News Reports Spring 2001

Peace appeal from the Churches of Jerusalem

The Patriarchs, metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops who head the churches in Jerusalem together issued a joint appeal on March 24:

We the heads of Churches in Jerusalem, concerned for the spiritual, mental and bodily well-being of all the citizens of this Holy Land, Christian, Moslem and Jew, appeal to the Israeli Government, the Palestinian Authority, world leaders both secular and religious, as well as to all men and women of goodwill to help bring an urgent conclusion to the conflict affecting the lives of thousands in this land.

We are convinced that peace-seeking negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are the only sure way of providing for the well being of all our peoples.

We believe that the violence which has intensified over these past months will only end when both parties in the conflict make a determined effort to respect each other’s rights whilst affirming the dignity and worth of every human life (man, woman and child).

We would respectfully request protection for all our people in order to assist the re-establishment of mutual trust and security for Israeli and Palestinian. Further we would call on all peace-loving people from around the world to come and join us in a manifestation of just peace.

Furthermore, we would ask for even greater assistance from our brothers and sisters abroad — governments, aid agencies as well as Churches and private individuals — for those in need in the areas of conflict. Despite all the kind help to date (for which we express sincere gratitude) many are desperate for food, clothing, shelter and the like. In this appeal for help we would call to mind the words of Jesus when He said, “In as much as you do this for the least of these my little ones, you do it for me.”

In a few weeks all the Christians of the world will celebrate together the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus died to offer the world God’s forgiveness and encourage reconciliation. He rose again to offer the world fullness of life. We firmly believe that now is the time to establish forgiveness and reconciliation on all sides in order to work for fullness of life for every citizen of this Land.

Mosque to be rebuilt in Bosnian Serb territory

Two stones are all that is left of Banja Luka’s once proud main mosque in the heart of the city. Now Muslims in the Bosnian Serb capital hope to see Ferhadija finally rebuilt in its 16th century splendor.

On the night of May 7, 1993, while Bosnia was experiencing the bloodiest combats of the 1992-95 war, a group of Bosnian Serbs set explosives against what was for them a despised symbol of Islam.

Today the site where the mosque used to be is an empty lot covered with grass ignored by passers-by. There are no signs of the ancient mosque’s walls, arches, cupola, fountain, nor of the adjacent mausoleum of its builder who gave it his name, Ferhad-Pasha.

It has been eight years since a Muslim climbed the 41.5 meter high minaret to call for prayer. All that remains is the old house of the mufti, which has become the only place where Banja Luka’s small Muslim community — 5,500 today, as compared with 60,000 before the war — can gather to pray.

“There used to be 16 mosques in Banja Luka before the war, now we have only this small room,” says Mufti Edhem Camdzic. “When we prayed last time it was so overcrowded that it looked like we were in a concentration camp.”

In March the Bosnian Serb authorities finally granted a first clearance for rebuilding Ferhad-Pasha’s mosque. All that is required now is a building permit, which could be issued in April, the mufti said. “I believe that on May 7th, the day on which Ferhadija was destroyed in 1993, we will lay the first cornerstone.”

When the mosque was completed in 1579, Ferhad-Pasha had the masons locked inside the minaret, sentencing them to death so they could never make anything so beautiful, but one night, according to legend, they made wings and flew away.

“All these religious sites play a mediator role among people. There are places where people are being told about reconciliation, living together, forgiveness,” Camdzic said, adding: “That is what we need most here in Bosnia.”

Casualties and culprits in reporting of the Yugoslav conflict

As 50 religious leaders, politicians, academics and journalists gathered in Thessaloniki in mid-January for a three-day seminar to discuss Western media perceptions about the Balkans, many of the non-media delegates focused their attention on the Yugoslav conflict, declaring that in war, truth is the first casualty.

The seminar was part of an initiative launched by the Orthodox Church’s Brussels office, a Church link with the European Union. The initiative, launched in May 2000 at the Vlatadon Monastery in Thessaloniki, hopes “to foster inter-faith dialogue and co-operation in order to promote peace, justice, and solidarity among the Balkan peoples.”

