Welcome to , 16 Jan 2011
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:
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RUSSIAN CHRISTMAS
from Voice of Russia

Russian Christmas (7 Jan) The Russian, Serbian, Jerusalem and Georgian Orthodox Churches celebrated Christmas on Friday, January 7, according to the Julian calendar. One of the centers of the festivities is Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born, and thousands of people attended the service in the Church of the Nativity.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia conducted the Christmas liturgy in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his wife attended the service. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in the Tver region to the north-west of Moscow for Christmas. Outdoor Christmas festivities in Russia began in the evening and last for a week: children and grown-ups make snowmen, throw snowballs, dance around Christmas trees and compete in skiing and skating. [read more...]


PATRIARCHAL FEUD: FILARET VERSUS KIRILL
from Portal-Credo.ru

(12 Jan) People's deputies from "Our Ukraine" have sent a deputies' request to Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka with regard to pressure on priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UPTs-KP), RISU reported on 11 January, citing the press service of the party. "We call your attention to the statement by Patriarch of Kiev and all Rus and Ukraine Filaret, in which he presents instances of illegal influence and pressure on priests and parishes of UPTs-KP with the goal of forcing them to transfer to the Ukrainian Orthodox church (Moscow Patriarchate)," the requests states.

Patriarch Filaret reported that the implementation of this plan began back in the time of the preparation for the visit to Ukraine in the summer of this year of Patriarch Kirill. The closest aide of the patriarch, Metropolitan Hilarion, visited in the spring of this year a number of provinces of Ukraine where he ascertained the situation and sought for those who could be lured out of the Kiev patriarchate. By his own admission, he tried to persuade the late Metropolitan of Lvov Andrei to betrayal, but this plan fell through.

Back in the summer of this year the Kiev patriarchate began receiving the first reports that through bureaucrats at the district level and below, as well as through sponsors of societies for priests and parishes, pressure began with the goal of forcing them to transfer to the Moscow patriarchate. In subsequent months this work only intensified; in individual dioceses up to 70% of priests went through such "conversations." [read more...]


AMENDMENTS TO THE LAW OF UKRAINE ON FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(13 Jan) On January 12, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych issued Decree 24 of 2011 by which he approved a plan to fulfill the responsibilities and obligations Ukraine must meet as a member of the Council of Europe, reports the Institute of Religious Freedom. The president instructed the reorganized Ministry of Culture of Ukraine and Ministry of Justice of Ukraine "to strengthen the legal principles of the freedom of thought and religion in Ukraine." The main aim of the legislative changes is to "stabilize democratic institutes and establish the supremacy of the law," says the decree.

For that purpose, the mentioned ministries are to submit to the government by February 1, 2011, two bills which are to be submitted to the consideration of the Supreme Council: new wording of the Law of Ukraine on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (taking into account the comments of the Report of PACE); and on restitution of religious buildings to religious organizations (according to Opinion Letter 190 (1995) of PACE and Subclause 13.18 of PACE's Resolution 1466 (2005)).

In addition, the Ministry of Justice has been instructed to ensure the follow-up in the Supreme Council of Bill 2450 on the Procedure of Organizing Peaceful Events according to Subclause 7.5.2 of Resolution 1755 (2010) of PACE. [read more...]


TAJIKISTAN: RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES FORCED TO PAY FOR STATE CENSORSHIP OF BOOKS
by , Forum 18 News Service

(12 Jan) Tajikistan charges religious communities high prices for censorship which violates the internationally recognised human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found. The state Religious Affairs Committee refuses to make public how much it charges for censorship. Numbers of imported books are restricted. It is also uncertain whether communities will be fined for already having or using uncensored literature, and what will happen to confiscated literature.

Various religious communities have complained that the numbers of books they can import is restricted and that charges for the censorship - which itself violates the country's human rights commitments - are very high. The state's Religious Affairs Committee, which carries out the censorship under the name 'expert analysis', often takes longer than the law allows for censorship. It is unclear what 'expertise' the Committee has available for its 'expert analyses'. [read more...]


SAME-SEX MARRIAGES NOT ALLOWED IN RUSSIA - MOSCOW REGISTRAR
from Interfax Religion

(13 Jan ) Attempts by same-sex couples to marry both in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia are doomed to fail, Irina Muravyova said, head of the Moscow Registry Office. "We live in a civil society, we are guided by the federal law, by the Constitution that clearly says: marriage in Russia is between a man and a woman," Muravyova said at a press conference on Thursday.

