- October 26, 2012
Mikniškės: Ora et labora
There have been many rumours about Mikniškės: about an orthodox church, kind people, unique atmosphere, commune… The last one was difficult to understand, different from accepted stereotypes. I have to see it with my own eyes. Off I go.
Between Jašiūnai and Turgeliai in Šalčininkai district municipality there is a picturesque road, turrets of the church in Turgeliai are visible from afar. Behind the church the road turns left (no signpost, I am driving according to the directions of kind people). The car passes a cemetery, small bridge and finally reaches a fence. I am in Mikniškės.
The gate is open, I enter the property of the commune, a friendly and excited sheepdog welcomes me. I can see a big and beautiful house with lace decorations. After a while a lady comes out and invites me inside. At the very beginning she explains that today is a fast so they cannot offer me anything special. However, there is some tea and biscuits. She smiles and is extremely kind. We are sitting in a big room at a round table: Archimandrite Leonid, Mikniškės’ superior, monk Ioann, Sister Julia and Sister Alona. A tall white tiled stove, piano form 19th century and rich library are listening in on our conversation.
A little bit of Korecki family’s history
Sister Alona shows me an album with a collection of well-maintained old photos. She says: “The commune was established after 1921. Since the second half of 19th century there had been a mansion of three generations of noble Korecki family. She browses through the album and shows me photos of the family of Nikołaj Osipowicz and his wife Anastasia Diemientjewna. Nikołaj married Anastasija when he was 40 years old, his bride was 20 years younger than him. They had six daughters. In the old photo I can see Jelena, Tatjana, Marija, Warwara, Anastasija and Annuszka, the Korecki’s foster child. All girls received good education in an extremely prestigious school for girls in Saint Petersburg. Despite their noble pedigree, they were brought up to be modest and pious young ladies. Other photo is presenting a young and beautiful lady mounting a horse, her younger sister is sitting on a nearby fence. The family was Christian but they did not lead a pious and deeply religious life. They behaved like an ordinary noble family. Parties, guests, but without much splendour. They were teaching their girls mercy and took care of peasants’ children during a plague. In 1912 Nikołaj Osipowicz died and even before the family had lost Tatjana. It was an extremely difficult period of time for Anastasija. Thus she decided to build a small chapel in order to seek spiritual comfort. This small Orthodox Church was completed in 1915.
The turning point in our history is marked by the beginning of Father Pontij Rupyszew’s pastoral work in Mikniškės in 1921. He was working there for last 18 years of his life. “A great man of modesty, prayer and love with simple faith” Warwara Nikołajewna wrote later in her book of memories. After his arrival the life in the mansion changed completely. “All three sisters marvelled at the life began by dear Father. Their hearts and minds discovered new ethics. The sisters abandoned their former lives with no regret. They stopped travelling, began to wear modest clothes and strictly obey all rules of the Orthodox Church.” I read it in the book.
In 1922 the church was officially consecrated and Father Pontij became a priest in Mikniškės. He was greatly admired by more and more believers who were gathering around him. He had a lot of talent for preaching and explaining dogmas and the Gospel. All people considered him a saint, everyone wanted to talk with him, receive absolution from him, or just listen to him. Despite his poor health, Father comforted every person in need, prayed for everybody, visited other local parishes. Mikniškės became gradually a destination of pilgrimages. People arrived from distant places, for example from Russia or Belarus. 120km were covered in three days. Somebody had to give accommodation, bedding and some food for the visitors. According to Sister Alona, Father Pontij asked the sisters form Korecki family: “What are you going to do when all pilgrims come here?” The sisters answered: “We are going to accept them all”. The sisters kept their promise. The pilgrims were receiving accommodation, some food and their clothes were being washed. In the course of time two sisters decided to dedicate their lives to the Lord and never get married. Moreover, they offered their property to the community. Land and buildings became the property of the commune, the sisters wore ordinary clothes and sat at the common table. The land had to be cultivated but more and more people was arriving so there was enough work for everybody. Some people wanted to stay, however, Father Pontij did not accept everybody into the community. They could have a weak body but had to possess a strong spirit. The commune gathered nearly 150 members. They lived together until 1939. Their life was not different form the monastic one but Father Pontij rejected all proposals of Orthodox superiors to declare the community a monastery. The decision turned out to be very good in 1940 when the Soviet authorities started to persecute believers of all religions. Father Pontij passed away in 1939. The sister were forced into exile firstly to Altai Krai and then to Kazakhstan.
