Welcome to , 11 Aug 2012
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

KOSOVO'S ORTHODOX SHRINES TO BE RESTORED WITH FUNDS PROVIDED BY RUSSIA
from Interfax-Religion

(06 Aug) Funds allocated by Russia for the UNESCO-supported project for the restoration of the Serbian Orthodox Church?s shrines in Kosovo and Metohija were reported on August 1, 2012, to have reached the contractors. At present, a Serbian and two Italian companies, winners of the contest, have already started the work planned to be completed in May 2013. An agreement between Russia and UNESCO on the participation of the Russian Government in financing the restoration work was signed in November 2010 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The Russian government has decided to make a 2-million USD voluntary targeted contribution to UNESCO for the purpose, the Synodal Department for External Church Relations reports.

The Church of Our Lady of Ljevis in Prizren dates back to the 9th century. It is one of the oldest churches in Kosovo. Its frescoes created during re-painting in 1306-1306 are recognized as a masterpiece of the 14th century church art. The church's support frame was damaged by bombs, and the frescoes were damaged and covered with a layer of soot from arsons committed by Albanians by throwing Molotov cocktails. With the connivance of the Kosovo police, the church of Our Lady of Ljevis was repeatedly looted. The latest theft of a piece of the roof, which took place in April 2011, still remains uninvestigated. As a result of the damaged roof, rain water began to percolate through, thus affecting the state of the old frescoes.

The monasteries, whose restoration is sponsored by Russia, have also been repeatedly subjected to vandalism. The Visoki Dechani Monastery founded by the Holy King Stefan Uros II in 1327 is one of the greatest specimens of the medieval architecture and painting. Extremists attacked it several times with grenades. Though it was under the KFOR protection, the monastery was mortared again in 2007, and in April 2012 there appeared on its walls the signs "Property of the Kosovo Liberation Army," a terrorist organization notorious for the oppression and physical elimination of the Serbian Orthodox population of the region. [read more...]


AZERBAIJAN: GREATER GRACE CHURCH BAN UPHELD
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(10 Aug) Baku's Greater Grace Protestant Church has failed in its bid to overturn the lower court decision to liquidate it and ban its activity. A panel of three judges at Baku Appeal Court, headed by Judge Seriyye Seyidova, rejected the Church's appeal on 31 July, the court website notes. Court liquidation would forcibly close the Church. All unregistered exercise of freedom of religion or belief is - against international human rights standards - illegal under the Religion Law.

Church members told Forum 18 they are already preparing a further appeal to Azerbaijan's Supreme Court. They insist they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary. The Church has had state registration with the Justice Ministry since 1993. The State Committee, which is now in charge of registering religious communities, lodged a liquidation suit in December 2011, arguing that the Church should be liquidated for failing to gain re-registration with it in 2009. On 25 April 2012, Administrative Economic Court No. 1 upheld the State Committee's suit. [read more...]


BLOGGER WHO CRITICIZED RUSSIAN CHURCH SEEKS POLITICAL ASYLUM IN ESTONIA
from Interfax-Religion

(06 Aug) Petrozavodsk, August 6, Interfax - Blogger Maxim Yefimov, who is prosecuted for publications on the Russian Orthodox Church, is seeking political asylum in Estonia, the interregional human rights association Agora told Interfax on Monday. "Maxim Yefimov turned to the Estonian police and border protection department asking for temporary political asylum. He told us about that today," said the Agora, which represents the blogger's interests in the criminal case opened against him.

"Estonia joined the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol in 1997. I have obtained an ID of a person seeking asylum," an Agora representative quoted Yefimov's report as saying. The criminal case against Yefimov was opened on the basis of a report made by the head of an investigations department on March 7, 2012. The blogger is suspected of "fanning hatred or feud and belittling the dignity of a group of persons based on religious affiliation."


