||FIRST, THE NEWS:
MISSING CHRISTMAS ALREADY? IN RUSSIA, THE PARTY IS ONLY JUST GETTING STARTED
(29 Dec.) The discrepancy between the Christmas celebrated in the U.S. and much of Western Europe on Dec. 25 stems from a huge split between the world’s Christian churches dating back centuries. The incongruity centers around a mathematical sequence, stemming from the rule of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar himself.
Sounding suspiciously like the premise for a lesser Dan Brown novel, the so-called Julian calendar could be one of the world’s most impactful miscalculations. Named after the emperor who made it Rome’s civic calendar, the old solar calendar is actually off by around 11 minutes 14 seconds according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In an attempt to amend the error Pope Gregory proposed an amended version in 1582, in what has come to be used for both religious and secular purposes by the U.S. and much of the world today. Those 11 minutes and 14 seconds may have seemed inconsequential but today they have compounded to push the Julian calendar 13 days out of step with the Gregorian calendar. This will increase to 14 days in 2100. Some churches were quite reluctant to adopt the Vatican’s new calendar however, and religious holidays in many countries that are not predominantly Catholic are still determined by the Julian calendar.
Russia will mark Christmas on Jan. 7, while Ukraine, which until recently aligned more closely with Russia’s calendar, has officially moved to the Gregorian calendar but will also have the Julian date as a day off. A handful of Orthodox Churches around the world will also be keeping with the Julian calendar as well as other Christian denominations whose calendars use the old calculation. Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and some Christians in Israel mark Christmas next month. A handful of Orthodox countries such as Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria adopted the new calendar in the early part of last century, so there is disagreement in the dates among Orthodox jurisdictions as well. [read more...]
HOW MARTIN LUTHER STILL INSPIRES TODAY
From: The Baltic Times
(28 Dec.) It all began 500 years ago. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk in Germany and a minor academic at a university in a small town called Wittenberg, nailed 95 theses to a church door. He complained about the abuse of power from the authorities in Rome. In large part, he complained about the buying of "indulgences," which were basically get-out-of-jail-free cards for sins. Those who could afford it could literally buy absolution from the Pope. Luther argued that indulgences were one of the aspects of the Catholic church that exploited its poorest parishioners. He was excommunicated in 1521, but by the end of the Reformation, Lutheranism had become the state religion throughout much of Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic countries.
According to Christoph Eichhorn, the German Ambassador to Estonia, the Reformation reached Tallinn and Tartu seven years after Luther composed his "95 Theses," and its influence extends into Estonian everyday life to this day. This influence is not only observed in the Estonian language and culture as well in many songs: "In my opinion," continues Eichhorn, "you also feel it in the Estonian mentality. For the people here the most important word is freedom. They love their individualism, and they express very clearly what they think. They freely express if one or other thing is bad or good for them. The people here are very straight-minded and sustainable. All of this is in accordance with teachings of Martin Luther."
The Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Urmas Viilmaa has said that freedom has the similar genetic code to love. The freedom of thinking has led to an important step in the relations between the Lutheran and Catholic Churches in Estonia. In 2016 a historical event took place in the Cathedral of Lund in Sweden in which representatives of the Lutheran and Catholic churches held an ecumenical worship service together for the first time. It was followed by a conference organised by both faiths on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Tallinn with the title From Conflict to Common. Representatives of the two denominations looked at the history of the Reformation and the influence of Martin Luther. [read more...]
CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO GREGORIAN AND NEW JULIAN CALENDARS CELEBRATED ON DECEMBER 25
from: Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(25 Dec.) According to Bible tradition, on Christmas day the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ. The Son of God was born in a manger in Bethlehem. The angels announced to the shepherds the news of the birth of the Son of God.
Then came three wise men from the east who knew about the birth of the Messiah from legends. They were led to the town by a star. According to the teaching of the church, the birth of Christ opened up the possibility of the salvation of the soul and eternal life for each Christian.
Christmas is celebrated on December 25 by the Roman Catholic Church, most Protestant Churches, and some Orthodox ones including the Church of Constantinople (except Athos), Antioch, Alexandria, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Greece.
On the night of December 25, celebratory masses are celebrated in the Roman Catholic churches of Ukraine. The main ceremony is held in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The service is led by the Pope Benedict XVI and is broadcasted by all TV channels of the world. At noon, the pope proclaims the traditional blessing Urbi et Orbi. The Roman Pope recites a holiday greeting in 64 languages, including Ukrainian. [read more...]
VATICAN & RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SHOULD TEAM UP TO PRESERVE CHRISTIAN VALUES – ENVOY
from: Russia Today
(28 Dec.) Russia’s ambassador to the Vatican has praised the current relations between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, adding that more cooperation is needed to preserve the foundations of Christian civilization.
