“The Sisters Want You to Expel the Spirit of Orthodoxy from Me”

How a Catholic abbess became an Orthodox nun

During Great Lent this year Sister Melania, a former Catholic abbess and the assistant to the abbess of a Carmelite convent, took monastic vows in one of the Orthodox convents of Eastern Poland. Her path to Orthodoxy was not easy, and it was full of unexpected turns. She agreed to share her complex and amazing story with readers of Pravoslavie.Ru.


My paternal ancestors came from Western Poland and were Catholics. My mother’s parents, members of the Polish nobility, owned land on the River Neman; today it is on the territory of Belarus. All my relatives who now live in Minsk are Orthodox, and I am very glad that there are not only Catholics, but also Orthodox Christians in my family!

Whenever our grandparents wanted to hide the topic of a conversation from their grandchildren, they switched to Russian. Our family was good. We were practicing Catholics and attended church, but I never thought that I would become a nun. I loved the Lord very much, but I could not have imagined that He would want to bring such a sinful person as me to a convent! I was twenty when a priest we knew, a Biblical scholar, who was going to an academic conference, invited me to go with him. I had the opportunity to spend two or three days in a convent, pray, and then return home. I agreed. This was my first visit to a convent. The sisters asked me very serious questions, but I thought that it was the same with everyone. On the third day I had an appointment with the abbess. She asked me the question: “When will you move here with us?” She didn’t ask if I wanted to join them—she asked when! And I decided that the Lord had shown me His will in this way. Nevertheless, I said that I was studying languages and literature at the university and my studies were not over yet, but they told me that I should leave the university and that they would send me to study elsewhere if necessary. All this sounded very serious, and then I answered: “I will come in a month.”

At home, my parents were dismayed by the news I had brought. Nevertheless, a month later I went to the convent and spent two years there. The sisters were deeply involved in charity work: they helped in hospitals, schools, traveled to Africa to feed starving people... At the end of my second year, the convent’s spiritual father blessed me to move to another convent with a closed community. According to him, it would be useful for me to live in seclusion. When I told the abbess about that, she sighed: “I was afraid of this conversation... I felt that you would be sent away.” So, out of obedience I ended up in a community of Carmelite sisters where I took monastic vows. In time I was elevated to the rank of abbess. At the convent I became the assistant to the abbess, instructing young sisters. I spent eighteen years in the Carmelite order.

Once a high-ranking Polish cleric came to our convent and suggested that we establish a community of Carmelite nuns in Usolie [most probably the town of Usolye-Sibirskoye.—Trans.] in the Irkutsk region. A large Polish diaspora once lived there—both departed and living Poles needed the prayers of their co-religionists. Nobody wanted to go there because nuns of this order spend their whole lives (with rare exceptions) within the walls of their convent—they don’t even go outside. To go to Siberia meant never to return to Poland. No wonder none of the sisters wanted such a lot for themselves. And I thought that apparently, I should go there. You need to know the land in which you are going to live, so, having received a blessing, I began to study Russian history and read about Orthodoxy. Russia has many saints of its own; so I decided I could pray to them and ask them for help.

I was recommended the Bratczyk Polish Orthodox publishing house. We began to correspond, and they helped me a great deal—I received a lot of Orthodox literature and icons. Whatever question I had, they always sent me a book or a booklet on the subject matter. What amazed me is that everything in these books was written simply and unsophisticatedly. At first this confused me. And when I stood to pray, all the intellectual delights disappeared from my mind—only these simple texts remained. I loved philosophical reading: I read both Dostoevsky and Florensky in translation, and complex literature gave me pleasure. But simple books make you different—the breath of the Holy Spirit blows in them.

Bratczyk’s publisher, Marek Yakimyuk, brought Russian people to our convent. Once Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov) came with him from the Russian city of Ivanovo with the sisters of an Orthodox convent. We talked through the bars. Fr. Ambrose asked us: “Sisters, do you ever get angry with each other?” And for a long time we discussed the passion of anger. Using simple examples, the elder explained to us how to deal with temptations and to love our neighbors. His words went straight into our hearts. Our sisters were sitting in tears—the Holy Spirit was so strong in his speeches. It was unearthly beauty! I was happy to see tears in the sisters’ eyes.

