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from: Christian Today

Kirill and Putin (21 Dec) Once an officially godless state, Russia is now seeing the Orthodox Church — one of three main branches of Christianity, the other two being the Catholic and Protestant churches — expanding its influence, with the blessing of no less than President Vladimir Putin. The moral authority of the Orthodox Church has grown steadily under Putin, who supports the church in promoting traditional family values and opposing homosexual rights, the Associated Press reported.

ccording to analysts, Putin seeks the Church as an ally to bolster nationalism with faith. They say the strategy has two main objectives—to fill the ideological void left by the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and to block the influence of Western liberalism. "Since people who are now in power take their roots in the Soviet past, they're trying to find an equivalent of that ideology so that they can use it to manipulate the public, explain their policies by this ideology," said Boris Falikov, professor of religious studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities.

Christianity is seeing remarkable growth in Russia. A 2013 poll found that nearly 70 percent of Russians identify themselves as members of the church, a 14-point rise from the early days of Putin's rise to power. The Russian government has acted on many occasions to defend Church's interest. In 2012, three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" after they staged a protest concert inside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

The following year, Putin signed two bills making so-called "gay propaganda" and actions that "insult religious feelings" both crimes. A crackdown on gay rights protests followed. Last October, authorities in the Siberian city of Omsk prevented the staging of the 1970 rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" after Christian protesters contended that the musical represented "an endless blasphemy and mockery of sacred notions." [read more...]

by Victoria Arnold: Forum 18 News Service

(20 Dec) As prosecutions continue across Russia under punishments for sharing of beliefs (commonly called the "law on missionary activity") which came into force in July, confusion and inconsistency persist. A wide range of incidents has resulted in charges against individuals over the first five months, from holding a rap concert for young people, to handing out New Testaments on a train, to having a brief conversation in the stairwell of a block of flats. This leaves it still unclear what exactly "missionary activity" may be.

Of 27 prosecutions Forum 18 could find between 20 July and 20 December, 13 have so far resulted in conviction and a fine (though another initial fine was later overturned and sent to a different court). Those prosecuted have come from a wide variety of faiths and geographic regions of Russia. The July 2016 amendment to the Religion Law makes no mention of individuals sharing beliefs on their own behalf, rather than as representatives of a religious association.

A lack of consensus among judges appears to exist over whether the absence of written authorisation (which the amendment states that a person must carry if performing "missionary activity" for an organisation or group) is itself evidence of an "offence" or proof of innocence. Whether such cases end in conviction or acquittal appears to rest on, firstly, the ability of police or prosecutors to link the defendant with a particular association, and secondly, whether the judge decides to uphold an individual's constitutional right to share beliefs as a private citizen.

Equal confusion remains over what constitutes "missionary activity." Prosecutions have been brought over events with no overt aim of disseminating particular information or encouraging non-members to convert, but which have some religious character and are open to all, as well as over casual interactions between individuals. It increasingly appears that any religious event outside the confines of a religious building, even an ordinary worship service in a home, may be interpreted as "missionary activity" if there is the slightest chance that it is accessible or even just known to non-members. Also unclear is how non-members should be defined. [read more...]

from: Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(13 Dec) On December 13, Christians living according to the Julian Calendar honor the memory of St. Andrew the First-called Apostle. Ukrainians honor Apostle Andrew in a special way as he is considered to be the one who brought Christianity to the "Hills of Kyiv." According to the tradition, St. Andrew preached in the colony-cities near the Black Sea coast, the ruins of which still exist in the south of Ukraine, particularly, Chersonese. As for preaching of the apostle on the "Hills of Kyiv," references are being made to Nestor the Chronicler, who in his "Tale of Bygone Years" allegedly quoted the words of Apostle Andrew said to his disciples after they spent a night on the bank of the Dnipro: "Do you see these hills? God's Grace will shine on these hills, there will be a great city here and God will build many Churches." According to the report, he blessed the hills, climbed them and installed a cross there.

According to the chronicler, it took place exactly at the site of modern Kyiv. And the hill on which St. Andrew's Church is built is allegedly the hill where he installed his cross. Therefore, the church was built exactly there despite the difficult landscape. As for these legends, they cannot be considered a proven historic fact. Many researchers agree that the apostle preached in the south of Ukraine but call untrue the information about his preaching on the "hills of Kyiv." However, honoring of Apostle Andrew as the one who first brought Christianity to the territory of the Kyivan Rus has become tradition. [read more...]

by Felix Corley: Forum 18 News Service

(16 Dec) One of three women fined in November for conducting "illegal" religious activity while visiting elderly residents of a hospice in East Kazakhstan Region lost her appeal on 7 December. The appeals of the two others were returned to the lower court for resubmission. The official who drew up the records of an offence told Forum 18 that information about the women's alleged "offence" had come from the Police Department for the Struggle Against Extremism.

