6519Re: [orthodox-synod] A Monk Treats Addicts With a Dose of God
- Sep 30, 2002
>What an edifying piece of news! Praise be to God!
>Hieromonk Anatoly Berestov
>MOSCOW, September 27, 2002 (MT) -- Anna Ivanova injected her first heroin
>at the age of 18 at the urging of her boyfriend, a drug user of six years.
>She spent every day of the next 18 months obsessing about finding her next
>fix. She overdosed twice and received a suspended sentence for theft.
>Then she met Anatoly Berestov, a doctor-turned-Russian Orthodox monk who
>treats drug addicts with a heavy dose of religion. Her mother dragged her
>to Berestov's St. John of Kronstadt rehabilitation center.
>"I thought all that praying and the church was not for me," said Ivanova,
>23, her long blond hair covered with a scarf according to Orthodox
>tradition. "I thought it was something for grandmothers, not young people
>But after six months of prayer, confession and other religious rituals,
>Ivanova became one of the 3,000 young addicts whom the center has helped
>rehabilitate since opening in 1998.
>When Berestov threw open the doors of his center at the Orthodox church's
>Krutitskoye Podvorye compound, he wasn't planning to help people like
>Ivanova. Berestov, a neurologist who headed the pediatric neurology
>department of the State Medical University, quit the post in 1996 for a
>ministry reaching out to the young followers of totalitarian sects, which
>were widespread in the 1990s.
>He quickly learned that many sect members were addicts.
>"We realized that many victims of sects -- especially those involved in
>Satanic groups -- were suffering addictions to hallucinogens," Berestov
>said in an interview.
>He said addicts without ties to sects started flocking to the center as
>word spread about the free treatment. The program is financed by private
>donations and three Orthodox shops.
>Berestov, other Orthodox clergymen and volunteers counsel 10 to 15 patients
>every day. He said 82 percent of those treated are living drug-free two
>years or more after completing therapy, a sharp contrast to cure rates of
>25 percent to 30 percent at nonreligious rehabilitation centers.
>"We believe that drug addiction is the result of a sinful lifestyle rather
>than medical problems alone," he said, adding that some patients have
>turned away from drugs after their first communion.
>Being a doctor himself, Berestov firmly supports conventional drug therapy.
>Patients admitted to the rehabilitation program must be drug-free for least
>10 days after going through a medical treatment at a public clinic, which
>he calls the first stage of treatment.
>Immersing participants in religion is the core of the rehabilitation
>program, isolating them from their familiar drug-filled lives, Berestov
>To that end, Berestov sends some patients to work and pray in monasteries
>in the Tula and Yaroslavl regions. Ivanova spent three months in a
>Yaroslavl monastery at the start of her rehabilitation.
>Others are sent to farms, where they plant crops, tend cattle and cook.
>Those who wish to remain in Moscow spend their days helping out at the
>While doctors implementing conventional drug therapy programs consider
>addicts drug-free after a year, Berestov said he believes his patients are
>drug-free after two years, "to be on the safe side."
>Drug use has grown rapidly in recent years across the nation, and President
>Vladimir Putin ordered the government this week to draw up anti-drug
>measures. Putin also ordered the creation of a new drug enforcement agency
>under the auspices of the Interior Ministry to coordinate the country's
>He put the number of drug users at 3 million, although some experts say the
>figure could be as high as 5 million.
>Berestov, who has helped to set up similar Orthodox treatment centers in
>several regions, said young people living in wealthier areas like Moscow
>are more at risk. Those in poorer regions tend to turn to alcohol, which is
>cheaper, he said.
>The average age of Berestov's patients is 22, and the youngest are 17.
>The center's goal is not only to help addicts kick the habit but to
>introduce them to the Orthodox faith, Berestov said. Baptism is not
>mandatory, but those who take the program usually do get baptized, he said.
>Artyom Polgov, a 23-year-old who has been off drugs for 18 months, has no
>regrets about his addiction, saying it was how he was led to God.
>"Now every new day is like a miracle to me," he said, beaming.
>He has finished his rehabilitation and works at the center as a driver.
>Ivanova also chose to stay at the center, where she works as a secretary.
>She said her experience and the road to recovery has set her apart from
>many of her peers. "Former drug addicts look at the world differently," she
>said. "They treasure all of the simple things around them."
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