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6519Re: [orthodox-synod] A Monk Treats Addicts With a Dose of God

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  • Sandra Thompson
    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
      >like me."
      >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
      >anti-drug efforts.
      >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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