Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The blessing of honey in Bulgaria

Bulgarian Orthodox faithfuls light candles with jars of honey during a holy mass for the ‘sanctification of honey’ at the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin church in the town of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, February 10, 2016. Honey and beehives are sanctified by performing a ritual for health and rich harvest. On St. Haralambos’ Day, sick or blind people go to church and pray for healing. According to traditional concepts, St. Haralambos is the lord of all illnesses, especially the plague. Doing any housework is strictly forbidden that day, because of the fear of any coming illness. Women are only allowed to bake round bread and decorate it with a cross in the middle and a large wreath at the edge for health. Honey is consecrated in the local church and then all the bread is coated with that honey. The rest of the honey is kept in the house as a remedy. According to the belief, St. Haralambos blesses the land and it gets warmer and ready to be cultivated. EPA/VASSIL DONEV

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Don't hug the cactus

From the blog The Orthodox Clergy Wife by Presbytera Anonyma, a post entitled "Hugging the cactus: When the wrong people apologize."

I once heard a story about a pastor who had to deal with a small explosion of the parishioner kind.

While meeting with the music ministry group, the pastor asked the music leader to do a particular piece of music in the service. For whatever reason, the music leader had what can only be described as a tantrum—HATED that piece of music! This response shocked and upset the other musicians at the meeting.

The pastor had to tell the music leader afterward that they needed to just apologize to the other musicians and do as he had asked about the music. But no apology was forthcoming, and the pastor received the advice of extreme humilty from a colleague: yes, that person gets upset for no reason– YOU be the big person to apologize even though you weren’t the one to do wrong, and they will settle down and everything will be all right.

The pastor had some doubts about this, but he wanted to be a humble person before God. So he apologized to the music leader.

Did this story end happily? Alas, no. The music leader made a classic passive-aggressive response: had the group perform the piece the pastor asked for, but did not rehearse them at it beforehand and did a terrible, terrible job. It reminds me of a Shel Silverstein children’s poem about doing the dishes in which “…if you drop them on the floor/maybe they won’t let you dry the dishes any more!”

As is often noted, the church is a spiritual hospital in which there are many people who are sick, body and soul. Parishes are full of people who have personality disorders, addictions and just plain stubborn, self-centered attitudes that cause chaos all around them. In fact, it can be even worse than that. As Scott Peck notes in his book People of the Lie , downright evil and psychopathic people are attracted to the church precisely because church people are inclined to want to believe the best of others. Our Christian faith teaches us not to judge others, and to forgive. That is one of the ways predators make their way into the church community.

In the Orthodox church we have a long tradition of monastic teaching about humility; how often we read stories where some spiritual abba says to his proteges something to the effect of Yes, I see that you are hurt by your brother’s behaviour; think instead of your own sins. This radical humility sometimes even takes the form of advice to the monk to be the one to beg forgiveness even when the other brother was in fact the one who wronged the first monk.

In the monastery, these things are under the supervision of the abbot, and the monks he advises are generally co-equal brothers with each other. But in the parish where we have children and other vulnerable people, the shepherds are particularly entrusted with the guardianship of the flock by the chief shepherd. If we remember the metaphor of the spiritual hospital, and Scott Peck’s observation about evil people who seek out the church (and even end up in prominent positions there!), we have to admit that sometimes it seems like the inmates are running the asylum. The faithful shepherds cannot allow this, however much they want to teach humility and a forgiving spirit to all their members and indeed to practice it themselves; there is a power differential between many of the members that cannot be ignored.

When wolves in sheep’s clothing, or even just sick and maddened sheep are in the parish doing harm to others, it is not the time to teach lessons of humility to those who are already ‘humble’ in the original sense, people without power like children.

The pastor in the story remarked ruefully after the incident that he had ‘hugged the cactus’ and would not do so again. This intriguing phrase comes from the recovery movement, and was famously used by Robert Downey in a plea to forgive fellow actor Mel Gibson for some terrible behaviour under the yoke of addiction, familiar to both of those men. It means to face one’s darkest self so as to come into the light—a process as uncomfortable as hugging a cactus. The pastor in the story used the phrase a little differently— though he had done nothing wrong, he acted with the same humillity as an addict seeking the road to recovery. The cactus he hugged just turned out to be a prickly parishioner.

The well meaning but undiscerning advice of the pastor’s colleague had an unfortunate effect that anyone familiar with the recovery movement will recognize: the problem person, like an addict, was vindicated and enabled by the undeserved apology of the humble pastor.

