House of mercy
[b]The House of Mercy of the Orthodox All-Saints Parish plays an important role in the spiritual life of the Belarusian capital[/b]There can hardly be a Minsk resident who hasn’t heard of the building, consecrated ten years ago and located in the beautiful grounds of the National Library. “It feels as if no more than a day has passed,” admits its senior priest, Fiodor Povny.
There can hardly be a Minsk resident who hasn’t heard of the building, consecrated ten years ago and located in the beautiful grounds of the National Library.
“It feels as if no more than a day has passed,” admits its senior priest, Fiodor Povny. Of course, his job is a true spiritual vocation and he has a strong team of like-minded people around him, easing his workload. He asserts that his plans have been more than fulfilled, with new areas of activity appearing.
He doesn’t try to conceal the fact that some were sceptical about the worth of the ‘toy-like’ church, which is located in such a secluded corner of the city and seems designed to cater only for wealthier citizens. Its sleek rooms are filled with modern medical equipment and highly qualified professionals. In fairness, Father Fiodor does not avoid answering even the most ‘inconvenient’ questions. He explains that the philosophy has always been to offer help to those people who dedicate their lives to improving society. Humanity, compassion and mercy are never forgotten here. The Eleos Medical and Social Rehabilitation Centre is at the heart of the House of Mercy (‘eleos’ being ancient Greek for ‘mercy’ and the name of an oil used to treat wounds).
Father Fiodor emphasises that the House of Mercy is not a home for the elderly, despite having many older patients. “You know, at one time, we were pleasantly surprised; now, I view it as the result of our work. Those who leave our centre have two basic attitudes: some say that they deserve attention and respect for having worthily behaved throughout their life, so they haven’t lived it in vain; others experience a revelation and decide to live their lives to their fullest. When you hear this from a man of 90 years old, you can’t help but rejoice for him, for yourself and for the whole of our House.”
Farther Fiodor considers that the past ten years have been unique, as every patient has the chance to talk to the priest if they wish to do so. The medical, social and spiritual intertwine to help heal. The success of the approach is confirmed by doctors. Not just the elderly or seriously ill but young people also benefit from spiritual and moral guidance.
The medical centre of the House of Mercy has expanded its number of patients, with war veterans increasingly replaced by retired workers and the parents and wives of Afghan soldiers; they are now reaching an age where medical, social and, sometimes, spiritual care is needed. State social and health services liaise with the House of Mercy effectively, providing a good example of the Church and society sharing common humanitarian goals, working together to improve lives. The House of Mercy is quite an experiment, implementing church models practically, working with state social institutions.
Of course, enthusiasm alone would not be enough. Medical specialists need to be paid, having their own families to support. Since the parish relies on charity donations, an appropriate organisational system is required. Father Fiodor stresses that the House of Mercy operates differently to a private centre though, being non-profit making. There is no owner seeking dividends. Rather, all are united in wishing to help others, using the best equipment and materials to allow effective treatment.
In addition to rehabilitation, the House of Mercy offers social support to vulnerable citizens: the disabled, orphans, the seriously ill and the elderly. Father Fiodor is also proud of the House’s work with young people — who come not just from the parish but from across all Minsk. School classes run at the House of Mercy (not Sunday school classes but regular lessons, using traditional Belarusian, Orthodox forms of education).
“We’re integrated into the formal education system, but don’t interfere with the teaching of official subjects from elementary school,” explains Father Fiodor. “We’ve introduced ‘Foundations of Christian Culture’ as an optional class. It’s a hot topic as to whether religious education should be taught obligatorily in schools but our experience suggests that lessons only have significance where students and parents truly desire them. We have the unique opportunity to shape the spiritual core of the young. The first graduates of our elementary schools are already preparing to receive their certificates of secondary education. They aren’t forced to go into the church or undertake an active spiritual or religious life. The mere fact that these children go to church and are active participants of our youth group and enjoy other activities within our parish shows that they are active in the external environment. It’s certainly pleasing and encouraging. These aren’t just my observations but those of people who see them in wider situations. Our children can be relied upon to complete difficult tasks; they can be trusted. Sometimes, chatting to these near adults, they tell me that their fondest times have been spent at our House of Mercy school. I’m sure our boys and girls will bring great benefits to society.”
A good library is, naturally, essential for the children; about 8,000 (religious and secular) editions are kept at the House of Mercy. In fact, All Saints Parish also houses a memorial church to all innocent victims in our Fatherland, with construction almost complete. The crypt is already open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays, when crowds of believers and tourists gather to see its unique structure.
In addition, visitors can see the icon-painting workshop and craftspeople sewing vestments, including those made from linen. Some even weave sacred vestments (such as a mitre) from golden Belarusian straw. Their works have been on display three times at the National Art Museum. The Director of the Louvre even wrote in the guest book: ‘It would be an honour to grace the walls of Paris’ Louvre with these artefacts’.
We will hope that, in a few years, it will be so. The Lord rewards acts of great mercy.
By Galina Ulanskaya