Welcome to , 04 Dec 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 GOVERNMENT ASKS CHURCH FOR HELP IN FIGHTING AIDS
from Google News

Select to see full-size! (02 Dec) As the number of people suffering from HIV/AIDS continues to grow in Russia, government agencies are turning to the Russian Orthodox Church for help in stemming the epidemic, ministering to its victims, and fighting their stigmatization by society. In the latest example of such cooperation, officials in the Ryazan region, about 120 miles southeast of Moscow, announced on Nov. 30 that they have requested the local diocese's assistance in providing an approach to the crisis that is beyond the state's capacity.

"The problem of HIV and AIDS infection is first of all connected with spirituality," Sergei Safonkin, the regional head of Russia's consumer rights watchdog agency, told reporters. "That's why our branch has asked Metropolitan Paul of Ryazan and Mikhalkovsk to create a special department to deal with this problem. The experience of other regions has shown that the joining of forces of secular and religious institutions is very effective in fighting HIV and AIDS." [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: FOREIGNERS NOT BANNED, MERELY "RECOMMENDS REFRAINING FROM INVITING"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(23 Nov) The organisers of a conference in Kazakhstan have been told that five foreign Protestant guest speakers could not come. Ershat Ongarov of the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) wrote stating that the ARA "recommends refraining from inviting" them. Ongarov insisted to Forum 18 News Service that religious organisations can invite foreign visitors to religious events under the new Religion Law. "We did not issue a ban on these pastors visiting", but he refused to say how else his letter could be interpreted.

Asked whether this was not unwarranted state interference in the freedoms of assembly and of speech, Ongarov laughed but refused to answer. ARA Chair Kairat Lama Sharif has stated that regulations to cover both foreigners and citizens engaged in undefined "missionary activity" and "spreading a faith" would "form a system of measures for prevention and countering of the destructive influence of several non-traditional religious organisations on the process of the spiritual/moral development of Kazakh society". [read more...]


PILGRIMAGE TO THE BELT OF THE THEOTOKOS IN MOSCOW IS UNIQUE EVENT IN HISTORY OF RUSSIA
from Interfax-Religion

Mary's belt(28 Nov) The Moscow Patriarchate official admires people who in spite of cold weather for hours stood in line to the Cathedral of Christ to venerate the belt of the Holy Virgin. "People who stood for 24 hours and more to venerate the shrine deserve the highest respect, they carried out the real feat of faith, they proved again that the faith has not died in our people, they love the Mother of God the Word, they know that she helps in various difficulties and supports people in good undertakings," head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin told Interfax-Religion. According to the priest, from information of headquarters staff who organize access to the shrine, he received confirmation that "the number of people gathered in one place is unprecedented in the history of Moscow and Russia."

"Neither Stalin's funerals nor revolutionary events of the early 20th century nor political meetings at its end can be compared to it," he stressed. The interviewee of the agency said that it was very good that people received help from city authorities that provided them with food and places to get warm and staff of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior as well as priests and volunteers who took turns near the line: "everyone who visited the shrine recall them with gratitude and warmth. Certainly, such an unprecedented number of people in one place can't be without physical difficulties, without offenses, without conflicts, but there were fewer of them that one can imagine in the framework of the first event of such a scale unprecedented in history," he emphasized. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: "INFORM ON A DAILY BASIS BETWEEN 2 PM AND 4 PM"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(24 Nov) State officials in Kazakhstan are continuing to make wide-ranging and intrusive demands for information from religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The local administration of a district in Almaty has demanded that local communities "inform on a daily basis between 2 pm and 4 pm about measures undertaken by your religious association in the struggle with religious extremism to the telephone number 235-1401. In association with this, in case of incidents of incitement of religious enmity and discord or calls for illegal acts by suspicious people, to report immediately on the given telephone number."

