Category Archives: News Reports

News articles or essays published in IC

Agia Skepi Sustainability Center in Cyprus

Please consider supporting our new Cyprus initiative! Help us build a Sustainability Centre at Agia Skepi.

Agia Skepi is a long term detoxification community for adults in Cyprus. The therapeutic framework of the program inspires members in the spirit of fostering quality living through eliminating harmful substances.
An integral part of the recovery process involves cultivating the earth and developing a profound relationship between nature and community. This bond is reinforced by member participation in farm life, which produces organic yields.The relationship between nature and meaningful work is essential in the difficult struggle of detoxification.
The next step in furthering these goals is to renovate three derelict buildings next to Agia Skepi and turn them into a Sustainability Centre. This new effort will provide a practical demonstration of how the principles of sustainable living can be applied in this particular environment. We hope to exemplify the spirit of Agia Skepi through use of natural building methods, renewable energy systems and food production within a regenerative social and agricultural setting.
To support this project, please donate here.  All donations made will go to the Agia Skepi Sustainability Centre. 

To donate by mail, please clearly mark all checks for the Sustainability Centre and mail to:
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
PO Box 959
Bronx, NY 10458

Some Reflections on the Approaching Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church

by Rev. Dr. Andrew Louth

It seems to me of paramount importance that the Synod, as His All-Holiness asserts, should show that the Orthodox Church wants genuinely to communicate with the world. We have treasures to share, in the Gospel, and the wisdom acquired through many centuries of believers following in our Lord’s footsteps and living in the grace of the Resurrection. It is also true that many in the West want to hear our voice, what we have to tell them of Christ. It will be a betrayal of everything we hold dear if the result of the Synod is that the world perceives the Orthodox apparently concerned solely with themselves in a fearful and introspective way.

Nevertheless, like many people, I have some reservations about the synod.  First, eleven days seems minuscule in comparison with the 1200 and more years we have to make up.  Secondly, the preparatory documents have been unavailable until very recently, and seem to have been prepared by a small circle of people, mostly (or exclusively?) associated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whereas one would have expected widespread consultation beforehand.  Thirdly, the ecclesiology of voting by patriarchates is unprecedented and unsustainable, apparently overriding the duty laid on each bishop ‘rightly to discern the word of your truth’, as we pray in the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, citing 2 Tim 2:15.  Nevertheless, we need to recognize that the only voice that counts at the synod is that of the Holy Spirit, so, despite all the fumbling of human preparation, it is important that we should earnestly pray that the fathers of the synod will hear and attend to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Although the preparatory statements tend too much towards blandness, they seem to be on the right lines, with some reservations mentioned below. The emphasis on the Church’s concern for the world in which we live today is vital, and the presentation of the life of the Church as springing from the Eucharist is expressed well.  So too the emphasis on ecumenism and a readiness to work and pray together with our fellow Christians, especially those whose baptism we recognize: all that is important. Although I can well understand the logic of the position of those who deny that there are other Christians than the Orthodox—since we, as Orthodox, hold that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that we confess in the Symbol of Faith is identical with the Orthodox Church—it seems to me that it is a logic isolated from life.  We must (and in practice do) recognize that there are Christians who find their ecclesial identity in other communions than the Orthodox Church. Do any of us really believe, for example, that Catholics are not Christians, and that the see of Rome is vacant, Pope Francis being no more than an unbaptized pagan? It makes nonsense of our behaviour: one Sunday recently I worshipped in San Teodoro in Rome, a church given to the Greeks by the pope some years ago. Should we have refused this gift? When we look at the history of the Church, we are deceiving ourselves if we think that there is one community completely innocent, namely the Orthodox Church, and that division is simply the result of the sins of others: Catholics, Protestants, or whoever.  The principle of ecumenism lies in repentance, expressed clearly in the words of his elder brother, recalled by the Elder Zosima in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov: ‘each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all’.

Some of the preparatory statements could have been more radical. The statement on fasting is banal; it would have been useful in the context of understanding fasting in a non-Mediterranean world—the point raised by the statement—to have been reminded of the way fasting is justified by the Fathers: commitment to greater simplicity in our eating, an exercise in detachment, an opportunity to greater commitment to almsgiving. The statement on marriage fails to address any of the burning pastoral issues: what later commitment to marriage demands of young people; how marriage is to cope with a society in which men and women are much more equal; the challenges of the capacity to control pregnancy for the practice of sexuality. The section on War and Peace is all right as far as it goes, but makes no mention of conscientious objection to participation in war.

Finally, the statements on the diaspora and autonomy seem to me to ignore the changes in political society between the world of the Mediterranean in late antiquity and the world in which we live today. The ideal of one bishop leading the Eucharistic community in a city reflected the world of the early Christian centuries. The world today is very different, but the statements simply see the diaspora as a passing phase, leading to a worldwide network of autonomous/autocephalous ‘local’ churches. That, on the one hand, ignores the way in which the experience of diaspora enabled many to realize the Pauline sense of Christians as essentially aliens in this world, ‘every foreign country is theirs and every country foreign’, as the epistle to Diognetos put it, and, on the other hands, ignores the way in which many people, not least Christians, move from country to country, as well as the way in which ‘cities’ nowadays are vast amalgams of communities, so that the Christian community in a modern city is really, at best, an imagined community, made up of real communities without necessarily any territorial base. We need an ecclesiology to measure up to that, not an attempt to restore an ancient ecclesiology that no longer corresponds to the social reality in which we live.

 Andrew Louth is Emeritus Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University.

* * *

An Open Letter on a Looming Disaster in Iran

Dear OPF members and Friends:

In recent days, there has been a proliferation of reports indicating that Israel is preparing an attack on Iran and that it may occur in late September or sometime in October. Never mind that a majority of Israelis do not favor such a step at this time. Never mind that the United States has repeatedly indicated that our intelligence does not support the same feeling of urgency that some of the Israeli leaders evince. Never mind that military experts in both Israel and the United States have cautioned against taking that plunge into such dark and murky waters. Those who are in a position to know feel that it may be likely.

Apparently calculations are being made regarding the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and the possible impact of an Israeli strike on that political equation. Just as Iran waited for Ronlald Reagan to take office to release the Tehran Embassy hostages as a way of punishing Jimmy Carter, Israel might launch a strike (so the theory goes) in expectation of greater U.S. Buy-in or actual participation if it should occur prior to the November election.  It is even reported that official estimates have been made of the projected number of Israeli dead that would result should Iran respond with missile attacks (about 500 persons), and deemed tolerable.

President Obama urges patience, but says “all options are on the table” (code for military intervention by the U.S.). The decision may not entirely rest with him, since America will almost certainly be expected to act as a guarantor of Israel’s security, no matter what happens, based on its repeated official assurances over the years.

For those of us who oppose violations of human rights whether in an Iranian court, at an Israeli road-block, or at Guantanamo, and loss of life wherever it occurs, what should we say about another war in the Middle East? How should we consider pre-emptive war—that which is not justified by  imminent danger, but by perceived potential danger? How should we react to the monstrous calculus of risk that is being done right now in U.S. and Israeli strategy meetings?

Because we are children of God before we are citizens of the United States, Canada, or any other country, we must bring the discussion back to its fundamentals: We are our brothers’ keepers—we cannot sit on the sidelines as spectators at a calamity we might help prevent.

“War,” observed General Sherman, “is Hell.” It is not for us to condemn anyone to the hell of war, despite the fear we may feel or the evil we imagine in another. As Solzhenitsyn wrote “the line between good and evil runs straight through every human heart.” War is always like a bucket filled by a fire-hose—it quickly overflows its intended container, and much is spilled that no one planned to spill. The Law of Unintended Consequences could frame a thumbnail history of the wars mankind has fought. The “good war” is like a flying elephant: something dreamt of but never seen.

America has gone to war in the Middle East repeatedly in recent years—against the Soviets in Afghanistan through our Taliban proxies, then with NATO allies against the Taliban, then against the Iraq of Saddam Hussein (whom we had earlier supported against Iran) based on false, or falsified, information. Even if the first sorties against Iranian targets are carried out only by Israeli planes, this will be a war that quickly involves the United States and its allies, and that will profoundly impact many nations of the world.

Speculation is rampant about the reaction of the Islamic Republic of Iran to an attack, ranging from covert mischief to long-range missiles, from the closing of the Strait of Hormuz to bombings in European or American cities. No one, in fact, can say what form their response might take, but we can be sure that it will not be anything any sane person would desire. It is rare for an act of aggression not to result in retaliation.

As a collection of people who dare to call ourselves Orthodox Christians, we must consider the proposed war with Iran an avoidable catastrophe. Our grounding in scripture (e.g. “turn the other cheek” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword”) and patristic wisdom (e.g. “Nothing is so characteristically Christian as being a peacemaker” –St. Basil the Great) leads us to advocate non-military approaches.

At this point, who can say that every conceivable means has been tried to arrive at a peaceable solution? We are in fact far from certain that Iran is even developing a nuclear weapons capability, despite massive attempts by human intelligence and electronic surveillance designed to reach such a conclusion.

How much of our treasure has actually been spent on finding common ground? We know that the alternative will be horribly expensive in both money and lives. Are we doomed to repeat and make still worse the blunders and failed thinking that have characterized the past fifty years of Iran’s relations with the West?

We pray to God for guidance for our leaders, and implore them to consider deeply the consequences of decisions they take today and in the coming weeks and months. Those who prepare for war, usually get war; those who prepare for peace may find it.

While the current alarm may turn out to be simple posturing or even hysteria, those pushing for an attack on Iran are determined and influential and will seek new oppor-tunities to achieve their aim. We must remain equally vigilant and active as we think, pray, and seek to promote viable avenues to peacefully avoiding this looming disaster.

We ask that you would prayerfully consider how you might help circulate this letter. We suggest posting it on your Facebook page, emailing it to friends, copying it and sharing it on Sunday with fellow parishioners, sending it to an elected representative, or mailing a summary in your own words as a letter to the editor of your local paper.

