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Diaconia: Training sisters of mercy
bulletSt. Dimitry's School for Sisters of Mercy
bulletEducational Center at Sts Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy
bulletContract on training nurses at a state-run educational institution

St. Dimitry's School for Sisters of Mercy

Our questions are answered by Alexander V. Flint, director of St. Dimitry's School for Sisters of Mercy

What, in your view, should be the requirements for the professional training of Orthodox sisters of mercy today?

In order for one to participate in nursing today, one's wish and good attitude are not sufficient. What is necessary are professional knowledge and skill. It is not only extremely desirable for one to acquire this knowledge and skill today, but it is also an obligatory formal condition for one to gain access to work in medical and social institutions. As His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia noted in his report to the Jubilee Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which took place on August 13-16, 2000, "we need professionals in various fields of social work and in healthcare".

Higher demands are made of a sister of mercy today than of an ordinary nurse. In addition to professional knowledge, one should have a desire to help a patient, to share his feelings, to sympathize with him, to help him find spiritual consolation in suffering.

A sister of mercy should be trained in a medical institution where sisters of mercy are already working and where doctors represent a model of selfless and committed service of patients.

How did you arrive at the idea of establishing a school for sisters of mercy, not just for training nurses at a secular vocational school?

Work with future sisters of mercy began in 1991 exactly at a secular school, the First Moscow Medical College. The director of the college, Igor Alabin, supported the idea of training sisters of mercy and proposed to organize for it an evening department at his college. It was only later, in 1992, that an independent St. Dimitry's School for Sisters of Mercy was opened, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, at the First City Hospital. I dare hope that the opening of an Orthodox medical college was a very important event in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church and the public life of the country as a whole. It was one of the signs of reviving spiritual traditions and the end of the times of theomachism. The Moscow Government decree on the opening of the school stated just the same: "for the purpose of reviving the tradition of mercy among medical workers". At that time, many believed that life might change for the better…

Another reason for establishing an independent educational institution was that it allowed to create in the school an internal atmosphere familiar to the Orthodox soul and to assemble a team of like-minded people, people of the same faith. At the center of the hospital building where the school is located, there is a hospital church dedicated to the Holy Prince Dimitry, after whom the school is also named. It is impossible to teach one to love one's neighbor; it is impossible to serve the sick, unless one participates in church life and in church sacraments.

Give us please more details about St. Dimitry's School.

St. Dimitry's School for Sisters of Mercy is a state-run educational institution in the structure of the Health Committee in Moscow. It was established in 1992 by a Moscow Government's decree. The idea to establish such an institution belonged to the community of sisters of mercy who gathered at the hospital church of the Holy Prince Dimitry at the First Pirogov Clinic. The school was also founded with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy. His Holiness and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov are honorary cochairmen of the school's Board of Trustees.

The principal task of the school is to train nurses from among Orthodox Christians who wish to combine active church work with professional training. The school takes in secondary school nine- and eleven-grade graduates. For the past years, over 400 sisters and brothers of mercy graduated St. Dimitry's, most of them working now in treatment and prevention institutions in Moscow, Moscow Region and other places. At present, over 200 students attend the schools' four-year course.

The school also trains home-visiting nurses for work with chronic, old and disabled people. It has a state accreditation for educational work in medicine and health education.

What is the difference between your school and secular medical institutions?

It is obligatory for our students to attend lessons given by the clergy of the hospital church. The curriculum includes religious disciplines. The main one among them is Spiritual Basics of Mercy taught to all students. Its purpose is to help them understand and strengthen their faith and their desire to live church life and to participate in the church Sacraments. Within this course, students study liturgics, the Old Testament, New Testament, history of Russia, the Church Slavonic, patristic heritage, fundamentals of dogmatic and moral theology, history of the Church and history of sisterhoods of mercy.

Our students should understand what Christian mercy is, how the gift of love is to be sought, how to resist the spirit of this age. St. Ambrose of Optina said that if you want to seek the gift of love you should do the works of love. Our students participate in charity actions, visiting orphanages, boarding schools, houses for the elderly and for the blind, coming to visit seriously ill patients in hospitals, writing letters to prisons, etc.

