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In Communion-News- Fall 2010 nr 58

Turkey: monastery celebrates  first Liturgy in 88 years

On the 15th of August, Orthodox faithful flocked to the cliffside setting of Sumela monastery in northeast Turkey after the government permitted the Liturgy to be celebrated there for the first time in nearly nine decades. In May authorities authorized the Liturgy at the monastery once a year.

“After 88 years, the tears of the Virgin Mary have stopped flowing,” Patriarch Bartholomew said during the service.

The monastery was founded in 386 AD during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I, after the discovery of a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary in a mountain cave.

Around 500 people of local descent were allowed into the fourth-century monastery while around 2,000 people from Istanbul, Greece, Russia and Georgia outside watched the Liturgy on a giant television screen.

The site is of special importance to Pontian Greeks, many of whose ancestors fled the region around the Black Sea during fighting after World War I and were dispersed in Greece and Russia. When Turkey fought Greece between 1920-22, many Pontian Greeks were massacred or died while going into forced exodus. Greece estimates 350,000 people died, describing the event as “genocide,” a term rejected by Turkey.

“For us the Virgin of Sumela is more important than our own mother,” said Charalambos Zigas, a 51-year-old mechanic from Greece. “You have to be a Pontian Greek to understand the importance of this Liturgy.” He said that when his grandfather fled the region for exile in Russia in 1922, both his wife and son were eaten by bears.

Many sought out houses that had belonged to their ancestors. “Everyone here is like me, they came to see the region, find a house. We’ve even met two people from here who say they’re Pontian and we spoke Pontian Greek,” said Greek veterinarian Maria Piativou, 42.

Bartholomew used the event to deliver a fraternal message to other faiths, including Islam. “We would also like to take this opportunity to celebrate the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan,” he said. “We wish for you to live this meaningful month with peace, patience and prayer.”

“The culture of living together,” he said, “is a heritage our civilization left for us. Let’s make that heritage live on, and let us teach all, so that we do not suffer anymore, and families do not perish.”

Patriarch Kirill blesses hidden Kremlin icon

An icon of Christ over one of the main gates in Moscow’s Kremlin Wall, rediscovered after being plastered over following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, was blessed August 28 by Patriarch Kirill in a ceremony attended by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev. The unveiling coincided with the Feast of the Dormition.

“The history of these icons is a symbol of what happened with our people in the 20th century,” said Kirill. “It was claimed that true goals and values and genuine shrines were destroyed, and that faith had disappeared from the lives of our people.”

The icon is located over the Kremlin’s Spasskaya, or Savior, tower, near St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square. Experts say it dates to the middle or second half of the 17th century.

Historical justice and civic and spiritual solidarity are being restored, said the Patriarch. “What is happening today bears witness to the fact that the combining of forces of the State, Church and institutions of civil society for the sake of achieving mutual and important goals gives us a wonderful example of solidarity.”

Another icon, that of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, on the nearby Nikolskaya tower at the opposite end of Red Square Kremlin tower, is also being restored. It was damaged by bullets and shrapnel during battles in October 1917, but the saint’s face was unharmed.

Both icons were covered up by restorers who sought to save them from the Bolsheviks, who wanted to destroy them during their revolution against tsarist rule. [Sophia Kishkovsky-ENI]

Concessions urged for Christians in Turkey

In September the president of Germany’s Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, called on Muslims to do more to support religious freedom for Christians around the world, especially in Turkey, where most German Muslims originate.

“We hope reflection on the faith will lead to the overcoming of tensions dividing Christians and Muslims,” he said. “But we should also remember the difficult situation facing Christians in the Middle East. The Catholic Church in Germany has publicly supported justified Muslim needs, and we count on Christians in Turkey soon being able to enjoy full religious freedom too.”

At the same time, another German Catholic church leader welcomed a recent call by the Muslim head of Turkey’s official religious council for Christians to be allowed to repossess a historic church at St. Paul’s birthplace of Tarsus. “If this church were given back, it would be a signal for the whole world and German society in particular,” said Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne. “Members of Turkey’s government have made many promises to return it which have aroused hopes that turned out to be illusory. But our church hierarchy has never abandoned the ancient Christian principle of hoping against hope.”

Hagia Sofia a place both of Muslim & Christian worship?

A Turkish government adviser has suggested that both Christians and Muslims should be allowed to worship again in Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia basilica, currently a museum.

“Hagia Sofia was built as a place of worship. It served people this way as a church and mosque for more than a thousand years,” said Mehmet Akif Aydin, an expert with the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which monitors religious sites in Turkey. “As a Muslim, I’d like it to become a mosque. But if Hagia Sofia were opened to Muslim worshipers on weekdays, it should be opened to Christians on Sundays. It disturbs me that it’s become just a museum and tourist destination.”

Aydin was commenting on calls for the sixth-century landmark to be reopened for religious events, after warnings from the European Commission that Turkey must offer better protection of religious rights as a precondition for joining the European Union by 2015. The basilica’s use by both faiths, he  said,  would strengthen Christian-Muslim cooperation in Turkey, which has witnessed several attacks on Christian clergy by Islamic militants, including the June murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of Turkey’s Catholic Bishops Conference.

Originally commissioned by Emperor Constantine, Hagia Sophia was rebuilt between 532 and 537. It became a mosque after the city’s capture by Ottoman Turks in 1453 and was turned into a museum in 1934.

Russia’s prisons seek religious help

Russia’s prisons, struggling with a growing crime rate, overcrowding and shortfalls in funding, are turning to religion to bring moral guidance to inmates. The move marks a dramatic change from the Soviet system, in which clergy and believers were often imprisoned for their faith.

“We have signed agreements with all of the leading confessions of our country,” said Aleksandr Reimer, the director of Russia’s Federal Correctional Service.

Although the Russian Orthodox Church has become increasingly close to the State in recent years, Reimer said that imposing Russia’s largest religion on inmates was not the goal. “Right now we’re preparing an agreement with Buddhists,” Reimer said in an interview. “We’re providing everyone with access. We’re building churches, mosques and synagogues.”

Reimer said that the correctional service had started a pilot project with the Russian Orthodox Church in four regions of Russia to introduce prison chaplains. He said practical issues needed to be resolved, such as whether priests would be on staff and paid by the prisons or by the Church. For now, while there are churches in prisons and prison camps across Russia, priests visit with varying regularity, said Reimer.

“It all depends on how specific priests fulfil their responsibilities,” he said. “Neither representatives of confessions, nor we today, have the goal of forcing everyone to go to church. Why should we engage in such sacrilege? If an inmate has come to faith, we think that it could stop him from committing a crime in the future.”

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has for its part created a department on prison ministry. The Moscow Patriarchate has already worked extensively with prisons in recent years. Last year the patriarchate’s external relations department held a three-day seminar for clergy and church social workers who provide pastoral care for HIV-infected prisoners.

At Prison Colony No. 7 near Veliky Novgorod, a historic city famous for its churches, a small wooden church built by inmates stands in the center of the prison grounds.

Vladimir Lazarenko, a man in his 50s, told a visiting reporter that he had returned to God in prison. “I was a believer from childhood, but I got lost and got in trouble,” said Lazarenko. “Here I remembered about God.” [Sophia Kishkovsky-ENI]

Bartholomew marks ‘Day for Creation’

The financial and economic crisis experienced by many societies could bring about a powerful change to “sustainable environmental development,” said Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on September 1, a day the patriarchate annually celebrates as the Day for Creation. It is the first day of the Orthodox church calendar.

“It is important to note that the current grievous financial crisis may spark the much-reported and absolutely essential shift to environmentally viable development … and not unbridled financial gain.”

“If ecosystems deteriorate and disappear,” he noted, “natural resources are depleted, and landscapes suffer destruction, and climate change produces unpredictable weather conditions, on what basis will the financial future of these countries and the planet as a whole depend?”

Report challenges U.S. reading of Iraq situation

The future of Iraq is more complex and uncertain than the current U.S. narrative claims, according to a report published in September by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq.

The report – Iraq after the Occupation – Iraqis speak about the state of their country as the U.S. military withdraws – quotes Iraqis who express doubt on the effects of the U.S. military “surge,” the trustworthiness of the Iraqi military, and the reliability of public figures and institutions. “Iraqis in this report challenge the simplistic success story that the U.S. is telling about Iraq,” says Marius van Hoogstraten of the CPT.

The report is based on extensive interviews with Iraqi citizens in various parts of the country. It recommends that the U.S. think creatively about ways to support Iraqi society before the U.S. military withdraws entirely at the end of 2011.

The U.S. recently announced an “end of combat missions” in preparation for complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.

The report notes that no consensus exists among Iraqis on the future of their country, with some interviewees expecting the security situation to get much worse, while others are more optimistic. However, none expect Iraq to be independent after a complete U.S. withdrawal. “I do not think the American army came all this way, spent all this money to leave [Iraq] a prey to others,” said one Baghdad resident.

Although the report confirms an improved security situation over the last few years, it questions the contribution of the “surge.” About half of those interviewed pointed instead to the U.S. withdrawal from Iraqi cities in 2009 as the major contributor to the improved security situation.

While many respondents see the increased skill and capacity of the Iraqi security forces as a positive factor, a majority express concerns about their trustworthiness and independence. Another Baghdad resident spoke of the Iraqi security forces’ lack of “educational aspects in the field of human rights and loyalty to the homeland.”

Respondents also express serious concerns about the credibility of Iraqi politicians, the “abominable state of public services” and the economy, and corruption. “The obscene opulence of some is excessive,” says one interviewee, “while the rate of wretched poverty in Iraq continues to pose a humanitarian problem.”

Tensions among ethnic and religious groups continue to threaten the country’s stability. Many respondents also fear interference by neighboring states, particularly Iran.

In its conclusion, CPT Iraq stipulates that in the waning days of U.S. military presence in Iraq, the U.S. should focus on the Iraqi economy, reconciliation efforts, and a culture of accountability in the Iraqi security forces. CPT stresses that the U.S. must also respect Iraqi democratic sovereignty. “There’s a lot that needs to be done that only Iraqis can do,” notes Van Hoogstraten.

The full report is on the CPT web site: www.cpt.org/files/

Nuclear weapons about values says Hiroshima survivor

A Japanese pastor who became a Christian after surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima says his decades-long pursuit of peace has involved a resistance to “nuclear weapons in the human mind.”

In a recently-published autobiography, the 82-year-old pastor, the Rev. Shouzo Munetou of the United Church of Christ in Japan, writes that nuclear weapons are “a symbol of the devil that was produced by egoism, greed, pride, conceit, enmity, hatred.”

Munetou contracted leukemia after being affected by radiation from the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 in the closing days of the Second World War. This led to his questioning why he had survived and what life meant to him. “The problem of nuclear weapons is not only a matter of weapons, science and technology, but also a matter of human existence, values, way of life, and thoughts that do not fear God,” he explains. He says the atomic bombing was “a result of a war of aggression and colonial rule in Asia by Japanese militarism, which cannot be talked about without a deep repentance as one who supported and cooperated with causing the war of aggression.”

Munetou studied in Tokyo and San Francisco, where he wrote his master’s theses on the apostle Paul’s understanding of human sin, and on the relationship between Church and State in the writings of Karl Barth.

“The beginning of my steps as a pastor for 50 years has been simply these two master’s theses, that is, the issue of human sin and forgiveness and what the social mission of one who has been forgiven is,” he writes.

Munetou has been actively involved in peace movements and Christian actions to promote world peace, and has written several books on peace and Christianity.

Christianity as a whole, he said, “has an obligation and a responsibility to continue to say ‘No!’ without any ‘Yes’ to nuclear weapons that are against humanity and the absolute evil that plunges humanity into ruin and is incompatible with Christian faith.”

At least 150,000 people died as a result of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

IN COMMUNION / FEAST OF ST. ANASTASIA OF ROME / FALL 2010/  issue 58

News Summer 2010

USA: First Episcopal Assembly Convened

The first Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in North America was convened on May 26 in New York City by Archbishop Demetrios, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in North America. The Assembly, attended by most hierarchs of local Orthodox dioceses in North America, resulted from decisions made by the Fourth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference at its meeting in Switzerland in June 2009.

The main goal of the Assembly, said Demetrios, is to witness to Orthodox unity in a “new world” and to secure a more effective organization of mission, witness and cooperation of the local Orthodox Churches.

Demetrios chaired the gathering, with Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Justinian of the Moscow Patriarchate as co-chairs. Bishop Basil of Wichita, of the Antiochian Archdiocese, was elected secretary.

“We strive for unity because the Lord asked of us to be one, but diversity and differentiation are not to be feared. They are gifts that are to be used for the glory of God,” said Demetrios, adding that “our unity cannot exist to destroy such differentiation; rather, our unity is meant to flourish as a result of our natural diversity, be it linguistic, cultural or ethnic. Is this not exactly the condition of our universal Orthodoxy today?”

“Of course,” he reminded his fellow bishops, “problems related to unity, or to differentiation, or to both, always existed in the Church, starting already in the time of the Apostles, as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles testifies.”

Demetrios explained that the nature of the assembly is temporary, a preparatory step intended to facilitate the creation of a council that will decide “the final form of the Church in a particular country.” At the end of the process, the Assembly anticipates becoming a Synod of Bishops enjoying autocephaly.

The Assembly took place behind closed doors, with the bishops in attendance reportedly having committed themselves not to speak to the media regarding the details of their discussions.

The Assembly decided that such projects as International Orthodox Christian Charities will now operate under the auspices of the Episcopal Assembly. Committees of bishops are being set up to address legal, pastoral and canonical issues.
It is likely that the Assembly will be comprised only of the parishes in the US, with Mexican parishes becoming part of a Latin American grouping and Canadian parishes constituting a third region.