Signed by the following (alphabetical by last name):

V. Rev. John Breck, Professor emeritus, St Sergius Theological Institute, Paris
Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Pieter Dykhorst, Editor, In Communion
Sally Eckert, Eagle River, AK
Jim Forest, International Secretary, OPF, author/speaker
Justin Grimmond, OPF Canada Coordinator
Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green, author/speaker
Alexander Patico, North American Secretary, OPF

Eric Simpson, Medford, OR, author

Philip Tamoush, Redondo Beach, CA

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Renee Zitzloff, Minneapolis, MN

We append the following as useful resources for the general reader:

1. A summary of just war theory (JWT):  In Special Report 98: Would an Invasion of Iraq Be a “Just War”?, published in January 2003 by the United States Institute of Peace*, the director of the Religion and Peacemaking Initiative, David Smock, offered the following summary of the basic principles of “just war” doctrine:

  • Legitimate Authority: Requiring that only legitimate officials may decide to resort to force is one way to protect against arbitrariness.
  • Just Cause: The three standard, acceptable causes are self-defense, recovery of stolen assets, and punishment for wrong-doing.
  • Peaceful Intention: The intention is to use force to achieve peace, using force to restrain and minimize force.
  • Last Resort: Before turning to war, all reasonable approaches to a peaceful resolution need to be employed.
  • Reasonable Hope of Success: In going to war, there must exist the reasonable expectation of successfully obtaining peace and reconciliation between the warring parties.
  • Proportionality: The suffering and devastation of war must not outweigh whatever benefits may result from war.
  • Discrimination or Noncombatant Immunity: The means of warfare must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.

*The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan federal institution created by Congress to promote the prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

Note: A new addition to just-war theory, promulgated by Franciscan Naval Chaplain Louis Iasiello, newly-named head of the Washington Theological Seminary, has drawn some attention. He adds jus post bellum (justice after a war) to considerations of justice of and during war.

2. An Orthodox alternative approach to JWT:  It should be noted that there is a sizable and respectable thread of Christian thought which considers no war “just.” Fr. John McGuckin is professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and professor of Byzantine History at Columbia University. An essay of his, which appeared as a chapter in The Church’s Witness to Peace, edited by Fr. K. Kyriakos, is excerpted here:

Eastern Christianity simply does not approach the issue from the perspective of “Just War,” and endorses no formal doctrine advocating the possibility of a “Just War.”…Its approach is…more complex and nuanced.

Christian reflection in the eastern Church has…been more careful than the West, to remind itself of the apocalyptic and mysterious nature of the Church’s place within history and on the world-stage, and has stubbornly clung to a less congratulatory theory of the morality of War…because it sensed that such a view was more in tune with the principles of the Gospels.

[It has been] argued that the Church progressively relaxed its earliest blanket hostility to bloodshed and the military profession in general…. And yet, no Eastern Christian attitudes to war…have ever borne much relation to classic Hellenistic and Roman war theory.

Origen [of Alexandria]…was pacifist in his attitudes to war and world powers, and was sternly against the notion of the Church advocating its transmission and spread by force of arms.

Basil of Caesarea…emerged as one of the leading theorists of the Christian move-ment…. Eventually the entire corpus of the Basilian Epistles entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Eastern Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.

All violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here [in Basil] stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be “necessary” or “unavoidable” (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never “justifiable.” Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the cathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is “be penitent.” Basil’s restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.

When it falls across the threshold of the Church in an unavoidable way, it sometimes becomes our duty (so the old canons say) to take up arms; though when that is the case is to be determined in trepidation by the elect who understand the value of peace and reconciliation, not in self-glorifying battle cries from the voices of the bloodthirsty and foolish. But in no case is the shedding of blood, even against a manifestly wicked foe, ever a “Just Violence.”

The eastern canons…retain that primitive force of Christian experience on that front. It may be the “Violence of the Just” but in that case the hostility will necessarily be ended with the minimal expenditure of force, and be marked in retrospect by the last act of the “violent Just” which will be repentance that finally resolves the untenable paradox. Ambivalent and “occasional” such a theory of War might be: but if it had been followed with fidelity, the Church’s hands might have been cleaner than they have been across many centuries; and it might yet do a service on the wider front in helping Western Christianity to dismantle its own “economic” structures of war theory which are so patently in need of radical re-thinking. Perhaps the place to begin…is here and now: with “Christian America” at the dawn of a new millennium, in which we seem to have learned nothing at all from generations of bitter experience of hostility: except the hubris that international conflicts can be undertaken “safely” now that other super-powers are currently out of commission…. In such a strange new millennium, perhaps the wisdom of the need to be tentative, finds a new power and authority.

3. Bibliography:  

A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, Trita Parsi, PhD (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012). Parsi heads the largest membership organization of Iranian-Americans in the United States; he is a former congressional aide.

Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling with the Ghosts of History, Hon. John Limbert (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009. Limbert, a former Peace Corps staff person, professor and diplomat, was a Tehran Embassy hostages in 1979-80.

The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, William O. Beeman (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005). Beeman is a professor at The University of Minnesota, where he is Chair of the Department of Anthropology.

What is Iran?: A Primer on Culture, Politics and Religion, Laurie Blanton Pierce (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2009). Pierce spent two years in Iran with her husband and children, studying at an Islamic seminary; she is Mennonite.

Isfahan, a World Heritage Site, contains many of the world’s most outstanding examples of Islamic art and architecture. It is the crown jewel of Iranian cities and the third largest with a population of about 2 million. It is an important center of education, manufacture, technology, and agricultural research.
Isfahan, a World Heritage Site, contains many of the world’s most outstanding
examples of Islamic art and architecture. It is the crown jewel of Iranian cities and the third
largest with a population of about 2 million. It is an important center of education,
manufacture, technology, and agricultural research.


The nuclear facility adjacent to Isfahan is a certain target with hundreds of buildings sprawled over 150 acres, making anypinpoint attack to destroy the facility impossible.
The nuclear facility adjacent to Isfahan is a certain target with hundreds of buildings sprawled over 150 acres, making anypinpoint attack to destroy the facility impossible.


❖ Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

News IC 65 Calibrated

Peace Research in Egypt

Dr. Andrew Klager, a longtime mem-ber of the OPF who teaches at the Uni-versity of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, British Columbia, will be traveling to Egypt to research peace-building be-tween Coptic Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims. Andrew will be taking a close look at the facilitation of inter-religious peace-building between the two communities in the context of the unfolding political, social, and religious events since the Revolution of last year.

Andrew recently asked OPF if we might help fund the study trip to Cairo, which he will make at the end of the year. We have agreed to provide $800—approximately half the cost of a round-trip flight between Vancouver, BC and Cairo. Between OPF and the Mennonite Central Committee in British Columbia —Andrew comes to the Orthodox Church from a Mennonite background —Andrew now has the support he needs to cover travel costs, but he would greatly benefit from further financial support to cover research and trans-portation costs while in Egypt—food and transportation, stationery and print-ing, a digital recording device, etc.

Would you please consider making a modest gift ($25? Or even $50) to help with Andrew’s on-the-ground expenses?

Make a donation via our web site:

Or send a check to:

Orthodox Peace Fellowship, PO Box 6009, Raleigh, NC 27628-6009 USA.

Please be sure to earmark your donation with “Egypt project.”

For further information on Andrew’s research project, its hoped-for out-comes, and/or a CV detailing his exper-ience, credentials, and past publications, please contact Andrew directly at [email protected]

We look forward to publishing an essay from Andrew on his findings in In Communion.

Andrew extends his heartfelt thanks for considering giving support to this important peace research!

A Patriarch Reposes

His Holiness Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, died on 16 August, 2012. Just under half of Ethio-pia’s 83 million people are Orthodox.

Paulos was born November 3, 1935. His family had a long association with the Abba Garima monastery, which he entered as a trainee deacon at the age of six, later becaming a monk and a priest. He studied at the Theological College of the Holy Trinity in Addis Ababa and at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Semi-nary in the U.S., and at Princeton.

In 1974, shortly after the revolution that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie, his education was interrupted and he was brought back to Ethiopia  to be anointed bishop, assuming the name of Abune Paulos. Because he and four others were appointed without permission from the communist regime, they were arrested, and the Patriarch was subsequently executed. Released in 1983, Paulos re-turned to Princeton to completed his doctorate in theology, remaining in exile.

In 1991, the People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front assumed power. In 1992, Patriarch Abune Merkorios was ousted by a Church synod that elected Paulos Patriarch. Merkorios fled to the U.S., establishing a rival synod in exile.

Patriarch Paolos traveled widely, re-establishing good relations with the Coptic Church of Egypt and strengthen-ing ties with other Churches around the world. From 2006, he served as one of seven presidents of the World Council of Churches. He championed cooperative efforts between religious communities and was committed to Christian unity.

Following Eritrean independence in 1993, he reluctantly allowed indepen-dence for the Eritrean Orthodox Church. He helped broker peace between Ethio-pia and Eritrea after their bloody civil war and was awarded a Nansen Medal by the United Nations refugee agency for his peace and humanitarian work.

He secured the restoration of Church property that had been seized by pre-vious governments  and celebrated the return of many holy relics and Church treasures which had been lost abroad, includeing a carved wooden tabot after it was found in a cupboard at St John’s Church in Edinburgh Scotland.

A tabot is a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, which the Ethiopian Church claims to be keeping hidden in a shrine in the north. Prince Menelik I, the sup-posed son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is said to have brought the Ark to Ethiopia in around 950 BC.

Paulos supported a nationwide cam-paign to boost child immunization, shocking some in the Church when he suggested that HIV and Aids patients seeking a spiritual cure should take anti-retroviral drugs with their holy water. (Ethiopia is one of the countries worst affected by aids, per capita, in the world). But he rejected the use of con-doms, instead advocating chastity and monogamy as the best preventatives.

What the People of Syria Want

Lebanon / Three young Syrian refugee sisters staring into camera. Halba, Northern Lebanon. / UNHCR / F. Juez / 21 March 2012
Lebanon / Three young Syrian refugee sisters staring into camera. Halba, Northern Lebanon. / UNHCR / F. Juez / 21 March 2012

With bells ringing in celebration, hugs among reunited family members, a Mass of Thanksgiving, and a solemn interfaith ceremony of reconciliation, the village of Rableh, in the region of Homs, on the border with Lebanon celebrated after the release of about 240 Christians, mostly Greek-Catholic (the number of hostages previously reported was 280). They been taken by armed groups while working in the fields.

The release occurred thanks to in-tense negotiations by the heads of local families committed to the popular “Mussalaha” (Reconciliation) movement, who were able to establish contact with the Syrians present among the kid-nappers. The families were committed in the negotiations to the principle “to avoid fratricidal conflict and sectarian war: we are Syrians, we are a nation of people, we are on the same side.”

The success of the operation was manifest by the unconditional release of civilians, all unharmed, and the decision of some of the kidnappers—members of opposition groups from the same village of Rableh—to join the Mussalaha movement, which is interfaith and multi-ethnic and intends to revive the spirit of unity among the Syrian people in its peculiar ethno-religious mosaic.

The release was celebrated in the village with a solemn ceremony of reconciliation, which was attended by all the heads of families and clans, hun-dreds of people involved and their fami-lies, religious leaders, Christians and Muslims. During the celebration Pope Benedict XVI was mentioned as a “spiritual leader who has indicated the path of reconciliation for Syria.”

