Welcome to , 27 Apr 2013
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

LUTHERAN, ORTHODOX CHURCHES TO SIGN STATEMENT ON COMMON BELIEFS
from Estonian Public Broadcasting

Select to see full-size! (24 Apr) The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church are signing a joint statement on their shared theological beliefs today. The document stresses the importance of worship in people's lives, ETV reported. It is the first such appeal to be made by the two churches, which have held bilateral meetings every year since 2006. In their current talks, the churches are focusing on the issue of bioethics and organ donation.

The Lutheran Church is the largest church in Estonia and also has an autonomous branch abroad that traces its roots back to the Soviet era, when organized religion was prohibited. The Orthodox Church, in which Estonian is the official language, is associated with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It is separate from the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, where the official language is Russian. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: RELIGIOUS FREE SPEECH "DOESN'T EXIST"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(26 Apr) As part of its controls on free speech in the area of religion, Kazakhstan's government agency controlling religion - the Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) - is stepping up pressure on religious communities to instruct their members not to speak about their faith with others in public, Forum 18 News Service has found. The ARA has already instructed people to report such individuals to the police.

"Unfortunately the right to freedom of speech in the area of religion doesn't exist in Kazakhstan," independent journalist Sergei Duvanov told Forum 18 from Almaty on 25 April. "People in Kazakhstan are not free to preach or promote their religious faith. Now it is even dangerous to promote atheism, as the case of Aleksandr Kharlamov demonstrates." Kharlamov, an atheist from Ridder in East Kazakhstan Region, was imprisoned on 14 March on criminal charges of inciting religious hatred after prosecutors arranged "expert analyses" of his writings on religion. [read more...]


CHURCH-STATE PARTNERSHIP LEVEL IS LOWER IN RUSSIA THAN IN U.S., EUROPE - PATRIARCH
from Interfax-Religion

(26 Apr) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia thinks that the level of relations between the church and the state does not match its potential. "The level of church-state partnership in Russia is much lower than in Germany where the state collect taxes for the Church, in France where the president appoints bishops in the Alsace-Lorraine region, in England where the monarch heads the Anglican Church, or even in the United States where the president take his oath on a Bible," Patriarch Kirill said in an interview with Greece's church website Romfea.gr.

Relations between the church and the state in Russia, just as in other countries of the canonical territory of the Russian Church, are based on mutual trust and respect, he said. "It is absolutely apparent that the Church does not interfere with the state administration and the state in the Church's affairs. At the same time we co-work for the benefit of people," Patriarch Kirill said. It is hard to explain to many politicians and public figures the reason why Russia is having a spiritual renaissance "and they think that this happens thanks to a secret union between the Church and state bureaucracy," he said. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: "HE NEEDS LOCAL STATE PERMISSION TO PREACH"
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(16 Apr) Officials who raided a Protestant church in Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan's northern Akmola Region, as the Easter Sunday morning service was finishing, have defended the raid. "The visiting pastor needed permission to preach here," Duman Uvaideldinov of Stepnogorsk police Criminal Investigation Department - who led the raid - insisted to Forum 18 News Service. "He will receive an official warning." The raid followed a visit by a dual-role official of a state-backed "anti-sect" centre and the local Internal Policy Department. Pastor Igor Andreikin and others from New Life Pentecostal Church are also concerned by an apparent attempt to discredit or blackmail them.

An unidentified "law-enforcement officer" attempted to send two young women into a sauna session with men from the church, to be closely followed by two ordinary police officers. Both the ordinary police and the KNB secret police have denied to Forum 18 that they had any involvement. Pastor Andreikin told Forum 18 that as "boundaries have been crossed," there is nothing to stop officials planting drugs on church leaders or using other methods of framing them. He told Forum 18 that he was going public on this case to try to stop such methods being used in future. [read more...]


THE NEW EVANGELIZATION: BAPTIZING/REBAPTIZING A CULTURE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(25 Apr) Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, Roman Catholic Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, recently wrote: "Andrew Sorokowski's column entitled "Rebaptizing Rus'" is both timely and valuable from several points of view. Among other things he speaks in favor of commemorating a 25 year anniversary (1025 years since the Baptism of the People of the Rus' under their prince St. Volodymyr), arguing the span of a generation as always being timely to invite a people to embrace Christianity anew or very simply to make the choice for themselves as something which cannot be imposed from one generation to the next."

"Reading his column, I was reminded of an observation Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman made in his novel about life and faith in persecuted North Africa, whereby times of prosperity or peace for the Church do not necessarily foster the zeal of individual Christians. The great Newman's observation notwithstanding, I wish for everyone a culture supportive or respectful of faith practice, of living and believing without having to face animosity and ridicule at every turn (as it seems we must do in the West today). Granted, a society cannot carry or constrain us unto salvation, but the baptized culture is the 'city on the mountain top' or 'the lamp on the lamp-stand,' as opposed to the hidden under a basket conducive, perhaps, only to the chance encounter." [read more...]


