Thursday, December 8, 2016

Star Wars in the Philippines

EP on globalization, human rights, religious fundamentalism

(EP) - His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is visiting South Italy on 1-7 December 2016. On 1 December, he participated in an ecumenical prayer at the cathedral of Lecce where he delivered a brief homily⇒, in which he described his visit as a pilgrimage “to meet the brothers in the West, to hug their children that live here and give witness of Christian love, and to breathe together friendship and dialogue with all”.

On 2 December 2016, the Ecumenical Patriarch received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Salento. In his lectio magistralis, he referred to the encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete 2016) relating to three main challenges for humanity today: globalization, violation of human rights and religious fundamentalism. Bartholomew stressed that “A human being is not only a citizen of the world, but also a citizen of heaven, full of longing for eternal life”. According to him, “Orthodoxy is called to serve as a prophetic voice to provide an alternative model of life, to propose a freedom shared or common in a globalized world”.

On 5 December 2016, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received the Ecumenical Prize “Saint Nicolas” during the inauguration of the academic year the Theological Faculty of Puglia at the Basilica of Saint Nicolas in Bari. This city is a centre of co-existence and a bridge between Eastern and Western Christians since the relics of Saint Nicolas have been kept there for over 1000 years. Bari is until now a centre of pilgrimage for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch coincided with the feast of this major ecumenical saint, whose relics were venerated by the Patriarch.

In his lectio magistralis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reminded his auditory that “the Mediterranean is a sea of dialogue, not a tomb”. He spoke against fundamentalism and intolerance, an advocated for an “economy of communion” that knows how to welcome migrants and reach out to the poor. He also referred to the synod in Crete not only as “an example of communion” but a “sea of communion for the entire Orthodox Church and for the world”. The lecture focused on communion especially its theological significance, as well as sharing, dialogue, integration:

“Communion is a joint participation in grace, love and communion in God’s life, which becomes the very experience of ‘being in a relationship’. It means participating in divine nature, through the grace granted to us by God in all aspects of Christian life. It means sharing in the faith, sharing spirituality, praying for each other, it means making this communion concrete in our lives, practicing it. So, if we are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, if we are intimate with Him, we perceive our brothers and sisters as people who belong to us, who share in our Trinitarian origins and we walk towards the same destination which is Christ, who encapsulates everything”. According to Bartholomew, “Trinitarian love turns us into people who relate to one another, communional subjects, connatural in dialogue, capable of a loving relationship that transfigures our egos, making us capable of acting and thinking that peace stems from dialogue and dialogue leads to unity.”

The Ecumenical Patriarch also underlined the ancient and peaceful co-existence between Greeks and Latins in the Puglia region. A cradle of history, civilisations, languages, cultures and religions capable of interconnections and exchanges that influenced social processes throughout the entire area for centuries, contributing to the growth of the peoples in the Mediterranean. He reminded that even today, one cannot be in a relationship with God and our suffering brothers and sisters without putting the human and social proposals of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church into practice and nurturing the principles of dialogue, love and peace before a “Mediterranean that has turned into a grave for many of our brothers and sisters who dreamed of a better life”. Therefore, he stated: “We believe that the role of religions is fundamental in creating, launching and consolidating the principle of communion for collaboration and mutual understanding, eliminating the fundamentalist mind sets found in all societies and religions. There is a need for mutual respect among peoples, overcoming mistrust, violence, massacres and genocides. Social justice and justice among nations must prevail over the mere interests of the world economy and uncontrolled globalisation, in order to put an end to rampant migration”.

The ecumenical importance of Bartholomew’s visit is furthered by the conviction that every local Church must commit to ecumenism. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has led the Orthodox Church in a spirit of charity and diakonia since 1991, tirelessly pursuing Christian unity and peace. The “substantial recognition” which the diocese of Bari conferred upon Bartholomew, was reiterated in Pope Francis’ message as a “sign of gratitude for his service in promoting ever closer communion between all of Christ’s followers”. The Patriarch welcomed this sign as “prophetic of the unity of all of God’s Holy Churches,” underlining the theological journey “between our Churches and love, respect and collaboration”.