UZBEKISTAN: "IT IS PROHIBITED TO KEEP SUCH BOOKS AT HOME"
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(06 Aug) Raids and literature confiscations are continuing in Uzbekistan. Among known raids in early August, in the east of the country in Fergana [Farghona] Region police raided the home of a local Christian - as in other cases without a search warrant or other legal justification. Local Protestants, who asked not to be named for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 on 6 August that Fergana Police confiscated one Bible in Uzbek, one Bible in Russian, and a book by John Bunyan. Bunyan was a Christian writer who was twice imprisoned for his faith in late 17th century England.

Police stated: "Don't you know that it is prohibited to keep such books at home?" They also stated that the books would be sent for "expert analysis" by the Religious Affairs Committee, and that their owner will be fined. Fines are imposed on those with no realistic ability to pay them. Another local Protestant, in Kokand [Qo'qon] in Fergana Region, was visited by bailiffs in the past week demanding that a fine of 20 times the monthly minimum salary be paid. The fine was imposed after their home was raided in February and Christian literature taken from them. "They cannot afford to pay such a fine, as they are poor," Protestants commented. [read more...]


RADIO VATICAN: VATICAN HAS NO RELATION TO TYMOSHENKO'S AWARD
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(10 Aug) In connection with publication by mass media, including RISU, of a report about awarding Yulia Tymoshenko with a "Papal" prize, the Ukrainian Service of the Radio Vatican conducted an investigation and informed RISU about the results thereof.

"The author of the prize, 'Academia Bonifaciana,' has no relation at all to the Apostolic See apart from the fact that a local bishop is one of its 'honorary presidents.' It is a cultural non-governmental organization operating under the umbrella of the state and local authorities in the town of Anania, Frosinone Province near Rome. It is the authorities who award this so-called 'Bonifaciana prize' which is national and international. John Paul II was not the founder of the prize but the first awardee," explained the representatives of the Radio Vatican. [read more...]


INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT FOR 2011
from US Department of State

With these reports, we bear witness and speak out. We speak against authoritarian governments that repressed forms of expression, including religious freedom. Governments restricted religious freedom in a variety of ways, including registration laws that favored state-sanctioned groups, blasphemy laws, and treatment of religious groups as security threats. The report focuses special attention on key trends such as the impact of political and demographic transitions on religious minorities, who tended to suffer the most in 2011; the effects of conflict on religious freedom; and the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Impacted groups, to name just a few, included Baha'is and Sufis in Iran; Christians in Egypt; Ahmadis in Indonesia and Pakistan; Muslims in a range of countries, including in Europe; Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Uighur Muslims in China; and Jews in many parts of the world.

Russia: The government generally respected religious freedom, but some minority denominations continued to experience difficulties. The most significant constraints on religious freedom during the year included the use of extremism charges to target minority religions and some broad restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association, in addition to efforts related to denial of registration as a religious organization, preventing access to places of worship, denial of visas for religious visitors, and detention of members of religious organizations. While there is no state religion, the Russian Orthodox Church and selected other "traditional" religious communities received preferential consideration. [read more...]


RUSSIAN CHURCH SLAMS US STATE DEPARTMENT'S UNFAIR CRITICISM
from Voice of Russia

(01 Aug) The US State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom lists Russia among countries where those freedoms are not properly observed. The report reviews the status of religious freedoms in 199 countries and territories. The top eight chronic violators of religious freedoms, according to the State Department's report, are Iran, China, North Korea, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Eritrea. As for Russia, it says that although religious freedoms there are on the whole respected, some religious minorities still experience serious problems. These include scientologists and various religious sects banned in many countries as extremists.

The report mentions such pseudo-religious organizations as the Church of Scientology and the Jehovah's Witnesses among those that allegedly suffer politically-motivated persecution in Russia. As to the above movements, both of them have been receiving financial support from the United States, being actually foreign agents propagating American political ideas.