RUSSIAN CHURCH CALLS FOR RELEASE OF BISHOPS IN SYRIA
from Global Post

(23 Apr) The Russian Orthodox Church on Tuesday called for the release of two Orthodox bishops who Syrian state media said were kidnapped by an armed group in northern Syria. "We call on the Syrian authorities to do everything possible so that the kidnapped bishops are returned," said the statement, citing Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the powerful department of external church relations. "We express deep sympathy to the Patriarch John X of Antioch and the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I," it said, referring to the heads of the bishops' churches.

The Greek Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Boulos Yaziji, and the Syrian Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim, were on Monday kidnapped while on a humanitarian mission in a north Syrian village, Syria's state news agency SANA reported. It said that the bishops were taken by "an armed terrorist group." Christians account for about five percent of Syria's population and they have remained largely neutral or supportive of the regime since the outbreak of the uprising against the government in early 2011.

"We are praying for the health and the soonest possible return from captivity of the kidnapped bishops," said the statement published on the Church department's website. The statement supported the Kremlin's policy on the Syrian conflict, explicitly criticising Western powers for backing rebels against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

FREEDOM CARAVAN AND DEFENDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN ROMANIA
from Romania Insider

KAZAKHSTAN: FOUR RAIDS, HEART ATTACK, EIGHT FINES - AMID PRESIDENTIAL CLAIMS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
from Forum 18 News Service

RUSSIANS WANT FRIENDLIER RELATIONS BETWEEN ORTHODOX, CATHOLIC CHURCHES - POLL
from Interfax-Religion

75,000 CHRISTMAS "GIFTS OF HOPE" PASSED OUT THIS JANUARY
from Mission Network News

CONFLICT OVER DISPUTED CHURCH OF KYIVAN PATRIARCHATE TO BE SETTLED
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

PROSECUTORIAL INSPECTION LEADS TO FAR-FETCHED CHARGE OF EXTREMISM
from SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

Our first news article tells of an important step: Estonia's two major church bodies are publicly emphasizing their common theological beliefs, rather than arguing about their differences. If Christians around the world would follow suit, then the world might begin to believe that Jesus is really the Christ, the Son of God, because we love one another!

As Archbishop Thomas Gullickson stated in the fifth news article above, every "generation [it is] timely to invite a people to embrace Christianity anew." Nobody is born a Christian: even if baptized as an infant, each person must embrace Christ for himself or herself. Baptism is the outward "seal" of an inner commitment by a person or his/her parents. This is what the good archbishop is calling for: a "rebaptism" or a re-commitment of the whole culture to Christ and His Church.

Perhaps the greatest reason two-thirds of our young people in churches drop out of church attendance when they grow up and leave home is precisely because they have never made that inner commitment of their lives to Christ and His Body, the Church. Then the temptations of "lusts of the world, the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life" cause them to throw overboard the outward appearances of "churchianity." And the majority of those two-thirds don't come back. Time for a "rebaptism" - a re-commitment of the upcoming generation (and us older folks) to Christ as Lord of their lives!

In our last news article, we note with sadness that Greek Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Boulos Yaziji, is the brother of our Patriarch John X of Antioch. Bishop Yaziji was kidnapped together with Syrian Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim, on Monday, 22 April, while on a humanitarian journey into Syria to negotiate the release of two kidnapped priests. The bishops were not taken by Syrian rebels, but probably by Chechen or perhaps Afghan Islamist fighters, according to eyewitnesses - see http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/61082.htm.

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Ministry as Love (agape) - Part 2

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 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.]

The word agape is translated 84 times as "love" in the KJV. The most famous verse on agape-love, of course, is John 3:16 - "For God so loved (agapao) the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." This verse illustrates most powerfully the ministering nature of agape-love: God does not want anyone to perish; He cares so much for us that He sent His Son to become a human being, live among us, learn our weaknesses and our possibilities, then ultimately to die for us. What love! We know about the years of planning and preparation to become trained for ministering to people's needs, both physical and spiritual. Before a person gives up during this process, he should imagine how many centuries it took God to plan and prepare each phase of Jesus' birth, life and death!

Next, let us consider John 13:34-35 - "A new commandment I give to you, that you love (agapao) one another, just like I have loved (agapao) you; that you also love (agapao) one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love (agape) for one another." These words make it abundantly clear that the most important thing and the primary identifier of Christ's disciples is agape-love. We all know this, right? But do we only know it in our heads, stored away in a dusty corner of our brains as a nice little fact? Or do we know and feel it in our hearts? Look at the preceding verses, where Jesus told His disciples that He was about to be glorified (crucified) and would be going away, then just after Jesus taught them the new commandment about love, look at what Peter said: "Oh, no! Where are You going, Lord?" He had filed away those words from Jesus' lips about love as a nice little fact, and promptly ignored them, focusing instead on the thought that he would be left alone when Jesus departed! One of the favorite icons in the Orthodox Church is that of Christ holding the opened Gospels, and if one looks closely and can read the Greek or Church Slavonic words, he sees that the Lord's fingers are pointing to John 13:34-35!

