Sister of Mercy Tatyana Schastnaya has worked behind the church stalls of Saint Elisabeth Convent for almost fifteen years. We talk to Sister Tatyana about overcoming difficulties and dealing with sorrows; and how we learn to know God's will and acquire His grace.
You came to the Church in the 1990s when the value systems and world-views of many people were in crisis. Did this crisis affect you, and if so, how did you deal with it?
The people around me were in crisis, and so was I. The 1990s were my most difficult years. I was looking for a foundation. Many people back then were experimenting with different philosophical and mystical teachings. My mind, too, was a hodgepodge of ideas from religion, astrology and occultism. For me, this time coincided with my coming of age. Everything seemed to be in flux; the whole world appeared broken and fragmented. Inside, I was one person, but I was trying to seem different to others. I kept doing it, but I could not understand why.
Unexpectedly, I met the sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent as I was shopping in a market. They helped me make sense of what was happening, and I started to look them up amid the crowds. One of the sisters - named Lubov - stood out among the rest. She invited me to attend one of Father Andrey's meetings with the laity at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. I found it inspiring and started coming regularly. At some point, I put together a list of questions of concern to me that I hoped to ask Father Andrey. I did not get to ask them in person, but I heard most of the answers during the talk. Years later, when I had already joined the sisterhood, he said at one of the gatherings of the sisters, “Have you thought how much we all have in common with one another?”
It opened my eyes to the cause of my misgivings. We often tend to convince ourselves that we have full control of our lives and that we can protect ourselves from every trouble by behaving wisely. But our human wisdom can lead us astray easily. Rather than placing all our hopes on human wisdom, we should look for salvation at Church. The sacraments of the Church put us under the protection of the Divine Grace. I am grateful for that meeting with Sister Lubov. She was the beacon that led me to the Church.
What brought you to the sisterhood of Saint Elisabeth Convent?
I worked as a trader at a large market in Minsk, and I continued to attend Father Andrey's talks. When we talked, Father Andrey asked me about my work and if I was satisfied with the income and conditions. “I am happy, thank you,” I replied. Father Andrey gave me the blessing and left. I wondered why he had asked me. I asked him the question at our next meeting. “I thought you might be interested in coming to the sisterhood,” he answered. I had never given it a thought, but I liked the idea.
At home, I said to my husband, “Father Andrey invites me to join the sisterhood. What do you think?” My husband responded with the question, “How much is he going to pay you?” “I have no idea. I did not ask. It never occurred to me.” “But how are you going to make a living?”
With hindsight, I think that the Lord Himself led me to the sisterhood by allowing me sorrows. One day, I sprained my back while I was working at the market. It was so bad that I could not rise from my chair. I called my husband and asked him to come and pick me up. As I was walking to the car, every step was causing me great pain. But in my heart, there was not a trace of fear or apprehension. I was not worried about not being able to walk, or not returning to work at the market and having to look for another job. My husband was anxious, but to me, what happened was an omen, a sign that it was time to join the sisterhood. Recovery took time and a lot of needles. But when I felt better, I went straight to the Convent to join the sisterhood.
Sisters have busy work schedules, and finding the right work-life balance can be difficult. How did you find yours, and what did you learn from this experience?
Coming to the sisterhood was like turning a new page in my life. I began to spend more time travelling and less at home. This situation eventually led me to another crisis. I returned from an extended visit to Vitebsk, where offered people the ceramics from our workshops. Then I went to an exhibition in Moscow a few days later for another two weeks. When in Minsk, I often went to all-night vigils, waiting for my turn with my confessor. Sometimes, I had to stay up until the early afternoon of the next day. And I spent long hours at the sisterhood.
One evening, when I finally came home, my husband did not meet me at the door as he usually did. I found him in the living room staring at the computer. "So where have you been all this time?" he asked without turning around. “At work, of course,” I replied, without a second thought. “But are not you supposed to have today off?” “Yes, but a sister asked me to stand in for her.” “Why do not you join the Convent altogether,” he said. He spoke in a calm voice, hiding the pain of not seeing me for days and weeks. “I am married. They will not let me,” I objected. “Do not worry. I let you go.”
His remark sobered me up, making me look at the situation from another perspective. We had not been seeing much of one another. I realised the strangeness of all this. It was as if his feelings did not matter to me. The Lord Himself was speaking to me through my husband. "What do you think you are doing? Do you think that you can be a good Christian by being friendly and agreeable with everybody else but indifferent to your family and kin?"
Suddenly, I realised how much my husband loved me. I had been missing for so long, but he never criticised or rebuked me once! After that incident, I reconsidered many things. I had not seen the inner beauty of my husband or appreciated the depth of his personality. I took too long to recognise his patience and generosity. I realised his willingness to forgive me for my quick temper and many other flaws of my character.
Soon, we began to read the gospel and the writings of the Apostles. One morning, my husband was leaving for work. He woke me up and said, “Here is something I have just read from Apostle Paul, There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians (4: 4-6). Now I know why we are all brothers and sisters and what keeps us together.
Have you experienced moments when you wanted to change your job And do something else?
Standing at the stalls, I felt burdened and weak at times - Too weak to talk, and even to listen to the people who come to talk to me about their troubles. At these moments, I often questioned myself, “What have I achieved in my life, from a secular perspective? Why am I still working behind the stalls, taking prayer notes? Couldn't I do something more exciting?” Sadly, was taking these doubts seriously. I have no idea how I could reassure others with these kinds of ideas.
So I said to myself once, “I will go look for another job!” I shared my thoughts with Father Andrey in a confession. - He asked me, softly, “Do you know where you are going?” “Not yet,” I answered. “So let us go back to this talk when you know.”
We go out of our way to make a point to others, to impress them with our successes. It is always an uphill struggle. The less we confess and take communion, the more we rely on our wisdom and give in to temptations. The sacraments bring peace and harmony to us and our relationships. It is so simple - keep the peace within. Give your love to others - offer your husband a bowl of soup, ask your mother how she is feeling, help your son with his homework.
Looking back at my years in the sisterhood, I never stop thanking the Lord for being here. My obedience gives me focus and a sense of direction. As I continue my journey of life, I do not stop giving thanks to the Lord.
You mentioned earlier the action of God’s grace on others. Have you experienced God's grace in your life?
My husband first took communion at our church wedding, and he was as joyful as a child. To me, it was like a downpouring of God’s grace. It made him more confident and focused. Years later, we went to the countryside. On our way home after liturgy and communion, I noticed the same joy in my husband. He did not know how to talk about grace, so he told me how he was feeling in his way. “There is such joy in me - but not the same joy that one would feel sitting around the table with friends. It is a different kind of joy,” he said. “The grace of God!” exclaimed. “I do not know what you mean, but it is a warm and peaceful feeling. I feel good. I felt the same way after our wedding.”
The Lord touches people, and they change. The bustling crowds of people in the busy streets look like ants in an anthill. I imagine Him saying, “Do not worry, little creature. You will finish building your anthill someday. You will not be doing it alone - many others will be working, too. Each does their bit of the work under His guidance. Some will not listen. “You want to do it your way? Well, try. And start all over when you see that it will not work. Everything is providential.
We can only make progress when we are willing to change. Change can take time. But it makes sense to start planting the seeds of change now. Eventually, they will grow and take root.
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