Welcome to , 05 Jan 2013
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

RUSSIA'S NEW REQUIRED RELIGION CLASS FOR 4TH GRADERS
from The World

(26 Dec) This year Russia required fourth graders across the country to take a religion class. There are six choices: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, secular ethics or world religions. Most Russians consider themselves Orthodox Christians, but most did not choose that class for their children. Matthew Brunwasser reports. The fourth graders in this "Basis of Orthodox Culture" class are discussing some pretty heavy duty concepts. "God is a creator," says the teacher. "How do you understand this? What does it mean?" A small girl answers, "He created the whole world."

The teacher is using brand new textbooks and audio/visual materials prepared by the education ministry. But the new course wasn't what the Orthodox Church bargained for. Analysts say the Church had to accept compromise with the deeply secular Russian state bureaucracy. The Church initially pushed for religion classes only on Russian Orthodox Christianity. While polls find that between 70 and 80 percent of Russians consider themselves Orthodox believers, many are clearly uncomfortable mixing religion and secular education. Nationwide, only a third of parents chose the class on Orthodoxy for their children. [read more...]


FEW RUSSIANS CELEBRATE WESTERN-STYLE CHRISTMAS - POLL
from Interfax-Religion

(25 Dec) Only 7% of Russians celebrate Western-style Christmas, according to a Levada Center survey obtained by Interfax. The indicator stood at 5% in 2011, 6% in 2006, and 19% in 2003. It seems Russians are bracing for the long New Year holiday season, Levada Center said

The majority of Russians celebrating Western-style Christmas are people younger than 25 (11%), people with a secondary education (9%), Muscovites (16%), unemployed people (14%), housewives and specialists (13%). Catholics and many other Christian confessions, including many Orthodox in the West, celebrate Christmas on December 25. The Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Jerusalem and Georgian Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7. [read more...]


UKRAINIANS PREPARE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE ON JANUARY 6
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(05 Jan) Christmas is preceded by a four-week fast, the time of spiritual purification. The culmination of the celebratory preparation is Christmas Eve, the day of vigil, prayer and fasting. Christmas Eve with its 12 lenten dishes includes not only significant church services but is rich in symbolic rites and customs of our nation, some of which can be traced back to pre-Christian times.

In general, the celebration of Christmas Eve is similar all over Ukraine. The differences in the southern and northern regions are due to the influence of other cultures. Many of the original customs were lost or forgotten due to mass deportations of Ukrainians from their ethnic lands or due to Soviet atheistic propaganda. Nevertheless, Ukrainians today open themselves to God, to native traditions and rites in a new way. [read more...]


CHRISTIANS APPEAR TO BE MOST OPPRESSED RELIGIOUS GROUP - REPORT
from The Voice of Russia

(24 Dec) The think tank Civitas has claimed Christians are the most oppressed religious group in the world. In their report entitled Christianophobia they warn that the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, and add that any related criticism in Muslim countries is hushed up over fears to be accused of "racism." The report mentions Freedom House's list of 20 countries judged to be "unfree" on the grounds of religious tolerance, where 12 of the countries listed are "Muslim-majority."

Seven countries - Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan among them - have seen hundreds of attacks on Christians by religious fanatics over recent years. According to the report, 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are "socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs." The report also points to that Christianity is seen as a "Western creed" threatening the state security in many countries, the oppression regimes in particular. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

KYRGYZ CHRISTIANS FACE TIGHTER RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
from International Christian Concern

PROTODEACON KURAYEV RECOMMENDS CELEBRATING ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS ON JANUARY 1
from Interfax-Religion

FEARING "GYPSIES" NO MORE
from Russian Evangelical Alliance

A YOUNG GIRL'S DESIRE TO SERVE HER FORMER ORPHANAGE OPENS DOORS FOR OUTREACH
from Mission Network News

BIOMETRIC PASSPORTS TO BE ISSUED TO UKRAINIANS FROM 1 JANUARY
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH'S IMAGE DAMAGED IN 2012
from Portal-Credo.ru

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

The lead news article above, "RUSSIA'S NEW REQUIRED RELIGION CLASS FOR 4TH GRADERS," states that "between 70 and 80 percent of Russians consider themselves Orthodox," but just 1/3 of parents selected the classes on Orthodoxy for their 4th grade children. Most parents selected the "secular ethics" classes aimed at "helping children develop qualities like honesty, kindness and justice." This indicates two things, in my opinion: first, the 70%-80% statistic merely indicates people who are "culturally Orthodox," i.e., Russians who are not Muslims, Buddhists, Roman Catholics or "sectarians." Second, Russians are beginning to change their attitude toward the semi-official state religion in Russia.

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Ministry as Practical Service (diakonia) - Part 2

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my book The Ministry Driven Church, available HERE.]

A second point is that after the apostles created this new office of deacon, they let the deacons do the work of practical ministry, while the apostles did their preaching and teaching. This is very important: once we've gotten someone trained to do diakonia-ministry, let them do the work! Often our tendency is to attempt to control by always looking over their shoulders or stepping in to do the "complicated part." The apostles recognized when it was time to let go of some of their responsibilities, delegate them to others, and give them the blessing and authority to do the work.

The position of deacon has historically been seen as a stepping-stone to higher office: that of apostle (in the general sense, a "sent one," i.e., a missionary), evangelist, pastor or teacher. In other words, before a person could assume one of these leadership roles he must first pass through the apprenticeship of doing diakonia-ministry. Therefore we should insist today that prospective leaders first complete the "prerequisite course" of actually performing practical ministry. The tragedy of today's church is that we consider diakonia-ministry to be women's work! My wife and I have been teaching courses in missions and practical ministries for several years in Russia, and the large majority of missions students are men, while the large majority of practical ministries students are women. But young men who have just finished Bible college or seminary are not qualified to become missionaries, evangelists or pastors until they have become experienced in diakonia-ministry, just as Jesus' twelve disciples did, as Stephen and Philip did, and as Peter, Paul and the other apostles kept on doing even after they assumed a higher office.

