Natalya Kurgasova, a sister of mercy, has been with us for more than fifteen years. You can meet her at our church stalls in the city, where she meets many people who come for advice and reassurance. She also works at our home care service, looking after the elderly and the infirm. How do people like you and me with many weaknesses and vulnerabilities become soldiers of God's army who enlighten the lives of others? Sister Natalya shares her insights.
As a sister of mercy, how would you describe the meaning of your work to you?
All these years, I have been working behind the church stalls. I see my work as a school of obedience and a source of fulfilment. It has helped me develop the virtues essential to our salvation, like patience, endurance, and mercy. We live in this world for a reason. We are here to serve God and the people and prepare for a life in eternity. In this way, my obedience fills my life with meaning.
The stalls are a part of the Convent and the Holy Church, and people see it that way. Many who approach our white sisters are overwhelmed by sadness and despair. By the will of God, they come to us, and we owe it to them and to the Lord to hear them out, give them reassurance and sometimes, to share some of our food. Many stay for quite a while. They look at icons, which is a soothing experience for many. To some, we offer a prayer book. They may not need it right away, but they will come to read it eventually. God's ways are a mystery.
We talk to many different people. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to be patient, as every conversation may become providential. There is no room for self-pity or withdrawal. We answer the Lord's calling to be His servants and love another. But no one can respond to His call well without prayer and communion.
The sisters are channels of His grace. Countless people have come to God through them. When I was still a new sister, a man approached me at the stalls and asked me a question. I gave him the address of the Convent and saw him at the church the next day. I realised then that God was acting through me, too, and I felt inspired.
How did you find fulfilment in your service as a visiting nurse?
At the church stalls, people come to us in crisis and bring us a variety of their life problems. Some are living through a divorce or separation, others are struggling to get their children off drugs or alcohol, or they’re struggling with financial problems or the loss of a business. I advise many of them to see a priest, who could be in a better position to help in most situations. The home visiting service is different. When my children were old enough, I accepted the offer to work there. I joined a team of sisters who cared for the elderly too weak to go outside.
Many of the people in my care were unchurched. They despaired because of their inability to restore their past physical fitness and strength and saw longevity as their only aspiration and hope. Medicine and good care can make our lives longer, but not infinite. Many are frightened at the very thought of eternity and need help for their souls. The main barrier here is the lack of firm faith, exacerbating the fear of death. But compassion and love build trust and strengthen the faith. The sisters have become the models of faith for countless elderly people who came to believe in God, participate in the Sacraments and see His love.
How did your faith give you the strength to endure your life's numerous sorrows and trials?
My journey to Christ was long, arduous and painful. My late husband had a troubled life, Although, as with any other person, there were a lot of good things to be said about him. The Lord helped me notice the best in him and learn how to love him. We have lived through a lot - his time in prison, his alcohol abuse and drug addiction. He went to prison several times, leaving me to look after the children. I was working as a train guard. Train guards travel all the time. They spend a week on the road and four or five days at home. With my work schedule, I could barely see my children.
Sometimes, my position made me desperate. On one of such desperate days, I went to Father Andrey and told him in a confession that I had made up my mind to divorce my husband. He did not give me his blessing. "Keep praying for your husband with patience", he said "there is still the hope of winning back his soul. He is drowning in his passions, but he has a big heart." Sometimes, one needs to fall low and recognise their weakness before one can take off. I continued to bear my cross to the end until my husband reposed.
People come to God when they can no longer lay their hopes on other people. It happens to everyone. But these are providential moments. The Lord helps you in ways that you never expected. He plants in your heart the understanding that He is the mover and changer. He has the power to change anything - people, relationships or circumstances.
For a long time, I thought that I could bring my husband to Church if I worked hard. But I underestimated the power of prayer. Finally, after many troubled years, my husband found God. For over half a year, he lived at the farmstead. He took communion twice a week and attended Akathists to the Icon of the Theotokos Inexhaustible cup. It must have been hard work for him to overcome his pride and make himself pray.
In one of my confessions before Father Valery, I made a long list of complaints about my husband, hoping to find a sympathetic ear. But asked me, "Are you confessing your sins or his? Your husband had a troubled life, but through him, you came to the Church. You are not wasting your life over a drink, you are talking to God. You should be grateful."
After many years of service in the Convent's sisterhood, how did your life change?
The Convent and the sisterhood have become a large part of who I am. I have spent the best and most blessed years here. Saint Elisabeth must be praying at the throne of the Lord for every sister for Him to give us strength and reassurance. We are human, and we have multiple weaknesses. We are the Lord's army, and through us, He helps many.
Over my years at the Convent, I have realised that my troubles are not the worst in the world. I have met people who cannot get out of bed, who move around in wheelchairs, and who have nobody to keep them company. I have learned to trust in our Lord. I know that my best service to Him is by helping those who are the most in need and not grumbling over my hardships.
The Holy Martyr Elisabeth Romanov spared no effort to raise donations for her Marfo-Mariinsky Convent. She helped the wounded, the infirm and the lonely. She gave shelter to street children, provided them with schooling and brought them to God. I realise that seeking riches in eternity is a worthwhile cause that gives meaning to our lives.
As a sister at the Convent, I have had many people say to me, "How can we believe in God when we have not had the experience or the need to believe?" How can I respond? Let me share my experience of coming to God.
Lubov Kovalenko, a sister of mercy since the 1990s, has touched the lives of many, bringing them to discover God. We asked her to talk about her journey to God, her service to others.
The Sisterhood, in honour of the Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elisabeth, was established in 1994. We began with only a small group of lay sisters visiting the patients of the National Psychiatric Hospital.
We look back at the history of the lay sisterhood in Honour of The Holy Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elisabeth, which gave rise to our Convent.
Natalya Orlovskaya, a sister of mercy, has the talent of comforting the desperate and grieving. According to Natalya, this talent is a gift from God. We talked to Sister Natalya about discovering God and how it can bring happiness to our lives.
Sister Alevtina Daneluk: "I read stories to children. Their magic excited their imagination, and we all celebrated the victory of good over evil."
Sisters of our Convent share their stories of when and how they heard the Lord and responded to His call. The second story about the way to God shared with us Sister of Mercy Leonilla Utekhina.