||FIRST, THE NEWS:
ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHRISTMAS: RUSSIA, UKRAINE, SERBIA AMONG COUNTRIES CELEBRATING ON JANUARY 7
from: ABC Australia
(06 Jan) In some Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries Christmas is officially celebrated on January 7. That is because many Orthodox Christian churches follow the Julian calendar for religious celebrations. The Julian calendar runs 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, the standard international calendar in use today.
"When we open the church calendar on January 7, we're actually looking at the date December 25," Father Alexander Morozow of the Russian Orthodox Church in Canberra, Australia said. "So we still have that same date, we're just using a calendar that hasn't caught up. It's like a clock that's running 13 days slow."
The Julian calendar took effect under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45BC. In 1582AD, Pope Gregory XIII created a new calendar to correct the discrepancy between calendar time and calculated astronomical time. It became known as the Gregorian calendar. But to begin with only Catholic countries adopted the changes and Orthodox Christian countries remained on the Julian calendar. Over time, the countries of Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova and Montenegro adopted the Gregorian calendar for secular use but the Orthodox churches continued to base their liturgical calendar on the Julian timetable.
For most Orthodox Christians, Christmas is the beginning of celebrations after 40 days of fasting. "Those who observe the fast don't eat meat or dairy foods for that period," Father Morozow said. "So on Christmas Day they tuck into all the things that haven't been on the menu for the previous six weeks." While each Orthodox Christian country has its own unique traditions, they all include church services and great feasts. [read more...]
KAZAKHSTAN: NEW CONTROLS ON RELIGIOUS TRAVEL AND LITERATURE
by Felix Corley: Forum 18 News Service
(05 Jan) New restrictions on foreign religious travel and more explicit provisions banning and punishing the production or distribution of literature about religion in Kazakhstan without undergoing the compulsory state censorship come into force in early January, Forum 18 notes. The Law also restricts the number of copies of publications about religion an individual is allowed to import "for personal use" without being subject to state censorship. Only one copy of any individual publication can now be imported without undergoing censorship.
The new restrictions are part of the wide-ranging Law on Amendments and Additions to Various Laws on Questions of Countering Extremism and Terrorism, prepared by the National Security Committee (KNB) secret police, ostensibly aimed at fighting "extremism and terrorism." President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed it into law on 22 December 2016. The Amending Law mostly comes into force ten days after its official publication on 27 December 2016. The Law amends five Codes and 20 individual Laws, including the 2011 Religion Law.
The Kazakh authorities ignored many recommendations from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that restrictions on the exercise of freedom of religion or belief - particularly over censorship of literature about religion and foreign travel for religious purposes - be removed from the Amending Law and from existing Law.
Many provisions of the new law widen or increase punishments for those involved in violence - such as attacking foreign diplomats, distributing illegal weapons or committing acts of terrorism that kill or maim people. However, some provisions - including those which restrict still further the exercise of freedom of religion or belief - appear unrelated to the stated goal of "countering extremism and terrorism." [read more...]
MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF UKRAINE CONDEMNED THE VIOLATIONS AGAINIST BELIEVERS IN THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES OF CRIMEA AND DONBAS
from: Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(28 Dec) Public Council for Cooperation with Religious Organizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine condemned the violation of the rights of believers in the occupied territories of Ukraine at the Donbass and Crimea. This was discussed during the meeting of December 22, 2016 in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, reports the Institute of Religious Freedom.
The meeting drew attention to the violation of the rights of believers in temporarily occupied Crimea and in some territories of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. In particular, the prohibition by the occupation authorities to worship in the Church of Evangelical Christians "Voice of Hope" in Bakhchisarai, and in house of worship of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Horlivka Donetsk region.
About these and other violations of the rights of believers Institute for Religious Freedom reported during the OSCE international conference, which took place on 14 December in Vienna. "The question of restoration of rights of believers in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine will constantly be raised at the international level (OSCE, UN, Council of Europe) until all churches and prayer houses in the Donbas and Crimea have been returned to believers and relevant religious communities" - IRS chairman Alexander Zayets stressed during a meeting of the Public Council. [read more...]
