Monastery that gives worldly blessings

HEGUMENESS STEFANA

HEGUMENESS STEFANA

By Natalia MALIMON, The Day, Volyn oblast
3/2/2012

NOT FOR NUNS, BUT FOR CHILDREN

Thousand years ago the Orthodox Monastery was only a spiritual center for village of Zymne, today people come here looking for ways to solve worldly problems.

The students and teachers of Zymne school waited for this winter again with fear, not because people in Volyn region have already forgotten about those frosty winters, the kind we had when I was still a child and when in the morning in order to come out of a house a grown-up had to dig a tunnel in snowdrifts of person’s height. Even the winters that we now have in our region can cause stinging pains in fingers of school students. The old boiler house that stands aside the school was not able to provide heat to the school building due to worn out heating main. As the deputy director Halyna Sinchuk admits, while those on the first floor could still warm rooms up somehow, those on the se­cond floor didn’t know what else to put on to keep them warm. When recently I phoned Alla Melnyk, director of Zymne School to ask about the news they had, I heard her happy voice saying: “It’s warm!” It was said with a feeling of comfort that one quickly gets used to. The most inte­resting is the fact that the heat in the school appeared thanks to a kind neighbor – Zymne Stauropegic Convent. The fact that the Convent doesn’t belong to the ca­tegory of poor was discussed by many in Volyn. Only not that many remember the ruins that were on the territory of modern Monastery 20 years ago, when two nuns (one of them is now the hegumeness Stefana) came from Korets. For a few decades the collective farm tractor brigade was located on the Holy Mountain and the holy place was turned into a waste dump. Today the Convent as if revived from the ashes: its territory, even if you come here not for the first time, makes a great impression with its majestic temples and monastic buildings. It is true that the Convent has many voluntary and wealthy sponsors, thanks to whom it revived and is deve­loping now. The special aura of the Holy Mountain (even thought there are many other monasteries in Ukraine) draws both patriarchs and presidents here.

The luxurious (there is no other word to describe it) new mansion in front of the Convent, that was built so quickly, as if it grew from the earth on its own, was funded by the famous Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk. He and his wife Oksana, a well-known TV host, are not only good friends with hegumeness Stefana but also parishioners of this holy mo­nas­te­ry. Locals see Oksana Mar­chen­ko in Uspensky Cathedral of the monastery during all-night vigils and on Easter ser­vice. Recently she was here for Christmas service too. A part of the new building will be used for household needs of the monastery and over­night stays of pilgrims. However, the main reason for building this house was to have a summer recreation camp for children there, because for many years already children from the Chornobyl area, Volyn and Kyiv regions come to spend summer in the monastery.

In fact, recreation for children is not a part of the regulations of mo­nas­tery life, because the Convent is totally self-supported. The source for that is in donations of pilgrims and parishioners of the churches, as well as the huge household. Even in the most abrupt parts of the steep above the Luh River lots of blackberry bushes grow along with other plants. It is surprising how the nuns can even reach there. But apparently not a tiniest piece of land that can be used for the benefit of the monastery is left untouched.

Thus, the funds provided by benefactors to the monastery could be used in a completely different way. However, even a brief excursion to the Zymne School will make an impression of nonpublic, but such essential involvement of hegumeness Stefana in solving its problems. Somebody presented the monastery with a TV set – it was given to the school. The school had old toilets – Re­verend Mother gave money for modern plumbing and the new tiles. Children wanted to sing, play, and dance but there was no art school in the village – hegumeness not only began to support the school choir with money and bought them nice uniform, she also purchased pia­nos, violins, accordions, and even pipes. When the old school building, that stood on both sides of the Monastyrska Street in the center of the village as an unattractive ruin for years, began to fall apart, it was hegumeness Stefana, who found a sponsor (for 500,000 hryvnias!) and saved it. Last year The Day already told the story about how old ruins that were a disgrace of the Zymne village center turned into a nice building with music classes. The reconstruction was made, like all the worldly charitable deeds of the monastery, with the blessing of the Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Volo­dy­myr, who also likes to visit Zymne.

Instead of the old boiler house, which already began to fall down starting from the roof and the walls, now there is a compact structure in the school yard, which provides heat for the two-stored school building. The total cost of this wonder (this is how school people refer to the boiler house) is 360,000 hryvnias. Hegumeness Stefana says that they got this money from a Kyiv businessman, who wanted to help the monastery, but agreed to the Mo­ther’s offer to pass this money onto the local school. He decided that she must know better what to spend them on. The mounting works on boiler house began in September and in a month it was completed, right before the heating season. Head of Zymne Village Council Viache­slav Katolyk proudly says that it is not just warm in the school, but the cost of gas is reduced by three times, and the fewer workers are needed to operate it now. The local authorities did not even have to look for a contractor; the monastery took care of that too.

