FIRST, THE NEWS:
WHY ORTHODOX BELIEVERS ARE CONVERTING TO OTHER CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS
from Russia & India Report
(05 May) Experts say there is a tendency in Russia, although a subtle one so far, of converting from the Russian Orthodox Church to other Christian denominations, such as Catholicism or Protestantism. This is because, they explain, believers often disagree with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church leaders on the most pressing problems of Russian society. In some cases, scandals around individual clergymen are to blame. A feature article on that topic recently published by the Novye Izvestia daily has triggered heated debates on internet forums. Many tend to share experts? opinion and say that the conversion to other Christian denomination is no betrayal. The Russian Orthodox Church however says that any talk about people fleeing Orthodoxy is absurd.
The recent polls conducted by the Levada-Center public opinion agency demonstrate a six-percent decrease since 2009 in the number of those who reckon themselves among Orthodox believers. However there is no official statistics of conversion from Orthodoxy to other divisions within Christianity in Russia. But there are data about the number of officially registered Christian communities (parishes, monasteries, town churches, etc.) published by the Ministry of Justice. So, according to these data, by September 2012, there were 14,616 Orthodox communities, 4,409 Protestant communities, and 234 Catholic communities.
"Both Catholic and Protestant communities are demonstrating explosive development and this tendency has been picking up in the past three years," the newspaper cites Roman Lunkin, the president of the Guild of Experts in Religion and Law. As a matter of fact, he said, there are many more Protestant and Catholic organizations than listed in the justice ministry's report. "Depending on the region, from a third to a half of communities are not registered," he claims. "Only every third community in Russia is registered. Actually, we have about 15,000 Protestant communities," says Professor Anatoly Pchelintsev of the Religions Study Centre under the Russian State University of the Humanities. [read more...]
RUSSIA: WHY WERE HUNDREDS OF RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS CHECKED?
by Geraldine Fagan, Forum 18 News Service
(22 May) Many hundreds of religious communities across Russia were among non-governmental organisations (NGOs) inspected by state officials this Spring, in a sweep apparently seeking to uncover foreign backing for political opposition initiatives. It "wasn't simply the initiative of the Prosecutor," Konstantin Andreyev, a Moscow-based lawyer specialising in the rights of religious organisations, explained to Forum 18 News Service on 16 May. "There's a political subtext." Yet Forum 18 notes that controversial new regulations on foreign funding for NGOs - including designation of some as "foreign agents" - do not apply to religious organisations. "But because they fall under the category of NGOs," agreed Andreyev, "they were included in this sweep."
To the alarm of human rights defenders, NGOs across Russia underwent unexpected government check-ups beginning in March and April 2013. Check-ups ranged from a simple telephone request for documents to multiple, extensive searches. NGOs inspected included prominent human rights groups, both Russian (Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group) and international (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch). European cultural organisations such as the Goethe Institute, Danish Cultural Institute and Alliance Franc,aise were also checked, according to Russian human rights organisation Agora, itself inspected. Russia's Presidential Human Rights Council estimated that several thousand NGOs were inspected in total, according to a report prepared for its 15 April extraordinary meeting on the check-ups and published on its website. [read more...]
PATRIARCH KIRILL TELLS CHURCH OF ENGLAND'S SECRETARY GENERAL SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IS SINFUL
(20 May) The Russian Orthodox Church will always insist on the depravity of same-sex "marriages", Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said. "If people choose such lifestyle, this is their right but the Church's responsibility is to say that this is a sin in the face of God," the patriarch said on Tuesday at a meeting with the Council of Europe's Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland.
Patriarch Kirill said that the Russian Orthodox Church was concerned with the fact that "this sin is justified by law for the first time in the entire history of mankind." The patriarch told Jagland that the Russian Orthodox Church was "very touched" that millions French were opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage and was "shocked no one listened to the opinions of these millions and the Senate passed this law with several votes." [read more...]
KAZAKHSTAN: PENTECOSTAL JAILED FOR 2 MONTHS PRE-TRIAL, BAPTIST GETS 3-DAYS JAIL, ATHEIST STILL IN PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(20 May) A Protestant pastor in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, was arrested on criminal charges of harming health on 17 May, Forum 18 News Service has learned. On 19 May he was ordered to be held for two months' detention pre-trial detention on unclear charges, apparently including praying and singing. And Baptist leader Aleksei Asetov was jailed for three days in early May, for refusing to pay a fine equivalent to a year and a half''s average local wages. The fine was imposed for meeting for worship without state permission. He told Forum 18 he will not pay the fine, as he should not be punished for meeting for worship with his friends.
