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Diaconia: Healthcare programs
The Russian Orthodox Church aiding to those who suffer
The Bethany public service and health care station
Children Charity Foundation of St. Elizabeth of Moscow
Sisters of Mercy at a Medical College
Sisterhood of St. Protomartyr Tatiana
St. Princess Elizabeth's Community of Sister of Mercy
St. Paul Society (Denmark)

The Russian Orthodox Church aiding to those who suffer

Aid to those who suffer has been a major area of the Christian service of neighbors since the evangelical times. The Russian Orthodox Church too has developed rich traditions of this service. Unfortunately, any organized church charity was banned for many decades under the Soviet regime. Actually, the state, which claimed the right to deal with all the healthcare and social problems on its own, could not provide its citizens with adequate healthcare even in the best times in the USSR.

In recent years, the situation in healthcare in Russia has exacerbated. State-run hospitals are understaffed, especially with the junior personnel. The basic medical equipment in many hospitals has been either out of date or altogether absent. Hospitals are often overcrowded. Many healthcare services have become chargeable and inaccessible for most of people.

In recent months, the situation concerning medicines has sharply aggravated. Many seriously ill people, who used to get their medicines free before the August 1998 crisis, are now entitled to a much shorter list of medicines or cannot obtain them altogether. On top of that, the prices for most imported medicines with no analogues in Russia have increased many times over after the crisis.

The Russian Orthodox Church, following her historical traditions of charitable service, has become actively involved in the aid to those who suffer in Russia as soon as the church charity was legalized in the early 90s. Many parishes set up volunteer groups for visiting hospitals to assist their staff in taking care of their patients. Gradually this work became organized. Numerous church structures developed with the primary task to assist seriously ill people, or in church terms, to do charity. At present, there are several types of Orthodox organizations carrying out healthcare programs, namely:

  • sisterhoods;
  • parish groups of medical doctors and nurses;
  • charity foundations;
  • Orthodox nursing groups in state-run medical schools.
The primary areas of their work are as follows:
  • work in hospitals, especially with seriously ill patients in intensive-care units, in burn centers and hospice wards;
  • home-nursing including rehabilitation after serious illnesses and training relatives for nursing;
  • free advice by Orthodox physicians to low-income people;
  • free supply of medicines to low-income people;
  • development and publication of training aids on nursing.
Along with pure medical aid, the sisters of mercy are engaged in spiritual support and catechism for patients as an essential part of their service.

In the recent years, the professional skills of sick-nurses in Orthodox institutions have considerably grown. Only a few years ago, medical aid was often given by nurses without special medical training. It was confined to attendance, cleaning, etc. Nowadays many sisterhoods and other church institutions are staffed with certified nurses capable of working on high professional level.

The organizational part of work carried out by Orthodox healthcare institutions has gradually improved as well. Many sisterhoods have adopted statutes taking into account the historical experience of charitable work existing in Russia. This process has taken place not only in Moscow but also in many other regions in Russia. Representatives of sisterhoods in other cities come to Moscow on a regular basis to study the organizational experience accumulated by church organizations in charitable work in the last years. Many Orthodox institutions have already been certified and granted state-recognized licenses for specific kinds of healthcare.

Cooperation with state-run hospitals, clinics, and medical schools has been an important part of church healthcare institutions. The forms of this cooperation include nurse training in state-run medical schools, work of Orthodox nurses in state-run hospitals, organization of advanced junior nursing courses in hospitals.

Many state-run healthcare institutions, in their turn, seek to work together with the Church, aware of the importance of the spiritual dimension in healthcare, on the one hand, and the need to use the effective service of Orthodox nurses in such problem-ridden area as care of the seriously ill, on the other.

In spite of the large-scale nature and effectiveness of many church healthcare programs, this area of church social service is still ridden with many problems. Many Orthodox healthcare institutions, especially the recent ones, still lack both professional and organizational experience. This is due largely to a lack of regular exchanges between structures engaged in the same areas. The lack of educational aids on such work as home visiting and care of patients has also had its adverse effect.

Financing has been an extremely acute problem for most of the Orthodox healthcare structures. Funds are needed to pay Orthodox physicians and nurses, to purchase medicines and medical equipment and often to give material support to the disabled patients who have no sustenance.

