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Newsletter, July-September 2017

Seminar on work with drug-addicts

A seminar on the 'Theological Reflection on Problems of Dependency: Orthodox and Catholic Perspective' took place on September 1, 2017, at the higher Catholic seminary 'Mary - Queen of the Apostles' in St. Petersburg. On August 31, the participants in the forum visited the rehabilitation centers of the Russian Orthodox Church Metropolia of St. Petersburg in the settlements of Sapernoye, Krasnoarmeiskoye and Torfyanoye.

The work of the seminar was moderated by the director of the St. Petersburg diocesan coordinating center for opposing drug addiction and alcoholism, Archpriest Maxim Pletnev. Rev. Constantine Perederiy, rector of the seminary, addressed participants with a greeting.

Greeting the gathering, Mr. Peter Gumeniuk, head of the Russian department of the Kirche in Not foundation, reported that the seminar was initiated by the Orthodox-Catholic working group supervised by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk from the Orthodox side and Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, ordinary of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, from the Catholic side, as well as Kirche in Not foundation leaders. Mr. Gumeniuk introduced the members of this group - Ms. Margarita Nelyubova, Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations (DECR), Ms. Giovanna Paravicini, Pokrovskiye Vorota cultural center, and Mr. Igor Verbitsky, as those 'who helped make this meeting possible'. Present at the seminar was also Neville Kirk-Smith, head of the British department of the foundation.

Mr. Gumeniuk also said that the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill last February in Havana became an incentive for holding various events and meetings between the Orthodox and the Catholics in areas fixed in the final document of the meeting. The first area is aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East and the second one, on which the present meeting was held in St. Petersburg, concerned common Christian values, problems of the family and social service. He also thanked Metropolitan Varsonofiy of St. Petersburg and Ladoga who gave his blessing upon holding this seminar.

Archpriest Sergiy Belkov, director of the network of anti-drugs rehabilitation centers of the ROC diocese of Vyborg, in his paper on 'The Experience of Pastoral Care for Drug Addicts in an Orthodox Rehabilitation Center', noted that the healing is possible only with the help of spiritually oriented programs. The program for help to drug addicts is a junction between theology, pedagogy and psychology. Its main stages are motivation, social rehabilitation in country institutions, re-socialization, and post-rehabilitation support. The country stage takes place in parish or monastic communities with the key role belonging there to the priest, though the participation of secular specialists too is presumed. The primary component of rehabilitation work is a spiritual one centered on divine services, sacraments, communion and individual spiritual talks. The second component is psychological-pedagogical. At the same time, pastoral psychology does not reject secular methods, Father Sergiy noted.

Rev. Pedro Quintela, Lisbon, Portugal, spoke about the work of the Door of Hope community, which he founded. There are 125 people in it and 50 more come for support weekly. 'We reach out to people who shoot up right in the streets and we also come to prisons', he said. There are also other ways in which the needy come to the community, namely, through the public healthcare system and under advice of those who participated in the program earlier. Father Quintela also touched upon the theological aspect of the problem, noting that dependency on drugs is an anti-Eucharistic phenomenon. 'Jesus Christ offers his Body while a drug addict takes poison into his body… Drug addicts are children of the consumer society. Dependency on drugs is an attempt to be in paradise without relations with Christ', stressed the priest.

The director of the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Service coordinating center for opposing drug addiction, Bishop Methodius of Kamensk and Alapayevsk, in his paper on Training Pastors for Work with Drug Addicts, shared his thoughts about what a seminary course on the problem of drug addiction should be. He noted with regret that at present this problem is not given proper attention in the seminary curriculum. The course should be concise and laconic; it should contain 'things forbidden to speak about'. The bishop suggested that the problem of drug addiction should be separated from the problem of alcoholism and pointed to the need for the presence of a theological reflection on the problem. The course should also contain information about the system of support for drug addicts in the ROC. It should also point out that drug addiction is a sin and disease and what stands behind the term 'incurability of drug addiction'. It is necessary to stress the priority method of the primary stage, namely, rehabilitation in a church community, and to clarify the basic principles making the Orthodox Church take up this problem, Bishop Methodius said.

Archpriest Vladimir Khulap, vice-rector for training and head of the Chair of Church Practices, St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy and Seminary, continued the discussion on the presence of the drug addiction subject in the curriculum. For the time being, it can be considered only as a part of the pastoral course. Thus, the Bachelor's degree course now includes social practice as compulsive. It is especially effective at the first grade. Our task is to guide future priests who in their pastoral service will encounter the problem of drug addiction, Father Vladimir said.

