Printed in Issue #22
On the outskirts of Minsk, Belarus, lies a haven for the sick and suffering. This is the Convent of Saint Elizabeth, a source of joy for those who lay on hospital beds, those abandoned by parents, and those suffering from many other illnesses of both soul and body. In this country once run by godless communists, with millions of it’s faithful thrown into gulags to die, this place of sanctity is truly a beautiful rose bush that broke through the atheist concrete, blooming fragrant flowers in the souls of those who seek refuge there. Following in the footsteps of their Patron, Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr, the Convent works along with a sisterhood, the Sisters of Mercy, to give hope and care to those suffering in psychiatric wards, orphan edges, and even those facing death on hospital beds.
The Convent started out as a sisterhood in 1994 when two young women saw a need for people suffering in the Municipal Clinical Hospital and the Republican Clinical Psychiatric Hospital in Minsk. A Priest was asked to come and give communion to the sick. Many other women began to join in this otherworldly work, tending to the sick as if they were attending to their Christ. They were blessed to form the “Sisters of Mercy,” and were clothed in white vestments to shine the beauty of compassion and virtue to those they encountered. The first prayer service in the Republican Psychiatric Hospital was in 1996 when the words “Christ is Risen!” was shouted throughout the gray walls of the hospital, bringing light and joy to those suffering there. “As the Savior descended into hades and defeated death, so the darkness of hopelessness within the walls of the psychiatric hospital also disappeared.” After this service was the first formal meeting of the sisterhood, in which they chose to commit to the words of the Savior, “[…] Verily I say to you, insofar as ye did it to one of the least of my brethren, ye did it to me.” (Matthew 26:40). In the same year, the Divine Liturgy was held in the hospital. A year later, the sisterhood’s spiritual father, Fr. Andrei Lemeshonok, received a piece of the holy relics of the New Martyr Elizabeth from Jerusalem; in this same winter, many of the patients of the hospital came forth to receive holy baptism.
With no funds and no land, the sisters with their Fr. Andrei went to ask the Holy Elder Nikolai Gurianov (featured also in this issue) for the blessing of the construction of a church. When they approached his secluded island, he suddenly appeared running on the coast and said to them, “So glad, so glad! The white nuns are swimming to me!” This was a prophecy and was fulfilled when the Church they were planning to build would become a convent. The Elder gave the first coin with a picture of a Church on it for a donation saying, “The people will bring the rest!” During Holy Week in 1997, the sisters, clothed in their white vestments, took to the streets, radiating the love of Christ and reminding people that this life is only temporal. They collected donations from all those who wanted to help. They say that, “every brick of our church is somebody’s sacrifice, somebody’s pain or joy, a request for help or a prayer.
Sister “Z” shares her experience of collecting on the streets:
“I passed by foot from Victory Square to October Square with my collection box on my chest and couldn’t find a single place to stand. All around there was a crowd and everyone was in some strange way. I clearly realized that I wouldn’t find any place to stand. It was a dead end, I couldn’t do anything. I put my back against the wall of a building. It was near the Department Store. And suddenly out of the blue three boys approached me, putting money in my box and giving me carnations. I stood all day in that place with those carnations.”
On the streets, the sisters also endured mocking, rude words and swearing for the sake of their cause, some were even spit at. In these situations, the would whisper the prayer of Christ before His executioners, “Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). On abandoned land near the hospital, Fr. Andrei and the sisters, to the mocking of the lovers of this world, went and prayed an Akathist to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. Fr. Andrei pointed to the rubble on this land and exclaimed, “these will be the first bricks of our Church!” And so it was. On the feast day of the Holy Great Martyr Catherine in 1997, Metropolitan Philaret blessed the ground breaking and construction began on this site. Grateful patients who had been healed in the various hospital wards helped throughout the Church’s construction. The Liturgy was soon celebrated in the Church while it was still unfinished and although the attendance was supposed to be very low, the unfinished Church was packed full. Since this first Liturgy, the Liturgy has been held their every Sunday and almost every day.
From then until now, the Church bells continue to ring, bringing joy to those in the nearby hospitals. The nuns along with the Sisters of Mercy, continue to treat those around them with the love of Christ. Not wanting to deny even one of the sick, the Convent and the Sisters now give the care of Christ to those in the Republican Clinical Psychiatric Hospital, the Municipal Clinical Hospital, the Tuberculosis Unit, the Boarding Home for Mentally Handicapped Adults, the Boarding Home for Mentally Handicapped Children, and own a farmstead nearby to house recovering alcohol and drug addicts.
See more about this monastery here.