News Reports

Church proposed for site of Beslan school

The Orthodox bishop whose jurisdiction includes the town of Beslan in South Ossetia has proposed that a church be built on the site of the school that was attacked by terrorists. At least 330 died in the attack, half of them children. The wounded numbered 727, and more than 100 bodies remain unidentified. The badly damaged school is to be demolished.

Bishop Theophane of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz made his proposal during a Liturgy recently celebrated in memory of the Beslan victims. Afterward he met with the victims’ families and prayed with them in the city’s cemetery. He suggested that the names of the victims be written on commemorative plaques be placed inside the church.

Alexis calls for resuming dialogue between South Ossetia and Georgia

Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexis has called for a cease-fire and reconciliation in South Ossetia.

“The Russian Orthodox Church calls on politicians and servicemen to contain fratricide. Do cease fire, have mercy for innocent people,” says the statement released by the Moscow Patriarchate in September.

“I am confident that Ossetians and Georgians can live in peace as Christians. Innocent people, women and children suffer from shooting in the first turn. Unfortunately, that has happened in this conflict,” the Patriarch said. He worries that bloodshed in South Ossetia may increase.

“It is necessary to stop the hostilities at once and resume the sensible dialog which had maintained peace and tranquility in the region for 12 years,” he said.

“The Ossetian and Georgian people are Orthodox believers, and it is inadmissible for brethren in Christ to fight each other.”

Orthodox aid agency continues work in Iraq

The International Orthodox Christian Charities has decided to remain in Iraq, responding to needs of the beleaguered minority Christian community, as well as the majority Muslims.

“The IOCC continues its work in Iraq, despite the violence and unrest, through its Iraqi staff,” the group’s spokesperson, Stephen Huba, said in September in an interview with the Geneva-based Ecumenical News International.

One of the IOCC’s partner organizations in Baghdad, the Adventist Church, had been hit by car bombings in the violence, Huba noted, but there were no casualties.

IOCC has responded to ongoing violence, including recent attacks in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, by providing relief assistance to survivors and families of the victims.

During August, churches in Iraq that were usually distribution points for the IOCC aid were on the receiving end of assistance from the group after a series of car bombing that targeted Christian worshipers, killed 11 persons and severely damaged the churches.

“Christians around the world must stand with those who have fallen victim to this brutal violence, letting them know that we are with them not only in thought and prayer, but also in deed, in the days and weeks to come as they work to rebuild,” said Saad Gedeon of the IOCC staff in Baghdad.

Bartholomew calls for rejection of violence and terrorism

In a statement released in September by the Decade to Overcome Violence Program of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople made a renewed appeal for peace:

“Two thousand years have passed since the day when the angelic hymn ‘Peace on Earth’ was heard, but still the good will of God towards the mankind has not been fully accepted by humanity. Therefore, the love between peoples, tolerance, reconciliation and mutual understanding have not come to fruition.

“Violence and war are considered by many as ways of improvement for the world’s situation. Also, many times, terrorist measures are used and innocent citizens and even children are harmed during acts of revenge, which do not discriminate.

“The word of God, which advises ‘be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,’ is not accepted. As a result, distress and pain increase, instead of joy and prosperity. The injustice, the abuse of the weak by the strong, intolerance and fanaticism all cause violence, and more violence in response, and evil becomes eternal in a vicious cycle.

“All of the ideologies and convictions on the necessity and effectiveness of violence are wrong and are to be condemned. The only violence that could probably be justified, and that only because of the imperfectness of humanity, is that used by the legal authorities of a State to enforce the application of just laws.

“All of us who love our fellow human beings, and believe in peace, as a foundation for spiritual and material prosperity, are obliged to cooperate for the social rejection, condemnation and halt of violence and terrorism.

“The way of violence is a dead-end.”

Orthodox Christians in China more optimistic about future

China’s small community of Orthodox Christians is cautiously hopeful for a rejuvenation within their church, with 15 seminarians studying in Russia since 2003 with the approval of China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs.

There are only two Chinese Orthodox priests left in the country after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution four decades ago almost wiped out religion. Both are elderly, living in Shanghai where they have no officially recognized congregations and are too traumatized by experiences during the Cultural Revolution to function properly, the religious liberty group Forum 18 reported in September.

F18 said that an improvement in the situation for China’s Orthodox may be traced to the installation of Hu Jintao as the country’s president in 2002 who consolidated his power further this year. “Things are opening up gradually under the new younger leadership,” said Fr. Dionisy Pozdnyayev of the Institute for Sino-Christian Studies in Hong Kong.