Jesus had already begun teaching His disciples about the connection between being glorified and self-sacrificial love, as we read in the previous chapter, John 12:23-25 - "The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves (agapao) his life will lose it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life." So they should have understood what was about to take place and why the Great Commandment was so important. But alas, they were still thinking on the wavelength of ordinary human beings!

Further on the relationship between being glorified and agape-love, the Apostle John records the following words of Jesus just before His crucifixion -

In this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples. Even as the Father has loved (agapao) me, I also have loved (agapao) you. Remain in my love (agape). If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love (agape); even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and remain in his love (agape). I have spoken these things to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that you love (agapao) one another, even as I have loved (agapao) you. Greater love (agape) has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you (John 15:8-13).

In John 13 we have seen that Jesus being glorified meant that He would soon lay down His life, and here He also speaks of laying down one's life. But this time He is speaking of His disciples implementing agape-love so completely that they too would be ready to lay down their lives for others. Jesus also speaks here about "bearing much fruit." The first-listed fruit of the Spirit, Paul writes in Gal. 5:22, is agape-love. And this is the first and most important fruit we should bear in order to glorify the Father, even if it means laying down our lives as Jesus did.

We find more on glorifying God by paying the ultimate price to follow Jesus in John 21:15-19 -

So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agapao) me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection (phileo) for you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agapao) me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection (phileo) for you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection (phileo) for me?" Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, "Do you have affection (phileo) for me?" He said to him, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection (phileo) for you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don't want to go." Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

Sermon after sermon has been preached on this text, pointing out that Jesus began by asking if Peter had agape-love for Jesus, and Peter replying that he only had phileo-love for Him. Strong's Dictionaries define phileo as "to be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), that is, have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)," juxtaposing the two loves. But Strong's Dictionaries continue - "while [agape] is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety: the two thus stand related: the former being chiefly of the heart and the latter of the head)."3 So agape-love is not opposed to, but rather builds upon phileo. Paul uses both phileo and agape together in 1 Thes. 4:9; and Peter combines phileo and agape in 1 Pet. 1:22. So when Jesus asked Peter if he agapao-loved Him, He could see that Peter wasn't quite there yet, but Jesus knew he was on the way. And tradition tells us that eventually Peter did indeed glorify God by death, being crucified upside-down at his own request because, he told his executioners, he was not worthy to be crucified right side-up like His Lord.

St. Paul explains this concept of sacrificial agape-love in detail as follows -

Owe no one anything, except to love (agapao) one another; for he who loves (agapao) his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not give false testimony," "You shall not covet," and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love (agapao) your neighbor as yourself." Love (agape) doesn't harm a neighbor. Love (agape) therefore is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8-10).

But agape-love goes much further than fulfilling these negative commands, to "do no evil." It is possible to obey these negative commands and still ignore or even despise our neighbor. The Russian verb "to hate" is "nenavidet" - literally, to not-look-at (ignore) someone. When we are motivated by agape-love, however, we seek to positively do good to our neighbor, to minister to him when he is hurting, and encourage him when he is discouraged or depressed. The Apostle Paul sums it up very well in Gal. 5:6 - "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love (agape)." Observing the ritual Law of Moses, indicated by the word "circumcision," or not observing those religious rituals is not the point: the point is whether we put our faith to work by practicing agape-love, or just talk it.

The author of the letter to the Hebrew Christians put it this way - "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love (agape) and good works" (Heb 10:24). Here again we see love in action, agape-love that produces good works, and we should be thinking up ways to stimulate each other toward this goal of ministering to the building up of the Body of Christ!

Endnotes to Chapter 9:

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


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Praise God for Estonia's Apostolic Orthodox and Ev. Lutheran Churches signing a joint statement on their shared beliefs.
Mon. - Pray for Aleksandr Kharlamov in Kazakhstan, an atheist who was jailed for standing up for believers' freedom of religion.
Tue. - Ask the Lord that we would think clearly about the degree of partnership between church and state, both in East and West.
Wed. - Intercede for the Protestant church in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, that was raided when a visiting pastor preached there.
Thu. - Pray for a "rebaptism" or a re-commitment of the whole culture to Christ and His Church, both in the East and the West.
Fri. - Intercede for Greek Orthodox bishop Boulos Yaziji, and Syrian Orthodox bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, kidnapped on Apr. 22.
Sat. - Ask the Lord that Christians will regain and practice the Biblical understanding of love as selfless, charitable agape-love.

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. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.


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