We Are Born Sober. Help in the Struggle Against Alcoholism. Part 1

A talk with Deacon John Klimenko, President of a Moscow Temperance Society

The National Temperance Day was instituted in Russia at the initiative of the Russian Orthodox Church on September 11, the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. Before the 1917 Revolution in Russia wine shops were closed on this day, and the sale of alcohol was prohibited. In 2014, the tradition of celebrating Temperance Day was revived. On September 11 in all Russian churches, prayers are offered up for those suffering from the disease of alcoholism and sermons are delivered on the importance of living a sober life. With the support of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ministry of Health of Russia, events dedicated to temperance are held. In some regions the sale of alcohol is prohibited on that day.

We have talked with Deacon John Klimenko, the President of the Zamoskvorechye Temperance Society and a priest of Sts. Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy, on sober work in the parishes of Moscow, how it is organized and what knowledge is needed to overcome addiction.

Deacon John Klymenko Deacon John Klymenko     

On the work of temperance societies

Please tell us about temperance work in parishes of Moscow that you are involved in. How many years has this activity been going on? What kind of people usually seek help?

—Orthodox temperance societies appeared in Moscow in the late nineteenth century. The first Moscow temperance society opened in 1894, followed by the Zamoskvorechye Temperance Society. After the Revolution, this activity was stopped, the leaders of some temperance societies suffered for their faith, and now they are numbered among the saints. The movement’s revival in Moscow began in the 1980s. Perhaps the first post-revolutionary temperance society was opened by the famous father-confessor, Archpriest Dimitry Dudko (1922–2004) in 1982. Then, in 1992, in the village of Romashkovo near Moscow, Archpriest Alexei Baburin founded a family temperance club. It became a classic parish temperance society. Thus, the revival of this work commenced. In Moscow, Fr. Anatoly (Berestov) began working at the Krutitsy Patriarchal Metochion in 1998. He received people and worked with them. It was a help center for those with alcohol dependence. Then in 2002 a temperance society appeared in old Kosino.

I joined the temperance movement in 2006. I wanted to share my knowledge with others, and primarily to be involved in preventive work. At that time, I didn’t think about working with alcoholics and their relatives. In 2006, there were officially two societies in Moscow—the one headed by Fr. Anatoly (Berestov) and in the one Old Kosino. Real Progress in this sphere began in 2010–2012.

Now there are about thirty Orthodox temperance societies in Moscow, not counting Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and twelve-step groups for relatives, who also often meet at churches. If we take them into account, there are around 100 of them in all. So now there are places to go for help.

I head the Zamoskvorechye Temperance Society. In fact, it is an association of twenty-five societies: twelve in Moscow (not only in Zamoskvorechye, but in other neighborhoods) and eleven in the Moscow region. There are two more societies run by members of our society, but they are located in other regions.

Our help to alcoholics and their relatives is organized in three stages. The first stage is conversation. Someone calls or comes to us to have a deeper understanding of his personal problem or a problem in his family.

Then we offer the second stage—the “School of Temperance” course. There we explain what alcohol addiction is, how it can be overcome, and how to avoid relapse. There is also a special course for relatives, where we talk about methods of helping alcoholics and the stages of this help.

The most important question relatives have is how to convince an alcoholic to seek help. When a person comes, it means there is a problem; if there is a problem, then it must be solved. And this requires the knowledge that we give within the framework of the “School of Temperance”. In the course we talk not only about human help, but also about God’s help. God’s help is very important, and you need to ask for it. It is not just a medical problem—it is a passion, with demons behind it.

After a short course we move on to the third stage and invite people to visit Orthodox temperance societies. In these societies people don’t study theory, but have the opportunity to ask questions and hear other people’s experience—who has solved similar problems in their lives and how they solved them. Both alcoholics and their relatives usually come to Orthodox society meetings together. Participants pray for each other. An Akathist is usually read before each meeting.

