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Diaconia: Social service in dioceses
bulletSocial service in the Diocese of Moscow - problems and prospects
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Social service in the Diocese of Moscow - problems and prospects

The Church has always been involved in social service. Initially, it was a task of deacons to give all kinds of aid to the needy. As we know, the first seven deacons were elected to "wait on tables" (Acts 6:2) in the very beginning of the life of the Church. There is definite historical evidence that already in the 4th century there developed the church service of deaconesses who, along with giving assistance in church, helped the sick, the poor and prisoners. There is a letter by St. John Chrysostom about one of such deaconesses, who was his helper: "From early age to this day you have continually nourished hungry Christ by giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming Him as stranger, visiting the sick, coming to the prisoner…"

Many saints were actively involved in social work, giving comfort to the sick, orphans, and the elderly. St. Basil built near Caesaria an alms-house, hospitals and schools, which were to grow into a large settlement named Basiliada.

Social work was carried out in Orthodox Russia too, where houses for the weak and sick existed initially only at monasteries. The 19th century saw parish wards for the poor appearing at every church in large cities. Members of these wards themselves sought slums for poor families in need of help and abandoned children. Many churches ran orphanages. Almost every parish supported small alms-houses for 5-10 people. Parishes ran 125 out of nearly 220 alms-houses in Moscow by 1900.

In the years of persecution, the social work of the Church was impossible. For the last 15 years, it has begun reviving gradually. During these years, charitable sisterhoods, church nursing services, orphanages, rehabilitation centers for drug-addicts and other church organizations engaged in social work have appeared in several regions in Russia, including Moscow. Their work has brought forth its fruits and made it possible to help many suffering and socially unprotected people. However, the scale and level of organization in this church social work, especially in the Moscow diocese, are far from desirable. The Church could take a more active part in solving social problems facing society.

The present-day social situation in Russia is notable for a great number of those who need help and a formal approach of governmental bodies responsible for the care of the poor, sick and homeless.

A. V. Flint, director of St. Dimitry's Nursing School: "What is happening today is a formalization and standardization of the entire life. Dostoyevsky described it: when law comes, love leaves. The paper "legal field" is growing - this dismal paper "must" and "should", washing out normal and free human relations built on love. Even those who marry are offered to conclude a contract defining the obligations and responsibilities of the parties. But one can stay completely indifferent in a formal situation. For instance, in order to avoid bedsores a nurse is supposed to turn a patient over five times a day. But I feel that this particular patient should be turned over not five but twenty five times and left in peace in the next hour. But formalism gives me an opportunity to treat him without any love. I have five times prescribed and I will do as prescribed.

One nurse in our school wrote a dissertation on bedsores. She writes that the formal approach is inadmissible in a ward for patients with spinal disorders. Bare professionalism does not work there. Formalism should be opposed with individual approach to a patient, in which all the peculiarities of his illness and his personality can be detected.

Here is another example of a tragic consequence of the formal approach to a patient. Not long ago, an apparently inadequate man looking like a homeless one was brought to hospital in an ambulance. The medical people carried out all the necessary instruction: stopped the bleeding from his nose and then saw him off to the hospital gates. He did have a home, but, being apparently mentally ill, could recall neither his name nor surname. So this man stayed at the lawn near the hospital for six days. He was fed by woman believers who tried to find out who he was and where he came from. But they had not time to do it as he was found murdered on the sixth day.

You can give real help to one who needs it only if you put your soul into it, if you do not carry out an instruction but really wish to understand what this particular patient or homeless person needs. Help is effective if given in love. Where to find people who understand this? They can be given by the Church.

The work of such people, however, should be well organized. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia gave much attention to the intensification and organization of social service in his report to the recent diocesan meeting, an annual gathering of all the clergy in Moscow. His Holiness expressed profound regret at the fact that many priests treat this side of Christian ministry formally and called them to look at their participation in the church social work as part of their priestly responsibilities. He gave his blessing upon an increase in the membership of the Moscow diocesan commission for social work from 4 to 25 persons by including representatives of every deanery in it.

