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||FIRST, THE NEWS:
SERBIA TO GET ANOTHER RUSSIAN SPIRITUAL CENTER - THIS ONE, IN BELGRADE
from: b92 News
(15 Dec.) The Spiritual Center of the Russian Orthodox Church will be established in Belgrade, within the Temple of the Holy Trinity, known also as "the Russian Church." Sputnik is reporting that the idea to establish the Center has been around for several years.
The plan is to extend the existing building housing the church's offices, and set up the Spiritual Center that would host spiritual and cultural events of interest to Russians and Serbs, Father Vitaly Tarasyev said. He explained that religious and Russian language classes would also be held at the premises.
Belgrade City Manager Goran Vesic and Minister Nenad Popovic recently visited the church, Sputnik is reporting. Vesic noted that according to the 1931 census, one in six Belgraders was a Russian - while priest Tarasyev said that the situation now is "not comparable," but that the number of Russians in Serbia and in Belgrade has been growing over the past 20 years.
Currently, about 2,000 people are in contact with the Russian Church, he said. Serbia already has a Russian Center - the humanitarian one in the southern town of Nis, which has become a bone of contention in the country's relations with the EU and the United States. And while Russia wants that Center's staff to be granted diplomatic status, the West opposes it. [read more...]
AZERBAIJAN: FINES FOLLOW POLICE RAIDS ON WORSHIP
by Felix Corley: Forum 18 News Service
(15 Dec.) Azerbaijan continues to raid religious communities meeting without state permission, and large fines are normally then imposed. After one such raid an Aliabad Baptist has been told he must pay a fine of over three months average salary by the end of 2017.
Despite never receiving a written decision in the year since a court in December 2016 fined a Baptist from Aliabad in Azerbaijan's northern Zakatala [Zaqatala] District, the court is insisting that Mehman Agamammadov pay a fine equivalent to over three months average salary by the end of 2017. While objecting to the fine to punish him for meeting with others for worship without state permission, he managed to pay a third of the fine. A Baptist Pastor fined with him is still trying to challenge his fine, which he has not paid.
The two fines were handed down after police and the local official of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations raided a meeting for worship in November 2016 because the church does not have the compulsory state registration.
In 2017 religious communities have continued to be raided by officials of several state agencies. The latest such raids have included raids in the capital Baku, as well as in the north-eastern town of Quba and the central town of Barda. Following the raids, individuals have given large fines for exercising freedom of religion or belief without state permission. [read more...]
TODAY MARKS THE 140TH BIRTHDAY ANNIVERSARY OF THE MOST FAMOUS AUTHOR OF CHRISTMAS CAROLS
from: Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(13 Dec.) On December 13, 1877, Nikolay Leontovich, the author of the world famous Christmas song "Shchedryk" was born in the village of Monastyrok – now Nemyriv district in Vinnytsia region, Gazeta ua reports. He wrote it in 1901. It was first performed in 1916 by the Kyiv University choir. Since then, other groups started to sing it on a large scale. On October 5, 1921, "Shchedryk" was presented at a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.
In 1936, composer Petro Vilkhovsky, who worked on the NBC radio, recorded the English version of "Carol of the Bells." Under this name, the tune of the Ukrainian "Shchedryk" has become world-famous. Schedrivka was featured in TV series such us "South Park," "Simpsons," "Griffins." "Saturday Night Live," "Mentalist," in the films "Harry Potter," "Home Alone," "The Mirror Has Two Faces," "Die Hard 2," "The Addams family," and "Krampus." "Carol of the Bells" has become one of the most popular pieces performed by American cellist Stephen Nelson of The Piano Guys, which has 27 million views on YouTube.
His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were priests, but he refused ordination. After Kamenyanets-Podilsk Theological Seminary, he became a teacher at a two-year school in Chukovo – now Nemyriv district. He learned to play the violin and flute. He set up a school orchestra. He adapted musical works for children. He spent all his money for musical instruments for students. He bought five violins, a cello, a flute, a cornet and a trombone. With a monthly salary of 27 rubles, he paid 25-40 rubles for each instrument.