God loves the sick and prickly too. Some are only minor problems in the church, like the tantrumy music leader, while others are the kind the apostle Jude tells us we should pull from the fire ‘hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.’

For both the prickly sorts and for their neighbours who get painfully stuck by them, love means firmness—not enabling them. To everything there is a season, says the Preacher—and while we are protecting the innocent, it is a time to put our personal humility on the back burner.

Don’t worry– God will provide us with plenty of other opportunities to learn that virtue!

Is Pope Francis about to get played by the Russians in Cuba?

(Timeline) - When people who haven’t talked in 1,000 years finally decide to bury the hatchet, that’s a hell of a Kumbaya moment to get excited about. On Friday, the Vatican said Pope Francis would meet with Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill I in Cuba next week. A pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch have never met.

That’s big news in the Christian world. The Eastern Christian churches and the Roman Catholic church split in 1054 in what’s since been called the Great Schism, or the East-West Schism. The leader of each church excommunicated the other — a punishment that held until 1965.

The AP called next week’s meeting a “historic step to heal the 1,000-year schism that split Christianity” and said it “marks a major development in the Vatican’s long effort to bridge the divisions in Christianity.”

But there’s a wrinkle. The Russian Orthodox Church is just one of 14 self-governing churches that make up the Eastern Orthodox Church, and while it’s the biggest (about two-thirds of the world’s Orthodox Christians) and wealthiest, Kirill isn’t the group’s leader. Symbolically, and according to internal church law, it’s the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, who is the first among equals in Eastern Christianity.

And Bartholomew meets with Pope Francis pretty regularly — five times in three years.

“The patriarch of Moscow speaks only for the church of Russia,” said George E. Demacopoulos, a theology professor at Fordham University. “When these 14 groups get together, Bartholomew gets the shiny chair.” Which means what? It doesn't mean he got to set the agenda for the upcoming council. It doesn't mean he gets to declare autocephaly unilaterally. It doesn't mean the episcopal assemblies set up across the world are bodies destined to become appendages of Ecumenical Patriarchate authority. It doesn't mean he can interfere in the operations of another Church. Such grandiose authority of the "shiny chair" doesn't even extend into the autocephalous Church of Greece.

The reason lies in the early history of the Christianity, when the church was growing rapidly, and its leaders found the need to meet now and again to maintain its rules and theology. The most significant of these meetings — called the “seven ecumenical councils” — beginning in 325 were held in and around Constantinople.

Roman emperors typically called such meetings, a practice that continued, at a reduced pace, into the Ottoman empire from the 14th to 19th centuries. While the Orthodox churches share one agreed-upon theology, they each govern themselves, and are now essentially a unified group of national churches. Over the last century, the absence of a single pan-national leader who can call the churches together has led to “an enormous amount of dysfunction,” according to Demacopoulos. Some (read: me) would say this conciliar, almost decentralized process also protected the Church from the woeful innovations that have beset the Catholic and Anglican bodies. Watch how the Anglican Communion (not to mention other Protestant bodies) kept voting on hot-button issues over and over until the more liberal of their number were able to force some unholy idea through. Papal prerogative has not been a friend to the dogma of the Catholic Church when it unilaterally inserted doctrines into its Church anathema to Orthodoxy (not to mention many of its people).

It has taken 40 years for Orthodox leaders to organize the first major church council in more than 1,200 years. That meeting, scheduled to take place in Crete in June, is the reason, Demacopoulos said, that Kirill agreed to meet with Francis next week. That is not why either Rome or Moscow said they are meeting. The Russian Church stated quite clearly that the primary purpose was to save Christianity in the Middle East. The upcoming council is not going to be a place for beating shoes against a desk. It's going to be, by all signs, a place where pre-written declarations are going to be read aloud and distributed.

First in new Copt-Russian commission met this last week

(MOSPAT) - On 5-7 February 2016, the Commission for Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church held in Cairo its first session.

An agreement to establish the Commission was reached during the meeting between His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and His Holiness Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II. That meeting took place during the visit that the Primate of the Coptic Church made to Russia in the period from October 28, to November 4, 2014. The first meeting of the joint working group for preparing the dialogue took place in Cairo on February 13, 2015. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Synod of the Coptic Church approved the list of the Commission members, the former on May 5, 2015, and the latter in July 2015.

