Valentin Lomygo, 61 was born in Borisov, a medium-sized city east of Minsk, and grew up there. He is a poet, songwriter and an art restorer. He is not a monastic, but he is a good friend of Saint Elisabeth Convent. He is happy to perform at the monastic farmsteads and take part in the events and festivals arranged by the Convent. We met Valentin to talk about his works, his growth as a songwriter and poet and the Convent’s contribution to his progress, and his path towards finding God.
You have learned and had a lot of professions and occupations. You have also travelled a lot. What place did music and poetry have in your life?
I have written poetry since childhood. My first essays in poetry did not go unnoticed. Despite my young age, I was invited to join a writers’ circle in my hometown led by Leonid Rashkovsky, a talented Belarusian poet. But, children are children. Spending time with friends, raiding the nearby apple orchards and imitating the heroes of adventure books and other typical pastimes of those years of boyhood and adolescence eventually took the place of serious and systematic literary pursuits.
After finishing school, I got a factory job, and then joined the army, where I spent 12 years of my life. I was stationed in Belarus, then went to East Siberia and Mongolia. My time in Mongolia was perhaps one of the most productive periods in my artistic career. A friend of mine helped me record seven 90-minute cassettes of my songs. He has also promised to digitalise these recordings. By now, I have forgotten many of these songs, but I know that they do exist.
After the Soviet Union broke up, I retired from the army and went on to work in construction. I learned the trade of watercolour painting over wet plaster, which is still in demand. This was in the Russian Far East, where I spent many years of my life. Although many of my occupations were quite remote from music and literature, I never stopped writing songs and poetry. When I found God, faith became a central theme in my works.
You have kept a strong connection with the Convent of Saint Elisabeth, even though you are not a monastic. How would you describe the role of the Convent in your artistic career?
To be fully honest, it is only with my coming to the Convent that my writings (and especially the most recent ones) have begun to gain artistic merit of some kind.
I remember celebrating my birthday on 30 December 2012 with some brothers from the monastic farmstead and the monastic sisters. Someone gave me a guitar, and I do not have any idea where it had come from. I sang a few songs. Nun Tavifa heard all of them, and recommended me to Nun Juliania. She invited me to her studio, listened again, chose two songs and invited me to sing these at the Christmas concert at the Convent. This is how I came to work with the Convent as an artist. It was a new wave of inspiration for me. Nun Juliania is a very talented musician. Despite being an extremely busy person with many obediences and public engagements, she always found the time to give me her fair and honest feedback on my works. She is always the first to read my texts. She is my trusted editor with excellent intuition and foresight. I always value her judgement and agree with it wholeheartedly.
She accepted two of my works without any reservations - the songs titled “Courtyards of old times” and “A day that comes”. The lyrics in the latter song were by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Robert Rozhdestvensky, prominent Soviet poets. It was sung in the popular comedy film “Mimino”. I performed it at as a part of the concert show titled “Mysteries of Lysaya Gora”. The original song had only three verses, but Nun Juliana asked me to add more verses to the text. I sent her the text the next morning, and my work was accepted without question. It was not an easy task to follow the tone and the theme of the original work.
Some time later, Nun Joanna, the precentor of the brothers’ choir of the monastic farmstead, invited me to join as a singer. By the will of God, Nun Maria (Litvinova) was the master of ceremony at my concert at the Palace of Arts during the Holy Week Fair. These three nuns have been my guardian angels. I am still writing songs and poetry, outside the Convent, but my friendship with it has lasted over time. I take great pleasure in being a part of the events that it organises in different cities, and am always willing to travel to them. I used to think that my writings belonged to me alone. Now I understand that they are God’s work.
How did you become a believer, and a member of the Orthodox church?
I was raised in a Catholic family, and grew up in the predominantly Catholic part of my home town. It was a community of fairly strict morals, so to speak. It was also very friendly and trusting. Integrity was highly prized. While everyone was going about their business, the sense of community was not lost. We always celebrated secular holidays and religious feasts together, amid a large circle of neighbours and members of our extended family. I never saw a single person in my family or among our neighbours ever getting drunk; when alcohol was used, it was always very decent.
When I was living in the Far East of Russia, I was running my own business and earning big money. This was a difficult test, and I failed it. I lost my family, but I did not return home to Borisov until 2005. Soon after my return, my mother got cancer. She died in less than six months. I was with her all that time. I was holding her as she was dying. I left my job. I was going to the Catholic church to pray by night, but it seemed to me then that God was not hearing my prayers. I was wrong. God had a different plan for myself.
