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Diaconia: Sisterhoods
St. Dimitry's Sisterhood of Nurses
The community of mercy in the name of St. Martha and Maria

St. Dimitry's Sisterhood of Nurses

This sisterhood was formed in 1991 at the 1st City Hospital. Its members were parishioners of the hospital's Church of St. Prince Dimitry that had been returned to the Church in 1990. The church developed as a centre for Orthodox graduates in medicine and those who wished to help the patients. The official blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia for the foundation of a sisterhood came on 28 May 1991 - the day when the hospital church celebrates the memory of its patron-saint. Today the sisterhood has 80 members. It is directed by a Council and a Senior Sister elected by the general meeting of the sisterhood. Archpriest Arkady Shatov, rector of the hospital church, acts as the sisterhood's father confessor. St. Dimitry's Sisterhood is a religious organisation, not a monastic community. Many of its sisters are married and have children. It offers membership to those members of the Orthodox Church who are ready to commit themselves to the service of their neighbours. Before entering the sisterhood an applicant is to undergo a year-long test of her ability to fulfil the obedience. At present the sisterhood is engaged in diaconical work in several closely interconnected fields:

St. Dimitry's Nursing School. This is an Orthodox medical school holding a state licence. Its founders are the Government of Moscow and St. Dimitry's Sisterhood. Its principal is Alexander Vladimirovich Flint. It offers training in nursing. Along with traditional medical disciplines the students are given religious instruction. They are also actively involved in the work of the sisterhood, fulfilling various obediences in the hospital and the refectory. The school has day-time and evening-time classes. The total number of students is 215 (183 at the day-time department and 32 at the evening-time department). It also offers a pre-entry course for 25 applicants. The full training takes 2 years and 10 months. A graduate is granted a standard state certificate qualifying her as "a general nurse". Since its foundation in 1992 the school has trained over 160 nurses. About 70 of them are working now in the 1st City Hospital, while 7 have continued their studies at higher medical institutions. The rest have been sent to work at various clinics in Moscow.

Work at the hospital. The sisterhood and the school have provided most of the junior and secondary nursing staff at the nine most difficult wards of the 1st City Hospital including those for casualty, after-trauma reanimation, surgery, after-trauma rehabilitation, men's and a women's neurology and emergency. Many members of the sisterhood and students of the evening department are on the staff of the hospital working as nurses and orderlies and drawing state salaries. Those students who are not on the staff work 8 hours a month in the wards. Parishioners of the Church of St. Prince Dimitry also fulfil one-time obediences in the hospital, such as clearing up. The sisters of mercy not only fulfil their professional duty but also give spiritual support to patients by talking to those who need consolation and helping those who are preparing for baptism, confession or communion. On major feast-days the clergy, sisters, students and parishioners make a round of the hospital, offering congratulations of the day to the patients and the staff.

District nurses' service. The sisterhood holds a state licence giving it the right to organise district nurses' service. This service includes: Visiting nurses. At the request of those who need a visiting nurse's services but cannot pay the commercial prices for it, St. Dimitry's Sisterhood provides such services for moderate prices or, in a number of cases, altogether free of charge. Sisters stand on point-duty for 12 people, with 2 of them requiring twenty-four-hour attendance, and 15 people who need attendance once in 2 or 3 weeks. In addition to medical care, sisters as well as parishioners help those under their care in shopping for food, changing clothes and clearing up their places. Medical advice. Those parishioners of the hospital Church of St. Prince Dimitry who hold degrees in medicine, including several general practitioners, several surgeons, a neuropatologist, a traumatologist, a dermatologist, an oncologist and other specialists, provide free medical advice both at the sisterhood and at home. Among those who turn to them for advice are parishioners, staff and students of the nursing school, their relatives and sometimes even outsiders.

