Welcome to , 14 Jan 2012
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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RUSSIAN CHURCH'S PATRIARCH CALLS FOR DIALOGUE
from Boston.com

Medvedev and Kirill (7 Jan) Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on Saturday urged the government to listen to protesters demanding free elections, warning both sides that Russia cannot afford another revolution. "The government should, through dialogue and by listening to society, correct the course and then everything will be fine," he said in an interview broadcast Saturday, the day on which Russians and other Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. Tens of thousands of people turned out for two demonstrations in Moscow to protest vote fraud in last month's parliamentary election and call for an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule.

The patriarch, whose church has close ties to the Kremlin, spoke of the need to preserve a strong state. He warned the protesters against being used by those fighting for political power, comparing the opposition leaders to the Bolsheviks whose 1917 revolution brought down czarist Russia. "We destroyed the country, and why did this happen? Because in general the just protests of the people were cleverly used by political forces fighting for power," Kirill said. The same thing happened again with the protests that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the patriarch said. [read more...]


RUSSIA: HOW THE BATTLE WITH "RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM" BEGAN
by Geraldine Fagan, Forum 18 News Service

(27 Apr 2009) The formation of Russia's policy towards one particular form of extremism - religious extremism - may have begun hesitantly, Forum 18 News Service notes. But the June 2002 Extremism Law eventually led to a wideranging crackdown on religious literature the authorities deemed "extremist," as this analysis - the first part of a presentation given at a seminar at the Kennan Institute in Washington DC - notes. As with many governments, the catalyst for Russia's decision to get serious about "religious extremism" was the coordinated attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001. Before then occasional attacks within Russia, such as the September 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow, were seen as spillover from the localized conflict in Chechnya and the product of separatism rather than any religious ideology.

A few months later, in June 2002, a law entitled "On Fighting Extremist Activity" was passed. Usually known as the Extremism Law, it gave a lengthy and basically sound definition of extremism. Four clauses define extremist activity in a specifically religious context: incitement of religious hatred; committing a crime motivated by religious hatred; obstruction of the lawful activity of religious associations accompanied by violence or the threat of violence; propaganda of the exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of citizens according to their attitude towards religion or religious affiliation. [read more...]


RUSSIAN CHURCH IS POSITIVE ABOUT "ORTHODOX" POLITICAL PARTIES, BUT WON'T BLESS THEM
from Interfax-Religion

(12 Jan) Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations, urges people to think over whether it is possible to set up an "Orthodox" political party in Russia. "The Church is positive about the prospect of setting up Christian or Orthodox parties or in-party groups, but it won't provide them with exclusive support or bless them. Church is for all, not an ally of one particular political force," Father Vsevolod writes in the recently opened collective blog "Orthodox politics," in which he is one of its authors.

Under the post "Is it possible to set up an "Orthodox/Christian" political party?" he concludes that "the time of active political parties building is likely to start. "The law does not permit creating parties based on religion, but no one will ban the formation of an Orthodox or Christian party without formally mentioning it in the title - let us recall that Christian Democrats in the European Parliament refer to themselves as the European People's Party, and the moderate political Muslims in Turkey as the Justice and Development Party," the author reminds people. [read more...]


UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REFUSES TO CONSIDER THE ISSUE OF CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(13 Jan) The Supreme Council of Ukraine on January 12 rejected Draft Resolution 9486 on conducting the parliamentary hearings on the state of the church-state relations in Ukraine, reported the Institute for Religious Freedom (IRF). Only 12 deputies voted for this initiative. At the outset, co-author of the resolution Volodymyr Marushchenko of the Christian Democratic Union asked to postpone the consideration of the question to continue political consultations. The proposal, however, did not find sufficient support. As the deputy presented the draft resolution, he stressed that the parliamentary hearing "would indicate the attention of the supreme legislative body and Ukrainian state on the whole to the questions of development of church-state relations and protection of the freedom of worship."

"It is about the role of the state in the regulation of the current issues in the church environment. And these questions are not ripe. Believe me, we did not discuss them in this hall," stressed another co-author of the initiative, Volodymyr Stretovych. As IRF reported, the Committee on Culture and Spirituality was against the initiative. Its objection was voiced by its head, Volodymyr Yavorivskyi. Representative of the Communist faction Kateryna Samoilyk also strongly objected to a discussion on matters related to the church and religion. She referred to the constitutional principle of the separation between the church and the state. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

BULGARIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IS NOT AGAINST IN VITRO FERTILISATION, METROPOLITAN SAYS
from SofiaEcho.com

ONLY 1% OF RUSSIA'S ORTHODOX BELIEVERS ARE ACTIVE IN PARISH LIFE
from Interfax-Religion

CHECHEN CHILDREN READ THE GOSPEL AS PROJECT HOPE COMES TO A CLOSE
from Mission Network News

ON JANUARY 7 EASTERN CHRISTIANS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO JULIAN CALENDAR
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

