||FIRST, THE NEWS:
THE PATRIARCH, THE POPE, UKRAINE AND THE DISINTEGRATION OF 'THE RUSSIAN WORLD'
(20 Mar) The meeting last month in Havana between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) had far more import for geopolitics than it did for the reconciliation of two long-alienated branches of Christianity, as I recently wrote. One Russian goal was the appropriation of the Vatican’s moral authority by gaining Francis’ stamp of approval on Moscow’s role in Syria, in which Russian involvement was cast in terms of protecting Christian minorities threatened by Daesh.
Another related goal highlighted in the joint statement was a further grab for the moral high ground vis-a-vis the United states by praising Russia’s identity as a “Christian nation” (which is why the statement included much praise of the revitalized role of the Russian Orthodox Church in public life in Russia) while simultaneously criticizing “some countries” – the United States – for cultural trends that restrict the ability of Christians to live out their faith in the public square.
A third goal was the blunting of Turkey’s ability to frustrate Russia’s goals in Syria – as Sergey Kholmogorov, a former Russia politician with strong ties to the Kremlin, wrote, a major Russian motivation for the meeting was “Third Rome [Moscow], Meeting First Rome [the Papacy], to Neutralize Second Rome [Constantinople/Turkey].” Moscow had additional important goals for its meeting with Pope Francis, however, which I did not have the space to address previously, involving Ukraine and Crimea.
Although Syria has for a few months supplanted Ukraine as Russia’s most urgent “holy war” (Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict having been given that status by the ROC), the annexation of Crimea and the continuing conflict in eastern Ukraine has been framed from the beginning by both the Kremlin and the ROC as a “holy war” – as a civilizational struggle between “Holy Orthodox Russia” (a concept hundreds of years old) and an overly-secularized, morally decadent West (a Russian perception of the West that also predates Putin and Alexander Dugin by centuries) and Ukraine continues to be the most important field of civilizational conflict from Moscow’s point of view. And now that Vladimir Putin has announced the withdrawal of some of Russia’s military forces from Syria, Ukraine, where the lines between ecclesiological/theological and political differences have been blurred from the beginning, is likely to come back onto the front burner. [read more...]
KAZAKHSTAN: GOOD FRIDAY IN ALMATY
by Felix Corley: Forum 18 News Service
(31 Mar) On 25 March, as New Life Pentecostal Church in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty was commemorating Good Friday, police launched simultaneous raids on five church-owned buildings and the homes of six pastors and church workers, Forum 18 News Service has learned. Although a court approved the searches in January, it remains unclear why the authorities waited for two months before conducting the raids. The raids came eight months after prosecutors opened a criminal case against the Church on charges of large-scale fraud, charges the Church vigorously rejects.
"We're not fraudsters," one church member told Forum 18 from Almaty following the raids. "On the contrary, we help people. We've been working here in Kazakhstan for 26 years." The church member expressed concern about widespread hostile reporting of the criminal case and raids in the local and foreign Russian-language press. "You can understand the impact this is having on children of church members, especially of the leaders, in school." A member of another Protestant Church elsewhere in Kazakhstan expressed concern over the wider impact of the media coverage of Almaty's New Life Church. "This has an impact on all Christians across Kazakhstan," the church member told Forum 18 on 30 March. "People will be afraid to come to any church or to have anything to do with churches."
During the 25 March raid on the Church, police seized 54 computers, as well as financial documents and 94,650 Tenge of church money, Pastor Maxim Maximov, who now lives in the United States, wrote on his Facebook page. In addition, small amounts of personal money were taken from some of the pastors, church members told Forum 18. No religious literature was seized. Church members describe as "a lie" an Almaty police statement of 29 March that "an unlicensed weapon and ammunition" had been found in the searches, without specifying where it was found and what the "weapon and ammunition" consisted of. "No weapon - whether licensed or unlicensed - or ammunition was found in the church building," church members told Forum 18 on 31 March. "We have the record of the confiscations and these make no mention of any confiscated weapon or ammunition." [read more...]
