Sister Alevtina Daneluk has been a part of our family for over fifteen years. As a lay sister, she performed different obediences at the church stalls before she received the blessing to minister among disabled children in long-term care. What brought her to the Convent? How did her obediences advance her spiritual growth? Sister Alevtina explains in this interview.
Describe your current role at Saint Elisabeth Convent.
In 2009, Father Andrey Lemeshonok gave me the blessing to start my obedience at the residential care facility for disabled children. From that moment, my service to these children has been central to my life.
The children in my care have Down's syndrome. They have great artistic talents. They are very good at acting, singing and painting. We read and act out stories. Good stories are highly therapeutic and help us learn about the world and ourselves. Storytelling improves our memory, imagination, speaking and thinking skills. With the children, we stage plays based on the stories. An amateur theatrical troupe exists at the institution for older children. Their productions include a lot of singing and dancing.
But the children’s talents are not limited to arts. They can achieve exceptional closeness to God. As we take them to the workshop services in wheelchairs, their faces glow with joy. The services take place in the domestic church of Saint Nectarios of Aegina. There, the children participate in the Holy Sacraments on Saturdays, and we read an Akathist every Friday.
I also noticed in my children the incredible gift of insight. In the middle of a drawing session, we sang together a song about Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg. Suddenly, one girl said, "Saint Xenia has just descended from the sky on a silk thread and touched our foreheads with her walking stick. She left as soon as we stopped singing. She did not know that in her lifetime, Saint Xenia walked around Saint Petersburg with a stick.
But their greatest gift is one of love. They may have their bad times and feel upset once in a while, but they show exceptional sympathy and compassion. We come to comfort them, and they give us innumerable hugs and kisses. You need to have a big heart to give so much affection to others.
For three years, I performed another important task - corresponding with women prisoners. I sent them icons, calendars and religious books. The inmates of a women's penitentiary facility were writing to Nun Barbara (Atrasevich) who is in charge of our women's farmstead. They asked her for spiritual guidance and advice. Because she could not answer all the letters, she asked me to write to five women inmates. I told them about the convent and its farmstead. I related to them the stories of the clergy who had been to prison camps under Stalin but endured their hardships with prayer and faith in God. The sisters found these letters very reassuring.
Most women in prison dream about home, family and children. Some are believers. One of my correspondents even sang in a church choir before going to prison. Everyone felt the closeness of God and told me how He came to their help when they prayed. I hope that the women have managed to reform themselves and rebuild their lives.
How has your background - especially your love for stories and storytelling - helped you in your work at the Convent?
I come from Russia's Volga region. As a child, I adored stories and legends - they filled my whole world. They gave me the sense of God's presence and His protection from the dangers of the wide world. My mother worked for forty years as a nurse in a nursing care facility in Russia that served children and adults with disabilities. She dedicated her whole life to caring for the sick.
As for me, I always liked children and wanted and hoped to work with children professionally as an adult. When I was only ten, I used to gather around me scores of younger children to tell them something exciting. Sometimes, I would tell them the news I had overheard on television. They always listened with great interest.
When I finished school, I went to live in Saint Petersburg with my brother. I entered a teacher training college. While still a student, I worked as an educator in kindergarten. I read stories to children. Their magic excited their imagination, and we all rejoiced in the victory of good over evil. It was amazing how stories opened their eyes to the beauty of this world and taught them sympathy and compassion.
I still work as a counselling psychologist in kindergarten, where we continue to act out stories with the little children. In the process, every child helps a story's hero in some way - by building a tower, laying a trail, or solving a problem. All these skills and techniques have proved very useful in my work with disabled children.
How did your meeting with God happen, and how did it help you find your way to Saint Elisabeth Convent?
I have had the sense of God's presence ever since my childhood, but I only came to the church as a young adult. Even then, I attended church worship only on occasions. It all changed in 1992 when I met my husband, an army officer from Minsk. He was a believer. He discussed religion with his family and had an icon of the Mother of God in his home. However, he was mostly silent about his faith with outsiders because he was an army officer. Sixth months later, he asked me to marry him, and I followed him to Belarus.
My first wish on my arrival was to go to church. We lived in the vicinity of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, and we went for the Nativity Vigil with my husband. I had my first confession and communion at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. I felt great joy. I continued to attend services and Akathists and sat in at the talks of Father Andrey Lemeshonok with the laity. I found my time at the church enlightening and enriching. I found peace and calm and learned to be more compassionate.
After an Akathist at the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, a sister asked if anyone in the audience was willing to join her for a talk with Father Andrey. When most people left, I stood up and said, "I would like to go." It was spring, and the Convent looked beautiful. After the talk, Father Andrey asked for some volunteers to work at an exhibition. I stepped forward. I wanted to do some work for God.
At the exhibition, I was making pancakes. I was in my vestments. When my husband saw me, he was very pleased that I had found my way to God. At that moment, I felt as if had received the touch of God. I still have the same feeling when I put on my vestments to go to work. I hope that it will last.
How have your obediences at the Convent benefited you? What have they taught you?
With my coming to the Convent, I learned to see beauty in people. I understood this basic spiritual truth: a weakness that you notice in somebody else is in fact yours. It is God's way of showing you your real self. The problem in another person is not his, it is yours. And we must repent of the sins that we notice in others.
In my prayers, I always ask God to give me love. He listens. With the gift of his love, I have become more forgiving of the other sisters and members of my family. My daughter could be a thousand times wrong, but I must come up to her, hug her and ask her for forgiveness now. If I do not do it, we cannot make peace. But when there is peace, we can always have a constructive discussion.
The Convent and the sisterhood are my life. My coming here was a life-changing event. I realised that God had sent me the people I have met in my life for a reason. As days, seasons and years flow by, our lives change. We should accept the change, learn to love other people as they are and pray for them. We are the body of Christ. How can we commune in the life to come, if we cannot carry each other's burdens and find understanding among ourselves in this life?
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