"The situation that has formed in the world by this moment gives us a large field for cooperation, as it threatens the moral and ethical foundations of Christian civilization, which are the same for believers and non-believers," Ambassador Aleksandr Avdeyev said in an interview with RIA Novosti. "Both churches see this as a serious threat. When the very institution of family and marriage is being destroyed, people start violating the laws of Christian civilization and this cannot leave Catholics and Orthodox Christians without concerns," he added.
The diplomat also said that the current cooperation between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches was deep and beneficial. "This dialogue was greatly improved by the Pope’s statements concerning two issues that had always divided Russian Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics. First of all, the Pope has stated that proselytism is a sin. It was probably the first such statement in the whole history of the Holy See. Also, he has said that the dialogue and cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox Christians must be based on equality and the principle that everyone must remain who they are." [read more...]
RUSSIA CAN HAVE TWICE AS MANY CHURCHES IN 30 YEARS - METROPOLITAN HILARION
(26 Dec.) If the Russian Orthodox Church continues to develop with the current rates, the number of its churches can reach 80,000 in 25-30 years, thus reaching pre-revolutionary number.
"Now the number of churches is reaching 40,000. At such speed in 30 years we will have 70,000 or 80,000. The number of monasteries exceeds 900, there were 1,500 of them before revolution, so we have passed the middle line," he said on the Church and the World program on Rossiya-24 television channel.
The hierarch stressed that churches and monasteries are built "not to demonstrate the figures, not to create impressive statistics, but because people need it."
Metropolitan Hilarion reported that since 1988 the Russian Orthodox Church has opened three churches a day and such unprecedented scales witness to the high demand of the population on visiting them.
"For not fully 30 years, we have built 30,000 churches, it means that during this period we have been building or restoring from ruins 1,000 churches a year or three churches a day. This statistics refers to the whole Russian Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, Kazakhstan, other republics of the Middle Asia, the Baltic states and far abroad," the Metropolitan Hilarion said. [read more...]
HOLIDAY HOPE: A GLIMPSE OF CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS AT PEACE
from: The Hill
(28 Dec.) Christian churches were attacked and burned just before Christmas Day 2017 in Egypt. Nothing new.
A friend of mine was once arrested in Saudi Arabia for possessing a Christian Bible. My best friend and partner wore an abaya whenever she left the American compound in Saudi Arabia but did not cover her blonde hair. Normally that wasn’t a problem, but whenever a conservative Saudi saw her hair, he would complain to the religious police, who would bother her for not covering her hair.
Imagine my surprise, then, a few days ago when I landed in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, at 4 a.m. Nothing, I thought, could possibly energize me after flying almost 17 exhausting hours and 7,232 miles from Los Angeles.
Yet, a few hundred yards from the junction of the airport road and the main highway into the city, my eyes widened and my brain awoke: Here, in a country that is more than 95 percent Muslim, that was ravaged by hundreds of years of Russian and atheist Soviet autocratic rule, were a dozen reindeer made of wire and electric lights. A half-mile farther, a government-run SOCAR gas station was lit up with Christmas lights and decorations, including a Santa Claus.
“Christmas?” I exclaimed, “Really?” At 4 o’clock in the morning, I was staring at Christmas decorations — in a Muslim country surrounded by Muslim countries such as Iran, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Muslim Russian republics, and just two borders with Christian Armenia and Georgia.
All the way into Baku, you saw Christmas decorations. When I entered the lobby of my hotel, there was a 30-foot-tall decorated Christmas tree. Every table in the hotel’s restaurants had Christmas decorations. I was stunned. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
U.S. PANEL NAMES RUSSIA AS NON SECULAR PERSECUTOR
from Kaplan Herald
THEOLOGIAN IGOR KOZLOVSKY RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY BY MILITANTS OF "DNR"
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
NO ONE NEEDS CONFLICT IN DONBASS, IT WEAKENS ALL THOSE INVOLVED - PATRIARCH KIRILL
LVOV DEPUTIES URGE UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES TO EXAMINE WHETHER UOC(MP) HIERARCHY WORKS FOR RUSSIAN F.S.B.
PATRIARCH KIRILL METS WITH ZAKHARCHENKO, PASECHNIK AND MEDVEDCHUK TO ARRANGE PRISONER EXCHANGE
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
ANGELINA’S STORY, EASTERN UKRAINE
from Mission Eurasia
UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH (MP) GREW BY 249 PRIESTS, 100 MONASTICS, 52 PARISHES IN 2017
from ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY
NOW, OUR VIEWS:
Our first news article MISSING CHRISTMAS ALREADY? IN RUSSIA, THE PARTY IS ONLY JUST GETTING STARTED deals with the 500-year-old dispute between Eastern and Western Christianity over the calendar, largely based on when we should observe Christmas and Easter. This had been a bone of contention in the first few centuries of Christianity, but had been settled by conciliar agreement. When, however, the Roman Catholic pope consolidated power and broke from Eastern Christianity in 1054 A.D., he believed that he had authority to decide unilaterally on such matters.
