Welcome to , 05 Jun 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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(Note: the "prayers" link in the heading will take you to this issue's "Prayer and Praise" list.)

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH BACKS BILL LIMITING ABORTIONS
from CBN.com

(3 Jun) Russia's Orthodox Church and conservative lawmakers are pushing legislation that would limit abortions. The country has one of the world's lowest birth rates. The measure bans free abortions at government-run clinics and requires a prescription for the "morning-after" pill.

A married woman seeking an abortion would have to have her husband's permission and teenage girls would need the consent of their parents. In addition, the proposed legislation requires a one-week waiting period to allow a woman to reconsider her decision before terminating her pregnancy.

Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, abortion was the main method of "family planning." Today, Russia still has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. [read more...]


TAJIKISTAN: RESTRICTIVE PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY LAW TO BE ADOPTED SOON?
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(25 May) Tajikistan's Parliament may adopt a restrictive Parental Responsibility Law, drafts of which ban children from attending religious activities apart from funerals, Forum 18 News Service has found. The latest text of the proposed Law has not been made public - even though it is being discussed in Parliamentary Committees - and deputies and officials have been giving contradictory answers about the expected timetable. It may be adopted by July, even though drafts of the Law - which was initiated by President Emomali Rahmon - violate the Constitution and international human rights standards.

Local religious communities, independent legal experts and human rights defenders have condemned the draft Law, but Deputy Marhabo Jabborova, Chair of the parliamentary committee leading discussions on the Law, told Forum 18: "I am not aware of any comments from religious communities." An Imam, who wished to remain unnamed, said he is "very concerned" over the impending ban. "They should have a chance to receive religious teaching while they are still children, and it does not matter whether it is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or other teaching," he told Forum 18. [read more...]


CHURCH GRATEFUL TO CITY AUTHORITIES FOR PREVENTING MOSCOW GAY PARADE
from Interfax-Religion

(30 May) The Russian Orthodox Church is grateful to the Moscow city authorities and law enforcers for preventing a gay parade attempted in the city last Saturday. Responding to questions from Interfax-Religion on Monday, head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said the authorities "quite politely prevented an instance of propaganda of homosexuality which could have been witnessed by children and teenagers who crowded the two venues of the action."

He expressed hope that in the future the authorities of Russia and Moscow in similar cases "will listen to the voice of their own people, the majority of whom do not accept the propaganda of homosexuality, instead of foreign pressure that was exerted before the action and continues now." The clergyman said that on the basis "of an absolutely clear moral choice of the people" Russia can restrict any propaganda actions. "I am deeply convinced of that. International organizations and especially the governments of countries with whom we have different histories and different social systems should realize that," Father Vsevolod said. [read more...]


TAJIKISTAN: BAN ON RELIGIOUS EDUCATION ABROAD WITHOUT STATE PERMISSION TO BE ADOPTED SOON?
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(26 May) Without any prior public notice on 25 May the Lower Chamber of Tajikistan's Parliament approved without discussion a government-proposed amendment banning people of any faith from having religious education abroad without state permission. An independent Tajik journalist, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 News Service on 26 May that the amendment "was rushed to the Parliament without any public discussion." They suggested to Forum 18 that "the authorities may be afraid of the Arab Spring movements. But their main motivation is to totally control religious life."

A lawyer from the capital Dushanbe, Zafar Kurbonov, noted to Forum 18 that "our Constitution guarantees everybody's right to education whether at home or abroad. This is a gross violation of our rights." Deputy Marhabo Jabborova told Forum 18 that the changes need to be approved by parliament's Upper Chamber and President Emomali Rahmon. In southern Tajikistan the authorities have continued the nationwide campaign against places of worship, destroying a mosque and banning the activity of a Baptist church. [read more...]


KYIV COUNCIL DEPUTY BRYHYNETS DEFENDS TITHE CHURCH
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(31 May) In an official statement, Deputy of Kyiv City Council Oleksandr Bryhynets from the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko - Batkivschyna faction, head of the standing commission of the Council for Culture and Tourism, exposes an attempt taken by monks of what he describes as an "illegally built monastery near the Tithe Church" to illegally penetrate the territory of archeological excavations of the church, Ukrainian News reports. "The monks from the monastery illegally built near the Tithe Church tried to enter the territory of the archeological excavations of the church. When asked where they took the key from [to] the territory of the archeological excavations of the church, a monk mentioned St. Peter who had keys not only for the paradise," reads the statement.