What other forms of educational work do you use for training nurses?

Parishioners from many churches in Moscow have approached us with a request to open a short-term medical course at our school. Besides, many requests are coming from various dioceses in other regions to organize some educational courses for local communities of sisters of mercy and home-nursing services. This has prompted the school to develop and practice short-term forms of training, such as training courses for home-visiting junior nurses and field pedagogical seminars.

Our school opened a home-visiting course in 1999. Its graduates are given a junior nurse qualification with an appropriate certificate. Parishioners in Moscow who wish to do medical-social and home-visiting work at parishes attend this course.

The course is based on the standard curriculum for "Training Junior Nurses" developed in 1968 by the decree of the USSR Minister of Healthcare. It is calculated for 272 academic hours and includes 12 disciplines.

In drawing our own curriculum, we took into account the specific nature of our school and our students, who are Orthodox Christians, as well as peculiarities of the work to be carried out by our graduates with old, lonely, disabled and chronically ill people. In teaching each discipline, special attention is given to medical and social problems encountered by old people in urban life and ways of overcoming them, if only partly.

The entire training lasts 280 hours. Half of the time is given to bedside practice at hospitals, homes during visits and at the training room. The curriculum also includes the following disciplines:

  • Spiritual Basics of Mercy (how to help a patient to develop the right attitude to illness, suffering and death; how a visiting nurse should build relations with a patient and his or her relatives, how a nurse should grow in the virtue of mercy)
  • Medical Observation (basic knowledge of human anatomy, physiology and pathology)
  • Basic Nursing
  • Elementary Nursing Treatment
  • Nursing Old People
  • Basic Rehabilitation and Adaptation of the Old and Disabled (occupational therapy)
  • Basic Massage
  • Emergency First Aid
  • Basic Practical Social Work
  • Safe Home Environment

In training for nursing, teachers have used the experience of the home-nursing service run by the hospital church sisters of mercy and the school's graduates working at the neurology and traumatology wards of the First Clinic, as well as the experience of English and American nurses who came to the school to hold seminars for students and hospital nurses.

This year the course will be conducted for a third time. After it is completed, the total number of its graduates will exceed one hundred nurses.

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, the school staffers have conducted field seminars in various parts of Russia and CIS on the Forms and Methods of Medical Social Service in the Russian Orthodox Church. The main task of these seminars is to relate to people the experience gained by the hospital community of sisters of mercy and the ways in which old, sick and disabled people can be given effective aid.

Such seminars were conducted in the town of Obukhov near Kiev, in the cities of Arkhangelsk, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk and Vologda.

The aims of the seminar were as follows:

  • To explain the forms of the ROC's social service today:
  • To define the notions of home-nursing service, home-nursing work and home-visiting nurse;
  • To show the structure and functions of home-nursing service;
  • To define the duties of a visiting nurse and to provide her or him with the necessary amount of knowledge and skills;
  • To introduce seminar participants to some of the modern concepts of rehabilitation for the elderly and disabled;
  • To organize nursing for bedridden patients.
  • The following topical questions were discussed at the seminars:
  • The virtue of mercy. Forms of its expression and educational methods in today's world
  • Professional training of a visiting nurse. What knowledge and skills should be commanded by a visiting nurse.
  • Organization and structure of home-nursing service. Legal papers.
  • Organization of nursing for a bedridden patient
  • Organizations of nursing for an old person
  • Aid to sick and old people in everyday life.

Studies at seminars were arranged in the form of lectures and practice with working off, using each other, some elements of nursing, rehabilitation and massage. This was accompanied with showing various visual aids, such as slides, photographs, tables, diagrams, books and periodicals. Along with parishioners, the seminars were attended by people from local social services engaged in nursing the elderly.

In conclusion of seminars, we made surveys using questionnaires and were delighted to discover that almost every participant changed his or her attitude to home nursing. Now they came to a deeper appreciation of the personalities of their charges and their medical, social and spiritual problems as well as their needs and sought to look for more resources for helping them and more ways for solving their problems.

