Nun Magdalena, you grew up in Poland, a mostly Catholic country. How did its religious traditions and the religious life of your family contribute to your progress towards God?
I come from the Eastern part of Poland, from a family of Orthodox believers. All my ancestors were Orthodox. Just like my family and kin, I have been going to church since early childhood. Poland is mainly a Catholic country. A large percentage of Catholic believers worship at Church regularly and take an active part in the life of the church. Many of these practising Catholics are young people.
Poland has an active Orthodox church, which is autocephalous. Orthodox believers represent a small minority - about half a per cent of all believers. Yet, similar to Catholics, the proportion of practising Orthodox is also very high. As a child, I went to Sunday school at my church, together with my Orthodox peers. There are many active monasteries with many people living there. A large number among them are young people.
Yet true faith is more than regular attendance of church services. It is also about having a personal relationship with a living God. At some stage in my life, I became preoccupied, like most other people, about the meaning of my life and felt an acute need for such a relationship. I prayed vehemently to make my relationship with God more personal, sincere and conscious. I felt the closeness of God, and this sensation came as a miracle. It was as if God had answered my prayers.
How did you come to realise your monastic calling? What made you choose a monastery in Belarus, not in Poland?
The Eastern part of Poland has a sizeable Belarusian minority. I received instruction in Belarusian at a lycée in Hajnowka, a small Polish town. As students, we went on excursions to Belarus, and I was struck by the beauty of the country, and the kindness, open-heartedness and deep faith of its people. Graduates from the lycée had the choice of entering Belarusian universities, and I took advantage of this opportunity.
To me, studying at a university in Belarus was not just a means to acquire a profession, but also a chance to become a part of the life of its Orthodox church. My university years were the time of rapid construction of new churches, and the return to the faith of many former non-believers. I found myself among a group of like-minded people, working to strengthen their faith and achieve spiritual growth. Already in my first year, I found a way to fulfil my dream that I had had ever since my childhood in Poland - to learn to paint icons. I joined an icon painting class at the Church Centre of Charity.
I also felt a strong need to be of service to others. I re-established my connections with my sisters in Christ from Saint Elisabeth Convent who came to visit our parishes when I was still in Poland. Together with them, I became involved in the Convent's social ministry among the patients of the mental health clinic and a municipal hospital. In my second year at university, in 2000, I became a nurse of charity, which I see as a blessing from God.
As a part of the lay sisterhood, I came to the gatherings of the sisters. I joined them on their foreign visits to help them with interpretation. Little by little, I realised that I would like to dedicate my life to the service of God as a monastic.
I prayed a lot to understand if it was the will of God for me. I recognised the seriousness of the matter. My choice would determine the rest of my life. Whatever I would choose, I would have to follow through with it. I knew that none of the choices would be easy, and so I prayed to God for His help in understanding my calling. God heard my prayers. He revealed to me that He was leading me towards monasticism. And so I joined Saint Elisabeth Convent immediately after my graduation.
Being a monastic is to commit oneself to the hard work of growing in one's faith and spirit. What do you see as the overriding objective of such growth for yourself?
People have many weaknesses and often give in to fear and confusion. The challenge is to advance in one's faith so that we would remain with Christ in any trial or sorrow that may befall us. As Schema-Archimandrite Mitrofan of Zhirovichi wrote, "Pray to God and fear nothing."
I aim to be with Christ to the end, to follow Him fearlessly and with joy, as did Mary Magdalene, whose name I took when I was tonsured. Mary Magdalene is my example of a courageous believer. When all the other apostles were afraid, she accompanied Christ to His crucifixion and was the first to see Him after His resurrection.
I wish to follow her example in my spiritual life, as the Gospel writes about it.
Interviewer: Karina Isayeva
Schema-monk Piotr (Piotr Polyak), who departed to God in 2011, lived a difficult life and knew many falls and victories over sin. At all times, he had genuine trust in God and was committed to serving God and the people.