And a bookseller in Almaty Region was fined for selling Russian Orthodox books without the compulsory permission from the authorities before anyone is allowed to distribute any literature on religious themes. Two Baptists failed to overturn fines for offering uncensored religious literature to others in June on a visit to a village in East Kazakhstan Region. Meanwhile, the authorities abandoned plans to restrict judges' right to freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]

from: Interfax-Religion

(14 Dec) About 36,000 churches have been built and restored during the recent hundred years in Russian Orthodox Church, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said. "According to the surviving statistics, there were almost 79,000 Orthodox churches in the Russian Empire. The majority of them were destroyed or eliminated in the Soviet times, some of them were left unattended and gradually ruined. In the late 1980s we had 7,000 of working churches from that 79,000," he said on air The Church and the World program on Rossiya 24 TV channel.

The metropolitan says that today the Russian Orthodox Church has approximately half of churches it used to have before the revolution. "Unfortunately, many churches are still in ruins. Sometimes when you travel along the Moscow Region you see the churches not touched by restorers. There are unrestored churches even in Moscow," the hierarch said. [read more...]

from: Curbed

(21 Dec) During the repressive communist regime of 1980s Romania, dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu set about demolishing dozens of historic churches and some 9,000 homes in his effort to transform Bucharest into a new city of public buildings and apartments modeled on the capital of North Korea. But a clever civil engineer managed to save 13 important churches from destruction through a novel technique: placing them on rails and rolling the buildings to new sites hidden behind the rising apartment blocks.

Engineer Eugeniu Iordachescu was troubled by the demolition of structures that were so tied to Romanian history and identity. But colleagues dismissed his idea to move the structures, saying that the process would wreck them. Inspiration came with a waiter carrying a tray of glasses through a crowd. “I saw that the secret of the glasses not falling was the tray, so I started trying to work out how to apply a tray to the building,” said Iordachescu in an interview with The Guardian. [read more...]


Forum 18 News Service

Religious Information Service of Ukraine

Mission Network News


Religia i pravo

Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate


Eurasia Review

LifeSite News


Here are a few of this week's "Daily" posts. For more...
Go To: Daily News & Views and Share the latest
posts in your Social Media streams. Check it daily!

Dec. 24, 2016 - Burden in the Bells

Dec. 24, 2016 - The UN Dislikes People: Here’s Their Plan For Fewer Of Them

Dec. 23, 2016 - Why Journalists Always Tap the Brakes on Terrorism Stories

- and go to Daily News & Views for more!

See UKRAINE’S MAIN CHRISTMAS TREE IS LIT UP IN KYIV (description of photo) (22 Dec) On the Day of Saint Mykolai (Nicholas), which is celebrated on 19 December according to the "Old Calendar," the main Christmas tree in Ukraine was lit up in Kyiv. It has 42,000 lights and 1,000 garlands. The Christmas city is set up on the two nearest squares and will stay until January 15, "Old Calendar" New Year's Day.

Euromaidan Press posted several pictures for you so that you also can feel the atmosphere of Christmas in Kyiv! Click on read more to see how Ukrainians in Kyiv are celebrating the Birth of Christ, as the war in the east and southeast grinds on. Ukraine is now celebrating Christmas twice: first on 25 December, and again on 7 January ("Old Calendar" Christmas). Remember to pray for Christians in Ukraine!

St. Nicholas ("Sankt Niklaus" in German, from which we get "Santa Claus" in English) was a real person who lived from 270 to 343 A.D. He was the child of wealthy parents, but he donated all his wealth to the Eastern Orthodox Church when he became Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey). Merry Christmas He is revered among Protestants and Roman Catholics as well as among the Orthodox as a model of generosity and secret gift-giving to the poor.

Bishop Nicholas was imprisoned under Emperor Diocletian, but later released. When Emperor Constantine lifted the imperial ban on Christianity and later called the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 323 A.D. to decide how to deal with the heresy developed by Arius, Bishop Nicholas was present at this Council. When Arius sang his little ditty - "Jesus is not God, Jesus is not God, Jesus was a good man, but Jesus is not God!" - Bishop Nicholas struck Aruis on the mouth.

