Reviews

Visitors

  Reviews

avatar

Walking for the glory of God

10 сентября 2021, 08:52
He was different from all of the other visitors who have stayed at our guest house. He arrived in 2013, in summer. Unlike all the other guests, he was travelling on foot. Werner Van Zellen, a Belgian, was coming from afar. He was on his way from Moscow to Spain, with Saint Elisabeth Convent as his stopping point. Decades ago, foot travellers were far more common, and coming across one was not anything unusual. With so many alternatives available today, travelling on foot looks like an extraordinary choice. Werner comments on the attraction of his way of travelling, its difficulties and suitability for others.
Werner is from Brussels. He works in a bank. He is the happy father of six children, three sons and three daughters. His wife Isabella is Spanish, from Compostela, his point of destination. Three of his children go to university, the rest are still school children. They speak three languages — French, English and Spanish. Like the rest of his large and close-knit family, Werner is a Roman Catholic. They go to Woluwe/Saint-Lambert Church in Brussels. Werner explains, «I am Catholic from birth. But first, I am a Christian. I did not choose my faith. I have friends from different religions — Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Jews.» At his home, Werner has a library of religious literature, Catholic and Orthodox. He had brought the books during his visits to the holy places of Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Russia.
pilgrim
By most standards, Werner is an experienced traveller. However, he did not venture on his first foot journey until mid — 2013. He had been contemplating his journey for three years. but he first needed to have the blessing of his Belgian bishop, the agreement of his wife and children and the agreement of his employer to his extended sabbatical. Luckily, everyone was supportive. The management at his bank was sympathetic, and his family also approved. Some from Werner's circle called his idea madness, but that did not discourage him in the least. «I am fortunate to work in a company that understands the spiritual needs of its employees, and I thank the management for their support. They gave me a leave of absence until 2 January. I hope I will have completed my journey by then,» says Werner.
In Werner's opinion, travelling on foot can be a lot more rewarding than taking public transport. To him, using transport is more for recreation. The hallmark of a foot journey is its slow pace. By moving slowly, a traveller can notice details that he might otherwise have overlooked due to time pressure. Being in a rush affects us from within and from outside while being more relaxed makes us disposed to discover many things for ourselves.
A foot journey, however, takes a lot more preparation. To Werner, preparation was a three-stage process. At the first stage, Werner prepared himself physically and mentally. Then he needed to get his family to agree. At first, his wife and children were not excited about the prospect of his absence for five months. Finally, he needed to plan the route of his journey. He chose Moscow as his starting point, given his love of Russian culture, history and language. He was impressed by the works of the Russian classics — Turgenev, Gogol, Goncharov Tolstoy and Pushkin. He finds the Russian language very difficult and time-consuming to learn, but also very rich and unusual in structure. As his destination, he chose Compostela, Spain, his wife's birthplace. That way, the route of his journey lay all across Europe, allowing him to cross the continent on foot from East to West.
For three years, I prepared myself for this journey spiritually and organisationally. Organisationally, I needed to acquire the maps and obtain permission from the Russian and Belarusian authorities. Let me use this occasion to thank the Embassy of Belarus in Brussels for their warm reception and the kind permission to cross this beautiful country on foot, and for their goodwill and support in making this journey possible. Let me also thank Archbishop Simon for his support and guidance throughout my journey across the Orthodox countries.
At fifty years of age, I felt the need to stop for a while and reflect on the years of my life. By looking at my past, I hope to realise its most crucial elements and contemplate on them. Travelling on foot is an excellent way to get the sense of God's blessing to be found in the holy places, to explore them more deeply and meet more interesting people than by travelling as a conventional tourist. On the other hand, walking is a challenging way to travel, especially in the summer heat. However, one can overcome every challenge by keeping one's spirit strong. Two things kept me going in my journey — God and my family. Ever since I left Moscow's Red Square, my loved ones have been sending me text messages with their support. That had been giving me the inspiration and strength to proceed.
On an average day, Werner covers a distance of 30 — 40 kilometres, with a backpack on his back and a walking stick in his hand. He calls the weight of his backpack his greatest difficulty. He travels mainly in the countryside with very few shops, and he has to keep his stocks of food and water high to last him through the journey. Some other hardships along his way included bad weather, feeling unwell, and misunderstanding from some of the people he met on the way. Werner says that the weather has been mostly favourable. He has the necessary medicines to deal with any ailments along the way, and the people he has met so far have been nice, hospitable and welcoming.
pilgrim
«In general, walking is not too hard, and finding a place to spend the night has not been difficult. Of course, you need to eat well to have the energy to go. I take special care to keep my energy levels up throughout my journey,» says Werner. Solitary foot travellers have become a lot less common in Russia and Belarus, which is also a challenge. It used to be far more widespread and popular. Many people do not understand why I am doing this. They ask me why I am not taking a bus or a train to save time. In general, I have been coping well with the difficulties of my journey with the help of our Lord. I pray to Him and the Mother of God every day. I sense His help very strongly during my moments of loneliness. The feeling of loneliness can be quite overwhelming after walking alone for several days and not meeting anyone; so feeling the presence of God in these moments is extremely reassuring.
The priests at the churches where Werner visited offered him a place to stay, but he has spend most of his nights in a tent in the middle of a forest. As a rule, he has bypassed the major cities but decided to make an exception for Minsk. Werner had long wanted to visit the city and wondered where he might stay while he was there.
He met the sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent at the UOPC book store in Brussels, but he had followed Convent before on the Internet and social media. Werner says, «I thank the sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent from my heart for their hospitality and the warm reception. I admire their care and service of the needy and vulnerable. Periodically, I visit the Convent's website, and I enjoy reading articles about children. In Belgium, charitable work is very common. Together with my family and friends, I have been involved in several charitable initiatives for the benefit of orphans, the disabled and former prisoners. I will be happy to be of help to the sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent when they come to Brussels. I will do my best to spread the word about their ministry and help them meet as many people as possible.
In Belarus, I have been fascinated by the hospitality and friendliness of its people, especially in villages and smaller towns like Mogilev, Berezino and Smolevichi. Unfortunately, my time is too short to allow myself too many diversions from my itinerary, but I have been most impressed by what I have seen so far. As a great lover of nature, I could not help noticing the beauty of the Belarusian scenery. You have great forests. No wonder that Belarus is called the green lungs of Europe.
In his long but rewarding journey, his walking stick has been his indispensable aid. According to Werner, it makes walking a lot easier by taking some of the body weight. He bought it in Compostela in 2010 when he first had the idea of his foot journey. Werner keeps in contact with his wife and children at least once in three days, and their support has also been instrumental in overcoming the difficulties of his walk. At the end of his journey, he hopes to write about his experience. Because the aims of his walk have been mostly spiritual, he might even share his spiritual insights in a book. Werner hopes that his experience might inspire others to go on their own foot journeys. They need not be as long as his journey, but they should be done for the sake of God.

