Welcome to , Mar 16, 2014
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:

CHRISTIANS IN UKRAINE: ECUMENISM IN THE TRENCHES
from
Catholic World Report

Select to see full-size! (04 Mar) The religious map of Ukraine on the eve of the protests that began in November 2013 looked like a mosaic of military camps. The troops did not conduct active maneuvers nor openly attack each other. They just stayed in their trenches, while their generals occasionally met on the neutral ground to imitate negotiations on truce, which none of them really wanted. The situation changed, however, when the civil protests began in November 2013 at the central square of Kiev, the Maidan of Independence. The civil awakening urged the Ukrainian churches to reconsider their relationship to each other. This followed the reconsideration of their relationship with the Ukrainian state and society. The common fight for restoration of social justice and later on against the aggression of Russia provide the Ukrainian Churches a chance for reconciliation.

All major Ukrainian Churches, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Greek-Catholic Church, belong to the eastern Christian tradition. According to this tradition, the Church gives priority to relations with the state, and not so much with the society. The Maidan, however, urged the Ukrainian Churches to begin realising that the unilateral relationship of the Church with the state is insufficient. There exists a society, which has its own interests that can be very different from the state.

In Ukraine, society opposed the kleptocratic and violent state and articulated its own agenda. Under the pressure of the conflict between the state and society in Ukraine, the Churches realised that society is distinct from the state and equally important for them, if not more important. They had to choose between the two, and all of them eventually chose the side of society. Some of them earlier, like the Greek Catholic Church, and some later, like the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Churches "discovered" for themselves society with its distinct agenda owing to the Maidan. Why did the Maidan become a power that made the Ukrainian Churches change their orientation from the state to society? The Maidan was a community, which can be interpreted as a classic instance of civil society. This community understood itself on the basis of shared values, including dignity, honesty, non-violence, solidarity, and readiness for self-sacrifice. [read more...]


PATRIARCH KIRILL PRAYS THAT NO WAR OCCURS BETWEEN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
from
Interfax-Religion

(14 Mar) The Russian and Ukrainian nations should enhance their spiritual union and it is hoped that no war will occur between the two, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said. "Today we are praying that no military clashes ever occur between the brothers and that half-brothers do not clash in a cruel way so that death and destruction do not occur," the patriarch said following a liturgy of pre-sanctified gifts in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on Friday.

The Church has always been the guarantor of the two nations' unity and it is wished to "not be destroyed by external political forces," Patriarch Kirill said. The Russian and other local Orthodox Churches share the same opinion that "no other way to overcome the split exists but the return of belligerents to the bosom of the united holy Church," he said. For over 400 years attempts were made to split, to divide the Russian world - "the great Russian civilization, which came from Kiev and expanded throughout the vast scope of Eurasia," Patriarch Kirill said. [read more...]


UKRAINIAN CRISIS MAY SPLIT RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
from
Religion News Service

(15 Mar) Andrei Zubov, a historian and expert in church-state relations at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, was nearly fired earlier this month for writing an editorial that compared Putin's actions in Crimea to Hitler's Anschluss of the Sudetenland. He said that if events spill into war, a split between the Moscow and Kiev churches is inevitable. "Putin has started an uncontrollable process," he said in a telephone interview from London.

Calls have been growing for an independent church that would unite all of Ukraine's Orthodox churches. (The other two are not recognized by the world's main Orthodox churches.) Zubov said that if relations between Russia and Ukraine continue to deteriorate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople would eventually recognize a Ukrainian Church. One thing is certain: A united Ukrainian church could redraw the map of Orthodoxy. [read more...]


RUSSIA: SOCHI PROTESTANTS STRUGGLE TO KEEP CHURCH
by Victoria Arnold,
Forum 18 News Service

(04 Mar) Acquiring and retaining places of worship in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi is difficult for some local residents, Forum 18 News Service notes. House of the Gospel Church is struggling to retain its church building against city attempts to sell it off. In 2011 the Church asked for full ownership of the building it has used since 1993 (having had lesser ownership since 2007), as Russian law allows, but Sochi administration repeatedly failed to respond or give reasons for its lack of response. Two court hearings have failed to secure the Church's rights to the property, and it is now preparing a third appeal. The hearing date will be set on 25 March. In contrast, Krasnodar Region allocated more than 525 million Roubles for the construction of the vast Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Image of Christ at the Olympic Park, which was consecrated on 2 February 2014.

In January 2013 Sochi administration decided to sell off much of its municipal property. This meant that the congregation of the House of the Gospel Protestant Church is faced with losing the site it has occupied rent-free since 1993. Two court hearings so far have failed to secure the Church's rights to the property, and the community is now preparing to appeal a third time.

