House of Mercy in Minsk, a vivid example of social service of the Church

Interview with Archpriest Feodor Povny

Interview with Rector of the Church of All Saints in Minsk,
head of the House of Mercy,
archpriest Feodor Povny

The interview was broadcast on the radio channel of Sretensky Monastery "Church and the World" on 29th June 2003.

Archpriest Feodor Povny Archpriest Feodor Povny

- Father Feodor, how does the House of Mercy exist today, what projects are being implemented? How is the House of Mercy functioning and serving people?

- Through the Lord’s mercy a lot has been done within the current year but I always side with the principle: only amateurs make fuss. And since we conceived a serious project, architecturally- and functionally-wise, naturally the approach to all questions - those being considered and those being realized - is commensurately serious. Unfortunately, only one year later, by Easter, we got the official status of the House of Mercy. Through the whole year the Charter was being elaborated and adjusted to the Republic’s legislation - because the experience of such a social centre , not only in the framework of the Orthodox Church but, first and foremost within the state - is the first of such scale.

From the first view all this is actively and sincerely welcomed but when it comes to concrete papers and charter provisions it creates certain cautiousness because in this situation the Church turned out to be ahead of many processes, even of that of the state construction. You know that His Holiness Patriarch gave a dentist’s cabinet as a gift. For 8 months we were looking for a specialist who would work properly in these chairs. Senior lecturers, doctors of sciences came and refused because the equipment itself is of very high level and it is highly effective in work. Now we found the specialists, the dentist’s cabinet is working. During this period on the territory of the House of Mercy the radiation laboratory created by our parish started in full swing. Why did we make accent on this laboratory? Because Belorus got 75% of only territorial exposure of the Chernobyl accident. And today on the territories officially admitted as X-radiated, exposed to increased X-Ray radiation, 500 thousand of children are living. Thanks to the laboratory during this year we checked 160 thousand of children. The institute of the radiation security elaborated pectin - additive made of apple wastes, it removes radionuclides from organism - I mean not only we check the children and register the exposed ones but render real help. Seminars for inhabitants of Chernobyl zones have begun: how to treat the foodstuff, how to be attentive towards the meat of wild animals and so on and so forth - as the detectors show maximum of X-radiation in zones where people eat meat of wild animals. Unfortunately, some children are simply "shining", sometimes it results in developing moronity. These are horrible things therefore we paid our special attention to this. And this laboratory is functioning.

Quite natural for us is the life of the Sunday school - this year as before more than 200 children are attending it. We actually opened several cabinets: for ear prosthetic appliances, for selection of the ear appliances, for curing ophthalmic diseases. Also the cabinet for curing fungous diseases started its work. The massage cabinet is working, we acquired medical equipment permitting to stretch the spine - "the-day-after-tomorrow" equipment for physical therapy. Already the lab that will permit us to disinfect all instruments arrived. During the past visit to Moscow we came to an agreement that the House of Mercy would get the bath with under-water massage. We are waiting for the dentist’s microscope to arrive shortly. All this means we are having the best dentist’s equipment all over the Republic.

The hotel started working and it is already bringing its fruit, not only within the House of Mercy. For us organizing different social, church and cultural events has become normal.

This year we have hold the Orthodox singing festival. Listening of all choirs took place in the greenhouse of the House of Mercy. We held the meeting of the clergy of Minsk Diocese attended by more than three hundred of priests, also held the meeting of the Synod of the Belorussian Orthodox Church. Here the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir was staying during his official visit to Belorussia as well as the primate of the Polish Orthodox Church. Naturally, the canteen has become the place where employees and our supporters eat, we offer free food for everybody. We already have first visitors, first inhabitants, I mean.

The House of Mercy is not conceived like the house for the aged, like an asylum, in the worst sense of the word. It is conceived like a rehabilitation center where maximum assistance is rendered to people who will be not only in the House of Mercy itself but outside the House as well. Even those who will live in the House will get there not only physical support but spiritual, intellectual, moral and all kind of other support.

We are having a boy here who lost his arms and legs while protecting two boys by his own body from the blast. Today he found himself in the outskirts of life, society, and may be it is thanks to the House of Mercy that he is returning today to life. When I met him I told him "Remember Alyosha, I will never treat you as disabled. You will be equal to others for me and I will have equal requirements towards you, but I will do the only thing for you: offer different conditions". It looks like we succeeded in this and now our task is to teach him so that he would have certain possibilities, that he would acquire appropriate skills to be able to work in our human society. Because, regretfully, these questions are not on the list of problems that would be actively solved today in our society towards people with physical faults. Then we start slowly, step by step, according to our possibilities and forces to fill cabinet by cabinet, room by room with life.

