Welcome to , 31 Aug 2013
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

RUSSIANS LAUNCH DEDICATED CENTER TO FIGHT 'ATHEIST EXTREMISM'
from Russia Today

Select to see full-size! (21 Aug) A group of activists connected with the Russian Orthodox Church are setting up a center against atheist extremism which, according to them, is promoted mainly by foreign-sponsored organizations. The decision was announced this week at a meeting between city residents and deputies of a district council that was held near the pilgrimage center of the Moscow Patriarchate, in south-west Moscow. "The atheist extremism is currently rearing its head. It is sponsored by various funds and NGOs with roots outside Russian borders," reads the first statement released by the new movement.

The group claims that their enemies are opposing citizens' lawful right for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, guaranteed by the Constitution. In particular, the activists listed incidents when certain people protested against the construction of new churches, "creating an artificial psychosis and pumping up hysteria by intimidating the public," quoting non-existent laws and declaring all public discussions unlawful. The statement emphasized the fact that atheist extremists were often acting on behalf of local residents by creating grassroots groups, but the real masterminds preferred to remain in the dark.

The Moscow City authorities together with the Russian Orthodox Church are currently implementing the so called "Program-200" - a plan according to which 200 Orthodox churches will be erected throughout the capital in the next 10 to 15 years. Russian mass media estimated the overall budget of the program at about $1 billion and financing comes from a non-government fund. The authors of the program claimed that after it is implemented there will be a church for every 20,000 residents located witbin a 1-kilometer or less radius. [read more...]


TURKMENISTAN: POLICE RAID CHILDREN'S CAMP
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

(29 Aug) The Baptist church in the town of Mary tried to hold a children's summer camp on its premises on 5 July. However, the camp was "suddenly raided" by 15 police officers, Baptists who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals complained to Forum 18. Police were soon followed by two medical personnel and other officials. "Everyone and everything was noted down," Baptists told Forum 18. Among the officials was one with a camera. "Despite our indignation over the filming he was actively rushing around filming all the rooms and places where the children were or something was underway, including the kitchen, sleeping room, lessons, shower, toilet - in fact anything that could be filmed." Officials took some of the food - including meat, vegetables, bread and jam - allegedly for testing.

Police questioned all the children present for three hours. They also phoned the children's parents and demanded that they immediately come and collect them. "The parents were in a panic and began to ring us to find out what was going on," Baptists told Forum 18. Police insisted that the local children be sent home, while children from other places had to leave by the following day. Church leaders were summoned to the local court. Two fines were handed down under the Code of Administrative Offences. One fine punished holding an unregistered religious meeting under Article 205, Part 4 ("violation of procedures established by law for organising and holding religious meetings"). The fine was 750 Manats (265 US Dollars). The second fine was 300 Manats for failure to comply with sanitary norms. "Officials insisted the fines were paid immediately, otherwise they would confiscate property," Baptists told Forum 18. [read more...]


RUSSIAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS AGAINST DEPORTATION OF CHRISTIAN REFUGEE TO IRAQ
from Interfax-Religion

(29 Aug) Human rights campaigners have called on the Russian authorities not to deport a refugee who might be executed in Iraq for converting to Christianity. The Russian Federal Migration Service's branch for the Saratov Region ordered that the man be deported to Iraq within five days even without waiting for a court's decision on his complaint protesting the refusal to grant him temporary asylum in Russia, the Civil Support Committee said in a statement seen by Interfax.

"This notification about his deportation means an invitation to execution," the rights activists said. Should he be deported to Iraq, the man might be sentenced to death by the Iraqi authorities for converting to Christianity, they said. "Muhammad, who renamed himself Joseph, is doomed to persecution by everyone, including his own family. He fled to Russia, which he saw as a humane state with Christian traditions," the rights activists said. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: NATIONWIDE FINES AND RAIDS ON MEETINGS CONTINUE
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(22 Aug) Kazakhstan continues to very frequently punish the exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. Also, atheist writer and anti-corruption campaigner Aleksandr Kharlamov and Presbyterian pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev are both still in detention. In one of many recent cases, Baptist Vyacheslav Flotch was fined the equivalent of one month's average salary for participating in a meeting for worship without state permission. Judge Nurlan Kurmangaliyev, who upheld the fine, was asked by Forum 18 why he did not take account of the fact that the fine and laws behind it break the Constitution and international human rights standards. He replied that "this is not my duty."

In another case, Tatyana Degterenko was fined one month's average salary because her 9-year old son David gave two Christian CDs to his teachers. His mother and father were upset when, at school headteacher Tatyana Lovyagina's invitation, police interrogated David in their absence. Asked why she called police, Lovyagina told Forum 18 that the local administration instructed headteachers to report any religious activity. Asked whether this does not sound like returning to the Soviet-era, she exclaimed "Yes!" [read more...]


U.S. AMBASSADOR AND UGCC HEAD DISCUSS ROLE OF CHURCH IN UKRAINIAN SOCIETY
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(22 Aug) On August 21, 2013 in Kyiv, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk met with the new U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt. The meeting was held at the request of the U.S. ambassador. According to the Information Department of the UGCC, the parties talked about the role that the churches in general and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church specifically play in building civil society.

