An experience of the rehabilitation of drug-addicts at a village parish PDF Печать
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We first came across the problem of drug addiction in 1991 when Dmitry Ostrovsky, Elena Rydalevskaya and other founders of the Vozvraschenie (return) foundation began to come to our parish. We have maintained cooperation with them to this day. The first drug-addicts appeared at the Georgievskoye village in 1992, but it was in 1998 that the parish began to admit patients for rehabilitation on a regular basis. In recent time, 7 or 8 rehabilitants have stayed at the same time at the parish.

A monastic community has been formed at the parish, including four novices and church workers. The rehabilitants are offered an opportunity to join the life of the parish monastic community and to acquire a different experience of life in the world. This is precisely the basics of our rehabilitation technique. It is impossible to reach mutual understanding between church people and drug-addicts straight away, since they existed in different spiritual spaces before and speak different languages. «We all speak ‘different languages’. Why different? — Simply because what stands behind every word of ours is our entire life and our entire experience» (Archimandrite Sophronius, Letters). It is only an experience acquired in sharing the parish life that helps to establish real mutual understanding and gives an opportunity for a constructive talk on the most important matters. Premature talks are not more than a ‘deaf telephone’ game. Besides, words have lost their value nowadays, and people are not inclined to trust words. It is better nowadays more than before not to tell but to show how to live.
The principal worker in the Orthodox rehabilitation is the Creator, Providence and Saviour of the world. The basic instruments in parish rehabilitation are prayer, fasting, work obediences, spiritual guidance and sharing in the Sacraments. There is no time to speak about each of these elements separately, but to avoid any incorrect understanding by the secular part of the audience it is necessary to explain briefly at least what obedience and fasting are.
For rehabilitants, obedience is not only an opportunity to acquire working skills and ability to work hard, but first of all an exercise in cutting off their own will. Indeed, the dogmatic meaning of Orthodox asceticism can be expressed in a single phrase: «May Thy will be done, not mine, O Lord». Obedience is a spiritual exercise.
As far as fasting is concerned, it scares only unchurched people. They are even more skeptical about the possibility of fasting for hepatitis patients or HIV-infected rehabilitants. But the ascetical experience of the Church teaches not only how to abstain from food in a reasonable way but also how to eat well, without ruining but strengthening one’s health. Offering to rehabilitants both the knowledge of diet and fasting and healthy food, some of which is produced by the parish vegetable garden, we have in the upshot the rehabilitants who, like monks, can observe all fasting periods including Lent in accordance with church regulations. But we are ready to make an allowance in fasting for any of the novices who needs it.
Victor Francle, a famous psychologist, affirms in his book that «100% of drug addiction cases involve a loss of meaning: to the question whether everything seems meaningless to them 100% of drug-addicts answer in the affirmative». When a living faith comes to a person, his life does not become easier, but rather on the contrary. But with the coming of faith, one’s life becomes meaningful. The meaning of life, suffering, creative work, perfection and love becomes increasingly clear to him. We can always observe this process in our patients when they become alive to spiritual life. They generate questions about the most important meanings of human life; they initiate a sweeping review of their values. All the poverty of their previous life imperative, which was pleasure by all means, becomes evident to them. A new vision of the world and a new system of life priorities help them to begin a new life in which drugs have no place.
Our parish, unlike a secular rehabilitation center, does not consider its work with drug-addicts to be its main activity. This helps to make the rehabilitation successful. A drug-addict makes a mistake when he believes stubbornly that the whole life rotates around him. Before his coming to the parish, his relations with his parents, his years in schools, his living fast together with the likes of him, even his time in a secular rehabilitation center whose staff fussed over him — all failed to make him realize the absurdity of the above-mentioned axiom of his life. The difficulty is not to realize it but to be reconciled with it. It is God Who is in the center of parish life and everything is built around this center in a hierarchical order. The rector and the parish monastic community do not dictate the basic rules of parish life, for they are no more than servants. It is God Who is the lawmaker and the master. It is like this everywhere in the world but the world does not want to see it. It is difficult therefore to see the true center of life from outside the Church, whereas life at a parish makes this state of affairs evident. Since it is before God not before man that he has to make progress and he can see with his own eyes a good example of people like him who have already made this step, a young man will finally come to take his due place. As a result, a drastic change happens in his relations with those around him, first of all with his own parents. We welcome visits of parents to the parish during the rehabilitation of their children and have been witnesses to many cases of family reconciliation. A man who has managed to put himself in his right place will hardly return to his previous condition. It is a guarantee of a profound change of one’s life and for drug-addicts it is a guarantee of their withdrawal from drugs.
