Sister Julia Kostyukevich
Rejoice, О Sovereign Lady, the Inexhaustible Chalice, quenching our spiritual thirst.
(From the akathist hymn to the "Inexhaustible Chalice" icon of the Mother of God)
When I think about my long-suffering substance abuse department, various situations, conversations and faces come to my mind in a single frame without any temporal sequence.
How many of them, tormented by the disease of drug and alcohol addiction, faced critical moments at the edge of their lives, asking God for forgiveness? How many have turned away and perished in obscurity? How many have risen with a single repentant effort from the ashes and dust of their ruined life?
This is truly a God's Archive of human destinies and circumstances, many of which will forever remain classified as "top secret".
Inhabitants of the St. Elisabeth Convent farm
I am blessed to be a participant and witness of these long delayed encounters between human and God taking place at some brief moment in the lives of those in the ward. We cannot influence the place where this encounter takes place. Often the psychiatric hospital becomes a sacred starting ground for taking first steps toward God and with God.
In these long corridors and hospital wards we talk about confession, covering the distance between rejection and acceptance and going through arguments and tension until this inner struggle brings tears of repentance and finally leads one more soul to Communion.
To me, this is a place of love and sadness — a deep sorrow, always accompanying substance abuse, and the love of God who knows our every effort, making our every personal victory a cosmic event. "Your brother was dead, and is alive; [...] was lost, and is found"(Luke 15:32).
Our conversations are about living with and without God, as well as the Church, confession and, of course, Communion. The reactions to such conversations are always different: some engage in a direct dialogue, some stand nearby, some watch warily in the distance, and some run by catching a glimpse of the unusual character in white attire.
During one of such visits, I noticed among my interlocutors a man with an open look and a genuinely happy smile. Svyatoslav was in his 40s. Under his belt, he had a prison record, as well as the loss of family, health, and a life goal.
Later, trying to analyse himself, he said that he had been wandering nowhere until his soul became silent and frozen in the hope of a happy coincidence. He took these conversations that we had as "the assurance of things hoped for". I was surprised by his genuine desire to learn, hear and understand. It was obvious that Svyatoslav was an educated and gifted person. As we talked, he easily composed quatrains in line with the conversation. He was not baptised, and we agreed to perform the sacrament. Today, years later, I remember the shining eyes of his soul renewed by Christ. Every such revelation fixed in my memory keeps me from fully believing sin when it shows through in a person.
On the day of his Baptism, Svyatoslav wrote a poem from the depths of his enlightened state:
With passion, your persuasion takes hold,
You read people's hearts like stories told,
Many treasures you could have possessed,
Yet you chose to steer souls toward their best.
Your coming was heavenly and pure,
A mystical love that will forever endure,
Earthly as your departure may be,
Your legacy forever sets us free.
I was usually escorted from the hospital to the bus stop, so my appearances were "out of nowhere" while my departures were quite conventional.
His lofty perception burdened me; I knew that the bar could not be held that high for long. I told Svyatoslav about some examples from the Patericon, describing several types of seeing one person by another:
1) Seeing one as an Angel;
2) Seeing one as a human being;
3) Seeing one as a demon.
I told him about the importance of struggling for the renewal of the first vision even in a graceless state.
He did not believe me. "I'll never see you in such a scary way." “Never say never,” I reminded him.
Svyatoslav helped me a lot in the ward, preparing people for confession and Communion. Knowing and sharing these people's experience, he was able to find the right words. For some time, Slava participated in the construction of the Convent churches. One day he reminded me how I had mentioned to him reading in the works of the Holy Fathers that if God were to admonish us for every sinful act or thought, we would not remain alive even for the rest of the day. “You said that you did not believe it and fell several times, stumbling on your condemnation to the point of being afraid of your own thoughts.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “I remember that life-threatening experiment.”
