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The Healing Power of Love: Happy Name Day to Mother Anfisa!

Nun Anfisa: "Life is a Wellspring of God's love"

Nun Anfisa Ostapchuk

On the 9th of September we wish a happy name day to Nun Anfisa (Ostapchuk), a sister of our Convent.

In 1996 she was one of the first members of our lay community to visit patients in a psychiatric hospital in the outskirts of Minsk, bringing comfort to suffering souls.

She later took the monastic tonsure and became one of the first residents of the Convent, which was then still under construction.

For the past 27 years, nun Anfisa has served in various areas of the Convent's ministry. Today she is the director of the art therapy studio called "The Blessed Heaven".

She is also responsible for the ministry of the Lay Sisterhood of St Elisabeth at the National Mental Health Centre and coordinates the Association of Sisterhoods within the Belarusian Orthodox Church.

In our new article, Nun Anfisa shares her memories of first experiences in the hospital and her thoughts on serving God and neighbour.

Joining the Lay Sisterhood

I remember very well all the insecurity, uncertainty and lack of understanding that I experienced when I came to the Sisterhood... I tried to do good deeds, but nothing worked. I cried out to God and asked Him to help me in my weakness... I wanted to hide this weakness so that the Lord would cover it with His grace and give me strength. It was a very difficult experience for me.

In such a state of emotion I stood in the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul in Minsk. Father Andrey (Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok - ed.) tapped me on the shoulder as he passed by and said, "Here is another sheep". Thank God, even today I feel like that sheep in the flock of Christ.

I remember this amazing grace, when we did not need to speak to understand one another, because we lived "with one heart".

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok with the first sisters of St Elisabeth Convent

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok with the first sisters of St Elisabeth Convent, 1999. The future nun Anfisa (then novice Anna) is the first on the right.

Blessing of Metropolitan Philaret

Metropolitan Philaret (Vakhromeev) blessed us on our way to becoming nursing sisters. It is only now that I deeply understand the essence of his archpastoral word, which, despite our young age, set the spiritual bar for us. Of course, I was not ready...

Vladyka always understood and appreciated this ministry. His words became for me the key to a correct understanding of my service, even though at that time I did not fully understand what it should be. Such pastoral care is very important and makes you feel God's blessing on your path, without belittling it, grounding it or diminishing it, but making you realise that serving God is a very high calling.


When he gave us our white vestments, Metropolitan Philaret said that the great martyr Catherine herself was blessing us on our apostolic journey.*

He wished us the strength to undertake this ministry. We did not understand anything yet, we only knew that it was God's will. We put on our vestments and went to serve.

Blessing of the Lay Sisters

Blessing of the Lay Sisters. 7 December 1996. Minsk Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Sister Anna (Ostapchuk) is the first to the left of Metropolitan Philaret.

First Visit to the Hospital

When I think of our first meetings, our prayers together and our first visits to the hospital, I remember how I saw God's beauty in them... I entered this path without understanding anything; I was full of contradictions and still idealising my own life, and I had come to serve the patients of the psychiatric hospital.

Although I came to the Sisterhood as an adult, I was not aware that there was a problem of mentally ill people who had been abandoned by society.

It was really a place of grief and sadness and it looked very miserable and unaesthetic. Today it looks beautiful, and I think this grace is due to prayer and the Convent.

When we used to come here for prayer services, I remember that we always followed Father Andrey around the wards. He was always at the front. Once he looked back at us and said, "Well, soon this place will be our “home”!" And I thought, "What a nightmare!"

There are more than 30 wards in the hospital. From each ward at least 10 people went to Communion. So we would give Communion to about 300 people every week. Today, thank God, about 20 people receive Communion in a ward with 50-60 patients.

Tonsure of nun Anfisa in St. Nicholas Church

Tonsure of nun Anfisa in St. Nicholas Church of St. Elisabeth Convent. Minsk, 24 August 2000.

Serving the Neighbour

27 years... That is quite a long time. It passed quickly and unnoticed, like two years or even two months... It was also full of meaning, thank God. Everything was very simple. Father Andrey gathered all the "sheep" and said that it was enough to be sad, and it was time to serve others. These words were his blessing to begin our ministry. That is how our Sisterhood was born.

After that, everything happened by God's providence, naturally and imperceptibly. The Lord works very delicately, simply, consistently and invisibly. Three years later, the first of us came and settled here in Novinki to dedicate our lives to God in monastic life.

Christian service is daily work. This is not a slogan. Everything is very simple: you have to notice a person. Ordinary altruism does not last long, and then comes daily work and commitment.

It could be something as simple as bringing someone lunch, but at that moment you are always busy. And that is when you should be able to stop and realise that someone's lunch is more important than your business. Service is learning to notice a person every day and to look them in the eye.

