Category Archives: News Reports

News articles or essays published in IC

OPF Report to North American Bishops

Here is the report I gave to the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) at their conference last summer. It was a good time to become acquainted with the hierarchs. They asked about our focus, noting we have a wide umbrella of concerns, whether or not we are political, and, if we were to send peacemaking teams into conflict area for practical assistance, how we would approach this in the long term. They also asked to be kept informed about our conferences and other initiatives. I said that we are encouraging local chapters by creating start-up kits and developing an organized support system and that our long-term goal is to provide more practical assistance in areas of division and conflict. I stressed that we are not political, though we work to be sensitive to issues involved our responses to issues that generate division and conflict. The bishops were encouraging. I look forward to reporting to them again.

Sheri San Chirico

Coordinator, OPF-North America

Your Eminence, Your Beatitude, your Eminences, and your Graces. I come before you as the North American coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Protection of the Mother of God, also known as OPF. I bring greetings from our international secretary, Jim Forest, who lives in The Netherlands. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you who we are as a fellowship of Orthodox Christians, our projects for the last year, and our hopes for the coming year.

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is an association of Orthodox Christians belonging to different nations and jurisdictions trying to live the peace of Christ in day-to-day life, including situations of division and conflict. We publish a quarterly journal, In Communion, maintain an online fellowship and discussion group of our members, and hold regular conferences and workshops. We also have local chapters, the most active of which is in Minneapolis, currently raising funds to open a house of hospitality.

Issues of In Communion often have a theme, and our most recent was on Peace- making in the Parish. Hopefully you all have picked up a copy from the display table. It included three articles entitled, “Parish Ethics and the Teaching of Jesus,” “When Taking Cover Is Not Enough,” and “Seeking the Peace From Above.” In Communion also often includes excerpts both from the news articles which are shared on our online fellowship and from the discussions that ensue.

In July 2005 we held our most recent conference at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York. Our theme was “Salt of the Earth, Light of the World,” and we brought together ministries from the eastern half of North America that were actively ministering to marginalized people. Joe May, Director of Matthew 25 House in Akron, Ohio, and Fr. Paisius Altschul, Director of Reconciliation Ministries in Kansas City, Missouri, were our main speakers, and the ministries provided workshops during the day that taught the participants both about the vision of their ministries as well as the nuts and bolts of how the ministry began and was conduct- ed on a day to day basis.

This past May, we held a peacemaking workshop at Matthew 25 House through which a small group learned from a long time peacemaker and member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. He and his wife both travel yearly to Palestine and Iraq witnessing to the need for peace in violent and often dangerous situations. We learned techniques of peacemaking from him and spent much time sharing with each other about the foundations of peace in the Orthodox tradition, drawing on the Scriptures, the Fathers, and from wider Church history.

Peacemaking can mean many things. So let me briefly describe some of the peacemaking techniques that we learned. We learned how to befriend over time the very soldiers that were harassing Palestinians, and how to connect with an angry aggressor so that he or she will not attack. We discussed the need to face our own possible sacrifices in putting ourselves in areas of conflict, and how our Orthodox faith gives us examples of saints who have done so and theology that backs up this action.

We have stated in OPF that our three main tenants are theological research, publications, and practical assistance in areas of conflict. Our challenges ahead are mostly comprised of ways to increase the third area of practical assistance. As our members are spread across the continent and world, and many are committed to living simply, it is difficult to gather together due to the costs of travel. Our workshop in May was a first step in training our members in how to offer practical assistance. We learned ways to be a presence in violent areas without becoming a third party in the violence. We will continue to conduct training projects in order to increase availability to our members in the hopes that we will be ready to provide this practical assistance in areas of conflict. This is our long term goal.

OPF is also looking toward the continued development of local chapters in order to further our mission. In fact, the creation of local chapters represents a relatively new endeavor for OPF North America. We are now developing start-up kits to provide better support for members who are interested in starting their own local chapters. We hope that through these local chapters, projects will be initiated and will reach out to the marginalized people in their own community. Our goal is that these chapters and projects will be connected to the parishes to which the OPF members belong.

Finally, we are planning a conference in Portland, Oregon, where there is interest in beginning a local chapter, for spring 2007 with the theme “Living Peacefully, Locally.” I’ll finish by reading an excerpt from Fr. John Breck’s article, “Parish Ethics and the Teaching of Jesus,” in our last In Communion.

Unless our parish life reflects at its deepest level that most fundamental concern for love, then we cannot claim that our parish is truly “of the Church” at all. That love, however, needs to be directed to the inner life of the church community as much as to those who live beyond its walls. Within the parish dwell both the Publican and the Pharisee, both the Prodigal and the Older Son. Yet only God can judge the category into which any of us falls. It is never our place to attempt to do so. Parish life – communal life within the Body of Christ – is appropriately marked by an ongoing struggle on the part of each of its members to move from hypocrisy and sinfulness, to repentance and humility. Because we live in communion with one another, that movement or spiritual growth involves not only ourselves as isolated individuals. It involves us together as a living community, united in faith and love in the Name and in the Person of Jesus Christ. This most simple and basic truth has momentous implications for specific relationships, and the resolution of specific problems, within any parish setting.

I read this quote because it highlights that our fellowship is committed to peace not only on the big scale, concentrating mainly on war, but within each person, in the family, in the parish, in the nation, internationally, and in the environment. We are committed to seeing peace as our ongoing struggle to move from sinfulness and hypocrisy to repentance and humility, especially in how we interact with others in our families, parishes, nations, internationally, and in the environment. Thank you for the support you’ve given us over the last two years. Thank you also for the gracious reception you have given to my daughter Lucy over the past few days. It has been a joy to be with you. OPF looks forward to continuing our efforts with your blessing in the years ahead.

Sheri San Chirico is coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007

News – Summer 2006

In Communion / issue 42 / Summer 2006


Bartholomew leading Amazon environmental voyage

In 1995, on the Aegean island of Patmos, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made a startling proposition: That pollution and other attacks on the environment should be recognized as sins. He quickly became known as the “green patriarch.”

In July Patriarch Bartholomew set off, with a group of religious leaders, scientists and environmental activists, on a week-long trip along the Amazon River to examine the interplay of faith and ecology. It is Bartholomew’s sixth “green journey” since the first in 1995.

The efforts of Bartholomew and others have energized some of the most lively theological explorations in recent years, with fresh studies and interpretation of scripture along environmental lines.

Bartholomew’s trip hopes to draw the attention of religious leaders to the critical pressures facing the Amazon, including clearing pristine rain forest for farmland.

Following the Liturgy on the 16th of July, the third day of the voyage, there was a formal Blessing of the Waters at the point where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes meet to become the Amazon. (See: www.

“The environment brings a sense of urgency and shared purpose that few other issues can bring,” said Mary Evelyn Tucker, a co-founder of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. “It cuts across all religious traditions.”

Jaroslav Pelikan: eternal memory

Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, a leading scholar in the history of Christianity, fell asleep in the Lord on May 13 after a long battle with cancer.

He was born in 1923 in Akron, Ohio, to a Slovak father and a Serbian mother. His father was a Lutheran pastor and his paternal grandfather was a bishop of the Slovak Lutheran Church in America. He belonged to the Lutheran Church for most of his life, but in 1998 he and his wife Sylvia were received into the Orthodox Church. Members of Pelikan’s family remember him saying that he had not as much converted to Orthodoxy as “returned to it, peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there.”

His many books include The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.

He joined the Yale University faculty in 1962 as the Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History and in 1972 he became the Sterling Professor Emeritus of History until 1996. He served as acting dean and then dean of the Graduate School from1973-78. His awards included the Medieval Academy of America’s 1985 Haskins Medal.

He was past president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was editor of the religion section of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1980 he founded the Council of Scholars at the Library of Congress.

In 2002 he was appointed chairperson for the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of History and Archives.

In 2004, having received the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences, Pelikan donated his award to Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, of which he was a trustee.

He was a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. [Wikipedia and the OCA news service]

Exile Russian church opts for unity with Moscow

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad adopted a resolution in May at a historic synod that would accept the Moscow Patriarch as its head after more than 80 years of bitter separation following the Communist revolution.

The 135 delegates and top church officials at only the fourth All-Diaspora Council since 1920 adopted a recommendation calling for spiritual unity with the Moscow Patriarchate but administrative autonomy, church officials told Reuters.

“We as a church have to do this to be in communion with the masses of faithful in Russia,” Archbishop Mark, who has led the church’s negotiations with Moscow, told Reuters. “We can help the church in Russia to develop along a new path.”

In the period of Soviet rule, the exile church considered the Moscow Patriarchate a tool of the state. Feelings were so strong that it has taken 15 years since the fall of Communism for reconciliation to take place.

Some exile church officials are still suspicious of Moscow church head Patriarch Alexis, saying he once had links to the KGB. Any spiritual reunion with Moscow may prompt some to leave the church.

“The more time passes, the less Russian the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad will remain,” Alexis said last month. “This could be the last opportunity to bring together within one church two parts of the Russian people who were divided for political reasons as a result of the 1917 tragedy.”

The archbishop said the Church Abroad will retain the right to appoint its own bishops although the patriarch would bless their choices. (Reuters)

Russian Orthodox bishop urges Church not to leave WCC

In a statement issued in May, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to European institutions, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, urged his church not to withdraw from the World Council of Churches as a condition for planned reunification with the US-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

“I’m convinced there are no more obstacles to reunion – although disagreements exist, these can be settled once unity is restored,” said Bishop Hilarion in a message carried on his Web site. “The problem of whether to stay a member of, or leave, the World Council of Churches should be resolved by discussion. However, I believe it should be solved in the context of a general strategy for inter-Christian cooperation.”

The bishop noted that ROCA delegates had in Brazil criticized the Moscow Patriarchate’s stance during the WCC’s assembly in February when they called for reduced cooperation with Protestant denominations.

“I agree with those who believe it’s necessary to strengthen communication firstly with churches which protect traditional spiritual and moral values, instead of with liberal Protestants. Perhaps a council made up of the Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental churches would be more effective than the WCC,” said Bishop Hilarion, who represents Orthodoxy on the WCC’s executive committee. “But I doubt leaving the WCC would benefit the Russian church. I generally believe withdrawal would not affect the Russian Orthodox church’s internal life in any way.”

Russian Orthodox prelate joins Ecumenical Patriarchate

The deposed head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain has defended his decision to transfer to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, after its Holy Synod confirmed that it had now formally accepted him.

“I appealed to be allowed to join them and they have now accepted me on their own terms,” said Bishop Basil, who until recently headed the diocese of Sourozh, as the British section of the Russian Orthodox Church is called.

Bishop Basil was speaking after the announcement of his been acceptance by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 8 June. He said he expected at least half the clergy in the 30 parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain to join him.

The 68-year-old prelate was sacked by Moscow Patriarch Alexis as head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain in May after Basil asked to be allowed to be placed under the jurisdiction of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos.

Bishop Basil had complained that some of a new generation of Russians arriving in Britain had waged a campaign against him, and that those working against him had received support from within the Moscow Patriarchate.

The membership of the Russian church in Britain has jumped to more than 100,000 since the collapse of communist rule in Russia in 1991. Previously, the British diocese had only about 2000-3000 members, most of them English speaking.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, the Russian church seemed very open to Western Europe, and we had non-Russian bishops here,” Basil told Ecumenical News International in a 9 June interview. “But with the collapse of communism, the demographic picture changed, as did attitudes in Russia itself. The Moscow Patriarchate become less interested in communities which had grown up here, and more concerned with solidifying its control over those arriving here for the first time.”

In its 8 June statement, the Ecumenical Patriarchate said its Holy Synod had unanimously decided to elect Archbishop Basil as an auxiliary bishop and that he would “serve the pastoral needs of Orthodox living in Great Britain” who wished to come under the Istanbul-based patriarchate. [ENI]

Orthodox church to open in Beijing

The Russian Orthodox Church will receive permission to build a chapel in Beijing, it was announced in July by Ye Xiaowen, head of China’s state administration for religious affairs, when he was talking to Patriarch Alexis of Moscow.

At the global inter-religious summit just held in the Russian capital, Ye Xiaowen assured the Orthodox Patriarch that the matter of a church in Beijing “was about to be resolved.” For the time being, the only news that has leaked out is that the building will be dedicated to the Dormition of Mary and will be situated within the perimeter of the Russian embassy in the Chinese capital.

Alexis and Ye also discussed a number of problems, including the situation facing Chinese Orthodox Christians. Currently there are around 13,000 Orthodox Christians in China, but they are not recognized as an official religious community, of which there are five. The Church is doing its utmost to gain recognition before 2008, the year of the Olympics in Beijing. In anticipation of the hoped-for event, 13 Chinese Orthodox students are undergoing studies at the Sretenskaya Theological Academy in Moscow and the Academy of St. Petersburg, to pave the way for a minimal presence of clergy there. Prayer books in Russian and Chinese are already in circulation.

Catholics and Orthodox discuss Europe’s soul

The contribution of Christians is indispensable in restoring Europe’s soul, Catholics and Orthodox affirmed in a meeting on culture held in Vienna in May.

“We believe that Christians, preaching the hope brought by Christ’s resurrection, united together with people of other faiths and convictions, can help everyone to live in an ethically grounded, just and peaceful society,” the participants stated in their final message.