To raise funds Orthodox institutions have resorted to such means as attracting sponsors both in and outside Russia, making appeals, using the state budget allocations for training, hospital facilities, nurses' pays, as well as rendering paid healthcare services along with charity aid.

Some healthcare programs have been carried out in cooperation with charities in other countries. Some of them have been established for the express purpose of assisting church charity projects in Russia. In some cases, partners in other countries have been directly involved in implementation of projects and medical aid, while in other cases they have helped with training nurses, especially in those medical areas which have been underdeveloped in Russia, namely, home nursing and rehabilitation.

In this issue of our Newsletter we give information about various healthcare activities carried out by Orthodox institutions. In addition, the section on Social Service - Know-How carries an article by A. V. Flint, director of St. Dimitry's Nursing School, with recommendations on the care of bed-ridden patients. We hope that these methodological aids can be helpful for nurses in their work.

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The Bethany public service and health care station

Social and political changes of the late 1980s, which wrought the demise of Russia's central planning economy, have also led to a near collapse of the centralized, government-sponsored social security system. Moreover, while the old social security system is already in ruins, the new one is yet to take shape. At this point, new forms of cooperation between government agencies and non-profit organizations are becoming of great importance.

While the federal government has cut social programs, new institutions, such as public service and health care stations, have helped to alleviate social problems.

This cooperation is exemplified by the public service and health care stations, which started operating in the city of Volgograd. Archbishop German of Volgograd and Kamyshin initiated a concept to help build public service and health care institutions in the city. The project was endorsed by the City Mayor, Yury Chekhov, who assisted in granting a favored status to the new organizations, to support the local public sector. Specifically, the new organizations were granted tax exemptions and reductions in office rental and public utility costs. While the federal government has cut social programs, new institutions, such as public service and health care stations, have helped to alleviate social problems. Very importantly, this social work is a joint effort of the local social security and welfare administration and the Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since the government does not finance public service and health care stations, it is important that the stations should provide some of their services for a fee. The proceeds have helped the stations to purchase equipment and office supplies, to pay salaries and cover free services to the poor.

For example, the Bethany public service and health care station, founded in 1996 by the Russian Orthodox Church and the social security and welfare department of the Volgograd Central District, provides additional public and health care services to the poor living in the city as well as in the greater Volgograd region.

The local social security and welfare administration was instrumental in making the station happen. Office renovation and most of the equipment purchases were covered from the local social security program. The Volgograd diocese made an important contribution by donating office supplies and taking part in the renovation of the offices. It also helped to establish contacts with charity organizations abroad.

The station was also aided by the Diaconal Service of Germany and the Healing Hands International, an American non-governmental charity organization. Since then the station has been supporting itself by offering a number of paid services, such as medical services. Currently, the station provides medical checks necessary to obtain a driving license, full dental care, anti-hepatitis-B vaccinations and offers legal counseling. The public service and health care station (PSHCS) has instituted its own counseling service, where people can receive spiritual guidance to help them get through their difficulties and where they can get instruction necessary to take part in divine services, rites and sacraments. On a weekly basis, a counseling priest is available for spiritual and catechetical talks.

Notably, legal counseling is offered mostly to elderly people, and, specifically, to disabled persons, World War II veterans and pensioners, which is why this service is usually free of charge or offered for a symbolic fee. During 1998, the attorney of the station counseled 456 pensioners, 362 disabled persons among them. Some 145 patients received dental help, 16 of them free of charge and 32 for a special, low fee. The station administered medical checks to 1026 persons applying for driving licenses, 45 of them examined free.

Anti-hepatitis-B vaccinations have been administered since February 1999. Commonly, regular immunizations have been part of the federal healthcare program, but the government is currently short of funds to finance it fully. While the epidemic situation in the Volgograd region has deteriorated, it has been decided that the station will serve as a basis for the first paid hepatitis-B immunization center.

Along with the undoubtedly successful results, there is a series of problems, whose solution will make the station more effective and, ultimately, will help improve the public service system by making it oriented more towards individual people.

The basic equipment, which the dental care service currently works with, was handed over to it by other organizations after being used for a long time and has now become obsolete. Its replacement by a more recent equipment and a supply of accompanying materials would help improve the quality of the service, while the purchase of portable dental machinery would allow to serve the disabled persons with immobility problems.

