OF THE DISCONSOLATE
Snow had fallen suddenly.
It covered theground, hiding even the smallest sign of the frozen
puddles. Oh Lord, if only someone would help to carry these
bags - thought Va-Icntina Tckhanovich in despair, as she tried
with difficulty, to maintain her balance on her walking sticks.
The icy road from the shop to her home seemed to her, with her
disability, impossible to overcome.
The anonymous crowd passed her by carelessly and disappeared
into the falling dusk.... Maybe I can help you - she heard suddenly,
and thanks to Lydya Pronin she reached home safely. The meeting
also led her to the Parish of Our Lady, Joy of the Disconsolate.
It was 1993.
An Orthodox Church in
a tent? - At the crossoads between Glebka street and Prititsky
street - today the Minsk taxi-drivers have no difficulty in
finding this parish, though five years ago there was an open
field in this place.
On the 26th of April 1991, a huge stone
was consecrated in the field, for the foundations of the Orthodox
Church "The Icon of Our Lady, Joy of the Disconsolate",
in prayerful memory of the victims of the catastrophe at Chernobyl,
whose number, unfortunately, continues to increase. The April
celebrations came to an end and only Father Igor Korostielov
remained on the windswept five-hectare plot. He was to take
charge of the building work.
He was to take charge of the building
- I had only five kopeks in my pocket - recalls Father Igor
today. His first activities were with children in rented school
rooms and prayers said here in the open field, at the foot of
the great stone. Then some people arrived, rather unusual people.
- I felt that it would be enough to give them a spade, and they
would start the building work - says Patriarch Aleksy II, who
visited the parish shortly afterwards. On more than one occasion
they were soaked to the skin during prayers, before they had
even started work. They began to think of some kind of shelter,
even a small tent. The army provided the tent. It turned out
to be so huge, that they created their own Orthodox Church inside
it with the iconastas and the altar. But the walls and roof
were a tarpaulin.
- In the summer we had to sell candles in a bucket of water,
because they melted in our hands; in the winter the temperature
falls to below -25°C-saythe parishioners.
Everyone was frozen, the choir too.
And since students from the Music High School should take care
of their voices, they were supplied with smouldering coals in
a bucket to provide warmth.
- And then we wished for winter boots - the choristers say with
a smile. And we got a whole supply, all in size 46, so that
we could wear them over our own shoes. Although the following
year brought some luxury to the "little shelter" -
a floor appeared and two iron fires,
- even so, everyone gazed impatiently at the slowly rising walls
of their first, brick church, the Orthodox Church for baptisms,
devoted to St. Eufresia Polotska.
The church arose from bricks bought
by the Society for the Blind and its foundations were funded
by offerings from the Bielorussian Disabled Society. Both societies,
regarded the parish as their own, as did the victims of Chernobyl.
And it. in turn, decided to open wide its doors to them, and
together with the Lord, to enter the hospitals and prisons,
and to embrace the most needy with the care of a sisterhood
of more than 30 women.
FOR MY MOTHER
"Fate gave us our "little
shelter" -writes Valentina Tekhanovich in oneofherpoems. She
regards Lydya Pronin, who continues to visit her, and whom she
met on that memorable winter's evening, as someone very close.
Valentina is suffering from cerebral paralysis which is steadily
getting worse. It is very difficult for her to walk, and
hard too, to live, because her financial situation is very tight.
Her husband does have work, but his
company often comes to a standstill and has debts so that he
often does not get paid. The bureaucratic state organisations
are little concerned with social welfare, and in any case, their
coffers are empty. How then, can a family of three survive on
just 385 Byelorussian roubles?
- We get food and clothes from the parish - says Valentina -
For that we are very grateful. Not to mention friendship, without
which it is not possible to live.
It is not possible to live without
W hen recently, she was admitted to
a Minsk hospital with the symptoms of severe food poisoning,
the doctors had no difficulty with the diagnosis. But they could
offer no treatment, because the symptoms of the deep economic
crisis of the state are concentrated in the Bielorussian health
service. The hospitals have no drugs, drips or syringes. -Please
buy them with your own money - the doctors tell the patients
who have been paying health insurance all their lives. But where
can they be got?
My church helped me - says Valentina,
moving with difficulty around the house on her walking sticks.
35 year old Tatyana Stakhovskaya is wheelchair bound. She has
been struggling against multiple sclerosis for a number of years
and is bringing up her 10 year old daughter on her own - a resolute
little girl, who dresses her mother every day, fries pancakes
and cooks cabbage soup...she loves her mother very much, but
she is unable to bath her....
