Sometimes we dream, make plans, strive for our goals, but when you meet God everything changes. It would seem that the circumstances are all the same, people are all the same, but everything is different - a new countdown begins ...
The story of twins Lena and Olya Turkov and brother Nikolai Storozhenko is a story of service and love, the story of a large monastic family and the Little Church.
“I was 6 years old, my mother was 48, when we were baptized together in the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Minsk. The year was 1991; now they call this time the Second Baptism of Russia. But then I didn't realize what was happening...
I remember how three or four years later, my grandfather died in front of my eyes. He lay down on the couch to have a rest, took a deep breath and began to turn blue; he had a heart attack. I ran into the room scared, knelt down and began to pray. Nobody taught me how to do it, it was a subconscious action.
In primary school, I used to wear a cross all the time and cherished it very much. Somehow the string got untied, and the cross got lost. I didn't know where it happened, but thanks to some inner instinct I found it immediately. It was probably the Lord showing Himself to me, performing little miracles…
“In my youth, I was faced with questions of an existential nature: who am I? What is important to me? What are my values? I have always been sensitive to moral aspects, while living the life of an ordinary young man of my generation. I remember that I was fond of music, wrote rap style lyrics, and there were lines about God there, although in those days I did not go to church or pray.
“I studied at the Faculty of Law in the BSU. Every year my friends and I went to the Crimea on holiday. Those were fun trips – sea, sun and relaxation.
And then, in the middle of fun and carelessness, I had a feeling of emptiness. We were walking to the beach, and suddenly everything that had pleased me yesterday seemed empty and unreal. I didn't understand what was happening to me.
“In my fifth year of university, I fell deeply in love. The feelings were most sublime, I was ready to make a lot of sacrifices. But my girlfriend and I were separated by a long distance, and, at some point, she said: "It won't work." It was then that I turned to God with an intuitive prayer.
I remembered the church where I was baptized, I knew that believers attended church on Sundays. I didn't have a scheme — "I'll pray and this girl will be mine" — I just turned to God, and I felt better.
I haven’t got any vivid memories of my first conscious visit to the church, but there were no longer feelings of a dead-end either. I remember feeling great pleasure walking home from church, I felt uplifted.
"Since mid-January 2008, I have been going to church every Sunday. I was embarrassed to tell my parents, so I often said that I was going out to help a friend.
At that time, I had a pre-graduation practice, and I began to read a lot. My first spiritual book was "The Son of Man" by Alexander Men. In fact, this is the Gospel told in modern Russian. My heart responded. I also read complex literature such as "Ascetic Experiments" by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, and, of course, I read the Gospel itself.
Sometimes I wondered, "What if people made it all up?" But I decided for myself that regardless of whether Jesus Christ was God or not, His example should be followed, because He is a model of morality. And this thought saved me from greater doubts. Then everything fell into place, as the experience of life in the Church took over…
"My sister had a daughter, and I was asked to be her godfather. Before the sacrament of Baptism, I went to confession and received communion for the first time. The Lord gave me grace - suddenly a feeling of joy, euphoria, flashes of some incomprehensible optimism would come, and I understood that this was from God.
I graduated from the university and joined the army. When doing the military service, having changed the usual way of life, I constantly turned to God and felt that I was not alone. Once, when we lived in the forest for a long time and it was especially difficult, the doctor of our battalion took us to the church on Sunday after training. Being in the church after a break of 3-4 months was incredible.
“Having returned from the army, I still had some uncertainty; it was time to look for a job. I was 23 years old, I had to make a choice. My father was a lecturer at the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, my mother was an expert in the field of forensic examination of documents.
The apple didn’t fall far from the apple tree – I went to work as an investigator in the Police. That’s how my father started, but it was important for me to make a decision of my own and not use my parents’ help.
Everything worked out fine in the Police; I had energy and I was interested in the work; yet two years later, at the moment of mental turmoil, I started thinking of quitting. I began looking for another job, I was prepared to work as a loader or a driver. At that time, I saw an ad: "The video studio of the Convent needs an employee." At that time I didn’t know anything about the Convent and yet I offered my services.
A few days passed, the dark cloud in the detective work dissipated, new circumstances and prospects appeared, and there was no response from the Convent ...
