Help in the Church
—Is it possible to help someone get over the sin of alcoholism? What kind of help can the Church provide?
—In our classes we tell people that in the fight against alcoholism someone needs the help of others who know how to fight it, and God’s help. Because the demons, too, have knowledge that we have about the fight against the passions. You may read many books, attend courses and consultations—but you can fight the demonic powers for a long time without winning in the battle. This is impossible without God’s help. So, you need to ask for it. But how? Very simply: “Lord, help me!” In our courses we talk about private prayer, joint prayer, and tell people that the Lord gives special help through the sacraments. First of all, through the sacrament of Baptism.
For example, I want to follow the Gospel path. But without God this is impossible. If someone understands this, he gets baptized and makes a covenant with God, receiving a spiritual seed that will grow in his soul. After Baptism, the sacraments of confession and Communion, through which the Lord gives grace to fight the passions, are vital. Theoretical knowledge about the fight against the passions is important, but without energy, without the grace of God one won’t win in this struggle. This does not mean that it is impossible for a secular or non-religious person to overcome alcoholism. It is possible, but it will be very hard. If someone learns very well how to overcome a certain passion, the demons will find another route—there are a lot of passions, and they will definitely catch him somewhere else. The point is not only to live without alcohol, but also to become a real human being, and this is impossible without God. Life in the Church is needed. We gradually cover specific questions in our classes—for example, how to avoid relapse or how not to go on binges. We also cover spiritual questions as they arise in people.
—Do people who complete the “School of Temperance” then come to the Church and stay in it?
—Yes, they do. A lot of people are coming, but not all of them complete the course all through or attend temperance societies. We see people who attend them, but some are already church-goers, and others are just taking their first steps. Of course, some convert to the faith and God, join one parish or another, but I am talking only of those we see. However, many people leave. It hurts me: after all, I really want to help people, but it doesn’t always work out. At some point I realized that The Lord Himself walked this earth, preached, and people saw His miracles. Did everyone believe? No. But we try to help everyone. Our activities are focused on everyone who needs help, but some hear and change, while others do not, or at some point the enemy catches them if not with alcohol, then, say, with despondency—and they leave.
—Are there any statistics on how many people you have managed to help?
—Since I have a natural sciences education [Deacon John has a Masters in chemistry.—Ed.], these questions interest me. We tried to evaluate the results of our work. This is difficult from a scientific point of view. When people come, we don’t ask them about their diagnoses and I can only guess. They are not registered here and are not obliged to report back to us. A person came, completed the “School of Temperance”, and never phoned or wrote again. He may be sober now (I know such cases), or he may not be.
But if a person follows the way that we suggest: the first meeting, the “School of Temperance”, and then a temperance society, he prepares gradually to take the vow of temperance. This is a Church form of help. Taking the vow of temperance emerged about 150 years ago as a separate rite—it is when you promise to God to live soberly and ask for blessings and help on this path. Of course, this happens if a person is a believer and has the experience of prayer, confession and Communion. How else will the Lord help him? First the vow is taken for a probationary period, and then for life. About seventy-five percent of those who reach this stage stay consistently sober. The results are generally very good.
At the first class we say that we know the way to overcome alcoholism and can guide people along it. There are no insurmountable barriers. So, we can help many people. The only thing you should do is put everything into practice; but only walk the path that has been trodden, adopting this experience and not reinventing the wheel—and then everything will work out. But everything remains according to the Gospel: for many be called, but few chosen (Mt. 20:16).
What’s changed over the past fifteen years
—In your view, is there a need for temperance in modern society?
—I have been working in this sphere for sixteen years now, so I can say that there have been changes over this period. In the past, temperance was perceived as something unbelievable. If someone abstained from alcohol, others thought that he was either sick or a sectarian.
There is a propensity for a healthy lifestyle among young and middle-aged people. Now there are many such people, which makes me happy. People understand that it is possible to live soberly. Fifteen years ago, this would have raised a lot of questions: “You really don’t drink at all? How do you enjoy yourself? You don’t drink on New Year’s Eve?!” And now reactions are absolutely different—society understands that it is possible to live soberly. Maybe it is hard, but it is good. Temperance is no longer evidence of illness, but an indicator of someone’s conscious choice and willpower. This change in public consciousness is very encouraging.
Temperance is a natural basic value that was given to us from birth. Good health is given to every human being, but people don’t appreciate it, because it is so natural. We begin to appreciate it only after losing it. This also applies to freedom: Who appreciates being free if it is natural? Temperance is also a natural value given to us from birth. We don’t need nicotine, alcohol, cocaine and heroin. But there is no demand for temperance, because it is natural. There is still much to be done to make people understand the value of temperance: “I have a clear consciousness, a lucid mind, can perceive reality and control myself.” Progress is seen in what has happened over the past fifteen years, and this is encouraging.
A worse addiction
I think it should be added that today when people discuss the problem of addiction, they immediately think of the end stage of alcoholism. Now a much more pressing issue is not that of chemical addictions, but gadget addiction.
Temperance work and prevention of addictions are not only the prevention of alcoholism and drug addiction. The real problem is gadget addiction. First of all, as part of prevention programs it is important to protect children from computer addiction. We will definitely talk about alcohol with them, but later.
Temperance Day is perceived by many as something remote, something that doesn’t concern them. Many children are immersed in gadgets from infancy. So this is about all of us, since all children are at risk. Even if the child doesn’t have a computer and doesn’t play on it, when he comes to school he sees his friends play these games.
At what age can a child become interested in alcohol and cigarettes? At twelve or thirteen. But he will take a gadget for the first time at the age of one or two. That’s how early addiction starts to develop. Can such a small child resist in any way? It’s impossible. First and foremost, it should be his parents’ concern. And, unfortunately, the position of society and even that of the Church on this issue hasn’t yet been formed.
I have six children aged from one to eleven. I believe that we must protect our children from computer games and gadgets in every possible way. After all, one can even watch videos about wildlife for hours. We must ensure that our children are not in the virtual world, but in the real one. Although you can just give a child a cellphone and remove him from real life. It is very dangerous. Unfortunately, many parents don’t understand this. If you must give your child a smartphone with internet access, then the later you do it the better—that way, his personality will somehow develop. He won’t be able to resist the influence of the internet until his personality is developed. Otherwise, how will he be able to distinguish factual information from false and discern propaganda of immoral things that is subtly inserted into the flow of information? We must teach our children, of course. Preventive temperance work is not limited to alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Now the most important thing is the prevention of gadget addiction. There are inner tests: If you (like a smoker without a pack of cigarettes) feel bad without your cellphone, if you stretch out your hand for it and you can’t forget about it, it means that you have developed a smartphone addiction.
Today there are over 600 Orthodox organizations and projects in Russia that help alcoholics and their relatives overcome addiction. Since 2011 there has been the Coordinating Center for Combating Alcoholism and Endorsing Sobriety at the Synodal Department for Charity.