There are isolated cases when same-sex couples come to a registry office in order to apply for marriage, but that is pure self-promotion. "Normally, they arrive with the press already behind their shoulders," she said. "Such a [same-sex] marriage cannot be contracted in Russia!" Muravyova said. Muscovites are not trying to copy residents of certain countries "who enter into marriage with pets, Christmas trees and other animate and inanimate objects," she said. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

FREEDOM HOUSE REPORT: UKRAINE NO LONGER 'FREE'
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

PATRIARCH KIRILL DISAPPROVES OF THOSE WHO SAY ORTHODOXY IS A REASON OF RUSSIA'S ECONOMIC LAG
from Interfax Religion

ORTHODOX CHURCH SET ON FIRE IN RUSSIA'S MUSLIM CAUCASUS
from Toronto Sun

WILL TURKMENISTAN RESPOND TO REVIEW CRITICIZING RELIGION LAW?
from Mission Network News

ORTHODOX PRIEST DIES AFTER BEING ROBBED IN THE MOSCOW REGION
from Interfax Religion

METROPOLITAN HILARION TAKES PART IN INTERCONFESSIONAL CONFERENCE ON FAMILY PROBLEMS
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

Select to see full-size!Yesterday our friend Volodia called me on Skype all the way from Udmurtia, Russia. He told me that a few dozen people in the village of Iagolud have recently converted to Christ, sent me a couple photos of them. He said, "This is your fruit, brother!" And I replied, "No, I only planted, you watered, but God gave the fruit." Here's a photo of one of the new home fellowships.

MORE MOSCOW ATTEMPTS TO UNDERMINE THE KIEV PATRIARCHATE

The second and third news articles above, and the first item under "OTHER NEWS HEADLINES," all indicate that the Kremlin is using the Moscow Patriarchate - among other tools in its toolbox - to undermine the Kiev Patriarchate and the freedom of the Ukrainian people. Now that the Kremlin has managed to put in power a Ukrainian government that is quite friendly to Moscow (apparently with the tacit approval of the current U.S. administration), Moscow is using its Patriarch and his foreign relations assistant Metropolitan Hilarion to cajole and coerce large numbers of Kiev Patriarchate priests and bishops to switch their parishes over to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Not only this, but - as you can read in the source for our second news article - by using falsified protocols of church business meetings, changes were officially registered in the charters of various churches to switch them to the Moscow Patriarchate. (This is a technique often used by Russian criminals to take over businesses and buildings they want to steal.) Also, changes are being made to Ukrainian laws on freedom of religion that may have negative consequences for true religious freedom. Stay tuned as we watch for further developments.

In the last few days I've posted the following on Facebook, and it has generated lots of response:

Why didn't the Reformers return to original, Orthodox Christianity? As John Wyclif in 1383 wrote, "The pride of the Pope is the reason why the Greeks are divided from the so-called faithful.... It is we westerners, too fanatical by far, who have been divided from the faithful Greeks and the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ...." See the "Our Homecoming" article at www.Discover-Original-Christianity.info for the full answer.

Here's why (short answer): Rome's Crusaders raped and pillaged Constantinople in 1204, leaving it prone to repeated attacks by the Islamic Ottoman armies. The Ottoman Empire finally conquered a weakened Constantinople in 1453 and Athens in 1458. By 1500 most of Greek lands and islands were in Ottoman control. The Turks were driven back from the walls of Vienna on Sept. 11, 1529, but continued to hold Greece until the late 1800s. So the Greek Orthodox Church was in no position to help the reformers in the 1500s.

The Mongol Empire had invaded Russia in the 1240s and was not driven back to the Crimean Peninsula until the early 1500s, where it became allied with the Ottoman Empire and from where it continued wreaking havoc on Ukraine, Russia and even Poland until Catherine the Great's victory over them in 1783. Thus, the Russian Orthodox Church was also in no position to help the reformers.

Luther and Calvin needed more than doctrinal faithfulness to withstand Rome's armies: they needed political and military assistance, and Orthodoxy was simply not a viable option for that. But the excesses and heresies of the Roman papacy are no reason for rejecting all early Christian doctrine and tradition from AD 90 to AD 1054 [the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity].

Thus, Protestantism developed further, even through the American colonial period and beyond, without viable access to original Christianity. It attempted to return to early Christianity but did not fully achieve this because, although rejecting such obvious medieval Roman Catholic errors as purgatory, indulgences and granting priests permission to keep a mistress if they paid a special tax to the pope, Protestantism still unconsciously carried over many Roman Catholic distortions such as the Augustinian theology of total depravity and predestination.

