Welcome to , 16 Feb 2013
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH LOOKS TO SALVATION ONLINE
from Transitions Online

Patriarch Kirill(08 Feb) The Russian Orthodox Church is looking to improve its web presence after Patriarch Kirill voiced his concern over the Church's reputation on the Internet. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is urging clergy members to build a more active relationship with the Internet users, RIA Novosti reports. During a meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church's Council of Bishops on 3 February the patriarch suggested that going online would help the Church to deal with what it sees as anti-Church rhetoric online and in the media.

"When a person makes a query on Church life in an Internet search engine, he finds a lot of lies, hypocrisy and hatred," he said, according to RIA Novosti. The Orthodox Church's announcement to get web-savvy comes after weeks after a similar announcement by Pope Benedict. In his speech, the patriarch told priests that a person who lives predominantly in the Internet environment is detached from the Christian ideal, and he emphasized that the virtual mission should be complementary and not replace work in the parishes, according to Russia Beyond The Headlines. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: "TO COUNTER MANIFESTATIONS OF RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM AND TERRORISM"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(05 Feb) At least eight meetings for worship in Kazakhstan were raided by police and other officials in January, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In some cases meetings for worship were broken up, and in other cases police waited until they were over before questioning meeting participants. Three religious leaders - all Council of Churches Baptist pastors in North Kazakhstan Region - were punished for leading these meetings with the maximum administrative fine of 100 Minimum Financial Indicators (MFIs). This is currently equivalent to nearly two months average wages as measured nationwide by the state.

At least some of the raids were led or instigated by local police Departments for the Struggle against Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism. North Kazakhstan Regional Police announced the raids on three local Council of Churches Baptist congregations as a joint operation with the Regional Department of the government's Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA). A 1 February statement on the police website announced that police, with the regional ARA Department, conducted "operational/prophylactic activity to counter manifestations of religious extremism and terrorism."

Although the victims of the raids were unnamed in the statement, the dates and locations of raids, as well as fines imposed, matched the details of the raids and fines against Baptists. The police statement also claimed the raids were directed at "illegal missionary activity" and "illegal migration." It also claimed that "special emphasis was put on investigating places where religious books are traded." Similar operations against uncensored religious literature distribution have taken place elsewhere in Kazakhstan. [read more...]


ORTHODOX MONKS IN JORDANVILLE, N.Y. DON'T PRAY FOR USA AUTHORITIES BECAUSE OF THEIR POSITION ON ABORTIONS
from Interfax-Religion

(11 Feb) Monks of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville (USA) - the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia do not pray for American authorities at Liturgies. Such a decision was taken during Bill Clinton's presidency. The reason is the legality of abortions in the country, the monastery's Father Superior and rector of the local seminary Archimandrite Luke (Muryanka) was cited as saying by the Voiny Zhizny (Warriors of Life) press service.

The movement's leader Dmitry Baranov has recently held a pilgrimage to Jordanville and talked to Father Luke. According to the priest, at the Liturgy, they still pray "for this country, and those who live in it in faith and piety" without mentioning the authorities and army. [read more...]


EXHIBITION ON UGCC WWII UNDERGROUND PERIOD HELD IN ROME
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(15 Feb) A religious society of the Holy Sophia and Institute of St. Pope Clement of the Ukrainian Catholic University invite everyone to visit an exhibition "To the light of the Resurrection through the thorns of catacombs" held on occasion of the 20th anniversary of the emergence of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church from the underground. So reported the web site of UGCC in Italy.

The exhibition is based on the memoirs of eye-witnesses and active participants of the underground movement, photos gathered by the Institute of Church History of the Ukrainian Catholic University for 20 years. The exhibition covers the following three periods from 1939 to 1991: the forced liquidation, underground and legalization of UGCC in 1989. It includes 20 thematic banners presenting life stories of UGCC clergymen, monastics and lay people and reflecting unique human destinies. A book about the exhibition is offered in the book shop of the Cathedral the Holy Sophia. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

EASTERN ORTHODOX YOUTH FESTIVAL "BRETHREN" OPENS IN GRODNO, BELARUS
from BelTA

ORTHODOX-CATHOLIC RELATIONS WON'T BE AFFECTED BY CHANGE OF VATICAN LEADER - RUSSIAN CHURCH
from Interfax-Religion

BUDAPEST THE HUB OF OUTREACH IN HUNGARY; RECRUITING MINISTRY TEAM TO MEET GOSPEL DEMANDS
from Mission Network News

MINISTER REGRETS THAT ORTHODOX CHURCH DOES NOT SUPPORT PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION OF GAYS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