Elena Gulidova
19.02.2017
avatar

A journey of discovery for a Protestant pastor

13 сентября 2021, 12:01
Nobukazu Imazu, a Lutheran pastor from Norway, went on a journey to Belarus to visit its monasteries, stopping at Saint Elisabeth Convent on his way. That was his third visit to Saint Elisabeth Convent. His first visit happened last year. He came on a transit visa,
which allowed him to stay in the country for only one day. He had read about Minsk's only convent in a suburb of the Belarusian capital. He paid a brief visit and encountered people who were welcoming, open and God-loving.
Nobukazu is of Japanese descent. He knew about Christ from a group of Norwegian missionaries who were preaching in his hometown, Kobe. He made his first visit to Europe in 1991 and moved to Norway in 1998, where he received his religious education and became a pastor in Bergen. «The living standards in Norway are very high, but its spiritual life is very limited,» says Nobukazy.
Four years before, Nobukazu was hiking in the Norwegian glaciers when he had an accident which he took as a reminder from above to take God more seriously. He started to reflect on his mission in life and find answers to the questions that were troubling him. In the process, he met an Orthodox priest in Norway, travelled to Mount Athos in 2014, and made several visits to Latvia.
Protestant pastor
Interestingly, he decided to dedicate himself to the service of God after he visited Saint Trinity and Sergius Lavra in 1993.
«There, I saw poor old women praying to God with all their hearts. I was impressed. I had the feeling that it was God's will that I should be of service to Him by becoming a priest.
On his present visit, Nobukazu has been to the Monastery of the Holy Dormition in Zhirovichi, Convent of the Saviour and St. Euphrosyne in Polotsk, and Saint Elisabeth Convent. He attended multiple worship services, following them on the English texts. To him, his visit was a journey of discovery that gave him many insights into the Orthodox faith.

