05/18/2021, 14.19
RUSSIA
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Social services, mercy in the Russian Orthodox Church

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Since the end of the Soviet regime, the works of ecclesial "mercy" have flourished throughout Russian society: hostels, palliative care, help for the disabled and the sick, homes for the homeless, humanitarian aid. The Russian Church now boasts over 4,500 charitable projects, including 77 hostels for pregnant women and young single mothers. Kirill: "We ask women not to have an abortion, but to donate their children to the Orthodox Church". About 70% of the population declares themselves ready to support patriarchal structures in works of mercy, especially in the youth range between 18 and 24 years old.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The 10th Ecclesial Congress of Social Service opened yesterday in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. 1500 delegates gathered to take part: priests, monks and nuns, volunteers, representatives of non-profit organizations, social workers, activists of charitable institutions (sestry miloserdija, the "sisters of mercy"), from all over Russia.

In the 30 years since the end of the Soviet regime, the works of ecclesial "mercy" have flourished throughout Russian society: hostels for the homeless, assistance for palliative care, assistance for the sick in all institutions, support for the disabled in homes, for the distribution of humanitarian aid.

All these initiatives have made the Russian Orthodox Church the country's leading charitable organization. In the 1990s, initiatives in this field came mainly from foreign institutions that entered Russia after communism. Since the 2000s they have been gradually absorbed and nationalized, sometimes also due to the distrust of foreign "benefactors", accused of wanting to influence the Russian population in various ways. Often these organizations have inspired precisely the "Orthodox charity", which has inherited their systems and purposes.

Today it is the patriarchate of Moscow that "exports" charity all over the world, as Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) recalled in the opening address of the Congress. In his words, "one of the main concerns of our Church is closeness to women, who today for many reasons are reluctant to have children, to whom we ask not to have an abortion, but to give their children to the Orthodox Church".

As the patriarch promised, "the Church is ready to help educate and raise children, without impeding their relationship with mothers, indeed we will do everything to make families more solid, even the most fragile and unofficial ones, which still have a great value before God”. Since Soviet times, Russia has been in the throes of a dizzying demographic decline, and the practice of abortion still remains extremely widespread and frequent in the country today.

At the Congress it was noted that ecclesial charity is becoming more and more systematic and popular among the people in Russia. According to some surveys, almost 70% of the population declares themselves ready to support patriarchal structures in works of mercy, especially in the youth range between 18 and 24 years old.

Elizaveta Oleskina, director of the charitable foundation "Seniority in joy" (Starost v radost), told of the pilot project for "long-term" care: "In our country, a third of the population is made up of elderly people who need help in various ways, and if we consider people with different degrees of disability, this help needs one in two families. Ours is not only a major project at national level, but is now part of the priorities of the state's social policy ”.

The Russian Church now boasts over 4,500 charitable projects, including 77 hostels for pregnant women and young single mothers. Senator Maria L’vova-Belova presented the public-ecclesial project Kvartal Lui ("Louis's apartment"), begun in the city of Penza in recent years and named in honour of the jazz musician Louis Armstrong. It is dedicated to the rehabilitation of orphaned disabled children, today at the forefront in raising awareness of the problems of children with reduced mobility throughout Russia.

According to L’vova-Belova, "we can all do something to overcome barriers, such as setting up special access to churches or public buildings, to allow the invalid to participate in the liturgy or be able to use the services".

The Church has also opened more than 200 humanitarian aid centres; about 90 homes for lonely and homeless people, over 400 centres for the disabled; more than 200 drug rehabilitation communities.

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