Sr. Klara Sviderska - Congregation of St Benedict in Zytomierz - Ukraine
ABOUT THE CONGREGATION:
We are sisters from the Congregation of St Benedict in Ukraine in Zytomierz, it’s a Vilnius Foundation founded in 1988. This is the only house of the congregation in Ukraine. In 2014 we became an Abbey.
There are 18 sisters here at the moment. The average age is 39. The oldest sister is 68 and the youngest 24. The names of our sisters are: S. Benedicta, Bernadetta, Jadwiga, Agnieszka, Scholastyka, Augustyna, Immaculata, Agata, Łucja, Maria, Estera, Ernesta, Brigid, Katarzyna, Franciszka, Rita, and me (S. Klara). Almost everyone is Ukrainian; two sisters are from Belarus and one sister is from Russia.
I myself was born into a family with a strong faith. I have two brothers, one is a Franciscan and the other has his own family. I was born in Żytomierz and I have lived here in the monastery for 21 years. I finished medical school.
I was a regular girl, happy and fun-loving. I was helping at the church and going to some retreats with young people. My aunt was telling me about St. Teresa of the Child Jesus. My mother was a doctor and I wanted to be a doctor too. I always wanted to help people. During my studies I was a nurse for children.
At one Holy Mass they were talking about Beretta Molla. She was always asking for a good husband and she got one. I also wanted the same, so I was asking for one every day. I ran every day to church to be at Mass. I adored Jesus in the Holy Sacrament. I started to feel that Jesus is supposed to be my fiancé. It took me a lot of time and thinking to make this decision because I still wanted to have a husband and children. Two years, it took me two years. I wanted to have children; many and now I have a good husband and 18 children (laughing).
When I came finally to the sisters I asked “Lord of this house do you accept me?”. I didn’t want to live in a closed monastery but after the Holy Mass I understood that I need to give Jesus what he gives me and not what I wish to do.
My family wasn’t very happy about my choice of a closed monastery. Even though my family is a very religious one I was a special child in the eyes of my parents. They wanted to have grandchildren so they didn’t want me to go there. In “active” monasteries you can visit home but here I cannot, so my family was worried that they would not see me ever again. They tried to convince me by all means but after some time they agreed. When they finally saw my happiness they were okay.
Why did you choose this congregation?
Jesus knows what is in my soul and that is why he chose it for me. I am kind of a workaholic. The order of St. Benedict saves me from falling into this because our days are divided evenly to work, pray and rest. It is not that we are completely cut off from the world. We keep praying for the people in the world. We stay in the house to help the world with our prayers. My message to the people is to read the Bible more, to listen to God more, to be in love with Him. Listen to the voice of God and we can find the answers. Our poverty is that we don’t listen to God, that we choose what our nature tells us. The word of God is like a light in a way, showing us where to go. It is like a little seed. When we accept it in us it grows. When we start listening to God’s word the light starts to grow inside.
It is very important to be able to live in a community every day with a permanent place to stay (stabilitas locis). We have five vows: Three regular and two special ones, which are a permanent place to stay and the moral conversion (to change our ways of living so that it is as God advises us). It is very crucial to know how to live with oneself, and this sacrificial generosity that everything must be in service to Jesus. It is all about the vocation, the inside voice of Jesus telling you that this is the place where he wants you to be. Some girls come with the purpose of living life in enclosure to devote themselves completely to God. Some others come to spend time with us and after that time they discover that this is the life they wish to lead. This is very important. Our vocation is not a choice but a response to the calling. Normally no one can choose to live a life in poverty, chastity and obedience. It has to come from God and has to be an effect of an answer to that call. Normally God created man to live in marriage. But when we choose Jesus it has to be his invitation. Man always feels not worthy to have Christ as his own. It is a kind of folly to choose such a life and that is why it takes so long before the vows.
The time needed to take the vows is a bit longer now than it was before: One year of aspirate, one year of postulate, two years of novitiate. We still have an old tradition of welcoming a sister to novitiate: a candidate dresses up in white with flowers on her head just like a bride. She has roses placed on her head and she throws them before the altar as a sign of rejecting the wealth of this world. Also her hair is cut as a sign of giving away her beauty for Christ and his service. Then she is dressed in a habit. It is an old custom because normally it is done in private in the chapel of the monastery but we do it the old fashioned way: in public during Holy Mass.
I can say that we don’t have many vocations but as one priest told us recently: “children are also not born in every family every year”. Vocation is a gift from God to a congregation just like a child to his parents. We cannot do much about it by ourselves but we can pray for them. And so we keep praying for vocations and each time someone comes it is a great happiness and joy. We pray that this girl will follow her vocation so that she becomes holy, eager and open to serve because life in enclosure is not something light and easy.
THEIR LIFE AND WORK:
Our first duty is prayer. We don’t leave the monastery to go and preach or do any kind of catechism but we are open for groups to come to us to do religious retreats. Small groups. We run our own retreats in the spirit of St. Hildegard and the Lectio Divina.
We also bake the Eucharistic Bread, embroider tablecloths and all liturgical clothing we also paint icons. We work around the house in our small garden and with hens. And we have a place for children where they come and they can learn some things from the sisters. At the moment they are preparing some theatrical sketch for Pascha.
As a person responsible for 18 people and the building, I worry about everything. The building requires some repairs, the heating and things need fixing. There are always things to do around the building. Heating is the biggest challenge. When we came here for the first time there was no heating at all. Now we have also some troubles with plumbing. I give everything to Jesus and He takes care of it. As an example, when the pipes broke and it was very cold in the house I listened to the words “Do not be afraid, trust in me”. One priest came and I was telling him the story. He told me don’t worry I know some people. They came the next day and fixed the problem. So it is for me very important to follow the Word. Always trust completely in the Lord. There are many situations like this. And with the sisters it works fine. I need to take care of their formation. I am thankful to ACN for your help.