Welcome to , 18 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.)

RUSSIA AGAINST PUTIN? THE ORTHODOX CHURCH WARNS AGAINST 'REVOLUTIONS'
from Catholic Online

Select to see the video (13 Dec) As the video (click on the thumbnail photo) indicates, things got rather messy in Moscow last week. The central government fears uprisings along the lines of Ukraine's orange revolution, but people just want to see their right to transparent elections respected. Medvedev opens an investigation into possible election fraud. Anti-Putin groups plan another rally for December 24. After a wave of demonstrations throughout Russia on December 10 denouncing alleged electoral fraud and against the ruling party United Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church is urging people not to allow scenes of civil war. The white balloons, flowers and coloured ribbons that filled Balotnaia Square in Moscow, where the largest demonstrations of the Putin era were held, are seen by the central government as a possible sign of a dreaded "color revolution", along the lines of the one in Ukraine in 2004, which led to the annulment of that presidential election.

The Orthodox Church seems to share the same concerns. "We cannot but express satisfaction with the fact that the demonstrations in all Russian cities were peaceful and within the law" - said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin Head of Department for relations between the Church and society at the Patriarchate of Moscow. "But the most important thing now is to maintain civil peace and not allow a new 1905, 1917, 1991 or 1993" referring to the dates of the major revolutions and social unrest in Russia of the last century. Quoted by Interfax, Chaplin later admitted that "serious questions were raised, which are inconvenient for the authorities, who we hope will respond in an adequate and honest manner." [read more...]


AZERBAIJAN: LATEST REPRESSIVE LAWS SIGNED BY PRESIDENT
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(15 Dec) Following Azerbaijan's passage of its latest set of legal changes restricting and punishing the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, groups of people who produce or distribute religious literature or objects without going through the compulsory prior state censorship now face prison terms of two to five years, or maximum fines equivalent to nearly nine years' official minimum wage per person.

Azerbaijan has been steadily increasing restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and punishments for exercising this human right in recent years, Forum 18 News Service notes. Censorship-related "crimes" have mainly been moved from the Code of Administrative Offences to come under the Criminal Code, and in the Administrative Code an "offense" of leading worship by those who have studied abroad has also been introduced. Particularly significant is a wide range of massively increased fines for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, which many "offenders" would struggle to pay. [read more...]


WESTERN MODEL OF SECULAR SOCIETY HAS STOPPED WORKING, RUSSIAN CHURCH OFFICIAL BELIEVES
from Interfax-Religion

(12 Dec) The Russian Orthodox Church warns Westerners against dividing public and religious life. "I believe that western theological and philosophic thought followed the wrong way many centuries ago when it divided religious and 'secular' spheres. St. Augustine's words about 'the city of God' and 'the earthly city' were exaggerated by western theologians," the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said at a conference in Germany. According to him, the "doctrine of two swords," which was not far from opposing religious and "secular" establishments, gradually formed views about allegedly inevitable conflict between religious life and the life of state and society and resulted in attempts to radically divide religious and secular spheres "depriving religion of any right to determine parameters of social order."

Today this tradition faces new challenges, the priest further said. First of all, it is a challenge of mutual misunderstanding with a significant part of Europe belonging to the Orthodox world, many believers in the Catholic Church and some Evangelical movements, which are not inclined to divide religion and public life. Secondly, it is the challenge of Islam, which, according to the reporter, "considers the division of religion, law and state as absurd as separation of the sun and light. Thirdly, it is a challenge of lacking in some nations the vital forces needed to provide their future in conditions of difficult world processes. Low birth rates, a focus on consumption, personal comfort and health (now limited by the economic crisis), a lack of religious and moral imperative can very quickly turn nations that used to send knights to crusades into voiceless victims of outside expansion," the church representatives warned.

[read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: THREE FINES, A 48-HOUR JAIL TERM, AND A DEPORTATION
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(13 Dec) In Kazakhstan Baptist leader Nikolai Popov was imprisoned for 48 hours in early December for refusing to pay fines imposed for leading meetings for religious worship, another Baptist having been separately fined for attending a meeting for worship, with a third facing a fine, possibly tomorrow (14 December), for the same "offense." In one of the Baptist cases police extorted statements from church members, but a fine was still imposed.