In cases of severe alcohol addiction, when a person cannot stay sober at all, we recommend out-of-town rehabilitation centers. There is a special Coordinating Center for Combating Alcoholism and Endorsing Sobriety at the ROC’s Synodal Department for Charity. They have information on rehabilitation centers in Russia. We cooperate with some centers that are closer to Moscow. When such help is needed, we send people there. This is how the help system currently works. When additional specialists (doctors, psychologists) are needed, then of course we give them addresses, telephone numbers, etc.

Who turns for help most often: addicts or their relatives?

—Approximately seventy-five percent are relatives, and a quarter are alcoholics themselves. It’s not because addicts are “bad” and “don’t understand anything”—it’s just that statistically there are more relatives. They may not admit the problem for a long time, don’t want to see it or figure out that it is an addiction and not overindulgence. Relatives, like alcoholics, sometimes already understand that this is an addiction, but don’t know who to turn to. It is our oversight that people don’t know about our Orthodox temperance society.

How do people usually find you?

—From 2012 I began to hold the “School of Temperance” classes, and in 2013 the first society was opened with my involvement. It was set up under the auspices of the Synodal Department for Social Ministry. Since then we’ve opened about thirty classes in Moscow and the Moscow region. People hear about temperance work most often through their acquaintances or at their priest’s recommendation.

Very few find us through the internet, although we have a website. As a rule, people do not think of typing in the search engine the phrase, “Orthodox temperance society.”

On alcoholism


What is alcoholism? A person is not always aware of his dangerous addiction. How can he discern it?

—People do not always admit the problem, because in everyday language in Russia an alcoholic is associated with someone who is completely degraded and lives at a garbage heap. Such a person says: “What kind of alcoholic am I if I work and have a home?” Everyone should pay attention to the following: if someone consumes large doses of alcohol several days in a row, this is binge drinking. When binges recur periodically, this is already an addiction. Binges can be short—for example, from Friday till Sunday. That is, a person can have a job and still be dependent on alcohol. We don’t always talk of medical diagnoses here. From the Orthodox point of view, if someone loves the state of being drunk and organizes an opportunity for himself regularly, this is already an addiction.

Perhaps drinking alcohol in itself is not a sin? There are words about this in the Holy Scriptures: And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart (Ps. 103:15). When exactly is the limit crossed and this process becomes sinful?

—This is a complex question, because the Church lives by tradition. On the other hand, traditions change. Now we cannot focus the everyday details of Greece or Israel 1000–2000 years ago. To give a grotesque example, a Jew cannot come to Chukotka and say: “Wine is a great thing. We drink it in Israel and have no trouble.” Southern peoples have strong biochemical protection mechanisms. In Israel grapes have been cultivated for thousands of years and wine has been produced there; therefore, there is the bodily habit. Grapes do not grow in Chukotka, and there used to be no alcohol there.

You can often hear: “But such-and-such a father in the fourth century wrote to the monks of an Egyptian monastery that they should not abstain from wine completely.” It was an Egyptian monastery, and the message was addressed to Greeks, Not the Chukchi, Aleuts or Russians.

On the one hand, taking alcohol is not a sin as long as someone doesn’t have the desire for inebriation. Because this desire can already be called a sin.

I quit drinking alcohol sixteen years ago. I didn’t have any problems. But even if I drink a glass of wine safely without any consequences, I set an example for my children. I may or may not develop an addiction. But if each one of us teaches ten children to drink alcohol, one of them will die from alcoholism. Once a person starts drinking, he has a six to eight percent likelihood of becoming addicted. Who is to blame? All of us.

