St Elisabeth Convent, Belarus

St. Elisabeth Convent, Minsk, Belarus

Wednesday, 18th September 2019. Today we had a visit at Mass from Sister Veronica from the convent, which gave parishioners an opportunity to view some of the artefacts produced in their various workshops.

The following gives a little detail about the convent, and its creation in 1994.

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Belarus declared independence from Russia in August 1991 while communism was collapsing in Russia. Various struggles took place both before and afterwards in Russia.

The Communist regime’s record of treating prisoners, the mentally ill and others who were economically unproductive people in society was a black mark. In Minsk this resulted in a huge psychiatric hospital in Minsk that deals with every kind of mental illness, both long term and short, for people of every age.

The fall of Communism opened the possibility for the Church to to enter this world of boredom and suffering. A suggestion was made of founding a sisterhood like the one the Grand Duchess Elizabeth opened in Russia before the 1917 Revolution, a challenge was set given no money, no land, no influence, no means of achieving this holy ambition. Consultation with a staretz blessed such a project, gave the leader FrAdrei, just three roubles – a negligible amount, as the start of a fund to finance the foundation of the sisterhood.

The sisterhood began in 1994 and their centre was the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul, and they started to visit the National Psychiatric Hospital in a systematic way, concentrating on the spiritual and mental progress of the patients who were of all ages and many different forms of mental illness and, with some, brain damage and lack of development.

The sisters came from many walks of life and were of different ages. Some were married; some held responsible jobs; some were university students who gave up university in answer to the Call. Some were full time, and some were part time, according to their different commitments. All found in Father Andrei a wise and effective spiritual father. They received permission from the hospital authorities to build a “small church” in the hospital grounds. No one predicted that by 2008 there would be a monastery with four very beautiful churches.

To finance their work the sisters begged in the street, in the metro stations and in other places where people meet together. They were called “white sisters” or even “white nuns” because of their white pinafores and veils. They look a little bit like nurses of the 1st World War or “active” Catholic sisters.

1999 is the next year of significance for the project. Some of the white sisters took the monastic habit. This involved Father Andrei in a far greater commitment. In the Orthodox Church, the spiritual father makes all major decisions relating to the spiritual life of the community and of the individual nun; and to be able to do this he had to see each one individually at least once a week as well as to preside over a community meeting every week and another with white sisters (Sisters of Mercy) and black sisters. Staring with about twenty nuns in 1999, it has received ten to fifteen new people every year and is now one hundred and one sisters, including around twenty novices.

Although he is not the only priest working in the St Elizabeth Community’s various projects, he does concern himself with the spiritual welfare of all those with whom the Community comes in contact. There is the Farm and two homes for men and one for women. Ex- prisoners, drug addicts and alcoholics have a weekly opportunity for confession and communion at a Divine Liturgy which, at least when I was there, he celebrated. It is clear from interviews in a documentary film that the Community has published that people who had lived on the edges of society have found God here.


Father Andrei also celebrates Mass in the huge hospital next to the monastery. In one part, there is a room that has been turned into a chapel. One sector of the room, at right angles to the corner, has been constructed into a sanctuary with an iconastasis. Sisters, black and white, form the choir, so that the Divine Liturgy is both solemn and intimate at the same time.

Even more intimate was the Divine Liturgy celebrated in another part of the hospital, where they celebrated in a room normally used as a consulting room. There was no iconastasis; a temporary altar was used; the icons of Christ and the Mother of God were on little tables on either side behind the altar; and, in the corner, on top of a table, was a fairly large triptych of wood, with rows of icons

In summary, the size of this project which, besides the nuns and white sisters, provides rehabilitation centres, boarding homes for disabled and gives work to around two thousand people in their many workshops producing religious artefacts. Beyond these there are still further ambitious plans to be fulfilled.

An introduction to Fr David Bird, OSB, author… … , monk of Belmont Abbey. Text extracted from his Blog … … .

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Illustrations are of some Icons in Wood and Ceramics, produced in the Convent’s own workshops. Items are available from their on line catalogue.

For further details about St. Elisabeth Convent, Minsk, Belarusclick here … …

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{ upd 27 Sep 19 }

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