Welcome to , 27 Feb 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 CHURCH SAYS IT REMAINS INDEPENDENT OF STATE
from Interfax Religion

Pres. Medvedev and Patr. Kirill (25 Feb) The Moscow Patriarchate has flatly denied information that the Church is merging with the state in Russia. "The Russian Church has never in its history been so independent of the state as it is now. It treasures this independence. However, it also treasures the dialogue that it has with the modern state. No doubt, this dialogue cannot be called easy, but it can be called constructive," Vladimir Legoyda, the head of the Synodal Information Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, said on Friday.

Legoyda said the fact that the Patriarch regularly meets with top Russian officials does not mean that the Church does not have "difficult conversations and problems in its dialogue with the authorities." Legoyda said attempts are being made to make the Church "an opposition force and there are some political and public figures who will always be negative about the Patriarch and the Church until they start speaking negatively about the authorities." These people "do not fully understand what the Church is and what its purpose is," he said. [read more...]


IMPRISONED AFGHAN CHRISTIAN RELEASED FROM PRISON
from International Christian Concern

(24 Feb) International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Said Musa, an Afghan Christian who was arrested in May and threatened with execution for his conversion to Christianity, was released from prison last week after aggressive international diplomacy engaged Afghanistan's government. In a letter dated February 13, Said Musa described a visit by representatives of the U.S. and Italian Embassies offering him asylum. According to the letter, after the foreign representatives left the room, Musa was visited by three Afghan officials who told him that he would be released within twenty-four hours if he wrote a statement declaring that he regretted his conversion to Christianity. "I laughed and replied, 'I can't deny my Savior's name,'" Musa wrote. "Because my life is just service to Jesus Christ and my death is going to heaven [where] Jesus Christ is. I am a hundred percent ready to die. They pushed me much and much. I refused their demands." Musa was then transferred back to his prison cell.

Still, ICC sources in Afghanistan remained hopeful that the release would occur soon. The call came on February 21 from an official from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul confirming that Said Musa was released and is safely out of the country. "I'm so thankful to the Lord that he is free and know it was a concerted effort on the part of so many people," said an ICC representative in Kabul. "The Lord has allowed us to take part in this momentous event and I praise Him that it has ended with the freedom of Said Musa. Through Said's letters, he spoke publicly to the world a powerful testimony of his faith and perseverance." However, Shoaib Assadullah, an Afghan Christian who was arrested for giving a Bible to a man who later reported him to authorities, remains behind bars. Assadullah currently faces the same charges for apostasy that Musa was rescued from. [read more...]


ARMENIA: PASTOR PROSECUTED AFTER JOURNALISTS REFUSE TO LEAVE CHURCH
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(24 Feb) A Pentecostal Pastor in the central Armenian town of Sevan, Vladimir Bagdasaryan, is facing criminal trial after trying to stop television journalists filming in the private property where his church meets. The journalists did not seek permission to enter the property, refused to leave when asked to do so, and were filming a report hostile to the church. Many media outlets in Armenia encourage intolerance of religious minorities, and the latest incident happened after a murder falsely attributed to a Jehovah's Witness. On 15 February formal criminal charges were brought against Bagdasaryan under Article 164 Part 1 of the Criminal Code ("Obstructing the lawful professional activities of a journalist"), Forum 18 News Service has learnt.

"Shant TV journalists Arpi Sukasian and Eduard Petrosyan entered our private property videotaping it without asking permission from the owner of the property, or showing their accreditation," Bagdasaryan told Forum 18. "A young lady standing by the entrance informed them that it was a private property and asked them to leave the building." However, they refused and asked her "disrespectfully" about her faith. Despite telling her that they had turned off the camera, they continued filming. The two journalists then pushed their way up to the second floor and carried on filming there. The church member phoned Pastor Bagdasaryan, who soon arrived and once more asked them to leave, insisting that the building was private property and they had no right to film their without permission. [read more...]


