Brother Georgy Yurkevich
As a child, you wanted to become a pilot. In the army, you served in the airborne troops. You have jumped with a parachute a lot. Does God's presence feel any different up there?
I came across one interesting thought in a book that I read: there are no devils in the sky! Romantics are extremely attracted to dizzying heights. To them, parachute jumping, flying, or mountain climbing is their way to look at the earth from above. They find this very healing. They take to the sky to find peace and tranquillity. Floating in the air under the dome of a parachute, I felt excited and jubilant. I feel the same way now after taking communion. Flying and climbing have risks. Sometimes, I get flashbacks to some of my close calls. On one of my jumps, a lock on my parachute broke. I barely survived. To me, it was not just good luck. For God, nothing is accidental. A close friend said to me at one point, “Remember that there is always someone praying hard for you”. I hope he is right, and their prayers for my wretched soul will be heard at the throne of God.
How did you find God?
Our closeness to Christ begins when something touches our heart. We move towards Him when we realise that that there is nowhere else that we may find comfort and reassurance. The thought of God never occurred to me until I had sorrows. The sorrows led me to question myself if I was building my life on a solid foundation.
The difficulties for my family began in the 1990s. My mother lost both her parents in less than two years. Then she lost her job. My father had an infarction, went into intensive care and barely survived.
Brother Georgy with his mother
My mother found consolation in faith. She went to church and came to terms with her losses. God helped her find peace and a sense of control. He empowered her to overcome her sorrows, rise to her feet and find a new calling.
I took baptism in the early 2000s when I was 32 years of age. But the baptism did not bring me any closer to living in Christ. It was only a ritual to me.
I was a successful entrepreneur. My life was going smoothly and effortlessly. I thought I was in control and had all the skills and abilities to be even more successful. But a sudden turn for the worse reminded me that all was in God’s hands. My sorrows were my chance to turn to God. They taught me an important lesson: we can accomplish nothing without Him. I found God in 2008. As father Andrey Lemeshonok often remarked, “Only one in ten people comes to Church in the grace of God.” How true! I came, I took baptism, but I did not remain in His grace for very long. I did not return to Him until I experienced some real sorrows. We should remember that God sends us sorrows by His mercy. In my life, God led me down a narrow and difficult path. If I had taken an easier and wider one, I might have perished. God is a great artist. He is always at work attuning the finest strings of our hearts. There is no salvation without His help. At one point, He showed me He was near; He was acting through other people to give me comfort and reassurance.
After many years of working and doing obediences at the Convent, you have become a member of our family. What does it mean to you to be a part of the monastic family?
The Convent is overflowing with God’s blessings; its people share a common purpose - to help the needy, and to bring salvation for their souls. God has brought all of us together in our ministry.
The secular world teaches us to see people as being more and the less intelligent, attractive, leaner or fatter. At the Convent, we seek to recognise the image of God in every person. We can do so by seeing our grave iniquities and noticing great virtues in others. We should be more concerned about taking the plank out of our eye, than by removing a speck in the eye of another.
As a member of the monastic family, I learned some important lessons for my life and my salvation.
Brother Georgy it the Church of Saint John of Shanghai
As I was visiting the patients of the care home, I admired their ability to listen to their hearts and their talent for spontaneity and sincerity. We are different: we wear masks, we make pretences, we put up a show to impress others. We philosophise and become confused; we listen to our minds, not to our hearts. We can learn a lot from them. At theatrical shows, for example, no-one can have fun so fully and laugh so genuinely as they do. Being happy and thankful to God for what they have is a great art that we can learn from them.
I noticed some miraculous transformations in people as I was assisting a priest in communing people in their homes. I saw an old lady in poor health and barely able to move. She was in pain, and very miserable. After taking communion, she became calm, joyful and relaxed. God’s presence is very obvious at these moments. More people would come to God if they experienced His closeness in the same way.
The Church of Saint John of Shanghai and San-Francisco is an important milestone in the history of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth. You were one of the people who built this church from beginning to end. How did this experience impact your personal and spiritual growth?