Unregistered and registered religious communities have told Forum 18 that they are facing raids, threats, and bans on meeting. Meanwhile the Council of Europe has invited Kazakhstan to become a full member of the Commission for Democracy through Law, or Venice Commission. Local civil society activists have called on Kazakhstan to send both recent laws restricting freedom of religion or belief for Venice Commission review, along with a draft National Security Law. [read more...]


REPS OF THREE LARGEST CHURCHES ISSUE ADDRESS TO UKRAINIANS ON ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(01 Dec) On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the referendum on the independence of Ukraine, representatives of the three largest churches of Ukraine issued an address. The document was signed by the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate Patriarch Filaret, Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Vicar of the Ktyivan Metropolitanate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate Bishop Ilarii (Shyshkovskyi) at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. In their estimations of the present situation, the ministers agree that the reason for the misfortunes is in ourselves.

The representatives of the churches stress that God gave Ukrainians everything necessary for life: fertile lands, the ability to work, cleverness and will. But due to a spiritual crises corrupting the society, we do not duly use those gifts. "Man is primarily a spiritual being. His outward successes or defeats are a result of good or erroneous spiritual life. This applies to the whole society. Therefore, let us not look for guilty parties outside, for the main reason for the misfortunes is ourselves, the spiritual crises corrupting our society," reads the address. The hierarchs stated that the crises can be overcome. Ukrainians should make spiritual things, not material things, the priority in their system of their values. [read more...]


LAUNCHING INTO THE MAINSTREAM
from Russian Evangelical Alliance

At church conferences in Eastern Europe two decades ago, foreign guests and their interpreters did most of the speaking - locals listened. But the tables were turned at "Forum 20," which convened in Irpen near Kiev on 18 and 19 November. All of the approximately 28 speakers were native to the former USSR; only of few of them were older than 40. "This is so exciting!" exclaimed Sergey Rakhuba, President of the host, US-based "Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries" and its field affiliate, the "Association for Spiritual Renewal" (Dukhovnoe Vozdrozhenie). "Young, bright, gifted leaders are now taking the leading role in planning and strategizing for the future. This is the main strategic focus of our ministry - to equip the next generation of Christian leaders."

Leaving a stuffy subculture and launching into the mainstream of society - that was the Forum's primary message. Most of the 170 theologians and church workers present believe that a "reformation" of this type is taking shape in the lands of the former Soviet Union. The generation of parents and grandparents will always be credited with persevering until the arrival of religious freedom. Yet the forced requirements of that time - existence on the fringe of society - had evolved into a virtue which believers were no longer willing to do without, once religious liberty came. It was stated that coming generations will therefore be required to launch forth alone into the midst of secular society.


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS OF MEDIEVAL CHURCH DISCOVERED IN SOZOPOL ON BULGARIA'S BLACK SEA COAST
from SofiaEcho.com

KAZAKHSTAN: NEW DRAFT REGULATIONS OUTLINE OFFICIAL RELIGIOUS CENSORSHIP
from Forum 18 News Service

BILL BANNING HOMOSEXUAL PROPAGANDA CAN BE PASSED AT FEDERAL LEVEL - KOZAK
from Interfax-Religion

REPS OF CHURCHES AND DEPUTIES TO DEMAND MORATORIUM ON PRIVATIZATION OF RELIGIOUS PROPERTY
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

BIBLE TRUTHS FIGHT CREEPING COMMUNISM
from Mission Network News

PATRIARCH KIRILL MEETS WITH PARTICIPANTS IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FREEDOM OF FAITH
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

The last news article above, "LAUNCHING INTO THE MAINSTREAM", contains the phrase - "the forced requirements of that time - existence on the fringe of society - had evolved into a virtue which believers were no longer willing to do without," speaking of the older generation of Evangelicals who lived under Soviet persecution. We find a similar idea in the last of our "OTHER NEWS HEADLINES," the article "PATRIARCH KIRILL MEETS WITH PARTICIPANTS IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FREEDOM OF FAITH" - "The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church noted that the cases of persecution and discrimination against Christian have become systematic. His Holiness believes that this religious community, the biggest in number in the world, finds itself in a vulnerable position. Secularist tendencies are a threat. The notions of moral standards preserved in the spiritual tradition for centuries are fiercely attacked. 'The absolutization of personal freedom to the detriment of moral responsibility makes Christians the enemies of political correctness which equates sin with virtue.'"