The new Religion Law along with an Amending Law considerably broadened the range of "offenses" for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, as well as increasing punishments for this. Officials have refused to answer Forum 18's questions on whether these state actions violate the right to freedom of religion or belief, the judge putting the phone down when the question was asked. [read more...]


KYIVAN PATRIARCHATE GIVES UP UNIFICATION WITH UAOC DUE TO ITS ULTIMATUM
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(14 Dec) The unification process between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which began last autumn, has failed. According to the Kyivan Patriarchate, the clergymen of the UAOC are to blame for the failure of the dialogue. Representatives of the Kyivan Patriarchate particularly accuse Metropolitans Mefodii and Andrii, who laid down an unacceptable condition, the resignation of Patriarch Filaret. On December 13, in Kyiv, the bishops of the UOC-KP at their synod passed an address stating their position in this regard, reported the website of UOC-KP.

The bishops reminded in the document that the two churches made repeated attempts to unite. "The first attempt to unite was made in 2000-2001, when Symphoniticon was signed at the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople and later agreements were reached at a meeting in Ternopil. However, these agreements did not result in unification as the head of UAOC, Metropolitan Mefodii and some other bishops laid down the condition of resignation of Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv and All Rus for the unification.

This condition was also laid down was during the second attempt of dialogue in autumn, 2005," reads the address. "The bishops of the Kyivan Patriarchate cannot accept these conditions by any means as they view Patriarch Filaret as the one with the greatest experience in the bishop's ministry. In addition, they consider the dismissal of Patriarch Filaret to be 'the dream of the Moscow Patriarchate of many years,' which they now try to fulfill 'through the mentioned representatives of UAOC.'" [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

THE LIGHT OF CHRIST ENLIGHTENS ALL
from The Voice of Russia

UZBEKISTAN: ILLEGAL PROSECUTIONS AND PUNISHMENTS
from Forum 18 News Service

FIRST CHARITABLE WOMEN'S HEALTH CENTER IN RUSSIA OPENS IN A MONASTERY
from Interfax-Religion

BAPTIST LEADER YURI SIPKO AT A CHARISMATIC CONFERENCE IN THE RUSSIAN FAR EAST
from Russian Evangelical Alliance

EURO CUP COMES TO UKRAINE, HUMAN TRAFFICKING EXPECTED TO INCREASE
from Mission Network News

RELIGIOUS MINISTERS PLEASED WITH ACTIVITY OF PUBLIC COUNCIL OF MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

CHURCH AND NATION AFTER RUSSIAN ELECTION: HAVE CHRISTIAN LEADERS GONE INTO THE SHADOWS?
from Baznica.info

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS TODAY
from Russian Ministries

PORTABLE CHURCHES GO ON SALE IN SERBIA
from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

About news article #1: having studied thoroughly the bloody Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and having lived through the somewhat less bloody Russian revolutions of 1991 and 1993, I can understand very well the desire of many in Russia - including the Orthodox Church leaders - to avoid further unrest and bloodshed. The current spirit of anarchy and rebellion against authority bodes ill for Russia. St. Paul taught - "Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment" (Romans 13:1-2). And St. Peter taught - "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. Don't fear what they fear, neither be troubled" (1 Peter 3:14). Christians should respect authority, even if it is not perfect. The consequences of rebellion often are worse than the causes.

Faith That Works Through Love

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The Platonic notion of dualism, stating that the "ideal" spiritual realm is opposed to the "shadowy" material world, became dominant in the West with the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Christians have struggled with this dualism through the centuries, opposing spiritual and secular, church and state, spirit and flesh, faith and works. St. Paul wrote - "For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don't find it doing that which is good. For the good which I desire, I don't do; but the evil which I don't desire, that I practice" (Romans 7:18-19); and also - "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire" (Galatians 5:17).

To take these few verses as the main thrust of what St. Paul was teaching, however, is to ignore previous centuries of agreed-upon doctrine, and thus completely miss the point: verse 17 states - "But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you won't fulfill the lust of the flesh." In Romans 7:24-25 we read - "Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!" And St. Paul continued writing - "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don't walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:1-2).