We do not succeed so fast in everything as we would like to - as the House is living today on the donations of the parishioners. We are putting forth the task to actively develop our programs that could help us in supporting social initiatives necessary for the Church to such a big extent.

I see another task of the House today - to help our clergy. No matter how strange it sounds but today one of the most socially vulnerable straits in our society is our clergy. And here we want to show the experience of care about our fathers, their families - as not only spirit that they have but also flesh and there are health and other problems. That is why there should be constant care, and from the Church as well.

This is a general description of the life of the House today. In the hall of the House we make festive wedding parties after the church ceremony of wedding. In the parish itself we have already 12 couples, I mean 12 couples of young people from our parish married and we already have 7 as I call them "parish" children. So, the life is in its full swing not saying of the mass feasts that we hold. Our perspective is the pending opening of X-Ray dentist’s cabinet, opening of the ophthalmic surgery. Our task is not to create something parallel to the traditional medicine or to work in fields where serious research works already exist but we want to make what is not fully developed or does not exist here at all but what is badly needed.

The most important is that all our initiatives would be in accordance with the canonical rules of the Church because today non-traditional medicine is striving to penetrate our life very aggressively. There are even such people who try to apply for the jobs in the House but thanks to God we recognize them fast and "separate tares from the wheat".

During the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy to Belorussia in May 2002. Photo: Pravoslavie.Ru During the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy to Belorussia in May 2002. Photo: Pravoslavie.Ru

During the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy to Belorussia in May 2002.
Photo: Pravoslavie.Ru

- Father Feodor, such a House apparently needs substantial financial support for social programs, how do you manage to survive in the present circumstances?

- We try to use all possibilities. The first step to the real support of the House is making a Foundation at the initiative of Minsk municipal Executive Committee and our parish, donating Foundation that must accumulate funds for developing our programs and initiatives. Unfortunately there are sad aspects - land tax, quite unexpected for us. Thanks to God this tax seems to get a setback. Imagine - it turned out that for this stretch of land we had to pay antedate 114 million of Belorussian roubles. It equivalents to more than 50 thousand dollars which is unreal for us. There is quite an objective contradiction - how can I help others if I can’t fulfill my obligations before the state when it levies me with such a burden. I spoke very openly that such practice was not even used in Stalin time. But now, when it became known to the head of the state such an immature law started a setback - because it touched not only the House of Mercy but all other parishes as well. But we were exposed first and foremost because we have large lands.

- Father Feodor, could you tell about your life: how you came to the church, how you became a priest. I know that your mother died in an accident, how did it influence your spiritual way, can you please tell about it.

- I was born and grown up in the priest’s family that is why from my childhood my future was clear for me to a certain extent. But the most important and I think striking impression from my childhood is that we were never made to follow the faith, we always saw the example of the life in faith. It was the best form of up-bringing.

My mother died dramatically. It happened in 1994 in the town of Gomel when unknown people burst into the house at night and started to torture my parents. The first phrase was: "Well, did you do righteous deeds for people? Now you will bear responsibility for this!". It is the most horrible form of mockery, miraculously father survived but mother was strangled which was testified by the medical expertise. I can say, from the Christian point of view she is a martyr for the faith because she never stopped praying. My father took the veil one year later. Today he is archimandrite Theodosy, he is an elder of Zhirovitsy monastery and Minsk spiritual schools. For us he is a mine of experience that can not be found in books. I tell to my daughter and to those who come to me with questions: "We may have big knowledge, be much cleverer than our parents but we will always miss the most important thing: their experience of life."

As to my decision to devote my life to pastoral work, to the service to God, this decision did not come in one day, it grew mature gradually. After school I entered the University of Arts. After the University I served in the army. And, I can say, the army gave me the final decision of what I want and where I will go further. Therefore I am grateful to the army, those officers who were next to me. In this sense I recommend to our young people who try to make important steps in their lives to serve in the army despite everything. It is a school of true men and school of taking important decisions. Then was the Holy Trinity Lavra, Moscow Spiritual Schools. Gradually I started to combine studies with working in the Department of External Church relations. And, naturally I was involved in many questions of the activity of the department. At that time the department was headed by Vladyka Philarete. My duty was to be his personal secretary. Then I became a priest, for eight months I was serving as a priest of Minsk Holy Spirit Cathedral. Afterwards - by the decision of Synod - I was serving during eight years in the church-monument of the Russian glory of the city of Leipzig in Germany.