ON SUNDAY OF VENERATION OF THE CROSS THE WAY OF THE CROSS TO BE HELD IN LVIV STREETS
from: Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(31 Mar) On the Cross Sunday, April 3, 2016, the Way of Cross will be held on the streets of Lviv. Traditionally, it is organized by Lviv Archdiocese of UGCC. The Way of the Cross will begin at 15.00 from the church of St. Michael the Archangel (Lviv, Vinnychenko street, 22) and end in the square in front of St. George Cathedral. This Way of Cross is based on the biography of Blessed Martyr Bishop Vasyl Velychkovskyy, a long-term prisoner of the Soviet GULAG.
“This year's Way of the Cross will mark our compassion with all those who are illegally imprisoned in Ukraine or abroad, who suffer from false accusations and suffer for the truth. It will be a gesture of solidarity with our soldiers and volunteers, those well-known and not known, who are in captivity, solidarity with the families of those who suffer because their relatives or friends are in prison,” said Fr Pavlo Drozdyak, spokesman for Lviv Archdiocese. The procession will carry the relics and icon of the blessed martyr Vasyl Velychkovskyy. One may purchase a booklet with texts of Stations of the Cross in Lviv churches.
Each year the procession cross is held by a certain person. This year the cross will be carried by:
- Taras Yatsenko, chief editor of “Your Town” (Tvoye Misto)
- A family of the deceased in the ATO area
- Military chaplains, including Fr.Stepan Sus
- Poet, dissident, political prisoner Igor Kalynets
- Representatives of the community "Oselya"
- Yuri Yatsenko, modern political prisoner from Lviv
- Volunteer, involved in adaptation of immigrants. [read more...]
UZBEKISTAN: "AREN'T YOU EXAGGERATING BY SAYING HE WAS DETAINED?"
by Mushfig Bayram: Forum 18 News Service
(21 Mar) Tashkent Regional Customs Department held Kazakh citizen Boris Prokopenko for two days in mid-March after discovering religious materials on electronic devices as he entered Uzbekistan, fellow Baptists complained to Forum 18 News Service. Freed after an "expert analysis" found nothing "extremist," he still faces administrative prosecution. "Aren't you exaggerating by saying he was detained? He was only staying with us temporarily since we were waiting for the expert analysis from the Religious Affairs Committee," Chief Customs Inspector Tahir Nasirkhodjayev told Forum 18.
He denied any violation of Prokopenko's rights, as "we only enforce the Law, which demands us to stop and clarify what kind of religious materials people carry with them." Six others were fined after being stopped in December 2015 for carrying "illegal" religious materials on their mobile phones, customs officials told Forum 18. Such punishments are part of the rigid control of religious materials entering and being transported within the country on mobile phones, tablets, personal computers, memory sticks and other electronic devices and media.
Printed literature, videos and DVDs of religious content have long been subjected to harsh prior compulsory state censorship. Police and secret police officers frequently raid homes and confiscate religious literature from their owners, including Arabic-language Korans, and Uzbek and Russian-language Bibles and New Testaments. Courts frequently order that such confiscated religious literature be destroyed, as happened to Bibles and New Testaments in Tashkent in December 2015. In March 2016, a Christian in Fergana [Farghona] in eastern Uzbekistan was jailed for 15 days after a police search for religious literature. [read more...]
PATRIARCH KIRILL CONGRATULATES POPE FRANCIS ON EASTER
(28 Mar) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia congratulated Pope Francis of Rome on Easter, which Christians of the western rite celebrated on Sunday. He addressed the Pontiff the traditional Easter greeting "Christ is Risen!"
"On these holy days replete with the universal joy over the Risen Saviour we are called to bring the good news of the most important event in the history of humanity to the world and witness before those near and those far about the unalterable Gospel values and ideals," the patriarch said in his message conveyed to Interfax-Religion.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ has endured passions on the Cross and martyr’s death but has conquered death and corruption so that we might walk after the Spirit (cf. Rom 6:4), be raised ‘to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away’ (1 Pet 1:4) and ‘our faith and hope might be in God’ (1 Pet 1:21)," Patriarch Kirill writes. He wished the head of the Catholic Church strength and fortitude and God’s all-bountiful help in his "responsible ministry." [read more...]