Imprisoned atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov remains under investigation in a psychiatric hospital in the commercial capital Almaty. Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law stated that "the case is even more urgent as the man is not only in pre-trial detention, but now undergoing forcible psychiatric examination." [read more...]
GAY MARCH HELD IN KYIV WITH DISTURBANCES
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(25 May) There were a handful of minor disturbances, with 10 arrests, but Kyiv's LGBT community managed to hold its first ever gay pride parade in the city on Saturday, May 25. The Equality March was held in an area outside the city center after municipal authorities last week banned the group from holding the event at its originally planned Lva Tolstoho location. About 50 people from around Ukraine and some from as far away as Sweden and Germany chanted and paraded down a narrow pathway near Pushkin Park and Shuliavska metro station, carrying rainbow flags and signs with slogans such as "LGBT rights = People?s rights."
The event was planned in secret this year, with organizers requiring participants and media to register using an online form that required them to submit names and phone numbers of gay-friendly people they knew who could vouch for their character. Text messages were sent to the phones of participants and media early on the morning of the event, telling them when and where to meet. Dozens of buses parked along Victory Avenue brought more than 300 police in riot gear to the event to keep anti-gay protestors from attacking the march's participants. [read more...]
RUSSIA TO BUILD "TOLERANCE CENTERS"
from The Voice of Russia
(24 May) Russia's Regional Development Ministry has moved to build so-called "tolerance centers" across the country to promote cultural heritage of its many peoples. The program is estimated at some $48 billion. Starting 2014, eleven centers of cultural tolerance will be set up in St. Petersburg, Tomsk, Omsk and Rostov-on-Don, among others.
"These centers will promote an [intercultural] dialogue and help discuss urgent issues, as well as educate people on the life of Russians in Dagestan, Jews in the Far East, or Ukrainians in Tatarstan.... We must return to our origins. We are essentially one people that has always lived as one big family," Development Minister Igor Slyunyaev said. A typical tolerance center will consist of two rooms, one with a big monitor for showing movie clips with examples of tolerant and intolerant behavior, while the second room is to host various exhibitions. [read more...]
POLICE ARREST 30 AT GAY PRIDE RALLY IN MOSCOW
from The Guardian
(25 May) Russian police arrested at least 30 activists in central Moscow on Saturday at a gay pride rally to mark 20 years since homosexuality was decriminalised. Police officers pounced on the gay campaigners moments after they unfurled banners and rainbow-coloured flags outside the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, on Saturday afternoon. Several protesters were confronted by Orthodox Christians. The arrests were made outside the Duma and the Moscow mayor's office where the rally ended. Activists chose to rally by the Duma to protest against a federal bill that would impose fines of up to 500,000 roubles ($16,000) for promoting homosexuality among minors. More than 10 regional legislatures across Russia have passed similar laws.
Officers patrolling outside the Duma shouted from megaphones: "Your rally is not sanctioned, you're disrupting passers-by" while police trucks fitted with metal cages waited nearby. Moscow authorities had refused permission for the rally for the eighth year in a row, saying it would interfere with students out celebrating the last day of term. Police also arrested several nationalists and Orthodox Christian believers, who sang hymns and crossed themselves as if to ward off evil spirits. "Gay people need medical treatment. It's simply disgusting to look at them," said Konstantin Kostin, a member of the Holy Rus movement. "Russia used to be a great superpower. Now look what's become of us. Marriage is a sacred union between man and woman, and this lot want to defile the sanctitude of our country." [read more...]
SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN SARAJEVO DESECRATED
UZBEKISTAN: CRIMINAL CONVICTION, FINES FOR MEETING AT HOME AND CARRYING BIBLE
from Forum 18 News Service
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT'S RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT POLITICIZED
ROMANIAN KIDS ENCOUNTER JESUS THROUGH MOBILE MINISTRY AND A 'TOUGH' TALK
from Mission Network News
EVANGELICAL CHURCHES ASKS PRESIDENT AND PARLIAMENT TO PREVENT PASSING OF BILLS AGAINST DISCRIMINATIONS OF GAYS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
STATE DUMA PASSES BILL PROTECTING BELIEVERS' FEELINGS
from Interfax Religia
See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!
