Welcome to , 20 May 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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RUSSIA'S PATRIARCH LAUNCHES FACEBOOK PAGE
from Chicago Tribune

Select to see full-size! (15 May) A Facebook page dedicated to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill was launched on Tuesday to feed growing interest in the divisive religious figure who has embodied the church's increasing ties with newly inaugurated President Vladimir Putin. Kirill has openly supported Putin, whose campaign and election to a third six-year term in March, which many believe was rigged, was dogged by regular street protests against his rule.

The silver-haired Kirill, who has warned against "manipulation" on the Internet, is shown at the top of the page deep in prayer over a large golden chalice and crucifix. "There is growing interest on the Internet in what the Patriarch is doing and his trips, and this is a step toward meeting (Internet) users," said an Orthodox Church official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The Patriarch himself uses the Internet to seek out information." [read more...]


UZBEKISTAN: AN "UNSANCTIONED MEETING IN A PRIVATE HOME" - WITH A BOMB?
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(9 May) Uzbekistan continues punishing people exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. In one incident, police and the NSS secret police raided Protestants meeting in the home of Natalya Kim in Yukori-Chirchik, claiming at the time, local Protestants said, that a bomb was in the home. While searching for the alleged bomb, police confiscated Christian books and a laptop. Subsequently, 14 members of the unregistered Protestant Church were fined for an "unsanctioned meeting in a private home."

The verdict was supplied after the legally required time, thus preventing an appeal being lodged. Natalya Kim herself was given the biggest fine, of 60 times the minimum monthly salary. Investigator Farhod Raimkulov told Forum 18 that "when many people gather in a certain place, it is the local police officer's duty to inspect and see what is happening." When Forum 18 asked whether the police can or should raid Inspector Raimkulov's home when he holds a party or some other event, he claimed that he was not part of the raid on Kim's home. [read more...]


ORTHODOX ACTIVISTS TO PREVENT GAY PRIDE PARADE
from Interfax-Religion

(17 May) Representatives of organizations supporting the Orthodox Church have promised to take to the streets in order to prevent a gay pride parade, which could take place in Moscow on May 27. "I am convinced that gays will hold a procession along Moscow streets even if they do not receive permission and will stage provocations. As usual, our response will be quite adequate and tough. We will go to their gathering places and will push them from these places in the most uncompromising manner," Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods coordinator Yury Ageshchev told Interfax-Religion.

He called on Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin "to demonstrate his attitude toward this lawlessness on the part of gays in fact, not in word, and stay relentless. Otherwise, their behavior will be even more impudent next time," he said. Corporation of Orthodox Action head Kirill Frolov, for his part, told Interfax-Religion that activists of Cossack youth associations and sport clubs that cooperate with his organization planned to "patrol Moscow streets, especially places where 'perverts of all sorts' gather," on the day of the gay pride parade. [read more...]


AZERBAIJAN: "NO-ONE WAS RAIDED"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(18 May) At least 20 police officers - including the local police chief - took part in a raid on a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Gynaja in Azerbaijan on 12 May, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The local head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations took part in the raid, but denied this to Forum 18. Police initially searched for foreigners in the congregation, and when they found none then started checking whether all the approximately 50 children present had written permission to be present from both their parents.

After questioning church members and children for several hours, police warned those they questioned that prosecutions would follow with fines. At least one congregation member has been heavily fined, without going through a court trial. The raid came two weeks after the home of a Jehovah's Witness in Sumgait was also raided and religious literature confiscated. Sumgait Police told Forum 18 that "no-one was raided." Baptists have also been stopped while sharing their faith, and a court in the capital Baku has handed down a verdict liquidating Greater Grace Protestant Church. The Church will appeal against this, the first enforced liquidation of a religious community since a harsh Religion Law was adopted. [read more...]


PATRIARCH FILARET: CONTACTS WITH ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH HAVE BECOME MORE COMPLICATED
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(18 May) During his patriarchal visit to the Bukovyna region on May 17, 2012, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate Patriarch Filaret met with journalists. In answer to the RISU correspondent's question about the current status of the relations between the UOC-KP and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Filaret said: "The contacts between the Kyivan and Constantinople Patriarchates have not been terminated. But they are more complicated now not due to the position of the Kyivan Patriarchate, but because of the relations between Moscow and Constantinople."

