||FIRST, THE NEWS:
ROMANIA SCRAPS FUNDS FOR NEW CHURCHES
from - Balkan Insight
(14 Dec) In a break with the old practice of currying favour with the powerful Orthodox Church, the government has decided not to finance the construction of any new churches next year. Romania's budget for 2016, which parliament is due to approve this week, has cut to zero the government’s contribution to the construction of new churches. In particular, this will affect work on the Cathedral of the Redeemer, which is expected to be the tallest church in Southeast Europe. "Taking into consideration the country’s finances, we can’t afford to allocate any money for building churches. The government will only step in with cash when it has the means to do so,” Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos said.
Romania spent 170 million lei (some 37 million euro) on new churches this year alone. By law, the state has to provide support for church construction and for the renovation of dilapidated buildings. More than 85 per cent of Romania's 19.5 million population belong to the Romanian Orthodox Church, which remains one of the most trusted institutions in Romania. Politicians often court the clergy to attract sympathy from the electorate. Although the government has scrapped the funding for new churches, next year it has set aside 315.1 million lei to cover the salaries of the clergy, up 13 per cent compared to 2015. Another 14.3 million lei will be spent on maintaining Romanian Orthodox parishes abroad. Parliament is expected to pass the 2016 budget on Wednesday.
Most experts welcomed the decision to cut the money for new churches. "It is for the first time in 25 years that a government has moved away from the traditional populism of previous administrations and not allotted funds for new churches,” journalist Cristian Pantazi said. "The time has come also for the Church to begin internal reforms, which people are waiting for,” he added. The Orthodox Church has come under harsh criticism in recent months. Protests against official corruption and incompetence, which in November led to the fall of the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, were also directed in part against the Church, which many accused of greed and extravagance. [read more...]
AZERBAIJAN: NO CHRISTMAS MEETINGS FOR WORSHIP FOR GEORGIAN ORTHODOX?
by Felix Corley - Forum 18 News Service
(18 Dec) Six months after Azerbaijan in June denied re-entry to the only Georgian Orthodox priest then allowed to serve in the country, the nation's only two state-registered Georgian Orthodox parishes - in the north-western Gakh [Qax] Region - still have no priest. "I still don't know who will lead the Christmas liturgy there," Bishop Demetre Kapanadze of the Diocese of Khornabuji and Hereti (who has oversight of Azerbaijan's parishes) told Forum 18 News Service from neighbouring Georgia on 16 December. "I hope this will be resolved by then." The Georgian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 7 January. Asked whether the Azerbaijan's government is likely to allow a priest to return to serve in the two parishes, Bishop Demetre responded: "Documents must still be formulated." The Bishop could not predict how long this would take.
Azerbaijan's State Border Service suddenly denied re-entry to Azerbaijan on 21 June with no explanation to the parishes' previous priest - Fr Demetre (secular name Levan Tetruashvili), who had previously been allowed to serve in Azerbaijan. A Georgian citizen, he was also the bishop-designate for the Georgian Church's new Azerbaijan Diocese created in 2014. Officials claimed afterwards that they cannot allow a foreign citizen to lead a religious community, despite the fact that other religious communities are led by foreign citizens with no problem. The Georgian Orthodox Church has long struggled to gain permission to re-open churches in Azerbaijan.
Following Fr Demetre's June denial of re-entry to Azerbaijan, Bishop Demetre Kapanadze chose an alternative parish priest, Fr Basil. The Bishop presented Fr Basil to the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilya, during the Sunday liturgy on 20 September. The patriarch blessed Fr Basil for service in Azerbaijan. Mehman Ismayilov, senior north-west regional official for Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, insisted to Forum 18 on 17 December from Zakatala [Zaqatala] that there will be a priest again in the parishes. Asked when, he responded: "I don't know." Told that the parishes have had no priest for six months and asked how this matches officials' repeated but fictitious constant claims of religious tolerance, he put the phone down. All subsequent calls went unanswered. [read more...]