You can see in various news articles and headlines above that the LGBT and same-sex marrriage movements are pushing hard against traditional Christian sexual morality, trying to redefine the concept of morality. The news from nearly every country in the post-Soviet bloc are full of articles about "gay pride," the LGBT and same-sex marrriage movements, equality and human rights for homosexuals, etc. It was actually hard to find much other news to report on, the media was so full of this propagandizing of immorality that has taken over the West and now is trying to capture the East.
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[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.]
If joy is calm inner delight, then peace goes even deeper: it is the heart of the Gospel. The Good News is the gospel of peace (Rom. 10:15 and Eph. 6:15). All of Paul's letters begin with a blessing of peace, most often: "Grace to you and peace (eirene) from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." It seems strange that the message of peace can actually cause conflict, but that depends more on the audience than on the message or the messenger. Jesus actually predicted this: "Don't think that I came to send peace (eirene) on the earth. I didn't come to send peace (eirene), but a sword. For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Mat. 10:34-25).
Many people have learned from bitter experience to be skeptical: "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!" - and they disbelieve. Others, when a son or daughter, sister or brother finds love, joy and peace in their heart through trusting Christ, will search for any possible fault in that person's life in order to blame them: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but don't consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you tell your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye;' and behold, the beam is in your own eye?" (Mat. 7:3-4). This is guilt projection, which people often use to deflect the call for repentance that implies the fact of sin. Even if a believer doesn't mention the other person's sin, that person may feel guilty and use guilt projection to try to minimize it. We need to consider these negative implications of peace right at the start, as it is a major objection that arises when we begin to talk about peace.
Strong's Dictionaries define eirene as "peace (literally or figuratively); by implication prosperity: - one, peace, quietness, rest, set at one again."3 When the angels appeared to the shepherds, Luke 2:14 tells us that they proclaimed - "Glory to God in the highest, and peace (eirene) on earth to people who enjoy his favor!"4 (ISV) We can hear the echoes of the Hebrew word shalom in the angels' voices. Please notice, however, this peace is only for those who enjoy God's favor.
Those who reject His favor will not experience this inner peace: "'There is no peace,' says my God, 'for the wicked'" (Is. 57:21). Only those who make peace are called God's children - "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Mat. 5:9). When the Lord Jesus sent out His disciples, He told them - "Into whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace (eirene) be to this house.' If a son of peace (eirene) is there, your peace (eirene) will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you" (Luke 10:5-6). Thus we see again how the Bible teaches that the Good News being received in peace depends more on the audience than on the message or the messenger.
As Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives on a donkey colt into Jerusalem, the multitudes praised God - "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace (eirene) in heaven, and glory in the highest!" (Luke 19:38). In this instance, the audience of Jesus' followers gladly received Him. But just a few days later, the Scribes and Pharisees would manipulate the crowds to demand His crucifixion. During that fateful week which we call "Holy Week" the Lord taught His disciples intensively in order to prepare them for what was about to happen - "Peace (eirene) I leave with you. My peace (eirene) I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don't let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful" (John 14:27). And He also told them - "I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace (eirene). In the world you have oppression; but cheer up! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). In both of these passages we see that the peace Jesus promises is one that does not depend on circumstances in this world.
After His resurrection, Jesus greeted His disciples three times with the words, "Peace (eirene) be to you" (John 20:19, 21 and 26). He recognized their emotional state of fear. Their leader had just been executed, and they might be next. It is important that ministers of the Gospel be aware of others' emotional state. It may be easy to "dump our load" of Gospel jargon on someone and not even take any notice of their body language or how they respond to our opening questions.
In our haste to lead people to entrust their lives to Christ, we may actually drive them away. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't share the Good News, but rather we must be careful that the way and the timing of presenting it take into consideration the emotional condition of our audience. It works the other way too: disabled people are especially sensitive to other people's attitudes, and can often detect if we sincerely want to minister to them, or if we simply want to tally up points.
How does peace relate specifically to ministry in the New Testament? How does the word eirene fall within the semantic field of diakonia? We have already examined 2 Cor. 5:18-20 when we were considering ministry as evangelizing (euaggelizo), where God's Word tells us that Christ "gave to us the ministry (diakonia) of reconciliation." Although the word "reconciliation," in Greek katallage, isn't related etymologically to eirene, it shares the meaning of making peace. In fact, it is literally "bringing to peace" (primirenie) in Russian. But in another New Testament passage, the Apostle Paul uses both words synonymously -
For he is our peace (eirene), who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace (eirene); and might reconcile (apokatallasso) them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby (Eph. 2:14-16).
