Sometimes we dream, make plans, strive for some goals, but meeting with God changes everything. It would seem that the circumstances are the same, people are the same, but everything is different - a new countdown begins ...
The story of the twins Lena and Olya Turkov and Brother Nikolai Storozhenko is a story of service and love, the story of a large monastic family and a little Church.
Lena: We did not have church-going grandparents, mum and dad did not become an example in this matter either, but intuitively we have always been drawn to church – soul was seeking God. We lived in the town of Novolukoml, Vitebsk region. Not far from our house there used to be a beautiful wooden church in honor of the Holy Martyr Vladimir; after a fire the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was built in its place. As children, we would often look in there, come to Sunday school, listen and run away.
Olya: I remember my mother telling me that once a year, at Easter, our grandmother Fenya (her mother) took children to the White Church – this is a historic and cultural monument 10 km away from the village where they lived. Older children walked; little ones were carried on the grown-ups’ backs. They arrived at the temple, stood at the service, consecrated Easter cakes and walked back.
As children, we were searching: we went to an Orthodox church and to a Baptist one. Protestants gathered in the House of Culture, foreigners came there attracting children with toys, but we were more comfortable in an Orthodox church. Parents didn’t mind us going to church, they didn’t notice any fanaticism ...
Lena: There was another world in the church, something mysterious, warm and bright. We would run in, stand for a while, look at the icons and run out. I remember once we were given a small green prayer book, and it fell into our mother's hands. Mum read it and taught us the Lord's Prayer. She was not a church-goer, but she believed in God, and when Olya and I were 7 and our brother 11 years old, she baptized us.
Olya: Our father is from Liozno (an urban village in the Vitebsk region). When grandfather died, Lena and I were 15 years old, we went to the funeral. Our next-door neighbor was a believer, and we were sent to spend the night with her. There were icons in the house. The hostess read a book in the morning and in the evening. We became interested, and this neighbor told us about God and the Church.
In high school we, like all girls, went to discos on Saturdays. We would dance, then remove mascara and lipstick by the mirror in the House of Culture and go to church for the Easter celebration. And there was no embarrassment: "How come, going to church after disco?", there was such naivety ...
Lena: We took communion for the first time before entering the university. When our elder brother was trying for medical university after finishing school, someone told my mother: "He must go to confession and Communion." With such faith, childishly, he went to the church – and, indeed, he got through. We had the same plan.
Olya: When in the tenth grade, we began to study with a tutor, we dreamt of becoming students of linguistic university. We set ourselves a goal that before going to bed we would read the Lord's Prayer 10 times, and we prayed silently every night. In the eleventh grade, before the exams, we went to confession and took communion.
We got to the university, but only to a paid department. We moved to Minsk, lived in a dormitory, worked hard for the first year, and a year later we were enrolled in a free department.
Lena: In the group, we became friends with a girl called Tatiana, she was a believer. It was in the first year that she told us: "Girls, you are baptized, you ought to pray and take communion." Before entering the university, we went to communion without preparation – we did not observe the fast, did not read the prayer rule, did not know how to do anything, but this time we prepared thoroughly: on Saturday we closed ourselves in the study room and prayed together.
The university dormitory was located next to the Church of Mary Magdalene, and it was there that our first conscious communion took place. Personally, I had a feeling of light in my soul, as if a flashlight had been turned on above you. And it burns all the time.
Olya: I felt it too. It was as if light came from the sky, and this feeling lasted all day. We prayed at the early service, came home tired, ate, lay down, and this daytime sleep was also very bright. That's how the Lord embraced us to never let go.
A few months later, we asked Tatiana to take us to the church again so that we could feel this light and warmth again. The feeling came back and we were drawn to the church ...
Olya: Our believing friend once said: "Let's go, there is a convent nearby." It was the winter of 2004. Father Andrei Lemeshonok was sitting in a chair at the entrance to the Church of St. Nicholas. We were astonished to see a man in a black robe with a beard and long hair. He smiled and said, "Did you come to us? Come in." All this was so new, so much love and good nature emanated from the priest that we became shy and embarrassed, we just smiled, turned around and ran away like little children.
Lena: Then we came to the convent again. There was a divine liturgy, Church of St. Nicholas was not yet completed, candles were burning; that time we confessed to Father Andrei Malakhovsky. After our first Easter as students, we started going to the convent regularly. Before the feast, we were not sure that we would survive the night service, and yet we decided to go to the convent.
"After the procession, we go into the church, the priest loudly proclaims: "Christ is risen!" Everyone shouts: "Truly He is risen!" We look at people, and they are so happy, their faces are glowing. There is one Sister standing nearby, and she is so full of joy, as if something incredibly important has happened ...”
Olya: That's how the Lord showed us through His people that Easter is the Feast of Feasts. After that I thought: how can we obtain such joy? I really wanted to experience something similar ...
