||FIRST, THE NEWS:
HUGE RUSSIAN MOSAIC ARRIVES AT SERBIA'S LARGEST CHURCH
from: ABC News
(03 May) An enormous Russian mosaic started arriving at the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans Wednesday, in what Serbia's leaders hailed as a sign of "eternal" friendship between the two Slavic nations. The first part of the 40-ton mosaic, personally approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrived in 66 sections at the Saint Sava temple in Belgrade, one of the largest of Orthodox Christian churches in the world.
One section, featuring the head of Jesus, was put on display for people attending a service. When completed by the end of the year, the mosaic will cover some 1,230 square meters (13,230 square feet) of the inside of the church, whose construction started in 1985. State TV reported the mosaic will cost 4 million euros ($4.3 million) and is partly financed by Russian energy giant Gazprom.
At a ceremony inside the sprawling church, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the mosaic "will once again show our unity and togetherness with the Russian people and the Russian state. We must cherish eternal brotherhood and friendship with the Russian federation in these turbulent times when we need friends most of all," he said. [read more...]
AZERBAIJAN: FINED FOR SELLING RELIGIOUS BOOKS
by Felix Corley: Forum 18 News Service
(10 May) Kifayat Maharramova is the most recent individual known to have been fined to punish her for selling religious literature without the required approval from the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations. She was fined in Azerbaijan's second city Gyanja [Gäncä] on 1 May. In 2017, two booksellers in the capital Baku failed to overturn similar fines on appeal. All three were fined 2,000 Manats each, equivalent to about four months' average wages for those in work.
In the southern town of Astara close to the southern border with Iran, Police are investigating after officers seized "banned" religious books. However, in Baku in March a court handed down an acquittal after a bookshop that sells Christian books proved that the items it had on sale had State Committee approval or were sample copies to be submitted for such approval. Eight years after it first applied, the State Committee has finally given the shop the licence it needs to sell religious books and items.
Forum 18 was unable to reach Nahid Mammadov, head of the State Committee "Expert Analysis" (Censorship) Department in Baku. His colleagues told Forum 18 on 10 May that he was not in the office and no one else was able to answer any questions about the religious censorship system. Religious literature and other materials can be sold or distributed only at specialised outlets which have been approved both by the State Committee and the local administration.
In addition, all religious literature produced in, published in (including on the internet) or imported into Azerbaijan is subject to prior compulsory censorship. When the State Committee does give permission to publish or import a work it also specifies how many copies can be produced or imported. All religious materials sold must have a sticker noting that they have State Committee approval. State officials have repeatedly denied that this represents censorship. [read more...]
(09 May) Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and representatives of other religions gathered at the monument to the Unknown Sailor in Odesa Shevchenko park, as reported by Radio Liberty. They remembered the victims of World War II, and prayed for peace in Ukraine and those who are defending its territorial integrity in the Donbas.
Also, community activists organized a photo exhibition dedicated to the Ukrainian military killed in eastern Ukraine. The participants, including police officers who provided public safety for the memorial action attached to their clothing red poppies - a symbol of memory of victims of international armed conflicts. [read more...]
ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE FAVOR STRONG ROLE FOR RUSSIA IN GEOPOLITICS, RELIGION
from: Pew Research
(11 May) Roughly a quarter century after the end of the Soviet era, Russia retains substantial influence throughout many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Indeed, Russia is widely viewed by the region’s Orthodox Christians as an important counterweight to Western influences and as a global protector of Orthodox and ethnic Russian populations, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 18 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Majorities or pluralities in nearly all Orthodox-majority countries surveyed agree that a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West, and that Russia has an obligation to protect Orthodox Christians and ethnic Russians outside its borders.
This sentiment prevails even in the three Orthodox-majority countries surveyed that are members of the European Union: Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. But pro-Russia sentiment tends to run strongest in former Soviet republics that have Orthodox majorities and are not in the EU, including Armenia, Belarus and Moldova. Support for Russia’s geopolitical and religious role is noticeably weaker in Ukraine, an Orthodox-majority country that is still engaged in conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. In addition, people in Catholic-majority or religiously mixed countries in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Hungary, are much less likely to support a strong role for Russia.
Excepting Ukraine, support for Russia’s role is widespread throughout the other Orthodox-majority countries we surveyed. For instance, seven-in-ten or more people in Greece (70%), Belarus (76%), Serbia (80%), Armenia (83%) and Russia itself (85%) completely or mostly agree with the statement, “A strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West.” Further analysis shows that people who agree that conflict exists between Western values and the traditional values of their own country are more likely than others to say a strong Russia is necessary to balance the influence of the West. [read more...]
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT NAMES ORTHODOXY AS KEY PRIORITY
(10 May) There are four things that are non-negotiable for Moldova, President Igor Dodon said. "I always tell our partners that there are three or four things which I will never agree to make a subject of negotiations: these are our statehood, the preservation of Moldova, and the non-unification with any other countries. Secondly, there is our neutrality; NATO is categorically unacceptable. The third matter of principle is our Orthodoxy," Dodon said at a meeting with Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin on Wednesday.
