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Witnessing the Miraculous: The Blessed Valentina of Minsk

Guardian of hope: a spiritual journey with Saint Valentina of Minsk

Sister Yana Semashkevich

6 February is a day of deep spiritual significance, as it marks the commemoration of Saint Blessed Valentina of Minsk. Travellers from all corners of the globe flock to her resting place, the tranquil cemetery in Krysova, nestled in the Dzerzhynsky district of the Minsk region, Belarus, to pay homage to this revered figure. This sacred site serves as a sanctuary for those grappling with physical and mental suffering, offering a haven of solace and prayer.

Among the devoted visitors to this ground is Yana Semashkevich, who works at Saint Elisabeth Convent. She has dedicated several years to tending to the grave. Her commitment has led her to become a part of a tight-knit community that reverently cares for the resting place of Saint Valentina. In a poignant interview, Yana shares her deeply personal journey to faith, her role in nurturing the grave, and the profound miracles she attributes to the intercession of Saint Valentina of Minsk.

Can you recount your initial encounter with Mother Valentina?

My father is a deeply religious man. I can recall accompanying him to church every weekend and on special occasions since I was young. My father observed the fast, but I did not at that time.

He regularly goes to the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk, and after Mother Valentina's canonization there, a fellow worshipper approached him and asked if he had visited her grave. When he admitted he hadn't, he was gently reprimanded. Following his first visit, his journeys to Mother Valentina’s grave became frequent and regular, and he contributed his labours to adorn her resting place.

At the time, I was around 13 or 14. I distinctly remember feeling that I could do without God and the church, so I stopped joining my father in attending services as it no longer held any allure for me. However, I never explicitly denied the existence of God; I still kept icons in my room, prayed when I needed help and clung to my faith. It was still living deep in my heart, as they say.

After declining numerous invitations from my father to accompany him to venerate Mother Valentina, I finally relented and went. During our initial visits, we didn't stay long, just paying our respects to the saint, saying a quick prayer, and then leaving.

On the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, I continued coming to venerate the Blessed Valentina for several years to please my father. I felt out of place at first, struggling to connect with the people and understand my purpose there.

Sister Yana at Saint Elisabeth Convent
Sister Yana at Saint Elisabeth Convent
Sister Yana at Saint Elisabeth Convent

Sister Yana at Saint Elisabeth Convent (Minsk, Belarus)

In 2015, I was preparing to study in Poland. I was facing multiple interviews and extensive paperwork. Anticipating my first interview, my father recommended visiting Mother Valentina and asking for her help. I dismissed his advice, explaining that I needed time to prepare for the interview. However, the interview failed dismally because I had made a stupid mistake in my application. I was given another six months to prepare. This time, I heeded my father's advice, and the interview went well.

After a successful interview, I waited for a crucial document for admission, it was taking a long time coming. I had already started to worry that my study plans would amount to nothing. That's when I prayed to Mother Valentina when we visited her three weeks after the interview to thank her for her help. On the next day after the visit, I received a phone call informing me that the document was ready. Everything was finally falling into place.

I knew that God was willing me to study abroad because all the obstacles to my plans were removed after visiting Mother Valentina and praying to her from my heart.

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By that time, I had been living without Communion for seven years. However, prompted by my father's request before leaving for my studies, I attended the All-Night Vigil on Saturday and the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. These two days opened my eyes to what I had missed, struck me, and made me regret my prolonged absence from the church. It was as if my soul had finally received a breath of fresh air, instilling a sense of lightness and tranquillity.

A transformative moment unfolded a week later as I independently sought Communion, a decision that both surprised and pleased my father.

From that moment onwards, my every return home for holidays was accompanied by visits to the church and a journey to Mother Valentina. Since then, I have made it a priority to visit Mother Valentina at least once. This journey ultimately led me to devote myself to working at her resting place.

Tell me more about it. How do these visits go?

We are a dedicated group of people who tend to the grave of Saint Blessed Valentina of Minsk every weekend. Some of us are retired and have plenty of free time, but some come after an enduring night shift at a factory. Some are working several jobs.

