“The Old Nuns Warned: The Time Will Come Again When Heretics Will Start to Seize the Churches”

A Nun of the Kiev Florovsky Monastery About Her Path in Life and the Modern Persecutions in Ukraine

Nun Elena (Mikhaleva) Nun Elena (Mikhaleva)     

Whatever the truth, the “care” of the Patriarch of Constantinople for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its sacred objects, and especially the claim to some historical subordination to him of our ancient monasteries and churches looks strange, to say the least. As for Florovsky Monastery, which was included in the list of Poroshenko’s “donations” to the Patriarch of Istanbul, the situation also defies all logic. Although, there can’t be any logic in the creation of a new schism except for the political intrigue of the initiator of the establishment of the OCU and the ambitions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Florovsky Monastery today Florovsky Monastery today     

The history of the ancient Florovsky Monastery is directly connected with the Russian Orthodox Church and its Kiev Metropolia. And it, like the majority of the monasteries on the territory of today’s Ukraine, it was erected with donations both from the royal treasury and from other high patrons. Suffice it to recall that in past centuries, nuns from famous Russian noble families labored here: Schemanun Nektaria, in the world Princess Natalia Borisovna Dolgorukova, daughter of the famous field marshal and friend of Emperor Peter I Count Boris Petrovich Sheremetevo, and Abbess Parthenia, in the world Apollinaria Alexandrovna Adabash from a noble Moldovan family.

St. Elena of Florovsky Monastery St. Elena of Florovsky Monastery     

St. Elena of Kievo-Florovsky—Ekaterina Alexeevna Bekhteeva in the world (canonized in 2009)—finished her earthly life in the second half of the nineteenth century. Her relics are now in the monastery church. She was born in 1756 in a prominent family in Zadonsk. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk († 1783) was a family friend, and communication with him influenced young Ekaterina’s desire to choose monasticism. He bequeathed his grave to the saint. The founder of the St. Seraphim-Diveyevo Convent, St. Alexandra (Melgunova), received the tonsure in Florovsky Monastery. According to tradition, the young Prokhor—the future great lamp, St. Seraphim of Sarov—visited Florovsky Monastery before his tonsure. Thus, it’s not necessary to speak of any, even nominal, involvement of the Patriarchate of Constantinople with Florovsky Monastery, as with the majority of the historical monasteries of the UOC.

Florovsky Monastery, at the foot of Castle Hill Florovsky Monastery, at the foot of Castle Hill     

An amazing acquaintance with the 85-year-old Nun Elena (Mikhaleva), one of the oldest inhabitants of the monastery, who spent sixty-three (!) years there, awaited us in the monastery. As Mother herself told us, there were ascetics living in the monastery in the 1950s who had arrived before the revolution in 1917. Thus, the school of Russian monasticism in Florovsky Monastery passes through many centuries and preserves its traditions to this day.

Mother Elena’s contemporaries include the still-living nuns Marionila, Margarita, 97-year-old Schemanun Epistimia, Nun Mariam—the dean of the monastery who has labored in the monastery for more than forty years, and Nun Emilia—the ustavschitsa[1] who, according to the testimony of the nuns of the monastery, never missed a single service over the years. Abbess Antonia (Filkina, † 04.16.2018), who reposed in the Lord last year, came on obedience from the Bryansk Province and devoted her entire life to the monastery.

It should be noted that the monastery’s tradition included housing and raising orphans, and even in Soviet times girls lived and were educated in Florovsky Monastery. Many nuns came here with the blessing of St. Kuksha of Odessa and Elder Nikolai Guryanov.

Mother Elena welcomed us cordially and greeted us with the coming Nativity of Christ. And to the question of how she feels about the emergence in Ukraine of the new schismatic structure called the “OCU,” she answered that she has experienced various forms of persecution in her life, from open atheism in school to harassment and eviction from the monastery under Khrushchev, and that the current “initiatives” of the Ukrainian authorities headed by Poroshenko[2] are also aimed against the true Church of Christ—only now not under any atheistic slogans, but under the cunning signage of some “spirituality,” about which spoke the Savior of the world: For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many (Mt. 24:5).