One of the complications in arranging the meeting concerned Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America. Patriarch Bartholomew had asked Archbishop Demetrios not to invite him because OCA’s autocephaly is not recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the end a compromise was worked out – Jonah attended as an individual bishop rather than as the head of the OCA. Jonah accepted the compromise “with all humility.”

Tentative dates for the next meeting of the Assembly: May 25-27, 2011.
Similar Assemblies are to be convened around the world in regions where there is no single Orthodox jurisdictional presence. Participation in these meetings will be restricted to active canonical bishops who reside in the designated region. At each Assembly, the chairman will be the senior bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Meeting in Moscow:
Kirill and Bartholomew stress unity

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople celebrated Pentecost in Moscow, giving sermons that stressed the importance of pan-Orthodox unity. The Pentecost Liturgy took place at the ancient Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery north of Moscow.

In his sermon and greeting to Bartholomew at the monastery, Kirill spoke of the close ties between the early Russian church and Byzantium, and thanked God for the opportunity to celebrate the service with Bartholomew.

At the Savior Cathedral in Moscow the following day, 24 May, they jointly celebrated the memory of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Greek-born brothers who, in the ninth century, created the Cyrillic alphabet and preached to Slavic peoples. Their feast day is now marked in Russia as a celebration of Slavic and Orthodox unity.

In stressing unity, Kirill and Bartholomew both alluded to the travails Russia endured in the 20th century, also noting the challenges posed by the secular world.

“In spite of the decades in which atheist ideology dominated, the majority of the people of the countries of the Russian world regard themselves as believers, as children of the Russian Orthodox Church,” said Kirill, referring to the faithful in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, countries of the former Soviet Union that are still predominantly Orthodox. “This is the triumph of Orthodoxy in our day. The heritage of Cyril and Methodius unites the Slavic peoples. It is also a bridge between the Slavic and Greek worlds. This celebration is especially complete from your presence among us, Your Holiness, primate of the Holy Church of Constantinople, the living bearer of the thousand-year-old Byzantine heritage. In communing with you, we perceive that we are all members of one, unbroken Church Tradition.”

After the service at the Savior Cathedral, Kirill and Bartholomew led a procession to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square where they addressed young people. Referring to Russian believers and decades of atheism, Bartholomew said, “You not only preserved but strengthened your amazing culture, at the heart of which is the Christian faith. You fought, endured, and became worthy of the calling you received from Constantinople.”

Speaking at St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg on the last day of Bartholomew’s eight-day visit, Kirill reported that “with each meeting we are becoming closer to one another…. The holiness and fullness of Orthodoxy overcomes all division.”
Kirill had visited Bartholomew in Istanbul in July. There the two patriarchs spoke of the need to cast differences aside and present a united Orthodox front against secular evils.

The visit by Bartholomew to Moscow comes after a mission to the Vatican by Metropolitan Hilarion, chairperson of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations. [Sophia Kishkovsky/ENI]

Environmental Day message
from Patriarch Bartholomew

In a June letter written for World Environmental Day, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said that “the fundamental cause of the abuse and destruction of the world’s natural resources is greed and the constant tendency toward unrestrained wealth by citizens in so-called ‘developed’ nations.”

He stressed the words of St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” “As St. Basil the Great instructs us,” the Patriarch added, “everything beyond this borders on forbidden ostentation.”
Bartholomew’s brief letter ended with a classic story “from which everyone can reasonably deduce how uneducated yet faithful and respectful people perceived the natural environment and how it should be retained pure and prosperous.

“In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers on the Sinai, it is said about a monk known as the righteous George, that eight hungry Saracens once approached him for food, but he had nothing whatsoever to offer them because he survived solely on raw, wild capers, whose bitterness could kill even a camel. However, upon seeing them dying of extreme hunger, he said to one of them: ‘Take your bow and cross this mountain; there, you will find a herd of wild goats. Shoot one of them, whichever one you desire, but do not try to shoot another.’ The Saracen departed and, as the old man advised, shot and slaughtered one of the animals. But when he tried to shoot another, his bow immediately snapped. So he returned with the meat and related the story to his friends.”

Russian Orthodox and new WCC
leader discuss controversial issues

It is outside the scope of the World Council of Churches to put forward a view on the issue of same-sex marriage and female clergy, the WCC general secretary told journalists in Moscow after meetings with Patriarch Kirill and other leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Speaking at a press conference on 30 June, the new WCC general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Russian Orthodox leader responsible for ecumenical dialogue, dealt with challenges facing the WCC and inter-Christian dialogue in general.

Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, has made contacts with Orthodox churches a priority since he assumed his position in January.
Responding to a journalist’s question about same-sex marriage and female clergy, Tveit said that the WCC cannot express a position until there is a consensus within the organization. “The WCC has 350 churches,” he said, “and they hold different positions on such issues. We work on establishing consensus. That means that the Council doesn’t have an opinion on issues that have not reached the level of consensus.”

Tveit noted that the WCC works to foster conversations and open space for discussing issues about which member churches have different viewpoints. “I don’t foresee that the World Council of Churches will have one point of view on either of these issues in the near future,” he stated.

Tveit praised the Russian Orthodox Church for fostering interfaith dialogue in Russia and thanked the Moscow Patriarchate for organizing meetings for him with government officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Denisov and Konstantin Kosachev, chairperson of the Committee on International Affairs of the State Duma, Russia’s lower legislative chamber.
Regarding his meeting with Tveit two days earlier, 28 June, Patriarch Kirill spoke of the WCC’s potential in defending Christianity in the world and in dialogue with other civilizations. “We live in a world in which relations between different civilizations are becoming more and more significant,” said Kirill. “In these conditions it is important for all Christians to ensure the preservation of Christian civilization and to cooperate in building good relations with communities of other civilizations. The WCC can help in achieving these two goals by defending the Christian system of values and developing the dialogue of Christians with other religions and with non-religious world views.”

Violence against Copts
on the rise in Egypt

In late April, in the Egyptian coastal city of Marsa Matrouh, some 3,000 angry Muslims gathered after Friday prayers during which the mosque’s imam had exhorted them to cleanse the city of its “infidel” Christians. The enraged mob went on a rampage – 18 homes, 23 shops and 16 cars were destroyed. For ten hours, 400 Copts barricaded themselves in their church until the frenzy died out.

This was only the latest of more than a dozen such attacks during the past year, including in the village of Kafr El-Barbary on June 26 last year, the town of Farshout on November 21, and the village of Shousha on November 23. Then came Naga Hamadi, where passengers in a passing car fired at Christians leaving a Coptic Christmas service on January 6. Seven were killed and 26 were seriously wounded.

Although the Copts have long been the target of sporadic attacks, the violence of the last few years is more like a purge, as waves of mob assaults have forced hundreds, sometimes thousands of Christian citizens to flee their homes. In each incident the police, despite frantic appeals, invariably arrive after the violence is over. Later the injured are coerced by the special security police forces into accepting “reconciliation” with their attackers, in order to avoid the prosecution of the guilty. No Muslim to date has been convicted for any of these crimes.

Egypt’s Christian Copts, about 12 percent of the population, have long been subject to customary and official discrimination. No church, for example, can be built or even repaired without a presidential decree. Copts are excluded from the intelligence and security services because they are deemed a security risk.

This discrimination springs from a belief deeply grounded in the social psyche of the ruling elite and large sectors of the Muslim community that it is unreasonable in an Islamic society to expect strict equality between Muslims and the infidels.
“The dhimmi status of the Copts,” said Moheb Zaki, former managing director of the Ibn Khaldun Center, an organization that supports democracy and civil rights in Egypt and the Middle East, “will not be changed by persuasion. It will only change by persistent domestic struggle supported by vigorous international pressure. The Copts do not demand the tolerance of Muslims but equal rights with them.”

Moscow Patriarch appeals
for Orthodox unity in Ukraine

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, on an official visit to Ukraine, has appealed to Orthodox believers there who have broken with the Moscow Patriarchate to return to its jurisdiction.

“There are no barriers preventing the return to ecclesial communion,” declared a statement issued after a 26 July meeting in Kiev of the Russian Orthodox Church’s bishops’ synod, chaired by Kirill.

The Orthodox church in Ukraine divided after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are now several different Orthodox churches in Ukraine, including one that comes under the Moscow Patriarchate and another, the Kiev Patriarchate, that is not recognized by any of the world’s canonical Orthodox churches. The Moscow-linked church accounts for a significant part of the membership of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ukraine, once the center of a Slavic state, Kievan Rus, is seen as the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy because of the Baptism of Rus that occurred in Kiev in 988 following the conversion of Prince Vladimir.
At a 28 July service in Kiev commemorating the Baptism of Rus, Kirill spoke of the spiritual ties that bind Russia and Ukraine, separate countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“There were sinners, there were crimes, there were weaknesses in the lives of the people, but we carried through a thousand years, and continue to carry the great ideal of Holy Rus,” he said in his sermon at the Kiev Monastery of the Caves.
Responding to journalists’ questions, Kirill denied that the Moscow Patriarchate had plans to take away the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The Kiev Patriarchate is led by Filaret Denisenko, a former metropolitan in the Moscow Patriarchate during the Soviet era. He reacted angrily to the appeal for reunification, saying that there is no schism, only jurisdictional division. [Sophia Kishkovsky/ ENI]

Christian peace gathering
in the American heartland

The closing days of July found nearly two hundred Christians of every stripe gathered on the campus of a Mennonite seminary in the American heartland. Their coming together was both the latest event in a centuries-long witness to the nonviolent way of Christ, and a preliminary to an event slated for next May, an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica, to be the culmination of the Decade to Overcome Violence program of the World Council of Churches. The conference in Indiana, called Peace among the Peoples, was intended to take the pulse of the faith-based peacemaking community in North America in preparation for that 2011 gathering.

The Mennonites were best represented, but the other “historic peace churches” – Quakers and the Church of the Brethren – were also an active presence. Added to this core were delegates from the full spectrum of American Christianity, from Pentecostals to Presbyterians, Catholics to Unitarian-Universalists, and Baptists to Orthodox.

Speakers presented new ways of looking at old issues – topics such as conscientious objection in an era of terrorism and upholding family values within new definitions of “family.” They brought new passion to perennial concerns, such as Christian understandings of war or the impact of empire on faith. Conferees wrestled with the theological issues (atonement and costly grace), ecclesiological questions (parish priorities vs. nationalism and globalization), and practical matters (how to reach out to youth, ethnic minorities and those of other faith traditions).

Voices from the Eastern Church took the form of three talks by Orthodox Christians: “An Orthodox Approach to War” by Fr. Philip LeMasters of McMurray University,”The Eucharist and Peacemaking” by Alexander Patico of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and  “A Reflection on War,” a sermon by Fr. Bogdan Bucur, a Romanian now at Duquesne University.
Special initiatives that were carried forward during the conference included:

• Truth Commission on Conscience in War – giving respect to those who have chosen, on the basis of conscience, to withdraw from the current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. [see: www.truthcommission.org]
• North American Ecumenical Peace Center – envisioned as “a visible expression of a common call by God to advance the non-violent way of Jesus Christ by providing resources, facilitating networking, furthering communication and being a catalyst for collaboration among existing and future communities dedicated to peace and witness.”
• Global Peace Network – a way to lace together the work being done around the world to promote peace among all of God’s children, using today’s technology in the service of a timeless and universal path of reconciliation.
• Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace – several drafts of this seven-page document have been done; it will be finalized as a part of next year’s meeting in Jamaica. To accompany it, the writing committee is compiling a 100-page supporting document, which goes into greater detail about specific actions that have been or might be taken, and theological grounding for peace-work. (A text on this theme was prepared at an Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Consultation held in Leros, Greece in September 2009. Fr. Philip LeMasters attended on behalf of OPF.)

– Alexander Patico

❖ In Communion / Summer 2010 / issue 57

News (Pascha 2010)

Black priest in a white town

When he moved back home to Ash Grove, Missouri, in 1998, Father Moses Berry – an African-American Orthodox priest – wanted to settle down to small-town life with his wife and two children. He did not intend to become a one-man racial reconciliation committee. But some residents of this nearly all-white, rural town of 1,400 people say that he has done just that. He has not only founded a parish but also a black history museum. He has tried to remind people of a part of the region’s often-forgotten past, and to open up hearts and minds along the way.

“He brings peace to people. I’ve seen it,” said Gail Emrie, a local history buff who helped get the Berry family’s 135-year-old cemetery – one of the region’s few black cemeteries not on a plantation – listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “It is reconciliation, and it is his mission, reconciliation of our history between the races.” She is grateful for the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum that Father Moses opened in 2002. “Every little town down here could use this.”
“The cool thing about him is that anybody who has trepidation about the subject, he’s instantly disarming, so he gets people to open up a lot about it,” says neighbor Dakota Russell. “There’s an assumption when it’s a black person talking about racial issues that it’s going to come down to you versus us. But as it says on his museum’s web site, it’s a ‘shared heritage’.”
Father Moses, 59, has spent much of his life on a spiritual quest that began in San Francisco in the late 1960s. He was ordained in 1988 by an Orthodox church that he now regards as uncanonical. In 2000 he became a priest of the Orthodox Church in America.

He returned to the family home in 1998 after inheriting a 40-acre farm. At the time, he had no plan of starting an Orthodox church in a town, still less of opening a museum. “We thought my wife would teach while I studied to become an emergency medical technician.”

After he told a few friends that he wanted to have a prayer service in a shed at the cemetery, and a dozen people showed up, he decided to start the Theotokos “Unexpected Joy” Orthodox Church. It has grown into a congregation with about 50 members that holds services in a new cypress building on three acres of his farm.