Episcopal Assembly maps themselves

(AOB) - A new map, Orthodox Bishops and Parishes in the United States, is now available on the Assembly's website. The updated map shows: a) locations, names and jurisdictions of all active Orthodox bishops in the United States and b) the total number of Orthodox parishes in each county. The map is in PDF format and can be downloaded here (PDF).

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Orthodoxy and LGBT "Inclusiveness"

Where the "European Forum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Christian Groups" and Orthodox clergy converge. Not a few of these names will be known to the readers.

A time to fast and a time to feast

This won't be a long, scripture-strewn article. Instead a few words on a contemporary topic.

If you look at the year as a journey from one place to another with stops in-between, you acknowledge that there are times when you pack lightly and times when you have a train of luggage behind you and times when you stay home and settle into your home with a good book and a hot cup of tea. Throughout those 365 days of sojourning, sometimes the trip calls for light meals and other times great sumptuous banquets and still other times no food at all. This week my inbox is full of emails about how to "eat smart" this holiday season. Ignoring the egregious abuse done to the adverb, it is worth pointing out that these communications miss the point. There are times to feast, but there are also times to fast. For the person who lives the year liturgically the bountiful Christmas meal is as welcome and reasonable as the hummus and crudités of the days preceding it. The person who fasts with the Church should most definitely feast with the Church.

There is a lot of guilt and even more emails built up to inform us as to how to enjoy parties without enjoying them "too much." Really, though, we should celebrate when it is time to celebrate and mourn when it is time to do so. No one would recommend constantly checking work emails or getting on conference calls during a vacation in the Bahamas (nor would your spouse or children appreciate it). And when it is time for somberness, no one will think well of the man who cuts his sadness with some funny Youtube videos played on an iPhone or a deli sandwich eaten during a funeral while sitting in the pews.

We were not meant to live our lives in this constantly muted and self-recriminating way always taking careful steps across flat and monochromatic wastes. There should be climbs toward high peaks where we exult in the beauty of creation and careful descents into woods where the insularity of densely growing trees lead us to introspection. So, this holiday season and in those to come, the emails will roll in offering "tips" and "tricks" and "helpful pointers" on how to "escape the trap" of holiday eating. I say, "Rejoice in the Lord!" and do it with egg nog in hand.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Choose wisely

St. Nicholas and the three daughters

There was a very rich man in the city of Mora who lost all his wealth. He had three daughters who had passed the age of marriage, and could not marry them because of his poverty. Satan caused the man to think that he should make his daughters live in sin so that they might get their food by means of fornication. God revealed to St. Nicholas the thoughts which were in this man's head. St. Nicholas took one hundred dinars of his father's money and tied it up in a sack, and during the night he threw the money into the window of that man's house. When the man found the gold, he was astonished and rejoiced exceeding and was able to give his eldest daughter away in marriage. During another night the saint threw another hundred dinars into the man's house and the man was able to give his second daughter away in marriage. The man wanted to know who this charitable person was. The third time when the saint threw the gold into the house, the man was watching and immediately when he felt the drop of the sack, he went out of his house running to see who was throwing the gold to him. He found the kind bishop St. Nicholas and the man bowed down at his feet and paid him great homage and thanked him because he saved his daughters from poverty and from a life of sin. The saint refused to accept any thanks and asked them to thank the Lord Who put this thought in his heart. St. Nicholas drove out the devil and his angels from people, he healed many sick people, and blessed little bread to satisfy many people.

St. Nicholas and the Darr Mine

(St. Nicholas Center) - These hymns were composed for the Centenary of the Miracle of St Nicholas at the Darr Mine, December 19, 1907. Two to three hundred lives were spared, as faithful Carpatho-Rusyn men and boys were at Divine Liturgy on the Feast of St. Nicholas when the Darr Mine exploded. 239 lives were lost in the Pennsylvania's worst mining disaster.

