|FIRST, THE NEWS:||
(Note: the "prayers" link in the heading will take you to this issue's "Prayer and Praise" list.)
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP: "SOCIETY SHOULD RALLY TO PREVENT THE EXTINCTION OF OUR POPULATION"
(19 May) Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk told an ecumenical meeting in Moscow that stopping the demographic crisis in Russia must be a priority for all Christians, as well as the state. Speaking recently at the assembly of the Christian Inter-confessional Council of the Community of Independent States and Baltic Countries, Metropolitan Hilarion said that to deal successfully with the population problem, the Church and other religious communities, the state, and the mass media and artists should unite their efforts.
Demographers have estimated that Russia's population has been declining at about 0.5 percent per year, or about 750,000 to 800,000 people per year during the late 1990s and most of the 2000s. The drop is due to the aging of Russia's population, below-replacement birth rate, and staggeringly high rates of abortion. A UN report warned that Russia will lose about a third of its population by 2050 unless the current trends are halted. "All the healthy forces in society should rally to prevent the extinction of our population. It is necessary to reverse the alarming population tendency which has come to prevail in the last decades," said Hilarion, who leads the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations.
"We need a policy aimed to support the family and traditional moral values. It should be carried out on the governmental level through the systems of healthcare and primary, secondary and higher education. Both the mass media and religious communities should help realize it." The Orthodox leader noted that modern culture openly opposes Christian values, which leads society, and especially young people, to egotism and excessive liberty because it creates a moral vacuum. [read more...]
AZERBAIJAN: POLICE "DID WELL" IN SUMGAIT RAIDS
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(18 May) The press office of Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry was defending its raids in mid-May on three Protestant churches in Sumgait within three days. The police "did well," an official there told Forum 18 News Service. After a raid by up to 15 police officers on the Sunday worship service of one of the congregations, held in a local restaurant, two church members were today (18 May) each fined about two weeks' average local wages.
On 17 May, some 20 police officers raided a private flat where members of another local church were meeting, seizing about 60 books. "You can't meet for religious purposes in a restaurant - there are mosques and synagogues for that," the Interior Ministry official insisted. He refused to tell Forum 18 his name, saying: "I don't know who you are. You might be a terrorist or Azerbaijan's enemy No. 1." [read more...]
PROTODEACON KURAYEV ADVISES HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST TO LEAD ANTI-ZODIAC CAMPAIGN
(19 May) Protodeacon Andrey Kurayev, Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy, calls illogical the position of human rights campaigner Lev Ponomarev who speaks against the presence of religious symbols at work and in other public places. "For the most part, Russian offices keep all kinds of horoscopes and calendars featuring rabbits and other animals symbolizing the current year rather than icons," Father Andrey said in a TV program So Svoyey Kolokolni (From My Bell Tower) aired by Stolitsa TV channel.
According to him, "These little amulets and talismans are omnipresent. As a Christian, I'm annoyed by that. Is Lev Ponomarev ready to lead an anti-rabbit campaign on this occasion and on my request to protect my human rights?" Commenting Ponomarev's position, he recalled the words of Mikhail Gorbachev "no two ways about pluralism." [read more...]
BELARUS: PRIEST'S VISIT "INEXPEDIENT" / FRESH CRIMINAL CODE ARTICLE 193-1 THREAT
by Olga Grace, Forum 18 News Service
(19 May) The Co-Chair of Belarus' Christian Democracy movement, Pavel Severinets, was for five months in detention repeatedly denied the possibility of a visit he requested from an Orthodox priest, he has told Forum 18 News Service. Severinets was speaking after he was given an open jail term for his political activities, at a trial along with two other opposition political activists and human rights defenders. The authorities admitted to Severinets that he had every legal right to see a priest, he told Forum 18. He suspects that the denial was due to his refusal to work for the KGB secret police as an informer, and his unwillingness to plead guilty to organising a riot.
Elsewhere, Nikolai Varushin, a member of an unregistered Baptist church has been threatened with punishment under Criminal Code Article 193-1, which carries a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment. This is the second recent occasion in which the use of Article 193-1 - which has not previously been used to repress freedom of religion or belief - has been threatened against an unregistered religious community. [read more...]