Rableh has been  “under siege” for months by armed gangs from different backgrounds. Fr. Bakhos, the local priest, celebrated  the Mass of thanks-giving in his church, noting that “from something evil something good can come.” Hope was expressed that the experience of Rableh could serve as “an encouraging precedent for reconcilia-tion among the civilian population in the war-torn region of Homs.”

IOCC Continues in Syria

Hiba, 5, clinging fearfully to her mother’s dress round the clock, wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. Ever since she and her mother fled Homs with brothers Sami, 4 and Rana, 2, loud sounds elicit screams and send them diving for cover under tables and beds.

More than half of Syria’s 260,000 refugees fleeing to places like Jordan and Lebanon are children in great need of food, clothing, and basic care items. Many arrive with nothing. International Orthodox Christian Charities attends to the immediate needs of these children and their families with the distribution of emergency relief items such as health kits, infant supplies, and bedding.

IOCC Jordan is working with local churches and relief partners at Za’atri refugee camp. For older children, the disruption of fleeing their homes as well as leaving school and friends has been especially traumatic. IOCC is assessing the education needs of the school-aged refugee children and working with part-ner agencies to help improve enrollment into local schools for students.

Through donor support, IOCC has delivered bedding sets and essential per-sonal care kits to more than 1,600 refu-gee families scattered in urban settle-ments across five Jordanian cities. In Lebanon’s Bekaa region, almost 1,700 refugee families with small children received basic necessities as well as kits filled with essential hygiene items to help protect children at risk from ex-posure to unsanitary conditions. Many Syrian refugees are hosted by families in Lebanon, but growing numbers are mov-ing into collective shelters where many people share common facilities.

Inside Syria, there are some 2.5 mil-lion people in need of support due to the conflict and 1.2 million internally displaced, according to the UN Regional Relief Coordinator. Families who remain in conflict areas struggle to survive with-out jobs or the means to pay for food or medical care. IOCC works with families inside Syria in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.

Donate online:,

by phone: 1-877-803-IOCC (4622), or

mail: P.O. Box 17398, Baltimore, MD 21297.

Mr. Erdogan Gets it Wrong

Turkey bombarded Syrian military tar-gets on October 3rd and 4th in response to Syrian forces shelling a Turkish village.

The Turkish bombardment killed five Syrian soldiers as Turkey’s parliament authorized cross-border military action in the event of further aggression. The military and political moves are de-signed to show Turkish resolve and possibly send a signal to the internation-al community that intervention may be called for. Turkey supports Syria’s rebels and has called on the Assad regime to forfeit control of government.

Speaking to a crowd in Istanbul, Erdogan boldly declared “We are not interested in war, but we’re not far from it either. This nation has come to where it is today having gone through inter-continental wars.”

“Those who attempt to test Turkey’s deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mis-take,” he added. “When they say ‘if you want peace prepare for war’ it means that when the time comes, war becomes the key to peace.”

Turkey and Syria have a long history of simmering conflict. Mr. Erdogan, known for his commitment to the prin-cipal of building common cause through dedication to dialogue and cooperative cultural, economic, and other exchanges with Greece, has perhaps forgotten to apply the same principals in Turkey’s relationship with Syria. It may be in neglecting to prepare for peace that Turkey is being led to war.

In the meantime, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday condemned the Syrian strike, and the US has made clear that it stands by its NATO ally’s right to defend itself against aggression. While tit-for-tat punitive strikes are recognized internationally as legitimate means to prevent further aggressive acts by a state, it remains unclear whether the Syrian bombardment was an act of aggression against Turkey or a reckless and wanton act of retaliation against Syrian rebels based there.

Think about Chernobyl…

The apocalyptic visions begin just inside the doors of the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum and many of them lead into the Book of Revelation.

In this museum, the key is in the eighth chapter: “And…there fell a great star from heaven…upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

When Ukrainians translate “worm-wood” into their own language, it be-comes “chernobyl.” It’s easy to connect the two when discussing the legacy of pain that followed the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl near Kiev, when explosions and fire at the nuclear reactor’s core released a plume of radioactive debris.

Soviet officials claimed a mere 31 died. Ukrainians mock this number, say-ing it’s impossible to calculate the subse-quent numbers of cancers, birth defects, and other forms of human suffering.

“The catastrophe at Chernobyl took its victims before their time,” said Archpriest Andrei Tkachev of St. Agapit of Pechersk Orthodox Church in Kiev. “Man is supposed to meet death in his own time, when he has a chance to prepare to meet God. That kind of death is a gift from God—a good death. That is not what happened for many of the victims of Chernobyl.”

The museum opened on April 26, 1992, the fifth anniversary of the dis-aster and soon after the Soviet Union’s collapse. The exhibits include 7,000 arti-facts from the 76 towns and villages —with 76 churches, in this historically Orthodox culture—that were razed in the radiation-tainted resettlement zone.

The door into a large chamber dedicated to the families and children of Chernobyl leads to the church icono-stasis, with a radiation suit hanging in place of the Archangel Michael and barb-ed wire and a contamination sign block-ing the way to the altar. High overhead is an icon of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of endangered children.

The altar is gone, replaced by a boat —to carry souls over the waters of death —full of children’s toys. Under the boat, the blackness is full of the icons of saints.

The Chernobyl disaster was especial-ly poignant, said Tkachev, because it struck a region that for many symbol-ized the innocence and safety of the past.

“The people here were simple peo-ple. They didn’t have writers and journal-ists to tell their stories,” he said. “This is an attempt to tell their story, using what they left behind when they were forced to flee the homes, their schools, and their churches.”

“Modern life separates a man who has deep faith from a man who has little. In these villages, life and faith was sim-ply combined and you can see that here.”

In one of the starkest images—over a map of the stricken region—the melt-ing reactor literally shatters a famous icon of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, while an apocalyptic storm swirls around her.

“We are tempted to think that fire and water and all the elements of nature are at our command, but that is not true,” said Tkachev. “We can become victims…. The more technologies are in our lives, the more danger that we be-come their servants, even their slaves.”

The archpriest stroked his beard, thinking of another way of stating the ultimate message of this sobering tribute to lessons learned at Chernobyl.

“If a man builds a bicycle and it breaks, he will be hurt when he falls. If he builds an airplane and it breaks, he will almost certainly die when it crashes. If we build a nuclear reactor in our back-yard and it breaks, the catastrophe will kill many and may last into future gen-erations. This teaches us is that we must fear God and try to be humble about the things we build with our own hands.”

…and Imagine Iran

With talk of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities growing more feverish by the day, the mood in Iran is unsettled as never before. Iranians say they feel alone, stuck between a defiant govern-ment and a world so unattuned to their suffering that the fatal consequences of a strike on the Iranian people has so far been totally absent from the debate.

The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble, a report written by an Iranian-American scientist with expertise in industrial nuclear waste management and publish-ed by both the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and the NGO Omid for Iran, notes that a number of Iran’s sites are located directly atop or near major civilian centers. One key site that would almost certainly be targeted in a bombing campaign, the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan, houses 371 metric tons of uranium hexa-fluoride and is located at the city’s edge; toxic plumes released from a strike would reach the city center within an hour, killing or injuring as many as 70,000 and exposing over 300,000 to radioactive material. These plumes would “destroy their lungs, blind them, severely burn their skin, and damage other tissues and vital organs.” The report’s predictions for long term toxici-ty and fatalities are equally stark. “The numbers are alarming,” says Khosrow Semnani, the report’s author, “we’re talking about a catastrophe in the same class as Bopal, India and Chernobyl.”

Women after prayer at the end of Ramadan
Women after prayer at the end of

Beyond those initially killed in a po-tential strike, the Iranian government’s lack of readiness for handling wide-scale radiation exposure could exponentially raise the death toll. The study outlines Iran’s poor record of emergency re-sponse and notes that its civilian casual-ties from natural disasters like earth-quakes have been far greater than those suffered during similar disasters in bet-ter prepared countries like Turkey. With virtually no clinical capacity or medical infrastructure to deal with wide-scale radioactive fallout, or early warning systems in place to limit exposure, Iran would be swiftly overwhelmed by the aftermath of a strike. “To talk about this would be considered a weakening of people’s attitudes. The government only speaks of tactics and resistance, how unhurt Iran will be by an attack,” Says Jamshid Barzegar, a senior analyst at BBC Persian.

Though their government’s woeful unpreparedness remains unknown to most Iranians, their anticipation of the inevitability of war is growing. Moham-mad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran’s Re-volutionary Guards, told Iranians in late September that “we must all prepare for the upcoming war” in the bluntest warn-ing yet by a senior official. When MP Mohammed Reza Tabesh criticized Jafari’s remarks in parliament, the hard-line majority shouted him down with cries of “Allahu Akbar.”

Sterile media speculation in Israel and the U.S. ignores the question of civilian casualties, portraying an attack on Iran as a tidy pinpoint strike like those Israel has carried out against Iraq and Syria, but Iran’s extensive nuclear infrastructure is far more developed and dispersed and cannot be destroyed without extensive and sustained attacks. Iran, for its part, claims the number of casualties it might sustain will be tolerable. “Hawks in Israel, the U.S., and Iran, want to underplay the level of casualties,” says Ali Ansari, an Iran expert at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. “But both sides are wildly wrong, there will be quite devastating consequences.”


❖ Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012

News IC 64

Patriarch Bartholomew critical of Greek anathemas

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has written to Greece’s Archbishop, deploring anti–ecumenical statements from within the Church. In the letter, he said that “Critical voices about ecumenism, long heard in the bosom of the church of Greece, have hitherto been limited in scope—but what has occurred recently has reached unacceptable levels….Such opinions evoke anguish and sorrow by running counter to the Orthodox ethos. They risk unforeseen consequences for church unity in general, and the unity of our holy Orthodox church in particular.”

In the letter to Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All-Greece, the Patriarch expressed particular concern about ana-themas read by Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus during the liturgy on March 4th, Orthodoxy Sunday, in which he invoked anathemas against the “fallen arch-heretic,” Pope Benedict XVI, “and those in communion with him,” as well as “all heretical offshoots of the Reformation,” “rabbis of Judaism and Islamists,” and “those who preach and teach the panheresy of inter-Christian and inter-religious syncretistic ecumenism.”

“I urge you to reject and act against these unjustified and dangerous state-ments,” said the Patriarch. “They con-tradict the decisions taken jointly by Orthodox churches to participate in bi-lateral and multilateral theological dia-logue with the heterodox.” The letter also affirmed the traditional partnership between the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece as “ecumenical witnesses to Orthodoxy.”

