||FIRST, THE NEWS:
MILLIONS OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE EASTER
from: ABC News
(16 Apr.) Along with millions of other Orthodox Christians, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attended an Orthodox Easter Eve service in St. Volodymyr Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, April 15. The Orthodox follow the Jewish practice that the new day begins at sunset, so Pascha (Easter) is celebrated after sunset on Saturday and on Sunday morning. Millions of Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter in overnight services and with "holy fire" from Jerusalem, commemorating the day followers believe that Jesus was resurrected nearly 2,000 years ago.
This year the Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on the same Sunday that Roman Catholics and Protestants mark the holy festival. The Western Christian church follows the Gregorian calendar, while the Eastern Orthodox uses the older Julian calendar and the two Easters are often weeks apart. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christian faithful, delivered a message of peace during the midnight service at the Patriarchate in Istanbul.
"Our faith is alive, because it is based on the event of the resurrection of Christ," Bartholomew said. In his official Easter message issued earlier in the week, Bartholomew urged strong faith in the face of the world's tribulations. "This message - of the victory of life over death, of the triumph of the joyful light of the (Easter) candle over the darkness of disorder and dissolution - is announced to the whole world from the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the invitation to experience the unwaning light of the resurrection," his message said. [read more...]
"SERBIA IS SECULAR, BUT STATE AND CHURCH AGREE ON KEY ISSUES"
from: b92 News
(17 Apr.) Prime Minister and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic met on Monday in Belgrade with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej. According to Tanjug, he told reporters after the meeting that there was "a high level of agreement" between them on "key matters significant to the state and the nation."
At the same time, Vucic "underscored that Serbia is a secular state," and "highlighted the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in preserving the Serbian cultural, spiritual and national identity in the former Yugoslavia and around the world." The patriarch "inquired about the country's economy, reforms and rebuilding," Vucic told journalists. According to the Serbian government, Vucic told reporters that Serbia is a secular state - "but it is good that there is mutual understanding because so much can be achieved – the Church in its spiritual sense, and the government in matters of state."
They also discussed Kosovo and Metohija, the survival of our cultural and religious sites in the southern Serbian province and what the state can do to further and help. Vucic that the Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade will be completed by the end of his presidential term, and added that half of the necessary funds for this will be paid in during the next month.
"Completion of the temple is very important, not only in the religious sense, but also in the economic and tourism," he said and announced that the state will help the monastery of Hilandar, which is considered the most famous Serbian religious site in the world. [read more...]
PRAYER SERVICE FOR PEACE IN UKRAINE HELD AT SOFIA SQUARE IN KYIV. AND IN MANY UKRAINIAN CITIES
from: Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(03 Apr.) On April 2, an interfaith prayer service for peace in Ukraine was held in Kyiv. In Sofia square, representatives of many faiths of Ukraine lifted their prayers to God. Among the attending hierarchs were Archbishop Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) of the UGCC, Bishop Volodymyr (Cherpak) of the UAOC, Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk of the RCC, senior bishop Mykhailo Panochko of the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Ukraine and Bishop Marcos (Oganesyan) of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The ceremony was led by Patriarch Filaret (Denisenko). Numerous faithful gathered for the prayer, including the military servicemen and MPs.
This event was organized in the form of a prayer, during which representatives of all faiths read the prayer, following which Patriarch Filaret blessed all believers. The main theme of the prayer was the request for the cessation of war. The clergymen asked the Almighty for victory, for the release of hostages in Russia, Crimea and Donbas. The requests were lifted for health and well-being of Ukrainian soldiers, the strength of the country and its people.A particularly relevant request was to "impart wisdom to our enemies and turn them to the memory of thy commandments."
These words resonate with recent statements of the former ROC Synodal official, Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, who does not only denounce capital punishment for enemies, but rather welcomes such actions of their state. However, the hierarchs did not limit themselves to the external problems. Bishop Vitaly (Skomorovskyy) focused on the problems of unemployment, social injustice, drug addiction, alcoholism. Among the negative developments in government offices he mentioned the total corruption, treason and promotion of gender ideology. It is noteworthy that among the clergy there were no official representatives of the UOC (MP). [read more...]
