Andrei Lemeshonok and the CORONA PANDEMIC April 2020
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BY 2020.05.07 “This is an ordeal”. What happened at St Elisabeth Convent, which was Closed for Quarantine
Andrei Lemeshonok and the Covid Outbreak at the Monastery Easter 2020

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

Do not believe the fakes about the mass infection with coronavirus in our monastery!

Until mid-May, St. Elisabeth Monastery, one of the largest Orthodox monasteries in Belarus, is closed to believers. The sanitary service ordered to quarantine – today, almost half of the sisters have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Now they sit in cells and only go out for short walks. Confessor Archpriest Andrei Lemeshonok told what he thinks about the problem of coronavirus, how the monastery lives in quarantine, and why on Easter, he did not call to pray at home and not come to church.

“The nuns were diagnosed with the virus a week after Easter”

# Father Andrey, until mid-May, the monastery is closed for believers. Tell us how you live in quarantine.

– The monastery is the people who live here, pray, and work. Of course, a huge field of our social activity has been suspended. We went to the sick in hospitals and boarding schools, and now everything is closed for quarantine. This is a disaster for us because sick people really need us. They need help, kind eyes, and a kind word. Once Father Nikolai Guryanov said: “For the prayers of the sick, you will be saved.” The sick, and the homeless, who are not needed by anyone, are a huge spiritual capital for us. This miracle is very difficult for many people to understand.

We have 200 people living in the backyards, often sick people who have nowhere to go. For me, it was a very important task – to help people get out of an addicted state, to start a full life. For this, you need not drink, do not inject. You need to work. 

At the male compound, which has been working for 20 years, everything has already been created, at the female one is still in its infancy. We have a nun who goes to women’s colonies. Women are very vulnerable. After serving time, they end up in the same companies and return to the colony. It is very important for us to create an opportunity for a person to start another life. But for a person to improve, it takes years because people break down anyway. It would seem that a person lives, everything is in order, and then – once – and washed down, you forgive him – one, two, ten, because you still need to believe in the good.

We did a lot of good things, and now so much nastiness is pouring on us (we are talking about criticism on the Internet of the activities of the monastery and Father Andrey. – TUT.BY note). It hurts me a lot because people write to whom I helped a lot when they were in critical situations. For years they came to me for confession, and now they write: “When will Lemeshonka be jailed?” I have to feel right about it, as a Christian, I have to say, “This is normal, this is all normal.” I do not do for people but for God. This is my job as a doctor who heals.

# I have not seen the comments “let him be jailed,” but many are really outraged by your position and statements about the coronavirus as if this is a far-fetched problem.

There is a problem. People in the church have always been sick and dying. This is not a panacea that a person came to the temple, which means he will not get sick and will not die. But a person comes to church for something completely different – for help. Our monastery is surrounded by a lot of hospitals. There are also patients with open tuberculosis, Father Andrei Malakhovsky has been going there for 15 years. The coronavirus is a small external add-on. Basically, every spring, our sisters get sick a lot.

# I understand correctly that the monastery knew that the nuns had a coronavirus, but the Easter services were not canceled.

Nobody has said anything at the Easter service yet. There were several people who got sick. Father Vasily is 93 years old, but he is not our priest. He just lives in a monastery every winter, he comes from Polesie, but he has already recovered. And there was a nun who spent more than six months in the hospital in Glubokoye, and when the department began to disband, she was brought here, there, in the hospital, she became infected. She, too, has already recovered.

Nun Maria Yakovleva joins the conversation. She has been in the monastery for more than 20 years, has been updating the site, and herself has suffered a coronavirus:

There were a couple of sisters with a fever, but they themselves did not know what was wrong with them. And we didn’t know. It happens that a person tries to endure a disease ascetically. The virus was revealed only a week after Easter. The sisters’ condition began to deteriorate, and, of course, we immediately called an ambulance, two sisters were hospitalized. We wrote about this on our website. It was the data for that day, April 22. Naturally, the situation develops, and someone else becomes infected and is still hospitalized. But even before the tests were confirmed, it was spread on the Internet that we have a hundred coronavirus patients here – this is a lie.