There the idea of the social centre became mature. That was a period of perestroika, time of fast political, economic, social changes and processes. Naturally, I could not stay aside, I saw the programs being made and work being organized for assistance to people in the states, spiritually emptied. I conceived the idea of construction of the House of Mercy in Minsk.

There was a concrete moment when it was finally formed into a decision. When we were busy with bringing children for healing and rehabilitation, it was organized together with the central hospital of the western group of troops in Germany, in a place called Belitz located near Berlin, on the base of our main hospital. There we brought children from Belorussia every month. Usually 35-40 children came. Once, a mother talked the doctor into indicating the wrong, understated diagnosis. It was impossible to take that child anywhere, she had zero immunity. Nevertheless, it was a girl, she was brought. And she died. She didn’t even die in a military hospital but in a usual clinic in Berlin. It was, of course, a dramatic moment. Plus, on the eve of that event, I was in Minsk, I visited one of the houses for elders and saw an awful situation with the elder people, with war veterans, with those who gave life for new generations, who preserved our country. They didn’t only turn out to be thrown off the board of the history, life, but also despised. Thus, in the alloy of such impressions - of that dead girl, of what I saw in the house for elders, I took the decision that I must make something at home that would change the attitude towards people. So that we would not seek help somewhere in Europe or other countries but would find it at home: necessary conditions, good level of medical care. This is how the House of Mercy turned to be, and it was converted from the idea into reality.

- Father Feodor, at our website a lot of questions are addressed from people who came across with grief, suffering in their lives. You have passed through the deepest grief, your mother died tragically. How have you endured this grief, how should a Christian meet sufferings sent to him by God?

- You know, hadn’t the faith existed, hadn’t there been the real knowledge of the existence of the other world and not only talks about it, I think I could have gone mad because of the injustice that took place. She didn’t make any harm to anybody. I know our mother, she never offended a bird. And, when it happened, and it happened very interestingly, in the sense that I was that night at a liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Some unknown force led me to the Calvary. I was standing by the Cross praying for my parents and, I didn’t know why, I was tearing. In the morning, when the liturgy was already over, after confession, I came back again to the Sepulchre of the Lord. We were leaving the Jerusalem Temple and on the myrhh stone two flowers were lying. And one nun, I remember it very distinctly, says to me: "Father, take those two flowers, you will need them".

Quite unusual circumstances, and then there was a call from Minsk and information about what had happened and that there was no mother any more, that she died or was killed, we didn’t know the details. But Metropolitan Philarete of Minsk gave an order to serve the panikhide in the church, in our mission. The next night we ordered liturgy in the Calvary about the repose of her soul. Vladyka said very interesting words: "Today we are remembering the prophetess Anna but will be praying for the martyr Maria".

Then I came to Gomel, one day passed, it was very hot, it was a violent death. Then, at the order of Vladyka, we brought her to Zhirovitsy, and this is more than 500 km away, there again the liturgy was served, she was buried at the monastery cemetery. Well, nobody smelled any corps decay, though three days passed, it was hot and it was a violent death. I mean, that gave some internal support, though in the beginning it was very bitter in a human sense, especially to our father who was tortured, beaten but remained alive through the mercy of God.

Very often we forget the most important thing - death, no matter what death, is always nativity into the eternity. And when you start praying you feel the real spiritual links with the dead. It is difficult to explain in words, one can live it and acquire the spiritual experience that attains the assurance in it. That is why I do not only wish figuratively, but from my own experience, I can say the only thing to those who are overwhelmed with grief, who can not calm down about the dead - prayer should take the prime place in such circumstances. Prayer about the deceased soul. Because our deceased relatives need this first and foremost. And, praying for them, we help them a lot.

His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, President of Belorussia Alexander Lukashenko, and Fr. Feodor on the porch of the house of Mercy His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, President of Belorussia Alexander Lukashenko, and Fr. Feodor on the porch of the house of Mercy

His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, President of Belorussia Alexander Lukashenko, and Fr. Feodor on the porch of the house of Mercy

- What most remarkable events took place in the Belorussian Orthodox Church recently?

- I would say the most remarkable is that the foot of the Saint Apostle Andrew-the-First-called stepped onto the Belorussian soil. The flock of people flowing day and night to the relics, endless in true sense of the word, testify the vivid faith of our Belorussian people. I was lucky to follow relics - to fly to Veliky Novgorod to pick them up, then to follow with them to Moscow, and when we approached Minsk flying from Novgorod we flew around the whole city over the ring road at the height of 400 m. To say, we blessed the whole city with the saint foot of Apostle Andrew. The fact that this great holy relic visited Belorussia is a remarkable, particular event indeed.

Archpriest Feodor Povny was interviewed by Dmitry Safonov
June 30, 2003


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