Welcome to , 16 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 HAS GOOD TIES WITH RUSSIAN CHURCH"
from B29 News

Select to see full-size! (14 Mar) Representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in South America Bishop John of Caracas says new Pope Francis I "has good relations with Russia." According to him, former Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio attended a Christmas liturgy in the Orthodox church in Buenos Aires every year and had close and friendly ties with Orthodox believers in Argentina. "He has always been simple and modest in his communication with people. He preferred to use public transportation in Buenos Aires, a bus or subway. When he was suggested to take a taxi, he kindly refused," Bishop John of Caracas stressed.

He added that an exhibition of Russian Orthodox icons had been held in December 2012 thanks to the new pope. Bishop John added that Russian organizers had had trouble finding an exhibition space and that they had therefore asked for Bergoglio's help. "Thanks to his personal order, an exhibition hall of the prestigious Catholic University of Argentina was allocated for more than 80 icons made by contemporary Russian artists. The exhibition that had been underway at the time was temporarily removed," Bishop John explained.

[Russia's President] Putin has sent a telegram to Pope Francis congratulating him upon his election to the papacy, the Kremlin press service said on Thursday. "I am confident that constructive cooperation between Russia and Vatican will further successfully develop on the basis of Christian values unifying us," he wrote in his congratulation. [read more...]


FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE GREAT SCHISM, ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH TO ATTEND POPE'S INAUGURAL MASS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(15 Mar) The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I will attend Pope Francis's inaugural Mass. The Ecumenical Patriarchate Press Office informed AsiaNews about the decision, noting that this is the first time such an event occurs since the Catholic-Orthodox split in 1054, an important sign for Christian unity. The ecumenical patriarch will be accompanied by Ioannis Zizioulas, metropolitan of Pergamon and co-president of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church, as well as Tarassios, Orthodox Metropolitan of Argentina, and Gennadios, Orthodox Metropolitan of Italy.

Relations between Catholics and Orthodox have been improving since the Second Vatican Council through mutual visits, acts of friendship and theological dialogue. Under Benedict XVI, the dialogue picked up in earnest after a lull. In trying to promote it, the pope suggested ways to express the primacy of Peter's successor that could be acceptable to the Orthodox, finding his inspiration from the undivided Church of the first millennium. Catholic ecumenism has met however with great resistance from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Moscow Patriarchate, which claims to be the seat of the "Third Rome." [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: COURT-ORDERED RELIGIOUS BOOK BURNING A FIRST?
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(14 Mar) In what may be the first such instance in Kazakhstan, a court has ordered religious literature to be destroyed. A total of 121 books confiscated from a Baptist, Vyacheslav Cherkasov, were ordered destroyed in the northern Akmola Region, according to the verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. The books comprise Bibles, Children's Bibles, and other books and leaflets on the Christian faith, mainly in the Kazakh language. Cherkasov was also fined one month's average wage. If he loses his appeal, court executors will carry out the destruction. A Justice Ministry official in the capital Astana told Forum 18 that "most likely the books would be burned."

A state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) official told Forum 18 that "I'm not interested in whether court executors are bothered by having to destroy religious literature." Local Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 that "we were shocked - this is sacrilege and illegality." Human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law sounded distressed, telling Forum 18 that "this is terrible, terrible." Religious literature is frequently confiscated, and the state appears committed to using censorship and other freedom of religion or belief violations as a means to control society. [read more...]


85% OF RUSSIANS OPPOSE SAME-SEX MARRIAGES, 94% OPPOSE GAY PRIDE PARADES - POLL
from Interfax-Religion

(12 Mar) Some 85% of Russians polled in February opposed same-sex marriages and 87% objected to gay pride parades. The number of same-sex marriage supporters is down from 14% to 5% in the past three years, and the number of people who do not mind gay pride parades remains at 6%. Only 23% of Russians are tolerant to homosexuality and tend to understand problems of such people; they say gays and lesbians should be left alone. Twenty-seven percent believe homosexuals need psychological aid, 16% propose isolating them from the rest of society, 22% insist on compulsory therapy and 5% on their "liquidation."