For two years now an untraditional method of work with rehabilitants has been used at the parish, whereby they are offered to watch and then discuss films. Cinema has become an integral part of the life of modern man. It has asserted itself as an art and become the most influential of arts today. It is impossible to ban cinema to one’s flock, especially the young ones. It means it is necessary to learn to choose artistically valid films and to teach young people to watch and appreciate them. Regrettably, cinematography has not been introduced as a discipline in school. Films can help to pose and reflect on many philosophical problems. It is a field where it is possible to establish a productive dialogue with the youth. Some rehabilitation centers for drug-addicts use discussion on films for work with their patients. So we have also introduced it. The parish monastic community and patients watch a specially chosen film once a week and discuss it two or three days later. Films are chosen by the rector. To initiate the discussion, participants are asked a question about the film and than each shares his vision of what he has seen. After everybody answers the question, another one is taken up. The first to answer are rehabilitants, then monks and in the end the rector who moderates the discussion. The purpose is not to come to a single «right» opinion, but to allow a free exchange of opinions and to look into the vision of others. The discussion reveals a difference in the outlook of the participants enabling a profound interpersonal encounter among them. For drug-addicts, it is a very constructive form of work since it enables them to see unexpectedly that there are other understandings of reality and other solutions to various life situations. They accept this kind of talk as safe, not interfering harshly into their personal inner life. The discussion leaves these boys with a food for thought as it makes them realize the profound flaws of the stereotypes they used to look at the world around them. They learn to think, to express their thoughts, to listen to others and to respect others’ opinions. In addition, the boys are given an opportunity to develop an artistic taste.
It takes much effort to teach newcomers to communicate not only with the monks but also among themselves in a regular Russian language. With rare exceptions they are accustomed to talk slang. It is desirable to see to it that slang leaves not only their speech but also thought. Reading, benevolent control by the monks and self-control would help them to cope with this task. Along with religious books, the parish library contains fiction, mostly Russian classic. The boys have time to read them.
Until recently, the prevailing way of HIV-transmission in our country was the use of injected drugs. Most of the drug-addicts are infected with this virus, and every rehabilitation center today has to decide whether to admit infected young people. In 2002, the monastic community agreed to offer rehabilitation to HIV-infected boys, and now they make up a half of the rehabilitants. The parish has observed the necessary hygienic requirements from the very beginning, thus allowing those HIV-infected to live a common life with all, not separated in any way from other dwellers.
We believe the experience of our parish in rehabilitation of drug-addicts can be fruitfully reproduced at other village parishes, since the most important things in it are prayer, fasting, work obedience, spiritual guidance and the liturgy. Participation in sacraments, an opportunity for a person to find his place in the world and to fill his life with meaning is something that can be offered by any Orthodox parish. But the Parish of St. George has some peculiarities which make their way of rehabilitation successful. The most important thing is the existence of a like-minded monastic community whose life is joined by rehabilitants. The Georgievskoye village is difficult to reach, and nobody except for church servants live in it. There are no women among the villagers. The church is located on a very picturesque bank of the Gorkovsky water reserve. The parish is visited by specialists who are professionally engaged in aid to drug-addicts. Each of the above-mentioned factors contributes to the success of the rehabilitation we offer.
The church workers are aware of the necessity to share the rehabilitation experience they have gained and to involve other parishes in this work. An individual parish can accept a small number of patients for a long rehabilitation period, 10 or 15, maximum 20 people a year. But the Russian Orthodox Church has hundreds of parishes which could be engaged in rehabilitation, though, unfortunately, there are hardly a few dozens of such parishes in the country. The harvest is there in plenty, but there are few harvesters. The Church’s potential is actually endless and it is necessary to put it in action. Representatives of St. George’s Parish have participated in many conferences on aid to drug-addicts and HIV-infected people, including international ones, and made reports at them. We have written and published several articles on this theme and shot two films about rehabilitation offered by the parish. The Spas Publishers published a book entitled I Will Not Die but Live relating the experience of the parish in the work with drug-addicts.
The Church should be actively engaged in care for drug-addicts and HIV-infected people, for she can offer much for the solution of this problem. This category of young people is not at all a hopeless part of the church flock. The monastic community of St. George’s Parish has made its choice and will continue to work for rehabilitation of drug-addicts on the basis of the experience they have gained. It has turned out that to work with drug-addicts is a difficult but also interesting task. Among them there are many gifted boys; many take the initiation to the Church very seriously and ardently, since they understand that in their case it is a matter of life and death. These boys can appreciate a good and trusting attitude to them. For all the years in which rehabilitation work has been carried out at the parish, none of the patients have permitted themselves anything mean towards the parish (though we do understand that some parishes can have a different experience in this respect). When you see these boys awakening to life before your very eyes, you yourself go through a profound emotional experience. And the most important thing is that you understand that God cherishes these people and you can see that He accepts them.