Welcome to , 23 Jun 2013
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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from RIA Novosti

Select to read the article. (17 Jun) About 64 percent of Russians identify themselves as belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, but many of them have never read the Bible and rarely go to church or pray, a recent poll showed. Some 52 percent of Russian self-identified Orthodox Christians said that they have never read the New Testament, the Old Testament or other key scriptures, while 24 percent said that they are rare church-goers, and 28 percent hardly ever pray, according to poll results released by the country's Public Opinion Foundation ("Fond Obshchestvennovo Mnenia" - FOM) on Friday.

The survey, conducted back in April this year across 43 Russian regions, is partly based on the template of a poll carried out in the United States in 2005 by Newsweek and Beliefnet, the Russian Kremlin-backed pollster said in a report on its website. The FOM results showed that there are more non-believers in Russia (25 percent) now than in the US back in 2005, when just 6 percent of Americans said they were not religious. The Russian pollster noted that only 57 percent of those who identified themselves as Orthodox Christians said they believed that the universe was created by God. Some 43 percent think that heaven and hell truly exist, while another quarter believe in reincarnation. The total number of all Russians surveyed who believe in the universe's divine origin was some 46 percent, while in the US that figure was 80 percent. In the US, 67 percent of all people who took part in the poll said that they believed souls go either to heaven or hell, while in Russia that number was lower - 34 percent. [read more...]

from Interfax-Religion

(15 Jun) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia began a three-day visit to Estonia on Friday. "As a child and an adolescent I repeatedly came to this country on pilgrimage to the Puhtitsa Convent. I know Estonia well, my parents stayed in a dacha here in those days, so it's a very close country to me - its people, customs, culture," the patriarch told reporters at the Tallinn Airport. He said the reason for his visit was the 20th anniversary of the autonomy of the Estonian Orthodox Church granted to it by Patriarch Alexy II, a former primate of the Russian Church. "It was a major, very important event, which laid the basis for the further strengthening of Orthodoxy in Estonia," Patriarch Kirill said. "Religion was and remains "quite an important factor, including in the development of relations between countries and peoples," he said.

Patriarch Kirill said the autonomous Estonian Orthodox Church, which remains under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, is developing despite "rudiments of the nineties. We very much hope that all these rudimentary problems will be resolved because the Estonian Orthodox Church is a church of Orthodox people who live in Estonia. It is not a representative of a foreign state, least of all is it an agent of a foreign state that works for it, - it is a local Orthodox community," he said. The patriarch's schedule for Friday included leading a brief worship service at the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Tallinn and laying wreaths at the Sorrow Monument, a statue showing Linda, the heroine of an Estonian epic. Friday is the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Stalin regime's deportation of more than 10,000 people, mostly children, from Estonia to Siberia. [read more...]

from Russian Evangelical Alliance

(14 Jun) "There is a solemn procession to the altar. The choir is chanting. A bishop in a long black robe and a full gray beard swings an incense burner back and forth. We bow. We cross ourselves. It's a typical Sunday service at the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (EBCG). Yes, Baptist." That's how the Chicagoan Alexander Cuttino, Lutheran vicar in Tbilisi, described a denomination world-famous for its attempts at cultural integration. The EBCG's archbishop, Malkhaz Songulashvili, is a remarkable example of connectedness. His festive wedding on a June 2008 mountaintop in the Caucasus included 60 foreign guests from 14 countries. The ceremony, followed by a feast of music and dancing, was attended by over 600 Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Armenian Apostolic, Jews, Muslims, atheists and Baptists, including the General-Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.

Contextualization matters to the West's evangelical and ecumenical mainstream - and Songulashvili is one source of that hope. The American Baptist (ABC) theologian John Sundquist states flatly: "I know of no other Baptist union or convention in the world that has exegeted its context for ministry as brilliantly and powerfully as it has." Songulashvili describes the options as "being a Baptist church for Baptists or a Baptist church for Georgians." Consequently, the tiny EBCG has become a known entity throughout Georgia (population 4,470,000). Konstantine Gabashvili, now Georgian ambassador to Italy, has stated: "We cannot think of any other church or confession that has been as active in the life of wider society." Since the withdrawal of the Georgian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches in 1997, the EBCG has (as a member of the Conference of European Churches) been the sole Georgian denomination strongly active in the world ecumenical movement. [read more...]