Representing the Moscow Patriarchate at the meeting were: Bishop Gennady of Kaskelen, co-chairman of the Commission; Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations; Rev. Viktor Kulaga, representative of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia at the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa; and Mr. Sergey Alfyorov and Mr. Ilya Kashitsyn, DECR staff members. The Coptic Church was represented by Bishop Serapion of Los Angeles, co-chairman of the Commission; Rev. John Paul Abdelsayed, a cleric of the diocese of Los Angeles, Dean of St Athanasius and St Cyril Theological School; Rev. Boulos Halem, Director of Media Center and official spokesperson of the Coptic Patriarchate; Dr Isaac Agban, Secretary-General of the Coptic Institute of Higher Studies; and Mrs. Barbara Soliman, Director of the Office for Church Projects of the Coptic Patriarchate.

"Catholic Church of the East" / ROCOR situation explodes

The recent story about the entrance of the vagante "Catholic Church of the East" into ROCOR is about to blow up. This process, as many people expected, did not go well. More information will follow soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

More on rebuilding of Egyptian churches

(Ahram) - After Egypt President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi apologised for not finishing the reconstruction work of Christian properties damaged in the aftermath of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013, the engineering unit of the Armed Forces immediately started cooperating with Coptic authorities to wrap up the pending renovations, religious Coptic figures said.

While visiting Cairo's St. Mark Cathedral on Christmas Eve, El-Sisi apologised to the country's Christians over the delay in the completion of renovations, which he says will be done by the end of 2016.

The churches undergoing renovation were attacked in August 2013 on the day of the dispersals of pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo, with the ensuing hours seeing sectarian attacks against Christians in Upper Egypt, where the Coptic population is relatively large.

El-Sisi, who was defence minister at the time, immediately announced that the Armed Forces would pay the costs of renovating and rebuilding all churches damaged in the attacks, which lasted over 12 hours.

In October 2013, the Egyptian Family House called for an initiative to renovate the damaged houses of worship and opened a bank account to receive donations.

The Family House is an authority launched by Egypt's Al-Azhar – the country's highest Muslim Sunni authority – and all Egyptian churches immediately after the deadly 2011 bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria, one of the most infamous attacks on churches in the country's modern history.

The Family House's mission is to unite Muslim and Christian Egyptians to ease sectarian strife.

Safwat El-Bayadi, the former head of Egypt's Evangelical Church and a member of the Family House, told Ahram Online that "unfortunately, we only received EGP 9 million and $8,000 since the initiative started, which is a very small amount of money in relation to the damages."

Restoration work sponsored by the Armed Forces will cost some EGP 200 million ($25.5 million).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

UGCC primate on Rome-Moscow Havana meeting

(UGCC) - The Head of the UGCC noted that for many years the ROC refused to participate in such a meeting and named the UGCC as an obstacle for dialogue. “The meeting cannot be an end in itself, but must rather be an instrument, a necessary means for honest and open dialogue. I am, therefore, pleased, that we are no longer considered an obstacle and aren’t being used to justify one’s unwillingness to engage in such dialogue,” said the Primate of the UGCC.

He emphasized that the meeting between the two primates will take place practically days before 70th the anniversary of the Lviv Pseudo-sobor, during which the UGCC was forcibly liquidated. “The Russian Orthodox Church, unfortunately, to this day has not condemned this act of coercion, perpetrated by the Soviet authorities. We hope that the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch will create a new context for movement in the direction of historical justice,” said His Beatitude Sviatoslav.

The Head of the UGCC also hopes that the very meeting will change the rhetoric on the part of radical individuals within the ROC, who do not recognize the Catholic Church as a true Church, re-baptize Catholics and proselytize into Orthodoxy, refuse to take part in joint prayer, and on the whole describe the entire process of seeking unity of the Churches as “the heresy of ecumenism.” This isn't radical. This is Orthodox doctrine. What would be radical is abandoning our understanding of the Church in favor of a soft congeniality and desire to "get along." An example of such intolerance towards the UGCC was given last week in Donestsk, where during a meeting held outside the walls of a Greek-Catholic church, we were referred to as “a sect.”

“It is likely that during the meeting of the Pope with the Patriarch they will also speak of the present situation in Ukraine. I hope that His Holiness, Pope Francis, who always raises his voice in defense of the wronged, will be a voice for Ukrainians, who are engaged in a battle for the unity and integrity of their land. May God grant, that Patriarch Kirill ultimately be able to send the necessary signals to the faithful of the ROC and the Russian government, so that the aggression of Russia against Ukraine can cease and that a just peace may be achieved,” concluded His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Head of the UGCC.