The Constantinople Patriarchate would like the Ukrainian Church to be autocephalous. It is its position. But Ukrainian Orthodoxy must be united first. The lack of a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church is an obstacle in the way of recognition by Constantinople of the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church. That is first we need to unite and then that church will be recognized by Constantinople. "And Moscow does everything to prevent Ukrainian Orthodoxy from unification so that we should not be recognized. Therefore, the process goes on." [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

THE WEST HAS BETRAYED CHRISTIANITY, ORTHODOXY WILL SAVE IT - CHURCH OFFICIAL
from Russia Today

CATHOLIC PRIEST WHO IS POLISH CITIZEN IS MISSING IN KALININGRAD REGION
from Interfax-Religion

DESPITE FRACTURED RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, CHURCH OPENS IN BELARUS
from Mission Network News

CABINET OF MINISTERS PROPOSES TO LIQUIDATE LAW ON PROTECTION OF SOCIAL MORALITY
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

UKRAINIAN BISHOPS QUARREL
from Russia Religion News

SUMMER CAMP GIVES NEEDY CHILDREN HOPE
from Russian Ministries

AS DUTCH CHURCHES SHUT, SACRED ART FINDS NEW USE IN EASTERN EUROPE
from Reuters

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

Patriarch Kirill's new Facebook page is still rather bare... perhaps you'd like to "friend" him or send him a message! On a more serious note, the photo in our first news article speaks volumes about the Russian government's relation to the Orthodox Church. Throughout Russia's history, the Church has been subordinate to the state, which is called "caesaropapism," - "the idea of combining the power of secular government with the religious power, or making it superior to, the spiritual authority of the Church" (Wikipedia). This has rarely been a positive phenomenon, because it means one religious viewpoint is enforced in an entire nation.

Forced conversion and belief is often not sincere, heartfelt belief. On the other hand, freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion, that is, banning religious expression from the public sphere, as is increasingly common in Western countries. If the majority of people in a country are of a certain religious persuasion, they have every right to publicly express their beliefs, but at the same time not forbid minority religious believers to express theirs. All people, however, should strive to discover the objective truth about God and creation.

(Let us know what you think! Please post your comments in our Hosken-News Blog!)

Form and Substance, Part 2

Our first part of this topic, "Form and Substance," ended with: "Although we can theoretically distinguish between form and substance, in the real world the message is always wrapped in a cultural-social-political-linguistic medium: 'We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellency of its power may be of God and not of us' (2 Cor. 4:7)." The Christian faith is always expressed in a cultural and linguistic context. The question is: how far should one go in contextualizing the Gospel? Should Christian worship and evangelism adopt the dress, customs, musical forms and common language of the surrounding culture? This has been a tough issue ever since the conversion of gentiles to the "followers of the Way." The First Council, which took place in Jerusalem (Acts ch. 15) resolved the issue - at least temporarily - by deciding that gentile believers did not need to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses.

But this issue kept popping up. In the ninth century, the Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius had created the Cyrillic alphabet for the Slavic peoples and were evangelizing in Moravia and Panonia, today known as the Czech, Slovak and Hungarian lands. Cyril translated the Scriptures and Liturgy into Slavonic, the language of the people, and had these books hand-copied so they could be used in all the churches of those areas. But disputes arose between these missionaries and Franco-Germanic missionaries about the use of a "vulgar" language of the people being used in worship. The latter argued that only the three "holy" languages: Hebrew, Greek and Latin, should be used. So Cyril and Methodius travelled to Rome, where even the Roman Pope Nicholas agreed that the Scriptures and Liturgy (worship) should be in Slavonic, the language of the people.