POPE, PATRIARCH WILL MEET "WHEN TIME COMES" - RUSSIAN PATRIARCHATE
from Interfax Religion

(17 Feb) The meeting between Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the Pope will happen when there are appropriate conditions for that, the Moscow Patriarchate said. "The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church maintain a regime of constant communication and consultations at various levels. And when, in the view of both parties, the time comes for the meeting between the leaders of two Churches, we will notify the international community," deputy head of the Department for External Church Relations Archpriest Nikolay Balashov told Interfax-Religion on Thursday.

The context of the relationship between the two Churches should not be linked to the meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican city on Thursday, he stressed. An unnamed source from the Russian presidential delegation said ahead of Medvedev's formal visit to the Vatican: "Currently, the meeting between the leaders of the two Christian Churches is feasible more than ever. The Russian president could discuss this subject during a conversation with the Pope," the Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote on Thursday. [read more...]


UZBEKISTAN: BELIEVERS GET 15-DAY SENTENCES FOR HAVING A BIRTHDAY PARTY
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(23 Feb) The same Tashkent judge who sentenced three Protestants to 15-day prison terms in a late-night hearing in May 2010 again stayed up late on 12 February 2011 to hand down 15-day prison terms on a further three Protestants. Fined fifty times the minimum monthly wage at the same time were ten other Full Gospel Church members, Protestants who asked not to be identified told Forum 18 News Service.

All were punished on charges of holding an "illegal" religious meeting after a police raid on a birthday party in a church member's home. The District Police Chief refused to tell Forum 18 why police under his command staged the raid. Short-term jail sentences of up to fifteen days are frequent punishments for those who conduct religious activity the government does not like. There are also many long-term Muslim, Jehovah's Witnesses and Protestant prisoners of conscience, sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]


YURII BOHUTSKYI: CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN CHURCHES ARE PROVOKED BY POLITICIANS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(25 Feb) In an interview to the newspaper "Day," the Deputy Minister of Culture of Ukraine, Yurii Bohutskyi said that he did not deny the importance of the participation of the Church in a number of socially significant problems but stressed that there are all grounds to state that politicization of the Church as well as adding the religious factor to politics sometimes leads to complications, additional contradictions and confrontations in the society. According to Yurii Bohutskyi, the Church is a conservative structure with its own traditions, canons and historical positions and it is not to be accountable to politicians and society but the contradictions between the Churches are created by politicians themselves.

"Let us consider who provokes contradictions between the Churches: it is politicians. Does a priest have a right to participate in the elections as representatives of political parties? The Church today thinks about this question. For instance, it has recently been discussed in Moscow at a session of the Hierarchical Council. But, in any case, one can see today a tendency to politicization of religious organizations and religious institutions are being politicised. It is enough to say that approximately 250 religious figures ran in the election to local self-government bodies during the last election campaign," said the deputy Minister of Culture. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE PUSHES NOTION OF "ETHNIC ORTHODOX" TO BOLSTER ITS CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR RUSSIAN PEOPLE
from Window on Eurasia

RUSSIAN PATRIARCH'S POSH "DACHA" IS RUMORED BY ACTIVISTS
from Moscow Times

MINISTRIES FIND SUPPORT THROUGH "MICRO-LOAN" PROGRAM
from Nazarene Communications Network

UZBEKISTAN: BIBLE SOCIETY HAS "NO NEED TO IMPORT BIBLES"
from Forum 18 News Service

VATICAN NAMES NEW AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA
from Interfax Religion

COMMUNISTS PROTEST PLAQUE HONORING UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC PATRIARCH
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

PROVINCIAL LEGISLATION SEEKS TO REVIVE THWARTED RUSSIAN FEDERAL ATTEMPT TO BAN PUBLIC EVANGELISM
from Portal-Credo.ru

INTER-ORTHODOX PREPARATORY COMMISSION BEGINS ITS WORK IN CHAMBESY, SWITZERLAND
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

HOPE AND JOY, NOT BLOOD AND TEARS, FOR CHILDREN IN FSU
from Russian Ministries

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

In our first news article above, usually when a public figure "flatly denies" something, there's at least a sliver of truth to what is being denied. While the Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate is not the official state church and the Russian Constitution guarantees equality and freedom of religious beliefs, it's clear that it is the "first among equals" - see the first article under "Other News Headlines." Regarding the second news article, we rejoice about Said Musa's release from prison and his leaving Afghanistan, but we must remind ourselves that he is just one highly-publicized case of Afghan Christians being persecuted: remember Shoaib Assadullah, the Afghan Christian arrested and still imprisoned on similar charges that may involve the death penalty.

