Sister of mercy Leonilla Utekhina
Sisters of our Convent continue to share their stories of when and how they heard the Lord and responded to His call.
Sister of mercy Leonilla Utekhina: For me, this year is remarkable in many respects: it marks 75 years of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, which means I have turned 75, too. I have been a church-goer for 30 years now. I joined the Sisterhood 20 years ago.
I came to God very late, at the age of 45. Before that, I had been bouncing around. I had been too energetic and active.
My story of meeting with God is the following. It was the year 1990. My second daughter was not baptised. We decided to have her baptised in the church where her grandfather, Archpriest Victor served. The church was in the city of Samara, it was not easy for us to travel there. My daughter was 8 years old when we finally managed to come to Samara. The church was small. For the first time in my life, I came up to a priest to take a blessing. He was elderly, grey-haired and hunched, dressed in a darned cassock. When he was blessing me, I felt a wave of heat go through my body. He gently pressed my head with his hands and said, "God bless you, my child." I did not understand what was going on. I was flabbergasted. Later my husband's relatives asked me if I believed in God. Yes, I do, I replied without a shadow of a doubt. Do you go to church? they continued. "No, but I will."
We came back to Minsk, and I went to a church. I will never forget that feeling. The feeling that you are at home. It happened to me without any transition period, or doubts, or torment. You are home, my heart told me. Since then I have been receiving Holy Communion every week.
I used to daily attend services at SS Peter and Paul Cathedral. As I went there before my workday started, I could spend not more than ten or thirty minutes there. Then the collapse of the Soviet Union, putsches, and the like changed our lives completely. My colleagues at work considered me insane, but I would not care much about what was going on around me.
I recall my first confession. Father Andrey (Lemeshonok) lifted his epitrachelion from my head, and everything around me turned out to be white with light. I could not see where to go. The Father took me by the hand and helped me walk down the stairs. All was gone in just a moment but I will never forget that feeling.
I recall that in the beginning, I felt the Lord was holding me in His arms. While listening to the Great Penitential Canon of St Andrew of Crete, I would melt into tears, and my heart would tremble. The way Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeev) was serving the Canon made its every word penetrate my heart! Now when I come to this service, my heart stays wooden and absolutely insensitive. My head is like a trash can with thoughts piled one upon the other. It is only by Thursday when I begin to feel warmed up. We get used to everything. I am not saying that the spiritual element disappears completely, but it does become less vivid with time. How to return this original grace? That is a great challenge for all of us.
Eight years after my coming to God it was time for me to face my crosses: deaths, serious illnesses, surgeries... That is, when my soul got a little stronger, the Lord let some difficulties into my life to admonish me.
Nevertheless, I continue to feel joy. Everything might be fading away, there is a lot of rush in my life, but this joy does not leave my heart. The joy that I am with God, that I have Someone I can turn to. It is especially joyful for me to see my family - one by one, gradually - coming to God, too.
To be continued...
Lay and monastic sisters have worked hand in hand in St Elisabeth Convent in Minsk for over two decades in the places where love and care are especially needed.
The Convent’s compound and churches were built in a remarkably short time. How did this miracle happen? Sister Yulia Kostukevich shares her insights in the second part of her first-person account of our history.