It was the first time that the Vatican organized a symposium in partnership with the Patriarchate of Moscow. Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, president of the Department of External Relations of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, presided over the meeting. The meeting was attended by lay and religious experts chosen jointly by the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow.

According to the participants, the present crisis splitting Europe “is of a cultural order. Its Christian identity is being diluted. The situation of European peoples is characterized by man’s profound doubt about himself: He knows what he can do, but does not know who he is.”

This crisis has “dramatic demographic consequences: the rejection of children, unions without a future, trial marriages, homosexual unions, the refusal to share life with a person in marriage. All this is a genuine European demographic suicide, in the name of egoism, and hedonism.”

To respond to these challenges, the participants emphasized “the mission of education … All education is discovery of a heritage that arouses love and recognition. In this way, we will be able to contribute to the rediscovery of our Christian roots.” (Zenit)

Iraqi War death toll tops 50,000

Iraqi Freedom

At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 US-led invasion, according to statistics released in June by the Iraqi Health Ministry, a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.

Many more Iraqis are believed to have died but not been counted because of lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government. Spotty reporting nationwide has continued ever since.

Iraqi officials involved in compiling the statistics say violent deaths in some regions have been grossly undercounted, notably in the troubled province of Al Anbar in the west. Health workers there are unable to compile the data because of violence, security crackdowns, electrical shortages and failing telephone networks.

The Health Ministry acknowledged the undercount. The ministry also said its figures exclude the three northern provinces of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan because Kurdish officials do not provide death reports to the Baghdad government .

The toll, mainly civilian, is daunting: Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years. In the same period, at least 2,520 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq.

At the Baghdad morgue, the vast majority of bodies processed had been shot execution-style. Many showed signs of torture – drill holes, burns, missing eyes and limbs, officials said. Others had been strangled, beheaded, stabbed or beaten to death.

Almost 75 percent of those who died violently were killed in “terrorist acts,” typically bombings, the records show. The other 25 percent were killed in what were classified as military clashes. A health official described the victims as “innocent bystanders,” many shot by Iraqi or American troops, in crossfire or accidentally at checkpoints. (The Los Angeles Times)

Washington losing “war on terror”

Despite high-profile arrests, security operations and upbeat assessments from the White House, the United States is losing its “global war on terror,” a number of experts warned in July.

“We are losing the ‘war on terror’ because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause,” argued Anne-Marie Slaughter, head of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. “Our insistence that Islamic fundamentalist ideology has replaced communist ideology as the chief enemy of our time feeds Al-Qaeda’s vision of the world,” boosting support for the Islamic radical cause, she said.

“It was a doomed enterprise from the very start: a ‘war on terror’ – it’s as ridiculous as a ‘war on anger,’ You do not wage a war on terror, you wage a war against people,” said Alain Chouet, a former senior officer of France’s foreign intelligence service. “The Americans have been stuck inside this idea of a ‘war on terror’ since September 11, they are not asking the right questions. You can always slaughter terrorists – there are endless reserves of them. We should not be attacking the effects of terrorism but its causes: Wahhabite ideology, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood. But no one will touch any of those.”

Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, agreed that Washington was acting as its own worst enemy in the fight against Islamic terrorism. “We’re clearly losing. Today, Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and their allies have only one indispensable ally: the US’ foreign policy towards the Islamic world.” (AFP)

A lieutenant says no

In a remarkable protest from inside the ranks of the military, First Lieut. Ehren Watada, 28, has become the Army’s first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal.

He announced his decision not to obey orders to deploy to Iraq in a video press conference June 7, saying, “My participation would make me party to war crimes …. It is my conclusion as an officer of the armed forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order.”

A native of Hawaii who enlisted in the Army after graduating from college in 2003, Watada differs from other military personnel who have sought conscientious-objector status to avoid deployment to Iraq.

Watada said he gave the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt as it built the case for war. But when he discovered he was being sent to Iraq, he began reading everything he could. He concluded that the war was based on false claims, ranging from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to the claim that Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 to the idea that the US is in Iraq to promote democracy.

“I came to the conclusion that the war and what we’re doing over there is illegal.”

Watada said the military conduct of the occupation is also illegal: “If you look at the Army Field Manual, 27-10, which governs the laws of land warfare, it states certain responsibilities for the occupying power. As the occupying power, we have failed to follow a lot of those regulations…. The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people is,” he said, “a contradiction to the Army’s own law of land warfare.”

Watada’s decision to hold a press conference and post his statements online puts him at serious risk. If the Army construes his public statements as an attempt to encourage other soldiers to resist, he could be charged with mutiny under Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which considers anyone who acts “with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny.”

“The one God-given freedom and right that we really have is freedom of choice,” Watada said. “I just want to tell everybody, especially people who doubt the war, that you do have that one freedom. That’s something that they can never take away. Yes, they will imprison you. They’ll throw the book at you. They’ll try to make an example out of you, but you do have that choice.”

Appeal for a torture ban

In a statement published in The New York Times in June, US religious leaders called for the elimination of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The statement, “Torture is a Moral Issue,” proclaims that torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear.

The statement is signed by 27 national religious leaders, including Archbishop Demetrios of America, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, DC; Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter; and Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America.

The organizer of the statement, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, urges Congress and the President to “remove all ambiguities” by prohibiting secret US prisons around the world, ending the rendition of suspects to countries that use torture, granting the Red Cross access to all detainees, and not exempting any arm of the government from human rights standards.

Churches still at risk in Kosovo

A picturesque valley in the western province of Kosovo is home to the largest and best preserved monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The 14th century Decani monastery has not only survived the passage of time but also the ravages of war. Even though around half the Serb population fled a wave of revenge attacks after the war, the 100,000 who stayed are still targeted by sporadic violence. Stoning of police, attacks on individuals and even murder are not uncommon.

Life in Kosovo has been a struggle for Serbs since June 1999, when NATO bombing halted Belgrade’s repression against independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. Since then, this region has been a United Nations protectorate.

With the region still legally part of Serbia, negotiations aimed at resolving its status began in February. Ethnic Albanians say they will settle for nothing less than complete independence, while Serbs won’t surrender land they consider the cradle of their civilization. For them, Kosovo is “the land of monasteries.”

Visitors to Decani monastery must first pass a heavily armored military checkpoint manned by UN forces.

One of the monks of Decani, Fr. Sava, juggles his mobile phone with his computer hooked up to the Internet. These are essential tools for this “cyber monk,” who has been telling the outside world about his church and the plight of minority Serbs in the UN-governed former Yugoslav province.

“Living in a medieval setting does not mean accepting a medieval mentality. The Internet enables us to speak from the pulpit of a keyboard,” said Fr. Sava. He regrets the slow progress in building a truly multiethnic, respectful Kosovo.

“Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo is probably one of the most important parts of Serbian heritage in general. It is part of the Serbian identity,” says Father Sava. But it’s an identity in danger: since 1999, more than 100 churches have been the target of Albanian extremists. The continual violence culminated in March 2004, when holy sites were targeted.

In 2004, UNESCO added Decani to the World Heritage List, citing its frescoes as “one of the most valued examples of the so-called Palaeologan renaissance in Byzantine painting” and “a valuable record of the life in the 14th century.”

Many churches and monasteries have been destroyed and badly damaged. The city of Prizren suffered the worst damage. The church of Bogorodica Ljeviska, built in 1307, was burned down by a mob. It was regarded as one of the finest examples of late Byzantine art and architecture in the world.

At the meeting on the protection of monuments held in Vienna in June, Ylber Hysa, a Kosovo Albanian negotiator, said that Kosovo’s capital city, Pristina, is offering “full recognition of the rule and the status of the church in Kosovo.” The ethnic Albanian-dominated government, Hysa added, is committed to “providing legal guarantees, physical protection, along with benefits like tax exemption, and creation of special zones.”

For the moment, though, the international military presence seems to be essential. “We need long-term security,” says Fr. Sava, “as the monastery is not only Serb, it’s part of a Christian heritage that belongs to the whole of Europe.”

An important sign of reconciliation and recognition arrived when Fatmir Sejdiu, the Kosovo Albanian president who took office last February, visited the Visoki Decani monastery to mark Orthodox Easter, the first icebreaking gesture since the end of the conflict seven years ago.

Yet much remains to be done. “The problem,” Fr. Sava reflects, “is that there is a very ethnic-based approach in Kosovo, where the Serbs are neglected, with a lack of responsibility in ensuring that Serbs should live like normal citizens. I wish we had a leadership that would take care of the citizens of Kosovo as a whole.” (Monica Ellena of ABC News)

Multi-faith conference calls conversion basic religious right

At an interfaith conference in Geneva in May, the participants – Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims – concluded that everyone should have the right to convert to another faith.

The statement on religious freedom was issued on behalf of the conference by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches and Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

“Freedom of religion connotes the freedom, without any obstruction, to practice one’s own faith, freedom to propagate the teachings of one’s faith to people of one’s own and other faiths,” the statement said. This also meant “the freedom to embrace another faith out of one’s free choice.”

The statement was in line with recent calls by the Vatican and other Christian bodies for better treatment for non-Muslims in Islamic countries.

Limits on non-Muslims in Islamic countries are far harsher than any restrictions imposed in the West that Muslims decry. Saudi Arabia bans public expression of non-Muslim religions, and sometimes arrests Christians for worshiping privately, while Pakistan’s Islamic laws deprive local Christians of basic rights although churches can function. In Iran and some other Muslim countries, converts to other religions or to humanism – like Dutch Somali-born politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali – are condemned as “apostates” and can be executed if they refuse to repent. In Afghanistan, Islamic clerics in March condemned Western pressure for the release of a man who had been jailed after converting to Christianity and said he should have been executed for abandoning Islam. (Reuters)

It’s official: you can’t buy happiness

It turns out that happiness really isn’t something money can buy.

A wealth of data in recent decades demonstrates that once personal wealth exceeds about $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in life satisfaction. From 1958 to 1987, for example, income in Japan grew fivefold, but researchers could find no corresponding increase in happiness.

In part, said Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, who has studied the phenomenon closely, people feel wealthy by comparing themselves with others. When incomes rise across a nation, people’s relative status does not change.

Social comparisons are not the only factor at play. A psychological factor is habituation. The happiness experienced due to an increase in income lasts only until the beneficiary gets used to his newfound status, which is often a matter of months.

When people win lotteries, Layard said, “initially there is a big increase in happiness, but then it reverts to its original level. So why do people want to win lotteries? … They have a rather short-term focus, and they don’t seem to grasp long-term ways their own feelings work.”

The journal Science reported in July yet more evidence and another theory about why wealth does not make people happy: “The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory,” one of its studies concluded. “People with above-average income … are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities.

“The effect of income on life satisfaction seems to be transient. We argue that people exaggerate the contribution of income to happiness because they focus, in part, on conventional achievements when evaluating their lives and the lives of others.”

“People grossly exaggerate the impact that higher incomes would have on their subjective well-being,” said Alan Krueger, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and an author of the study.

The problem is that once people get past the level of poverty, money does not play a significant role in day-to-day happiness, Krueger said. It certainly can buy things, but things do not usually address most of the troubles people experience in daily life – concerns about their children, problems in intimate relationships and stressful aspects of their jobs.

In fact, the study found, the more money people have, the less likely they are to spend time doing certain kinds of enjoyable things that make them happy. High-income individuals are often focused on goals, which can bring satisfaction, but working toward achievements is different from experiencing things that are enjoyable in themselves, such as enjoying close relationships and engaging in leisure activities.

“If you want to know why I think poor people are not that miserable, it is because they are able to enjoy things that a billionaire has not been able to enjoy, given his busy schedule,” Krueger surmised.

“One of the mistakes people make is they focus on the salary and not the non-salary aspects of work,” Krueger said. “People do not put enough weight on the quality of work. That is why work looks like, for most people, the worst moments of the day.” (Washington Post)

Blix says US impedes efforts to curb nuclear arms

Hans Blix, former chief United Nations weapons inspector, said in June that US unwillingness to cooperate in international arms agreements is undermining the effectiveness of efforts to curb nuclear weapons. “If [the US] takes the lead, the world is likely to follow,” Blix said. “If it does not take the lead, there could be more nuclear tests and new nuclear arms races.”

Blix made his comments in the introduction to a 225-page report by a Swedish-financed international commission, delivered today to the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan. The panel, with Blix as chairman and members from more than a dozen countries, listed 60 recommendations for nuclear disarmament. It concluded that treaty-based disarmament was being set back by “an increased U.S. skepticism regarding the effectiveness of international institutions and instruments, coupled with a drive for freedom of action to maintain an absolute global superiority in weaponry and means of their delivery.”

The commission said there were 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with 12,000 of them deployed – numbers it labeled “extraordinarily and alarmingly high.”

Blix said he feared the number of nuclear weapons would rise because of efforts to develop more sophisticated new weapons and place them in space. He said he also feared an American-proposed missile shield would bring about countermeasures by Russia and China.

The commission said nuclear weapons should ultimately be banned the way biological and chemical weapons were. “Weapons of mass destruction cannot be uninvented,” the report said. “But they can be outlawed, as biological and chemical weapons already have been, and their use made unthinkable.”

Blix was disparaged by the Bush administration for failing to find any weapons of mass destruction during the three years he headed up the United Nations inspection team in Iraq.