Lena: For this joy, we began to come to the convent, went to services, and worked for the glory of God. We were rushing there after classes and worked all night in the refectory washing dishes, making cookies and buns. I remember how until 4 a.m. we would help the sisters, then they would cover tables with blankets, and we would sleep, and at 7 a.m. we’d get up to go to the liturgy. Most often we would come to the convent on Saturdays, and, if classes allowed, on weekdays. The convent was then under construction, everyone worked hard.
Father Andrei Lemeshonok confessed until morning. At midnight, he came to the refectory to have something to eat, and Olya and I sat next to each other and asked him questions. Father was like a dad to us. At some stage, our relationship with our own father was lost, and he replaced him.
Olya: Our father left us when Lena and I finished school and entered the university. It would seem that at the age of 18 we were grown up, but the fact that our father started a new family was like a nuclear bomb explosion to us. So, we saw a father in the priest, he warmed us with his love. Father Andrei may not know this, but his warmth and care really helped us.
Lena: Then there was a period when we cleaned churches. On weekdays we worked in St. Elizabeth and St. Nicholas churches, on Saturday after the all-night vigil, in the church of the Icon of the Mother of God "Derzhavnaya " (Sovereign). We loved this obedience very much; they say it is important to do something specifically for God's temple.
Olya: At that time, the now deceased novice Tamara Gvozdovich worked in the church shop. On weekdays after lectures, we helped her, washed and cleaned the church, and talked to people.
Lena: Our mother scolded us for spending so much time in the convent. She then discovered God herself, but did not discover church life. Any mother would be worried to learn that her daughters didn’t just go to church, but worked there and spent the night in the convent.
Olya: We, young people in the prime of life who should be looking for husbands and learning about the world, have come to God and were giving everything to the convent. For a mother, this might seem like insanity. Mum needed time. Through the prayers of priests and sisters, she let go of the situation – now she herself goes to church, to confession, to communion ...
Olya: In 2005, we discovered the adult boarding home. On the 2nd of January we came to the Akathist of St. Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg for the first time, not as sisters of mercy, but as ordinary parishioners.
I remember that we were amazed by the people living in the boarding home – there was a lot of love, awe, care in them. You don't feel it in ordinary people, such warmth can only come from your mother. And suddenly, these sick people let you feel it. It was as if we were struck by lightning ...
Lena: I remember my feelings when we first came to the boarding home. The sisters were singing, the patients were standing nearby hugging them, we felt that they wanted us to hug them. You were standing on the ground but it seemed as if we were rising up with their love.
We started going to the boarding home on Thursdays and then on Fridays for the Divine Liturgy. It was in the boarding home that we met novice Tamara Gvozdovich, who let us help in the church shop and became our second mother.
Olya: She took care of us, she was worried about our exams, worried that we were not eating enough, she fed us all the time, she gave us advice. But sister Tamara was also strict, she could give us a slap on the forehead if something was wrong.
Lena: Our path in the boarding home was thorny. No one particularly bothered with us, the sisters just watched us for about two years. We were young, emotional, our obstinacy and youthful maximalism prevented us from being accepted. We seemed frivolous to the sisters; they dismissed us as workers: "These will not stay here! They'll run about and leave!"
We were full of ideas, fiery, eager to speak out! And what is the first thing for the convent and sisterhood? Obedience and humility. We put forward ideas, and we were "clapped" all the time: "Sit and be quiet, you are not even sisters of mercy..." It hurt, sometimes even to tears.
Olya: Brothers and sisters seriously "trimmed" us, but we held on to the residents. We only went there for their sake. However, there was a moment when we were about to leave the boarding home for good. February 6th is the Feast of the Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg. Lena and I feel each other perfectly, twins have this communication of souls, so the idea of leaving came to both of us at the same time.
Lena: The Divine Liturgy was over, after which there was always a festive meal in the boarding home for the admin, staff and parishioners. Again, some harsh remarks were made to us, we stood in the assembly hall thinking: "That's it, time to go, let’s leg it!" We turned to the exit, but Sister Lyudmila, now Nun Fevronia (Maksimenko), stopped us saying: "Sisters, where are you off to? You shouldn’t go away from God; you are needed to help pour the tea." That's how Blessed Xenia made us stay with the help of a sister. We have now been coming to the boarding home for 15 years...
Olya: We soon were blessed into the sisterhood. Lena and I worked in different departments. I was in male Ward 10; I replaced Father Sergiy Nezhbort and Brother Dmitry Kuntsevich there. The department was a hard one, but very prayerful. I loved these people, I put my soul into helping them open up. Lena carried obedience in Ward 9 where there were also seriously ill guys, bedridden, paralyzed; she still works there today.
Lena: When we became Sisters of mercy, our inner state changed, more responsibility and seriousness appeared. The sisters have their own prayer rule, in addition to evening and morning prayers we read prayers for unity and construction, an Akathist to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker; twice a week we work for the glory of God in the hospital. This disciplines you and creates a completely different Spirit...