The Convent in honour of the Holy New Martyr Grand Princess Elisabeth was established in the settlement of Novinki on the outskirts of Minsk in 1999. It originated from an Orthodox Sisterhood of the same name. Since 1996, the Sisterhood has served many care centers, including the well-known National Applied Research Centre of Mental Health (formerly known as the National Clinical Psychiatric Hospital) and the Municipal Clinical Hospital as well as several boarding homes for children and adults with special needs, the National Applied Research Centre of Pulmonology and Phthisiatry, and a home care facility for mentally challenged children.
The Convent and the Sisterhood are focused on rendering spiritual and social assistance to the sick and the suffering. The community runs two rehabilitation centres (19 and 13 miles from Minsk) where men and women, the homeless and former prisoners can find shelter and care and are offered support in getting rid of their drug and alcohol addiction.
More than twenty workshops and studios operate within the frameworks of the Convent. Some of those who work there were previously unable to realise their potential due to various illnesses. Notwithstanding this fact, together with the sisters they make beautiful artifacts in the Convent's workshops: an icon-painting studio, a candle workshop, wood-carving and blacksmith workshops, garment, embroidery and gold embroidery workshops, etc.
The products made in the garment, embroidery and gold embroidery workshops include clerical and monastic vestments, church vestments, liturgical sets, holy banners, book covers and bookmarks for the Gospel. Expert icon painters and tailors collaborate to create real masterpieces, using semi-precious stones and pearls, gold, silver, brass strings and natural silk.
The convent and sisterhood have always worked together in serving God and people.
Sisters and brothers of the Sisterhood pray for each other daily, carry out their obediences, such as visiting the sick and working in workshops, together. They also participate in Orthodox exhibitions. On Sundays, after the Akathist to the Holy New Martyr Grand Princess Elisabeth, the brothers and the sisters share their experiences of ministry and discuss issues of the spiritual life. All decisions regarding the day-to-day management of the Convent and the Sisterhood are made with the blessing of the spiritual father of St Elisabeth Convent, Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok. Full cycle of divine services is held in the churches of the Convent and the Psalter is read incessantly.
In order to see something significant, one has to look from afar. An individual lives by daily labours and cares; it is not easy for her to stop and comprehend everything that occurs with and around her. It takes years for God’s wondrous Providence to become clear in everything, even in those events that appear unimportant at first.
It all began very simply…
Two young women, parishioners of SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, worked in local hospitals - the Municipal Clinical Hospital and the National Clinical Psychiatric Hospital. Understanding that people in those places were first and foremost in need of God’s help, they asked a priest to come and give Holy Communion to the patients.
This event that happened in 1994 marked the beginning of the ministry of the Sisterhood. Soon enough, new sisters joined. They visited hospital units, comforting the sick, helping them and teaching them about the Sacraments of the Church. Later a priest would come in order to hear confessions and give communion, through which the Divine Light cleansed and healed people’s souls.
Imagine how astonished the sisters would be if they could look a few years into the future and hear the chime of church bells near the hospital! If they could see the snow-white church; if they could see themselves wearing monastic attire!
Let us recount the events leading to the foundation of the Convent.
Looking back on the history of the Convent, we recall many dates and events, as well as hundreds of people who encountered God and managed to see the Light within the gray walls of the hospital. The sisters of mercy warmed the cockles of the patients' hearts, comforted them with a kind word, and rekindled their hopes by serving them with love and prayer.
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok
Pascha 1996: The first moleben in the National Psychiatric Hospital.
Christ is Risen! — the great greeting was heard everywhere, as the priest was blessing everybody with holy water. The light and joy of Pascha filled everything and drove away the sorrow of this gloomy place. Thanks to the Saviour who descended into hell and trampled down death by death, the darkness of hopelessness within the walls of the psychiatric hospital vanished. Soon after the moleben, the sisters had their first meeting where they decided to establish a Sisterhood and go ahead serving Christ together.
In the summer of the same year, the sisters started making and wearing white vestments for hospital visits, which in turn laid the foundation of the sewing workshops.
September 27, 1996: The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the hospital on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
December 7, 1996: His Eminence Philaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, blessed the sisters in SS Peter and Paul Cathedral where the Sisterhood had been founded, to continue their service of people in need on the day of St Catherine. Having put on the white robes, the sisters were unexpectedly transformed. This event captured the breath of eternity, revealing the sisters' faces and changing their lives.
During their visits to the National Psychiatric Hospital, the sisters learned that there were boarding homes for children and adults with special needs nearby. How could they refuse to help those most in need of God’s love?
Winter 1997: It was joyful and exciting to have many patients of the boarding home for adults receive the Holy Baptism on one and the same day.
