Welcome to , 25 Aug 2012
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

CROSSES CHOPPED DOWN: "ANTI-CHURCH HYSTERIA" SPREADS ACROSS RUSSIA
from Russia Today

Select to see full-size! (26 Aug) Several Orthodox Christian crosses have been chopped down in different parts of Russia. The incidents come after the "Femen" movement attacked a cross in Kiev to protest the sentence of the punk band "Pussy Riot," who received two years in prison. The incidents occurred overnight. Crosses have been taken down in the Chelyabinsk region, Urals and Archangelsk region, northern Russia. By the time police arrived at the scenes the vandals had already left. Authorities have launched an investigation into both cases.

The Arkhangelsk cross was erected in the memory of the victims of political repressions, said a local priest, Hegumen Feodosy. He also said that in recent years the monastery, situated across the street from the cross, has seen two arson attacks and a number of other acts of vandalism. This comes in the context of all these incidents in recent months across the country, all this anti-church hysteria waged against our diocese, against the church authority, against everything sacred, Hegumen Feodosy said. The two incidents follow a similar case when the topless leader of the female Ukrainian activist group "Femen" took down a cross in Kiev using a chainsaw. The act, which was filmed and photographed, later received wide circulation on the Web [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: "UNLAWFUL" FINE - BUT WILL STATE DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT?
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(13 Aug) Officials have admitted that one fine imposed on the wife of the pastor of a forcibly closed Methodist church was illegal. But officials have refused to admit that similar fines and bans are also illegal. They have also been unwilling to discuss halting future illegalities. In a different case, Kentau's Love Presbyterian Church has been fined and forced to close. Judge Ziyash Klyshbayeva cited alleged violations of fire safety rules in a building it rents. The verdict claimed that the church asked that the case be heard in its absence, as it agreed with the authorities.

In Taldykorgan, in Almaty Region, the authorities forced a Methodist church in June to "voluntarily" announce its closure. The order followed an earlier fine on the wife of the Church's Pastor. Larissa Kim was fined for using her private home - the Church's registered legal address - for meetings for religious worship. The Church was then forced to pay for an announcement in newspapers that the Church had decided to liquidate itself. "We do not want more punishment from the authorities," Pastor Valery Kim told Forum 18 (see F18News 30 May 2012 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1708). The authorities then forced the Church to pay for another announcement of its closure, this time in an official journal for legal announcements.

Pastor Kim told Forum 18 on 7 August that, as the Church had decided to close itself, they complained about the fine - which his wife had already paid - to Almaty Regional Prosecutor's office. Larissa Kim had paid the fine fearing that she might face an even larger fine after threats by Land Inspectors. [read more...]


RUSSIANS STILL OPPOSE GAY "MARRIAGE," BUT BECOMING MORE TOLERANT OF GAY UNIONS - POLL
from Interfax-Religion

(20 Aug) So-called "homophobia" is widespread in Russian public opinion and attitudes to homosexuals have not changed over the past few years, a poll conducted by the Levada Center in July shows. Like two years ago, three-fourths of Russians believe that gays and lesbians are people with low morals (43%), or believe they are mentally ill (32%). Only 17% of the respondents believe homosexuals have the same right to sexual orientation as straight people. The poll, which surveys adults, was conducted in 130 populated areas of 45 regions of Russia.

In the meantime, the respondents were divided on whether gays and lesbians should have the same rights as straight people: 46% of the respondents said they should have the same rights as straight people and 40% believe the rights of gays and lesbians should be restricted. Thirteen percent of the respondents said they are undecided. The issue of the introduction of a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation also caused division in public opinion: 38% of the respondents spoke in support of this law, 36% said they are against it to some degree, and 26% were undecided [read more...]


UZBEKISTAN - "LITTLE ELEPHANT" ASPHYXIATION WITH A GAS MASK "AMOUNTS TO TORTURE"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

() A Tashkent-based human rights defender notes that police often use asphyxiation using gas masks to force confessions, though mainly from those accused of criminal offences. "This is called in police slang 'little elephant'," the human rights defender, who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 in mid-August. "Police regard it as the most effective method of extracting the necessary testimony from the detainee."

Before starting to use the gas mask, officers check that detainees have no medical condition - such as a weak heart - or scars from an operation that might lead the torture to result in their death. Several police officers are generally involved in applying the gas mask, the human rights defender notes. "First they handcuff the detainee with their hands behind the back, so that the detainee can't take off the gas mask. Two or three officers then put on the mask, holding the detainee by the arms and legs, often forcing him to the ground. The third officer then blocks the oxygen tube."