The historical work also came unexpectedly, he said, when he started showing the memorabilia his family had collected over the years, and people responded positively.

He sees his church and his historical work as inextricably linked. “It’s all bound up in my faith,” he said. “That is, that we are all children of God and that we do have a shared heritage and not just a national heritage.”

The work has not been easy. When he first broached the idea of the museum, some relatives and friends said it might be a dangerous undertaking. Indeed, some locals were not happy, said Larry Cox, the town barber, who is white. “People would say, ‘Hey, that’s in the past. Why does he have to talk about it? We can’t do nothing about it’.”

Father Moses’ original idea was to put the museum inside the town’s former black school. He acquired the unused building and had it dismantled into sections, but as yet he hasn’t been able to raise the $15,000 needed to reconstruct it on his land. The pieces now sit in a field by his home with the museum housed in a storefront downtown.

Father Moses personally escorts visitors through the museum, showing his family’s photos on the walls and explaining the history behind each, including his account of how his great-grandmother Marie Boone, of mixed race, was born a slave.
There are quilts Marie Boone made to help those traveling north on the Underground Railroad and a slave neck iron that Father Moses’ great-grandfather kept after he was freed.

Father Moses always puts the eight-pound iron around his own neck first before inviting to visitors to try it on.
“I don’t want other people to run this museum because it’s too delicate, this issue of slavery,” he said. “I’ve tried having other people run this, but they get stuck on, ‘Oh, this is a horrible thing the white man did,’ which causes resentment. I want to explain it and bring them from suffering to freedom.” [Sean D. Hamill / NY Times]

Moscow fans exchange Paschal greeting at sports match

On Easter, fans exchanged Paschal greetings with each other at a Sunday evening soccer match at Moscow’s Lokomotiv Stadium.

At the beginning of the second half of the match thousands of fans of Dynamo team started chanting “Christ is Risen!” Thousands of fans of Lokomotiv team, on the opposite side of the stadium, responded by chanting “Truly He is Risen!” The exchange took place several times.

An Interfax correspondent who has attended soccer matches for almost 50 years said it was the first known occurrence of this kind in the history of Russian soccer.

Georgia: Convicts trade prison cells for monastic life

As part of a plan to reduce overcrowding in prison, well-behaved convicts in the Republic of Georgia are being offered the chance to finish their sentences in a monastery. One such prisoner, Tariel Maizeradze, now takes part in daily services, even assisting in the sanctuary. Tariel, 50, was sentenced in 2006 to seven years for offences he had committed while working as a policeman. After four years behind bars and barbed wire, he is now free to roam the monastic grounds – a pine forest on the outskirts of the city – as one of the first candidates in a government-led rehabilitation programme.

“I start every day in prayer,” he told a BBC reporter in March. “Then I feed the chickens and sheep. During the afternoon I usually sit together with the other monks and we discuss our faith.” He also takes part in Bible study, bee-keeping, gardening and playing with the monks’ pet bear.

Father Saba, the abbot, says he is ready to accept anyone prepared to ask for forgiveness, including murderers. “With God’s help, we are ready to welcome criminals who confess their sins and want to become better people.”
Although the scheme is being organized and funded by the Georgian government, the initiative came from the Georgian Orthodox Church. The government sees this project as a better way to rehabilitate some of Georgia’s 22,000 prisoners. Tato Kelbakiani of Georgia’s penitentiary department said that jails need reform.

Serbian Church Elects New Patriarch

The bells at Belgrade’s Cathedral Church rang out in January to announce the election of Bishop Irinej of Nis as new patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The 79-year-old bishop promised he would carry the “burden and all the problems of my awesome and difficult duty together with my fellow bishops.”
He succeeds Patriarch Pavle, who died in November at the age of 95. Pavle had headed the church for almost 20 years, a period that included the ethnic wars of the 1990s, which accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Irinej will have to face long-lasting issues such as relations with the Vatican and churches in Macedonia and Montenegro that are seeking independence. Irinej has said he will not oppose a visit to Serbia by Pope Benedict, a welcome not all bishops support.

Bartholomew responds to ‘ecumenical heresy’ charge

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued an encyclical in February in which he vigorously stressed the need for increased dialogue between churches, countering accusations that ecumenism is heresy.
“Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world,” said Bartholomew. “The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue.”

The Church does not protect itself from heresy, Bartholomew said, by refusing to talk to those outside the Church. “If Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the ‘catholic’ and ‘ecumenical’ Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a ‘ghetto” on the margins of history…

“Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. This dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible.”
The aim of dialogue, he said, “is to discuss, in a spirit of love, whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.

“These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in a fanatical way … by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy, as if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church…

“Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue.”

A-bombed statue of the Virgin Mary brought to New York

The remains of a statue of the Virgin Mary that survived the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki 65 years ago will be exhibited in New York in May during a 26-day international conference in New York which will work to curb arms proliferation.

Nagasaki was and remains the national center of the Catholic Church in Japan. Apart from the head, the wooden statue, which once stood in city’s Urakami Cathedral, was destroyed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. The cathedral was reduced to rubble. Hiroshima was the first city to suffer a nuclear bombing. Nagasaki suffered a similar fate three days later.    The statue will first be seen during Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 2 May. The service will form part of a visit to New York by Nagasaki’s Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, himself an A-bomb survivor.
In February, Takami and the Catholic bishop of Hiroshima, Joseph Atsumi Misue, appealed to world leaders for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

Takami was born in Nagasaki in March 1946. His mother was pregnant with him when the city was bombed, causing the death of about 74,000.

The two bishops said that the sin of the atomic bombings in the two cities “should be borne not only by the United States” but “also the other countries, including Japan, which have kept on waging wars throughout their history.”

Russian and Polish churches initiate talks

In March, Poland’s Catholic Church launched its first dialogue with Russian Orthodox leaders in an effort to rebuild relations between the two countries. Archbishop Muszynski said that the Warsaw talks had been arranged at the “personal initiative” of Moscow Patriarch Kirill, and had focused on the “special duties of both churches towards their societies” as majority denominations in their countries.

“Both churches must recognize,” the archbishop said, “that the Polish and Russian nations are divided by very difficult, unresolved issues from the past, as well as by great misunderstandings… I am sure we will nevertheless be able to prepare a joint historic document together which will serve as a common testimony of our churches.” Both churches, he said, shared the experience of Communist-era sufferings and held similar positions on social and moral issues.

“Although these were introductory talks, key problems of mutual interest were discussed, and it was agreed to start work on a joint document about our churches’ contribution to the labor of reconciliation,” representatives of the two Churches said in a joint statement.

Themes for future dialogue had been agreed upon, which would be handled by a bilateral commission of both churches.
Poles have often criticized Russia’s silence regarding mass deportations and executions which followed the occupation of their country by the Soviet Army during the Second World War.

Christians, Muslims issue religious freedom plan

Christian and Muslim leaders from the United States, the Vatican and the Middle East issued a “plan of action” in March to address religious freedom and peace-building after a three-day summit at Washington National Cathedral. Areas of common ground include commitment to the sacredness of human life, overcoming terrorism and violence, and the right to religious convictions. A follow-up conference is planned for next year.

“The worship of God who demands serious moral purpose is at the very core of Christianity and Islam,” the statement reads. “Therefore, religious leaders must cooperatively work with each other and the political leaders in their respective countries in response to these crises.”

At a news conference, leaders of the summit said their three days of discussion included disagreements, but resulted in a statement on shared principals.

“I think this is a demonstration that religion is not something abstract,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Tauran described “proselytism” as imposing, rather than proposing, tenets of a faith.

Ahmad El Tayeb, president of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, said that, while “we don’t have a magic stick to solve all these problems,” the dialogue helped build tolerance among the different faiths even as tensions remain.

The final statement urges religious advocacy “particularly in situations where formal diplomatic talks have stalled.” It also opposes moral relativism, the oppression of women and children, and attacks on sacred places.

“To dismiss or demean another faith tradition, to impose a system of belief on others, or to proselytize them to change their beliefs, is a violation of the sacred dignity of the human person.”

Orthodox Church in Russia increases work with prisoners

The Russian Orthodox Church has introduced a special clergy department to help improve the notoriously oppressive situation in the country’s prisons, Patriarch Kirill announced in March.

About 900,000 prisoners are currently held in the country’s prisons. The new department will work to create parishes in each penitentiary

“It often happens that in prison a man who once lost his footing turns into a recidivist, a person who can’t imagine living in society,” Kirill said.

“The Church must work for each prisoner’s conversion.”

The new department is headed by Bishop Krosnogorsky Irinarkh, previously in charge of the Perm and Solikamsk episcopates.

European campaign to keep Sunday free of work

More than 70 organizations , including churches, trades unions and civil society groups, met in the European Parliament in Brussels in March for the first European Conference on a work-free Sunday. The meeting concluded with an appeal to the heads of governments, due to meet the following day in the European Council, for a Sunday free of work for all European citizens.

Rev. Rüdiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission of the European churches, argued that work-free Sundays also benefitted secular society:

“The protection of a work-free Sunday is of paramount importance for workers’ health, for the reconciliation of work and family life, as well as for the life of civil society as a whole. This common weekly day of rest serves to strengthen social cohesion in our societies, a cohesion severely undermined by the current economic crisis. More than any other day of the week, a free Sunday offers the opportunity to be with family and friends. Common free time is an important precondition for a participatory society, which allows its members to engage in civil activities.”

Earlier in March, Martin Kastler, a European Parliament member for Germany’s co-governing Christian Social Union, launched the EU’s first international citizens’ referendum to restore Sunday as a day for rest and family life. “This is the right time to show that, as European citizens, we want to involve ourselves not only through elections but also in other ways,” said Kastler. “Europe should be the most child-friendly region in the world, so people from different political and social backgrounds should rally behind the protection of Sunday.”

In Germany, a public campaign has been launched which has as its theme, “Mum and Dad belong to us on Sunday.” This campaign, Kastler said, “should build up huge public pressure. In this way, no one will be able to ignore us. The work-free Sunday is part of our European culture. We need time for our families and relationships, for civil society and religion. A life full of working days is unlikely to be fulfilling.”

Calls for the preservation of work-free Sundays have increased in the 27 countries of the European Union, where many shops and businesses now routinely require staff to turn up on weekends without extra pay.
A Europe-wide campaign, “Mum and Dad belong to us on Sunday,” has been launched.

‘Banker to poor’ urges new financial structures

At a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, held in April, Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for championing microcredit loans to the poor, called for a the re-invention of global financial systems to reduce poverty and protect the underprivileged. A new system, he said, could allow those excluded from mainstream banking to access credit that would enable them to live in dignity.

“We want to make sure our fellow human beings can stand on their feet with pride and dignity no matter where they live,” Yunus said at the opening of the four-day Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit. 1500 delegates from 75 countries, including representatives of Christian-based microcredit organizations, such as the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund, attended the meeting.

Yunus said that microfinance is providing lessons in how the lives of the poor could be changed. If lending to the poor was brought to the level of other financial products, he said, more people would escape poverty. “It is the time we made possible what has been thought of as impossible,” he said.

Yunus began his microcredit initiative 30 years ago with a $27 loan to a group of women in Chittagong. Since then, the movement has grown widely and delivered millions of small loans to poor people with no access to mainstream banking services.

African microfinance organizations, some church-based, said they hoped to learn from the success and growth of similar institutions in Asia, where more than 150-million people have benefitted from microfinance.

Anger Harms the Heart

The saying that chronic anger is like an acid that does more harm to the bottle that contains it than to that which it is poured upon turns out not only to be spiritually but also medically true.

Frequent anger might raise the risk of heart disease significantly, reports Dr. Laura Kubzansky, associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She led a study of the role of stress on cardiovascular disease.

Negative, irritable, raging and intimidating personality types worry heart researchers and doctors alike. “We’re talking about people who seem to experience high levels of anger very frequently,” says Kubzansky.

However, expressing anger in “reasonable” ways can be healthy. “Being able to tell people that you’re angry can be extremely functional,” she says. But people frequently in a state of rage or harboring suppressed rage are at greater risk of heart disease.

“You get high cortisol and high adrenaline levels and that is the cardiotoxic effect of anger expression,” says Jerry Kiffer, a heart-brain researcher at the Cleveland Clinic’s Psychological Testing Center. “It causes wear and tear on the heart and cardiovascular system.” Frequent anger may speed up the process of atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up in arteries.

The heart pumps harder, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure surges, and there are higher levels of glucose in the blood and more fat globules in the blood vessels. All this can cause damage to artery walls. “A change of mind can lead to a change of heart,” Kiffer says.
An analysis of findings from 44 studies published last year in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology confirms a link between emotions and heart disease.

“We’re really good at treating heart attacks, but we’re not that good at preventing them,” says Holly Andersen, MD, cardiologist at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“Stress is not as easy to measure as your cholesterol level or your blood pressure, which are clearly objective. But it’s really important that physicians start taking care of the whole person – including their moods and their lives – because it matters.”

Spring Issue IC 56/ PASCHA  2010

News: Winter 2010

Moscow Patriarchate opposes death penalty

In October, the Moscow Patriarchate called on Russia to abstain from executions. “Certainly, it’s better not to practice the death penalty,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin told reporters in Moscow. “If society is strong enough to secure itself from criminality and evil will, it can be merciful to criminals and not deprive them of life. Russia didn’t practice death penalty in its best periods and usually this restraint was directly connected with the Christian outlook.”

“Christian society always aims at maximum mercy,” he said, “to give time for repentance even to desperate sinners. This is reflected in the practice of Christian states.”