However, it is not certain that the Chinese seminarians will be allowed to minister within China after their ordination. “They could also serve in the Chinese diaspora in the Russian Far East,” said Pozdnyayev. “The main thing is to have them ready.”

Pozdnyayev said there were about 3000 Orthodox followers in China, mostly elderly, including 200 in Beijing. The Chinese Orthodox Church was founded through the work of a Russian Orthodox mission, and was granted autonomy by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1957. [F18]

Kremlin sued for return of churches

More than 80 years after its churches were seized by Bolsheviks and turned into anything from grain stores to shoe factories, the Russian Orthodox Church is launching a legal battle to win back its property. The church was dispossessed of all its property in 1918 under a sweeping decree issued by Lenin. Icons and other religious paraphernalia were plundered, bell towers were toppled, hundreds of churches were simply bulldozed out of existence and at least 45,000 priests were murdered.

Furious that the Russian state still owns most of the country’s churches 13 years after the collapse of Communism, and has had the gall to start charging it land tax, the church has launched the first property restitution lawsuit since the Russian Revolution in 1917.

The lawsuit, which is regarded as a test case that could open the flood gates for thousands of other restitution claims from aristocrats to foreign governments, relates to the 15th-century Church of Ilia the Prophet in Moscow which currently houses Russia’s State Museum of the East. The church wants it to become a “living place of worship” once again and says it is poised to launch a rash of similar lawsuits.

lesokico.jpgIn the ruins of a Kosovo church

Restoration of destroyed churches in Kosovo has not begun

In July Charles Brayshaw, Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Kosovo and Metohija, told media that UNMIK had set aside an additional half million euros in addition to the previously earmarked amount of one million euros for the restoration of churches and monasteries destroyed during the March violence.

In August the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo reported that in fact work has not begun on any of thirty Orthodox places of worship damaged or destroyed during the March pogrom nor at any of the other 110 shrines destroyed or damaged during the previous five years.

“It makes sense to ask what happened to the one million euros provided earlier for restoration when work has not even begun,” said a church spokesman. “If it had, the Diocese of Raska and Prizren would be the first to know. Even if the entire sum had been spent on the purpose for which it was intended, for that matter, it is grossly inadequate to cover the cost of repairing the damage….

“It is with regret that we must conclude that an effort is being made to create a false public perception that work is being done on restoring churches and monasteries, which is simply not the case. Even though senior officials of the international community have made the restoration of destroyed churches one of the conditions for Kosovo institutions, the task has not been fulfilled….

“Serbian cultural and historical monuments are decaying with each passing day without even temporary protection from rain and bad weather. Bogorodica Ljeviska (Holy Virgin of Lyevish) and other Prizren churches have not even been cleaned and reek of urine while KFOR has blocked off the locations with wire and protective tape. The lack of care and interest toward this holy shrine on the part of appropriate institutions is extremely shocking.”

Russian Church calls on west to give up its political monopoly

To overcome the division of Europe, the West should give up its monopoly on creating political structures, Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the foreign church relations department of the Moscow Patriarchy, said in RIA Novosti in July.

“The division of Europe,” he said, “which took place nearly 1,000 years ago, can be overcome when the Christian, and now perhaps post-Christian, West relinquishes its monopoly on creating political structures and becomes what it is really is — only one of the civilizations, no more and nor less.”

According to him, “the reunification of Europe and the world on a spiritual level will only be possible when the Catholic Church returns to an apostolic understanding of the church structure in which Christ is the head of the church.

“This means that there can be no single spiritual and administrative center. Any one except for God claiming infallibility and attempting to play a central role is ridiculous and has always been disgraced in history.”

He said that he was convinced that the division of the churches was the first division of Europe.

“Indeed, it was a result of many church, political, theological and public events, but the event itself,” he said, “when the West tried to cut the Christian east out of Europe, deprived the West of the fullness of life and the fullness of church contacts.”

According to him, having separated itself from the Christian east, the West “has doomed itself to historical subjectivism and to loneliness, the fate of all those who ignore genuine collegiality, that is, to correlate their own opinions with the opinions of others.

“This event led to a situation when the West assumed the role of teacher of the world, a role that it tried to play until the beginning of the 21st century and that it is rapidly losing today.”

Pope’s return of Russian icon provides an east-west bridge

Russian Orthodox leaders welcomed Pope John Paul II’s return of a revered icon of the Kazan Mother of God to Russia at a ceremony in August in Moscow’s Dormition cathedral.