One of the sisters from the "little
shelter" comes to bath Tatyana, prepares her for confession
and communion and brings her various food products which reach
the parish in the form of humanitarian aid. She comes to work
and help free of charge, leaving her own family and personal
- Our help is very individual, because we are concerned with
sick individuals-says Tatyana Tchystyakova, who works in the
sisterhood. A great number of the Bielorussian faithful have
followed their children to church. Whenever she comes across
the helpless misery of the disabled, most often hidden behind
closed doors, she is unable to pass by unheeding. Inthe post-communist
landscape of Minsk, one rarely sees any disabled people. They
hide with their troubles in microscopic apartments, with narrow
doors to the bathroom and lift, inblocksofflatswithout special
facilities for the disabled.
- There are so many difficulties, even with the simple task
of having a bath - admits Tatyana - it is a success if the wheelchair
will go through the opening to the bathroom, once the door has
been removed. Very of ten, we have to carry the person in. on
a chair. And then to place them very carefully in the bath
Those we look after, vary a great deal.
The blind, the paralysed, those with multiple sclerosis and
cancer. Also those who have come from Chernobyl, and those who
helped to clean up after the disaster. They never cease to dream
about their family homes and gardens, and they struggle with
the difficulties of everyday life and very serious illnesses.
They come to their Chernobyl Church,
and they no longer hurry to get anywhere. They light candles
for the latest of theirfriends to have died as a result of the
catastrophe. They raise up offerings.
One of the men working on the power
station brought us more than 40 icons - says Father Igor. Before
that he used to work for the Police, in the section dealing
with theft of sacred objects, works of art and church property.
Now that he is ill, he has taken care to ensure that some of
the icons from the illegal smuggling, found on the Bielorussian
border, are brought here, to his church.
Twice a year the parish organises meetings
for the disabled and sick. After performances by the children
from the Sunday School, Valentina Te-khanovich offers thanks
with her poetry; a blind professional artist, Olga Patryi, gives
a song recital and someone else shows their paintings, embroidered
landscapes, painted yearnings. And as a whole, huge, suffering
family they count the time thatremains for the full realisation
of their plans as a parish.
- It is a beautiful beginning, the spring-time
of a great undertaking - says the German Pastor, Herbert Wohlhuter,
carefully taking in the parish's assets. The recently consecrated
Orthodox Church for baptisms of St. Eufrosia Polotska makes
its mark on the landscape, and alongside it, the large Sunday
School building is taking shape. The outline of the main church
is now clearly formed, and new foundations have been laid. The
building materials and builders' stores occupy a large part
of the area. Close to the entrance stands the "little shelter",
and it is sad that it is now no longer really required.
Wohlhueter came to Bielarus for the first time in 1991 in connection
with the 50th anniversary of the invasion of the USSR, as part
of a large 260-strong delegation. I would like to meet with
an Orthodox Church leader, who is engaged in the diaconate,
he asked his hosts. On the last day of his visit he was introduced
to Father Korostyelov.
- I had visited the hospital, the prison and the boarding school
for children with psychiatric problems for the first time, and
encountered the arrogant remarks of the terrified staff and
seen tears in the eyes of the oldest patients and prisoners
– remembers Father Igor.
Pastor Wohlhueter had worked for many
years in a small town for the disabled, called Bethel. They
soon found they had a lot in common. Thus the idea was born,
that here in the Minsk Chernobyl Parish, there should be founded
a centre of God's mercy -with a house for the elderly, workshops
for the disabled, and a free canteen for the poorest.
The Germans offered medicines, food
and clothes. They hosted the pupils from the Sunday school and
the sisters in Bethel. They demonstrated their facilities and
taught the visitors new skills.
It turned out to be quite easy to change
a sheet under a paralysed patient - we had been doing it the
hard way - says Tatyana Tchystyakova.
Together with a friend, she has recently
completed a two-level course in Bethel. She learned how to bathe
patients in a professional manner, how to speak with them, how
to dress wounds and give injections. From the autumn, she will
start to teach others here in Minsk. From Bethel, she also gained
a whole mass of ideas, though they will be difficult to fit
into the two rooms of the Sunday school. That is all that the
parish is able to offer the sisterhood. Should the machines
which have been brought from Germany, be placed there and a
room for occupational therapy used? Maybe it would be better
to create a room for rehabilitation? Because the workshop for
the disabled, and an old peoples' home will have to wait. Closest
to reaching fruition is the canteen for the poor, but it, too,
is only just rising above the foundations. The average Bielorussian
monthly salary buys 600 bricks, so how much money is needed
to complete the planned investments?
Help comes from Bethel, from "Diakonisches
Werk" in Germany, from the World Council of Churches and
many Bielorussian companies. -But so much is being built here
- explain the sisters, and dream of a car for the sisterhood.
- Stone walls are not everything, the most important is the
community' -says Father Igor, for whom privately, and without
their winter boots, the choir sings opera arias, whilst the
church is looked after by one of the faithful from the prison
In a year's time the Chernobyl Parish
and the church "shelter" expect to receive women visitors
from many countries. On the 1 Oth anniversary of the Chernobyl
disaster they will plant an orchard of hope.