TURKMENISTAN: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM SURVEY, JANUARY 2017
by Felix Corley and John Kinahan: Forum 18 News Service
(06 Jan) Freedom of religion and belief is, along with other intrinsically linked rights such as the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, seriously restricted in Turkmenistan. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's regime imposes these human rights restrictions as an intentional systemic policy to control every aspect of society. He has ruled since December 2006 without the legitimacy of a free and fair election, like his similarly unelected predecessor. Serious systematic violations of freedom of religion or belief Forum 18 has documented include:
* the passing of laws flagrantly violating the regime's international human rights obligations;
* a ban on all exercise of freedom of religion and belief without state permission;
* arbitrary denials of legal status to those communities which choose to seek it;
* MSS secret police informer recruitment inside belief communities;
* "legal" and extra-legal restrictions imposed on communities with legal status;
* lack of fair trials and due legal process;
* torture of people exercising their freedom of religion and belief, including prisoners of conscience and relatives of those complaining to the UN Human Rights Committee;
* prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion and belief;
* denials of prisoners' freedom of religion and belief, including the torture of believerss wishing to attend prison worship services;
* punishing conscientious objectors to compulsory military service, with complete denial of this manifestation of freedom of religion and belief;
* denials of freedom of religion and belief to conscripts doing compulsory military service;
* state control of religious leaders and communities, including state appointment of all religious leaders;
* coercion by officials against non-Muslims to attempt to force them to convert to Islam;
* severe restrictions on religious education, including banning women from studying academic theology in the country;
* severe obstacles to having a place of worship, including the arbitrary demolition of places of worship;
* an exit blacklist for active religious believers, harassment of students exercising freedom of religion and belief abroad;
* almost no contact with foreign co-believers being permitted;
* and censorship of religious literature and other material.
PATRIARCH KIRILL BELIEVES THE WORD 'CELEBRATIONS' INAPPROPRIATE TO 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF OCTOBER REVOLT
(30 Dec) Patriarch Kirill says the word 'celebrations' is inappropriate referring to 100th anniversary of the 1917 events. "The thing is not to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the tragedy, but to remember this date consciously, accompanying it with deep reflections and sincere prayers, so that mistakes committed a hundred years ago should teach our nations not to make the same mistakes at the current stage of development," the patriarch said at the session of Supreme Church Council.
He believes that a hundred year anniversary should be spent in "special prayers about our peoples, our countries that once constituted one country, today are sovereign ones, but are connected with each other with tough historical, spiritual, cultural links."
"I think that we should dedicate this year to reflections about what has happened with our people, what these trials meant, and what spiritual conclusions we should make from the tragic history of the 20th century," the patriarch said. [read more...]
RUSSIA’S CHURCH IS POISED BETWEEN TWO PASTS AND AN UNKNOWN FUTURE
from: The Economist
(06 Jan) For some really devout Slavic households, the Eve of Christmas (January 6th by the Gregorian calendar) is a time of long, intricate services and a family meal which begins when the first star appears in the sky. Hay is strewn about the house as a symbol of the Saviour's modest beginnings and a white linen table-cloth is a reminder of the baby's swaddling clothes.
The meal is elaborate but, like all food over the previous 40 days, free of meat or dairy; only the following day, after the pre-Nativity fast has come to an end, can a nice dish of pork, or a coffee cake made with cream, be enjoyed. Historical accounts of Russian Christmas often add that the tsar's family observed Christmas with particular gusto, borrowing extra customs from their German cousins, just as the British royals did.
That's what the text-books say, anyway. But the reality is that in Soviet times, Christmas was all but forgotten (or observed by a handful of people in secret) and people were successfully induced to focus their winter cheer and gift-giving on the new year. A secular "Grandfather Frost" replaced Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas) as a provider of goodies to children. A quarter-century after the fall of communism, Russians still celebrate new year with exuberance while the observance of Christmas is a learning experience, not an unbroken folk memory.