Andrei Lemeshonok - St. Elisabeth's Convent in Minsk

“For the sake of this Easter, it is worth putting up with all this lie now”.

On the eve of Easter, there was a call from Metropolitan Paul and Patriarch Kirill: “Please do not come to church. Please pray at home “…

# But I think that everyone who wanted to come to Metropolitan Pavel in the Cathedral. We are not Russia. We are Belarus. We are a little different, – says Father Andrei.

But you obey the patriarch? Or can you make other decisions locally?

The President said: “I will come and light a candle.” The most surprising thing is that the President of Bulgaria said: “I will not dare to close the churches,” and Bulgaria is very poor in comparison with other European countries. And the President of Belarus said the same. We have a real Easter. I think for the sake of this Easter, it is worth putting up with all this lie now, and this will be more and more. I do not exclude that, in the end, I will be left alone.

# Correct me if I’m wrong, but the church as an institution also has its own hierarchy of power. The head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church says that on Easter, you need to stay at home and pray at home. But you are not calling for this. We see footage of how at the Easter service in St. Elisabeth Monastery, the distance between the believers is not observed. The liar is not processed for communion. Why?

Easter 2020 St. Elisabeths Convent in Minsk

“We tried to do everything we could,” says Nun Maria. – Among the recommendations of the Metropolitan, there was another question about drinking – people take communion, then they drink water, this is our Russian tradition. Out of obedience, we have fulfilled this recommendation more than we have canceled the recording altogether.

# Why didn’t you follow the other recommendations? Why didn’t people who can no longer fit into the temple at a distance stand in the street?

“People come to church not to me and not to the patriarch, they come to Christ,” says Father Andrey. – The Church has the experience and has a thousand-year history. Do you know what epidemics used to be? The plague mowed people down! Metropolitan Filaret Drozdov collected huge religious processions in Moscow, all churches were filled with worshipers, and people prayed that this terrible epidemic would go away and she was gone. The church should always pray and call people to pray. Understand that coronavirus is not the case. If a person lives without God, he lives by chance. If I’m lucky, I’ll be unlucky: I’ll get sick or not, meet a good person, and start a family – or not. This is nonsense. If a person really seeks the will of God and begins to think about how to build his life, how to build his relationships with others, he begins to fight for his heart, for his mind – and the coronavirus has nothing to do with it. Today is the coronavirus. Tomorrow there will be another virus. The goal is to separate people. Now it is a tragedy that children learn online. It’s a terrible thing!

# Why?

– Because children need a teacher, they need communication!

– But today, the main goal is for people to be alive and well, and if online training will help this, why is it scary?

– And the psyche? Imagine locking a person into an apartment! I confess to thousands of people every week. And unfortunately, not everyone lives by love. Unfortunately, many families are cracking – there is not enough love even for children. People come to church not only to light a candle and take a break but for help. The church is a hospital. The Church is obliged to help people, including those who come to us in a terrible state when they no longer want to live. Here nearby (St. Elisabeth Convent is located in Novinki, not far from the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Mental Health. – TUT.BY note), there is a whole department of suicides who have already tried to commit suicide. And what, to say: “Look, we don’t need you, we have our own problems here”? I think it is vile to do so.

# But in the end, you limited the entrance to the territory of the monastery until mid-May.

– We did not restrict it, we were restricted. The sanitary and epidemiological services have issued an order that we are following. And what to do, we live in a state. As a person, I confess, I go to the courtyard – for one thing, for the second. Of course, I’m worried about what happened. But I believe that we are still with God.

# “A person who comes to the temple will never get sick with anything bad”

# There is a video on social networks in which you, addressing the nuns, say, “that everyone is sick for their sins, that a person needs to get into intensive care, under artificial respiration, to call and tell about their sins.” Can you explain what you mean?