Ecumenical Patriarch addresses Economic Summit

Ecumenical Patriarch addresses Economic Summit“It is an honor once again to address the Eurasian Economic Summit, which is organized annually by the distinguished Marmara Group and this year is considering various aspects of the relationship between economy and dialogue as well as of development and women’s rights in our world. We have been asked to address how sustainability and economy can be promoted through intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

As a young boy, we recall seeing Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, an extraordinary leader of global vision and ecumenical sensitivity. He was a tall man, with piercing eyes and a very long, white beard. Patriarch Athenagoras was known to resolve conflict by inviting the em-battled parties to meet together, inviting and telling them: “Come, let us look one another in the eyes, and let us then see what we have to say to one another.”

This notion of looking at each other honestly in order to understand and cooperate with one another is surely critical to any concept of intercultural and interfaith dialogue. In recent years, we have all been encouraged as we witness constructive and creative chang-es in contemporary Turkish society with regard to openness and inclusion of other faiths and minority communities.

Likewise, the various gatherings initiated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate serve to bring cultures together in order to establish more meaningful communi-cation with one another. The underlying principle behind such dialogue is that all human beings ultimately face the same problems in life. Therefore, dialogue draws people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds out of their isolation, preparing them for a process of mutual respect and coexistence.

Of course, some people have strong—we might say fundamentalist—convictions that they would rather sacri-fice their lives than change their views. Others are unfortunately even willing to take the lives of innocent victims to defend these views. This is why we are obliged to listen more carefully, “look at one another” more deeply “in the eyes.” For, in the final analysis, we are always closer to one another in more ways than we are distant or different from one another. We share with and resemble one another far more as members of the same species than we differ in terms of culture, religion, and background.

We hear it said often that our world is in crisis. Yet, never before have human beings had the opportunity to bring so many positive changes to so many people simply through encounter and dialogue. While it may be true that this is a time of crisis, it must likewise be said that there has never before been greater tolerance for diverse traditions, religious prefer-ences, and cultural peculiarities. We are blessed to experience the fruits of this tolerance and dialogue in today’s Turkey.

This does not mean that religious or cultural differences are insignificant or inconsequential. Accordingly, then, we do not approach dialogue in order to impose our arguments on our opponents. We approach dialogue in a spirit of love, sincerity, and honesty. In this respect, dialogue implies equality, which in turn implies humility. Honesty and humility dispel hostility and arrogance. So we must ask ourselves: Are we prepared to respect others in dialogue? How willing are we to learn and to love? If we are not prepared to learn or willing to change, are we truly engaging in dialogue? Or are we in fact conducting a monologue in our society, culture, and religion?

True dialogue is a gift from God. According to St. John Chrysostom, fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, God is always in dialogue with human beings. God always speaks through people and cultures, and religions, even through creation itself. This is precisely why dialogue is the most fundamental experience of life. Dialogue promotes knowledge and rejects ignorance; it reveals truth and abolishes prejudice; it cultivates bonds and refuses to narrow horizons. Dialogue enriches; whoever refuses dialogue remains impoverished.

In this regard, we must confess that religious leaders bear a special re-sponsibility not to mislead or provoke in the process of dialogue. Their integrity plays a vital role in the promotion of intercultural and interfaith communi-cation. In the fourteenth century, St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika, conducted theological dis-cussions with distinguished represent-atives of Islam. In one such conversation, a Muslim leader expressed the wish that the time would come when mutual understanding will characterize the followers of both religions. St. Gregory agreed, emphasizing his hope that this would come sooner rather than later. It is our humble wish that now be that time. Now, more than ever, is the time for intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

We would not be so naïve as to claim that dialogue comes without risk or cost. Approaching another person—whether of another culture or another belief—always comes with uncertainty as to the final result. One is never sure what to expect: Will the other suspect me? Will the other perceive me as imposing my own way of life or ideology? Will I compromise—or even perhaps lose—what belongs uniquely to my tradition? These questions plague us as we approach dialogue. Nonetheless, when one surrenders to the possibility of dialogue, something sacred happens. In the willingness to embrace the other, beyond any fear or prejudice, the reality of something—or Someone—far greater than us takes over. Indeed, then, we recognize how the profit of dialogue far outweighs any peril.

Beloved distinguished friends, we are convinced that, in spite of cultural or religious differences, we are much closer to one another than we ever imagine.”

Dissolving Borders: The Tatars and Russians of Kazan

Dissolving Borders: The Tatars and Russians of KazanIn 2000, while backpacking in Russia from Moscow to Lake Baikal, Alison Shuman took a boat trip on the Volga and stopped briefly at the city of Kazan, 800 km east of Moscow, where the pop-ulation is nearly half Tatar Muslims and half Russian Orthodox. Twelve years later she returned to Kazan to create a photo-documentary that explores religious identity in post-Soviet Russia and the relationship between Muslims and Orthodox in the city.

Kazan is heralded as a place where two very different traditions live together in an atmosphere of mutual under-standing and exchange. Alison’s project will explore the ways in which the Tatar Muslims and Russian Orthodox cultures of Kazan overlap in the public sphere and the daily nuanced exchanges that occur between people that make peaceful coexistence possible.

Alison never forgot how she was struck by the continuity of Kazan’s culture as the city has traveled through time, where Muslim and Orthodox still live peacefully together as neighbors, and religion is practiced undisturbed and in mutual respect. She came back to chronicle a story where people from multiethnic and mixed religious back-grounds have for centuries lived together peacefully to show that the violent alternatives that appear regularly in the media need not be taken as the standard model. Her work will also explore the intricacies of how people negotiate their private, spiritual life with their public, societal life.

In 2006, Alison received a Master’s in Photojournalism, and since then has been working as a freelance photo-grapher in Austin, TX and in New York City, where she is now based. Her travels have so far taken her to 14 countries on four continents.

Alison is currently in Kazan working on her project. Her work is funded by donations from people who believe in the importance of the message she hopes to communicate. A video of her work and more information about the project and how to make a donation can be found at

What soldiers do

The video, released in January, of US Marines urinating on dead Taliban depicts just one of several such incidents that have recently seen the light of day and countless others that have not, but it has resulted in the creation of a new training module for troops heading off to war. All NATO soldiers in Afghanistan are now required to learn how to proper-ly handle enemy casualties in a dignified manner and that desecrating dead enemy soldiers is wrong.

While the media show outrage and politicians apologize, military com-manders claim the behavior of these Marines is merely an unprofessional slip from normal standards of conduct and can be corrected with better training.

Lt. Col. Paul Hackett, who teaches the law of war to Marines before they are sent off to Afghanistan, has said that he does not condone the actions of the marines in the video. But he also warned against judging them too harshly, saying: “When you ask young men to go kill people for a living, it takes a whole lot of effort to rein that in.”

Marty Brenner, an anger management specialist who treats combat veterans, said they “have no other way of express-ing their anger at these people…what they’re doing is urinating on them to show, ‘I want the world to see you guys are crap and that’s what you deserve.’ ”

Maynard Sinclair, a Marine veteran of Vietnam, said the outrage shows public naiveté about war. “I did a hell of a lot worse in Vietnam than urinate on dead bodies….We cut left ears off and wore them around our necks to show we were warriors [who] knew how to get revenge.”

“In Vietnam, when you screwed up, no one back home heard about it,” said Gary Solis, a former Marine prosecutor and judge who teaches law of war at Georgetown University. “The Internet has added a dimension that troops in the past did not have to deal with.”

Yet history has recorded both atroci-ties and sanctions in other ways, often as glorious legend. In the Illiad, Achilles kills Hector and refuses a proper burial, yet he relents after Zeus sends word that Achilles “tempts the wrath of heaven too far” with his desire to “vent his mad vengeance on the sacred dead.”

But an overlooked lesson from Homer is the similarity between Achilles’ exper-ience and that of the modern soldier. Achilles went to war to restore honor and achieve glory but was soon driven by grief and then rage at Patroclus’ death and, ultimately, the need for simple revenge and his enemies’ destruction.

While some judge the Marines in the video as simply doing what normal boys do in war, an inevitable feature of all war, others condemn the men as criminal or barbaric.

But, once the war is over and these men return home, some of them will have their broken psyches and demoral-ized spirits treated in clinics, while others are fed one dollar at a time from car windows stopped at traffic lights, and some—too many—will end up in prison after failing to relearn how to behave in civilized society.

Meanwhile, the military will attempt to teach soldiers that killing is okay if they do it nicely and that anger and hating can stop once the enemy is dead.

Tourism as a peacebuilding tool

Tourism as a peacebuilding toolShira Nesher, an Israeli, stands alongside Fakhira Halloun, a Palestinian, as Nesher tells her story about life in a conflict zone to a group of American university stu-dents who are hanging onto her every word. “My family members are Holocaust survivors…as an Israeli, I grew up in an environment of fear and conflict. When I was 18, I enlisted in the Defense Forces, where I eventually became a military tour guide and an educator.”

When she is finished, Fakhira follows with her own story. “I am a Palestinian Christian with Israeli citizenship. I grew up in a Druze village, as a minority among minorities, with stories of the nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe, in a place where identity limits access and mobility. Now, I devote my life to finding freedom in my native land.”

These two speakers are tour guides with the Middle East Justice and Develop-ment Initiative (MEJDI); they are leading a dual-narrative tour for a student group. It is rare to see Israelis and Palestinians telling competing narratives, yet working together. Though they live side-by-side, Israelis and Palestinians seldom meet.

MEJDI is the brainchild of two Jewish Americans—one of whom is an Orthodox rabbi—and one Palestinian who work together at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolu-tion at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. They believe that peacebuilding activities must use sustain-able business models.

In the past few years, funding for peacebuilding activities has become scarce, and many organizations have struggled to survive. Combining peace-building with a profit-making enterprise provides a self-sustaining business model.

The emotional and physical journey participants take through the narratives of the Holy Land introduces them to many stakeholders on both sides of the conflict. The groups meet with a rabbi who explains the significance of the Western Wall in Judaism. The exploration continues with meeting an imam at the Al-Asqa Mosque. Another day, they visit Ramallah and meet with a high-ranking Palestinian official; they later connect with an Israeli politician in Jerusalem.

A Jewish congregation taking a MEJDI tour requested to spend two nights at a Palestinian refugee camp. Two days later, ethnicity, religion, and background no longer mattered. The congregation and the Palestinians had forged connections that transcended stereotypes. As they parted, tears streamed down the faces of the Palestinians and Jews alike.

On a different tour, a group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims partici-pated in an interfaith trip. The group did not avoid hard questions, and together they experienced some difficult mo-ments. They discussed justice, oppress-ion, and the role of religion in the con-flict. But there were also moments of simply learning about each other’s heri-tage and religion.

The experience of exploring different sides of this thorny conflict is atypical of most tours to the Holy Land. Every year over three million tourists visit Israel and Palestine. Many of the tourists come to see the Holy Land and the holy sites without taking time to meet the people who live there. Their tour guide typically wields an enormous influence on the way they understand the culture, politics and roots of the conflict.

