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JOURNEY WITH ACN is our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have helped to bring into being together with ACN benefactors.
This week: Russia
Extension built for an addiction rehabilitation centre
It all began with a few individual cases. One after another, young people with drug problems came to speak to Father Sergij Belkov in the confessional. The addiction was nothing new for a former police detective. But now, as an Orthodox priest, it was also clear to him that it was not, first and foremost, a medical or a sociological problem but above all, a sickness of the soul.
Most people very quickly come to realize that the path of drug abuse is a false one. It is like “living in the grave,” one person tells him; feeling “no longer human,” says another. Both descriptions reflect one and the same phenomenon. The way out of the vicious spiral of drug addiction has to begin with this recognition, and with the will for conversion.
Since 1996, Father Sergij has been running a drug addiction rehabilitation centre in Sapjornoje, around 65 miles (100 km) from Saint Petersburg, in the almost untouched natural environment of the Finnish-Karelian frontier. He takes each of these young men in, like the father taking in his prodigal son. Some of the members of his parish are also strongly supporting him in his work.
One woman who helps him describes how she is astonished time and again by the transformation that takes place in these young men, aged between 18 and 28.
Learning to be part of a family
“In the first few days they are always aggressive and surly and do not even look you in the face. But very soon a real “transfiguration” takes place from within – with God’s help and through the love and family warmth that is radiated by Father Sergij, his matushka and all the helpers and residents of the centre.” Structurally, the centre is set-up like a normal, healthy family, with Father Sergij as the loving, but strict head of the family and his wife as mother and example. The more senior residents represent the older brothers and sisters, who help to train and educate the junior members.
A new member to the family is only introduced once per month so as not to upset the equilibrium. Life in the centre is marked by prayer and work, obedience and observance of the Orthodox Church fasts – and it is no coincidence that it is ordered very much along the lines of the monastic life.
Right from the start each person has his particular tasks. There is agricultural work (cattle, pig and poultry rearing and vegetable gardening) and building work too. There are opportunities to learn trades – as a carpenter / joiner, roofer, bricklayer… Initially they work with a master tradesman, and then over time, they work independently.
Dozens of young men have already found help in this centre holding a maximum of 18 residents at any one time where they can stay for up to a year, and in some cases even longer. On weekends, they take part in parish life and come to grips with questions of faith. They learn – often for the first time in their life – something of the basics of their faith, and at the same time they learn to take responsibility for their own lives. In this way, both physically and psychologically strengthened, they are able to return to their own families, and in many cases even establish families of their own.
Sapjornoje was the first such Orthodox centre of its kind in Russia. Its success rate of around 75% of former addicts permanently recovered has vindicated Father Sergij’s approach and brought widespread recognition and imitation throughout the country. At the same time, the centre in Sapjornoje continues to grow steadily.
The centre is intended to be self-supporting, and indeed it manages very successfully to be so. Nevertheless, again and again there is a need for major investments, which the centre cannot (yet) afford to fund. Therefore, in past years, ACN has helped with the purchase of kitchen equipment and furniture, and helped with funds to build the extension and also for the establishment of a joinery workshop, a bathhouse and laundry facilities; a building to accommodate the training staff and helpers in the centre, and also for the renovation of a wooden church which had been partly destroyed by fire and was originally been built in the 1990s by the residents themselves, with their own hands and with great love and attention to detail.
Now Father Sergij is asking for our help, once again. This time, he needs help building the extension of the existing complex in Sapjornoje. The intention is to build a storeroom, a small clinic/ hospital wing, and also some cattle stalls, as well as carrying out repair work on the existing buildings.