The wish to change a job gradually subsided, and yet I wrote a second letter and finally received an invitation from the Convent to come for an interview. My trust to God was not yet there – I was worried how I would earn a living, what my parents would say.
My boss listened calmly, told me to finish and hand over things, but it was difficult for my parents to accept my choice. Mum said, "I had a feeling you might do something like this." Dad did not understand me at all, he thought that my decision was a whim and that I would be disappointed, but by then the situation would be beyond repair. Indeed, the system is such that it does not allow you back in the police force once you have left. Still, I was adamant.
No one understood me and no one supported my decision. I didn’t have any friends in the Convent; at that time, I didn’t know the confessor of the Convent, yet a certain feeling of calm came within me, the feeling that I was making the right choice lived inside and I knew that everything would be fine.
“I was hired to work in the Department of External Relations. Just a few days after I started my employment, I was sent to Moscow. I acted as a loader. I was standing holding huge bags and thought: "Kolya, what's going on? You were a police detective, you were building yourself a certain way of life, what are you doing now?" - but I drove those thoughts away. And the Lord comforted me.
We returned from the trip in the morning. While things were being unloaded, I shared the story of my life with the nun Vera (Gordienko) and Matushka said: "Well, the Lord gathers an interesting company in the Convent ..."
These words made a strong impression on me, I took them as a hint from God that I was on the right path. A few months later, I was offered to go on trips as a driver and assistant; the next four years I actually spent abroad. It was a special time, it strengthened and nourished me, I became a different person.
I visited parishes in England and Ireland with the Sisters on our travels. As a minibus driver and a brother, I helped the Sisters arrange our exhibitions and presentations in the parishes. Sometimes I stayed alone in the parishes, telling the local parishioners about our Convent and our ministry in Minsk.
The Lord protected me at all times. On the trips, you would be tired, hungry, but energy would come from somewhere. There you are not just Kolya Storozhenko, you are a representative of the Convent. And I would not have swapped my obedience there for a holiday at some fine resort, because there was always grace.
"For almost ten years I have been going to the residential care facility, and this ministry is the salt of my life, a component that gives it meaning. This Gospel image is close to me. Without salt everything rots away, but it is impossible to just eat salt. No matter how hard I try, I cannot live solely by works of mercy, but for me it is a bridge to salvation and a door to something real. Of course, communication with the sick is needed, first and foremost, for me – the Lord will find someone through whom to comfort them.
We have a good tradition in the boarding home – after the service we stay for a meal. At first, I felt like a stranger there. The people who carried out obedience in the boarding home seemed incomprehensible to me. But because we take communion from the same Chalice, participate in the same works of mercy, we have grown closer, we have become Brothers and Sisters. In the nursing home there is a home church in honor of the Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg.
Patients teach us and change us. They are open, sincere and real, they don’t wear masks, they are devoid of falsehood, they don’t play parts and don’t have any expectations; if there is anything they don’t like, they would tell you straight away. The way they live, the way they work, how they accept everything in peace is an example to strive for.
"Now there is less ministry in my life, but I really appreciate those moments when I was able to give more time to the residents of the boarding home. I used to think: "Why spend so much time there?" Now I understand that everything is good in its time: when there was an opportunity – I served more, and thank God.
Although these people are looked after by staff who try to create a home for them, it’s still not family. And when you try to bring at least some semblance of family to them for half an hour a week, you yourself are inspired. Ministry makes it clear what is important in life and what is secondary…
“I have another obedience – I help the priest organize the funeral service for the deceased who lived in the residential care facility. Through this service, one begins to understand the important things in life. Imagine, there is only a priest and the deceased in the church – no magnificent coffins and wreaths, no crowds of relatives... You can say that the soul appears naked before God.
In this atmosphere, one realizes what is truly valuable in our lives. It turns out that 90% of what we care about is futile. You think about how many rooms there are in your flat, you rack your brain trying to make sure there are three instead of two, you dream of earning six roubles instead of four. But when the soul meets God, these things will not be remembered. It will be important where you have arrived at and what your soul has become. Ministering makes you think of eternity. Who will you be when your hour comes?”
Together with Nikolai, about fifty monastics and laypeople visit boarding institutions for people with mental disabilities every week.
Please help them make a difference in these people's lives by supporting our hospital ministry.
To do this, please follow the link: https://obitel-minsk.org/donate-st-elisabeth-convent