The laser engraving workshop makes products like icons, leather goods. Several years ago, it began to make children's toys and Lego sets. It has several production floors with modern machinery and equipment.
Most workers come from difficult backgrounds, and many are still struggling with their dependencies. Some have criminal records. They see their obediences is an opportunity to learn how to operate modern equipment and to acquire valuable skills and competencies, such as discipline, accuracy and responsibility. In charge of the team of workers is the workshop’s director, Brother Vladimir. He explores new product ideas and communicates and presents them to designers. He also checks that the brothers have all the necessary supplies and materials, looks after their welfare, and spends time with them in meaningful conversation. Victor explains:
“The workshop is more than twelve years old. How did it start? I was working at the Convent as a driver. I noticed a large number of broken wooden frames and cracked icon boxes, stockpiled in the hope that someone would take care of them eventually. So I suggested to father Andrey Lemeshonok that we restore and reuse these products. He gave us a room and assigned several brothers from the farmstead to help me.
We got down to work. I did not know then if my idea would be successful. So I combined my work at the workshop with driving. During my travels to Greece and Serbia, I noticed that the Convent was procuring many of the products that it could make itself, so I suggested that we start making them at our workshop. We got a larger room, and our first laser machine. Five years later, we moved to a separate building.
The farmstead exists to help is residents return to normal lives. Many of them have good menial skills and are very intelligent. Some have done time in prison. There, they used to make knives and fighting weapons. Here, they are using their skills to make icons. There is also a fish curing plant in this building. It makes delicious smoked fish which you can buy at the store near the Convent's main compound. The store belongs to the Convent and is called "Fish treats from Nun Rufina". Before the pandemic, we employed 64 men in both facilities. Today, the laser engraving workshop is returning to life. Already, as many as 24 brothers are working at the engraving workshop. Another 21 are working at the curing plant. All are getting paid a decent salary.”
At the door, we hear the rumbling of the machines. A tall man in camouflage and work gloves is loading a roll of sandpaper into a machine. The man's name is Vadim.
"Remembering the years of my life before I came here makes me feel ashamed of myself. Just imagine - I was living in a basement, and I was drinking all the time. I was so drunk that I could not walk. God is merciful to me. He kept me alive. He was still hoping to bring me to my senses and lead me to my salvation.
I dedicate all my work to God. I never stop reminding myself that I am working for Him. God has forgiven me, and I am not returning to my past. Yet, I am still asking God not to let me forget it. I need to know the difference between then and now.
It does not matter what work you are doing, as long as you are doing it for God. In the beginning, I was doing my obediences in the kitchen. I heard about the laser engraving workshop and the icons. So I prayed to God: 'Lord, I have sinned a lot, and I do not deserve this job, but I wish to make icons so much!’ Two months later, I got the job. I have a life with God. I feel His help everywhere.
We are learning to perform all the processes in case someone becomes ill and cannot work. My main job is here, but I can also do sanding, drilling and product assembly. When my work is over, I go and help others."
Alexander is gilding the icons. In front of him is a sheet with several prints. He pastes the faces over with a film to protect them from the droplets of the gilding solution. He lacquers and polishes the surface, applies the gilding solution and removes the protective film. This technology comes from Serbia and has been used here for more than five years.
"I never imagined I would be making icons. I came here because of my drug problem. I returned from the army in 1997. It was easy to get drugs in my city back then - marijuana, heroin - you name it. We were trying to make ourselves happy the easy way - by taking a drug dose. We started with marijuana because we thought it was safe. I was sure that I could control my drug habit, and stop whenever I wanted to. I was deceiving myself. I had been taking drugs for about a decade and could stop. I had an overdose, and they took me to intensive care for three days. I spent another three months in a clinic where I met someone from the farmstead. When he told me all about it, I thought that I was ready to go. This was very providential. I needed to change my life. If I had not come here, I would have been dead by now for sure.
I have lived here for five years. When I am ready, I am going to live in the city and come to work here."
At the workshop, Alexey makes leather products. At present, he is working on a folding icon box. He puts glue on a wooden workpiece and attaches a piece of black leather to its surface. The product consists of several pieces attached together by threads. Alexey says:
“I come from Mozhaisk, Moscow region. I have completed a course in the Moscow Academy of further education in arts, culture and tourism. After that, I worked at the theatre in Mozhaisk as a stage director and actor. I spent 17 years on stage. We all end up here because of our sins, mine is heavy drinking. I was going to church, but that did not stop me. No-one has an insurance policy against this passion. My last drinking episode, while I was still in the world, continued for two years. I was drinking every single day."
"I have been here for more than five years," continues Alexey. "I used to work at the plant nursery and look after animals. I came to the workshop two months ago. They invited me, and I agreed. I learned the process. I am doing my best.
The farmstead is an exciting place. There is always something new happening here. I have learned many trades in my life, and I acquired two more professions here. There is also a lot of room for experimentation and creativity. Nun Juliania came here at one point to do choir practice with the brothers. That got me interested. She was putting together a team for the Trinity Feast Concert, and I volunteered to join. I have participated in nearly all concerts and performances at the Convent ever since.”
The workshop keeps a regular work schedule. Each day starts with a common prayer. Father Andrey Lemeshonok comes every Friday to hear confessions and have a conversation. Every week, a liturgy is celebrated.
"The farmstead is a closed community, but it changes many people in a good way and makes them purer at heart. I know several dozen examples of people who have overcome their dependence, established families and moved to the city. Many of them are coming to work here," summaries Vladimir.
Brother Alexey adds: "We do not treat each other only as brothers. We are more like a close-knit family. I may sound exalted, but I will still say that I found my family here. I can approach any brother and get his help or a recommendation. Everyone is open, frank and direct here, without a trace of self-righteousness.»
As the workshop is looking into its future with measured optimism, the brothers are more cautious. Brother Vladimir says: "I find that the more ambitious my plans, the fewer my chances of success. I rely more on God's will. If I succeed, I take it as God's will and give Him my thanks. If not, I am still thankful. I pray for His mercy. I ask Him for nothing else.»
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Recorded by Olga Demidiuk
Photos by Maxim Chernogolov
Ever since its establishment in 1999, the workshop has specialized in painting icons and other works using crushed minerals and semi-precious stones instead of paint.