report of Dean of Saint Alexander Nevskii Cathedral
archpriest Alexander Novopashin
on international workshop
"Neo-pentecostal sects in Russia:
threat of religious extremism"
First of all I'd like to present you some statistics: currently the number of drug addicts of 11-24 years amounts to about 4 million people in Russia. The average age of first drug users is 14 years. According to the journal "Pharmaceutical herald" (Farmacevticheskiy vestnik, #2, 2005), the increase of drug addicts among Russian students accounted for 600-800% in the recent four years! The official statistics on the Novosibirsk Region says the number of drug and other psychoactive substance addicts counts 16 500 people. But according to the main expert in narcology of the Region, the genuine figures are 5-6 times bigger. In other words, the number of drug addicts in our city and Region is about 80 000 people.
Now the medicine is unable to cure this frightful disease. As narcology experts say, only 3-5% of drug addicts can achieve a steady remission following treatment and rehabilitation. It means that 95-97 of 100 people restart using drugs and other psychoactive substances after treatment.
Pseudoreligious totalitarian sects of destructive nature have taken advantage of this highly adverse situation their leaders assert they can heal drug addiction, trying to demonstrate their purportedly benevolent intentions. In reality, this drug fighting main objective is recruiting of new adepts. As facts have shown, some young people members of such sects really stop using drugs. But another addiction replaces it often addiction from a sect and its leaders. Psychiatrists have already borrowed from sectology a new term sect addiction. According to Nikolay Vasilevich Kuznetsov, Deputy Head of the 3rd department of the Novosibirsk Psychiatric Hospital, "there are special methods allowing to replace an addiction with another "easier" one. For example, drug addiction can be replaced with alcohol addiction. Ethically, such treatment is hardly acceptable. Other addictions exist also. Kind of non-religious communes have been established in some countries in the past, where tight confinement and special psychological methods were used to create dependence on an organization and its leader". ("36,6 in Siberia", #6, 2003).
As experts assert, several so-called "divine services" in neo-pentecostal groups influence mentality of an adept causing dependence on sensual experience similar to a drug addiction. Such an experience results from Christ "glorification", common prayers and "speaking languages" (sputter, murmur and outcries). "Speaking languages" often reminds of epileptic fit. In Faith movement sect such a prayer is called "prostration in Spirit" or "peace in Spirit". Neo-pentecostals use these terms for a phenomenon when usually after hand imposition (or making passes toward adepts) the latter fall to a floor and lay there without movements, convulse in ecstasy, cachinnate, weep or scream for some time. Here is the description of the phenomenon by John Wimber, a shepherd widely known and respectable in sectarian circles: "We know about this phenomenon when people fall to a floor and lie there on their belly or back sometimes for several hours not only from the Church history. Nowadays this occurs often also. < ... > Such a condition can last for 12-48 hours. Then people told that they had experienced a drastic spiritual change. Sometimes very impressive situations happen: a shepherd or another spiritual leader falls to a floor. < ... > For example, a shepherd has been banging his head against a floor for about an hour. (Strangely enough, but it didn't cause headaches or injuries.) Changes resulting from such an experience can be really great". (Wimber J., Springer K. Heilung inder Kraft des Geistes. Hochheim, 1985. S. 207.)
Many neo-pentecostal services end with its participants lying in bulk on a floor or crawling under chairs. A certain prayer is called "a prayer of birth agony". A person is supposed just to cry out as loudly and long as he or she can without uttering any words. The main leader of Faith movement and a spiritual inspirator of its exports to Russia Ulf Ekman says, that such a prayer is much more important and effective than "speaking languages": "When the Holy Spirit pierces through a person, the latter feels pains similar to birth agony. When God leads us to this state, we think we have gone crazy. We roll over a floor, scream in anxiety, squealing like a pig which is being slaughtered. This prayer is extremely powerful and the devil hates it. He cries to us that we are crazy zealots". (Information material of Dialog-Center "Information about Prosperity Theology". P. 5.)
Another essential feature of Faith movement is a so-called "Toronto phenomenon" (neo-pentecostals call it "Toronto blessing") or "saintly laughter". Rodney Howard-Brown, priest, who claims to be "a barman of The Holy Spirit", used to infect large audiences with a hysterical laughter which lasted for several hours. People drank in the laughter, rolled in hysteria and lost consciousness. This was called drinking of "a new wine" of the saintly laughter, "Gospel waking up" and "joy about God". This laughter is contagious, everybody, who has been "anointed" by Howard-Brown, becomes authorized to spread the laughter infecting other people with it.
Basing on these reports of sect leaders, we can understand that they lead participants of such events into trance, having convinced the unlucky, that they would certainly feel the grace of The Holy Spirit if they are genuine Christians. And if they don't feel it, they are not genuine. They are assured that "it's so delightful, it's such kaif no drug can cause, they are incomparable." People long and wait for it. So it is not strange, that having got the kaif, which is similar to drive caused by morphia, people become dependent on those who help to experience it.