Also, the Reformation doctrine of "sola Scriptura" is an anachronism, projecting the existence of cheap and widely-available bound Bibles back to the first centuries of Christianity. Most top-notch Protestant church historians today recognize that without Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1450, the Protestant Reformation would have been impossible. Until at least the 15th century most Christians learned doctrine via oral tradition.

We greatly appreciate the existence of the printing press, radio, television, computers, the Internet and other modern means to spread the Gospel. But we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that before the discovery of electricity, the Apostle Paul had to enter his epistles into Facebook by candlelight!

(Let us know what you think - use the feedback form below.)


Prayer and Praise:
1. Pray for reconciliation and harmony between the Moscow and Kiev Patriarchates, and that Moscow will cease meddling in Ukraine's religious and civil affairs.
2. Ask the Lord to intervene so that the amendments to the Ukrainian law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations will bring real freedom.
3. Intercede for Christians in Tajikistan, who are now being forced to pay for the "expert analysis" censorship of their religious literature by the state.
4. Thank the Lord that Russia still has enough of a Christian heritage so that it rejects the notion of same-sex marriage.
5. Praise God for the fruit He is still harvesting as a result of our seed-sowing almost 20 years ago in Udmurtia, Russia!
6. Ask the Lord to enlighten people's hearts in both East and West with the historical facts about early Christianity, the first ten centuries.
7. Pray that "we all attain the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."

Select to see full-size!   Please remember to pray for the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl
 

p.s. Did you hear about the grenade thrown into a French kitchen? It resulted in Linoleum Blownapart.


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FEEDBACK:


from Dave, 01/16/2011 3:28 am:
Dear Robert,
What is the Orthodox view of depravity and predestination?
Dave


Hi Dave,

On depravity: People are not totally depraved and incapable of doing anything good; rather, mankind is sick with sin, and the Church is the hospital to cure this disease.

On predestination: God is loving and merciful, and desires that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. People have free will even when they are unsaved, and can choose to reject God's love and mercy, in which case His love will become like a fire that burns because they hate it.

In Christ, Bob


from Dave, 01/16/11, 2:27pm:
Thank you for your honest answers.

I guess this is what separates us from Byzantium:

I'd rather believe man is dead in sin than just sick without Christ. When the Gospel (the Word of God) combines with the Spirit of God in a person he will say "I believe Jesus is Lord and he came in the flesh, incarnate" This is the evidence of salvation, not the invitation to it.

the passage quoted above applies to Peter's readers, not the whole world.

It seems to me Othodox people, then follow Rome rather than Revelation in these two issues. I'm glad Byzantium and Rome differ on other matters.

For our King,
Dave


Hello Dave,

You are right: Protestants are separated from Byzantium - not necessarily for theological reasons, though, but very likely for the practical reason that Byzantium and Moscow were not viable options for supporting the Protestant Reformation. As I wrote earlier, Constantinople and Moscow were tied up by the Moslem Turks and Islamic Tatars who were heirs of the Arian heresy.

It was Augustine who misinterpreted St. Paul's words "dead in sin" (Rom. 6 and Eph. 2) as literal rather than metaphorical or hyperbole, thereby coming up with the doctrine of "total depravity." Luther and Calvin carried Augustine's views further.

But in other places, St. Paul makes it clear that unregenerate people are capable of doing good works: "[God] will pay back to everyone according to their works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruptibility, eternal life" (Rom 5:6-7). So God will reward men, even unregenerate men, who are capable of doing some good works. "Total depravity" is eisegesis, reading something into the Bible texts that isn't actually there. It is interpretation, not exegesis.

In Acts 10:4, the Angel said to Cornelius, "Your prayers and your gifts to the needy have gone up for a memorial before God." This indicates that Cornelius was capable of doing good works before he was converted, and it was of spiritual benefit before God.

Christ is "the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world" (John 1:9). Everyone, not just "the elect," have some degree of spiritual enlightenment. This means they can't be totally depraved and spiritually dead. Thus we see that St. Paul's words "dead in sin" must be taken metaphorically or as hyperbole, rather than literally.

Have you studied thoroughly the Early Church Fathers? Read Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil the Great - these are some of the same people who decided the canon of the New Testament. If you can't trust these men, you can't trust the New Testament.

By the way, Orthodoxy doesn't "follow Rome" - the pope broke away from the other patriarchs, and has been going off on his own tangent ever since AD 1054. The Orthodox have remained true to the correct interpretation of Holy Scripture and to the Holy Tradition of the Early Church Fathers for twenty centuries.