Mother’s story about her life, about the Christian education she received during the fierce persecutions against the Church of God, about her desire to dedicate her life to God in a monastery of ancient Kiev where Russian monasticism was born, and about her love for her native Florovsky Monastery, flourishing near Castle Hill in Podil since the sixteenth century, serves, in our view, as a beautiful illustration of loyalty to the canonical Orthodox Church, which, according to Christ, the gates of hell shall not prevail against until the end of the ages (Mt. 16:18).

My father’s upbringing shaped my faith and my inner self-discipline

—Matushka, tell us about yourself: Where were you born and who led you to the Orthodox faith? After all, you entered the monastery at seventeen…

—I was born in 1936 in a very religious family. My father—Mikhail Egorevich Mikhalev was from Kursk, and my mother—Maria Ulyanovna, a native of Brest, wound up in Kursk, where her family fled during the First World War, and they met there. I remember the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the raids—everything is still right before my eyes.

Young Olga with her father Mikhail and her brother Alexei, a future priest, 1951 Young Olga with her father Mikhail and her brother Alexei, a future priest, 1951   

My father was a man of the nineteenth century, you could say. He was always at church: He sang, he led the choir; they knew him in Kursk. The family also did everything appointed by the Church typikon. When we began to grow up a little, everyone, from small to big, went to church. So we had an old-fashioned upbringing; that is, we weren’t allowed to cut our hair, to go to the movies, to dance. And if my father found out from an acquaintance that I broke his rules, he would summon me and ask: “Did you dance in school?” and after an affirmative answer he would ask why I did it. “Look, Herod’s daughter danced beautifully, and how did that end? She received the head of St. John the Forerunner as a reward. You’re not going to do that anymore, are you?” I answered all of his questions: “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.” Until I would forget…

When we moved to my mother’s relatives’ place in Belarus (during the Second World War), I went with some of my peers to the movies; I was nine then (they were showing a lot of war films then), and there was only one showing, in the evening. Children are children. We left the theater in a crowd, we dispersed, each to his own place, and then I remembered my father’s order and began to think about what would happen, what my father would say, ai yai yai… I was walking home along the street past the cemetery—I wasn’t afraid, then I looked at the window in our house—the light was on, and I was afraid… Papa opened the door: “What, you were at the movies? Come over here…” and he took off his belt. Then Mama intervened and began to calm him down and persuade him saying: “It’s late, the neighbors will hear, they’ll get angry. We’ll sort it out tomorrow.” Papa sat me down next to him, he spoke to me, but did not hit me—he just frightened me.

As soon as I learned how to read, I was given the duty of reading the lives of the saints for the whole family. My friends would invite me out, but Papa would say: “Read this, and then this.” Sweat was pouring off me, but I read. And Papa kept saying: “It’s nothing, your friends will wait. Finish reading, then go.” That’s how he raised me. We didn’t go to school on the big feasts; everyone knew we were a family of believers. And regarding the authorities, we got away with it. Of course, we never missed Liturgy. After the service, my father always asked which Gospel was read. You know how children behave at church: They stand for a little then they run around the church. But if I couldn’t retell what happened in the festal Gospel reading, I didn’t get any candy after lunch, unlike my younger brother and sister. To my resentful “And for me?” he would answer that I hadn’t been at church since I couldn’t tell him the Gospel…

The next time I would stand in church and listen attentively. I would go home and retell the reading. My father would nod approvingly, saying: “Well done, I see you were at the service. And what did Batiushka say in his homily?” But I didn’t remember. “Tell me next time, then you’ll get some candy.” Next time I would listen to the homily, not getting distracted, and my father would say: “I didn’t see (he was on the kliros and could see everything!) you go up to the cross.” “Oi, merciful mother…” I sighed. I had to stand from start to finish and then to listen to the thanksgiving prayers after Communion too… That’s the kind of Church upbringing we had…

—It wasn’t a burden for you? There were no protests?