Another form of our work that helps to promote the development of medical education is giving advice to diocesan representatives on such important questions of organizing educational work in provinces as the following:

  • Organizing nursing schools;
  • Organizing courses for training junior nurses;
  • Organizing the teaching of Spiritual Basics of Mercy
  • Drawing curricula for nursing schools;
  • Drawing curricula on medical disciplines for the Orthodox pre-seminary.

The publishing work of our school deserves a special mention. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, the school has started publishing a series of educational and methodological books, called "A Library of a Sister of Mercy", to be distributed to regions. Three books in the series have already come out. These are On Bedsores, Basics of Medical-Social Rehabilitation, and Essays on the History of Communities of Sisters of Mercy. The primary task of the series is to disseminate popularized medical knowledge necessary for organizing and conducting the proper nursing of the sick and elderly. It is planned to publish books on nursing the elderly and sick who survived blood circulation disorders and those with progressing diseases.

Recently, St. Dimitry's School together with the Round Table for Religious Education and Diakonia has opened an Internet site on nursing. Its address is www.meduhod.ru. It offers advice on nursing various categories of patients. This advice concerns all aspects of everyday life of a sick person, taking into account the specific nature of his or her disease. The site also uses the experience of the school staff and the school's partners in educational programs in other countries as well as materials of various seminars and conferences on nursing.

What can you advise to those who wish to organize a nursing school?

I would like to wish them God's help in these efforts because without it nothing will come off. One has to have great confidence that there is God's will for opening such a school. This work is very heavy. Qualified specialists are required for it. There must also be a priest who can devote much of his time and energy to such a school. A lay person is required who is ready to give his or her energy to incessant concern for such a school.

Considering today's situation in the country, it seems to me that one should start with organizing a group rather than a school for training nurses at already existing regional educational institutions. First, I do not think there is a sufficient number of those who wish to become nurses to open a whole school at a diocese. Secondly, to set up an independent school means to create an enormous circulation of papers which will involve a lot of people, not mentioning administrative and economic staff and teachers.

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Educational Center at Sts Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy

The Educational Center of Sts. Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy was founded in 1999 with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia to revive the tradition educating Orthodox girls. It was established to follow up an agreement concluded on May 10, 1999, between the National Education and Research Center for Continued Medical and Pharmaceutical Education (NERC) under the Russian Healthcare Ministry and Sts. Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy. The center works at the NERC's medical college.

The purpose of establishing this center is to train certified nurses. The training of nurses is carried out as a social charitable program of the convent to help Orthodox girls who wish to be professionally educated in a high-class school but do not have financial means sufficient for it.

Sts. Martha and Mary Convent was founded in 1909 by Princess Elizaveta Fyodorovna. It was a convent of work, charity and prayer. The sisters worked to improve and reform the life of the underprivileged. "The Convent of Mercy wishes to follow in the steps of early deaconesses in the service of neighbours and the path marked so vividly by the apostolic feats of the holy deaconesses Theba and Theosebia, amazing Tatiana, as well as Olympiada, Paula, Nina boundless in their love and many others… To go working in houses both rich and poor, in our dark villages, poor and miserable, where the work of sisters is needed so much", the princess wrote. In the convent, there were two churches, a hospital, an apothecary, in which medicines were given free, an orphanage and a school. Before joining the community of the sisters, an applicant was to work as a novice for a year. During this year, novices were trained for nursing at the university hospital in Moscow. After the 1917 Revolution, the convent was closed to resume its work in 1994.

The social situation in the country in the 90s led to a growing number of people who needed medical aid and charity. In this connection, the superior of the convent, Maria Kriuchkova (now Sister Elizabeth) asked His Holiness Patriarch Alexy for his blessing to establish an Education Center at a state-run vocational medical institution. Thus, the convent came to face the problem of co-operation between a religious organization and a governmental institution.