"The peasants came to listen to our music group in the school garden," wrote the composer in his memoirs. "There was even a pretty good place for musicians – something like 'shells,'" patched together from the boards. The audience knew in person and by the name every orchestral musician, including the information how their instrument were called and how much the play of separate performers was valued. The villagers noted every minor success of a pupil, on which they remarked – "And he learned well to play the flute: wonder how great is his performance." [read more...]
ADVENTISTS IN MOLDOVA CONDUCT A HEALTH EXHIBITION FOR ORPHANS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
from: Adventist News Network
(15 Dec.) On November 27, Seventh-day Adventists in Tiraspol, Moldova, conducted a health exhibition for orphans with special needs in the country. The team of volunteers served the children and was highly appreciated for their service.
The 75 children who attended were divided into teams, with each team having its own color. Throughout the day the teams visited 5 stands, which were set up in a gymnasium. The "NUTRITION" stand was devoted to useful and harmful food. At the "WATER" stand, children learned about the kind of water and quantity they need to drink. Organizers of the "SUN" stand spoke about the advantages and hazards of sunlight. At the "RECREATION" stand, the children learned about various types of recreation, interesting facts about animals and how much sleep they should get each night. The children liked the fifth stand most of all because of the fun entertainment and games with a cheerful "Droplet."
At each stand, children learned important rules that will help them stay healthy. There was an instructor for each team, and some instructors themselves took an active part in the exhibition. Each child involved received a "knot in handkerchief", a remembrance of the important facts about water and healthy food. At the end of the event all participants sang the "Orange Sky" song in sign language.
Happy children said "Thank you!" in sign language and went to their rooms with balloons. The teaching staff appreciated the event, the well-coordinated work of the team, the serious attitude, and, most importantly, the genuine love for the children. They invited volunteers from the Adventist Church to visit them again and organize new events. [read more...]
PATRIARCH KIRILL HOPES CHURCH DIVISION IN UKRAINE CAN BE OVERCOME
(5 Dec.) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said he hopes that division in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be overcome. "I hope that all this division can be overcome at some point with God's mercy. And I would be happy to see an indication that Ukraine's bishops want to overcome this division. They have love in their hearts for those who have separated and, of course, they suffer from this division along with everyone," Patriarch Kirill said during a meeting with Patriarch Daniel of Romania in Moscow.
Patriarch Kirill thanked all local Orthodox churches and the Romanian patriarch personally for supporting the canonical Church in Ukraine. The Bishops' Council held in Moscow last week considered an address by Filaret Denisenko, leader of the "Kiev Patriarchate," which contained "a request for the restoration of prayer communication with Christians who are part of the Ukrainian church schism." The letter ended with the words "I ask forgiveness for everything I have done, for having sinned in words, deeds and all my feelings, and also sincerely forgive everyone from my heart."
The Bishops' Council saw that address "as a step towards overcoming the division and restoration of church communication by those who once fell away from the unity of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church." The Bishops' Council created a special commission for negotiations with representatives of the Ukrainian schism. [read more...]
UZBEKISTAN: NO CHRISTIAN BOOKS ALLOWED, BIBLE ORDERED DESTROYED
by Mushfig Bayram: Forum 18 News Service
(13 Dec.) Uzbekistan still searches homes and fines people for meeting and having religious literature, claiming in one case to look for a gun. After one person admitted to reading Christian books at home, their home was raided and Bible confiscated. Elsewhere, a Bible was destroyed.
On 10 November police in Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan raided the private flat of Irina Stepanova, a member of the local state-registered Baptist Church. Police claimed that they were looking for an allegedly illegally stored gun, but concentrated on confiscating Christian books. She now faces charges for possessing Christian books and other Christian material.
On 19 November, 14 officials from various agencies, including the local police Struggle with Extremism and Terrorism Department, raided the private home of Stanislav Kim in Urgench in Khorezm Region in north-western Uzbekistan. People meeting for Sunday morning worship were arrested, interrogated for two hours and threatened at a police station. Christian books were confiscated. After one person admitted under interrogation to reading Christian books their home was also also raided and books including their personal Bible were confiscated.