Jose Berdini, founder of the PARS community (Macerata, Italy), presented a paper on 'The Desperate Life of Drug Addicts and Christian Life as an Experience of Resurrection'. He spoke about his experience of liberation from drug dependency in the Meeting community and his consequent acquaintance with Luigi Giussani's community. 'Our community lives as a response to the modern society in order to make evident the presence of Christ', he said.

The participants also dealt with the problem of using methadone in treating drug addiction (it is a synthetic opiate drug used in the 'substitution therapy'). The participants expressed a negative attitude to the use of methadone, pointing to its negative consequences. 'Those who come to our community should part with methadone', Rev. Pedro Quintela said.

Dr. Larisa Shekhovtsova, PhD, professor at the chair of church practices, St. Petersburg Theological Academy and Seminary, continued the discussion on theological and psychological aspects of dependency as a passion. The modern man free of 'religious prejudices' is ignorant of his dependency on the Creator. Dependency on God gives a person the feeling of security, and this idea gives grounds to believe such a dependency to be a positive thing. Therefore, the change from dependency on the world to dependency on the Creator makes a person free, she noted.

Laura Baldassari, St. Michael Community, Macerata, Italy, shared an unusual testimony of how she found her calling in the work of the family and community. She related how a community of lay people is born from a small family in which each works at each's own place.

Giovanna Parravicini read out the paper by Roberto Mineo, chairman of the Fr. Mario Picchi Italian Center of Solidarity, Rome.

In conclusion of the seminar's work, Margarita Nelyubova, DECR, proposed that the problem of dependency should be considered in-depth from the theological perspective, the more so that 'the theology of our Churches are close in this respect'.

From the material by Yelena Bazhina on blagovest-info.ru

Is a positive dependency possible? Theological and psychological aspects

Prof. L. Shekhovtsova, PhD
Chair of Church Practices
St. Petersburg Theological Academy and Seminary

The problem of dependency is tightly bound with the problem of freedom and responsibility. The essence of absolute freedom lies in the absence of any restriction or necessity. According to theologians' definition, free is that which is caused for itself. Such absolute freedom belongs to Who is, God.

The human being as a creation (who is not who he is in the sense that he is not the cause of himself), though created free and has limitations to his human freedom. The human body is made subject to and determined by the law of material nature, while the human soul - by the social laws of community life, and it is only the human God-given spirit that 'blows wherever it pleases' (Jn. 3:8).

The human being, a creation of God, whose being is designed by the Creator to be realized in an ontologically indissoluble connection with the Creator in common life, co-existence of the Creator and the creation.

Adam walked before God and was to grow in union with Him.

Having yielded to the devil's temptation in paradise, Adam, not aware of this dependency on God the Creator, said like a three-year old child: 'I myself will do it!' God, in respect for his free choice (a child's self-will) granted him an opportunity for living on his own but as a reasonable and responsible father; He safeguards him against destruction and awaits his return to the Father's home.

The creature's rejection on his dependency on the Creator does not lead to the disappearance of this dependency: it was not out of his own will that man was created, not out of his own will he was born. Even if he leaves life 'at his own will', he will not cease to be.

The human being cannot be alone; instead of co-existence with God he grows in co-existence with other human beings, first close ones, then with a broader circles of people and then with humanity (V. I. Slobodchikov).

Co-existence with God or with another human being does not presuppose any independency of a human being.

The modern man is entangled in numerous dependences in the world, namely, habits, diet system, family relations, professional norms, not to mention the values imposed in the mass media.

The absence of common existence with God and the denial that man depends on God lead to spiritual death and the absence of such dependency as common life and unity with the human community leads both to physical and spiritual destruction. The modern man 'free from religious prejudices' usually is not aware of his ontological dependency on the Creator; he is not aware of his total dependency on the world, safeguarding the illusion of his independency. The awareness that man depends on God gives him the sense of security and acceptance of peace and love. According to Archpriest Mikhail Braverman, this gives grounds for regarding this dependency as positive.

According to the teaching of holy fathers, as a result of the fall, the nature of man was distorted and his integrated sense disintegrated into the sense of pleasure and the sense of suffering. When a person substitutes the positive dependency on God for numerous dependencies on other person, on substance, technical devices and passions that subject him to the virtual world, then he seeks to receive pleasure, ignoring and hoping to avoid suffering which accompany this condition. If before the fall he used to possess his nature, after the fall the passions of unreasonable nature come to possess him. A single interest, once excessively spread out at the expense of other ones, has subjected the human will to its despotic domination, with passion becoming a disease because, once moved by passions, the soul finds itself 'outside its nature', since it is set in motion by something strange, external, not by its own wish. Passions is a disease, not the essence of nature.