The first sisters serving in a home for the elderly and disabled
The first sisters serving in a home for the elderly and disabled

The first sisters serving in a home for the elderly and disabled.

Connection with God

I recently heard a question that has been on my mind: How do you live a life without vanity? How do you keep your mind, your time and your life from being overwhelmed?

I notice so much useless anxiety in myself. I want to learn to live differently: simply, meaningfully, without fuss. I would like to place every minute of my life in God's hands, so that every action would be filled with His breath.

But alas, I have not yet learned. Every day I realise that "my garments betray me, for they are not festive robes". This of course concerns my thoughts, my attitude towards people, my reactions, etc.

What is your inner life before God? It is very important to find the inner language of the heart, which only you and God understand, and to talk to Him constantly. When an invisible thread connects your heart to God, you are transformed and filled with joy. But when this connection is broken, everything becomes dull and you have to go through your grey everyday life in this state. Then your only hope is patience and God's mercy, which will correct everything.

Nun Anfisa (Ostapchuk)

Nun Anfisa (Ostapchuk)

God's Power is Made Perfect in Weakness

Once I thought that time had passed very quickly, and I was sad about my weakness, my inability and the meaninglessness of my life. Then I opened a book of memories of Dr Nikolay Pirogov and the first nurses who were sent to help the wounded during the Russian-Turkish (Crimean) War (1853-1856).

I came across the correspondence of one of the founders of nursing in Russia, a princess who struggled to make it happen. In her letters she lamented that perhaps she was not the right person to organise this work. She was worried about not understanding or doing something wrong.

She saw her inadequacy and needed a word of encouragement. Similar feelings and inner searches are probably inherent in every human being.

Dr Pirogov writes that he was very worried when he met rude nurses. He was concerned about their lack of education and empathy. At the same time, he was shocked by the selfless work of each of these nurses during the war. All the human frailties that had discouraged him were eclipsed by this act of service... I feel similar emotions now, and I really long for that kind of burning.

Nun Anfisa (Ostapchuk) speaking to the Сonvent community

Nun Anfisa (Ostapchuk) speaking to the Сonvent community

Beloved Monastery

There is such a grace of God and beauty in our Monastery. I am amazed at God's providence and the joy that fills my soul every time I think of it.

Our holy Mother Elisabeth's diaries describe all her efforts and concerns for Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow and all that she wished to contribute to its service.

It is amazing that her vision and her desire, one could say, were fully embodied in our Monastery.

The value of the words "trust", "love" and "mercy" are experienced here in a completely different way. Their depth is fully revealed because while the world promotes individualism, the Monastery remains a community. Here everyone supports each other and the ship of God continues to sail, saving souls along the way.

A Monastery is a place where the original God-given image of the soul, heart and mind is restored in a person.

Working in the Blessed Heaven Art Studio

Working in the Blessed Heaven Art Studio

"The Blessed Heaven"

The Blessed Heaven Art Therapy Studio is a relatively new project of the Monastery. It helps former patients of the nearby National Mental Health Centre to rediscover their place in society, to engage in creative work and, most importantly, to meet God.

It is a huge psychiatric hospital, an entire city with many buildings and two thousand patients. We live in a world where we lose or sell our joy of life without realising it or the consequences.

Our new art studio employs former mental health patients who want to rediscover their joy and live a full life.

We try to help people to regain that joy, to realise what is happening to them and to develop an understanding of themselves. We pay them some money, starting with a small amount, to motivate them. People take time to learn, and they need to be trained. I think most people who come to us do not want to leave.

In the summer of 2023, a stand with our products was opened in a large shopping centre in the heart of Minsk. We would like to present the products of our workshop to everyone, not only to those who visit the Convent.

Our main desire is to work for God and neighbour, to create beauty and bring joy to people. Buying a product from our workshop means giving joy and inspiration to our team by showing them that their work is important.

... The diseases are changing and their range is expanding. There are many young girls who have tried to lose weight and got sick. There's a lot of despondency, depression and suicide, and mostly among young people. Just today I was talking to a beautiful, smiling girl who has a child and a family, and she is looking for ways to leave this world. Everything looks good on the outside, but her soul is in pain. This is a time when you have to look carefully at the people around you and try to help them.

* On 7 December 1996 (the Feast of St. Catherine the Great Martyr), at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Minsk, Metropolitan Philaret (Vakhromeev) of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus, blessed the first members of the Sisterhood in the name of the Venerable Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth on the path of service to God and neighbour.

Addressing the new sisters, he said: "I thank and bless you, myrrh-bearing women of our time, for healing with peace the wounds of the body and soul, alleviating the suffering of people and softening the cruel morals of the present age".

You can support Mother Anfisa, her art therapy studio, and the staff who are rebuilding their lives by clicking on the button below. Thank you very much for your contribution.

September 06, 2023
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Thank you for sharing this excellent article.