“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Extend an Orthodox Rehabilitation Center for Recovering Addicts in Russia
For almost 30 years, at the request of Pope Saint John Paul II, ACN has been committed to supporting and promoting dialogue in Russia with the Orthodox Church. Over the intervening years, many joint initiatives have been developed, in which both Catholics and Orthodox Christians have worked side by side, seeking common solutions to the problems of the modern world.
An historic meeting between Pope Francis and the Moscow Patriarch Kirill in 2016 lent further impetus to the effort, and today, a joint ecumenical working party initiated by ACN aims to translate the two leaders’ joint declaration into concrete projects in Russia.
One issue named in the declaration was pastoral support for those suffering from addiction. Experience shows that addicts often experience a great need for a relationship with God, and both Churches have found that they can help each other through an exchange of ideas and the training of priests to address that need.
One outstanding pioneer of this work is the Orthodox priest Sergij Belkov, who, in 1996, established a rehabilitation center 65 miles from Saint Petersburg. It became clear to Father Sergij that addiction was not just a medical or sociological problem, but a kind of spiritual sickness, too. So his center aimed to heal the complete person.
Before joining the priesthood, Father Sergij was a senior police Commissioner with the murder squad. He was a regular witness to the evil that enslaves people and makes them capable of unspeakable crimes. His experience had also taught him that every kind of evil starts with something small. “Before someone commits real crimes and breaks the law, he begins by breaking moral laws,” he explains. Taking drugs, similarly, is often the beginning of a much deeper involvement in criminality.
Father Sergij was ordained to the priesthood in 1992, and when people struggling with addiction came to him for confession, he felt called to do something for them. His Orthodox rehab center was the first of its kind in Russia, and his remarkable success rate of about 75% was a vindication of his approach, which was then copied all over the country.
His center is structured like a large family. Life is organized along semi-monastic lines, with a strict rhythm of prayer and work; fast days are observed, and the sacraments are received. Young men come to Father Sergij after a physical detox in a hospital, under medical supervision, and each one is given a duty to perform. In doing so, they are able to recover their sense of dignity and responsibility. Many of them work on the farm, rearing pigs and poultry, or in the vegetable garden, while others learn a trade, like carpentry or bricklaying.
The church that serves the center was built in 1999 by former addicts. There is also a workshop where candles and hosts (Prosphora) for the Orthodox liturgy are produced. In this way, psychologically and physically strengthened, the young men can reclaim their place in society, plying a trade and raising families of their own. There are even some spiritual vocations among the former addicts.
From the start, ACN has supported this initiative. But the number of young men who come seeking help continues to grow, so the building must now be extended. ACN has proposed a contribution of $36,200 to the construction project.
Will you join us in supporting this successful rehabilitation center for recovering addicts in Russia?
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