News Fall 2003


  1. Iraqi archbishop: "Nothing good has happened for us"
  2. Foundation laid for church in North Korea
  3. Serbia's Patriarch Pavle calls for end to violence in Kosovo
  4. Orthodox are 'pretty satisfied with WCC progress
  5. Former Knesset Speaker: 'A state lacking justice cannot survive'
  6. 27 Israeli pilots refuse to bomb civilians
  7. Patriarch Alexy's journey to Estonia an emotional pilgrimage
  8. Russia tightens abortion laws
  9. Bartholomew and Christodoulos at odds
  10. Archbishop Christodoulos lobbies legislators on Euro constitution

Iraqi archbishop: "Nothing good has happened for us"

Archbishop Severius Hawa of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Baghdad and Basra has sharply criticized the US for its administration of Baghdad.

He said the electricity shortage was crippling the city and putting lives at risk. People were lacking telephones and jobs while suffering food shortages and increased illness and disorder, he said.

"The people are suffering now, with no money, no work and growing illness and disorder."

Interviewed by the BBC during a visit to England, the archbishop said even supporters of the invasion were losing patience. But he praised the British for getting Basra back on its feet, and said the anti-war stance of Christians in England had helped prevent a Muslim backlash against Iraqi Christians.

In order to ease fears the eventual government in Baghdad could be anti-Christian, he said talks have taken place in Jordan between Iraq's religious leaders to ensure continuing good relations.

"Since the Americans have been in Iraq, nothing good has happened for us," he said. "What we were looking forward to did not happen. In Basra, it is better because the British know how to administrate and know the thinking of the Iraqi people because they share a history."

The archbishop said mounting disorder was preventing some people from leaving their homes at night.

Describing the nightly bombing of Baghdad, Mr. Hawa said there were missile attacks every 10 seconds. But the fear within the capital did not prevent the churches from being full for Sunday worship, as people's faith seemed to strengthen in the face of adversity.

He recalled that Saddam Hussein fostered good relations with Christians, giving money to restore monasteries, and allowing worship without persecution. However Baath party laws prevented the use of Biblical names or Christian schools, and Muslims who converted to Christianity were killed.

Since the war, with so many unemployed, donations have dwindled. He fears the church could lose the lease on many of its buildings.

"My message to Tony Blair and George Bush is to think about us, about our people, to make peace and security grow in Iraq, and to deal with people in a Christian spirit as Christ taught us, not to punish all the people just because one person may be crazy against the Americans. Not all Iraqis are against the US."

Foundation laid for church in North Korea

A Russian archbishop laid the foundation-stone for the first Orthodox church in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in July. The church will serve the 300-400 Russians living and working in Pyongyang as well as a small number of Korean Orthodox Christians.

"The Koreans chose the name Holy Trinity for this church," said Archbishop Kliment, deputy chairperson for foreign affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. "It symbolizes unity. The people of Korea need this because they are divided now."

Permission to build the church was given last summer by North Korea's ruler, Kim Jong-Il, during a visit to Siberia.

The church, topped by a cupola and belfry, is modeled on St. Innocent's Basilica in Khabarovsk, the second biggest city in Russia's Far East, where Kim Jong-Il spent an hour in conversation with the local Orthodox rector. Four North Koreans are currently being prepared for ordination in Russia.

North Korea is home to an estimated 15,000 Christians. Services are held regularly in Pyongyang at a Roman Catholic church and two Protestant churches.

Although North Korea's Communist constitution pledges "freedom of religious belief," human rights groups have reported widespread harassment of unauthorized religious activity.

Patriarch Alexei said the new church in North Korea would be a step towards "spiritual unification" between Russia and North Korea and would help `consolidate principles of good neighborly relations and mutual respect. The church is sincere-ly interested, as was the case a century ago, in the genuine independence of Korea and the restoration of a unified state on the Korean Peninsula."

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, anxious to avert a nuclear or refugee crisis on Russia's far eastern border, has tried hard to rebuild relations with Pyongyang in the last few years.

Serbia's Patriarch Pavle calls for end to violence in Kosovo

Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church has again pleaded with domestic and international authorities to stop a rising tide of ethnic violence in Kosovo.

His appeal followed the murder in August of three youths who were swimming in a river near the village of Gorazdevac, a mainly Serb village in western Kosovo.

The gunmen fired from nearby bushes, killing the three and injuring five others.

"There is and cannot be any worse crime than killing these innocent and blameless children, for which there can be no justification," said Pavle.

"Honest Albanian people of Kosovo ... as well as the temporary Kosovo political authorities" should stop such crimes.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has repeatedly criticized the UN civilian administration in Kosovo for failing to act against violence, demands the punishment of ethnic Albanians alleged to have committed war crimes, and calls for Serbian security forces to be allowed to protect the Serbian community in Kosovo.