GOD SENDS A METEOR TO RUSSIA
from Interfax-Religion

CONGRESSIONAL BRIEFING ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ISSUES IN EURASIA/FORMER SOVIET UNION
from Russian Ministries

LATVIAN BAPTISTS SEEK TO PLANT CHURCHES, NURTURE YOUNG LEADERS
from Baptist Standard

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

In the article "Five Myths About Russia" several of the ideas floating around concerning Russia are debunked, including "Russia's population is shrinking," or "Russia's economy is in decline," or "Russia spends most of its money on the military," or "Russians have more abortions than live births." Most of these have been problems I have reported on over the past several years. But the fact is that Russia's population, society and economy are turning around. Take a good look at the article!

To be sure, several of the former Soviet republics are still led by aged remnants of the former communist regimes and continue to operate as they did in the old USSR, as we see in the above article about Protestants in Kazakhstan. But Russia itself is gradually changing for the better. In another article above, Orthodox monks in Jordanville, N.Y. do not pray for the U.S. leaders and the military because they support abortion and homosexuality. It seems that as Russian society is looking up, American society is heading down.

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Ministry as Evangelizing (euaggelizo)

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my book The Ministry Driven Church. I'm currently teaching this as an online course, and you can try out the course's interactive questions HERE.]

Sanctification means that we no longer live for ourselves, we do not operate according to the flesh but rather according to the Spirit, Who empowers us to do the ministry of diakonia, which in turn gives us great opportunities to share the Good News, as Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:15-18 -

He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again. Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry (diakonia) of reconciliation.

Because God has reconciled us to Himself, we have been given the diakonia-ministry of reconciliation, of telling others that by Christ's death on the cross God has reconciled the whole world to Himself. Reconciliation is making peace between two warring parties, and Acts 10:36 says, "The word which he sent to the children of Israel, preaching good news (euaggelizo) of peace by Jesus Christ - he is Lord of all." The Greek word euaggelizo means to evangelize, to tell this Good News: the new creation is dawning, we are new creatures, all things have become new!

One starry night on the hills outside of Bethlehem, the angel of the Lord, perhaps Gabriel (Lk. 1:19), appeared to a band of poor shepherds, and they were terrified. Then the angel said, "Don't be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news (euaggelizo) of great joy which will be to all the people" (Lk. 2:10). Notice the target audience: poor, despised shepherds.

When Jesus announced the start of His earthly ministry He quoted from Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news (euaggelizo) to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk. 4:18-19). Again, notice the target audience: the poor, brokenhearted, captives and blind.

Later, when John the Baptizer was in prison, he sent some of his followers to ask if Jesus was really the one John had been announcing. Perhaps John was discouraged and was wondering if his preaching had all been in vain. Jesus instructed John's followers to go back and tell him what they saw Jesus do and heard Him preach: "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached (euaggelizo) to them." (Mat. 11:5).

This should leave no doubt that the Gospel, the Good News, is especially aimed at the poor, the brokenhearted, the prisoners, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and even the dead. By now, this fact ought to be abundantly clear to us, unless we are still stuck in our old paradigms. One old paradigm is that we let a priest perform some mysterious rituals over us, and another old paradigm is that we say some mysterious words over ourselves; but the result is the same: we are convinced that we're on the way to heaven, so we can get on with our own lives. We have bargained with the gods and have manipulated them to do our will.

Put in such blunt terms, the problem with these old paradigms is obvious: they rely on mystical jargon to appease the gods in order to get them on our side, to do what we want them to do for us, to attain self-fulfillment. But as Philip Steyne writes in his book, Gods of Power, that is the definition of paganism, not Christianity!1 The euaggelion, the Good News, is exactly the opposite: it makes us new, so that we want to do for God what He wants. We no longer live for ourselves, for what we want in life; instead, we are made into new creatures, to desire what God wants! This is what it means to become a faithful servant of the Gospel.