So the good and true Christian teaching is that life in Christ, "walking" in the Spirit, i.e., behaving and living our day-to-day lives by being filled with and led by the Holy Spirit, is the "ideal" that we can realistically attain. Freedom in Christ means being freed from the law of sin and of death, the curse of Platonic dualism. It also means being freed from making faith the opposite of works: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [law] amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision [anti-law], but faith that works through love" (Galatians 5:6). JBut there is a tendency among some Christians to be anti-law, against anything that smacks of keeping rules and observing rituals. This was condemned by the Early Church as the heresy of "antinomianism" (against laws), but sadly those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them.

Jesus Christ did not condemn following rules and rituals, if they are combined with righteousness, mercy, and faith: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and you have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, righteousness, mercy, and faith. You ought to have done these and not to leave the other undone" (Matthew 23:23). esus said - "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Some Christians reject doing good works as if trying to earn salvation, a form of "works righteousness." They quote Ephesians 2:8-9 - "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast." But they omit the very next verse - "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them." As St. James, the Lord's half-brother or step-brother, wrote -

What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can that faith save him? And if a brother or sister is naked and in need of daily food, and one of you tells them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled;" and yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder. But do you want to know, vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? (James 2:14-20).

Thus, it is incorrect to oppose "works," outward acts, if they are accompanied by faith. Jesus said - ''This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. ...Most assuredly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don't have life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:29, 53-54). And "He said to them, 'Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned'" (Mark 16:15-16). Baptism isn't "merely symbolic" - "...God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ark was being built. In it, few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you"(1 Peter 3:20-21). Noah's ark was the symbol, baptism is the reality!

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


Prayer and Praise:
Sun. - Ask the Lord for a calming of the political environment in Russia, a harmony between the ideal and material realms.
Mon. - Pray against the latest laws in Azerbaijan restricting and punishing the exercise of freedom of religion or belief.
Tue. - Thank the Lord that someone has finally spoken out against dividing church and state, religious and public life.
Wed. - Pray for Baptist leader Nikolai Popov in Kazakhstan, imprisoned 48 hours in early December for refusing to pay fines.
Thu. - Ask God to revive the drive for unity among Orthodox Christians in Ukraine, despite the failure of recent unity talks.
Fri. - Praise the Lord that in Christ we have been set free from the law of sin and of death, harmonizing faith and works.
Sat. - Pray that Christians will avoid the dualism of spiritual vs. secular, church vs. state, spirit vs. flesh, faith vs. works.


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. We have laws against murder, rape, theft, slavery and child molestation. Who says you can't legislate morality?


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FEEDBACK:


from Bryan, 12/18/11, 7:47pm:
Nice message on dualism. Well done.


Dear Bryan,
Thanks for your kind words! Have a Blessed Christmas!
In Christ, Bob


from Mert, 12/18/11, 9:50pm:
It should be kept in mind that the baptism that saves is the pledge of a good conscience towards God. Pledging a bad conscience or pledging unconsiously will hardly save anyone.


Dear Mert,
That's most certainly true. As I wrote, baptism must be received in faith, or as you say, with the pledge of a good conscience. In the book of Acts we have the story of Simon the Magician who was baptized, but in bad faith: he only wanted to buy more magical powers from the Apostles Peter and John. Peter replied, "May your silver perish with you," indicating that Simon was going to perish. But this is an exception, and we know that the exception does not invalidate the rule. The rule or standard for historical Christianity has always been baptism received in faith leads to salvation.
In Christ, Bob


from Phyl, 12/29/11, 3:13pm:
I finally took time to read this latest. I wonder how Popov is doing now? What a courageous man he appears to be. I was also mesmerized by the pictures and sounds of the reaction against Putin. Amazing!! I still marvel that we on this side of the world can get such a look and feel for what is going on elsewhere. Thanks for these updates.


Dear Phyl,
Thanks for your consistent and always positive feedback! I haven't heard any news about Baptist leader Nikolai Popov in Kazakhstan, but I'll try to cover the news on him when it happens.
In Christ, Bob