I was excited to learn that there were churches in Minsk open at all times and that I could go there whenever I felt like it – and my dad wouldn’t reprimand me for it.
I immediately bought a big Bible and started reading it from the Old Testament. I didn’t understand anything at all but I could feel that this book was special because it was written by God, and not a human being: I was certain that a human being simply COULDN’T be able to view all life of the entire human race and individual humans from the eternal standpoint. The Bible presents a cosmic perspective on all history of humankind and all things that exist… Later, I realised that a contemporary person may find the Bible easier to understand if he reads it not from the very beginning but from the middle, starting with the New Testament.
I started going to church often but I went to church only when I wanted to, not necessarily when there were services in the church. There are many people who, like me, weren’t raised in the faith. They tend to say, “I like coming to church when there are no people there. It’s stuffed and crowded during church services. When the church is empty, you can simply light a candle and stand there thinking about your life.” Well, I liked it, too. I would spend a little time during services and then go away. Later, I noticed that there were people who attended church all the time, and I was curious. I saw that the Church occupied the central part of their lives and that they lived in a completely different world. I wanted to be part of their world, too.
One day – it was a religious holiday – I was on a trolleybus, and it went past a church. I knew little about church feasts at that time but I knew that it was Holy Trinity Day or something. I saw people get on the trolleybus with branches in their hands. Their faces were so happy and nice. I thought to myself, “Oh, it seems that they are going home from church with those branches.” I felt uncomfortable. I thought, “Why haven’t I been to church today? I’ve got to attend church services regularly.” I spent a year going to church from time to time. When I was in my second year at the university, I bought a book which described various religions. I was curious to learn the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, among other things… When I read that book, I decided, “Enough. I want to be Orthodox.”
I bought a book about Elder Macarius of Optina around the same time. It contained not only the biography of that saint, who is one of the greatest Russian elders of the 19th century but also provided some general information about monastic life, its internal and external regulations in the Optina Pustyn of that time. I thought, “The monastic life is wonderful; it’s like paradise! I’d love to live like that, too!”
However, I was very young and constantly distracted. I remember being in love with a guy at that time… I didn’t know God’s will for my life. I didn’t know which path to choose: either that of a monastic or a layperson. I began taking communion and going to confession more frequently. I was reading lots of spiritual books. Gradually, all secular things started to seem boring to me. I neglected my studies, too. By the way, I had known that I didn’t want to live like everyone else since my childhood. I was bored at the thought of what life had in stock for me: I mean, first I was going to finish school, then get a university diploma (or several diplomas). Then I was going to find a job and get promoted from one position to a higher one, get married and have children, then grow old, and finally die. And that was it. I didn’t want to live like that. I wanted to live differently but I didn’t know exactly how…
I was fond of reading Russian classical literature. I also liked the Krematorium rock band. Their songs had very gloomy lyrics. I got to know some believers, and one of them asked me, “How can you listen to them? They are so gloomy and sad that I just want to go and kill myself.” I retorted, “Their songs are fine, I can’t see anything too depressive about them.” Later, when I began taking communion regularly, my perception of all things, including music, changed. I was no longer able to listen to that band. Finally, I grew uninterested in secular music and all secular culture. It was in the Church that I discovered the most perfect and the most sublime human art…
I became a parishioner of Ss Peter and Paul Cathedral in Minsk. I learned that there were talks held by Father Andrew Lemeshonok. I began visiting his talks with parishioners, and they opened a window into a different world, into spiritual life for me. Little by little, I started to perceive Father Andrew as my spiritual father and asked his advice in all aspects of my life. Usually, while Father Andrew is speaking, people pass their questions in written form to him. It often happens that there is a note written by someone else but containing a question that you’d like to know the answer to. That’s how God provides answers to your questions miraculously. There was a certain student who wrote in his note that he’d like to become a monk. Father Andrew replied, “You know, you’d better not make such an important decision in the heat of the moment. You should finish your education and spend some time in the Church first.” I heard it and thought, “That’s such good advice for me. I have three years to study before I get my diploma. I’m going to pray and ask God to reveal his will to me and guide me wherever He wants me to go.” That was what I did, and indeed, God gave me the answer by the end of my study at the university.
By that time, I was a lay sister of the Sisterhood already. We started visiting patients of several healthcare facilities located in Minsk. We talked with them about God and the Church. We helped them to get ready for confession and communion. Finally, we began collecting donations to build a church in Novinki. We didn’t think that there was going to be a convent on that place at first. In fact, we didn’t make any plans. I thought that, given that we didn’t have a convent, I would remain single and continue to live in the world and carry out my obedience in the Sisterhood, but under no circumstances would I leave my Father Andrew and my sisters because they were mine. There were several other sisters from our Sisterhood who were thinking of taking the veil. The Lord saw the desire of our hearts and finally allowed us to establish the Convent. Twelve lay sisters wrote a petition asking the ecclesiastical authorities to tonsure us as nuns in the newly-established St Elisabeth Convent in 1999. Our Convent is about to turn 20 this year. We had twelve sisters at first. Currently, there are more than 120 nuns in our Convent…
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.