Fr. Chaplin expressed the view that “today the country has enough inner strength not to practice the death penalty.” [Interfax]

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Churches seek to improve Russia, Georgia relations

At a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, the Primates of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox Churches, Kirill and Ilya, agreed to make every effort to improve relations between Russia and Georgia and to solve the Abkhazia and South Ossetia problems, it was announced November 6 by Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“It was pointed out that the friendship, mutual understanding, and cordial and fraternal relations between the two Churches,” said Fr. Balashov, “are guarantees that relations between the two peoples and states will in time be fully restored.” At the meeting, he reported, Patriarch Kirill compared the Russian and Georgian Churches to “two locomotives that will lead the relations between the two states from the impasse that they have found themselves in.” He added that “the two patriarchs met as two old friends.” [Interfax]

Debate about Stalin era continues in Russia

The Orthodox Church in Russia has expressed opposition to the reinstatement of verses praising Josef Stalin in a Moscow metro station.

Many Muscovites were startled when the Kurskaya metro station was reopened after a year of painstaking restoration.

Spelled out in gilded letters in the rotunda of the restored station was a line from the Stalin-era national anthem as it was sung when the station opened in 1950: “Stalin reared us on loyalty to the people. He inspired us to labor and to heroism,” reads the verse, words later removed.

Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, chairperson of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, said in October that public areas like metro stations “are not the place for images and quotations related to people who are guilty in the deaths of a large number of innocent people, who exterminated others without charge or trial.”

Both Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s external church relations section, drew attention for outspoken condemnations of the crimes of the Stalin era. [ENI/Sophia Kishkovsky]

Orthodox priest murdered in Moscow

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Fr. Daniel Sysoyev, a priest known for his efforts to rescue young people from cult groups and also for outreach to Muslims, was killed November 19 by a masked gunman at his church, St. Thomas, in Moscow. The 35-year-old priest, father of three, died shortly after being shot in the head and chest by an unidentified assailant. The church’s choir director was also wounded.

“At present the names of the criminals are not known,” said Patriarch Kirill. “I ask all to refrain from any hasty accusations or sharp judgments against particular persons or groups.” He called on clergy and laity “not to forget that we are called by God to preserve peace among ourselves.”

Part of the work of the parish Fr. Daniel led focuses on mental health disorders, drug addiction, alcoholism, computer game addiction, all of which Fr. Daniel saw as consequences of false teachings leading to personality degradation.

Fr. Sysoyev gave lectures critical of Islam, debated Muslim leaders, worked among people from other religions, and had conflicts with pagans and various cult-like groups. He also spoke out against nationalists who followed Stalin rather than Christ. He was a teacher of the Perervensk Seminary and author of several books.

His parish community works to explain the Orthodox faith and to assist on the rehabilitation of victims of false religions and totalitarian sects. Other parish programs include service to the elderly and isolated, at their apartments and in hospitals, care for orphans, and running a free dining hall for those in need. Once a week low-income families in the area are provided with free food packages. [Sophia Kishkovsky]

Bartholomew visits US

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, on November 3, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople described himself both as a man of tradition but also something of a revolutionary.

“By calling Christianity revolutionary and saying it is dedicated to change,” he said, “we are not siding with progressives, just as, by our efforts to conserve, we are not siding with conservatives. The only side that we take is that of our faith, which today may seem to land us in one political camp, tomorrow another, but in truth we are always only in one camp, that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

During the Patriarch’s two-and-a-half week US visit, he’s spoke from the banks of the Mississippi River, where he led a conference on problems affecting the world’s major bodies of water.

He later went to New York, where he received an honorary degree at Fordham University, visited a synagogue, and led a prayer service at the United Nations.

At many stops, Bartholomew stressed the importance of caring for the environment, saying those who “tyrannize the earth” are committing sins.

“It’s very significant to have so prominent an Orthodox figure not talking just to the Church but to the world,” said Fr. Alexander Rentel, assistant professor of canon law and Byzantine studies at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, NY.

Bartholomew: one foot

in the past, one in the future

Because unity is finally a gift of God, “it demands a profound sense of humility and not any prideful insistence.”

With this call to the “never-ending search” for unity of the church, which “is also an ever-unfolding journey,” Patriarch Bartholomew opened the October 7-14 meeting of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, in Kolympari, Crete, Greece.

In an address to the 152 theologians attending the event, Bartholomew highlighted the importance of a double conversion, turning both “toward the past and the future.”

“It is crucial that we learn from the early Fathers and Mothers of the Church,” he said,

“and from those who, in each generation. maintained the integrity and intensity of the Apostolic faith. At the same time, we should turn our attention to the future, to the age to come, toward the heavenly kingdom. [Such an eschatological perspective] offers a way out of the impasse of provincialism and confessionalism … and permits us to discern [such] areas of common ministry and united mission as the preservation of creation and promotion of tolerance and understanding among religions and people in our world.”

The meeting was hosted at the Orthodox Academy of Crete. (Text of Bartholomew’s remarks: www.oikoumene.org/?id=7208 ).

Orthodox bishop explains dialogue with Catholics

In November an Orthodox archbishop defended Orthodox-Catholic dialogue despite opposition by some church members.

“All of us who participate in dialogue with the Catholic Church are giving testimony to Orthodoxy with frankness in this difficult task,” said Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas of Pergamon, a co-president of the Catholic-Orthodox International Commission for Theological Dialogue. The 78-year-old Greek-born theologian represents the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

He comments followed a meeting on the role of the papacy at Paphos in Cyprus at the end of October. During the gathering, Cyprus police arrested demonstrators who tried to disrupt the meeting, saying the participants were trying to subjugate the Orthodox Church to Rome.

Metropolitan Ioannis described dialogue with the Catholic Church as arduous. “The final outcome of our efforts rests in the hands of God, who will find a means to ensure his will ‘that all may be one’ is done,” he said. “All commission members are carrying out their churches’ instructions in conscience, and we are ready to accept any criticism since we are not infallible- but nor are those who very evidently pass judgment on us.”

Papal primacy, he said, is an ecclesiological issue, along with questions of canonical structure and church administration. “There are still so many questions to tackle the path is a long one, and the ill-willed will have plenty to react to.” He criticized those who wished to block such discussions for “providing false, misleading information.”

The next meeting of the Orthodox-Catholic commission is to take place in Vienna from 20 to 27 September 2010. [ENI/Jonathan Luxmoore]

Appeal for toleration sent to

the Republic of Macedonia

On December 10, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship appealed to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of the Republic of Macedonia to end the government’s efforts to suppress the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The letter, signed by OPF international secretary, Jim Forest, expressed “profound dismay at the recent conviction of His Beatitude Jovan, Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje, on the charge of embezzlement. Archbishop Jovan had been acquitted of these very same charges twice before but, apparently due to political factors, was brought before the court a third time. Only at this third trial was he found guilty. This conviction is but the latest in a long series of events, all with the clear intent of preventing the Serbian Orthodox Church from existing on Macedonian soil.

“For years, the Macedonian Orthodox Church has sought to secure its position as the only Orthodox Church in the land. Perhaps in part due to the heavy-handed methods being used to suppress a continuing presence of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, it does not come as a surprise the Macedonian Orthodox Church’s autocephalous status has yet to be recognized by other Orthodox Churches.

“What is surprising is that the Macedonian government has allowed itself to be drawn into an ecclesiastical dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian Churches concerning matters of canon law and jurisdiction.

“In a country that has recently endured so much violence from within and diverse political manipulations from without, we find it incomprehensible that the government of Macedonia would not make every effort to distance itself from this volatile issue and maintain a neutral position.

“If there is to be a lasting solution, it will only come about through patient, genuine dialogue between the Serbian and Macedonian Churches. Politically imposed solutions are likely to prove non-viable and unsustainable.

Consequently, it behooves prescient, democratic-minded national leaders to recognize this reality, insist that international law and human rights standards be maintained, and ensure that all citizens enjoy equal protection under the law.

“Therefore, we ask that the Macedonian government not interfere with this ecclesiastical matter, directly or indirectly, that the conviction against Archbishop Jovan be annulled, and that he be allowed to discharge his duties as an Archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church without further hindrance from the government.”

Occupation a ‘sin against God’ say Palestinian Christian leaders

Palestinian Christian leaders issued a letter in Bethlehem on December 11 in which they called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, which they described as “a sin against God and against humanity.” They appealed for support from the world’s churches.

“The injustice against the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted,” they said.

“Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian, but it is resistance with love as its logic. It is thus a creative resistance, for it must find human ways that engage the humanity of the enemy.”

The initiators of the statement  “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”  referred to the text as the “Kairos Palestine” document.

Signatories include Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the region, Latin Patriarch emeritus Michel Sabbah, and the Lutheran bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan.

“Our aim is to free both [Israelis and Palestinians] from extremist positions … bringing both to justice and reconciliation,” the signers stated.

“In this spirit and with this dedication, we will eventually reach the longed-for resolution to our problems, as indeed happened in South Africa and with many other liberation movements in the world.”

The signers accused Israel of “disregard of international law and international resolutions.” Issues faced by Palestinians, they said, included the “separation wall” that cuts through Palestinian territories, Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and “daily humiliation” at military checkpoints.

Rejecting Israeli justifications that their actions were in self-defense, the signers said, if there were no occupation, “there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”

“The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity,” the signers stated, “because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.

“It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier, just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation.”

They condemned all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and called on Christians worldwide to “say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.”

Information about Kairos Palestine is on the web at www.kairospalestine.ps. [Judith Sudilovsky/ENI]

Hunger in US at 14-year high

The number of Americans living in households that lack consistent access to adequate food soared to 49 million, up 13 million from the previous year, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls “food insecurity” fourteen years ago. A report issued by the US Department of Agriculture estimated that more than half-a-million households face “very low food security”  skipped meals, cut portions, or otherwise forgoing food.

The increase was much larger than even the most pessimistic observers of hunger trends had expected and cast an alarming light on the daily hardships caused by the recession’s punishing effect on jobs and wages.

The other two-thirds typically had enough to eat, but only by eating cheaper or less varied foods, relying on government aid like food stamps, or visiting food pantries and soup kitchens.

The phrase “food insecurity” stems from years of political and academic dispute over how to describe inadequate access to food. In the 1980s, when officials of the Reagan administration denied there was hunger in the United States, the Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group, began a survey that concluded otherwise. Over time, Congress had the Agriculture Department oversee a similar survey, which the Census Bureau administers.

Analysts said the main reason for the growth was the rise in the unemployment rate. “Many people are outright hungry, skipping meals,” said James Weill, director of a food center. “Others say they have enough to eat but only because they’re going to food pantries or using food stamps. We describe it as ‘households struggling with hunger’.” ❖

Winter Issue IC 55 2010
IN COMMUNION 55 / FEAST OF ST. BASIL THE GREAT / JANUARY 2010

News: Fall 2009


Patriarch Kirill visits Ukraine

A ten-day trip to Ukraine by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church included visits to a monument to victims of the Stalin-era famine, a liturgy that drew thousands to the scenic but tense Crimean peninsula, and a pilgrimage to Pochaev, one of the most important monasteries in the Orthodox Church. The visit started July 27.

“It is not my goal to give political recipes, or offer political analyses,” Kirill said at the outset. “My task is, praying together with the people, to ponder with them our common spiritual present and future.”
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate accounts for more than a third of the Russian Orthodox Church, but calls are growing for its autocephaly. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko advocated uniting his country’s Orthodox churches under the Istanbul-based Patriarch of Constantinople. The Moscow Patriarchate speaks of Kiev as the southern capitol in the Russian Orthodox Church, part of “a unified spiritual expanse that is much deeper and more enduring than political space.”

While in Kiev, Kirill said that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church already functions as an independent church and that formal autocephaly at this time would be detrimental to church unity.

With President Yushchenko, Kirill visited a monument to those who died during World War II and to victims of mass hunger that occurred under Stalin in 1932-1933. “This was the common tragedy of our entire people, who lived in that time in one country,” Kirill said.

During a visit to Rivne in western Ukraine, Kirill was the object of protest from adherents of the breakaway Kiev Patriarchate, who carried signs with slogans such as “The Russian Orthodox Church is the agent of Moscow’s empire.”

Kirill’s first words to the crowd were “Christ is Risen!” He compared parishioners of the church that is faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate to catacomb Christians of the early centuries of Christianity. “Preserve the Orthodox faith, in spite of all divisions, preserve your unity, because in unity is spiritual strength.”

On August 2, Kirill presided at a liturgy in Kherson, near the port of Sevastopol in Crimea.”Today it is my fervent prayer that never and under no circumstances should brothers ever take aim at each other,” he said, “that never and under no circumstances should the hand of one be raised against another, because nothing divides brothers so much as spilled blood.”❖

Russian, Georgian patriarchs commemorate South Ossetia war

While their political counterparts lobbed charges of aggression in marking the first anniversary of the South Ossetia war, Orthodox Church leaders from Russia and Georgia called for peace.

Patriarch Kirill and Patriarch Ilia stressed the shared spiritual heritage of the warring sides, continuing the line taken last year by Ilia and the late Patriarch Aleksy, who together had sought reconciliation as the conflict raged.

At a panikhida at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on August 8, Kirill said that the war was “a tragedy of three fraternal Orthodox peoples.”

“Recalling this event, today we will pray for the repose of the souls of all those who died  regardless of nationality. We pray for all Orthodox people, who lost their lives in this war,” said Kirill. “At the same time, we will entreat the Lord that never again and under no circumstances should Orthodox peoples raise their hands against one another and spill one another’s blood.”