—No, no. Papa instilled a love of reading in me, thanks to which I began to love the printed word in general. First I reread the school literature, then I got interested in the classics: Pushkin, Saltikov-Schedrin, Lermontov, Nekrasov. I remember one time we lived far from church—more than four miles in one direction. I was fourteen to fifteen then. I was getting ready for Matins and Papa gave me some money to buy myself something tasty. After the service I ran to the bookstore and instead of gingerbread I bought some books. I read so much that Mama began to lament: “You read every kind of nonsense; you used to read the lives of the saints to us”—so I had to do it in secret from my mother. And one day I thought—my father had so many books on his shelves, I’ll try to start with the Bible. I read the Old Testament, then the New. Since not everything was clear, I decided to open St. John Chrysostom’s interpretations of the Gospel. I started to read it, and, oh my God, how different it was from fiction—an entirely new world was opened to me!

“To live like everyone else, or only with God?...”

—How old were you when this happened?

—I was sixteen then…

—And what about your first infatuations, feelings for young men?

—Somehow it turned out that my friends, most of whom were older, were invited out, but I wasn’t satisfied by association with them. It didn’t interest me—I wanted something else, something greater; I was drawn to knowledge. History piqued my interest and I wanted to know a lot in general. I experienced some fluctuation when I was fifteen: to live like everyone else or only with God?... And the latter prevailed. And the more I became enlightened, the more I was drawn to another life, farther from the worldly hustle and bustle. But my parents were uneasy: “Why are you always sitting at home with books? Your friends invite you out, we give you money—go to the movies.”

15-year-old Olga Mikhaleva 15-year-old Olga Mikhaleva     

—When did the thought of the monastery first arise?

—I remember when I was still a girl, I would take my mama’s scarf, wrap it around my head, and see if they would take me for a nun; and I got frustrated because I didn’t look like one thanks to my rosy cheeks… I also liked to teach my classmates what I knew. We formed a group of ten to fifteen girls whom I instructed and to whom I explained what Great Lent is and taught them prayers. I had nearly memorized the lives of saints and loved to tell what kind of labors and sufferings the saints endured, what podvigs they undertook, and I called them to follow their example. “There’s nothing to eat, and so what?” I told them. “Let’s go to the river, we’ll dig up some roots and be full.” At that time, children ate everything edible that grew on the earth…

Match-making. Thoughts on the monastic life

I soon left my father’s house for good. This is how it happened: When I was seventeen, my father had an operation in Brest, and I couldn’t shake the thought of going to Kiev, where my father had walked to on foot in his youth, which he told me about many times. And in Kiev I saw the monastery… Returning home, Papa lamented that the doctor who did the operation was remarkable and could help many but had to stay home because of her young child, and they called her only in extreme cases: “Maybe you could work as a nanny for her?” I agreed, in hope of receiving a city residency permit. The farewell was hard, although it was only twenty-five miles from Brest. I walked along the road, crying the whole way as if something had broken within me. Thus ended my childhood, thus I entered into adult life…

And so I arrived to the family’s house, I settled in, I babysat the child, helped with the housework, and I thought: With my passport and registration I could freely go to Kiev to find out about convents. But circumstances, or the enemy of my intentions put up all sorts of obstacles on the path to my goal.

This is how it went: After the operation, my older brother took Papa to his place. My brother Alexei served as a village priest from 1950. Two words about him: He was a very zealous priest and did not agree to any of the compromises of the time. When he studied in Zhirovitsy, the seminary authorities ordered to hang a red flag on the cathedral. He refused. They punished him for insubordination but he remained firm in his opinion. Second episode: His young matushka wanted to have a radio at the parish. My brother would cut the radio wires and she would fix it. This happened several times until Matushka gave up the idea…

I soon got a telegram from them—an invitation to the church feast. With such an event, you have to go. After all the festivities, the guests left, and we sat at the table—my brother’s family, Papa, and a seminarian Nikolai, my brother’s friend. My brother suddenly said: “Live with us for a year, Olya, and then we’ll have a wedding.” “A wedding? What wedding?” I asked. “Yours,” my brother answered. “What are you planning for me? I’m going to a monastery!” They didn’t attach any important to this, as I hadn’t shown any external signs of a desire for monasticism: I dressed in a secular way, I put curls in my hair, I wore high heels. “And what do we have here if not a monastery? You’ll be a matushka, and here’s the future batiushka Nikolai.”

