"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday 14 January 2013

TWO VOCATIONS: ONE HOLINESS -Not in the sense that the members of the two communities are ready for canonization, but in the sense that Christ is working in the same Spirit through their communal life.

With the development of monasticism in the Church there appeared a peculiar way of life, which however did not proclaim a new morality. The Church does not have one set of moral rules for the laity and another for monks, nor does it divide the faithful into classes according to their obligations towards God. The Christian life is the same for everyone. All Christians have in common that "their being and name is from Christ" 1. This means that the true Christian must ground his life and conduct in Christ, something which is hard to achieve in the world.
What is difficult in the world is approached with dedication in the monastic life. In his spiritual life the monk simply tries to do what every Christian should try to do: to live according to God's commandments. The fundamental principles of monasticism are not different from those of the lives of all the faithful. This is especially apparent in the history of the early Church, before monasticism appeared.  

St Basil made the point somewhere that, whatever our vocation may be, the differences are external, but the underlying spirituality comes from the heart and is the same in every vocation.   In St John's Gospel 13, 34, Jesus expresses it thus:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Love is at the heart of true faith and hope.   It also binds together Christian community, being a reflection of the presence of the Holy Spirit whose vehicle it is.    As we place ourselves, more and more, at the disposition of the Holy Spirit, our love comes to bear, more and more, an ever closer likeness to the love that Christ has for us.   It becomes more and more forgetful of self, more and more obedient to the Father, and more and more universal, until it embraces the whole of Creation, as does the love of Christ it manifests.   Indeed, by fulfilling this commandment, we share in the very life of Christ in  the Blessed Trinity and our lives become, by grace both human and divine.   In a Christian community, bound together  by ecclesial love, Christ's presence becomes almost tangible: we create a sacred space in which people find it easier to meet Christ.   It may be a shrine like Lourdes, a monastery or a Christian household: the variation may be huge, but the underlying reality is the same.   As Jesus says, again in John 17, 21ff;

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one--as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me
Here are two very different communities, one Russian Orthodox and monastic in Belarus, the other an American Catholic family living in England.   However different the externals are, I think you will agree with me that they both reflect the same universal love and the same presence of Christ working through them.

This year is the year of Faith, and there is much emphasis on the New Evangelization.   I hope that, at the same time, there will be an emphasis on the importance of sacred spaces where Christian love is exercised.  Without these, the New Evangelization will remain unembodied and abstract. 


Our convent bearing the name of St Martyr Grand Princess Elisabeth was founded in the settlement of Novinki on the outskirts of Minsk in 1999. The convent originated in an Orthodox Sisterhood of the same name. Since 1996, the Sisterhood has served many care centres, including the National Psychiatric Hospital and Municipal Hospital as well as boarding homes for children and adults with special needs, a TB clinic and a home care facility for mentally challenged children.
an icon of Our Lady, done by a mentally handicapped child, and is on the wall of the chapel in the home where they live

The mission of our convent is to provide spiritual and social help to the sick and the suffering. The Convent runs a homestead located 19 miles from Minsk. It helps drug and alcohol addicts as well as socially vulnerable persons tackle their problems and provides the homeless with shelter and care.
A nun shows me an icon made from delicately dropping coloured powders made from crushing semi-precious stones onto a marble base on which the icon has been traced and then covered with a colourless glue.
In the mosaic workshop

To support and develop the above ministries numerous workshops and studios operate within the frameworks of the Sisterhood. These include an icon-painting studio, sewing and embroidery shops, candle workshop, wood-carving and blacksmith workshops. The Sisterhood activities also include religious education and publishing.

The convent and sisterhood have always worked together in serving God and people.

Sisters and brothers of the convent pray for each other daily. On Sundays, after singing the akathist hymn to the St Elisabeth, the brothers and sisters share their experiences in serving people and discuss spiritual issues. All decisions regarding the activities of the convent and the sisterhood are made with the blessing of the convent’s spiritual father, Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok. Full cycle of divine services is held in the churches of the convent and the Psalter is read continuously.

The "Metochion" buildings where ex-convicts, addicts and down-and-outs live and the chapel where they go to Mass.

