Welcome to , 13 Mar 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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RUSSIA'S ORTHODOX LEADER: CHURCH MUST NOT BE POLITICAL POWER
from Kyiv Post

Select to see full-size! (10 Mar) It is wrong for a Christian church to be a political power, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has argued. "The Church must have no political means of exercising an influence on those in authority," Patriarch Kirill said in answering letters from televiewers in the "Pastor's Word" program on Russia's First Channel television. The church "loses public confidence" if it becomes a political player.

"The Church has only one way to influence the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, the educated and the simple-minded - to preach God's Word," Kirill said. He slso said there are many believers in government in Russia: "They are part of our laity, our flock. A sincerely religious person must follow what the church teaches and, whenever possible of course, put into practice the sublime values of Christian ethics in their professional and other activities," the patriarch said. [read more...]


TURKMENISTAN: "PRINCIPLES OF MERCY, JUSTICE AND HUMANISM" FAIL TO FREE RELIGIOUS PRISONERS
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(9 Mar) One year after the United Nations wrote an "urgent appeal" to the Turkmen government over the continued imprisonment of conscientious objectors, the government has failed to respond to the UN. Ata, an aide to Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, said the Ministry is "not competent" to explain why it has not responded. Imprisoned Protestant Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev is still being denied a Bible. His wife Maya Nurlieva told Forum 18 she treasures his personal Bible at home as something precious to him which she can hold in his absence.

Protestants close to Pastor Nurliev have lamented that he was not freed in the February 2011 prisoner amnesty, just as he had not been included in the December 2010 amnesty. "The camp chief at Seydi told him he would be freed under amnesty if he acknowledged his guilt," one Protestant told Forum 18. "But he refused." They say that Pastor Nurliev has asked to be transferred back to Mary to be closer to his wife, daughter and two grandchildren.

Prisoners at Seydi are allocated a two-hour visiting slot for close relatives every other month, alternating with a 24-hour visit in the following month. Pastor Nurliev's wife Maya was allowed the 24-hour visit in late January. However, at the end of February she was refused permission to see him again or to pass on any food to him. [read more...]


METROPOLITAN HILARION ADVISES US VICE PRESIDENT ON THE LIFE OF ORTHODOX BELIEVERS IN AMERICA
from Interfax-Religion

(10 Mar) Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, told US Vice President Joe Biden about the Russian Orthodox Church and its external relations, including the relations with the Orthodox jurisdictions in America and the Moscow Patriarchate parishes in the USA. The Department for External Church Relations told Interfax-Religion about a Thursday meeting between Metropolitan Hilarion and Joe Biden who is currently on an official visit to Moscow. US Vice President expressed his wish to meet Metropolitan Hilarion during one of Metropolitan's next visits to the USA to further discuss the issues addressed at their meeting on Thursday.

Earlier today, Vice President held the expanded meeting with representatives of Russian public organizations involving religious figures, such as Metropolitan Hilarion, Head of the Russian Council of Muftis Ravil Gainutdin, representatives of Jewish community and Pentecostal Bishop Sergey Ryakhovsky. After the meeting, Sergey Ryakovsky told Interfax-Religion that he particularly liked Biden's approach because the word "resetting", which Biden had repeated in his address about ten times, had a broader meaning than just declaring the slogan Peace to the World. [read more...]


TURKMENISTAN: LITERATURE IMPORT CONTROLS LIFTED FOR ORTHODOX - BUT NOT FOR OTHERS
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(11 Mar) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has noted that Turkmen government controls on importing religious material for use in their parishes in Turkmenistan have been lifted, yet confiscation of religious literature from residents returning to the country continues, members of a variety of faiths told Forum 18 News Service. Although isolated instances of confiscations of such literature on leaving Turkmenistan have also occurred earlier, this has stepped up in recent months.

Patriarch Kirill also said discussions with the Foreign Ministry are underway over building a new Orthodox cathedral in Ashgabad. Planned in the 1990s, it was never built and the site was later used for another building. Bayram Samuradov, chief architect of Ashgabad, told Forum 18 that a provisional new site has been earmarked for the cathedral. "It is more beautiful and appropriate than the old site, and is located in an area with a large European population," he told Forum 18. He refused to discuss why other faiths cannot build places of worship in Ashgabad. "That's not a question for me." [read more...]