VISIT WITH SONGS AND ICON

Village of Zymne and village of Za­liznytsia are quite far away from each other. However, these villages in Volo­dymyr-Volynsky and Liubeshiv raions were united in a joint project “Village School.” Within the framework of this project children from Zymne vi­sited (all of them for the first time!) Volyn Polissia. Children from Zalizny­tsia haven’t ever seen a violin in there lives and called pipe “a small tube” (village is far away from cities). Zymne school students prepared a concert program with mostly classic music pieces. Serhii Kutynets, director of Zaliznytsia School, said that it was a very interesting meeting: “The concert lasted for 40 minutes and all that time our children sat there excited with their mouths wide open! Zaliznytsia can be hardly called laggard, because it is a village rich in hard-working people, however, we don’t have a music studio like the one in Zymne yet.”

In fact, at the present moment only Zymne can be proud of a music studio in a village school. It became possible only thanks to Mother Stefana. The monastery even ordered and paid for the big comfortable bus that took children to Zaliznytsia in another part of the region. The school didn’t need to worry about it.

“Our children saw what a treasure they’ve got because now they can sing, dance, and play musical instruments,” said Halyna Synchuk, deputy director. “The choir presented at the concert in Zaliznytsia their, so to speak, signature piece-song about the monastery “Zymnenska Sviatynia” (Zymne Sacred Place) and presented the school with the miraculous icon of Zymne Holy Virgin. Our children were so happy! On their way home they sang all the songs about Volyn they knew.”

“Well, how can we not help children when it makes them so happy?” said Reverend Mother Stefana when she found out about the successful trip of the music studio they sponsored.

FOR THE BLESSINGS OF HEAVENS AND NOT OF THIS WORLD

Zymne Convent lives a common slow pace life. A weekday filled the territory, which is so full on Sundays that there is no room to swing a cat there, with household work. Construction workers and nuns were all doing their work: the monastery always needs working hands and because there are not so many jobs in the area, as hegumeness Stefana says, there are often people who come to serve the sacred place and earn a living.

The Day asked Mother Stefana about the reason why the monastery cares so much about the problems of the village:

Head of Zymne Village Council Via­cheslav Katolyk told that he turned to you when lots of snow covered the roads, when they didn’t have enough money for street lighting, and even when a poor family couldn’t get children ready for school, and you helped them. Monastery doesn’t have a bank of its own, doesn’t print its own money and certainly has needs that you could spend those money on.

“Our Lord said, that what you did to your neighbor is what you did to me. If we live on the donations from people, who give them according to their capabilities, from their good will, and we can share… why shouldn’t we be doing so, especially because this world now is so materialized and many people only live for the worldly goods. Perhaps, it is the goal of many people to gain as much wealth as possible and live in it. Our goal is diffe­rent – we want to receive heaven­ly blessings from God. That is why we give away the worldly blessings.”

When 20 years ago you and Mother Mykolaia came from Korets Monastery to Zymne to restore the monastery here, from what I know, you saw ruins here. There must have been someone who helped you to restore the monastery.

“It was an area used as a waste dump and garbage was brought here from all over the region. The first thing we had to do here was taking the garbage away. For three days we had nothing to eat except for a few cans of canned food we were given in the monastery. Bishop Varfolomii brought the two of us here to this Holy Mountain, the sacred place of many prayers but at the same time a disgraced and desert place, and left us here. We even didn’t have a place to stay for our first night here and were scared because there were many bats around,” recalled hegumeness. “For the night we were taken to the city to the eparchy. In the early morning next day we decided that if God blessed us to be here we should not be afraid of anything with God because He won’t leave us alone. Things impos­sible to men are possible for God.”

Thus, the young nuns put all their hopes on Our Lord and Mother of God, whose monastery was in Zymne. Step by step, year after year, with the help of kind people sent by God the monastery was being restored. It is a sacred place founded by Grand Prince Vo­lo­dy­myr, the one who Christianized Kyivan Rus’. According to a legend, the Grand Prince gave the monastery the miraculous icon of Holy Virgin, the one that was used to bless his marriage with Princess Anna. Today miracles and healing still take place near the icon by faith of people, who ask Lord for mercy. Not only the walls of the monastery were restored, but also the most important thing – spirituality, and it was much more difficult to resurrect it from ruins than to build the walls.

“God brings the right people in all times: me and Mother Mykolaia were blessed for restoration of this monastery. God also sent people who helped us and put their money into this. There were many times when we started work with one sum of money in mind and had to fi­nish it with a greater amount needed. I’ve experienced such stress thinking about how to pay people. But, you know, God thinks about it! He sent people we needed and those who gave money the monastery needed at those times. Of course we prayed and our prayer to God had to be strong and faith in Him had to be deep. God didn’t leave us alone, that is why today we cannot leave alone people in need,” said hegumeness.

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