Welcome to , 11 May 2013
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

ONLY ONE RUSSIAN IN NINE CELEBRATES PASCHA (EASTER) IN CHURCH
from Asia News

Select to see full-size! (03 May) As some Russians prepared to celebrate Orthodox Pascha this past Sunday, most of them (72 per cent ) are expected to take part in some traditional activities like egg painting, only about one Russian in nine (11 per cent ) will go to church, this according to the Interfax news agency, citing a survey conducted late last month by the independent Levada centre. According to study, most of those who plan to attend Easter vigil will be over 55 years of age and residents of small towns. In accordance with Russian customs, 27 per cent of respondents said they will celebrate Pascha by going to the cemetery.

Another survey by the Vtsiom center found however that 42 per cent of those who declare themselves atheist celebrate Easter as well, preparing traditional dishes such as Kulich, a type of bread with frosting on the top. Celebrated the previous week, Palm Sunday is known as Verbnaia Sunday in Russia because pussy-willow branches rather than palm branches are used during the liturgy that starts Holy Week. Pascha also marks the end of the Great Fast (Russian Lent). The Holy Light is transported from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to be used in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral to light thousands of candles for the Pascha Vigil at midnight, lasting well into the morning of Pascha. [read more...]


UZBEKISTAN: CONTINUING DENIALS OF PRISONERS' FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(07 May) All prisoners in Uzbekistan have long been denied their right to freedom of religion or belief - for example to pray visibly, to have religious literature, or to receive visits from clergy. Prison and labour camp conditions are harsh, and even the communities regarded as the main "traditional" faiths - the state-controlled Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church - have had only limited access to prisoners, with those of other faiths having stated to Forum 18 that they have almost no access. Prisoners are often punished for religious activity in jails or labour camps, but officials have in the past insisted to Forum 18 that prisoners' religious freedom is respected.

Literature bans, including of sacred texts, also affect prisoners of conscience of other faiths. Andrei Serin, who is from an unregistered Baptist Church in the capital Tashkent, told Forum 18 on 17 April that Baptist prisoner of conscience Tohar Haydarov "can pray but I don't know if he has a Bible now." He added that Haydarov "had a Bible which was taken away from him at the beginning of his sentence." In March 2010 Haydarov was sentenced to 10 years in jail, after an apparently rigged trial, and attempts to overturn his sentence have failed. [read more...]


RUSSIA CONTINUES EFFORTS TO HELP FREE ABDUCTED CHRISTIAN BISHOPS
from Interfax-Religion

(29 Apr) Moscow is concerned about the fate of two Christian bishops abducted in Syria a few days ago. "We are deeply concerned over the lack of clarity about the fate of two Christian bishops: Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, abducted by extremists near Aleppo on April 24. Russia is doing all it can to assist their early release and urges all who can influence the abductors to facilitate the settlement," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a commentary.

"We are seriously concerned about armed opposition groups' increasing attempts to add religious colors to the internal Syrian conflict," it said. "The damage the militants of the Jabhat an Nusra terrorist organization did in fighting to the Umayyad Mosque, a UN world heritage monument, is perceived as an alarming sign of the plan to play the of religious intolerance 'card'," the Foreign Ministry said. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM TO SUFFER IN ANTI-EXTREMIST PROGRAM?
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(06 May) Publication and distribution of all religious works, sharing faith, foreign religious study and places of worship are targeted in a proposed new State Program to Counter Religious Extremism and Terrorism for 2013-2017, Forum 18 News Service notes. The State Program also says all places of worship - among other public venues - would require "contemporary security systems" (presumably security cameras) by 2017. If adopted in its current form, it would also require teaching on "traditional religions" to become a compulsory subject in all state schools from 2014.

The Program also involves extensive state involvement in teaching religion and controlling theological institutions (Islam appears to be the main or only faith that appears to be under consideration). "Religious activity across the board will be more and more restricted," one member of a religious minority told Forum 18 in early May. The 21-page draft State Program, prepared by the General Prosecutor's Office and seen by Forum 18, is apparently in the final stages of preparation. It is due to be presented for approval to President Nursultan Nazarbayev later in May and adopted by Presidential Decree by June. [read more...]


PATRIARCH KIRILL STATES THAT RUS BAPTISM CELEBRATION WILL BEGIN IN MOSCOW
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(08 May) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, stated that the international events for the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus would begin in Moscow. "We suppose that the events will begin in Moscow on July 24, on the day of Holy Righteous Princess Olha, the grandmother of Prince Volodymyr, who can be called the first Christian ruler who prepared the Baptism of Rus in many ways," said the patriarch in an interview to TV channels Russia-1 and Russia-24 broadcasted last Sunday.

According to him, the celebratory service will be conducted in the Church of Christ the Savior and that the heads of the local Orthodox Churches are invited. A popular festival on the occasion is also planned for that day. Then, the events will move to Kyiv where a celebratory service is to be held on St. Volodymyr's Hill. "We hope that the heads of the churches will be present. The Ukrainian leadership came forward with an initiative to invite to this event, the prayer service on St. Volodymyr's Hill, the heads of the Orthodox Churches and heads of states where most of the people belong to the Orthodox Church," said Patriarch Kirill. [read more...]