Now, four years later, it is especially clear that it was Divine Providence that helped us to choose a medical college. Several calls were made to various medical schools. But either the telephone number was engaged or the director was impossible to reach. But after the very first call to the NERC its general director, Mr. Dushenkov, who was very difficult to reach because of his tight schedule, kindly agreed to come to the convent to discuss the establishment of an Educational Center. Consequently, an agreement was worked out. It provided for training girls at the NECR's medical college, which is today a state educational institution.

According to the agreement, the training of nurses is carried out through the national curriculum for Specialty No. 0406, which is Nursing, granting its graduates the certificate of Medical Nurse with General Secondary Education. Internal students study for 2 years and 10 months. At present, there are 60 students attending three-year courses.

Because of organizational problems, such as the need to attract worthy applicants when no public information was available about the convent's educational center and to arrange board and lodging, the first group of future nurses was formed only in the end of September 1999. By that time, the day department of the college had already commenced its work and the workload for its teachers had already been adopted without taking into account the group of the convent's educational center. In this situation, the convent had to take upon itself payments for the teachers who were to train our group. Accommodation at the NECR's hostel was offered free of charge.

The education payments, though a serious expense for the convent, proved justified as it ensured a certain freedom for forming the students group. In enrolment the convent could choose its students according to their spiritual and moral qualities and desire to educate themselves for compassionate love of the sick. The second enrolment for the academic year 2000/2001 was made without haste, throughout the winter and spring 2000. As the training was paid as a second education, the convent could avoid putting limitations on the age of the applicants. Among those who wished to study were not only secondary school graduates but also graduates from vocational schools and higher education institutions including Moscow State University. An obligatory condition for enrolment was a reference letter from an applicant's spiritual father or the rector of the parish of which she was a permanent member.

The selection of students justified all our hopes. Both groups of the convent's educational center distinguished themselves from the very beginning by better academic performance and, most importantly, greater diligence than the secular groups. Therefore, the NERC general director Mr. Dushenkov decided to put the new groups of the convent's center on his own budget. For the convent it was a considerable relief as it had to support the educational center. On the other hand, it showed that the agreement between the convent and the NERC acquired a more solid foundation as now it was not only the Church that contributed to the implementation of the agreement, but also a secualr organization assumed certain financial obligations.

It should be stressed that the NECR medical college is a leading educational institution training specialists for all Russia and providing students from other cities with accommodation. At the same time, the convent's educational center is also intended to train girls sent by various dioceses in Russia. In this respect, the aims and interests of the two organizations, a religious one and a secular one, coincide. The NERC officers have allocated to the Sts. Martha and Mary students a whole floor in its hostel.

The educational center and its program have been financed within the framework of cooperation with charitable organizations in Darmstadt working under a project for Professional Training of Multiplicators in Sisterhoods and Social Charities for Organizing and Introducing Home-Nursing in Russia and the CIS. Meals represent a major expense under this project. It should be mentioned that during the first two years our students ate at the NERC's canteen, which cooked separate meals for them during fasting periods, as well as on Wednesdays and Fridays. As the funds for meals remained the same every year while the inflation, the growing prices for foodstuffs and the growing number of students required more funds, we had to arrange meals for our students on their floor through their own efforts. This proved to be much less expensive than in the canteen and helped our students to develop their culinary abilities and skills. It was not that easy of course, as there were no kitchen facilities and the food had to be supplied on our own, etc.

One day however everything changed, with God's help. The Board of Directors of House-Building Complex No.1 resolved in December 2001 that "charitable aid should be given to Sts. Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy". The complex carried out electric installation and alternation work at the hostel's third floor on which the convent's students lived. The floor was transformed: beautiful wallpaper, chandeliers, new sanitary equipment, wooden doors, carefully chosen new furniture - all that changed hostel rooms into homes. There was now a refectory and a kitchen with all the necessary cooking devices. All this was done by the House-Building Complex workers with great love and care and very quickly. The alteration was managed within two months. Since that time the complex has not left the sisters of mercy without its attention and care.