Over the past eight years, the number of respondents suggesting that gays and lesbians should be left alone is down 7%, the number of respondents insisting on therapy is up 5%, and the number of respondents insisting on their isolation is up 4%. Fifty percent of the respondents asked about their personal attitude toward gays and lesbians said they were irritated and disgusted, 18% were cautious, 23% were "calm and unemotional" and 4% had positive feelings. Eighty percent of 1,600 respondents polled in 130 towns and cities in 45 regions opposed the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, 5% had no objections and 15% were hesitant. [read more...]


RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL TO BE BUILT IN ESTONIAN CITY
from The Voice of Russia

(10 Mar) The ceremony of laying down the first stone of an Orthodox cathedral and a religious procession in connection with this occasion took place in the Estonian city of Narva on Sunday. It is planned that the construction of the cathedral's walls and cupola will be finished somewhere in September 2013. According to preliminary estimations, the construction of the cathedral will cost more than 1 million euros. There are 32 parishes that are subdued to the Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia, with the total number of parishioners of about 200,000. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

HIS HOLINESS PATRIARCH KIRILL'S GREETING TO THE NEW PRIMATE OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

NEW POPE HAS ALREADY BEEN INVITED TO VISIT UKRAINE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

MEMORIAL SERVICE TO BE HELD FOR KEY CHRISTIAN LEADER WHO SPIRITUALLY SHAPED 'NEW' RUSSIA
from Christian Post

RUSSIAN, FRENCH EXPERTS DISCUSS PROJECT TO BUILD RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CENTER IN PARIS
from Interfax-Religion

RUSSIA'S EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE IS ON THE UPSWING
from Russian Evangelical Alliance

ORTHODOX CHURCH INTERVENES IN SCHOOLS' RELIGION COURSE
from Moskovskie Novosti

A RUSSIAN CITY STAKES ITS CLAIM TO BLINI, THE PRE-LENTEN FEAST
from Washington Post

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

On a light note, this weekend is the end of "Butter Week" when the Orthodox are allowed to eat fish and dairy products, before Orthodox Lent begins, this year five weeks after Western Lent began. Because the Eastern Church still uses the old Julian calendar to determine the date of Pascha (Easter), some years it coincides with the Western Church but other years it differs by anywhere from one week to five weeks. So the Orthodox often feast this weekend on "blini" - thin pancakes - with lots of butter, along with lots of fish, chocolate cake, brownies, chocolate candy, etc. On Monday the Great Fast begins: seven weeks of no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products... then PASCHA - THE RESSURECTION!

As I expected, most of the religious news in Central and Eastern Europe is about the new Pope, Francis I. It appears to auger well for Orthodox-Catholic relations, as you see in our first two news articles and the top two news headlines. The fact that Patriarch Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (the "first among equals" of the various Orthodox Patriarchs, the one who usually tries to resolve issues that arise between various Orthodox Patriarchates) will be attending the new Pope's inaugural Mass is a real "earthquake" event. This will be the first time an Ecumenical Patriarch will attend in nearly 1,000 years, when in 1054 A.D. the Roman Patriarch (Pope), declaring himself to be the top bishop, split away from the other Orthodox Patriarchs, who lead by consensus rather than as absolute monarchs.

So even though there is an Ecumenical Patriarch, he's not the Orthodox "Pope." Decisions are not "top down": when the hierarchy, whether an individual bishop or many bishops in a council make a decision, it must be confirmed "from the bottom up" by the laity before it goes into effect. The Orthodox also have married priests, and even a few married bishops, although as a rule bishops are chosen from unmarried or widowed clergy. I know personally one Russian Orthodox bishop who is married. In addition, the Orthodox do not accept the Roman Catholic doctrines of purgatory, indulgences, the immaculate conception of Mary, or papal supremacy and infallibility, among others. Will this new pope make much headway in resolving these differences: will he allow married priests? Will he renounce papal supremacy and infallibility? Will East and West resolve the old versus new calendar issue? It remains to be seen.

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Ministry as Proclamation (kerygma / kerusso)

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 8 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.]

We have already begun considering Mark's version of the Great Commission, so let us examine it now in its entirety:

He said to them, "Go into all the world, and preach (kerusso) the Good News to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new languages; they will take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will in no way hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. They went out and preached (kerusso) everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen (Mark 16:15-20).