Work with children. Through the common efforts of the sisterhood and the Southwest District Administration of the Moscow Department of Education, the first Orthodox girls' asylum was founded in Moscow in 1994. For a year and a half of its existence it has given shelter to 32 girls from 3 to 13 years of age who came mostly from families suffering from alcoholic problems. The asylum has an official permission to keep only 6 girls at the asylum until they come of age, while the rest may stay there for only 6 months. After that they are either brought back to their families if the family situation has improved or sent out to guardians or family orphanages or boarding schools. At present there are 13 girls at the asylum. Children of school age are taught at the asylum according to programmes designed for various levels of development. Classes are given by Orthodox teachers who are put on the part-time staff list at a nearby school. Some girls attend Orthodox gymnasium. In addition to general subjects the girls are taught practical crafts and skills such as cloth-washing, clearing up, cooking, drawing and sewing. The girls also attend classes in music and stage puppet performances. Once a month they go to the 1st City Hospital to attend to the patients. On 9 April 1994, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, a domestic church dedicated Sts Martyrs Vera (Faith), Nadezhda (Hope) and Lubov (Love) and their mother Sofia (Wisdom) was consecrated at the asylum. Morning and evening prayers are said in it every day with the participation of the girls. Father Arkady Shatov, father confessor of the sisterhood, comes every fortnight to celebrate divine liturgy. On Sundays the girls go to the nearest church or the hospital church. During their stay at the asylum the girls are not isolated from social life: they visit exhibitions and museums, go on highking and spend their holidays at summer camps. In their work with children, St. Dimitry's sisters also pay regular visits to Children's House No. 13, a children's acceptance and distribution centre and other orphanages. They help to clear up these houses, talk to children, bring gifts to them and take them to St. Dimitry's Church on holidays.

Distribution of humanitarian aid. The sisterhood has organised distribution of humanitarian aid (clothes, food, medicines) coming from various organisations abroad. The aid is distributed to large families, refugees, recent convicts, pensioners and other socially unprotected people. To distribute medicines and medical equipment the sisterhood has organised a chemist’s shop directed by a professional pharmaceutist. Medicines are given out to whoever asks for them if they are unavailable or too expensive at local drugstores. At the same time the distribution of medicines is placed under a strict control. Major clinics receive medicines from the sisterhood only on the condition that they will distribute them free. Special medical equipment is sent in the first place to those wards in which members of the sisterhood work.

The Sunday school. The Sunday school is attended by 150 children from 5 to 15 years of age. In addition to religious instruction, those who wish it can study drawing, wood carving and needlework. Pupils make regular pilgrimages to holy places in Moscow and other cities in Russia.

The refectory. The refectory can accommodate 200 people. On workdays it caters to the sisters, the staff and students of the nursing school, as well as St. Dimitry's parishioners coming here after matins. The refectory also provides food for large families, one-parent families, refugees and low-income citizens. On holidays the refectory organises common meals for the sisterhood, parishioners and children from asylums and orphanages.

The telephone number of St. Dimitry's Sisterhood: (095) 236-92-63.

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The community of mercy in the name of St. Martha and Maria. The history and the present

The history

May I remind you, dear readers, that the above-mentioned community was founded in February, 1909 by the Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna Romanoff. In the short period of its existence the community which exemplified an Orthodox women’ ministry to God and people succeed to involve hundreds of the daughters of Russia in the deeds of mercy. The idea of the community assumed a severe monastic way of life without taking the veil and attracted young women, since it offered them a choice: either to leave the community unimpededly if they got married, or take the veil in the skete of the community, or simply take the veil and continue their obedience in it.

Remarkably, how this idea which had forestalled the time even then proved its exigency today. There was an inner freedom and the right of choice, on the one hand, and a potential readiness of Russian soul to sacrificial service for mercy, on the other hand. Even in the severe days of ours this has found a devoted response in women’s hearts.

Powerful and magnificent was the entrance of the non-Orthodox daughter into Russian Or-thodoxy, and she revealed to the world an unparalleled example of a church charity institution. The life of the community proceeded in full harmony of labour and prayer, spiritual ministry and practical mercifulness in the community and outside of it. The hospital of the community, its out-patients’ clinic and pharmacy were considered exemplary. The poor were given gratuitous medical aid and medicine. A cheap kitchen, a children’s asylum, a Sunday school, a sewing workshop were functioning there. Gymnasium, hospitals, asylums for the poor were instituted at the community. The sisters used to visit doss-houses, slums, poor people at their homes, they pro-vided clothes, footwear, medical care, job opportunities, tutoring. They managed to help thou-sands of the suffering in the short period of the community’s existence.