“Well,” Svyatoslav continued, “I also found this hard to believe. In fact, I even laughed. Today, as I was walking through the construction area, I cursed and immediately fell on my stomach and nose into the only puddle of mud on the site. I stood up and cursed again, and then I caught my jacket on something and almost dislocated my arm. In a dirty jacket with a torn sleeve and a bruised nose, I remembered your words and became utterly horrified by my thoughts. My only concern was literally remaining alive.”
Church of the “Inexhaustible Chalice” icon of the Mother of God at the St. Elisabeth Convent farm
Going through breakdowns and falls, Svyatoslav struggled with raging sin, clamping his restless soul in its vise. He fell many times and rose again, remembering a simple truth known to all who have faced addiction: “The fall is not as bad as the failure to get up again.”
Slava returned to the clinic from time to time. Once he presented me another poem:
On the evening of July's eighth day,
As sunlight dwindled, preparing to fade away.
Unholy man, keep out of sight!
Julia's here to stir what's right.
I laughed, “Slava, this seems to be ‘step two’, that is 'seeing one's neighbour as a mere human'. Let us see what will happen next.”
Sometimes we used to argue, resenting each other's disagreement, and accompanying our disputes with an arsenal of emotions. Once Svyatoslav told me that he wanted to compose something for my name day “Perhaps in prose this time though,” he added. After a while he says, “You know, somehow it didn't work…”
I told him, “It looks like you are following the classic pattern and moving towards 'step 3'!”
Some time passed, and he told me about his dream to work in Serpukhov, next to the "Inexhaustible Chalice" icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Each time the idea sounded more and more persistent, and I realised that it was no longer a dream, but rather an intention.
"Inexhaustible Chalice" Icon of the Mother of God at the Serpukhov Vysotsky Monastery, Russia
Slava reached Serpukhov on the third attempt. Each time I gave him for his journey a book with the akathist to "The Inexhaustible Cup" icon of the Mother of God. The first one was a brand new glossy unread copy bought just for him.
Slavа got drunk, was removed from the train and taken to the police department. The akathist was lost.
Returning to Minsk, he did not give up his intentions to visit Serpukhov. As a farewell blessing, I gave him my new book with the akathist.
Again, he was removed from the train for drinking and lost the akathist.
On the third time, I gave him my old precious akathist book, read to tatters. I told him, “Slava, don't break my heart by losing it, just get there”.
Nevertheless, the scene unfolded according to the traditional scenario – train, booze, the police...
However, in Svyatoslav’s dormant mind there was the reflex of fumbling in his inner pocket for the akathist. Examining the booklet, the policeman said: "Look, he's read it to bits. The man must have a strong desire to get to that monastery. After bringing Slava to his senses, they let him go in peace, without a fine.
Akathist in front of the “Inexhaustible Chalice” icon of the Mother of God at St. Elisabeth Convent in Minsk
In Serpukhov, Slava was in great demand: he was a carpenter and a locksmith; he led tours, helped in the gift shop, and most importantly, he served in the altar next to his favourite relic - the icon of the Mother of God "The Inexhaustible Chalice". In his busy life, he always remembered St. Elisabeth's Convent as his spiritual birthplace.
During one of his visits to Minsk, Slava shared his special dream. He wanted to breed peacocks, because they reminded him of heaven. I was not surprised - he always had a creative buzz about him. His idea of the Garden of Eden consoled me: I took it as a sign that his soul had "moored" to a native shore.
After some time, I received a letter with photos of Svyatoslav at an aviary with peacocks. He was at the gates of his Serpukhov paradise.
Somewhat later, I found out that Slava had fallen ill. A disease that had been asleep for many years began to progress...
God's servant Svyatoslav rested in peace, having successfully increased his talents and returning them to God.
Truly, Christ is risen, for He is Almighty!
You can send us prayer notes for an akathist in front of the “Inexhaustible Chalice” icon of the Mother of God, and we will pray for your loved ones. Please follow the link below and select the “Akathist” line when prompted:
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