Rebuilding church life in Kosovo

The restoration of Banjska Monastery, built in the 14th century near Zvecan in Kosovo, began in July. Monks hope to move in by the end of the year.

"At a time when our people are living through difficult moments of their history, when our shrines in Kosovo ... are being extinguished, when 120 churches and monasteries have been destroyed in the past four years, God has willed that our shrines that have lain dormant for several hundred years are being resurrected at the same time," said Bishop Artemije after the consecration. "This is a sign, proof and encouragement that those shrines being destroyed today will once again see the light of day when they are restored."

In September, Bishop Artemije consecrated the foundation of the Church of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr in the northern part of Kosovo. This will enable the local Serbian population to participate more regularly in church services. The only local church is St. Sava Church, located in a part of the city which Serbs dare not enter unless under armed guard. The Orthodox town cemetery has been repeatedly vandalized.

Orthodox are 'pretty satisfied' with WCC progress

A report intended to resolve differences over issues such as worship, theology and decision-making procedures between the Orthodox and Protestant members of the World Council of Churches was producing "good results," though details remained to be worked out, according to Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Meeting with journalists in August in Geneva, he said most Orthodox leaders with whom he had spoken were "pretty satisfied in principle" with the implementation of the WCC Report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation. But "the task is not easy," Gennadios noted.

The report was presented to last year's meeting of the committee and led to the resignation of one of its most prominent members, Bishop Margot Kaessmann from Germany, in protest at proposals in the report about worship at WCC events.

Still, the report received backing from the WCC's newly-elected general secretary, the Rev. Sam Kobia, from the Methodist Church of Kenya, who pledged after his election on Thursday: "We will implement faithfully all the recommendations of the Special Commission."

The special commission that produced the report was set up to deal with longstanding Orthodox grievances about the worship styles, theological and political pronouncements and the majority-rule decision-making model of the WCC which came to a head in 1998, just prior to the organization's 8th assembly in Harare.

WCC deputy general secretary, Georges Lemopoulos, said the WCC was translating the commission's report into Greek, Arabic, Russian and other languages to assist in its distribution to Orthodox churches. He noted that all 20 Orthodox member churches are now currently contributing financially to the WCC.

Former Knesset Speaker: 'A state lacking justice cannot survive'

The former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, published an article in the Israeli press in September which has been widely republished in other journals, stirring passionate debate.

Burg wrote that Israel's recent dealings with the Palestinians are marked by such moral blindness as to call in question the eternal Jewish claim to be "a light unto the nations." He asked: Once that has gone out, what is the point of being Jewish?

"The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or anti-missile missiles," Burg declared. "We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed. It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt law-breakers who are deaf both to their citizens and their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive... the countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun."

It is the callousness of Jewish indifference towards the suffering of ordinary Arabs, women and children particularly, that represents for him the moral disgrace of Israel. "Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below."

The stark choice, he argued, is between two states --- or a racist state. Nor is this exclusively Israeli business, or exclusively Jewish business. "Israel's friends abroad -- Jewish and non-Jewish, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people -- should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map towards our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality."

27 Israeli pilots refuse to bomb civilians

Twenty-seven reserve pilots in the Israeli Air Force presented a petition in September saying that they would not take part in "illegal and immoral" strikes in Palestinian areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The air strikes, aimed at Hamas militants, have often killed Palestinian civilians.

"We refuse to participate in air force attacks on civilian populations," they declared. "We refuse to continue harming innocent civilians."

The petition is similar to a letter signed by hundreds of reserve soldiers who have pledged not to serve in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Most of the pilots who signed the petition have not been on active duty in recent years, the air force said. It was not clear whether any had been involved in the strikes.

Israel calls the strikes "targeted killings." They have broad support among Israelis, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government saying they are the most effective way to attack terrorists who hide among civilians.

One of the petition's signers was Yiftach Spector, a brigadier general in the reserves, who took part in the bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981.

Patriarch Alexy's journey to Estonia an emotional pilgrimage

A five-day official visit to Estonia in September had deep personal significance for Patriarch Alexy of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose parents are buried in Tallinn, the capital city of the Baltic state, which he had been unable to visit for more than a decade. Born and raised in Estonia, the Patriarch's earlier career included almost 30 years as the bishop of Tallinn.

Progress was made before the trip on a protracted dispute concerning the patriarch, Estonia, a nation of 1.4 million people, and Russia. Estonia, which will join the European Union in 2004, has feuded with Russia over a number of issues since it regained independence during the 1991 dismantling of the Soviet Union.

"It's not just any old trip. It is a step toward normalization of Estonian-Russian relations," said Marko Mihkelson, head of Estonia's parliamentary foreign relations committee.