The monks abandoned the idea of entering the territory of the monastery after Bryhyhets arrived there and told them why their actions were illegal. The deputy said representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate last night brought trailers for builders to the wooden church near the Tithe Church. According to the deputy, both the construction trailers and the wooden church itself are on the territory without any permission. According to him, the construction trailers was a response to a resolution of the Kyiv City State Administration to create a museum on the territory of the Tithe Church and to abandon an idea of building a new church there. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

POLICE SEIZE BIBLES OF AZERBAIJAN EVANGELICALS; SEVERAL FINED
from BosNewsLife.com

ALMOST ONE THIRD OF RUSSIANS BELIEVE HISTORIC DIVISION OF CHRISTIANS TO BE A MISTAKE - POLL
from Interfax-Religion

GOLDEN-DOMED MONASTERY CELEBRATES RESTORATION ANNIVERSARY
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

UKRAINIAN YOUTH TRAINED TO REACH KIDS IN POVERTY
from Mission Network News

UKRAINIAN "EMBASSY OF GOD" PASTOR ADELAJA ARRESTED, ACCUSED OF FRAUD
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

METROPOLITAN HILARION OF VOLOKOLAMSK SPEAKS AT INTERRELIGIOUS CONFERENCE IN HUNGARY
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

THEOLOGY INSTITUTE LOSES UNIVERSITY STATUS IN ESTONIA
from The Baltic Course

KIRILL SEEKS TO TIGHTEN CONTROL OVER CHURCH BY DIVIDING UP EXISTING BISHOPRICS
from Window on Eurasia

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

Concerning our lead news article, you may recall from our last issue of Hosken-News that Metropolitan Hilarion stated - "All the healthy forces in society should rally to prevent the extinction of our population." It appears that the Russian Duma (parliament) has now transformed this appeal into proposed legislation strictly limiting abortions. If it passes, it will place Russia well ahead of the U.S., Western Europe and the rest of "devleoped" societies in terms of humane, civilized treatment of unborn babies and protecting society's future. Watch the video!

In the OTHER NEWS HEADLINES, notice the link to the article "Almost one third of Russians believe historic division of Christians to be a mistake." Although polls do not determine what is truth, it's important for us to consider the idea that division in Christianity has been a disastrous mistake. For the first 1,000 years, Christianity was largely united by applying the principle of consensus among godly leaders (bishops). No one bishop was allowed to go off on a tangent, thinking - "I'm smarter, more spiritual, or more powerful than other folks, so I'll go my own way and do my own thing." When Arius, Nestorius, Tertullian and others tried it, they were tried for heresy, excommunicated and anathematized. But when, in A.D. 1054 the Roman pope decided he was smarter and more spiritual - or at least more powerful - than the other bishops, he got away with it: he started his own "denomination."

Less than 500 years later, in A.D. 1517, Dr. Martin Luther, John Calvin and other smart fellows decided that Rome had gone off on too many tangents, so they started the Protestant Reformation (called by Wikipedia the "Protestant Revolt"). Yes, there certainly were huge problems in the Roman church: competing "popes," indulgences, etc., so the Reformers, in their attempt to return to original Christianity, turned to the princes and kings for protection and power against the pope. But we must keep in mind that they had nowhere else to turn: the Eastern Christian Church in Constantinople was under the power of the Muslims, and Moscow had just broken free from the Mongols and was fighting for its very existence against Catholic Poland and Lithuania.

We should also keep in mind Christ's parable of the wheat and the tares: if you try to pull up the tares (weeds), it's almost inevitable that some of the wheat will be damaged. It's better to try to improve the existing system - change from within - than to destroy it and build a new one. I've studied in great detail every communist revolution, and it turns out that despite the lofty utopian ideals and smooth slogans, almost always a revolt against "corrupt" authority simply leads to even greater corruption in the new regime. Why? Because "nobody's special" - we're all corrupt, imperfect, fallen, sinful human beings.

The Mystical Invisible "They"

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We humans have an amazing ability to believe "I'm special" or "we're special," so that ordinary rules of civilized society don't apply in our special case. It might be that "we're smarter" so "they" should let us live in an ivory tower and pay us from the public purse, or that "I'm sick" - I have this or that pain or psychological problem - so "they" should take care of me from the public purse, or "we are or were oppressed" because of ideology, race or strange behavior, so "they" should compensate us from the public purse, etc.

