Maria Merinova: “The ‘Red Zone’ Volunteers Are My Orthodox Family”

There is a special group of people in the “Miloserdie” (“Mercy”) Orthodox service—volunteers. They find time to help a wide variety of people who are in trouble or in a difficult life situation.

During the pandemic, they have a special kind of service—help in the so-called “Red Zone” [the COVID wards, where the risk of infection is very high, and ordinary visitors are not allowed]. Volunteers have taken on themselves the daily and psychological support of patients in Moscow Covid hospitals and every day they come to those who cannot get out of a hospital bed for weeks and are deprived of the care and comfort of their family and friends.

We have talked with Maria Merinova, coordinator of the volunteers of the “Mercy” Orthodox help service, on the faith that brings volunteers to the “Red Zone” and their service.


What does a volunteer usually do in the “Red Zone”?

—Our main task and goal is to support patients. We have excellent medical staff in our hospitals: they treat patients very well, and all prescriptions are carried out. But a patient can spend a long time in a hospital—not a day or two, but a week, sometimes even a month. Since he is permanently on oxygen, he cannot get up, cut his nails, wash himself, brush his teeth, and wash his hair; some have no energy for simple hygiene. The patient’s possibilities are limited by the bed. And here the help of a volunteer who has time, strength and everything necessary to provide assistance and support is indispensable.

Do you need any special skills to become a “Red Zone” volunteer?

—When volunteers were needed in our hospitals, under the leadership of Bishop Panteleimon of Vereya, the Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Ministry and head of the “Miloserdie” Orthodox service, nursing courses were organized at the Hospital of St. Alexei of Moscow.

Our volunteers acquire all the necessary skills there, because it doesn’t make much sense to go to the “Red Zone” unprepared. Patients are in critical condition, and it is very important to care for them properly in order to help, not harm. The courses provide basic knowledge: how to feed patients, how to turn over a prone patient, cut his nails, change his diaper and bed linen.

When a volunteer comes to the “Red Zone”, he is accompanied by a mentor. There are many nuances that must be taken into account while in the hospital, so there is always a more experienced volunteer in each shift who gathers his fellow-volunteers at a certain time, coordinates their work, gives instructions on what needs to be done, where it is better to approach a patient, and how to behave in different situations.

How long does a volunteer’s shift last?

—Three and a half hours is the time when a person is most productive, immersed in the service of his neighbor and does not get physically tired. Unlike medical personnel who are in the “Red Zone” for six hours, our personal experience has shown that during this time, fatigue sets in.

There are four rolling shifts of three and a half hours each. The first shift, which includes breakfast, begins at eight in the morning; the second shift is from 12.30 to 16.00; the third—from 17.00 to 20.30. There is also a fourth shift—volunteers come to it after work. It is shorter, from 19.30 to 21.00, but this is a very busy period when patients prepare for sleep. At 21.00, as a rule, all patients get ready for sleep, and our help is no longer needed.

You meet a lot of people every day. Surely some patients become especially close to you...

—We have the following expression: “To meet your elderly lady.” Each volunteer meets a patient who makes an indelible impression on him and touches his heart.

I had a patient who was in the ICU, an extremely beautiful middle-aged woman. During one of the first shifts she told me that she wanted to go to church and talk to a priest: “I’m having a hard time. I’m thinking of things I hadn’t thought of before.” I gave her my phone number and promised that as soon as she was out of hospital, I would take her to a priest. The next day she was transferred from the ICU, where she had spent over a month, to an intensive observation ward. We met again, and she asked me to wash her and set her to rights after the ICU. It was vital for her to feel clean. Later we talked a lot with that patient, whose health could not be restored for a long time. I asked the volunteers to pray for her, and the next day she was transferred to rehabilitation, where, thank God, she recovered. When she got out of hospital, we got in touch on the phone, and she came to church.

What is the main purpose of service? Why do people come to the “Red Zone”?

—I have never ever met such a large number of different people united by the same idea. Volunteers who go to the “Red Zone” with me are my Orthodox family. We are not strangers to each other, like those who just do some work together and then disperse. We go to see each other and keep in touch, and Vladyka Panteleimon takes part in our meetings. He says that the “Red Zone” is the school of humility. It is important not to be annoyed but to accept everything with humility. This is what the “Red Zone” teaches us.

There are many cultured, intelligent and very interesting people among our volunteers. There are people in leading positions, university professors, police officers, and subway drivers among them. Most of them are go to church. They know that God exists, and they come to serve Him and others.


Volunteers of the “Miloserdie” Orthodox help service have visited the “Red Zone” since July 2021. All volunteers are trained in special nursing courses, organized by the Commission for Hospital Ministry under the Moscow Diocesan Council at the Training Center of the Church Hospital of St. Alexei of Moscow with the support of the Moscow Healthcare Department and the Moscow Department of Social Protection.

Maria Merinova
Translation by Dmitry Lapa


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