By contrast, the MEJDI guides rely on their personal stories about the conflict, while connecting them back to the larger story of their people. It is not about rehashing the gritty historical details that led up to the present situation, but rather about creating greater understanding. Participants are given time to reflect on the information they learn and interact with the guides and speakers to reconcile their feelings with what they heard.

MEJDI also operates in Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan, and will soon expand to new countries, using the same principle of helping participants experience places through differing narratives.

Tourism has the power to be a positive or negative force for change, with the potential to either entrench preconceptions or facilitate the sharing of stories across cultures. Just last year, almost one billion people traveled to other countries. Imagine what would happen if all these tourists used their travels as an opportunity to foster greater understanding.

Leaders respond to attack on Presbyterian Church

Nearly 500 people, said to be members of a fundamentalist Islamic group, at-tacked the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Bible School in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, burning Bibles and destroying property. The attack has raised fear among Christians in the north where they make up approximately 5% of the population. Christian Leaders around the world have issued statements calling for restraint on all sides as violence in-creases between Sudan and South Sudan.

The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) was about to issue a call to prayer for Sudan when the organ-ization received information detailing the burning and destruction, according to the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secre-tary. The Rev. James Par Tap, moderator of the Sudan Presbyterian Church,  wrote that before the attacks, Ansaar Alsoona, a fundamentalist Islamic group, had announced “al–jihad” against Christianity.

A number of Muslims apologized to Christians saying the actions did not represent the spirit of Islam. Others joined Christians for prayers in the church compound.

Despite proclamations by Sudanese officials about freedom of religion and protection of minorities by the govern-ment, threats against Christians in and around Khartoum are increasing.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 64 / Spring 2012

News -Winter 2012

WCC Executive Committee: message to Syrian churches

The members of the World Council of Churches Executive Committee have sent a pastoral message to the churches in Syria extending solidarity as they face enormous challenges due to the ongoing violence in the country.

The message comes at a time when the situation in Syria continues to deter-iorate. The situation was discussed in a meeting at WCC headquarters in Geneva in late December, in which some twenty Syrian church leaders from various Christian traditions in Syria participated.

The message was crafted by the Executive Committee during their meetings last week from 14 to 18 February in Bossey, Switzerland. In the message they expressed hope for an end to violence and a national dialogue to emerge from the conflict, based on peace with justice, recognition of human rights and human dignity and the need to live together in mutual respect.

The message strongly supported a joint letter from the three heads of churches in Syria, sent out to congre-gations in the country in December, in which they condemned the use of all violence while encouraging their mem-bers not to fear and not to lose hope.

It also called on WCC member churches to “engage in concrete actions of solidarity” during this time of diffi-culties, and, quoting the WCC consti-tution, “as a fellowship of churches we are to express the common concern of the churches in the service of human need, the breaking down of barriers between people and the promotion of one human family in justice and peace.”

Syrian Christians Support Assad

After Russia and China had vetoed a United Nations Security Council reso-lution condemning the actions of the Syrian regime, some Christians inside the country celebrated. One man from the western Syrian town of Qatana called his relatives to congratulate them on the result of the vote. A bar frequented by Christians and Alawites in Damascus offered two-for-one happy hour drinks.

But in Christian homes around the country the prevailing sentiment is one of relief rather than delight—they link the Assad regime’s survival to their own. “Without Russia we are doomed,” said a Christian woman from Damascus. “Look what has happened in Iraq,” said the woman. “Assad in power means that won’t happen here.” Brushing off the latest violence, another Christian woman, said “The problems here are nearly over.”

As a fellow minority, Christians have long supported the Alawite regime in order to ensure protection and rights for themselves. Thousands of Christians are part of the regime’s security apparatus and employed in high-ranking govern-ment and military positions. Aware that some day the masses might rise up against the regime, Syria’s previous president, Hafez al-Assad, sought to consolidate power among the minorities, people he knew would unite when tested.

Furthermore, ties between Syria’s Christians and Alawites are not restricted to the spheres of politics and security. Alawites are seen by some Christians as being less Islamic in that many do not fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Many young Alawites frequent nightclubs and few wear the Islamic headscarf.

In the town of Qatana, 22 miles west of Damascus, a small Christian commun-ity is supportive of the army’s current operation to surround the town.  “They will keep us safe from the gangs and the extremists. We need them here,” said one resident reached by phone.

When a single shell smashed through the wall of a convent in the Christian town of Saidnaya last week, Christians took to Facebook to show how they were being targeted because of their religion. No group has claimed responsibility for firing the shell, which did not explode, though fighting between elements of the Free Syrian Army and regular forces have been taking place nearby.

The regime has repeatedly publicized its support for the country’s minorities and portrayed itself as fighting Islamic extremists. Priests regularly appear on state television praying with leading Sunni and Shia clerics. Regime-backed gangs have reportedly been shooting into the air around Christian neighbor-hoods since the early days of the revolt  in order, many believe, to drive them into the hands of the authorities.

A woman in the Christian quarter of Damascus blames international TV net-works for the “crisis,” not the regime’s violent crackdown. “Al Jazeera is causing all this trouble…. They are telling lies. Look around you–there are no problems here.” Others believe Qatar and Saudi Arabia are working to take control of Syria, pushed by the US and Israel.

“I think Russia will put pressure on Assad,” said an Orthodox Christian lawyer in Damascus. “I think they will tell him: ‘Hold elections or we will stop supporting you.’ It is not in Russia’s interest to keep supporting the Syrian regime’s crackdown. They’re being criticized internationally and I don’t think they’ll stand for that much longer.”

Priest Shot Dead in Syria

The funeral of Rev. Fr. Basilios Nassar took place on January 26 at the Church of Saint George in Hama, Syria a day after he was shot to death in the street while attempting to assist another man. Reports indicate that the thirty-year old priest received a phone call while at the Metropolis that a parishioner had been wounded. Nassar was struck by bullets when he went out to attend to the man. He was dragged from the street by a third man but died shortly before he was able to receive medical care. The source of the fatal gunshots remains unclear. The shooting occurred on the second day of intense fighting in the area.

American Bishops Protest State Decision

A recent decision made by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that requires religious insti-tutions such as hospitals, schools, and other affiliated organizations to provide full coverage for contraceptives was the subject of protest by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the United States, Canada, and Mexico in early February. The decision made by the DHHS requires that full coverage for contraception—including “morning after” pills that could induce abortions—be paid for through insurance coverage by institutions that view contraception or abortion as morally egregious and a violation of religious convictions. The Assembly of Orthodox Bishops joined the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as numerous other organizations, in voicing protest and concern regarding the decision.

The Assembly urged Orthodox laity to contact their Congressional represent-atives in order to “voice their concern in the face of this threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.”

Opponents to the decision claim its definition of  “religious institution” is too narrow and does not include large net-works of social service organizations that are ministries or extensions of churches, synagogues, mosques. Catholic Charities, which employs seventy thousand people, and the University of Notre Dame, two examples, would not be exempt. They would be subject to fines totaling millions for violations of the mandate.

The decision has ignited a fight be-tween the Right, who accuse the Obama administration of an attack on Religion, and the Left, who claim to be defending full and equal access to medical care. The Obama administration is seeking compromise, but opponents are not yet satisfied and continue to demand more.

Alexander Schmorell Canonized in ROCOR Church in Munich

Alexander Schmorell
Alexander Schmorell

Alexander Schmorell, co-founder of the White Rose organization, which dis-tributed literature criticizing Hitler and advocating passive resistance to the Nazis, and his collaborators were executed in 1943 after little more than a year distributing pamphlets opposing the regime. Schmorell was recognized as a Saint in services at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Munich, Germany on February 4th and 5th, 2012. Though all the members of the White Rose were Christians, Schmorell, now known as St. Alexander Schmorell the New Martyr and Passion-Bearer, was the only Orthodox. Though not targeted for their Christian witness, their clandestine, anti-Fascist work was inspired and informed by their shared Christian faith. Born in Orenburg, Russia in 1917, he lived in Munich, the home of his German father, for most of his life. He is the first new Martyr canonically recognized by the reunited ROCOR and Moscow Patriarchate.

Russian Cleric Proposes War Readiness

Speaking on matters beyond the realm of the spiritual, a top Orthodox Church cleric said Russia must play a greater role in responding to ongoing global events that could deteriorate into a world war.

“There are many processes occurring in the world in which Russia should play a much more active role,” Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-placed cleric in the Russian Orthodox Church, said in an interview with the Svobodnaya Pressa (‘Free Press’) publishing house. “The economic and social contradictions that have cropped up in the world are so powerful that they are sure to blow up into serious military operations.”

Chaplin said Russia’s military must remain “combat ready” to prevent the outbreak of military incidents on or around its territory.

“In order to ensure that these military operations not unfold on our territory or in the vicinity of our borders, we need to keep our armed forces combat ready,” Chaplin said. Russia must actively participate in settling all situations that may lead to a war, be it the Middle East or Central Asia, where the situation is also tense, he added.

“By all accounts, we will not manage to escape a big war,” Chaplin warned, while adding that civilization’s current trajectory “may lead to the annihilation of cities.”

Forgiveness Sunday Not Best Day To Rally Against Enemies

The opposition has disagreed with the opinion of the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who said that Forgiveness Sunday will not be the best day for holding massive demonstrations in Moscow.

“As regards the Sunday, it would be interesting to hear Mr. Chaplin, were it a pro-Putin rally,” one of the leaders of the non-registered People’s Freedom Party Boris Nemtsov told Interfax on. The opposition is planning to hold a flash mob called Big White Circle on the Garden Ring in Moscow on Sunday. Yet another flash mob in the form of a street party will be held on the same day by Left Front on Revolution Square.

“This is first and foremost a day of forgiveness. If demonstrators forgive all those divided from them by grievances and frictions, it will be the best thing to happen on Forgiveness Sunday,” he told a press conference in Moscow on Friday.

Russian Spring?

Russian Spring

Thousands of anti-Kremlin protesters donned white ribbons and held hands along downtown Moscow’s 10-mile ring highway on Sunday, demonstrating the resilience of the protest movement and the continued dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin a week before he is to be on the ballot in a crucial presidential election.


❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 63 / Winter 2012

News -October IC 62

Delegates Sent by Metropolitan PHILIP to Syria in September

(The following story is a recap of a report written by Fr. Patrick Reardon of his recent trip to Syria. IC understands that there are many perspectives on what is happening in Syria and that the situation there is fluid and facts are hard to acertain. This story is offered as one alternative perspective on what is  being primarily portrayed in the media.)

Father Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints’ Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, reported on his participation with a delegation sent by Metropolitan PHILIP to Syria, which occurred September 13-18.