The United States has not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and in 2001 it withdrew from the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty.

US prison population rises to 2.2 million

The US prison population, already the largest in the world, grew in 2005 to 2.18 million, according to a report issued by the Department of Justice. One American in 136 is in prison.

The number of inmates grew 2.6 percent between July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005, an average of 1,085 prisoners per week. According to the annual Census of Jail Inmates, this was the largest increase since 1997. Two-thirds of prisoners are in federal prisons, and the rest are in state prisons. Women make up an increasing proportion of jail inmates, reaching 12.7 percent of the population in 2005, compared to 10.2 percent in 1995. Members of minority groups make up 60 percent of detainees in local prisons; no breakdown was given for federal prisons. Nearly 4.7 percent of African-American men are behind bars in the United States. That percentage grows to nearly 12 percent for black men aged 25 to 29 year old. [AFP]


News section Spring 2006

Iraq: “If you see them as humans, how are you gonna kill them?”

An ever-growing number of veterans of the Iraq conflict are campaigning against the war. To mark the third anniversary of the invasion in March, a group of them marched on Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

At a press conference in New Orleans, former soldiers active with Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke about the anguish they live with each and every day.

Michael Blake, a 22-year-old from New York state, served in Iraq from April 2003 to March 2004, part of that time as a Humvee driver. Deeply disturbed by his experience in Iraq, he filed for conscientious objector status and has been campaigning against the war ever since.

He said that the soldiers he trained with were told little about Iraq, Iraqis or Islam before serving there. Other than a book of Arabic phrases, “the message was always: ‘Islam is evil’ and ‘They hate us.’ Most of the guys I was with believed it.”

Blake said that the turning point for him came one day when his unit spent eight hours guarding a group of Iraqi women and children whose men were being questioned. He recalls: “The men were taken away and the women were screaming and crying, and I just remember thinking: this was exactly what Saddam used to do — and now we’re doing it.”

He witnessed civilian Iraqis being killed indiscriminately. “I’ll never be normal again. I’ll always have a sense of guilt.” Becoming a peace activist, he said, has been a “cleansing” experience.

“When IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] would go off by the side of the road, the instructions were — or the practice was — to basically shoot up the landscape, anything that moved. And that kind of thing would happen a lot.” Many innocent people were killed.

Blake was angry that American people seem so unaware of the abuses committed by American soldiers. “The media doesn’t cover it and they don’t care. The American people aren’t seeing the real war — what’s really happening there.”

Alan Shackleton, a 24-year-old from Iowa, told how he and his comrades in Iraq suffered multiple casualties, including a close friend who died of his injuries. Then he pauses for a moment, swallows hard and says: “And I ran over a little kid and killed him … and that’s about it.” He has been suffering from severe insomnia. “We are very, very sorry for what we did to the Iraqi people,” he said while holding a poster declaring, “Thou shall not kill.”

Jody Casey, 29, stressed that he is no pacifist; he still backs the military. His hope is that protest will help correct mistakes being made. He served as a scout sniper for a year until last February, based in the Sunni triangle. The turning point for him, he said, came after he returned from Iraq and watched videos that he and other soldiers in his unit shot while out on raids, including hour after hour of Iraqi soldiers beating up Iraqi civilians. While reviewing them back home he decided “it was not right.”

What upset him the most about the war was “the total disregard for human life.” “I mean, you do what you do at the time because you feel like you need to, then watch it get covered up, shoved under a rug.”

From the top down, said Casey, there is little regard for the Iraqis. They were routinely called “hajjis,” the Iraq equivalent of “gook.” “They basically jam into your head: ‘This is hajji! This is hajji!’ You totally take the human being out of it and make killing them into a video game.”

He saw dehumanizing the Iraqis as a prerequisite to targeting them. “I mean, yeah — if you start looking at them as humans, then how are you going to kill them?” [The Guardian / UK]

Current warming period longest in 1,200 years, study says

When Montana’s Glacier National Park was created in 1910, it had 150 glaciers. That number has now dwindled to 30 due to warming temperatures, according to a study released by Science Magazine in February.

Researchers analyzed tree rings, ice cores, fossils and other climate records and found that the present warming phase has lasted longer and affected a broader area than any other such period in the last 1,200 years. The researchers behind the study — Timothy Osborn and Keith Briffa from the University of East Anglia in England — reached their conclusion after studying records from 14 sites around the globe. Each of these records shows how its local environment changed over time.

The researchers set out to identify extended periods of warming and cooling that occurred during the past several centuries and affected different regions of the planet at roughly the same time.

“We found that between 890 and 1170 A.D., there was statistically significant widespread warmth corresponding approximately to the so-called Medieval Warm Period,” Osborn said. “The 20th century stands out as the only period in the past 1,200 years when the records all indicate warmth at the same time.”

The most widespread warmth was found not in the Middle Ages but during the 20th century. Proxy records indicate warm conditions in the mid- and late 20th century. But the thermometer measurements clearly show that the expanding area of warmer-than-normal conditions continued through to the present day. Almost the entire Northern Hemisphere is now warmer than normal.

Similar findings were announced in March by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Two studies on changes to Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, NASA reported, confirm “climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in Earth’s largest storehouses of ice and snow.”

NASA linked the changes to global warming and described the survey as “the most comprehensive” ever in both regions.

“If the trends we’re seeing continue and climate warming continues as predicted, the polar ice sheets could change dramatically,” said lead author Jay Zwally, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “The Greenland ice sheet could be facing an irreversible decline by the end of the century.” [MSNBC]

Christian appeal to fight global warming

In a text released in February, 86 American Evangelical leaders backed a major initiative to fight global warming, saying “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Among signers of the statement were the presidents of 39 Evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, and well-known pastors of “megachurches.”

“For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,” the statement said. “Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough.”

The statement calls for federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through “cost-effective, market-based mechanisms.” The statement is the first stage of an “Evangelical Climate Initiative” that will include TV and radio ads, informational campaigns in churches, and educational events. [New York Times]

WCC must leave behind “ossified” ecumenism

A growing gap between ecumenical institutions and the churches they were created to serve is deepening the threat to survival faced by groups such as the World Council of Churches, said that body’s moderator, Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church, at the WCC Assembly held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February.

“We are at a critical point,” said Catholicos Aram. “I see a growing gap between ecumenical institutions and new forms of ecumenism that are appearing.” Aram warned that the group needed to leave behind a “frozen, ossified, petrified form of ecumenism.”

Aram said that the ecumenical agenda was “to a large degree, outdated and incompatible with present needs and concerns. Institutional ecumenism has been preoccupied with its own problems and has, therefore, lost touch with the issues facing the churches.”

The ecumenical vision is also in crisis, he warned. “The real problem is twofold: the ecumenical institutions have started to lose contact with the vision; and the vision appears to be vague and ambiguous.”

Aram noted that the ecumenical movement had become an arena for “new tensions and alienations.” This was seen as a reference to controversies within churches on issues such as homosexuality.

“Many churches misinterpret ecumenism; they equate it with the forces of liberalism and secularism. They fear that it threatens the church’s moral teachings and will lead to proselytism and syncretism.”

Aram said ecumenism needed to go through a process of transformation. “We’re just starting to examine the role, form and priorities of the WCC,” Aram said, “but we must be thinking of not simply a structural reconfiguration but a renewal, a transformation of our life together.” [ENI]

Holy Land Christians fear extinction

A delegation of Israeli-Arab Christians visited the Vatican in February to discuss urgent aid for the struggling Christian communities of the Holy Land.

The delegation submitted a plan to help revive Christian communities in the Holy Land, whose numbers are dwindling. The plan includes obtaining more support from Christians abroad, particularly pilgrims visiting holy sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as this could alleviate the sense of neglect and isolation felt by the local Christians. The plan appeals for increased support for Christian hospitals and schools as well as the establishment of a cultural center for local Christians and community television and radio stations.

“Projects of this sort ensure a better future not only for Christians but for the entire Israeli Arab population,” said Dr Raed Mualem, head of the Mar Elias University in the Galilee town of Ibillin.

“It was time for churches abroad to take a more active role to revitalize Christian communities in the Holy Land. We are a dying congregation,” said Dr. Mualem.

Mualem told Israel’s daily Ha’aretz that soon Galilee Christians would be almost “extinct” because the migration rate is 35 percent. Christians currently comprise about 1.7 per cent of Israel’s six million population — or about 110,000 people. But Mualem said that if the high rate of migration continues then the number of Christians living in Israel will drop to less than half of one per cent of the population by 2020.

Around 40,000 Christians live in the Palestinian territories; they are migrating at a rate of about 2,000 people a year. Christians who have often been wealthier and more educated then their neighbors have increasingly sought to make a better life for their families abroad rather than live as a small minority caught between the mostly Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Muslim populations. [ENI]

Eritreans seek support for patriarch

At the World Council of Churches Assembly in Brazil in February, a group of Eritreans issued an appeal to intervene in the government removal and detention of Patriarch Abune Antonios, head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

“We are deeply concerned about the well-being of Patriarch Abune Antonios, who was unlawfully removed from his office by the government controlled Synod of the Church,” said a statement issued by Concerned Eritreans.

The letter reported that the 78-year-old patriarch was removed from office on 13 January and put under house arrest at his residence in Asmara, the Eritrean capital.

The Eritrean church has 2 million believers in 1500 local congregations. The church’s statutes say a patriarch can be removed only if he has a grave moral failure, falls into heresy or becomes insane. None of these have been the case for Antonios say those questioning his detention.

“It appears [the Patriarch] has been systematically victimized for his overt criticism of the government’s interference in the church’s affairs,” the statement said, urging the reinstatement of the leader.

Copies of the letter were sent to the All Africa Conference of Churches, Pope Benedict and to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Christian Solidarity International, a Swiss-based group that campaigns for religious liberty, said that the Eritrean government had appointed a lay person to assume control of the patriarchate, usurping a responsibility reserved for bishops.

Since assuming his position in 2004, the patriarch has challenged Eritrean government interference in church matters. Last year he challenged President Isaias Afworki over the arrest of three priests.

The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice is the only legal political party in Eritrea. Its ideology is Marxist. [ENI]

Greeks offered “velvet separation”

Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church in Greece, said in February that he would be ready to accept a “velvet separation” between Church and State. His statement responds to growing pressure for constitutional reform after a series of church scandals.

Speaking at a conference at the University of Athens, Archbishop Christodoulos conceded a peaceful split between Church and State when he said: “We wouldn’t bring tanks to the Greek parliament building, nor will we shoot those whose opinions on Church-State relations differ from ours.”

In an obvious reference to the peaceful transition from Communism to democracy in the Czechoslovakia of 1989, he said: “If it’s necessary for us to make a Church-State separation, why not do it in the form of a velvet separation? In this framework, the Church would eventually no longer be present at oath-taking by heads of state and government.”

There have been increasing calls for a review of the status of the Orthodox Church, which claims the loyalty of 97 per cent of Greece’s population of 10.4 million.

The archbishop added that most Orthodox bishops would oppose a program of secularization in Greece, and would defend the presence of icons in public buildings, as well as religious classes in schools.

About 60 percent of Greeks said they favored Church-State separation, according to a survey by the Institute for Greek Public Opinion. [The Tablet / UK]

Macedonia: Archbishop Jovan released

By the decision of the Macedonian Supreme Court, the Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje Jovan, head of the Autonomous Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid, was released in March after spending 220 days in the central prison of Idrizovo in Skoplje.

Upon leaving prison, Archbishop Jovan thanked “all heads of local Orthodox churches, bishops and Christian faithful for their prayers before God, as well as all persons who contributed to his release by their institutional engagement in respect for elementary human rights and religious freedoms,” the Archdiocese of Ochrid communicated. He also thanked “all those who worked against him and against the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ochrid,” reminding that “ancient Orthodox tradition teaches us to pray for those who love us and those who hate us.”

Archbishop Jovan was sentenced to 18 months in prison in August 2004 for “causing and spreading racial, religious and national hatred and divisions.” The sentence was upheld in 2005 after the Serbian Orthodox Church issued a decree of autocephaly of the Archdiocese of Ochrid, appointing Jovan its head. The Macedonian government claims that these two events are unrelated, and that the sentencing is unconnected with decades of canonical dispute between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the so-called Macedonian Orthodox Church, which is canonically not recognized by the Orthodox world.

Archbishop Jovan went to prison on July 26 of last year, and the sentence of 18 months was extended by a year for violating a suspended sentence for “self-will and violence” for attempting to baptize the grandchild of his sister.

His imprisonment provoked protests from Orthodox churches worldwide. The case was brought before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and was to have been presented before the International Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

Asked how he felt following his release, Archbishop Jovan said, “After all, freedom is freedom. But, a man can be free even in a prison. Freedom is not only physical, but mental and spiritual. I am glad that justice has finally been served.” [KIM-Info]

Briton wins prize for exploring science-spirituality link

John Barrow, a University of Cambridge cosmologist and mathematician whose work explores the relationship between life and the universe, as well as the nature and the limits of human understanding, was awarded the Templeton Prize in March. The prize is awarded yearly to a person advancing knowledge of spiritual matters.

Barrow’s win recognizes a scholar in the prime of a career exploring what 1978 Templeton laureate Thomas Torrance said are “those aspects of the structure of the universe and its laws that make life possible and which shape the views that we take of that universe when we examine it.”

