Welcome to , 02 Mar 2013
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

NEW POPE WON'T THREATEN ORTHODOX-CATHOLIC TIES
from Russia Beyond the Headlines

Select to read the article(28 Feb) Pope Benedict XVI, 85, officially stepped down on Feb. 28. Following his abdication, experts and representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox clergy anticipate closer relations between the two churches under the next incumbent. The abdication of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) came as a surprise to the entire Christian world, including representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Noting the tremendous progress made between the different Christian traditions under his papacy, experts believe that, whoever is elected to lead the Catholic Church, relations with the ROC will not suffer.

The official position of the ROC was stated by the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations (DECR) of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokalamsk. He suggested that, in the face of serious challenges requiring new stimuli, the pope is naturally giving way to a younger and more dynamic successor. "Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign can be regarded as an act of personal courage and humility," read the statement issued by the head of the DECR. "The Orthodox Church is grateful to the outgoing pontiff for his understanding of the obstacles that lie in the way of fully normalized relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, especially in western Ukraine." [read more...]


MONKS IN THE SPIRITUAL CENTER OF RUSSIANS ABROAD ALWAYS PRAY FOR AMERICAN AUTHORITIES - ABBOT
from Interfax-Religion

(21 Feb) The Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville (USA) - the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia - has rebutted the information that the monastery does not commemorate the American Authorities. "At the monastery, at all the petitions in the services and at the Proskomedia, the authorities and armed forces are commemorated, as anyone who visits can attest," the monastery's abbot Archimandrite Luke (Murianka) said. [read more...]


CHURCH SHOULD HAVE MORE CONTROL OVER RUSSIAN LIFE: PUTIN
from Reuters

Select to read the article (01 Feb) President Vladimir Putin said on Friday the Orthodox Church should be given more say over family life, education and the armed forces in Russia, as he celebrated the leadership of its head Patriarch Kirill. Faith runs deep in Russia after the fall of the officially atheist Soviet Union and Putin has looked to the largest religion in Russia for support since he began his third term as president after a wave of protests against his rule.

He has also tried to mix spirituality with his own brand of patriotism in order to unify the officially secular country where ethnic and political fault lines are beginning to show. "At the heart of all Russia's victories and achievements are patriotism, faith and strength of spirit," Putin said in the Kremlin's gold encrusted Alexeyevsky hall, celebrating the fourth anniversary of Kirill's accession as patriarch. [read more...]


MAIN THREAT FOR RUSSIA IS LOSS OF FAITH
from Interfax-Religion

(28 Jan) What the Church will do to respond to the attacks against it, how believers should protect their shrines, whether it is necessary to toughen punishment for insulting religious feelings, what migration policy is , and what the main threat for Russia is: Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia answers these and other questions in exclusive interview to Interfax-Religion correspondents Alexey Sosedov and Valentina Trubetskaya: "Your Holiness, we will remember the last year for numerous anti-church actions. What conclusions did the Church make in this connection, what did it bring out of this experience?"

Patriarch Kirill: " 'What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun' - are Ecclesiastes' well-known words (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It is not surprising for the Church to face the actions aimed at violating and insulting shrines and religious feelings. Christianity all through two thousand years of its history lived through various oppressions - from Roman emperors' persecutions of early Christian Church to mass murders of clergy and believers in Soviet years. And what about nowadays campaigns against Christian symbols in public places, which we witness to in European countries? Isn't it a persecution of Christians under slogans of the secular state sometimes brought to absurdity?" [read more...]


NEW BULGARIAN PATRIARCH ENTHRONED BY TARNISHED ORTHODOX CHURCH
from Yahoo! News

(24 Feb) Bulgaria's new Orthodox patriarch was enthroned in a liturgy in Sofia on Sunday that leaves the soft-spoken theologian the task of restoring the reputation of a church hurt by links to businessmen and communist secret police. Neofit, Bishop of Rousse, took over the 1,100-year old church, which survived centuries of Turkish domination and decades of communism, just as Bulgaria heads for early elections by May after the government resigned on Wednesday during protests over the cost of living and corruption. Protesters in Sofia kept a promise to stay away from the capital's main cathedral, St. Alexander Nevski, so as not to interfere with the ceremonial mass of inauguration.