by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(12 Jul) After three months in prison and psychiatric detention, atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov is set to face trial this month in Ridder in East Kazakhstan Region. "I'm in shock - I just heard he's lost 20 kilograms in prison and psychiatric hospital," his partner Marina Kaplunskaya told Forum 18 News Service from the town on 12 June. "And they've put a restraining order on his flat." Kharlamov faces up to seven years' imprisonment if convicted on charges of "inciting religious hatred," which he rejects. A criminal case on the same charges was launched in secret in March against Grace Protestant Church in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, though at present it is at the investigation stage. The church's pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev remains in pre-trial detention facing separate criminal charges of harming health, which he denies.

In addition to these criminal prosecutions to punish people for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief, perhaps about 100 administrative punishments have been handed down since the beginning of 2013 for meeting for worship without state permission or for sharing faith with others. If individuals refuse to pay the fines, they risk short-term imprisonment, confiscation of personal property - such as washing machines or cars - and being banned from foreign travel. [read more...]

from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(18 Jun) Representatives of 235 out of 345 churches have signed a statement of withdrawal from the Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church (UCEC), headed by Bishop Leonid Padun, a member of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, Invictory reports. This is stated in a declaration, the text of which is published on the website of the Word of Life Odesa church. Scanned originals of all the signed statements are on Dropbox.

Among the signatories are 12 bishops (former board members of UCEC), pastors of foreign churches from Haifa (Israel), Faro (Portugal), and Pervomaysk (Transnistria, Moldova), and prison ministers. "For a long time our senior bishop was Leonid Padun. Unfortunately, during the last years of his leadership of the church and the union, some negative trends have arisen, specifically, abuse of power. Subtle for some, it is obvious to people who knew him," reads the statement. [read more...]

by Olga Glace, Forum 18 News Service

(14 Jun) Raids and fines against Baptists in Belarus who meet for worship without state permission have re-started, Forum 18 News Service notes. After separate raids on Sunday worship services at both congregations of the Council of Churches Baptists in the south-eastern town of Gomel, three local leaders have been fined. Pastor Nikolai Varushin was fined about one month's average local wages, and Pastor Pyotr Yashchenko and Valentin Shchedrenok were fined much smaller amounts. These are the first such raids and fines in almost a year.

Police told Forum 18 that one of the raids had been initiated by the KGB secret police, with the aim of "revealing criminal groups of the unregistered Baptists". "We [the police] deal with family quarrels and street fights, and are not interested in religion," the police officer told Forum 18. "In this mission we only lent assistance." And New Life Pentecostal Church in the capital Minsk has once again received an eviction order, which was today (14 June) rapidly suspended -but not cancelled. [read more...]

from True Orthodox and Ecumenical News

(01 Jun) According to recent reports, the Moscow Patriarchate authorities in Belarus have allowed church services to be conduced in the vernacular of Belorussian instead of the traditional Church Slavonic. Church Slavonic has been the liturgical language Slavic Orthodox Christians have used since its adoption in the 9th century by Sts. Cyril and Methodius. From their missionary activities in Moravia, Greece, etc, it spread to Bulgaria, Serbia, and finally to the lands of Rus' (modern day Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia). Despite its similarity to modern Slavic languages, Church Slavonic has a specific theological and religious heritage for Orthodox Christians that should not be lightly forsaken. Therefore, let us use this as a spring board to discuss the larger issues surrounding the use of the vernacular in Orthodoxy.

In recent years, there have been several attempts to abolish Church Slavonic as well as Byzantine Greek in the liturgical life of Orthodox Christians. Sometimes these attempts have been made by honest and well-meaning persons, seriously concerned with the lack of comprehension by the average Orthodox Christian of what is being said. On the other hand, there have always been nationalistic tendencies in the East Slavic countries in the past 100 years (particularly Ukraine) that have sought the replacement of Church Slavonic for purely nationalistic reasons. There have also been supporters of a modern vernacular who have used this as a trojan horse to bring in modernistic teachings and praxis into Orthodoxy (this is the same line of thinking that would abolish the iconostasis, altar curtain, fasting, and even implement versus populum services, such is already being done in the Antiochian patriarchate on a limited basis). [read more...]


from Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty

from Forum 18 News Service

from Interfax-Religion

from Mission Network News

from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

from Apokrisis.ru

from Russia Beyond the Headlines - Religion

from Russian Ministries

from BosNewsLife

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


Our second news article describing Patriarch Kirill's visit to Estonia mentions "the autonomy of the Estonian Orthodox Church granted to it by Patriarch Alexy II" and that it "remains under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate." But by referring to "rudiments of the nineties" he only hints at the fact that Estonia has another Orthodox Church, recognized by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. During the Soviet era, the person who later became Patriarch Alexy II, who was born in Estonia, was in charge of the dismantling of the old Estonian Orthodox Church that was independent of Moscow when he served in the Church there. The Moscow Patriarchate would of course now like to bring all Orthodox believers in Estonia back under its wings again.

The above article about Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili does not mention how in 2004 he asked a court to give a complete pardon to a defrocked Orthodox priest, Father Basil Mkalavishvili, who led a band of attackers that burned Bibles and books (including thousands of copies of books the bishop had written), organized raids on religious minorities and beat up clergy from non-Orthodox denominations: see Pandemonium in Court. His gesture of complete forgiveness made a huge impression on all present and won great respect among most Georgians.

And our final news article "ABOLISH CHURCH SLAVONIC AND INSTITUTE A VERNACULAR?" argues for retaining Church Slavonic in Orthodox worship services. But the overwhelming majority of Orthodox people in Russia can't understand what is going on in Russian Orthodox churches there, which explains - as mentioned in our first news article - why "MOST RUSSIAN ORTHODOX DON'T READ THE BIBLE, PRAY, OR GO TO CHURCH." The standard Russian Synodal Bible also uses a smattering of Slavonic words, making it quite difficult for most Russians to understand. This sad state of affairs could easily be corrected, as a 2007 news release explained: "Divine service fragments to be read in modern Russian, says Russian Orthodox Church's representative." That was more than six years ago, and little progress has been made in this direction.

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Chapter 11 (see below) from my book The Ministry Driven Church is, I believe, a critically important message for Christians today. For this reason I've made it available as a separate PDF file that you can download HERE. Feel free to download and share it with your friends!

Ministry as Moderation (epieikes) and Self-Control (egkrateia) - Part 2

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 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 other Greek term we should consider here is egkrateia - self-control. St. Peter tells us that since we have become partakers of the divine nature - "...for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence; and in moral excellence, knowledge; and in knowledge, self-control (egkrateia); and in self-control patience; and in patience godliness" (2 Pet. 1:5-6). The KJV translates this word as "temperance" which we usually associate with the limited use of alcoholic beverages, but in his commentary Matthew Henry defines it as "moderation about worldly things,"5 so we can rightly think of it as synonymous with epieikes.

The verb form of egkrateia is egkrateuomai, which we find in 1 Cor. 9:25 - "Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control (egkrateuomai) in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible." Strong's Dictionaries define egkrateia as - "self control (especially continence): - temperance."6 The other New Testament usages of this word are in Acts 24:25 when Paul was on trial before Felix - "As he reasoned about righteousness, self-control (egkrateia), and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified, and answered, 'Go your way for this time, and when it is convenient for me, I will summon you,'" and in Gal. 5:22-23 - "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control (egkrateia). Against such things there is no law."

Moderation and self-control, as we see in these passages, are important character traits for the Christian. But how do they relate specifically to ministry? They are the positive side of some negative behaviors the Apostle Paul warns against, when writing about qualifications for church ministry. In 1 Tim. 3:1-3 he writes - "This is a faithful saying: if a man seeks the office of an overseer, he desires a good work. The overseer therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, modest, hospitable, good at teaching; not a drinker, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle (epieikes), not quarrelsome, not covetous." The office of overseer is episkopos, the equivalent of today's pastor or bishop. In verse 8 (ISV) Paul gives some qualifications for deacons (diakonos) - "Deacons, too, must be serious. They must not be two-faced, addicted to wine, or greedy for money."7 So in these negative phrases we find the opposite of moderation and self-control, thus they can be fairly called qualifications for ministry or diakonia.