After police in August 2017 followed a Protestant Pastor from Urgench and others they had put under surveillance on a visit to Kungrad in the neighbouring Karakalpakstan Region, large fines were imposed on Protestants and one person was tortured. More fines have now been imposed for having religious books in a private home, and texts including the Bible have been ordered to be destroyed, More fines may be imposed. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
BELARUS: BAPTISTS MALTREATED, FINED FOR OFFERING RELIGIOUS LITERATURE
from Forum 18 News Service
SYNOD OF THE UOC-KP DETERMINES PROBABLE SUBJECTS OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
PATRIARCH KIRILL PAYS SPECIAL ATTENTION TO INTER-CHURCH RELATIONS BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE USA
GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS HARASS PENTECOSTALS IN TATAR REGION, AMONG OTHERS
from SOVA Center for News and Analysis
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN MEETS WITH PRIMATES OF LOCAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES TO MARK RESTORATION OF PATRIARCHATE 100 YEARS AGO
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
ESTONIAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES CALLS FOR TRADITIONAL DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE IN CONSTITUTION
from Orthodox Christian
PREPARATIONS FOR EXHIBITION OF ICONS REVERED BY CATHOLIC AND ORTHODOX BEGIN IN MINSK
from BelTeleRadio Company
NOW, OUR VIEWS:
Our first news article SERBIA TO GET ANOTHER RUSSIAN SPIRITUAL CENTER - THIS ONE, IN BELGRADE explains how Russia is establishing its presence in Serbia using the "spiritual" approach. Does this seem more than just a little strange to you? Yes, Russia and Serbia share similar mainly Orthodox and Slavic cultural backgrounds. But the U.S. and Canada also share mainly Protestant and English cultural backgrounds, and yet it would be an affront to Canada for the U.S. to establish a "United States Spiritual Center" in downtown Toronto, wouldn't it?
Two former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, are up to their old anti-religion tricks again: the articles AZERBAIJAN: FINES FOLLOW POLICE RAIDS ON WORSHIP and UZBEKISTAN: NO CHRISTIAN BOOKS ALLOWED, BIBLE ORDERED DESTROYED, as well as Belarus and Russia in the headlines BELARUS: BAPTISTS MALTREATED, FINED FOR OFFERING RELIGIOUS LITERATURE and GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS HARASS PENTECOSTALS IN TATAR REGION, AMONG OTHERS, which describe the same sort of KGB-like raids on Christian meetings that we were reporting on during the Soviet era over 30 years ago. "The more things change, the more they stay the same," as the French say.
In the early 1990s I had a Russian business partner in Moscow, Boris, a highly-educted radiologist and head of his department, who told me, "I don't believe I will ever be able to think differently - my mind has been shaped by communism. Perhaps my sons will be able to think freely." His sons were pre-teens at the time. Now that generation is adult and established in their careers. When they take over the reins of govenment, will this new, post-Soviet generation have broken free from the atheistic, totalitarian mindset?
By publicizing its unique cultural treasures, as the article TODAY MARKS THE 140TH BIRTHDAY ANNIVERSARY OF THE MOST FAMOUS AUTHOR OF CHRISTMAS CAROLS illustrates, Ukraine is establishing its unique place in the world after 27 years of independence. Our news article PATRIARCH KIRILL HOPES CHURCH DIVISION IN UKRAINE CAN BE OVERCOME and our news headline SYNOD OF THE UOC-KP DETERMINES PROBABLE SUBJECTS OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH indicate how both parties, Ukraine and Russia, are grappling with this fairly new spiritual and geopolitical reality of Ukarine's independence.
All of this bespeaks of the age-old struggle between church and state, or between spiritual and temporal authorities. In the West we tend not to pay much attention to this, at least most of the time: we've assigned it to the past - a "that was then, but this is now" sort of attitude, as if the modern secularist worldview has little or no need to even bother with "archaic, obsolete" spiritual notions.