S. L. Rubinstien defined passion as a passive-active condition: passive because a person is in the captivity of a passion, he cannot break away from this condition and active because a person can develop a greater activity to satisfy his passion.

In the secular life and everyday practice, freedom is often understood as all-permissiveness and arbitrariness - 'I do what I want'. To reject one's identity and to set one free from this slavery of passion, according to holy fathers, is more difficult than to gain, for instance, social freedom. Therefore the entire asceticism, the Orthodox spiritual practice, is focused primarily on this: how to help a person in the most effective way to get rid of dependency, the non-freedom of passions.

The slavery of sin and passion is the highest form of human slavery. It is a violation of the hierarchy in human nature.

Whereas the materialistic and humanistic philosophy and psychology stress the ideal of man's dependency on the external world and his determinacy by biological and social laws, the patristic thought gives more attention to the non-freedom of man from his inner world, his non-freedom from his own passions, attractions and needs.

At a certain stage of his spiritual journey, man begins to become aware God's immanency along with His transcendence and to realize his dependency on God, Jaspers wrote. Created by God in indissoluble ontological unity with the Creator and single in his existence, man finds freedom and independency from the world through his union with transcendent God, he said.

Man realizes his indissoluble ontological relation with God and, however paradoxically it may seem to modern consciousness this relation-dependency can be called positive.

The Lord expects from man the awareness of his ontological dependency and desire to restore the lost relation.

Adam's awareness of the co-dependency with his Creator and his voluntary acceptance of it with love makes him independent from all other dependencies in the world, from other man, from substance, from the prince of this world.

In the modern psychology and psychotherapy the problem of dependent human behavior comes to the fore, which is conditioned by spiritual and social problems of the modern society. When it is recognized that alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease, then a person, as if not responsible for his disease, must be treated. Thus a person responsible for his life as a subject turns into an object to be dealt with by 'others'.

In Christian psychology, an approach to the problem of dependent behavior is fundamentally different. If the Creator, taking the risk, has created man free, than He does not encroach on this freedom even in the cause of salvation of man for eternal life. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me (Rev. 3:20). The union of man with God can be only voluntary, a result of man's free love of God. The responsibility of a Christian as a subject is manifested in 'responsible', i.e., voluntary and conscious rejection of self-will and his own self in trust of the Highest Wisdom and obedience to His will.

The freedom of human spirit is manifested, among other things, in man's domination over his flesh and passionate dependences. Christians call themselves servants of God, for they understand that it is only obedience to All-seeing and All-knowing God that leads man to authentic freedom. This voluntary subjection of one's will to the will of God is a manifestation of trust in His wisdom and goodness and His love of each of us.

One of the main Christian virtues is voluntary obedience to the will of God: 'It is Your, not my will be done'. In man's voluntary consent to build his life according to the will of God rather than self-will and self-volition lies the ultimate Christian virtue, which is humbleness. And while Kant believed that 'freedom is subjection to oneself', for a Christian, freedom is voluntary subjection to God the Creator. The ultimate example of this obedience is revealed to us by Christ in His prayer for the cup in the Garden of Gethsemane: Abba, Father,'he said,'everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.' (Mk. 14:36). Renunciation of one's self and sinful comes from self-reproach and lowliness of mind.

Therefore, the way of recovery from the dependency on a passion lies in the rejection of dependency on the world and recognition and acceptance of one's dependency on the Creator of the world.

That person is free who has complete command of his emotions, passions and talents and builds his life becoming free from the evil of death. Free is a person who is capable of remaining his own self, of liberating his nature, his own self from anything alien, anything that suppresses and distorts his nature. True freedom is the creation of one's life in accordance with one's logos - God's design for you. To remain one's own self means to be in conformity with one's essence which is the image of God.


  1. Mikhail Braverman, Archpriest. The Role of the Church in the Socialization and Formation of Delinquent Teenagers - Master's degree theses. St. Petersburg 2011.
  2. Rubinstein S.L. The Basics of General Psychology, Moscow 1989.
  3. Slobodchikov V. I. Isayev Ye. I. Psychology of Human Development, Moscow 2000.
  4. K. Jaspers. General Psychopathology, Moscow 2001.

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