Frequently enough we come across an idea that dependence on an organization is much better than the drug addiction. At least a person can't die of an overdose or aggravation of chronic diseases natural for any drug addict. What can we say to this? A member of a confined organization is alienated from an active social life, society itself and his or her close ones. Such people have no future. When somebody starts realizing what is happening around, it is not so easy to get rid of the voluntary service. Moreover, a permanent psychological pressure caused by a leader or leaders of a group can entail a nervous break-down, a suicide attempt or suicide, leaving alone getting into psychiatric hospitals which are already packed with sect members.
There is another danger of the purportedly anti-drug activity led by neo-pentecostals sects and, though it may sound strange, it results in the increase in drug addicts' number. One of the terms of a successful treatment in a sect is a so-called "testifying". An ex-drug addict is obliged to testify about it wherever he or she is sent by a sect. As a rule, sect members are sent to young people, for example, to schools. An ex-drug addict comes to a school and tells about Jesus, Who has become a personal Savior for him. These emotional stories really make a deep impression on listeners and result in more new people coming to a sect, extending its influence. But it's not the end the real trouble happens when an ex-drug addict, a "priest", "puts on the needle" again. There are a lot of such examples. The drug addict involves young people in another organization but with a similar principle: the more people you bring, the better. For a free drug an ex-"priest" turns into a drug-dealer poisoning young people who trust him.
Currently a similar scenario is unfolding in the settlement Kudryashi situated not far from Novosibirsk: somehow neo-pentecostals have managed to mislead local authorities and get a premise for an "anti-drug center". Neo-pentecostals started an active propagation among the Kudryashi population a real "attack". In a couple of days after they have stopped using drugs, ex-drug addicts-current sect members went to a school to invite pupils to "merry and interesting meetings". Please, note that they don't go to their old companies of drug-addicts, but to schools, and they don't even disguise their aims to recruit new adepts.
For a better understanding of the principles of an anti-drug rehabilitation activity of a sect I'd like to turn your attention to a letter of a girl Maria. In spite of her young age she has been using drugs for several years. Trying to get rid of the addiction she got into a neo-pentecostal sect. But God is merciful and He has helped her to break through the vicious circle of the addiction, leave sect and return to the fold of The Orthodox Mother Church.
"My name is Maria and I'm 18 years old. Not so long time ago I was a drug addict. Now I have not been using heroin for over 6 months. My first step to get rid of the addiction, in fact it was not really mine, as it was taken by my parents, was coming to a rehabilitation center. I'd like to tell you about my 4-months stay there. The center is located in Novokuznetsk and it was called in a leaflet - A Christian center "The way to a healthy life or New life". On first sight very impressive and early on I liked it. There were a lot of friendly girls and boys there, they wanted to make friends with me and understood my problems, because they had already been in my shoes. And what is main they could get what was happening in my soul which was unable to achieve serenity. I liked it at once and stayed there with pleasure.
So, my everyday life started. A standard rehabilitation period there is 6 months. We were always kept extremely busy not to spend time on ourselves and not to think about drugs. When you come to the center you are told right then: "It is not we who help you shake off the addiction. It is Jesus who does it and you are going to let him in your heart". Maybe it sounds a bit frightening for a person who had never really thought about God before, but it hardly embarrasses a person with no another wayout.
It was prohibited to smoke, speak foul language, date and, naturally, use drugs there. After a couple of days I had an only thought in my mind A SECT! But all the rehabilitants insisted on the contrary. They told me that early on they used to think the same, but then understood that they had been mistaken, it was not a sect. "You'll see it yourself later", they said to me. The most frightening thing is that even now people don't know they are in the sect. I got it only after the rehabilitation period and even later.
An approximate order of the day
|8.00 a.m.||Getting up|
|8.30 a.m.||Reading the Bible|
|9.00 a.m.||Breakfast, tidying up of the center|
|12.00||Praying for the center|
|1.45-2.00 p.m.||Personal time|
|2.00-5.00 p.m.||Video watching (preaching or historical movie)|
|8.00 p.m.||Meeting glorification - preaching|
|10.00 p.m.||Going to bed|
We observed the order every day except Sunday when we went to church and participated in so-called "gospelization". There we spread leaflets and business cards among laity and were obliged to "testify". We told people: "Look at me, I've been using drugs for 10 years, but now I found God in the center, I've realized that Jesus is my God and Savior, I let Him in my heart and He has saved me!" People including drug addicts believed us as we believed it ourselves. What's more, we looked rather healthy we had ardent eyes, sound complexion and weight exceeding theirs by 10-20 kg. The thing starts in several days or weeks people in the center begin to "press" you casually: "You are to repent!" Of course, you may not to repent, but then Jesus is not going to work with you and help you as you are a sinner and etc. Finally you found yourself in the circle of other rehabilitants and "letting Jesus" in your heart enthusiastically! Everybody's happy and says to you: "Well, you are our sister now. God bless you!!!"
