Father Oleg, how would you like us to introduce you to our readers? Tell us about yourself.
First, I am a servant of God, a member of the monastic community and its lay sisterhood. I am also a scientist, and I am used to looking at many things in our world through the lens of science. I have studied in a postgraduate programme, worked in a research institute, and defended a dissertation.
I am also a teacher. I teach physics to the senior graders of our monastic school, Ichthys. I lead classes in information technologies at university and teach school teachers in a professional development programme. I never planned to become a teacher, but I came to like this job very much.
I am a family man, and together with my wife, we are building our domestic church. My mother is a sister of mercy in our lay sisterhood, and so are her parents. These are the most important facts about myself that add meaning to my life.
In your view, how do most people find God nowadays, and how did it happen to you?
Sadly, most people come to God when they are in sorrow. But on my journey to God, I always thanked Him for His gifts to me and my successes. Being thankful to God empowers me to share the joy of my faith with others.
The more we thank God, the stronger our faith becomes. The Holy Fathers always thanked God for their hardships, sorrows and deprivations. But reading their lives, many people nowadays find it difficult to believe. They cannot imagine thanking anyone for their hardships and the difficulty of overcoming them. But I found that when we come to God with gratitude and a contrite heart, He reveals to us the wisdom of His providence. He turns our tragedies into blessings and our failures into achievements. He guards us against multiple temptations and makes us stronger. So even if our meeting with God happens through pain and suffering, we should still be grateful. Often, what looks like a loss and tragedy at first becomes a victory and a blessing years later. I have seen it happen many times.
What brought you to the idea of becoming a priest?
I was baptised in early childhood when I was two or three years of age. My progress to God was slow but steady. I do not remember any major turning points or crises along the way. At the end of Grade 9 at school, I first discovered the power of prayer – and I was not even going to church then. I was entering a highly competitive university preparation programme, and I said the prayer "Lord our Father" throughout the exam period. It came from my heart. My competitors were well prepared, but I still, I was admitted.
When I was nineteen, I began to attend Father Andrey Lemeshonok’s talks with the laity at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. Soon, I started going to worship services at Saint Elisabeth Convent. A year later, I joined the other lay sisters of the Convent on their visits to the long-term care facility for disabled children. By helping others, I learned to listen and respond to their needs.
I volunteered at the Sunday school and several monastic studios, and after nine years, I joined the Convent's Division of External affairs. I was visiting people in other countries and telling them about the beauty of my faith, and I was deeply conscious of the importance of this work.
I am now an ordained priest, but I have not stopped learning from the other priests. I watch, listen and make discoveries all the time. I feel the touch of His grace, and it helps me become a better person. My ordination has made me more forgiving and less judgemental.
How has your family supported you in your spiritual growth and your service to God and His Church?
In our personal and spiritual growth, family traditions play a prominent role. We have always been avid readers, and we have celebrated our holidays together. At first, they were secular holidays, like the New Year, Victory Day, or birthdays. Eventually, my mother joined the lay sisterhood of Saint Elisabeth Convent. Our whole family soon became churchgoing. Of all the secular holidays, only Victory Day remained on our calendar.
Some years ago, Saint Elisabeth Convent established the tradition of celebrating the all-night liturgy on the New Year. I took part in this liturgy as a sexton and altar assistant. I met the change with gladness. Today, our New Year always begins with an all-night liturgy and the Holy Communion in the morning. I find it deeply reassuring and inspiring.
Together with my wife, we are working hard to build our domestic church. My wife is an icon painter. We read religious texts together. We often read the Gospel, for example. We have been married for about three years. Our church wedding was in 2018 on the feast day of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. My family has Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian roots. I grew up speaking Ukrainian. My parents come from Seredina Buda, a small town in Ukraine's Sumy region on the border with Russia. My father went to a technical college in Kharkov. My mother trained in Minsk as an engineer and began her career in the city. I never felt any divisions among Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. I am deeply saddened by the fighting, bloodshed and hatred engulfing this land.
I am thankful to my parents for staying together through all the hardships. They worked hard to keep their marriage alive, and I appreciate that greatly. My father was diagnosed with advanced cancer and departed prematurely in 2017. Despite his illness, he never demanded any special treatment. Instead, he presented a model of compassion and love for his kin until his last days. He always cared for those near him. He was always gentle and cordial, even as he was giving his final instructions.
What other people in your life assisted you in your progress as a Christian and an Orthodox priest?
I was always inspired by the writings of Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh, and I was fortunate to meet him one day in person. After my third year at university, I applied for an American visa under the Work and Study programme, but the embassy turned down my application. So I took the offer to go to London instead. Before my departure, I found out about the Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos and All Saints, where Father Anthony of Surozh was serving. I also learned about the monastery near London established by Father Sophronius (Sakharov).