The seminar was organized because of concerns among religious leaders that during the violence in the Balkans the Western media reported the conflicts in simplistic and ignorant ways, often wrongly ascribing the conflict to religious differences. Some speakers blamed the media for inflaming the conflict.

A German journalist and academic, Professor Karl-Heinz Meier-Braun, quoted a Greek philosopher who said it was not so much events or facts that caused troubles as people’s views of them. He pointed out that in the Yugoslav conflict there had been military censorship of the facts, resulting in “de facto” incorrect reports in the Western media. But he added that the media in Belgrade and in Russia, Serbia’s main ally, had also been exploited.

Two religious leaders from the region told the seminar that as the western media reported violence and war throughout the 1990s, they wrote nothing about the “good news.” Metropolitan Irinej of Novi Sad said that even as the conflict raged nearby, he and others were engaged in regular meetings with Muslims which the media always ignored.

Sheik Hamdija Jusufspahic, Mufti of Belgrade, complained that the media did not report that during the war a Muslim community of significant size was living unharmed alongside Christians in the Serbian capital. “Some journalists ascribed to us what they wanted us to say,” Metropolitan Irinej said.

He added: “I am convinced that instead of helping us, the mass media impede us. The fragmentation of Yugoslavia is partly due to the media. The media should play the role of peace. Like bees, they should collect honey, instead of acting like flies. In Serbia, in beloved Kosovo, many Muslims live in peaceful co-existence with other people. I hope you will help us to preserve that peace.”

Bishop Emmanuel Adamakis, director of the Orthodox Church’s Brussels office, stressed the same theme. “We are few in number, but we aim at building bridges and establishing peace in the region which we hope will no longer be tried by war.”

Panagiotis Roumeliotis, a former member for Greece of the European Parliament who is now chairman of the Stability Pact’s working table on democratization and human rights, told the seminar that lack of democratic structures, linked in some cases to government manipulation of the media, had contributed to the Yugoslav conflict.

Dr. Roumeliotis said the organization had come to realize that the religious communities had a vital role to play in promoting peace in the region. “Governments alone are incapable of producing democratization,” he said, warning that without it “the danger of outbreaks of violence is a visible one.” As for the religious differences of the region, he said that religious diversity “is a source of richness. We should be grateful for it.”

At the seminar’s end, the Metropolitan of France, Jeremie Caligiorgis, urged all present to engage in self-criticism. “We often put blame on others, on journalists, saying that they don’t do their jobs properly. But criticism should also be aimed at ourselves, in our churches and in our ideologies.” [Edmund Doogue/ENI]

More churches destroyed in Kosovo

The 14th century church of St. Nicholas in the Kosovo village of Opterusa was torn down in January. According to Aleksandar Zivojinovic, photographer and former building superintendent of the destroyed monastery of Zociste, and Fr. Petar Ulemek, efforts to remove any indication that the building ever existed “are in progress right now.” The church yard has been turned into a parking lot.

On February 8, a church in the southwestern town of Gornji Livoc was destroyed in an explosion. “It was a small chapel we used occasionally for burial and liturgical services,” Father Radivoje Zivkovic, parish priest from region, told Keston News Service by telephone. “It was created ten years ago by the villagers. My parishioners told me that it had been razed to the ground. Also two houses were destroyed the same night. It is disastrous. We are extremely upset.”

Nearly a hundred Orthodox churches and monasteries have been destroyed during the period of Kosovo’s occupation by NATO forces.

Also recently destroyed was a Serbian library of 11,000 Serbian books, including many rare and unique volumes, that was formerly the Vuk Karadzic City Library in Kosovska Mitrovica. “Everything that sociologists, historians and industrious librarians collected, received as donations and purchased over the course of almost a century and a half, was processed as old paper in the waste paper factory in Vladicin Han,” said Miroslava Nikolic. Workers at a wastepaper processing plant rescued 1,000 books purely by accident when the last bale became untied before it was tossed into a cooking kettle.