Father Patrick Reardon, pastor of All Saints' Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois,The express purpose of the dele-gation was to make inquiries regarding the political climate in Syria, specifically in regard to the status and condition of Syrian Christians. They therefore met with President Assad, local bishops, Michel Kilo of the opposition Intellectual Party, seven sheiks of northeast Syria and the Grand Mufti, the spiritual leader of the Sunni majority in Syria. The party also took advantage of other oppor-tunities to visit local cultural and religious sites.

The delegation consisted of six priests from the Antiochian Archdiocese, two Protestant pastors, and three others. Despite the expressed concerns from people in his parish regarding his personal safety, Fr. Patrick felt as a seasoned international traveler that the fears were based on “irresponsible hysteria” contained in American media reports and were likely overwrought and exaggerated. Fr. Patrick’s actual ex-perience as part of the delegation to Syria confirmed his belief. “During our whole time in Syria,” writes Father Patrick in his informal report, “I saw not a single armed policeman, nor—except for the guard at the Defense Ministry—a single soldier. I saw only one military vehicle…near the defense ministry.”

The delegates spent 90 minutes meeting with President Assad. Fr. Patrick made introductory remarks expressing their purpose to express the “concern of American Christians for the well-being of Syria”.  Having heard sincere praise for Assad from an abbess and others in previous days, Fr. Patrick and the dele-gates found the President to be “cordial and personable…a man of obvious culture, refinement, modesty, and gentility.”

In response to their inquiry, President Assad discussed the primary problem of widespread poverty as being a central factor motivating protests. He went further to discuss the infiltration of peaceful protest groups by right-wing agitators, including the Muslim Brother-hood, who were in part responsible for the sudden eruption of violence. Moreover, he admitted that the military’s reaction which led to the deaths and torture of some demonstrators, was too strong, and that further torture by some military personnel was contrary to his own policies and motivated by revenge rather than state policy.President Assad also addressed his concern regarding the Western media, whom he felt portrayed the early weeks of the uprising in an unfair and distorted way, which prompted the government to extricate Western reporters from Syria. He made it clear in response to a direct question from Fr. Patrick Reardon that contrary to Western reports, no aircraft had been used against demonstrators, and that no shots were fired from the tanks Syrian soldiers used to cover when under attack. (Opposition party member Michel Kilo later confirmed this claim.)  Assad also spoke about the need for reform and his own intention to start with educational and election reforms. Lastly, he addressed the status of Syrian Christians and spoke of them as a “moderating influence.” He said, “There can be no democracy in Syria without Christians. A completely Muslim country would not have the counterbalance of influence necessary for democracy.”

The delegation also met with two Syrian bishops at the cathedral office of the Antiochian Patriarchate. Having visited the sites of demonstration, the two bishops also expressed their deep concern about the portrayal by the Western media of the situation in Syria, its distortions, and how “local uprisings” had been “blown completely out of proportion” in America and Europe. They also expressed respect and positivity in regard to President Assad.

Delegates also had the opportunity to meet with outspoken opposition figures, such as Michel Kilo, who acknowledged the claim by Assad that the peaceful demonstrators had been infiltrated and “hi-jacked” by extremists who were seeking other agendas. Moreover, he agreed with Assad that there was need for reform, and said that if the President were successful in his efforts, he would vote for him.Fr. Patrick and the group also met with sheiks who sought them out, and lastly, with the Grand Mufti, who ex-pressed a deep belief in the dignity of humanity and a hatred of violence. He also said that he saw nothing to support the exaggerated reports in Western media regarding the uprisings, at which he had been present.

The group also had a chance to visit the house of St. Ananias—the first bishop of Damascus—and the National Arche-ology Museum, as well as to spend time in prayer at the tomb of St. Thecla in the village of Maalula. They also visited a monastery is Saydnaya.

Fr. Patrick Reardon pointed out that the delegates were not allowed to visit the “hot spots,” but that overall they saw no sign of revolution in Syria. He reported that Christians are “safe and happy” and are free to worship without oppression.  Moreover, he also expressed disdain for imbalanced media coverage of Syria in the United States, and that his impression is that Syria is not in any immediate danger from an internal revolution.

IC Orthodox Christian Charities Supports the Emergency Needs of Somali Refugees

As more than ten million men, women and children face hunger and life-threatening health consequences from the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in 60 years, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is responding with aid to relieve victims of the worst food shortage crisis in the world today. Working in cooperation with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Develop-ment and Inter Church Aid Commission (EOC-DICAC) and partner agency International Medical Corps (IMC), IOCC is delivering financial support to help alleviate the emergency needs of Somali refugees in southern camps of Ethiopia. The initial IOCC relief will support healthcare responders assessing the immediate and basic health, nutrition, sanitation, and hygiene needs of the refugees, and support their efforts to provide emergency assistance such as distribution of food and water, therapeutic feeding programs for the severely malnourished, construction of latrines, and coordination of other hygiene activities to prevent spread of disease in such overcrowded conditions.

Deputy Country Representative for IOCC Ethiopia, Seifu Tirfie, says that years of working with EOC-DICAC to improve health standards through the development of clean water sources and improved agricultural techniques to withstand drought allows IOCC unique access to provide swift and targeted relief. “Our extended grass roots network and excellent relationship with the government gives us a very good opportunity to deliver prompt and relevant assistance to people facing the serious threat of starvation, particularly women and children.” Tirfie adds that IOCC and it relief partners will be closely monitoring the situation and assessing additional needs.

The devastating drought conditions in the Horn of Africa following no rain for the past two seasons has dried up farmland and pastures, leaving failed crops and dying livestock. The people of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have been hardest hit by the drought-induced food shortage, but according to UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, those living in Somalia have suffered the added burden of skyrocketing food prices and civil war. UNHCR estimates that an average of nearly 1,700 Somalis, mostly women and malnourished children, arrive every day at the Dollo Ado refugee camp in southeastern Ethiopia after walking barefoot for days in search of food and water. Of the children that don’t succumb along the way and make it to the extremely overcrowded refugee center, some are so malnourished that they die before medical workers can intervene.

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Jerusalem church leaders advocate negotiations on Palestinian state

Jerusalem, 16 September (ENInews)—Church leaders in Jerusalem said they support a negotiated solution to the question of a Palestinian state in the Middle East.”Negotiations are the best way to resolve all outstanding problems between [Israel and the Palestinians],” they said in the statement before next week’s scheduled address by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who will ask for recognition of an independent Palestinian state when he addresses the United Nations next week.If taken to the Security Council, his bid is expected not to pass because of an expected U.S. veto, but if taken to the General Assembly, Palestinian status in the U.N. could be elevated from its current status of Observer Entity to that of Observer State, the same status as the Vatican.

Israel and the U.S. say that a Palestinian state should only be established through joint negotiations, maintaining that any unilateral action such as the declaration of a Palestinian state in the U.N. would lead to violence.
“We call upon decision makers and people of good will, to do their utmost to achieve the long awaited justice, peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians,” said the church leaders. They also said, “Palestinians and Israelis should exercise restraint, whatever the outcome of the vote at the United Nations.”The eleven representatives of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches said Israelis and Palestinians “must live each in their own independent state with peace and justice, respecting human rights according to international law.” The current situation is “the most appropriate time” to resume diplomatic efforts, they said. [ENI: By Judith Sudilovsky]

Orthodox leaders smooth path to proposed summit meeting

The patriarchs of three ancient Orthodox Christian churches met from 1-2 September in Istanbul to discuss the situation of Christian minorities in the Middle East, and perhaps an even more prickly topic—the move toward a historic pan-Orthodox council—removing major stumbling blocks to what would be the first such gathering in centuries.

The pan-Orthodox council is regarded with great interest by the world’s Orthodox churches, many of which are in unstable regions following revolutions in the Middle East, or in countries facing a third decade of economic and social transition following the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

“The patriarchs, and of course the Archbishop of Cyprus, they all expressed the readiness to proceed to the pan-Orthodox council that is forthcoming, and they said to me that they support the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch to this direction,” said Metropolitan Elpidophoros of Proussa, former chief secretary of the Synodical Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, also known as the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The meeting, called a synaxis, was hosted by Patriarch Bartholemew of Constantinople and attended by Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria, Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, and Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus. Patriarch Igantius of Antioch was represented by a bishop.Representatives of 14 Orthodox churches met in Chambesy, Switzerland last February to try to establish a consensus towards a pan-Orthodox council, but became mired in disputes about diptychs, the order of commemoration of the churches, and procedures for autocephaly, or the granting of independence to a church. After Chambesy, Patriarch Bartholomew sent a letter to church leaders asking how they wanted to proceed.

This time, Elpidophoros, said, “the answer of almost all the Orthodox churches was that we can proceed to the pan-Orthodox council without having agreed on these two issues of diptychs and the autocephaly,” he said in an interview with ENInews.

Last month, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, toured the Middle East and met with the patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem. He discussed the importance to Moscow, which is the world’s largest Orthodox Church, of the Istanbul meeting and its potential for influencing the move towards a pan-Orthodox council.At the Istanbul meeting, the leaders discussed the threats to Christians in the Middle East in the wake of recent upheavals. “According to the report of the Patriarchs and the Archbishop of Cyprus, the behavior of these revolutionaries towards the Christian minorities is very hostile and aggressive, and this makes the Christian leaders, and of course the patriarchs, very much concerned about the future,” said Elpidophoros. [ENI: By Sophia Kishkovsky]

Coptic Christians and Persecution One Year After Revolution

Thousands of Coptic Christians gathered at the largest Coptic church in Cairo on October 10, the day after 26 Christians were killed and nearly 300 injured in a flare of military violence against protestors. Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria declared three days of mourning for those who had died due to violence that occurred in what was reported to have been a peaceful demonstration that ended near Tahrir Square.

“[The demonstrators] were completely unnarmed,” said Pope Shenouda in his weekly homily, “according to the teachings of their non-violent religion. They walked for a long way from Shubra to Maspero in an open manner. If they had weapons they would have been seen.”

Violence flared outside the state TV building as Coptic Christians peacefully marched from the Shubra districts in protest against a house of worship in Edfu that had been attacked in the previous week. A group of men claimed the building did not have the appropriate permits, and set in on fire. Witnesses also reported that several of the homes of Coptic Christians as well as businesses were set aflame in Edfu.

❖ IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011

News – Summer 2011 / IC 61

Patriarch Bartholomew’s Jamaica Peace Appeal

Via video link, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople addressed the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in June. (See Alex Patico’s report of the meeting on page 17.)

“As faithful disciples of the Lord of peace,” said Bartholomew, “we must constantly pursue and persistently proclaim alternative ways that reject violence and war. Human conflict may well be inevitable in our world, but war and violence are not.

“The pursuit of peace has always proved challenging. Yet, our present situation is in at least two ways quite unprecedented. First, never before has it been possible for one group of human beings to eradicate as many people simultaneously; second, never before has humanity been in a position to destroy so much of the planet environmentally. We are faced with radically new circumstances, which demand of us an equally radical commitment to peace.