The Origins of Religious Liberty, Part 2

These and similar cases illustrate our topic for today: how did the concept of religious liberty arise, and where are we today? In the Old Testament, when Moses led the Israelites up to the border of the Promised Land, the Lord told them that both Israelites and foreigners among the must observe the same religion and obey the same laws -

All who are home-born shall do these things after this manner, in offering an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor to Yahweh. If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you, or whoever may be among you throughout your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor to Yahweh; as you do, so he shall do. For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you, and for the stranger who lives as a foreigner with you, a statute forever throughout your generations: as you are, so shall the foreigner be before Yahweh. - Numbers 15:13-15 (See also Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 9:14.)

The Israelites were commanded to drive out the previous inhabitants and destroy completely their idols and high places (where temple prostitution and child sacrifice took place), or else they would be a snare and a temptation to the Israelites. The Lord said -

Speak to the children of Israel, and tell them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places: and you shall take possession of the land, and dwell therein; for to you have I given the land to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your families; to the more you shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer you shall give the less inheritance: wherever the lot falls to any man, that shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers shall you inherit. But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then shall those who you let remain of them be as pricks in your eyes, and as thorns in your sides, and they shall vex you in the land in which you dwell. It shall happen that as I thought to do to them, so will I do to you. - Numbers 33:51-56 (See also Deuteronomy 12:1-3.)

When the Israelites came into the Promised Land, the Lord commanded them to guard against idolatry and to pass on their faith in Him to their children -

Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of Yahweh be kindled against you, and he shut up the sky, so that there shall be no rain, and the land shall not yield its fruit; and you perish quickly from off the good land which Yahweh gives you. Therefore shall you lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for symbols between your eyes. You shall teach them your children, talking of them, when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall write them on the door-posts of your house, and on your gates; that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth. - Deuteronomy 11:16-21

From these passages and many others it appears that religious liberty was forbidden in ancient Israel. How then did it develop under Christianity? First of all, we should keep in mind that ancient Israel in its heyday was a self-governed theocracy where the priesthood governed society by its own religious laws, but eventually Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. By the time of Christ, Israel was occupied by the Romans who alone had the right to carry out the death penalty: they had to ask Pilate, the Roman governor, to sentence Christ to death. But at the Jerusalem Council the new Christian movement decided to relax the old Mosaic code for new Gentile believers -

They wrote these things by their hand: "The apostles, the elders, and the brothers, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings. Because we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised and keep the [Mosaic] law,' to whom we gave no commandment; it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell." So, when they were sent off, they came to Antioch. Having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over the encouragement. - Acts 15:23-31

[Note: some later Christians misinterpreted this decision of the Jerusalem Council and St. Paul's writings about the Law being cancelled, thinking it referred to all laws and rules. These people were called Antinomians ("against laws") and Antinomianism was branded a heresy by the Early Church. A careful study of the above passage's context and St. Paul's writings makes it clear that they are referring to the ritual Law of Moses, not God's moral laws.]