The hard-line militant atheism of the Bolshevik Revolution 100 years ago hasn't yet lost its control over the minds of leaders in the East... nor has the soft-line secular materialism of the progressive humanist "Enlightenment" darkness given up its struggle to dominate the mind-space in the West. Both are different faces of the same spirit of Antichrist: "Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son, the same doesn't have the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:22-23). Islam, communism, and secular materialism all share in this Antichrist-spirit, denying that Jesus is the Son of God. With Christmas just around the corner, how much are we rejoicing in Christ's miraculous virgin birth as the Incarnate Son of God the Father? Or by our silence, do we deny Him?
But big changes are in the air, with the U.S. formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announcing the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem. Is this perhaps a foretaste of Micah's prophecy being fulfilled? - "In the latter days, the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established on the top of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills; and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will go and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and He will judge between many peoples, and will decide concerning strong nations afar off. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more" (Micah 4:1-3).
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Who Are You Trying to Impress?
At Christmas time we hear over and over again that December sales make up fully one-third of retail sales and profits: it's make-or-break time for the economy. This year-end mad rush of buying and selling has taken over even in non-Western countries such as Japan and China. It's Christmas-redefined! With hardly any mention of Christ's birth, only a jolly old Santa Claus as a faint reminder of the original, real Saint Nicholas, throw in lots of sappy sentimental songs of jingle-bells and a white Christmas, office parties with drinking in excess, and we have the annual orgy of modern consumerism. So the question is: Who Are You Trying to Impress?
Are we trying to impress our family, our neighbors, our friends, or our coworkers by our extravagant gifts, parties, and decorations? Sociologists tell us that by putting on big feasts and giving costly gifts, people strive to enhance their status, their position in society, to "climb the social ladder." It reminds us of Christ's parable of the rich fool:
"The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What should I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16b-21).
Our modern western society is infected with the plague of consumerism: just as in old times people died of the disease called "consumption," so are we dying of the modern form of consumption. We consume more and more, both literally and figuratively, to the point of our bellies being about to burst, just like our budgets are busted. Sexual libertinism has given us the disease of AIDS - Auto-Immune Deficit Syndrome, just like consumerist libertinism has given us the disease of STYDS - Shop Til You Drop Syndrome. People simply can't stop spending money: it has become their "raison d'etre" - their reason for existence. The resultant credit card debt is strangling families, leading to bankruptcy, family feuds, divorce, and violence.
In the same way that people can develop a sexual addiction, they can develop a food addiction: perhaps you've heard of people having such a hard time controlling their appetite for food that they undergo surgery to have their stomach "banded" - an actual steel band placed around the stomach to restrict the amount of food that person can consume. But then, sometimes even that can't stop them from overeating to the point that they break that steel band around their stomach! St. Paul wrote:
"Therefore, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us with patience run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Lest we spiritualize away this text by saying St. Paul wasn't writing about literally losing weight, consider verses 11-13 - "All discipline seems for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been exercised thereby. Therefore, lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed." Clearly he is talking about disciplining our bodies: exercising our hands, our feeble knees, our feet, thus healing our infirmities. There is a spiritual dimension to physical problems such as overeating and lack of exercise.
What is the cure for this disease of STYDS, this plague of consumerism? King Solomon wrote - "Two things I have asked of you; don't deny me before I die: remove far from me falsehood and lies. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food that is needful for me; lest I be full, deny you, and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or lest I be poor, and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God" (Proverbs 30:7-9). This isn't living in a monastery, but rather living in a "modestary"! Living in moderation is the "golden mean' between stealing or mooching off the government on the one hand, or on the other hand striving to be rich to the point that one only thinks of getting more and more money, buying more stuff, "building bigger barns," or consuming more and more food, drink, drugs or sex.
Hear and heed the Word of God Incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ:
"Whoever wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? For what will a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever will be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:34b-38)
These are the very words that sixty years ago led me to kneel at the foot of the Cross and give my life to Christ. Will you heed them too, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ? He endured the cross, despised the world's shaming Him, and is now seated at God's right hand. Will you do the same? The eternal reward is worth this world's temporary trials and tribulations!
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Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Status: Spending money you don't have, to buy things you don't need, to impress people you don't like.