All of these variations of "I'm special" divide society into "we" versus "they," or "us" versus "them" - and of course, "we" are the good guys and "they" are the bad guys. "We" are the noble poor, and "they" are the evil rich. "We" are the bright academicians who live on a shoestring, and "they" are the stupid politicians who keep cutting back our shoestrings. "We" are the mentally incompetent, so "they" should let us get away with selfish and socially destructive behavior. You get the idea. In each instance, "we" are a special case.

The Russian language has a fascinating feature: The Invisible "They." Instead of using "they say," you can simply use "say" in third person plural, implying "they" -- so the word "they" disappears, it becomes invisible! Russians use this fascinating feature with many verbs and in many circumstances. In conversation, The Invisible "They" have mystical, magical powers: "they" should provide free medical care, "they" should give us free education all the way through university, "they" should provide free public transportation, etc. The Invisible "They" mystically have an infinite supply of health and wealth, so it seems, therefore "they" should share it with us sick and poor folk. Finally, when the Soviet socialist economy went bankrupt, The Invisible "They" shifted from the Soviet system to the rich (but of course corrupt) West that should take care of the poor proletariat.

But it's not just the Soviet system that's to blame: we now see some of the same tendencies in Western society: free medical care no matter whether you're obese and diabetic, or a smoker and have lung cancer, or an alcoholic and have liver disease, or a homosexual and have HIV-AIDS, or sexually promiscuous and have syphillis; and free disability and retirement income no matter whether you worked 40 years or just 5 years: "they" should take care of "us" (so vote for "them").

What this boils down to is a denial of moral responsibility: "we're not able to or responsible enough to take care of ourselves, so others should take care of us. After all, we have our 'rights' and we insist on getting them." Do you see what's happening here? "We" are simply a helpless product of our genetics and environment, predestined by these material objects and forces to do what we do, so we're not responsible for our actions (and yet, even though there's no "right" or "wrong," we have "rights"). But "they" ought to help us, and if they don't, we'll revolt and confiscate their wealth and power! Of course, when you try to squeeze more and more golden eggs from the goose, sooner or later the goose will die or fly away. The goose must be allowed to lay its eggs at its own pace. You can't force another person to "love your neighbor as yourself" - forced "love" is no longer love, it is rape.

Last week I read an interesting article by a molecular biologist who was arguing that free will does not exist, thus denying moral responsibility. The author tried to prove this by explaining how DNA, proteins, etc. interact, leaving no room for free will. But as I was reading, it occurred to me - "How can he expect to convince me, a believer in free will and moral responsibility, to change my mind and choose to believe that that there is no such thing as freedom and morality? If I'm not free, I can't choose to believe in any other way than how I'm 'wired' to think and act! I might as well squash him like a bug, because he also has no freedom and thus no intrinsic worth or 'rights' to life."

Then I came across another article, Life, Purpose, Mind: Where the Machine Metaphor Fails, by another molecular biologist, Dr. Ann Gauger, with a PhD from Harvard, who argues for free will:

When we rely only on a reductionist approach, we cannot see the organism as a whole. An extremely simple analogy, drawn from a human artifact, might help to see why. Imagine an elaborately knit sweater, maybe an Irish fisherman's. Someone who wants to understand the sweater finds a loose end and starts to pull. He keeps pulling and pulling, expecting to arrive at some causal knot, until the whole thing comes apart and is unraveled on the floor. The sweater as a functional whole depends on the way the wool twines together. To understand the sweater you have to look at the patterns in the whole, not just what it was made of. Pulling it apart destroys its essential nature. Now this is a very poor analogy, but scientists are often like that poor fellow tugging on the string.

I like to show a video to illustrate the why we need to look top down as well as bottom up. It's a real-time visualization of a living cell, with various structures (organelles) highlighted one by one. Go here to see it.

These cellular components, and many others, function in a very crowded cellular milieu, somehow recognizing the molecules and structures with which they are supposed to interact. They send and receive signals, correct errors, and adjust their activity in a dynamic way according to the needs of the whole organism.

Notice the language of intentionality in the last paragraph: 'function', 'recognize', interact', 'signal', 'correct', 'adjust'. Such language is common in biological writing. Talbott points this out also, and explains why (emphasis added):

[Because] there is no possible way to make global sense of genes and their myriad companion molecules by remaining at their level, researchers have "simply bestowed upon the gene the faculty of spontaneity, the power of 'dictating,' 'informing,' 'regulating,' 'controlling,' etc." And today, one could add, there is at least an equal emphasis on how other molecules "regulate" and "control" the genes! Clearly something isn't working in this picture of mechanistic control. And the proof lies in the covert, inconsistent, and perhaps unconscious invocation of higher coordinating powers through the use of these loaded words -- words that owe their meaning ultimately to the mind, with its power to understand information, to contextualize it, to regulate on the basis of it, and to act in service of an overall goal.