“In an increasingly complex and violent world, Christian churches have come to recognize that working for peace constitutes a primary expression of their responsibility for the life of the world. They are challenged to move beyond mere rhetorical denunciations of violence, oppression and injustice, and incarnate their ethical judgments into actions that contribute to a culture of peace. This responsibility is grounded on the essential goodness of all human beings by virtue of being in God’s image and the goodness of all that God has created.”

The patriarch remarked that many peacemaking efforts fail because of an unwillingness to give up established ways of wasting and wanting.

“In peacemaking, then, it is critical that we perceive the impact of our practices on other people, especially the poor, as well as on the environment,” he said.


Pro-Life Clinics to Open in Russia

A Russian pro-life organization, the Life-Family Medical Centers Network, is preparing to provide prenatal and postnatal care to women without providing abortion services. Created under the auspices of Za Zhizn (For Life) by two Russian Orthodox priests, the formation of the new organization was announced in Moscow on June 30 as a collaboration between the newly formed organization and similar American organizations such as Heartbeat International. The hope is to provide care for pregnant women while barring procedures that “contradict the teachings of the Russian Orthodox, Catholic and traditional Protestant churches,” said project manager, Alexey Komov.

“We think the idea is in the air,” said Komov. “We guarantee that people who come to the clinics, whether Christians or from other traditions, can rest assured they won’t be forced to have abortions or pre-natal screenings that harm expectant mothers.”

Russia has one of the highest abortion rates in the world – pro-lifers say women are often pressured into having them.

Komov said doctors who had to leave state or private clinics because they refused to perform abortions would be hired by the Life-Family Medical Centers. [Sophia Kishkovsky]


Moscow Church Barred from Feeding Hungry

For fifteen years, twice a week, the Russian Orthodox parish of Saints Cosmas and Damian in central Moscow has offered food and other assistance to the homeless.

`Every Wednesday and Friday from 300 to 600 people were sure of a full meal, medicine, clothes and some heat, which in the long Russian winter becomes as important as bread. (Every winter, about 200 homeless Muscovites die from the cold.)

But in May the municipality of Moscow ordered parish priest Alexander Borisov to terminate the service on the grounds that it was a health hazard. The more likely explanation is that the presence of homeless people offends the well-off residents of the area.

The parish is situated on Tverskaya Street, famous for its luxury boutiques, banks and branch offices of international companies – plus Moscow’s City Council.

It appears Mayor Sergei Sobianin did not like the sight of people in a queue waiting to be fed and so ordered the shelter closed.

“There are some people,” said Fr. Borisov, “who call themselves religious, attend services celebrated by the Patriarch, but then act only to destroy and never to build.”

Patriarchate Kirill has written to Mayor Sobianin asking that the city provide an alternative structure at which the parish can continue its social service.

“Aid to the homeless is precisely the sphere where church and state can work better together,” said Kirill. “The city council could provide the structure to welcome the homeless and we will provide the staff and volunteers to do the job.”


Church’s Response to Greek Crisis

The Greek Orthodox Church is “ready to contribute to help the country,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said after a meeting with the head of the Church, Archbishop Ieronymos. Venizelos said he was “optimistic on cooperation prospects with the church over practical measures to ease the plight of those who need help the most.”

Archbishop Ieronymos said the talks were constructive and vowed “the church would continue to fight for the people in these crucial times.”

The talks focused on an inventory of the church’s real estate assets. The church is the country’s second-largest land owner after the state. The assets could be brought into a fund jointly managed by the church and the state, the source said on condition of anonymity. The state would lift legal restrictions and the profits would be poured back into the church’s charities and social services.

Orthodox clergy will see their state salaries reduced by half. “It will be a hard adjustment for the Greek Church,” commented one bishop. “Greeks have never had to give or support their church and many are unlikely do it now.”


Syrian Christians Worry About Future

Saydnaya church, near Damascus, is second only to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrimage.

Above: Saydnaya church, near Damascus, is second only to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrimage.

As an increasing number of Syrians take to the streets to demand sweeping government reforms, many Syrian Christians are still hesitant to do so – afraid of an uncertain future as a minority that has until now been safe under the current secular government.

“Everybody is worried,” says Archbishop Yohana Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo. While supporting the demands for reform being made by protesters, he hopes a national dialogue can soon begin. “We don’t want what happened in Iraq to happen in Syria. We don’t want the country to be divided. And we don’t want Christians to leave Syria.”

Syria’s Christians have remained largely silent since the popular uprising began just over three months ago. Most of the protests have taken place after Friday prayers in rural areas, with only minimal turnout in Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest, mainly Sunni cities, where also the majority of Christians reside.

Syria’s Christians comprise about ten percent of the country’s population of 20-million. So far, few have been prominent in the uprising.

Many believe the community’s relative absence from protests is due to the stability they enjoy under the Alawite-run secular government, which has shown favoritism toward the country’s urban business elite – including secular Muslims and Christians – while taking a hard line against Islamist movements over the past 40 years.

“I’ve met Syrian Christians who’ve defended the regime because it’s not Islamic, but I think this could backfire on them,” says Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University. “If theyHind Aboud Kabawat, a Syrian Christian who divides her time between Toronto and Damascus, and who won the 2007 Women’s Peace Initiative award. link themselves to a dictatorial regime that is largely disliked by the Syrian people, then some might think this will justify reprisals against them.”

Historically, Syria has been a place of stability and safety for Christians. Tens of thousands fled there to safety following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Christian holidays are nationally recognized in Syria.

Some see it as being in Syrian Christians’ long-term interest to support the protesters. “Remember, if you are a real good Christian you have to side with the oppressed and not with the oppressors,” says Hind Aboud Kabawat, a Syrian Christian who divides her time between Toronto and Damascus, and who won the 2007 Women’s Peace Initiative award.. “It is scary, but if we all fight for a real civil society and include everybody in the system and learn how to accept others things will be fine.” [Brooke Anderson]

In Communion / issue 61 / July 2011

News – Pascha 2011 / IC 60


Serbian Nuns Learn Language of Albanian Muslims

iconographer nun at Sokolica monastery in Kosovo

The eight nuns of a Serbian Orthodox monastery, Sokolica, in religiously polarized Kosovo have decided to learn Albanian so they can talk to Albanian Muslims who come to pray at an ancient statue of the Virgin Mary.

Muslims from all over Kosovo flock to the Sokolica monastery because they believe its 14th-century sculpture of the Sokolika Virgin can cure deaf-mute children and help childless couples become pregnant. The famous sculpture is adorned with gold necklaces, bracelets and strings of pearls from grateful pilgrims, both Christian and Muslim. “It cures not only their people but also our people,” said a Muslim neighbor.

The monastery, surrounded by the Muslim village of Boletin, is located in the mountains that overlook the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica.

“When Muslims ask how to pray, we tell them to pray in their own language and in the way they are taught to,” the 67-year-old head of the monastery, Mother Makarija, told Agence France Presse. “We let them praise their Allah as we do our God.”

“Our door is open for all who come, both Christian and Muslims. If Muslims think our sacred sculpture can help them, then they are welcome,” said Mother Makarija.

“But speaking the languages of neighbors is a must,” she said. “I don’t want our sisters to talk to the neighbors and Albanians who visit the monastery in English but in Albanian. I am always looking for [Albanian] textbooks. I may be too old for it but my nuns must learn Albanian.” (The abbess speaks Serbian, English, German and Greek.)

Local villagers tell how the abbess braved heavy fighting during the war to take a pregnant Boletin woman to deliver her baby at a Serbian hospital in Mitrovica. “It was dangerous even for her, despite the fact that she was a nun,” said Besim Boletini, who lives next door to the monastery.

Muslim villager Mustafa Kelmendi, 67, said Mother Makarija had saved his son Basri from Serb paramilitaries twice. “The war brought chaos … However she did not allow Serb forces to stay in the convent even when fighting was going on in the area.”

The nuns are well known as fresco painters and iconographers. “That is our main income,” said Mother Makarija.


Bishop Applauds End of Death Penalty in Illinois

Bishop Demetrios of MokissosWhen Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed legislation on March 9 ending the death penalty in his state, among those in attendance was Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago.

The Bishop praised the governor’s decision to sign the bill, which commuted the sentences of fifteen death row inmates.

Bishop Demetrios said, “This is not only a political and legal achievement, but a spiritual triumph of the conscience for all those opposed to capital punishment…. On behalf of the leader of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, Metropolitan Iakovos, and all our faithful, we may give thanks for this major change in public policy. Yet the struggle for justice and the sanctity of all life is not over. Illinois is just one of sixteen states that have abolished the death penalty. There is much work to be done in our nation and, indeed, around the world.”

Bishop Demetrios was the spiritual advisor to the last death row inmate in Illinois, Andrew Kokaraleis, executed in 1999.

Since that time he has worked tirelessly as an advocate in the movement to end the death penalty. He noted his hopes for moratoriums in Indiana and Missouri as well.


Russian Church Seeks to Reduce Abortion Rate

Russian women who feel driven by dire financial need to abort their babies may soon have help in choosing another option.

Patriarch Kirill has proposed several measures to reduce Russia’s high abortion rate, one of which is to give financial aid to women driven to abortion by poverty.

Among other measures, Kirill urged the Ministry of Health and Social Development to embrace a guiding principle “that makes preservation of pregnancy a priority task for the doctor and bans medical initiatives on its interruption.”

Other policy suggestions included a two-week waiting period after signing an “informed consent” document, networks of orphanages for mothers in great need, and crisis pregnancy centers with religious representatives in every hospital.


Pan-Orthodox Meeting in Switzerland Fails

In late February a meeting was convened at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Chambesy, Switzerland to seek consensus on preparations for a pan-Orthodox council, but the meeting ended after four days without obtaining its objectives.

Diptychs, a term that describes the order in which local Orthodox churches commemorate each other at services, was one of the issues blocking plans for what would be the first church council in 1,200 years.

A leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church cited its founding in the fifth century in explaining why his church insists in demanding greater recognition.

If the Georgian church agrees to remain in ninth place in the diptychs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and most other Orthodox churches, said Metropolitan Theodore of Akhaltsikhe, “it means that we cross out our entire history. That is why we cannot agree with this under any circumstances.”

Another area of tension is the relationship between Constantinople and Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest Orthodox Church in the world, chafes at any suggestion that the Patriarch of Constantinople, also known as Ecumenical Patriarch, is comparable to the pope.

Both Moscow and Constantinople agree that Orthodoxy needs to streamline procedures for making statements and granting independence but are at odds how this is to be done.

“This is exactly why the Catholic Church had the Second Vatican Council, because it clarified many questions,” said Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who represented Constantinople at Chambesy.