My cousin Andrey is an Orthodox priest. At the time, he was rebuilding the Church of Archangel Michael in Zembin, near Borisov. He asked me to help, and I agreed. With this, my conversion to the Orthodox faith began. I was in pain over my mother’s death; my prayers over her bed did not seem to be working. I was feeling alone, despite being around a lot of people. I started drinking heavily and frequently. But as I was working at the church, the pain of the loss was beginning to subside, and I was feeling less lonely. I had a feeling of awe that I had never experienced before. I asked my cousin to tell me more about his faith. I was baptised in 2011. I still remember my first confession, my heartfelt repentance. I was tearful, and I felt God’s grace descend on me.
Ruins of the Church of Archangel Michael
The Restoration of the Church of Archangel Michael
Church of Archangel Michael. Our days
Much of your time at the Convent was spent at the monastic farmstead. What brought you there?
Soon after my baptism, serious temptations began. All too often, I was feeling the urge to go out for a drink. My cousin noticed and said: You should go to Serpukhov to pray to the Icon of the Holy Theotokos “Undrinkable Chalice”. I was not going anywhere. Meanwhile, my drinking was getting very bad, and I needed some urgent help. After two days, my brother came again. He said: “Go to the farmstead of Saint Elisabeth Convent. It has this icon, too.” It was 2012.
At that time, I was met by Novice Lubov, now Nun Darya. I spent my first day sorting potatoes with everybody else. My obediences varied greatly. After some time, I met a novice and a lay brother who had been working with me rebuilding the church in Zembin. They offered me aa place on their team building the Convent’s Sunday school building. Father Andrey Lemeshonok gave me his blessing. I moved to a monastic cell. It was a good time. The pay was good. I became overfilled with pride, lost control of myself and went back to drinking. Then I left the Convent altogether for two years and returned to my hometown.
I still consider the events that follow a real miracle. One Saturday my father and I decided to prepare a steam bath, but the water tap of the steam tank was broken. I went out in jeans and a T-shirt to get the plumber, and I ended up going back to the Convent instead. I took a shuttle bus to the station, and then the train to Minsk. I got there in time to see Father Andrey just before his holiday. “Are you back?” he asked. And I said: “Yes I am.” Father Andrey gave me his blessing to stay at the farmstead.
How did staying at the farmstead benefit you?
I came to the Convent through God’s providence. I was saved through the prayers of the monastics. I will be grateful for that as long as I live. The monastic sisters also helped me rebuild an important character trait that some men at the farmstead forget about. It is having a direction and purpose in life. Being a man. Keeping your word at all times, against all odds, despite all difficulties. The farmstead helped me rebuild my life and put me back on my feet. My coming here was God’s Providence. God brought me here.
Many of my works were written here. - - Some were spontaneous creations. I remember walking into the library. I was in a bad mood, and I had had a very difficult day. Our sacristan Stas was sitting there strumming the guitar. He was playing the same two chords over and over again. I was annoyed. I knew three! I spoke to him, he talked back, and we had an argument. Stas left; I stayed. I worked on his tune, adding my chord to his two. A new song was born as a result, and it took less than fifteen minutes.
In your opinion, what is the farmstead’s main service to God and people?
The farmstead has kept many people from freezing to death in the cold season. It helped some find God. It has stopped many from doing bad things and going to jail for it, and helped them do something good to please God. People with character who had a vision for their lives and who were willing to make an effort have rebuilt their lives here and found their calling. But there is little that the farmstead can do for someone whose heart is locked, and who has no character.
There are all sorts of people here. I was doing my work conscientiously, and never deceived anyone. But I was still very difficult.
Some of the brothers here cannot imagine their lives without the farmstead and the Convent. They are the key people here. They are going to stay here for the rest of their lives. Others are deluding themselves by thinking that they have overcome all of their difficulties and have earned enough money doing obediences to return to the world. But their money will end very quickly, and they will be back here the next month. Most will return by the start of the cold season.
You recently had a church wedding. Congratulations!
God gave me my beloved wife and my true soulmate. I see this as a real miracle from God. Each of us has lived our own lives; our life paths have crossed and merged into one. Our spiritual father who performed our wedding ceremony said: “The rest is in your hands. It will take hard work, humility and patience, but you will share great joy.” My wife Irina is a sister of charity, a nurse of the lay sisterhood of the Convent. She is doing her obedience at a church boutique in a medical centre.
Some 300 women have received support and guidance at the Convent’s farmstead for disadvantaged women. Here are some reflections on the farmstead’s work and evolution.
Monastic farmstead/ men’s rehabilitation centre provides shelter, food and supported employment to people in difficult situations, the homeless, former prison inmates, those dependent on drugs or alcohol, and people with disabilities.