"RUSSIA'S SPIRITUAL REVIVAL MIGHT INSPIRE" WESTERN EUROPE
from The Voice of Russia

(07 May) "The spiritual revival of Russia might inspire Christians in Western European countries that have adopted anti-religious laws." This was stated by head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill after a service at the Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow to celebrate the anniversary of the return to the Church of the Iberian Mother of God icon.

The Patriarch regrets that many countries in Western Europe are legalizing sins condemned by God. In ancient Russia, the Iberian icon stayed in the Novodevichy Monastery for three centuries. Since 1917, it was kept in reserves of the State Historical museum. On May 6 last year, it was returned to Novodevichy Monastery. [read more...]


A TWIST ON MOTHER'S DAY AS WOMAN REACHES OUT TO MOTHERLESS KIDS IN UKRAINE
from Edmonton Journal

Select to see full-size!(10 May) Kindergarten teacher Danielle Kowalchyk will be thousands of kilometres away from her six-year-old twins this Mother's Day in an effort to bring joy to dozens of motherless kids in Ukraine. About 50 children from various towns will gather this weekend in Lviv, Ukraine, with several Edmonton volunteers, attending church and a Mother's Day breakfast, making crafts and going out for a treat, likely ice cream.

"I just can't wait to see their faces," said Kowalchyk, a teacher for the past 14 years with St. Francis of Assisi Catholic elementary school, at 6614 129th Ave. "Every time I see pictures of them when they've opened a (donation) box, I just want to be there." Kowalchyk joked she'll have to pack her waterproof mascara for the emotional two-week journey that takes her away from her own kids, son Maxim and daughter Zoryana. "I've prepared my children that this year it's Mama's turn to go and be with the children that need a mom," she said. "My son was very kind and said, 'They need to have hugs from a Mama on Mother's Day.' ... We're so fortunate here, oh my goodness, and it's nice that we can teach our own children that they can help someone else." [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

ESTONIAN CHURCH BUILDINGS SUFFERING FROM FUNDING SQUEEZE
from Estonian Public Broadcasting

AZERBAIJAN: HARSH FINES ON BAPTISTS CANCELLED; BANNED BOOKS LIST PUBLICATION SOON?
from Forum 18 News Service

LEADERS OF CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS ASK UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO RELEASE TYMOSHENKO FROM PRISON
from Interfax-Religion

US COMMITTEE NOTES RESTRICTIONS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN UKRAINE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

BELORUSIAN UNREGISTERED BAPTIST PREACHER FINED FOR CONDUCTING SERVICE
from International Council of Churches of ECB

PASCHAL MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS KIRILL PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

"Pascha" is the Russian word for Passover, and it carried over into the New Testament to signify the Resurrection of Christ. Most languages use a similar-sounding word, but only English and German use "Easter" and "Ostern" - words that are derived from "Ishtar" or "Ashtaroth," a pagan fertility goddess. Pascha in the Eastern Church sometimes coincides with Easter in Western churches, and sometimes can be a week, two weeks or even up to five weeks later. This is due to the Eastern Church using the "Old Calendar" that is now 13 days behind the "New Calendar," which can put the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (determined by the calendar used) at a completely different date.

Holy Week in the Eastern Church is full of services: evening Bridegroom Matins on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Holy Unction on Wednesday evening, Liturgy in the morning and reading the 12 Passion Gospels in the evening on Thursday, Royal Hours and Vigil at the Cross at 7am, 9, 12 and 3pm, Burial Vespers at 3:45pm and Lamentations at 6pm on Good Friday, Liturgy at 9am and Procession around the church building at 11:30pm on Saturday immediately followed by Paschal Liturgy starting at midnight. After this Liturgy we have the blessing of the baskets and breaking the 8-week Lenten Fast with eggs, cheese, meat and wine: a great celebration of Christ's Resurrection!

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Ministry as Joy (khara) and Peace (eirene)

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 10 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.]

Right after agape-love, joy (khara) is listed in Gal. 5:22 as the second fruit of the Holy Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy (khara), peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Joy is not just an old friend from high school, nor is it a dishwashing liquid; joy is even more than "feelings of great happiness or pleasure" as many people, even modern dictionaries, might define it today. Joy in Strong's Dictionaries is "cheerfulness, that is, calm delight: - gladness."1 Thus we see khara as cheerfulness or calm, inner delight that does not depend upon external circumstances, whereas happiness and pleasure depend on them. In Rom. 14:17, the Apostle Paul describes it this way - "for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy (khara) in the Holy Spirit." When we preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand, we bring people a message not of material things such as eating and drinking, but of inner joy in the Holy Spirit.

Both in Jewish worship and in pagan religious ceremonies, sacrificing and feasting on animals played a big part. The prophet Isaiah decried the reliance on this outward form of religion -

You have not brought me of your sheep for burnt offerings; neither have you honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, nor wearied you with frankincense. You have bought me no sweet cane with money, nor have you filled me with the fat of your sacrifices; but you have burdened me with your sins. You have wearied me with your iniquities. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins (Is. 43:23-24).