HOLY FIRE: HOW ORTHODOX BELIEVERS ARE ‘SAVING’ THE WORLD FROM DOOMSDAY
from: Russia Beyond the Headlines
(14 Apr.) When in the 12th century the crusaders forbade Orthodox believers to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem before Easter, the fire did not descend. Therefore, they had to be let in. Each year Orthodox believers breathe out a sigh of relief and rejoice that the Apocalypse has again been postponed – for another 12 months at least. However, some Russians think it’s possible to know for sure if the end of the world is coming or not.
According to a common Orthodox tradition, Doomsday will arrive if on Holy Saturday (April 15 this year, while Easter is the next day) in Jerusalem the Holy Fire does not descend. If it does come down, humanity is given at least another year of life until the following Easter. The process of the fire's descent occurs in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem by Christ's tomb, and is considered a miracle only by Orthodox believers.
The first records of the Holy Fire dates back to the fourth century. Back then it was called the Holy Light. It symbolizes the light that illuminated Christ’s tomb after His resurrection. Ancient Arab sources also bear testimony to the miracle. In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during the first centuries of Christianity there was a custom of blessing and lighting the evening lamp before the Easter service. Later the tradition gradually transformed into a ceremony and became known as the Miracle of the Fire's Descent.
On Holy Saturday the Patriarch of Jerusalem, together with the Armenian bishop, enter the rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christ's tomb is located, and say a prayer. The fire itself, according to Orthodox believers, lights in the icon lamps that hang over Christ's tomb. The patriarch and the Armenian bishop light a bundle of candles and go out to greet the people. Usually this happens between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Moscow time. [read more...]
THE RUSSIAN CHURCH AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH SHOULD STOP CONFRONTATION BETWEEN EAST AND WEST
(13 Apr.) The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are urged to make the world more peaceful, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia believes.
"The Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church can and should do everything to make the world a more peaceful place, to decrease the level of confrontation between East and West so that we again feel ourselves belonging to one cultural environment, which we call Europe," the patriarch said on Wednesday at his meeting with Italian president Sergio Mattarella in Moscow.
The primate of the Russian Church recalled his historic meeting with Pope Francis of Rome as one of its main topics was peacekeeping. "I think our shared convictions - Pope Francis' and mine - are that today religious factor should contribute to reconciliation of people in the European continent and spiritual union among them," the patriarch said. [read more...]
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN LAUDS ORTHODOX CHURCH FOR ITS SERVICE TO PEOPLE
(16 Apr.) Russian President Vladimir Putin in his Easter Sunday message hailed the contribution made by the country's Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations to the lives of his compatriots.
Putin, himself an Orthodox Christian, attended a service led by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Efe news reported. "I want to highlight the enormous and devout work of the Russian Orthodox Church and representatives of other Christian denominations in solving important social problems, strengthening the family, educating young people and harmonising inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations," Putin said.
Across Russia, worshippers participated in Easter Sunday celebrations. "The great holiday of Easter has a special moral sense, it spreads the eternal light of faith, fills hearts with joy, love and goodness," the President said. Putin also personally lauded the hard work of Patriarch Kiril.
Many Russian citizens visit cemeteries on Easter Sunday — the day of Jesus Christ's resurrection — to pay tribute to their departed ancestors. Security presence across the nation was increased during the time of celebrations, with a reported 130,000 agents deployed as a safety measure. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
EVANGELICAL BAPTISTS’ PRAYER HOUSE BURNT IN VINNYTSYA, UKRAINE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
UKRAINE: HAVE PEOPLE STOPPED CARING?