– This is horror, as it was taken out of context! My message was that a person is sick – and this is God’s providence. And sometimes, in order for a person to realize his sin and repent, one can get into a critical state, as often happens in life. We must be responsible for our actions, correct our lives, and this is repentance. And for the nuns too. Because sometimes, instead of pulling the rosary, and this is a very big work – you need to bring your mind and heart together to pray – a person talks on the phone and looks at what’s on the Internet. But this is wrong. Why then go to a monastery? One could live in the world and follow all the news.

Thank God that I do not know how to use the Internet, it just saves me, but they have already shown me what they are writing. My daughter says: “Look what they write, you will be jailed soon.” Of course, they will go to jail, I have no doubt about it, but I’m not ready for this yet, I’m not a holy person. I had such a moment in my life, long ago, when the authorities accused us of what we did not do, which took a lot from us. And God’s thought came to me: “If I were with God now, they would put me in prison, and I would suffer innocently for Christ, and that would be true my salvation, but now I am a sinful person, I feel sorry for myself, so everything will be resolved”. The meaning of the disease is not that a person suffers but that the soul begins to purify itself.

“It was about a nun who was being supplied with oxygen,” Nun Maria explains the words of Father Andrey at the service. – When she realized something, it was her initiative to convey to her confessor: “Forgive me, I understood everything.” And she felt better, although her temperature stayed above 39 for two weeks, a bunch of other diseases.

# When the believers were encouraged to pray at home and not go to church, many did not understand why it was impossible to close churches for a while so as not to increase the number of infected. What would you say to this?

“This has never happened in the history of Christianity,” says Father Andrei. – The world will not return back. The fact that there were no pilgrims in Jerusalem … After all, there were viruses and, worse, the same Spanish woman. But how can a temple be closed?

# And how can you not close if you understand that one infected person, according to epidemiological investigations, can give 300 contacts?

– Our temple is always full. There are always sick people in any temple. The priest serves, imagine about a thousand people receive communion because there is not only this virus, there is a much more complicated disease. The priest consumes the Holy Gifts remaining after the communion of the parishioners, but he never gets sick because he believes that this is the body and blood of Christ. If you lose this faith, if you think that this is the source of infection, you really need to close everything.

# I understand correctly that you think, as I read on your website, “a person who comes to church will never get sick with anything bad – this is our position, this is our faith”?

“The temple is the best place in the whole world. It wasn’t me who said it. The ancient monks said it. In whatever condition you are, having come to the temple, you understand that it still becomes easier for you. I had periods in my life when I suffered, suffered, and was scared to live on, but after the church, it became easier. And I am sure of that. If I refuse this, I will refuse God from the life experience that the Lord gave me. I will never do it, even if they kill me.

Of 130 nuns, half of them with coronavirus, in the hospital, about 10 people

# What is the current state of the nuns who have tested positive for coronavirus?

– The doctor who came to us said that the peak of the disease had already passed. The patients were isolated – they live in the building of the monastery, the healthy now live in the hotel of the monastery, – says Father Andrey.

– I myself have been ill. About 130 nuns live in the monastery. The coronavirus was confirmed in almost half. About ten sisters are in the hospital, and the rest are being treated in the monastery, – adds nun Maria. 
– We are under the constant supervision of a doctor, and we follow all the recommendations: we process the premises, we wear bandages, and healthy people live and eat separately from patients at different tables.

What is surprising: some of the sisters with confirmed coronavirus are doing great. The disease is asymptomatic. And some sisters who test negative feel terrible. So everything is relative (!?).

Nuns who are sick sit in cells and do not go anywhere. If the doctors allow a short walk, the nuns put on masks, try to keep their distance, go out for about 15 minutes – and back to the cell. Healthy sisters mainly cook food, clean the church, and sing at the service. They have no contact with the sick and even recovering.

I want to say that the health workers are doing their job very well. A doctor from the hospital comes to us every other day, looks, listens, and checks the temperature and saturation (the level of blood oxygen saturation. – Approx. TUT.BY). Nurses with medical education help make rounds every day. If the temperature rises, it gets worse. They immediately call an ambulance. We have excellent care and nutrition. We do not need anything. And many sisters are recovering.