LENT BEGINS IN ORTHODOX AND GREEK CATHOLIC CHURCHES
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(7 Mar) Lent, the time of spiritual preparation for Easter, begins this year in the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches on Monday, March 7, and in the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, March 9. On the day of the Jewish Passover, the early Christians introduced a practice of remembering the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. In order to spend the day in a due manner, they decided to fast. In the early Church the one- to three-day fast was considered not the pre-Easter fast but Passover itself. In the second and third centuries, the Church began to pay great attention not only to the sad event of Christ's suffering and death but also to the Resurrection of Christ. That is how the practice of the Cross and Resurrection Passovers appeared. The contradictions that had arisen later were eliminated by the Council of Nicea in 325.

Fr. Yulian Katrii notes in his book Know Your Rite that in the third century, the pre-Easter fast in some churches lasted for a week, which is today called the Holy Week. The earliest evidence of the 40-day pre-Easter fast is traced back to the fourth century. The difference between the East and West in defining the date of Easter arose after the introduction of the Gregorian (new) Calendar in the sixteenth century, when they began to use a new formula to calculate Easter connected with the newly-introduced calendar. The Eastern Church tradition still uses the Julian (old) Calendar and, therefore, the date of Easter is calculated starting from the Equinox according to the old calendar, whereas in the Western tradition, the date of Easter is calculated starting from the Equinox according to the new calendar. Occasionally, the dates coincide and the Christians of the two churches celebrate Easter simultaneously. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

TAJIKISTAN: BILL WOULD BAR YOUTH FROM ATTENDING CHURCH
from EURASIANET.org

RUSSIA: EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS "OBVIOUSLY IGNORED"
from Forum 18 News Service

RUSSIAN CHURCH CALLS FOR RELYING ON FAITH, MOTHERLAND AND FREEDOM AS VIRTUES IN 21ST CENTURY
from Interfax-Religion

CRISIS CENTERS FOR ORPHANS IN DIRE NEED OF ASSISTANCE
from Mission Network News

UKRAINE IS NOT RUSSIA - THERE CANNOT BE FAVORITISM FOR ONE DENOMINATION
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

FORMER PROTESTANT PASTOR BECOMES ORTHODOX PRIEST
from Interfax-Religion

CIS AND BALTIC CHRISTIAN INTER-CONFESSIONAL COMMITTEE SUPPORTS INITIATIVES TO IMPROVE POPULATION GROWTH
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

CELEBRATING GOD AT WORK ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
from Russian Ministries

TO STEM MORAL DECLINE, RUSSIANS LOOK TO FAMILY, SCHOOL AND STATE, NOT TO THE CHURCH, STUDY FINDS
from Window on Eurasia

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

When Patriarch Kirill said, "The Church must have no political means of exercising an influence on those in authority" (see our first news article above), one begins to wonder: Why he is issuing this denial of influencing those in authority? We need only look back at the last few months of the Russian Church influencing Ukrainian politicians and policies to get the answer. But it is commendable that he said, "The Church has only one way to influence the powerful... - to preach God's Word." Amen to that!

The Application of Religious Liberty

Our last Hosken-News reviewed several portions of Scripture and concluded with the words: "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?"

We mentioned that ancient Israel was a theocracy, with religious and civil laws intimately intertwined. But the first-century Church lived under the Greco-Roman Empire, which strictly limited the Church's ability to apply for all of society the Church's religiously-based rules of behavior. This is clearly shown in St. Paul's writing to the Corinthian Church:

I wrote to you in my letter to have no company with sexual sinners; yet not at all meaning with the sexual sinners of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then you would have to leave the world. But as it is, I wrote to you not to associate with anyone who is called a brother who is a sexual sinner, or covetous, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. Don't even eat with such a person. For what have I to do with also judging those who are outside? Don't you judge those who are within? But those who are outside, God judges. "Put away the wicked man from among yourselves." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

So the Apostle Paul instructs us that certain types of behavior, such as sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and extortion (in Galatians 5:19-20 he includes witchcraft, gluttony, hatred, strife, jealousy, anger, rivalry, division, heresy, envy and murder) should lead to excommunication from the Church. The Early Church practiced this, and the Orthodox Church still observes it today. Obviously, modern civil laws don't tolerate murder and drunk driving, but do tolerate heresy, greed, sexual immorality, gluttony, anger, etc.