Gradually this way of life engages you study and pray in public aloud. Sometimes you want start praying aloud with all you soul ("to lead a prayer" as they say it there). This, like a drug, makes you feel satisfaction that is impossible to explain. With your eyes closed, you pray and feel the cold penetrating your body or, as they call it the touch of God. If you felt it or spoke "another language", it means you were "baptized by The Holy Spirit"! When you glorify God at meetings by singing songs, the texts are so close to you that you may start crying.
That is how you fall into DEPENDENCE! It is stronger than a drug! To be more exact it replaces a drug! There are servants at the center people who stayed to work there after rehabilitation. To serve you. Their words are the words of the authorities (All authorities are from God!) and supposed to be believed without doubt. They constantly speak to you; tell you about themselves, their past and how God has helped them.
I'd like to tell you how they understand Orthodoxy. None of them tell you it's wrong, if they see you do not deny it. They say to you that there are a lot of convictions, but God is the only one, and we are all brothers and sisters. BUT! We are Pentecostals-protestants. Protestantism is against rituals, against sermons, icons and candles. As they assert, "Orthodox Christians think the bigger candle they light, the more sins will be absolved. The main thing is that our shepherd is from God, he is saint, while all Orthodox preachers drink vodka and use foul language". In short, they are just like Pharisee, teach people to lead saintly life, but do not do it themselves.
The worst thing is that a sect is a powerful psychological weapon reaching its target. A sect seems to help you get rid of the addiction, kill it within yourself. But unfortunately it is not true. On they own volition, parents, who don't see another wayout, send their children in sects. They don't know this action can turn against them, as children are taught there what they must do (leave your home, mother and father and follow God, do everything what Scripture says), taught to forget the main communion "love thy mother and father".
Sect leaders assure you that the devil can approach you through your close ones, parents. How? For example, when parents want to take a person from the sect, he or she is told "the devil is in your parents and in their words, they are not from God". Thus after rehabilitation people do not know what to do except staying at the center or going somewhere else to open a new center. They are afraid of leaving the sect and of the outer world. And the main thing is that a brainwash makes them think that they restart using drugs if they leave the sect. And it really happens to 80-90% of rehabilitants. People, who have got used to live without drugs in the sect environment, can't find their place outside. People around (at home) say, that the main thing is that their child or another relative has stopped using drugs and his or her excessive faith is secondary. But a rehabilitant is so dependent on a sect, that these words and lack of understanding just kill him/her. It is not rare, when it results in suicide! PARENTS MUST KNOW IT!
In a month after rehabilitation, already at home in Novosibirsk, I read The Bible and went to the sect meetings. Only then I understood what rubbish that all was. I sank again and restarted using drugs. It lasted for several weeks and only unhappy eyes of my close ones helped me. I got I couldn't go on like that and went to an Orthodox church. Only then it descended on me that I didn't need to make such a long way to return to things I have always known in Orthodoxy. I'm really sure that The Orthodox church and Orthodox rehabilitation centers are able to help people who have lost themselves in this life and "stuck" in the vicious circle of drug addiction. A sect it is a very frightful. A sect-member is running risk to disappoint in it and stoop even lower, maybe then it will be impossible to help him/her."
This letter can serve as a vivid confirmation to a fact that sectarian anti-drug rehabilitation centers enslave people spiritually. These are precisely a person's will enslavement and replacement of one addiction with another, that distinct anti-drug sect activity from Orthodox centers' work. Sometimes people ask Orthodox workers: don't you replace one addiction with another also? Methods applied can seem rather similar for an outsider: medicines are not used, drug-addicts read The Holy Bible, participate in preaching and kept very busy to exclude contacts with old friends-drug-users. Treatment actually looks alike. Neo-pentecostals are dishonest in claiming themselves to be Christians, and thus the treatment they provide is not effective.
Ex-drug addicts have not only to stop using drugs, but also to become involved in social life and it is another criterion of a steady rehabilitation in Orthodox rehabilitation centers. After treatment they return to the society, create own families and start working. Nobody can tell by their appearance that they used to be drug-addicts. It can't be said about people who have experienced treatment provided by neo-pentecostals. There is a rule in Orthodox centers for counting successful rehabilitants: if a person doesn't use drugs, takes part in Saturday, Sunday and holiday sermons, makes confessions and communicates but doesn't work and stays at home doing nothing, he/she is excluded from their number. Full family and social rehabilitation is an obligatory condition of Orthodox centers anti-drug activity. In contrast to sects turning people into slaves and spiritually disabled persons, in Orthodox centers people are free to estimate themselves and make own decisions.
Anatoly (Berestov), the leader of The Edifying Center of St. John of Kronshtadt, doctor of medical sciences, professor, hieromonk, a person, who has returned hundreds of spiritually lost people to a normal life, said in this respect: "Learn the Truth, and the Truth will free you. Apostle Paul said that a sinner is a sin's slave. God said: "Dare! I have gained the victory over the world!" What world has God conquered? A world of sin. We help people to gain victory over a sin and get rid of the drug poison with God's help. In contrast to sect leaders, who turn people into their slaves, we help people to become free."