The Apostle Paul says: It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth (Rom. 21:14). In an environment where we have many alcoholics and the genes are very bad in that respect, why set such a tempting example? It may seem that if I don’t get very drunk and don’t go crazy, it’s not a sin; but it is a certain risk, because there is a six percent chance that you will get addicted, and then a fifteen percent chance that you will die prematurely from problems caused by alcohol. In addition, you set an example to others, financing the alcohol industry and becoming a walking advertisement. You are an example of drinking, while you could be a model of temperance. Is it really a sin if you smoke an electronic cigarette twice a week (it doesn’t even contain nicotine)? You set an example. This also applies to alcohol. If an Orthodox Christian can abstain from alcohol completely, this is good, and the Church and the Holy Scriptures approve of this. Russian saints, especially those who lived in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, saw a problem with alcohol in the country and wrote about this. St. Theophan the Recluse called for total abstention from alcohol among Christians because he saw what it was leading to.

What can be done if the sin is not perceived as such? Is it possible to help someone who considers it normal to drink beer after work every day?

—There is a physiological dependence, the symptoms of which we have already talked about. There is also a psychological addiction—a passion and love of drunkenness. There is nothing good about this. This is a way of life in which someone tries to solve his problems with the help of a drug. And alcohol is a drug. A person develops a habit, which then develops into addiction—to solve his problems with the help of a narcotic substance, from which many people die. It is important to understand what people are driven by, including the false belief that “this is normal and everyone does it.” Here it’s not enough for relatives to say: “Dry out! Stop it!” You need to study in detail how you should talk to such a person and what arguments you should give him.

In your experience, how realistic is it to help a person who is not ready to admit his addiction?

—It is quite realistic if at least one relative sees a problem here and turns for help. But for this they should study the subject of addiction themselves—it is unlikely that something will work out without knowledge.

What relatives should do

If a relative of an alcoholic doesn’t have such problems, should he abstain from alcohol completely?

—A teetotalling lifestyle is vital. Overcoming one’s addiction means total abstinence from alcohol forever. Assume you need to help someone live soberly. How can you do it if you yourself do not live soberly? “I live soberly, let’s live like this together” is a good message. A teetotalling lifestyle is normal and natural for anyone. A person has nothing to lose if he abstains from alcohol. He even becomes free of alcohol dependence. So, it is important for a relative to live soberly and to go ahead of an alcoholic in this respect. Many relatives come to realize that themselves, but we have to explain it to others.

Tell us about the principles that relatives of an alcoholic should adhere to on the path to overcoming addiction.

—The basic step is your personal sobriety. It is important to pray for a suffering relative, to pray for yourself so that the Lord will give you the strength and wisdom to help him. It is very important not to ruin your relationship with an addicted relative. Unable to influence the sufferer, his family members begin to scold him and start arguments. But you need to maintain good relations with him. This doesn’t mean however that you should indulge his addiction, run and buy him beer or give him money for this purpose.

It is important for relatives to study what alcohol addiction is and how it can be overcome. The person himself needs knowledge and skills on how to stay sober and deal with the passion. As with any passion, it is not enough to say: “Don’t do this, because passion is a sin that has become a habit.” This is a whole science for relatives—how to build proper relationships with an alcoholic and how to convince him to seek help. When we begin to analyze the basic options for how to talk to an alcoholic, it often turns out that people did everything wrong or exactly the opposite of what should be done. For example, many try to talk to a drunk person. This is absolutely wrong. You should talk only when a person sobers up. Not everyone understands this.

Please give us the basic principles of how relatives can communicate with an alcoholic properly.

—If the task is to convince an alcoholic to seek help, firstly you need to understand what type of help is needed at this stage. For example, someone cannot get over binge drinking. He needs to seek medical help straightaway, and long conversations are pointless here. If binges happen all the time, and now the person is sober, then you should talk in order to prevent binge drinking in the future. First of all, it is important to tell him that you love him, he is dear to you and plays an important role in the family. He should understand that you are talking to him not because you are sick and tired and want to pour out your anger on him, but because you want to help him.

It is better to talk about the problem, while giving concrete examples. For instance, because of alcohol he missed work, got into the hospital, had an accident or shouted at the children. You need to give concrete facts rather than judge him. You should not call it alcoholism or diagnose a sufferer. It is better to say: “We are having problems caused by alcohol. How can we solve these problems? Let’s consult a specialist.” You need to offer advice. Because agreeing to a conversation with a specialist is a simple step compared to going straight to a rehabilitation center.