The task of the diocesan commission for social work is to help those who already work in hospitals and houses for the elderly, who establish orphanages and feed the homeless. Coordination of their work is an urgent task. For instance, a questionnaire distributed by the commission has shown that some hospitals in Moscow are helped by volunteers from several parishes, while others are neglected.

The first enlarged meeting of the commission identified priority programs to be implemented in the nearest future so that social work at the diocesan level could be better organized. These programs are as follows:

1. To complete the social map of Moscow, which is a database covering state-run social institutions which need the help of the Church, church-run social institutions and other non-governmental social initiatives.

2. To establish relations with leadership of state-run social services and public organizations involved in solving social problems. Each member of the commission is to come into contact with social service leaders in their deaneries to find out to what extent they are prepared to cooperate with the Church and what institutions in this deanery need the Church's help most of all.

3. To organize work with the homeless who have been sent from Moscow back to their places of residence in other dioceses. Homeless children are one of the most severe social problems in Russia today. The Russian Government, on an initiative of the President, is seeking to find a solution to this problem. The Moscow police have caught homeless children in railway stations and forwarded them to city hospitals to be then sent to specially established asylums. There are already six such asylums in the city. The asylum staff inquires into the place from which a child came to Moscow and sends him or her "home", that is, to his or her parents or an orphanage. More often then not, the child's place proves to be far away from Moscow, sometimes even in a neighboring country.

However, when children find themselves in the situation they once fled, such as drinking parents or the hostile atmosphere in the orphanage, they run away again only to be caught again after some time at railway stations in Moscow. The problem can be solved only by changing children's conditions locally. As the Church is the only institution to preserve integrity and unity after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is church structures that can undertake to take charge of the children running to Moscow from other regions.

According to the information available to social asylums in Moscow, it is necessary to compile a list of the orphanages in the most adverse conditions in Russia and to arrange church care for them through ruling bishops locally. It is very important to identify local orphanages the conditions in which are suitable for a child and to recommend to asylums in Moscow that non-Muscovite children should be sent precisely to them. Among the homeless children who are found in Moscow there are nice believing children who could be placed in diocesan orphanages. Troubled families from which children tend to run away also need the church care and nourishment.

4. To form a permanent group of volunteers to take care of homeless people who are brought to hospitals in Moscow for first aid. They need to have their identity papers restored and to be put in a social asylum or a house for the elderly or to be sent back to their hometowns. This is a painstaking task and it needs a coordinating center. This work also requires people to come into contact with officials and the police in Moscow to settle organizational matters.

We know several cases in which the identity of a man was established and his lost identity papers were restored only thanks to the efforts of sisters of mercy. Here are some examples:

Anna Dunayeva. She was born in 1915 in Moscow. A lonely woman, she spent seven years in hospital. Her passport was lost in that hospital through the fault of the hospital staff. The ward doctor asked to restore it. The hospital lawyer worked out a document for the police, while the sisters of mercy undertook to make the necessary trips, telephone calls and arranged for an interior department officer to bring the passport to the hospital. It was also our photographer who took her photograph for the passport right in the hospital.

Yelena Yemelyanova. She was taken to hospital with a severe injury and could not recall what happened to her for a long time. The hospital staff thought she was homeless. One of the sisters came to nurse her. One day she got into conversation with her patient and the latter recollected that she was from the town of Gaisin. Through such conversations she gradually recollected not only her address but also her home telephone number. When sisters reached her relatives at Gaisin, it turned out that they had been searching for her for four months; she had left for Moscow on business and vanished. Her son was given the ward doctor's telephone number; they got in touch and arranged for her discharge. Her son came to Moscow and took his mother from the hospital to general delight.