Tropar (Tone 4)

Protected by your prayers, O Holy Father Nicholas* we children of those saved offer praise to you.* Beneath your holy omofor you covered your people* as they labored beneath the hills of a new land.* Cease not to intercede that our souls may be saved.

Kondak (Tone 3)

You were truly the protector of your people, O Holy Nicholas* for those who zealously celebrated your holy feast.* You preserved them from danger and death as they labored beneath the earth.* Therefore with one voice we ask you to continually pray for us* that we may obtain mercy from Christ our God.

Will the real St. Nicholas please stand up?

Orthodox listeners will get a kick out of the first question asked by the show's host, Celeste Headlee, to the book's author, Adam English, about inarguably one of the most famous saints in Christendom.

What a search you have been on. It couldn't have been easy to find any documentation whatsoever into the life of St. Nicholas of Myra. Tell us a little bit about him and what you discovered that's actually true about this man.

(NPR) - If you celebrate Christmas, you may have found some presents under the tree, and you may believe those mysterious presents came from a jolly old man in a red suit.

He has a lot of names, including Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Noel Baba, Popo Gigio — and of course — St. Nicholas. But believe it or not, St. Nicholas was a real man. He was a bishop, living in the 3rd century, in what's now modern-day Turkey.

Professor Adam English of Campbell University in North Carolina pieced together the life of St. Nicholas in his new book, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra.

St. Nicholas oversaw a massive transition in the Christian faith, including participating in the Council of Nicaea — the first ecumenical council. Legend has it that he slapped a famous heretic with his sandal. English says the story isn't true, but his bones show that he had a broken nose.

"So perhaps he did have a violent past, or perhaps he did get into a scuffle or two in his lifetime," English tells NPR's Celeste Headlee. But there was one true story that somehow captured the imagination of Christians for centuries.

English says that as a young man, Nicholas had inherited a sum of money. Nicholas hears about a man in town with three daughters on the verge of destitution. So he bags up some gold, and in the middle of the night, anonymously tosses the bag through the window.

Nicholas repeats the act two more times so that the family could use the money as dowries for the daughters, English says. Later legend adds that the window was locked, so Nicholas drops the bag down the chimney, where it lands in a stocking waiting by the fire to dry.

St. Nicholas with the Theotokos and Christ

From the blog A Reader's Guide to Orthodox Icons...

In many icons of Nicholas, the Saint is shown flanked by Jesus Christ and the Mother of God either in medallions or, especially later, resting upon clouds. This is recalling a miracle from St Nicholas’ life.

At the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) the anti-Trinitarian heresy spouted by Arius so angered Nicholas that he walked over to Arius in mid-speech and struck him in the face. The scene is shown in all its glory in this fresco.

For his transgression, Nicholas was evicted from the Council, stripped of his bishorpic, and thrown in prison. Whilst there, Nicholas was visited one night by Jesus Christ and the Mother of God: Jesus holding a Gospel book, Mary a bishop’s stole. Christ handed the book to Nicholas, whilst the Theotokos offered the omophorion, restoring Nicholas to the rank of bishop, as it were, by Divine decree. The next morning the gaoler was astonished to find Nicholas miraculously unchained and dressed as a bishop. The First Ecumenical Council ultimately condemned Arius as a heretic, and St. Nicholas was indeed restored to the episcopacy. And so in icons of the Saint, Christ and St. Mary are shown giving the Gospel book and omophorion to Nicholas.

See also: “Bishop Nicholas Loses His Cool,” from the St Nicholas Center.

Saint Nicholas, Protector of Beit Jala

(St. Nicholas Center) - When Nicholas visited Palestine he is believed to have lived for three to four years in a small cave in Beit Jala. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is on the site of the cave. In Beit Jala today there are innumerable stories about Saint Nicholas.