The icon is an early 18th-century copy rather than the original, now lost. The icon ended up on the international art market after disappearing during the Russian Revolution. It was bought from a private New York collector in 1970 by a Catholic group and presented to the Pope in 1993.

“We very much value the fact that the Vatican is returning this miraculous icon to our church,” said Patriarch Alexis. “If we want Christian values to remain alive and Europeans to Patriarch Alexis exchanges kiss of peace with Cardinal Walter Kasper on the occasion of the return of the Kazan icon be guided by the Gospel in life, we must work together.”

“The transfer of this holy icon is… both an act of the restoration of justice and an act of good will on the part of Your Holiness,” Alexis stated in a letter to John Paul.

“I believe that your decision to hand over the icon points to the sincere desire to overcome the difficulties existing in relations between our two Churches,” the patriarch acknowledged. “May this event become our common contribution to the overcoming of the negative consequences of 20th century history, marked with persecution against the faith of Christ unprecedented in scale.”

Pope John Paul handed over the icon to the Moscow-bound delegation at a Vatican ceremony on 25 August, and said the image signaled “the deep unity between East and West which survives in time despite historic divisions and human errors.”

The witness of Christians and Muslims living side by side

Christians and Muslims have been peacefully living side by side in Russia for centuries, and the whole world would do wise to emulate it, said Patriarch Alexis in an interview published in August by Corriere della sera.

“Christians and Muslims can make peace between themselves. The Russian Orthodox Church has not the slightest doubt on that point — suffice it to say that Orthodox Christians and Muslims are peaceful neighbors to each other in Russia.”

The Patriarch turned to a burning topic — terrorism. “Terror, I am sure, runs counter to the precepts of all established religions in the world. A current wave of extremism and especially terrorism ought to move those religions to make a dialogue between themselves and so overcome the danger which threaten peace between religions.

“Extremism certainly brews in particular social situations, so every religious community ought to join hands with the laity and secular authorities together to improve those situations.”

Alexis described the split of Christendom as “a tragedy,” and appealed for Christian teamwork in the spirit of love and brotherly respect. “That is the principle destined to make a firm basis for relations between Christian denominations. It especially concerns Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics,” he stressed.

“We expect the Roman Catholic Church to U-turn its policies toward Orthodox Christians, and put an end to its deliberate action that can hardly be described as friendly. A full-fledged dialogue with them is out of the question, otherwise,” he said.

Slavery is not dead, just less recognizable

Slaves are cheap these days. Their price is the lowest it’s been in about 4,000 years. And right now the world has a glut of slaves — 27 million by conservative estimates and more than at any time in human history.

Although now banned in every country, slavery has boomed in the past 50 years as the global population has exploded. A billion people scrape by on $1 a day. Extreme poverty combined with local government corruption and a global economy that leaps national boundaries has produced a surge in the number of slaves — even though in the developed world that word conjures up the 19th century rather than the evening news.

“Many people’s conceptualization of slavery is locked into a picture from the past,” says Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves (www.freetheslaves.net) in Washington. “It’s fixed in the slavery of the deep South and it’s about African-Americans being enslaved on plantations with chains and whips and so forth.”

The majority of slaves are bonded laborers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal — workers who have given their bodies as collateral for debts that never diminish no matter how many years they — labor on.

Lack of public awareness is strikingly apparent in developed countries, where few are conscious that slavery is not exclusively a third-world problem.

In the developed world slavery is often close to home. Between 14,000 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States annually, according to the US government, most forced into the sex trade, domestic servitude, or agricultural labor. At any one time, between 52,000 and 87,000 are in bondage. And much of that is in plain view, in towns and cities across the country, experts say.

Israeli and Palestinian issue warning on security barrier

Israel’s security barrier sealing off the country from Palestinian lands in the West Bank is bound to fail, writers from the two communities have stated in a publication issued in September.

“There is no barrier on earth that can stop the one determined suicide bomber,” said Rami Elhanan, a Jewish peace activist who lost a daughter to a suicide bomber. “The more we fortify it, the more they will look for the inevitable crack.”

Alex Awad, an ordained Palestinian Christian, said: “This barrier will embitter and impoverish Palestinians and add fuel to militancy and terrorism.”

The two men are co-authors of “Barrier to Peace?”, a pamphlet published by World Vision, a Christian relief agency with projects in Israel and the West Bank.

In places the barrier is a wall 9 meters high and elsewhere it is a security strip up to 100 meters wide. It frequently runs inside the pre-1967 boundaries of the West Bank, where most Palestinians live. In July, the International Court of Justice, part of the United Nations, ruled that the barrier is illegal.