Responding to the award, Barrow expressed his debt to the “ancient writers who celebrated the heavens’ declaration of the glory of the Lord.’ Unbeknown to them and countless others who followed them, the universe has revealed itself by the instruments that modern science has made possible to be far bigger, more spectacular, and more humbling than we ever imagined it to be.”

Barrow said religion can learn from science’s view that knowledge builds upon itself, while science can benefit from religion’s insights about ethics and meaning. “It can be a reciprocal exchange,” he said.

His books include Theories of Everything: The Quest for Ultimate Explanation.

Prince Philip will present the award at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London on 3 May. [ENI]

Rabbis and imams call for religious coexistence

Jewish and Muslim leaders found common ground in March by appealing for religious tolerance at a conference for rabbis and imams in Spain.

“There is no inherent conflict between Islam and Judaism,” they said in a joint statement. “While modern politics has impacted negatively upon the relationship, our two religions share the most fundamental values of faith in the One Almighty whose name is Peace.”

140 rabbis and imams from 34 countries attended the second international conference of Jewish and Muslim clerics held in Seville. The conference was sponsored by the foundation Hommes de Parole.

Israeli newspapers reported there was tension between Israeli and Palestinian religious leaders when accusations flew from both groups that the other was attempting to drag politics into the discussions. But they finally found a formulation they all supported.

The leaders said that they deplored “any incitement against a faith or people, let alone a call for their elimination.”

Jewish leaders attending the conference interpreted the reference as a rebuke to the militant Islamist group Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Reports said goodwill was sowed when rabbis took the side of imams in demanding a halt to the construction of a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Human remains from an adjacent, ancient Muslim cemetery were discovered during digging of the museum’s foundations. The chief rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Hacohen, was among Israelis who signed a petition calling for construction of the museum to be halted.

“That the rabbis understand us on this issue gives hope we can reach agreement on other issues,” said Imad al-Fallouji, a Palestinian imam from the Gaza Strip. [ENI]

Russian Orthodox Church to set up human rights center

The Russian Orthodox Church plans to set up a center to deal with issues relating to human rights in the context of Russian national and church traditions.

“The main mistake of human rights organizations today is that their activities do not incorporate the views and values of a majority of our people. The inconsistencies in the current activities of human rights groups must be dealt with,” Metropolitan Kirill told a news conference in Moscow in March.

The problem of human rights, he said, “must remain in the focus of attention of civil society and the Russian Orthodox Church.” [Interfax]

First Russian Orthodox church in Rome

The cross and cupola of the Russian Orthodox church under construction in Rome were consecrated and elevated in March. The church is dedicated to the Holy Protomartyr Catherine.

The ceremony was led by Bishop Mark, vice-chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations. “The Russian church stands near St. Peter’s,” he said, “and this symbolizes the common witness of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches before the challenges of our time, as our Churches through their temples in the Eternal City assert the eternal values of Christianity.”

The need to build a first ever Orthodox church in the Eternal City, where many suffered martyrdom, was dictated first of all by the strength of the Russian Orthodox flock in Rome.

The church is being built on the Janiculum in the immediate vicinity of St. Peter’s. St. Catherine, to whom the church is dedicated, is equally venerated by Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians.

An attempt to build an Orthodox church in Rome was made as far back as the late 19th century on the initiative of the rector of the Russian embassy church and with the support of the imperial family. [Interfax]

Greek Church backs Athens mosque

The Orthodox Church of Greece has expressed support for the creation of a mosque in Athens so that the city’s Muslims would have a place of worship. Support has been growing for the idea recently but the Greek Orthodox Church had remained silent on the issue until after the meeting in March of the Holy Synod.

“Nobody can deny the faithful of a well-known religion like Islam the right to exercise their religious duties freely,” said Bishop Chrysostomos of Patras. “We live in a democratic country which should display respect and tolerance.”

A mosque in Monastiraki Square in central Athens is now a possibility. It was built in 1759 but is currently used as an art museum. There are no official mosques in Athens. Muslims often travel to Thrace for religious services. [Ekathimerini]

Slovakia treaty allows conscientious objection

A new treaty between the Republic of Slovakia and the Vatican recognizes the right to exercise conscientious objection. The treaty protects the right of all to exercise conscientious objection in relation to universal values. Thus a doctor would have the right to refuse to participate in such practices as abortion, assisted procreation, experimentation with human embryos, euthanasia and sterilization.

The treaty has met with opposition from European groups promoting abortion and euthanasia. They argue that the treaty would have a negative impact on “fundamental rights.” [Zenit]

An Abbess Who Said No

197755.pAn interview with Mother Maria of Asten

 A convent, chickens, inspectors, arrests, interrogations, lawyers, and the mass media: these were elements of a recent drama in the hamlet of Asten, an otherwise quiet farming district in the southern Netherlands. The unrest was over a small number of chickens kept by the nuns at the Nativity of the Mother of God Orthodox Convent in the days leading up to and following Pentecost Sunday in 2003. The abbess, Mother Maria, spent Pentecost in jail for violating Dutch agriculture laws. A nun in jail in tolerant Holland? How could it happen?

Mother Maria was born in The Hague in 1944 and was raised in an atheistic household. She came of age in a climate of doubt and searching in a nation recovering from years of German occupation. She attended university and became a linguist fluent in seven languages. A strong spiritual yearning at last drew her to Christianity.

She was received into the Orthodox Church in 1963. Two years later, age 21, she joined a convent in The Hague where she remained until 1973, when she went to Serbia to join the Zica convent near Kraljevo. Here she immersed herself in its tradition and came under the influence of St. Justin Popovich, then an abbot at a nearby monastery. He believed she was being formed for a special purpose in Holland. Her next step was to join a monastery in Greece in 1975 where she remained for seven years. During this time, people in Holland were petitioning for a new convent. She visited in 1982, after which it was decided that she would return.

In 1986, with the requisite blessings, she headed home and took up residence in a garden cottage and waited. Thus far, a series of hidden graces had occurred, but her move from a thriving monastery to isolation and uncertainty looked at first less than promising. She put out the word: Looking to buy a house with land, in a quiet place, with a garden, must be big enough for more sisters, and by the way, I have no money! But wonders happen. A wealthy man looking to endow a religious order heard of her need and offered his support.

The donor bought her a farm house on an acre of land in Asten. In January 1989, she moved in and went to work enlarging the house and converting its dilapidated chicken shed into a chapel and guest house. Little by little the property was improved. Pilgrims began to come. Donations trickled in and bills were paid. She was in time joined by nuns from other convents as well as lay people seeking a life of monastic prayer. Mother Maria had become the abbess of a secure foundation.

Life at Asten is focused, the services full and straightforward. Everything is orderly without being fussy. Mother Maria is someone who gets things done. As one sister commented: Its best if you move aside when shes onto something. She looks after her sisters with the devotion of a parent while attracting visitors from near and far to the Orthodox faith. Thanks to the monasterys hospitality, many families experiencing difficulties have found shelter in the convent guest rooms. With the donation of an adjacent plot of land, the convent has doubled its holdings. The convent chickens wander about freely.

In February 2003, the vogelpest — bird flu — reached Holland, invading industrial-scale poultry sheds in many parts of the country. The poultry industry was severely affected. The Ministry of Agriculture ordered a cull of the poultry in each affected area. Millions of chickens were destroyed. At the same time privately owned poultry were declared a hazard. Hobby farmers who had quarantined their chickens were ordered to surrender them. Though the disease had run its course by June, the government was taking no chances, since the poultry industry was waiting to resume production.

The convents chickens were untouched by bird flu. Nevertheless, government inspectors brought crates and demanded that the convents hens be surrendered. When they returned the next day, the crates were empty — the condemned chickens had been taken to safe houses out of the area.

On the eve of Pentecost, inspectors arrested Mother Maria for extended questioning. Within hours, she became a celebrity in the Dutch media.

Here are extracts from an interview made after her release by Fr. David Pratt.

Q: What is this all about?

A: First, we had a choice, either to obey the agricultural ministry and give up our chickens to be killed, or stand against that policy. I would have given them up, but I had a lot of information saying the disease had nearly run its course. Our chickens were not afflicted; we knew the symptoms, and they were far from any infected farms. So, logically speaking, why give them up if it was unnecessary?

Some veterinarians were saying this, not I. The question had become one of conscience and civil disobedience. Many times in history, we have seen when something is wrong in a country, that disobedience, at a certain point, can cause change. Previously, we had an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease. We saw many thousands of healthy cows destroyed because that was cheaper than vaccinating them. A lot of people protested, and now the EU favors a vaccination policy. Protestors caused that change. In America, was it not the civil disobedience of quite a lot of people who turned public opinion there against slavery? At a certain moment, the disobedience of many abolitionists caused a crisis: people saw slaves as human beings. Disobedience brought about a change of thinking. And it is possible to see this in Christian terms. There are times when Christians must obey the laws of the land, but there are times when we must say no, this is not good and stand up against certain laws. It is not always necessary to obey a government. Conscience is part of church history.

Once I made the decision not to exterminate the convents chickens, my relationship to them changed. I had to hide them. I needed help, but thats forbidden by law. Now my decision of conscience came to involve others — the sisters, our benefactors, and neighbors. They agreed to support my decision, and so my relationship to these people also changed. How do I answer the inspectors without betraying my supporters? How do we not betray each other? We know from our experience during the Second World War that when we act, we involve others, and if we dont act we involve someone else. Life is not black and white, and very often we have to make a choice between different degrees of badness. Life is not so easy if you live according to your conscience. Thats another theme in this experience — not to lie and not to betray others. Fortunately, Dutch law forbids self-incrimination; we are allowed to remain silent under interrogation.

Ecology is another theme. Under the law, I am the owner of the chickens and I have to answer for them. Under God, I dont own anything. The chickens actually belong to Gods creation. I am just responsible for them while they are here. Its my job to look after them. They trust us and look to us for food and shelter, and in return, they provide us with eggs. Thats a relationship. And I am responsible to God for it. I cant give them up to be killed!

Similarly parents dont own their children. They receive them and raise them as their own. Its similar here with livestock. In the New Testament there is the image of Christ the Good Shepherd who looks after his sheep and knows each one by name. Of course, that is a symbol referring to us humans, but were involved with nature in much the same way. Were the shepherds. We have dogs and cats with names. Theres a relationship going on here.

Q: Whats at the heart of this relationship?

A: I have been charged with breaking economic laws. This means the chickens are just economic units. Theres no special relationship — only money. The industrialization of domesticated animals has changed our position toward them and toward all of creation too, I think. The image of animals around and in support of a household no longer exists. We have stables filled with thousands of caged animals on a production line. What kind of image is that? Economic, of course. We have come to accept the existence of chickens that can barely stand in their cages, whose legs are feeble and useless, because we need their meat at fast-food restaurants. I dont know if human beings have a right to do that to animals. I dont think they do. This is not a picture of the shepherd and his sheep. We have reduced animals to the level of raw materials such as plastic or iron in a production process. Is this Gods law for creation? I doubt it.

Q: What are your views about the proper use, abuse and care of farm animals?

A: Nature is under our care. We use it to obtain food, but what Ive just described is abuse. Were going against nature when we raise animals that way. Raising them for food still implies a relationship of care. Monastics dont eat meat, and I dont think eating meat is necessary, but for people who do, there is no getting around the fact that these animals are alive and under our care. Bio-dynamic farming is gaining attention because it attempts to place animals closer to their natural way of life. Free-range chickens are obviously better off than the others. And if we accept that as true, then we have to consider restoring our relationship with all the animals we use for food and sustenance.

Q: Does our treatment of animals shape our treatment of each other?

A: Yes, it does. You see, Im protesting an economic policy. I petitioned the government to vaccinate our chickens. All the hobby farmers wanted to do that. But our petition was denied, though the EU permits vaccinations. Everything in Holland was geared toward resuming the poultry business as soon as possible. That was the economic rationale. At that point, I decided to protect my chickens.

Q: What finally provoked your action?

A: It was the papers the officials asked me to sign. They required the owners to sign papers before they gas the chickens. The similarity to the Holocaust was too much for me, and my conscience was already strained by the extermination of the cows. Did you know that the government publicizes a special phone number for informing on your neighbors? One lady was moving her chickens and was arrested because of this hot line. In other words, her neighbors denounced her. Thats Stalinist.

Q: Is it a problem being put on the front page of newspapers?

A: When a nun gets arrested, people take notice. Some say this has gone too far. But this gives us an opportunity to highlight certain urgent questions. Were conscious that human life in the womb and the geriatric center is threatened. When we deny life to an unborn handicapped child, its for economic reasons. When we terminate the life of an old person, economic reasons underlie the act. Some hospitals are proud to offer euthanasia. Economics drive that policy. If, today, you can economically destroy entire species of animals, then tomorrow you could do likewise with certain classes of people. If these agricultural measures were intended to ease world hunger, I could understand them. But this industry is not for the hungry; its for the wealthy.

Q: But what about rendering obedience to lawful authorities?

A: Sometimes your conscience just tells you to act. Conscience is very important. Theres no difference between a monk and a layperson in that regard. Every Christian with a life of prayer, based in the Bible and the Church Fathers, gets a sense of how to understand Gods law. We are trying to follow Psalm 118 — teach me Your statutes. We have to answer this question: What does God want? If you never hear the Gospel or never go to church, then its easy to forget that question and lose your conscience. Living as a Christian means never letting your conscience go silent. We must worship, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, pray, and study. Then we can ask if our life is in keeping with Gods will. I dont think there is a distinction between monastic and lay conscience. Theres only one kind of purity, as I understand the Fathers. There is just one ethic for everybody.