The year 1918 put an end to all this. Cruelty and implacability of the revolution were incom-patible with such notions as mercy, charity, Christian service to the others. On the 18th of June 1918 Elizaveta Feodorovna, the Great Mother, who had dedicated her whole life to the prosperity of Russia, ended her earthly journey in the depth of the mine in the outskirts of an Ural town Alapayevsk. The new masters viewed the Grand Duchess only as a representative of the over-thrown dynasty. After the arrest and death of the mother-superior the community has almost ceased its activities and was finally closed in 1926.

The present

We have been trying to blot out of our consciousness the notions of charity and mercifulness for years, regarding them as survivals of the past years of exploitation. The thousand-years-old moral principles seemed to be destroyed. However, as soon as it became possible to recall our historical remembrances, it turned out that our Christian souls are alive, and our genetic memory had preserved almost everything. We didn’t know, though, what to begin with, when we just started to revive the ministry of charity. That was why these activities were, at first, exported from the West. Numerous foreign charity agencies rushed into Russia, and it was a pity that they directed their activities in accordance with a third-world-countries experience. The history of our Fatherland abounds in experience of the ministry of mercy, and the feat of the Grand Duch-ess Elizaveta Feodorovna is particularly significant in it.

Everyone who realised the concept of our own Russian tradition of mercifulness had a firm conviction that the community in the name of St.Martha and Maria must be restored to life. There was no rejection of good deeds of the visiting missionaries, and the sisters respected their will to help the suffering. But it was already eight years ago when the first sisters of mercy be-came confident that the new form of Orthodox ministry to God and people initiated in Russia by the Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna will be perceived and accepted by the modern society, will find a deep-rooted response in the souls of our compassionate women. And thus it happened. In 1990 the Community of the first sisters was restored to life at the Churches of St.Righteous Martha and Maria and the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos. The battle for the restitution of the historical complex of buildings to the Russian Orthodox Church has begun. No one knows what the outcome of the cause could be, if not a deliberate de-cision of Moscow mayor Y.M.Louzhkov who halted the claims of a number of state, commercial, public and certain religious bodies.

In October, 1992 the administration of Moscow transferred by its enactment the complex of buildings of the Community in the name of St.Martha and Maria to the possession of the Russian Orthodox Church, but it was only two years later that the sisters entered it despite of the resis-tance of certain alien organisations. In October, 1995 His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia blessed an official opening of the Community. Twenty sisters headed by their mother-superior labour in the field of mercy today. Their efforts follow the same direction which have been once outlined by the abbess of the Community.

Medical activities. Twelve sisters are intensely trained at the Medical college N2. The course of studies is ar-ranged especially for sisters of the community who are conferred a certificate with permission to work both as visiting nurses and in various clinics. The sisters take care of lonely patients who, in fact, require daily treatment. Each sister at-tends to two persons on the average. On the wish of patients a priest of the community visits them, confesses them, administers to them communion and extreme unction. The community takes no money for its care for the sick.

But the primary medical service of the community is that which is rendered to the Institute of N.V.Sklifassovsky. Five days a week twelve sisters work in burns surgery and reanimation de-partments. The sisters are entrusted to perform the most complicated bandaging, treatment of injuries, preparation for skin transplantation, tools maintenance, nourishment of patients. The Institute’s personnel admire their voluntary assistants. They set themselves at every task with a prayer and smile. It is too often that they must take care of tramps who are usually lousy, sick with scab, tuberculosis, syphilis. The sisters treat them with compassion, bring them food from the frugal refectory of the community, console them, treat and give clean clothing.

The sisters try to be on good terms with their patients, to learn their needs. At that point the presence of a priest becomes evident. The infernal flame does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, a sin stays the same sin no matter who has committed it. A hospital bunk is often the place where people start thinking about their past experience. The baptism, the confession, the Eucharist and the extreme unction become a conscious necessity for patients. There were in-stances when a hopeless patient would quickly recover despite of doctors’ prognosis after confes-sion and communion.

At first, patients, particularly wealthy ones, could not understand what kind of curious girls these sisters are. These young, healthy beautiful girls handle the sick without payment and are glad in addition. These people soon experience a profound mental transformation, and a deep re-spect to such an attitude to labour as to the mercy of God makes them to reconsider many things.

