Everyone has their own route to God: some people come to Him because of a tragedy, some are drawn to Him by simple curiosity, some restrict their faith to mere church attendance, and some desire to devote their entire lives to God and opt for a more hard way, that of monasticism. However, this choice is determined not only by one’s own wishes but also God’s Providence. The path that led Nun Martha (Beskrovnaya) to the Convent serves as an excellent proof for this. She started serving God ten years ago, and her first step on that way was her first communion, which might be called an unintentional one, because she had not got ready for it in advance. However, God had it in His plan, so nothing happened by mere accident.
Nun Martha’s baptismal name was Nadezhda, and she was born into a family where everybody was baptised but did not believe in God. “We did not have any icons,” she recalls. “And we did not talk about the church at home. I knew that God exists but I was not curious to delve any deeper. Everything changed with the loss of my close relative: my mother died. She died in winter, and in March, on her birthday, I suddenly had the idea to go to church and light up a candle in her remembrance. When I entered the church, I saw people approaching priests and telling them something. So I wanted to come to one of the priests as well but I did not know what to tell him. I had nothing else to tell him apart from my grief. I was looking at all that, unable to move, as if my feet stuck to the floor. I had even taken a leave from work in order to go to church, and the time was almost over... I chose one priest and decided to go to him but there was another priest looking at me. I realised that I was the only one left out of the entire queue. I came to him and told him that my mother had died, that I was always thinking that I had not obeyed her, had hurt her, and had been too hasty and stubborn. When I told him about all this, I burst into tears. But the priest said to me, “Go and take communion.”
Nadezhda went on to take communion even though she did not know what communion meant and how she was to prepare for it. She took communion without realising anything yet. This was her first communion that later changed her entire life. What changed? Nadezhda had a hard time coming to terms with the irreparable loss. Whoever experienced such a loss, will understand her. “My mother was weak and elderly,” Nun Martha says, “but I had a feeling that she was a wall behind which I could hide, and suddenly this wall disappeared. I was left face to face with this life, realising that since that moment I was to decide everything on my own.
Soon after my first communion, I was anxious, I had no peace within my soul, so I went to church again in order to get over it. There was no service there at that time, and the church was empty. The church was filled with silence, which invisibly touched my soul.”
Nadezhda started going to church more often since then. She went to SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in Minsk. At first, she would simply come and sit there in order to calm down, and later she began attending the services. At first, she perceived them like a theatrical play: priests coming out of the sanctuary in shining robes and saying something, choir singing – everything was bright and brilliant but Nadezhda could not understand anything of what was being said or sung, as if the service was carried out in a foreign language. She was unable to stay in the church for a long time: She would go out from time to time but then she was drawn inside by an inexplicable feeling. That was how Nadezhda became a parishioner of that church. With time, she made friends with some of the faithful. One of them told Nadezhda about St Elisabeth Convent and invited her to go there and work for God’s sake.
Nun Martha recalls, “I went there for company’s sake because of my friend. Personally, I had no special desire to go there: I had a job and a family, and I knew that if I were to have an obedience in the Convent, I would have to spend additional time on that. There was a meeting of the Sisterhood on that day. These meetings were held in the narthex of St Elisabeth Church at that time. There were few sisters, so everyone could have enough space. My friend and I came to the Convent long before the beginning of the meeting, but Father Andrew Lemeshonok had already been there. We went to him, and my companion asked if there was any obedience for us at the Convent. Father Andrew invited us to visit the psychiatric hospital. My companion suddenly declared that she was unable to go there because her legs ached. Naturally, I could not possibly turn down the invitation. Father Andrew called one of the nuns, introduced me to her and blessed me to do this obedience. The following day they showed me the hospital units, told me about the obedience, and I could see how the sisters were doing it.
When I came to the hospital unit for the first time, I thought, “What can I tell these people if I do not know anything for real?” I had a book with me, and I had expected to read it to them. I was afraid to go. I started by talking to one patient, then another, but I did not read the book to them. When I was about to leave, a short boy with big brown eyes came to me, looked at me and asked, “Why didn’t you read the book to us?” I was taken aback and thought, “Gosh! How does he know that I have a book in my purse?” I left, and I did read books to them during my later visits.”
Later, when Nadezhda became a sister of mercy, she had a special vestment made for her and it was this vestment that she wore for her obedience. Her name was included into the commemoration book of the Sisterhood, and she could immediately feel the power of prayer of the sisters: they strengthened her in her work.
When Nadezhda grew familiar with the life of a sister of mercy, she decided to go on a pilgrimage. She put her name into the list of pilgrims, and went to Father Andrew, but instead of asking him for the blessing, she said, “Father, I have a two-week holiday, could you please give me some work to do at the Convent?” Sister Nadezhda had not planned to say this, it came out unexpectedly. She cannot understand how it happened even up to now. So Father Andrew blessed her to work in the refectory washing the dishes. This was her first obedience at the Convent. Sister Nadezhda felt so good here that she would often think on her way home, “I wish I did not leave this place anymore.” She was visited by these thoughts more and more often. In an attempt to find out where they came from and what she was to do next, she wrote a letter to Elder Mitrophan who lived in Zhirovichi Monastery and whom many people would ask for advice and prayers. Sister Nadezhda wrote to him about her life and owned up to the thought of becoming a monastic. She asked him to help her in choosing the right path. Soon her letter returned, with the Elder’s answer written on it, “Think about God, and God will provide.” She calmed down and started thinking about God: she would pray a lot and attend the meetings of the Sisterhood. She would also do her obedience. Then she began going for confession to Father Andrew and attending his talks. One day she confessed to him that she was haunted by the thought of becoming a nun. Father Andrew blessed her to stay at the Convent.
That was how Sister Nadezhda came to the Convent in 2004. First, she was a postulant and had her obedience in a Convent’s booth, while still living in her own home. Father Andrew was on a vacation at that time, and she was looking forward to his return, hoping for everything to be settled down for good. It was hard for her to come to the Convent from home every day, so soon they let Sister Nadezhda stay in a cabin by the Convent’s wall, and later, when Father Andrew returned, she moved to a cell.
Two years ago she was tonsured and took Martha as her monastic name – and a new life with it.
February 17, 2014