What can make a pretty and successful girl at the peak of her career and health leave everything behind and take the veil? This story is for all who are sad for some reason and who have forgotten how our Heavenly Father loves and cherishes his mischievous kids. She was hearing God’s voice and his calling since early childhood but then broke up with him after her mother’s death and locked the door of her heart to God for a decade… She was close to death but did not fear it… She almost married a guy but then abruptly ended her relationship with him… Novice Helena (Yudina) told a reporter of our website about her journey to St Elisabeth Convent.
I have been talking with God since I was a child. I talked with him simply and sincerely. I didn’t know anything about him but I believed in him for some reason. We never talked about God in my family. My parents belonged to Soviet intelligentsia: my mum, Natallia Yudina, was a piano teacher. My father, Vladimir Yudin, was an army officer. I was born in Siberia, in Zheleznogorsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory. Zheleznogorsk is a restricted-access town. It is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. Entry is allowed only via a checkpoint, where every inhabitant of the town has to present his or her individual permit. There is a huge nuclear plant right inside a mountain.
My parents had been in the same class at school. After they finished school, they went to colleges (a music college and a military college, respectively), graduated from them, and got married. Our family had to travel a lot across our vast country. My mother humbly acquiesced to the numerous transfers. All children in our family were born in various parts of Russia. I was their fifth and last child.
Parents of novice Helena
We all received a good education, including music education. I have always been attracted to music. When I was just a toddler, I tried to reach out to the piano and play. In spite of that, when I first came to the music school, the examiner passed her verdict, “Violin! Why would you waste your daughter’s ear on the silly piano? You’ve got real talent. Learn to play the violin!” Her words came as a shock to me. My mum was an excellent teacher and found a way to persuade me. “Lena, you will learn to play both the violin and the piano.” I loved my mum and trusted her. Indeed, they laid big hopes on me: I performed at concerts and won awards at music contests.
The most difficult part for me is motivation. When I find out how to motivate myself, I can do whatever it takes to achieve my goal. Unfortunately, that’s the hardest part. It was entirely thanks to my mother that I finished music school and achieved a lot. I dreamed of singing, too, but they didn’t let me sing solo or in a choir because I had to spend a lot of time practising my violin. That’s how I was surrounded by music since my earliest days.
We grew up in a loving family. My parents never quarrelled. Of course, now I guess they might have had some tensions and misunderstandings but we children never heard any rude word from them.
Parental love and support make a reliable foundation for one’s personality. I’m grateful to my parents!
My dad was a patriot and taught us to love our homeland. He had chosen his job out of love for Russia and especially Siberia. Our father succeeded in implanting his love for Russia into our hearts, too. I recall how my brother and I drove around in his car, listened to LUBE band at full volume, and sobbed because their lyrics really touched us. Unfortunately, my only and dear brother Vladimir died in May 2017. We were close and like-minded. Of course, all live unto God. Generally, God makes surviving the death of a loved person easier.
Living in a family with many children teaches you to appreciate simple things. You figure out how to share, find a compromise, and care for others. It really helps me here in the Convent when there are three absolutely dissimilar people living in the same cell, like three astronauts, each from a different planet.
Our father always kept saying that we have to stay together, help and support one another. Our parents would constantly remind us of the broom story: One twig is easy to break but if you try to break all twigs together at once, you won’t be able to break them. Naturally, we fought and screamed and quarrelled… I can’t call myself a good-natured girl, you know. But I do my best to improve. Our parents have taught us to value what we've got.
The law in our family was: If you want to eat, eat. If you don’t want, don’t eat. As simple as that.
At the weekends, when we stayed together, we would cook a meal for the entire family. For instance, we would make pelmeni and then eat them together. After lunch, we would climb the big parents’ bed and read books. I preferred having fun instead of reading. Yet, when everyone was busy reading, you had to do the same. That's precisely what it’s like in the Convent. It is hard to stand during the entire service but everyone does, and it empowers you. Little by little, you grow accustomed to it.
I have always loved nature. I recall how I dreamed of escaping into the forest, building a hut, and living in unity with nature. Before I went to bed, I would fantasise about living in the forest, finding something to eat and something to spend my days on. I even drew up blueprints. Sometimes I would skip school because I wanted to go outdoors and chill out. Our Siberian forests are absolutely stunning and incredibly beautiful. I would lie on the ground watching… The nature is so lively, you know…
I wouldn’t call my parents atheists but apparently, the Soviet dictatorship had taught them to be cautious of looking in the direction of God. Although my family was totally non-religious, I had the unconquerable drive towards God since I was a child. I talked with him since my earliest childhood. Let me illustrate it with a story.
I was five. It was time for Easter. Of course, I didn’t know anything about Easter. Orthodox Christians in our town gathered in a small cabin made into a church. They would summon the flock by ringing a beater — actually, a hanging piece of a steel rail. I was walking to my grandmother’s house and doing what I liked to do, that is crushing the ice on frozen puddles. I was so excited to stand on thin and fragile ice and watch it crash and give way to the water.