For this, Bishop Nicholas was deposed because no Orthodox clergy is allowed to use physical violence against another person. But that very night the Virgin Mary appeared to some of the other bishops, telling them to receive Bishop Nicholas back into his position because had defended her Son as the very Son of God. Arius was anathematized as a heretic, and his followers were exiled from the Greco-Roman Empire into the deserts of Arabia, from where the offshoot heresy of Islam arose that also teaches "Jesus is not God" - "Allah is one and he has no son."

And listen to the Christmas Story in four languages, plus compare it in seven languages while you listen!

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The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us

A star appearsJust over 2,000 years ago the most amazing event in human history occurred: the God of the universe became incarnate - took on human flesh - and became one of us! In contrast to the many legends of ancient gods of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, this event actually took place in time and space. It is tied to real, historical political figures: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king" (Mat. 1:1) and the reign of "Caesar Augustus... when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:1-2).

I emphasize this because "Without the Incarnation, there is no salvation." If God did not actually come into human history in the form of a human baby born of the Virgin Mary, we cannot be saved from our sinful nature and from death unto eternal life in communion with God. Of course, it is not enough to merely agree with the historical fact of God's Incarnation in Jesus the Messiah: the devils also believe this as a fact, and they tremble in fear of coming judgment. It is also vitally necessary to believe in Him, in the sense of placing our complete trust and hope in Him. But the historical facts are necessary in order for our faith to be anchored in the material reality of His birth, not in a myth or fable. There seems to be a conscious effort in recent decades to link the Christmas Story to the modern myth of Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer, and with Frosty the Snowman, that children are eventually told is just fairy tales. But there was a real Sankt Niklaus and Kris Kringle ("Christkindl" or "Christ Child" in German), it's just that these stories have been greatly distorted into myths.

Luke's Gospel begins with the story of an angel announcing to Zacharias and Elizabeth about John the Baptist's conception, birth, and ministry, also anchored in human history: "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness" (Luke 3:1-2). John the Baptist's ministry signaled the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant: he was both the greatest of the Old Testament prophets and the messenger who introduced to his followers Jesus as the Messiah.

The miraculous conception of Jesus the Messiah is recorded later in the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this; for after his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She shall bring forth a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins." Now all this has happened, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, And shall bring forth a son. They shall call his name Immanuel;" Which is, being interpreted, "God with us" (Mat. 1:18-23).

Why is the historical fact of the Virgin Birth of Jesus important? Because if Jesus was not conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, He could not be the Son of God, but merely an illegitimate child of a teenage girl who "got in trouble" by some young man, perhaps by a Roman soldier. The Pharisees accused Him of this very thing: "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father, God" (John 8:41). Thus we must emphasize the purity and holiness of the Virgin Mary in order to protect the Incarnation of God our Savior.

The Evangelist John addresses this issue indirectly in the same chapter 8, giving us the story of the woman caught in adultery:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery. Having set her in the midst, they told him, "Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such. What then do you say about her?" They said this testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of. But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he looked up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her." Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground. They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Jesus was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, "Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more" (John 8:3-11).

These days some who call themselves Christians will bring up this story of the woman caught in adultery as an excuse to be "caring" and "loving" and "accept diversity," but they ignore Christ's summary of this event: "From now on, sin no more." Certainly, we should be forgiving, but that implies there are sins to be forgiven. Today I was reading in the book of Zechariah, one of the last of the Old Testament's prophets: "Behold, the cover of lead was lifted up, and there was a woman sitting in the midst of the ephah basket. The angel said, 'This is Wickedness;' and he threw her down into the midst of the ephah basket; and he threw the weight of lead on its mouth" (Zech. 5:7-8). This seems to be quite a strange prophecy: what does it mean? The context in previous chapters is the Temple in Jerusalem, the Old Testament equivalent of the Church, and the worship in it.

The Apostle John who wrote the above Gospel, also wrote the following in the book of Revelation: "I have this against you, that you tolerate your woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. She teaches and seduces my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her into a bed, and those who commit adultery with her into great oppression, unless they repent of her works" (Rev. 2:20-22). And...

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality, and those who dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her sexual immorality." He carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet-colored animal, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of sexual immorality of the earth. And on her forehead a name was written, "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:1-6).

Jude, the brother of James, wrote of similar distortions of the Gospel, as follows:

Beloved, while I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I was constrained to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all transmitted to the saints. For there are certain people who crept in secretly, even those who were long ago written about for this condemnation: ungodly men, perverting the grace of our God into unbridled lust, and denying our only Master, God, and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to remind you, though you already know this, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who didn't believe. Angels who didn't keep their first domain, but deserted their own dwelling place, he has kept in everlasting bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, having, in the same way as these who have given themselves over to sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 1:3-7).