We come every Saturday and Sunday, usually after the early liturgy at the Church of the Holy Spirit. We gather on the train and walk in a procession of the cross from our destination to Saint Valentina’s grave. The procession takes place in any weather and is a two to three-kilometre walk. Being a part is a valuable experience and a chance to spend time with like-minded people.

A procession of the Cross to the grave of Saint Valentina of Minsk

A procession of the Cross to the grave of Saint Valentina of Minsk

The procession is our way to prepare for some special event, almost a celebration. Our work is a long process, as we painstakingly decorate the grave and its surroundings with natural materials, each carrying symbolic meaning, which must first be located, procured and collected. Dedicated members develop sketches for the decorations and select plants, as each of them carries a symbolic message.

We also put up a heated tent where people can rest in a warm place over a cup of hot tea.

We keep in contact with each other outside of work. We exchange phone calls and spend time together.

Tending to the grave of Saint Valentina of Minsk
Tending to the grave of Saint Valentina of Minsk

Tending to the grave of Saint Valentina of Minsk

Did you go to church where you studied?

I had hesitated to attend the church where I had studied. It wasn't until the Lent of 2018 that I took out the Gospel that my father had given me and began to read it. I had kept it in my drawer all that time, and finally, I put it in the open. I began to converse with God more often, I observed the fast and travelled home for Easter, where I went to church and took the Communion.

After that Easter, it became clear to me that I needed to change my ways. I could not continue to live as if God did not exist while I was in Poland, attending Church and visiting Mother Valentina’s grave only on my visits home. I realized how hypocritical it was.

Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw, Poland

I came to understand that pursuing a life of faith requires true commitment: reading the daily prayers, attending church services and observing fasts. It dawned on me that living a life with God is not all sunshine and rainbows and considered whether I truly wanted to follow this path to its end.

Ultimately, I decided to embrace this path.

I located a church near my residence and began attending services there regularly on Saturdays and Sundays. Over time, I developed a friendship with the priests, and we continue to keep in touch to this day.

The Church of St Cyril and Methodius in Wrocław
The Church of St Cyril and Methodius in Wrocław

The Church of St Cyril and Methodius, Wrocław

Every time I resumed my studies after the holidays, I felt a sense of absence, a longing for the time spent in labour at Mother Valentina's grave. I reminisced about the time spent working alongside other volunteers.

I asked for Mother Valentina's prayers in all my endeavours, particularly in my academic pursuits. There was a time when I had to retake an exam. It was days before Mother Valentina’s feast day, and I was worried that I would not be free to travel home. I was studying hard and was in great anxiety. I was praying for support. The exam was challenging, conducted in a foreign language, and evaluated by a strict teacher. Upon correction, my grade was initially recorded as a "D" in the journal. Yet, when I revisited the journal, I discovered it had been amended to a satisfactory mark. The teacher relented, unexpectedly assigning a "C" in my records and seemingly forgetting that we had agreed upon a retake. It felt like a miracle to me.

Upon concluding my studies and returning to Belarus, I felt the urge to visit Mother Valentina more often. The journey and the work at the place were difficult at times, but I made peace with the understanding that there was no other way for me. Through Mother Valentina’s intercession, I secured work at Saint Elisabeth Convent.

I had no desire to remain abroad, so I returned and started looking for a job. My job hunt was unsuccessful. Wherever I applied, I was being turned down. I was praying to Mother Valentina. I was then visiting a priest who had great reverence for Saint Valentina (who is now deceased). I shared my predicament with him and asked him for his prayers. He gave me the phone number of his acquaintance who had worked at Saint Elisabeth Convent before. I contacted her, sent her my CV and was invited for an interview, which was successful.

Although every job comes with its intricacies and challenges, working at the Convent has been a choice I have never regretted.

Winter at Saint Elisabeth Convent, Minsk, Belarus

Winter at Saint Elisabeth Convent, Minsk, Belarus

Yana, people bring to Mother Valentina their most coveted wishes, hoping for a miracle. What is the most significant miracle that you have witnessed through her intercession?