Pan-Orthodox Youth & Camp Workers’ Conference in Dallas

(OCA) - Over 80 clergy and lay youth and camp workers gathered at Saint Seraphim Cathedral here January 21-23, 2016 for this year’s Pan-Orthodox Youth and Camp Workers’ Conference.

“This annual conference is sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Camp Association and the leaders of all the different jurisdictions’ youth departments,” said Andrew Boyd, OCA Youth Director. “This year’s gathering was hosted by the Orthodox Church in America—and it was especially joyous to see so many come together to work to do better for our youth.”

The theme of the conference—“Feed My Sheep: Crisis, Trauma, and Everyday Life”—was explored in two keynote addresses by Archpriest Dr. Steven Voytovich, Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, South Canaan, PA, and numerous workshops. Father Steven focused on mental health and development in youth and young adults, as well as burnout and self-care for pastors and youth workers. Workshops focused on ministering to young veterans, responding to crises at camp, building effective young adult ministries, developing youth ministry programs in smaller parishes, and planting and expanding campus ministry efforts.

“This year saw a record number of both clergy and lay attendees from the OCA,” Mr. Boyd added. “Representatives from the Bulgarian Diocese, the Diocese of the Midwest, the Diocese of New England, the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, the Diocese of the South, and the Romanian Episcopate participated.”

“I came away from the conference energized and ready to continue working with my parish’s lay leaders to deepen our youth ministry,” said Priest Justin Patterson. “I was also excited that the workshop I led on youth ministry in a small parish garnered so much interest and feedback. Coming home, I feel energized by what is happening in so many parishes across Orthodox America.”

His Grace, Bishop Thomas the Diocese of Oakland, Charleston, and the Mid-Atlantic of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, who chairs the Youth Committee for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the USA, presided at a meeting of that committee’s consultants, focusing on youth formation and opportunities for more Pan-Orthodox cooperation among the youth.

Next year’s conference will be hosted by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America from January 26-28, 2017 at a location yet to be determined.

Big News: "Catholic Church of the East" enters ROCOR

One hopes this process will go more smoothly than the ROCOR Western Rite enterprise has gone. I expect once these parishes make it into the Assembly of Bishops website's parish listing that there will be some surprised visitors.

(ROCOR-EAD) - Over the past several months, the leader of an independent church movement called the "Catholic Church of the East," the former Archbishop Ramzi Mussalam, has begun a remarkable transition: to bring his entire movement, of over 60 parishes, into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). The former archbishop was received into the Orthodox Church and ordained a deacon and priest with the encouragement and blessing and by the hand of Metropolitan Hilarion, ROCOR’s First Hierarch. The former archbishop is now Hieromonk Elias. Father Elias grew up in the Scranton area of Pennsylvania as a communicant of the Polish National Catholic Church, in which he was ordained to the priesthood.

The process of Orthodox catechization has now commenced, with the gradual reception of the former clergy and faithful of the "Catholic Church of the East" into Orthodoxy, with their regularization within the canonical embrace of the Orthodox Church. It is expected that this will be a long and complex process but one of that will bear an abundant spiritual harvest. A number of parishes have already been received: St. Irene Church in Pittston, PA; St. Ann Church in Pottsville, PA and St. Mark Church in Milford, CT.

Let us welcome these people with joy and do all that we can to help them integrate into the Orthodox community. Let us give thanks to God that He has led Fr. Elias and his faithful people into Orthodoxy.

Friday, February 5, 2016

More on Russian Primate's trip to Latin America

(MOSPAT) - Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations (DECR), held a press conference on February 5, 2016, at the DECR. The meeting with Russian and foreign mass media reporters was devoted to the Primatial visitation of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia to Latin America, which will take place from February 11 to 22, 2016, His Holiness will visit the Republic of Cuba, Republic of Paraguay and Federative Republic of Brazil.

Participating in the press conference were also V. Legoida, head of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations, and Rev. Alexander Volkov, director of the Patriarchal Press Service.

The DECR chairman told the gathering about the forthcoming visit of His Holiness to Latin America:

“The first point of the program will be a visit to Cuba, to which His Holiness will arrive, on the invitation of the Chairman of the State Council and Council of Ministers Raul Castro, in the evening of February 11. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill already visited Cuba in his previous capacity as metropolitan and chairman of the Department for External Church Relations and met with the leaders of the country. The building of the church of Our Lady of Kazan in Havana was directly supervised by Metropolitan Kirill and he himself consecrated it.