Human rights defenders note that using gas masks to simulate asphyxiation has long been used in Uzbekistan as a punishment and to extract confessions. Police in Tashkent routinely used gas masks on street children as far back as 2001. "The children complained police often detained them, chaining them to radiators or pipes," a human rights defender who interviewed a number of street children individually in the capital in early 2001 told Forum 18. "Officers frequently placed gas masks over their heads, cutting off the air supply."

In a December 2011 report on torture in Uzbekistan, "No One Left to Witness," Human Rights Watch notes that this "torture technique" continues to be used. "Police place gas masks on suspects and close off the breathing tube valve in order to suffocate detainees. Relatives of some victims reported that police first dress the subject's head with cellophane plastic before placing the gas mask over the head. Victims may be brought to the verge of unconsciousness or lose consciousness. Some witnesses have reported that police sprinkle chemical substances, such as powdered chlorine, in the gas mask tubes to increase the pain inflicted on the victim and accelerate suffocation" (see http://www.hrw.org/features/no-one-left-to-witness).

Among the victims of this torture method have been individuals being punished for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. To take one example, police in Muinak in Karakalpakstan used gas masks and asphyxiation on two local Protestants in December 2002. The two men were also beaten (see F18News 30 September 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=147). [read more...]


PATRIARCH SVIATOSLAV CALLS ON FAITHFUL IN ADDRESS ON INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY TO BUILD UKRAINIAN WORLD
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(24 Aug) In his address on the 21st anniversary of the independence of Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) calls on the faithful to assume responsibility for the gift of independence of the Ukrainian nation, to work diligently and pray zealously for Ukraine. "We must now adopt the high ideals of state-creation which drove the heroes of the struggle for state independence and freedom of the church and people. As we celebrate that day, let us feel that the Lord, our Creator and Liberator, is with us," reads the address of the head of UGCC published by the Information Department of the UGCC.

The Primate stressed that the church always was with its people: "She was its mother and teacher, adviser and protector. Often, only the voice of her hierarchs, Metropolitan Andrey, Patriarch Josyf was raised to defend hundreds of thousands of people who were killed, deported, imprisoned and tortured. The church taught to love Ukraine truly in the vortex of hatred and to avoid any evil. The church remains with its people today," noted the patriarch. He called on all the faithful of the church and all people of good will to love their Motherland and develop the Ukrainian world both in their own state and outside it. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

RUSSIAN AND POLISH CHURCHES APPEAL FOR FORGIVENESS
from ABC News

PUSSY RIOT SUPPORTERS DESECRATE CHURCH IN PSKOV REGION
from Interfax-Religion

BELIEVERS HUNGER FOR MORE OF GOD IN ALBANIA
from Mission Network News

FEMEN SUPPORTS PUSSY RIOT BY SAWING DOWN MEMORIAL CROSS OVER INDEPENDENCE SQUARE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

ORTHODOX VIGILANTES WILL PROTECT SACRED THINGS AND PRIESTS IN MOSCOW REGION
from Interfax-Religia

METROPOLITAN HILARION TO VISIT USA TO CELEBRATE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF FORT ROSS
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC LEADER HOPES TO MEND TIES WITH RUSSIAN ORTHODOX
from US Catholic

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

Select to watch the video!I'd like you to meet Anna, one of my online students. As you can see in this video, she's vacuuming her apartment... from a wheelchair! A few years ago she suffered an injury to her spinal column that left her a paraplegic. But through much hard work, she has regained the ability to walk. After becoming disabled, Anna has found work as a dispatcher that she can do from home, and she also is completing her university degree with a specialization in logistics. She is my most faithful student, having completed four out of six of our courses, and is now enrolled in her fifth course with us. She plans to finish our program so she can receive a certificate in working with disabled people.

It seems the world press is obsessed with the relatively light sentence - two years out of a possible seven - meted out to the female punk rock band that desecrated the sacred altar area of the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Russia's national cathedral and a symbol of the resurrection of Orthodox Christianity: the original cathedral was demolished on the order of Stalin, who resented it being higher than his office in the Kremlin nearby, and feard that somehow a sniper might take aim at him from atop the cathedral. Here is an excellent podcast by Frederica Matthews-Greene on this subject: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frederica/russian_blasphemy. You can listen to the podcast and/or read the text of it at this link.

(You can now give by credit/debit card or e-check to Support Our Ministry: click on the "Donate" button there.)

Ministry as Fellowship/Community (koinonia)

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my book The Ministry Driven Church, available HERE.]