Zera Mambetova. She came from Samarkand in Uzbekistan. In December 2001 she was brought to hospital with a severe injury and a certificate stating the loss of her passport. In summer 2002, the sisterhood began to search for her relatives. The search was carried out on behalf of the hospital through the hospital lawyer. The Uzbekistanian Embassy in Moscow informed the hospital that Zera together with her mother and daughter left Samarkand for Kiev in Ukraine in 1996. The Uzbekistanian consulate in Kiev helped to find out that Zera's relatives were living in the Crimea. They did not want to take the sick woman to their place but took her daughter for fosterage. It was an impasse. Zera was to be discharged soon. Then the sisters contacted the authorities of the settlement in which Zera's relatives lived and through them reached social workers there and persuaded them to take Zera's fate in their hands. In March 2003, the sisters accompanied Zera up to Jankoy in the Crimea, where she was met by people from the Tatar community who promised to place Zera into a hospital, to restore her identity papers, to arrange for her to obtain disablement papers and then to place her in a boarding house.

To coordinate aid to the homeless, it is necessary to gather information about social and public organizations working on these problems. St. Dimitry's sisterhood has lists and addresses of these organizations, but this information should be renewed on a regular basis.

It is necessary to establish contacts with church social service commissions in other dioceses so that they could help the homeless sent back to their places of residence from Moscow.

5. To coordinate the aid given by Moscow parishes to prisoners. It concerns especially the spiritual correspondence maintained by very many prisoners, who need it desperately. The Center for the Spiritual Support for Prisoners at St. Tikhon's Theolological Institute has accumulated a great experience in this respect. At present the Center is trying to make the work with prisoners in Moscow coordinated. The apparent need for such coordination is revealed by the case where a convict in one of the penitentiaries received as many as 50 parcels and 30 postal packets in response to the letters he sent to various places.

6. To organize Easter and Christmas congratulatory missions to hospitals, orphanages and other institutions of social protection and healthcare. It has already become a tradition in some parishes in Moscow, and hospital patients, orphans and staff of social institution take great delight in it. But there are not always enough priests and choirs to do it, and the commission could involve fresh forces in this activity.

7. To set up a telephone information service to respond to appeals from people who need the help of the Church and to inquiries from church social workers who encountered methodological or practical problems.

8. To identify in every deanery pro-active and intelligent lay people capable of acting as secretary on social problems in the deanery, because the priest does not always have time to do everyday routine work necessary to coordinate social efforts. The commission could pay to such a secretary.

9. The commission has announced a contest of social projects to be carried out by deaneries. Projects can be submitted till September 2003. Preference is given to the already operating projects. The commission has an opportunity to involve sponsors to finance the winners.

The work of the commission, we believe, should be structured into sub-commissions, with each working with its own category of those who need help. His Holiness the Patriarch has given us his blessing upon setting up the following sub-commissions (the forms of work which have not been developed yet are given in italics):

Sub-commission on serving the sick and disabled

  • Parish groups of mercy and sisterhoods to help medical institutions and hospices
  • Visiting nurses for the sick and disabled
  • A city-wide nursing "agency"
  • Orthodox general education courses to train for social and catechetical work with the deaf-and-dumb

Sub-commission for work with abandoned children

  • Parish groups of mercy and sisterhoods for help to orphanages
  • Sisters' movable stations for work with the homeless at their locations

Sub-commission for work with prisoners

  • Parish groups of mercy and sisterhoods for help to penitentiaries

Sub-commission for work with drug-addicts and alcoholics

  • Temperance societies
  • Rehabilitation centers

Sub-commission for serving the needy and elderly

  • Parish groups of mercy and sisterhood for help to the houses for the elderly
  • Parish groups of mercy to help to large and one-parent families and other people in need
  • Visiting nurses for care of lonely old people

We need people who wish to engage themselves in social work. Those who want to help others or themselves need our help can contact the commission at Tel.: (095) 237-6049

Archpriest Arkady Shatov
Moscow Diocesan Commission for Social Work

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Social service at the Diocese of Yekaterinburg

We ask Father Eugene Popichenko, director of the Yekaterinburg diocesan social service, to answer our questions.