The sisters get tired. In the evening they return home, in the community, tired and hungry. The patients with burns exhaust all their energy. They need meal and sleep badly, but they can-not neglect the rules of hygiene. Infectious clothes must be washed, disinfected, they need a warm shower. Yet there is no shower, no hot water, they must support themselves on their own. Frugal meal added, one can easily imagine how fatigued the young girls are. Then what a miracle, what a joy the evening prayer in the garden in front of the Church of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, or in the hospital church becomes! The sisters kneel and ask each other to forgive them, they read their daily prayers, sing troparions together and peacefully leave for their cells to read their private prayers. Free evenings occur sometimes. Then they would gather in a drawing-room and play the piano of Elizaveta Feodorovna, read verses, or sing spiritual songs with the accompaniment of a guitar.

Spiritual, social and cultural activities. The sisters regularly visit the shelter N6 for the aged and invalids. Four elder sisters do this obedience. There are more than five hundred patients in the shelter. The sisters are primarily preoccupied with missionary work among them. Together with a priest they bring the word of God to these people, they help the old people in the shelter in their baptism, receiving commun-ion, extreme unction. A domestic chapel where regular services are celebrated is established at the shelter.

Spiritual care is also taken about the shelter N7 for mentally retarded children. The sisters bring the children regularly to the community where they attend services, confess their sins and receive communion. They are offered tea and given presents afterwards. The children who are unable to move are visited by the sisters and a priest right in the shelter.

More than 20 indigent persons - the homeless, refugees, the poor receive daily food and cloth-ing in the community. The homeless require a special attitude and are obliged to do something helpful. They take shovels, brooms, hammers, or any other tools and work for the welfare of the community. Spiritual and material assistance of the community gives to a number of them a chance to change their life. Fifteen persons managed to abandon their vagrancy. They presently rent an apartment and run a joint-stock company to sell eggs which allows them to share their earnings with the sisters.

The community has also started staging performances with a crew of five sisters. Headed by Marina Fominova they prepared three concert-programmes: "The Motherly Love", "The Great Mother", "Assuage my Sorrows" which include spiritual verses, stories and musical pieces. The programmes address the sick, the aged and disabled in shelters, soldiers, prisoners. A children’s programme is getting prepared.

Another aspect of the life of the community is distribution of the humanitarian aid. Two driv-ers of the community obtained in summer 1995 international driver’s licences from the State Mo-tor Licensing and Inspection Department and were permitted to drive lorries and buses. German and Swiss charity agencies trust their trailers to these drivers, and now each month shipments for Russia arrive in the community. Since November 1995 till now the community facilitated purveying of humanitarian aid to a number of religious, state and public organisations, to indigent people. Among them are:

  • monasteries and churches of Moscow, Moscow region, the Dioceses of Kalouga and Ivanovo;
  • an Orthodox charity complex in Saraktash village of the Diocese of Orenbourg;
  • shelters for the aged and orphanages in Moscow;
  • a shelter for disabled children in the Diocese of Samara;
  • the Institute of N.V.Sklifassovsky (medication, clothing for the recovering poor);
  • an association of the disabled "Co-ordination"; · a social protection department of Firovsky district in Tver region;
  • "Memory of War" charity association of psychological and social support for parents of the sol-diers killed in Afghanistan;
  • a religious public association "Faith, Love, Salvation";
  • the clinical department of the Oncological scientific centre of N.N.Blokhin;
  • dozens of refugees, former prisoners, families with many children, families of priests, young widows and many others.
The community cannot extend its charity activities if a number of sisters is not increased. This is still impossible because there is no place for them to live in. Only a half of the building where the sisters reside now belongs to them. Various organisations persist in maintaining their presence on the territory of the community which prevents capital repairs, and the community is facing risk to stay without heating in winter.

There are still no opportunities for the development of the activities of the community itself. A lycee, a sewing workshop, a bakery and folk-art works are already instituted. There also exists a crew of Orthodox doctors ready to provide medical aid to refugees free of charge. These units will start their activities immediately if a place for them is provided.

At the moment the outdoor look of the community evokes sad reflections. The pharmacy building corrupts, the chambers of the Grand Duchess need emergency repairs. The works of Nesterov and Konenkov are in danger of destruction in the Church of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos. The reconstruction of the community and its development depends on two as-pects:

  1. Financing.
  2. Withdrawal of alien organisations from the territory of the community.
Total costs of the restoration are estimated at 70-80 milliard of roubles, and it is partially funded by the city, though considerable donations are needed for the completion of works.

Head of the community of mercy
in the name of St.Martha and Maria
Telephone for contacts: (095) 231-84-46

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