The Church complex houses two prayer halls, a Sunday school, a publishing outlet, offices, and departments for missionary work and philanthropy, and includes the original building granted by the city administration to the congregation "for charitable and liturgical purposes" in 1993, as well as new structures erected at the community's own expense. In 2007 the House of the Gospel and Sochi's property department signed a contract transferring the title of the property to the Church, and allowing it free use of the building. [read more...]


UKRAINIAN INTERCHURCH COUNCIL INITIATES NATIONAL DAYS OF REPENTANCE, HUMILITY, AND FASTING FOR UKRAINE
from
Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(13 Mar) Bishop Oleksiy Demydovych, chair of the Ukrainian Interchurch Council (UIC), which represents mainly young Protestant associations, on March 12 called on all concerned Ukrainians to hold on March 14-16 days of repentance, humility and fasting for Ukraine. "Knowing that you are all now supporting and praying for Ukraine, which is experiencing one of the most dramatic periods in its history, I appeal to you to unite our spiritual efforts on March 14-16 and hold nationwide days of repentance, humility, and fasting for Ukraine because as we know a referendum on the future of the Crimea be held on March 16," he said. Then he called on Ukrainians in their church and family prayers to ask the Merciful God for:

- forgiveness for all the sins that have occurred in Ukraine (fratricide, anti-Semitism, corruption, theft, etc.);

- peace and security for Ukraine, to prevent a fratricidal war between Ukrainians and Russians;

- the spirit of understanding, forgiveness, and reconciliation between the peoples of the central-western and south-eastern regions of Ukraine;

- moral strength, wisdom, and fear of God for heads of state, diplomats, and representatives of the security forces of the country;

- a stop to the spread of lies and hatred in the media;

- the suspension of operations in Ukraine of gang and radical groups;

- the integrity and independence of Ukraine, protection from economic disaster. [read more...]


KAZAKHSTAN: 87-YEAR-OLD FINED, TWO NEW FIVE-DAY PRISON TERMS
by Felix Corley,
Forum 18 News Service

(13 Mar) Former Soviet-era religious prisoner Yegor Prokopenko is among 35 individuals known to have been fined in the first 10 weeks of 2014 for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Aged 87 and three months, he is believed to be the oldest victim of Kazakhstan's policy of fining those who conduct religious activity without state permission, Forum 18 News Service notes. Prokopenko was only 86 when he was last fined.

In addition, two Baptists were imprisoned for five days each in early March. They bring to seven the number of individuals known to have been imprisoned for between one and ten days in the first 10 weeks of 2014 for refusing to pay earlier fines imposed to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Another was given a small fine.

Council of Churches Baptists have adopted a policy of civil disobedience, refusing to pay fines imposed for meeting for worship without compulsory state registration. Council of Churches Baptists believe such fines are wrong, as neither Kazakhstan's Constitution nor the country's international human rights obligations allow punishments for exercising human rights without state permission. A total of 26 Council of Churches Baptists are known to be on the travel ban list because they have refused to pay fines imposed to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

AHEAD OF RUSHED CRIMEA VOTE, SHARP DIVISIONS ON DISPLAY
from
Moscow Times

PATRIARCH KIRILL CALLS TO SPEED UP PREPARATIONS FOR ALL-ORTHODOX COUNCIL
from
Interfax-Religion

UOC-KP COUNCIL CALLS ON PRIMATES OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCHES TO GIVE IT RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE IN DISCUSSION OF AUTOCEPHALY
from
Religious Information Service of Ukraine

REMEMBERING HOW IT WAS WHEN WE WERE STILL BROTHERS
from
Russian Evangelical Alliance

"RUSSIAN MINISTRIES" MISSION SPEAKS UP AS CRIMEA REFERENDUM DRAWS NEAR
from
Mission Network News

ACTING UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ALEXANDER TURCHINOV TELLS HOW GOD SAVED HIS LIFE ON MAIDAN
from
Russia Religion News

PUTIN'S ENTOURAGE COULD TURN ON HIM OVER CRIMEA, BUKOVSKY SAYS
from
Window on Eurasia

WILL THE CRIMEA CRISIS LEAD TO COLD WAR II?
from
Russia Beyond the Headlines

BELARUS: HOMELESS SHELTER OFFICIALLY CLOSED; BAPTISTS FINED
from
Forum 18 News Service

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


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

As our first news article CHRISTIANS IN UKRAINE: ECUMENISM IN THE TRENCHES explains, a new phenomenon appeared in Ukraine during the three months of protests - civil society appeared! Churches whose loyalties formerly were with one or another state now have realized that they must be loyal to the people of Ukraine. Even many of the Moscow Patriarchate churches have taken the side of the protesters against heavy-handed corruption in politics. In the article PATRIARCH KIRILL PRAYS THAT NO WAR OCCURS BETWEEN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE we see the Russian Patriarch realizes that open war could result in the Moscow Patriarchate churches splitting with Moscow in favor of Ukraine. This same conclusion was reached by Andrei Zubov, an expert in church-state relations, as the article UKRAINIAN CRISIS MAY SPLIT RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH explains. This article's author is Sophia Kishkovsky, daughter of Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, an Orthodox Church in America leader who spent many years representing Orthodoxy in the World Council of Churches.