For many centuries the Eastern Church lived under persecution, first by Islam and then by communism. Both ideologies barely allowed Christians to survive, only letting them conduct worship within the four walls of their churches at limited, specified times, and forbidding any form of social ministry. This persecution mindset, especially of the older generation, needs to be overcome. As the "LAUNCHING INTO THE MAINSTREAM" article states - "coming generations will therefore be required to launch forth alone into the midst of secular society." It's time to break out of "making a virtue out of necessity," behaving as if it is more "spiritual" to bow to the dictates of the state that makes an absolute of personal freedom, trying to force a secularized, humanized worldview on all of society, including Christians. We must stand up and speak out clearly the Word of Truth to the world outside the church, not merely reminiscing about those martyrs for the faith while finding comfortable shelter in those four walls.

Selective Historical Amnesia

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The article "BIBLE TRUTHS FIGHT CREEPING COMMUNISM" states - "A very small percentage of those who claim a Christian faith would hold to salvation by grace through faith and a literal heaven and hell." Here we see that a small minority in Russia believes that its interpretation of Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace are you saved through faith," i.e., that all we need is to believe in Jesus, is the only correct meaning. It might appear so from a literal reading of this verse, by accepting the etymological definition of "grace" as "a free gift" or "God's unmerited favor" ...but is this the meaning that the Early Church attached to "grace"?

Not at all! The Early Church understood "grace" to be God's healing, saving, sanctifiying and transforming power, often communicated through material means and actions. God's grace can be communicated by touching the hem of Jesus' garment, by touching Peter's handkerchief, by immersion in the waters of baptism, and by partaking of bread and wine transformed into Christ's Body and Blood. These events have been accepted as literally true by the Early Church and by historical Chrisianity for 2,000 years. So "by grace are you saved through faith" has meant for historical Chrisianity for the past 2,000 years that baptism and partaking of Christ's Body and Blood are the saving acts that we must receive by faith. But that small minority in Russia is suffering from selective historical amnesia, refusing to pay any attention to Early Church historical documents other than the New Testament.

This same "grace" as God's healing, saving, sanctifiying and transforming power that can be communicated through material objects is seen in the veneration of the belt of the Holy Virgin Mary, as it was taken around Russia. Some people might think that reports of people being healed by touching this belt are merely superstition or some kind of magic, but this displays a rationalistic mindset that excludes anything supernatural except what is found in the New Testament. It is just a small step, however, to also exclude the New Testament, and they're left with rationalistic secular humanism.

Here is another example of selective historical amnesia: In Acts 11:19-26 we read the story of some early disciples being driven out of Jerusalem by persecution, going to Antioch and preaching the Good News to the Greeks. When "a great number believed and turned to the Lord" the mother church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, who invited Saul from Tarsus to Antioch, where they organized the first church outside Jerusalem. This passage ends with - "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." A "plain, literal reading of the text" might cause a person to conclude that those early disciples invented the term "Christian" in A.D. 37. But Early Church history tells us that Evodius, the second bishop of Antioch, was the person who coined the term "Christian." He served as bishop there from about A.D. 63 to 67, when Ignatius became bishop. St. Luke wrote the book of Acts around A.D. 70, so it's clear that Luke heard of the term "Christian" around the time that Evodius was bishop, and he simply added as a P.S. or a B.T.W. "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