In April last year, Estonian authorities agreed to recognize the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the country's second biggest denomination, with 100,000 members.

Relations with the Moscow Patriarchate came to a head in 1996 when ethnic Estonian Orthodox switched allegiance to the Turkey-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople by Patriarch Bartholomew. Ethnic Russians, a third of the Estonian population, stayed loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Alexy also conducted a memorial service for his parents, Archpriest Mikhail and Yelena Iosifovna, noting during the service that at the time they died it had been impossible to put crosses on their tombs.

Russia tightens abortion laws

One of the world's most liberal abortion laws became tougher in September, sparking controversy among Russians for whom abortion has traditionally been the primary mode of birth control.

Though Russia's abortion rate has dropped by about half since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, it remains among the world's highest. Official figures indicate that 60 percent of first pregnancies in Russia are terminated. For every baby born there are two abortions. Statistics suggest the average woman in the Soviet era had about eight abortions during her childbearing years.

The new restrictions, decreed last month by the Russian government, will make it almost impossible to end a pregnancy during its second trimester. Abortions are still available, virtually on demand, during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

"Artificial termination of pregnancy after week 12 is fraught with grave consequences for a woman's health," said a spokesman for Russia's Health Ministry. "Abortions account for 30 per cent of maternal mortality in Russia. It has been decided to reduce these dangers."

Religious politicians say they will continue pushing for a complete ban on all abortions, except to save a woman's life. "Our initiative has the backing of the Orthodox Church, Russia's Muslims, Catholics, in fact all denominations," says Dimitry Savin, adviser to the Christian Democratic Party. "We know that public opinion is not ready to prohibit abortions, but we see the Health Ministry's decree as an important step forward."

"Women's attitudes are changing," said Lyudmilla Timofeyeva, head doctor of a private gynecological consulting clinic in Moscow. "Young women today know about various types of contraceptives, and are much more into family planning. This is the main reason abortion rates have come sharply down."

Bartholomew and Christodoulos at odds

The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church of Greece are openly talking about the possibility of a schism, an eventuality that could put Archbishop Christodoulos' position as leader of the Orthodox Church of Greece in danger, if they cannot agree on the patriarchate's privileges in over 30 dioceses in northern Greece.

The administration of the "New Territories" bishoprics was ceded to the Church of Greece in 1928, but the patriarchate retained spiritual rights over them and the right to approve the list of candidates to fill a vacant metropolitan's throne. For decades, the patriarchate had not insisted that this requirement be honored. But the issue came to the fore after the death of the Metropolitan Panteleimon of Thessalonika last summer, when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's demand to approve the list of candidates was not fully respected. Now, the patriarchate is prepared even to cease communion with Christodoulos if he does not respect the privileges of the patriarchate, a move that could topple Christodoulos from his throne.

When the Greek Synod was about to discuss the issue a month ago, a delegation from the patriarchate delivered a letter of warning from Bartholomew, who said that if the Patriarchal Act of 1928 were to be changed, that meant the administration of the northern Greece dioceses would revert back to the patriarchate, not to the Church of Greece.

Christodoulos and the Greek Synod decided to send the list of candidates "for informational purposes," not for approval. The patriarchate responded that this was unacceptable. Then Christodoulos requested a private meeting with Bartholomew, but when dates for a visit to the patriarchate's headquarters in Istanbul were offered, the Greek archbishop backed off.

An emergency session of the hierarchy of the Church of Greece has been arranged for November 4-6.

The excommunication of Christodoulos would put the entire Greek Church under tremendous pressure, as the legitimacy of the Church is, under the Greek Constitution, contingent on its canonical relationship with the Patriarchate.

"If the Church of Greece elects a metropolitan of Thessalonika before we settle this and they send the list of candidates for approval by the patriarchate, it is quite possible that we would cease communion with the archbishop of Athens. If the Synod of Constantinople breaks communion with the archbishop of Athens, he is automatically toppled from his throne," a high-level patriarchal cleric told the Athens News. "Right now, the situation is extremely dangerous."

Archbishop Christodoulos lobbies legislators on Euro constitution

Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens used an October visit to the European Parliament in Brussels to lobby for a reference to Christianity as a foundation of Europe in the new European Constitution and also to express opposition to Turkey's entry into the European Union.

"Europe is not a space but a culture," said Christodoulos. "Thus it is very important what you will do with the countries that want to enter the EU, but do not belong to our civilization... An EU that will include countries of the south and eastern Mediterranean will be a historical farce."

Speaking of the form of government, Christodoulos stated that "the Orthodox Church has no opinion on the form of governance, nor in the ways of governance of the people, but it is always wishing for peace and always supports those in need and the weak."