We have already discussed moderation and self-control in relation to material things and money. Now let us consider these qualities in relation to eating and drinking. The above passages speak out against excessive use of alcohol, as we also find in several other texts: Deut. 21:20-21 places the death sentence on drunkards and gluttons, and Prov. 23:20-21 tells us drunkenness and gluttony lead to laziness and poverty. In the New Testament we read: "But give attention to yourselves, for fear that your hearts become over-full of the pleasures of food and wine, and the cares of this life, and that day may come on you suddenly, and take you as in a net"8 (Lk. 21:34, BBE); "For we have spent enough of our past time doing the desire of the Gentiles, and having walked in lewdness, lusts, drunken binges, orgies, carousings, and abominable idolatries" (1 Pet. 4:3); "Let us walk properly, as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and lustful acts, and not in strife and jealousy" (Rom. 13:13); and "Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: ... envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19a and 21).

Here we see that gluttony ("orgies," "carousings" or "reveling") is on the same level as drunkenness, and the last passage cited tells us, "those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God." On the same note, greed is on a similar list - "You know that wicked people will not inherit the kingdom of God, don't you? Stop deceiving yourselves! Sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunks, slanderers, and robbers will not inherit the kingdom of God"9 (1 Cor. 6:9-10, ISV). If such people will be excluded from the Kingdom of God, they should most certainly be excluded from ministry (diakonia) in the church, if they cannot or will not repent and turn away from these things.

We know of the enormous physical harm caused by gluttony: high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, as well as hip and knee joint failure due to being overweight. Each of these can bring a person to an early grave. Obesity and diabetes, closely related to each other, have reached epidemic proportions in affluent societies today. I have sadly watched how people near and dear to me, as well as people claiming to be in the Lord's work have crippled their bodies or even killed themselves by gluttony. Paul writes in Rom. 16:18 - "For those who are such don't serve our Lord, Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and flattering speech, they deceive the hearts of the innocent."

And in Phil. 3:18-19 he writes - "For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things." The early church included gluttony in the list of seven deadly sins, right along with drunkenness, murder and adultery, sins for which a person can forfeit his soul. Gluttony = obesity = slow suicide. Christians do not have the right to commit suicide, not even with a knife and fork! The church throughout history has taken a firm stand against drunkenness, but the church today is largely silent about the "socially acceptable" sin of gluttony.

Michael Kanellos, editor at large at CNET News.com, wrote a fascinating column entitled "Killing me softly with salad dressing choices" in his March 12, 2006 blog -

Those who live in North America and Western Europe have more options in terms of food, careers, consumer items and everything else, said Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore professor and author of "Why Less is More" at PC Forum taking place in Carlsbad, Calif. this week. And that's the problem. The bewildering number of choices is paralyzing people with fear, unrealistic expectations, self-blame and regret. As a result, a trip to the electronics store becomes an opportunity to make a decision you could easily regret. The phenomenon is a big contributor of the significant rise in clinical depression, he said.

"Instead of liberating people, it paralyzes them," he said. "When human life was harder, people's expectations were pretty low. Now, it's not clear if anything will exceed expectations." A tour of his own grocery store underscored the mind-numbing degree of choice today, he said. There, he found 175 salad dressings, not including oils and vinegars, and 285 types of cookies. Studies back this up. In a grocery store experiment, a table loaded with 24 types of jams got many visitors, but sales were ten times higher when only six jams were offered.10

We need to return to the epieikes-moderation of the New Testament. The superabundance of food and other material objects (I refuse to call them "goods") is definitely not good for us physically, psychologically or spiritually. Learn to "Just say no" to advertising hype, trust in the Lord, and be content with a moderate amount of food and other material things. What can we do to overcome overindulgence in food and drink?

First, I suggest praying and fasting: fast from meat, eggs and dairy products on Wednesday and Friday, drink lots of pure, filtered water or real fruit juice (with no sugar added), and devote more time to prayer. Once a month you can fast and pray the entire day on Friday. In Luke 2:37 we read about Anna, "who didn't depart from the temple, worshipping with fastings and petitions night and day." Those were 24-hour times of fasting and prayer. Pray for restoration of the Body of Christ - including your own body - to the image and likeness of Christ. And pray that Christ will restore the Church to the ministry He practiced and taught His disciples to practice. But don't limit drinking lots of water or fruit juice to Wednesday and Friday only! You should drink about two quarts (two liters) of water or fruit juice every day.