Afterword: Mother Marias stay in jail was brief. Not only were the convents chickens allowed to live but the Dutch government at last decided that all hobby chickens could be vaccinated rather than exterminated.

This is a shortened version of an article by Fr. David Pratt published in volume 9 of Divine Ascent, the journal of the Monastery of St. John in Pt. Reyes Station, California. The monastery and journal have a web site.

News Winter 2002

Orthodox memorial services at Manhattan’s Ground Zero

As Metropolitan Theodosius, head of the Orthodox Church in America, and other Orthodox clergy made their way to Manhattan’s “Ground Zero” on September 19, they encountered a lone woman keeping vigil for her three grown children from whom she had heard nothing since the September 11 attack destroyed the twin towers in which her children had worked. “I just want something, anything, that I can bury,” she said to Fr. Christopher Calin, of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Cathedral in lower Manhattan. “I don’t think they’ll find them, but I need something to bury.”

“We entered the area through a check point, at which we were asked for identification and then we were given red badges,” Met. Theodosius said. “Our eyes began to burn as we made our way past blocks of damaged cars, chunks of cement, broken glass, and choking dust.”

The group made its way to the site of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, destroyed when the first tower collapsed. Here two Greek Orthodox priests in the group found a barely damaged icon of St. Nicholas resting on the rubble. Afterward there was a brief Memorial Service for those who had lost their lives in the attack.

“I was overwhelmed by the respect and gratitude the workers at the site displayed during, and especially after, we prayed,” Met. Theodosius said. “They couldn’t stop thanking us for our presence and prayers.”

“In the midst of a war zone brought about by pure evil, pure hatred, the workers were living proof that love is indeed greater than hatred, no matter how diabolical,” he said. “Some had taken time off from their jobs, without pay, to perform this work of charity for the sake of those they had never even met.”

Five days later Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, led a memorial service at the ruins at St. Nicholas Church. Assisting in the service was Fr. John Romas, pastor of the destroyed church.

Fr. Romas had tried since September 11 to get permission to look for relics of St. Nicholas, St. Sava and St. Katherine. Each year on the feast days of the saints, Orthodox faithful venerated the bone fragments kept in a gold-plated box. The ossuary is in a fireproof safe. On Sept. 24, they found only a charred cross and a twisted brass candelabra. “With God’s help we will rebuild St. Nicholas as a memorial for all of those who lost their lives in the attack,” said Fr. Romas.

The parish, founded in 1916, was long a magnet for Greek sailors. Workers from the twin towers and other office buildings often stopped there to pray. “When you stepped inside, you felt like you were in a Greek village church right in the heart of downtown New York,” said Peter Drakoulias, a Greek-American who had planned to get married at St. Nicholas in November. (There is a web site with information about the parish:

Anastasios warns against use of faith to fuel hatred

Speaking in Athens in November, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania said that “the holy oil of religion must not be used to fuel hatred.” He said that “all crimes in the name of religion are crimes against religion.” He expressed support for a conference of religious leaders to consider the role of religion in combating terrorist acts carried out in the name of religion. “It is important for us to say religion should not be used to promote violence,” said the prelate of Albania’s Orthodox Church. “Terrorism violates the essence of religion,” he said.

He called for long-term dialogue. “Inter-faith dialogue has gone on for years. Such meetings should be as numerous and as credible as possible… To be able to meet, make joint statements and bring a spirit of dialogue back to our countries is useful. Personal contacts play a role and can help to avoid many misunderstandings.”

As leader of an ethnically mixed church in a religiously mixed region, Anastasios has had to grapple with the Balkan diplomatic tightrope since the Ecumenical Patriarchate sent him as envoy to Albania in 1991 and later elected him archbishop. His archdiocese was also active in relief efforts for Muslim refugees during the 1999 Kosovo crisis.

A former Athens University professor of religious studies with nearly four decades of missionary experience in Africa, Anastasios is well known and admired in Greece for his effective work in rebuilding the Albanian Church from scratch after decades of persecution.

Archbishop Christodoulos says terrorists untypical of Islam

Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece said in late September that terrorists were not typical of the Islamic faith. “This is not the true picture of Islam, the one that appears on the face of a terrorist,” Christodoulos told churchgoers in the Athens suburb of Aghii Anargyri. “We must not allow ourselves to harbor hatred or even suspicion for the entire Moslem world, the overwhelming majority of which is moderate,” the archbishop said.

Appeal of Patriarch Pavle for a multicultural Kosovo

In September Serbia’s Patriarch Pavle sent an appeal to leaders of France, Italy, the USA, Britain, Russia and Greece as well as to the heads of the UN, NATO, the European Union and UNESCO, renewing his appeal for safeguarding minorities in a multi-cultural Kosovo and also protecting Orthodox monasteries and churches.

Pavle emphasized that for years the Serbian Orthodox Church has sought peace and forgiveness for all the peoples of the Balkans, regardless of their nationality or religion. “However, recent news suggests that unrest, suffering and destruction are not only continuing but spreading from the northwest to the southeast of the Balkans, having as their chief cause the growth of Albanian terrorism. Despite many appeals, the Monastery of Matejce… was gravely damaged while being used as a base by terrorists. The Monastery of Lesak near Tetovo was completely destroyed. And the Church of St. George in Mala Resica, also in the Tetovo area, was seriously damaged.

“It is clear that what is happening is no longer a battle for human rights but a battle for territory and the change of internationally recognized borders by means of terrorism and ethnic cleansing of the non-Albanian population. The Albanian extremists and terrorists do not want an end to clashes and a peaceful solution to all problems; they want the flames of war to continue to spread even further.”

Pavle appealed to those receiving the letter to do all in their power to end suffering and destruction in the ravaged Balkans so that “the time of death, devastation and tears be replaced by a time of birth, construction, tolerance and peace.”

Settling conflicts without war is possible

Civilians are increasingly the victims of the world’s armed conflicts, said Scilla Elworthy, head of the Oxford Research Group, speaking in London in November.

In the 20th century, more than 100 million people died in war, writes Elworthy. At the start of the century, military personnel accounted for four-fifths of the deaths, and civilians one-fifth. By the end of the century, it was the other way round.

Elworthy argues that the “vast majority” of conflicts are now within, not between, nations. Quoting the US State Department, she says that “in some countries it is easier and cheaper to buy an AK47 than… provide a decent meal.”

Fifty cases of nonviolent conflict resolution are described in a new book by Dylan Mathews: War Prevention Works. One successful intervention cited was in Serbia where the nonviolent student group Otpor grew into a mass movement in the forefront of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. Its poster campaigns and creative acts of theater helped break down fear. For the 2000 presidential election, Otpor trained two election monitors for every polling station, making it impossible for Milosevic to rig the results.

In another case, the Vatican headed off a war between Argentina and Chile over the disputed Beagle Channel and kept the peace during prolonged negotiations between 1978 and 1984. The eventual settlement was helped by political changes in both countries, but the Vatican played a pivotal role through direct mediation. It also succeeded in “buying enough time… to enable the political climate to change.”

“But for every one of these successful interventions, many others failed for lack of funds or resources,” Elworthy comments. She points out that nonviolent conflict intervention is very poorly funded. NATO member countries spend $430 billion a year on defense, according to Elworthy — 215,000 times the size of the budget of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the region’s main intergovernmental conflict resolution organization.

Nearly half the interventions described in War Prevention Works were carried out by people with a spiritual basis for their activities. (War Prevention Works: 50 Stories of People Resolving Conflicts by Dylan Mathews; the Oxford Research Group, UK. ISBN 0-9511361-6-X.)

Russian Orthodox Church condemns embryo cloning

The Russian Orthodox Church has condemned cloning human embryos. Any Orthodox believers who engage in cloning human embryos will be excommunicated.

“The destruction of embryos is equal to an abortion, hence, to murder,” said Fr. Anthony Ilyin, an official representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, at a press conference in Moscow November 26. The statement followed the announcement of successful cloning by a company in the USA, Advanced Cell Technology.

“We condemn therapeutic, as well as reproductive, cloning because the embryo from the moment of conception can be considered the carrier of human dignity and blessed with the gift of life,” Father Antony Ilyin.

Claims that the research would allow collection of stem cells was hypocrisy, he said, as another source of stem cells already exists in bone marrow, blood and other parts of the body which did not “involve human sacrifice.”

News Fall 2002

Patriarch Alexis urges USA to cancel Iraq war plans

Patriarch Alexis of Moscow addressed an appeal in September urging the United States not to initiate a war against Iraq.

“We should look for a peaceful but not military settlement of the Iraqi issue. War will only incur more suffering on people,” the patriarch said during a meeting with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek.

Alexis stressed that it was necessary to take every opportunity to find a political solution of the Iraqi issue. The 21st century “must be a century of creation and not the one of destruction and bloodshed.”

Church leaders oppose war with Iraq

Leaders of North American and British churches have urged their governments to halt a “rush to war” with Iraq. They called on their governments to exercise restraint in the face of demands for military action to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. “We call upon our governments to pursue diplomatic means in active cooperation with the United Nations and to stop the apparent rush to war.”

The letter — released in September — was distributed by representatives of Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican churches and ecumenical organizations at a meeting in Geneva of the main governing body of the World Council of Churches.

The letter urges the two governments to work through the UN Security Council and to accept Saddam Hussein’s offer to resume UN weapons inspections.

The letter also condemned “threats to peace” posed by Iraq. The Iraqi government had a “duty to stop its internal repression” and “to abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.”

But the letter stated that no evidence had been made public of an alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This prevented the public from being able to make informed decisions about military action, the letter stated.

It accused the US and UK governments of “depriving the US Congress and the UK Parliament of the ability to make a considered judgement regarding the justification for war.”

The letter also expressed “alarm” about military action by an individual country without support from its allies or other nations, saying that this undermined respect for law.

The church leaders warned that war in Iraq could de-stabilize the region, pointing especially to the potential danger to Christians and other civilians living in the Middle East.

“Our knowledge of and links with church partners in the Middle East … make us very sensitive to the destabilizing potential of a war against Iraq for the whole region,” they said. They cautioned that war would harm Christian-Muslim relations, could result “in a direct military confrontation in Israel and strengthen the forces of extremism and terrorism.”

Orthodox Christians in Britain Urge Blair not to attack Iraq

Participants in an Orthodox retreat held in Dalmally, Scotland, in August, urged Prime Minister Blair not to join in a war against Iraq. The signers included Bishop Kallistos Ware, Orthodox scholar and author as well as member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

“We, the undersigned members of the Orthodox Church in Britain, wish to add our support to the many pleas being made to you not to initiate war with Iraq. We hold no brief with Saddam Hussein. Indeed, it is clear that he has been responsible for the suffering of many people both in his own country and beyond. However, we believe there is no legal or moral basis to launch a war against another country simply on the grounds that it possesses weapons of mass destruction which might at some time in the future be used against us or our allies.

“If there is compelling evidence that, despite the testimony of former members of the UN inspection team, that Iraq is equipped and poised to use weapons of mass destruction, this evidence must be made public. Yet even were such evidence produced, it would not justify pre-emptive attack, such as Japan carried out against the United States in 1941.

“We are hopeful that the presence of UN weapon inspectors will be renewed in Iraq and that military sanctions can remain in place, though not a form of sanctions which has the effect of hugely increasing the mortality rate for the most vulnerable members of society: the children, the aged and the ill. It is estimated that more than half a million children have died in the past decade. According to Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary General and Humanitarian Aid Co-ordinator for Iraq, ‘We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.’ Halliday resigned in October 1998 in protest against the effect of sanctions as now applied.

“Eradicating the dangers posed by dictators and terrorists can be achieved only by tackling the root causes of the disputes themselves. Clearly one of the most pressing issues is the plight of the Palestinian people which fuels deepening animosity toward the allies of Israel while threatening the stability of several states in the Middle East. We appeal to you to do all in your power to end Israeli occupation and support the creation of a free and independent Palestine within secure borders so that Israelis and Palestinians will no longer be a danger to each other and their dispute no longer threaten world peace.

“We would agree with the recent letter signed by many senior clergy in Britain that it would be appropriate if those countries calling for the return of inspectors to Iraq were to open their own nuclear, chemical and bacteriological facilities to the same process of international inspection. Such an undertaking would demonstrate that we are willing to apply to ourselves the same standards we seek to apply to Iraq.

“An unprovoked attack on Iraq would bring shame on those countries who were a party to such an action. While Christ’s teaching that ‘all who draw the sword will die by the sword’ can be understood in a variety of ways, clearly it is no blessing to those who would initiate war.”

WCC sends people to accompany those vulnerable in Palestine, Israel

Ten European Christians arrived in Israel and Palestine in August to “accompany” religious leaders, social and other service workers and peace activists who have been threatened with violence in the region.

The 10 — from Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway — are the initial participants in the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, approved late last year by the WCC’s executive committee.

Coordinator Salpy Eskidjian said those in the program will travel with such people as ambulance drivers, medical and mental health workers, local bishops and religious leaders, Israeli peace activists and other social service workers. Ranging in age from 27 to 63, they include medical students, journalists, theologians and community development workers. The first group anticipates staying in Israel and Palestine for three to six months.

