IN THE SHADE
OF A WILD OLIVE TREE
A talk with Vladislav, a former prisoner, nowadays a watchman in the orthodox church of The Joy of the Desolate in Minsk
- How old are you?
- You said, that when you were
young you grew like a "wild olive
-I think that St. Paul's analogy is very suitable in my case. Because how else can you describe someone who lived for 17 years without God?
- And so, is all that in the past now?
-I came across to this side, during the time I spent in the strict security penal colony in Minsk.
- What does that mean ?
-It's a prison for people who have
found themselves behind bars for the
first time, but are there for serious
crimes: armed robbery, assaults even murder. And so they have long sentences, some even up to fifteen years.
- How long did you get?
-Four years, for vandalism. I had
a reasonably normal childhood,
though I was brought up by a stepfather and all the time I was sure that
he loved his own son better than me.
My schooling, which didn't interest
me much, was also interrupted, I
drank a lot, got into trouble. Some
foggy memories of the church, which
I went to only once for my christen
ing, and then much clearer stories from
my grandmother which she told me
during my childhood. About the fact
that God e xisted, that he sees and
hears everything, that he knows everything. These have stories stayed in my subconscious mind, and came to the fore in the most difficult moments of my life.
- So they must have come to mind
behind prison walls?
-Not right away. I got into the
rhythm ofprison life very easily. There
was a lot of work, sport, friends. My
illness changed a lot, I got a kidney
infection. In the prison hospital I met
people who had spent their whole
lives inprison - and I realised that I did
not want to spend my life in this way.
Although my family visited me, sent
me parcels, my soul was weary. My
own suffering, which quite honestly
was severe, gave me a lot to think about. "God punishes us for our own good, so that we might be able to take partinHisHoliness: writes the Apostle Paul (LettertotheHebrews 12,10). It took many years and painful experiences for me to understand that. In hospital I read the Gospels forthe first time, quite quickly and without going into them. The Baptists used to bring us Bibles, in great numbers. I wasn't able to get a feel for their way of doing things, I listened to their singing, but I knew it was not for me.
- Didn't any Orthodox priests
come to the hospital?
-No. Only when I returned to the
penal colony, did I hear through the
loudspeakers, that an Orthodox
prayer meeting was being organised.
After quite a bit of dithering, I decided to attend.
- In search of God?
-That too, though probably in
the first place to get away from the turmoil. After all, I slept in a prison cell with another 70 prisoners, on a bunk bed.
- Has the criminal rate really in
creased so much?
-Not only has there been an increase in the criminal rate. Together
with the falling apart of the Soviet
Union, all the Belarussian prisoners
held in other former republics were
returned here, where there were insufficient prison places for them all.
Hence the sudden and dramatic in
crease in theprison population. Televisions, stereos, radios, there'saracket
like on a mainline railway station all
- Where did you meet the Orthodox priests?
- In the large projection room with
a screen, a red curtain and a lectern.
Father Igor Korostielov said the liturgy, listened to confessions, distributed holy communion. But the main
catechetical work was carried out
by Brother Oleg Shulgin. At first he
came once a week, later twice, usually
in the evening. He would place a stool
with an icon on the stage, and he
would stand togther with us. He explained a lot, prayed with us, read the
- "Pause on your paths and look,
ask about the eternal pathways,
which is the road to good and take it,
and you will find peace for your souls" the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer,6,16) were heard on more than one occasion...
-The Light of God did not find its way to me easily. Sometimes I argued with Brother Oleg, because I wanted him to prove the existence of God to me. I went to the meetings fairly regularly, though I had difficulty in standing - I had a lot of pain in my kidneys and in my legs. I went not only in search of peace, but I noticed that when I prayed, my soul became peaceful. The search for God was long and tiring. There was a battle going on in my soul. In the evening I would pray, read the Gospel and cry, because something moved my soul, but in the morning, when reality stared me in the face, once again doubts shook me tothecoreandanxietycreptin. Gradually however, I started to turn to the faith, to knowthe Truth, to think about the future...
