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.
Nikolai: I started working in the Convent in May 2011. Easter that year was late. On the eve of the holiday, Brother Oleg Kovalenko called me and asked: “Kolya, would you like to go to Logoisk to plunge into the holy spring?”
Olya: We had a tradition after the Easter night and prayer service at the boarding home to go to the well of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Logoisk. That year there were a lot of people who wanted to go for a dip. Lena and I were put in the car with Kolya, and that's how we met. The first impression of him was a rich boy from Minsk; for some reason we thought him to be posh, not like us. We are simpler.
Nikolai: On that trip, I noticed that the girls were very sociable. The next day, a picnic was organized for the employees of the Department of External Relations. At that time Olya and Lena were just twins to me — interesting, funny, but I couldn’t even tell one from the other. Later I began to look closer.
Lena: Kolya began to work in the Department of External Relations, and we became friends. We went on pilgrimages together, took part in sports, went for runs around Lake Komsomolskoye, went to the boarding home together. We were a fun-loving group of young people.
Olga, Elena, and Nikolai on a pilgrimage trip
Olya: I think we were the ones who showed Kolya the world of Orthodoxy. By that time, he had already met God, read a lot, but we tried to open up practical Orthodoxy to him — we talked with the guys from the boarding home, and went to St. Valentina’s of Minsk, in Zhirovichi. All this has really brought us together.
Nikolai: Someone said that help was needed in the neuropsychiatric boarding home. I didn’t think I was ready for that but if help was needed, I had to go. Now the patients are like family to me, but then they made me anxious. I ended up going to the department Olya visited — 40 residents and a fragile girl ...
It was when we were ministering in the boarding home, and Olya was caring for a difficult patient, that I felt an impulse: “This is your wife!” I remember going downstairs and hearing these words inside: “Wife! Wife!” I was overwhelmed with unbridled joy.
I was very nervous before telling Olya that I liked her. I felt that she was also attracted to me, but I was afraid to hear “no”.
Lena: Our group has become very friendly, but then it was time to leave. Since the fourth year of university, Olya and I have been helping the Convent in the Department of External Relations. At first, we worked with the Convent's website, translated films and information about the Convent into German, and later we were sent to work in Poland.
After graduation, we worked as teachers of English and German and every summer we went on long trips, collecting donations for the Convent in different countries of the world. I often flew with exhibitions to Orthodox parishes in the United States, Olya went to Scandinavia and Germany. In one of our chats with Kolya, we mentioned that some sisters of mercy got married abroad.
Olya: When there was only one day left before we had to go, Kolya called me to him and said: “Olya, I need to talk to you seriously.” My first thought was: “He wants to tell me that he likes Lena, and he will ask for advice on how to start dating her.” And Kolya suddenly said: “Olya, I like you, I want to go out with you.” It was like a bolt from the blue for me. Although, to be honest, I was also interested in Kolya. I liked him, but I did not allow myself to think of him as a boyfriend.
Nikolai: When Olya said: “I like you too!” — I was ecstatic. We decided to start a relationship, and Olya went on a long trip. I also went abroad, sent by the Department of External Relations.
Sister Olga performing her monastic obedience
Olya: The missionary work of our Convent abroad is quite noticeable. Over there, people rarely meet God. In Western countries, little is known about monasticism, but we tell them about the life of our Convent and our social ministry. The Lord works through the sisters of mercy; you are nothing and nobody, but people look at your vestments and see God; and if you do something wrong, it may turn them away.
Lena: During exhibitions, people would often come up to you for advice and open their souls to you. But if you don't pray, if you don't go to confession or take Communion, if you don't live your life with God, what can you say to a person in grief, for example? People need prayers, they are comforted by holy relics, sermons on disks that we bring them. They donate, we pray, such is the connection of Orthodoxy throughout the world.
Olya: I love these trips; God carries you in His arms there. You are traveling, the suitcases are huge, 40 kg for a fragile girl, but you don't feel the weight, it’s as if someone lifts it for you, or the Lord sends people along the way to help. On these trips, you can feel how God works. Sometimes we agree to go to a particular place, but suddenly the plans change, we end up going somewhere else, and it turns out that this is exactly where you were needed.
Sisters Olga and Elena
Nikolai: Olya and I haven't seen each other for almost six months. Perhaps because of the long separation, she started having doubts about me. When we met again Olya said: “We need to break up.” I was completely lost; I went to the grave of Matushka Valentina Minskaya and sought consolation from her. Thank God, I have already had the experience of prayer...