When I met Father Anthony, I was most impressed by his remarkable depth and inner beauty. He delivered his sermons in Russian, and then repeated them in English, word for word. I could not understand how he could repeat the whole text in every detail. His sermons were deep, well-structured and always to the point.
Sometimes, he stayed on with the laity after the sermon. His talks to his parishioners were remarkable. It was a great honour and a wonderful experience to be a member of this parish. I stayed after the liturgies, helped with the domestic chores and helped clean the church every Monday as a volunteer.
While volunteering, I met Father Joseph, a deacon who was later ordained into the priesthood. Father Joseph gave me an obedience at the parish office. I worked with its archives, scanned and digitalised the old parish newsletters, of which each contained the sermons of Father Anthony and many other interesting texts. I digitalised hundreds of pages, and I continued to read them afterwards. That obedience was a blessing from God.
While in England, I visited Father Sophronius' monastery and chose his disciple, Archimandrite Simeon, as my spiritual father. Father Simeon departed to God in 2009. I returned to the monastery years later, at the invitation of Father Nicholas, great-nephew of Father Sophronius to help him with his work on his archive. On recommendation from Father Nicholas, I became a spiritual disciple of Archimandrite Zacharius.
Here in Minsk, my spiritual father is Father Andrew Lemeshonok. He wedded my parents in 1999/ In 2000, he gave me his blessing to visit the children in long term care and to work at the Convent's Department of External Relations in 2009. In 2012, he blessed me to study at the seminary and wedded me with my wife in 2020. With his blessing, I became a deacon in 2020, and four months later a priest. I use every opportunity to confess to him and seek his advice before making important choices.
My spiritual teachers contributed greatly to my progress as a Christian, strengthening my faith and spirit. Spiritual teachers are not just confessors, they are also guides and advisers to whom I always listened.
Atheism is common among scientists. Does your faith interfere with your work in science in any way?
Faith in God is never an obstacle to science, I am sure. For example, many scientists who believe in God are mathematicians. Mathematics is the magic of numbers, and it offers a good scholar multiple chances for wondrous discoveries. Mathematicians are less dependent on their fellow scholars or finance than the students of most other sciences. They can solve complex problems with only a pencil and a ruler. In physics or biology, it is very different. Researchers need equipment and materials for experiments and observations. Dependence on others leaves you open to their influence. More generally, our barrier to having the sense of God’s presence is our ambitious mind. Fortunately, mine is not so ambitious.
How does your work as a school teacher benefit the children and their families?
I teach physics to the senior graders of our Ichthys school and lead two activity clubs for the junior graders interested in physics and mathematics. I enjoy teaching children very much. I like to create the spirit of discovery and share their excitement. I also learn to see the world from their perspective. In this way, I myself become like a child, as Christ tells us.
Parents send their children to our school for many different reasons, but spiritual motivation is perhaps the first in rank. The school can assist families in many ways, but especially by paying attention to the inner world of the students and their spiritual growth. We let the children grow standing on the rock of faith and goodness so that they can build their lives on a firm foundation as adults.
But no school can replace quality communication between children and their parents in the family. In the past, there was more closeness and spiritual affinity within families. Today, families seem more fragmented. But our lay sisterhood and the school are doing everything they can under the circumstances to empower families to give a good upbringing to their children.
The Great Lent is underway. What would you like to wish our readers for this blessed season?
Lent is the season of hope. As Father Andrey Lemeshonok says, the Lenten can give us the energy to last us for many months. I hope that you will all have a fulfilling Lenten journey bringing you to share the joy of Christ's resurrection.
The overriding goal of our lives is to secure the salvation of our souls. We can make impressive progress if we learn to notice and acknowledge our faults, repent and ask God for His forgiveness and help. That way, we can all become better Christians and people.
We welcome to the monastic community a new member of our clergy - Priest Sergius Chernyak. Father Sergius recently turned 30. He was born in Minsk. We interviewed Father Sergius about his experience of coming to Christ, and his service of God.
Repentance is not a statement of fact. It is the desire to change one's condition. We cannot change it ourselves, but the Lord can, as long as we give Him this opportunity.
Father Sergius Nezhbort, who is a priest of our Convent and the head of our Icon Painting Studio, is our guest today. We are going to talk with him about how he became an icon painter; how the studio grew and developed.
In the first part of her account, Matushka Larisa, the wife of one of our clergy - Fr. Sergius Nezhbort, discusses how the decision to adopt was made.
In the third part of her story of adoption, Matushka Larisa Nezhbort discusses how love and trust are born out of the difficulties of adjustment
In the context of the debate on Christianity and modernity, the spiritual father of Saint Elisabeth Convent Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok shares his views on the challenges of becoming and remaining a Christian in today's world.
In our interview with Fr. Sergius and Matushka Anna we focused on their roles as parents in a large family and asked them questions about different aspects of their lives.