Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pray for the Christians of Palestine


Assembly of Bishops executive committee heading to Phanar

(AOB) - On June 16, the Executive Committee of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America will travel to Istanbul in order to meet with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who will receive them at the Phanar.

The meeting is scheduled prior to the annual meeting of the Assembly in September in order to share with the Ecumenical Patriarch the overall work of the Assembly of Bishops, particularly as it relates to the achievements of its committees, and to discuss preparations for the upcoming Great and Holy Council, which is scheduled for 2016. The prayers of our faithful for safe travel and fruitful deliberations inspired by the Holy Spirit are requested.

Coptic pilgrims escape kidnappers

(Ecumenical News) - Egyptian police have rescued four Copts who were kidnapped while on their way from a pilgrimage site in Minya province.

Authorities raided an isolated farmhouse in the mountainous area not far from the city of Salamut where the victims were taken away by armed gunmen, the Catholic Fides news agency reported.

Police tracked down the hideout of the kidnappers, who demanded ransom from the victims' families of 600,000 Egyptian pounds ($79,000), at the village of Akoris.

The raiding team stormed the kidnappers' safe house around dawn May 20, and a firefight ensued between authorities and the criminals. Some of the kidnappers managed to escape.

Police found the victims shackled with chains at the farm, and saw indications that they had been tortured by their captors, who waited for ransom to be paid.

The victims said the kidnappers constantly threatened to kill them if their families refused to pay ransom.

Some of the victims even suffered physical abuse as the kidnappers beat them up while waiting for the families to give into their demands.

Three of the victims were adults with ages ranging from 20 to 35 years, while the fourth was a five-year-old child.

The victims had come from the Church of the Virgin Mary in Jabal al-Tair, which was built around 328 A.D. on the orders of Queen Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine.

The church is one of the most popular Marian shrines frequented by the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.

But in Upper Egypt, kidnapping Copts has seemed to be a fledging business as far as criminals are concerned.

Copts have paid more than 120 million Egyptian pounds to kidnappers from January 2011 to December 2014 in Minya, according to estimates of Mina Thabet, founder of the Popular Initiative Party.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The reverse-clericalism of "layicism"

The below is from Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov's blog post. This sort of thing is hard to understand unless you've had the experience of seeing both clericalism and "layicism" firsthand. It might also help to be clergy or have someone in your family in the clergy to understand just how personal and vindictive things can get when the antagonism reaches its nadir.

This might also be a good time to plug "American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism" by Fr. Nicholas Ferencz which has just been republished by Holy Cross. It goes into some of the uniquely American aspects of church life in our country and how we got here.

Recently, I heard a new word: layicism. It is a made-up word, of course. I guess, what the speaker was trying to convey is a reference to a phenomenon of church life which is a reverse of clericalism (anti-clericalism). In other words, if clericalism can be described (to some degree of approximation, of course) as the attitude of the supremacy of those ordained to clerical ranks over the lay people, the attitude of “us versus them,” some notion that we are the “real” Church, whereas the ignorant, unchurched masses are the sheep, the animals to be led, who do not know what is good for them. The clergy often act as if they had some special and unique grace and right. Layicism, then, is the attitude of lay superiority over the clergy, some notion that the lay people are the “real” Church, and that the clergy serve at the pleasure of the laity, that priests are to be appointed and dismissed by a council of a few lay people who think themselves some guardians of the church, while a priest is merely a “hireling” (John 10?). In other words, both clericalism and ‘layicism’ are nothing more than the “us vs. them” bizarrely and abhorrently adorned in “churchy” terminology. But how can this be? “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13) Is there a ‘class’ of clergy and another of lay people? Are not both members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12 but see the whole chapter)? Are not both the “royal priesthood” of Christ (1 Peter 2:9)? Paul teaches that in Christ, “there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Gal. 3:28). Did he really have to specify that there is also neither priest no church board member?

The way out of this standoff between clergy and laity is to realize that clergy’s special grace is not special to clergy; rather, it is special to the Church. Priesthood (in all of its degrees) is not the quality of the “men in black.” Rather, it is the innate quality of the Church. It is focused upon one man in the same way that sunlight can be focused upon a clump of tinder with the use of a magnifying glass; but sunlight does not uniquely belong to the clump of tinder, not even when it is being consumed by fire. Priesthood is poured upon one man in the same way that a waterfall can be be poured upon the man standing underneath it; but the man would be an unspeakable fool to think that the river belongs to him, especially when he is being knocked unconscious by the weight of the water. And while it is true that “priests are clothed is righteousness” (Ps. 132:9), if they dare think that it is their righteousness, then they are clothed in nothing but “polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6) (which is a very polite way of referring to used feminine hygiene products with all of the bloody implications of the Old Testament ritual purity laws). No, it is not our righteousness–it is Christ’s. And no, it does not belong to us–it belongs to the Church, the Body of Christ.