Fr. George Shawan, Beit Jala's senior Orthodox priest says, "For us he is not Santa Claus but like our great great grandfather. We feel we know him personally. In the year 305, several monks from Anatolia in Asia Minor came here and established a small monastery with a church named in honor of the Great Martyr George. This was before St. Sava’s Monastery was founded in the desert east of Bethlehem on the Kidron Gorge near the Dead Sea. The monks in Beit Jala had a few caves and several houses. In the years 312-315, St. Nicholas was here. He came as a pilgrim to visit shrines in the Holy Land. A text written in his own hand is still in the care of the Patriarchate in Jerusalem. It was in his prayers that St. Nicholas heard the Holy Spirit call him back to Asia Minor, to Myra, where soon after his return—in 317—he was consecrated bishop."

Protector of Beit Jala

When raiding invaders surrounded Beit Jala, attacking it, the townsfolk bravely defended the city. Everytime the attackers tried to take the town an Old Man with a lance or spear stopped them in their tracks. It seemed as if even the olive tree branches were beating the invaders back. The raiders later told that the townspeople's bullets had little effect, it was the Old Man who never allowed them to move forward and take the town. An so it was Saint Nicholas who saved Beit Jala.

This protection was repeated again during World War I and II, when it is said that St. Nicholas stretched out over the village, protecting the people.

Locals also report that he was seen with hands outstretched, catching bombs aimed at Beit Jala following the State of Israel's 1948 declaration of independence. Many residents took refuge in the church and once again St. Nicholas was seen to block bombs from destroying the church, protecting the people. One resident says, "No bombs reached Beit Jala. Only the tower of the St. Nicholas Church was damaged. We know it was St. Nicholas that saved Beit Jala from any problems."

Gene Stoltzfus, founder of Christian Peacemaker Teams, reported, "I first really became aware of the power of Santa and St. Nicholas, during the 1990s when I regularly visited Palestine where Muslims, Jews and Christians alike used my appearance [he looked like Santa Claus] as a conversation starter. When the second intifada (uprising) broke out in 2000 there were violent exchanges between Israelis and Christian villages like Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. In Beit Jala I was seriously introduced to St. Nicholas, their patron saint who gave special protection to the villagers since the 4th century. The story is that St. Nicholas was a pilgrim to Beit Jala in the years 312-315 and he lived in buildings and caves built by monks a century earlier. The people of Beit Jala told me story after story about how St Nicholas had saved their village over the centuries up to and including modern intifadas."

Monday, December 5, 2016

"Eiffel Tower Cathedral" consecrated by Pat. Kirill

How much do I dislike the RUPTLY banner on these videos? A lot.

(RT) - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has consecrated a new cathedral in central Paris, just yards away from the Eiffel Tower, with hundreds of worshippers attending the service he led there on Sunday.

Trinity Cathedral was opened as part of a Russian cultural and spiritual center on the banks of the Seine River in the French capital.

Around 500 Orthodox believers from the Russian community in Paris, including the offspring of Russia’s former princely houses, packed the church for the event.

Renowned French singer, Mireille Mathieu, and Russian super-model, Natalia Vodianova, were also attending.

The Patriarch called the new church a symbol of the close ties between the peoples and the cultures of Russia and France.

“It’s a monument to our close relations in the past and, certainly, a symbol of what awaits us in the future,” he said.

The Orthodox Church leader also thanked France for its hospitality to the Russian immigrants who arrived in the country after the 1917 revolution.

He urged Russians living abroad to “consider themselves members of the Church and to go to church… and by no means allow their children to lose their language and culture.”

“It’s your duty. You can live wherever you want, but you can’t break spiritual and cultural ties with your people,” Patriarch Kirill added, according to Russian news agencies.

Construction on Trinity Cathedral began last April on a plot of land purchased earlier by the Russian government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was expected to attend the opening ceremony with his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, in October, but his visit was cancelled after the French side shortened the program for his trip amid increasing tensions between Russia and France over Moscow’s veto of a French UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria.