“It’s not because the Catholic Church had its synod that we have got to have ours, but I think everyone agrees to the need for a clear unanimous position of our church. We cannot just be preparing for 50 years and not come to an agreement.”

Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, a representative of the Russian church at Chambesy, said that statements that are presented as the unified position of Orthodoxy should not come across as solely the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

“In order for the Ecumenical Patriarch to speak on behalf of all the churches, there needs to be prior consultation to exchange opinions,” he said.

Another issue is granting autocephaly. Metropolitan Emmanuel said the procedure for granting independence discussed at Chambesy would have the Ecumenical Patriarch proclaim autocephaly and sign a tomos (a declaration of independence) that would then be forwarded for signing by primates of all the other churches. But not all churches, he said, agree with the form the signatures would take. Balashov said Moscow has no qualms with the Ecumenical Patriarch signing first, but that discussion arose over whether his signature “should in some other way fundamentally stand out from that of all the other primates.”


Russian Patriarch Kirill and Cardinal Koch Meet

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and Cardinal Kurt Koch, representing the Vatican, met in Moscow behind closed doors on March 16 as a preliminary visit, anticipating the possibility of a future meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict XVI. Theological dialogue between the two churches headed the agenda.

Such a meeting, said Cardinal Koch, “must become a Christian witness to the world, and that’s why such a meeting requires very thorough participation … the qualitative content of such a meeting is immeasurably more important than the quantitative indicators.”

Kirill and Koch also discussed anti-Christian sentiment both in regions of the world where there is persecution of Christians, and also in Europe.

Koch said his visit to Russia “made a very deep impression on me.” Many Westerners, he said, “do not understand the full depth of the tragedy that befell the Russian people and the full scale of the crimes of Stalin.”


IOCC Launches Relief Effort in Japan

damaged church in Ishinomaki

With an initial emergency grant of $25,000, International Orthodox Christian Charities quickly began providing medicine, food and other essential items to communities in the earthquake and tsunami-damaged coastal districts of Japan. Assistance is being distributed by the Orthodox Church in Japan in cooperation with regional authorities.

Initial efforts by IOCC and the Orthodox Church in Japan will focus on an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people who have been displaced from coastal communities by the earthquake and tsunami. The Church is also working to assess the needs of people displaced from the cities of Ishinomaki, Yamada and Kesennuma, made largely inaccessible because of the damage.

“The suffering and hardship of the victims in these ruined areas is indescribably serious and severe now,” wrote Fr. Demitrios Tanaka of the Orthodox Church in Japan. “The aftershocks of this complex disaster will remain upon us for a long time. We anticipate that the really critical situation will turn up two or three months from now.”

The Orthodox Church in Japan anticipates that considerable additional assistance will be needed to aid people threatened by the damage done to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

As the Orthodox Church in Japan focused its efforts on providing assistance to people in need, it also found reason to give thanks. An Orthodox priest previously reported missing in Tohoku, Japan was found alive and safe with his wife. All of the Orthodox clergy from the East Japan Diocese of the Orthodox Church have now been accounted for and are safe.

Support also came from Orthodox churches and monasteries of the Primorsky Region on the Russian Far East, where parishes collected about 470,000 rubles ($17,000) to support the Orthodox communities of Japan which suffered from the disaster, the press service of the Vladivostok Diocese reports.

“Mercy is a characteristic feature of the citizens of the Primorsky Region,” said Archpriest Alexander Talko, head of the diocesan department for charity and social service.


Ukrainians Send Icon of Chernobyl Savior to Japan

As an act of support and sympathy, the Donetsk department of the Chernobyl Union of Ukraine transferred the icon of Chernobyl Savior to Japan at a ceremony held on April 5 at the National Opera and Ballet Theater in Kiev. Department head Evgeny Struzhko presented the holy image to the director of the Terada Ballet Art School, Michiko Terada, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church reported on its website.

“Today we would like to be with suffering Japanese people who are living through the tragedy. It is something very close to us and so we would like to transfer the holy icon to an Orthodox Japanese church,” Struzhko said.

Christ, the Mother of God, the Archangel Michael and those who protected others after the Chernobyl catastrophe are depicted on the icon. (Interfax-Moscow)


First Astronaut Gagarin No Atheist

Astronaut Yuri Gagarin’s most famous words, “I don’t see any God up here,” were in fact an invention of Soviet propaganda. The 50th anniversary of the Gagarin’s space flight brought to light the news that neither Gagarin nor the famed rocket engineer Sergei Korolev were atheists.

“Yuri Gagarin baptized his elder daughter Yelena shortly before his space flight,” said Hegumen Iov Talats, rector of the Transfiguration Church in Zvyozdny Gorodok (Star City). “His family used to celebrate Christmas and Easter and keep icons in the house,” Father Iov said in an interview in the April issue of Foma magazine, an Orthodox journal. He also recalled that Gagarin urged the authorities to reconstruct Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.

He added: “Sergei Korolev lost faith for some time but eventually regained it through suffering. Of course he could not make it public, but he used to attend liturgy, pray and confess. Now I am trying to find out who was his confessor.”

According to Fr. Iov, great sins are preventing people from further outer space exploration. “I was once asked why do we fail to move further on in space. I answered that it was because we have already damaged the earth. Do you want to damage the whole universe? Look what’s going on around us – robbery, murder, violence, deception. Shall we carry our wickedness into space? Therefore, God does not let us move on. While we are in the process of moral growth, we shall not go far away from the Earth.” (Interfax-Moscow)

PM Erdogan’s Help to the Patriarchate of Constantinople

The spokesperson for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, Fr. Dositheos Anagnostopulos, disclosed in April that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had saved the future of the patriarchate in 2009 by offering Turkish citizenship to non-Turkish archbishops.

In an interview with The Star, Anagnostopulos said there were 12 archbishops in the patriarchate’s synod at the time, most of them very old. “But in order to become a member of this board, one has to be a Turkish citizen. If the patriarch dies one day, it seemed unlikely that a new patriarch would be elected from the board [due to the members’ age]. This danger has now passed. The prime minister attended a luncheon in Bykada in August 2009 … and said the problem will be overcome if archbishops applied to become Turkish citizens. He promised applicants would be granted citizenship.”

“After the prime minister’s call, 27 archbishops abroad submitted applications to become Turkish citizens. So far thirteen of them have been granted citizenship.”

Anagnostopulos defined the prime minister’s remarks as the “most positive moment in his lifetime.” (


European Churches Debate Response to Anti-Christian Violence

When Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s sole Christian cabinet minister, was assassinated in March, it was only the latest act against Christians to provoke outrage worldwide. A New Year’s Day bomb blast killed 23 Coptic Christians in the Egyptian port of Alexandria. Now, church leaders in Europe are debating the best course of action to be urged on governments to counter the wave of violence.

“We’re living in globalized times, which have made many groups feel insecure about their own identity, an identity which has then become radicalized and closed rather than open to others,” said Rudiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches.

“In Europe, where religion has often been seen as a problem, public opinion hasn’t been particularly concerned about the fate of religious communities. This seems to be changing now, as false images of religion give way to a greater awareness of its contribution to the common good.”

In February, European Union foreign ministers condemned the use of terrorism “against Christians and their places of worship, Muslim pilgrims and other religious communities,” and reiterated the EU’s commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom.

However, while welcoming the pledge, some church leaders are urging the EU’s 27 member-states to go further. In March, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to European institutions, Antoni Ilyin, called for a special EU center to monitor Christian rights in the Middle East and North Africa.

Last year, a Brussels-based commission representing the EU’s Roman Catholic bishops, COMECE, submitted 11 policy recommendations, including the creation of a “religion unit” in the EU’s External Action Service and measures to link EU aid agreements to protection of religious rights.

“It isn’t up to churches to suggest practical action – what we’re calling for is a clear warning about the consequences of continued persecution,” explained Johanna Touzel, French spokesperson for COMECE, which has a Dutch president and bishops from Ireland and Poland as vice-presidents.

“Officials have been reluctant to mention Christians, fearing this risked ‘a clash of civilizations’ by identifying Europe with Christianity. But respect for fundamental rights is already a condition for EU aid, so concrete steps should be taken to uphold this. Now that revolutionary changes are occurring in the Arab world, Western governments have a responsibility to set some ground rules,” she said.

The Dutch-based Open Doors International reports that persecution of Christians is harshest in communist-ruled North Korea, but also listed Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and Mauritania as among worst offenders.

The Vatican’s Agenzia Fides news agency recorded 149 separate attacks on Christians during 2010 by Hindu militants in India, while human rights campaigners in nearby Indonesia reported 46 attacks by Muslim extremists.

The Vatican’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, notes an “increased proliferation of episodes of discrimination and acts of violence.” He cites evidence that 75 percent of those “killed because of religious hatred” were Christian.

“The state must enforce its laws that fight against religious discrimination vigorously, and without selectivity,” Tomasi told the UN Human Rights Council in March. (Jonathan Luxmoore/ENI)

❖ IN COMMUNION / Pascha/ Spring 2011/ Issue 60

Bishop Demetrios Attends Signing of Death Penalty Abolition Bill in Illinois

by Maria A. Karamitsos


Posted on 11 March 2011
On March 9, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to end the death penalty in Illinois. In attendance was Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, and spiritual advisor to the last prisoner executed in the state. Bishop Demetrios praised the decision of the Governor to sign the bill and commute the remaining sentences of 15 death-row inmates as a victory for all Illinois citizens and a major moral accomplishment.

“This is not only a political and legal achievement, but a spiritual triumph of the conscience for all those opposed to capital punishment,” His Grace said in a statement.

Bishop Demetrios is a staunch advocate for abolition of the death penalty, and has worked tirelessly in this effort. He was spiritual advisor to Andrew Kokaraleis, the last prisoner executed in1999. Following Kokaraleis’ execution, Bishop Demetrios became more active in the movement to end the death penalty. He has served as President of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and is still a member.

Following Kokaraleis’ execution, and well-publicized exonerations of death-row prisoners, Governor Ryan announced a moratorium on the death penalty and commuted many sentences. The moratorium continued under Gov. Blagojevich. Bishop Demetrios has remained active in the effort to make the moratorium permanent. Now that effort moves forward.
The bishop praised Gov. Quinn. “On behalf of the leader of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, Metropolitan Iakovos, and all our faithful, we may give thanks for this major change in public policy.Yet the struggle for justice and the sanctity of all life is not over. Illinois is just one of 16 states that have abolished the death penalty, so there is much work yet to be done in our nation and, indeed, around the world.”  He noted that the Metropolis of Chicago spans six Midwestern states, and he pledged to continue working for abolition, specifically in Indiana and Missouri, “so that along with Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, every state where we have parishes will be death-penalty free.”