The point here is not that the Israelites had stopped bringing animal sacrifices. They kept right on offering them so that they could feast on the roasted meat! But they were not sacrificing them to Yahweh, only for their own enjoyment, for what they could get out of religion for themselves.

Our task as ministers of the Good News of sins forgiven is not to browbeat, bully or condemn people, but to build them up in the joy of the Lord: "Not that we have lordship over your faith, but are fellow workers with you for your joy (khara). For you stand firm in faith" (2 Cor. 1:24). In the context of this passage, Paul explains that he delayed coming to Corinth in order to spare the believers there, because one of them had fallen into one of the grossest of sexual sins, incest. Perhaps Paul might have lost control of himself if he had been there in person, whereas being able to collect his composure and his thoughts, he could write them a loving but firm explanation of God's will for believers to maintain sexual purity in a lasting monogamous marriage. Ministering includes caring for others' spiritual, psychological, social and physical well-being, not beating them over the head with condemnation, but rather helping them experience true joy!

The Lord Jesus described joy very aptly in a one-sentence parable: "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. In his joy (khara), he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field" (Mat. 13:44). The Gospel should be such Good News to people, that when they discover this hidden treasure they will be so filled with joy, they would gladly sell everything they have to obtain it. We should minister to the poor, maimed, lame and blind with such joy that they will want to discover its source for themselves!

When writing his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul was sitting in prison in Rome, awaiting trial and possible execution. With the thought of death in his mind, he wrote - "Indeed, I cannot decide between the two. I have the desire to leave this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. But for your sake it is better that I remain in this body. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will continue to live and be with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy (khara) in the faith" (Phil. 1:25). His desire was that they would increase their experience of this joy! This letter is often called "the epistle of joy." And later he writes - "Rejoice (khairo) in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice (khairo)!" (Phil. 4:4).

Not only was he intent on increasing their joy, he was himself filled with joy - "But I rejoice (khairo) in the Lord greatly, that now at length you have revived your thought for me; in which you did indeed take thought, but you lacked opportunity" (Phil. 4:10). Now, imagine for a moment a man sitting on death row and awaiting execution: as the appeals process is winding down to an end, he writes to his friends how glad they should be and how glad he is! If we are rejoicing in the Lord and not in our external circumstances, we can feel at ease and full of joy even when death approaches.

In his book The Purpose-Driven Life Rick Warren writes - "The only time most people think about eternity is at funerals, and then it's often shallow, sentimental thinking, based on ignorance. You may feel it's morbid to think about death, but actually it's unhealthy to live in denial of death and not consider what is inevitable."2

Jesus Himself experienced this joy that overcomes the fear of death, so we should be - "looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy (khara) that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). And when we experience suffering, even when God sends physical pain our way to chasten and discipline us, we can rejoice because we anticipate the result - "All chastening seems for the present to be not joyous (khara) but grievous; yet afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11).

The problem of suffering and death often comes up when ministering to handicapped, sick and elderly people. The answer lies in the trade-off: which would you rather have, a few years of health and wealth in exchange for an eternity in hell with equally miserable people, or a few years of sickness and poverty in exchange for an eternity of everlasting joy in the presence of God? Consider what Jesus said - "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire" (Mat. 18:8).

And if the reply is, "Why are there only those two choices?" - we answer that it is an extremely rare person who can resist the temptations that come with health, wealth or fame:

Jesus looked around, and said to his disciples, "How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answered again, "Children, how hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished, saying to him, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus, looking at them, said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:23-27).

Remember that we began by discussing the purpose of ministry: fellowship (koinonia) with God and with other believers, as described in 1 John, chapter 1. Right in the middle of that chapter is a real gem: "And we write these things to you, that our joy (khara) may be fulfilled" (1 John 1:4). Some older translations have "your joy" but many newer translations have "our joy." John apparently had in mind our common (koinos) joy that we share with each other. The reason we communicate the Good News about Jesus is so that we can increase our shared, common joy! And this joy is discovered not in health and wealth, but amid persecution, suffering and hardship.

Endnotes to Chapter 10:

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

2. Warren, Rick, The Purpose Driven Life, op. cit., 49.


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray for the continuing spiritual awakening in Russia, where only one in nine celebrated Pascha (Easter) this year.
Mon. - Intercede for prisoners in Uzbekistan, whose right to pray, have religious literature or receive visits from clergy is limited.
Tue. - Keep praying for Greek Orthodox bishop Boulos Yaziji, and Syrian Orthodox bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, kidnapped on Apr. 22.
Wed. - Pray against Kazakhstan's Program to Counter Religious Extremism and Terrorism that will limit freedom of religion there.
Thu. - Praise the Lord for the upcoming celebration of the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Ancient Rus' in Kiev in 988 A.D.
Fri. - Thank the Lord for Danielle Kowalchyk from Canada who will be spending Mother's Day with about 50 orphans in Ukraine.
Sat. - Pray that Christians will bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy and peace, in this world filled with hate, sorrow and violence.

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. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of its blessings;
the inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery. - W. Churchill


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