But what of the ‘layincism’? There once was a very old custom of human sacrifice. For their sins, people sacrificed the best of what they had: the first and best fruits, the unblemished animals, and their own innocent children. Finally, they could find nothing higher or better than to sacrifice the incarnate God Himself. And it is 2000 years past time that we recognize it for what it is: priesthood is a sacrifice. From the beginning, it was supposed to be the sacrifice of the best person that a particular community had to offer. Perhaps, it is no longer that way (or is it?). But the fervent proponents of ‘layicism’ should ask themselves: “Do I want to be the one sacrificed? Do I want to be the one ‘standing in the gap’ (Ezekiel 22:30)? It is like saying: “Wow! They beheaded this dude on the altar… I wish it were me!” No?! You don’t wish that on you or your loved ones? Well, then have some sacred respect for those who took the iconic place of Christ. He is the one and only Sacrifice. He is the Lamb. You would not dare mess with Him, would you? Then do not mess with His “sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36).

Every sacred sacrifice deserves respect, because it is the best you have to offer. It is nothing more than what you have managed to produce: through your labors, your laziness, your righteousness, your sins–you own it. For better or worse, honor it! Because if you you do not, how will God honor it?

Orthodox celebrate feast of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Rome

(mospat.ru) - On 24 May 2015, Name Day of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, a thanksgiving was said at the holy relics of St Cyril, Equal-to-the-Apostles, Teacher of the Slavs, in the Basilica of St Clement in Rome.

Celebrating the Feast of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Moscow

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Assyrian Old and New Calendarists meet seeking unification

(Assyrian Church) - Meeting between the delegations of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the Church for the achievement of a unified Church of the East.

​A cordial and fraternal meeting took place in Chicago, IL USA at the premises of St. Andrew’s Assyrian Church of the East on Friday, the 22nd of May 2015.

The representatives of the Ancient Church of the East were:

1. His Beatitude Mar Yakoob Danil. Metropolitan of Australia & New Zealand

2. His Beatitude Mar Zaia Khoshaba, Metropolitan of Canada & the U.S.

3. His Grace Mar Gewargis Younan, Bishop of Chicago, IL

The representatives of the Assyrian Church of the East were:

1. His Beatitude Mar Gewargis Sliwa, Metropolitan of Iraq & Russia

2. His Grace Mar Iskhaq Yousif, Bishop of Nohadra, Erbil, & Russia

3. His Grace Mar Awa Royel, Bishop of California and Secretary of the Holy Synod

The common secretary of this meeting was the Very Rev. William Toma, Archdeacon.

The meeting began with the Lord’s Prayer in a singular love, as King David says in the Old Testament: “How very good and pleasant it is, when kindred live together in Unity!” (Psalms 133:1) Representatives of both branches showed sincere love and the desire in fulfilling a complete unification of the Church of the East, after nearly fifty years of separation within our Holy Church.

​The recommendations for unity of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East were submitted to each other through the representatives chosen by the leadership of each branch. They will be submitted and discussed in their individual Holy Synods. After the recommendations are discussed, a date and venue shall be designated for a second meeting – for further examination of the responses to the recommendations submitted today.

​In conclusion, the meeting came to a close with a positive awareness and belief of both delegations in the fulfillment of unification, as is the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who said, “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us” (John 17:21).

​​+Mar Gewargis Sliwa​​​​+Mar Yakoob Danil

​​ Metropolitan​​​​ Metropolitan

May 22, 2015

Chicago, Illinois USA

Saturday, May 23, 2015

SVS Press launches "Coptic Studies Series"

(SVS) - St. Vladimir's Seminary Press (SVS Press), the publishing house of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, has launched a new series highlighting the history and spirituality of the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church. The first book in the "Coptic Studies Series," titled, The Life of Repentance and Purity, was authored by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and is scheduled for release by December 2015. His Grace Anba Suriel (Guirgis), bishop of the Coptic Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions, Australia, who studied at St. Vladimir's from 1998–1999, is Series Editor for the new line of books.

Pope Shenouda's book was first translated from Arabic in 1989 by Bishop Suriel and was published in 1991 by the Coptic Orthodox Publication and Translation Committee in Sydney. The new translation, also by Bishop Suriel, will include editions and patristic references and will be a joint publication between SVS Press and St. Athanasius Press, the fledgling publishing house of St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological College in Donvale, Australia, where His Grace acts as Dean.

"This is a big step for us," noted Bishop Suriel. "Being in cooperation with SVS Press, which is well known around the world—even outside of Orthodox circles—will provide more recognition of our own theological press.

