News report

OPF Conference at St. Tikhon’s

The North American chapter of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship met for its third annual conference on June 13-16 at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary and Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. The conference theme was “Peace Be With You: Living the Beatitudes in a Wounded World.” Metropolitan Herman welcomed OPF back to St. Tikhon’s and gave his blessing for the conference.

Fr. John Chryssavgis opened the conference with an address focusing on the connection between the Beatitudes and the environment. “Hence­­forth, if we wish to live by the Beatitudes, we can no longer remain deaf to the calls of people who suffer, or to the sounds of an environment that groans We must persist in responding to the poor, in striving to share the resources of the world, in trying to heal our broken community and environment. This is the way in which we shall inherit the heavenly kingdom and this earth.”

Fr. Michael Dahulich, Dean of St. Tikh­on’s Seminary, spoke on Saturday evening concerning “An Orthodox Under­standing of God and War,” walking through the Old Testament and the history of the Church, highlighting God’s ultimate pur­pose. Sun­day evening brought Mother Raphaela, Abbess of the Holy Myrrhbear­ers Monastery in Otego, New York, who spoke on “Monasticism and the Way of Radical Peace.” She began by teaching that, “Rather than seeking peace, I think as Orthodox Christians, we are meant to seek the Lord first, and then He gives His peace to fill our lives.” She shared from her experiences as a monastic, and challenged us that “any peace, to be a true peace, must be literally comforting Yet for us, comfort has degenerated to visions of soft pillows and blankets, easy chairs and walking shoes that may indeed help us to find necessary relaxation, yet may also tempt us away from our higher calling and enervate us rather than streng­then us.”

Workshops dealt with specific themes relating to the Beatitudes. There was a lecture on purity of heart given by Dr. Al Rossi and on capital punishment by Fr. Lev Smith. Jim Forest presented a paper on OPF’s history. (Texts of all the lectures will soon be available on the OPF web site.)

At the OPF-NA business meeting, Sheri San Chirico (right) was named as the new coordinator, succeeding John Oliver (below), and a new council was appointed. The feast of Pentecost contributed to a sense of the Holy Spirit among us, giving us with a renewed sense of mission. Plans were begun for conferences in 2004 and beyond.

One member wrote in reflection, “I do believe that for me the conference is now part of my ‘Wow!’ experiences Pentecost was succeeded by persecution and the details of everyday life. This conference is no different. I come home to dirty dishes and bills But that does not change things. I went to the conference burdened; I came away renewed and with a fresh sense of purpose and, more impor­tantly, knowing through comments and actions, conversations and sharing in worship, a sense of joy and love.”

Bartholomew’s Paschal Peace Appeal

At the first Paschal service in Istanbul, Patriarch Bartholomew said the resurrection offered humanity hope for peace in a world beset by blood­shed and hatred.

“May the Risen Lord heal all brokenness of contemporary humanity and grant peace and life to all human beings, removing all hatred and blood­shed, and exchanging them with peace­ful cooperation for the good of all,” he said.

He warned those in power against seeking to dominate others.

“There have been many who destroyed prosperous empires in their desire to make them greater, many who became self-destructive in setting before them aims of conceited pride … many who des­troyed others in their desire to lord and dominate over them.”

Patriarch Alexei’s Opposition to War Against Iraq

On March 17, in a statement issued on the eve of the war’s outbreak, Patriarch Alexei, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, made a final effort to prevent war in Iraq.

“The USA, with the support of Great Britain and some other countries, is planning to launch large-scale military actions against this country, trying to justify them by the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

“The Russian Orthodox Church … is concerned for the proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Many religious leaders have repeatedly stress­ed that the observance of international norms in this areas is one of the essential conditions for peace on the planet.

“Insisting on a peaceful diplomatic way of settling this problem in Iraq, our Church has repeatedly called to lift up the economic sanctions from this country as they have already led to the suffering of civilians, especially sick people and children. In the context of efforts made by the world public to strengthen peace in the Middle East, we have established a dialogue with the religious, public and political leaders in Iraq.

“In the course of the dialogue we stress­ed the necessity of taking such measures by the Iraqi government that will remove all doubts of the international community regarding the war potential of this country. The decision to resume the work of international inspectors was accepted with satisfaction by the majority of people on our planet because that meant the choice for a peaceful way of settling the existing problems.

“Today there are no reasons for stopping the mission of international inspectors and commencing military operations. Nations cannot be de­prived of a chance to establish peace.