So in 1582, Pope Gregory asked his court astronomer to update the old "Julian" calendar set up by Julius Caesar that was off by just 11 minutes and 14 seconds, which meant that every 400 years it had gotten three days behind: in 200 more centuries we would be celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer! So the pope agreed with these more accurate calculations and decreed that every 100 years - on the turn of each century - there will be no leap year, except for centuries divisible by 400 (that's why the year 2000 wasn't a leap year). The Pope's decree corrected back to the year 45 B.C. when the Julian Calendar was invented, placing the "Gregorian" New Calendar ten days ahead of the "Julian" Old Calendar. See this WaPo article for more details.
The Roman Pope's unilateral decree upset the Eastern Church, which refused to accapt this: such things as changing when Christmas and Easter should be observed must be agreed on by an ecumenical council of bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs including the Roman patriarch (pope). Ever since then, most Eastern Christian churches have kept to the "Old Calendar" that by now, 500 years later, has added three days to the gap between it and the "New Calendar."
Occasionally I have half-jokingly suggested that if the Eastern and Western halves of Christianity really want to get together again, the Eastern leaders should propose a deal with the Western pope: "Hey, mister Pope, let's get over it. Here's our proposal: we'll give up the Old Calendar if you give up Papal Infallibility. How's that for a deal?" Of course, this is only half a joke because it was precisely the idea of papal supremacy ("infallibility" hadn't been decreed until the 1800s) that led to this Old Calendar vs. New Calendar disagreement. Perhaps my art of the deal isn't quite up to snuff!
But concerning Christians getting together, our article HOW MARTIN LUTHER STILL INSPIRES TODAY describes the efforts of Lutherans and Catholics to put away their enmity and hold a joint service. Whether this will lead to unity or simply paper over existing doctrinal differences with hanshakes and smiles remains to be seen. Ukraine is now celebrating both Western Christmas on December 25 and Eastern Christmas 13 days later on January 7: see CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO GREGORIAN AND NEW JULIAN CALENDARS CELEBRATED ON DECEMBER 25. And Russia's envoy to the Vatican is talking about cooperation in the area of promoting Christian morality: see VATICAN & RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SHOULD TEAM UP TO PRESERVE CHRISTIAN VALUES – ENVOY.
This religious hug-fest might be getting a bit out of hand, though: see HOLIDAY HOPE: A GLIMPSE OF CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS AT PEACE about how Christians and Muslims held a get-together at a conference in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The reporter who wrote the article gushed over the fact that there were Santa Clauses, reindeer and Christmas trees on display all around this mostly Muslim city. But by now these artifacts have more to do with celebrating commercialism rather than Christ. Christmas has become a world-wide secular holicay of going to excess in spending, eating and drinking.
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Do Not Harden Your Hearts!
How easy it is to let doctrinal truths slip-slide away into the mist as we shovel snow, drive to the shopping malls or shop online, eat, drink and be merry as we celebrate Christmas and the New Year (or the New Year, then Christmas, and then old New Year, if you're an Old Calendarist).
It was most likely St. Paul who wrote in Hebrews 3:8 & 15 - "Do not harden your hearts!" The Israelites had just been delivered from slavery in Egypt and were wandering in the Sinai desert. God had given Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, but the Israelites were caught slip-sliding into idolatry by worshipping a golden calf. Later, after the Lord rebuked them by destroying the leaders of a rebellion against Moses, the Israelites grumbled: "It's not fair!"
How in heaven's name can we ever say that God is not fair? He has created the whole universe and our planet earth precisely the right distance from our sun to give us liquid water, beathable air, a livable climate, four beautiful seasons, plants and animals to feed us and for us to care for, and loving families who care for us and we care for them. But when anything gets just a little bit out of balance, we cry: "God, how can you do this to us? It's not fair!" Mostly it's our own fault that we've messed up the earth, the climate, the rivers and the oceans, and our relationships. But it's our fallen human nature to project the blame on someone else.
God has given us something even greater: His Holy Spirit to dwell within us: see John 14:16-17 - "I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that He may be with you forever, - the Spirit of truth, whom the world can't receive; for it doesn't see Him, neither knows Him. You know Him, for He lives with you, and will be in you." And He will reveal the truth to us: see John 16:12-13 - "I have yet many things to tell you, but you can't bear them now. However when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak from Himself; but whatever He hears, He will speak. He will declare to you things that are to come."