In the preceding part we have seen how the Pharisees and even the disciples were locked into their old paradigms of thought. In ordinary Jewish thinking it was inconceivable for the "I AM," Yahweh, to limit Himself to the dimensions of a human body, and above all to die, to voluntarily lay down His life in the gory, ignominious form that He did: execution by means of being nailed to a Roman cross. And koinonia means that we are called to join Him in the fellowship of His suffering, in order to experience the power of His resurrection in our lives. Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries define koinonia as "partnership, that is, (literally) participation, or (social) intercourse, or (pecuniary) benefaction: - (to) communicate (-ation), communion, (contri-), distribution, fellowship."1 Thus we see the Greek word has a very wide range of meanings. In this work we will use the concept of "semantic field," exploring the wide range of meanings of a word, and the related words that are frequently used in the context of the given word.

In 1 John 1:3, 6-7 we are introduced to the central theme of the Apostle John's letter: koinonia. Four times in four verses he uses this word in a poetic chiasm, forming the Greek letter Chi (X):

That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. ... If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don't tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

These are carefully set out as a chiasm to catch the attention of the Greek-speaking audience:

L: "fellowship with us,"     R: "fellowship with the Father, and with his Son,"
L: "fellowship with him,"   R: "we have fellowship with one another,"

...so that human fellowship goes from left on the top to right on the bottom, while divine fellowship goes from right on the top to left on the bottom.

St. John begins the chapter with the bold claim that he and the other apostles had actually seen, heard and their hands had physically touched God incarnate, Life, the logos of Greek philosophy! In the first five verses he describes the offer, then in the next five verses he outlines the conditions: each of those verses starts with "if" - a condition. He states, "You can participate in this experience with us, and here's how: walk in the light, and confess your sins." Koinonia means that we can share in the divine life, which results in having intimate communion with one another. John gives two positive conditions:

1) If we walk in the light, we have fellowship with each other and forgiveness of sins (v. 7),
2) If we confess our sins, he forgives and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (v. 9).

But John also warns about possible negative pitfalls on the way to fellowship:
1) If we walk in the darkness while saying we have fellowship, we lie (v. 6),
2) If we say we have no sin, we are simply deceiving ourselves (v. 8),
3) If we say we haven't sinned, we are calling God a liar (v. 10).

So it is quite easy to destroy koinonia by consciously lying, pretending to live a holy and godly life, or by unconsciously rationalizing our wrong behavior (deceiving ourselves), which thus accuses God of being untrue, unfair and unrighteous. If God says, "All have sinned" (Rom. 3:23) and we say, "Not me! I'm OK, you're OK, everyone's OK," then we implicitly or explicitly blame God, claiming that His Word is false. We must guard against such pitfalls.

St. John has much more to say about many facets of ministry in his first letter, as we shall see later, but here he lays the foundation for ministry on koinonia, fellowship with God and with one another, which can only be experienced if the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins (v. 9). In order for that to take place, we must confess our sins and cease deceiving ourselves by claiming not to have sinned, or blaming God, as Adam did when he said, "the woman You gave me made me do it" and as Eve did when she said, "the serpent You created made me do it."

Now let us examine koinonia from the perspective of other Apostles: St. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 1:9, "God is faithful, through whom you were called into the fellowship (koinonia) of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord." What is this koinonia of Jesus Christ that Paul writes of? We find the answer in 1 Cor. 10:16 (YLT) - "The cup of the blessing that we bless - is it not the fellowship (koinonia) of the blood of the Christ? The bread that we break - is it not the fellowship (koinonia) of the body of the Christ?"2 The Greek word koinonia is translated in this verse as "communion" in the King James Version and several other older translations. And St. Peter states in 2 Pet. 1:4, "he (Christ) has granted to us his precious and exceedingly great promises; that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature," using the word koinonos to describe this act of fellowship or communion. From these texts it appears that the Apostles believed they were partaking of the actual body and blood of Christ in the rite of communion, in some mysterious way beyond human ability to comprehend and explain. But, just as Peter did in Acts 5, Paul warns in 1 Cor. 11:29-30 of the dangers of abusing this koinonia: "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he doesn't discern the Lord's body. For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep." Do modern evangelicals discern the Lord's body in communion?

From this we understand that koinonia is fundamentally a spiritual phenomenon, one that must be guarded and maintained by being honest to God, honest with one another and brutally honest with ourselves. We so easily deceive ourselves, rationalize and justify our behavior! In the next passages we will see the practical outworking of koinonia and how some early believers tried to deceive themselves and others, leading to a crisis in fellowship that took drastic measures to resolve so that the early church could continue its rapid growth. The same is needed today.