In 2009, President Raul Castro of Cuba invited His Holiness to visit the country now in his capacity as Patriarch. However, the need to visit sister Local Orthodox Church, as well as a great number of visits to be made to dioceses in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and other countries in the near abroad prevented his visit overseas. On November 17, 2011, Raul Castro for the second time invited the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church to come to his country on an official visit. This invitation was repeatedly resumed during my meetings with Cuba’s diplomatic representatives. Last September, His Holiness decided to visit Cuba this February, timing his visit to the 45th anniversary of the consecration of the first church to be built in Havana, dedicated to the Ss Constantine and Helena Equal-to-the-Apostles. The Russian-speaking community in Cuba, which numbers 15 thousand, is looking forward to the visit of their Primate.

It is planned that during his visit to the island His Holiness will meet with Fidel Castro and the Chairman of the Republic of Cuba’s State Council Raul Castro and the rehabilitation center for children “Solidarity with Panama”. On Sunday, February 14, His Holiness will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox church of Our Lady of Kazan in Havana.

There will be another important event in Cuba. Because of the intersection of the itineraries of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis of Rome, who will be on a visit to Mexico in the same days, it has been decided to hold a meeting between the heads of the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church on the Freedom Island on February 12. The meeting will take place at Havana’s international airport.

The meeting of the Primates of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church has been in preparation for a long time. Throughout the years 1996-97, intensive negotiations were held on the arrangement of a meeting between His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and Pope John Paul II to be held in Austria, but these negotiations were stopped because of the problems on which the agreement failed. In the first place, it concerned the actions of the Greek Catholics in Ukraine and proselytism of Catholic missionaries in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, the Supreme Authority of the Russian Orthodox Church has never rejected a possibility itself for such a meeting in the future when the necessary conditions for holding it will be in place.

All these years, the principal problem in the relations between the two Churches and the principal obstacle for holding a meeting between the two Primates has lied in Unia. The fact that the Uniates devastated three dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in western Ukraine in the 1980s and 1990s, that they moved the headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church from Lvov to Kiev, that the UGCC’ mission extended to the traditionally Orthodox lands in eastern and southern Ukraine, that they supported the schismatics – all these factors only aggravated the problem. The situation aggravated further as a result of the recent events in Ukraine, in which the UGCC representatives took a direct part, coming out with anti-Russian and russophobic slogans. So, regrettably, the problem of Unia is still there, with Unia, remaining a never-healing blooding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two Churches.

Nevertheless, the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches. In the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution.

The Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which completed its work on February 3, in Moscow, called to make the year 2016 a year of special efforts to be taken in this respect, Therefore, despite the remaining obstacles of ecclesial nature, it has been decided that a meeting should be urgently held between His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Pole Francis of Rome. The problem of the persecution against Christians will become central at this meeting.

Throughout the recent years, numerous proposals have been coming in concerning the venue of such a meeting. However, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, from the very beginning, did not want it to take place in Europe, since it is with Europe that the grave history of divisions and conflicts between Christians is associated. The coincidence of the date of Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Latin American countries with that of the Pope of Rome’s visit to Mexico has become an opportunity for holding the meeting in the New World, and we hope that it will open a new page in the relations between the two Churches. Along with the main topic – the situation of Christians in the Middle East and other regions in which they are subjected to persecution, the talk will also involve the pressing problems of the bilateral relations and international policy. The meeting will be concluded with the signing of a joint statement.

On February 14 and 15, His Holiness Kirill will visit the Republic of Paraguay at the invitation of President Horacio Manuel Cartes. The visit will become a historical memory tribute to the Russian émigrés who made a considerable contribution to Paraguay’s development in the 1920s-30s, by undertaking research expeditions to the regions difficult of access for studying the mode of life of local Indians and by teaching in local universities.

On February 15, the Day of the Meeting of the Lord, His Holiness the Patriarch will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Russian church of the Protecting Veil of Our Lady in Asuncion. Then he will the Russian part of the city cemetery to conduct the Office for the Dead. On the same day, His Holiness will meet with President Horacio Manuel Cartes and our compatriots living in that country.