At her brother Alexei’s wedding. The last photo before leaving for Kiev At her brother Alexei’s wedding. The last photo before leaving for Kiev     

I kept thinking about the monastery all the time, endlessly asking Papa to go with me to Kiev, and he promised that as soon as we saved the money, we would definitely go. And then he got sick, had the operation, and it became clear that I had to go myself.

After the talk of a possible marriage, I sharply turned around and said it was time for me to go home to Mama. She was home alone, and here we were staying and celebrating, and I had to honor her. And no matter how they tried to persuade me, no matter how much Papa asked me to stay at least two weeks for him, I was adamant and stood my ground like a wall. I said I was going to see Mama, but I was thinking only about Kiev. My brother and his wife were so offended that they didn’t even come to say goodbye. My poor father sobbed and hugged me, not wanting to let go for anything, as if he felt that we were saying goodbye forever, while I stood like a statue, not shedding a tear. Nikolai couldn’t resist, and said: “I didn’t think, Olga, that you had such a heart of stone; at least have pity upon your father.” I just glanced back, and Papa was bowing and waving his hat at me… I disappeared…

A blessing for monasticism

I arrived to my mother’s place in Kamenets. I didn’t tell her anything about meeting the seminarian or about their plans. Then I went to confession with Fr. Vladimir, who was good friends with my father, respected him, and knew me since I was six. I blurted out that I wanted to go to a monastery. He immediately said: “God bless you. Go to Kiev—there are three women’s monasteries there.” That was it—he didn’t name a monastery or advise me about which one to go to. It was clear that the Lord had revealed my intention to him. He wasn’t even interested in what my family thought of my intention, whether they agreed with my desire or discouraged me. There wasn’t another word.

Inspired by the blessing of the priest, I went to my mother and said: “Mama, I’m going to Kiev.” “Go. You’ve been playing games with us for three years about this Kiev.” Mama reacted to my announcement without any extra sentimentality. “Mama, I want to enter a monastery.” And then it started: “What’s with you? God be with you! You won’t be able, you won’t endure, you don’t know how difficult it is there.” I presented my main argument: “Fr. Vladimir blessed me!”

Mama was stupefied; then she went to the icons, threw her hands up and moaned: “Lord, if Thy blessing is upon her, then I bless her too.” Then she turned to me and said: “And if there is no blessing, stay there, pray, and come back. And please, when you arrive in Kiev, let us know immediately; give us your address where you’ll be staying, where to find you.” Having received this good word, I ran to the girls singing in the church and told them about my trip and asked them to sew a covering on my suitcase. “You’ve gone crazy. What do you mean, which monastery? Did your mother give you permission? It’s better to consult with your brother,” and the like. But I didn’t hear anyone anymore. The Lord had called me…

In Kiev: first impressions and first temptations

—So, there wasn’t a drop of doubt that you were doing the right thing?

—I had no doubts. I got on the train, crossed myself, and we left. Of course, some fear of the unknown crept into my soul, and at the same time there was a great desire for life changes…

I arrived to the Kiev Station, I dropped my bags at the checkroom, but where to go, I didn’t know… I didn’t even know the name of a single monastery and I was scared to ask—maybe they’d suddenly take me somewhere. I crossed myself: “Lord, bless!” and I started off. The road went down, and I went down; the road went to the right, and I went to the right; the road went up and I went up. I only prayed: “Lord, send me someone who will not deceive me and tell me where to go.” I saw a beggar sitting there and I went up to him with a question about what monasteries there were in Kiev. He named only one for me—Florovsky. And he didn’t just answer me, but through him the Lord showed me where to be. But I didn’t immediately wind up at Florovsky. I had to pass through several trials first.

Passers-by, who came upon me along the way, didn’t know anything about Florovsky Monastery and showed me the way to Holy Protection Monastery. Thus, I reached Holy Protection Monastery on foot from the station by evening. I sat on a bench quietly, as if without any worries. I rested. Then I asked one nun about staying for the night. She showed me to the pilgrims’ house. Among the pilgrims was a young girl named Nina who sang on the kliros. I shared my plans for the future with her. “You what?” she exclaimed. “Did your mother bless it?” She again exclaimed at my affirmative answer: “How happy you are! My mama says no way. I’ve been singing in church here for three years already. I’m a soprano.”

