Welcome to , 31 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.)

A GOOD CAUSE: A DOZEN YEARS AS CHAPLAIN AT ST. ANDREW'S CHURCH
from Moscow Times

(27 Dec) Fr. Simon Stephens has worked for 12 years as the chaplain of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Moscow. Before that he served for 17 years as a chaplain in the British navy, including on the flagship Ark Royal. He is also area dean for Russia, Mongolia, Poland and Ukraine, chaplain to the British ambassador and the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the patriarch. The Moscow Times interviewed him:

Q: What was the first time you got involved with a charity?
A: I was ordained 44 years ago at the age of 26, which is the youngest you can be ordained, and almost immediately I was appointed as a hospital chaplain in Coventry. Into my care came a pediatric ward where children were dying of cancer. Despite my education I didn't know what to say. I realized that the best people to help parents going through this hell are other parents who have been through it - and I was able to gather a group of parents together in Coventry, and we set up a charity called "The Compassionate Friends." That sort of work has a lifetime commitment, and I am still involved today. It is not a religious organization, God forbid.

Q: What charity or cause is particularly close to you?
A: The Step Up Orphan Opportunity Center [which is given premises by St. Andrew's] is close to me. Step Up gives people an opportunity. Step Up goes in, discovers what the gifts of orphans are - not what their problems are - and gives them a life. I've talked to scruffy teenagers who eight years later I've met on Novy Arbat as students who have got places at Moscow State University and are doing great things. I've also been privileged to talk to 23-year-olds whom Step Up has taught to read and write for the first time. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups that we host are also very important for me. They are open every day of the year. A number of celebrities on CNN and BBC World have all been there and have been helped by the organization. There is no doubt that this is a lifesaver. [read more...]


AZERBAIJAN: "WITHOUT REGISTRATION YOU CAN'T PRAY"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(22 Dec) Following a police raid on Baptists meeting for worship in Neftechala in Azerbaijan, Pastor Telman Aliev, his wife (who was not present during the raid), and all the Church members have been summoned for police questioning on 23 December, after threats of criminal prosecution have been made against the pastor. The authorities have declared the church "closed", sealed its building, and confiscated all the books they could find, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Officials also asked for the full addresses of all church members, and what ethnicity they are.

The State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations official responsible for the area, who took part in the raid and would not give his last name, insisted to Forum 18 that: "Without registration you can't pray. We close any place of worship that isn't registered, including mosques." He then insisted: "We don't ban, we just demand documents." The church has applied for re-registration, but like very many communities of all faiths its application has not been answered. Exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission is illegal in Azerbaijan, in defiance of international human rights standards. [read more...]


CHURCH URGES STATE TO GIVE CLEAR ANSWER TO ACCUSATIONS OF FALSIFYING STATE DUMA ELECTIONS
from Interfax-Religion

(28 Dec) People who doubt the results of the parliamentary elections in Russia should get an answer, a Moscow Patriarchate official believes. "It is very important that all accusations of dishonest vote counting, of violations in arranging elections receive a proper answer. They shouldn't be left hanging," the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said in his program Kommentary Nedeli on Orthodox TV channel Souyz. "Today we can't say whether those who voice these accusations are right or wrong. To answer this question we, first of all, need very clear facts, facts that can be proved in court and in a fair argument," he said further.

According to the priest, proved or provable facts should become the subject of legal proceedings, investigation of investigatory powers, the Central Elections Committee. "It's evident that significant number of people both right and left, conservatives and liberals, would like certain changes in political life of the country. It doesn't mean that the opinion of these people, and I don't think they make a majority in our society, should become decisive in all affairs. But it doesn't mean that this opinion should be left without attention," he stressed. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: PROMOTING THE "PROGRESSIVENESS" OF THE HARSH NEW RELIGION LAW
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(19 Dec) State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev ordered the devotion of considerable resources to promoting what he claimed to be "the significance and the progressiveness" of Kazakhstan's highly restrictive new Religion Law at a closed meeting of senior state officials on 27 October. He ordered not only the "observance of the demands" of the Law, but "their positive acceptance by subjects of religious activity [i.e. religious communities]," according to documents from the meeting seen by Forum 18 News Service.