In Acts 2:42-47 we read how, on the Day of Pentecost, over 3,000 people were converted and:

They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship (koinonia), in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together, and had all things in common (koinos). They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the church day by day those who were being saved.3

Many Christian writers, including Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church, have pointed to the five items in this passage - fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry and evangelism - as being the essentials of a healthy, growing church: "In Acts 2:42-47, these five facets of growth are described in the first church at Jerusalem. The first Christians fellowshiped, edified each other, worshiped, ministered, and evangelized. As a result, verse 47 says, "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."3

This is very true as far as it goes: Warren's "purpose-driven" books are excellent for inquirers and new Christians, and lead up to "turning members into ministers," the final step in The Purpose Driven Church. But as I will attempt to show, this is just the beginning. The above Bible passage is only one text out of the entire New Testament, which contains much more teaching and many more examples about what the true purpose and driving force of the church is: ministry. There are at least twenty different aspects of ministry, all contributing to the building up of the body of Christ, the church. So we shall first examine the above five aspects of ministry, and then discover the rest of them that are all related to New Testament ministry.

But before going on, I must point out two items in Acts 2:42-47 that are often overlooked. Why? Because our cultural blinders filter them out. They do not fit into our western, individualistic, materialistic paradigms of thought. First, this passage uses the word koinonia and its root twice: "the apostles' teaching and fellowship" referring to the koinonia we saw in 1 John 1. But the second usage is just as important, "All who believed were together, and had all things in common." Here the author, Luke, uses the word koinos to intentionally underscore the concept of fellowship in its tangible, material outworking. Believers are to share their material goods. Acts 4:32-35 also uses the word koinos in stating that "they had all things in common." And Luke, the author, is quick to point out, "With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all."

This shocks the western evangelical's conservative, anti-communist mindset. What, give up my possessions? Never! That's unbiblical, or at least un-American! But if we examine this passage and other related passages carefully, we discover vast differences between New Testament koinos and twentieth-century communism. In the Book of Acts koinos was voluntary, gradual, and the owners retained stewardship over their goods. But under communism it was forced confiscation, immediate and total, and the state took control of all the means of production. This reached the point of absurdity: my first Udmurt language tutor in Russia told me how her father was considered a kulak ("fist"), a rich peasant who held on to his belongings, because he owned a cow! So the Bolsheviks confiscated not only the cow, but their house, furniture and everything except the clothing on their backs. Only the grandmother who was sick was allowed to keep one blanket. When hearing such tales, it is no wonder we have such a strong reaction to communism!

But Rick Warren, in The Purpose-Driven Life, writes -

The first job God gave humans was to manage and take care of God's "stuff" on earth. This role has never been rescinded. It is a part of our purpose today. Everything we enjoy is to be treated as a trust that God has placed in our hands. ...Our culture says, "If you don't own it, you won't take care of it." But Christians live by a higher standard: "Because God owns it, I must take the best care of it that I can."4

Having lived in Russia for over 15 years, since before the fall of communism, my wife and I have personally witnessed the social disaster of the communist system. "If everybody owns everything, nobody owns anything and nobody cares about it" was an ironic saying in the Soviet era. Common facilities such as yards, stairways, elevators and hallways were almost always strewn with garbage, defaced, dirty and unkempt. If a light bulb burned out in the stairway and we replaced it, someone would usually steal it within a day or two. The production of factories and even equipment were routinely stolen by workers, and alcoholics would strip the outside telephone lines and electrical wires from the poles and sell the copper to buy vodka.

In contrast, note carefully the biblical principle of stewardship in Luke 12:22; 1 Cor. 4:2 and Titus 1:7; and faithful servanthood in Mat. 24:45; Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7 and 4:7. God entrusts individuals, not society at large, with the care of material wealth. And in the parable of the talents in Mat. 25:21-23, the Lord promises an abundant reward if His servants invest wisely the talents entrusted to them. Material abundance is the earthly fruit of godly living, and a steward is one who must make decisions for the benefit of his master, not simply for his own pleasure. It is like a person who has power of attorney for another person who is away on an extended trip: the former has the right to make whatever decisions he deems necessary, but only for the benefit of the latter person. This makes stewardship the most responsible use of material resources, much more than under socialism, and even more than the egocentric consumerism of capitalism.

Endnotes:

1. Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries (www.e-sword.net, 2004).

2. Young's Literal Translation (www.e-sword.net, 2004).

3. Warren, Rick, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 49.

4. Warren, Rick, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 2002), 57.

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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray that the "anti-church hysteria" in Russia and Ukraine will soon dissipate.
Mon. - Ask the Lord for the unlawful fine from the Methodists in Kazakhstan will be returned.
Tue. - Thank God that most Russians hold to a Biblical view of marriage as between a man and a woman.
Wed. - Pray against the "little elephant" torture being used against Christians in Uzbekistan.
Thu. - Thank the Lord for the 21st anniversary of freedom and independence of Ukraine.
Fri. - Praise God for our faithful student Anna who keeps going strong despite her disability.
Sat. - Ask the Lord that we all may experience true fellowship/community (koinonia).


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. With today's open-ended tolerance, people are so open-minded, their brains could fall out.


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