Patron Saint's Day at the Men's Rehabilitation Center of St. Elisabeth Convent

Many people come to the Rehabilitation Center of St Elisabeth Convent in order to conquer their addictions. There are no locks or medical personnel — the usual attributes of rehabilitation centers — here but there is a church in honour of the Inexhaustible Chalice icon of the Mother of God, a farm, and a number of workshops. All the residents are treated as brothers, and the medicines used most often are repentance and the willingness to follow the commandments of one's conscience, Communion, prayer, and labour.

The Men's Rehabilitation Center is located near v. Lysaja Hara. I arrived here by bus in the morning. First of all, I saw some brothers queuing in front of a sister who was anointing them with holy oil. The sister's name was Helena, as it turned out. I took my place in the queue, approached the sister, and told her about my journalist's assignment.

— You'd better visit us in the evening, when we have an Akathist to the Inexhaustible Chalice icon of the Mother of God. The brothers read it together every Tuesday, — Sister Helena suggested.

Given that it was the beginning of a workday, I asked her to show me around the Center.

— Everyone who came here to stay are real heroes of faith, — Sister Helena tells me as we are walking towards the farm. — I can't think of any other name to describe them. A person who comes here by chance won't stay here even for a single day, or even for a single minute. These brothers are God's people whom the Lord brought and gathered here. They realise their sinfulness and their weaknesses and do their best to get saved. Certainly, they manage to do so with varying levels of success but I believe that thanks to God's mercy, everything will be fine. Father Andrew Lemeshonok, who is our spiritual father, prays for us, too.

I ask Sister Helena whether she has a personal story related to the Inexhaustible Chalice icon. It turns out that she does:

— My husband used to drink heavily but when I turned to the faith he started drinking even heavier and became more ill-tempered. He used to say, "If only you left for your Convent for good, at last! If only you let me free from your presence so that I could live as I please." I was praying to God and asking Him to settle down that situation and to transform my husband. I kept coming to the Convent and reading the Akathist to the Inexhaustible Chalice icon. I prayed to God while we lived together, and I continue to pray even now. I have been praying for thirty years now… He almost doesn't drink any longer because he has ended up in a difficult situation. He doesn't have a car or drinking buddies. He has become humbler. I'm sure that it was thanks to the Lord's power and our prayer. God never misses anything; His power is always active…

Finally, we are close to the farm. The brothers see that I take pictures of them, and they don't like it. I ask several men who are sitting at the door of the farm to share their stories but the majority of them leave immediately. No one wants to talk about their problems, past and present.

The remaining two men are Brother George and his friend. Brother George says that community and prayer are his ways of coping with the addiction. His friend nods approvingly. Finally, the brothers leave to do their jobs, and Sister Helena and I return to the repair shop. I am introduced to Brother Yury. He shows me the agricultural tools that he made with his colleague almost from metal scraps, and shares his testimony:

— I work in the garage. I used to work in a sawmill shop, then as an agronomist, then as a locksmith. When Kuzmich (the brothers have a habit of referring to each other by patronymics, not given names) moved closer to the Convent to do another job, I took his position here.

I have a disabled friend. We fought in Afghanistan together. I gave him an icon of the Mother of God the Inexhaustible Chalice with the Akathist. I had found this paper icon while I had still been working in the sawmill shop, so I had made a frame for it and had it put under a glass cover. When I came to visit my friend again after a while, I learned that he had quit drinking after receiving my gift. That's a miracle!

When I lived with my wife, I had terrible days from time to time… I would often travel to Moscow to do business. I assembled ventilation systems. It's a profitable business, I dare say. One day we finished work, and my boss told me to stay at home and wait for a new order. I had pockets full of money, so I went on a drinking spree… To be honest, I don't remember what was going on but someone called the police…

I met a white sister from St Elisabeth Convent and told her about it. She said, "If you go back to Moscow, you will be lost. Come to our Rehabilitation Center instead." That was how I found myself here. I'm happy, I have to admit! Because if I hadn't come to the rehab, I would've gotten jailed or just be dead now. I've spent almost five years here, not because I'm a holy man. I go out sometimes, I can drink some alcohol there but I'm always totally sober by the time I come back because I have to check in with the supervisors. After I report to them, I can continue to work. I don't drink as much as I used to five years ago. We go to the Akathist to the Inexhaustible Chalice icon every Tuesday, and a Divine Liturgy every Wednesday. That's the normal way of life. I praise God for this place! I'm truly blessed.

I saw a small pond, a chapel, and two men in the backyard of the repair shop. The men were fishing in this picturesque place. One of them, Brother Alexey, says that they have a day off today. He says that he works "with cows".