Forum 18 notes that members of a variety of religious communities are increasingly afraid to voice criticism of the new Law publicly. One media company was threatened with closure if it gave the new Law negative coverage. Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna was ordered to hand further money to the government-backed Fund for Support of Islamic Culture and Education. "I wouldn't call it support for one faith," a Samruk-Kazyna official told Forum 18. And Baptist parents have been threatened with fines or imprisonment for refusing to send their children to compulsory Self-Recognition lessons in schools. [read more...]


ON THE BIRTH OF CHRIST AND THE FALL OF THE USSR
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(25 Dec) The Soviet Union died to the sounds of Christmas celebrations. December 25, 1991, when the whole Christian world was remembering the birth of the King, President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev relinquished his powers. The event served as yet another example of the mystic connection between political and spiritual history, between earthly and heavenly kingdoms. Christianity had survived yet another empire.

Signs of those memorable times were an unprecedented spiritual hunger and a longing for freedom. It seemed that in such revolutionary circumstances change for the better would follow quickly, and would be irreversible. For a short time Moscow was the center and magnet for world activity, all eyes were on her, and the future was determined there. Unfortunately this movement quickly lost its strength, and a search for alternatives and a longing for change did not lead to the creation of civil society, a separation of Church and state, a cultural awakening, a change in the elite, or a renewed worldview.

The post-Soviet nation was left unprepared to pay the high price demanded by freedom, and even less to use that freedom for difficult and responsible work. For a majority freedom came as a result of a weakened government, and not as the result of a long-term and concentrated battle with it. The love affair with the West was ended. The euphoria of big opportunities was also past. Then came the realization that they would not become European simply by "wanting it badly enough," and that the path to civilization would be long and hard, that no magic carpet would carry them to a better life. Together with this bitter realization came anger towards those "over there," and proletarian resentment arose. [read more...]


RUSSIA CHURCH HEAD WARNS AGAINST INTERNET BEFORE RALLY
from Reuters

(23 Dec) The leader of Russia's Orthodox Church warned Russians Friday against trusting social networking sites, which have spearheaded the organization of mass opposition protests, saying they made people "vulnerable to manipulation." Some 40,000 people have signed up on Internet sites to attend a protest in central Moscow Saturday against a disputed election parliamentary election which earlier this month gave Vladimir Putin's ruling party a slim majority. "The naive confidence of a modern person in the information available on social networks along with the moral disorientation and the loss of basic (moral) values make our compatriots ... vulnerable to manipulation," Patriarch Kirill was reported as saying to Interfax news agency.

He made no specific reference to the rally, where Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and opposition blogger Alexei Navalny are to speak. The rally is expected to add pressure on Prime Minister Putin, who has responded with only minor concessions and who is widely expected to win a presidential election in 2012. Patriarch Kirill also said political change alone could not transform society, it could only happen with a "metamorphosis of the soul." [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

PATRIARCH KIRILL ASKS GREEK PRESIDENT TO RELEASE VATOPEDI MONASTERY SUPERIOR FROM CUSTODY
from Interfax-Religion

CHRISTMAS HASN'T EVEN STARTED IN RUSSIA; WHEN IT DOES, OUTREACH WILL ABOUND
from Mission Network News

RUSSIAN CHURCH UNHAPPY ABOUT GOOD RELATIONS BETWEEN UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLICS AND KYIVAN PATRIARCHATE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

SYKTYVKAR CITY COURT UPHOLDS FOURTH APPEAL OF "GOD'S GLORY" CHURCH AGAINST CITY ADMINISTRATION
from Russia Religion News

PATRIARCH KIRILL OF MOSCOW CONGRATULATED THE HEADS OF NON-ORTHODOX CHURCHES ON CHRISTMAS
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