Throughout the construction, I was mostly responsible for working with the contractors. My job was to examine the incoming construction timber and to sign acceptance reports. The timber was preprocessed at a facility located in an open field some 40 kilometres away. The contractors debarked the logs, made cuts for the corners, and numbered the parts. They assembled the logs into a magnificent temple of God right before my eyes.
There were many difficulties along the way. I used to think of the Convent as a peaceful haven, free from temptations. When I came to work on the construction site, my resolve was put to test. God must have allowed this so I could learn to make the right choices when things were not going my way.
Church of Saint John of Shanghai
I hated travelling to the supplier’s facility - the road was poor and it was far away. I grumbled a lot when they asked me to go there. However, I also understood that it was a necessity. For some time, I was forcing myself to do the trip, but after some time it became a lot easier, and I learned to travel there with joy. When one is doing what is necessary, the Lord will send him inspiration.
Sometimes, the Lord helped us in situations that seemed to be hopeless. I think that it was very much through the intercession of John of Shanghai. When a logging truck stuck in its tracks, it was in the middle of a forest, and help was very far away. Yet by some kind of miracle, the truck got out of the track and arrived safely by midnight.
At my most difficult moments, I took confession and found relief. I knew very well that grumbling and discontent can escalate to a rebellion when we could be tempted to give up and walk away. But is not true that walking away from your job would also mean turning your back on Christ Himself? As the Book of Luke warns us, only a small flock will be saved (Luke 12: 32).
Looking at the Church of Saint John of Shanghai today, I know that overcoming all the difficulties and temptations was a valuable experience, and this magnificent church is a glorious reward for our perseverance. My heart still trembles as I enter it. I am thankful to God for letting me take part and serve Him and the people in this way.
At the last stages of the project, God sent me one of my most precious gift - our son Misha. I think he was born through the prayers of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco.
Tell me more about your household and the role of the Convent in its life.
In 2014, we had a church wedding here with my wife. Father Andrey Malakhovsky performed the ceremony. Our younger boy was baptised here, and our oldest went to the Convent’s Sunday school. The Convent has become a part of our life as a family. Nun Tavifa (Biryukova) once said to me: You built the church, and it is going to stay on with you. We put our hearts into it.
Brother Georgy with his family
Our sons are now six and fifteen. Misha, 6, is beginning to ask questions about God, and we bring him to Church with us. Our older son is fifteen, and he is a rebel. He used to go to Sunday school and take communion, but he has yielded to secular pressures and stopped going to Church. I pray that he will come back sometime.
In keeping their relationship with God, and taking part in the Holy Sacraments, the children should observe the example of their parents. Both parents should be their role models. I regret that I have not been a better model. I came to God at a mature age. Living with God from an early age makes a substantial difference.
We are living in a fast-changing world full of uncertainty and insecurity. Many people are trying hard to make sense of it and find some solid ground. What might you say to them?
The world is transforming rapidly, but we must continue our journey. We are like sailors in a ship. We must not give in to our fears and passions, or else our boat will sink. How is it possible not to perish in the storm? We must hold on to Christ and keep loyal to Him.
My years at the Convent have taught me many things, and these life lessons have been very useful in building and strengthening my own family. The head of the woman is man, the head of every man is Christ. There will be no peace at home without love, hard work and humility. Once I asked Father Andrey how we could protect our children from the avalanche of destructive information that has crashed on them. His advice was to never stop praying for them and never to lose hope.
Brother Georgy plays in the Boarding Home Christmas play
It is also important to know that God reveals Himself in simplicity. My mother in law comes from a village, where the measured pace of life brings peace to their hearts. When the times are rough, my advice to you is to travel to the countryside and take a break there. Spend some time in a forest, by a lake or outside a church. Take a stroll in a park. Peace of mind is important in any difficult situation. Anxiety, fear and aggression prevent us from thinking clearly and seeing the most important things. Breathe deeply, pray to the Mother of God and the saints, and this will help you put your problems in perspective.
To the monastics of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth, the New Year is an occasion to reflect on the value of the Lord's generous gift of time and making the best use of it so we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven
At Christmas markets, our Sisters meet many new people, speak with them, share the Orthodox faith, and even sing Christmas Carols! Every Sister who has ever been at one of those markets has at least one story about a miracle that she’s experienced.