When was the social service department of the Yekaterinburg diocese established? What are its tasks and principal areas of work?

The diocesan social service department was established in April 2002. Its aim was to broaden social service to the scope outlined in the Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church and to provide leadership and coordination for the church social work carried out in the diocese. There are several concerns in the work of the department:

1. To deal with current social problems that people bring to the diocese every day. For instance, we are asked to decide the fate of a homeless person who sleeps in the street, so we look for a placement for him or her; a psychiatric clinic ward for the elderly needs slippers, so we have to find sponsors and helpers; we are asked to intercede for a disabled person who needs a telephone to be installed at his or her place, so we appeal to the appropriate service, etc. In the course of such work, we gradually establish contacts with municipal and public organizations and practice various methods of dealing with particular problems.

2. To intensify our social work in parishes. Bishop Vikenty has ordered that every parish should organize a brotherhood or a sisterhood or a society of mercy to give all kinds of help to the needy. Many churches and monasteries have already created such societies who serve in hospitals, houses for the elderly, penitentiaries, asylums and orphanages. They help old people, the disabled and homeless by providing them with clothes and food. These societies and sisterhoods need methodological, organizational and other assistance. The department for social service coordinates their work, conducts training seminars for particular services and invites specialists from other dioceses for exchange of experience.

3. Areas of work:

Rehabilitation of drug-addicts, prevention of drug-addiction and HIV/AIDS, help to drug-addicts and their families·

  • Mobile hospice service
  • Socio-pedagogical center for mentally deranged children
  • Motherhood center

4. Cooperation with educational institutions. In March 2003, the first ever Orthodox sisters of mercy graduated from the regional medical college with the certificate of "Junior Nurse". The sisters serve under local churches and monasteries.

Tell us please in more detail about the areas in which the diocesan social work is the most intensive.

"Life Without Drugs" is the largest social service project carried out by the diocesan charitable rehabilitation center at the Yekaterinburg diocese. The primary aim of the program is to give spiritual, psychological and social help to young people in their efforts to get rid of their dependence on drugs and to their families. Participants in the program are priests, psychologists, social workers who maintain cooperation with foundations, enterprises and organizations who share the aims and tasks of the center. The center is directed by Ms. Inga Korolkova, a professional psychologist.

The program is carried out at a network of counseling rooms and in-patient wards. At present, work is organized in 10 counseling rooms in major cities of the region. Two counseling rooms operate in Yekaterinburg. Their task is to give help to people dependent on drugs and their families, to maintain intensive cooperation with the public, enterprises and administrative bodies in all the areas of work with youth and to establish a kind of bridge between the world and the Church.

In average, up to 300 people receive help in the diocesan counseling rooms monthly. Those who come for help often begin to get rid of their vice after counseling. Those who find it difficult to overcome their passion for drugs are sent to rehabilitation in-patient wards.

At present there are two in-patient wards in the diocese. One of them is located in the territory of a former recreational base at the Sarapulka village and can accommodate 15 people. There are six little houses used for the inmates and for household and production purposes.

Another center, also for 15 people, is located at the Olkhovka village, at the former kindergarten, which was given free to the diocese five years ago together with its adjoining farmland.

The in-patient wards have training and production workshops, which enable inmates to learn a trade. The young people whose rehabilitation has been successful are given assistance in finding a job.

As of today, 280 people have undergone rehabilitation in the in-patient wards, staying in it for the periods from 3 to 6 months.

A visiting hospice service is another area of social work in the Yekaterinburg diocese. It has operated since July 2002 under the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. For six month, it has given medical help to 125 patients with cancer in its 4th stage. The age of the patients is from 12 to 96 years, and all of them have been taken care of by the service's doctors and sisters. Most of them received free medicines for the first three days of the care. Eighteen patients received free painkillers since they had no means to buy them. In total, the service staff has made 430 doctor's and 367 nurse's visits. The priest visited 74 patients and conducted 140 requested services.