Through creation God has given us this amazingly beautiful world, and through the Law of Moses He has given us rules on how to live in this world. But even greater than all this, through Christ He has given us eternal life in a heavenly home... if we hold fast in the face of temptations and trials:
"Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken, but Christ is faithful as a Son over His house; whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end. Therefore, even as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the provocation, like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me by proving Me, And saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was displeased with that generation, and said, "They always err in their heart, But they didn't know My ways;" as I swore in My wrath, "They will not enter into My rest."' Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called 'today,' lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end: while it is said, 'Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion" (Hebrews 3:5-13).
There are some who say that a believer can never lose his salvation: "Once saved, always saved." But the consensus of the Church's teaching from the beginning does not uphold this Augustinian doctrine of predestination: see "Augustine" on my Literature web-page. It should be clear from the above Scripture that St. Paul is writing to "brothers," i.e. believers, and yet he clearly says two times - "do not harden your hearts." And "falling away" back into unbelief is a real possibility that we are warned here to avoid.
Yes indeed, God foreknows and in that sense He predestines us. But we do not possess foreknowledge, so from our human point of view we have freedom and thus the responsibility to choose good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, to hold fast or to give in to temptation and give up. Notice something interesting and even rather peculiar in the above Scripture: "we are members of His household (present tense) if we hold fast our confidence firm to the end (future tense)." And again it says: "we have become partakers of Christ (present tense), if we hold fast, firm to the end (future tense)." How can something in the present be conditional ("if") upon something in the future? This illustrates God's foreknowledge: He knows "in advance" (with the eternal God there are no time constraints, so it doesn't strictly make sense to say "in advance" in relation to God), but we time-bound humans don't know "in advance" so we are presented with those "ifs."
Our fallen human nature can be transformed into the divine nature if we hold onto the great and precious promises that God has given us, as St. Peter wrote:
"Grace to you and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, seeing that his 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. Yes, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence; and in moral excellence, knowledge; and in knowledge, self-control; and in self-control patience; and in patience godliness; and in godliness brotherly affection; and in brotherly affection, love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be neither idle nor unfruitful to the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:3-8).
You might be asking the question - "Whose knowledge?" It's both God's infinite foreknowledge of us, and our finite knowledge of Him... if it abounds to the end.
Recall the story of the Israelites being delivered from slavery in Egypt: several times it says that when the Lord through Moses performed miracles of the plagues, Pharaoh first said he'd let God's people go, but then Pharaoh "hardened his heart" and changed his mind:
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron, "Stretch forth your hand with your rod over the rivers, over the streams, and over the pools, and cause frogs to come up on the land of Egypt."' Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt. The magicians did in like manner with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, 'Entreat the Lord, that he take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the Lord.'
Moses said to Pharaoh, 'I give you the honor of setting the time that I should pray for you, and for your servants, and for your people, that the frogs be destroyed from you and your houses, and remain in the river only.' He said, 'Tomorrow.' Moses said, 'Be it according to your word, that you may know that there is none like the Lord our God. The frogs shall depart from you, and from your houses, and from your servants, and from your people. They shall remain in the river only.'
Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the Lord concerning the frogs which he had brought on Pharaoh. The Lord did according to the word of Moses, and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the courts, and out of the fields. They gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank. But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, and didn't listen to them, as the Lord had spoken" (Deuteronomy 8:5-15).
Finally, after several more plagues, we read - "The Lord said to Moses, 'Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I may show these my signs in the midst of them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your son's son, what things I have done to Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am the Lord'" (Deutereonomy 10:1-2). God says - "Alright: if that's the way you want it, that's what you will get... permanently. I'm not going to let you flip-flop again: I have hardened your heart forever." Then the Lord sent a plague of locusts and again Pharaoh begged Moses to take them away, so the Lord sent a strong wind that blew them into Red Sea. "But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he didn't let the people of Israel go" (Deut. 10:20).
This is how it will be in the end times: people will see the judgments of God in nature, but they will refuse to believe in Him because their hearts have become permanently hardened. In Revelation 16:8-11 we read - "The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was given to him to scorch men with fire. People were scorched with great heat, and people blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues. They didn't repent and give Him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was darkened. They gnawed their tongues because of the pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores. They didn't repent of their works." When people's hearts become hardened, they are so locked into their mindset and lifestyle that they simply cannot repent. Instead, they blame God for their own rebellion and blaspheme His holy name.
Whatever might be your compulsive-addictive behavior: overeating, smoking or chewing or sucking on tobacco, sexual addiction, illicit drugs, pornography, Internet addiction, procrastination, making excuses, laziness, crude and hard talk to those you love ...whatever it might be - give it up now, before it's too late! The time may come when your heart will be permanently hardened and you simply can't give it up. Let us all turn away from our sinful, dysfunctional, harmful habits and by God's grace - His transforming power - let us change our lives and be transformed into the divine nature!
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Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.