My name is Catherine Nehamaiyah. I was born and brought up in a Hindu family, in India. I came to know about Orthodoxy a few years ago and in 2012, away from home, I was baptized secretly by an Orthodox priest. After my conversion, I had to go through many trials but with God’s help I overcame them all; rather I must say, Christ, overcame them all for me.
During my journey as an Orthodox Christian, I heard much about monasticism and life in monasteries. I was especially influenced by a book entitled Everyday Saints, authored by the then Archimandrite Tikhon, now Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhov. There I read and got glimpses of the life of the Pskov Caves Monastery and its holy elders like Fr. John Krestiankin and Fr. Melchisedek. I never expected I would ever get a chance to visit any monastery but the providence of God does wonders.
Fr. Clement and Catherine In 2015, His Eminence Ambrose, former Rector of St. Petersburg Theological Academy and Archbishop of Peterhof blessed me and my husband Clement [now Fr. Clement, a priest of the Orthodox Church], a student of the same seminary to have our Crowning [Wedding] ceremony in the Academy chapel. With his blessing, I came to St. Petersburg on January 1, 2016. On January 24, Vladyka Ambrose officiated our Crowning in the academy chapel. After that, I lived in St. Petersburg till the end of March.
During this time I started looking for a way to spend some time in some convent. I had two reasons for this: to see monastic life for myself, and to spend some time in a religious environment away from everyday life. For a long time it seemed my desire to experience monastic life wouldn't come true. Then, in March we found out that a novice from the Novodevichy Convent of the Holy Resurrection, Sister Margarita, was studying in the iconography department of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. It was through her that we got the blessing of the abbess of her convent, the Very Reverend Mother Sophia. At last, my prayers were heard. I was about to spend a week in the Novodevichy Convent.
I was scared as it was my first time, but also happy, since my dream was coming true, when I stood at the gates of the convent. As I began my pilgrimage there, I started learning many new things. At the same time, because of the language barrier, it was difficult to communicate with the nuns, but all of them were so cooperative that I never felt like a stranger among them. Once, while at obedience in the church, I was thinking about whether I could behold the beauty of the church from the choir loft, but I was hesitant and shy to ask anybody about it. But suddenly, a sister approached me and asked me to clean upstairs in the choir loft. I was shocked but happy to do so. With every day that I spent there, my love and admiration for the convent and the nuns only increased. I loved to do any work that I was given as an obedience. One regret is that I never got a chance to talk to the Mother Superior, and I had to leave the convent with that regret. I returned to India and always cherished the memories I gathered in the Novodevichy Convent.
Again, I never imagined that I would ever be able to visit the Novodevichy Convent of the Holy Resurrection. This was natural, because there were neither means nor the possibility. But, God soon reminded me that for Him nothing is impossible. I had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg again this year and I had already decided that I would stay at the Novodevichy Convent again. I spent more time in the convent than I did the first time. The more I lived there, the greater the spirit of goodness and holiness I experienced. The daily services, obediences, and overall life there brought me closer to the monastic life and made me love it even more. This year, thanks to the convent, with the blessing of the Mother Superior, Sister Daria taught me how to bake prosphora, which we need for our Indian services.
While I was there I experienced some miracles also, which I have shared only with my husband, but now I think I should share them with everyone. Once, at night I was very hungry because I couldn't have lunch that day, and I also had a headache because of my empty stomach. In that uneasy moment, the words of Christ started revolving in my mind, Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your Heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are? (Matt.6:26), and suddenly to my wonder, through Sister Marina a certain sister sent me some fruits, chocolates, and cakes. It was more than I needed. Though it seems a very small thing, to me, it was a manifestation of the providence of God, how He takes care even of the small needs of His servants, however unworthy they are.
Another miracle that I experienced there was different. When I came to the convent on that very first day, I had severe stomach pain and I was lying on my bed in the pilgrim’s house. I couldn't sleep because of the pain, so I was praying the Jesus prayer and trying to fall asleep. It was around 3 a.m. and I was about to fall asleep when I felt as if someone touched me; I opened my eyes and saw a figure which was white from top to bottom; but I saw nothing but white color—no face, no hand; nothing at all. Even that white thing was not like light, but only like bright white cloth. I don’t know if I really saw something or if it was an illusion of my mind, but one thing is for sure—my pain stopped from that very moment.
When I shared it with my husband, he said maybe it was an angel of God or maybe some saint. I don’t know what it was, but my experience was real. Apart from that, to my wonder, this year I met the Very Reverend Mother Sophia and spoke with her several times. She is such a learned person, the head of the convent, Mother Superior of all the nuns, a person of many responsibilities, yet so simple, so kind, so softspoken, so caring and loving, such a humble and motherly figure. She has done a lot for the Indian mission as well. I love her—it’s impossible not to. She and all the nuns and novices have given me a lot of love and care.
Now I have a big family and a home in St. Petersburg. I love each and every person of the Novodevichy Convent and the eyes, voice, and smile of Mother Superior are ever before me. When the time came to return from the convent I didn’t feel as though I was going home, but rather leaving home, as the convent had made me one of it’s own and captured my heart. Departing from there was a very heavy thing for me and I literally cried. How could I not? After getting so much affection, love, and care, after the convent stealing my heart, was it possible not to cry? I miss the convent, my beloved Mother Sophia, and all the nuns—my sisters. I came back to India but my heart and mind I left in the convent. Now I don’t doubt that certainly, one day, with God’s help, I will again reunite with my beloved family of the Novodevichy Convent of the Holy Resurrection.