August 12, 2010.
Russian icons fill the walls of the small chapel of the monastery of Rome where nuns from around the world pray for Russia as part of a special effort for over 50 years now.
Since 1957, these nuns break their silence only to pray and sing, in their Slavic language. The rite they follow is of the Orthodox tradition, but they are Catholic. Their habit is also like that of Russian orthodox nuns.
The life of this cloistered convent reflects that of Orthodox convents. The only difference is that in these convents, they pray with and for the Pope. Sister Elena (Italy) "In the East they do not distinguish between cloistered convents and those with an active life with outside contact. The cloister is not understood as a separation. There are no grates. But the nuns live in the monastery and leave only for important matters."
Pope Pius XII had this convent established. His goal was to end communism in Russia, a country to which he was particularly attached. The same day Pius XII had been ordained a bishop, Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the shepherds calling for the conversion of Russia.
The monastery began with four nuns. All were Russian. A Jesuit priest was the superior and a Benedictine abbot taught the nuns the Byzantine rite. Although they had been baptized with the Orthodox rite, many had forgotten about the elements of it.Sister Elena (Italy)"The nuns were the first four to make up the community. They were all Russians because at first he wanted them to be Russian. They had fled Russia years earlier and brought with them painful stories. Two lived during the tsarist period and one of the others, a younger member, at the start of the Soviet era."
While Russia's modern day needs have changed, these nuns are still praying. They now focus on progress in ecumenical dialogue. In fact, many Orthodox patriarchs have passed through the convent. May expressed their condolences when the founder died a few months ago.
Proof of the good relationship they have with the Orthodox world is seen in the many icons they have received as gifts. This image of the Coronation of the Mother of God is one of the oldest. Sister Elena (Italy)"It was given by Metropolitan Nicodemus. He handled external relations of the Orthodox Church. When he came to Rome he always came to see the nuns. He was very open to them. When on behalf of the Orthodox Church he came to congratulate John Paul I on his election as Pope, he suffered a heart attack and died in the arms of the Pope."
Sister Helen is Italian and since her childhood has been passionate about Russian culture and the Byzantine rite. After a trip to Russia, she realized she had to do something for this country. So here, from the heart of the Church, they pray continually for Russia with the other nuns who have dedicated their lives on this special mission.