A strange Orthodox convent situated near Minsk each year increases its influence on the Belarusian politics. Contrary to all Christian and civil principles, its administration justifies violence and denies independence of Belarus more and more.
In recent years, St. Elizabeth women’s convent situated in the suburbs of Minsk, in Novinki, has been mentioned more and more often, and not in the context of spiritual life, but in the context of politics. Also, the convent’s administration obviously has huge problems with such notions as conscientiousness, justice and honesty.
Events of the Belarusian revolution started in August, 2020, divided not only the Belarusian society, but also the Orthodox Church, its priests and laymen. Some of them preferred to understand the words of the Apostle «All power is from God» literally. Others dared to speak up against injustice and defend the truth. The path of the second ones has become more difficult, as the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) makes part of the Moscow Patriarchate, i.e., of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). It means, criticizing the Belarusian regime means contradicting the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. A deed that, to put it mildly, is not welcome. If the laymen are free not to come to sermons or choose churches with «good» priests, not to pray for the Patriarch and the Metropolitan, or at least not to call any of them «master and father», then the situation of priests is much more complicated and dependent.
In August, 2020, in the BOC a group of clerics quickly formed who exchanged their consciousness to «perks» from the regime: acknowledgments, preferences and awards. The brightest character among them is the Archpriest Andrei Lemiashonak (Andrey Lemeshonok). The «spiritual father», but in fact the master of the St. Elizabeth convent. Already in December, 2020, Andrei Lamiashonak was awarded with the Order of St. Cyril of Turov of the II degree of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, and then his career prospered nicely. Not modestly nicely. After all, the St. Elizabeth convent is also a huge commercial organization. With its own production facilities and well-established global trade relations, with its own laws. The first and most important of which is unquestioning obedience to Lemiashonak. Unenviable is the fate of those nuns who allow themselves to think and have their own opinion. Confessions made to the «spiritual father» turn into interrogations, whistleblowing policy is flourishing.
On November 22, 2020, at a meeting with the nuns, having given the floor to a female employee and then noticing, that she was raising the issue of young people beaten by the OMON, Lemiashonak rudely interrupted her by the phrase «fuck you» and began showering traditional propagandist clichés like «the OMON saved the country», «enforcers got beaten on a mass-scale», «if not for Russia and its help, where would we be?», «everything was almost ideal in Libya with the dictator Gaddafi», «the only president for the people» and so on. The main point was that the parents of peaceful protesters violently beaten by the OMON, had to repent that they had raised such children.
Not long ago, on Christmas, Aliaksandr Lukashenka visited the convent expressing profound satisfaction of the politics held there. In his Sunday sermon, that followed the holiday, the Archpriest Andrei Lemiashonak could not but recall the visit Aliaksandr Lukashenka had paid to the convent on Christmas. Although there was no reason to resort to that topic, the preacher found it anyway:
– Yesterday, the president paid a visit. It was a holiday for us. You know, I looked at him – he is a personality. You understand, he is a personality. Despite my respect for Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin – translator’s note], I think this one is much higher. He really is, you understand… You might not know, but you feel it when you are next to the man, when he is saying something. So, we are under secure leadership.
It should be mentioned, that such politicization and obvious partisanship of Lemiashonak for a long time has been causing discontent among the parishioners, who reasonably believe that a priest should serve the God, and not the sovereign. As far back as in August, 2020, the parishioners and the employees of the St. Elizabeth convent wrote a collective appeal to the Metropolitan Pavel of Minsk and Zaslavel, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus.
In particular, they said: «In his conversations, appeals and sermons, Andrei Lemiashonak openly speaks about his own personal civic stance, about the political situation not only in our country, but in the world. His sermons have turned into political information classes. Often, in his sayings Andrei Lemiashonak involves unconfirmed and unproven facts. … While expressing his personal civic stance and political views, the Archpriest Andrei Lemiashonak makes them look like the position of the whole convent: nuns, monks, employees and all the clergy. Some listeners perceive it as the official stance of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. … It resulted in a huge rift among the employees and the parishioners of the convent, expressed in an open intolerance and persecution of a different civic stance. The rift is provoked and is fueled by the actions and words of the Archpriest Andrei Lemiashonak».
Nevertheless, it looks like, the closeness to the regime has become a sort of an indulgence for Andrei Lemiashonak: there have never been any ecclesiastical penalties against him. Quite on the contrary: he continued to «lick» the secular power with even greater zeal.
Anyway, if the activity of the administration of the St. Elizabeth convent were limited only to the subservience to the regime, it would not be the most horrible thing: actually, it is a common sin of many Orthodox hierarchs. Yet, Andrei Lemiashonak and his associates pursue a policy of unlimited strengthening of Russian influence in Belarus, up to the subtle denial of the concept of the Belarusian statehood and independence.
It’s enough to listen to the sermons of priests of monastery and convent churches with their constant mentioning of Vladimir Putin and «unified Russia». Or to see how the St. Elizabeth convent supports (not only spiritually, but also financially) the Russian troops invading Ukraine. Moreover, Andrei Lemiashonak’s own son, Dmitry Lemiashonak (Lemeshonok) regularly appears at the convent wearing T-shirts with the symbol of DPR and inscription «White Russia», or a sport coat with the inscription «Russia».
He does not conceal his absolutely pro-Russian and anti-Belarusian views. Dmitry Lemiashonak was one of the founders of the current fan movement of the Minsk «Dinamo». In those times, he held radical neo-Nazi views. Lemiashonak was one of those who beat an activist of Malodoi Front, Mikalai Dzemidzenka, during a meeting at the «House of Moscow» in Minsk with the Russian «Black Hundreds» movement’s writer Nikolai Starikov.
In addition, meetings with a person who presented himself as a «lieutenant colonel from the Russian GRU, Anton Manshin, were held at the convent. Usually, his speeches are a series of war stories that have nothing in common with the reality and are closely mixed with the propaganda of the «Russian world». «There is no international terrorism. Do not believe in that myth spread by the mass media!» Manshin interleaves his stories and prayers with political slogans. «Terrorism was invented by the Americans and the British to start the third world war and destroy Russia as soon as possible».
No wonder many Russian ideologists coming to Belarus always try to visit the St. Elizabeth convent and call it «the true stronghold of the Russian world» in Belarus.