Serbia’s Patriarch Pavle’s appeal to world leaders

In a letter to UN Secretary General Kofie Anan sent March 14, Serbian Patriarch Pavle noted that “countless crimes have been committed in this region” since the arrival of United Nations peacekeeping troops in Kosovo and Metohija in June 1999. “A great number of Serbian Orthodox shrines of priceless value have been destroyed; over 250,000 people have been expelled; thousands have been murdered, kidnapped or otherwise mistreated…

“We had hoped that the mandate of the peacekeeping forces and other persons engaged in this mission … was to prevent misdeeds and lawlessness, no matter from which side they originated, in order to establish a just peace and a safe life for all of the citizens of our Province. However, when we review the facts objectively, it is clear that the UN peacekeeping mission … has failed to achieve its goal. What is even worse, the region which should be under UN protection has become the center from which terrorism, one of the greatest evils of the modern world, is spreading to surrounding regions. Most endangered are the municipalities of Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja, where Albanian extremists are murdering and expelling Serbs.

“As the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia now strives to resolve the crisis through peaceful and democratic means, for the good of all the citizens of our Fatherland, with the blessing and full support of the Serbian Orthodox Church as well as all responsible and well-intentioned people in the world, the Albanian extremists with each passing day are committing increasingly greater misdeeds. For example, we cite only the murder and injury of a busload of innocent civilians traveling to visit the graves of their dear departed ones.

“This evil has already spread to Macedonia, too, where the first victims have already fallen. Is there anyone able to guarantee that it will not spread like a flame to other neighboring countries as well if not stopped?

“In the belief, Your Excellency, that the developments cited above cannot leave well-intentioned people indifferent, we expect that you will do everything within your power to stop the evil which grows greater with each passing day, to protect human life and to secure the peace so greatly desired by all.”

Similar letters were addressed to the Presidents of Russia, the USA, Germany, France, England and Italy.

A visit to Decani Monastery

From a report by Z. V. Vlaskalic written for Blic, a magazine in Belgrade:

Accompanied by the deafening noise of French armored transporters, we set off for Decani Monastery with a small group of Serbs from the north of Kosovo. With us was a heavily armed KFOR soldier. In Pec, a soldier advises us to lower the steel covers on the windows because “some Albanian may shoot at us!”

We proceed to the Decani monastery where the largest brotherhood of monks in Kosovo remains. Half a kilometer before Decani, there is a checkpoint manned by Italian KFOR. After a short stop and exchange of greetings with the soldiers, we arrive in front of the gates of the monastery. There is a miniature Italian KFOR military base there with no less than six tanks plus other armored vehicles. There are four permanent checkpoints surrounding the monastery itself. A fifth is located in the bell tower where a soldier with binoculars keeps constant watch on either side of the Decanska Bistrica River.

“There are 30 monks in the brotherhood and our spiritual life flows normally. The monastery has been singing [for joy] since the arrival of KFOR. We are protected by Italian troops. Small groups of Serbs visit us on Sundays and KFOR troops from all sectors in Kosovo visit frequently,” says Father Sava Janjic, who returned to the brotherhood in Decani from the monastery of Gracanica a few months ago.

The head of the monastery, Father Teodosije, welcomed us but soon had to leave us due to other obligations at the temporary seat of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren in Gracanica. We also attended the Sunday service in the church. There were also several French soldiers present who neatly deposited their weapons in front of the main entrance to the monastery. To the right of the monastery entrance, many books on Decani are exhibited, as well as post cards, small crosses, incense and other church requisites with prices indicated in marks and lira.

“Two hundred Albanian families were housed in the residence halls of the monastery until the end of the war. A large number of them came here after the arrival of KFOR to thank us and light candles but then they were subjected to threats by their compatriots and none of them visits the monastery anymore,” says Father Sava. He says that the Albanian terrorists have shelled the monastery with mortars twice, in February and June of last year, but the shells fell outside the Decani walls and there was no damage.

