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. rsesymposia.org)
"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
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]