The integration of the new structure, the convent's educational center, into the educational process at the college went strikingly smoothly, if some small setbacks are not to be counted. Perhaps it was not easy for the future sisters of mercy when they first came to the college to see secular students glaring at their long skirts and headscarves and to know that they were called "those nuns" behind their back, without any malice though. The teachers too looked somewhat alert. Some first sought to refuse teaching our group, explaining it by their atheistic views. Perhaps they were afraid they would not be able to find a common language with our students. But nobody would even think about suggesting that Orthodox students had no place in the medical college and that they disturbed the educational process. A considerable role in the successful beginning of the work of the educational center belongs to the spiritual authority of the convent, which was not lost during the years when a non-Orthodox, atheistic worldview was imposed on society. The wise policy of the NERC general director Mr. Dushenkov should also be mentioned. Putting the program of Sts Martha and Mary Convent into operation in his college, he from the very beginning showed before his subordinates respect for the Orthodox believers and stressed the importance of having such groups at his college for improving the moral and ethical climate in the students and professors communities. Nowadays there is not a single trace of the former tension. Teachers are delighted to work with the convent's group, noting the sisters' high academic performance, their desire to learn and responsible attitude to any instruction, whether home-work or writing abstracts or cleaning a lecture hall.

Along with the college's compulsory disciplines, the students of the convent's educational center study such religious subjects as Catechism, Church History, New Testament, and Hagiology. They also attend lectures on the basics of pre-pastoral care, which is very important in training sisters of mercies, for their task is to take care of not only the body but also the soul of their patients. The aim of this service of sisters of mercy is missionary; it is to turn the spiritual resources of a patient to God and, together with a priest, to heal him spiritually.

The practical nursing skills are taught to the students beginning from their first year at the Sklifosofsky Research Institute and Burdenko Hospital.

Conferences and methodological and scientific seminars on vocational and higher medical education have been often held in the NERC. They are also attended by rectors and deans of higher medical education institutions and directors of medical colleges from all over Russia. They are already familiar by hearsay with the educational center of Sts. Martha and Mary Convent and show interest in its work and desire to become better acquainted with its students as well as conditions in which they live. What they see on our floor does not leave them indifferent. It is natural therefore that many directors of medical schools and colleges would like to take over our experience of cooperation with state-run institutions and to establish in their places, if not educational centers, but at least groups of sisters of mercy. In this connection, it seems helpful to set forth in this article not only facts about cooperation between religious and state institutions but also to relate the experience of the internal order of the educational center itself and its spiritual life.

We will underline that the establishment of an educational center for sisters of mercy is a result of not only administrative effort. Among important conditions for the successful work of the center is the blessing and continuous attention of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy. Sts Martha and Mary Convent is a patriarchal church representation with its special church traditions and heavenly patrons in the persons of new martyrs who shone forth in the Russian land. The superior, Maria Kriuchkova, appointed by the Patriarch, now Sister Elizabeth, the mother superior of the convent, sees as her main task the restoration of those spiritual traditions which were followed by the convent under its first superior, Elizaveta Romanova, who has been glorified as protomartyr. By God's grace and with the support of His Holiness the Patriarch, much has been achieved especially at the convent's educational center.

From the very beginning a semi-monastic rule has been observed by the students of the educational center. There is a prayer room at the hostel in which the prayer rule including morning and evening prayers and akathistoses is conducted every day. The order of reading akathistoses is the same as it were under Elizaveta Fyodorovna: Akathistos to the Heavenly Bodiless Hosts on Mondays, to the Intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God on Tuesdays, to Righteous Martha and Mary on Wednesdays, to St. Nicholas the Miracle-worker of Myra in Lycia on Thursdays, to the Passions of Christ on Fridays, the church's prayer on Saturdays, and Akathistos to the Holy Martyr Princess Elizaveta on Sundays. On some occasions thanksgivings are conducted and repentance canons are read on fasting days.

The common meal has also a certain order, with readings from Lives of Saints. The common meal takes place four times a day, with three full meals and one snack consisting of tea and cakes.

Every student has certain obediences to fulfill taking turns in shopping for foodstuffs, cooking and cleaning the rooms. There is a body of active students who supervise obediences and draw duty charts.

