Minsk, May 20, 2020
Closed to pilgrims and parishioners earlier this month, St. Elisabeth’s Convent in Minsk opened its gates again today with the lifting of the quarantine regime by the state Sanitary Service, as most of the nuns who became ill have fully recovered.
Out of 130 sisters in the monastery, 60 were confirmed to have the coronavirus, Mother Maria Yakovleva told Komsomolskaya Pravda yesterday.
Of these 60, about 40 had pneumonia, Mother Maria added, while some of those who tested positive for the virus were asymptomatic. Mother Maria herself was quite ill but strictly followed doctor’s instructions and was able to recover, as have the vast majority of the sisters who had been ill.
“There are practically no sick people left in the monastery,” the nun said. “The sisters who are in the hospital are being gradually discharged.”
Mother Maria also noted that although Fr. Andrew Lemenoshok, the founder and spiritual father of the monastery, has several chronic illnesses, the coronavirus was never among them.
“He tested negative. He is a man of deep faith, a special person,” Mother Maria said.
Unfortunately, one nun, the 83-year-old Mother Maria (Kovalchuk), who lived at the monastery’s dependency in Vishnevka, died from complications from the virus. On the other hand, the 91-year-old Archpriest Vasily Lesko, who had been staying at the monastery, was able to fully recover from his coronavirus-related illness.
In addition to closing the monastery’s many churches to parishioners and pilgrims, the monastery also had to close its more than 20 workshops, without about 1,500 people having to be laid off. The monastery produces high-quality items in its crushed stone, stained glass, textile and felting, wooden souvenir, gilding, and mosaic workshops, among others.
The workshops are reopening today together with the rest of the monastery.
The monastery’s parishioners reached out during the time of quarantine, telling the sisterhood how much they miss them and the Divine services, and the feeling is mutual, says Mother Maria.
“We missed them at the monastery, too. We somehow realized in a new and deeper way how much we need each other, just need each other in a human way, and how we, monks and laypeople, spiritually complement and support each other,” she said.
In addition to the suffering of the sick nuns and of having to close the churches and workshops, the monastery also became a target on social networks, with the attacks mainly coming from a daily barrage of Facebook postings by a Belarusian LGBT activist and open supporter of the Ukrainian schismatics who lives in Germany.
“Even before the tests were confirmed, it was spread on the internet that we have one hundred coronavirus patients here—this is a lie,” Mother Maria said in an interview with tut.by.
“We did a lot of good, and now we have so much nastiness pouring down on us,” Fr. Andrew said. It is very painful to see how some people who once received much assistance from the monastery later turned on it, he said.
However, such suffering is a normal part of the life of an Orthodox Christian, the monastery’s spiritual father believes.
“I have to have a correct attitude towards it; as a Christian I have to say, ‘This is normal, this is all normal.’ I do not do it for people, but for God. This is my job as a doctor who treats,” Fr. Andrew reflected.