I felt depressed for a month, I was afraid to see Olya, but then I began to act — I used to secretly pay her utility bills, I brought her some treats like nuts and other lean goodies... Olya saw that I wasn’t giving up and, probably, appreciated it; so, we resumed our relationship.
Olya: Kolya was constantly on trips, he worked hard. I didn't see much of him; sometimes there would be some misunderstanding between us, and that would not let us build a strong relationship. Such communication lasted for 5 years. Finally, in 2016, we got married. Obedience in the Department of External Relations helped me to meet my husband and him to meet me. If it weren't for the Convent, there would be no family.
Nikolai and Olga's church wedding, 2016
Nikolai: All the years that Olga and I were seeing each other, I remembered the feeling that the Lord gave me in the boarding home, and I believed that we would become husband and wife. I prayed constantly, and that day came. We were married by Father Andrei Malakhovsky who looks after us in the boarding home. Unexpectedly, many guests came to the wedding in the Church of St. Elisabeth, which we were very happy about.
In married life, I felt the fullness that I had always strived for. I liked coming home from work, I knew that I would be eagerly awaited. Olya became pregnant almost immediately, and Vasilissa was born. With the arrival of our daughter, everything changed — like you are the same, you sit, drink tea, and yet you are different, you and your wife are continuing in your child, and the responsibility is also different.
I remember that before the sacrament of the wedding, Father Andrei Malakhovsky told us: “Up to this point you have learned patience, now you need to learn lifelong patience.” And the day before he warned me: “It may be difficult, but you need to appreciate that this is a devoted and believing person.”
Olya: Everything in life was given to me through great hardship. Therefore, the joys of married life, the acceptance of myself as a happy wife and then a mother have been far from immediate. I am in a difficult situation — I am a twin, it wasn’t just difficult to “detach” myself from my beloved sister, it was simply unbearable.
For three years of married life, I went «per aspera ad astra»; and, thanks to the prayers of priests and sisters of the convent, with God’s help and Kolya's patience I worked on myself and, eventually, understood the meaning of personal fullness which comes through marriage and which my husband keeps talking about.
Nikolai: The life of a Christian is not continuous joy, it is labour, it is the humbling of your weak self. Married life is a responsibility and worries, but all the difficulties are for the sake of Christ, so they are joyful. And I perceive difficulties as something useful, the main thing is not to stop and not to give up...
Being a parent is a creative challenge. Our daughter turned three in March, she is a smart girl, with a strong character. We come to church together, thank God, and we take Communion.
There are no straightforward recipes in child rearing — this is a riddle that parents need to solve, it is important to constantly look for interaction. Now, Olya and I are sowing seeds, which in due time, we hope, will grow.
Olya: I have been working as an English teacher for 11 years. This is sufficient experience in interaction with children, but after giving birth, I realised that there was a lack of maternal love in my experience. Thanks to my daughter, I had a chance to learn lifelong patience (believe me, it takes a lot of it raising a child, and this is a great gift from God), humility (when you want to spend well-deserved time on your own at the end of the day, and cute little eyes look at you and your child doesn’t allow a thought that mum can be on her own for a minute) and meekness (a child's personality is a fragile vessel — sometimes from fatigue and stress you just want to scream but instead, in a calm and nice voice, you try to explain to the baby for a hundredth time that, for example, it is not good to throw food on the floor).
Nikolai and Olga with their daughter Vasilisa
I, in my turn, would like to show my child the love and beauty of Orthodoxy. I don't know whether I am doing it well enough, but I believe that God and the Mother of God are guiding me on the path of child upbringing. Let's ask our daughter in about 15 years’ time if it worked...
Sister Olga with Vasilisa
Lena: When we started working in the boarding home and the Convent, the Convent became our family. There were times when we tried to visit other churches, eager to feel God’s presence — we went to the cathedral, to the church of St. Sergius of Radonezh, but always returned to our convent.
Olya: If your roots are in the Convent, if your spiritual birth is here, if so many events, experiences, rebirths and falls have happened here, you can cut off the sprouts and go to another church but you are still drawn back. You have to be here.
Nikolai: The Lord brought me to the Convent. Without using the word Providence, I cannot explain how I got here — this is one of the most striking Acts of God in my life, a gift and the door to my salvation.