And finally, one more instance of selective historical amnesia: some Christians exclude from their beliefs anything that's not in the New Testament, as if the Holy Spirit became dormant in A.D. 93, after St. John wrote the book of Revelation. That St. John died in A.D. 93 is a historical fact not in the NT these people choose to "selectively remember." When they read about Jesus having brothers and sisters, however, they are not aware that "brother" and "sister" had a wider range of meaning, such as half-brother, half-sister, cousin or even uncle or aunt. But according to Early Church history, both Evodius and Ignatius were disciples of St. John, to whom Jesus commended His mother Mary. And both Evodius and Ignatius, who knew Mary, referred to her as "the Virgin," writing this before A.D. 93, while St. John was still alive. Of course, it would make no sense to call her "the Virgin" if she had other children by normal means. Do you think the Holy Spirit may have been still active, guiding Evodius and Ignatius in what they wrote, or do some people "selectively forget" or choose to ignore these historical facts?

(To let us know what you think, please use the online feedback form!)


Prayer and Praise:
Sun. - Thank the Lord that the Russian state is turning to the Church for help in fighting AIDS by teaching morality.
Mon. - Pray against the "refrain from inviting" limitation the Kazakhstan authorities are imposing on believers.
Tue. - Thank God for those people who were healed by touching the belt of the Virgin Mary while it was in Russia.
Wed. - Pray that Kazakhstan's demanding believers inform the state of any "illegal" religious activity will be overturned.
Thu. - Praise the Lord for the three largest Christian Churches in Ukraine affirming "Man is primarily a spiritual being."
Fri. - Ask God to help Christian leaders in the former USSR to "launch forth alone into the midst of secular society."
Sat. - Pray that Christians will recover from selective historical amnesia, and learn early Church history outside of the NT.


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. God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.


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from John, 12/06/11, 11:14am:
If the way of salvation is by physical acts (baptism and communion), done with faith, where does the thief on the cross fit in? Does that mean he was baptized and took communion before that in order to be saved? If not, was that a singular situation that Jesus granted? If that wasn't the case, wouldn't He grant that to others that simply had faith?


Hi John,

Thanks for your good questions! The "thief on the cross" is a frequent objection that people raise, when questioning the need for baptism and communion as means of grace. Of course, the thief was saved, but that was an exceptional case, and we must always be careful not to generalize or make a rule from an exception. That would be like the pro-abortionists who say, "What about rape or if the mother's life is in danger?" - and then they use those exceptions, 1% of all abortions, to pass a law allowing the other 99%.

The thief on the cross was baptized in his blood, and in addition he communed (shared = "koinonia") with Christ's Body and Blood by being next to Him on the cross. Historical, orthodox Christianity has always recognized that martyrs, who confessed Christ and were killed before being baptized, were "baptized in their blood." But those are exceptions, not the rule.

When a person brings up the "thief on the cross" objection, sometimes I'm tempted to reply - "That's a moot point for you, because you're not nailed to a cross. But if you'd like to apply for that exception, maybe I should go get some spikes and a hammer...." (Bad joke, I know!)

As my little essay "Selective Historical Amnesia" pointed out, it is important to study not only the Bible, but Early Church history and onwards. Here's a quotation from The Triads by Gregory Palamas:

"Side by side with great monastic personalities, and communities that remained firmly in the framework of orthodox Christianity, early Christian monasticism also witnessed the appearance of sectarian groups. Some forces of monastic spirituality consciously opposed personal religious experience to the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church. Of particular significance, in this respect, was the so-called Messalian movement, which denied the necessity of baptism and other sacraments, rejected the need for social responsibility and recognized only charismatic leadership, as distinct from the teachings and pastoral ministry of bishops and priests. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Messalians, also known as "Euchites" or "Bogomils" (or "Cathars" in the West), also promoted dualistic conceptions, rooted in Manicheism."