His Holiness’s visit to Brazil is timed to the 95th anniversary of the day when 1217 Russian refugees arrived in Rio de Janeiro from Gallipoli and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church’s diocese of Argentina and South America, in which Brazil occupies an important place.

The program will begin with a visit to the capital city of Brasilia, where His Holiness will meet with the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil Ms Dilma Rousseff. Then His Holiness will visit Rio de Janeiro to celebrate a thanksgiving on Mountain Corcovado at the Statue of Christ the Redeemer. He will also visit the Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Martyr Zinaida and meet with Cardinal Orani João Tempesta, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro. The visit to Brazil will be concluded on Sunday, February 21, with a visit to São Paulo, where His Holiness will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the evening of the same day, His Holiness and his party will fly to Moscow.”

Pope of Rome, Patriarch of Moscow to meet in Cuba

While this is not a sign of a possible end to the schism (as NPR suggested today), it is remarkable in that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic issue (described by Moscow as an "open wound") is still not resolved.

(RT) - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, is to meet his Roman Catholic counterpart, Pope Francis, during a historic visit to Latin America. The groundbreaking meeting is to happen in mid-February in Cuba.

The meeting between heads the two major Christian churches would be an unprecedented move to mend a millennium-long rift between the Western and Eastern branches of the religion, which started with the Great Schism of 1054.

The upcoming meeting confirms Russia’s status in the Christian world, according to Alexandr Avdeev Russia’s ambassador to the Holy See. “In light of the Western sanctions, the meeting between the two celebrants is a confirmation of Russia’s role in Christian civilization,” he told TASS.

Persecution of Christians in the modern world is the main issue for the two leaders to discuss, the Russian Orthodox Church said. Christians are among the minorities suffering at the hands of groups adhering to radical Islamist ideology in places like Iraq, Syria and Somalia.

In addition to Cuba, Patriarch Kirill’s Latin American tour from February 11-22 includes Paraguay, Chile and Brazil. The meeting with Pope Francis will happen on February 12.

“The intersection of the routes allowed this meeting to be organized,” commented Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Foreign Relations Department.

“The situation in the Middle East, in northern and central Africa and in some other regions where extremists are perpetrating genocide of Christians, requires immediate action and even closer cooperation between Christian churches.

“In the current tragic situation, we need to put aside internal disagreements and join efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to most severe persecution,” he said.

Sergey Brun from the Museum of Russian Icons told RT that the meeting could signal a possible warming of relations between Russia and the West.

“It is a sign that the relations are going to get warmer at least between one of the parts of the Orthodox church, namely the Russian Orthodox church, and the church of Rome…I hope it will positively influence the dialogue between Russia and the West.”

The pontiff will make a stop in Cuba on his way to Mexico.

The meeting has been in preparation for two decades and both Moscow and the Vatican agreed that some neutral country would be most suited for it. Austria and Hungary were among those considered, but Cuba was eventually chosen. The Patriarch and the Pope are expected to sign a joint declaration after the talks.

The Holy See called the upcoming meeting a “sign of good faith” and called on all Christians “to pray to God to bless the meeting,” the Vatican said in a statement.

For the Russian Orthodox Church the meeting will be the biggest foreign affairs event since reuniting in 2007 with the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia after a 90-year split.

The Great Schism formalized the break of communion between the Latin and Greek parts of Christianity after years of accumulating differences over theology, jurisdiction and ritual. The division endured over centuries, with mutual anathemas declared by the Pope and the Patriarch of what was then Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1054 nullified only in 1965.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Russian diaspora hierarchs meet in Moscow

(MOSPAT-USA) - On Tuesday, February 2, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, concurrently during the Holy Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, hierarchs who hold their obedience outside the canonical borders of the Moscow Patriarchate met in Moscow.

The meeting was chaired by the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. Attending the meeting was the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York; Archbishop Anatoly of Kerch, Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain; Archbishop Theophan of Berlin and Germany; Archbishop Simon of Brussels and Belgium; Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada; Archbishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe; Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh; the Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in Canada, Bishop Job of Kashira; Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart; Bishop Peter of Cleveland, Administrator of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America; Bishop John of Caracas and South America; Bishop Theodosius of Seattle, the Administrator of the Diocese of Austria and Hungary, Bishop Tikhon of Podolsk; Bishop Nestor of Korsun; Bishop Leonid of Argentina and South America; Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan; the Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA, Bishop John Naro-Fominsk; Bishop George of Canberra and the chairman of the Department of Foreign Institutions of the Moscow Patriarchate Bishop Anthony of Bogorodsk.