ARCHPRIEST VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN PREDICTS CATASTROPHE IN RUSSIA BY 2017 IF PROBLEMS ARE NOT DISCUSSED
from - Interfax-Religion
(25 Dec) Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the World Russian People's Assembly, believes the absence of ideological freedom and a broad public debate may cause a catastrophe in Russia by 2017. "Some people believe that public debate should be minimized, that what is going on in people's minds, in the sphere of communication between people should be ignored and in that way we can calmly live to 2017 or 2018. Dear ladies and gentlemen, it's not going to happen," Father Vsevolod told a press conference in Moscow on Friday. "The conservatism, which is trying to cleanse the sphere of ideas, close the key issues to the present and future of the country and the world, people who think and act in this way commit political suicide - they will be gone," he said.
The priest was dismissed from the post of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relation's head on Thursday. The Holy Synod founded the Department for Relations between the Church, Society and the Mass Media by merging the Synodal Information Department and the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations. The new structure is led by Vladimir Legoyda, the head of the Information Department. However, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said he links his dismissal to differences with Patriarch Kirill. The priest said one should engage in "translating eternal values into the language of living debate, living public interest, living religious creative work, civil action," not in maintaining specific orders and things, good or bad.
"If we try to keep silent about some problems, we can delay the catastrophe by a year or two, but by doing so we will make it inevitable," he said. He believes that "all those immoral elites that are now keeping the country from developing" should become history and "we need to actively offer models of peaceful rebuilding of the country, including moral rebuilding, to prevent a revolution" to improve the country's administration. "The administration has changed, the power is no longer in the hands of the security structures, formal state or religious hierarchies and commercial structures. The administration is now formed in the world of ideas. The one who will be the first to word and state ideas that will appropriately form the future will get the power," the priest said. [read more...]
BELARUS: DO INDIVIDUALS HAVE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM OR ONLY REGISTERED ORGANISATIONS?
by Olga Glace - Forum 18 News Service
(11 Dec) A Protestant lawyer in Belarus' capital Minsk, Sergei Lukanin, is seeking legal clarification over whether individuals have rights to freedom of religion or belief, as the country's Constitution affirms, or only registered religious organisations, as a senior Minsk city administration official indicated to him in November. Lukanin has asked parliament for clarification, he told Forum 18 News Service, but as of 10 December has received no response. His move follows the city official's decision to refuse his application to be allowed to read the Bible out loud in a public park. The official refused him permission because, under the Religion Law, the exercise of freedom of religion or belief can only happen if it is within state-approved premises and carried out by a state-registered religious community.
In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Belarus has imposed strict restrictions on exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. Lukanin is the lawyer for Minsk's New Life Church, which has long been harassed by the authorities. Lukanin has been preaching and reading the Bible aloud in public places since at least 2007. "I don't impose my opinion on anyone," he told Forum 18 from Minsk. "People who are interested stop and listen." Sometimes police have stopped him and detained him for two or three hours, releasing him without bringing any charges.
On 7 November 2014, however, police officers detained him overnight. The following day a Minsk court fined him 20 base units, 3,600,000 Belarusian Roubles (then 165 US Dollars) under Article 23.34, Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences. This punishes the "organiser" of a "violation of the procedure for organising or conducting a mass event or demonstration" with short term arrest or a fine of 20 to 40 base units. (The base unit is used to calculate state benefits and wages. Ten base units is about one week's average wage.) The judge hearing the case warned Lukanin to obtain the authorities' permission before reading the Bible in public in the future, to avoid a subsequent larger fine for committing the same "offense" within one year. [read more...]
UNIFICATION OF UKRAINIAN ORTHODOXY PROCEEDS FROM BOTTOM TO TOP - PATRIARCH FILARET COMMENTS ON TRANSITIONS FROM UOC(MP) TO UOC(KP)
from - Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(22 Dec) Patriarch Filaret spoke about his vision of the model of unity of the Ukrainian Orthodox in an interview for the newspaper “Day.” On the question of: “What you see [as] obstacles in the inability to implement this model of unity of Ukrainian Orthodoxy?” Patriarch Filaret said: "There is one and most important obstacle - Moscow's influence on the Ukrainian Church, as there is dependence that prevents clergy fully supporting their people in the fight against the aggressor. The war really shows who is who, because unfortunately there are priests and bishops of the Orthodox Church, calling Putin to come and save Ukraine."
"Ordinary believers see this 'fifth column' and do not want to belong to it, so the parishes transfer from the UOC(MP) to the UOC(KP). This is the process of unification, but it is a bottom-up process. In large cities, these transitions proceed smoothly, but in small villages, where there is only parish, a real struggle evolves. Of course, this process can be accelerated provided that the Kyiv Patriarchate is recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch as an autocephalous Church. This in turn will enable not only the faithful but the clergy to make transitions,” the Patriarch noted. [read more...]
