Nun Alexia is a vivacious and tireless person who always has something going on. She never refuses any challenge and always finds herself "in the middle of events" regardless of her mood or state of health.
Her responsibilities in the Convent have ranged from designing products for a sewing workshop to creating music videos, organising Christmas and Easter musical performances and, of course, singing in the Monastic Choir.
Sister Alexia is the author of a children's book, published by St. Elisabeth Convent, titled “Abraham - Friend of God".
30 March is a double holiday for Nun Alexia — the anniversary of her tonsure and the feast day of St. Alexios, in honour of whom she received her monastic name. We have asked Sister Alexia to tell us about her relationship with her Patron Saint.
I knew about Venerable Alexios the Man of God before the tonsure. At that time, I knew no other saints with this name, so every time I heard the name “Alexy”, my mind added “man of God”.
I took monastic vows on March 30, the memorial day of St. Alexios the man of God. On the morning of that day, I wrote to my nephew (also called Alexei) to wish him a happy name day. I wrote, "Imagine, on the feast day of your great Patron Saint, your aunt will be honoured with monastic vows!” When I heard my new name at the tonsure, it was a great joy and a great honour for me.
When Mother Abbess came up to congratulate me, I asked her, "Am I a man of God?" When other sisters heard the name, they smiled. I am extremely happy to have this saint as my heavenly patron.
Nun Alexia in front of an icon of St. Alexios the Man of God. Church in honour of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God, St. Elisabeth Convent, Minsk, Belarus.
What impresses me most in the life of my saint is probably his determination and the brave step that he took leaving his home. Alexios had great respect for his parents who had given him a good education and raised him in love. It was indeed a lovely family. To fulfil the will of his parents, he got married, but then he decided to leave behind all worldly blessings and comforts in order to serve God. The family of St. Alexios was well-off.
His parents had chosen for him a beautiful and clever wife coming from the royal family. On the day of his wedding, Alexy simply left home and became what today we would call a homeless person. He remained faithful to his principles until his very last day. He never stepped back or gave up, despite having to face many temptations.
When people learned about his holy life and began to revere him, St. Alexios boarded a ship and sailed to another city, where no one knew him.
There was a storm forcing his ship to dock in Rome. The saint accepted that as God’s will and returned to his father's house. Rejecting the temptation of revealing himself he continued to live serving God as he had once decided.
This is a good example of determination for us, monastics, when we make our final choice, as if saying, “This is it. I give my life to serve God”. I try to follow my patron saint in this.
When we read lives of saints, we usually learn the essence, but not the details. We find out the "hard factors", like places of dwelling and the actual deeds, yet the more "personal" things, such as the doubts and temptations that these people face, remain behind the scenes. For me, the life of St. Alexios is like the voice of conscience. I understand that I should live in the same way.
When I realised that my life path was to join a monastery, but had not yet received a blessing for this, I had a feeling that I would rather become some kind of a "marginal" person, begging for alms on a church porch, but I would not stay in the world. I remember how much I suffered then...
When a spark hits, you need to wait a little for the fire inside to flare up. Then you need to hold your breath and patiently add wood so that the fire settles. However, once the fire is blazing, it becomes very difficult to put it out. I think that God planted a spark of grace in my soul in order to show me this side of life and make me think about applying myself in monasticism.
However, it took time for this fire to flare up inside. Acting through my confessor, God made me wait for a month, so that my decision would be a carefully weighed one.
I received the blessing for monastic life on the day of All Saints who shone forth in the Russian land. It was such a great celebration for me! I remember standing in the choir stalls before the All-Night Vigil, looking at the icon of the Holy Martyrs Princess Elisabeth Feodorovna and nun Barbara, and saying to myself, “Oh, mother Elizabeth, it looks like it is not meant to be for me to join your monastery.”
After service, I came up to the Rector and said, "I cannot make peace with the fact that you are not giving me your blessing to join the Convent."
He says, “What do you mean 'you are not giving me the blessing'? I am giving it right now."
I said something like, “Seriously? You mean like… I can enter the Convent? Right away?"
For me it was the pinnacle of happiness, a fountain of joy inside. It was such jubilation that I was ready to kiss the ground. I remember this moment very well. It was 8 years ago.
