Extensions to an Orthodox rehabilitation centre for recovering addicts in Sapjornoe
For almost 30 years now, ACN has been committed to supporting and promoting dialogue in Russia with the Orthodox Church. Initially our involvement came at the request of the then Holy Father, now Pope Saint John Paul II, and subsequently of his successors. Over the intervening years many joint initiatives have been developed, in which both Catholics and Orthodox have worked side by side, seeking joint solutions to the problems of the modern world.
The historic meeting between Pope Francis and the Moscow Patriarch Kirill in 2016 lent further impetus to this commitment, and today a joint ecumenical working party, initiated by ACN, aims to translate the important issues from the joint declaration of the two Church leaders into concrete projects.
A Common Focus: Helping Suffering Addicts
One such major issue was the improvement in the pastoral support for people suffering from addiction, for experience has shown that addicts often experience a great need for a real relationship with God, and both Churches have found they can help each other through an exchange of experiences, and with the basic and ongoing training of their priests in relation to this important issue.
One outstanding pioneer of such work on behalf of addicts is the Orthodox priest Sergij Belkov, who back in 1996 first established a rehab centre for drug addicts which aims to address the whole person, including the spiritual dimension. The centre is in Sapjornoe, in Karelia, around 65 miles (100 km) from Saint Petersburg and close to the Finnish border. It was already clear to Father Sergij that addiction was less a matter of a medical or sociological problem, but far rather a kind of spiritual sickness, which requires a spiritual and pastoral response.
Before becoming a priest, Father Sergij was a senior police Commissioner with the murder squad for many years. He was dealing daily with 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 is also often the beginning of a much deeper involvement in evil and criminality.
In 1992, when he was ordained to the priesthood, he again and again found that addicts were coming to him for confession, and eventually he felt called to do something for these people. His centre in Sapjornoje was the first such Orthodox rehab centre of its kind in Russia. His remarkable success rate of around 75% permanently rehabilitated was a vindication of Father Sergij and his approach.
Receiving praise and the model implemented all over the country and beyond. Statistically speaking, other such rehab centres generally have a very small success rate of addicts remaining “clean” for good, while most sooner or later fall back into addiction.
A Road to Healing
His centre is structured like a large family. Life is organized along semi-monastic lines, with a strict rhythm of prayer and work, obedience, observance of fast days and reception of the sacraments—all these things play an important role in the healing process. The young men in his care come to him after a physical detox in a hospital under medical supervision, and are each given an individual duty to perform. In doing this they are able to recover their sense of dignity and learn to assume responsibility. Many of them work on the farm, rearing pigs and poultry, or in the vegetable garden, while others learn a trade so as to become a carpenter, joiner, roofer or bricklayer. The church that serves the centre was built in 1999 by former addicts with their own hands. There is also a workshop where candles and hosts (Prosphora) for the Orthodox liturgy are produced. In this way, psychologically and physically strengthened and healed, the young men are eventually able to return and take their place in society, plying a trade and establishing families of their own. And there are even a number of spiritual vocations among the former addicts.
ACN has been supporting this excellent initiative right from the start, including for such things as setting up the workshops.
However, the number of young men who come seeking help continues to grow. Now there is a need to extend the building, as additional rooms are also needed for counselling sessions with priests and psychologists, as well as guest rooms with en-suite facilities for visiting family members, and other rooms with various functions.