About 80 percent of Bulgarians say they are Orthodox Christians - the mainstream religion also in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Greece, Romania and Serbia, but only few see churchgoing as important to their lives, recent surveys show. Trust in the Orthodox Church was shaken after a history commission showed in January 2012 that 11 of its 15 bishops collaborated with the former communist era secret police. Neofit, born Simeon Dimitrov, also had a file with the much feared Darzhavna Sigurnost, but while his 16-page entry contained information about him, it preserved no reports made by him to the police. [read more...]


BEING A REASON FOR CHANGE IN SOMEONE'S LIFE IS A GREAT PRIVILEGE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(20 Feb) Pastor of the Protestant Church of Good Changes (Mariupol, Donetsk oblast) Hennadii MOKHNENKO is a legendary personality. He has been working with homeless children for 15 years. This is how the "Republic Pilgrim" Center of Children's Rehabilitation appeared, where nearly 3,000 local orphans have undergone rehabilitation. The pastor has adopted 31 children. (At the moment 14 children are residing at his place. Many have gotten married or found a job and are living separately.)

The gems (although I am not sure that such a term should be applied to children) include Ukraine's teenage boxing champion Serhii Kucheruk and student of the Donetsk Conservatoire Andrii Dudin, who is working on his first album. Incidentally, the movie A Diamond from a Basement has been shot about Andrii, you can found it on YouTube. The members of the church have adopted nearly 100 boys and girls. The most sensational adoption was when the Isaievs dared to adopt seven children with terrible diagnoses. Incidentally, namely Yevhen and Svitlana were the first in Ukraine to adopt an HIV-positive child, of course, they were supported by Pastor Hennadii. [read more...]


BAPTIST-ORTHODOX DIALOGUE: TWO OLD CONFESSIONS IN NEED OF ADAPTATION
from Russian Evangelical Alliance

(20 Feb) "People who claim that friendship and cooperation between Orthodox and Baptists are impossible are profoundly mistaken. Yet those who regard cooperation as possible but unnecessary are even more mistaken." These are the opening lines of a remarkable press release from 1 June 2012 reporting on a two-time meeting between a Baptist congregation pastored by Alexander Vassilevich Fedichkin in Moscow-Tekstilshchiky and the "Holy Trinity" Orthodox congregation in Elektrougli to the east of the city.

Fedichkin, a grizzled veteran of Baptist-Orthodox dialogue, condemns the rejection of contacts by either of the two sides as voluntary self-impoverishment. In the first release on this dialogue from 24 November 2011 he stated: "The purpose of our conversation is not to prove that one or the other faith is incorrect - that's precisely when two sides stop listening to each other. The fundamental goal can only be joint spiritual enrichment." He added that Baptists can only know themselves and their Russian culture through the study of Orthodoxy. Only through becoming familiar with it can Baptists "effectively answer questions addressed to them by Russian society." [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

MOLDOVAN COURT OVERTURNS LOCAL BAN ON 'GAY PROPAGANDA'
from RFE/RL

PATRIARCH THANKS POPE EMERITUS FOR DEFENDING VALUES
from Voice of Russia

CHELYABINSK PASTOR BELIEVES THE METEORITE FALL IS A SIGN OF APOCALYPSE
from Interfax-Religion

RUSSIAN MINISTRIES ADVOCATES FOR U.S. PASTOR DETAINED IN RUSSIA
from Mission Network News

KYIVAN PATRIARCHATE PUBLISHES PLAN TO CELEBRATE 1025TH ANNIVERSARY OF BAPTISM OF KYIVAN RUS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

SUPREME COURT AGAIN REFUSES TO LIQUIDATE "GRACE" CHURCH IN KHABAROVSK
from SOVA

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

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

Please note the rebuttal above by the abbot of the Orthodox monastery in Jordanville NY monastery. The corresponding article contained in our 16 Feb 2013 isssue was an incorrect report. On a more positive note, the website http://predanie.ru/groups/ describes how the Russian Orthodox Church is encouraging young people to take part in Bible study groups.