Patriarch Ilia of Georgia spoke of the deep links between Russia and Georgia. He said that the churches would continue to encourage peaceful solutions. “We pay great honor and respect to Russia, its culture, and its spirituality,” he said. “We have common saints. Russia must know we never reconcile ourselves to violations of Georgian borders. About this, Georgians are unanimous. We shall seek a peaceful way out. Orthodox churches of Russia and Georgia always support peaceful solution of the problem.” ❖

Kirill and Bartholomew Meet

In July Patriarch Kirill of Russia, visiting Istanbul, held talks with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople aimed at overcoming post-Soviet-era tensions that have divided the two Orthodox churches.

“From time to time, clouds have temporarily overshadowed ties between the brethren churches,” Bartholomew said in greeting Kirill. “These clouds must be sent to their places in the pages of history.”

Responding, Kirill said the two churches should unite to bear witness in the modern world.

“In conditions when religion is being pushed to the sidelines of public life, when the very understanding of sin is being wiped away, traditional moral values are being radically reconsidered and the profit motive is placed at the foundation of economics, we must unite efforts to defend Gospel norms and develop a unified Orthodox response to the challenges of our time.”

The Moscow Patriarchate was angered in the 1990s when Constantinople recognized the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church as a separate entity. The status of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has also become a thorn in relations between the patriarchates. ❖

Role of the churches in secular Europe

Meeting in Lyon in mid-July, a gathering of European churches opened with a call for Christians to be at the forefront of resisting all forms of violence and racism.

“As Christians, we dare to hope, even in an age when millions of people all over the planet are in despair, under pressure from the global economic crisis, and are overwhelmed by uncertainty,” said Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, in welcoming delegates to the Assembly of the Conference of European Churches.

“There is hope when we resist all forms of violence and racism, when we defend the dignity of every human person,” he said. “There is hope when we insist on the obligation for unselfish solidarity between people and peoples, when we fight for unfeigned respect for the creation.” Christians, he said, must be at the forefront of “defending the dignity of all human beings.”

Patriarch Daniel, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church, warned against attempts to restore a “Christian medieval Europe” as a response to increasing religious plurality. “We will have to become more and more used to religious pluralism, with respect for the others, without falling into doctrinal or moral relativism.”

The migration of people, he said, had radically changed the religious map of Europe. “In this complex context, we cannot afford to be nostalgic by attempting to restore a Christian medieval Europe. This is a new reality which brings about new challenges, where the churches must find together new solutions for new problems. European integration regarded only from an economic, juridical, financial and strategic-defensive viewpoint is not sufficient. The spiritual factor and, most of all, the religious one, because religion is the most profound dimension of human spirituality, cannot be disregarded.”

Europe was experiencing, he said, a “profound spiritual crisis” marked by a tension “between tradition and modernity, a loss of traditional Christian values, and a painful instability of the family,” as well as atheism, sectarianism and religious fundamentalism.

The economic crisis, he said, reveals “a spiritual crisis of greed that could be converted into an opportunity. This would entail promoting a change of attitudes about “the relationship between spiritual and material, between the amassing of wealth and the solidarity with the poor. The Gospel shows that Jesus Christ had a preference for the poor, for those in suffering, for those who cannot rely entirely on themselves.” ❖

Archbishop Hilarion: Stalin a ‘monster’

During an interview in Moscow in August, Archbishop Hilarion, head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, condemned Josef Stalin for committing the crime of genocide.

“Stalin was a spiritually-deformed monster, who created a horrific, inhuman system of ruling the country,” Hilarion told the news magazine Ekspert. “He unleashed a genocide against the people of his own country and bears personal responsibility for the death of millions of innocent people. In this respect Stalin is completely comparable to Hitler.”

Hilarion’s statement contrasts with a study guide for high school teachers, approved by Vladimir Putin when he was president, in which Stalin is portrayed as an effective manager, comparable to the Russian tsars or to Bismarck, who united Germany in the 19th century.

Archbishop Hilarion in his interview said that “the number of victims of Stalinist repressions is comparable to our losses in the Great Patriotic War.”

Yet, Hilarion also warned against idealizing pre-revolutionary Russia. “If everything had been right in the pre-revolutionary church, then there wouldn’t have been a mass retreat from it during the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period. Maybe the revolution itself wouldn’t have happened.”

The situation today, said Hilarion, requires a different approach to relations between Church and State. “Of course, there were many positive things as well in the pre-revolutionary status of the Church in the State,” he said, “but under no circumstances must there be an attempt to recreate the pre-revolutionary situation. We must create a new model of Church-State relations that would exclude those negative phenomena in church and public life that led to the revolution.”

Shortly before Victory Day celebrations in May to mark the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, Patriarch Kirill indicated an interpretation of events that might diverge with that of the Kremlin. The Soviet victory in the war was “a miracle,” Kirill said, and the suffering of the Soviet people during the war can be seen as atonement for its rejection of Christianity during the Bolshevik era after the Russian Revolution in 1917. ❖

Solovki: from Gulag to spiritual center


new martyrs of Solovki

The Solovetsky Islands off the coast of Russia’s northern Arkhangelsk region  settled by monks in the 15th century became a center for the Gulag system of prison camps in the 20th century. Now the monastic archipelago is becoming a spiritual center not only for Russia but for all of Europe, said Patriarch Kirill when he visited the Golgotha-Crucifixion Hermitage on Anzer Island, where sick prisoners were sent to die.

Kirill’s grandfather, Vasily Gundyayev, a priest, was a prisoner in the island camp, whose cruelty was immortalized in dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago. Kirill said it was a miracle that his grandfather had survived.

“We believe that these sufferings and torments have strengthened the power of the Church as it grows with a divine power rather than with a human one,” Kirill declared. “It would be good if here, on Solovki, a national center for the study of the feat of the Russian church in the 20th century, the feat of the martyrs and confessors, was created.”

When the Solovetsky Islands were seized by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution, its monks became prisoners. They were joined by thousands of other clergy, believers, intellectuals, and aristocrats whom the new regime wanted to eradicate.

“The Lord himself chose this deserted place, so that his death and resurrection were specially commemorated here,” said Kirill. “The Lord himself chose this place for people to take incomparable sufferings and torments.”

While on the islands, Kirill called for the State to turn over all the property of the monastery to the Russian Orthodox Church to allow it to complete the restoration of the complex and open an Orthodox educational institution there. Solovki, as the islands and monastery are known, has in recent years witnessed disputes between the church, museum workers, and non-governmental organizations on how such monuments should be run. The monastery and grounds are shared by the church and a State-run museum.

Many pilgrims and tourists have been coming to Solovki, famous both for its many martyrs and its scenery and marine life. ❖

Bartholomew: Global Crisis an opportunity

The global crisis offers an opportunity to deal in new ways with our problems, said Patriarch Bartholomeos in a message to mark a day of prayer for God’s creation, September 1.

“Human progress is not just the accumulation of wealth and the thoughtless consumption of the earth’s resources,” he said.

“We have rendered the market the center of our interest, our activities and, finally, of our life, forgetting that this choice of ours will affect the lives of future generations

“The present crisis offers an opportunity for us to deal with the problems in a different way, because the methods that created these problems cannot provide their best solution.

“If we believe that we are no more than consumers, then we shall seek fulfilment in consuming the whole earth; but if we believe we are made in the image of God, we shall act with care and compassion, striving to become what we are created to be.” ❖

Ministry of urban parishes explored

The ministry of parishes in urban U.S. settings was the topic of a meeting hosted by the Diocese of the Midwest at Saint Theodosius Cathedral in Cleveland and Archangel Michael Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio, the weekend of July 16-17.

The program included presentations from Orthodox and non-Orthodox contributors, roundtable sessions, case studies, relevant workshops, and fellowship.

Fr. Justin Mathews of the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS) gave examples of urban Orthodox parishes serving the homeless and hungry. Charles Robbins, outreach coordinator at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Church, Columbus, Ohio, offered personal insights into the outreach ministry of his parish. Through a combination of speakers and workshops, participants were encouraged get “unstuck” and think creatively about new initiatives in urban parish life.

In many cases, this could involve partnering with existing institutions, other Orthodox parishes, and non-Orthodox faith communities. ❖

Calley apologizes for My Lai Massacre

Speaking in a soft, sometimes labored voice, the only U.S. Army officer convicted in the 1968 slaying of the occupants of My Lai in Vietnam made a public apology while speaking to a small group near the military base where he was court-martialed.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” said William Calley in August. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Calley, now 66, was a young Army lieutenant when a court-martial at nearby Fort Benning convicted him of murder in 1971. More than 500 men, women and children were killed in the massacre.

Though sentenced to life in prison, Calley ended up serving three years under house arrest after President Richard Nixon reduced his sentence.

Calley never denied taking part in the slaying, but insisted he was following orders.

“If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them foolishly, I guess,” he said. ❖

Palestinians study nonviolence

In the West Bank city of Hebron, nearly 30 percent are unemployed. Confronted with 78 checkpoints monitored by Israeli soldiers, for Palestinians even the shortest of trips is frustrating and time consuming.

Four Israeli settlements within Hebron’s city limits, and another five just outside of the city, are home to some of the most aggressive and dangerous settlers in the West Bank.

In the midst of the violence and desperation, a dozen young Palestinian men and women have been meeting together to discuss the words and deeds of such advocates of nonviolence as Dr. Martin Luther King.

“They have come because of their refusal to accept defeat and because of their conviction that there is a way forward that does not involve violence, but chooses to draw its strength from love,” according to The America-Palestine Report.

“They are participants in the Nonviolence Youth Hebron training program, and they are joining their voices with thousands throughout the Palestinian territories who are convinced of the potential to create change through nonviolent resistance to injustice.”

Nonviolent Youth is a project of Love Thy Neighbor, a group based in Bethesda, Maryland, which for the past two years has sponsored nonviolence summer camps for children and nonviolence training seminars for young adults.

Through music, literature, art and role play, participants are given the opportunity to build and practice their nonviolence and conflict resolution skills.

Organizers draw on “the long history of nonviolent resistance that is woven throughout Palestinian society and culture,” according to LTN’s director, Tarek Abuata. ❖

Rabbis start fast for Gaza

A group of rabbis has organized a monthly communal fast to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Called Ta’anit Tzedek (Jewish Fast for Gaza: http://fastforgaza.net), the water-only fast takes place on the third Thursday of every month from sunrise to sunset. The first fast took place on July 16. Participants also are being asked to sign a statement at the group’s Web site and donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid, a campaign fighting malnutrition among Gazan children.

The 13 rabbis who initiated the fast said that the project is based in Jewish tradition, in which “a communal fast is held in times of crisis both as an expression of mourning and as a call to repentance.”

The fast has four goals: calling for a lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has been in place since Hamas’ electoral victory in early 2006; providing humanitarian and development aid to the people of Gaza; calling on Israel, the U.S. and other nations to negotiate with Hamas to end the blockade; and urging the U.S. government to “vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

Whenever people say, “We mustn’t be sentimental,” you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, “We must be realistic,” they mean they are going to make money out of it.
� Brigid Broph

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54



Bookmark and Share

News: Fall 2009

Patriarch Kirill visits Ukraine

A ten-day trip to Ukraine by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church included visits to a monument to victims of the Stalin-era famine, a liturgy that drew thousands to the scenic but tense Crimean peninsula, and a pilgrimage to Pochaev, one of the most important monasteries in the Orthodox Church. The visit started July 27.

“It is not my goal to give political recipes, or offer political analyses,” Kirill said at the outset. “My task is, praying together with the people, to ponder with them our common spiritual present and future.”

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate accounts for more than a third of the Russian Orthodox Church, but calls are growing for its autocephaly. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko advocated uniting his country’s Orthodox churches under the Istanbul-based Patriarch of Constantinople. The Moscow Patriarchate speaks of Kiev as the southern capitol in the Russian Orthodox Church, part of “a unified spiritual expanse that is much deeper and more enduring than political space.”

While in Kiev, Kirill said that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church already functions as an independent church and that formal autocephaly at this time would be detrimental to church unity.

With President Yushchenko, Kirill visited a monument to those who died during World War II and to victims of mass hunger that occurred under Stalin in 1932-1933. “This was the common tragedy of our entire people, who lived in that time in one country,” Kirill said.

During a visit to Rivne in western Ukraine, Kirill was the object of protest from adherents of the breakaway Kiev Patriarchate, who carried signs with slogans such as “The Russian Orthodox Church is the agent of Moscow’s empire.”

Kirill’s first words to the crowd were “Christ is Risen!” He compared parishioners of the church that is faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate to catacomb Christians of the early centuries of Christianity. “Preserve the Orthodox faith, in spite of all divisions, preserve your unity, because in unity is spiritual strength.”

On August 2, Kirill presided at a liturgy in Kherson, near the port of Sevastopol in Crimea.”Today it is my fervent prayer that never and under no circumstances should brothers ever take aim at each other,” he said, “that never and under no circumstances should the hand of one be raised against another, because nothing divides brothers so much as spilled blood.”❖

Russian, Georgian patriarchs commemorate South Ossetia war

While their political counterparts lobbed charges of aggression in marking the first anniversary of the South Ossetia war, Orthodox Church leaders from Russia and Georgia called for peace.

Patriarch Kirill and Patriarch Ilia stressed the shared spiritual heritage of the warring sides, continuing the line taken last year by Ilia and the late Patriarch Aleksy, who together had sought reconciliation as the conflict raged.

At a panikhida at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on August 8, Kirill said that the war was “a tragedy of three fraternal Orthodox peoples.”

