The Novo-Tikhvin Women's Monastery
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Site Updates:

30 August 2023
Section Feasts and Weekdays was refreshed. There a story A book about general Ilya Leonidovich Tatishchev appeared

24 November 2022
Section Feasts and Weekdays was refreshed. There a talk by schema-archimandrite Abraham Invincible weapon appeared

29 August 2022
Section Feasts and Weekdays was refreshed. There a story The events of the sunny August appeared

13 June 2022
Section Feasts and Weekdays was refreshed. There a story Faithful for good. A monument to prince Dolgorukov, general Tatishchev, sailor Nagorny, and boatswain Sednev appeared

Hand-painted icons by the sisters of the Monastery

If you want to know yourself, begin helping others

The volunteer center in honor of St. John the Merciful in our monastery has been in existence for a few years now. The main kinds of activities are just like the activities in other social centers: we collect and distribute clothes, take care of the elderly and the handicapped, help children whose parents have abandoned them... It seems there is nothing new to tell about the center. Yet, this is a view from the outside. Volunteers themselves say that their work here gives them an enormous amount of new impressions, feelings, and thoughts. We asked Irina Svistunova, the director of this Center to share some of her thoughts about her everyday work – acts of mercy.

About the grandfather – almost our own...

I love the old people for whom we care; this generation that is commonly called "the children of war." They are amazing people, very moving. Their trust and openness are amazing. Among them there is an elderly man, he is seventy years old; all his life he has worked at a plant, and is actually still working. He has always lived with his mother; she was sick and he would take care of her all the time – and so never got married. He is very good-natured, even naive. He is being swindled all the time: people go around the apartments and offer to buy "a threshing machine for sugar with an 80% discount only now." They advertise it to such an extent that he buys it for a lot of money and then doesn't know what to do with this thresher: he doesn't need it and is dirt cheap at the store, and here he's bought it for thousands of rubles. It hurts that old people are being cheated in this way.

I personally have a warm feeling for him, as if he were my grandfather; I want to screen him from dangers that lonely old people are likely to encounter. In the spring, some sect members started visiting him and telling him about Christ. Elderly people lack social life and they are ready to open the doors of their homes to anybody and everybody. I talked to him about God, too, and he thought that it is the same thing as the Church. As soon as these sect members learned that he lived by himself, they immediately inquired about his apartment and then started constantly calling on him and visiting. I was very afraid for him: he might get ripped of his apartment and get thrown out on the street! I scolded him for his light-heartedness, called that sect, told them that he has family and told them to never set foot here anymore.

Now we commemorate him in prayers

My colleague, another Irina, every day commemorates in her prayers another old man for whom we took care. Now, though, we pray for his repose. He had a very interesting life. German Anatolyevich Kuklin was an opera singer, he sang for over forty years as a soloist, he had a wonderful bass; people would travel from America to hear him. When he got old, he had a stroke, became bed-ridden, and there was no one to care for him. In Ekaterinburg there was only a cousin of his who heard about this special monastery service and turned there for help. We came to German and found him in a very bad condition; deep wounds had formed on his back from lying on his back for prolonged periods of time. What was amazing, however, is that, given all this, he did not murmur or complain at all. The Lord would give him so much grace that he almost wouldn't feel the pain: the bedsores were almost down to the bones, all the body on the back had been eaten away, but he wouldn't feel this horrible pain – I think he was given that for being so humble in his condition. We started visiting him almost daily; we would wash him, change his bed sheets, clean up in his apartment, and talk to him.

It is suffering that brought him to God. German told us that when he became bed-ridden, he started listening to the radio all day long, the Orthodox channel "Resurrection," and through this came to faith. He was paralyzed and could only stretch his hand to turn on the radio. He kept saying: "There is so much I am still ignorant of!" He would also say that if it weren't for this illness, he would not come to faith. Priests from the monasteries would often come to him, hear his confessions, give him communion and holy unction. He was very grateful for the help and would call us every day just to chat a little bit. We took care of him for slightly over a year until his passing.

The heart should get practice, too

Sometimes I am told that a person, who lives for the sake of others, deprives himself of many things. But I think that, on the contrary, the one who doesn't like to help others deprives himself of heart. It's like training: a sportsman practices lifting weights and gradually takes on greater weights. Yet, it's possible to practice both in good and in evil. When somebody makes himself help another person, he practices virtue, and when he refuses to help, he practices an evil habit, chills his heart, empties his own soul. And when trouble comes to a person who is really close: be it mother, sister, or friend, he might discover that he has neither strength, nor desire to help even these close people. And then he'll get terrified by his own self.

Mercy with discernment

Honestly, at first I was burning with the desire to help everyone at the same time and a lot, I wanted to change the world, but with time I realized that help should come with discernment, too. For instance, once I gave somebody lots of different things: of course, a person comes to me and asks for them! Then I walk out of the monastery gate and, lo and behold, almost all of the things are being thrown by the bushes near the fence. That is, this person didn't really have a need of those things, he just took them. It is better to help in moderation, but purposefully, thinking everything throughly in a thorough way. One needs to pray. We have here a worship service to St. John the Merciful – he had this gift of grace, he knew how much to give each person. We, however, do not have such abilities and must pray to him, and, of course, think on our own, weigh things in our mind.

"That is some skies!"

Amazing things happen at times, showing that the Lord Himself helps people, and we are the tools in His hands. Once we were donated men's winter boots, [huge] size 47, great, new, English boots. I can tell they are super quality boots! So, I am looking at them pensively and think to myself: "That is some skies... Are there really feet that size? Just like skies themselves! Who am I going to give those now? Nobody ever has a need of that size." So, I put them down on a shelf, disappointed that this is not size 42 or 43 that sell like hot cakes. And then our priest walks in and says: "Irina, sorry, just in case some shoes of big size would be donated... There is a young priest I know, he's got size 47, he can't find anything fitting him. I know, of course, you don't get this stuff..." And here I am telling him kind of modestly: "Well, why not? Happens," ...and take these boots off the shelf!


Here is another incident. One monastery employee encountered a disappointed woman who complained to her that she has no money to buy firewood and she lives in a cottage, in a suburb. The employee tells here: "All right, come to the monastery, to the social service center, maybe they can help you somehow." And just the other day I had a donation of two thousand rubles from a man who said: "I'd like to donate this to somebody in need of firewood." I say to myself: "What firewood? That's weird. Should I ship it to the countryside; maybe, they have the need of firewood there?" In perplexity I put away the money with a note: "for firewood." And here that woman comes in and asks: "Do you think you could help me? I need money for firewood." Can you imagine?! I tell her: "Yes, it was just brought in for you!"

And I thought I was all so goody-goody...

It is really beneficial for me to be working here, I discovered lots of "black holes" in my heart I didn't even suspect of! I always used to think about myself that I was very patient and calm, but as soon as I started communicating, talking with our patrons – and among them are homeless, sick, and simply old people with distorted world-view, psychological traumas – I suddenly discovered in me both squeamishness, and impatience, and aggressiveness. Work at the Center has dispelled this myth in my head that I am "all so goody-goody." So, if anyone wants to get to know himself, one should start helping others, doing the acts of mercy, and these will immediately show you who you are!

If you have the chance to help, help us helping!

We are always in need of help, because lots and lots of people turn to us. We buy medications and glasses for some; children's clothes and lot so other things for others. If anyone can mail some of the items or help financially, we would greatly appreciate this and we'll pray for all the benefactors at the moleben service to St. John the Merciful!

Volunteer service in honor of St. John the Merciful

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