I'm frankly disappointed that nobody has written in our comment form since last September. Don't be shy - give it a try!

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Ministry as Evangelizing (euaggelizo) - Part 2

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my book The Ministry Driven Church. It's also on our website as an online course, and you can try out the course's interactive questions HERE.]

After completing their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas reported to their sending church in Antioch about their efforts, then attended the First Ecumenical Council in Jerusalem, and returned to Antioch telling of the Council's approval of the mission to reach out to gentiles. In Acts 15:35 we read, "But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching (euaggelizo) the word of the Lord, with many others also." Why should Paul and Barnabas have evangelized the believers in Antioch who had already been evangelized? Wasn't that "preaching to the choir"? Remember, however, that Jesus Himself taught His disciples many of the same things over and over for three years, because at first they didn't quite grasp it, even if they thought they did.

The final passage in Acts that I believe we should consider is 16:9-10, "A vision appeared to Paul in the night. There was a man of Macedonia standing, begging him, and saying, 'Come over into Macedonia and help us.' When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go out to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Good News (euaggelizo) to them." As soon as Paul received this vision, he felt compelled to cross over into Europe and evangelize there. Thank God Paul went to Europe, or we might still be bloodthirsty barbarians! The Gospel was Paul's motivating force. We began by considering 2 Cor. 5, where Paul says he had the ministry (diakonia) of reconciliation. In the surrounding verses, 2 Cor. 5:14 and 20, Paul exclaims, "The love of Christ compels us.... Be reconciled to God!" The Good News is not merely healing broken, hurting bodies; rather, it is supremely healing the breach between God and man. This is our driving force, our raison d'etre. The Gospel of eternal salvation gives ultimate meaning to physical healing. Without the preaching of the Gospel, we are only putting band-aids over the fatal internal injury of sin. Not only is physical healing by itself ultimately meaningless for the patient, it is also senseless for the one doing this ministry if there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul makes this quite clear in 1 Cor. 15: 1, 3-4, 14 and 32 -

Now I declare to you, brothers, the Good News which I preached (euaggelizo) to you, which also you received, in which you also stand.... For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.... If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain.... If I fought with animals at Ephesus for human purposes, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, then "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

Without Christ's literal, physical resurrection from the dead, and without our future physical resurrection from death into eternal life, we might as well eat, drink and be merry, because in the long run we're all dead! Why did Paul fight wild beasts in the coliseum at Ephesus? Not merely for humanistic, altruistic purposes! Why did almost all of the apostles and myriads of thousands of early Christians gladly meet a bloody death for their faith in Christ, if they weren't absolutely convinced of the reality of eternal life and of the imperative to preach this Good News? The Gospel of Christ's physical resurrection is a literal, objective and historically true fact!

And by accompanying the proclamation of this Gospel with physical healing in this life we give a sign and foretaste of the complete restoration of our bodies into the glorified state of Christ's post-resurrection body. Without the resurrection, we are wasting our time healing the sick - we might as well practice "survival of the fittest" and abandon them to die. Indeed, that is what happens when our post-Christian society blots the Gospel out of its consciousness: doctors who have sworn to "do no harm," to heal and save lives, resort to abortion and euthanasia.

Another passage illustrating this compelling imperative of preaching the Good News is Rom. 1:15-16 - "So, as much as is in me, I am eager to preach the Good News (euaggelizo) to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the Good News (euaggelion) of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek." Paul says he is "eager" (prothumos), which means "forward in spirit, that is, predisposed; neuter (as noun) alacrity: - ready, willing."3 Paul is straining forward, champing at the bit and speeding ahead with alacrity, ready, willing and able to preach the Good News! Why? Because it is "the power (dunamis) of God" - God's "dynamite" that can blow away our encrusted sins and save everyone who believes.