The ambassador said that he believes that the heads of the churches are leaders of the civil society. He was interested in learning about the prospect of European integration and whether the citizens of Ukraine see their future in the European community. Patriarch Shevchuk described the position of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) in this regard. The head of the UGCC mentioned the trip of the AUCCRO delegation this February to Brussels and the various meetings which took place at the highest level. The members of the delegation witnessed the European aspirations of the Ukrainian people. [read more...]


CHURCH OF RUSSIAN ANTI-'GAY PROPAGANDA' LAWMAKER FIRE-BOMBED
from RIA Novosti

(19 Aug) Unidentified "scum" threw a Molotov cocktail at a Russian Orthodox Church where the lawmaker who kick-started Russia?s anti-?gay propaganda? trend helps out as an altar server, the legislator said on Twitter. "We?ll find them and destroy them," St. Petersburg city legislator Vitaly Milonov pledged in another Tweet late Sunday. The Church of Holy Peter the Metropolitan Bishop of Moscow, in the city's south, was attacked on Sunday night, local media reported. The attack literally backfired: Surveillance cameras showed that one of the two masked attackers had his hands on fire after the Molotov bottle failed to break a window, news site Fontanka.ru said.

Damage to the building was reportedly limited to a scorched window frame. A criminal case has been opened on hooliganism charges, a city police spokesman told RIA Novosti on Monday. He reported no leads. Milonov blamed the attack on moral decadence in Russia, citing as an example a rally of half a dozen followers of the tongue-in-cheek religion Pastafarianism who marched through St. Petersburg wearing pasta strainers on their heads last weekend. However, the lawmaker stopped short of accusing the flock of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose church was officially registered in Russia in July, of torching the church of a rival god. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

WHAT'S BEHIND ROMANIA'S CHURCH BUILDING SPREE?
from NPR

RUSSIA: PARLIAMENTARY RELIGION COMMITTEE BACK IN ACTION
from Forum 18 News Service

BELARUS ACTIVISTS DEMAND CATHOLIC PRIEST'S RELEASE
from Interfax-Religion

CHRISTIANS FROM THE WEST NEEDED FOR OLYMPIC OUTREACH
from Mission Network News

POLL FINDS CHURCH MARRIAGES TWICE AS STRONG AS STATE MARRIAGES
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

RIGHTS ADVOCATES QUESTION PROPOSED NEW RULES GOVERNING RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES
from Religia i zakon

PATRIARCH OF ANTIOCH THANKS RUSSIAN CHURCH FOR DEFENDING CHRISTIANS IN MIDDLE EAST
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate

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


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Ministry as Wholeness (teleiosis) and Fullness (pleroma) - Part 2

[This is an excerpt from Chapter 13 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.]

Along with wholeness (teleiosis), fullness is our goal: to attain "to the measure of the stature of the fullness (pleroma) of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). In Christ, history reached "the fullness (pleroma) of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth, in Him" (Eph. 1:10). And God the Father "gave Him [Christ] to be head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness (pleroma) of Him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22b-23). Only in the Church, not as isolated individuals, can we experience the fullness of Christ. St. Paul then prays that "you" (plural, the church in Ephesus) will "know [experience] Christ's love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness (pleroma) of God" (Eph. 3:19). This amazing promise of experiencing ?the fullness (pleroma) of God? can only be fulfilled when we are members of the Church, the Body of Christ.

But there is a price to pay for this wholeness and fullness. If we cling to material things we will never achieve wholeness and perfection, as the story of the rich young ruler explains - "Jesus said to him, 'If you want to be perfect (teleios), go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he was one who had great possessions" (Mat. 19:21).

Another aspect of the price to pay for wholeness and fullness is found in chapter 12 of the letter to the Hebrews. In the first two verses the author encourages us to "keep running with endurance the race set before us"4 (ISV) as we keep our eyes on Jesus. Then the author tells us that even Jesus learned obedience through suffering and being disciplined - "paideuo" which means to "teach, instruct, train up, discipline, punish." So we also must accept discipline as God's way of training up His children, bringing them to maturity. In the Russian Synodal Translation these verses use "punish" for every instance of paideuo in this passage, which lends a much harsher meaning to this text. Our Agape-Biblia revision of the RST uses all of the meanings of paideuo, "teach, instruct, train up, discipline, punish," because each meaning fits in its given context. But then we come to the portion on holiness, restoration to wholeness, and sanctification in verses 10-11, where it states that God disciplines us "for our good, so that we may share in his holiness." The word "holiness" is hagiotes, which refers to the final state of perfection and sanctity that we will enjoy with God in heaven. This is ultimate wholeness!

But to reach that goal requires training and discipline, as we see in verses 12-14 (ISV) - "Therefore, strengthen your tired arms and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not become worse but rather be healed (sodzo). Pursue peace with everyone, as well as holiness, without which no one will see the Lord."5 This describes specific actions to take to attain wholeness: using strength-building exercises to overcome weakness and muscle atrophy due to lack of use, contractures from a shoulder, or elbow or knee remaining too long in one position, and using means to help a person walk straight so that he can be healed, made whole. The next verse mentions "holiness" again, but it is hagiasmos, not hagiotes, and would be better translated "sanctification" or the day-to-day pursuit of becoming holy, a work-in-process. So here we have practical advice for physical wholeness sandwiched between two instructions on spiritual wholeness, which is holiness!