In Christ, Bob


from Daniel, 01/16/11, 8:53pm:
Just curious, but does the Kiev patriarchate answer to the Moscow one? Is it bad that parishes switch over to the Moscow patriarchate? If all the OC regions are in communion, what does it matter?


Hi Daniel,

Good question! Actually, you've touched on the underlying problem: right after the breakup of the USSR when Ukraine again became an independent state, Filaret broke away from the Moscow Patriarchate and established the Kiev Patriarchate. Orthodox Churchs canons say that each independent country should have its own Orthodox Church with its own head (a metropolitan or patriarch), so this should have been OK with the Patriarch of Constantinople whose say-so is crucial to setting up a new national Orthodox Church. But the Moscow Patriarchate objected, and Moscow -being the largest - has lots of influence among other Orthodox patriarchs and metropolitans who decide such things. So right now the Kiev Patriarchate is not in communion with other "canonical" national Orthodox Churches.

In Christ, Bob


from Ruth Ann, 01/17/11 at 11:43am:
Hi Cheryl and Bob,

Thank you for serving Jesus and loving God's people. May God bless and keep you faithful.


Thank you, Ruth Ann!

...for your kind words! We're trying to keep going, serving the Lord. Bloom where you're planted!

Your fellow-servants,

Bob & Cheryl


from Daniel, 01/17/11 at 8:32pm:
So are you saying that the head Patriarch (Bartholomew?) caved to the Moscow Patriarch for political reasons? How close is Moscow to Constantinople politically?


I wouldn't characterize it as "caving in" to one or the other. Just like leaders of countries do, so leaders of churches negotiate. The Moscow Patriarch claims to represent about 120,000,000 Russians who are nominally Orthodox (although probably only 5,000,000 or so are actually practicing Orthodox). Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on the other hand, claims to have some sort of overall authority over all canonical Orthodox believers in the world, but lives and works in a small compound in modern Istanbul with just a few thousand followers. The Muslim Turkish authorities obviously exercise political authority, and although Turkey has a nominally secular government, the Muslims treat Christians as "dhimmi," second class citizens. What's going on behind the scenes between Russian and Turkish political leaders is anyone's guess.

In Christ, Bob


from Richard, 01/17/11, 12:51pm:
Thanks for this. These sorts of events make the theological discussions about "canonicity" ring really hollow. It saddens me that Metr. Hilarion is a leading Russian theologian--and a political stooge. I love the Orthodox Church, but I understand why Ukrainians want to be Greek Catholic.


Hi Richard,

"Ukraine" means "on the border" and has been caught in the middle between various empires for many centuries, which explains how the Greek Catholic "Uniate" Church (so-called because of the Union of Brest in 1595-96) came into existence when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth controlled Belarus and much of Ukraine. Of course, there's the Ukrainian Orthodox Kiev Patriarchate too, which Moscow is trying to re-absorb. It seems to me that the Moscow Patriarchate wants to assimilate the Kiev Patriarchate because the majority of Orthodox parishes, MP and KP combined, are in the Ukraine, and Moscow wouldn't want to let over 50% of its "faithful" slip out from under its jurisdiction.

Yes, it's too bad that the "real" world we live in isn't quite as neat and clean as the ideal world of Orthodox theology and canon law. But I'd rather live with such discrepancies than "throw out the baby and keep the bathwater" - decide that real, tangible unity can't possibly exist, and thus believe in some sort of imaginary, invisible Church. We must still strive for unity, even though we often fail - as they say, "fall down, get up, fall down, get up," a life of continual repentace.

In Christ, Bob


from Richard, 01/19/2011, 3:21pm:
Hi Bob,

I'm afraid that Met Hilarion's theological work, in my mind, will always be tainted by the political ambitions of the Muscovite empire/church. There have been so many brave Christians in Russia who rejected the state's ambitions, as the Gospel tells people to be wary of those who are in power.

Rich


Hello Rich,

Right, this certainly places a question mark over Metr. Hilarion's credibility. Yet, as you wrote, there are many brave Orthodox Christians in Russia who have kept their faith pure, refused to compromise with the state, and many gave their lives for this. Today in the Liturgy we commemorated the Holy New Martyrs of Russia. Tens of millions of faithful Russian Christians gave up their lives for the Faith.

Many Russian Orthodox, however, fully believe that fable about Moscow being the "Third Rome" and thus justify their actions as only protecting their territory. But Kiev was first to convert to Orthodoxy - the early "Holy Rus," and also makes claims to be the spiritual center of Slavic Orthodox Christianity.

In Christ, Bob


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