Galina Zyz has been a sister of charity at Saint Elisabeth Convent for seventeen years, including fifteen years behind the stalls in a funeral parlour in Minsk City. She spends most of her working day talking to people who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. We interviewed her about her obedience, life-changing encounters and growth in the faith as a sister of Saint Elisabeth Convent. Here is her story.
Talk about your present obedience. What do you find the most difficult, and what gives you hope and reassurance?
I serve as a sister of charity in a funeral parlour. I first came here before I even joined the sisterhood. It was after my father died of cancer. I remember seeing the icon of the Saviour. It caught my eye, and I stood before it for a long time just looking at it. When they sent me to work there, I did not object. I remembered what grandmother taught me as a child: "If there is a job to be done, and you have to do it, do not waste your time picking and choosing. Get down to work, and keep doing it until you finish. And pray that God will give you endurance."
When someone comes to me in grief, I must reassure him and do my best to help him give his last honours to his departed in the Christian way. After seventeen years with the sisterhood, I still worry every time I come to take my desk at the parlour. I ask God to teach me what to say - I realise that I am responsible for every word that comes from my mouth. I must take care to help people and not make their grief worse.
Apart from prayer, my other source of reassurance is the people with whom I work. A single encounter with some of them gives me the energy that lasts for a long time. They all had an inner beauty that may not be visible to people but is visible to God. Here is an example. I come to work at 9.30. The night shift ends at nine. Once I came to my workplace and found a young man from the night shift waiting for me. "I have been expecting you. Can you help me make a forty-day prayer request for the newly departed Olga? He had worked the whole night and stayed for an extra half-hour to request a prayer for someone he did not even know.
How have you sensed the presence of God in your obedience?
Over the years, I noticed that some people work very hard on the arrangements, but still, the funeral does not go smoothly. Others seem to do very little, and the ceremony goes without a hitch. In conversation, I often find out that the funerals of believers tended to run more smoothly than those of unbelievers. I saw a divine light coming from some people despite their grief. "Thankfully, our mother took communion and extreme unction before her departure," they would say, with peace and calm in their hearts and confident that they will see their loved ones again in eternity.
I remember one man who approached me in the course of my obedience. He was young, and he had lost his former wife and two children in a car accident. The man was a neurosurgeon. What he said then still resounds in my heart: "Sometimes, I know that my patient is a believer, and many people are praying for them the moment I enter the operating theatre. By His mercy, God moves the boundaries of our human perception and reveals to us the multiple invisible links that connect us through prayer."
Some encounters in our lives lead us to the faith or strengthen us in our belief. Have you ever had this experience? If yes, please tell us more about it.
As a child, I wanted to become a school teacher. I was interested in Spanish. But when I graduated from a professional college, I went to work in a shop. One day, a new woman joined our team. Someone told me she was a deep believer. He was right. She had a living faith, and she became my close friend, role model and spiritual guide. She was a warm and generous person, and I called her lovingly grandmother. I think she prayed for me a lot.
She was exceptional. Everyone asked her for advice. She was honest in her answers, making no distinctions between managers and rank and file workers. Still, she did it with so much love that nobody ever took offence. She was always thoughtful, considerate and always ready to help. She was a living image of God.
One day, someone stole a wallet from her shopping bag. My first question was, "How much money did you have there?" "It is not about money. It is about temptation. I should have put the wallet deeper and closed my bag. But I did not, and I tempted him. Can you imagine? Someone had a temptation and could not resist it. He took the wallet." In another incident, grandmother took her armchair to dry outside. Moments later, she looked outside and saw someone putting her armchair in a lorry. "Why did not you cry out? Why did not you tell them to stop?" I asked. "Maybe they needed it more than I did," she said. She brought me to God and became my guide in the faith.
What have the years you spent with the sisterhood taught you about spiritual and personal growth?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a sister of mercy. I realised that the key to being a sister of charity was the readiness to visit and help the sick, the disabled, and everyone in need. As I watched the other sisters at work, I brought back in my memory the situations when other people needed help, and I was in a position to offer help. Why did not I? I was willing to help, but I was too shy to ask the people what they needed; I was too afraid to cause offence or create confusion. I worried that someone would be upset because they might think I was better off than them. In the sisterhood, I have worked with many people. Now I take a different attitude to help. I know I should worry less about what others would say. Instead, I should ask God for His blessing and roll up my sleeves.
I have also learned to appreciate the sense of community and closeness that arises in me every time I come to the Convent. It is a blessing to attend a meeting and listen to Father Andrey's talks. The feeling of togetherness at these moments is remarkable. Coming to church, confessing and taking communion brings joy and peace to my heart. So do my prayers. I pray to the saints, invoking the name of the Convent's patroness in Heaven, Saint Elisabeth Romanov and her attendant Nun Barbara. To me, they are inseparable. Joining the nuns in prayer or work gives me comfort. I am drawn to the Convent at all times - in grief or joy.
I never thought of leaving my job or the sisterhood, not for a moment. When the thoughts of leaving occur to other sisters, I always recall what grandmother said to me, "Pray to God that He will give you endurance."
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