This wasn't, however, the end of the dispute. Eventually the Franco-Germanic missionaries and their emperor convinced a later Roman pope to insist that Latin should be used in Moravia and Panonia, and those missionary-evangelists who followed the methodology of Cyril and Methodius were pushed out, finally settling in Bulgaria and evangelizing there. But an important principle had been established, and the document by Pope Nicholas still exists, stating that the Scriptures and Liturgy should be in Slavonic, the language of the people of Moravia.

You may recall that Jan Hus, the priest and martyr who is considered the precursor of the Protestant Reformation, served in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) in the 14th century. Becoming familiar with the writings of John Wycliffe, he promoted the reading of the Scriptures and worshipping in the language of the people, he opposed the supreme authority of the Roman popes (there were three Roman popes simultaneously at that time!), the corrupt morals of the clergy, and the doctrines of indulgences and transubstantiation. It is most interesting that these positions were largely in agreement with Orthodox teaching. Why then did Jan Hus not succeed in leading a reformation of the western church, but rather meet death as a martyr, being burned at the stake in 1415 under "Antipope" John XXIII?

First, his work and his death preceded Gutenberg's invention of the printing press and printing the Bible in 1455 by only forty years. The purpose of Gutenberg's invention was to make the Bible widely available to the people. Many scholars believe this is the main reason that the Roman Church hierarchy was able to contain the preaching of Jan Hus, by keeping it from spreading widely. In contrast, Martin Luther successfully led the Protestant Reformation largely because his translation of the Bible into German was printed in 1534 on printing presses and was widely distributed. This broke the Roman church's monopoly on spiritual knowledge. Sadly it has led to the idea that "every plowboy and milkmaid" should read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves, which has led to the plethora of over 20,000 mutually contradictory denominations today. Even sadder is the seed of relativism this has planted: every person can have his or her own version of the truth, and nearly every alternative "truth" is acceptable.

Second, Luther was able to escape trial and execution by the Roman church hierarchy because Germanic princes offered him protection and led their territories into the Lutheran confession. Then the question arises: why did Luther not call upon the Eastern Orthodox Church for support? After all, many of the reformers' doctrines were compatible with Orthodox teaching. The answer is that Luther needed protection from the pope's armies, and the Orthodox Church in the Middle East was under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire, while in Russia it was barely recovering from the Mongol yoke and was tied up fighting a war with the Roman Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Empire.

So we see that the preaching of the Gospel "is always wrapped in a cultural-social-political-linguistic" context. In theory, we should have freedom of religious confession and expression. In theory, the Scriptures and Liturgy (worship) should be in the language of the people. But politics, language and culture exert powerful forces on human behavior. The substance of the Gospel message is formed and shaped by these human elements. How then can we attain and maintain the right doctrines and worship? "Ortho-doxy" means both "right doctrine" and "right worship," and throughout the centuries it has upheld the idea that the Scriptures and Liturgy should be in the language of the people, that there isn't one universal earthly head of the Church, but rather each country should have its own ecclesiastical authority that strives to live in peace and harmony with the civil authorities, and that questions of doctrine and practice in the Church should be resolved not by ignorant plowboys and milkmaids, but by councils of godly men based on the foundations of Scripture and its interpretation by "holy men of God" - the Apostles and their successors, the holy Church Fathers:

"We [the apostles] have the more sure word of prophecy [teaching]; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the day star arises in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy [teaching] of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy [teaching] ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:19-21).

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


Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Continue praying for peace, harmony and reconciliation between the Russian Church, the government and the people.
Mon. - Pray for the 14 members of the raided unregistered church meeting in the home of Natalya Kim in Uzbekistan.
Tue. - Thank the Lord that Christians in Russia are taking a strong stand against homosexual propagandizing of the young.
Wed. - Pray for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Gynaja in Azerbaijan, raided and 50 children questioned by authorities.
Thu. - Ask the Lord to advance the unity of all Orthodox Christians in the Ukraine, as Patriarch Filaret has expressed.
Fri. - Pray that Protestants in the West will rediscover that their theological roots are closely related to the Eastern Church.
Sat. - Thank God for truth that is not a "private interpretation," but has been preserved by "holy men of God" for 20 centuries.


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. There are two kinds of pain: the pain of discipline, and the pain of regret. The choice is yours.


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