The Greek word for "sexual immorality" is "porneo," from which we have the cognate words "pornography" and "fornication," but it also has wider meanings including adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality - all forms of sexual deviancy. In contrast with these descriptions of sexual immorality that distort the grace of God into unbridled lust, the Apostle John wrote what is clearly a description of the glorified Virgin Mary as a symbol of the Church, the Body of Christ, Who came forth from her womb:

A great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child. She cried out in pain, laboring to give birth. Another sign was seen in heaven. Behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns. His tail drew one-third of the stars of the sky, and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Her child was caught up to God, and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that there they may nourish her one thousand two hundred sixty days. There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels made war on the dragon. The dragon and his angels made war. They didn't prevail, neither was a place found for him any more in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, the old serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Rev. 12:1-9).

Have you ever watched the movie "Gremlins"? It starts with a nice, fuzzy little animal with instructions to keep it away from bright lights and water, and not to feed it after midnight. The teenager who receives this "gift" promptly breaks these rules, and the cute, furry creature quickly spawns into little monsters that multiply into more and more monsters, finally destroying the whole town. There's a saying, "All art is didactic" - the artist, author or screenwriter aims to teach, to communicate a certain message. In this case, it's when the passions are fed and watered, they soon grow out of control and destroy both the individual and society.

All this is to say, "Without kenosis there is no theosis." St. Paul describes the Incarnation as "kenosis" - the Greek word for "self-emptying" as follows: "Let this mind be 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" (Phil. 2:5-9). Only if we empty ourselves of our passions and lusts as He did, can we become purified, sanctified and glorified as He is, and "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4).

The Apostle Paul further wrote to his disciple Titus, whom he had installed as bishop of Crete: "For we were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior [Jesus, which means 'Yahweh saves' in Hebrew] and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, which he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:3-7). Jesus, God our Savior, has appeared in the flesh! If we have abandoned our various deceitful lusts and pleasures and received baptism, the washing of regeneration, we are justified by His grace, and become inheritors of the divine life!

How does this happen? Again, St. Paul wrote: "We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be partakers of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Rom. 6:4-7). Baptism is becoming united with Christ, sharing His divine nature!

As St. Athanasius wrote, "God became man so that man might become a god." Christ took to Himself our sin-deformed human nature, yet without personally sinning, so that He could confer on us sinful humans His divine nature. Christ's "divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue; by which he has granted to us his exceedingly great and precious promises; that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust" (2 Pet. 1-3-4). The word "partakers" in Greek is "koinos" or "communicants" - receiving into our own bodies the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.

So there you have it: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us - the Incarnation of God the Word, Jesus Christ, is the beginning of our salvation. From that very beginning, the Evil One drove King Herod to try to destroy this future King, the hope of all mankind. And throughout history Satan has been trying to deceive the Body of Christ, the Church, by tempting Her to commit all sorts of abominations in the name of "freedom" and "tolerance." These evils must be rejected so that Christ "might present the Church to himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).

When the Wedding Feast of Christ with His bride, the Church, takes place, will you be a partaker of that glorious event?

YOU CAN ALSO READ THIS at my Hosken-News Blog, and write your COMMENTS there!

Prayer and Praise:   For a daily reminder to pray for the items below, go to My Daily Prayer Guide and click on the "H-N pr." link! For our Daily News & Views, click HERE!

Sun. - Pray that the Russian Orthodox Church will be more than merely a justification of President Putin's expansion of Russian power.
Mon. - Ask the Lord that the new "anti-terrorism" / "anti-missionary" law will still allow Christians to share their faith in Christ.
Tue. - Praise God for the Apostle Andrew's vision to spread the Gospel of Christ to the Slavic tribes centered around Kyiv, Ukraine.
Wed. - Pray for three elderly women fined for praying with hospice residents and Christians fined for sharing Christian literature.
Thu. - Thank the Lord that half of those Russian churches destroyed under communism have been rebuilt, and pray for the other half.
Fri. - Praise God for the way churches in communist Bucharest, Romania, were preserved by putting them on rails and moving them.
Sat. - Thank the Lord for the Incarnation of God, the Word becoming flesh, enabling us to become partakers of the divine nature.

Who Are We?   Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl

  p.s. There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and trying to make them equal. - F.A. Hayek