from Mission Network News
PATRIARCH KIRILL URGES BELIEVERS TO REFUSE EGOISM ON EASTER
RUSSIAN BAPTISTS SUPPORT JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
from Open letter to Russian President V.V. Putin
PATRIARCH KIRILL’S CONDOLENCES OVER TERRORIST ATTACKS IN EGYPT
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
PRAY FOR SCHOOL WITHOUT WALLS (SWW) STUDENTS IN CENTRAL ASIA
from Mission Eurasia
MORE THAN 4.3 MILLION RUSSIANS TOOK PART IN PASCHAL SERVICES
EASTER’S EAST-WEST DIVIDE: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
from Russia Beyond the Headlines
IN PICTURES: MILLIONS OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE EASTER
from Breitbart News
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I encourage you to read "Did Jesus Rise? The Extreme Apostle Says Yes, the More Extreme Atheist Says No," an excellent article on the absurdity of atheism. Any student of basic logic knows the maxim "A negative hypothesis is incapable of proof." In other words - "you can't prove the non-existence of something." For the atheist so say "There is no god" is absurd, just as it's absurd for me to say the duck-billed platypus is a myth because I've never seen one, even though I've travelled in many countries, lived a long time, and have several degrees and lots of life experience.
Has the atheist explored every corner of the universe? Does he know everything that has ever been known? Of course not. Atheists are more properly called agnostics, which means because they've never experienced God, other supernatural entities, and miracles, they may doubt their existence, but they can't be sure of their non-existence. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. For Christians, however, who have experienced the reality of their new, transformed life in Christ, we know for a fact that God exists and Christ's resurrection is a reality.
Today is "the day after" - coming down from the "high" of celebrating Jesus Christ's resurrection. All of Holy Week we've been attending services in the evening, and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the morning as well. Such intense immersion in Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, His confrontation with the Pharisees in the Temple, the Last Supper, His five-chapter-long solioquy in John's Gospel, His betrayal by Judas, His kangaroo-court trial and crucifixion, and finally His triumph over death in His resurrection: all these events make up nearly half of the four Gospels. Now we're getting back to "normal."
Really? Is the average, conventional middle-class way of life the norm or the standard by which we should measure life? Not at all! The statistical average is not the same as the norm. As you will read in my essay below, you will see that what we often accept as "normal" is far from God's norm for our lives.
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Christian = Disciple; Body = Good
For much of my life, I was trained to believe that salvation, becoming a Christian, is by God's grace alone, it's a free gift; but becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ takes discipline and self-denial. NO! This is totally false! There should be no difference between a Christian and a disciple of Christ. In conventional thinking, the average, middle-class way of life in the United States has been considered "Christian," meaning fairly moral, church-going, polite and neighborly; but a disciple is someone who's gone overboard and become a religious fanatic.
Now, however, things are changing: the definition of morality has been stretched to include what God of the Bible calls lying, adultery, witchcraft and sodomy. Fewer and fewer people are church-going, polite and neighborly; more and more are openly secular and agnostic, rude and self-centered. According to the 7th circuit court, the term "Christian" is now equivalent to "bigot" - see "Did the 7th Circuit Just Rule That Christians Are Bigots?" Unelected Leftist judges are unilaterally legislating from the bench to push the U.S. further and further to the left.
But this is nothing to be surprised about, it's to be expected. When Christ said just before ascending to heaven, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things which I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mat. 28:18-20), He didn't say, "make people into nice, moral and neighborly good citizens." Becoming a disciple is much more than that. It's about denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus Christ.
Now, here's the clincher: after the new faith had spread to the gentiles in Antioch, Luke records this fact: "Barnabas went out to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught many people. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:25-26). What were they called before they were called Christians? Disciples! Up to this point in time, all followers of Jesus Christ were just called disciples. Then sometime after the Gospel was preached in Antioch (church tradition tells us that Evodius, the second bishop of Antioch, invented the term "Christian"), the disciples began to be called Christians. In other words, a disciple equals a Christian, and a Christian equals a disciple. They're one and the same thing. It's not "Christian vs. Disciple" but rather "Christian = Disciple."