Those who appeal to the diocesan hospice service are people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds from all over the city. A doctor prescribes a treatment and a nurse monitors its implementations, also doing dressings and cleaning wounds. Every patient is checked by a doctor once in seven or ten days. A priest comes to visit a patient for a talk, confession or communion and also for extreme unction and baptism.

The diocesan work with families should be also mentioned here. Since October 2002, a Motherhood Center has been launched under the guidance of Rev. Dimitry Moiseyev. Working in the center are obstetrician-gynecologists, psychologists and volunteers. Their task is to save unborn children, to promote the revival of the family, to carry out educational work, and to maintain cooperation with governmental structures. They consult women who plan to have an abortion at an antenatal clinic. Since its inception, the center has opened four counseling rooms at the churches of the Nativity, St. Panteleimon, the Ascension and Sts Cosma and Damian in Yekaterinburg. Specialists of the center participated in the Fifth St. Catherine Readings in 2003 and made three reports.

The center has prepared and distributed 1500 copies of a leaflet on motherhood. At present, it is engaged in preparing and distributing an informational set of 40 articles intended for clergy and laity. Lectures have been read in schools and colleges. Contacts have been established with the local administration and antenatal clinic staff. For instance, in October 2002, Father Dimitry Moiseyev had a talk with the personnel of the Zheleznodorozny district antenatal clinic, and in November its staff made a pilgrimage to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers at Ganin Yar near the city.

The Yekaterinburg diocese set up in 2002 an Orthodox family and marriage service called Harmony. This initiative belongs to Father George Virtorov of the Church of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky at the Convent of Our Lady of Tikhvin. He has acted as the patron and spiritual director for the three women staff of the service with their leader, Irina Karpina. For a year since its inception, the help of the service has been sought by 63 women and 59 men who came from all over the diocese, even its remotest parts, in search of peace in family happiness.

The service's counsel can be sought by an Orthodox person who has a written blessing to do so from his or her spiritual director. Then a service member has a talk with him or her to clarify the extent to which he or she has been inchurched. After the talk the applicant fills in a questionnaire and undergoes a psychological test for the cooperation to be more effective. The questionnaire is preserved in the service's database till the applicant enters into marriage or discontinues relations with the service. A considerable part of the applicants have proved to be seminarians and altar boys who are anxious to see in their future partner in life a person of profound faith and strict observance. Ordinary lay people, however, have similar concerns in no lesser degree. The service runs an acquaintance club in which people can meet and talk for their benefit. It has become a good tradition for the service to go to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers for Saturday divine services or to make an icon-painting study trip.

Conducting conferences and seminars has been an important area of work for the diocesan social service department. In October 2002, it arranged an international reflection-action conference on Ten Years of Social Work in Russia: Pressing Practical Problems and Professional Training in the Higher Educational System, at the Urals State Pedagogical University.

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia, St. Dimitry's Nursing School in Moscow conducted a seminar on Socio-Medical Service of the Orthodox Church in November 2003 at the Regional Clinic and Regional Medical College in Yekaterinburg. The participants considered problems involved in training nurses and mastering modern rehabilitation methods, parish visiting nurses work, nurse's help to a priest in conducting requested services in hospitals and at homes and organizing leisure time and giving psychological help to the elderly and disabled. The seminar was attended by 80 nurses from parish sisterhoods and church social workers and 6 priests taking pastoral care of medical and social institutions.

In April 2003, the DECR specialists and the AIDSinfoshare public organization in Moscow conducted field seminars on work with HIV-infected people for the diocesan clergy and seminarians. The seminar were attended by 70 people.

To carry out large-scale social programs cooperation with governmental structures is necessary. Have you managed to establish such cooperation?

True, good relations with governmental structures including social ones are very important for the church social work to succeed. Fortunately, our diocese has managed to establish constructive cooperation with the state. Relations between the diocese, the city and the region have been formalized in appropriate agreements.