For a few months after the war, several Serb families sought shelter here but they left the monastery last year. Now only the monks of the brotherhood remain who work the monastery lands; there are also icon-painting and relief-carving workshops. In the art workshop, located in another area outside the monastery complex, four monk artists are working to the accompaniment of muted church music.

“We make icons and reproductions of valuable works by famous masters here. It takes me 10 days to paint an icon while other works involving multiple figures can take longer than a month,” explains Father Arsenije, who heads the art workshop.

“The brothers tend livestock in the meadows around the monastery while Italian soldiers keep watch over the surroundings. We have five cows, hens, geese and 20 beehives. In order to get other basic supplies we must travel 150 kilometers under KFOR escort to Rozaje. We start out early in the morning to avoid heavy traffic and being targeted by the Albanians in the villages which we pass,” says Fr. Sava.

The monastery is inaccessible to Serbs for individual visits. “We are so cut off from the world, the Danes have given us satellite telephones as gifts so we can stay in touch with other monasteries and with the rest of the country,” says Fr. Sava.

WCC members optimistic about work of special commission

The work of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches is not finished, but most Central Committee members seemed pleased by what they heard in an interim report issued at the end of January.

The Special Commission is composed of 60 persons from WCC-member churches, half of them Orthodox. It was created by the WCC’s Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998. Its mandate is to study Orthodox participation in the Council and to propose changes “in structure, style and ethos” of the Council.

After two meetings, the Commission has named four sub-committees to study major issues of concern and is discussing alternative ways in which Council members can worship and function together and make decisions. One proposal already attracting attention — and debate — is that the Council make decisions by consensus rather than by majority vote.

“The Orthodox are a minority in the Council and feel there is not ample space for them to be heard,” explained the Fr. Hilarion Alfeyev of the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, who serves on the Special Commission. “They are always destined to lose [in any voting process] even if all of them are for a particular point.”

Rev. Mari Kinnunen of Finnish Lutheran Church asked, “What will happen to the prophetic voice of the WCC? Will the consensus model silence this voice?”

“But as I read the Bible,” Archbishop Anastasios of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania noted wryly, “the prophetic voice was not expressed by majority vote.”

During the Cold War, Anastasios said, “the church and the ecumenical movement were the bridges between the people, who raised up the suffering of the people under Communist regimes. Instead of bridges today (between the church and the ecumenical movement) there is an iron curtain — or, if you don’t like that expression, a nylon curtain.”

He added: “But this is not about good Orthodox and bad Protestants, or bad Orthodox and good Protestants. It goes deeper than that. We must approach this issue with fear, prayer and discussion.” Anastasios called upon his fellow Orthodox to work constructively with the Special Commission, “We have complained,” he said. “Now, make concrete proposals.”

One of the sticking points between Orthodox and other members of the Council has been the difficulty in identifying a common ground for worship. The Special Commission suggests that in Council documents, the term “common prayer” be used instead of “worship” to “avoid implications concerning ritual,” and that “common prayer” should avoid “syncretistic” elements or inclusive language referring to God. “Syncretism” is the use of pagan elements or symbols in Christian worship.

The next meetings of the Special Commission will be in November 2001 and in May 2002. It will prepare its final report to the Central Committee in September 2002.

WCC launches ten-year program to reduce violence

Speakers at the World Council of Churches Central Committee meeting in February outlined a broad agenda as the organization launched its Decade to Overcome Violence.

The Decade was authorized by the WCC’s assembly in 1998. It calls on the WCC’s 342 member churches to work to overcome all forms of violence, with the WCC itself playing a coordinating and information-sharing role. The Decade is also “a declaration of the churches’ readiness to work together with local communities, secular movements and people of other faiths everywhere to build a culture of peace.” The initiative was formally launched February 4th in Berlin.

Discussion at the Central Committee meeting indicated a variety of attitudes toward the focus and goals of the project.