But with the recognition of Christianity first as a tolerated religion and then as the official religion of the Greco-Roman Empire, many people became Christians because it was the acceptable thing to do. It didn't cost anything, in fact it was advantageous Thus we began to see the notion emerging of "two-tier" Christianity: a "laity" of ordinary citizens of the Empire, and a higher level of Christian commitment that included monks and clergy who were supposed to practice self-denial and really live according to the Gospel. Someone has jokingly said, "The clergy are paid to be good, but we laypeople are good for nothing!" (Should someone practice self-denial and "discipleship" only if he is collecting a salary for it?)
All Christians (disciples) are "laity" because the Greek for "laity" is "laos theou" - the people of God. Clergy are also part of the "laity." And all Christians (disciples) are called to be saints. Sainthood or holiness (they're the same word in Greek), just like discipleship, isn't an optional add-on, it comes with the basic model. Either you're a disciple who's striving to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, or you're not a Christian at all. There's no such thing as being "just a Christian" and not being a disciple.
We need to cleanse our minds of the false dualism or false dichotomy of "two-tier" Christianity, because the time is already upon us when we must identify either as fully-committed Christians that the world may call "bigots" and "haters," or not as Christians at all.
How does this relate to the second half of this essay's title, "Body = Good"? For centuries we in the "Christian world" have been taught the notion that the body is sinful, matter is inherently evil, but spirit is good. This is another false dualism or false dichotomy, because if we are called to be saints, to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, then we should ask ourselves, "What kind of body did Jesus have?" He was subject to the same sort of hunger, weakness, tiredness and temptation as we are, yet without sin. He fully partook of our human nature so that we can be full partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). This is our "theosis" - becoming united with God.
When God created humans out of the dust of the earth and breathed into them the breath of life, He said, "It is very good!" In other words, our body-soul-spirit nature is inherently good, even in spite of the Fall. Adam's sin did not totally corrupt and pervert human nature. The Augustinian doctrine of inherited guilt and total depravity due to Adam's sin is incorrect, and it's a little-known fact that Augustine himself recanted of it in his last great work, The Kingdom of God. In the end, he agreed with his contemporary St. John Cassian and earlier theologians that Adam and Eve's sinning caused death, not guilt, to be passed on to all mankind. All Christians (disciples) are called to become purified and sanctified, restored into humanity's original state of goodness, into the likeness of Christ.
This false dualism or dichotomy of "the body is evil" has led directly to the notion that sex is sinful, and that to be really holy requires being celibate. This false notion is especially prevalent in Western Christianity, where the Catholic clergy is supposed to practice celibacy. But actually, sex in the proper context is "very good" - remember what God said when he created humans as male and female. Just as fire is a good thing when kept in the fireplace or on the stove but when it gets out of its place it can cause great harm, sex is a beautiful thing in the right context of a male-female permanent marriage but sex outside of this setting burns like fire and can be very destructive of families and society in general. Rod Dreher, in his new book The Benedict Option writes the following:
"To reduce Christian teaching about sex and sexuality to bare, boring, thou-shalt-not moralism is a travesty and a failure of imagination. While one may credit the courage of certain conservative pastors who don't shirk their duty to tell the truth about sex, those who jackhammer away at sexual immorality as if it were the only serious sin, or were somehow disconnected from a host of other sins of passion, distort the Gospel and undermine its credibility. This lamentable reductionism constitutes a failure to draw on the inexhaustible well of resources within the theological and artistic tradition. In the end, it comes down to a matter of Christians having lost our own grand story about eros, cosmos and theosis, the Greek word for 'union with God,' the ultimate end of the Christian pilgrimage."
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, St. Paul wrote that the marriage relationship is an icon or image of theosis, of us as the Church becoming united with Christ and being transformed into His glorious likeness -
"Subject yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he 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. Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself" (Eph. 5:21-28).
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Please remember to pray for Christians in Socialist countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff. - Frank Zappa