Here Paul is writing about the hostility between the Jewish and Greek worldviews. The Jews had the Law of God revealed exclusively (they believed) to them through Moses, and the Greeks were to them merely gentiles, polytheistic pagans, hardly human if at all. But the Greeks were in their own view the peak of human civilization: they claimed some of the world's greatest philosophers and poets, they invented democracy, and the Jews were to them uncivilized prehistoric throwbacks. Paul writes that Jesus Christ has brought together these two conflicting worldviews into one Body through the cross! The Body of Christ, the Church, is to be a place where opposing worldviews - Democrats versus Republicans, socialists versus free marketers, can be reconciled.
How can we relate ministry to the poor, maimed, lame and blind to the task of making peace? In today's market-oriented society these people are considered uncompetitive in the marketplace, and they are often given short shrift. In socialist and communist societies, which purportedly aim toward the creation of a perfect social system inhabited by perfect people, although lip-service is paid toward caring for the disabled they are often ignored and left to fend for themselves or die. I have repeatedly heard old-line Russians refer approvingly to the policy of Sparta, the Greek city-state that abandoned its disabled children to the elements and wild animals. But Sparta vanished, because such a policy eventually consumes the entire society. If one generation eliminates the least fit 10%, and the next generation eliminates its least fit 10%, and so on, after a few more generations there will be no one left. The Darwinist worldview of the survival of the fittest leaves no room for compassion, and in the long run no room for its own survival.
But the Body of Christ must have a different approach to making peace with the handicapped and elderly, giving them a place of honor and consideration. How do we reconcile ourselves with them and stop neglecting them? Read what the Apostle Paul writes about the "weaker," "less honorable," "unpresentable" and "inferior" members of the Body of Christ:
The eye can't tell the hand, "I have no need for you," or again the head to the feet, "I have no need for you." No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. Those parts of the body which we think to be less honorable, on those we bestow more abundant honor; and our unpresentable parts have more abundant propriety; whereas our presentable parts have no such need. But God composed the body together, giving more abundant honor to the inferior part, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. Or when one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:21-26).
Why are the seemingly weaker members of the Body of Christ necessary? Because they teach us how to love! I have seen churches that were competitive, cut-throat places just like the secular world where "believers" were jockeying to get into leadership roles, or be stronger, smarter, richer or prettier than the next person! In contrast, disabled people know how to receive agape-love because there is little they can do to earn it, while we who are strong mentally and physically often find it harder to accept God's agape-love. Those who are well think they don't need the Great Physician, but those who are sick or weak recognize their need. And by making peace with the sick and elderly, giving them places of honor in our churches, we recognize our own human frailty, that we were at one time helpless babies who needed loving care, and if we don't die quickly by heart attack or auto accident, we will die slowly and again need loving care.
Are you at peace with having handicapped people in your church? While we are dealing with this passage, let us take note that Paul is doing away with prejudice against handicapped people that had its roots in misinterpretations of two Old Testament texts: Lev. 21:16-23 records how Yahweh gave Moses the rule that no Levite priest with a physical defect was to serve in the Temple, although he could receive a share of the sacrifices. This was because the priestly tribe of Levi was considered the "firstborn offering to the Lord" of the twelve tribes of Israel (Num. 3:39-51), and in Lev. 22:21-24 we read that the vow and peace offering animals were to be without defect.
The New Testament makes clear that the Levitical priesthood is no longer valid, so these texts don't apply to Christian church leadership. Another text causing this prejudice is 2 Sam. 5:6-8, where the ancient Jebusites taunted David that even their lame and blind could keep him from entering the city. Of course he captured the city, commanded his troops to wipe out the entire population including the lame and blind, and he renamed the place Jerusalem. But the simple folk of Israel made up a saying, "The blind and the lame shall not enter the house of the Lord." This saying is an obvious distortion of what David intended, but it provided a rationalization for human prejudice, and the notion has remained, sadly, even to this day.
Thus we see that peace (eirene) means coming to terms and making peace with those who fall into our prejudices and outside the scope of our limited, finite worldview. It includes ministering to the poor, maimed, lame and blind who "don't fit in" our competitive or perfectionist modern society.
Endnotes to Chapter 10:
3. Strong?s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, op. cit.
4. International Standard Version of the Bible, op. cit.
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4. International Standard Version of the Bible, op. cit.
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Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff. - Frank Zappa
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