Archbishop Anastasios, head of the Orthodox Church of Albania, stressed the unique witness of Jesus Christ on the issue of violence. “Many speak about overcoming violence,” he said, “but, for Christians, this is not an abstract principle, but a person, and we know that even though violence may dominate now, the ultimate victory belongs to him.” He urged participants to not simply rely on “conscious, nonviolent acts, but to place our faith, our spiritual armament in Jesus Christ, to change the ways we act and think so that we may be transformed from the inside out.” In Albania this meant that the Orthodox Church was a leader in reaching out to Kosovar refugees, almost all of them Muslims, who were chased out of their province by the Yugoslav army in 1998 and ’99. “The church [in Albania] reached out without asking [the refugees] their religion,” Archbishop Anastasios said, “and the only refugee camp still operating in Albania is the Orthodox-run one.”

Dr. Margot Kassmann, a German Lutheran bishop, acknowledged that when the WCC first started talking about the problem of overcoming violence, “we realized the issue is so big, we didn’t know how to approach it.” She suggested an approach as elementary as teaching young children nonviolent conflict resolution. “We know for a fact that children who don’t learn how to solve their conflicts nonviolently are more prone to be violent as adults, while children who learn non-violent conflict-resolution methods are more apt to stand by their convictions when they grow up.”

She also referred to violence against foreigners in Germany. While those who perpetrated such violence were a small minority, she said, “we cannot close our eyes” to the deaths of hundreds of people in the past eight years seeking asylum in Germany — 64 deaths due to racist attacks, 119 in their attempt to reach Germany, 92 by taking their own lives rather than be deported, 10 because of police action and 13 in their home countries after being deported. “That is a dramatic scale of violence, both structural and physical violence, that the church cannot allow to remain in our country.” [ENI]

Georgian Orthodox Church, Jewish Community sign agreement

Meeting at the Georgian Parliament, representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church and Georgia’s Jewish community signed an agreement in January pledging mutual respect and support. Leaders of the two communities also vowed to cooperate in furthering democratization and peace and stability in Georgia and the entire South Caucasus. The Georgian Orthodox Church has signed similar agreements with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church in Georgia and the All-Caucasus Muslim Religious Board.

Egypt’s Pope Shenouda rejects court rulings over fatal clashes

Pope Shenouda III, leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, rejected court rulings convicting only four of 96 defendants in the February week’s trial over deadly Muslim-Christian clashes one year ago. Shenouda said the church would appeal the verdicts to a higher court.

A southern Egyptian court sentenced four Muslims to light prison terms for taking part in the violence that erupted January 2, 2000, a few days after an argument between a Muslim customer and a Coptic Christian shopkeeper in el-Kusheh, 275 miles south of Cairo. The fighting, which spread to the neighboring village of Dar el-Salam, left 21 people dead – nearly all of them Christians.

“This is unacceptable to us and we will appeal,” Shenouda said.

57 Muslims were tried, 38 of them for murder. The most serious charges against the 39 Christian defendants were looting, arson and attempted murder.

In his verdict, presiding Judge Mohamed Affifi accused three el-Kusheh priests of failing to break up the quarrel that sparked the rioting. He urged the Coptic Church to take “the moral responsibility and discipline” the three priests.

Egypt’s Christians comprise 10 percent of the country’s 64 million people and generally live peacefully with the overwhelmingly Muslim population.

Leo Tolstoy debate in Russia

A hundred years after it excommunicated Leo Tolstoy, the author’s great-great-grandson, Vladimir Tolstoy, has asked the Russian Orthodox Church to reconsider its decision.

In January Vladimir Tolstoy, director of Leo Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana Estate Museum in Tula, sent a letter to Patriarch Alexei asking him to review Tolstoy’s religious writings on the grounds that the excommunication was a hindrance to national reconciliation. “I was inviting the church to hold a dialogue on this painful subject,” Vladimir Tolstoy said in an interview. The church’s act had forced every Russian Christian to make a difficult moral choice. “An Orthodox Christian cannot reject God, but it is also difficult to reject the national genius and prophet, who to this day constitutes the pride and glory of our national culture.”

