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My name is David Stone. I live in Houston, Texas. I am a 30-something single white male. I am an Orthodox Christian and am a member of an English-language parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Russian Orthodox Church fighting HIV epidemic

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Olga Soboleveskaya.) - The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is emphasizing the need for its participation in fighting the HIV epidemic in Russia.

Recently it presented in Moscow "The Concept of ROC's participation in an effort to stop the spread of AIDS/HIV and working with HIV-infected people." "The HIV epidemic is a problem of society, Church, and the state. It must consolidate society as a whole", Vladimir Shmaliy, Pro-Rector of the Moscow Religious Academy for Theological Research, stated.

"Society should be aware of social ills" Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate's external relations department, said. In his words, a lot of church projects to combat this epidemic have been drawn up and "a church network of assistance to HIV-infected people has been created". The Church puts emphasis on patronage and care of infected people - adults and children - in hospitals and hospices, including providing psychological and legal aid to them and their families. ROC is prepared to assist in the social rehabilitation of these people and the protection of their rights. Clergymen are ready to work with HIV-infected prisoners. The Church wants to engage in educational activities as well, intending to take part in the training of social workers - for example, nurses, hot line advisors, and setting up consultation centers for those suffering from HIV. "The Church is prepared to help all those who ask for it," Shmaliy emphasized. "It is important to help people overcome despair and find hope," the Concept says.

"This Concept is a historic step in combating the spread of the epidemic," Alexander Goliusov, department head of the organization of HIV/AIDS supervision of the Federal Consumer Rights and Public Well-Being Service, said. The Health and Social Development Ministry sees the Church as "an important and indispensable partner in combating the epidemic."

"There are many projects to prevent and combat HIV/AIDS for those who are drug addicts or promiscuous," Goliyusov said. "However, there are practically no projects aimed at the spiritual and moral revival of Russian society, therefore the role of the Church is invaluable in this respect." In Goliusov's words, "both drug addiction and deviant sexual behavior are just consequences, while the root of the problem is in behavior and upbringing." " Morals and family values must be revived. AIDS is a problem caused by a change in human behavior," he says.

The Concept says: "The breeding-ground for the HIV epidemic is a massive spread of asocial and immoral patterns of behavior." The true reason for the spread of the epidemic is "a loss by society of fundamental moral principles." "A real alternative to the lack of moral values in society should be proposed," Archpriest Chaplin says. "By showing tolerance to deviant sexual behavior, society does not have the strength to oppose the onslaught of sexual promiscuity and support HIV sufferers," Father Vladimir Shmaliy says. "The truth is that the infected people are victims, and the majority of them are young," he adds.

According to Goliusov, up to 80% of HIV sufferers are people aged 15 to 30. As a rule, these are intravenous drug users. However, not infrequently, people are infected due to medical negligence. The number of children born of infected mothers is growing. So is the number of sexually transmitted cases. HIV is affecting more and more people in all social groups: there are from 800,000 to a million cases in Russia.

All government, public, religious, scientific and media agencies must pool efforts in order to combat the epidemic effectively. The Coordinating Council has been set up for this purpose. This is just a first step on the long and thorny road.


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