It is important to speak with love, to pray for him, including during a talk that is unlikely to be easy, and to suggest concrete things like a consultation with a specialist. If the alcoholic refuses everything, then the relatives themselves should talk to a specialist to discuss how serious the problem is and to receive more detailed instructions on how to convince the alcoholic to seek help. You need to act.

Part 2

Marina Bondarenko
spoke with Deacon John Klimenko
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



Editor9/29/2022 5:24 pm
Benjamin: See https://orthochristian.com/142712.html
Benjamin9/28/2022 8:03 pm
I used to hang out with a neighbor all the time. He was an alcoholic when we hung out, but he was "functional", as they say. Now he basically just lays in bed almost all day with a bottle of vodka next to his bed. Very sad, many such cases. From what I've been able to ascertain, the formula for drug of alcohol addiction is: free time + expendable income. This is especially a problem in America wherein more people are spending more time inside as a result of social decline since the 2020 lockdowns. You guys should do an article on the dangers of cannabis, because with the advent of those pure-THC vape pens that're now ubiquitous in the USA the last few years, so many people are being absolutely destroyed by it thinking its "harmless" or "not as bad as booze"
Аликс9/28/2022 12:50 pm
To Mila: Dear Mila, does your son speak Russian ? There is a good programm from St Danilov monastery in Moscow called Metanoia that you can listen to. The igumenia there was a former alcoholic and works with the people who has dependency on drinks and drugs.
Panagiotis9/25/2022 3:57 am
This is a great article. God Bless Deacon John Klymenko and the Orthodox Temperance Societies. They are truly doing God's Work. God Willing this movement will spread throughout Russia and all Orthodox Lands, until alcohol is greatly reduced or eliminated. Bars and taverns serve no good purpose my friends, and they should be banned. Husbands should be at home taking care of their families, not sitting in bars. Strong fathers produce strong children, which results in strong communities, and therefore a strong country. This article also confirmed what I stated earlier in another comment, I.E. the satanic bolsheviks and monster communists made alcohol readily available to dumb down the Russian People, so they could be easily controlled, since most of the early top bolsheviks/communists were not of Russian Ethnicity. The sinister ones used every dirty trick in the book to take over and maintain control. As Deacon John Klymenko stated in the article, shortly after the revolution, the monster communists closed down the Orthodox Temperance Societies, and some of its Leaders are now numbered among the Saints, i.e. they were Martyred like Millions of our People. +++ May All Of Their Memories Be Eternal +++ God Almighty how Orthodox Russia suffered. But now the Orthodox Church is Strong once again in Russia, and communism is finished! Glory Be To Our God! Just my humble opinion.
Editor9/24/2022 8:16 pm
Mila: The telephone of the rehabilitation center is: +7(800)775-36-26. They may or may not have some one who speaks English, but you could also ask a Russian speaker to call.
Mila Jovanovich9/24/2022 1:55 pm
Christ is Risen! My 26 year young son is an alcoholic. We live in Australia and sadly there is no monasteries that have resources to help my son. Could we send him to you for treatment? Слава ХРИСТУ! Смрт антихристу. All the best from the Lord, Mila
Ed Latimore9/23/2022 11:50 pm
"People do not always admit the problem, because in everyday language in Russia an alcoholic is associated with someone who is completely degraded and lives at a garbage heap." I've always said that many people who drink don't realize just how much they drink. By definition, many people are alcoholics and many more have a drinking problem and don't even realize it. "If you’re trying to gain something but your drinking is keeping you from getting it, then you have a drinking problem. If you want to be different or better but your alcohol consumption keeps holding you back, then you have a serious drinking problem." https://edlatimore.com/how-to-know-if-you-have-a-drinking-problem/
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