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In 1999, Viktor Proskuriakov requested baptism in the Greek Catholic Church. (As a baby, his grandmother probably baptized him. But since she died many years ago, the family never knew for sure if the baptism had been performed.) The architect’s two adult children joined him at his side, deciding that the time was right for them to enter the church as well. According to Father Theodosii Iankiv, the Basilian abbot who received the family into the church, it was the first of its kind in Ukraine in recent history.

From that moment on, Viktor Proskuriakov has described himself as a committed Christian. “Since that time he prays before the icon every morning.” says his son, Oleksii.

Overjoyed by his newly found spirituality and sobriety, Mr. Proskuriakov wrote a letter to his dying father in Russia, who had always discouraged drinking. But before he could drop it in the mail, he received word his father had died. At the funeral, he instead placed the sealed letter in his father’s coffin.

Viktor Proskuriakov often remembers his father’s words: “Staying sober is much more complicated than quitting drinking.” Indeed, there is considerable pressure within Ukrainian society to drink. Most Ukrainians drink socially, especially on holidays and special occasions, and many perceive an individual’s refusal to drink with the group as a sign of disrespect.

A cheerful and sociable man, Viktor Proskuriakov no longer gives into this social pressure. Once at a banquet he was asked why he was not drinking. After a long pause, he replied, “I don’t drink on principle. As long as Ukraine is on its knees, I will not drink alcohol.” His words resonated and no one has questioned his abstinence since.

Mr. Proskuriakov’s spirituality has also led him to reevaluate his academic and professional goals. As he pursued his thesis, he realized he no longer found the subject of his work as fulfilling as he once did. His scholarly interests began to shift to theology and church history. Accordingly, he changed the focus of his doctoral thesis so that it dealt with, in part, theological questions and the existence of God. In 2002, he successfully defended his thesis, earning a doctorate. He also designed Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches and began to participate in alcohol awareness activities.

In 2003, Viktor Proskuriakov took part in “The Burial of Alcoholism,” a ritual in which parishioners from the Greek Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity in the village of Stankiv joined together and took an oath to give up drinking and end alcohol dependency. The crowd gathered around an open grave, which was filled with liquor bottles, to pray and symbolically bury the disease. Marked with a tombstone to remind villagers of their oaths, the grave can be seen from the road leading to the church and rectory.

Father Ihor Hiletsky, who serves as the church’s pastor as well as the coordinator of youth programs for the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Stryj, organized the burial.

“The idea to conduct a series of events exposing alcoholism as a sinister evil occurred in 2001 just after I had come to Stankiv,” says Father Hiletsky.

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Tags: Ukraine Health Care Socioreligious programs Alcoholism