A total lack of modern office equipment has an impact on the work of the legal counsel of the station and maximizes the time necessary to prepare documentation for those seeking legal advice.

With enough anti-hepatitis vaccine, the station would start immunizing the city's population groups with high risk of infection, which in the current epidemic situation is the only remedy to stop a rapid increase in the infection rate.

Some additional, project-based finance assistance would help the station to expand its operations and would increase the range of medical and social services offer to the community.

The work of the station has shown that such institutions are very relevant and effective when aided by government agencies, public organizations and the Russian Orthodox Church are joining their efforts to solve social problems. These institutions pay off economically and are necessary in the times of protracted financial crisis and the absence of a fully established social safety system.

Rev. Oleg Kirichenko
Spiritual director of the Bethany
Rector of the Parish of St. John the Baptist
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Children Charity Foundation of St. Elizabeth of Moscow

The Children Charity Foundation of St. Elizabeth of Moscow was founded in February 1994 with the blessing of Archbishop Herman of Volgograd and Kamyshin. Its primary task is to offer material, medical and moral support to children with cancer diseases.

The number of these children in Volgograd and its region amounts to 500 today and is constantly growing. The Foundation works from the cancer hospital in Volgograd. The children's cancer center has 22 wards under its care where over 80 children are treated. As the treatment lasts from 3 to 10 or even more months, the children's parents or close relatives have to stay together with them.

The severe economic crisis has rendered state-run structures incapable of supplying the hospital with all that is necessary. The parents themselves have to buy the necessary medicines, disposable syringes, bandages, etc. Many of them cannot afford them, as their salaries remain unpaid for months. Sick children and their relatives who stay with them even suffer from malnutrition. Children in their pain and parents distraught with grief can pin their hopes only on the selfless efforts of doctors and the support of those compatriots whose hearts are open to the Lord and love of their neighbors.

Since its inception, the foundation has carried out a considerable work to draw public attention to this problem and mobilize public charitable support. This support has enabled the Foundation to implement a major charity project covering the following areas of work:

  • The first counseling service to be organized in Volgograd has rendered psychological and moral support to children and their relatives. A chapel has been opened in the children's ward to give children and their parents an opportunity to participate in church sacraments;
  • Monthly music and drama festivals have been arranged in the children's ward involving artistic teams and individual artists, with gifts for each child and festive meals for all the children in the hospital;
  • Individual financial aid, whenever funds are available, has been given to the poorest families;
  • All possible assistance has been given to the children's center in purchasing medicines, beds, bed sheets, electric equipment, detergents, etc.;
  • TV sets, various games, toys and creative aids have been purchased to facilitate the children's daily leisure;
  • A children's folk art team has been organized as creative activity has proved to be not a contributory but an essential element in the treatment of cancer;
  • Curative trips to special summer camps have been organized for sick children to enjoy warmth, love and care.
All this has been very beneficial for the treatment of sick children and has given them an enormous psychological support.

At present, the Foundation has come to face several problems. One of them is to organize meals for the sick children and their parents staying with them at the cancer center. Another one is to provide children with medicines. Still another urgent task is to establish a rehabilitation center for children with cancer.

Considerable funds are needed to fulfil these tasks. The Foundation staff seek to use all their resources to raise them. Recently the Foundation has made an appeal to Orthodox parishes, businessmen and state-run structures. It has already produced some positive results as the dairy factory in Volgograd has agreed to cooperate with the Foundation.

At present, almost all the enterprises have found themselves in a grave economic situation, and it will be very difficult to involve them into cooperation. Hope, however, is the last thing to die, and we will not give up. The implementation of the Foundation's program will help fulfil our principal task to give our children good health, happiness, faith and hope.

T. V. Stankova, Chairperson
Foundation of St. Elizabeth of Moscow
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Sisters of Mercy at a Medical College

When visualizing what he called an ideal sister of mercy, physician and philosopher N. I. Pirogov believed that she is a "modest, devout woman with a good technical education, who will definitely remain kind in her heart as well." We used these criteria as the basis for organizing a group of sisters of mercy to serve at the Perm Medical College. The group was named after the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, a woman, whose exemplary work will always remain a model to imitate in the Orthodox Church. Her service as the founder of St. Martha and Mary's Convent in Moscow encouraged us to establish sisters of mercy group at our college.