RUSSIA: EX-ORTHODOX CHURCH SPOKESMAN VSEVOLOD CHAPLIN SLAMS KREMLIN LINKS WITH CHURCH
from: International Business Times
(29 Mar) The former spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church has criticised the creeping authoritarianism of the Church and slammed its increasingly cosy relationship with the Kremlin. Four months after he was forced out of his job, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin says he was fired in December 2015 because he came into conflict with a top figure within the Russian government. He told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that discontent is growing in the ranks of the Russian elite and expressed dismay at the role taken in public life by Vyacheslav Volodin, the first deputy head of Vladimir Putin's administration.
"Mr Volodin does not tolerate objections, does not tolerate independent positions, and expects that people will simply carry out his recommendations. As a person, I think he is quite authoritarian and is surrounded only by people who say yes," Chaplin said. He described the Church as becoming increasingly authoritarian and criticised the secrecy surrounding Patriarch Kirill's preparations for his meeting with Pope Francis in Cuba on 12 February. He added that Kirill, who heads the Russian branch of the faith, is submissive to the Kremlin. Many consider that Putin has used the Church to foster Russian patriotism which many say has led to anti-Western sentiment among the Russian population. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
RUSSIA’S CONFLICT AGAINST UKRAINE AND THE WEST: THE RELIGIOUS DIMENSION
from Ukraine Weekly
HOPE BREAKING THROUGH IN UKRAINE
from Mission Network News
CHURCH LEADERS TOLD POLITICIANS OF THE NETHERLANDS HOW UKRAINIANS ARE CONSTRAINING THE AGGRESSOR’S IMPERIAL AMBITIONS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP OPPOSES WORLD ORTHODOXY MEETING
from Religia v Ukraine
PATRIARCH KIRILL RESPONDS TO THE CRITICS CONSIDERING 'THE HERESY OF WORSHIPPING HUMAN RIGHTS'
JOINT PRESS RELEASE OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND THE BILLY GRAHAM EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
CHALLENGES TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN POST-SOVIET CENTRAL ASIAN STATES
from Mission Eurasia
GEORGIA: PROJECT AIMS TO BOOST ORTHODOX CHURCH’S SUPPORT FOR EU INTEGRATION
See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!
NOW, OUR VIEWS:
In the heart-rending article "Killing Ukraine's Soul" you are presented with the bare, cruel facts of Russia's domination over Ukraine during the 20th century and into the present. After the Bolsheviks consolidated their power in post-WWI Russia, they attempted to retake the Ukraine. "Between 1926 and 1932, the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church, its Metropolitan Lypkivsky and 10,000 clergy were liquidated," this article states. Imagine how horrifying, how great an outcry there would be if forty thousand Southern Baptist pastors in the U.S. were summarily executed by Marxist revolutionaries! This is proportionally what happened nearly 100 years ago in Ukraine, about 1/4 the size of the U.S.
Later, toward the end of WWII when the Soviet Red Army (with U.S. material support) had driven Hitler's Wehrmacht out of Ukraine, "...on 11 April 1945, a detachment of NKVD troops [militarized secret police] surrounded the St. George Cathedral in Lviv and arrested Metropolitan Slipyj, two bishops, two prelates and several priests. All the students in the city’s theological seminary were driven from the school, while their professors were told that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had ceased to exist, that its Metropolitan was arrested and his place was to be taken by a Soviet-appointed bishop. These acts were repeated all over Western Ukraine and across the Curzon Line in Poland. At least seven bishops were arrested or were never heard from again. There was no Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church still free in the area. Five hundred clergy who met to protest the action of the Soviets, were shot or arrested."
Thus the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was forcibly absorbed into the Kremlin-controlled Russian Orthodox Church. We in the West can hardly begin to comprehend the terror of western Ukraine's clergy and laity being killed by the hundreds, whole villages being depopulated as families were separated - "fathers to Siberia, mothers to the brickworks of Turkestan and the children to Communist homes to be ‘educated.’" Cheryl and I have seen the monument to similar deportations of thousands of children in Latvia after WWII, taken to the USSR to be "re-educated" into good little communists. They never saw their parents again. So Ukrainians have legitimate fears by about what will happen if Russia gets its way in Ukraine, despite the insincere protestations of the Moscow Patriarchate concerning some UOC-MP churches defecting to the Kyiv Patriarchate.