When Jesus first commissioned His disciples, He "gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them forth to preach the Kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. ...They departed, and went throughout the villages, preaching the Good News (euaggelizo), and healing everywhere" (Lk. 9:1-2 and 6). Here we see once again that preaching the Kingdom of God is equated with the Good News, which is to be accompanied by casting out demons, curing diseases and healing the sick. The Good News of God's reign means that people are made whole both physically and spiritually. In fact, the Greek noun soteria means both "healing" and "salvation," and the Greek verb sodzo means both "heal" and "save"2.

It is no wonder that these two ideas so often occur side by side in the Gospels! Meeting people's physical felt needs is a great door-opener for meeting their spiritual needs. A perfect example of these two meanings is in Acts 4:9 and 12 - "If we are examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed (sodzo), ?There is salvation (soteria) in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved (i>sodzo)!" It is clear that Luke, a doctor by profession (Col. 4:14), is deliberately linking these two meanings. In effect Peter tells the ruling council, "Of course this crippled man needed to be healed physically, but you leaders must realize that you too need to be healed spiritually!"

The Great Commission is to "Go into all the world, and preach (kerusso) the Good News (euaggelion) to the whole creation" (Mk. 16:15). Often the verb form is translated simply "preach," but also "preach the Good News." We see both uses in Acts 8:4 and 25 - "Therefore those who were scattered abroad went around preaching (euaggelizo) the word (logos). ...They therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Good News (euaggelizo) to many villages of the Samaritans." When Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra, "There they preached the Good News (euaggelizo). What is this Good News all about? Acts 13:30-33a tells us it is about Jesus being killed and raised from the dead - "But God raised him from the dead, and he was seen for many days by those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the people. We bring you good news (euaggelizo) of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled the same to us, their children, in that he raised up Jesus." At Lystra a certain man sat, impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked. He was listening to Paul speaking, who, fastening eyes on him, and seeing that he had faith to be made whole, said with a loud voice, 'Stand upright on your feet!' He leaped up and walked" (Acts 14:7-10). Here again we see preaching the Good News linked together with the ministry of physical healing.

It is critically important to always keep in our preaching and practice the two meanings of "salvation" and "healing." Our human tendency is to slip into one form of dualism or another, focusing only on saving souls and ignoring the physical felt needs of people; or focusing only on healing the sick, helping the needy, and thus ignoring the ultimate, eternal question: what happens after we die? Either way, it is dualism. If we ignore the eternal question, there is no logically sufficient reason for doing good works. Having spent many years in computer programming, I have discovered that many people have great difficulty using the synthetic logic of "both-and." Most people tend to think in "either-or" terms: it's either preaching salvation, or doing practical ministries. But Christ always combined both, and we too must always combine both, ministering to people's spiritual and physical needs.

In Acts 14:7-10 we saw the connection between evangelizing and healing. But there is another important aspect to this story: in vv. 11-15 the local people seized on the notion that Paul and Barnabas were the pagan gods Mercury and Jupiter, and wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But the apostles rejected this, insisting they were human beings just like the locals, and were bringing the Good News (euaggelizo) that the one true God had now revealed Himself to all nations. Human nature, tainted by sin, so often desires to focus on spectacular manifestations of supernatural power, identifying it with pagan gods and trying to appease or manipulate the gods. The apostles, however, directed these people's attention back to the Good News. And today it is easy for us to become enchanted with supernatural acts of healing or wrapped up in practical works of mercy. But we must never forget the apostles' emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel!

Endnotes to Chapter 7:

1. Steyne, Philip M., Gods of Power: A Study of the Belief and Practice of Animists, (Houston, Touch Publications, 1989), 161.

2. Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, op. cit.


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray that the Church in Russia will gain a strong foothold in the Russian blogosphere, refuting the online attacks against it.
Mon. - Ask the Lord to protect the three unregistered Baptist pastors in north Kazakhstan who recently received heavy fines.
Tue. - Pray with the monks at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, N.Y. against abortion and for spiritual revival in the USA.
Wed. - Thank the Lord that Christians in the Ukraine held firm and survived "through the thorns of catacombs" under communism.
Thu. - Praise God for the international winter festival of young Eastern Orthodox Christians that took place in Grodno, Belarus.
Fri. - Thank the Lord for the Gospel being spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe from the mission "hub" in Hungary.
Sat. - Pray that Christians will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to combine diakonia-ministry and euaggelizo-evangelizing.


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  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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