I was born in a family of unbelievers, like many other nuns of our Convent. My personal experience isn’t unique in this respect. I was told that there is no God since my earliest years. I wasn’t baptised.
My father was an army officer and a Communist. He was very strict. When I went to school, the so-called Perestroika began. Atheism was still reigning supreme but there was something different in the air. None of my acquaintances believed in God. Only my grandmother, whom I saw once every two or three years because she lived far from us, in the Urals, went to church sometimes, I guess. I believe that she had been praying for me. There were icons in my grandmother’s house, and I felt very fascinated by them. I would climb a chair to see them closer.
In spite of that, I rebuked my grandma, saying, “Granny, why do you need those icons at home? Their place is in a museum, not a private house.” When I was 8, I suddenly realised that God existed. I can’t explain how exactly. It wasn’t a vision or something. There wasn’t anything mysterious about it. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that God was real. I was dreaming to go to an Orthodox church but I couldn’t. There were few functioning churches at that time: most of them were either demolished or put to use as archives, warehouses, etc. My father was the commander of a border guard station on the Soviet-Polish border. We lived in the garrison located in a dense forest. I went to school in the district centre. If I remember correctly, there were no churches there. Well, anyway, even if there were, they were beyond my reach.
The first time I attended a church was on the day I was baptised. I was 13 years old. Thanks to God’s Providence, my dad was transferred to a different military garrison, and that was where I made friends with my classmate. We sat at the same desk. I liked visiting her at home. That girl’s mother and grandmother were believers. They were special in my eyes. I had not met believers before. We would come to her place, sit in the kitchen and spend hours drinking tea and talking. My friend’s mother learned that I wasn’t baptised and said, “You can get baptised.” Of course, I gladly agreed. She was my godmother. When I told my father that I wanted to get baptised, he was surprised but didn’t do anything to prevent me from doing it. He replied, “I don’t know why you would want it but you can do it…” My dream came true: we went to church and I got baptised.
I don’t remember if I felt anything special at that moment but I know for sure that I was happy because of the event itself. I recall that I didn’t like the priest very much because he didn’t match the stereotype I used to have at that time. It seemed to me that a priest had to wear a long beard and be very solemn and pompous. That priest’s beard was too short; he was a little cross-eyed and made a lot of jokes. Many years passed until I finally found out that he was terminally ill… He had cancer and endured this terminal illness courageously… We make mistakes often when we look at the external signs… My godmother decided to give me an icon as a present for my Baptism. She asked me, “Which icon would you like: that of the Savior or of the Mother of God?” I chose the icon of Jesus Christ because God was the most important for me. She also gave me a small book with short prayers and spiritual advice.
Every year, she would take me to church on Easter, to confess and take communion. I had no idea what those Sacraments meant. There were no spiritual books at that time, not even the Bible, nothing. There was no Internet, either.
Three years on, I finished school and went on to study at a university in Minsk…
To be continued…
January 23, 2018
Nun Alexandra is from Montenegro, and she has been with us from 2014. Today, we ask her to share her thoughts about monasticism and tell us how her life experiences influenced her choice of monastic life.
The Gospel teaches us that our circumstances do not exist by chance but instead by intention for our good (Ephesians 2:10). Today, we talk to Nun Elisabeth from Germany about her progress towards God, the Orthodox Faith and monasticism.