Eskidjian emphasized that the accompaniment program is “the way of nonviolence.” Those accompanying, she said, are “providing protection and deterrence for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis, for Christians and Jews and Muslims.”

The “accompaniers” received training prior to their departure and further training in Jerusalem. Various security precautions and procedures to reduce the dangers involved. Still, Eskidjian acknowledged, the accompaniment mission is risky. “It’s dangerous,” she said, “but too important not to do.”

Israel on tragic path, says Britain’s Chief Rabbi

Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, declared in August that Israel is adopting a stance “incompatible” with the deepest ideals of Judaism, and that the current conflict with the Palestinians is “corrupting” Israeli culture.

“I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic,” he told The Guardian. “It is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals.”

He said he was profoundly shocked at the recent reports of smiling Israeli servicemen posing for a photograph with the corpse of a slain Palestinian. “There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture.”

Malnutrition on the rise among Palestinian children

A study commissioned by the US Agency for International Development is finding that malnutrition among Palestinian children in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has increased substantially during the conflict with Israel.

The preliminary findings indicated that 30 percent of children were suffering from chronic malnutrition, and another 21 percent from acute malnutrition. Two years ago, a survey done for the same agency that 7 percent of Palestinian children were chronically malnourished and 2.5 percent were acutely malnourished.

WCC accepts plan to end Protestant-Orthodox tensions

The World Council of Churches has accepted a plan to ease differences over forms of worship and inclusion of women that had threatened a split between Western Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The plan, which grew out of a three-year study by a special commission, lays the basis for “common prayer” and decisions by consensus with the aim of giving greater recognition to Orthodox concerns in the 342-church organization dominated by Protestants.

“I am extremely pleased,” said Dr. Peter Bouteneff of the Orthodox Church in America after the council’s governing Central Committee adopted the commission’s report by an overwhelming show of hands.

Bouteneff said he thought the plan would be a major boost for the ecumenical movement seeking to improve relations among denominations. “This is not an Orthodox manifesto,” Bouteneff said. “This was done in a spirit of compromise.”

The commission said consensus will give more voice to the minority because the emphasis will be on winning their support or at least acceptance. Voting may still be used for issues like budgets and administrative matters. Decisions by consensus “will make it easier for all to participate fully in the discussion of any burning ethical or social issue.”

The plan is to drop the term “ecumenical worship,” which might imply experimental religious services offensive to Orthodox commitment to a traditional liturgy. Instead the council members would join in “common prayer.” Opposition to ecumenical worship had led to an Orthodox boycott of some council services and threats of a complete pullout from the body.

Kosovo: arson attack follows monastery liturgy

Soon after Serbian Orthodox priests and monks left a ruined monastery in south western Kosovo where they had conducted the liturgy in July, two surviving monastery buildings were set on fire by unknown attackers. The liturgy at the site of the demolished Church of the Holy Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian in the monastery at Zociste, south of Orahovac, had been the first held there in the three years since Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo and the monastery was largely destroyed. In mid-May, the site was visited by senior Kosovo officials and international representatives (see KNS 31 May 2002), and was assigned for reconstruction as part of a wider internationally-supported plan to create conditions for the return of expelled Serbs to the area. “Starting a fire in the monastery was a clear message from the local population,” said Fr. Sava Janjic.

The service at Zociste — attended by some 200 local Serbs brought in under escort from the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR — was held after Bishop Artemije informed KFOR’s Multinational Brigade South that a liturgy would be held at the monastery, a statement from the Serbian Orthodox Raska and Prizren Diocese reported. The service was part of a wider project of visitation and consecration of damaged churches and monasteries in Kosovo during the summer months by monks and priests of the diocese. This project was drawn up after the Kosovo parliament adopted a resolution on freedom of movement for all citizens.

The Liturgy proceeded against a background of cursing and shouting, with various items being thrown at the priests, one of whom was hit on the head by a stone. Another person was injured.

The disruption to the liturgy and the arson attack were condemned as “very disturbing” by Susan Manuel, spokeswoman for UNMIK. “We understand the situation was confusing, but what remains a fact is that fires were set there, following the visit of the Serb clergy, at a sacred site, in an area where strenuous efforts have been made to begin some kind of tolerance.” She said it was “extremely disheartening” that “some people persist in exploiting fears that remain within the population and fueling hatred.”

The monastery of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Zociste was founded in the 14th century, but was closed for many centuries. A brotherhood of seven monks lived there until the NATO intervention in 1999. After KFOR troops were deployed in Kosovo, the monastery was looted, desecrated and torched, and the old church building was leveled to the ground.

OPF letter to senior UN staff in Kosovo

In August the Orthodox Peace Fellowship sent a letter to key UN civilian and military staff in Kosovo urging reconstruction of destroyed centers of worship and greater protection to minorities. Here is the main part of the OPF letter:

“When the war ended, we hoped that at last — given the international community’s helping hand — Kosovo would finally become a multi-cultural community in which all ethnic groups can live without fear of one another. Instead we witness the Serb minority suffering abuse and violence day after day since the war ended. Three years after the arrival of international peacekeeping troops, Orthodox Christians in Kosovo continue to suffer the continuing destruction of places of worship, serious discrimination, and live in mortal danger.

“Our concern with human dignity is not one sided. We also objected when the Kosovo Albanian population suffered unjustly during the era of Milosevic, whose rule was repeatedly condemned and protested by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

“Bishop Artemije, spiritual leader of the Orthodox community within Kosovo, strongly opposed violence from any side and supported international peacekeeping efforts. During the war, monks and nuns in Kosovo, risking their own lives, struggled courageously to save lives of non-Serbian neighbors who were in danger.

“Even so the Church is still targeted by extremists who have desecrated Orthodox cemeteries, burned or bombed monasteries and churches, killed defenseless Serbs, seem to be intent on removing every trace of the ancient Christian culture, and carry on their acts of violence despite the international peacekeeping presence.

“It is a profound disappointment to hopes that an international presence in Kosovo would halt the pattern of ethnic cleansing and assure a peaceful life to all inhabitants of Kosovo, regardless of ethnicity and religion. The opposite reality on the ground is a serious blow to the moral credibility of those democracies who sent troops to Kosovo.

“This is why we appeal to you to renew your efforts to change this tragic reality and assure the all ethnic minorities in Kosovo the same standards of freedom and human rights which Kosovo Albanian citizens enjoy.

“One practical step we recommend is assisting the Serbian Orthodox Church in rebuilding its holy sites. So far not even one of the destroyed churches — there are more than a hundred — has been rebuilt, though mosques that were destroyed have been brought back to life.

“Surely KFOR and UNMIK have both the mandate and capacity to provide a minimum of security to the Church and Serb refugees who want to reconstruct their homes and holy sites? Otherwise Kosovo will gradually become a mono-ethnic society and the way of ‘ethnic cleansing’ will have triumphed.”

Kosovo Crisis reports 2

March 22, 2004

IOCC Responding to Humanitarian Crisis in Kosovo Calls for an End to the Violence

Baltimore (IOCC) – Building on years of humanitarian assistance in Kosovo, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is responding to the needs of refugees and people displaced by the recent ethnic violence in Kosovo.

The humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, IOCC has been actively assessing the needs in the troubled province and consulting with local authorities and Church officials to determine an appropriate emergency response. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross, the Kosovo Coordinating Committee and others are being consulted on short-term needs.

IOCC is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of those displaced, especially children. Working with local partners, IOCC expects to focus on vulnerable communities that have an immediate need for food, shelter and medical care.

IOCC has been active in Kosovo since 1993. During the NATO bombing campaign of 1999, IOCC was one of only three relief organizations to maintain an operational presence in the region, providing continuous humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Serbia and Montenegro.

IOCC also has done small-scale projects in Kosovo through its office in Podgorica, Montenegro, and in partnership with the Visoki Decani Monastery and His Grace Bishop Artemije of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren (Kosovo).

Through its office in Belgrade, Serbia, IOCC supports a number of local initiatives designed to help displaced persons from Kosovo. IOCC provides legal assistance, up-to-date information and vocational training to displaced people, many of whom have spent years away from their homes.

IOCC encourages all people to pray for peace in the region and for an end to the violence there.

To support IOCC’s ongoing humanitarian efforts in the region, please send donations to IOCC, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, Md. 21263-0225. Donations may also be made online at or by calling toll-free 1-877-803-4622.

Appeal for protection of the Christian heritage in Kosovo

Additional information on our Diocese and the life of the Kosovo Serb Community may be found at:

ERP KIM Info-Service

Kosovo in the History of the Serbian Church

An essay on “Kosovo in the History of the Serbian Church” by Veselin Kesich (Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, at St Vlad’s) that was poblished in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly four years ago is now available on the web at

Statement to the Media, 18 March 2004

Ombudsman office, Pristina, Kosovo

I once again take the opportunity to appeal to the Albanian part of the population of Kosovo, not only as Ombudsperson in Kosovo, but also as a man who has been living among and working with people from Kosovo for the last four years. Throughout these years, I have been trying to help you by raising your problems and questions with the responsible people in UNMIK and the local administrative structures. I tried to be a people’s advocate and at the same time the friend of all Kosovans.

I had done all of this because I had assumed that you, the people of Kosovo, had chosen to take a path leading to a prosperous future for you and your families, a future in which you would live in a society that would be based on openness, tolerance and the protection of the rights of others.

The recent developments have, however, suggested that not all members of the Albanian community in Kosovo really want this prosperous future. Instead, the current pictures of horrible violence and heinous criminal acts against members of the Serbian community and the international security forces create the impression in and outside Kosovo that there exists the intent to cleanse this land from the presence of all Serbs, in total rejection of the idea of a multi-ethnic cohabitation in Kosovo.

However, there is still time to turn back from this dangerous and violent path of action, which will and can only lead to a dead-end. I cannot do more than to ask you to reconsider your present attitude, in the hope that even if you do not agree to listen to others, you will at least take into account the concerns and serious objections of the Ombudsperson.

Marek Antoni Nowicki

Ombudsperson in Kosovo

Churches Burn as NATO Boosts Kosovo Peace Force

New York Times / March 18, 2004

By Reuters

Mitrovica, Serbia and Montenegro (Reuters) – Albanians set fire to Serb Orthodox churches in Kosovo on Thursday as NATO scrambled to deploy up to 1,000 more troops to stifle an explosion of ethnic violence.

A church was torched in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica despite the efforts of French NATO peacekeepers, who fired teargas and rubber bullets to drive off the mob.

Gunshots were heard, but it was not clear where from.

A Serb church and Serb homes were also set ablaze in the central town of Obilic, near the provincial capital Pristina.

Reports from Obilic said NATO peacekeepers had evacuated about 100 Serbs because it could not guarantee their safety — as happened on Wednesday night in the capital, Pristina.

NATO summoned reinforcements after 22 people were killed in the worst ethnic clashes in Kosovo since the allies and the United Nations took control of the province from Serbia in 1999. Some 500 have been injured, of whom 20 were in intensive care.

The new troops will reinforce 17,500 peacekeepers and 9,000 local and international police trying to keep a lid on the province of two million Muslim Albanians demanding independence and 100,000 Serbs, many in enclaves relying on NATO protection.

U.S. soldiers blocked the Pristina-Mitrovica road and were checking all travelers as NATO sent 150 more U.S. troops and 80 Italian carabinieri. Britain readied 750 troops for Kosovo duty.

In Serbia the Interior Ministry put paramilitary police on the boundary with Kosovo on the top level of combat readiness.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the violence had been “planned and organized” by ethnic Albanians bent on driving the remaining Serbs from the province and urged the U.N. Security Council to act to deter such “ethnic cleansing.”

In Prague, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on “all parties in Kosovo itself, but also in Belgrade of course, to show the utmost restraint” and prevent any further violence.

Flights in and out of Kosovo were suspended and internal boundaries with Serbia were closed. Troops of a dozen nations patrolled key areas, some next to gutted Serb buildings.

In a severe blow to international hopes of calm before talks this year or next on Kosovo’s future status, the outburst of pent-up ethnic hatred in over a dozen locations suggested that reconciliation between the two communities was years away.

Clashes were reported from Mitrovica in the north to Urosevac in the south and Pec in the west, and U.N. police and troops were injured in several places, at least three gravely.

The violence triggered angry protests in Serbia’s three main cities, where demonstrators stoned and burned mosques and other Islamic buildings. Serbs, whose forces were driven out of Kosovo by NATO in 1999, were furious at their own impotence and what they say is NATO’s failure to check Albanian “terrorism.”

U.N. police and vehicles and NATO troops were attacked and one policeman guarding a building in Pristina was shot in the leg. “People were trapped inside the burning building,” U.N. spokesman Derek Chappell told Reuters. “Police came under repeated gunfire when they tried to rescue them.”

Kosovo has been under U.N. control since NATO bombing forced out Serbian forces in mid-1999, halting Serb repression of Muslim Albanian civilians.

Patriarch Pavle urges Serbs: Refrain from revenge over Kosovo violence

Ecumenical News International

Daily News Service / 18 March 2004

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Sofia, 18 March (ENI)–Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle held a special prayer service on Thursday and issued an appeal to Serbs to refrain from revenge after a flare-up of ethnic and religious tensions in Kosovo in which at least 22 people died.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) announced it was to send 1000 extra troops to Kosovo in response to the violence.