- Did your prison friends notice
any change in you?
-I think they must have. Though there in prison, everyone thinks mainly ofhimself,otherpeopledon't concern you very much. It'struethat some people did ask me about our Orthodox meetings. I explained what I could, and I brought them candles, but I made sure that I didn't force my views onto anyone. But as the day of my being set free drew closer, increasingly I tried to be on my own, because I felt better that way. I read a lot, prayed a lot.
- You were released before completing the full term of your sentence?
-Yes, nine months earlier. I'm sure that God helped me in this. My mother, my step-father, my grandmothers, friends all welcomed me withjoy. Two days after regaining my freedom I went to church, then later I went again with my brother, we both received communion. I thought that I was alright, that I was standing upright. But as the Apostle Paul says "he who thinks that he is standing, better be careful lest he should fall down" (Corinthians 10,12). Shortly afterwards I went to the country, then later with my mother to the south. And I don't know why I began to find myself drifting away from God, I found the Churchboring. I remembered that God had helped me, and faith had not left me completely, but it seemed to me that it was enough that I should go to Church at Easter, Christmas, light a candle. And ... once more I found myself in police custody.
- You came across old friends?
-I met a friend from years gone by, and we got into trouble. It's true that I wasn't to blame this time, but I was arrested as well. I spent a whole day at the police station. I was really afraid that I would end up in prison again. I thought to myself, that if this time, God helps me once more, I'll never turn away from him again. They let me go. I went to Church straight away. "You' re from the prison" Father Igor recognised me straight away, and shortly afterwards Brother Oleg appeared. The batiushka suggested to methatl might like to work as a watchman in the church. I agreed.
- How did your family take this
-With disbelief and fear. Especially
as my mother had arranged some work
for me in a shop, and there was still the
general idea in society that only old
people and the sick go to church.
Those closest to me did not understand me. I didn't try to explain, be
cause what could I say to people
who had not accepted my decision?
- Did you regret your decision?
-I never thought about changing it. I did not find anything attractive about working in a completely lay environment, I'm not one for talking about money, houses, furniture. Here I started a way of life associated with the Church, I visited monasteries, made my confession... I hadalso made my confession in prison, only as best I knew at the time, perhaps rather generally. Now it is much deeper. I remember that during one confession, when Father Igor placed his hand on my head, it seemed to me to be so heavy, that it almost crushed my head. Another time, when I was wait-ing for confession, someone was clearly pushing me in the direction of the batiushka. I turned around, but the church was empty.
- Do you think of these things often?
-I don't pay any attention to them. The elders teach us that there are many types of temptation, when the devil can give some kind of sign to man. Man thinks that it is a sign from God,andwaitsformrthersigns. When they don't come, he becomes depressed and thinks that God has abandoned him...
- Do you visit the monasteries often?
-Quite often. Usually to the Monastery of the Annunciation in Lady, I
was even a novice there for six months.
I thought that I would stay in the
monastery for good, but it transpired
that I wasn't ready for it then. I go to
the monastery and there I get spiritual
strength. Though our enemy waits
for us everywhere. Monks lived in
the desert and still had to struggle
against temptations that it is difficult
for those of us of a weaker faith to
even imagine. We shouldn't allow
ourselves to become depressed
however. Because as the Apostle Paul
says "we have not yet received a
temptation which exceeds our human strength; but God is faithful
and will not allow you to be tempted beyond your capabilities, but
will find a solution so that you
will be able to bear them (I Corinthians 10,13).
- Have you ever thought about goingbacktothe prison with Brother,
now Father Oleg to help others?
-The prison authorities did not give
their permission for this. And there
have been many changes in our prison
colony. There is a separate building
for the church, and there is a permanent priest - FatherOleg. I am happy
about this, as are all theprisoners who
are believers, both young and old.
- Did meeting Brother Oleg and
Father Igor have a significant meaning in you life?
-Yes, And I am aware, that it did not happen by mere accident.
- Thank you for talking to me.
Samaritan № 2,