In the late 1870s, after completing War and Peace and Anne Karenina, Tolstoy underwent a profound spiritual crisis and began a search for the meaning of life. He emerged from his spiritual crisis as what some have described as a Christian anarchist, attached to his own understanding of the Gospel, but rejecting all the sacraments, the Trinity, miracles, and without any belief in resurrection, all of which Tolstoy regarded as obfuscations of the true Christian message. He saw Christ simply as the greatest teacher.

Tolstoy then gathered a large following as he dedicated most of the second part of his life to writing essays, pamphlets, didactic short stories and plays. His novel Resurrection, published in 1899, includes stinging criticisms of Orthodox ritual.

At a press conference on March 4, Patriarch Alexei acknowledged Tolstoy as “a literary genius,” but said that the writer’s religious views were a different matter. “I do not think we have the right to force a man, who died [almost] 100 years ago, to return to the bosom of the church that he rejected,” the patriarch said.

Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, a Moscow Patriarchate official, said, “I think everyone in our country has respect for Tolstoy as a writer, but when he expressed views that contradict its teaching and its spirit, the Church had the duty to say that such views could not be considered Orthodox.” A review of Tolstoy’s reflections and teaching “would make sense only if some proof were discovered that Tolstoy changed his views before his death,” Fr. Chaplin said. He added that excommunication was “not a curse, as some people think, but an attestation that the writer’s beliefs seriously disagreed with Orthodox teaching.” [ENI]

Russian prelate urges churches adopt Orthodox dates for Easter

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department of external relations, has urged Western churches to celebrate Easter at the same time as the Orthodox Church, thus enabling all the world’s Christians to share in Christianity’s most important celebration every year.

“Each time Christians celebrate Holy Pascha together, a feeling of regret arises that it is not going to happen next year,” Metropolitan Kirill said shortly before Easter. “That is why the issue of Easter celebrations is one of the priorities in the dialogue among Christians.

“I am profoundly convinced that it would be right to return to the Easter celebration according to the decision of the First Ecumenical Council [of Nicaea in the year 325] as the Orthodox do,” Metropolitan Kirill said. He added that Orthodox Pascha always fell after the Jewish Passover, after which Jesus was crucified, and was thus truer to the Gospels.

Russian Orthodox Christians see their calendar as “the icon of time” which cannot be changed. “Any attempt to break this tradition will inevitably cause a schism,” said Metropolitan Kirill.

Interfax reported that Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, chairman of the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops of Russia, welcomed Kirill’s proposal.

One possible method for solving the Easter date problem has been proposed by the Middle East Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. At a meeting held in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, representatives of the world’s main Christian traditions proposed using the Nicene formula to determine the date of Easter, basing calculations on the best astronomical data available and taking the meridian of Jerusalem as the reference point.

Dr. Thomas Best, secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, said that calculating the date of Easter was “extremely complicated.” He added that the differences over Easter dates were particularly acute in the Middle East where minority denominations wanted a resolution to pave the way for their “common witness to Christianity.” Dr. Best said that another meeting on the common Easter was expected later this year. [Andrei Zolotov/ ENI]

Christian campaign to stop torture

Torture is regularly inflicted in more than half the countries of the world today, according to the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, which links 28 national ACATs around the world and has 30,000 members.

The movement is particularly strong in France, where the first ACAT was founded by two women after Amnesty International held the world’s first international conference against torture in Paris in 1973. The world’s newest ACATs have been recently set up in the Czech Republic and Haiti. There are 12 ACAT groups in Africa. All are autonomous organizations, with the federation, based in Paris, playing an information and coordination role.

Patrick Byrne, a Scottish-born translator based in Luxembourg who is Federation president, said in an interview March 23 that churches should be doing more to end torture. ACAT is inviting “all Christian churches to reiterate their condemnation of torture and all inhuman or degrading treatment, and to renew their commitment to their abolition.”