— We have cows, calves, and bulls, — he says. — It's hard work: we get up early and work till eight or nine o'clock in the evening. We do everything with our own hands. We go to church, pray and read the Psalter for two or three hours at a time! It's hard for me but I humble myself down. God gives me everything! Let's say someone invites me to drink but I reply that it's a devil's temptation and I don't need it. God has healed me, and I don't drink any longer. Lots of those who stay here do not drink alcohol and even quit smoking.

I turned to the Lord our God when I was in prison. There are churches and believers in prison, too. I became Orthodox and was baptised in 1994.

You know, it's all too easy to slip and fall into a muddy puddle. God saves and heals us. I've spent more than a year in the Rehabilitation Center. Father Andrew blessed me. I came to him in winter and fell on my knees. He said, "Get up! Will you go to the Rehab?" I responded, "Yes, I will."

During a communion, I go to the Chalice and find relief, as if I am born again…

May new brothers come to us! The Lord will empower them to get healed. God said, "I will release you and you will be really free." The Lord will see to it. We must obey him and be humble.

The Rehabilitation Center where most brothers stay is half a mile from the farm. It is surrounded by a forest. I suggested to Brother Vladimir, whom I met there, to take a walk around the rehab, relax, and talk. By the way, Brother Vladimir speaks in a soft and quiet voice, like a monk.

— It was here in the rehab that I came to realise that the Lord and his Mother love me and that I need nothing else. It was here that I quit drinking and smoking. Whatever I ask from the Mother of God and Jesus Christ, they give it to me. They help us and caress us so much! Glory to God for everything! I can only enjoy my life!

I see people willing to be closer to God and willing to become novices. I don't want to go back into the world, either. I would like to devote my life to God. I hope that there will be a monastery here. Metropolitan Pavel visited our Rehabilitation Center and told us that there would be a monastery here sometime…

Brother Alexander works in the Candle Workshop. He used to stay in the Rehabilitation Center but he lives in Minsk now. We arrived at the rehab in the same bus together. He is a kind-hearted, smiling, and easy-going person. He has gone through many hardships and cherishes every moment of his life.

— I took drugs for more than two decades. I was in coma for the first time when I was 13. I'm 37 now. I don't do drugs for two years. There was a point when I realised that I didn't have a normal way of dealing with my parents or with my family. I just couldn't see the way out. I was desperate all the time. I made countless attempts to take my life! To be honest, I was too tired of living…

I learned about this Rehabilitation Center from a friend. I came to see Father Andrew who blessed me to go here as soon as he saw me. I spent here more than a year and I stay in the world for the last eight months.

I've started my life from scratch. I just changed everything and did my best to forget my past. People go around looking for euphoria, for an outburst of emotions, while in fact, the best emotion is the feeling that you're alive! You can get a whole lot more from it. Think of what your life has given to you!

I spent a long time kneeling in front of the Inexhaustible Chalice icon and praying in all sincerity… I wish I changed my life earlier. I used to have a wife and three kids but I rarely see them now: my wife can't forgive me for my past offences.

Sometimes, I'm haunted by my thoughts but I know that even if I do it once, I'll keep doing it dozens of times. I know that if I shoot the drug, I'll lose the most valuable thing there is: the grace of God. I'll die. Do you know what a death of a junkie is like? It's hell. It's worse than anything! I've endured all that horror, and it's really terrible. That's why I would like to advise everyone against drugs: don't even try them!

Few people use drugs just for the sake of curiosity. Most people are looking for an artificial euphoria when they run into some real world problems. You can easily skip the drug and talk with your mum and have fun with your friends instead. You can go to church, take communion, and talk with people — all this while being sober and not having to find a way to get high. You can enjoy your life without drugs!

The Rehabilitation Center accepted me just as I was. I'm grateful to all brothers and nuns. Thanks to all those folks, the Lord really changed me. At least, He allowed me to see that I should be afraid of not receiving his forgiveness. Repentance in the last minute, like that of the good thief on the cross, is not for me… I really fear for my life, I don't want to end my life in an unknown place and to spend eternity in a mess similar to the one I used to live in here on earth…

It was a warm and sunny day in May. I was listening to the stories of all those people. It was hard to fathom the difficulties they had had to face in the course of their lives! However, I did not notice the burden of their past errors on their faces. I saw their smiling faces and thought, "You see, for them spring is not just a time of the year; it dwells in their souls, too! They did not see any escape but today, they testify how faith, prayer, and other people have helped them to find it."

I would like everyone who is distressed now to have this spring feeling after reading this text.

May 18, 2018
St. Elisabeth Convent