Patriarch Kirill will also travel to Zurich, Switzerland to take part in celebrations commemorating the 80th anniversary of the local Orthodox cathedral there during his five-day trip to Europe from December 3 to 7.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Orthodox New Yorker wins pro-life victory

NEW YORK, September 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – An Orthodox Christian woman has won the right to refuse a vaccine developed using aborted babies' tissue, based on her religious beliefs.

The vaccine is for measles/mumps/rubella and is required by New York City law for all schoolchildren. It was developed from fetal tissue procured from abortions, hence the moral dilemma for practicing Christians.

The woman, who remains anonymous, said her Christian beliefs against abortion compel her to have nothing to do with vaccines made using aborted fetal tissue.

"Abortion is clearly a mortal sin and is [an] abhorrent act to any Christian," the New York mom said in her petition for exemption, according to the New York Post. "The vaccine manufacturers' use of aborted fetal cells in its products and research means that I cannot associate with them or support them financially (by buying their products), for such support would make me complicit to their sin."

New York State Department of Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia concluded in the woman's favor, explaining, "The weight of the evidence supports petitioner's contentions that her opposition to the MMR vaccine stems from sincerely held religious beliefs."

Shakeup in the Jerusalem Patriarchate

(Middle East Monitor) - Patriarch Theophilos III of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem has sacked Archbishop of Sebastia Attalla Hanna, a statement issued by the office of the Archbishop said yesterday.

“Patriarch Theophilos and his Holy Gathering decided today to stop the salary of Archbishop Attalla Hanna,” the statement said, noting that Hanna is the only Palestinian archbishop in the Greek Orthodox Church.

The statement cited “the latest stances” of the Archbishop Hanna and his “clear support” for many other issues, stressing that this measure aimed to “blackmail him and put pressure on him and all the Arab clergymen.”

Meanwhile, the statement noted that the salaries of other Arab clergymen were “arbitrarily stopped” by the Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox in Jerusalem.

In addition, the statement said that the Orthodox Church took several other “punitive” measures against Arab clergymen such as moving Archimandrite Christophoros from his monastery in Jordan to Jerusalem.

“We expected Theophilos to be wiser and more responsible, not to escalate the situation,” Hanna said in the statement, noting that he intended to sort out all issues peacefully. “We expected him to act as a spiritual pope and not to take revengeful decisions far from the spirituality of the church.”

He continued: “Currently, we are facing a new stage and new reality. It seems that we are being forced to take a stance that it is impossible to [view anything as] positive from Theophilos. But this will never affect our spiritual, humanitarian and patriotic message.”

The Archbishop said that Theophilos “should have punished those who call for recruitment in the occupation army or those who sell our endowments and are involved in conspiracies against the Christian existence in the region.”

“We received Theophilos’ message,” he concluded, “cutting salaries does not scare us or stop our mission and our message will reach him very soon.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bulgarian Church not mincing words in dismissing Crete

(Sofia Globe) - The Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, has formally rejected the Pan-Orthodox Council and its conclusions, it emerged from an announcement in Sofia on November 29.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church declined to attend the council, held in Crete in June, after its call for the Pan-Orthodox Council to be postponed was not heeded.

It was among four autocephalous Orthodox churches that refused to attend, along with the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The event in Crete was “neither Great, nor Pan, nor Pan-Orthodox,” the Holy Synod said in its November 29 decision.

The decision noted that the Crete council had been attended by “representatives of the media and guests from heterodox religious groups (Roman Catholic, Anglican, etc)”.

It noted that 33 people from among the bishops who had participated in the council had not signed the document on “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world”. Some of the bishops who had not signed included prominent Orthodox theologians, the Bulgarian church’s document said.

Bulgaria’s Holy Synod said that it had examined the documents from Crete after specialist translation by an authorised translator.

It said that it had noted that, in part, the documents that had been circulated before the Crete meeting had undergone some changes “but insignificant and insufficient” for ecumenical acceptance.