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St Elizabeth Convent
The Convent is named after the Holy Martyr Elisabeth Romanov, and it draws its inspiration from the good works of Saint Martha and Maria Convent, which she established during her life.
We are a convent that is open to the world and pursues an active social ministry in hospitals and long-term care institutions, in education, among bed-ridden patients, the disadvantaged and the poor.
The history of our Convent does not start from the walls and the buildings. It begins with our ministry among the hospital patients. In the words of our spiritual father Andrey Lemeshonok, we were called to bring comfort to sorrowful hearts and hear their pleas for help.
supporting people in hospitals
In 1996, Father Andrey Lemeshonok was serving at the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul. He offered a group of women parishioners to join him on his visits to the National Mental Hospital to tell its patients about God, the Holy Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist.
Many of our first sisters were hospital employees. Sister Kseniya Verbitskaya is a former doctor of the City Hospital No. 2, which we also visited. When we met as a group in April 1996, we decided to establish a sisterhood in honour of the Holy Royal Martyr Elisabeth Romanov.
In December 1996, the Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk and Slutsk ordained our first twenty sisters.
We held our first Moleben at the mental health clinic in April 1996, and less than five months later, we established a small chapel at the clinic in a room designated for hypnotherapy sessions. There, we celebrated our first weekly liturgy at the hospital.
On 6 February 1996, Metropolitan Philaret consecrated the chapel church of Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg at the long-term care institution for disabled adults and the elderly.
The chapel at the hypnotherapy room is no longer active. Today, the patients attend worship services at the Church of Saint John of Shanghai consecrated in 2019.
Sister Yulia Kostukevich recalls, "Stepping through the gate of the mental clinic was like entering another world. One thing that I realised was that it was not just me who was speaking. The right words were coming to my mind, and they were having a lot of power. It was because Christ was among us. He was the one who entered the ward first, and I was following in His footsteps."
visit elder nikolay
In the summer of 1997, Metropolitan Philaret gave his blessing to build a church near the mental health clinic in Novinki. Yet there was no money to proceed, and many local residents objected. Still, Father Andrey Lemeshonok was not discouraged. At a weekly meeting of the sisterhood, he shared his bold vision: “Yes, my dear sisters. We are going to build churches and a convent."
Sister Yulia recalls, “I was thinking about my job, and about my obediences in two wards. How am I ever going to build a convent? I imagined myself pushing forward a wheelbarrow loaded with cement, and I was sad with disbelief."
To find reassurance, Father Andrey travelled to his confessor elder Nikolay Guryanov in Russia and brought the sisters along. The elder welcomed everyone heartily and talked to every sister. At the end of the meeting, he said: “You will build the churches and the convent, and I will help you with this”. He gave five Russian roubles and added: “This is my first contribution towards building the church”.
When Father Andrey and the sisters returned, the construction took off. There was no money and little equipment, and most of the builders were former patients of the mental clinic. Yet everyone was dedicated and determined, and there were many helpers.
In December 1997, we laid the foundation of our first church, in honour of Saint Nicholas. Only four months later we celebrated our first Sunday liturgy there. At the time, the walls had many holes, rain was pouring through the roof, and we had to hold an umbrella over the lampstand.
Soon, we had heating, and it became a lot warmer. There was no longer the need for an umbrella, and all the holes were mended.
Eventually, the other churches were completed. The Church of Saint Elisabeth opened in January 2005, and the Church of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God welcomed worshipers in October 2008.
The people began to flock in, and soon there was not enough room for everyone inside, especially on a feast day. Our congregation was growing in number.
first nuns of st elisabeth convent minsk
“Even running water was a problem. We were lucky to have many of our laity living nearby, who would let them use their showers and bathrooms,” remembers Sister Yulia.
Everyone stood firm, and nobody left. Not only did these sisters endure, but new ones joined in.
In May 2000, a brotherhood in honour of the Optina Elders, and in 2010 several of its brothers accepted monasticism.
mother superior of convent
Service to the people
As Father Andrey has said, building churches was not enough; we needed to engage the people in creative cooperation with the Lord.
Our workshops are a powerful tool for such engagement. At present, there are more than forty active workshops, with over 1000 workers.
The sewing workshop was launched in 1998 and made vestments for the lay sisters. The crushed stone and ceramic workshops opened in 1998. The wall painting, icon casing and architectural design workshops were next, followed by many others.
first brothers of farmstead
“Through the providence of our Lord, everyone finds a way to put their talents to good use. Most of the people who come are quite remote from the Church. Little by little, they begin to return to its fold and take part in the church sacraments,” explains Nun Euphrosyne, the Convent’s Mother Superior.
In 1999, we acquired 120 hectares of land 30 kilometres outside Minsk to establish a farmstead.
“At that time, I was doing my obediences at the mental hospital in a ward for drug users. Many had no place to go when they were discharged. Thus the farmstead became a shelter for the recovering drug users, and eventually for released prisoners, the homeless and other vulnerable people,” says Sister Yulia.
A year later, the farmstead welcomed its first residents. A similar farmstead for women opened in 2011.
The history of the sisterhood, its churches and monastics teach us one important lesson: the Lord has the power to create good things out of nothing; He can defy our understanding of our possibilities and capabilities in our lives. With Him, the impossible becomes possible. The creation of this Convent is yet another proof of this truth.
In her life of service to our Lord, Our Holy Patron, the Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elisabeth, aimed to be ‘not a part of this world, and at the same time to live and act in this world in order to transform it.” Consistent with this vision, we conduct our ministries at the following locations:
National Mental Health Clinic: total number of patients is 1700, including adults and children with mental conditions;
General Hospital № 2: 1000 adult patients, including with serious and critical conditions;
Inpatient clinic of the Tuberculosis dispensary: adult and child patients diagnosed with tuberculosis.
We attend to the spiritual and companionship needs of the long-term patients, working to strengthen the patient’s spirit, thus aiding their healing or coping with their disease.
Care home for disabled children: provides long-term care for 300 children aged 7 – 18 with mental and mobility disabilities placed in institutional care
Nursing home for adults with mental disabilities: provides care for 800 adult patients with mental disabilities in need of permanent care
Rehabilitation centre for children with mental disabilities: provides rehabilitation services for children with mental conditions and advice and support for their families
Worship services and social activities are organized in all three institutions, with everyone encouraged to attend. Some 100 adults and children participate in the services regularly and take part in the Holy Sacraments. Social activities are provided, including classes in drawing and clay modeling, making animation cartoons and fun craft items, and attending a theatrical studio.
Two monastic farmsteads offering shelter to disadvantaged men and women: 200 disadvantaged men and 30 disadvantaged women are accommodated at any given moment; they are provided with food, clothing and supported employment mainly in agricultural occupations.
Ichthys School: 100 students aged 6 – 13; the school is based at the Convent and offers the standard national curriculum, instruction in the foundations of the Orthodox faith and a wide range of extracurricular activities
Educational activity: 200 children attend Sunday school attending classes in scripture knowledge and a variety of activity clubs and studios; we are also active in the education institutions throughout Minsk, engaging in dialogue and exchange with the students.
Visiting nurse / caregiving programme: combines spiritual nurturing, psychological support, and everyday assistance for bedridden elderly people. More than 70 clients are receiving care at present.
Your donations will help us expand our ministry by training more sisters and volunteers and acquiring the needed supplies.
Saint Elisabeth Convent Vigotskogo 6, Minsk 220080, Belarus