The group has taken on the task of providing professional medical training to Russian Orthodox Christians, those who wish to combine training with church work. The trainees also receive guidance in charity and other Christian virtues. Our group lists 24 female students of the college, studying for the first, second and third year.

The group is unique in that it has been conceived in the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church being at the same time part of a government medical institution. From the first days of its existence, the group has enjoyed the spiritual care of the Church. The sisters of mercy travelled to the Convent of St. Nicholas in Belogorsk to say a prayer on the beginning of a good work. Rev. Hieromonks Herman and Bartholomew instruct the sisters in the basics of Orthodoxy. The sisters attend divine services at the Church of St. Protomartyr Barbara. This church is home to the icon of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna that was donated to the group by the Convent of St. Nicholas. Delegates of the group took part in the Third St. Varlaam Hearings on Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna and Women's Ministry in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Parallel to training, the sisters regularly visit elderly people and the needy in their homes. The students also enjoy visiting Nadezhda (or Hope) Orphanage, where they work with a junior group made up of kids who particularly need the good work of mercy. The kids have taken to the sisters and look forward to having them around again.

The work we have started is new, and we still have many problems. We try to use the knowledge and expertise of those Russian Orthodox organizations that have been doing this work for a long time. We have received many books on the subject, as well as good advice in St. Dmitry's Nursing College. We have enjoyed an invaluable help from the superior of Sst. Martha and Mary's Convent of Mercy, Ms. M. N. Kriuchkova. She is very sympathetic to our cause and shares her experience with us willingly.

As of September 1999, we are planning to enlist two more groups of sisters of mercy from among Russian Orthodox Christians, who, in addition to special medical training, will also be instructed in catechism and moral theology. Both students and graduates of the groups will work in the three areas:

  • Hospitals (serious illnesses and hospices wards);
  • Elderly people without families;
  • Orphanages.

Curator of the Group of Sisters of Mercy
Perm Medical College
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Sisterhood of St. Protomartyr Tatiana

Women parishioners of the church of St. Protomartyr and Healer Panteleimon-on-the-Brook formed the Sisterhood of St. Protomartyr Tatiana in 1993 at the Central Medical Unit No. 122. The parishioners who volunteered to work at the hospital as charity nurses had to acquire some medical knowledge. To this end, special courses were organized at the hospital's training center to train the parishioners as junior nurses. The first 20 parishioners finished the course on Junior Nursing in December 1994. They all were granted state-recognized certificates giving them the right to render medical assistance appropriate to their training. Later, other members of the sisterhood finished the same courses. Some nurses continued their education in various medical schools.

In August 1995, Sergius V. Filimonov, a surgeon who was ordained priest earlier, became rector of the hospital's parish. On January 25, 1997, the Commemoration Day of St. Protomartyr Tatiana, several members of the sisterhood were initiated as sisters of mercy. This day has become the official day of the sisterhood's foundation. Father Sergius Filimonov became the spiritual director of the sisterhood. Later, a tradition established itself to initiate sisters of mercy on the two feast days: the Day of St. Protomartyr Tatiana on January 25 and the Day of St. Protomartyr and Healer Panteleimon on August 9, to whom the parish and the hospital's church have been dedicated.

Since 1997, the initiation of nurses has been performed according to a special rite developed and authorized by the diocesan authorities. There are several degrees of the initiation:

  1. volunteers assisting the sisterhood;
  2. candidates to novices;
  3. novices;
  4. assistant nurses;
  5. sisters of mercy;
  6. sisters of mercy who take the vow of mercy.
The sisters of each degree of initiation have their own uniform and insignia. One of the sisters has taken monastic vows.

At present, there are over 70 sisters of mercy in the sisterhood. Among the members are eight medical doctors in various fields. The sisterhood has initiated a Society of Orthodox Physicians in St. Petersburg.

The principal area in which the sisterhood has worked is medical assistance to patients in city hospitals. Its members have been put on staff in nine hospitals in the city. Along with medical assistance, sisters have been engaged in catechetical work with patients, giving them spiritual support, helping priests to celebrate sacraments and divine services in hospitals.