What this tells us is that it isn't correct to make "personal religious experience" into the opposite of "the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church." It's a both-and proposition, not either-or: we must have both faith and sacramental and hierarchical structure. Taking this "only personal faith" and "only personal experience" to its logical conclusion, some early heresies "denied the necessity of baptism and other sacraments, rejected the need for social responsibility and recognized only charismatic leadership." If baptism and communion aren't necessary, why even bother with them? This is the error that the Quakers fell into, and even some Protestant denominations today practice.

Ordination by those in succession to the Apostles conveys real, divine authority. If one rejects the unique "pastoral ministry of bishops and priests," one can let anyone perform baptisms, give communion, offer spiritual counseling, etc. This results eventually in the thinking that all we need to do is pretend something is real, believe it in our hearts, and - Presto! It's really real! You know the Christmas jingle: "In the meadow we will build a snowman, and pretend that he is parson Brown. He'll say - 'Are you married?' We'll say - 'No, man, but you can do the job while you're in town!'"

Today we are reaping the harvest of this pretending: about one-third of young people see no need for a marriage ceremony, they can simply believe in their hearts that they're in love, and start living together. They don't need a justice of the peace, or even a snowman! This can be traced back to the rejection of the authority of priests and bishops. The results are the twin social disasters of rampant abortion and the ensuing demographic decline. Ideas have consequences, sometimes unintended consequences.

Yours in Christ, Bob


from John, 12/16/11, 11:15am:
Thanks for your explanation about salvation, but I wonder if we can depend that much upon the early church for leadership. There were a number of problems in the early church as far back as Biblical times. Although I'm no scholar on this, I think that there are still denominations today that believe in some of the questionable positions referrd to in the Word but and consider themselves the early church.


Hi John,

Thanks for your good response, and please forgive my delay in answering - I've been quite busy with wrapping up the intensive online course I taught, grading papers and exams.

Of course there were problems in the early church - there always have been and always will be. That's why there needs to be a reliable mechanism to resolve such problems. The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) set the example for later Councils, which established such doctrines as the full deity and full humanity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Those first seven Councils identified such heresies as Gnosticism, Nestorianism, Origenism, Arianism, Montanism and Iconoclasm. After confronting the leaders of those heresies and giving them opportunity to repent, the Councils had to expel them from the Church. I'm confident that you and most other conservative Evangelicals believe in the decisions of the first seven Councils.

You can "google" the "Councils of Trullo" that summarized many of these decisions, or listen to the podcasts about them at http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko - especially the concluding podcast on Nov. 23, 2011. Another good resource is "Early Church Fathers" at Calvin College. These links and several more like them are listed on my website http://www.discover-original-christianity.info/.

The split of the Roman Patriarch (Pope) from the other four Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch in A.D. 1054 led to the breakdown of the Conciliar system, because the Roman Pope (with the aid of Roman armies) said his decisions overruled all the other Patriarchs. Eventually the Pope declared himself infallible, and invented such doctrines as the "Immaculate Conception" of Mary. Popes can call their own "councils" and have them pass whatever resolutions the "infallible" dictator wants. The Great Schism of A.D. 1054 unfortunately opened the door for any dynamic leader to split off and start his own denomination, making himself a pope unto himself, the sole arbiter of the interpretation of Scripture.

Yes, there are denominations that call themselves "The Apostolic Church" or even "The Orthodox Church," but they are simply fake, not recognized as having any connection with historic Orthodox Christianity. I frequently drive past an "Apostolic Church" that consists of charismatics who proclaim that they alone have special revelations from the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible any way they see fit, and thus they aren't accountable to any higher authority. But that was exactly the same heretical position of the Montanists. He who does not learn from the mistakes of history is bound to repeat them.

How do the Orthodox deal with such positions? We accept the Bible as authoritative for doctrine and practice, as interpreted by those who have been recognized by the Church over the centuries as "holy men of God" - as St. Peter wrote, "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (1 Peter 1:20-21). Just as "holy men of God" wrote the Scriptures by divine inspiration, so also only "holy men of God" are the ones who are the recognized authorities "approved by God" to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

In Christ, Bob