The Jews could enforce their religious laws only up to a point: the Temple was sacred space where only Jews were allowed: they arrested Paul because they thought he had smuggled Gentiles into the Temple, defiling it -

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purified himself and went with them into the temple, declaring the fulfillment of the days of purification, until the offering was offered for every one of them. When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place. Moreover, he also brought Greeks into the temple, and has defiled this holy place!" For they had seen Trophimus, the Ephesian, with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. All the city was moved, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple. Immediately the doors were shut. As they were trying to kill him, news came up to the commanding officer of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. - Acts 21:26-31

But Christians continued the Jewish prohibition against idolatry and magic. When St. Paul was in Corinth he came across the seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who were false prophets attempting to misuse the name of Jesus to cast out an evil spirit. The demon beat them up, causing many to believe in St. Paul's true preaching about Christ -

Many also of those who had believed came, confessing, and declaring their deeds. Many of those who practiced magical arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. They counted the price of them, and found it to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing and becoming mighty. - Acts 19:18-20

Over and over again in the New Testament, the Apostles taught that idolatry, witchcraft and sorcery were forbidden for Christians, as were sexual immorality, drunkenness and gluttony -

Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery [witchcraft], hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies,envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. - Galatians 5:19-21 (See also Acts 8:9-11; 16:16-19; 1 Corinthians 6:18-19; 1 Peter 4:2-3.)

It's important to notice in 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 and elsewhere that sexual immorality is linked to idolatry and magic, as it often was in the Old Testament pagan practices. From the above New Testament passages we see that Christians did not enforce their moral teachings on all of society, but they should do so within the Body of Christ. We must rid our homes of any books or magazines that promote sexual immorality, magic, sorcery, witchcraft or other forms of idolatry (false worship), and switch TV channels or Internet websites when any such programs come on.

Later, when the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he first issued an "Edict of Toleraton" for his new religion, but shortly afterwards he made Christianity the state religion and banned idolatry. Later Greco-Roman emperors, however, reverted to paganism and banned Christianity. As we mentioned in our last Hosken-News, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II in 1782 issued another "Edict of Toleration" calling for religious toleration among the various Christian confessions of Europe. The problem we are seeing today is that other religions are infiltrating Europe and America, religions that do not practice toleration. When they - Muslims especially - multiply and thus become the majority, as is happening in many Western European and some American cities, they begin to ban and persecute the Christians who invited them to settle there.

See www.joelrosenberg.com on radical Islam's plan for Israel and the United States, and www.actforamerica.com to learn how a Christian from the Middle East deals with this situation. We should always keep in mind that religious liberty grew up within Christianity, and appears to only work effectively in Christian cultures. Religious toleration must be a two-way street: if one side practices it and the other side doesn't, it simply ceases to work. America was first a "melting pot" of various Christian confessions, but has become a blending of many different non-Christian cultures and religions that often militate against Christian beliefs and morals. Like Arianism, Islam and secular humanism preach a "humanized" Jesus, only a good man preaching nice ideas like loving everybody. That is a truncated, decapitated Christianity, a Christianity without the real, crucified, resurrected and redeeming Christ as its head.

So if religious toleration grew up within Christianity and doesn't function well outside of Christianity, the next question is what sort of doctrines and morals - ideas and practices - should be tolerated within Christianity, and what are not to be tolerated - what is non-Christian? We've mentioned a few items: the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, and abstaining from sexual immorality, magic, sorcery, witchcraft or other forms of idolatry. What else constitutes true Christianity that should be tolerated, and what shouldn't?

(Let us know what you think - use the online feedback form below, or go here to read and comment on previous issues!)


Prayer and Praise:
1. Pray that the Russian Orthodox Church will extricate itself from its all too cozy relationship with the Russian government.
2. Praise the Lord for that Said Musa's release from an Afghan prison, and pray for Shoaib Assadullah who is still in prison there.
3. Pray for Vladimir Bagdasaryan, a Pentecostal Pastor in Armenia, facing trial for trying to stop journalists filming his church.
4. Pray for the ten Full Gospel Church members in Uzbekistan who were fined 50x the minimum wage for having a birthday party.
5. Uphold in prayer Yurii Bohutskyi, Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Culture, for his stand against state provocations among churches.
6. Thank God for the religious toleration we currently have in the West, and pray that it will be rightly applied.
7. Pray that Christians and others will separate themselves from all forms of idolatry, witchcraft and sexual immorality.

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

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl
 

p.s. He who thinks he can fully comprehend God either has a very small god, or a very large head.


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