But Paul in Rom. 10:15 returns to the actions that must accompany preaching the Gospel: "And how will they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News (euaggelizo) of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!'" Why this talk about "beautiful feet"? Adam Clarke writes in his commentary -

Dr. Taylor remarks on this quotation, which is taken from Is. 52:7, that "feet are variously used in Scripture, and sometimes have respect to things internal and spiritual. For as the life of man and the practice of piety are compared to walking, Ps. 1:1, so his feet may signify the principles on which he acts, and the dispositions of his mind. Eccl. 5:1: 'Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.' Agreeably to this, the feet of the messengers in Isaiah and of the apostles in this verse, may signify the validity of their mission - the authority upon which they acted, and any character or qualifications with which they were invested."4

Thus the "beautiful feet" refer to the walk, the behavior or the character of the one who preaches. His actions must match his words. It doesn't say "how beautiful are the words," but "the feet." Works of mercy and acts of kindness are what make the Good News beautiful.

We must neither rule out supernatural acts of healing, nor rely totally on them. Just as Jesus asked His disciples how many loaves and fish they had, He first expects us to do what we can do, then He will do what we can't do. Paul writes in Rom. 15:18-20 -

For I will not dare to speak of any things except those which Christ worked through me, for the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of God's Spirit; so that from Jerusalem, and around as far as to Illyricum, I have fully preached the Good News (euaggelion) of Christ; yes, making it my aim to preach the Good News (euaggelizo), not where Christ was already named, that I might not build on another's foundation.

Notice how Paul balances "works" and "deed" with "the power of signs and wonders." When we work and do what we can do, then and only then do we have the right to believe that God will do what only God can do. Often the greatest miracle is when Christians will get off their sanctified posteriors and start doing good works, acts of mercy! The dividing line between natural and supernatural then becomes invisible, as God heals through our hands when we massage and exercise lame or paralyzed limbs, and combine our actions with the prayer of faith.

Paul further explains the practical, down-to-earth aspect of the Good News in 1 Cor. 1:17-18 - "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Good News (euaggelizo)--not in wisdom of words, so that the cross of Christ wouldn't be made void. For the word (logos) of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are saved (sodzo) it is the power of God." He emphasizes here the need for more than mere wise words that are devoid of action. By no means does Paul demean the value of education: he was not at all anti-intellectual, rather he was highly educated in the Law and skilled in logic and rhetoric. But the cross of Christ is more than mere wise words, although Christ in His earthly ministry certainly taught with great wisdom: the cross shows us His willingness to suffer with us, and to pay the ultimate price by taking our suffering and sins upon Himself. Again I want to point out the down-to-earth language used here: mere "preaching of the cross," wise words about the cross are foolishness if a person is dying: he needs to see action! After we have demonstrated the Good News in action, then the dying person has seen its power and is ready to listen to our preaching. Are we willing to get our hands dirty and even risk our own personal well-being by involving ourselves in others' suffering? Christ did! To us who are healed-and-saved (sodzo), the Good News is the power of God. People need to see this power in action, not merely hear wise theological words.

One of the most effective modes of evangelism is through bi-vocational work. A certain Kyrgyz pastor in Moscow was struggling to reach out to his fellow Kyrgyz people from Central Asia who came to Moscow to find work. The pastor's tight financial situation forced him to get a job as a laborer, and now he has an audience of 150 Kyrgyz co-workers who see him as one of them rather than someone in the never-never land of religion, or worse - a person "bought" by outside agencies. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 9:16-18 -

For if I preach the Good News (euaggelizo), I have nothing to boast about; for necessity is laid on me; but woe is to me, if I don't preach the Good News (euaggelizo). For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward. But if not of my own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the Good News (euaggelizo), I may present the Good News (euaggelion) of Christ without charge, so as not to abuse my authority in the Good News (euaggelion).

How many preach the Good News without charge, and how many are in the ministry to have an easy job and a reasonably good salary? For most of our ministry life my wife and I have been self-supporting through secular work, and we operated a mission support agency in our spare time. Now our savings and pensions enable us to receive the minimum personal support that our mission will allow and still consider us as employees, so that the large majority of funds donated to our account can be used for ministry. Our Russian coworkers can see that we are living on an economic level similar to their own, and they consider us one of them. On a local basis we heal the sick and teach others how to do the same. Through our website we've had over 1,400 visits per day by people from all over the world who read God's Word, download Bibles in seven languages, theological reference books, Christian music, sermons, or study our missions and practical ministries courses. In all of this we present the Good News free of charge.