At that time, still nothing existed on the site of the future convent. Snapshots from a documentary from that time show a desolate plot of land, cold and piercing wind, and the warm words of a priest saying how one day a church would appear here where people could be saved.
His Eminence blessed the construction of a church on the territory of the National Psychiatric Hospital but no funds to start the construction were available. We also had to face other issues, such as mistrust and lack of support from neighbours. In order to dispel doubts, Father Andrew travelled to his spiritual father — Elder Nicholas (Gurianov) who lived on Zalita Island. The Elder blessed the construction and, handing over to Father Andrew a small Russian coin with the image of a church, said, “People will bring the rest.” This was the first donation. Indeed, it turned out that people “brought the rest” — every brick of the church is someone’s sacrifice, someone’s pain or joy, and a prayer request.
Holy Week 1997: Witnesses of eternity in this transient life, the sisters went into the busy streets of the city carrying donation boxes, and their white robes served as reminders to the passers-by about love, chastity, and kindness.
Summer 1997: The construction was slowed down due to various problems. Our priest blessed all sisters and brothers to read the Akathist to St Nicholas the Wonderworker on a daily basis. The wondrous holy man was quick to help resolve the problems.
Interestingly enough, both the architect of St Nicholas Church and the first church warden were named Nicholas.
Since the very beginning of the construction, the patients of the hospital, including those undergoing treatment for various addictions, actively participated in the project. The sisters feel that their key aim is to render spiritual assistance to these people and to re-integrate them into the society.
December 7, 1997: The ground-breaking for the new church took place on St Catherine’s Day after a Divine Liturgy in SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, with all sisters present. Notably, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Philaret anointed the Cross planted in the sand not with oil, but with myrrh, as is customary for the blessing of a church. On this day, His Eminence blessed the sisters to continue their service to people in need.
Palm Sunday 1998: The first divine service took place in the church under construction. It came as a surprise that many people attended the service. Since that time, divine liturgies have been celebrated in this church every Sunday. People were not scared away by the brick walls, concrete floor, and the primitive heating unit — they came to be in the presence of God.
August 23, 1998: The first monastic tonsure in our history was held in the vicinity of Minsk, in St John the Theologian Convent (v. Damašany). On our way back to Minsk, we noticed two rainbows that made the sign of the cross, and took it to be a clear sign of God’s mercy.
August 22, 1999 is regarded the birthday of the Convent. During his visit to the Sisterhood, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Philaret blessed “Priest Andrew Lemeshonok together with Nun Elisabeth (Sysun) to prepare documents for the registration of a convent in honour of the Holy Martyr Elisabeth” and tonsured Novices Larissa Leiko, Lia Shilenkova, and Helena Laptik into Rassaphore.
September 27, 1999: The Cross was consecrated and erected on the church dome on the day of the Exaltation of the Cross. “Lord, Save Thy People,” the flock sang after His Eminence. Providentially, the Metropolitan came after noon, when the weather was fine and sunny, so the Cross shone in all its beauty.
December 10, 1999: The lower church of the Convent in honour of St Nicholas the Wonderworker was consecrated. It was true Paschal joy, with His Eminence, many priests, sisters wearing white vestments of the Sisterhood and black monastic vestments — all together in the new and shining church. Two Rassaphore nuns were tonsured into small schema (Stavrophore) and four novices became Rassaphore nuns that night.
March 24, 2000: The first cells for the nuns were consecrated.
April 16, 2000: The Most Reverend Metropolitan Philaret laid a capsule into the foundation of a new church in honour of the Reigning icon of the Mother of God, which was being built near the Convent, on the day of Laudation of the Mother of God. The Holy Martyr Grand Princess Elisabeth comforted us with her visit on that very day: the rector of the House of Mercy Archpriest Fyodor Povny with his parish presented us an icon of St Elisabeth with a particle of her relics.
The Divine Liturgy has been celebrated in the Convent daily since Pascha 2000.
On May 5, 2000 Father Andrew Lemeshonok, the spiritual father of the Convent and the Sisterhood, together with the sisters brought to our Convent the relics of all the Elders of Optina Pustyn. Soon enough our icon painters painted an icon of the Synaxis of the Holy Elders of Optina Pustyn and the relics were placed into it. This icon was consecrated during a solemn liturgy on October 24. The brothers who adopted the Rule of the Convent, and hence live nearby and work in the Convent for God’s sake, read Akathist daily in front of this icon, asking the Holy Elders to help them on their way to God.
February 2001 saw the first issue of Vstrecha newspaper published in St Elisabeth Convent.
April 20, 2001 is considered to be the birthday of the rehabilitation centre established by the Convent in v. Lysaja Hara (lit. Bald Mountain) near Minsk.
July 2001: Holidays for the children of the lay sisters and brothers were organised at the rehabilitation centre. Several children from boarding homes also spent their holidays there. Moreover, the patients of the boarding home for children with special needs and the patients of the boarding home for mentally challenged adults had one-day retreats to the rehabilitation centre a number of times.