Suddenly, I heard the beater ringing. I was so excited and eager to go to church! My heart started pounding. I can’t explain… I don’t know why but I had a clear understanding that one had to wear a cross in order to set foot in a church. Returning to the town from a dacha, we would always show our permits on the checkpoint. It was a very important and meaningful ritual for our children. That was possibly where I got that association from a Christ cross is a permit to church. I didn’t have a Christ cross. So they won’t let me in, will they?
I stepped into a puddle. The ice cracked and I saw something shining inside the puddle. I bent to look at it, and it was an icon of the Mother of God with a cross on the reverse side. That’s my permit!
I happily ran to the church. The church was separated by two busy roads. I don’t know how I managed to move past all those cars. I ran into the church. There were many people consecrating the kulich Easter cakes. A woman turned to me and gave me an egg: “Christ is Risen!” “No thanks, I can’t” — I had been taught not to accept anything from strangers, you know. She said, “Take the egg, you have to.” I did. The woman asked me, “Whose kid are you?” I thought, “Well, time to show my permit.” I took out the icon, lifted it up as high as I could (like a permit) and blurted out: “Look! That’s what I’ve got!”
Later that day, I told my mum, “Mum, you know, you should baptise me.” My mother was amazed, “Lena, where do you get that from? What are you talking about?” Remember, we lived in the Soviet Union. I was upset. I was attempting to get a Christcross somewhere. I even tried to get the cross from other children in my nursery school in exchange for something else, but they wouldn’t go for it (laughs).
I felt God’s presence and my connection to him since my earliest childhood. I can’t explain how this kind of childish and sincere faith was ignited in my heart. Naturally, it seems to me now that it happened thanks to the prayers of some deceased relative of mine.
I have a photo album titled Our Baby where my parents recorded all details of my life as a baby. First tooth, first steps, first words. The section titled Favourite Holidays is filled in with my mother’s handwriting: Birthday, New Year, the 8th of March, the sister’s birthday. I wrote “Christmas” and “Easter” next to it — my older sisters had taught me how to write. Where did that come from? We never celebrated Christmas and Easter.
By the way, I would always feel sad because I liked that holiday. One Easter, I took raw eggs (mum didn’t let us boil eggs during the poverty-stricken 1990s), dyed them with gouache, put them in a plastic bag, and went to church to have them consecrated.
My sisters laughed at me and called me a holier-than-thou. All the same, I was absolutely certain that I was doing the right thing.
Here is another story from my childhood. I came to my best friend Zhenya (we went to music school together). Although children who study music, just like children who do other “not-so-children-friendly” jobs, tend to compete with each other, Zhenya and I loved one another with genuine Christian love and never envied one another.
Zhenya’s family celebrated Easter. Their house teeming with guests, Easter cakes, dyed eggs, exclamations “Christ is risen!” She felt really tense in the presence of so many people. On the contrary, I was looking cheerfully at what was happening, and kept saying, “Zhenya, look! It’s so much fun, isn’t it!” I was genuinely thrilled.
I wanted to share my Easter joy with my favourite music teacher, Valentina Iosifovna. I had several ballpoint pens, one of which was half-empty, in my pocket. I shouted right at the door, “Christ is risen!” and gave her the pens. I wanted to give something to her as a gift for Easter. She replied with a smile: “He is risen, indeed!” Then she added, “You know, I’m a Catholic. We don’t celebrate Easter today.” I thought to myself, “Their faith is so boring, I’ll never go there. They don’t even have Easter!”
When I was twelve, my mum died. She was 47, too young to die. I felt hurt and blamed God. I was seriously offended. I demanded that He bring her back and take me instead. I lay down waiting for my death. But I didn’t die. I felt really furious: “If so, I don’t need you any longer.” That was how I broke my connection to God. I closed the door of my heart to him.
It was painful. You keep moving around and Good keeps acting in your life. He continues to help and guide you. The Mother of God keeps loving you, too. Bit by bit, you come to realise that God has been taking care of you wherever you went. In spite of that, you turn away from him obstinately.
I spent ten years without God. I was adamant in not letting him back into my heart although I wanted to go to church and participate in worship. I had to have this moment of rejection because I was left longing for God during all that time.
I was baptised when I was 16 for fear of death. It happened in the hospital. I was brought to a hospital bed by a serious illness: I had suppurated bones in my head. I couldn’t walk. I stayed in various hospitals, the last being the Russian Children’s Hospital in Moscow. My aunt, who was my dad’s sister, sent for a priest. I was in conflict with God at that time already so I reluctantly agreed to be baptised. Surely, I feel very sorry for my attitude now. Baptism is such a happy occasion! That was when I took communion for the first time.
