Yandex Metrika
Sister Valeria's story about living with God

Valeria Means "Firm"

Sister Valeria

Valeria Cherkovskaya, a vibrant and cheerful 27-year-old, works in a rather unconventional place for someone her age – the Orthodox Sisterhood of Mercy at St. Elisabeth Convent in Minsk. Since 2020, Valeria has been active in the Convent's Outreach Ministry, where she engages with foreign communities, sharing and exchanging experiences in religious life and charitable work. Additionally, she visits patients in the drug and alcohol treatment unit at the National Mental Health Centre, located next to the Convent.

What inspired this charming young woman to embrace such a unique path? Let's delve into Valeria's story and discover her journey of faith and service.

"It felt like God Himself was walking…"

I have believed in God since childhood. I was always taught to turn to Him in any difficulty using my own words. My earliest and most vivid memory related to church is from Palm Sunday when I was about four years old. I remember it was a cold and snowy day. We were waiting outside for the priest to come out and consecrate the willow branches. When he finally came out, I was so happy! I wish I could experience something similar at least once more in my life. It felt like the Lord Himself was coming. People with pussy willow pins stood on either side as the priest walked in the centre. Overwhelmed with joy, I ran to him shouting, "Father, Father, my Father!" He sprinkled me, and I went back to my grandmother. We still remember this incident fondly.

When I started first grade, I began attending Sunday school at the Church of St. George the Victorious in Lida. There, we studied the Catechism, and every summer, we went camping with tents, cooked food over a fire, sang songs with a guitar, attended services in a neighbouring village, and swam in the Neman River. It was a lot of fun, and I miss that time.

hiking with a youth group
hiking with a youth group
hiking with a youth group

Sr Valeria (first left) hiking with a youth group from St. George the Victorious church in Lida, Belarus

In childhood, the Lord gives you grace in advance. Later, you have to make efforts yourself. Teenagers often get distracted from going to church by friends and personal interests until they find themselves in a difficult life situation and in need of God's help.

"I wanted to work in the field of pilgrimage tourism…"

I have dreamed of traveling since childhood. I remember my first journey to the sea with my parents. There was a chaperone on the bus. My mum said, "If you study tourism, you will travel like him." I thought, "How cool is that, what a great job!" So, I enrolled in tourism.

After university, I worked as a receptionist in a hotel. At that time, I missed the Orthodox hikes we used to go on in my hometown. I wanted to be close to the church and favored an active lifestyle, yet my job was to sit in a chair in a hotel. Every time I entered a church, I approached an icon of Nicholas the Wonderworker and asked him to give me a job that would involve both traveling and the church. At that time, I was thinking about pilgrimage tourism.

Sister Valeria working in a hotel

Sister Valeria working in a hotel

After some time, I found a vacancy at the convent that involved extensive traveling…

"Both of my dreams came true in the monastery…"

It was truly amazing: I had dreamed of traveling to America since I was a child, perhaps because my mum was an English teacher. When we studied different countries at university, I really liked Norway with its beautiful landscapes, mountains, and rocks. To my surprise, at my new place of work, I was assigned to travel to the US and Scandinavia, so both of my dreams came true in the monastery.

Norway
Norway

Photo 1: Sr Valeria in Sandnes, Norway

Photo 2: Olesund, Norway

By that time, I had already done some traveling. It was interesting, yet it lacked meaning. I wanted to be with God, so I was looking for a job in a field that would be spiritually fulfilling.

I like traveling because it allows me to see the world and people, and through this, I get to know God better, see His help, and His hand that arranges everything. In every trip, there are miracles and amazing coincidences that happen through God's providence.

During our travels, we organize exhibitions, visit parishes, and participate in various events where we talk to people about life in our community. We already have many friends who are very fond of our monastery. I have met several families that have converted from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. They treat us with love and even come to visit us.

When traveling in the USA, you get to know the whole world because it is so multicultural. It is amazing how people with completely different backgrounds can get along together. It is definitely one of God's miracles.

with parishioners from Mexico and Argentina
St Innocent Church in Los Angeles

Photo 1: Sr Valeria in Florida with parishioners from Mexico and Argentina

Photo 2: St Innocent Church in Los Angeles, USA

My first trip was to the USA: New York, Washington DC, and Tennessee. We visited St John the Baptist Church, the construction of which was blessed by St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whom we venerate in our monastery and consider to be the heavenly patron of our hospital ministry. I was very impressed because it was the first time I interacted with people who had seen a saint in his lifetime. The more we moved south, the more I liked it since I found that life in the South, although more modest, was much simpler and more open.

People often wonder how we manage to travel so far, despite all the challenges of the modern world. It surprises them that a young girl can travel alone. Yet I have always felt safe because I knew that I was traveling on behalf of the Convent and that the sisters were praying for me. I felt that I was really in God's arms. It's such a firm assurance that everything will be fine. There is absolutely no fear.

e-book-about-St-Elisabeth

Of course, not everything is smooth; there are temptations and trials. The enemy wants to destroy any good work. When traveling, you see how much the Lord cares about you, how He arranges everything and hears your every thought, helping you even in small things.