The violence in the area was reported to have begun on Wednesday after Serbs forced three Albanian children into a river. In retaliation, Serb houses were attacked and in the town of Obilic, a Serbian Orthodox Church was set alight.

“We must preserve ourselves at this time from any unthinkable revenge,” said Patriarch Pavle, in a special message on the crisis, seen as the worst outbreak of ethnic violence in the area since 1999.

The violence spilled beyond Kosovo’s borders. In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and Montenegro, law enforcement authorities fired teargas to disperse participants in a demonstration against anti-Serb violence in Kosovo, where most of the ethnic Albanians are Muslims. Protestors set on fire Belgrade’s 17th-century mosque after clashing with police trying to guard it.

International news agencies also reported that Albanians set fire to Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo as NATO moved quickly to deploy more troops to smother an explosion of ethnic violence.

According to the information service of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle said the special prayer service had been held to pray for “our suffering people in Kosovo and Metohija”.

Defence against “evildoers” should not be done in the manner of such evildoers, said the patriarch. “O Lord, help all, and even us and our enemies,” said Patriarch Pavle. “They are in need of peace, freedom, justice as are we.”

Serbs in the past accused the United Nations, which administers Kosovo, and NATO troops of failing to protect them in the region. Kosovo is officially a province of Serbia and Montenegro, but it has been run by a UN mission and NATO peacekeepers after a 1999 air campaign by NATO pushed back Serb forces which had been cracking down on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo & Serbia: Churches & Mosques Destroyed amid Inter-ethnic Violence

Forum 18 News Service, Oslo, Norway

By Felix Corley and Branko Bjelajac

Some of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s most revered shrines have been burnt amid the upsurge of inter-ethnic violence that erupted in Kosovo on 17 March, leaving at least 22 people dead and several hundred wounded. Many of the Orthodox churches attacked were sheltering Serbs who had fled in fear from their homes. In apparent retaliation, two mosques have been extensively damaged after being set on fire in the Serbian capital Belgrade and in the central Serbian town of Nis. In Belgrade, Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije stepped in to urge firefighters to resist the mobs and to put out the fire in the mosque.

The violence came just days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the launch of Nato’s air raids in 1999 and the period around the anniversary is usually a tense time. The attacks are also taking place in the unofficial run-up to Kosovo’s autumn parliamentary elections. Last week, a hand grenade was thrown at the home of Ibrahim Rugova, who is more moderate than many ethnic Albanian politicians. It is believed that this attack was the work of Albanian extremists.

“Last night there was anarchy rather than orchestrated violence,” Pastor Artur Krasniqi, who leads the 150-strong Fellowship of the Lord’s People, an ethnic Albanian Protestant Church in Pristina, told Forum 18 from the city on 18 March. “It is shocking that something like this could happen in a day.” He condemned the attacks, including those on Serbs and Serbian Orthodox churches. “I feel ashamed. Everyone has lost.” He said no mosques or Protestant churches in Kosovo appear to have been attacked.

Pastor Krasniqi said he believed the attacks were launched for ethnic, not religious reasons. “The Orthodox Church is the only institution that has kept the Serbian community alive here,” he told Forum 18. “The Orthodox Church has played a political role, so it has always paid the price.” He described the upsurge in violence as a failure on the part of the United Nations administration UNMIK and KFOR, views echoed by Kosovo’s Serbian minority. “I was out in the streets of Pristina yesterday and it was shameful that KFOR was not there. UNMIK’s reaction too was very confused.”

These latest attacks have followed many such attacks since 1999 on Orthodox sites, and in no case have any arrests of attackers been made by UNMIK, KFOR, or the mainly ethnically Albanian Kosovo Protection Service (eg. see F8News ).

Fr Sava (Janjic) of the Decani monastery in western Kosovo agreed with Pastor Krasniqi that the attacks were ethnically motivated, and argued that they were organised in a bid to promote the final ethnic cleansing of the Serbian population from Kosovo. “It was a real Kristallnacht,” he told Forum 18 from Decani on 18 March, referring to the Nazis’ attack on Jews, synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1938.

He claimed that Albanian media had fabricated the original spark for the violence – the death of two Albanian children in the river Ibar in the ethnically-divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. “UNMIK said yesterday that there was no Serbian involvement in their death at all,” Fr Sava told Forum 18. “The entire story was inflated by the Albanian media. Everything was planned.”

The Belgrade-based B92 also quoted an unnamed UNMIK official as speaking of “Kristallnacht”. “What is happening in Kosovo must unfortunately be described as a pogrom against Serbs: churches are on fire and people are being attacked for no other reason than their ethnic background.”

The Fellowship of the Lord’s People told Forum 18 late on 17 March of its concern about the inter-ethnic violence. “In almost every town and city there are riots and protests – attacks against Albanians, Serbs, UN and KFOR alike.” Church members had gathered to pray that evening and had called a day of prayer and fasting for 18 March. “Please join us in praying for an end to this escalation of violence, anarchy and chaos and instead for peace and God’s mercy on our land.” It also called for prayer for protection for UN staff who were members of the church “and whose lives have been put in danger tonight”.

The riots in Kosovo flared on 17 March in Mitrovica, after the disputed death of two ethnic Albanian children. Albanians attacked the Serbian-populated Northern Mitrovica and then riots spread to Serbian-populated enclaves throughout Kosovo. International peacekeepers from KFOR and UNMIK struggled to restore law and order.

In the southern town of Prizren all the Serbian Orthodox sanctuaries were set on fire. The diocesan house, the theological faculty, the fourteenth century church of the Ljeviska Holy Mother, the monastery of the Holy Archangels, and also the church of St Saviour, which is on the hills just outside the town, were all set on fire and destroyed. The Church had evacuated the archive, library and museum exhibits from Prizren only a day earlier. The seven monks from the Holy Archangels monastery had been evacuated to a German KFOR base shortly before it was set on fire. The Orthodox have complained that German KFOR forces were “not ready to protect the monastery”.

A church in the eastern town of Kamenica was stoned twice, while the patriarchal seat in Gracanica monastery near Pristina was threatened with being set on fire. The Raska and Prizren Orthodox diocese reported in the afternoon of 17 March that “several mortar shells have fallen not far from Visoki Decani Monastery which were fired by Albanians at the monastery. Italian forces are presently protecting the Monastery. U.S. special forces are expected to arrive soon to reinforce defences.” The monastery, located in western Kosovo, is vulnerable to attack from the surrounding hills.

Fr Sava told Forum 18 that in the violence fifteen Orthodox sites were burnt, many of them being destroyed. He listed burnt churches in Pec, Djakovica, Urosevac, two in Kosovo Polje, Pristina, Gnjilane, Belo Polje and Obilic, and above all in Prizren, which saw the worst attacks. He described the burning of the fourteenth century cathedral as “the greatest loss”. Although some priests and monks were among the injured Serbs, no clergy deaths were reported. He said the nuns of the Pec convent were safe at present under strong Italian KFOR protection.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated on the streets of Novi Sad, Nis and Belgrade during the night of 17-18 March. They clashed with riot police, notably in Belgrade were dozens of police officers were injured. The most serious unrest was in front of the Serbian government building, the United States embassy and the seventeenth century Bajrakli mosque, the only mosque in Belgrade. The mob broke through the police line, then set the mosque on fire just after midnight. Fresh police, firefighters and ambulance crews, who arrived shortly after the fire broke out, did not dare to come closer to the mosque in fear of the mob, which mostly consisted of young fans from Belgrade’s sports clubs. Several reporters were also injured and their cameras destroyed.

Soon after the fire broke out, the Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radovic) of Montenegro and the Littoral came out to the front of the mob and pleaded with them to stop the violence. Then, surrounded by a small number of people protecting him, he went to the police and firefighters standing nearby, asking them to react and preserve “what could be preserved”. “The children are playing dangerous games, but grown men should react,” he told them. After initial hesitation, the firefighters did intervene, so the Belgrade mosque, which is “under state protection”, was saved from complete destruction.

Hamdija Ephendi Jusufspahic, a retired leader of Serbia’s Islamic community, told the press later in the night that he was unable to enter the mosque and that this was “a terrible day for us all”. He also thanked Metropolitan Amfilohije for his intervention.

The mosque in Nis was set on fire about 10.30 pm, after thousands of demonstrators came in front of it. Although firefighters soon arrived, they were prevented from coming closer to the mosque by a mob, which stopped them from tackling the fire for another 45 minutes. The inside of the mosque was completely burnt-out, as was one minaret. Attacks also took place on Muslim property in Novi Sad.

At Belgrade’s mosque today (18 March), Forum 18 saw six wrecked and burnt cars, three of them police vehicles. The mosque is standing, but the inside it burnt out, though the medressa behind the mosque was not burnt. Police guarding the entrance told Forum 18 an official investigation is in progress. Firefighters are still extinguishing small fires in cars. Completely destroyed is a third building in the mosque yard, used for religious education of children, and a storage facility. Belgrade’s mayor has visited the mosque and spoken to the mufti. Ironically, they met on 17 March and agreed to provide a new facade and lights.

The Serbian government held an emergency session late on 17 March and the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting for 18 March.

For more background information, see Forum 18’s latest Kosovo religious freedom survey at

A printer-friendly map of Kosovo & Serbia (map title Serbia and Montenegro) is available at

The map follows international legal usage in indicating the boundaries of territories. Kosovo is in international law part of Serbia & Montenegro, although administered by the UN.

Kristallnacht in Kosovo

forthcoming in National Review, 19 March 2004

by Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic

A pogrom started in Europe on Wednesday. A UN official is quoted as saying that “Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo.” Serbs are being murdered and their 800 year old churches are aflame. Much of the Christian heritage in Kosovo and Metohija is on fire and could be lost forever. By these deeds too many of Kosovo’s Albanians have shown that all the speeches about democracy and multiethnicity we have been hearing in Kosovo since June 1999, and the naïve repetition of them by the international community, are false. These words too are burning, as is the hope in the hearts of right-thinking policymakers across the world that Kosovo’s barbarians can be civilized at little cost to the West.

Just as in the 1930s, a rumor became a fact and prearranged plans were put into action. Members of the victimized community in Kosovo, in this case, Serbian children, were accused of chasing four Albanian children into a river and causing the death of three of them. Hours later, what passes for authority in Kosovo, the UN Mission, issued a statement that the accusation against the Serbs was false, that the surviving Albanian child had told the UN that there had been no Serbs–yet the violence escalated. And yesterday it continued unabated. And today Kosovo burns still.

Beginning in the ethnically-divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, in the northern third of the entity, when a horde of armed Albanians crossed into the Serbian half of the city, breaching a Polish peacekeepers’ line, the ensuing violence killed half a dozen people of both ethnic groups.

Hours later, busloads of Albanians were transported to areas where Serbs are concentrated–in some cases, clashing with international peacekeepers. In some areas, entire Serbian villages have been burned to the ground. The UN, ever courageous, evacuated its missions from at least three cities in Kosovo. In two of them, Serbian Orthodox churches are in flames. And it only got worse during that first night, and then again the next day.

Monasteries and churches dating back to the 12th century are burning; 14 have been completely destroyed. Their cultural significance–not only for Christians but for all humanity–is irreplaceable. Photographs and memories are all the remain of these objects of civilization. And the UN fled.

The wave of violence has been too well-planned and coordinated to be a spontaneous reaction to rumors. “It was planned in advance”, said Derek Chappell, the UN’s Kosovo mission spokesman. All that was needed was a pretext. It is clear that some in the Kosovo Albanian leadership believe that by cleansing all remaining Serbs from the entity (having already achieved the cleansing of two-thirds of Kosovo’s Serbs after “liberation” in 1999) and destroying all Serbian cultural sites, they can present the international community with a fait accompli. But ethnic purity cannot be allowed to be the foundation for democracy and independence.

Upon hearing the news of the pogrom and the burning of churches in Kosovo, a small crowd of Belgraders surrounded the city’s mosque in retaliation. Windows were broken, and a fire was started. (They did the same in Serbia’s second largest city, Nis.) In contrast to the scene in Kosovo, the Serbian government dispatched several hundred police to try and control the crowd; joining them was a Serbian Orthodox bishop who tried to talk the crowd down. They did not succeed entirely. The Belgrade crowd is as despicable, but it is far smaller (numbering in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands), and they had to fight government authorities and disregard the pleadings of a bishop to commit their deeds. And 78 of them have been arrested. In Kosovo, where are the Albanian politicians standing in front of the Serbian holy sites? Who was guarding the Serbian churches and villages? Why are they in flames? There are 18,000 foreign troops in Kosovo. Why have they not doing more?

The Kosovo Albanian leadership, while insisting they are capable of governing an independent state, claim that they are unable to control their constituents and stop the pogrom. At the same time, they argue that immediate independence for Kosovo will ensure that Kosovo’s Serbs and the holy sites will be protected. So while the leader of the most influential political party in Kosovo, Hasim Thaci, travels abroad preaching the virtues of multiethnicity and a civic-based identity, all five Serbian holy sites in his own home town of Prizren have burned. Meanwhile, his political party and other Kosovo Albanian parties issue statements blaming all this on the Serbs. In the 1930s, they did this as well.