Select to see full-size!Our above headline AHEAD OF RUSHED CRIMEA VOTE, SHARP DIVISIONS ON DISPLAY article explains how the urban vs. rural population in Crimea forms a Russian vs. Ukrainian standoff: the minority rural folk want to remain in Ukraine, but the majority of city people want to join Russia. The Stratfor article Russia's Cultural Influence in Former Soviet States (click thumbnail photo to enlarge) illustrates clearly the ethnic and cultural mix in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Ukraine as a whole consists of only 17% ethnic Russians. In many countries of the FSU, the Russians are mainly an aging community remaining from Soviet times: some have Russian passports, others have passports of the country where they live, and a few have no passport. But these days, Russia is offering citizenship to many in the FSU who want it, enabling Russia to claim more citizens in the FSU and "offering to protect them." What does this portend? Very likely it is a foretaste of something akin to the old USSR, with stronger economic, military and political ties between Mother Russia and more of the FSU countries.

Select to see full-size!Crimea's 95% vote in favor of joining Russia is a clear indication of rigged voting: as you can read in the Wikipedia article Russians in Ukraine, only the region of Crimea has just barely a majority of ethnic Russians, 58%. The population of Sevastopol city, where the Russian navy's Black Sea fleet is based, is 71.6% ethnic Russian. Many major news outlets state that eastern Ukraine consists of mostly ethic Russians, but as you see here (click thumbnail photo to enlarge), the highest percentages in the eastern part are no greater than 40%. Some large cities there, however, have an ethic Russian majority or very close to a majority, including the cities of Donetsk, Makiyivka, Ternivka, Sverdlovsk, Sumy and Krasnodonskyi in the eastern part; and in the western part Odesa, Mikolaiv and Kherson along the Black Sea coast just west of Crimea, which would take any future Russian claims of "protection" very close to Moldova, another country Russia wants to keep in its orbit.

From the above facts we can understand Russia's security concerns and ethno-cultural claims regarding Crimea, but also Ukraine's majority in the rest of the country: in both the eastern and western parts of Ukraine most of the people want their country to remain united and independent. The best solution to the current crisis therefore would probably be to allow the various churches to serve the people rather than this or that state, and to reorganize the country into a federal system of government, giving more autonomy to each side, allowing the eastern part to be more aligned with Russia, and the western part to be more aligned with the EU.

Select to see full-size!Again, a personal note: in order to volunteer at the FOCUS+Pittsburgh Free Medical Clinic, Cheryl had her nursing school transcripts from 50 years ago sent in, she received her Pennsylvania nursing license, her certificates that she has no criminal or child abuse records here, she got recertified for emergency resuscitation, and last Friday they held a mock clinic to test the procedures - both human and computerized - for admitting patients. That's Cheryl in the white sweater, Ilyana at the computer, the young lady in the black outfit is a mock patient, the man in the blue lab coat is the volunteer doctor, and the man in the white shirt is the software developer who was taking notes on the finishing touches needed for the admission programming. Next Friday they should open up for real, live patients. About 60,000 poor people in the Pittsburgh area can't get even subsidized health insurance, so now some of them will be able to come to our free medical clinic.

Let's keep the comments coming! When you've finished reading, leave your COMMENTS in our Hosken-News Blog below. Thanks!


Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Thank the Lord that
Christians of various confessions have come together in Ukraine to care for the people.
Mon. - Pray that the Church will be organized along national lines, as the canons of the ancient Church require.
Tue. - Ask God that the House of the Gospel Church will be allowed to retain its church building in Sochi, Russia.
Wed. - Praise the Lord the Ukrainian Interchurch Council has called for days of prayer and fasting on Mar. 14-16.
Thu. - Intercede for 87-year-old Yegor Prokopenko in Kazakhstan, fined for holding worship services in his home.
Fri. - Pray that the current crisis in Ukraine may be resolved peacefully and Ukraine will be free and independent.
Sat. - Thank God that some "spiritual but not religious" people are discovering that the Church really cares for them.

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. God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.


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