This year the women’s farmstead of Saint Elisabeth Convent celebrates its 10 year anniversary. It was established in 2011 in a former military base near Vishnyovka village, some 25 kilometres from Minsk.
Women in difficult life circumstances often ask for help at St. Elisabeth Convent. The need arose to organize a separate farmstead / rehabilitation center to serve them. A perfect area was found not far from Minsk, on the grounds of an old military base with a church in honor of St. Sergius of Radonezh.
A few days before the Convent registered the land, the church tragically burned down. However, this did not become an obstacle. With God's help, the church was quickly restored and the inhabitants of the farmstead changed their lives for the better with work therapy and prayer.
The inhabitants are women who have found themselves in a difficult life situation: suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, released from prison, left without shelter, home, family or work. Every woman living here has decided to change something in her life once and found home at the rehabilitation center.
About 40 women live at the center today, together with nun Barbara, nun Anna, novice Ludmila, postulant Helen. They reside in a two-story house with 3-4 people in a room. They get full meals 3 times a day in the common dining hall.
The nuns, carrying obedience at the center, cooperate with the guardianship authorities, since several women live at the farmstead with their children. They live in special family-type houses. The upbringing and maintenance of a child is a very serious issue, therefore such families are under the control of the state.
Even the most insignificant change, even the smallest step forward towards the Light can only be accomplished with Holy Communion, confession and prayer. This is why every working day of the inhabitants of the farmstead begins and ends with prayer. Every Tuesday the Divine Liturgy is served in the farmstead’s restored church in honor of St Sergius of Radonezh.
During the week, the inhabitants read akathists to various saints: St Mary of Egypt, the Inexhaustible Chalice icon, the Matrona of Moscow, St. Nicholas, the healer Panteleimon, the Monks Cyril and Mary, the parents of Sergius of Radonezh. The Akathist to their patron saint Sergius is read daily.
During the day, the inhabitants of the farmsted also read the Psalter. After the evening canon, they ask each other for forgiveness and end their day with a procession.
The most important thing for these suffering women is to understand that they can’t live without God. Sacraments are not some magical remedy, after which they can return to their old ways of living. Communion, prayer and work should become the basis, the norm of their new life. Women transform their lives here: one of the inhabitants became a nun at our Convent, and another one is now a sister of mercy.
Labor duties are assigned to everyone according to their strength and ability. The women work in the garden, sew, handicraft, take care of animals, work in the kitchen, and clean.
There is a herbal and sewing workshop at the farmstead. As a rule, various products are sewn for monastic needs (monastic vestments, aprons for the refectory, kerchiefs and handkerchiefs, etc.). Inhabitants are ready to take on any work and do it with diligence, quality and accuracy.
And what kind of a farmstead can survive without animals? The sisters take care of goats, rabbits and chickens with love and care.
Here is what the women have said about how the farmstead has transformed their lives:
“I entered my dark period quickly and suddenly. In the beginning, I resisted. Everyone went out of their way to help - my neighbours, my colleagues at work. I went into treatment for my alcohol problem many times… I tried aversion therapy, detox, and coding. They took my child away. I have no mother, no father and my daughter is not with me. I lost it all before I knew it.
At this point in my life, the farmstead is perhaps my only chance of salvation. However, I do not know if I even deserve to be saved, given the way I am now. I am living completely in the moment. I do not know what is going to happen tomorrow or the day after. I just do not care.”
(Svetlana, an inhabitant of the farmstead)
“We started with only four people, and now we have grown to thirty. Recently, we have been accepting more mothers with children, so our child population is increasing.
I have always felt pity for the children and their parents. I hate to see them separated. They send the children to institutions to grow up there. How sad! In my younger years, I always wanted to adopt a child.
We dream, but sometimes do not imagine all the consequences and implications. These women are like children who never found their parents. They are lost – not in the middle of some forest, but among complete strangers. They are searching for a kindred spirit, but cannot see any.
I give them affection to soften their hearts, and they become attached. I am trying to make them understand that I am not the one who is helping them. There is very little I can do.
All of my good intentions and efforts are God's love that He is projecting through me. You get all the love and blessing from Him.”