I remember in Trondheim, northern Norway, I had to spend an entire day in the cold (about -15 degrees Celsius). I imagined sitting in a warm room and eating persimmons. Then a woman came up, holding out a bag and said, "Sisters, I have brought you some fruit." And there were persimmons in the bag. At such moments, you realize that He will help you in important matters, and in this way, your faith is strengthened.

Trondheim-Oslo highway
Trondheim-Oslo highway

Trondheim-Oslo highway, Norway

There was also a time when I was extremely nervous during one of our journeys. That night, we stayed with a very nice woman who had multiple cats and three horses in her house. After spending some time with the horses, I felt a relief. Even little things like that help in our ministry.

"It's important to see a human being in every person…"

Recently, I have been regularly visiting the drug and alcohol treatment unit at the National Mental Health Centre, located near the convent. I enjoy this obedience. It often feels like I am entering the real world here, quite unlike our artificial, synthetic, and empty one. The people at the hospital are in a humble state of mind. That's not to say that people suffering from addictions are exceptional. Rather, I witness them during a period when they have realized their mistakes and decided to go to the hospital to correct themselves. Many of them are baptized here, many confess, and receive Holy Communion for the first time. It's beautiful and touching. I can only be grateful to God that He allowed me to participate in this important ministry.

Serving in the hospital helped me resolve an inner conflict: while traveling, we wear the vestments of the Sisterhood of Mercy, which did not feel right before I started coming here to serve people in some way. This is just my personal view, and every soul feels differently. Yet, since God has sent me these thoughts, I must have needed this obedience. Besides, you never know how your life will change, and it makes sense to use an opportunity to do good while you still have it.

Members of the Convent's Lay Sisterhood of Mercy

Members of the Convent's Lay Sisterhood of Mercy, Valeria’s colleagues and friends

What makes me say that the world is more real at the hospital? Perhaps, it is the fact that its patients do not pretend to be anything they are not. They have accepted themselves. Typically, they think, "I am an alcoholic, and I have wasted my life." It's a state of realizing one’s mistakes that is uncommon among us "normal" and "decent" people, good parents and obedient children, attending church on Sundays and often perceiving ourselves almost as role models. Yet, it is harder for these people to judge others because how can you judge someone when you realize your own imperfection?

Sometimes I bring holy water to the hospital, and the people there are so happy, they almost snatch it out of your hands, eager to help you carry it.

The first time I went there, I thought, "What am I going to do? What will it be like? They will probably laugh at me, they'll kick me out." I was very surprised that people were really waiting, happy to talk, ask questions, just to share their feelings with someone. For them, being able to tell someone about their life may be almost like a confession. It is not always necessary to preach about God or call them to repentance — it is enough to sit with someone and listen to them in a human way.

It is very important not to stop seeing a human being in every person, not just as a way to serve God through mercy, but to truly see a living soul.

Sister Valeria

Sister Valeria

One man once said to me, "You believers only think about your salvation, nothing else." In some ways, he is right. Believers often help others not from the heart, but because it is necessary to comply with Christian morals, to "earn credit" in the world to come. On the other hand, when unbelieving people help one another, they do it from the heart and from the soul.

This makes me think of the importance of not becoming "calloused," to help people not only because it is "right and meet," but to continue seeing a soul in each person.

"I love all saints!"

Since my childhood, I have had a diptych icon of St Valeria (or rather Kaleria) of Caesarea, commemorated on 20 June. There is very little information about this saint, as she lived in the third century, but I always remember that the name "Valeria" means "firm." When I encounter difficulties in life, I remember that my holy patroness is strong and that through her prayers, the Lord will always give me the strength to bear everything.

I honour the elders Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Porphyrios Kavsokalivite, Gabriel Urgebadze, and Ephraim of Arizona. These saints, who lived in recent times, are almost our contemporaries, making it very easy to read their works. They spoke about issues that concern us, so it is easier for us to understand them. And it's easier to imagine that they were living people.

Usually, when you read about the holy fathers, it's hard to imagine that they were living people. It feels like they are some holy beings very different from you. But when they are more or less your contemporaries, you can easily imagine that they were ordinary people, especially when you see their photos.

Monastery of St Anthony the Great in the Sonora Desertr
Monastery of St Anthony the Great in the Sonora Desert
Monastery of St Anthony the Great in the Sonora Desert

Monastery of St Anthony the Great in the Sonora Desert (Arizona, USA), founded by Elder Ephraim of Arizona

When I read the lives of saints, I often think about how different they are and how much God respects and appreciates the will of man. There is no ready "template" for becoming a saint. For example, Fr Gabriel Urgebadze could approach any stranger and start talking about God, while Elder Porphyrios Kavsokalivite never spoke unless he was asked to do so. Yet, they are both great saints. This shows that God cares about our hearts and values our freedom.