Perhaps the most profound miracle brought about through the saint's prayers was my conscious return to the faith. Possibly, my study abroad and the various challenges I confronted along the way were providentially allowed by God to guide my return to Him. Although I once felt that such faith was impossible for me, everything seemed to unfold, almost independent of my will. Presently, my father and I attend church together and travel to Mother Valentina's to tend to her resting place.

You mentioned that you always turn to Mother Valentina in your thoughts. Among all the saints, is she the closest to you?

There are several saints to whom I turn daily, expressing my love and reverence for them. However, because I visit Mother Valentina so often, it feels most natural for me to turn to her, after God and the Mother of God. Even before I began going there regularly, I noticed a connection was developing and tried to pray to Mother Valentina independently of my father.

I believe that the saints also choose us. In my case, my father's prayer has played a crucial role. It was challenging for my father when his loved ones did not share his faith or church life. He fervently prayed to Mother Valentina, practically pleading for us. The workers at Mother's are a tight-knit community, almost like a brotherhood, and when someone is in trouble, everyone comes together to offer support. I believe these people were praying alongside my father as he sought divine intervention.

Yana with her friends in Krysovo

Yana with her friends in Krysovo

Undoubtedly, an individual's free will is a significant factor. My father fervently prayed and implored, seeking divine intervention through Mother Valentina, but ultimately, it was my choice whether to receive the spiritual revelation or not.

You have authored multiple articles about the Blessed Valentina for our website. Based on your experience with people who have sought Matushka's assistance, do their prayers being answered ultimately lead them to God?

Frequently, individuals who have received help from Mother Valentina continue to visit her, expressing their gratitude and faithfulness to God. The miracle often strengthens their spirits and brings them closer to God.

At the same time, I have seen examples of individuals, who are not living a church life, turn to a saint for assistance, receive help, and then cease the spiritual pursuit. In essence, they only seek God's intervention in moments of need. Some individuals have visited Mother Valentina’s grave and said, “My daughter is ill, and I want her to feel better. I was advised to go visit the saint’s grave nine times, and she will help.” It can be challenging to explain to such people that their condition might not change, and possibly last a lifetime, and yet it can have been sent to them for their salvation.

Can you recall any examples that particularly resonate with you?

I remember a woman who had endured a lengthy period of infertility, desperately longing for children. She visited Mother Valentina's grave, approached the cross, and implored, 'Mother, please send us a child.' She repeated her plea three times, and as an extraordinary outcome, she gave birth to triplets. It's a compelling and thought-provoking example.

Icon of Mother Valentina on a cross near her grave

Icon of Mother Valentina on a cross near her grave

At times, an individual may eagerly await something, convinced that their patience is waning and their life will fall into pieces unless their problem is resolved within a day. However, after a month of waiting, they may come to realize that the delayed outcome is actually for the best.

Similarly, when facing illness, divine intervention through prayer can lead to the fortuitous arrival of skilled doctors or can cause it to take a milder form. However, there are instances where fervent prayers seem to go unanswered, but there may still be meaning and purpose in such outcomes.

Mother Valentina asked people to come and talk to her as a living person. Is that how you see her?

Indeed, it is important to address saints as if they are living individuals, sharing one’s personal struggles and suffering. For this individual, engaging with Mother Valentina symbolizes a sense of connection and understanding. They find solace in confiding in Mother Valentina, expressing their feelings and troubles in their own words.

Standing before an icon of Mother Valentina at St. Elisabeth’s

Standing before an icon of Mother Valentina at St. Elisabeth’s

While substantial miracles may not be a common occurrence, the endless devotion and prayers offered at this holy site play a pivotal role in the lives of many. We know that Mother Valentina never stops praying for us, giving us the strength and encouragement to continue with our lives.

We warmly invite you to send us the names of your loved ones for commemoration during the prayer service to Blessed Valentina of Minsk. Simply follow the link to share your prayer requests: https://obitel-minsk.org/prayer-request.

Interviewer: Olga Demidyuk

Photos by Maxim Chernogolov, Maria Kotova and from the personal archive of Yana Semashkevich

February 05, 2024
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