In his opening remarks, Metropolitan Hilarion relayed that this is the second meeting of its kind, the first meeting of hierarchs who hold their obedience outside the canonical borders of the Moscow Patriarchate met in London in 2012.

Speaking on the Holy Pan-Orthodox Council, the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations focused on the theme of the diaspora and work of the various episcopal assemblies. Currently there are episcopal assemblies in thirteen regions of the world and a total of 154 hierarchs of different local Churches participate in them.

During the discussion, the hierarchs spoke about the episcopal assemblies in different regions of the world, and exchanged views on ways of strengthening cooperation with the dioceses and institutions of the Russian Church outside its canonical borders.

1,700 year-old church struck by RPG

(Christian Today) - The intensified fighting between Turkish government forces and Kurdish separatists recently damaged one of the ancient churches in the world founded around 1,700 years ago in Turkey.

The Syriac Orthodox church was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, destroying a portion of the wall surrounding the St. Mary Church in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir on Jan. 28.

"It was like a war zone... Our house was shaking and we thought it would collapse," said Fr. Yusuf Akbulut, the priest of the church, who hid with his family at his home located on church grounds during the attack.

"We wouldn't have left the church. But when we looked [on the street] and saw that land mines and rockets were exploding non-stop, we knew that we couldn't stay," he told World Watch Monitor.

Akbulut said he initially dialled 155, the police emergency line, for help but was told that his neighbourhood was a no-go area, barricaded off to civil authorities. The operator also gave him instructions on how to escape and was told to wave a white flag once out of the street.

The priest said he and his family were staying in a hotel when he learned that his church is facing accusation of indirect involvement with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), World Watch Monitor reported.

Turkish newspapers reported on Jan. 30 that a cache of ammunition and explosives was found on the site of the Virgin Mary Church. But Syriac leaders rejected the reports for insinuating that their church could have any link to violent terrorism.

"We know the goals of these reports, which are hateful and completely made up," announced Evgin Turker, president of the Federation of Syriac Foundations. "After the news came out, threats against us started to rain down."

Akbulut said he knew nothing of this cache while he was there, and that it was likely deposited after he fled, according to reports.

Violence has engulfed Diyarbakir's Sur district, the location of the church, since early December. The government issued an evacuation order on Jan. 25 due to pitched street battles between armed militants from the PKK and Turkish forces, according to reports.

Fierce fighting has escalated across southeastern Turkey since the end of a two-year ceasefire in July 2015. Youth members of the PKK declared self-rule over large parts of Sur, digging trenches and building barricades to keep authorities out, reports said.

Turkish Protestant church leaders have condemned the violence that has been raging for the past two months. They have joined the Syriac Orthodox Church in calling for the Turkish government to show justice and mercy to its citizens.

In early January, a 12-person delegation came to Diyarbakir to issue a statement calling on both sides to seek a peaceful solution, reports said."We came to beg all parties to take steps towards peace to escape from this spiral of violence," said Ihsan Ozbek, leader of Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches. The pastors met with the district governor, Huseyin Aksoy, and Diyarbakir mayor, Gultan Kisanak.

A military statement in the official Anadolu Agency said Turkish forces have so far killed 500 PKK fighters in the southeastern town of Cizre and 149 in Sur since December.


European Parliament: ISIS is committing Christian genocide

(Catholic Herald) - The European Parliament has passed a resolution recognising the Islamic State’s killing of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide.

The vote by MEPs represents the first time that the body has acknowledged an ongoing conflict as genocide.

Lars Adaktusson, the Swedish MEP who tabled the resolution, called the vote a “historic decision”.

He told Newsweek: “It’s really important that the Parliament passed it, on a political level and a moral level. The significance is the obligations that follow by such a recognition,” he says, speaking to Newsweek by phone. “The collective obligation to intervene, to stop these atrocities and to stop the persecution in the ongoing discussion about the fight against the Islamic State.

“It gives the victims of the atrocities a chance to get their human dignity restored. It’s also a historical confirmation that the European Parliament recognised what is going on and that they are suffering from the most despicable crime in the world, namely genocide,” he said.

The resolution may pave the way for Britain and the US State Department to give similar recognition to ISIS’s slaughter of Christians. A motion to that effect has been tabled in the House of Commons.

The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, an advisory body made up of national MPs, recognised the ISIS killings as genocide last week.