MEDIA CONFERENCE ON CHURCH IN INFORMATION SOCIETY HELD IN ODESSA
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(20 May) A two-day media conference "The Church in the Information Society" was held on May 20-21 in Odessa. Journalists, church leaders, representatives of church press services, Christian publications, and church TV studios and websites, as well as Christian bloggers, participated in the event. The program of the conference included seminars, workshops and training sessions conducted by experts in public relations, government relations, religious and secular journalism, Web 2.0, advertising and marketing. Roundtables and panel discussions were also planned.
The conference consisted of two parts. The first day dealt with external church communication. The participants tried to jointly answer such questions as: who, why and how should the church communicate with external partners; what is the journalists? view of the church; in what language to address people who are not part of our community; how to build relations with the authorities and respond to crises in the church. The second day will include three parallel thematic sections: "The Church Press Service," "Web 2.0," and Christian journalism. Each participant was able to choose one of the three subjects. [read more...]
A NEW CHURCH ORGANIZATION IS CREATED IN ABKHAZIA
ABKHAZIA AGAIN 'STRUGGLING FOR INDEPENDENCE' BUT NOW 'FROM RUSSIA'
from Eurasia Review
CATHOLICS IN EASTERN BELARUS WANT CATHEDRAL RETURNED
from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
UZBEKISTAN: APRIL WAS THE CRUELLEST MONTH FOR PROTESTANTS
from Forum 18 News Service
WITH HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF ORPHANS IN RUSSIA, OLDER ONES STAND LITTLE CHANCE
from Mission Network News
PARISHIONERS OF REMOVED TENT CHURCH ACCUSE UOC-MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE OF BETRAYAL
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
FAITH & WORKS | EVANGELICALS PUSH FOR ADOPTIONS IN CHILDREN'S HOME COUNTRIES
See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!
For several years now, I have been reporting on the dangerous decline in Russia's population. Now, as we see in the first news article, Metropolitan Hilarion of Russia is sounding the same alarm. The statistics show a trend over the past two decades or more that will almost inevitably lead to Russia's population being cut nearly in half within the next 40 years. This is already creating a "population vacuum" that pulls in neighboring populations who are needed at first for manual labor. But as we have seen all around the world, many of these migrant workers settle down, marry and have children. So we may be surprised to learn one morning that "Russia" is renamed to something else, with the Russian nationality and culture in a minority position.
The article about the "anti-zodiac campaign" might seem rather strange to people in the West, but to those of us who have lived in Russia for many years it makes much sense: I wore a large fish symbol on a chain around my neck when we lived in Russia, and several times people on the street asked me if the fish was my zodiac sign. No stranger ever recognized it as a Christian symbol! Astrology has a strong grip on Russia.
Also, the little territory of Abkhazia is in the news again - see the two articles in "Other News Headlines." After breaking away from Georgia in 2008, the Abkhazian people are finding their new "benefactors" from Russia to be a bit less than benificient. A group of young Orthodox priests there are attempting to form a new church entity that does not come under the Russian Orthodox Church. Such schisms are generally not looked on favorably among Orthodox Christians.
Today I'd like to follow up on the topic I discussed in our last issue. At first I thought of calling today's title "Synergy vs. Presumption" but then I decided to keep last issue's topic title and just add "Part 2." Synergy is from the Greek synergos - working together. In the Christian context it refers to redeemed mankind working together with God toward our salvation and transformation: "So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). Only if God is at work in us, can we work out our salvation.
In most of Western Christian theology, the notion that we must do any kind of work for our salvation is out of the picture. But St. Paul writes in Romans 2:6-7 and 10 - "[God] will reward everyone according to their works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruptibility, eternal life. ... But glory and honor and peace to every man who works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." And St. James writes - "What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can that faith save him? ... Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself" (James 2:14 and 17). Faith that simply says, "I believe in Jesus, now I have a free ticket to heaven - I don't need to do anything!" is not saving faith: James calls it "dead faith." If God is truly at work in us, we will do good works.