September 2001: A meeting of the clergy, the sisters and the brothers of the Sisterhood with Jean Vanier (Canada), the founder of many communities that provide help to mentally challenged people, was held in the assembly hall of the boarding home No.3. The patients of the boarding home prepared a wonderful concert, and Mr Vanier shared his rich experience in relationship and rehabilitation of the mentally challenged people.
November 2001: With the blessing of the Most Reverend Philaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, and the Most Reverend Artemius, Abp. of Grodno, the residents of Minsk Boarding School No. 7 for orphans together with the sisters of the Sisterhood and Father Andrew Malakhovsky visited Grodno. They returned from Grodno with a particle of the relics of the Holy Child-Martyr Gabriel of Białystok, which was put into an icon of this heavenly patron of children.
November 15, 2001: Father Andrew Malakhovsky brought to the Convent a particle of the relics of St Luke of Crimea (Voino-Yasenetsky). The icon of this saint with his relics is currently in St Elisabeth Church.
Since the early 2002, the Divine Liturgy has been celebrated uninterruptedly on Thursdays in the Rehabilitation Centre of the National Clinical Psychiatric Hospital.
February 2002: A particle of the relics of St Nicholas the Wonderworker was brought to the Convent. Metropolitan Philaret put this particle into a reliquary on an icon of St Nicholas and made it available for worship on April 24, 2002.
April 24, 2002: Father Andrew Lemeshonok, the spiritual father of St Elisabeth Convent and the Sisterhood of St Elisabeth, was elevated to the rank of an archpriest, while Nun Euphrosinia was made Mother Superior of the Convent and was granted the right to wear a pectoral cross.
May 14, 2002: The foundation of the Church in honour of the Resurrection of the Righteous Lazarus at the North Cemetery in Minsk. The Most Reverend Philaret solemnly laid a capsule into the foundation of the new church, and then a panikhida was held. Symbolically, this church is located opposite a crematorium, which serves as the affirmation of the victory of life over death, of light over darkness.
Since mid-September 2002, molebens with akathist to St Nectarios of Aegina have been held in the boarding home for children with special needs every week on Saturdays. A chapel in honour of St Nectarios has since that time been built on the territory of the boarding home.
The feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God in 2002 was a day to remember for the brothers and sisters who cater to the children in the 2nd Unit of the National Clinical Psychiatric Hospital because they were allowed to celebrate the major Orthodox feasts and to give communion to the children on a regular basis.
An event, which we all had anticipated for a long time, occurred on the day of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (October 26, 2002): With the blessing of His Eminence, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated at the rehabilitation centre of St Elisabeth Convent for the first time. Since that day, the Divine Liturgy has been celebrated there every Saturday. A church in honour of the Inexhaustible Chalice icon of the Mother of God was consecrated on the territory of the rehabilitation centre on January 3, 2010.
Late 2003: The Psalter has been read incessantly by the nuns in St Nicholas Church since that time.
A pontifical Liturgy was celebrated on Saturday, August 14, 2003 in SS Peter and Paul Church in v. Žukaŭka. After the consecration of the church, His Eminence visited the rehabilitation centre of St Elisabeth Convent for the first time. He talked to its residents, inspected the farm and the buildings of the dormitory and the church that were under construction.
A noteworthy event happened in December 2004: Relics of the holy martyrs Grand Princess Elisabeth and her cell attendant Nun Barbara were brought to Minsk from Jerusalem for the worship of the faithful. The sisters of the Convent met and saw off their Holy Patroness, and prayed in front of her holy relics in the Holy Spirit Cathedral.
January 12, 2005: St Elisabeth Church was consecrated and our Mother Superior was made abbess. This joy must have been somehow related to the fact that the relics of St Elisabeth had been brought to Minsk during Nativity Fast.
May 10, 2005: St Lazarus Church at the North Cemetery was consecrated.
September 2007: The nuns moved to a new dormitory.
We could not mention all the events of our life. There has been many of them, both joyful and sorrowful, in the fifteen years of our history. New sisters have been coming to the Convent and becoming novices and nuns, whereas some sisters died within the walls of the Convent. The Convent has established a rehabilitation centre for women in v. Nialidavičy (13 mi from Minsk). We have built a Christian primary school, a parish church in honour of the Reigning icon of the Mother of God with the lower church in honour of the Holy Royal Martyrs. Right now, we have several construction projects going on: a wooden church in honour of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco on the territory of the National Applied Research Centre, St Sergius of Radonezh Church at the women’s rehabilitation centre, a Pilgrims’ House, and an Orthodox exhibition centre.
Wondrous are Thy deeds, O Lord!
Grand Princess Elisabeth