FIRST, THE NEWS:
RUSSIAN CHURCH OUTRAGED BY ABUSES OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS IN KOSOVO
from Russia Today
(15 Jan) The Russian Orthodox Church has expressed outrage at the arrests and beatings of Orthodox believers in Kosovo during the Christmas holidays. In a statement released on Tuesday, the Moscow Patriarchate said that police must apologize to the head of the female monastery in Gracanica and to Bishop Teodosije for bursting into the monastery without warning on January 7, the day of Orthodox Christmas.
Several people were arrested and taken to a Pristina police station where they were beaten. The Russian Church condemned the local authorities for scorning the religious traditions of the Serb minority and failing to protect the rights of Orthodox Christians in Kosovo. [read more...]
KYRGYZSTAN: NSC SECRET POLICE BEHIND "NEEDED" NEW PUNISHMENTS FOR EXERCISING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(08 Jan) Kyrgyzstan's State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA), with the help of the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police, has formulated proposed new administrative punishments on individuals and communities for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, an NSC official told Forum 18 News Service from the capital Bishkek. The proposed new punishments are included in Justice Ministry proposed amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences now working their way through the government bureaucracy.
In late December 2012 the Committee of Ministers Department rejected the Justice Ministry's initial version of the amendments on procedural grounds and returned them for further work. However, NSC secret police and Interior Ministry officials told Forum 18 they support the introduction of these new punishments. Approval from the Committee of Ministers Department is required before the amendments can be presented for approval in Kyrgyzstan's single-chamber parliament, the Zhogorku Kenesh. [read more...]
GUNMEN KILLED IN BAKSAN HAD PLANNED TERROR ATTACKS ON CHURCHES DURING CHRISTMAS
(07 Jan) The operation headquarters in Kabardino-Balkaria and the National Antiterrorist Committee (NAC) have confirmed the elimination of three militants in the republic who had planned a series of terrorist attacks on churches in Kabardino-Balkaria and in Stavropol Territory during Orthodox Christmas. "Three gunmen were neutralized in an armed clash. According to information available, they had intended to stage terrorist acts in churches in Kabardino-Balkaria and in Stavropol Territory during festive church services," a report of the operation HQ says.
According to NAC, "the department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria was tipped off about the plans of the militants to stage a number of terrorist acts in churches in Kabardino-Balkaria during crowded festive church services on January 6-8. The operations HQ of the republic immediately planned a special effort to identify and detain individuals suspected of preparing terrorist acts," the NAC report says. It adds that unidentified gunmen were neutralized in a suburb of Baksan on Sunday evening after they fired shots at policemen. Shots were fired from a Gazelle van after policemen signaled the driver to stop for an ID check. The police returned fire, and three suspected militants were killed in flames after the van went ablaze. [read more...]
BELARUS: ALTERNATIVE SERVICE LAW "EARLIEST BY SUMMER 2014"?
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(10 Jan) An official of the Belarusian government's National Centre for Legislation and Legal Research has told Forum 18 News Service that a "working version" of a proposed Alternative Service Law has been prepared. "All state agencies" have agreed in principle that such a Law should be adopted. "If all goes well and according to the plan," the Law will be adopted "at the earliest by summer 2014," Vera Chaushnik of the National Centre for Legislation and Legal Research told Forum 18 from the capital Minsk on 9 January. The moves come long after the country's Constitutional Court ruled in May 2000 that an alternative to compulsory military service should be introduced "urgently".
It remains unclear why this Law is being brought forward now, after a previous draft was dropped without explanation in 2010 (see F18News 18 January 2010
PATRIARCH FILARET ASKS ECUMENICAL ORTHODOXY NOT TO CONSIDER QUESTION OF AUTOCEPHALY WITHOUT KYIVAN PATRIARCHATE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(17 Jan) Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate addressed Patriarch of Constantinople and heads of the local Orthodox Churches with the request not to consider at the next All-Orthodox Council the question of autocephaly, autonomy and Diptychons without the Churches seeking the recognition. The text of the letter of the primate was published by the web site of UOC-KP:
"We are deeply convinced that the settlement of the issue of autocephaly, method of its declaration and recognition is impossible without the participation and consideration f the position of the Churches currently seeking recognition of their autocephaly (Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Ohrid Archbishopric (Montenegrin Orthodox Church) and Orthodox Church in America) contradicts the council traditions of the Orthodox Church, the Holy Scripture which calls to listen to both sides before making a judgment. That is exactly why any decision regarding autocephaly made in any way without the participation of the mentioned Churches will not settle the issue and will remain fruitless," reads the address [read more...]
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OFFERS TO CARE FOR ORPHANS
from The Voice of Russia
(07 Jan) Patriarch Kirill has offered the government broader Church care for physically challenged orphans. Speaking on a Christmas visit to a maternity hospital Monday, he said at least one Church orphanage for handicapped kids can be set up.
He also said the Russian Church already runs as many as 90 orphanages, which house and nurture more than 1,500 children. His Holiness said he takes heart from the fact that most of the Russian orphans who go to adoptive parents find their new homes in Russia. [read more...]
FOLLOWING U.S. ADOPTION BAN IN RUSSIA, CHRISTIANS SERVE ORPHANS IN MOSCOW
from Mission Network News
RUSSIAN ADOPTION NEWS
from Russian Ministries
ROMANIAN ORPHANS FORCED TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES
from Global Post
CHURCH WILL CONTINUE STRENGTHENING ITS POSITIONS IN SOCIETY DESPITE ATTACKS - PATRIARCH KIRILL
USA PUBLISHES HARSH CRITICISM OF RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS SITUATION
from U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
POLISH CATHOLIC BISHOPS THANK PATRIARCH KIRILL FOR SUPPORT
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
EASTERN RITE CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE EPIPHANY ON 19 JANUARY
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
BEAUTIFUL AND TERRIFYING PHOTOS OF ORTHODOX EPIPHANY
from The Atlantic
See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!