Second, I suggest cleansing your digestive tract every three to six months using a good fiber such as psyllium, flax or bran mixed in a large glass of water or fruit juice along with a colon cleansing pill once a day for seven days. This will remove the sludge and toxins that have accumulated in your intestines and change the microorganisms there to help you lose weight. You'll not only feel lighter, you will think more clearly and have much more energy! God wants our bodies to be holy: "Abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thes. 5:22-23).

We need to rid our bodies of the evil pollution accumulating in our waste elimination system! It took me a visit to the doctor with abdominal pain to realize I had a problem. He ordered x-rays, blood and urine analyses, and prescribed some pills for acid reflux. Then a week later I ended up in the emergency room with intense back pain, where the doctor there repeated the x-rays, blood and urine analyses, added a CT scan to run up the bill (that's the "technological imperative" - if they have the technology, they must use it in order to pay for the equipment!), and he prescribed me a bottle of laxative. After another week I researched my symptoms on the Internet, and finally realized that I simply needed to thoroughly cleanse my digestive tract. So with $15 of over-the-counter fiber and colon cleansing pills, in a week the symptoms went away, I felt lighter, was thinking more clearly and had so much energy I could hardly hold myself back!

Third, get at least 20-30 minutes of brisk exercise every day, or 40 minutes of brisk exercise three times a week, raising your heart rate to where it's hard to breathe and talk at the same time. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit: "Don't you know that you are a temple of God, and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for God's temple is holy, which you are" (1 Cor. 3:16-17). At age 37, while working at a sedentary desk job, I ruptured a disk in my back after foolishly trying to lift too much when building a rock wall for our garden, and was paralyzed for two weeks from pain. I had to learn to walk again with a numb right leg, and I couldn't run or ride my bicycle on bumpy streets any more. By age 62, I couldn't walk more than 15-20 minutes due to increasing numbness in my right leg, so I finally had spinal fusion surgery to correct the problem. Now I do static exercises for 10 minutes every morning to stretch my back and leg muscles. I ride a stationary bicycle for 10 minutes or I take a brisk walk for 20 minutes after doing my static exercises to warm up. I'm trying to restore my body to wholeness!

Fourth, don't abuse your body by depriving it of rest: take one day off out of every seven days, and get seven or eight hours of sleep every night. "Six days shall work be done: but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no manner of work. It is a Sabbath to Yahweh in all your dwellings" (Lev. 23:3). Jesus told His disciples - "You come apart into a deserted place, and rest awhile" (Mark 6:31). You need to "come apart and rest awhile," or you'll simply come apart! You have to give your body time at rest to restore itself. Don't misuse your body, keep it clean and maintain it properly, so it can serve you - and the Lord - well for many years.

Little needs to be said about the harm caused to the body by the excessive drinking of alcohol: nearly every internal organ can be destroyed by it. But worst of all is the destruction of one's eternal soul caused by drunkenness as well as gluttony. Those more experienced and proven in the faith should lovingly but firmly instruct younger servants (diakonos) to help them overcome these destructive habits if and when they appear, because the purity of the Gospel ministry (diakonia) most certainly depends on moderation and self-control.

Endnotes to Chapter 11:

5. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Entire Bible, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).

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

7. International Standard Version, op. cit.

8. Bible in Basic English, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).

9. International Standard Version, op. cit.

10. Kanellos, Michael, "Killing me softly with salad dressing choices," (Future Tech Blog, http://news.com.com/2061-11128_3-6048784.html?part=rss&tag=6048784&subj=news, 2006).

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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray for translation of the Bible and worship services, so Russians will attend church and read the Bible.
Mon. - Ask the Lord to dissolve the discord and disagreements between the two Orthodox Churches in Estonia.
Tue. - Thank God for the effective witness of Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, the leader of Baptists in Georgia.
Wed. - Pray for release of atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov and pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev in Kazakhstan.
Thu. - Ask God to bring about reconciliation between leaders of the Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church.
Fri. - Pray that the Russian Orthodox Church will indeed abandon Church Slavonic and begin using the vernacular.
Sat. - Ask the Lord to show us and all Christians how to be content with living simply, in moderation.

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. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. - George Washington

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