This decision was made at a round table dedicated to the spiritual guidance of HIV-positive people within the framework of the All-Russian action “Stop HIV/AIDS”.
Currently there is a need to develop methods for interaction between clergy and church social workers with HIV-positive people, says Alexei Lazarev, head of the division for support to the drug-dependent people of the Synodic Charity Department of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“We need to eliminate the gaps, which, unfortunately, are quite numerous”, he emphasized on the meeting. “Because of the poor awareness of clergymen about what HIV is, there often occur unpleasant situations, because of which infected people cannot receive communion, get cast out of their parish”, said Alexei Lazarev. “However, usually not only people with HIV, but their family members also need spiritual guidance. We plan together with doctors to start developing guidelines for priests on the pastoral support of people with HIV-positive status”.
The guidelines will contain up-to-date information on the disease, methods of pastoral support for families with HIV-positive members, specifics of participation in the Sacraments of the Church, opportunities for engaging in the parish life.
The creation of such guidelines is especially important considering the danger of the so-called “HIV-dissidence” spread, including among the clergy. Participants of the round table highlighted that the Russian Orthodox Church discourages the so-called “HIV-dissidence”, and speeches of individual clergymen denying the existence of HIV infection shall be treated as an expression of their personal stance.
The discussion participants also noted the importance of holding regular training seminars for clergymen dealing with the support of HIV-positive people, establishing interaction with healthcare institutions, conducting spiritual and awareness work in the field of HIV prevention.
It’s necessary to recall that in 2004 the Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church Engagement in Combating the Spread of HIV/AIDS and Working with People Living with HIV/AIDS was adopted. According to the Concept, “clergymen and laymen should do everything possible to ensure that attempts of people living with HIV/AIDS to come to the Church would never face a cold indifference, let alone contempt and condemnation. A person with HIV/AIDS is called upon to find our Father’s house in the Church, enter a quiet haven of salvation and a caring family”.