In August 2002, the Sverdlovsk Regional Social Security Ministry in the person of minister V. Turinsky and the Yekaterinburg Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in the person of the Diocesan Bishop - "guided by the existing legislation and motivated by the desire to improve the social protection of the population, to resolve problems of social support for the most vulnerable groups of the population, to restore the moral norms of public life and to broaden the regional social security system" - signed an Agreement on Cooperation. It fixed the following areas of cooperation:

  • Developing joint programs, including charitable ones, for the social support of the population;·
  • Creating conditions at social service institutions for the missionary and educational work of the diocesan clergy such as conducting religious rites and distributing religious literature and religious objects;
  • Collecting, analyzing and exchanging information on jointly implemented and monitored projects; systematizing and propagating the positive experience of the cooperation;
  • Conducting joint events and search for new forms of cooperation.

The sides undertook to familiarize each other with the plans of their work in the part that concerns common activities. Specific projects and programs and joint activities are to be planned separately.

To follow up the Agreement, a plan of joint work was adopted. Among the first common efforts was the conducting of the Day of the Elderly on October 1, 2002. On that day, the clergy and laity of the Novolalin District visited all the socio-medical rehabilitation wards in the district. In six Yekaterinburg townships, prayer services were held for the health of the elderly. Over 300 people came for this prayer service in one of them. Parishioners of the Church of the Nativity at Uralmash machine works brought pots of jam and cookies to the church and took them to the local house for the disabled and elderly.

At a request of the regional ministry staff, a joint discussion was held on a possibility to establish a hostel for people without permanent places of residence. At present, this project is considered by a special working group.

The diocese has also established good relations with the City Directorate for Social Policy. In August 2002, the Diocesan Bishop and the Yekaterinburg Social Policy Director, Mr. E. Goncharenko, signed an Agreement on Cooperation. It defines forms, areas and cooperation procedures for carrying out social programs aimed at uniting efforts in solving social problems and enhancing the social security of the population. The agreement provides for exchange of information between the Diocese and the Directorate on social support activities, conducting such activities together and developing and implementing charity programs to support the elderly, disabled and people in need.

The diocesan social department has informed the Directorate on a regular basis about the social work of the diocese, as the Agreement demands. Since the district units of the City Directorate have been most willing to cooperate, much of the common work is done through them. On the eve of the Day of the Elderly, five social service centers received 200 free subscriptions to Russian films shows in community clubs, organized by the diocesan culture department. Some of these centers have been patronized by parishes. For instance, the House of Veterans in Tekhnicheskaya Street is patronized by the Church of Our Lady of Vladimir. The social service center at Orzhonikidze District takes some of its lunches for the poor from the Orthodox soup-kitchen run by the Convent of Our Lady of Tikhvin. The same soup kitchen has gained high repute from the Kirov District. The secular Luven rehabilitation center for children with restricted abilities asked for spiritual care, and Deacon Andrew Shestakov of the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg has been assigned to it. At Mental Hospital No. 12's request for cooperation and pastoral care, the diocese has assigned to it Father Sergius Savin of the Bishop's House of the Holy Trinity. The Parish of St. Panteleimon has given sewing materials and gear to the same mental hospital.

The diocesan social department also seeks to establish cooperation with other administrative bodies in Yekaterinburg with the aim to promote Orthodox social programs. It has already obtained consent from the City Culture Directorate to give charitable concerts of church music. The City Health Directorate has confirmed its willingness to conclude an Agreement on Cooperation with the diocese. The Agreement is being prepared for signing.

What are your plans for the future?

We plan to open another in-patient rehabilitation ward at the Kosulino settlement within our anti-drug effort.

To train medical workers to work under social programs, it is planned to organize a three-year training course for Orthodox Nurse specialty and a four-month training course for Junior Nurse certificate.

We also plan to establish what we call a house of mercy which will include an Orthodox boarding house for the elderly, motherhood protection counseling rooms, a kindergarten and schools for the mentally deranged and their parents, etc.

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