The figure of Father Pontij deserves serious attention. According to the memories of Warwara Nikołajewna Korecka, during his life Father experienced many mystic signs. Miracles occurred in the first days of his life. He was born in Ašmena, a town in the Vilna Governorate, in 1877. The seven-month old premature baby was so weak that a doctor did not expect him to live more than few hours. The grandfather of the newborn baby was a clergyman so he hurried to baptise the child and gave him a name that was in a calendar. After the ceremony the baby gave his first shout. Pontij survived but his childhood was very sad because he was weak and had poor health. When the boy was six years old his mother died and his aunt took care of him. Because he was a quiet and meek child, he received all penalties for pranks performed by his two older brothers.
When Pontij’s father obtained a job in Vilnius, the boy was enrolled in a secondary school in Vilnius. In school other children laughed at and bullied him because of his different character. He was not bothered by that because he had visions of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity. He created his own world. He graduated from the Law Faculty of Moscow University and passed his entrance exams to Vilnius Seminary with flying colours. He performed his pastoral work in several parishes. In Mikniškės Warwara Nikołajewna asked him why he did not use his healing ability to help all people.
“Is it possible to heal all people?” asked Father Pontij. “People want to be healed in order to serve their sin. Only someone who wants to serve the Lord can be healed”.
Father Pontij was a man of poor health, however, he radiated so strong spiritual power that after a simple talk with him people were full of love. Warwara marvelled “Father, you have to be happy to have an insight into a human soul”. Father Pontij answered “Observing darkness of humans’ souls and loving them at the same time is an extremely heavy cross”.
In 1922 Father Pontij observed the march of Polish army. People around him were very enthusiastic but Father Pontij said: “Huge miseries and mourning will fall on Poland!” After 17 years his prophecy turned out to be true. He prophesied hard time to the community in Mikniškės but emphasized that it would survive.
Mikniškės after the war
In the Soviet time Russian Volgas with the party’s functionaries arrived: “Naczialnik gdie?” “In the church”. “ Kak! Pora razobłaczit łże-kołchoz!”
In 1960 Moscow “Izvestia” published a crushing article. “The liquidators have arrived and started the nationalization. No private property, leave as fast as you can!” They confiscated buildings, cattle, even spoons and forks. They ordered people to leave. The sisters started to work in Tabariškės sovkhoz. However, in the evenings they were praying secretly and cultivating their land. They managed to survive in this way until 1990.
Nowadays, the commune still exist and dedicates their work to God. Archimandrite Leonid holds the community in his spiritual care. During his term the commune has experienced many concrete changes: the small Orthodox church has been extended, new bells have appeared, two small Orthodox houses have been built, old and damaged buildings are being restored. The Agricultural Christian Community “Mikniškės” has been officially registered. A part of the former property of Korecki family has been returned to the community. There is about 100 people, mostly women. Together they cultivate land, bake bread, breed cattle, take care of an orchard and a garden, keep bees for honey. Preparing firewood for the winter is very time-consuming. The community directs an Orthodox Sunday school and looks after older Sisters. There is enough work for everybody.
Storks build their nests on primeval lime trees. Averagely one stork falls on one resident of Mikniškės. Arithmetic is easy: there are 25 nests with two adult storks, at the end of the summer two young birds come. Simple: 100 residents, 100 storks. Here everybody feels at home…
Tłumaczenie Karolina Rolka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Rolka the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.