“The war in Iraq will inevitably lead to the death and suffering of many innocent people…

“Today the Russian Orthodox Church addresses an appeal to the governments of those countries on which the decision to begin or not to begin war depends to do all that is possible to avoid an armed conflict. For the actions that are taken without considering the opinion of the international community, the opinion of a majority of people on the Earth, destroy the existing system of international law and inter-governmental institutions.

“The first blow on its foundations was already struck by the bombing of Yugoslavia, which was initiated without the sanction of the United Nations and which led to destruction and death of thousands of people in the very center of Europe. Now another action is being prepared, which can turn the existing world order into ashes. The violation of legal norms sows chaos and arbitrariness, for lawlessness always generates more lawlessness. ‘They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind,’ says Holy Scriptures.

“Our Church supports the efforts of the governments, spiritual and public leaders in various countries who have come out against the military operations and rejects the attempts to justify this war. We call upon the nations of the world to stop military preparations against Iraq, to prevent bloodshed of innocent people. We plead God ‘to guide our feet into the way of peace’ and to protect the biblical earth of Iraq against the fire of war.”

‘Religion a casualty of war’: Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana

Two weeks after the Iraq War began, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania issued a statement deploring the war’s impact.

“Long is the list of victims from the war in Iraq: women and children, soldiers fallen or about to fall in battle, the international economy, international legitimacy, the U.N., truth and justice, and many others — whether by direct or indirect means. Religion, too, is in danger of becoming one of these victims. Leaders of both sides have already used religious terms, by invoking God. In our time, religions continue to influence people, but do not determine the decisions of political and economic leaders. These decisions are made on the basis of different calculations and interests.

“Religious consciousness, however, is called upon to resist war, so that religion retains its sacred role of peace­making, reconciliation, forgiveness and the healing of wounds.

“At the numerous interfaith conferences that have taken place over the last few years, representatives of different faiths have agreed that religion has to bring peace and support peace in the world; that violence and terrorism — individual, group or state-initiated — are against the true spirit of religion; and they have con­demned, in particular, invoking God’s will to justify violence and war.

“At the same time, these participants have undertaken the responsibility to make the cries of those who are suffering from violence their own, and contribute their utmost in securing the freedom and dignity of every person and of all peoples.

“The blowing winds of war must not sweep away the sacredness of religion, contaminating the hearts of people with bitterness and enmity for each other’s religion. Much greater catastrophes than those caused by weapons of mass destruction could be produced by the incitement of religious intolerance. The radioactivity of hatred, enriched by the ‘uranium’ of religious passion, will last long after hostilities have ceased, for decades, maybe even for centuries — as was the case of the Crusades and ‘holy wars’ in the past.

“Those who believe in ‘the God of peace’ (Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9; Hebr 13:2­0, etc.), and particularly those who have committed themselves to serving Him, cannot help but repeat insistently the supplication ‘for peace in the whole world,’ and strive to do whatever is possible to let justice and peace prevail on earth­.

IOCC Helping Iraqi Families

In Baghdad, where a bag of apples can cost a month’s salary, International Ortho­-dox Christian Charities has concentrated on providing food to needy families.

Thousands of IOCC food parcels have arrived in Baghdad for distribution to families who increasingly can’t afford even the most basic food items.

“The problem is not only a lack of food but also the lack of employment and rising food prices­,” said Edmond Adam, a coordinator for IOCC’s partner, the Middle East Council of Churche­s.

“Millions of families could be without adequate food in a couple of months,” Adam said. “The outlook is bleak if people don’t start earning salaries soon, enabling them to buy food.”

The first delivery of food parcels came in a six-truck humanitarian convoy organized by IOCC and other members of the global humanitarian alliance Action by Churches Together. Each parcel contains cheese, tea bags, lentils, white beans, chick peas, milk powder, tomato paste, sugar, rice, vegetable oil and other items enough to supplement a family’s diet for a month. Also delivered were 2.2 tons of high-protein biscuits, 250 tents, 19,200 cans of meat, 6,400 blankets and a 40-foot container of medicines.

The medicines were immediately delivered to hospitals in the area.

Distributions are being made through a network of churches and mosques in Bagh­dad and Mosul, including Baghdad’s Antiochian Orthodox parish, led by Fr. Younan Yagoob. Other parcels and relief supplies are being stockpiled in churches for future emergencies.

“There is a real fear that current rations distributed to people by the old Iraqi regime under the oil-for-food program will run out,” Adam said.

Donations can be made via the IOCC web page: www.iocc.org.