While reading Orthodox literature, I asked myself a question that I really wanted to find an answer to. I wrote a letter to Marek: “I am reading ancient elders and our contemporary Elder Paisios the Athonite simultaneously. They are separated by centuries, but I don’t feel any difference between them! Why?” Marek’s answer was the first step towards Orthodoxy for me. He wrote: “The Orthodox Church is the continuation of Patristic traditions. Everyone is alive in the Orthodox Church!” Then I asked my Catholic father-confessor: “What is it with us? Why are the ancient elders history for us and not reality?” He answered that we lived in a new world. “But listen! The Gospel was written 2,000 years ago—does that mean that it is outdated?” I argued. Nobody knew how to answer me. Then many people who were close turned away from me and I lost many friends. It was painful.

At that period, Fr. Ambrose and Nun Maria from Jerusalem supported me. Once the Russian Orthodox folk singer Zhanna Bichevskaya came to Poland to do some concerts; her tour was organized by Marek Yakimyuk. I knew and loved her songs, so I asked Marek to say hello to her. For some reason, he misunderstood me and thought that I was inviting Zhanna to us; After a while I got a call from her manager. I could not have imagined that such a singer would come to our convent! For us Poles, Bichevskaya, Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava are Russia embodied in songs. It turned out that the manager used to go to school with my mother, and my mother used to help her with her sick brother. I said that my mother was dead, and the manager was very upset. “We will come to your convent,” she decided.

Zhanna and I immediately became good friends and have been so to this day. Russian people are so nice! I feel them keenly, like family. Zhanna’s songs are filled with such feeling, such love for Russia! Zhanna is not a secular singer, she is a very religious person—her songs shone with Orthodoxy for me. Meetings with different Russians influenced me very much—such gifts of God were given to me.

The last year at the Carmelite convent was very hard for me. I could understand the sisters—they didn’t want me to be destroyed. Of course, it seemed strange to them that a Polish abbess wanted to convert to Orthodoxy and leave for Russia (in our minds, Orthodoxy is equal to Russia). In July 2010, there was a difficult situation at the convent between the abbess and the sisters, and even the Church authorities came. I helped them resolve the problem, everything ended well, and the mother-superior wanted me to have a respite. Despite the fact that the Carmelites are never allowed to go outside their convents, I was allowed to go for one day to another convent and venerate its shrines. I decided that I would go to an Orthodox convent—I really wanted to attend an Orthodox Liturgy for the first time in my life! I did not reveal this to the abbess—I was afraid that she would forbid me, and I would not be able to disobey. “I’ll tell you where I’ve been when I get back,” I said evasively. She understood where I was going, but kept silent.

Marek Yakimyuk agreed to meet me at the station and take me to the Church of St. Nicholas in Bialystok. Once I entered the church, tears started streaming from my eyes. At that moment, it became completely clear that Orthodoxy was my path. After Bialystok, we traveled to the Convent of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Zwierki. It was July 12, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Many years later I learned that St. Paisios the Athonite, my favorite Orthodox saint, is commemorated on the same day! I read all of his books that I could find, and deep down I considered him my father-confessor. We talked with the abbess, and she asked before I left: “When will you come see us again?” It was as if God’s voice had sounded. Once in my youth at a Catholic convent they had asked me in the same way: “When will you move here with us?” So now the Lord revealed His will. I knew that I didn’t need to look for a convent—the Lord had already given it to me.

After my return to the Carmelite convent the sisters met me antagonistically—the mother-superior couldn’t resist telling them where I had gone. I was locked up in a cell for several months... Only a few young sisters, whom I had earlier instructed, were my consolation. In December, I was sent to the Catholic community’s psychiatric clinic—the Carmelite sisters expected that they would testify to my mental incapacity. The examinations lasted four months, and I was taken to an authoritative priest who performed exorcisms and freed possessed people from demons. When we were alone in his office, the priest asked me:

“Why has my sister come to me?”