“Recalling this event, today we will pray for the repose of the souls of all those who died “ regardless of nationality. We pray for all Orthodox people, who lost their lives in this war,” said Kirill. “At the same time, we will entreat the Lord that never again and under no circumstances should Orthodox peoples raise their hands against one another and spill one another’s blood.”

Patriarch Ilia of Georgia spoke of the deep links between Russia and Georgia. He said that the churches would continue to encourage peaceful solutions. “We pay great honor and respect to Russia, its culture, and its spirituality,” he said. “We have common saints. Russia must know we never reconcile ourselves to violations of Georgian borders. About this, Georgians are unanimous. We shall seek a peaceful way out. Orthodox churches of Russia and Georgia always support peaceful solution of the problem.” ❖

Kirill and Bartholomew Meet

In July Patriarch Kirill of Russia, visiting Istanbul, held talks with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople aimed at overcoming post-Soviet-era tensions that have divided the two Orthodox churches.

“From time to time, clouds have temporarily overshadowed ties between the brethren churches,” Bartholomew said in greeting Kirill. “These clouds must be sent to their places in the pages of history.”

Responding, Kirill said the two churches should unite to bear witness in the modern world.

“In conditions when religion is being pushed to the sidelines of public life, when the very understanding of sin is being wiped away, traditional moral values are being radically reconsidered and the profit motive is placed at the foundation of economics, we must unite efforts to defend Gospel norms and develop a unified Orthodox response to the challenges of our time.”

The Moscow Patriarchate was angered in the 1990s when Constantinople recognized the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church as a separate entity. The status of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine has also become a thorn in relations between the patriarchates. ❖

Role of the churches in secular Europe

Meeting in Lyon in mid-July, a gathering of European churches opened with a call for Christians to be at the forefront of resisting all forms of violence and racism.

“As Christians, we dare to hope, even in an age when millions of people all over the planet are in despair, under pressure from the global economic crisis, and are overwhelmed by uncertainty,” said Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, in welcoming delegates to the Assembly of the Conference of European Churches.

“There is hope when we resist all forms of violence and racism, when we defend the dignity of every human person,” he said. “There is hope when we insist on the obligation for unselfish solidarity between people and peoples, when we fight for unfeigned respect for the creation.” Christians, he said, must be at the forefront of “defending the dignity of all human beings.”

Patriarch Daniel, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church, warned against attempts to restore a “Christian medieval Europe” as a response to increasing religious plurality. “We will have to become more and more used to religious pluralism, with respect for the others, without falling into doctrinal or moral relativism.”

The migration of people, he said, had radically changed the religious map of Europe. “In this complex context, we cannot afford to be nostalgic by attempting to restore a Christian medieval Europe. This is a new reality which brings about new challenges, where the churches must find together new solutions for new problems. European integration regarded only from an economic, juridical, financial and strategic-defensive viewpoint is not sufficient. The spiritual factor and, most of all, the religious one, because religion is the most profound dimension of human spirituality, cannot be disregarded.”

Europe was experiencing, he said, a “profound spiritual crisis” marked by a tension “between tradition and modernity, a loss of traditional Christian values, and a painful instability of the family,” as well as atheism, sectarianism and religious fundamentalism.

The economic crisis, he said, reveals “a spiritual crisis of greed that could be converted into an opportunity. This would entail promoting a change of attitudes about “the relationship between spiritual and material, between the amassing of wealth and the solidarity with the poor. The Gospel shows that Jesus Christ had a preference for the poor, for those in suffering, for those who cannot rely entirely on themselves.” ❖

Archbishop Hilarion: Stalin a ‘monster’

During an interview in Moscow in August, Archbishop Hilarion, head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, condemned Josef Stalin for committing the crime of genocide.

“Stalin was a spiritually-deformed monster, who created a horrific, inhuman system of ruling the country,” Hilarion told the news magazine Ekspert. “He unleashed a genocide against the people of his own country and bears personal responsibility for the death of millions of innocent people. In this respect Stalin is completely comparable to Hitler.”

Hilarion’s statement contrasts with a study guide for high school teachers, approved by Vladimir Putin when he was president, in which Stalin is portrayed as an effective manager, comparable to the Russian tsars or to Bismarck, who united Germany in the 19th century.

Archbishop Hilarion in his interview said that “the number of victims of Stalinist repressions is comparable to our losses in the Great Patriotic War.”

Yet, Hilarion also warned against idealizing pre-revolutionary Russia. “If everything had been right in the pre-revolutionary church, then there wouldn’t have been a mass retreat from it during the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period. Maybe the revolution itself wouldn’t have happened.”

The situation today, said Hilarion, requires a different approach to relations between Church and State. “Of course, there were many positive things as well in the pre-revolutionary status of the Church in the State,” he said, “but under no circumstances must there be an attempt to recreate the pre-revolutionary situation. We must create a new model of Church-State relations that would exclude those negative phenomena in church and public life that led to the revolution.”

Shortly before Victory Day celebrations in May to mark the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, Patriarch Kirill indicated an interpretation of events that might diverge with that of the Kremlin. The Soviet victory in the war was “a miracle,” Kirill said, and the suffering of the Soviet people during the war can be seen as atonement for its rejection of Christianity during the Bolshevik era after the Russian Revolution in 1917. ❖

Solovki: from Gulag to spiritual center

new martyrs of Solovki

The Solovetsky Islands off the coast of Russia’s northern Arkhangelsk region “ settled by monks in the 15th century “ became a center for the Gulag system of prison camps in the 20th century. Now the monastic archipelago is becoming a spiritual center not only for Russia but for all of Europe, said Patriarch Kirill when he visited the Golgotha-Crucifixion Hermitage on Anzer Island, where sick prisoners were sent to die.

Kirill’s grandfather, Vasily Gundyayev, a priest, was a prisoner in the island camp, whose cruelty was immortalized in dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago. Kirill said it was a miracle that his grandfather had survived.

“We believe that these sufferings and torments have strengthened the power of the Church as it grows with a divine power rather than with a human one,” Kirill declared. “It would be good if here, on Solovki, a national center for the study of the feat of the Russian church in the 20th century, the feat of the martyrs and confessors, was created.”

When the Solovetsky Islands were seized by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution, its monks became prisoners. They were joined by thousands of other clergy, believers, intellectuals, and aristocrats whom the new regime wanted to eradicate.

“The Lord himself chose this deserted place, so that his death and resurrection were specially commemorated here,” said Kirill. “The Lord himself chose this place for people to take incomparable sufferings and torments.”

While on the islands, Kirill called for the State to turn over all the property of the monastery to the Russian Orthodox Church to allow it to complete the restoration of the complex and open an Orthodox educational institution there. Solovki, as the islands and monastery are known, has in recent years witnessed disputes between the church, museum workers, and non-governmental organizations on how such monuments should be run. The monastery and grounds are shared by the church and a State-run museum.

Many pilgrims and tourists have been coming to Solovki, famous both for its many martyrs and its scenery and marine life. ❖

Bartholomew: Global Crisis an opportunity

The global crisis offers an opportunity to deal in new ways with our problems, said Patriarch Bartholomeos in a message to mark a day of prayer for God’s creation, September 1.

“Human progress is not just the accumulation of wealth and the thoughtless consumption of the earth’s resources,” he said.

“We have rendered the market the center of our interest, our activities and, finally, of our life, forgetting that this choice of ours will affect the lives of future generations

“The present crisis offers an opportunity for us to deal with the problems in a different way, because the methods that created these problems cannot provide their best solution.

“If we believe that we are no more than consumers, then we shall seek fulfilment in consuming the whole earth; but if we believe we are made in the image of God, we shall act with care and compassion, striving to become what we are created to be.” ❖

Ministry of urban parishes explored

The ministry of parishes in urban U.S. settings was the topic of a meeting hosted by the Diocese of the Midwest at Saint Theodosius Cathedral in Cleveland and Archangel Michael Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio, the weekend of July 16-17.

The program included presentations from Orthodox and non-Orthodox contributors, roundtable sessions, case studies, relevant workshops, and fellowship.

Fr. Justin Mathews of the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS) gave examples of urban Orthodox parishes serving the homeless and hungry. Charles Robbins, outreach coordinator at Saint Gregory of Nyssa Church, Columbus, Ohio, offered personal insights into the outreach ministry of his parish. Through a combination of speakers and workshops, participants were encouraged get “unstuck” and think creatively about new initiatives in urban parish life.

In many cases, this could involve partnering with existing institutions, other Orthodox parishes, and non-Orthodox faith communities. ❖

Calley apologizes for My Lai Massacre

Speaking in a soft, sometimes labored voice, the only U.S. Army officer convicted in the 1968 slaying of the occupants of My Lai in Vietnam made a public apology while speaking to a small group near the military base where he was court-martialed.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” said William Calley in August. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Calley, now 66, was a young Army lieutenant when a court-martial at nearby Fort Benning convicted him of murder in 1971. More than 500 men, women and children were killed in the massacre.

Though sentenced to life in prison, Calley ended up serving three years under house arrest after President Richard Nixon reduced his sentence.

Calley never denied taking part in the slaying, but insisted he was following orders.

“If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them “ foolishly, I guess,” he said. ❖

Palestinians study nonviolence

In the West Bank city of Hebron, nearly 30 percent are unemployed. Confronted with 78 checkpoints monitored by Israeli soldiers, for Palestinians even the shortest of trips is frustrating and time consuming.

Four Israeli settlements within Hebron’s city limits, and another five just outside of the city, are home to some of the most aggressive and dangerous settlers in the West Bank.

In the midst of the violence and desperation, a dozen young Palestinian men and women have been meeting together to discuss the words and deeds of such advocates of nonviolence as Dr. Martin Luther King.

“They have come because of their refusal to accept defeat and because of their conviction that there is a way forward that does not involve violence, but chooses to draw its strength from love,” according to The America-Palestine Report.

“They are participants in the Nonviolence Youth Hebron training program, and they are joining their voices with thousands throughout the Palestinian territories who are convinced of the potential to create change through nonviolent resistance to injustice.”

Nonviolent Youth is a project of Love Thy Neighbor, a group based in Bethesda, Maryland, which for the past two years has sponsored nonviolence summer camps for children and nonviolence training seminars for young adults.

Through music, literature, art and role play, participants are given the opportunity to build and practice their nonviolence and conflict resolution skills.

Organizers draw on “the long history of nonviolent resistance that is woven throughout Palestinian society and culture,” according to LTN’s director, Tarek Abuata. ❖

Rabbis start fast for Gaza

A group of rabbis has organized a monthly communal fast to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Called Ta’anit Tzedek (Jewish Fast for Gaza: http://fastforgaza.net), the water-only fast takes place on the third Thursday of every month from sunrise to sunset. The first fast took place on July 16. Participants also are being asked to sign a statement at the group’s Web site and donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid, a campaign fighting malnutrition among Gazan children.

The 13 rabbis who initiated the fast said that the project is based in Jewish tradition, in which “a communal fast is held in times of crisis both as an expression of mourning and as a call to repentance.”

The fast has four goals: calling for a lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has been in place since Hamas’ electoral victory in early 2006; providing humanitarian and development aid to the people of Gaza; calling on Israel, the U.S. and other nations to negotiate with Hamas to end the blockade; and urging the U.S. government to “vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

Whenever people say, “We mustn’t be sentimental,” you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, “We must be realistic,” they mean they are going to make money out of it.

“ Brigid Broph

❖ ❖ ❖ ❖

Fall 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 54

Bookmark and Share

News: Spring 2009

Albania urged to return religious property

Europe’s association of Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches has called on Albania to return all religious property seized from religious communities during 46 years of Communist rule that followed the Second World War.

“Even after 18 years of democracy, much of the property confiscated under Communism still has to be returned to the churches and other religious communities,” the Conference of European Churches said in a statement made public 11 February during a meeting in Tirana.

Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania hosted the meeting. He came from Greece to Albania in 1992 to head the Orthodox Church of Albania and to help rebuild its life. Since then, more than 150 new churches have been built, 70 monasteries and historical monuments restored and 160 churches repaired. At the same time, the Orthodox church has initiated activities in the fields of health, education, social engagement, agricultural development, culture, environment and interfaith dialogue. There are now about 140 clergy serving the Church in Albania.

Albania declared itself “cleansed of religion” in 1967, under its communist leader Enver Hoxha, and declared “the world’s first fully atheist state.” All religious activity, even in homes, was strictly forbidden.

The church grouping’s leaders welcomed the freedom of religion that now exists in Albania following the end of Communism in 1991. But they expressed concern about the failure of the authorities to return the property of religious communities. They urged the government to “reconsider, without delay, the return of all sacred places … with all their associated land.” [ENI]

Russian Orthodox Church and Vatican relations warm

Pope Benedict meeting Kirill before his election as Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church

Festivities in Rome in late May for the dedication of an Orthodox church, St. Catherine the Great Martyr, on the grounds of the Russian Embassy near the Vatican, attested to a marked warming of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican. If trends hold true, a meeting of the pope and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Russia may be close.

While in Rome, Orthodox clergy also conducted a service at San Clemente, one of Rome’s most ancient churches.

Pope John Paul long dreamed of visiting Russia and mending relations with its Orthodox church, the world’s largest, but he was never invited to Russia.

Relations have warmed since Patriarch Kirill’s election as the new head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In March, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to a ceremony in Bari, Italy, where the Italian government handed back to Russia a church and pilgrimage center built in the czarist era. “How could we not recognize that this beautiful church awakens in us the nostalgia for full unity and maintains alive in us the commitment to work for union among all the disciples of Christ,” he wrote.