Like their flock, Moscow's spiritual leaders also find themselves poised between an idealised tsarist past, a Soviet era whose legacy is still very palpable and a future understanding of Russian power which will somehow draw on both. Their response to this dilemma is often rather mixed. Last May Patriarch Kirill of Moscow made the remarkable statement that the communist era, despite the horrific persecutions in which thousands of clerics (including his father) suffered, was somehow closer to Christianity than were modern Europe or America, with their decadent, gender-bending ways. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
A LARGE-SCALE CHRISTMAS SINGING IN CENTRAL KYIV
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
ROMANIA: TAKING TIME TO CHANGE ORPHANS' LIVES
from Mission Network News
THE RUSSIAN CHURCH SUGGESTS FINING FOR ABUSIVE LANGUAGE IN PUBLIC PLACES
PATRIARCH KIRILL: UKRAINIAN SCHISM SHOULD NOT BE EXPLOITED FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES
from RIA Novosti
CHRISTMAS MESSAGE BY PATRIARCH KIRILL OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
LENA’S TESTIMONY: UNDYING FAITH IN THE MIDST OF WAR
from Mission Eurasia
GOD ENTERED INTO THE DEPTHS OF HUMAN LIFE
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As we begin the new year of 2017, we should consider what are the real forces at work in shaping our minds and our world: how much of the news is mere superficial window-dressing to make us feel good, while under the surface there are struggles taking place between forces of good and evil, between rulers and principalities, that will determine the direction this year of 2017 takes us... and beyond. We need to be in much prayer for spiritual discernment and courage to speak up and write our beliefs in public. If we fail to do this, we abdicate the public square to the opponents of truth and virtue.
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Your Will Be Done on Earth as It Is in Heaven
Quite often I've heard people pray, "Your will be done!" And by saying this, they turn the matter over to God's predestinating everything, and wash their hands of it. Is this what Christ meant when He taught His followers to pray? I don't think so! When He said, "Our Father in heaven, may Your name be kept holy, may Your kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," He was bringing heaven down to earth!
Christ wants us to ask our Heavenly Father for three things to be brought about on earth, just as they already are in heaven. Today the majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians are celebrating Christmas, the Incarnation of our God, Jesus Christ, as a human being born on earth. And as we partake of His life, His Body and Blood, we also should become co-incarnations of God on this earth!
Let's look at it this way:
Our Father in heaven:
1. may Your name be kept holy, \
2. may Your kingdom come, > on earth as it is in heaven!
3. may Your will be done /
How do we go about this task of 1) making God's name holy, 2) bringing His kingdom, and 3) carrying out His will... on this earth? When Christ ascended up into heaven, He left His Body on earth... that's us, the Church, the Body of Christ. I suppose that God could have instantly taken people up into heaven the moment they believed in Christ and were baptized. We are left here on earth, however, to incarnate Christ, to keep God's name holy, to bring about His kingdom, and to do His will - right here on earth.
In my Hosken-News blogs of 5 June 2016 and 18 June 2016 I wrote on "Seek the Welfare of the City", a phrase the prophet Jeremiah used when he told the Jews in Babylonian exile not to just sit there wishing they were "in heaven" - back in Israel, but rather to marry, have sons and daughters, and contribute to society right there in pagan Babylon: to "bloom where they were planted." In the same way, we Christians must not be "so heavenly we're of no earthly good" - not be so totally wrapped up in church activities that we have no time or energy left for anything else, but rather be involved as responsible citizens of the society where we live.
In the phrase "seek the welfare of the city" the word "city" in Greek is "polis" from which we get the word "politics" and "political" - so to seek the welfare of the city must necessarily mean to take an active part in the political process. But many Christians shy away from politics because it's corrupt, it's swarming with bribes, immorality, drunkenness, etc. Why? Precisely because so few Christians are involved in politics!
For the secularists and leftists, everything is political, including religion. Their worldview dictates that every aspect of life, every social institution including the church, should come under the control of a supposedly benevolent state. So this is why we as Christians must "seek the welfare of the city" - the polity we live in, because if we don't, we forfeit control over everything, including our religion.
When the Pharisees sent people to try trapping Christ with the trick question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" - that is, should we participate in the corrupt, oppressive Roman government? He answered - "Show me the tax money." They brought to him a denarius. He asked them, "Whose is this image and inscription?" They said to him, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:17-21). There is a clear distinction between what belongs to government and what belongs to God. Many Christians stop with that, focusing only on what belongs to God. But there's a little word "and" in the middle! We are to both give attention to what belongs to government and give attention to what belongs to God.
Throughout history a struggle has been going on between civil authority and religious authority. The context of the above passage in Matthew ch. 22 is about marriage: first Christ gave the parable of the wedding feast, next He was asked about paying taxes, and then the Sadducees asked him about marrying and re-marrying. The issue of marriage is today a battleground area, a struggle between civil and religious authority. When Jesus Christ was on earth, rules about marriage were pretty much left up to the local customs.
