THE OPPORTUNITY TO ATTEND LITURGIES IN THE BOARDING HOME IS THE REASON TO GO ON WITH MY LIFE

An interview with Nun Anastasia (Lashuk) 
Nun Anastasia has been visiting a boarding home for children with special needs for many years. Not long ago, a church in honour of St Nectarios of Aegina was opened here. Today we talk with her about this modest and humble servant of God and whether it is possible nowadays to lead a life that is as pure and holy as his life used to be.
Nun Anastasia, can you tell us why did they choose St Nectarios of Aegina as the patron saint of the church in the boarding home?
Nun Martha (Matveyeva), who is the sister in charge there, had a very special devotion to this saint. She had the intention to pray to him for the kids. Father Andrew Lemeshonok, the spiritual father of our Convent, gave his blessing, and the sisters began reading an akathist to St Nectarios of Aegina. Certainly, we dreamed of having a church in the boarding home… We had to overcome a lot of temptations and hardships for it to finally appear on the territory of the boarding home.
People who suffer from severe and even incurable physical illnesses call upon St Nectarios in their prayers. Many of them are indeed miraculously healed. This is why we believe that our children are under special prayerful protection of this saint.
How long have you been visiting the boarding home? Maybe you remember how you felt when you first met these children?
Learn more about the boarding home
I have had this obedience for seven years already. My first impression was a mixture of fear and pity towards the children. It is hard to express my feelings with words. You know, it is a mighty blow to get in contact with someone else's pain, especially when you see many bedridden children who have deformed legs and arms and have many other illnesses as well… All this turns something inside me upside down. Later, after some time, you are able to see their eyes and their lively souls that love God. Even though some of the children cannot talk, they understand everything and they can love!
What is the most difficult for you in this obedience?
The most difficult thing is not to spare myself.
Is there any “selection process” that the sisters who wish to visit the boarding home have to pass?
It seems to me that everyone has this chance. Willingness is crucial. At first, a new sister does not go to the boarding home alone. The sister in charge accompanies her and instructs her in the rules. Recently, for instance, a new requirement has been that we have to receive a special approval of the director of the boarding home. Anyway, it is God who looks into the person's heart and sees her intentions.
Children do not require much. They only need attention and love…


Do you have joyful memories related to the boarding home?

Every time I go there I am full of joy. This joy does not always find its expression in my mood. It is just that you become a different person after spending time with the children — a more patient and kind one. I am happy when the children ask me to take them to church, when they sing along during the Liturgy and akathists to the best of their abilities, when I see their eyes during communion! I am happy simply to know that the children wait for me. For me, the opportunity to attend Liturgies in the boarding home is the reason to go on with my life.

What is the attitude of the staff towards your ministry in the boardinghome?
We have sisters who visit the boarding home often and have talks with the staff. It is their effort and their prayers that the attitude of the staff depends on. The members of staff often come to help us when we gather the children to church or when a priest gives communion to the children who cannot leave the unit. Of course, we are a source of additional trouble in their hard work! However, praise God, many of them see how much the participation in church life means to the children.
What changed in the boarding home after the church was built and active church life began?

Children change, and the staff also change. It is especially clear to those who has visited the boarding home for a long time. Some children were previously unable to take communion: although they could eat bread and drink water, they could not take communion. Then little by little, a sister would give them Epiphany water and prosphora bread, and anoint them with holy oil… So gradually the child would start to take communion and open his/her mouth to receive it.
Do you feel the support of the heavenly patron of this church, St Nectarios of Aegina?
Yes, we do. The impossible is made possible, like, for example, the construction of the church!
St Nectarios of Aegina

We read in the biography of St Nectarios that, as a child, he could pray to God sincerely and with a simple heart. The children who stay in the boarding home are said to also be able to pray in such a way, simply and doubtlessly. Is it true? Generally, can we speak of these children leading a spiritual life, having a relationship with the Creator, consciously taking part in the Sacraments?
Yes, it is them who we can learn faith in God and prayer from. When you look at them during a service or after communion in the unit, you see the direct connection of their souls with God. You do not need any other miracles to bolster your faith. You simply have to look at the children! Those who can talk tell that they can see Angels in the church, and when the Chalice is being carried out of the sanctuary, they say, “Hush! God is coming!”

Nun Anastasia, let us turn to St Nectarios himself. Can we imitate the humility of this amazing servant of God today? For example, he is known to fast very strictly in some cases when his pupils at the Theology School of Athens did something wrong. Have you witnessed similar examples among our contemporaries?
Saint Nectarios is practically our contemporary so it must be possible to live like him even today. There are people among us who undertake similar things. The Church is alive, and God acts within the people even up to now! You cannot do anything on your own but God can do everything.
There is another interesting story from the life of this saint: a person responsible for cleaning up in the Theology School fell ill one day. He was very worried that they would fire him… However, when he got back to work several weeks later, he found out that someone had been doing his job for him all that time! It turned out that His Grace had secretly done the cleaning so that they would not fire the ill man. Do you think we can live with such Gospel-like simplicity?
Of course. For instance, we can begin with little things: not refuse to help when asked; do something for a sister or a brother. I remember working together with Sister Tatiana Masalovič who reposed three years ago. Whenever she saw that someone faces difficulties or is careless about their obedience, she would do that part of the job herself. Though, honestly, those people both could and were to do all that without any help. She was just patiently waiting when a person would grow to understand it.
Saint Nectarios was slandered one day. He did not lose heart and went on to carry his cross with humility. Do you think that such behaviour is possible nowadays?
This is God's victory in a person's heart. One has to fight to make this victory happen. It seems to me that it is currently more than I can handle. By the way, Sister Tatiana had to experience the pain of libel and misunderstanding, too. I believe that she was able to cope with it due to her skill of walking before God's Face.
His Grace celebrated services in the monastery as if he were an ordinary priest. His pontifical vestment hung near the icon of the Mother of God. St Nectarios led a very humble life and he died in a hospital ward for the poor… He truly was a monk who cast away all the goods of this world. Is it really that hard for the monastics to renounce amenities and comfort (even within the walls of a monastery), and is it possible to achieve the blissful state of Saint Nectarios of Aegina?
It is difficult to renounce all that: We still need consolation for the soul. I think that each step towards God is hard. One is heavily dependent on everything that surrounds her. It seems to me that we should look for God and labour in the spirit, and then our environment will not matter that much to us. Now I would like to learn to thank the Lord for everything I have… Nevertheless, all people are different. Recalling Sister Tatiana again, I'd say that life conditions did not matter to her. It must have been the reason that God gave her everything, both at home and in her obedience. It must be noted that she always shared everything she had with others. Some people put all their effort in building luxury houses here on earth but Sister Tatiana used to say that we ought to care about building our home in the Heaven. We are but guests on this earth…



Interviewed by Natalia Klimova

CONVERSATION

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