Alexander Shestopalov (project PRO Minsk)
14.08.2017
avatar

Welcoming our visitors from Switzerland

13 сентября 2021, 12:40
A group of believers from Switzerland visited Saint Elisabeth Convent from 21 to 25 April 2017 and were received by its visitors' service. Natalya Grezina, a member of the group, is a member of the Parish in Honour of the Great Martyr Barbara in Vevey, Switzerland, where she heads the icon panting school. She had the inspiration to visit the Convent from the writings of Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe, who venerates the Grand Duchess Elisabeth and holds the Convent in great esteem for its collection of some of the most pre-eminent works of art inspired by God. Natalya shared this comment with her students, and together they decided to make the journey and see with their own eyes the relics of the Convent and other religious sites of Belarus.
The visitors benefited from the new regulations allowing visa-free entry via Minsk International Airport to nationals of certain countries. The group visited the Monastery of the Holy Dormition in Zhirovichi and the Convent of Saint Euphrosyne and the Saviour in Polotsk prayed at the grave of Saint Valentina of Minsk and bathed in the holy springs at Logoysk.
visitors from Switzerland
Having visited the churches of Saint Elisabeth Convent, they were impressed by the variety of their architecture. The Church of Saint Elisabeth was built in the old Russian tradition, while the mosaic of the Church of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God has visible Byzantine motifs. The architectural style of the wooden church of Saint John of Shanghai resembles the style of the churches of the Russian North.
In his lifetime, the saint has served liturgy in Vevey and Lausanne. Natalya hopes to bring to Belarus an even larger group of visitors for the feast day of the saint.
Sister Anastasia Badeeva of Saint Elisabeth Convent accompanied the group on their visit. She observes that many of its members have roots in this part of the world. Natalya's husband Ivan, for example, comes from Moscow, where he studied at the faculty of international journalism of Moscow State Institute of International Relations before he joined a history programme at Geneva University. Today, he is a researcher in church and family history, including the history of the Helvetian saints before the division of the Christian churches. He serves as a reader at the Church of the Holy Great Martyr Barbara. Martin, another member of the group, is also a frequent visitor to that church. A Roman Catholic, he lost a loved one who was Orthodox and has been coming to the Orthodox worship services ever since. Hector, another member of the group, has English roots. His aunt was Scottish and served as a governess to the royal family. She fled Russia after the revolution, walking all the way back to her native Scotland.
«The Lord is omnipresent, and the breath of His spirit is felt everywhere,» concludes Sister Anastasia.

14.05.2017
avatar

Group of visitors from Switzerland

13 сентября 2021, 12:44
Many thanks from the whole group for the warm reception given to us. We have not yet become a full-grown school of icon painting, but we have had a chance to study the art of icon painting, see the beauty of icons, and strengthen our faith with God's help. On our visit to the Convent, we have seen some of the best examples of modern church art and visited the holy places of Belarus. We have asked Martin (who is not a Catholic but comes from a Protestant background) about the highlights of his visit. In his line of duty, he has overseen the closure of multiple Catholic monasteries due to a shortage of monastics, while in Belarus new monasteries are being opened. He was impressed by the hat that Sister Tatyana was wearing as she was meeting the group from the Opera. Marie-France has written a long list of her impressions. My husband Ivan has loved Belarus. As for me, I was most impressed by the church in Polotsk with the 12th-century frescos, and fascinated by the love with which the people have adorned the grave of Saint Valentina of Minsk. We will remember how Marie-France and Hector crawled under the reliquary of Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk. And they are already over eighty. Wondrous are Your Deeds, Lord God Almighty! With love and thanks for the warm welcome and care.

Natalya Grezina
14.05.2017

Leave a review