What this tells us is that Christian rules of faith and practice must be stricter than the laws of civil society. The problem is that today many so-called "Christian" confessions have blurred the lines by accepting civil society's rules of behavior as the standards for their members. This is toleration gone overboard. We need to keep in mind that as Christians we have two sets of rules for toleration: for those outside the Church we tolerate (but don't endorse) civil society's rather minimal standards. But for those within the Church we should apply all the standards of Christian faith and conduct. This includes teaching against and disciplining members who practice greed, gluttony, slander, extortion, etc., not just sexual immorality.

Concerning religious toleration, there is a range of doctrine that is acceptable, but outside the scope of that range are unacceptable doctrines. St. Paul wrote:

Now receive one who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Don't let him who eats despise him who doesn't eat. Don't let him who doesn't eat judge him who eats, for God has received him. Who are you who judge another's servant? To his own Lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for God has power to make him stand. One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. (Romans 14:1-5)

Abstaining from certain foods, especially during Lent and other fasting days, can be a good spiritual discipline if rightly understood and not merely abstaining from some foods but stuffing our bellies with other delicacies. But to eat a hamburger with non-Christian friends during Lent isn't a sin! Also, it's good to have set dates on which to observe certain religious feast days such as the Incarnation (Christmas) and Pascha (Easter) simply to avoid confusion, but Eastern and Western Christianity having different calendars is not a sin or something to fight about.

It's possible to be pseudo-super-spiritual, like followers of the Montanist heresy who claimed they were more "spiritual" than the Church's bishops so they didn't need to obey them, or like the super-spiritual iconoclasts who destroyed icons and burned down churches containing them because they thought venerating icons was idolatry. This Sunday we celebrate the "Triumph of Orthodoxy" over the iconoclast heresy. Actually, "eikon" is Greek for "image," so if we believe that Christ is really God incarnate, that He took the form (eikon) of man so that man could become holy - restored to God's image (eikon) - then properly revering icons of Christ and holy people is acceptable, just like we honor our country's flag because of the prototype, the country it stands for. Just because they can be misused is no reason to forbid them. But it's not a sin if a believer doesn't use icons as an aid to worship: even some Orthodox monks have no icons in their cells. So there is a scope of toleration for doctrine, but it is limited - in A.D. 325 the First Ecumenical Council came together in the city of Nicea and formulated by consensus what is known today as the Nicene Creed:

I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds; Light of Light, Very God of Very God; Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose Kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;

And I believe in One Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

This is the only Creed that is confessed by Orthodox and by traditional Catholic and Protestant Christians. It is thus the only Creed that is capable of uniting all Christians. It declares clearly that God is One, and consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It emphasizes that Christ existed pre-eternally, is both fully God and fully man, was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and that only by believing in His virgin birth, His death on the Cross and His resurrection and being baptized can we have eternal life in the world to come. And in this Creed we confess the unity of all true Christians in one Universal Church. The Nicene Creed predates the formulation of the New Testament canon by about 75 years.

(By the way, the word "Catholic" that is sometimes used in the Creed instead of "Universal" doesn't refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but rather to the real, visibly united body of believers through all space and time, not an imaginary "invisible Church" that one can pretend to belong to, so that he doesn't have to go to church but can sleep in or play golf on Sunday morning!)

We hope this has given you a good overview of religious toleration. Let us know what you think - use the online feedback form, or go here to read and comment on previous issues!


Prayer and Praise:
1. Praise the Lord for Patriarch Kirill stating, "The Church must have no political means of exercising an influence on those in authority."
2. Pray for imprisoned Protestant Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev in Turkmenistan who was not pardoned and is still being denied a Bible.
3. Thank God for the meeting between US Vice President Joe Biden and Russian Metropolitan Hilarion, and pray that it brings positive results.
4. Praise the Lord that Orthodox can now import religious material into Turkmenistan, and pray that other Christians will also gain this permission.
5. Pray that Eastern and Western Christians will use this Lenten season as a time for spiritual discipline and giving to the poor.
6. Pray that we won't become "pseudo-super-spiritual" and think we are holier than we really are, but that Lent would teach us humility.
7. Ask the Lord that we would rightly apply religious liberty and toleration in our personal lives, in our churches and in society.

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

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl
 

p.s. It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. - George Washington


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