Holy Protection Monastery today Holy Protection Monastery today     

Since she was older than me and already knew the structure of the monastery; she led me to the dean. I told my story, who I am, where I was from, and, looking at my passport, she shook her head and explained that it was forbidden to take girls younger than twenty into the monastery. She advised me to get a job and live in the world until I was twenty!

I was upset and went out on the porch. I stood there crying, but I understood there was no road back. Suddenly a nun came out wearing a white apostolnik[3] with a cross and asked why I was crying. I explained that I wanted to enter a monastery. It turns out she was the sister of Patriarch Alexei I (Simansky), Euphrosynia, and it was her name’s day that day. She brought out a large prosphora, gave it to me, hugged me, and said: “Don’t cry, you will live in a monastery.” Next, out came the Abbess of Florovsky Convent, Flavia (Tischenko). She had come to congratulate Euphrosynia and one of the nuns said to me: “That’s who you need to ask!” The Holy Protection sisters really loved Abbess Flavia, who had grown up in a monastery since she was three.

Mother Euphrosynia comforted me a little—it meant my path to the monastery wasn’t closed. But without any result, I went to find a job. They took me to a construction site—no one would take me at the school as a janitor, and they refused to take teachers of my age either. And I had to register somewhere. Then by chance a woman in a store began to complain that she had to stand in line while no one was at home watching her child. The housekeeper she had for three years quit and went to a monastery. I was with my new friend Nina. Nina turned to the woman, pointed at me, and we got acquainted. The next day it turned out that her husband had already hired another housekeeper. Another temptation!

I returned to Holy Protection with nothing. The abbess beckoned me and showed me a telegram: “Come quickly. Father and brother.” Mother demanded an explanation—had I run away from home, and if so, then I had to immediately leave the monastery. Well, what could I do?

—You didn’t have any desire to go back home?

—Come on! Go home?! One of the nuns, the guestmaster Manefa, realizing I had nowhere to go, advised me not to walk past the abbess’ room, so as not to catch her eye.

After a while, the sisters of Florovsky Monastery came to my benefactress, and Manefa asked them to take me to the monastery. We went there, I sat down on a bench, and I already decided I wasn’t going anywhere else!

Liturgy began, after which the nuns go to their cells. Florovsky Monastery was idiorhythmic (not cenobitic) and you had to live there “at your own expense.” I also found out that the experienced nuns would take a novice for themselves and answer for them. News about me quickly spread around the monastery; after the service I was surrounded by nuns, both old and young, and they started thinking about whom to assign me to. That’s how it was then. One of them offered me to go with her. She lived with her niece.

They re-dressed me more modestly, and took me to meet the abbess. Having learned that I was from western Belarus, she was very angry and started thundering and lecturing me: “The state spent money on your education and instead of going to work, you came to a monastery at seventeen!”

It’s like I was doused with cold water, it was so unexpected. The sisters who were there calmed me down, telling me that wasn’t the abbess but the treasurer Antonia. As I later learned, she was very frightened of the phrase “western Belarus.”

The abbess turned out to be a completely different person, received me kindly, asked about everything, and said she would think about it until morning. I went to see her after Liturgy, and she sighed and said: “You’ll be in the monastery. But you have to wait at least a year. Go find a job.” Then Mother explained to me why she said that—the abbess couldn’t go against the will of the treasurer. So I waited an entire year.

I worked as a nanny-housekeeper in a family from a long line of doctors. My little pupil Tanya is now an experienced cardiologist and often comes to help me, since I have a bad heart… That’s how God arranged it.

—And how did you work as a housekeeper, Mother? Was it hard?

—Tired isn’t the word for it. My responsibilities included going to the market for groceries, cooking all the food, doing the laundry (there was no washing machine or hot water), tidying up, taking their child out to play, and buffing the floor. Of course, I never did so much work at home. Sometimes I would sit in the tub, wringing out the linens by hand—my hands were small and weak—and I would cry. But I was ready to endure everything for the sake of the monastery.