Along with their service in hospitals, sisters have continued their medical and religious studies. Every Monday, the Orthodox doctors working in Hospital No. 122 give lectures on medical disciplines, while Father Sergius teaches religion.

The sisterhood has been actively involved in the methodological work. Its spiritual director has prepared and published five monographs on work with patients. A film has been produced about the sisters' work.

It is important to mention that for the several years of our work we have accumulated a considerable experience of effective cooperation between an Orthodox sisterhood and state-run medical institutions. Some problems that arose initially in relations between the sisterhood and the hospital administrations have now been successfully overcome.

The sisters
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St. Princess Elizabeth's Community of Sister of Mercy

Only recently, Kaliningrad and its region, now distanced from Russia by other countries, had not a single church, nor a priest. A spiritual despair prevailed among people. At present, by God's grace, we have about 50 acting churches. The faithful have found a support in their life and spiritual joy at the fact that at any moment they can go to church to pray and to pour out their hearts. A way has been opened to spiritual life and mercy.

The charitable work carried out by the Russian Orthodox Church in the Kaliningrad is manifold. Parishes have arranged feeding children and adults. Charity has been revived according to Russian Orthodox traditions. Parishioners have begun to visit hospitals to assist their patients.

St. Princess Elizabeth's Community of Sisters of Mercy has been established with the blessing and support of Bishop Panteleimon of the Baltic and Archpriest Peter, dean of Kaliningrad. Today there are 64 sisters in the community.

The city hospital has given the community a special support. Its chief physician K. I. Polyakov has succeeded in creating an atmosphere of kindness at the hospital. Free courses have been organized at the hospital to give the sisters of mercy theoretical and practical knowledge about taking care of patients. Teaching at the courses are experienced and highly qualified medical workers.

The sisters of mercy have taken care of patients, comforting them and giving them spiritual support. The sisters help them to get prepared for church sacraments, if they wish to participate in them. There is a chapel at the hospital in which priests conduct daily prayers for the health of patients and the blessing of water on feast days. They also visit wards, talking with patients, comforting them and conducting requested services. During the past year, some 800 patients made confessions and communicated, while 60 patients have adopted Holy Baptism.

Along with work at hospitals, the sisters of mercy have visited paralyzed people at their homes, giving them help in everything they can do. The sick meet our priests and sisters of mercy with love and hope. The sisters have also patronized the Orthodox Orphanage of St. Sergius of Radonezh opened at the sisterhood, surrounding the homeless children with care and attention.

Another area of work in which the community has been engaged is educational work with youth to prevent dangerous frailties and diseases. The community has arranged for lectures to be given in schools and colleges on the damage brought by smoking, drug-addiction and alcohol.

Z. K. Borzova
Senior Sister of Mercy
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St. Paul Society (Denmark)

St. Paul Society was founded in July 1991 by a group of members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark. The society's objective is to assist in the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church. The society delegated one of its members to be permanently posted in Moscow as assistant to the rector of a Moscow church. Health care programs are the main area of the society's work in Moscow. On a regular basis, St. Paul Society distributes medicines and instruments, such as
  • special vitamins, surgical gloves and instruments for blood tests for expecting mothers;
  • surgical gloves, disposable syringes, hygienic towels, personal care items for maternity wards, syringes for infants;
  • special vitamins (administered in drops to the newly-born after 2 weeks of age), hygienic care items, clothes for newly born infants;
  • vitamins, clothes and other types of aid for low-income families.
St. Paul Society also works on various professional training projects. In the seven years of its activity in Moscow, the society has given training courses in the following areas.
  • first aid;
  • hygiene and personal care;
  • courses for visiting nurses;
  • English language;
  • basics of psychology;
  • Danish lace making.
For Russian Orthodox Christians involved in community work, St. Paul Society organized two visits to Denmark to learn from the experience of various volunteer public service organizations. In Moscow, 15 young people from Denmark took part in local charity programs, when they worked in retired persons' homes, kindergartens, hospitals, peoples' homes and churches. After returning to Denmark, they kept supporting St. Paul Society by raising funds for its Russian operation.

St. Paul Society also assists in the restoration of a church, helps to organize a church-sponsored kindergarten and supports homeless people and convicts.

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