There is an internal routine negotiated with the secular administration of the hostel, but it is essentially different from that of an ordinary hostel. Running all through these rules is humbleness and obedience to the instructors, according to the word of St. Paul: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account" (Heb. 13:17). The rules are drawn in accordance with the traditions of the convent: awakening at 06.30, morning prayer at 7, breakfast at 8, studies at the medical colleges from 9, lunch at noon, studies continued from 12.46 to 16.00, snack at 17.00, dinner at 19, homework from 19.30 to 21, reading of akathistos and evening prayer at 21.00, bedtime at 23.00. In the evening on Mondays and Wednesdays the students have singing lessons, on Tuesdays lessons on theological disciplines with a priest, on Thursdays free time after 16.00 for personal studies. On Fridays or Saturdays the students are engaged in home visiting, coming to lonely, elderly and disabled people with severe forms of diabetes, complications of a paralysis suffered or a broken hip, among them labour veterans of House-Building Complex No. 1. The convent has received many messages of gratitude from people patronized by the convent's students.

The students are allowed to leave the hostel only for a good reason and with the permission of the convent's superior. After a two-month tests, the girls enrolled in the educational center take the vow of obedience to be observed during their training course. The vow is taken according to a special rite of initiation to the convent's students community and is taken in the church. From the moment of initiation, a girl-student of the educational center becomes a novice of Sts. Martha and Mary Convent. The external sign of the noviciate is a specially-tailored scarf put on by the girls for obediences, lessons and prayers. In addition to the scaf, a girl wears a specially-tailored smock for medical lessons. The uniform has a pedagogical significance; it disciplines, equals relations in the group and enhances responsibility. It is important also because it makes the group to stand out as Orthodox and hence, as is universally believed, to be a model. The students have so far justified these expectations, their marks seldom being lower that the highest. They would say, "To be bad students is a shame".

Since 2002 the groups have become mixed, that is, secular girls study together with the educational center students. No negative developments or conflict situations have arisen so far. For our students it has a positive implication, because certain self-closure in the groups and in the hostel does not contribute to the formation of a sister of mercy as a social worker she is to be.

"All the sister students of the educational center should devotedly participate in worship services by praying or singing or fulfilling other tasks in the church; carelessness in this sacred work shall be recognized as a major breach in the order of the spiritual life of the sister students. Participation in the Sunday and Festive divine services is obligatory", reads the Provision for the Educational Center of Sts. Martha and Mary Convent.

With the blessing of Patriarch Alexy, the Church of St. Barbara at Zariadye in down town Moscow was given to the educational center in 2002 for Sunday and Festive services. The students take an active part in them. They have formed a 20-member choir, which is directed by a professional church choir conductor. The choir members have mastered the traditional way of singing and all the hymns of All-Night Vigil and the Liturgy. Some students have learnt to act as readers to read akathistoses, canons, hours and Six Psalms. Students make confessions and communicate on a regular basis.

The students are often taken on pilgrimages to the Optina Hermitage, the Diveyevo Monastery of St. Seraphim and St. Sergius' Monastery of the Trinity.

Through our students' efforts a student chorus has been formed with a repertoire of classical and religious music. The chorus performs at the convent and the medical college.

Some of our students have decided to stay after graduation at the convent as vowed sisters. This is another tradition of Sts. Martha and Mary Convent, since under Princess Elizaveta Fyodorovna the girls who studied nursing took the vows of obedience, non-acquisition and chastity with no time limit. At the same time these vows were not actually monastic and allowed a vowed sister to change her mind if the circumstances of her life changed. In 2002, two graduates of the first group took such vows and joined St. Martha and Mary monastic community. At present they serve by participating in the educational process at the educational center.

Graduation from the center does not restrict for a student her choice of a future. She can come back to the sisterhood that sent her to study or stay in the convent or work for a medical institution in Moscow.