This does not mean that individual Albanian leaders and ordinary Albanians have not acted honorably. Thaci did not want this to happen, and his hastily arranged return to Kosovo may well calm the situation. As a former KLA man, he might be able to reign-in some of the pogrom’s leaders. The Kosovo Albanian prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi, and Ramush Haradinaj, a former KLA terrorist commander and the leader of one of their political parties, have been commended by local officials and Serbian Orthodox Church figures for their assistance. But on the other hand, these same men have been promissing for 5 years to rebuild Serbian churches and homes, and to investigate the approximately 3,000 ethnically murders and kidnappings, that have taken place since June 1999. Their words did not translate into actions. Where have they been for the past five years? Their inaction certainly contributed to the perception by Albanian extremists that they could get away with murder and with arson. And they have. How many arrests will we see this time? Will an Albanian judge convict one of his own for a crime against a Serb? It hadn’t happened before Kristallnacht in Kosovo. Can it happen now?

Post-June1999, Kosovo’s Serbs were willing to reject the lessons of history and try to work with–even trust their Albanian neighbors–and believe Kosovo’s Albanian politicians who promised that religious freedom and multiethnicity would be made permanent–that the values of the West would take root in Kosovo.

At the same time, Kosovo’s Serbs have for years been warning of the real nature of Albanian nationalism, and the UN and the West have thought these to be exaggerations. But as the Diocese of Kosovo’s statement from Wednesday makes clear, “What has happened today and is happening this evening in Kosovo and Metohija represents a horrible defeat for the entire UN mission which has been deceiving the world for the past five years with their alleged successes when in fact they were enabling militarization.”

Murder upon murder, kidnapping upon kidnapping, arson upon arson, and now finally this pogrom–have led the Serbs to the awful realization that they are at the mercy of barbarians. This is ethnic aggression of the worst sort “in the heart of Europe,” as Madeleine Albright famously called Kosovo before she bombed Serbia. Today we see the true face of the multiethnicity of which they all spoke so highly. And all this is happening under UN and NATO administration. Imagine how bad it could get if they get their independence.

Senator Sam Brownback, after having met Artemije, the Bishop of Kosovo, several weeks ago in Washington, wrote a letter to President George W. Bush in which he concluded “We should not consider advancing the cause of independence of a people whose first act when liberated was to ethnically cleanse a quarter of a million of their fellow citizens and destroy over a hundred of their holy sites.” What might he say now? What will we all say? Will we do nothing, just like in the 1930s?

Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic is the Managing Editor of The National Interest and a Senior Fellow at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.

Damjan de Krnjevic-Miskovic

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Kosovo & Serbia: Pristina Orthodox Priest “Lucky” to Be Alive 19 March 2004

By Branko Bjelajac, Forum 18 News Service

The parish priest of the Church of St Nicholas in Kosovo’s capital Pristina has told Forum 18 News Service he is lucky to be alive after his church was set on fire by an Albanian mob yesterday evening (18 March) and the parish house where he was hiding was set on fire when the mob returned just before dawn this morning. ”I went to the cellar and hid,” Fr Miroslav Popadic told Forum 18 News Service in tears from Pristina on 19 March. ”They entered the church yard, spread petrol or diesel around and set it alight. I was lucky they did not look in the cellar otherwise God knows if this morning I would still be alive.”

Some seventeen churches and other Serbian Orthodox sites have been attacked and burnt in Kosovo in the anti-Serb violence that began on 17 March (see F18News 18 March 2004 ). At least 31 people have now been killed with hundreds wounded as Nato has rushed extra troops to the United Nations-administered Kosovo to reinforce the 18,500-strong international KFOR peace keeping force as it struggles to cope with the violence.

The situation of St Nicholas’ church, along with other Orthodox shrines in Kosovo has caused the Orthodox Church deep concern for a long time, with an immediate increase in attacks on St Nicholas’ after KFOR removed its guard force last May (see F18News 13 May 2003 ). As with all the other attacks on Orthodox shrines since 1999, neither UNMIK, nor KFOR, nor the mainly ethnically Albanian Kosovo Protection Service have arrested any attackers.

Fr Popadic said the mob arrived about 8.30 pm yesterday to attack the nineteenth century St Nicholas’ Church, destroying and desecrating it before setting it on fire. When the mob returned almost at dawn, he escaped by hiding in the cellar of the parish house. Before leaving, the mob set his house on fire. KFOR troops entered the church yard soon after and evacuated Fr Popadic in an armoured car to the safety of their nearby base.

He said KFOR had put all the more than 300 Serbs from Pristina and the nearly town of Obilic in the vicinity of the city’s old military barracks, where they are protected by Norwegian troops. “There are pregnant women and two babies 2-3 weeks old,” he told Forum 18. “We have no beds and the food is detestable. We were freezing last night. People are desperate and some of them are planning to leave for Serbia on foot. We have no life here anymore.”

Another priest described the situation on 17 March as being “like a state of war”. “It was an armed clash, houses were burned, and people were wounded and killed,” Fr Nektarije, serving in the KIM Radio station, a local Serbian and Orthodox radio station in Gracanica area near Pristina, told Forum 18 on 19 March. ”We had to evacuate women and children to Laplje selo, inside Serbian territory.”

On 18 March, Albanian mobs destroyed three more Serbian Orthodox churches: in Donja Slapasnica, near Kamenica; in the village of Brnjak, near Bela Crkva and Orahovac; and the church of St Sava in the southern, Albanian-populated part of the divided city of Mitrovica.

Some Albanian elected politicians have tried to calm the violence. The Decani monastery brotherhood reported on 18 March that the mayor of Decani, Ibrahim Selmonaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), phoned Fr Sava Janjic, the deputy abbot of the Visoki Decani Monastery, to inform him that the leadership of Decani municipality and the AAK, the most influential party in the area, were making all possible efforts to prevent the escalation of violence and damage to the monastery. Fr Sava thanked Selmonaj for his political leadership and responsibility.

Decani monastery also appealed to all political leaders to refrain from issuing emotional statements and to return to moderation and diplomacy to defuse the tensions. The monastery particularly appealed to the media to help the process of reconciliation and stopping the violence.

Zivojin Rakocevic, editor in chief of KIM Radio in Gracanica, believes the violence was organised by Albanian “tribal structures” which had never been brought under official control, whether under Ottoman rule, during the Yugoslav kingdom or under Communist rule. “Their teams of executors roam around and level everything that is not theirs, whatever does not belong to their nation. This is Albanian nationalism, and religion and faith does not have a part in this,” he told Forum 18 on 19 March. “The international community today in Kosovo also does not control this irrational sentiment.”

Marek Antoni Nowicki, the international community’s ombudsperson in Kosovo, said yesterday (18 March) that “The recent developments have, however, suggested that not all members of the Albanian community in Kosovo really want this prosperous future. Instead, the current pictures of horrible violence and heinous criminal acts against members of the Serbian community and the international security forces create the impression in and outside Kosovo that there exists the intent to cleanse this land from the presence of all Serbs, in total rejection of the idea of a multi-ethnic cohabitation in Kosovo”.

Attacks on churches have also spread to neighbouring Bosnia. The Holy Virgin’s Birth Orthodox Church in Bugojno was also attacked, and its roof set on fire late yesterday (18 March), parish priest Fr Slavisa Djurisic reported.

In the wake of the attacks on fourteen Orthodox churches and other sites in Kosovo in the night of 17 to 18 March, mobs made reprisal attacks on mosques in the Serbian capital Belgrade, the southern Serbian city of Nis and on the Islamic community headquarters in the town of Novi Sad in the northern Vojvodina region, leaving them gutted (see F18News 18 March 2004 ).

Visiting the remains of the mosque in Nis on 18 March Forum 18 saw the roof totally destroyed, the inside gutted and the minaret damaged. The walls have been daubed with Serbian nationalist graffiti, such as “Out of our land – this is Serbia!” Police are now guarding the remains of the building, and local people come to look at it as though it were a museum exhibit.

The Catholic bishops of Serbia and Montenegro condemned the wave of violence. ”With deep sorrow we commiserate with the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Faith Community because of the destruction and burning of the sacral sites, churches and mosques,” they declared on 18 March. “Such destruction and burning represent acts deserving strong condemnation and regret, because they are putting down civilisation and especially the possibility of coexistence and mutual respect.”

The Serbian government has been in permanent emergency session, while on 18 March the United Nations Security Council denounced “the large-scale inter-ethnic violence”, calling for the province’s authorities to ensure that the rule of law is maintained, all ethnic communities feel properly secure and the perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice.

Today (18 March) the government has organised a procession from the government building in Belgrade to the city’s St Sava cathedral. Church bells across the country will toll.

For more background information, see Forum 18’s latest Kosovo religious freedom survey at

A printer-friendly map of Kosovo & Serbia (map title Serbia and Montenegro) is available at

The map follows international legal usage in indicating the boundaries of territories. Kosovo is in international law part of Serbia & Montenegro, although administered by the UN.

Burning churches, ruined homes and ethnic hatred. Are the Balkans set to explode again?

The Independent (UK) / / 19 March 2004

By Jeta Xharra in Obilic and Marcus Tanner

Nato rushed 1,000 extra troops to Kosovo last night – 750 of them British – amid fears that the Balkans were again sliding towards a conflagration that could suck in neighbouring countries.

With at least 23 dead in two days of ethnic rioting that have pitted the two million Albanians against the small Serb minority, and with dozens of churches and houses reduced to smoking ruins, Western efforts to impose peace appeared about to unravel.

Last night Albanians were again fighting their Serb neighbours in Lipljan, in eastern Kosovo, and the worst violence to afflict the province since the Serb pull-out in 1999 seemed set to continue into a third day.

But in a new and more worrying development, Albanian rioters were also attacking Finnish peace-keepers patrolling the small Serbian enclave, hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at the men they until recently thought of as their protectors.

The large-scale deployment of international peace-keepers quelled rioting in the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, scene of the worst violence on Wednesday, when Serbs and Albanians traded gunfire across the river Ibar, claiming at least six lives. But yesterday, fresh arson attacks on other isolated Serb enclaves raised the nightmare scenario of Western peace- keepers being stretched beyond their capacity, trying to dampen down brush fires in dozens of areas at once.

Plumes of smoke rising from the small town of Obilic, six miles from Pristina, revealed a glimpse of the problems facing peace-keepers. No roadblocks stopped our car – from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting – as we drove towards Obilic and entered the Serb enclave. There we encountered a 100-strong gang of sullen, trainer-clad youths, bolstered by ragged gangs of children, all busily stoning homes, lighting fires and looting goods.

Most of the houses were empty, the terrified Serbs having fled hours before in anticipation of the wave of hatred that was about to break over their small community. But the crowd had surrounded one house that was still occupied. There was an atmosphere of sinister jubilation as the jeering crowd reluctantly parted to allow US peace-keepers to enter and escort a terrified man from the smoke-filled interior to a tank in which he was driven away.

The grim scene in Obilic was a portrait in miniature of the violence that has racked Kosovo for two days, as Albanians turned simultaneously on several Serb enclaves, in what may have started as a spontaneous protest but which has assumed the hallmarks of an organised campaign. As the extra S-For troops were rushed from Bosnia to beef up Kosovo’s visibly disorientated 17,000 peace-keepers, there were signs that their arrival might calm the fury of the Albanian gangs.

The lawlessness engulfing Kosovo has given an opportunity for shadowy extremists to renew the score-settling that has plagued the territory for centuries. What might have started off as an isolated burst of anger in Mitrovica over the still unexplained drowning of two Albanian children now appears to be something more planned. “We have had similar attacks to these in Kosovo before,” said a UN spokesman, Derek Chappell. “But the fact that these attacks took place at the same time all over Kosovo does make me think they were orchestrated by the same extreme groups.”

Lt-Colonel James Moran, a K-For spokesman, was more explicit. “There was a lot more organisation today than we saw yesterday,” he said. “People had organised buses to take protesters to different areas. We turned several around.” Whoever was behind that agenda has certainly succeeded in nullifying the UN’s attempts to build bridges between Serbs and Albanians over the past four years.

The scale of the rage shown by the crowds caught local Albanian politicians and commentators off guard as well. They were just as unprepared as the UN. “In 24 hours Kosovo was transferred from normality to a state close to anarchy,” said Veton Surroi, a veteran liberal activist and editor of the newspaper Koha Ditore.

But few of the mainstream politicians went much further than issuing vague appeals for calm – which the rioters simply ignored. Even the remonstrations of Albanians in the streets had no effect on the rioters. “Don’t worry, we are not going to burn your house,” one group of thugs in Obilic shouted at an elderly Albanian man who denounced what they were up to.

The bitterness has built up over months. Increasingly fearful that the international community will force Kosovo to remain in Serbia, the rhetoric of Albanian leaders over eight months has taken on an increasingly strident anti-UN tone.

The question is now what, if anything, can be done to restore even the bare bones of trust on either side. Little can be expected from Serbia, now entering a presidential election in which the ultra-nationalist Radical Party candidate is the odds-on favourite to win. Nor are even the moderate Albanian leaders in Kosovo certain of what will come next. “A policy died yesterday in Kosovo and it took human lives in the most tragic way,” said Mr Surroi.

The funerals – both Serb and Albanian – have not even begun, but what is certain is that at numerous gravesides, calls for revenge will again be heard.

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