#15 - JRL 7015
From: John Wilhelm <email@example.com>
Subject: re 7011-Feifer/Poverty
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003
David Johnson, In reading your January 10, 2003 posting JRL(#7011) I came across a statement in Gregory Feifer RFE/RL piece on poverty in Russia which based on what I know first hand is an outrageous libel against the Russian Orthodox Church which I strongly believe needs correcting. The offending statement, for any of your readers who might have missed it, was as follows:
There is little solace for the country's poor. Those Russians who live more comfortably--many by working fiercely to beat the odds--often feel that those who don't do not deserve to be pitied. That is also the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church, which leaves most charity work to foreign aid organizations.
Here in Ann Arbor, I chair the interdenominational Russia With Love program which has been involved in raising monies to support a joint Danish Lutheran/Russian Orthodox outreach to the poor centered in Moscow. As part of that effort, I have been involved in providing oversight on the use of monies we have sent by making trips from time to time to Russia to assess the situation there. As part of these trips, especially my last one, we have had contacts with people within the Moscow Patriarchate who are working on social issues and the Church outreach to the poor. I know from them, from other sources and personal experience, that the Russian Orthodox Church is involved in a most impressive attempt to train and empower its people through such things as revival of sisterhoods (which existed in pre revolutionary Russia) to help poor and destitute people such as the homebound. On very limited resources, the Church is involved in providing homes for orphans and abandoned children. One of the members of our committee who was in Russia early last month to assess the situation in the HIV/AIDS area, an area in which he has been professionally involved in Africa, brought back some pictures from a Church sponsored orphanage which he visited while in Moscow. The pictures were shared with our committee at its monthly meeting last Saturday.
At our last meeting a statement by the Patriarch was also shared with our group which makes it quite clear, as I know from other sources, that the Patriarch is very concerned about the plight of the poor in the country and the Church's response to them. One of the members of our committee is a professional medical educator who was also in Russia for our committee during my last trip. She has had considerable experience in Armenia and Lithuania in the post-Soviet period and was most impressed by the work that the Orthodox Church in Russia is doing in trying to help in the medical area, especially in the nursing area, which was simply decimated under Soviet rule.
Like the society, the people in the Russian Orthodox Church are very varied. But there is a considerable and very impressive effort by many in the Church to look at prerevolutionay records to learn about the Church's considerable charitable efforts then and to try to revive them now. I would strongly urge those who know good people within the Russian Orthodox Church to work with them, as we are doing, and take advantage of that effort to help the society and church heal itself. And I would appeal to the Gregory Feifers not to write such libelous things which can only discourage people here in our country from getting involved in helping in these efforts.
John Howard Wilhelm, Chair
Russia With Love
c/o Memorial Christian Church
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Tel. 734/995-0147 (Home)