A booklet mentions specific cases of torture in six countries — Iran, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Kenya and Hungary — and includes a prayer about the torture Jesus endured, culminating in his crucifixion.

Byrne said an important part of the work of the ACATs was calling Christians to pray for both the victims of torture and for “the torturers — that they will have a change of heart.” Another element of the work was education to eliminate social attitudes that allowed torture to continue. “You have to change attitudes, public opinion and traditions which tolerate torture,” Byrne said.

Many ACAT groups elect three vice-chairpersons — Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox — to stress the ecumenical nature of their work. [Edmund Doogue/ENI]

International Federation of ACAT, 27 rue de Maubeuge, 75009 Paris, France. Tel: ++ 33 1 42 80 0160; e-mail: fi.acat@ wanadoo.fr; web:www.fiacat.org .

European religious leaders rebuke US over Kyoto Protocol

Religious leaders in Europe and the United States have expressed deep concern about the US government’s decision last week not to implement the Kyoto Protocol, which is intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The protocol was negotiated at an international meeting in Japan, in 1997.

Europe’s leading ecumenical organization, the Conference of European Churches has sharply criticized the US decision, and has urged the European Union to make a strong response. At the same time, six senior Christian and Jewish leaders in the US have written to US President Bush requesting a meeting with him about his environmental policy, “especially around issues of climate change.”

Keith Jenkins, director of CEC’s Church and Society Commission, has written to Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister, Lena Hjelm-Wallen, about the US decision. Sweden currently holds the presidency of the European Union (EU), and Hjelm-Wallen is responsible for co-ordinating the Swedish government’s role as the head of the Council of Ministers of the EU.

Jenkins’ letter stated that the US decision “puts the narrowest national interest before global responsibility.” He called on the European Union and its member states to condemn “the short-sighted approach of the US government, reaffirm their common commitment to the aims of the Kyoto Treaty, maintain their own commitment to reducing emissions and take every step possible to convince the US government that it is in the long-term interests of all, including the people of the US, to control emissions before they do irreparable damage to the earth.”

Jenkins said that the Kyoto Treaty was “the best practical hope of undertaking a shared and proportionate responsibility for the effects of global warming.”

Asked whether the US decision to reject the treaty meant that the agreement was now dead, Jenkins said: “I think it’s too early to say if it’s absolutely dead. But obviously when a major player backs out, it is in doubt.” If the US, the European Union or Japan fail to ratify the treaty, “that makes it difficult to sustain.

“Our first concern as Europeans is to ensure that the European Union and other European states maintain their own commitment and are not pushed off course [by the US decision],” Jenkins said.

OPF Pro-Life booklet

The first in a series of OPF booklets was published in February. Towards a Consistent Pro-Life Ethic is based on the Winter 2000 issue of In Communion. The booklet includes essays by Michael Gorman, Nancy Forest, Renee Zitzloff, Jim Forest and Frederica Mathewes-Green.

This booklet came about because of a request from William MacDougall, a member of the Russian Orthodox cathedral parish in London active in efforts to save the lives of unborn children and to assist their mothers. The booklet was sent gratis to British legislators, including the 700 members of the House of Lords, one of whom — the Anglican bishop of Oxford — had made a statement that Christian opposition to abortion is entirely a modern phenomenon about which the early Church was silent. The cover letter on OPF stationery was written by two British members of the OPF advisory board, Bishop Kallistos and Bishop Basil:

Orthodox Christians in Britain have been greatly saddened by the debates in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords which resulted in the legalization of human cloning, albeit with therapeutic intention.

There is nothing in traditional Christian teaching which can be used to justify the decisions made in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

As you will appreciate, the sanctity of life from conception to natural death is a subject of importance to the hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians in Britain. We have therefore ventured to send you the enclosed document of Church teaching regarding abortion and embryology, which explains our point of view.

We appreciate that you are busy, but we would be grateful if you would read this booklet and keep it for reference. The subjects of abortion and embryology are bound to be debated again, and we feel it is important that our standpoint — shared as it is by many other Christians — should not be overlooked.