The Apostle Paul in Gal. 1:6-9 issues a rather stern warning about those who would pervert the Good News of God's grace into an easy-believism of reliance on religious rituals for salvation or the "health-and-wealth gospel" -

I marvel that you so soon are being moved away from Him who called you into the grace of Christ, to another gospel (euaggelion), which is not another, but some are troubling you, and desiring to pervert the gospel (euaggelion) of Christ. But even if we or an angel from Heaven preach a gospel (euaggelizo) to you beside what we preached (euaggelizo) to you, let him be accursed. As we said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches a gospel (euaggelizo) to you beside what you have received, let him be accursed.4 (MKJV)

Paul makes it absolutely clear that only one Gospel is the truth, and that other religious-sounding talk which masquerades as good news is in reality very bad news both for the speaker and for the hearers, leading to their being accursed. Many people have been taught in churches that baptism - the New Testament equivalent of circumcision in the Old Testament - or taking the Eucharist, or raising their right hand and going forward will guarantee them free passage into heaven, or that God guarantees that true believers will all be healthy, wealthy and wise. Free grace does not mean we don't ever have to do anything useful, we can just sit in the pew (or in front of the TV) and God will simply pour money from heaven into our laps so we can live in luxury and never suffer or grow old and die. What utter nonsense! Real, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6), ministering to the real needs of hurting people, and faith without good works is dead faith (James 2:17). We must not preach an either-or half-gospel of either saving souls or social action, but both-and: the whole gospel for the whole person. At times we will lead out with evangelism, and other times we will lead out with good works: it depends on the local circumstances.

Not only did the church in Galatia do so, but Paul also warned Timothy that future churches would tend to dream up fables, misinterpretations of the Good News: "For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables. But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist (euaggelistes), and fulfill your ministry (diakonia)." (2 Tim. 4:3-5) The Gospel (euaggelion) is that God accepts us just as we are, forgiving our sins. But God's grace brings about change in our lives so that we don't remain just as we were. This means that sin is a hard fact: God doesn't ignore sin, pretending that it doesn't exist, that everything is fine with us when it's not. People most often do not want to hear the bad news, the other side of the Good News coin.

In these verses Paul instructs Timothy to "carry out fully your diakonia." When someone is sick, they need a correct diagnosis before proper treatment can begin. This means calling cancer "cancer," and calling sin "sin." It is no more helpful to tell a homosexual person that his behavior is okay just as it is, than to tell a nearsighted person that he doesn't need to wear corrective lenses when driving. Both behaviors can cause great harm or death to those persons and others. Similarly, when someone in the church needs material help, we should not just give money, but use "tough love" and inquire about that person's vocational and social skills, then help him or her improve those skills to become self-supporting. Thus being a minister (diakonos) of the Good News includes restoring people to God's image and likeness, helping them eliminate the distortions caused by sickness and sin.

Endnotes:

3. Ibid.

4. Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).

5. Modern King James Bible, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Thank God that Orthodox-Catholic relations will continue growing as the new Pope is about to be elected.
Mon. - Praise the Lord that Russia's president recognizes the need for the Church to play a leading role in society.
Tue. - Pray that Christian leaders in Russia will respond correctly against efforts to destroy religious faith there.
Wed. - Thank the Lord for Bulgaria's new Patriarch Neofit, in the face of Church scandals and government collapse.
Thu. - Praise God for the Church of Good Changes in Mariupol, Ukraine, where members have adopted 100 orphans.
Fri. - Pray for the Baptist-Orthodox dialogue in the Moscow Region, that understanding and friendship would grow.
Sat. - Pray that Christians will be led by the Holy Spirit to combine diakonia-ministry and euaggelizo-evangelizing.

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. Democracy can only survive until the people find their way to the public purse. - Plato
Socialism can only survive until it finally runs out of other people's money. - M. Thatcher


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