A person who had nowhere to live, will have shelter and refuge here; a person who was dying from hunger, will have food to eat; a person who had no clothes, will receive new clothes; but most importantly, a person here begins to think, “Perhaps, I have made some mistakes in my life?”
         (Brother Vitaly)

This place may have various names: a metochion of the Convent, a social facility, a labour camp, an experimental ground... It depends on who and how sees it. The nuns of St Elisabeth Convent are certain that this is the territory where God dwells, a place that He has chosen in order to give shelter to his lost and abandoned children. The nuns accept everyone here on the Lysaya Gora: the hungry, the drunkards, the homeless, and the rejected. Each one of these people has nowhere else to turn to.

The majority of those who come to the metochion used to be criminals in the past: the time each of them spent in jail is 5 to 30 years. Many of the residents of the metochion have spent years as tramps and drunkards. These people have no fear whatsoever. They have drunk the full cup of iniquity and reached its limit. They have lost everything they could possibly lose, except, maybe, their heads.

But still... Each person, deep in his soul, which is soaked and crippled by the sin, has the same vague yet persistent desire to start everything from scratch and to try to live a new life. The metochion gives them a chance to do so.

When one finds himself at the metochion, at first he cannot understand where he is; this is not a correctional facility, although most of the residents here are former criminals, but this is not a monastery, either, although the metochion is supervised by nuns.

Every day on Lysaya Gora begins and ends with prayer. Prayer is something extremely strange for the people who have never called God by name except in vain and who have always been looking for pleasures, quick money, and other material things. Their tongues that once used to utter obscenities are twisted and muted when they attempt to pronounce the holy words that they have never known before. However, gradually, day by day, word by word, God's grace penetrates into the paralysed hearts, revives and enlightens them. And then God becomes real for such people.
Inmates of the "metochion" receiving communion from the hands of the Spiritual Father, Father Andrew Lemeshonok.  In an Orthodox church, the sanctuary represents heaven and the nave represents earth which, in the Holy Mass, are perfectly united in one single celebration by the perfect "Yes" of Christ who saves, and the perfect "Yes" of Mary who receives salvation on our behalf.   Hence, their icons are on either side of the main doors that lead to and from the sanctuary.

A priest comes to the metochion every week. He celebrates the liturgy, hears confessions and gives communion to all who need it. Few of the brothers (everybody is called 'a brother' here) understand why there are such long services and why a priest has to listen to the same confessions like “I have drunk, I have smoked, I have cursed...” again and again for hours. To an uninformed visitor it may appear that nothing changes. However, if we take a picture of any person on their first day at the metochion and after they spent at least a month here, these two photos will show two completely different persons. However, the stamp of sin is like deep scars that do not allow to see the traits of God's image on the faces of these people and in their souls. This image of God cannot be erased, destroyed or ruined by anyone, even by all powers of hell. It may take not just a month or two but decades or even their entire lives for the miracle of transformation of their souls to happen. Vices are like roots of bad weed, like scars that were ruining their souls for many years; therefore, healing is to take as much time.

For instance, how can we teach a man who has never lifted up anything heavier than a glass of vodka in his entire life to work? The brothers honestly admit that they were ready to do anything in order to avoid working. The scheme is simple: as soon as they are in jail, they are provided with meals and a place to stay. As soon as they are released, they go on stealing and drinking heavily, and then they can go back to prison and relax.

It takes a lot of pain and grudge and immense effort for the people who used only to destroy and to exploit others brutally and arrogantly to be involved in creative activity and thus collaborate with God who is the Creator of all things. Even if some of them fall and leave the metochion, their souls still remember and will never forget that they have a place to go to.

Watford, England
Maria Albrecht (3rd left bottom row), IT Manager at the London School of Theology. She is a Third Order Franciscan; has a PGCE and a Diploma in Compassionate Ministry from the Diocese of Chicago in the USA.

Scott Albrecht (3rd right bottom row), Former Chaplain, U.S. Military and Third Order Franciscan, BA,MA in Applied Theology, Faith Based Peace Activist. Scott and his wife Maria have accompanied homeless men and women at various times over the past 18 years. The Albrecht family consists of Scott and Maria and their children, Shoshanah, Christian, Justin and Francis (1st and 2nd bottom left).
Mirjam Johansson (far right bottom row) from Umea, Northern Sweden, she has been a community member since 2009. She studies Intercultural Therapy and has a BA in Engineering.