As Metropolitan of Smolensk, in 2006 Kirill wrote the foreword to the first Russian-language edition of Pope Benedict’s book Introduction to Christianity. “The traditionalism of Benedict XVI offers a profound view, a wise insight into the essence of things,” Kirill wrote. “It is my deep conviction that this must be the approach of all Christians desiring to remain loyal to the never-aging Tradition of the Ancient Church in the face of the latest in a series of onslaughts of totalitarian relativism, which we are observing today.”

Ironically, while shared theological values unite the new patriarch and Benedict, Kirill has been under attack by Orthodox fundamentalists in Russia, in part for an outgoing style and presence that more readily recall John Paul II.

Tensions between Moscow and some of the world’s Orthodox churches are a stumbling block to relations with the Catholic Church. Moscow and Constantinople have been wrestling for centuries over jurisdictional issues, and with renewed vigor since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Moscow Patriarchate chafes especially when the Patriarch of Constantinople is described as the Orthodox pope. [Sophia Kishkovsky]

Afghan civilian deaths rose steeply in 2008

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leapt by nearly 40 percent in 2008, according to a United Nations survey released in February. It provides the latest objective measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country.

The death toll 2,118 civilians killed in 2008, compared with 1,523 in 2007 is the highest since the Taliban government was ousted in November 2001, at the outset of a war.

The report found that the Taliban and other insurgents caused the majority of the civilian deaths, mainly through suicide bombers and roadside bombs, many aimed at killing as many civilians as possible.

But the report also found that Afghan government forces and those of the American-led coalition killed 828 people last year, up sharply from the previous year. Most of those were killed in airstrikes and raids on villages, which are often conducted at night.

Civilian deaths have eroded public support for the war and inflamed tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for their share of the rising toll.

An interview with Syed Mohammed, an elderly survivor of one raid, was published in February in The New York Times. Mr. Mohammed recalled how one day last September his son’s family was wiped out in an American-led raid.

Mr. Mohammed said he was awakened in the early morning to the sound of gunfire and explosions. In a flash, Mr. Mohammed said, several American and Afghan soldiers kicked open the door of his home. The Americans, he said, had beards, an almost certain sign that they belonged to a unit of the Special Forces, which permits uniformed soldiers to grow facial hair.

“Who are you?” Mr. Mohammed recalled asking the intruders. “Shut up,” came the reply from one of the Afghan soldiers. “We are the government.” Mr. Mohammed said he was taken to a nearby base, interrogated for several hours, then let go as sunrise neared.

When he returned home, he went next door to his son’s house, only to find that most of his family had been killed: the son, Nurallah, and his pregnant wife and two of his sons, Abdul Basit, age 1, and Mohammed, 2. Only Mr. Mohammed’s 4-year-old grandson, Zarqawi, survived. “The soldiers had a right to search our house,” Mr. Mohammed said. “But they didn’t have a right to do this.”

Bullet holes still pockmarked the Nurallah home more than four months after the attack, and the infant’s cradle still hung from the ceiling. The day after the attack, a senior Afghan official came to the door and handed Mr. Mohammed $800.

The UN report also said the airstrikes that went awry were often those called in by troops under attack.

Under such circumstances, some of the normal rules may not apply. An American attack in the western Afghan village of Azizabad last August highlighted these tensions. An American AC-130 gunship struck a suspected Taliban compound, killing more than 90 people.

In May, approximately 140 civilians died in a single US bombing error. Bombs hit houses in two villages in western Farah province in which mostly women and children were hiding. There had been Taliban forces in the area, but survivors said they had left before the bombs were dropped.

A common date for Easter?

The hope that all Christians will celebrate Easter on the same day in the future was reaffirmed by an international ecumenical seminar in mid-May organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.

The problem is nearly as old as the Church itself. As Christianity started to spread around the world, Christians came to differing results on when to commemorate Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, due to the different reports in the four gospels on these events.

Attempts to establish a common date for Easter began with the Council of Nicaea in the year 325. It established that the date of Easter would be the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. However, it did not fix the methods to be used to calculate the timing of the full moon or the vernal equinox.

Nowadays the Orthodox churches use the 21st of March on the Julian calendar as the date of the equinox, while the churches of the Western tradition that is the Protestant and Catholic churches base their calculations on the Gregorian calendar. The resulting gap between the two Easter dates can be as much as five weeks.

All participants at the seminar, which included Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant theologians from a variety of European countries, endorsed a compromise proposed at a World Council of Churches consultation in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997. The proposal was to keep the Nicaea rule but calculate the equinox and full moon using the accurate astronomical data available today, rather than those used many years ago.

Participants at the seminar expressed the hope that the years 2010 and 2011, when the coincidence of the calendars will produce a common Easter date, would serve as a period during which all Christians would join their efforts “to make such coincidence not to be an exception but rather a rule” and prepare for an Easter date based on exact astronomical reckoning and celebrated by all Christians on 8 April 2012.

However, the seminar entitled “A common date for Easter is possible” did not turn a blind eye to what participants considered to be “the main problem”  “not the calculations, but the complex relations and lack of trust among different Christian denominations due to long divisions.”

Orthodox theologian Prof. Antoine Arjakovsky, director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies, pointed out: “While the astronomic reckoning of the Nicean rule comes closer to the Gregorian calendar than to the ancient Julian one, the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches did take a step towards the Orthodox churches in Aleppo, accepting that the date of Easter should be established on the base of a cosmic calendar rather than by a fixed date as had been proposed prior to the inter-Orthodox meeting in Chambésy in 1977.”

Frequently asked questions about the date of Easter www.oikoumene.org/?id=3169

More information about the seminar: www.ecumenicalstudies.org.ua/eng/ies_ activity/one.easter/.

Efforts to save a Cypriot monastery

The Conference of European Churches has criticized Turkey’s lack of legal protection of churches, and called on European institutions to protect the country’s Syriac Orthodox Mor Gabriel monastery, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.

“The Conference of European Churches is deeply concerned about the threat to the survival of the monastery,” said Rüdiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission and associated general secretary of CEC. “We invite political leaders to do everything in their power to protect the continued existence of the monastery.”

Muslim village leaders from southeastern Turkey have begun legal action to take possession of lands belonging to the Assyrian monastery of Saint Gabriel. The monastery was established in 397 AD, and those who support its retention by its Christian inhabitants note that the monastery was founded before the birth of Islam.

In a statement issued in December, CEC urged the Turkish government to prevent the expropriation of the monastery and its land, calling on the government to respect the right for Christianity to be freely practiced within the monastery, and criticized what it described as the lack of legal protection for Christian churches in Turkey.

The Mor Gabriel monastery is in the Tur Abdin region of Turkey. The building belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Church and is headed by Archbishop Timotheos Samuel Aktas. About 60 monks, nuns and young people, who attend surrounding schools, live in the monastery. Around 70,000 guests visit the monastery every year.

CEC said that since mid-2008 it had received reports that Kurdish and Arab villagers in the neighborhood had occupied land belonging to the monastery.

Rabbi rues that religion is part of Middle East problem

Religion has been part of the problem in the Middle East, but now needs to be part of the solution, says Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of Rabbis for Human Rights.

At the end of January, the Jerusalem-based group helped to bring religious leaders of different faiths to an Israeli hospital where both wounded Israeli soldiers and wounded Gazan civilians were being treated.

“We want to be the voice of peace of every single person to stand up and speak together and to be heard at this troubling time,” said Ascherman.

Pastors, priests, rabbis and imams mourned the dead from both sides and prayed for the healing of all the wounded, the organizers said.

At a separate ecumenical church meeting, Bishop Munib Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said, “The church, with its diverse denominations, can speak in unison about economics with ethics and politics with morals.”

Calling on the church to unite around working for justice, Younan pointed to circumstances in the Palestinian region of Gaza, saying, “The situation in Gaza will not be made right by relief. It will only be made right by justice… The Lord does not call for us to sympathize with captives but to release them.”

Rabbis for Human Rights organized the 27 January gathering in partnership with Jerusalem Peacemakers, an interfaith network of peace-builders. The two groups said they brought together the leaders of different faiths to “raise our voices to express our pain over the death and destruction inflicted on both Israelis and Palestinians”.

The religious leaders met in front of Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, and representatives of the group visited both Palestinian and Israeli children wounded in the attacks.

Prayers of mourning in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions were read out and there were calls for justice, healing and reconciliation.

“There is some truth that historically religion has been part of the problem in this region and we believe it should be part of the solution,” said Ascherman.

Israeli forces withdrew on 18 January from Gaza after a three-week war that left more than 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Israel said it had achieved its objectives of weakening Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, which controls Gaza and which had been launching missiles into Israeli southern border towns for the past eight years.

Rabbis for Human Rights and Jerusalem Peacemakers said they were asking for God’s help to do teshuvah, the Hebrew term for repentance, which means literally to “turn to God,” and cheshbon nefesh, or accounting of the soul.

The gathering was “very somber and hopeful,” said Eliyahu McClean, co-director of Jerusalem Peacemakers.

“We wanted to give a message especially in the aftermath of the war where there is so much anger and hatred between Jews and Arabs within the State of Israel, not to mention Palestinians. that religious leaders are sticking together for reconciliation and healing,” said McClean. “Our destiny is a shared one and we need to find a path forward to reconciliation.”

Summer 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53

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Letter from Damascus

At the invitation of the Grand Mufti of Damascus, during the last week of April Archbishop Lazar Puhalo was in Syria to represent the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in a Christian-Islamic “Conversation.”  Here is his report:

Archbishop Lazar

Archbishop Lazar and monastery cat. Photo by Jim Forest

Our small group included various Canadian Christians plus several members of the Islamic community of Edmonton, Alberta. Two were Orthodox: David Goa (of the Chester Ronning Center of the University of Alberta) and myself (representing the Orthodox Peace Fellowship). We had come to hear an Arabic and Islamic perspective on justice and peace. We went to Damascus with little idea of what to expect.

Arriving late on 25 April, we were met by Sheik Ahmad Badereddine Hassoun, the Mufti of Damascus, and a small group of officials. Officials had arranged a swift passage through customs and passport control. We were then off to a sumptuous multi-course midnight supper of a kind that would only be seen in the Arab world.

It is a commonplace of conferences that more ideas are exchanged over meals and at in-between moments than during formal presentations. Conversation at the meal focused on Gaza, which remained the main topic at all such gatherings.

Our first semi-formal dialogue took place the following evening in the palace adjacent to the Umayyed Mosque in Damascus. Accompanied by Islamic clergy, civil officials and senior students, the Mufti arrived to preside. We were asked to speak briefly about why we had come to Syria. It was obvious that our hosts were “taking the measure” of each of us.

Speaking as a delegate of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, I suggested that our purpose was two-fold. First, we wanted to hear the concerns and aspirations of the Islamic community, and second, we wished to explore common ground in relation to social justice, peace and the ecological problems facing all mankind. Ecological problems threaten the Middle East in a catastrophic way.

It became clear that the agenda for this entire round of talks would be exploratory rather than concrete, and that the results of this visit would determine whether future conferences of more substance might be feasible.

Vocabulary always presents a problem in intercultural exchanges, and this was no exception. Differences in meaning also occur in discussions between Canadians and Americans, but with cultures that differ as deeply as ours and that of the Arab world, much time is spent in deciphering each other. When such emotionally charged words as love, peace, justice and security are used, how do we know what they actually mean when spoken by strangers from a very different culture? This is especially the case when one is as deeply traumatized as Islamic culture has been in our era. How do they know what we mean, even though we use the same words?

It is not simply a matter of the religious and ethnic cultural differences that form a nebula around these issues, but the economic realities of our respective regions also make a difference. When we speak about security, we tend to refer first of all to economic security. Where a general poverty prevails, economic security is not the central meaning of the word. Part of our goal in Damascus was to see to what degree we can resolve such differences in understanding.

It was my aim, as an OPF representative, to foster an awareness of the need for sharing earth’s dwindling resources in a more equitable manner, and ultimately this necessitates setting aside those particularities which incline us to identify our own needs and sensitivities above those of others.

At the same time, we should be aware of the absoluteness of Islamic religious-ideological foundations and be prepared to engage them graciously. Without this, there can be no progress in dialogue.

Our time was not only spent at events arranged by our hosts. There was free time for informal activities according to our own interests “ time to wander in the city and engage in chance conversations.

There is no question that Syria is an interesting place to be. Though it is a secular dictatorship, there is considerable freedom in the non-political aspects of life.

What was obvious on the street was the rapid Europeanization of the younger generation. In Syria, the iconography of this evolution is clear on the T-shirts, in clothing advertisements and the display of brand names. It becomes clear that many of the problems and much of the angst that faces Christianity in North America must also occupy the minds of Moslems.

It is just as clear that this ubiquitous metamorphosis which is homogenizing humanity is reversible neither by preaching, compulsion nor violence; and there can be little doubt that fear of these changes is a generating forces in stimulating terrorism in Islam. The era in which religion could be used to repress the human spirit and persecute the outcasts of society is slowly ending around the world.

We Orthodox Christians may yet be forced back to a living faith in place of ideological religion in order to continue to realize the Gospel as Christ Himself taught it.

The separation of cultural ideology and faith will take much longer in the Islamic world. The concept of the ulema, the theocratic state, is so much a part of the reality and ideology of Islam that it will be dismantled only with great stress and trauma, far more even than in America, where the fantasy of a covenant theocracy still lingers quite strongly in the “religious right.”    ❖

Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) is a retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America. He is abbot of All Saints Monastery in Dewdney, British Columbia, Canada, author of numerous books, and initiator of the OPF group in Canada.

 

Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53

 

News: Winter 2009

Patriarch Kirill pledges to keep church unified

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who was enthroned in Moscow as Kirill I, the 16th patriarch in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, has stressed it is his task to ensure unity within the church and to preserve the faith, but he is also seen as being a more “political leader” than his predecessor by some analysts.

