colour of tragedy and death. But when I wore my black monastic gown for the first time in Montenegro, I felt as if I had put behind all the things from my past that were unnecessary and irrelevant. It was much like looking in a mirror and seeing inside me.
Since then, bright colours have belonged to my inner person, as if they had entered my soul and coloured it all over. It was like a magical transformation; under my black vestments, all the different hues and colours were playing in the light of God.
Working in the service of God is not like the practice of some art for art's sake, as I used to do in the past. By the grace of God, He elevated me to the highest and most essential work of all, the labour of prayer!
I dare say that what brought me to God and the Orthodox faith were art and the theatre. At some stage, I was in the middle of a spiritual journey. Only two outcomes were possible - meeting God or falling into darkness.
On the outside, I felt bright and colourful, but inside, something was holding me back - some kind of dark energy. There is something good in every person, and everyone is beautiful in their way. Many good and beautiful things in me I learned from these other people. But everyone had a dark side, too. Without faith, opposing it is like fighting against the windmills.
The holy fathers say that we should always consider ourselves unworthy, worse than a worm. But that is something I could never do. To keep me alive, I must love in my inner self what I have from God, the beauty, purity and goodness that He had put in in me. This love gives me my inspiration.
For me, it is essential to be with God and other people. I could never go it completely alone - I would have no energy to live. There is a degree of selfishness in feeling abandoned by others. Whenever I have this feeling, I reach out to the Lord; even a faint prayer is enough for Him to come to my rescue, pull me out of the mire and return clarity to my vision!
Some people are rebels, and I have always had an affinity for them because I took their nonconformity for courage. Sometimes, we took to the streets to play with our theatre some avant-garde production. In doing so, we ruffed a few feathers and suffered consequences. But when you believe in what you are doing, the blowback from others just gives you more courage and audacity and adds value to your rebellion. In the spiritual life, loving God with full devotion and courage makes you strong enough to give your life for Him!
We do not get to choose our patron saints, it seems. They choose us instead. I believe that the holy venerable martyr Elizabeth Romanov has found me, entered my life, and made me a happy member of a convent that bears her name. I am thankful for her guidance.
When I joined my first monastery in Montenegro, I did not fully understand what monastic life was. I was anything but gentle, humble and patient as a monastic is supposed to be. Even at the monastery, I remained a rebel. I could stand before the abbess or even a metropolitan and give him a piece of my mind. I gave others a hard time, but I also did not have an easy time.
My most difficult struggle has been with my pride and wilfulness.
I first read about St. Elizabeth in the book "Love Overcomes Death". It details the life of the Russian royal family and the great feat of Elisabeth Romanov. I felt a closeness to her as I read about her service of the sick and orphans.
Before coming to the monastery, I also worked for four years with orphans and children from troubled families. I shared my intention with my spiritual father, Bishop Joannice, but he told me that I would do better becoming a monastic and looking after my soul by learning humility and patience.
But even as a nun, I did not break my ties with the children. I rejoiced when many of them found God and began to take communion. I felt that children and monastics were in the same boat, as all of them are the children of God.
As I was waiting to take my monastic tonsure, an inner struggle began. I had read about Saint Elisabeth Convent in a magazine that one of its monastic sisters, Nun Magdalena, had brought. I learned about its sisters and Father Andrey. Its title translated as "Reunion". I did not understand a word in Russian, but I admired the message - the unity of spirit, the ministry among the children, and the sense of kinship among the monastics. It inspired me a lot. The only thing that made me sad was not being there.
Later, I returned periodically to this magazine. I did not know a single word in Russian, but I understood everything. The joy and unity, the children that the sisters were helping gave me a lot of inspiration. I was happy to have learned about this monastery, and I was sad not to be there. I had a difficult time.
Finally, I had the idea to write to Minsk. I sent the letter but received no answer. Now I know the reason. It did not say what I wanted. I felt sad. But I prayed before the icon of Saint Elisabeth, and her answer resonated in my heart. "So what is it you want? Say it to God, openly and honestly. Be truthful." This advice now guides me in all my endeavours.
So I wrote another letter. It was very short. I asked for permission to come and join Saint Elisabeth Convent. A few days later, I received the answer. Its Mother Superior said yes. She invited me to come. When I arrived, and she asked me if I was going to stay, I answered yes from my heart, as saint Elisabeth had taught.
- Here at St. Elizabeth's Monastery, I started a drama studio for the men and women residents of our farmsteads. It was a difficult but exciting job. Our farmsteads are places of strife and sorrow, but God's grace lives there as well. It brings people back to life. Through it, we learn to look beyond our selfish needs and learn to care for others.
Even our weaknesses can sometimes be uplifting, although it is not always easy to understand why. By becoming aware of them, we realise that we are still a long way from perfection. It keeps us from puffing ourselves up, from becoming too proud. A man from the farmstead once asked me, "Mother, you have come to save us, but are you saving yourself here as well?"
Through his miraculous workings, God brings us to become one with our patron saint. At my tonsure, I took the name Elizabeth and was not because of my great deserts. It was God's way of showing me the example to follow in my life.
Like Saint Elizabeth, I have loved the people here. They have a spirit that is both distinct and enigmatic. I cannot even find the words to describe it. The farmstead residents can be crude, rowdy and poorly behaved, but as Saint Elisabeth has said, God's image in a man is indestructible. In every person, there is beauty and goodness. One simply needs the eyes to see.
Recorded by Vadim Yanchuk
Nun Julia Baran: “As I said to my mother, I wish I had joined the Convent after school. But I know If I had joined young, I probably would not have stayed. God let me join at 37. He is leading me, and I am following.”
By learning to understand and accept people of all sorts in any condition, I am growing - in faith, trust, hope and love. I am putting my sorrows into perspective and find my experience invaluable and therapeutic.
Meeting with God is always very personal, mysterious, unperceivable. Sisters of our Convent share their stories of when and how they heard the Lord and responded to His call. The first story about the way to God shared with us Nun Mitrodora.
Cutting off their own will, the sisters go through changes until finally a new personality is born, a follower of Christ, a nun.
Mother Superior Efrosinya recalls an incident that illuminated to her the truth of the Scripture’s words.
Monastics are people who fend for themselves. They go it alone and ascetise out of everybody's view.
In the final part of the interview Mother Superior of St. Elisabeth Convent discusses the ways and means of maintaining the unity of the monastic family.