"I am deeply indebted to Father Athanasius Farag, Father Bishoy Lamie, Phoebe Farag, and several others who worked tirelessly to prepare the manuscript that was presented to SVS Press," he continued. "I am also grateful to Father John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir's, and to Michael Soroka and Dn. Gregory Hatrak, who are employed at SVS Press, for their hard work in assisting in bringing this work to light once more—in a much better edition!

"We hope to be able to publish more works in the future, especially with the new series, which we are very excited about," he said. "We want not only to raise the profile of our school but also to emphasize the importance of Coptic studies."

One of the titles that His Grace will propose for the "Coptic Studies Series" is a book about the life and work of Archdeacon Habib Girgis, former dean of the Coptic Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, who was recently canonized by the Coptic Orthodox Church. St. Habib Girgis greatly influenced the Coptic community by urging its members to develop educational curricula that would revitalize their faith, which in the early 20th century was being challenged by foreign missionaries.

"The ties between St. Vladimir's Seminary and St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological College have been strengthening during the past few years," acknowledged Fr. John Behr. "Both Bishop Suriel and I, as the Deans of two theological institutions—who also happen to be close friends—highly value theological education and acknowledge the importance of rapprochement between the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox traditions in the 21st century."

In 2013 Bishop Suriel hosted Fr. John during an eventful trip to Egypt, where he was guest of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. During his visit Fr. John delivered a paper titled, "Orthodox Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century," at the "Theological and Ecclesiastical Institutes Seminar," which explored the spiritual formation of theological students. Held at the Anaphora Institute, a retreat and training center near the desert road between Cairo and Alexandria, the seminar featured talks by eminent Coptic bishops, clergy, and scholars.

Bishop Suriel visited St. Vladimir's campus in 2013, at which time he met with Fr. John Behr to discuss greater collaborative efforts between the two theological schools, including exchanges of students and faculty. As a result Fr. John, professor of Patristics at St. Vladimir's and globally renowned in his field, will be teaching a Patristics course at St. Athanasius in the fall of 2015. Further into the future, both deans envision a Coptic House of Studies on the Yonkers campus, at which faculty from the Coptic Church may provide special liturgical and pastoral formation to students from that tradition.

Bishop Suriel was featured in The SVS Vine: Annual Report FY 2014, which included a video of his plea for prayer for persecuted Coptic Christians.

A chapter in the life of the Russian Church on Mount Athos

Moscow, May 22 (Interfax) - Famous poet, author of the anthem of the USSR Sergey Mikhalkov in Soviet times protected Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery on Athos from claims of Greek monks.

"For instance, Russian monastery on Athos should be thankful to Sergey Mikhalkov for not passing to jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate. When my father arrived there - the first Soviet person, in such a rank - monks met him with bell ringing," son of Sergey Mikhalkov, film director Nikita Mikhalkov writes in his new book of memoirs, its extracts were published on Friday by the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

According to him, seven or eight monks lived there then, the youngest of them was older than seventy.

"Greeks were quietly waiting when the last Russian monk will repose and they will occupy the territory of the Russian monastery and capture its riches (only the unique library collected from the ancient times costs a fortune!)" the film director writes.

When Mikhalkov came back to Moscow, he went to Leonid Brezhnev and told him about almost deserted Russian monastery, saying it was necessary to send young Orthodox monks there.

"First, my father spoke of historical traditions, spiritual heritage... Brezhnev could not understand what the poet wants from him. But seeing that it was difficult for the general secretary to go into the cultural notions, my father changed his arguments dramatically. "There are countless riches there!" And he vividly described monastic treasures that can pass away to Greeks. Brezhnev brightened at once, took the phone and ordered to arrange departure of young monks to Greece to join the Athos monastery," Mikhalkov writes.

Today 20 monasteries work on the Holy Mount. The governor of Athos represents secular authorities at the peninsula, he controls that the regulations of Holy Mount are observed. Mount Athos is under jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate.

The St.Panteleimon Russian monastery was set up in the 9th century. It keeps such shrines as the particle of the Lord's Cross, particle of the stone from the Lord's Sepulcher, relics of holy Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon, the blessed elder Siluan, particle of relics of St. John the Baptist, St. John Chrysostom, St. Joseph, St. Thomas the Apostle, St. George the Victory-Bearer, Apostle and Evangelist Luke.

The monastery was conveyed to Greeks in the 17th century. Russian monks started returning there only in the 30s of the 19th century. The monastery flourished late in the 19th - early 20th century when it became Russian again. Up to 1800 brothers lived in the monastery in 1912. After the revolution when connections with Russia were lost and Russians were systematically pushed out from the Holy Mount, the number of brethren reduced dramatically. Only seven old monks lived in the monastery in the late 1960s. Today there are about 80 people together with novices.