—Did your parents reconcile with your life choice?

—Well, they are spiritual people after all. My father himself once wanted to become a monk. Once he wrote to me in a letter that he always feels my soul and when he goes to the kliros, he prays to my patron (our church had a full-length icon of Princess Olga) that she would help me in everything. Once he even had a vision: Princess Olga smiled at him and walked past him to the Mother of God to entreat her for me. Interestingly, after this vision that my father told me about, I received my residency permit. Three years later my father died. We didn’t see one another…

The last temptation before entering the monastery

I worked for a year. My mistress’s brother, an officer, came from Moscow. The entire family went on vacation to Crimea and the daughter and I went to the dacha near Kiev. So, for an entire month I went to church with three-year-old Tanyusha, took her to Communion—throwing her onto my shoulder—and after Liturgy we would go to Mother at Florovsky and drink tea. Later, when her parents had already returned from vacation, she asked me: “Do you remember, we went to church and Batiushka gave me some honey, and do you remember, we drank tea with Mother?” It turns out Tanyusha remembered everything. I was afraid she’d tell her parents and they’d punish me. But the child didn’t blab once; the Lord showed her the way. After all, her father was a factory director and had three orders; her mother and grandmother were doctors and there could have been great trouble for them at work if they knew I took their daughter to church. And they would have fired me since I hadn’t asked permission for it.

And just then they told me at the monastery that they’d already added me to the list for a permit and I could move there for permanent residency.

Florovsky Monastery’s St. Nicholas Church Florovsky Monastery’s St. Nicholas Church     

I went to my mistress, Alla Efimovna, and told her that this and that happened, and I was leaving her. Clasping her hands, she cried out: “How can you leave?! You’re already one of us, a member of the family! We planned to send Tanechka to kindergarten and you to study; you’re one of us, and my brother Zhenya likes you. We thought you would get married.” But I did not lose courage and answered: “My dears, I came to Kiev not for work and not to get married. I came to enter a monastery.” She began to cry.

Then her mother stood up for me, reminding her that she has no rights over me, because I have my own parents who are the only ones who can give permission or prevent it. So, that temptation passed…

In Florovsky

In 1955, I received permanent residency in Florovsky Monastery and was a novice until I was forty-eight. There were many young people here at that time and we had a different format: After thirty they would put the riassa on us, and after our tonsure—the mantia, and they would give us a new name. The years imperceptibly passed—difficult, but happy, joyous. After all, there is no greater joy than to be in a monastery!

Of course, having entered the monastery, I grieved for my parents; I received news and wept that they were so helpless and had no one to help them; and here you couldn’t please Mother, my mentor, with whom I lived in a cell; she would get angry. But my parents always supported me, never even suggesting that I come help. They understood it was God’s calling for me.

Nun Elena (right) Nun Elena (right)     

—You were Olga and became Elena. Who were you named after in Baptism?

—My mama told me how in infancy I suddenly began to die: My eyes rolled back in my head and I stopped breathing. Mama was home alone and was scared that I would die unbaptized, so she wrapped me up and ran out onto the street, where she saw a woman walking past and explained that I was dying and asked her to have me baptized quickly. She asked what to name me, and waving her hand, Mama said: “As you wish, maybe Olga.” I think she wasn’t thinking about a name at that point but was just worried about getting me baptized in time. When my father returned home, he asked Mama why she decided to name me Olga instead of Elena, since I was born on June 7, just before the commemoration day of the martyr Elena. But at my tonsure in 1984, they gave me the name of the mother of St. Constantine the Great—the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Queen Elena. And anyways, the Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Olga was Elena in Baptism. That is how Divine providence played out over me, a sinner.

Khrushchev persecutions

—So, Mother, you’ve been here for sixty-three years without leaving?

—Not exactly. In 1963, under Khrushchev, the monastery wasn’t closed, but all the young women were tossed out like kittens. People in plain clothes came and began to threaten and interrogate us: How long have you been here, what tasks do you carry out, when did you start going to church?... To which I confidently replied that I started going to church in 1936 when my mother carried me in her womb: “She went, and I went with her, and you won’t get anything else out of me!”