Moldova does not need those European values "that are being imposed on the Moldovans one way or another," he said. The fourth non-negotiable issue is the strategic partnership "with our Russian friends," he said. "These are the four matters of principle, which are not subject to negotiations. Importantly, a majority of Moldovan citizens support these four points," Dodon said. [read more...]
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS: WORSE THAN IN UKRAINE, BETTER THAN IN RUSSIA
from: Belarus Digest
(10 May) Last month, the Pew Research Centre released its Global Restrictions on Religion report, which gauges barriers imposed by governments as well as social hostilities towards religious organisations. Out of the nearly 200 countries studied, Belarus ranked among the 'high-risk' group when it comes to religious restrictions. In a regional context, Belarus fared worse than neighbouring Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic States, but better than in Russia. Rather surprisingly, Belarus scored relatively well with regards to the level of social hostility towards religious groups.
As another social survey demonstrated, all major Christian churches in Belarus enjoy a relatively high level of social trust. The Belarusian Orthodox Church, however, given its privileged position vis-a-vis state authorities, is more influential than others. Nevertheless, despite the significantly lower human and financial resources of other Christian confessions, Belarusians did show some trust towards them as well.
In its 'Global Restrictions on Religion' report, the Pew Research Centre, a Washington-based non-partisan fact tank, measures the level of government restrictions and social hostility towards religions in nearly 200 countries. Overall, religious restrictions imposed by the Belarusian government were less severe than in Russia, which was ranked as a 'very high-risk' country. Belarus's neighbours, such as Ukraine and Poland, scored 'moderate', while the level of restrictions in Lithuania ranked 'low'. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
HOW DID THE HOMELESS OCCUPY AN UPSCALE HOUSE OUTSIDE OF MOSCOW?
from Russia Beyond the Headlines
METROPOLITAN HILARION OF VOLOKOLAMSK SPOKE IN WASHINGTON D.C. AT WORLD SUMMIT IN DEFENSE OF PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
METROPOLITAN HILARION MEETS PENCE, CALLS FOR 'SINGLE COALITION' AGAINST TERROR
VITALY VLASENKO RESIGNS AS “FOREIGN MINISTER” OF RUSSIA’S BAPTIST UNION
from Russian Evangelical Alliance
EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS TO ARRANGE 55 SUMMER CAMPS FOR CHILDREN IN ATO ZONE
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
NATIONS IN NEED, BUT ONLY ONE YOU
from Mission Network News
THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH DOES NOT SHARE THE VIEW THAT IT IS "IN THE KREMLIN'S POCKET"
ATTEMPT TO SET FIRE TO PENTECOSTALS' HOUSE OF PRAYER IN KEMEROVO PROVINCE
from SOVA Center
ALESYA’S TESTIMONY: MINISTERING TO CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES IN BELARUS
from Mission Eurasia
PATRIARCH KIRILL COULD VISIT U.S. IN NEAR FUTURE, SAYS MET. HILARION
RUSSIAN BLOGGER CONVICTED OF 'INCITING RELIGIOUS HATRED' FOR PLAYING 'POKEMON GO' IN CHURCH
from ABC News
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Our first news article HUGE RUSSIAN MOSAIC ARRIVES AT SERBIA'S LARGEST CHURCH tells of the "eternal" friendship between Serbia and Russia. In our two news articles ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE FAVOR STRONG ROLE FOR RUSSIA IN GEOPOLITICS, RELIGION and in MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT NAMES ORTHODOXY AS KEY PRIORITY we see the importance of religion in the public life of several Central European countries, and the huge extent that these people's Orthodox influences their political leaning toward Russia.
Meanwhile, THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH DOES NOT SHARE THE VIEW THAT IT IS "IN THE KREMLIN'S POCKET" (to quote Shakespeare, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much!") and the lack of religious freedom continues in former Soviet republics: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS: WORSE THAN IN UKRAINE, BETTER THAN IN RUSSIA - that's Russia where hardline Orthodox have denied religious liberty to Jehovah's Witnesses nationwide and "unknown hooligans" ATTEMPT TO SET FIRE TO PENTECOSTALS' HOUSE OF PRAYER IN KEMEROVO PROVINCE. Those nasty old "unknown hooligans" are up to it again, and they will never be caught: what a shame! As the saying goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same!"
There can be no true faith without freedom, and no true freedom without faith: the two are inseparable.
Be sure to read the full news article linked to from our "OTHER NEWS HEADLINES" HOW DID THE HOMELESS OCCUPY AN UPSCALE HOUSE OUTSIDE OF MOSCOW? It's an amazing story of how Yemelyan Sosisnsky has helped 35 homeless people restore their dignity by providing them decent homes. Yemelyan says - "Every Christian, in addition to a belief in God, must show it with deeds. Otherwise, their faith turns out be to be somehow empty."