If you click on the "Moscow Times" link in our first news article, you'll see Fr. Simon standing in front of the Anglican Church in Moscow. We would often visit there for their special Advent and Pascha (Easter) services. Fr. Simon is an amazing man, involving that church in all sorts of ministry to the poor, to orphans, alcoholics, etc. Occasionally we would shake hands with the British ambassador after services there. During the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the bell tower of their building was taken over by the Bolsheviks for use as a machine-gun nest, and the nave and altar of the church had a second floor jerry-rigged into place to use the building as an orphanage. Years later, we could still see the lines on the walls where that second floor had been attached, and a doorway to nowhere half-way up the wall over the altar! After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Anglicans reclaimed their building, but struggled for years to get the state-owned Melodiya Recording Studios, which had taken over some parts of the building, to move out.

The news article "ON THE BIRTH OF CHRIST AND THE FALL OF THE USSR" on December 25, 1991 is very meaningful to me, because I was there in Moscow twenty years ago, watching Mikhail Gorbachiov on television as he signed the document dissolving the Soviet Union while being interviewed by two CNN reporters. The next morning I was on an airplane leaving Moscow for the U.S. (because all flights out of Moscow had been booked solid through Christmas). In the seats behind me were two well-dressed people, a man and a woman. They turned out to be those very CNN reporters, and told me that when Gorbachiov reached into his pocket for a pen to sign the papers, he realized that he didn't have a pen, so the male reporter lent him a pen. On the airplane he showed me "the pen that was mightier than the sword" - the pen that dissolved the Soviet Union. I'm sure he treasures that pen!

The Dumbest Idea In The World

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

Recently I shared with a close friend another article from The Moscow Times - Court Rejects Ban of Hindu Scripture, telling how a provincial court in Russia had earlier banned as "extremism" a book containing the Bhagavad Gita and a commentary on it. Books from Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists have been included along with Hitler's Mein Kampf in a list of over 1,000 books banned in Russia. Russia has used the "extremism" label to outlaw various forms of religious activity that the Kremlin and/or the Patriarchate don't like: Hinduism, forms of Judaism and Islam other than the state-approved varieties, Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.

The notion that religious liberty only applies to those beliefs that are under the top-down control from the state/church monopoly reigns supreme in Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries. Even Christian traditions such as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Baptists are barely tolerated and often discriminated against. This is not to say that there are no extremist forms of religion in the former Soviet Union, but to label nearly all non-Mos-Pat-Orthodox confessions "extremist" is in itself intolerant.

The topic of "OUR VIEWS" today is borrowed from The Dumbest Idea In The World: Maximizing Shareholder Value - the central idea of this article is that "maximizing shareholder value" - manipulating the price of a company's stock - is a perversion of free market economics, a form of gambling similar to football players and coaches betting on the point spread of their games, and can be related to the top-down control by the state/church monopoly in Russia: when the "CEOs and Board Chairmen" (hierarchies) of centralized religious organizations come to believe that their #1 goal is to maximize their respective organization's "real-estate holdings" (jurisdictional and canonical territories). But by doing so they have succumbed to "The Dumbest Idea In The World."

Just as Peter Drucker's maxim (quoted in the article) - "There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer" rings true, so also the one and only valid definition of Christianity is to "serve our customers," i.e., to use the definition of "customers" that Jesus Christ proclaimed at the beginning of His ministry -

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, Because He has anointed Me ('Christ' = the Annointed One) to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began to tell them, "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:18-21)

    ...and to obey what Jesus Christ commanded -

He called to himself his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness. As you go, preach, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give. Don't take any gold, nor silver, nor brass in your money belts. Take no bag for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: for the laborer is worthy of his food. (Matthew 10:1,7-10)

    ...and again -

He also said to the one who had invited him, "When you make a dinner or a supper, don't call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbors, or perhaps they might also return the favor, and pay you back. But when you make a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they don't have the resources to repay you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:12-14)

Pretty revolutionary, hmm? Who should be our customers? Rather than going after upper-middle-class and upper-class donors who can contribute piles of money or large pieces of real estate so they can have their name on a church pew or even on a church building, the Church ought to be aiming at "the brokenhearted, the captives, those who are crushed, the lepers, the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind." Why? Not to take from them what little they have, but precisely because "they don't have the resources to repay you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous." Where are we hoping to receive our reward: on earth - "The Dumbest Idea In The World", or in heaven?

