Biography of Father Andrey Lemeshonok

Spiritual Father of St Elisabeth Convent - Andrey Lemeshonok

July 24, 2020

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

Father Andrew was ordained in 1992. He helped people spiritually long before he became a priest. Our website team has asked some of Father Andrey’s closest friends - Archpriest Victor Belyakov, Archpriest Igor Latushko, and Protodeacon Nikolay Avsievich to share their memories and accounts about the highlights of Father Andrey’s ascent from sexton to the spiritual father of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth.

Archpriest Victor Belyakov Archpriest Victor Belyakov:
In 1984 we had our first baby. The hard times began quite unexpectedly. The baby started to have some very bad temper tantrums and was crying frequently nonstop. At times, it seemed like some evil power was trying to disrupt our relationships within our family and the well-being of our baby. So we went to church. At 10 pm, we were standing in front of the gate of the Church of Saint Peter and Paul. As expected, the gate was closed. We began to knock. “The church is closed. All the services are over,” said a low voice behind the gate. “Please let us in,” we pleaded. - “Come tomorrow. We are not allowed to open the church gate at late hours.”

But we kept asking, and finally, the man gave in. He broke the rule for our sake and opened the door. “What happened?” he asked. He listened to us carefully. “You say you have problems?” he asked. I do not see very many. Baptise your baby, have a church wedding, read the Scriptures, go to Church regularly and say your prayers. That will be all.”

Photo from the personal archive of father Andrey

The sexton behind the door was Father Andrey Lemeshonok. We had our baby baptised after a few days and celebrated a church wedding a week later. We did not pay anything for it - Father Andrey had asked about it for us and made the needed arrangements on our behalf. This was the beginning of our relationship. We became friends and visited each other quite often.

 Archpriest Igor Latushko Archpriest Igor Latushko:
I met Father Andrey at the choir loft. We were both sextons then and were tasked with jobs in this part of the church. I had been sent up there to sing in the choir, and I had neither the voice nor the musical ear for that. Father Andrey received me well and treated me with exceptional brotherly patience.

Protodeacon Nikolai Avsievich
I had been serving at the Church of Saint Peter and Paul from 1980. Father Andrey joined us a bit later. He got a position here as a sexton. I had been asked to form a regular choir and be its precentor. I was encouraging the young people who were coming to church to become singers in the choir.

Father Andrey and some of his friends (many of whom eventually became priests) were among the singers. Father Andrey was singing with the bases.

Archpriest Victor Belyakov:

Andrey Lemeshonok was the best reader at the Cathedral Church after the Metropolitan himself. We still remember how well he read the hours - he was very distinct and expressive. He also sang in the choir. Father Mikhail Bulgakov tried to get me to sing, too. “Go stand behind Andrey and do exactly as he does,” he told me. But I am not very comfortable singing. I am just too shy to sing. Andrey sings very low, and I was just copying him without thinking. Father Mikhail asked me three times before finally giving up. Archpriest Victor Belyakov:
The house of Father Andrey and his Matushka, Ludmila (we addressed them back than by their informal names - Andrey and Lyusia) was a very warm and welcoming place for all of us. It was filled with rare and interesting material - reprinted manuscripts, old icons, and articles of religious worship, and all of them were extremely pleasing to the eye and to the mind. Incidentally, the Icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, which is now kept at St. Nicholas Church of Saint Elisabeth Convent, came from Father Andrey’s collection.

Memorial Day St. Nicholas the Wonderworker

Visiting their home and spending time in conversation with them over a cup of tea was much like visiting some holy place. Father Andrey was radiating with warmth and kindness. He had a truly positive influence on people. He knows how to inspire you, and strengthen your faith. “Here’s the way... Just read this,” he would say, as I continued to go on about my fascination with Yoga or something else. He never tried to talk you out of it, or start a dispute. Instead, he advised in a calm voice: “Read this text by Hieromonk Rose, and think about it.”

Spiritual Father of St. Elisabeth Convent Andrej  Andrei Lemeshonok with familyFather Andrey had a lot of books. He would lend them to me several bags at a time, with a warning: “They may lock you up if they stop you with some of these.” There were indeed some reprints from foreign editions among them.“Good books, but quite dangerous to have,” as Father Andrey used to say of them. He once gave me a photocopy of the compendium “Remembered through generations” by Father Alexander Kiselev, a prominent priest from the Orthodox Church abroad. The book had a chapter titled “Religious books read by members of the Royal Family during their imprisonment”. That made very interesting reading. I had heard nothing about the Holy Royal Martyrs before. But being found in possession of this material could really land you into trouble.Protodeacon Nikolai Avsievich:
The scores of men and women coming to church to seek advice from a sexton were a manifestation of the phenomenon of god-seeking, which was common among the people of the late Soviet period. To them, Father Andrey provided solace, comfort and guidance towards God’s way. Archpriest Victor Belyakov:
The scores of men and women coming to church to seek advice from a sexton were a manifestation of the phenomenon of god-seeking, which was common among the people of the late Soviet period. To them, Father Andrey provided solace, comfort and guidance towards God’s way.

Many of today’s clergy have entered the Church through him. He became a point of attraction for people searching for answers to their questions, especially for members of artistic and creative professions in the 1980s. He was also drawing in a lot of young people. This was probably because he never tried to impose anything on others, and only gave guidance and suggestions - books to read, the kind of prayer to say, etc.

