Personal Stories: A Life Changing Encounter with Orthodoxy

Apparently, many people, especially Orthodox Christians, have a lot to tell about how they got to know the Orthodox faith. Some people encountered Orthodoxy as babies, thanks to their parents; some received the Holy Baptism fully aware why their souls need it; yet others, by becoming Orthodox, managed not only to help their souls but also to radically change their lives, filling them with spiritual joy and deep meaning.
Daniel Hublet, a Belgian, got to know Orthodoxy thanks to the sisters of mercy of our St Elisabeth Convent, especially Sr Maria Fedchenko (who later became his godmother), as well as thanks to Nun Nymphodora and Nun Menodora, whom Daniel now considers his spiritual mothers.
He says, “I was born to a Christian family and always actively participated in the life of the Catholic Church. However, I would often come to Orthodox divine services, and this led me to discover an alternative way of prayer: veneration of icons, prostrations, Orthodox chants...
My mum is an artist and used to have a keen interest in Orthodox
icon painting. I began to visit Belarus in 2008 within the frameworks of the so-called Chernobyl program (rendering humanitarian aid to children). First of all, I was impressed by the hospitality of your people; we were warmly welcomed everywhere we went. Apart from that, I visited many Orthodox churches during my journeys. So I think I have had an invisible bond with Orthodoxy for a long time.”
Daniel met the sisters of mercy from our Convent in 2010 in Namur, Belgium, where they participated in a Christmas Fair. He recalls, “It was in December. I saw Orthodox icons on their stall. I came closer and very soon found myself engaged in active conversation with Sister Maria Fedchenko. I saw how difficult her obedience was: she had to stand outdoors all day long, in spite of the cold weather, and I wanted to help her somehow. Long after the Christmas Fair was over, we continued to talk with Sister Maria on Skype. I told her about my planned trip to Belarus, so, knowing my affection towards Orthodoxy, she invited me to visit St Elisabeth Convent. It was here in 2011 that I witnessed the Easter All-Night worship service for the first time.
Minsk, as I saw it, is a densely populated city with lots of tall buildings and bustling city life, even at night. However, when I visited St Elisabeth Convent, I realized that it is an island of tranquility and peace, a place of incredible grace in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city. When I first crossed the threshold of the church in honor of the Reigning icon, it was as if I found myself in heaven. All this indescribable beauty - the building, the icons, the frescoes, the mosaics - shone inconceivable light. It was here that I realized that the Mother of God opened her embrace to me. This feeling did not leave me even when I came back home. Our friendship with the sisters of St Elisabeth Convent continued, and I would provide accommodation for them during their visits to Belgium. They would tell me a lot about the Orthodox faith, and I learned lots of new and useful things for my soul. One of the sisters who stayed in my house brought serious changes into my life.”
Daniel and Olga Maskievich met in October 2012. Sister Olga received a blessing from Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok, the spiritual father of St Elisabeth Convent, for her first obedience in Belgium and France. Olga says, “I have been a member of the Sisterhood for over fifteen years. I had been married before I met Daniel but my first marriage ended in divorce. I hoped that the Lord would send me a good husband and that we would have mutual understanding and a happy family. Father Andrew knew that I was getting desperate over being lonely for so long. Father Andrew blessed me to go to Belgium with the sisters and help them. He also told me about Daniel and advised me to get to know him. I did not expect that, and, frankly speaking, I was afraid that I might fall in love with him because I would have to change everything in my life and move to Belgium. Things went precisely that way. Besides, Nun Rufina also prayed for me to have a husband and a family with the blessing of Father Andrew. I believe that her prayer helped me a lot.”

Daniel had also been married and had three children, two of them adopted. Daniel recalls, “It happened that my wife and I lost touch and could no longer understand one another; we had different opinions, but it was me who suggested the divorce. I felt guilty and somewhat burdened by this fact. The Sacrament of Matrimony in the Catholic Church is administered only once, one cannot be married twice. I was left with many unanswered questions after my divorce. I discussed them with Nun Nymphodora and Father Andrew (I was introduced to him when I visited your Convent). As I opened up my soul to them, I realized that the Orthodox faith made it possible to be forgiven by the Lord even for those who committed the sin of divorce, for God’s mercy is boundless and He can forgive everything, if one truly repents and is willing to start a new righteous life.