To enter the Educational Center of Sts Martha and Mary Convent the following documents are required:

  • Request to the superior of the convent, Sister Elizaveta (Kriuchkova) to be enrolled in the Educational Center of Sts Martha and Mary Convent;
  • Reference letter from the spiritual father of a future student or the rector of her permanent parish;
  • Medical reference No. 086;
  • Reference from the psycho-neurological clinic at her place of residence;
  • Passport;
  • School-leaving certificate;
  • Six 3x4-cm photographs;
  • Work-record book, if any.

The request and reference letter from the spiritual father should be sent to the convent by registered mail with the notice "For the Educational Center of Sts Martha and Mary Convent".

The examinations are held from August 1 to 10 in 1) Russian Language (a dictation); 2) Biology, verbally.

Preliminary interviews are held from July 25 to 26. In case of a competition, preference is given to those who have church singing and reading skills.

Graduates are granted state-recognized certificate in Nursing, Specialty 0406.

The convent's address: 109017 Moscow, Bolshaya Ordynka 34
Telephones: (095) 951-84-46; 951-11-39;
e-mail: valentin51@inbox.ru

Rev. Valentin Zhokhov

T. Kalashnikova
Director for Studies
Sts Martha and Mary Convent

V. Zima
Teacher and Tutor
NERC Medical College

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Contract on training nurses at a state-run educational institution

The adoption of the ROC's Basic Social Concept has made the practice of cooperation between Orthodox religious organization and governmental structures ever more important, especially in training qualified staff for Orthodox social services.

Since the considerable part of the Church's social service should be carried out by qualified specialists trained and retrained adequately, especially in medical and social service, as required by the law, cooperation between the Church and state-run educational institutions should have as its goal to provide the church social service with personnel who meet the state's requirements for such work. Precisely for this reason Sts. Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy has carried out since 1999 a program of training sisters of mercy at the medical college of the National Education and Research Center (NERC). As peculiarities of the educational process in this case were considered elsewhere in this Newsletter, we would like now to dwell on the legal support used to ensure this aspect in the work of the convent.

It is hoped that this article will serve as a recommendation for other ROC organizations who wish to organize the training of nurses at state-run educational institutions.

Normally, such large-scale programs are realized on a charity basis, which makes it necessary for a religious organization to build its relations with an educational institution in a special way. In practice it means that a contract or contracts should be concluded on training persons sent to an educational institution by a religious organization.

The legal nature of such a contract is described in the Russian Federation Civic Code, Chapter 39, on rendering paid services. In accordance with its Article 783, a contract on rendering paid services is subject to the general provisions on contract work in Chapter 37, unless it contradicts the rules for rendering paid services established in Articles 779-782 or the peculiarities of the subject of the contract on rendering paid services. A religious organization represents the customer, while an educational institution the contractor. Since the process of education is a continued one, not limited by a certain period of time or a certain number of graduates trained, it is desirable that the contract should avoid indicating the period of its validity.

The subject of the contract is the rendering of services. The Civic Code in Par. 1, Article 779, understands by services certain actions or certain work to be carried out by the contractor in favour of the customer or a third party. Par. 1 of Article 779 contains an open list of such services including those for education. A particular feature of this contract is the obligation of the contractor to render services personally unless provided otherwise. As applied to relations between two legal identities, it means that the educational institution is obliged to render services using its own staff and its own facilities. It should be emphasized that a contract on training nurses may provide for the participation of a third party in rendering services to the customer and conditions for such participation. This may be needed in identifying places where students are to do practical work. In this case, the institution whose facilities are used for practical work, may act as a sub-contractor unless its participation in the educational process does not contradict Articles 780 and 783 of the Civic Code.

On the other hand, the customer has the right to involve a third party in the educational process on its own and the law does not require that the contractor should be notified about it.

Since the educational process is specific for secondary vocational education, the contract should provide for the following:

1.The enrolment procedure. The initial choice of entrants should be made by the customer on the basis of the parameters stated by the contractor. These may include requirements concerning the educational qualification of an entrant (normally, high school), the absence of health limitations, etc. The customer is entitled to provide for additional requirements conditioned by the status of the customer as religious organization, such as a reference letter from the parish or diocese, an interview with a priest, etc. In any case, the initially selected entrants should pass appropriate entry examinations held by the contractor unless provided otherwise. The parties to the contract have the right to provide for a different enrolment procedure, for instance, a positive interview as the only enrolment requirement.