So where does presumption come into the picture? Some may assume that they are among the elect because of our ethicity or nationality - "I'm Greek (or Russian, etc.) so therefore I'm a true-believer Orthodox and on my way to heaven." Or - "I'm Polish (or Italian, etc.) so therefore I'm a true-believer Catholic and on my way to heaven." Or - "I'm Dutch (or Swiss, etc.) so therefore I'm a true-believer Calvinist and on my way to heaven." Or - "I raised my right hand, went forward and said the sinner's prayer, so therefore I'm a true-believer American Protestant and on my way to heaven." All of this is presuming upon God!
Presumption is thinking that we mere mortals can outsmart God, that we can presume on His mercy and love so that He will have to give us what we want. This is essentially a pagan approach of making certain mysterious incantations and/or going through certain magical motions to manipulate the gods to get them on our side. Magicians and wizards have always had their secret words and magic potions to make their tribe or nation better and more powerful than others. This sort of thinking, that my knowledge, ethicity or nationality is superior and others are somehow inferior or even less than human is simply pagan. It leads to the thinking that because the gods (fortune, luck, wealth) are on my side, I am somehow morally superior, I am above conventional morality, and thus I can do whatever I want. We've seen recent examples of this in world politics, and even a pseudo-Christian leader presumed to predict when the world would come to an end (this weekend), which only God can know (Matthew 24:36; 25:13).
The Bible contains several stories of people presuming upon God: Ananias and Saphira in Acts ch. 5, Simon the magician in Acts ch. 8, and "Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hosea 6:3). This sounds like a sincere cry of repentance. But the prophet replies: "What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away" (v.4). Simon, Ananias and Saphira appeared to be genuinely converted. We could also mention Hymenaeus and Alexander who "made shipwreck of their faith" (1 Timothy 1:19-20).
These people all seemed sincere at first. People, however, so often have their own hidden agenda: they appear sincere and they offer to work with you, but it turns out that they want you to work for them so they can have a free ride or take your money. Time after time we've seen this presumtious attitude in Russia (and elsewhere): "We're poor, we need help! Please help us, give us some money... but don't tell us how we should spend it!" (I actually heard a Russian pastor say that once to his congregation in front of me and his non-Russian-speaking Western sponsor!) Financial involvement, however, almost always leads to control. To think that someone will simply give money or assistance without accountability is foolish. Yet, some people will try to fool others, and will even try to fool God: "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). God isn't deceived or mocked, it will only result in deceiving oneself... and reaping a bitter harvest!
"For we are God's co-workers [sunergos]" (1 Corinthians 3:9a) - this is the ideal: synergy, to work together with God, because it is really God working in us to do His will. We must never think that we can manipulate God to do our will, as if God were our cosmic genie, but rather come to Him daily with sincere repentance, saying: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and transform me into Your image! May I be Your humble servant, to do Your will today and every day."
Let us know what you think - use the online feedback form! Anatolii, a good friend in Russia, sent some feedback in response to our last Hosken-News, telling about the current economic and social situation there. Please read it, and uphold his family in your prayers!
Prayer and Praise:
Sun. - Pray that all individual Christians and their churches in Russia will work together with the state, schools and media to stop the trend toward population extinction.
Mon. - Ask the Lord for religious liberty for the three Protestant churches in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, that were raided within three days of each other in May.
Tue. - Pray against the secular humanists who are trying to ban Christian religious symbols and expression in public and work places in Russia.
Wed. - Intercede for Pavel Severinets, Co-Chair of Belarus' Christian Democracy movement, imprisoned and denied visits by an Orthodox priest.
Thu. - Praise the Lord for the "The Church in the Information Society" conference in Ukraine, and pray that it will bear much fruit in spreading the Gospel.
Fri. - Thank God for groups like Bruckner Int'l. that facilitate adoption of older Russian orphans, 90% of whom otherwise end up in crime, prostitution or commit suicide.
Sat. - Pray that Christians will break free from presuming upon God, and will instead become sunergos - coworkers together with God, serving Him!
Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of its blessings; the inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery. -W. Churchill
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