Inside the US, some religious laws verge on absurdity. Thus, in some parts of the United States, the law prohibits Christmas trees in public areas because, being a symbol of Christianity, they may hurt the religious feelings of Jews, Muslims or atheists. As a result, Americans who champion religious freedoms and the equality of religions throughout the world are making it impossible for representatives of traditional religions to openly profess their faith. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

NEW CHURCH OF UOC-KYIVAN PATRIARCHATE SET ON FIRE IN SUMY REGION
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT THREATENS TO SHUT DOWN SMALL CHURCHES; MINISTRY STILL GROWING
from Mission Network News

PUNK ROCK PROTESTORS DECRY "STALINIST" PROCESS
from Portal-credo.ru

CHURCH OF GREECE RECEIVES FUNDS FROM MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE FAITHFUL TO AID NEEDY IN GREECE
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

PETITION TO STOP GOVERNMENT-SANCTIONED SUPPRESSION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN AZERBAIJAN
from Russian Ministries

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

For the past two weeks I've been putting in an hour after work each evening erasing the hard drives on eight donated computers, then reloading Windows and various freeware programs. Next week I plan to deliver them to the neighborhood center where I tutor. Interestingly, after I brought them home yesterday to finish installing programs, I discovered that the software drivers for networking, audio and video were missing, so I had to search for them on the Internet, download and install them. This caused me to reflect on how much we depend in our Christian life on communication, hearing and seeing. Without the communion of the saints, the hymns and visual reminders of them, we are left as isolated individuals, disconnected from the continuity of the Christian faith throughout the ages.

About our first news article above, one might be tempted to think - "Those piles of rubble were just old, unused buildings anyway!" But those buildings and other churches like them around the world are part of the continuity of the Christian faith. Anti-Christian political power has for centuries been trying to force Christians out of the public sphere, as we read in the second news article. Indeed, secularism promotes the idea that religion is a private affair that should not affect our public lives in society. This directly contradicts the God-given human right to publicly confess and practice religious belief, as stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - see the news article "INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT FOR 2011" and the website it refers to. But persecution, death and resurrection has been the hallmark of Christianity throughout the ages.

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Passover or Resurrection? (Part 2)

[This is an excerpt from the introduction to my book The Ministry Driven Church, available HERE.]

And how many times did the Lord Jesus foretell His impending death? In Mk. 8:29-31 we read: "And He said to them, 'But who do you say that I AM?' And Peter answered and said to Him, 'You are the Christ.' And He charged them that they should tell no one of Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." In Mk. 9:12 we read: "And how has it been written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be despised?" And 31-32 states: "The Son of Man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him. And after He is killed, He shall rise the third day. But they did not understand that saying and were afraid to ask Him." It was inconceivable for them to imagine that the I AM could die!

In Mk. 10:32-34, they were in shock (amazed), they were so afraid when He talked about His death! In Lk. 18:31-34 where He tells them that He must go to Jerusalem and be put to death, "they did not understand any of these things. And this saying was hidden from them, nor did they know the things which were spoken." We believers in the twenty-first century understand quite well the reason for his coming to earth, but why didn't the disciples understand? Hadn't they already been with Him for three years? When John the Baptist saw Him, he said (Jn. 1:29) "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" and in Jn. 1:36, "Behold the Lamb of God!" The disciples must have been able to understand all of this! Why did they not understand?

It seems to me that they didn't understand not simply because they had not yet been witnesses of His resurrection from the dead: Jesus had raised a few people from the dead during His earthly ministry. Here is why they didn't understand: they were thinking like ordinary humans. In Mk. 8:33 it states: "You aren't thinking the way God thinks but the way humans think"1 (God's Word translation). When the disciples were preparing the Passover supper in Mt. 26:17-19 and participated in it 26-28, it appears to me that they were thinking Passover was the reality, and the words of Jesus: "Take, eat, this is My body" and "this is My blood of the new covenant" were for them merely symbolic, an interesting commentary on the Old Testament Passover, as all the previous rabbis had commented on it. They didn't understand that the Jewish Passover was merely a shadow of the future slaying of the Lamb of God.

When Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, in verses 36-44 of the same chapter, what happened? Jesus understood quite well that He would soon become the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God described in Is. 53:6-7 - "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, each one to his own way; and Jehovah has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted; yet He opened not His mouth. He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth." This had been written by the prophet 700 years before Jesus, but not only did the Pharisees not understand it, even the Lord's own disciples didn't understand!