How then can we attain wholeness and perfection? Recall what we found in 1 John 3:16-18 when we were considering agape-love: if we see our brother in need, we must not ignore him because that is in reality hating him. Rather we must open our heart of compassion to him and perform diakonia-ministry for him, because this is what genuine agape-love does. In the next chapter the Apostle John writes -

In this love has been made perfect (teleioo) among us, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect (teleios) love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect (teleioo) in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn't love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother (1 John 4:17-21).

When we operate on the level of punishment instead of love, we are operating on the level of law. Punishment need not be enacted; its utility is based on the fear of punishment. If parents renounce the use of punishment (spankings), the child will soon realize that he can do anything and get away with it. When that child grows up, the only hope is that the law, the police will restrain him behind bars for a less serious crime before he kills someone! He hasn't learned to fear the threat of punishment. I don't advise that parents should use physical punishment often, but it must be kept in reserve, in the background. In order to raise a child to maturity (teleiosis), parents must lead him through the stage of law before he is able to understand love. God loved the world so much that He gave His Son to take the punishment for our sins. This implies that the sinful nature of humanity, including our children, is a real problem! Paul writes in Gal. 3:24-25 (KJV) - "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."6 The law was a necessary stage in the development of human society before Christ could appear on the world stage, and law is therefore a necessary stage in every child's development.

Children need teachers or tutors because they have not yet internalized the disciplines of study. But law is only a "schoolmaster" to bring us to faith in Christ, which means to believe in and to accept the gift of God, eternal life. Only then can we begin the journey to full maturity (teleiosis), selfless, perfect (teleios) love that isn't based on profit-and-loss or on reward-and-punishment. Genuine, mature love is not a profit-based exchange of goods and services. Because I truly love my wife I will love her and be faithful to her when she is ill, when she grows old and isn't the same pretty twenty-one year-old person as when we met. I will love her for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Why? Because that's just what love is!

A beautiful example of wholeness, although not using the word teleiosis, is when Jesus returned to land after calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee - "And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; and besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole"7 (Mat. 14:35-36, KJV). The King James Version is more accurate here, because the Greek word for "perfectly whole" is diasodzo, literally, "through" (dia) plus "heal-and-save." Wholeness operates on the same two levels, physical and spiritual, as soteria, healing and salvation. Another example is in Acts 14:9-10, when Paul met a man who was crippled from birth - "He was listening to Paul speaking, who, fastening eyes on him, and seeing that he had faith to be made whole (sodzo), said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet!" He leaped up and walked." From all of this we see that the diakonia-ministry of Jesus and the Apostles involves bringing people to physical and spiritual wholeness.

We should keep in mind, however, that we all live in "earthen vessels," clay pots that some day will crack or break. Consider the demographics: western churches are "graying" faster than the general population, which means that in a few decades there will be a significant decline both in membership and in the total number of churches, unless we devise a strategy to better utilize our accumulated resources of life experience, wisdom and wealth. We can turn this trend around and restore the church to wholeness and growth if we boldly step out and adopt this new strategy.

There is much more that could be said about restoring people to wholeness. My wife, who holds an R.N. and B.S. in nursing and an M.S. in rehabilitation psychology, is a specialist in post-trauma and vocational rehabilitation, and has developed a six-semester interactive program entitled "Practical Ministries" on the fundamentals of rehabilitation, covering the spiritual, psychological, medical and vocational aspects for children, working-age adults and elderly people. You can take it as an online course at www.agape-biblia.org/index04.htm in English and in Russian, and we also intend to publish it in Russian as a 900-page book. It has recently been translated into Chinese and published. Take the course: learn to do practical ministries!

We begin this ministry by working with disabled people in their homes, rehabilitating them and restoring them to wholeness, both physically and spiritually. We pray with them and read the Bible to them. Then others among their family and friends become interested, and we can bring them to church. This is preparing the soil, earning their trust and learning if we can trust them. But it is just the beginning, as we will see next.

Endnotes to Chapter 13:

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. King James Bible, op. cit.

7. Ibid.


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Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray that Russian Christians may take a bold stand against atheist extremism meant to intimidate believers.
Mon. - Ask God to give wisdom and courage to church leaders in Mary, Turkmenistan, whose camp was shut down.
Tue. - Intercede for Joseph, an Iraqi Christian, whom Russian immigration officials want to deport back to Iraq.
Wed. - Pray for writer Aleksandr Kharlamov and Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, still in detention in Kazkhstan.
Thu. - Pray that Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk's meeting with US ambassador will enhance religious liberty there.
Fri. - Ask God to protect and strengthen Russian leaders and churches that support the law against gay propaganda.
Sat. - Praise God for our goal, the pleroma-fullness of Christ in His Church, as described in Eph. 1:23 & 4:13.

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 Church is not a welfare program, it's more like an NFL team - No Free Lunch.


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