Every morning I wake up and greet St. Alexios the man of God. I ask him to support me, pray for me, guide and protect me. He and I are friends.
Once, God performed a miracle to make me believe in it. I was still a novice when I was tonsured into the great schema, omitting Rassaphore, because I was very sick. I found out about this a few hours before the tonsure, and it was a big surprise for me.
I trusted that it was God's will, and yet I was not sure if I was ready. Everything happened very quickly.
After the tonsure, I was in a hospital, feeling very ill, and thinking, “What if it was a mistake?” I had very serious doubts. I was afraid I would not manage it, because being a nun is a huge spiritual load after all. So I thought to myself, “Lord, give me an answer. Perhaps it is not Your will. Maybe they decided to tonsure me only because they were hoping I would recover? What should I do?!"
A day later, one of our nuns called to congratulate me on my tonsure and said, “Sister, I am so happy that you were given this name. You know, I have relics of St. Alexios, the man of God. I was not sure what I should do with them." She brought them from Serbia.
In our church in honour of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God, we already have an icon with relics of St. Alexios the Man of God. So, that sister says, “I realised that I could not keep them and that I had to give them somewhere, but somehow there has been no answer from God. When I heard that you were tonsured in honour of Alexios the man of God, I knew that I should give these relics to you.”
During my tonsure I had this daring thought, "I wish I had relics of my saint."
On the following day, she brought the relics to the hospital. It was a large particle. I took it as if God was saying, “Both your tonsure, and your new name is My will.”
The saint came to me "in person" to show this. Of course, this is a great miracle that is beyond any worldly reasoning. Such a strengthening of faith may last for a very long time.
It gave me hope, because, to be honest, I have a very vague idea of how a down-to-earth person like me can become a monastic. "In human terms", I cannot understand what God can make of me. Yet I trust Him and believe that if His will was for my monastic tonsure to have taken place, then I should try work together with Him on becoming a nun in the future.
I asked nun Anfisa (Ostapchuk) to paint a cell icon for me to insert the relics of St. Alexios the man of God. The relic holder in it was very small. I needed to divide the relics, because such a large particle would not fit in it.
Nun Alexia with her cell icon of St. Alexios the Man of God
I had an idea of donating the remaining relics to some church. I began to ask God to tell me what to do with it. Soon a thought came to me that I should transfer these relics to my homeland so that there is a connection...
I come from Siberia. The parish in my home town is still very young. The place was built in Stalin's times. It's a closed city with space industries and a military base, all surrounded by barbed wire.
Our church was built in the 90s, and all the previous generations lived here without a church. There was not even a hint of it. In the Soviet times the city was mostly populated by engineers and nuclear physicists. Maybe it was their "mathematical mindset" or the Soviet upbringing, but we were not even allowed to say the word "God". The atmosphere was very complicated, but eventually the church was built.
Cathedral of the Archangel Michael in Zheleznogorsk ( Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia)
I contacted the rector of the church by e-mail and asked him if they had the relics of St. Alexios the man of God. He said no, so I asked if we could arrange it for me to forward the relics to them. Soon Mother Abbess and I went there and transferred the relics to the church in my hometown. They wrote a large icon to place these relics in and put a sign on it saying “A gift from the St. Elisabeth Convent”. Now that my saint is in my native land, we have a connection with it, despite the distance of 6,000 kilometres.
When Saint Alexios reposed in the Lord, his body was placed right in the city square so that people could bow to him. Many people were then healed of ailments and demonic attacks. Now my fellow citizens also have such an opportunity. I am very happy that God arranged everything in such a wonderful way.
Venerable Alexios the Man of God and St. Mary of Egypt, 1648. The icon was painted for the marriage of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich with Tsarina Maria Ilyinichna
On the feast day of St. Alexis and on the day of my tonsure (March 30), I rejoice even more because on that day my saint met Christ truly becoming a venerable.
It is amazing that St. Alexios was not a monk, but, having dedicated his life to God, he was glorified as a venerable, while only a monk can receive this rank.
As far as I know the only other saint that became a venerable without taking monastic vows was St. Mary of Egypt. There is even an icon where these two saints are depicted together. They also lived around the same time, and, by modern standards, close to each other.