I also love the Venerable Silouan of Athos very much. The day of his memory is on my birthday, 24 September. Once, while still a young man and before he entered the monastery, Simeon (the lay name of St Silouan) fell into the sin of adultery. That night, he had a dream in which he swallowed a serpent. In the dream, the Mother of God appeared to him and said, "Just as it is repulsive for you to have devoured a serpent, so it is grievous for Me to see you sinning." After that, the saint corrected his life. This story about the serpent is close to my heart, perhaps because I have always had a phobia of snakes since childhood. I once had the thought that when you sin, you should imagine yourself making friends with snakes.

Silouan of Athos

Silouan of Athos

I have always prayed to St. Sergius of Radonezh, especially when I was a student. And of course, I honour St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. I always read the akathist to him as the patron saint of travelers. He is the first saint I was introduced to. When I was a child, I saw an icon of St Nicholas and thought that it was God Himself. I also love the Royal Passion Bearers and St. Seraphim of Sarov very much. Indeed, I love all saints!

June 19, 2024
Views: 847
Ratings: 4.8/5
Votes: 24
1 month ago

H Bruce Downs

1 month ago
Blessings to you from New Jersey USA! So nice to read your story. :)

H Bruce Downs

1 month ago
Blessings to you from New Jersey USA! So nice to read your story. :).

Hervé Thibaut

1 month ago
Blessings to you from Torino and from France

Fr. Joseph

1 month ago
Dear Sister Valeria,

The blessing of the Lord be upon you.
I was delighted to read that you have a love for God's Saints,
because I have loved them since I was a child, when I first heard the Life of St. Polycarp of Smyrna. Now I am translating
and adding Lives of Saints for the OCA website.

I prat that you will receive many more blessings in your life,
and not just on Palm Sunday.

In Christ,

Fr. Joseph Frawley

Cherry Chapman

1 month ago
Hello Sister Valeria,
I am an American psychotherapist living in Paris. I was very touched by your story and testimony. Your mentally ill and addiction patients are indeed blessed to have you see their goodness and humanity.
For me, I see the suffering Christ in those who struggle with mental illness and addiction.
Your presence gives them comfort and hope to continue their treatment.
How wonderful to see God and Holy Mary Theotokos work through you!
May your life and work be continually guided by the light of Christ.
Hugs,
Cherry Chapman

Paula Ivan

1 month ago
Dear Sister Valeria,

Your life story is meaningful and full of divine light.
As I am reading your story, I can understand the deep inscriptions left by God within your heart. You have been guided by the Holy Spirit toward Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus.

I loved this sentence, "Every time I entered a church, I approached an icon of Nicholas the Wonderworker and asked him to give me a job that would involve both traveling and the church" (Sr. Valeria).

You have been blessed by God as a 27-year-old to work in a heavenly place within the Orthodox Sisterhood of Mercy at St. Elisabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus.

I will keep you Sister Valeria in my prayers for ongoing protection, inner strength, and divine guidance.

Blessed liturgical feast in honor of the martyrdom of the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

With love in Christ,
Paula Ivan

Anastasia

1 month ago
May God continue to bless you and your work! St. Elizabeth's Convent truly reaches people from all over the world. Thank you! From Hawaii, USA.
23 days ago

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Dear Fr. Joseph your blessing. Thank you so much for your prayers and support. I appreciate it very much.

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Jump to comment! Cherry ChapmanHello Sister Valeria,
I am an American psychotherapist living in Paris. I was very touched by your story and testimony. Your mentally ill and addiction patients are indeed blessed to have you see their goodness and humanity.
For me, I see the suffering Christ in those who struggle with mental illness and addiction.
Your presence gives them comfort and hope to continue their treatment.
How wonderful to see God and Holy Mary Theotokos work through you!
May your life and work be continually guided by the light of Christ.
Hugs,
Cherry Chapman

Many hugs to you, dear. Thank you for such warm words. God bless you!

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Jump to comment! H Bruce DownsBlessings to you from New Jersey USA! So nice to read your story. :)

Dear Anastasia, Gof helps you. With lots of greetings, sister Valeryia.

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Jump to comment! H Bruce DownsBlessings to you from New Jersey USA! So nice to read your story. :)


Thank you dear Bruce, God bless you!

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Jump to comment! H Bruce DownsBlessings to you from New Jersey USA! So nice to read your story. :)



Thank you dear Bruce, God bless you!

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Jump to comment! H Bruce DownsBlessings to you from New Jersey USA! So nice to read your story. :)



God Bless you dear Herve, wish you well, sister Valeryia.

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Dear Sister Valeria,

The blessing of the Lord be upon you.
I was delighted to read that you have a love for God's Saints,
because I have loved them since I was a child, when I first heard the Life of St. Polycarp of Smyrna. Now I am translating
and adding Lives of Saints for the OCA website.

I prat that you will receive many more blessings in your life,
and not just on Palm Sunday.

In Christ,

Fr. Joseph Frawley
Jump to comment! sister ValeryiaDear Fr. Joseph your blessing. Thank you so much for your prayers and support. I appreciate it very much.

sister Valeryia

23 days ago
Jump to comment! sister ValeryiaDear Bruce, Gof helps you. With lots of greetings, sister Valeryia.
Comment