December 13 is the memorial day of the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called, and the name day of the rector of our convent, Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok. Long before his ordination to the priesthood, Father Andrew became a spiritual mentor to many people, guiding them into the fold of the Church and influencing the decision of some to pursue priesthood and even monasticism. One of these people is Archpriest Victor Belyakov, cleric of the Intercession Parish in Minsk. Father Victor has shared with us a story of meeting with his spiritual mentor that has led him into the Orthodox Church.
Archpriest Victor Belyakov
"It happened in 1983," Father Victor recalls. "The Soviet times were difficult for the Church. Although I was baptised in Orthodoxy, my church experience was limited to several Easter services. The first of them made a great impression on me, immediately making me want to become a priest. When I told my mother about this, she answered with slight irony that it was not a problem, since there were practically no people who wanted to pursue this path at the time. Believers were mocked, persecuted, and socially stigmatised.
A few years later, my wife Ludmila and I had some problems with our child that we could not explain. From birth, the baby was restless, cried incessantly, and did not sleep properly at night. At that time, I was fond of Eastern philosophy and began to look for a solution to the problem within its various teachings. I thought about finding some kind of guru, but my wife thought that we should look for help in the Church instead. I agreed, because at that point it made no difference: both spheres seemed equally mysterious to me.
We went to church on Victory Day. After a festive meal, we decided to take a walk, during which we were discussing the problem with our son. Once again, my wife suggested that we should look for an answer in church, and we decided to go immediately without delay.
It was already getting late and dark when we took the tram to the city centrecenter. When we came to the Minsk Holy Spirit Cathedral, it was already closed. We began to knock and heard a kind voice from behind the door, "Hello. How can I help you? “The church is closed. Come back tomorrow." It was the voice of the future priest Andrey Lemeshonok, who at that time was serving as a watchman at the cathedral. We were a little confused, because we were sure that the priests lived right there, in the church. When we briefly described our problem, he opened the doors to us, despite all the prohibitions.
Then we came inside the church and told him everything about our misfortune. He told us that the solution was simple: we needed to baptise the child, have a church marriage, start reading the Gospel, pray to God and go to church regularly, and that was it. We had not the slightest idea where to begin. Then this watchman advised us to come in a week to baptise the child. I must say that I already saw Christ in this man then.
A week after that, our baby received Holy Baptism, while we had a chance to get to know Andrey a little better. Among other things, he told us, “You know, you are very lucky. We have a Gospel that you can buy. It is such a rarity!” The price was 40 rubles, almost a half of an average monthly wage back in Soviet times. However, with great joy we bought our first Gospel that became for us an invaluable spiritual treasure.
A week later, my wife and I got married in church. It made a great impression on me; I was pleasantly surprised that absolute strangers congratulated us as if we were relatives. On that day, Andrey Lemeshonok gave us a cardboard icon, and soon I also got my first prayer book. Over time, our friendship with the future father Andrey grew stronger. We began to come to his house. There we found ourselves in a new grace-filled environment. We were surrounded with icons and old books. With my love for reading, I felt like we were in heaven. At that time, churches had much less books than they do now. Every time I came to visit Andrey, I left with a bag full of books that were an inexhaustible source of knowledge for me. I read them in a week and came back for more. I must say that I was not the only one coming to visit the future priest. Andrey was known and respected as a connoisseur of music, literature, and simply as a man with an open soul. Many young people came to him, including former hippies. Having grown up in that culture, he knew it well, so they listened to him. He was attentive to all and never judged anyone. He would listen to your problem and give you some book where you could find answers to all your questions. I could tell that he saw the image of God in every person, so it was not surprising that many people could see God in him.
In 1985, Andrey told me that there was a vacancy for a sexton in the Cathedral. After discussing it with my wife, I decided to take on that job. The rector of the Cathedral had a long conversation with me. I had to come back to him several times. At the time, I worked at the Minsk motorbike plant, and when I wrote a letter of resignation, my boss did not hold me back. On the contrary, he said that he respected my choice.
So, I began my duties as a sexton. Our friendship with the future father Andrey continued.
After the ordination, his duties increased, but he always has and still does find time for those who need his advice.
Father Victor Belyakov and father Andrey Lemeshonok
Over time, Father Andrey was becoming more and more busy. Today, my only opportunity to communicate closely with him is during the confession of the clergy and on our joint trips to the island of Zalit that we undertake every year. As long as I knew Father Andrey, he always went to visit Elder Nikolai Guryanov on the Island. He always said that we should go together some time, but it did not happen until after the Elder's death. Then I learned that every year Father Andrey visited the Island of Zalit on Radonitsa and served a panikhida there at the grave of Father Nikolai. This tradition has been adopted by our Intercession parish, so now we also go there for Radonitsa. This trip is my annual opportunity to communicate more closely with my spiritual mentor, remembering the past and sharing plans for the future. It is difficult to imagine what my life today would be like if I did not meet this special person many years ago. I would probably never become a priest, and perhaps I would not have come to God at all... And what is life without God?