PATRIARCH KIRILL THINKS AUTHORITIES MUST LISTEN TO OPPOSITION
from RIAN

SPECIAL CALL TO PRAYER: FOCUS ON RUSSIA AND ITS LEADERS
from Russian Ministries

HELPING HANDS GERMANY BRINGS CHRISTMAS TO ROMANIA AND BULGARIA
from NCN News

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

The political turmoil in Russia has captured the attention of the Russian Orthodox Church. At first, the Church hierarchy tended to side with the authorities, but now it is urging them to pay attention to the protesters. The Orthodox Church plays a significant role in Russian society, influencing the formulation of the 2002 law against "religious extremism" - basically framing it so that almost any viewpoint which disagrees with official ideology can be labelled "extremist." This label is most often applied to certain Muslim groups, but also to Jehovah's Witnesses and sometimes to certain Protestant denominations. This obviously can have a chilling effect on public discourse, causing non-mainline groups to practice a form of self-censorship. Now we see the idea of the Church backing a new political party in Russia being floated. The balance between religious and secular power has always been a difficult issue, and it appears that in Russia it is now becoming even moreso.

Good and Bad Fish in the Net

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

The 13th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew consists entirely of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven: first there's the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, then the one about the Wheat and the Tares, then the Mustard Seed, the Treasure Hidden in the Field, and lastly the one about the "Good and Bad Fish in the Net." It's this last one I'd like to focus on:

"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet, that was cast into the sea, and gathered some fish of every kind, which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach. They sat down, and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. So will it be in the end of the world. The angels will come forth, and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:47-50).

Jesus Christ teaches us in this parable that the Kingdom of Heaven is like good and bad fish gathered into a net, and in the final Judgment the angels will sort out the good from the bad. Some people expect the Church to be perfect. They believe it should not contain any wicked, selfish, lustful or greedy people; so to get around this they have invented the notion of an "invisible Church" that is thought to be ideal. The problem with this is there aren't any ideal people to inhabit this "invisible Church." Others realize this idea of a perfect Church is an unrealistic expectation, because the Church is made up of imperfect people, sinners like you and me. Certainly its leaders - deacons, presbyters and bishops - should be without blemish, but sometimes even they fall into grievous sins.

How can we reconcile these two opposing notions? In the Lord's Prayer we pray - "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." So we see that we should strive for the Kingdom of Heaven to become real on this earth, not just some ideal, "invisible Church" up in the clouds somewhere. Those who say there never has been one true Church fail to consider St. Paul's words - "For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that divisions exist among you, and I partly believe it. For there also must be heresies among you, that those who are approved may be revealed among you" (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Yes, there have always been sinful people in the Church devising divisions and heresies, but those people weren't really in the true Church: by their actions they had separated themselves from the truth.

The existence of counterfeits only emphasizes the reality of the genuine article! The best way to teach bank workers to recognize counterfeit banknotes is to train them to know all of the characteristics of genuine banknotes. To teach that there is one true Church is not to say that it is perfect in every detail, but rather that it is genuine. It is the original, the "real deal," not a knock-off copy, a counterfeit. There may occasionally be a minor flaw, but those must be caught and corrected as quickly as possible. This is what the Church must do by its councils of godly leaders who are in turn led by the Holy Spirit.

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


Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray for genuine dialogue between the Church, the people and the state in Russia during these difficult times there.
Mon. - Ask the Lord that the Russian government will practice a fair and balanced definition of "religious extremism."
Tue. - Thank God that Christians in Russia are beginning to see that they should have a voice in politics and secular society.
Wed. - Pray for continuing good church-state relations and protection of the freedom of worship in the Ukraine.
Thu. - Ask the Lord that the 1% of Russia's Orthodox believers who are active in parish life will grow to 50% and even 90%.
Fri. - Pray that the Lord's Kingdom may become real and His will may be done on earth just as it is in heaven.
Sat. - Ask God to make His true Church pure and glorious, without spot or blemish, at the great Day of His soon return.


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. Family values: "He who does not engage in propagation of the race is as though he had shed blood." - the Talmud


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from Mert, 01/15/2012, 8:29pm:
Like a dragnet, we should effectively persuade/compel as many people as possible to enter the presence of Christ. Jesus will sort things out. The problem is, too often we are busy reaching out of the boat trying to sort out heretics from saints when instead we should be drawing as many as possible towards the Source of sainthood ... let Him sort things out in the end with His mighty angels. It is His kingdom after all. That's not to say we shouldn't rebuke heretics or train folks to spot them, it's just that we shouldn't focus on the differences, but on the dragging together into the boat of where Jesus reigns ... notice that is says the Kingdom, not the church. Even in the Kingdom, there are more than one variety of good fish.


Dear Mert,
Thanks for your good feedback! Like you said, it's important to draw people into the boat. If a flagrant case of error arises, it should be sent "up the chain of command" to spiritual leaders who are qualified to determine whether it's heresy or not. In the Early Church and in the Eastern Orthodox Church today, only councils of bishops are allowed to label something as heresy. So we laypeople shouldn't throw around such labels. Jesus reigns in the Kingdom, and he is the Head of the Body, the Church.
In Christ, Bob