This weekend Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians who follow the Julian calendar are celebrating Theophany (Epiphany) - the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by the prophet John, and for most this includes the ceremony of "the Blessing of the Waters" at the side of a frozen-over lake or river: see the "Beautiful and Terrifying Photos of Orthodox Epiphany" at the above link! It's not just the Orthodox who do this: I've taken part in Protestant outdoor baptisms in Russia through a hole in the ice and during a snow storm.
On a more serious note, the public uproar in Russia over the U.S. government's passing of the Magnitsky Act (banning several Russian government officials from entering the U.S. due to civil rights violations in Russia) resulted in a lopsided tit-for-tat new law in Russia banning U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. Most people in the West, however, may not have heard that there were large street demonstrations in many Russian cities against this new law in Russia: why should innocent orphans become pawns in an international diplomatic tussle?
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[This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of my book The Ministry Driven Church, available HERE. I'm currently teaching this as an online course, and you can try out the course's interactive questions HERE: scroll down in the left-hand index to "A Biblical Theology of Ministry."]
As we have just seen, only the power of the Holy Spirit can sufficiently motivate and enable us to do the work of true ministry (diakonia). As He was preparing His disciples for His death and departure, Jesus said in John 14:16-18 - "I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world can't receive; for it doesn't see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you."
After Jesus rose from the dead, each of the four Gospels tells how He hinted that His disciples would receive the Holy Spirit, and then Jesus commissioned them to preach the Good News and make disciples: "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations..." (Mat. 28:18-19a). The above passage in John identifies the Holy Spirit as the abiding presence and power of Christ, and in Matthew's version of the Great Commission He transmits this divine power to His disciples.
In Mark's Gospel Jesus said, "Go into all the world, and preach the Good News to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned." And later it says, "They went out, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen" (Mk. 16:15-16 and 20). It was the Lord's abiding Holy Spirit that worked with them and confirmed their message by miracles.
In Lk. 24:49 Luke has Jesus say, "Behold, I send forth the promise of my Father on you. But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high." And in Jn. 20:21b-22 John quotes Jesus as saying, "'As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit!'" So both Luke and John are a bit clearer about the promise of the Holy Spirit.
But the disciples still had not actually received that power, and even at the time of Christ's ascension into heaven they couldn't quite grasp what was about to happen. Jesus told them very clearly, "Don't depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:4b-5). But it seems this went right over their heads, because they asked (v. 6b), "Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?" They were still hoping that He would overthrow the Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom of David. So He told them very plainly, in the most explicit promise of the Holy Spirit, "It isn't for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth" (vv. 7b-8).
The Russian text for verse 7 is very strong: "It's none of your business to know times or deadlines!" We must cease and desist theologizing about eschatology, proudly asserting that we know the course of future events, the end times, which we can't possibly know! If the angels and Jesus Himself didn't know, how can we presume to know? So even with this most explicit promise of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were still in the dark. Until they actually experienced it, they couldn't fathom what Jesus was talking about. Until you get in the water and take your feet off the bottom, all of your theoretical instruction about how to swim remains merely theory.
On the Day of Pentecost just ten days later, however, they experienced the baptism by the Holy Spirit, the church was born and it began its rapid growth. The noteworthy thing is that Jesus' giving the Great Commission to His disciples, the transfer of authority-power (exousia) and the command to make disciples in Mat. 28:18-19, did not in itself jump-start the rapid growth of the church. It was just theory until the disciples actually received the Holy Spirit's dynamic power (dunamis) promised in Acts 1:8. The Holy Spirit is given to make us holy, sanctified, and to empower us to minister (diakoneo), as we learn in Jesus' teaching in Luke 11:5-13 -
He said to them, "Which of you, if you go to a friend at midnight, and tell him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him,' and he from within will answer and say, 'Don't bother me. The door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give it to you'? I tell you, although he will not rise and give it to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence, he will get up and give him as many as he needs. I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he won't give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he asks for an egg, he won't give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"
This passage is central to the ministry of sanctification. The little parable at the beginning is about a man asking a friend if he could borrow three loaves of bread and the passage concludes with the teaching that we should ask the Father to give us the Holy Spirit. At first it seems more than a bit self-centered to ask for some bread and to ask for the Holy Spirit. How does this relate to ministry? But note carefully (v. 6) that the man isn't asking to borrow some bread for himself, he is asking it for another friend. So Jesus is teaching here about ministering to the practical needs of others, and He concludes by telling us that we must ask, seek, and knock to receive the Holy Spirit in order to minister effectively to others. Otherwise we will either burn out or simply give up, if we try to do diakonia-ministry on our own power.
For the first few centuries after Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit was not fully grasped. Many thought of the Holy Spirit as simply the abiding presence of Christ after His ascension. This is because the Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself. Jesus said, "When the Counselor has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me" (Jn. 15:26). So the Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus Christ. We learn further (Jn. 16:13-14) that the Holy Spirit will not speak of Himself, but will glorify Jesus: "However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming. He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you." If the Holy Spirit doesn't call attention to Himself but rather glorifies Christ, we who ask, seek and knock to receive the Holy Spirit should do so not to glorify ourselves or to experience a super-spiritual "high," but to glorify Christ by becoming the kind of disciples He intended, by doing what He taught His disciples to do: minister to the poor, lame, maimed and blind.
Endnotes to Chapter 6:
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Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. With today's open-ended tolerance, many people are so open-minded, their brains could fall out.
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