I always helped the sisters when they came to Belgium. Nun Nymphodora would tell me more and more about the Orthodoxy, and eventually I felt more and more inclined to become Orthodox. Nevertheless, I felt that I did not deserve it and could not embrace it, could not enter this amazing and spiritually abundant Orthodox life. I was afraid to take this step. When the Christmas Fair in Belgium was over in January 2012, Nun Nymphodora and other sisters asked me if I wanted to become Orthodox. They told me, “You are so close, you are so interested, and you know so much about our religion.” I replied that I was not ready but I hoped to be ready by the end of the year 2012. Nun Nymphodora said, “You never know what the Lord has in stock for us, so you shouldn’t postpone the decision and you shouldn’t be so terrified. Come to our Convent for the Easter, it’s the best time to be baptized.” It took me four months to get ready for this. I was thinking hard but finally, I made up my mind. Father Andrew baptized me in St Elisabeth Convent, in the church in honour of the Holy Royal Martyrs, on the Holy Saturday, the Easter Eve, and Sister Maria Fedchenko became my godmother.

After baptism, I felt that the heaven’s door opened for me; I felt so powerful, I felt so loved by everyone around me, by all who were present at my baptism. I realized that this was the step I had had to take long before. Stunning peace dawned on my soul, I became unusually calm and resolute, it was a miracle for me. My new life began. When I already was Orthodox, I got to know Olga, and we got married here, in the Church in honor of the Reigning icon of the Mother of God, on September 8, 2013, the feast day of Our Lady of Vladimir. It was no accident, for it was this image of the Theotokos I prayed in front of prior to my becoming Orthodox; I prayed in front of this icon both at home and in a church in Belgium. After my baptism, I was asking the Lord to grant me the joy of meeting an Orthodox woman who would like to share her faith and her life with me. It is very difficult in Belgium because there are so few Orthodox churches there. However, the Lord listened to my prayer.”
Daniel has many friends and acquaintances, many of whom were surprised by his decision but, he admits, they did not abandon him for this. When he became Orthodox, Daniel did not lose any of his Catholic friends; his mother was happy because she realized that her son finally found what he had been looking for all those years. Before he made up his mind to become Orthodox, Daniel asked for her blessing, saying, “You baptized me in the Catholic Church but I would like to ask you for a blessing to become Orthodox. We believe in one God, it’s just that I want to take a different path to Him.” She replied, “I know, this is your path. Go ahead.”
Currently, Daniel and Olga live in Graide, a village near Namur. Olga carries on her obedience in the Convent and helps the sisters during their trips to France and Belgium. Daniel works in Mont-Godinne hospital. Daniel’s children and other family members warmly welcomed Olga, and her son from her first marriage decided to remain in Belarus. “He is grown up, twenty-four already,” Olga says, “He prefers to live in his homeland. We come to Belarus from time to time in order to visit our relatives and friends, as well as to visit St Elisabeth Convent and see all who pray for us, who have supported and taught us.

What can we — weak and sinful people who had to suffer from loneliness and received a happy family as a gift from God — say in the end? Praise the Lord for everything, for this hard path that led us to this wonderful encounter! May the Lord save everyone who prayed for us: Father Andrew, the nuns, the sisters and the brothers, our friends and relatives, and other people, and also those who were jealous and wanted us evil because it was also beneficial for our salvation. During this bright Easter season, we would like first of all to wish everybody to have faith: believe in your dreams and in goodness, and obey your spiritual father. God has everything you need, and He can give it to you, and He gives each person His best. Call upon the Lord as your loving father and He will always help you. We wish you faith, love, hope, beauty, and Easter joy in your souls and in your lives.”
Story by Helena Gulidova

CONVERSATION

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