Jesus understood perfectly well what David prophesied about the Messiah in Ps. 21:15-19 - "I am poured out like water, and all My bones are spread apart; My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of My bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; and You have brought Me into the dust of death. For dogs have circled around Me; the band of spoilers have hemmed Me in, they pierce My hands and My feet. I can count all My bones; they look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them and cast lots for My clothing."

And when He fell on His face in the garden, His soul was tormented (Mt. 26:38): "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." Although He gave His disciples the order, "Watch and pray!" they fell asleep. Three times He prayed, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." Each time He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping: "We've had a good Passover feast, now it's time to take a nap." They didn't realize that before their closed eyes the real, perfect Passover Lamb was being prepared for the slaughter. They didn't know! And on the very cross Jesus shouted out (Lk. 23:34), "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." All of them were thinking the way humans think, including His disciples.

Even after His resurrection, when He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:18 and 21), they said that they had been awaiting a deliverer from the Roman yoke. Finally the Lord had to rebuke them for their thick-headedness (25-27): "O fools and slow of heart to believe all things that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." The Lord had to open their minds (31-33). Then Jesus revealed Himself to the remaining disciples (44-49). Finally they understood: "Eureka! How could we have been so dense? How long was it that we just didn't get it! All of this was laid out so clearly in the Scriptures!"

Finally, just before His ascension, He gave them their last assignment, which we call the "Great Commission" (Mt. 28:18-20): "Now it's your turn again: go, preach and teach others to observe (carry out) the same thing that I taught you to do!" - that is, to preach the Good News and heal the lame, the maimed and the blind. He did not command them to merely preach and teach theology, He gave them orders to carry out what He had shown them to do. And the apostles did this, starting in Jerusalem they preached, and from there to Judea, Samaria and even to the ends of the earth, they healed the sick, and at the same time they trained others to carry out what Jesus showed them: in Eph. 4:11-13 it states that leaders in the church should "bring the saints to perfection in doing works of ministry." In Greek, ministry is "diakonia," and such ministers are deacons and deaconesses in the New Testament.

In conclusion I would like to make these final remarks (Rom. 6:3-4) - "Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life." Do you understand now the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you personally? Can you say with the Apostle Paul (Gal. 2:20): "I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me." Or must it be said of you what Paul wrote (Gal. 3:1): "Foolish [non-understanding] Galatians, who has bewitched you not to obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth among you as crucified?" (WEB) You are still celebrating the old Passover!

But now you can cease celebrating the old way: the perfect Lamb of God has been sacrificed for you! As 1 Cor. 5:7 states: "Therefore purge out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For also Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." If Jesus Christ is really the "I AM" then He is worthy of our worship and service. Where do you stand on the path of discipleship, following after Christ? Are you still observing the old Passover, or do you celebrate the slain and resurrected Lamb of God? If so, take up your own cross, crucify the old ego and follow after the crucified and resurrected Jesus!

Endnotes:

1. e-Sword, the Sword of the LORD with an electronic edge, God's Word, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).

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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Thank the Lord that Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo will be restored, thanks to help from Russian Christians.
Mon. - Pray that Christians in the now-dissolved Greater Grace Protestant Church in Baku, Azerbaijan will be able to worship.
Tue. - Ask the Lord to protect Maxim Yefimov, prosecuted for blogging about the Russian Orthodox Church, who is seeking political asylum in Estonia.
Wed. - Intercede for believers in Fergana, Uzbekistan whose Bibles in Uzbek and in Russian, and a book by John Bunyan were confiscated.
Thu. - Pray for religious freedom around the world, that believers will be able to publicly profess and practice their faith.
Fri. - Ask God that governments in the West will practice the religious freedom they advocate for countries in the East.
Sat. - Pray that all Christians will comprehend the fact that the "I AM" has become the sacrificial Passover Lamb... for us.


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. It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. - George Washington


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