Recognizing the implied intentionality in such language, several authors have called for biologists to abolish these words from their writing. According to them, anything that implies either teleology (being directed toward a goal or purpose) or agency (intelligence acting to produce an effect) is to be eschewed. After all, both teleology and agency have been discarded by modern biologists, along with vitalism. Yet teleological language persists. Maybe the reason such language is so common in biology research is because living things are directed toward a purpose. Maybe biological systems do reflect intelligent agency, because intelligent agents are the only known source capable of designing, assembling, and then coordinating so many interrelated sub-systems into a functional whole. And maybe, by acknowledging this, we can come to understand biology better.

The Wikipedia article on the Protestant Reformation (Revolt) describes how it grew out of the movement toward Humanism in the Renaissance. A saying I learned in my studies was "the revolution devours its own children." One result is that people often confuse our Western humanistic culture with Christianity, as the article Actually, that's not in the Bible explains:

Others blame the spread of phantom biblical verses on Martin Luther, the German monk who ignited the Protestant Reformation, the massive "protest" against the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the formation of Protestant church denominations.

"It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone - milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper - to be able to pick up the Bible and read for him/herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text," says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California. But often the milkmaid, the cobbler - and the NFL coach - start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says.

"You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, 'What does this text mean to you?'" Hazen says. "Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren't there."

So we see that it's very easy to unconsciously read our cultural biases into our religious beliefs. Let us not blame The Invisible "Them," but rather reject socialist utopianism, accept moral responsibility for our own actions, and "rightly divide [interpret] the Word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).


Prayer and Praise:
Sun. - Praise the Lord that the Russian parliament is getting ready to adopt a law limiting abortion, to stop their precipitous population decline.
Mon. - Pray that the Parental Responsibility Law being drafted in Tajikistan will not limit parents' right to give their children religious training.
Tue. - Thank God that Moscow city authorities prevented a gay parade attempted in the city, which would have been propaganda for homosexuality.
Wed. - Pray against Tajikistan's new law banning people of any faith from receiving religious education abroad without state permission.
Thu. - Ask the Lord to protect ancient archaeological remains of the Tithe Church in Kyiv against monks trying to illegally build a monastery there.
Fri. - Praise God that a significant minority of Russians, especially educated and Orthodox, believe that division in Christianity is a mistake.
Sat. - Pray that Christians will reject revolutionary utopian notions of "us" versus "them," and instead accept moral responsibility for our lives.

 

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from Mert, 06/05/11, 6:29am:
I heard an interesting biblical interpolation this past weekend at the tour of an Orthodox church: Psalms records, "let my prayer ascend like fragrant incense," so the church offers up incense in place of prayers. :-) Symbolism taken a little too far! I'm not opposed to incense, but the point is to pray, not to smell the air. I've had a thought to lead a biblical feast sometime with lots of New Testament symbolism, not the passover, more like a post resurrection feast of fish, honeycomb, etc.


Hi Mert,

Thanks for your email message! Yes, that's an interpolation for sure, not an interpretation of what the Psalm says. Just because a church building has the word "Orthodox" on the sign, doesn't mean that everything the people inside say is orthodox (right-believing) in every detail. The symbol should point us to the prototype, the reality. The incense, just like reverent music, can help create the atmosphere for prayer and worship, but they aren't a substitute for it.

Or like the feast you suggested: it can help create the atmosphere for koinonia-fellowship, but a meal in and of itself isn't fellowship. The outer form should create the mold to give shape to the inner reality. Our material bodies should help give shape and expression to our inner, spiritual reality - not be opposed to it. Otherwise we end up with a dualism of "flesh versus spirit." So it should not be an "either-or," but rather a "both-and" approach.

In Christ, Bob


from Phyl, 06/12/11, 4:40pm:
Hi Bob. I have been able to pray for some of the church needs over in the [former] Soviet areas. God bless the people for wanting good moral teaching and seeing that it be done in many cases. However I too am so concerned about the limitations and arrests in other areas. Thank you, Bob, for all the work you do for so many to keep us informed in areas not heard about in the news. Have a good week. God bless you and Cheryl... bunches. Phyl


Thanks, Phyl,

...for your encouraging email! We're happy to help people pray more effectively for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries. Have a great week!

In Christ, Bob and Cheryl



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

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl

p.s. Due to budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel is being turned off.


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