FIRST ORTHODOX CHURCH COUNCIL IN MORE THAN MILLENNIUM MAY BE POSTPONED
from - Sojourners
(21 Dec) A religious summit last held more than 1,200 years ago suddenly risks being downgraded or postponed because of Syria’s four-year civil war. This unexpected twist has come as the world’s Orthodox churches, the second-largest ecclesial family in Christianity, were supposed to be only months away from their first major council since 787. Now it is no longer clear when or where the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, a summit first proposed at least as far back as 1961 and provisionally scheduled for May in Istanbul, will be held. With its traditional icons and complex liturgies, Orthodox Christianity can seem like an unchanging remnant of a long-lost era. But it lives very much in today’s world and its 14 autocephalous (independent) member churches can be wrapped up in its politics and subject to its pressures.
The chain of events now threatening to affect the council began last month when Turkey, which opposes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, shot down a Russian bomber that it said had strayed into its air space while attacking Syrian rebels. Moscow, which supports Assad, demanded an apology and Ankara refused to give it. The Kremlin reacted with a full range of diplomatic punishments, suspending a joint energy project, banning imports of some Turkish products, and canceling visa-free travel for Russians to Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the incident “a stab in the back by accomplices of terrorists” and threatened serious consequences for Ankara. Out of the media spotlight, the Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Kremlin, also got active. Within days, Metropolitan Hilarion, the church’s influential “foreign minister,” called off a trip he was about to take to Turkey for preparatory talks about the council. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
KAZAKHSTAN: STATE PROSECUTOR APPEALS LIGHT SENTENCE, WANTS YKLAS TO SERVE 7 YEARS IN PRISON
from Forum 18 News Service
ARCHPRIEST VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN SAYS WAS DISMISSED DUE TO DIFFERENCES WITH PATRIARCH KIRILL
HOPE, PEACE TO BE FOUND IN UKRAINE, DESPITE WAR
from Mission Network News
"WE PRAY FOR PEACE IN UKRAINE" – UKRAINE'S PRESIDENT MEETS WITH PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS TO HEAR APPEAL OF PASTOR FINED FOR READING BIBLE IN SOCHI CAFE
from RIA Novosti
RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND EVANGELICAL CHURCH IN GERMANY MEET ON THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE END OF WORLD WAR II
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
MISSION ANNOUNCES $5000 DEYNEKA AWARD FOR EMERGING NATIONAL LEADERS WORKING IN EURASIA/FORMER SOVIET UNION
from Mission Eurasia
ANCIENT KYIV PECHERSK LAVRA TO BE DIVIDED BETWEEN UKRAINE'S RIVAL CHURCH FACTIONS?
from Ukraine Today
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On Friday, Dec. 18, when I arrived at FOCUS+Pittsburgh where we volunteer as career counsellors, the computer lab was completely filled with Christmas food gifts for the inner-city poor. Two tables were set up in the middle of the room, and the tops of the tables were covered with bags of food, as well as on the floor under the tables. Normally we have six workstations, but I was only able to barely get at one of them. After stacking several of the food bags higher, we freed up space for another workstation, so I was able to do some career counselling with the young man who came in. Please pray for "J" who's having a hard time adjusting to life outside of prison.
Check out our newly-updated web page that we use for career counselling. FOCUS+Pittsburgh also prepares "backpack lunches" for over 600 children every weekend, so they will have food to eat while they're not in school. They receive a free lunch at school during the week, but of course the school is closed on the weekends. And FOCUS+Pittsburgh had a Christmas party with gifts for the children, and runs a free medical and dental clinic, where Cheryl volunteers as a nurse when needed. A medical doctor and a dentist also volunteer their time.