Elhanan, of the Forum of Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace, wrote: “As a Jew, the most alarming thing for me is that my people are getting back into the ghetto. We are creating our own ghetto, which will not protect us.”

In an appeal for the two communities to keep talking, Elhanan said: “If we who lost loved ones and paid the highest price possible can talk to one another, then anyone can.”

Awad suggested that “hidden intentions” behind the wall were to destabilize the emerging Palestinian state. In many areas the wall split neighborhoods and separated people from their farms, schools and hospitals, he said.

Cretan elected Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Africa

Theodoros Horeftakis, the Cretan-born head of the Orthodox church in Zimbabwe, was elected as the new Patriarch of Alexandria by the church’s governing body in October, becoming leader of hundreds of thousands of Africans in his denomination. Horeftakis, who has taken the title Theodoros II, was elected in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. He succeeds Petros VII, who died in a helicopter accident in Greece on September 11.

The Greek daily newspaper I Kathimerini reported that Theodoros was elected by the unanimous vote of 13 members of the Patriarchate’s Holy Synod.

While the Patriarchate of Alexandria is a relatively small one within the worldwide Christian Orthodox family, serving some 300,000 people, it is second in ranking only to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

“Patriarch Theodoros retains all the virtues and qualifications necessary for the continuation of the ambitious and universally recognized work of his predecessor, Petros, in Africa,” said Archbishop Christodoulos of the Church of Greece, the Athens News Agency reported.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria was born in Irakleio, Crete, in 1954. He completed his studies in theology at the University of Thessalonika and was ordained into the priesthood in 1978. In 1997 he was elected as the Metropolitan of Cameroon, followed by his election as the Metropolitan of Zimbabwe in October 2002.

Syrian Orthodox Patriarch bemoans mixing of politics and religion

Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas of Antioch, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church, has said that the mixing of religion and politics lies at the root of many problems throughout the world.

“Nobody should invoke God’s name to justify their actions or to carry out war,” the Damascus-based patriarch told a news conference in New Delhi on September 30 at the end of a 10-day visit to India.

“We religious people should not interfere in politics and politicians too should not interfere in religious matters,” he said, saying the situation in Iraq was a result of such a mix. “We do not know who is behind all these. People are being killed in bomb blasts, captured and killed. On the other side, the oil of Iraq is being stolen.”

The Patriarch was elevated as a bishop in 1963 and appointed in Mosul in northern Iraq. Later he was transferred to Baghdad and remained in Iraq until 1978, a year before he was chosen as Patriarch.

When asked about the situation for Iraqi Christians who have been under attack by Islamic groups, Ignatius replied: “I don’t want to say anything about the [harassment of] Christian community in Iraq.” However, he said, “terrorism is an act against humanity and God. It is destroying the people of Iraq.” He added: “I feel very sorry about the people of Iraq. They are suffering a lot. I only pray to God that the suffering of the Iraqi people comes to an end.”

More than 200,000 Orthodox Christians joined in a public reception at Kochi in southern Kerala to mark the patriarch’s silver jubilee.

Christian groups come to blows at site of Jesus’ crucifixion

An age old dispute between Christian denominations that share the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem erupted into a brawl over the opening of a door during a Greek Orthodox procession.

The incident draws fresh attention to the rivalry between the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian, Egyptian Coptic and Syrian Orthodox denominations who rigorously guard their sections of the church under a “status quo” law passed in 1757 during the days of the Ottoman Empire, whose leaders were Muslims.

The incident began during a Greek Orthodox service to commemorate the 4th century pilgrimage to Jerusalem of Helena, mother of Constantine.

It erupted October 1st as a Greek Orthodox procession approached the door to a Roman Catholic chapel in the church, traditionally revered as the hill of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ’s burial.

“The Catholic priest tried to stop them from going in,” Aviad Sar-Shalom, an Israeli tour guide, recounted. “The Greek Orthodox monks beat the Catholic monk. He was badly beaten and then they lifted him up like a sack of potatoes and threw him out of the church,” Sar-Shalom said.

Four Greek Orthodox priests were detained by police and at least five people were wounded during the fracas, including several policemen who raced to the scene and tried to separate the warring sides.

Greek Orthodox clerics denied hitting the priest and blamed the Franciscan order for the incident.

“This is supposed to be a festive time, but the Catholics, they made problems,” said Fr. Pandelemos, an Orthodox priest.

Relations between the Christian groups that share the church have been so tense over the centuries that the keys to the holy site’s main entrance have been entrusted to two Muslim families, who are seen as neutral parties.