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


Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Praise the Lord for Fr. Simon Stephens' 12-year ministry as the chaplain of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Moscow.
Mon. - Pray for Baptist Pastor Telman Aliev and his wife whose church in Azerbaijan was forcibly closed on December 23.
Tue. - Thank God that the Orthodox Church is asking that "all accusations of dishonest vote counting" must be investigated.
Wed. - Pray against Kazakhstan's new "progressive" highly restrictive new Religion Law that promotes one form of Islam.
Thu. - Thank the Lord for the Soviet Union dissolving to the sounds of Christmas celebrations on December 25, 1991.
Fri. - Pray that Russians will use social media on the Internet responsibly and honestly, as Patriarch Kirill has suggested.
Sat. - Ask the Lord to help us avoid "The Dumbest Idea In The World" - distorting the Gospel for our own material gain.


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. Unless I love God with all my being and my neighbor as myself, all my ideals, health & wealth "ain't wuth a hill o' beans!"


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from Kevin, 1/1/12, 11:06pm:
I have never been to Russia; however I have Orthodox friends who have just returned, speaking in St Petersburg about their journey from Evangelicalism to the EOC. What they heard uniformly from Russian clergy -- Orthodox and Lutheran alike -- is that the "cults" with seemingly unlimited treasuries are capitalizing on the catechetical vacuum that still exists after 75+ years of communism. Since Russia has a "state religion" which you may object to in principal, why should they not protect it? The Church see itself as heirs to the Byzantine Empire, which battled with Arians and Monophysites for centuries.


Dear Kevin,

Thanks for your good email! In my 40+ years of ministry to the (now former) Soviet Union, I've heard the same complaint many times that foreign "cults" have capitalized on the spiritual vacuum there, after 70+ years of communism. There is some truth to that, but before the dissolution of the USSR we brought Bibles and New Testaments to both Orthodox and Evangelicals. And when my wife and I were Evangelical Protestant missionaries in Russia for 17 years, we made many efforts to work together with Orthodox believers. I was the in-country representative for an Evangelical effort to produce Orthodox-approved Sunday school materials in Russian.

But quite often we were met with hostility by officials in charitable organizations when we tried to minister in practical ways to the sick in hospitals and to orphans in orphanages simply because we were not Orthodox. Is there something "sectarian" about doing good works? When I prepared and distributed leaflets consisting of Scripture and the Nicene Creed, it was brought to the attention of the authorities. When I prepared a harmony of the four Gospels in one of the minority languages, I took it to a printing shop, and saw the storeroom for literature of the local Orthodox church's "missionary department" -- it consisted entirely of anti-Western, anti-sectarian warnings against the "cults" such as Baptists and Lutherans. This taught me quite a lot about the xenophobic and nationalistic mindset that is prevalent among the large majority of Orthodox Russians.

We did find, however, a few Orthodox parishes and other organizations that were open to working together on charitable ministries, and we were drawn to this kind of Orthodoxy. One Russian friend put it this way: "There are two kinds of Orthodox in Russia: Russian Orthodox [with the emphasis on 'Russian'], and Orthodox Christians." We were drawn toward this latter kind, and five years ago began attending these parishes. A year later we had returned to the U.S. and became catechumens, and three years ago we were chrismated into the holy Orthodox Church on the centennial of of my patron saint John of Kronstadt's repose.

I don't object to Russia having Orthodoxy as its "state church," or for that matter Great Britain having Anglicanism as its "state church" -- as long as they respect the rights of other religious confessions to believe and practice their faith in peace. But real Christians, regardless of their confession, are to be known by the way they minister to the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind, to prisoners and the brokenhearted, to widows and orphans. If the religious leaders -- regardless of whether they're Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant -- disregard these people and are more concerned about their real estate holdings and their canonical territories, they've succumbed to "the dumbest idea in the world."

In Christ, Bob