The next two "OTHER NEWS HEADLINES" tell of Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion's visit to the U.S. in which he spoke at a conference on defending persecuted Christians around the world, and while there he met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. This issue has so many headlines, each of which could be an entire article -- but then the newsletter would be just too long!
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"Love One Another" - But Peter Missed The Point!
Some people just don't get it, and the Apostle Peter was one of them. After Jesus indicated to John that Judas would betray Him, then Jesus dipped a piece of bread in the wine and gave it to Judas, who went out to betray Jesus. Now then, Peter wasn't a betrayer like Judas, he was just plain dumb... you know, thick-headed. Here's the story:
Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in Him. If God has been glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and He will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I will be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me, and as I said to the Jews, 'Where I am going, you can't come,' so now I tell you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" (John 13:31b-36a)
Did you catch that? Jesus is saying that His betrayal and crucifixion will bring glory to God the Father, so He must leave them for a little while, but here's the main thing: "Love one another just like I have loved you, because that's how the whole world will know that you are My disciples!" He repeated it three times so they would get the point.
But what did Peter say? Did he say - "Lord, that's a wonderful idea! If we as Your followers would just love each other, the whole world will know that we are Your disciples!" NOT! He totally missed the point! Instead, he grabbed onto what Jesus said about going away, and Peter's mind turned to eschatology - the doctrines about the End Times, Jesus might be going to fetch an army and overthrow the Romans. Let's be nice to Peter, because he wasn't alone in his thick-headedness. After Christ was crucified and rose again, He met with His disciples one last time to give them some final instructions, and all of them switched their minds over to the End Times:
Being assembled together with them, He charged them, "Don't depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from Me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, are You now restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It isn't for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth." (Acts 1:4-8)
Once again, Jesus is telling them about the Holy Spirit coming and filling them with power to proclaim the Good News, but they interrupt - "Lord, is this going to be the Big Finale, when Israel rules over the whole world?" His reply, though, is way too polite in the English translation: in Russian He says - "It's none of your business to know about the End Times! Your job is to be My witnesses to the whole world, that's what the Holy Spirit is for!"
When I was in the software consulting business, the speaker at one of the project management seminars I attended kept repeating - "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!" Let's apply this to what Jesus was trying to pound into His followers' heads: "The main thing is to love one another, not to be forever arguing over the End Times or some other obscure doctrinal point. If you're ever going to preach the Good News to the whole world so that everyone will know that you're following My teachings, you've got to love one another. So get ready to receive the Holy Spirit!"
Jesus repeated His teaching on loving each other: "This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12) Love is more than warm-fuzzy feelings, it's self-sacrifice. And a couple chapters later, John records these words of Jesus -
"I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them through Your name which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are. ...that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that you sent Me. The glory which you have given Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as We are one." (John 17:11 & 21-22)
Do you see the same idea here as in John ch. 13? Jesus is saying that He's going away to the Father, but He prays that we all will be one just like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of one essence. What is oneness or unity? It's when we stop arguing and fighting with each other, trying to prove who's the greatest or smartest, and start loving each other!
It seems that Peter finally "got it" -- the lesson finally began to sink in when, after he had denied Christ three times and broke down in tears for his cowardice, Jesus asked him three times after His resurrection if Peter really loved Him.
Then Peter, turning around, saw a disciple following. This was the disciple whom Jesus sincerely loved, [John,] the one who had also leaned on Jesus' breast at the supper and asked, "Lord, who is going to betray You?" Peter seeing him, said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I desire that he stay until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me." (John 21:20-22)
Once again Christ put off the discussion about End Times and who's going to make it there. Peter's job - and our job - is to follow Christ. The main thing is to keep this the main thing: follow Christ by doing what He commanded us to do: Love One Another! We don't follow Christ by simply studying the Bible or theology or "doing church" - holding beautiful and inspiring worship services. Those things are good, but they're secondary. The first thing - the main thing - is to love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves, even to the point of sacrificing ourselves, our self-interests and self-centeredness.
Of course, true faith and worship ("ortho-doxy") are important, but if it's done without love for our neighbors and even for our enemies, it counts for nothing: "In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn't do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn't love his brother. ...This is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as He commanded." (1 John 3:10 & 23)
Together with The Apostle Peter, the former persecutor Saul who became the Apostle Paul finally "got it" -
If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don't have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don't have love, I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don't have love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Some indeed preach Christ even out of envy and strife, and some also out of good will. The former insincerely preach Christ from selfish ambition, thinking that they add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. (Phil. 1:15-17)
Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example. For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of His glory, according to the working by which He is able even to subject all things to Himself. (Phil. 3:17-21)
We should Love One Another and share the Gospel "out of love" in word and in deed. That's the main thing. And the result is to share in Christ's glory.
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Please remember to pray for Christians in Socialist countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. - George Washington