Then they went to the abbess and ordered that no one under thirty remain in the monastery. Our abbess, like the abbesses of other monasteries, was very worried about all of us, that we might be exiled somewhere. They got permission for all the young novices to be registered in in the city, so they made up a list and sent us to work: Some to the hospital, some to be guards—but we still went to the monastery and fulfilled our obediences.

With her mother in Kiev during the Khrushchev persecutions, 1965 With her mother in Kiev during the Khrushchev persecutions, 1965     

I had no one to be registered with, so they registered me to the yard. I didn’t manage to get a job because I got an ulcer from worrying. But the matter didn’t end there. The supervisory authorities wouldn’t leave us alone, but came for inspections. For example, they would come to our cells with the police at 5:00 in the morning or at 9:00 at night. Whoever they found they would expel. “Get out of here and don’t come back!”

I found work all the same—first in a nursery, then I helped a laundrywoman, and I was also a coal heaver. I tried every labor for the Lord’s sake… I spent eighteen years that way, from 1962 to 1979…

I also did obediences in the Metropolia from 1958 to 1962. We worked for hire, responsible for the chancery and for receiving guests, and we also served the vicars.

None of us who had been evicted even thought we would ever return to the monastery. But the Lord looked upon our patience and returned us to the monastery.

But we could only be registered at the monastery again when Metropolitan Theodosius (Dikun, † 2001) wrote a famous letter to Moscow in which he denounced the persecution of the Church of Christ. We were somehow registered back to the monastery through the Gorny Convent in Jerusalem, where they sent our personal affairs…

When I entered the monastery, there were more than 200 sisters in Florovsky, many of whom had come there in tsarist times.

With sisters of the monastery. Mother Elena is second from the left With sisters of the monastery. Mother Elena is second from the left     

—What was memorable for you about those nuns?

—They were people from another world—in education, upbringing, culture, manners, behavior, speech. It was a completely different monastery.

My first matushka, Eunice, was a Cossack from the Krasnodar region. I was seventeen and she was seventy. She was a unique person. In the monastery since she was sixteen, she could do any work: paint roofs, bake the artos. She was an altar server. Everyone respected her.

Schemanun Eunice Schemanun Eunice     

And what rules we had! Go and buy some bread and knock on the neighboring cell: Maybe someone needs something brought to them; and obediences of all kinds—in the prosphora bakery, in the gardens, harvesting vegetables for the winter, and many others. I also sang on the kliros for many decades…

And so, gradually, year after year passed my monastic life. And glory to God for all things! I managed to live until the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’, when they began to reopen the churches, a spiritual revival began, and the chains of atheism broke. But the other nuns warned us: Don’t hurry to rejoice—there will come a time when heretics will begin to seize the churches. And we have lived to see these times.


—Today, a new “church”—the OCU—was created in Ukraine, courtesy of the president…

—What other “church” can there be? We have one Church—one, holy, and apostolic, headed on the territory of Russia by Patriarch Kirill and in Ukraine by Metropolitan Onuphry, and that’s it. The territory may be divided into states, but Rus’ is one, Orthodox from the time of its Baptism by the holy Prince Vladimir, and our Church cannot be divided. And may the Lord help our hierarchs to bear their heavy cross!

In her cell In her cell     

—Mother, how should the simple believer relate to everything that is happening now? They’re taking churches and passing laws against the Church…

—Nothing is fearful with God. We have to be with God. They may take churches away and evict people from monasteries. But no one can evict the faith from our souls. We have to strive for this—that our faith would be strong, that we might not lose it, that the Lord would be in our hearts. Then our Church will be strong. I think and I pray that these times of oppression will pass soon. For God is with us.

Deacon Sergei Geruk
spoke with Nun Elena (Mikhaleva)
Translated by Jesse Dominick



[1] The ustavchik (male), or ustavschitsa (female) is in charge of guiding the readers and choirs according to the proper order for any given service.—Trans.

[2] This article was published in Russian in January, when Poroshenko was still president.—Trans.

[3] A veil worn by nuns that covers the entire head and shoulders.—Trans.

See also
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