“I’ve been brought to you so you can free me from demonic possession.”

“Sister, I’m praying for you, but you are not possessed with an evil spirit. What else does the sister want?”

I burst into tears and confessed:

“They want you to expel the spirit of Orthodoxy from me.”

The priest was silent, only praying the rosary. After some time he said:

“The sister’s come to the wrong address. I completed my doctoral thesis on the Jesus Prayer; in my cell I am finishing up painting an icon of the Savior, ‘Not-Made-by-Hands’; and I am going to the Pochaev Lavra to study the experience of Orthodox monks in exorcism.”

Our conversation ended in me receiving the priest’s blessing to embrace Orthodoxy. I took it as a miracle of God.

I became friends with the Catholic hospital staff and we even came to love one another. They informed the Carmelite sisters that I was sane and there was no reason to keep me in the psychiatric clinic; that I had gone through all possible examinations and to declare me insane would be a lie, and they would not take such a sin upon their souls. Both the Carmelite sisters and priests came to the hospital and tried to persuade me to change my mind and not to convert to Orthodoxy. Every day there were meetings and conversations, but I repeated that I would not return to the convent. It was very hard, but I asked the Lord to give me strength for an hour, for a minute... And the Lord helped me hold on. Finally, my father and brother came and took me home.

After staying at home for rest for a week, on May 4 I left for the convent in Zwierki. I knew that Zhanna Bichevskaya, whom I loved, greatly venerates the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II. At first, I had a complex attitude towards him, and I prayed to the Tsar to help me. On July 16, I embraced Orthodoxy, and my first Communion was on July 17—the feast of the Royal Martyrs! When I learned about this, I was astonished. For several years I was a novice at a convent, then a ryasophore nun, and then during Great Lent of 2022 I was tonsured a nun. My path was thorny and difficult, but I am sure that God Himself guided me. Today I pray for love between Russia and Poland. The devil is sowing enmity between us, but I believe that the Lord will help overcome it!

Anna Berseneva-Shankevich
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



Essa qoura 11/9/2022 1:05 pm
Why would you share such a story? If some nuns in the Carmelite order did some mistakes or even this nun misunderstood them… what is the value of such story in this group, what would it bring to the reader? Just a genuine question? Why are the ancient elders history for us and not reality?” He answered that we lived in a new world.!!!!!???? I am orthodox but we all know that Catholic takes into account the ancient elders teachings and lives them? Just because the story says against that this does not mean it is true. I feel such story bring hating feeling against the Carmelite order and the Catholic Church which should not be the case for us Christian orthodox ???? Why would you share such a story? If some nuns or the abbess in the Carmelite order did some mistakes or even this nun might have misunderstood them… what is the value of such story in this group, what would it bring to the reader? Just a genuine question? “Why are the ancient elders history for us and not reality?” He answered that we lived in a new world.” !? I am orthodox but we all know that Catholic takes into account the ancient elders teachings and lives them? Just because the story says against that, this does not mean it is true. I feel such story and other stories in this website bring hatred feelings against the Carmelite order and the Catholic Church which should not be the case for us Christian orthodox ???? and also such stories are becoming blocking stone for others.
Panagiotis11/4/2022 1:11 am
To Sister Melania: God Bless You and Welcome. We love you. You are an inspiration for many. You are Noble like your ancestors. Glory be to our True God Jesus Christ.
Anoniem11/3/2022 7:21 am
“Today I pray for love between Russia and Poland.” Please also pray for unity among Orthodox churches and the end of wars. May your journey be blessed through the prayers of the Theotokos and of St Paisios.
Cathy White11/3/2022 2:53 am
It just breaks my heart that this nun was sent to a psychiatric clinic for 4 months and to an exorcist because she wanted to be Orthodox. Lord have mercy! It's not like she was renouncing Christ to embrace Judaism. Or wanted to become a Jehovah's Witness. I'm so glad she found Orthodoxy.
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