Among the clergy, only one young priest tested positive; he was taken to the hospital. Tomorrow, 93-year-old father Vasily will be discharged from the hospital. He was on a ventilator but recovered. This is an amazing person, an old-school priest. There was a case when he came to a hospital where the X-ray did not work, he baptized him, and the device started working. And when asked how he was able to recover from this coronavirus, he replies: “With the love of God.”

# The other day, nun Maria died. She had a coronavirus. Is this the only fatality in the monastery?

“This is the only case,” says nun Maria Yakovleva. – The deceased nun was 83 years old, and she did not live in the monastery. She lived in the courtyard and was engaged in the beds. She had pulmonary heart disease – so it is written on the death certificate. Yes, she contracted the coronavirus, and she tested positive, but in reality, a person this age, has a bouquet of diseases.

“She told me for a year and a half that it was very difficult for her to live, that she no longer wanted to live,” says Father Andrey. – If she had not been taken to the hospital, maybe she would have been alive. An old man, 83 years old, was hospitalized in such a state … This is a man from the ground, hard-working until the last. As long as there was strength, he made the beds and worked in the vineyard. He loved to read secular literature, and it always touched me. You see, at the age of 83, I was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Dumas’s novels – a class, he was a good man with humor. And when he was suddenly taken to the hospital, where these tubes were around, I think his heart simply could not stand it. Of course, it’s a pity.

# Is the courtyard where nun Maria lived now in quarantine?

– No, no one is sick there anymore. She was the only one with the coronavirus, and she was taken to the hospital, explains Father Andrei.

# How was the funeral service? Relatives of those who died from the coronavirus say they bury people in sealed bags, in a closed coffin.

– We can’t do that. This is a person, not a package. People gathered in the courtyard. About 40 people live there. Everyone prayed and saw her off with love. Everything was beautiful with us.

Due to the quarantine, all the workshops of the monastery
and even the church shop is closed

St. Elisabeths Convent Closed

# You have many workshops, including on the territory of the monastery. Are their activities suspended?

“Yes, and it’s just awful,” says Father Andrey. – Imagine, almost 2 thousand people work for us under labor contracts, and now we have sent them on vacation. And there are many – with disabilities, infirm. They are not employees of companies who had high salaries. My position: if a person comes for help, I always try to attach him so that he can earn a penny. And now these people are out of work.

– The monastery was left without income at all. Even our shop was closed, where icons were sold, – says nun Maria. – We left only the points of sisterhood, on Komarovka, for example.

# There is an opinion that the divine services were not limited to Easter because these days, the majority of believers come, buy something, and leave donations.

– They also write that we row gold with shovels – stupidity! – Father Andrey answers. – This year, there were much fewer people. For the first time, all people fit in the temple and, according to our standards, stood relatively freely. Usually, the apple has nowhere to fall, people are standing on the street, and they cannot enter the temple. About a thousand believers received communion at the night service. Approximately two times less than usually comes at Easter.

– There are many churches in Minsk, thank God. Someone disinfects liars. Someone maintains a distance – for health, people have a choice, – says nun Maria. – We have implemented the recommendations that we could have done. You cannot approach Orthodoxy with a secular worldview. It is impossible for a believer to live without Communion, then, there is neither faith nor health. If we are deprived of the sacrament, we will all die here. It is impossible to live without God. The people who came to us love the monastery, and we have no right to expel them.

# How do you plan your activities further? Are you waiting for the decision on the sanitary service?

– God, not sanitary service. We are all in the hands of God, – answers the confessor of the monastery.

– Then we must admit that the monastery was in quarantine …

For our sins. I admit it. This is an ordeal. We need to live differently. We need to figure out who we are. If we are Christians, then Christ must still be allowed into our lives. (???)

Alexander Lukashenko and Andrei Lemeshonok at St Elisabeth Convent

Adar’ya Gushtyn / Photo: Daria Buryakina / TUT.BY 7 May 2020
TUT.BY has been closed down by the Dictator Lukashenko

Source in the Russian Language:

Reviewed Oct. 2023