Over 20 thousands of printed Greek, Slavonic and Russian books are kept in the monastic library. Hermitage of the Holy Virgin (Ksilurgu), Old Russik, New Phivaida and Krumnitsa are attached to the monastery.

Celebrations on the occasion of the 1000-year anniversary of the Russian presence there will take place on Athos in 2016.

Things like this are happening

People want to make Christian equivalents to everything. From Christian pop music to Christian yoga. Stop it, please.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The wisdom of Elder Epiphanios of Athens

Speak more to God about your children than to your children about God….The soul of the teenager is in a state of an explosion of freedom. This is why it is hard for them to accept counsel. Rather than counseling them continuously and reproaching them again and again, leave the situation to Christ, to the Panagia [Mother of God], and to the Saints, asking that they bring them to reason.

The 19th century Russian Church

Fr. Thomas Hopko (May his memory be eternal!) did a series from within his Speaking the Truth in Love podcast on the role and historical progression of the episcopacy. Before his repose, he had completed 57 podcasts on the topic. His 55th was summarized as "In his continuing series on bishops and Church organization, Fr. Thomas speaks about various clergy figures from that time. He references the book My Life's Journey: The Memories of Metropolitan Evlogy."

In popular thought the 19th century Russian Church has been referenced tongue-in-cheek as the high point of Orthodox practice both liturgo-rubrical and domestic. Lest anyone actually live under such an illusion, I recommend you listen to this podcast. There is a lot to be lauded about that period, but there was also rampant abuse, political pressure, and poverty.

As for the book itself, it sits on my desk in the queue to be read. When I do get around to cracking its spine, I'll post a review.

Congregational Church of Patchogue blesses... toilet paper

(RNS) - From an email from the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of the Congregational Church of Patchogue (N.Y.):

“I have never been so down on my luck that I had little or no access to toilet paper ~ but that is not the case with many people. We at the Congregational Church of Patchogue want to thank you for helping us to help people meet their most basic needs: simple foods, toilet paper, soap, feminine hygiene products and other items. This photo is from “The Blessing of the Toilet Paper” at the church. We serve people without regard or question as to their address, age, preferences, orientation, ethnicity. The only requirement is that they seek what we have to offer. And what we can offer is up to you. Please send contributions to The Congregational Church of Patchogue, 95 East Main St. Patchogue, NY 11772. Write pantry or TP in the memo section. 100% of contributions go to purchase much needed items.”

“The Blessing of the Toilet Paper” will take place during the worship service on Sunday, May 17, at 10 a.m.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Digging deeply into what same-sex unions are and aren't

Better Together: Marriage and the Common Good with Sherif Girgis

Federalist Society: What is Marriage? Debate of Sherif Girgis & Professor Steve Sanders

Holy Trinity Seminary Press launched

(HTS) - The publishing work of Holy Trinity Monastery is expanding into the academic field with the creation of a new imprint. Under the editorship of Dr Vitaly Permiakov, Holy Trinity Seminary Press will publish studies of the theology, history, and liturgy of the Orthodox Church. Liturgical texts and guidance for the spiritual life will continue to be the mainstays of Holy Trinity Publications’ flagship imprint, the Printshop of St Job of Pochaev.

Archimandrite Luke, abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery and seminary rector, commented on the new project: “Our mandate has always been to publish books for the spiritual edification of the faithful and for the conversion of the world around us. Now we seek to expand this mission to include works that elucidate the Church's Tradition in a scholarly manner. These books will both support our task of educating the next generation of Orthodox priests and address the growing challenges of an increasingly secularized academia.”

Assistant to the dean Priest Ephraim Willmarth sees a lack of traditional and patristic textbooks available for seminary courses in the English language. He hopes that the new seminary press “will have a significant impact on theological education in our seminary classrooms, in distance education, for those educating themselves, and in other seminaries.”

Towards this aim, HTSP will release Archbishop Averky’s The Four Gospels, the first volume in his series, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament. Writing in the tradition of biblical exegetes such as St John Chrysostom and Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria, Vladyka Averky allows the reader to see the life of Christ as an unfolding narrative in accessible, direct language. This translation will be an indispensable addition to the library of every student of the Gospels.

The first title released under the new imprint will be Chosen for His People: A Biography of Patriarch Tikhon by Jane Swan. Ninety years after St Tikhon’s repose, Dr Swan’s modest but carefully crafted monograph remains the only complete biography of this holy confessor available in English. This new edition has been updated and revised in light of newly discovered sources.

A pre-publication discount on both titles are available at the publisher’s website here.