In Rom. 12:7, right after the gift of prophecy and followed by the gifts of teaching, exhorting, ruling, and comforting the afflicted, we read, "or [having the gift of] service (diakonia), let us give ourselves to service (diakonia)." St. Paul makes it clear in verses 4 and 6 that not all members of the body have the same function, therefore each believer has different gifts. The gift of diakonia or practical ministry, however, is probably the most widespread gift in all its various forms. Paul similarly writes in 1 Cor. 12 that various people have various gifts, and in v.28 he writes, "God has set some in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, and various kinds of languages." God is still the "I AM" - the supernatural God Who delivered the Israelites out of slavery by signs and miracles. We believe in this same supernatural God: He hasn't grown old and retired, He still exists, He IS? able to heal and deliver today. Most of these gifts pertain to the spiritual or supernatural, but the gift of "helps" corresponds to the "ordinary service" of diakonia. Who has the gift of helps (antilepsis, relief), i.e., who can help? Just about any disciple who has two healthy arms and two healthy legs can help, so that person has the gift of helps!

But this doesn't mean that just anyone can do diakonia, because the motivation must be Christ's example of diakonia and self-sacrifice. A few generations ago western societies, still under a strong Christian influence, decided that it would be good for society as a whole to take over from the church the functions of caring for widows, orphans, the poor, maimed, lame and blind. The churches' resources were being stretched thin, so churches abdicated this responsibility to the state. But increasing secularization of society has led to the loss of the strong Christian influence, resulting in the loss of motivation to really care about widows, orphans, the poor, maimed, lame and blind. Instead, a large percentage of people in modern society begrudge being taxed to pay for those less fortunate people. This is an example of "the law of unintended consequences" - what was originally viewed by the majority as a good idea has come to be viewed negatively, as a burden. Due to the secularization of society, the few people today who still believe it is good to care for the poor, elderly and disabled often do not have a sufficient philosophical basis for such actions. They believe it is a good thing to do good deeds, and we as Christians should encourage their actions. But we should gently point out that "doing good simply because it's good to be good" is circular logic.

It is indeed necessary to do good, but that reason is insufficient in and of itself. The only necessary and sufficient philosophical foundation for doing good works is God's grace that has been poured out on us: Paul writes in Eph. 2:8-10 - "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them." We are saved by God's gift of grace, not by our insufficient good works; but we are being re-created and restored into the image of Christ Jesus for the purpose of doing diakonia, good works! In Tit. 2:11 and 14 Paul writes, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men," and our blessed hope of Christ's second coming in glory motivates us to be transformed into "a people for his own possession, zealous for good works."

And Paul continues this theme in Tit. 3:5 and 8 - "not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us," i.e., our good works that we do under our own power cannot save us, but "those who have believed God [must] be careful to maintain good works." All three of these passages illustrate that being good for goodness' sake is insufficient; it is not the cause of our salvation, but rather the effect of God's grace that is transforming us. The grace of God is the only necessary and sufficient cause for doing good works. All other human reasoning or ideologies fall short of providing a sufficient, enduring basis for good works.

Another way to understand this phenomenon is "the law of the third and fourth generation." In many places in the Old Testament, God promises to bless obedience "to the third and fourth generation," and to curse disobedience "to the third and fourth generation." A generation is about twenty to thirty years, so three or four generations can be anywhere from 60 to 120 years. That is the length of time it takes for a society to lose the living memory and moral guidance of godly parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who taught their descendants by word and example how to obey God's commands. A second-generation family descended from truly Christian parents may teach their children to do good deeds, and they may even occasionally attend church when it is convenient for them. So their third-generation children grow up with a vague concept of God and a shaky foundation for doing good works. But this third generation's children will have little or no motivation for doing good works, unless they repent and return to the Lord. Otherwise the consequences are egocentric behavior and moral degradation for society. Is this not what we see today, after three or four generations of secular, post-Christian society?

It is not sufficient for society to pass laws requiring good, moral behavior. Even if the state tries to legislate a minimal, baseline morality, secular society's members do not have a sufficient motivating force to obey such minimal laws. Only the Holy Spirit can motivate us sufficiently to do the good works of diakonia. St. Paul describes this accurately in 2 Cor. 3:5-8 -

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as servants (diakonos) of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the service (diakonia) of death, written engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which was passing away: won't service (diakonia) of the Spirit be with much more glory?

So in conclusion, the good works of diakonia can be performed by any believer, man or woman, who is filled with and motivated by the Holy Spirit to perform this ministry. It is a high and holy calling that often leads to greater areas of service, as we already noticed with Stephen, and with Philip, as you can read in Acts chapter 8 and in Acts 21:8.


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Thank the Lord for the freedom to teach about religion, including Orthodox Christianity, in Russian grade schools.
Mon. - As most Russian Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas, pray that the Word will become flesh in their daily lives.
Tue. - Ask God to help us comprehend the coming of Christ, His baptism and the sanctifying of the whole creation.
Wed. - Pray for Christians around the world who are "socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs."
Thu. - Thank God that various Christian confessions are reaching out to Gypsies throughout Western and Eastern Europe.
Fri. - Praise the Lord for the young girl whose desire to serve her former orphanage has opened doors for outreach.
Sat. - Ask God to restore the practice of true diakonia-ministry so the Church will be built up and we will attain unity of the faith.


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. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. - George Washington


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