Hundreds of bishops attended the lengthy service on 1 February. A Vatican delegation was led by Cardinal Walter Kasper.

Four of Russia’s most famous choirs performed in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, chanting in Greek, “Axios! Axios! Axios!” (“He is Worthy!”), during the installation of the first Russian Orthodox patriarch to be elected since the fall of the Soviet Union.

In his first sermon as patriarch, Kirill stressed the importance of church unity.

“The Patriarch is the custodian of the internal unity of the Church and, together with his brothers in the episcopate, guardian of the purity of the faith,” he said.

He then addressed the issues of the collapse of the Russian Empire and later of the Soviet Union. This continues to affect the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill said, since its territory extends beyond the borders of the present-day Russian Federation.

“The Patriarch is the defender of the canonical borders of the church,” he said. “This ministry takes on special significance with the situation that arose after the formation of independent states on the territory of ‘historical Rus’.”

“In an era of moral relativism,” Kirill declared, “when the propaganda of violence and debauchery steals the souls of young people, we cannot wait quietly for youth to turn to Christ. … We must be of service to young people, however hard it might be for us of middle and older generations, and help them find faith in God and meaning in life, and together with this an understanding of true human happiness.”

Kirill was elected in the cathedral on 27 January by a Russian Orthodox Church council of bishops, clergy, monks and lay people. [Sophia Kishkovsky/ENI]

Patriarch Aleksy: 1929-2009

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksy II, 79 years old, died December 5 at his residence in Peredelkino outside Moscow. He had often been ill in recent years and had undergone several operations. The most recent, last September, was a heart operation.

Despite illness, he continued serving at the altar and taking an active part in church life. The day before his death, celebrating the start of the Christmas fast, he presided at a Liturgy in the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin.

The first patriarch of post-Soviet Russia, he led the revival of the Church and played a major role in restoring unity with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

The son of a priest, Aleksy Ridiger was born in Tallinn, Estonia, 23 February 1929. He entered the Leningrad Theological Seminary in 1947, graduating two years later. He was ordained priest in Leningrad in April 1950 and appointed to a parish in Estonia. While there he continued his external studies at the Leningrad Theological Academy, graduating in 1953.

He was tonsured as a monk in March 1961 and several months later was appointed Bishop of Tallinn. That same year the Russian Orthodox Church joined the World Council of Churches and Aleksy became a member of the WCC’s Central Committee.

For many years he was active in the Conference of European Churches, of which he became president in 1972 and chairman in 1987.

During the 1980s, in the final years of the USSR, he did much to repair church relations with the Soviet state. While the Soviet Union was falling apart, Aleksy dedicated himself to keeping the church together.

In 1986 Aleksy was appointed Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod. His time in Leningrad coincided with Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, which greatly relaxed anti-religious restrictions. (Reacting to Aleksy’s death, the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said he was “so shocked that it is hard for me to find words on the spot. I respected him deeply.”)

Elected patriarch in 1990, he traveled widely, visiting more than 100 dioceses and encouraged congregations to come back to the fold.

A noted academic, he had hundreds of articles published in both the religious and secular press worldwide. He placed great emphasis on the education of the clergy, overseeing the building of new theological schools and colleges.

At the end of 2006, there were more than 27,000 active parishes throughout the old territory of the Soviet Union, 20,000 more than when he had been elected.

‘My heart aches,’ says director of bombed Gaza clinic

Constantine Dabbagh had prepared himself for the worst when he visited the ruins of the Gaza clinic for mothers and children, run by his organization, that was destroyed by an Israeli jet.

Nonetheless, he said he was shocked by the scale of devastation. “There was a heap of rubble, and some papers from files blowing about in the wind, and that was all. Nothing survived,” said Dabbagh, the executive director in Gaza of the Middle East Council of Churches Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees.

“We thought there might have been something we could keep as a memento of 40 years serving the community, but everything had been obliterated. Only after digging did we find a couple of smashed machines,” the 70-year-old director said. “I cannot express how I felt. I didn’t cry, but my heart was aching. For humans to have caused this made it especially shocking.”

It wasn’t until several weeks after the attack that Dabbagh was able to carry out the inspection.

A Palestinian Christian, Dabbagh was spending Christmas in Bethlehem when the Israeli incursion into Gaza started at the end of 2008, and it wasn’t until the cease-fire in mid-January that he was able to return home.

The clinic, in the densely populated Shujaiya district of Gaza City, was destroyed after people living in the flat above received a telephone warning from the Israelis to vacate the premises. A missile strike followed 15 minutes later.

Dabbagh said the reason the building was targeted remains a mystery. He was adamant that it had not been used for military purposes by Hamas.

The clinic was closed at the time because of the security situation, but the bombing destroyed medicines and equipment worth thousands of dollars. The facility is supported by Action by Churches Together International, a global alliance of churches and related agencies.

One of only three clinics serving a population of 80,000, it offered pre- and post-natal care and the services of gynaecologists and general doctors. It had also recently launched an ambitious program to visit 15,000 homes to check every child between six months and three years old for malnutrition.

“Much has to be replaced,” said Dabbagh. “We had a laboratory fully equipped for blood tests and ultrasound, and we had only just put in computers with a management information system There was a six-week stock of medicine and water purification equipment, as well as milk and nutritious biscuits for the malnutrition program.”

After visiting the ruins, Dabbagh said a clinic operating out of borrowed premises would be running within days. “The community is very anxious that we continue, so we will be replacing what we can and starting from scratch,” he said. “The silence of Western governments in the face of incidents like this is the silence of the grave,” Dabbagh asserted.

“After nearly 41 years of occupation we have to say enough is enough. We are humiliated and oppressed, enslaved and imprisoned. You reach madness if you do not believe in God. It affects the young people particularly. They will not forgive anybody for what is going on. It is a tragedy.”

Convert elected head of the Orthodox Church of America

Over the course of 11 days in November, a soft-spoken monk known as Jonah saw his life change in ways he hadn’t dreamed of. For years he had been abbot of a monastery in California. Then, just days after being consecrated bishop of Forth Worth, Texas, he was elected metropolitan of the 100,000-member Orthodox Church in America.

Born James Paffhausen, the 49-year-old Chicago native was baptized in the Episcopal Church. He converted to Orthodoxy as a college student, was ordained a priest and then became a monk, and founded a monastery  St. John of San Francisco and Shanghai located in Manton, California.

His election as head of the church’s synod of bishops was greeted with joy by members of the OCA, which is still reeling from a September report detailing the disappearance of millions of dollars in church funds under two of Jonah’s predecessors.

Jonah was formally installed as metropolitan on December 28 at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC. Among the formidable tasks confronting him are the restoration of trust in the church’s hierarchy and administration as well as fostering unity among the different Orthodox churches in the US and raising Orthodoxy’s profile in a country where Orthodox Christianity, in many places, is a trace element.

Asked what drew him, as a student, to the Orthodox Church, he replied: “I encountered Orthodoxy in a hippie bookstore, picking up a book called the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky. It was one of the few books on Orthodoxy available in English at the time. When I read it, I knew it was the truth. I saw that Orthodoxy is the fully integrated experience and vision of what Christianity is all about.”

He was also asked if, as metropolitan, he will encourage the Church to take a more public role on political matters.

He responded: “There’s a difference between political issues and moral issues. When there are things which destroy people’s souls, it’s our fundamental responsibility to stand up and say, this is wrong, and this is wrong because it will hurt you. It’s not wrong because it says so in some book somewhere, in the canons or even in the Holy Scriptures. That’s part of the basis of judgment, but it comes down to, it’s wrong because it hurts you.”

Olivier Clément, 1921-2009

Olivier Clément, the renowned theologian and long-time professor at St. Sergius Institute in Paris, died at his home in Paris on January 15. He was 87 years old.

His conversion to Christianity at age 30 was in part influenced by the writings of Nicolas Berdyaev and Vladimir Lossky.

He was a member of the joint Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue. He also inspired the work of the Orthodox Brotherhood in Western Europe since its founding in the early 1960s and participated actively in various conferences Orthodox Christians in Western Europe since 1971.

He was the author of 30 books. English translations include the following: The Roots of Christian Mysticism (New City Press); Three Prayers (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press); You Are Peter (New City); On Human Being: Spiritual Anthropology (New City Press); and The Spirit of Solzhenitsyn.

A sentence from his writings: “The spiritual person is drunk with the wine of love and that wine is the Spirit, the wine of power and life.”

US Protestants more loyal to toothpaste than church

Protestants in the United States have less “brand loyalty” to their denominations than they have to their toothpaste, a survey made public in January revealed.

The survey, which categorized churches as “brands,” found there is a trend of “church shopping” in a diverse marketplace of religious offerings in the US.

The survey found that only 16 percent of US Protestants surveyed said they will not consider changing their denominational affiliation. By contrast, 22 percent expressed brand loyalty to a preferred toothpaste.

Winter 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 52

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OPF’s Vocation: Witnessing to the Peace of Christ

Several meetings held as a part of the recent OPF-North American conference in Maryland focused on the road ahead. These notes grew out of those discussions.

Education: Taking education to mean both educating ourselves and helping to educate others, we have begun to develop a more active engagement. There is interest in providing formal and informal experiences for OPF members to advance their development as peacemakers, while also giving of our own knowledge and understanding of Holy Tradition to others within the larger community.

One way will be to promote learning from others who are further along on that particular journey, such as the Christian Peacemaker Teams, acknowledging that what matters most is how effectively we facilitate the growth of Christ’s peace among His people, rather than parochial concerns of jurisdiction.

OPF Conference: For the 2009 Conference, David Holden suggested focusing on health, including mental health, possibly doing it as a joint conference with the Orthodox Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Topics within this area in which members have evinced interest include: PTSD and suicide (as manifested by returning troops who must cope with what they have seen and done in war), schizophrenia and other maladies that require much of family and care-givers, counseling that recognizes and draws upon spirituality, and asceticism in the past, present and future of the Church. Two venues have been discussed for 2009: the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, and a location in the Minneapolis area. We hope to get back to the western part of the continent, if not in 2009, then 2010.

Collaboration: Educating others begins at home with Orthodox Christians. In higher education, we have begun a new collaboration with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship to provide a way to bring an awareness of OPF and the search for peace to many more young people. An earlier OPF publication, For the Peace from Above, will be used, with editing and revision, in this new context.

Children’s curriculum: In elementary/secondary education, Renee Zitzloff suggested we develop a children’s curriculum on relevant topics; she has been joined in this project by Sally Eckert. Synaxis, an Orthodox publishing house, has offered to support us with low-cost publishing of texts we develop for these projects.

Adult education: In Communion articles and original writings by members can gain wider circulation via the web. We will also consider the possibility of an OPF blog using essays based on conference talks as a basis for discussion. The same sort of thing can be done through Ancient Faith Radio, using audio versions.

Making OPF better known: Mother Raphaela proposed a special mailing of In Communion to non-members who may be interested in joining. Elaine Patico suggested establishing an “OPF Sunday.” Participating parishes would be provided with a Presentation Kit from OPF, which might include an outline for a talk or discussion, back issues of In Communion, OPF brochures, the resource book we are developing for OCF, and OPF mini-posters with patristic texts on peace and reconciliation.

Web presence: Michael Markwick is preparing to open a new section of InCommunion.org that will serve as a North American sub-site, to cover events and developments in our region, and report on conferences and chapter happenings. We would like to see it be truly North American, with contributions from the US, Canada and Mexico. We will be soliciting contributions of event notices, articles or essays by members to populate this new sub-site.

Local groups: Renee Zitzloff and others started on OPF group in Minneapolis which she hopes to revitalize during the coming year. Members in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles have expressed interest in starting local groups.

Extra-Orthodox contacts: Alex Patico has been working with the Decade to Overcome Violence, a World Council of Churches project, and Olive Branch Partnership, an interfaith group that sprang out of the Christian Witness against the War in Iraq.

Future contacts might include a project designed to aid and train clergy who work with returning veterans, which is being organized by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (Eastern Mennonite University); Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace – a meeting of the Atraditional peace churches” (Quaker, Mennonite and Brethren), which will take place in January in Philadelphia (OPF has been invited to participate); and Consistent Life, an “International Network for Peace, Justice and Life,” which emphasizes a consistent ethic opposing abortion, assisted suicide, capital punishment and war.

Peacemaking Services: It has been suggested that OPF develop a capability to assist parishes or Orthodox organizations in resolving intractable conflicts. This may seem an impossibly ambitious aim, but if a sufficient number of members were to make a serious commitment, it could be an important contribution to the life of the Church.

As the concept has taken shape thus far, OPF would assemble a team that would include persons with a background in conflict analysis, conflict resolution, relationship-building; would be based on high standards of confidentiality, professionalism, and Christ-centeredness; would be done at lowest-possible cost to the inviting group, but with minimum out-of-pocket expense for those taking part; would develop, over time, a body of knowledge that itself could prove useful to other groups confronting antagonism that threatens to undermine the peace and growth of parishes. One existing example of practical peacemaking that is changing lives and communities is Reconciliation Services, an Orthodox-oriented, Kansas-based community organization with a unique mission (www.rs3101.org).

Accountability: In order that members and supporters of OPF be able to know how their donations are being used, and to be able to influence the directions taken, we have resolved to send regular updates to the members of the Advisory Board of OPF, consult with active and experienced members regarding decisions, provide answers, in a timely fashion, to any member who has questions about our dealings, and distribute an annual report on finances that goes to the entire membership.

— Alex Patico, OPF-NA secretary

Fall 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 51