Why is the Moscow Patriarchate so concerned about its Ukrainian Orthodox churches switching over? As you can find out by reading the entire article THE PATRIARCH, THE POPE, UKRAINE AND THE DISINTEGRATION OF 'THE RUSSIAN WORLD', you'll see that by now there are 16,000 Othodox parishes in Ukraine that are loyal to Kyiv, compared to only 12,500 loyal to Moscow. This is just about the reverse proportion of their positions before the 2014 Maidan demonstrations that led up to Russia's invasion of Crimea and its fomenting war in eastern Ukraine. In other words, Moscow is in danger of losing control over nearly all Orthodox parishes in Ukraine, that it claims as its "canonical territory," which would reduce Moscow's position from having 2/3 of all Orthodox parishes worldwide to under 1/3: Ukraine would have actually more Orthodox parishes than Moscow, the latter losing its position as the leading power of world Orthodoxy, which in turn would deal a heavy blow to the Kremlin's self-image as protector of "the Russian world."
There is a great danger inherent in believing one has the True Faith - which is what "Orthodoxy" means - it is the risk of thinking that because what one believes is the Absolute Truth, therefore whatever one does is absolutely true and correct. You've probably seen the office sign: "Rule 1 - the Boss is always right; Rule 2 - if the Boss is wrong, see Rule 1." Under communism, the Party was (supposedly) alway right, even when it committed atrocities or murdered its own members. If the Church serves as the ideological justifier of the state's actions, then millions of sincere believers might believe that whatever the state does is right.
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Do I Get a Free Pass, or Is God Unfair?
In the current political season in the U.S., we are entertained if not enticed by offers of free medical care, free higher education, free this and free that. People love free stuff! What we often fail to realize is that there's always a string attached: if you take the free education, food and housing, you'll vote for XYZ, and you will belong to XYZ. If you take the free apps and services from ABC Internet Company, your identity will belong to that company, and they can market you to all their advertisers. The free medical care, free higher education, free apps and services and so on are not the products: YOU are the product... on the auction block for sale to unknown money-changers, political power-brokers and advertisers.
Does that mean that nothing is free? Shouldn't I get a Free Pass? I'm entitled to free food and housing because I'm a poor and oppressed [name the income level or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation]! What about free grace, God's free gift of salvation? "I'm one of God's chosen people - the 'elect' - so I have a Free Ticket to Heaven. I can get away with murder (figuratively or even literally), sexual immorality, stealing and/or lying because I have the True Faith!" This notion of "free grace" is a misunderstanding of the Greek word "kharis" or grace: it is not merely a free gift, but also the miraculous power of God to transform us into the image of Christ. The inherent danger, the reductio ad absurdum of such faulty thinking is what C.S. Lewis wrote in the quote to the left: God selected Abraham to become the father of God's chosen nation, then He further selected out of that nation those who chose to follow His commandments, and the selection process continued all the way down to just one young woman, who replied to the Angel Gabriel - "Behold, I am the Lord's handmaid, may it be as you have said!" But God didn't merely elect them as inanimate objects, they had to respond:
This selection is a two-way process that requires man's response: when God said to Abraham - "Get up and go!" - Abraham got up and went! When the people of Israel called out to the Lord - "Save us from the Philistines!" - He sent Barak, Sampson, Samuel and others to deliver them. Still, they chose to fall back into sin, and suffered the consequences: virtually the entire nation of Israel was deported to Babylon because of their idolatry and immorality. Only a remnant returned to Israel, the majority chose to stay in Babylon. So you see, it's not only God who chose Abraham, the chose remnant and finally He chose the Virgin Mary, but each of them chose to obey God: it works both ways, it is a two-way choosing!
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. How will we ever know how good we have it, if all we ever know is having it good?