But today the state's administrative agencies promulgate rules to the citizenry - including religious authorities and believers - that contradict their beliefs about abortion, marriage, birth control, who can use which public bathrooms, etc. These rule-making agencies are unelected, in effect they are legislating without the consent of the governed. Ever since FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society (he called it "the New Deal on steroids"), the administrative state has mushroomed into a huge, unaccountable fourth branch of government. While he was a senator, LBJ also had the "Johnson Amendment" passed that threatens churches with the loss of their tax-exempt status if their pastors preach about political candidates, which has caused most Christians to be afraid to speak up about their Christian convictions. Here's what Fr. Hans Jacobse writes in "The Administrative State Has Changed Our Culture." about the administrative state (read the whole article!):
But more insidious than the obvious and old-fashioned corruption of the system is the way that it corrupts our culture and our national character. The post-election hysteria shows how a large segment of American society has become infantile, addicted to entitlements and identity politics, utterly dependent on the state, and incapable of imagining how to arrange their lives without it.
This infantilization is exactly what critics of the administrative state have long warned would result. Well over a century and a half ago, Alexis de Tocqueville envisioned how such a state might come to America, which, as other European observers noted, still lacked a state along European lines.
As a sympathetic critic of American democracy, Tocqueville also noted that our democratic passion for equality might produce a new kind of despotism. He prophesied that it would be “more extensive and milder and it would degrade men without tormenting them.” Modern democracy would produce “not tyrants, but rather tutors … I will call it administrative despotism for lack of a better name.” Many today call it “the nanny state.”
The government would provide the vulgar, material pleasures that democratic men seek. It would be “absolute, detailed, regular, far-sighted, and mild,” like a parent who wanted to keep his children from growing up, to “remove entirely from them the trouble to think and the difficulty of living.”
Here's another excellent article on the same topic: LBJ vs. the Nuclear Family. Today the majority of us are kept sedated and docile by our daily doses of sugary drinks and snacks, deep-fat-fried chips and fries, sex and violence on TV and cable, profanity and anarchy in the pop songs and videos, and the droning on and on of the state-approved "news" that is curated and massaged to mold our brains into accepting more and more government "benefits," actually thought- and behavior-control, forming us into compliant, dependent drones, and forcing the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family. And most of us are happy to keep it that way, happily clicking away on our TV remotes and smartphones, buying into this new virtual reality.
This is not the way to keep God's name holy, to bring His kingdom on earth, and to do His will on earth!
What shall we do about it? We must not continue sitting on our couches, chirping like twits on Twitter, and clicking away "Like, Like, Like" in FakeBook's fake reality! We must first of all repent of wasting our time and indulging ourselves in the sweet and savory delicacies proffered us by the administrative "nanny state" and its technological wizards that are taking over every area of our lives, including that which belongs to God. Then we must reorient our lives around Christ's teachings to love our neighbors, not just in words but in deeds - to offer our time and efforts to care for the needy, the sick, the elderly, the orphans and widows.
Thousands of people have seen my notices in these newsletters and my posts on social media about our free courses for training how to do this. Do you know how many people have enrolled in my latest course? None! Null! Zero! Zip! Zilch! Why? Is it too boring, not sexy or thrilling, to read lessons, chat with other students and answer questions? No, it can't be that: FakeBook, TV and videos are even more mind-numbingly boring! Or is it that we are so addicted to the sweet treats and salty snacks of the world that we simply can't break loose from its captivating power? Here's one last call: Learn To Serve The Poor, Sick And Elderly - I'll stretch the enrollment deadline to Sunday midnight, January 8, 2017.
We really need to repent - to fall down on our knees before God and cry out - "Forgive me, Lord, for filling my belly with the husks that the pigs eat! Father in heaven, I'm sorry that I haven't been helping Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth, just like it is in heaven!" Then we must get up off our knees, get up off our couches, and get moving! We "should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance" (Acts 26:20b). Start DOING the works, the actions that Christ commanded, not just thinking nice thoughts about them or saying, "Nice sermon, preacher!" Will you do this?
YOU CAN ALSO READ THIS at my Hosken-News Blog, and write your COMMENTS there!
Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Family values: "He who does not engage in propagation of the race is as though he had shed blood." - the Talmud