In our "Other News Headline" entitled "ARCHPRIEST VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN SAYS WAS DISMISSED DUE TO DIFFERENCES WITH PATRIARCH KIRILL" Fr. Chaplin explains why he was removed from his job as head of the Synodal Department on Church and Society Liaison by Patriarch Kirill: "I have been trying to tell his Holiness that the tone in the relations with the state that the Church tends to take is wrong, we should be more critical about the immoral and unjust actions by the authorities, we should be more direct when speaking to society, we should in no case suck up to structures that challenge Orthodox faith so clearly as the current administration of Ukraine. We should generally prophesize, not think every time as to who will think and say what, and we should not be afraid of getting into a conflict with those who have power in this world," he told Interfax-Religion. Fr. Chaplin's removal is a real bombshell, signaling deep divisions in the Russian Orthodox Church as well as in society, which are likely to have society-wide repurcussions in the near future, as stated in our third news article "ARCHPRIEST VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN PREDICTS CATASTROPHE IN RUSSIA BY 2017 IF PROBLEMS ARE NOT DISCUSSED." Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill countered this by wishing the world's spiritual leaders a Merry Christmas.
Below is a quotation from our first lecture in our next online course, A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY, which starts on Jan. 11, 2016. The "live" lecture has interactive questions with audio and visual feedback that help you stay focused. click the links here so you can LOGIN as "guest" to ENROLL, or try it out (click on "Course 300" on the top gray menu bar).
Introduction: Passover or Resurrection?
In this course, I will attempt to rectify some "semantic shifts," i.e., how certain words in Christianity have been infused with different meanings over centuries of time. The main topic will be "ministry," and I propose to also examine more than 20 other words in its "semantic field" - used in various contexts where "ministry" occurs. Any word's semantic field helps us understand the meaning of that word. This is how little children learn a language - by hearing new words as they are used in various contexts, a child begins to understand what those new words mean. (All Scripture references are from the World English Bible unless otherwise indicated.)
Ministry is founded on the nature of God. At one time Moses was a prince of Egypt, the future pharaoh. But you know the story, how he killed an Egyptian and had to run away into the desert in order to save his hide. When he was wandering among the dunes, probably thinking to himself, "Hmm! Back then I was the prince, second only to Pharaoh! And who am I now? A shepherd-nobody. Hmm!" - suddenly a burning bush appeared in front of him, but that bush didn't burn up (Ex. 3:2-4). When a voice rang out, "Moses, Moses!" he answered, "Here I am."
Then the Voice told him to return to Egypt in order to deliver the people of Israel. Now, imagine for a moment that you are wanted for murder so you fled from Moscow to Siberia. [This was written when I was teaching in Moscow.] Then some voice from somewhere, maybe in your head, says, "Return to Moscow!" Moses said, (Ex. 3:11-14) - "Who, me? And by the way, who are you?" Then God replied, "I AM." You know, of course, what happened next: Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, established the Passover, showing them how they must slaughter a lamb and consume all of it, and then Moses led them into the Promised Land.
So click HERE to try out our lessons! If you login as "guest" (password: "TryMe") you'll be taken to our "Welcome" page where people can enroll - the enrollment deadline is Thursday, Jan. 7. If you login as "Michael" (password: "Pword1") you'll be taken to the first lesson in this new course. If you login as "Carmen" (password: "rubies") you'll be taken to the final exam of the previous course, because Carmen was late in taking that exam. Our exams can have a 60-minute timer, but for testing purposes I've reduced it to 30 seconds, with a 15-second warning.
This Distance Education software that I've developed over the past 15+ years is much easier to maintain than Moodle, the DE system that's used at the Moscow seminary where I've taught our courses in Russian over the past several years. You can try out and download our course development software HERE.
Please support Agape Restoration Society by e-check or credit/debit card: click on the "Donate" button there.
The Glory of God, Part 2
The mystery of the Incarnation is wrapped up in swaddling clothes: the pre-eternal Word of God, existing with God the Father from all eternity past and even before, if "before" can be used in timelessness, emptied Himself and came down to become a human embryo, then developed into a fetus and then was born as a little baby boy. Just think: Christ was conscious of being enclosed in an embryo, wrapped safely in Mary's womb for nine months. This self-emptying the Greeks called "kenosis" as in Phil. 2:5-11 -
Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider it robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him, and gave to Him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
By Christ's humbling Himself, emptying Himself, God the Father has exalted and glorified Him. Think how different this is from the way we humans seek glory and honor: we crave to be recognized for our accomplishments, expecting praise when we do something exceptional. But Jesus intentionally avoided publicity, even saying to people He healed: "Don't tell anyone!" How can we aquire this mind of Christ? St. Peter tells us -
Continue reading in our Hosken-News Blog.
Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. With today's open-ended tolerance, many people are so open-minded, their brains could fall out.