SOURCE: Russia Beyond the Headlines
The parish of St. George is located in a remote village in Ivanovo Region. It is one of 60 drug rehabilitation centers in Russia run by the Russian Orthodox Church. Only 12 people live here – four priests and eight recovering drug addicts from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk and Tomsk. The center tries not to take addicts from nearby towns, in case they begin to think of running away.
The village of St. George consists of a telephone box and a couple of buildings on a small hill. Only one or two buildings, perhaps, are inhabited; the rest stand with their roofs fallen in behind collapsing fences. The monastery grounds are spotless – neatly-trimmed strawberry bushes, garden tools tidily packed away, the greenhouse covered for winter, the paths swept and a horse exercising in the paddock. The farmyard is full of well-fed chickens and a sheep dog is keeping an eye on the enclosure. Nearby they are building a cowshed and, as soon as it is feasible, the priests are planning to buy cows.
The “students”all have a similar history of substance abuse; they all started drinking and smoking around the age of 13, before experimenting with different “stuff” and becoming unexpectedly hooked... but they never considered themselves drug addicts.
The Rev. Mefody Kondratyev explains that the idea of getting involved in the rehabilitation of drug addicts arose out of desperation. In 1993, the priests took in an addict as a kind of experiment: they accommodated him in a separate building, provided him with an electric hot plate, and tried to keep mostly away from him, not knowing what might happen. Later, there were two addicts, but the priests tried to keep their distance from them, as before.
The center’s residents say that it is not easy to be taken in here, on the banks of the Volga: they had to pass an interview and stay clean for at least 10 days before being accepted. Once taken in, residents sign an agreement that they will obey the clergy, attend church services and carry out their duties (various kinds of assignments).
On Saturday evenings, everybody gets together to discuss the week’s results. Each of the parish clergy takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half to go through the previous week’s plan with the residents and assess their progress. On Sundays, the priests prepare the patients for a normal life, discussing different topics with them – how to receive guests, how to arrange a room. Then, after supper, they watch a film. Abbot Siluan chooses the films. The parish’s collection includes films by Tarkovsky and Zvyaginstev, along with Russian and foreign classics. On Monday evenings, the residents discuss the films they have seen with the priests.
There are several stages to the rehabilitation process. During the first stage, residents at the center “come round” and write reflective essays on three standard topics – the story of their addiction, their denial about their dependency (how they justified their dependency), and their powerlessness in the face of their addiction (a description of their inability to deal with their drug dependency, and with dealing with their own thoughts, actions and mistakes concerning their addiction).
The third stage is adaptation, which some also call the “half-way house.” The recovering addicts, without losing touch with their mentors, begin to establish a life outside the center – finding jobs, building social contacts and learning how to live in a drug-free world.
The average rehabilitation period in the parish is between a year and a year-and-a-half. No one is kept against their own will. Once residents feel they are able to live in a secular environment, they discuss it with a priest before leaving.
The priests of the St. George’s parish believe that the rehabilitation method they have developed for treating addiction is successful, although they are not rushing to translate that success into statistics. “We no longer bother keeping numbers,” says Mefody. He believes this is a thankless task, as dependency remains latent for life: one can never tell when someone might falter. This is why the former residents refer to themselves as “recovering,” instead of“recovered.”
First published in Russian in Gazeta.ru.