October has begun. It is a warm day, and the sky clears up by the afternoon. All is quiet and bright at the Women's Rehabilitation Center of St Elisabeth Convent. The golden autumn is at its best: wind sets the leaves of the beautiful birch trees in constant motion; the dahlia, marigold, and aster flowers are in full bloom; the fruit of this blessed season — the red apples, the deep blue grapes, and yellow and orange pumpkins — please the eye and the heart.
The almost ready new bright wooden church in honor of St Sergius stands surrounded by birch trees, the leaves of which have hardly been touched by the golden color. If you come closer, it looks like a big and noble knight in a fairytale palace.
There is no one outdoors. All sisters are having an akathist. I am met by cats who approach me trustfully, wishing to get to know me. “Pyatnashka” (dotted cat) purrs loudly and unceremoniously jumps into my car. In a couple of minutes, it is sitting on my shoulder.
A visit to the rehabilitation center for me is like visiting a sick person in a hospital. This time, it is easier because we already know each other. A hospital is not just a place where sick people have to stay: it is also the place where they are healed. It depends on care, a doctor's skill, and of course on the hospital itself, for it is said that even walls may help in healing. We are not going to talk about the social importance of this place and about the life stories of the women who now stay here. It is no secret for everyone that social rehabilitation in the center is a "life saver" for the drowning. Today, on this wonderful day, we are going to ask Nun Barbara (Atrasievich) how the construction of St Sergius Church is going on, how big the sisters' harvest this year is, and how they are going to celebrate the patron saint's day…
The builders plan to cover the church with a permanent roof by winter. What about the domes? "God willing, we will mount the domes before winter, too, it's hard to plan anything specific," Nun Barbara replies. "Right now, we are about to finish a parish house near the church. I cannot say anything about its future use — we might use it to provide accommodation for the priests who come to serve in the center, or we might use it as a guest house."
Currently, a priest visits the rehabilitation center every Tuesday. The divine services are held in the basement of the church. We hope that the Liturgy on the patron saint's day will be celebrated on the ground floor, provided the weather is fine."
There had been a church here several years ago — the parish church of v. Nialidavičy — but it had become defunct by the time our monastic sisters came here. The church was destroyed by fire on the eve of the Annunciation in 2011, precisely during the negotiations of the Convent and the authorities with regard to buying this land. The police said that the most probable reason was arson: someone had been well-informed enough to take all icons out of the church. Well, what can we say now?.. Let bygones be bygones. Only broken and besmirched bells remind of that accident now, and the sisters try not to remember evil. They have their own lives, their own homework to do. "We read an akathist daily: to St Nicholas the Wonderworker, St Mary of Egypt, St Pantheleimon, SS Cyril and Maria (parents of St Sergius of Radonezh), and the Inexhaustible Chalice icon of the Mother of God. We choose a time for it depending on the season and weather conditions. In the summer, when it was hot outdoors, we prayed the akathist at lunchtime, around 1p.m. As it is getting colder outdoors, we will change the timetable to fit into the rhythm of winter chores."
The simple farm living teaches to enjoy simple things. For instance, the sisters have gathered the harvest — that's great news. They've had a good harvest of tomatoes — amazing! They tried planting the sprouts for the first time, and everything went fine: the tomatoes grew well both in a greenhouse and in the open.
At present, there are twenty-eight women at the Centre. "We have had a hike in the number of people with mental disorders lately," Nun Barbara says. "Sometimes they are not even diagnosed yet but their behavior and condition tells that they need help. They wandered far and wide and at last they landed here at the Centre.
We have decided to assign one house, the smaller one, to mothers with children due to the renovation going on. Unfortunately, it can only accommodate three or four families. Right now, there are two mothers with their children and one woman expecting a baby in the center.
See that house over there? It is for the sisters who do not want to leave us anymore, who have become permanent residents of our Centre and help us actively. One room is for the less able: currently, it is home for one old lady who was discharged from a mental clinic (she cannot talk, and no one knows anything about her) and a woman who has memory problems. She has been here for about a year. When they brought her to our center, her daughter was very anxious because doctors had told her that her mother's condition would deteriorate, that she is to be treated with extreme caution, to the extent of not even moving furniture in her room. So another sister stayed with her all the time. Now this woman can move around the rehabilitation center on her own! We even transferred her from one house into another due to the renovation, and everything went fine. It seems to me that her condition has improved noticeably, although doctors predicted it would get worse. It is with God's help that this place manages to fulfil its purpose of social rehabilitation. Everything we planned during the project planning stage is currently being implemented, albeit on a small scale…"