News – Summer 2011 / IC 61

Patriarch Bartholomew’s Jamaica Peace Appeal

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pro-Life Clinics to Open in Russia

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

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

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

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


Moscow Church Barred from Feeding Hungry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Church’s Response to Greek Crisis

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

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

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

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


Syrian Christians Worry About Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Communion / issue 61 / July 2011