Bartholomew Rededicates Holocaust Monument

Expressing “endless grief” at the killing of tens of thousands of Thessalo­nika’s Jewish population during World War II, Patriarch Bartholomew said the Holocaust Monument in Thessalo­nika affirmed that we are to fight for the creation of a peaceful world where all people will coexist in harmony. “We should explain to our children and our fellow human beings,” he declared, “that such crimes of the past must never be repeated, since they were a result of hatred and misjudgment.”

The Minister of Culture of Greece, Evangelos Venizelos, and the Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Rabbi Israel Singer, also addressed delegates of the Fifth Consultation Between Judaism and Orthodoxy, which had concluded a two-day meeting at the end of May.

The Patriarch was made an honorary citizen of the Jewish Community.

In accepting the honor, Bartholomew declared, “It is in our interest to have justice and equality for all minorities since whatever people offer and recognize in any country to minorities, the same will be enjoyed in their own country. … Fanatics are not the elect of a specific faith but rather the weakest among its believers.”

Refugees returning to their homes in Kosovo

On July 14 a group of 25 Serb returnees returned to the shattered village of Belo Polje near Pec after four years as refugees. The returnees were greeted in front of the Serbian Orthodox church by Fathers Sava and Xeno­phont of Decani Monastery and the nuns of the Pec Patriarchate. The welcome was also attended by representatives of KFOR and UNMIK. The emotional event was also attended by representatives of the nearby Serb village of Gorazdevac, the only village in the Pec region where Serbs managed to survive after the war.

The returnees, who exited the bus carrying an icon of St. Cosmas and Damian, the religious feast celebrated that day, were served with traditional bread and salt, followed by a formal thanksgiving to God served before the improvised camp where they will be housed.

After the service the returnees were welcomed on behalf of Bishop Artem­ije by Fr. Sava Janjic.

“This is the day we have all waited for so long, the day when you are once more returning to your homes to again build your houses out of ashes and rubble, and restore the life of Belo Polje,” said Fr. Sava, who thanked God as well as all the people who helped in making the return possible. Fr. Sava expressed special thanks to the commander of Italian KFOR troops in Pec, Colonel Iubini, who made a personal effort to make the return possible.

After liturgy and homily the returnees were served lunch prepared by the nuns of the sisterhood of the Pec Patriarchate. KFOR has provided food supplies for the next week as well as fuel to power the electrical generator. Decani Monastery also sent food.

On behalf of Coordinating Center head Dr. Nebojsa Covic, Ljiljana Belos welcomed the returnees and informed them that during the next few days the Coordinating Center would provide a refrigerator, a stove, pots for preparing food, as well as other necessities. The Coordinating Center also plans to provide long-term assistance for the restoration of the destroyed homes.

Returnees to the village of Polje will be protected by members of Italian KFOR who have a newly built base nearby called “Villaggio Italia.”

Meanwhile vandals continue desecrating churches and cemeteries in Kosovo. A church in Pristina attacked in May was again stoned on 26 June, while tombstones in an Orthodox graveyard in Kosovska Vitina were destroyed.

“The situation is grim,” says Fr Sava. “Extremists want all the Serbs out of the province, and the international community is not providing the means to stop it from happening.”

Former French envoy urges churches to give EU a new vision

At a meeting in Trondheim, Norway, on July 1, a former high-ranking French diplomat has warned European church leaders that the European Union is reaching a breaking point and has called on chur­ches to help give the organization a new sense of purpose. The gathering began after the unveiling in mid-June of a draft EU constitution intended to streamline the union so that it can deal with the influx of up to 10 new member countries next year.

Francois Scheer, a former French ambassador to Germany and to the EU, said the war in Iraq and the conflict in the Middle East had revealed the union’s weakness as a political force.

“The difficulties in Transatlantic relations are deeper than most of us in Europe had realized,” Scheer said in a speech on Monday at the 12th assembly of the Conference of European Churches.

The projected enlargement of the EU in 2004 from 15 to 25 members also risked weakening the union’s institutional structures, noted Scheer, who had also served as secretary-general of the French ministry of foreign affairs.

In his address, Scheer called for a return to what he termed the basic sources of European unity, “creating reconciliation and peace with the solidarity that this required.”

Scheer’s remarks were supported by a senior Orthodox church leader, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who told the assembly that “Europe lacks ethos, imagination, generosity and vision.”

The archbishop said: “It is the duty for Europe to be in the front rank of a worldwide mobilization for a new war, the war of combating world poverty.” The archbishop criticized the failure of the constitution to contain an explicit reference to what Anastasios said were the “Christian roots of Europe.”