My second communion was before a serious surgery. A boy named Kolya, who was the same age as me and had a horrible genetic disease (lupus erythematosus), was in the same hospital with his grandmother (his mother had died). He drove me in a wheelchair to a nocturnal Easter liturgy where we spent a couple of hours.
The Lord cherished and loved me so tenderly, in spite of everything! It’s unspeakable! My doctor’s colleagues were warning her against the surgery. They predicted a 1/100 chance of my surviving it. I had literally no chance to remain a healthy person.
A bone in my head which contained the internal carotid artery had been rotten, just 3 mm were left to go before you cut into that artery, and if you do, it’d cause immediate death. However, my doctor Valentina Ryszardovna wasn’t scared. She was a professor and a famous surgeon. She came into my ward and told me everything candidly, waiting for my decision. “1/100 chance is still a chance. Let’s try.”
The surgery took a while. Several medical crews took turns in performing that surgery. It was a success. I woke up in an intensive therapy room. I opened my eyes and saw several doctors towering over me. “Are you alive?” I nodded. Valentina Ryszardovna burst into the room, fell down on her knees and kissed my hands crying, “Lena, you see, we’ve made it! It’s a miracle!” It was during the Bright Easter Week.
Speaking in a layperson’s terms, everything was great: I managed to recover after the surgery, I received an excellent education and a decent job that paid well. I did it on my own. God had endowed me with many gifts, such as independence and sharp wit. I would always get out unharmed from any situation and not be overpowered by anything. I’d simply regain my focus and move on. I possessed some inner strength. However, I was far from God.
When I was 22, ten years after I broke with God, I came to a tipping point in my life. A dead-end. Loss of meaning. I was on the verge of a breakdown. My soul cried out in despair, “Lord, how long will You torture me? Please make me come back to You!”
I stopped eating. I spent my days lying in bed and watching Soyuz TV channel. One day, I got up and somehow went to a church. As far as I recall, someone had told me that I had to receive a blessing for driving my car. The Lord was guiding my steps and sent me certain people at certain points. I went to my parish church and asked the rector, “Please bless me to drive my car.” “Did the GAI (the agency that does the same in Russia that DMV does in the US and DVLA does in the UK — translator’s note) bless you? If yes, then I bless you, too.” I was hooked by his simple and easygoing attitude. I caught myself thinking that I had to come back to God at last.
I didn’t know how to return to God, though. It was exactly like the prodigal son: he ate pig food and knew that he had to go back but he was too afraid because he had fallen and he didn’t know what to do about it? Lord have mercy; it was complicated to overcome that nagging fear. How can I return? What will happen? What should I do?
The Lord can see one’s heart, and He will always answer one’s prayer. A woman from my job gave me a book by John Krestiankin, “Constructing Your Confession”. The book sat unread on my shelf until I… Until I decided to get married.
I decided to get married. Preparations for the ceremony were underway. Suddenly, I started having really weird feelings. I felt aversion when I thought about family life. I just couldn’t force myself into it! I had to go and choose my wedding gown, and I did it with tears in my eyes. All girls dream about marriage but I couldn’t help crying when looking at myself in a wedding gown.
It was incomprehensible and hard to explain. On the one hand, I wanted to have a family and kids but I felt that something inside me protested against it. I didn’t have anyone to seek advice from. My dad would tell me, “Decide for yourself, you are old enough now.” But I simply couldn’t make up my mind…
I came across a book with the biography of St Matrona of Moscow, an Akathist to her, some prayers and stories about her miraculous help. I didn’t go to church yet, and I didn’t know any of the saints. I don’t know why I read that book. I was so impressed that I prayed before sleep, “Matrona, I’m very lonely. Please help me and tell me what to do.” Saint Matrona answered my prayer that very night.
I saw a dream where St Matrona hugged me. She hugged me, and I felt so calm, so peaceful as if she were my mum. I saw my bridegroom standing at a distance and yelling at me. I was so upset… “Listen, stop talking, can’t you see who she is. You’ve got to be reverent…” All of a sudden, he disappeared. St Matrona pointed at something. It was a church with black star-spotted domes.
I got up thinking that I had to go to Moscow. I could only understand that the church I had seen in my dream was a monastery or a convent of some kind and that she had ordered me to go there. Of course, my wedding didn’t happen. My brother, my friends, and I went on a holiday to Italy for a month. However, the Lord had already touched my heart. Something was breaking apart inside me. Everything seemed useless, alien, and empty. Even if you try to stop thinking about it and block the outcry of your soul, your soul keeps crying louder and louder. When we finally got back home, I immediately opened the book by John Krestiankin.
To be continued…
March 27, 2018
Nun Rebecca (Pereira): I became a monastic to bring salvation to my soul. In this sense, the meaning of monasticism is the same irrespective of your location - Belarus, Serbia or Brazil.