Dorothy Day & Peter Maurin

The Catholic Worker movement began simply enough on May 1, 1933, when a journalist named Dorothy Day and a philosopher named Peter Maurin teamed up to publish and distribute a newspaper called The Catholic Worker. This radical paper promoted the biblical promise of justice and mercy. Grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person, their movement was committed to non-violence, voluntary poverty, and the Works of Mercy as a way of life. It wasn't long before Dorothy and Peter were putting their beliefs into action, opening a house of hospitality where the homeless, the hungry, and the forsaken would always be welcome. Over many decades the movement has protested injustice, war, and violence of all forms. Today there are some 185 Catholic Worker communities throughout the world. 
`The aim of the Catholic Worker movement is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ. Our sources are the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures as handed down in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, with our inspiration coming from the lives of the saints, men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses to Your (God's) unchanging love'.


The Works of Mercy are an abiding norm for the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin lived lives of "active love" built on these precepts. In the Christian Tradition these are:

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

feeding the hungry 
giving drink to the thirsty 
clothing the naked 
offering hospitality to the homeless 
caring for the sick 
visiting the imprisoned 
burying the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy:

admonishing the sinner 
instructing the ignorant 
counselling the doubtful 
comforting the sorrowful 
bearing wrongs patiently 
forgiving all injuries 
praying for the living and the dead

my source: The Guardian Newspaper UK: Haven for the Homeless
Maria Albrecht has only hazy memories of the first homeless person she and her husband, Scott, invited into their home to stay.   But he was almost certainly an alcoholic, in his 50's or 60's, and he wouldn't have had a shower in a long time.   He slept on a camp bed in the couple's sitting room: the family, with two small children at the time, were living in a two-bedroom semi.

That was twenty years ago: since then, the Albrechts have welcomed approximately 300 homeless people into their home - some straight off the streets, others referred by the British Red Cross   "I know people think it sounds impossible to take in homeless people," says Maria, "but the motivating factor for me is this: if I was sleeping on a park bench, I would hope someone would do this for me.   So I do it for others.....I know we can't help everyone who's homeless - but every night that even one is in our home, that's one night when one less person is shivering on the street."

 Today, the Albrechts live in a picturesque red-brick farmhouse outside Watford: it's surrounded by fields and there is a large fishing lake in the back garden.   It looks and feels like the very embodiment of a comfortable, middle class existence in the London computer belt, but inside there is a bohemian air and, ranged around the house, as well as Scott, 50, and Maria, 51, and their sons, Justin, 18, and Francis, 15,, there are several homeless women and two volunteer helpers.

These days we only take homeless women and their children," says Scott, 50, "Most are asylum seekers - many were trafficked here and have escaped, or they have been brought here as domestic workers and treated like slave, and managed to get away.

Such people have no right to accomodation.   The authorities are obliged to house children, but not their mothers.   "What that means is that the children would be taken away from them, and they'd be left on the streets," says Scott, "They seemed to us like they were in the most desperate situation of all, so a few years ago we decided we'd devote ourselves to helping them.   Maria's mother had just died and we had inherited some money.   We decided to sink it into renting this farmhouse so we would have plenty of space."

The ethos of the farm is that everyone is part of the family - there's a rota for cleaning and cooking, and the women take their turn.   At mealtimes there are usually 10 or 12 people round the kitchen table - for dishes that often owe their heritage to the cook's homeland in Africa ir Asia.   "It can make for interesting meals," says Francis, "And there are often plenty of people here - at Christmas we might have as many as 50 people.   So it is often busy; but I guess we don't remember any thing else, and we like it this way."

At the heart of our community we recognise the need for prayer. To this end we have just completed building our Little Portion Hermitage (4x3 metre log cabin). Hermitage comes from the Greek eremos which is the Desert. As we go into the Hermitage we go into the desert of our own hearts. There we battle for what is God's, the old self dies and the new self grows.

We are offering the use of the hermitage for any who would like to come on a retreat. The log cabin has heat, electrics, bed, dresser, desk and chair, it sits 40 metres from the main house in a secluded wooded area over-looking Lynsters lake. Meals, shower and washing facilities are taken in the main community house. Please contact Scott (bottom of page) for more information.

contact details

E-mail: thecatholicworkerfarm@yahoo.co.uk

There are many ways you can help and much more information on their website at http://thecatholicworkerfarm.org/index.html

To enjoy some videos on the same subject by a team of actors who work very professionally for Sr Elizabeth's Convent in Minsk, click on the link below.   I cannot recommend these videos too highly.


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