The terms for the sending down of students who have failed to meet the contractor's training requirements are important. The sending-down procedure should be described in the contract in detail and provide for the equitable participation of the customer and the contractor in such a decision.

2. The ensuring of the education process. Since the contract on rendering services, as proved by Article 718, may contain conditions for the customer's support for the contractor's work to fulfil his obligations under the contract, the parties have the right to provide in the contract for sharing of responsibilities to ensure the educational process. The contractor can provide students with educational aids, training facilities, teachers, etc. The contract may also state the obligations of the customer to provide students with special clothes, additional educational aids, stationary, etc. The parties may agree on joint provision of certain material components of the educational process, such as hostel, meals, city transport allowance. At the same time, the customer may assume the obligation to pay for the services rendered by the contractor or to reimburse the contractor's expenses for items indicated by the contract.

3. The contract should contain an exhaustive description of the profession for which students are trained, indicating its name and code in the respective classification. The parties should also provide in the contract for the education certificates to be handed over to the graduates and the status of these certificates, for instance, a state-recognized diploma.

4. Special mention should be made of the paid nature of the contract. Since the customer is a non-governmental non-commercial organization, the rendering of services to it by a state-run educational institution is normally paid. In this case, the contract should state the terms of payments, services rendered and the payment procedure. The parties may also include sanctions for payment delay, etc. However, in some cases, the state has the right to admit people sent by a religious organization on common grounds and pay for their education. In this case, the state, interested in training specialists, such as nurses, actually works together with a religious organization to implement a charitable program for training them. This proposition is more profitable for the state as it acquires the right to participate in the job placement of graduates. This condition may also be included in the contract.

5. Since the complexity of educational process requires coordination of the efforts of the parties working together under the contract, the contract may provide for a procedure of assigning staff on both sides, staff payments and cooperation between the leaders of the parties. The parties may also agree on the additional obligations of the customer, such as major repairs to be done at the hostel, and of the contractor, such as teaching students according to certain national curricula.

6. The question of disciplines to be introduced in the curriculum for training nurses for work in Orthodox social services presents a special interest. These are first of all Spiritual Care and Spiritual Basics of Mercy. At the educational center of Sts Martha and Mary Convent, these courses, which are religious disciplines, are conducted by clergy who practice medicine. The need to introduce them in the educational process for a limited number of students, namely, those sent by the customer, should be stipulated in the contract.

7. Finally, the formal side of the educational process should be considered. Essential differences that exist in training sisters of mercy and merely medical nurses may prompt to establish in the contractor's structure a special unit for training sisters of mercy, which should be also stipulated in the contract.

Cooperation between the parties to a contract on rendering service for training sisters of mercy is fraught with serious dangers. Thus, the author of this article has encountered on many occasions the opinion that in carrying out this kind of work, it is better to build relations on the basis of a contract on joint activity.

This point of view appears to be utterly wrong, since the Civic Code in its Chapter 55 treats joint activity as coming under the contract on ordinary association. By law to achieve the goal of association, participants in joint activity (associates) are obliged to unite their contributions and act together without forming a legal identity.

The contributions made by associates are treated as common share property to be used by them by mutual consent. The management of associates' common affairs is regulated by Article 1044 of the Code. Each associate bears expenses and losses in proportion to his contribution and discharges common liabilities under the contract by all its own assets in proportion to his contribution.

For a religious organization it can lead to the need to recover losses incurred by the imprudence or unjustified expenditures of the contractor at the expense of its own assets. And the very form of a contract on simple association is the least conducive to serving the purpose of cooperation between an Orthodox religious organization and an educational institution in training qualified specialists. This is why the use of a contract on common activity should be avoided in this case.

O. M. Trainin
Legal director
Sts Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy

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