Proclaiming (kerusso) the Good News means "to herald (as a public crier), especially divine truth (the gospel): - preach (-er), proclaim, publish."1 Proclaiming or preaching is the effort to convince people of divine truth so that they will act upon it. Immediately we notice in the semantic field of kerusso the association with certain signs: casting out demons, speaking with new languages, being cured from poison, and laying hands on the sick so that they recover. When we proclaim the Good News in the power of the Holy Spirit, it should be confirmed by these signs. Each one of these signs can be viewed in a combination of ways, as both natural and supernatural acts, blending almost imperceptibly from one into the other.

Demon possession in the New Testament is interpreted in our secular age today to mean psychological disorders, but we must not discount the reality of negative supernatural forces. Volitional decisions leading to evil acts can open a person spiritually to these evil supernatural forces so that he forfeits control to them. Deciding to over-imbibe alcoholic drinks or to take narcotic drugs has both physical and spiritual consequences.

Considering the convergence of natural and supernatural from a positive viewpoint, I have studied hard to learn Russian and Udmurt languages, but I am no poet or musician, yet I've experienced times during worship when words in those languages came to me in rhyme and meter, and I jotted down songs far beyond my natural ability to write. This happened 10 and 15 years ago, and the songs are still being sung in Russia today. We have already commented on the laying on of hands during massage and exercise combined with the prayer of faith for healing. According to Mark's version of the Great Commission, such signs should accompany proclamation (kerygma) to confirm the truth of the Gospel.

A very important part of proclaiming the Good News is calling people to repent. Preachers today are often afraid to name specific sins and urge people to repent: lying, sexual promiscuity, adultery, cheating on tests and on taxes, giving and taking bribes, misstating financial reports in business, greed and gluttony are all considered by many contemporary people as alright to do if the situation demands it. We must denounce such "situational ethics" as sin, and call people to repent of these acts. Jesus did this in His ministry: "From that time, Jesus began to preach (kerusso), and to say, 'Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'" And a few verses later we read - "Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching (kerusso) the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people" (Mat. 4:17 and 23).

So Jesus' preaching was associated both with the call to repent and with healing disease and disability. When Jesus initiated His earthly ministry, He quoted from Isaiah: "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 (kerusso) release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim (kerusso) the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19). Again, proclaiming is accompanied by healing, which can occur when a person repents.

True repentance is more than mere words, "I've sinned and I'm sorry," it is a change of behavior. On our evaluation form that we use when interviewing new clients, after taking their medical history, analyzing their problems and developing a rehabilitation plan, we have the following:

"I want to be rehabilitated, and therefore I am ready to change my lifestyle.
Signature: I, ___________________, agree to follow this plan."

So many people, even after suffering a serious illness or injury, think that somehow everything will be "just fine" and they don't need to change. They think the government, or modern medicine, or God ought to take care of them, they don't need to take care of themselves. We make them face the fact that only if they're willing to change and take responsibility for their life, only then will we help rehabilitate them. And only when a person truly repents and is ready to change his ways will God save him from the consequences of his sins.

We find this same emphasis on repentance in the preaching of His disciples: "He called to himself the twelve, and began to send them out two by two; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits. ?They went out and preached (kerusso) that people should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil who were sick, and healed them." (Mark 6:7 and 12-13, see also Mat. 10:1-8 and Luke 9:1-2). Mark emphasizes casting out demons, along with Matthew and Luke's mention of healing the sick accompanying the proclamation of the Good News.

Endnotes to Chapter 8:

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


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray that the improving relations between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians will work out for the good.
Mon. - Ask the Lord that the differences between Eastern and Western Christians might be resolved according to the Gospel.
Tue. - Pray against the burning of Christian literature in Kazakhstan, and that Baptist Vyacheslav Cherkasov will be aquitted.
Wed. - Thank the Lord that the overwhelming majority of Russians are in favor of marriage only between man and woman.
Thu. - Praise God for the new Orthodox cathedral being built in Narva, Estonia, and pray that it will not cause civil discord.
Fri. - Pray that Christians will have the boldness to call for repentance when they kerusso-proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
Sat. - Ask the Lord that Christians will overcome the false dichotomy of kerygma-proclamation versus diakonia-ministry.

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. Worry's like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but doesn't get you anywhere!


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