Photo by Vadim Kochan, Minsk, 1980Archpriest Igor Latushko:

Father Andrey has a remarkable ability to be simple and straightforward. He has kept his unsophisticated and direct ways in his relationships with people. He was living in faith and was willing to share with others.

Photo by Vadim Kochan, Minsk, 1980 That was a time of great unmet need for the discussion of God and eternity.

People’s hearts were thirsty for every drop of truth. All of this is now open and readily available. Back then, people would have to go to great lengths only to listen to the Bible, and printed copies were very hard to get. People were getting into groups to read the Bible. I once came to a meeting of one of those, comprised of dissident Jewish writers. I came to one of the meetings and was reported to my university almost immediately.Archpriest Victor Belyakov:
Many people who came to Church because of Father Andrey’s guidance were eventually ordained as priests, while he still continued as a sexton. I was ordained in 1988 when Father Andrey was still in his old job.

Father Andrey was instrumental in the establishment of our Parish of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos in Kruptsy. He had been coming to the site for many years to get water from the water spring, and he always admired the location. Later, he began to celebrate the Molebens, and the parish began to come together gradually.Father Andrei Lemeshonok

The Brotherhood of Archangel Michael, based at the parish, wanted to see him here as rector. But through the will of God, Father Andrey continued to serve at the Cathedral of Peter and Paul. The Metropolitan appointed me instead. The original plan was to locate at this site a memorial to the victims of Nazi occupation, but instead, this became the seat of the Orthodox Parish of the Protection of the Mother of God.

Protodeacon Nikolai Avsievich:

We used to see each other very often in those days. Young people were showing great interest in matters of faith, along with many other life questions. Because of my academic background, I was in a good position to help them answer many of these. I am also godfather to his daughter Sofia. We would frequently go on outings to the countryside together, and spend time talking and exchanging books. The relationship was very warm and engaging.

Father Andrey has always had people around him. Many young people were attracted to him as a man of common sense and great compassion. People were already flocking to him while he was still a sexton, asking him a lot of questions. Even more, people began to come after his ordainment. I always knew him as a man of humility and great understanding. Just as before, he remains easily approachable in every sense.

Orthodox church, 1980-1990, Minsk,Father Andrei Lemeshonok

Archpriest Igor Latushko:

I recently read a story by Leo Tolstoy called “What Men Live By”. In it, God sends an angel to earth to find out what people were living by. The main idea of the story is that it is love. Indeed, where there is love, there is a place for the all-encompassing God.

Seeing God helps a man to discover new facets in himself. Father Andrey saw God’s love in Starets Nikolay of Zalit; he recognised God’s man in the Starets, and love was born. His soul lit up like a candle, and it has remained alight to this day, as a reflection of Starets Nikolay's living spirit of Divine simplicity.

father Nikolay Guryanov. Zalit Island

Archpriest Victor Belyakov:

Every year after Remembrance Day (Radunitsa) we have been meeting Father Andrey at the grave of Starets Nikolay on Zalit Island in Russia. We travel separately but always meet at our destination. We celebrate liturgy together, have lunch and go back.

Archpriest Igor Latushko:

The most important thing at the Convent of Saint Elisabeth is friendship in its purest form. I have no doubt that many saints are praying for the Convent, and Starets Nikolay is among them. That Starets Nikolay is a part of the community of saints is a certainty, his canonisation is only a matter of time. Things that would be impossible in purely secular and human terms are happening at the Convent through God’s grace. The convent is alive and growing.

But running the place and keeping it all together certainly takes a lot of time and effort. This is much like ringing church bells - making music with the bells is a lot of hard work! Even more hard work is needed in monastic life to achieve harmony, and to put everyone on the right path. Father Andrey’s faith and trust in people is very helpful in this regard. May God help Father Andrey to keep the Convent running.

The most important thing at the Convent of Saint Elisabeth is friendship in its purest form.Protodeacon Nikolai Avsievich:

Never did I hear Father Andrey say: “I want to be a priest”. He always accepted God’s will and relied on it. Father Mikhail Bulgakov was seeking to attract to the priesthood interested and passionate young people. In doing so, he insisted on them to follow through all the stages in becoming a priest - singer, reader, sacristan. Father Andrey was no exception.

Archpriest Victor Belyakov:

By the time he was ordained, we were serving at different places. I was a village priest, while he continued to work at the Cathedral of Peter and Paul. Father Andrey was celebrating liturgy every day. That can be very difficult and demanding. Is he now having at least a day off work in a week? Back then, he did not have any. I was telling him all the time: “Father, you need to learn how to relax.” His role model of a priest that he aspired to was John of Kronstadt. This is a wonderful ambition, but it is very difficult to fulfil in practice.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Archpriest Igor Latushko:
Let me add one more thing: Father Andrey the way he is today is very different from the person he used to be in those years. Being touched by God’s blessing changes us a lot.

This kind of change is very visible in Father Andrey. He used to be very quiet and kept a low profile. He has developed a tremendous capacity for leadership and excellent organisational abilities. By working at the Convent that he established he has developed his best natural qualities - the ability to communicate and talk to people, and to ask and to convince.

 

Archpriest Igor Latushko:

If there is one thing I would like to say in conclusion, it would be this: Let us all value and take good care of Father Andrey in every way. We appreciate him very much and pray for his good health. We are not seeing each other very much these days and meet mostly at confessions. But we always feel in some providential way that we are still close together. Our most important exchange is by mentioning each other’s names during the Divine Liturgy. Although this lasts only a few seconds, I cherish these moments as an everlasting sacrament.

Maria Kotova

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