News Spring 2002

Peace appeal from heads of Churches in Jerusalem

In an appeal issued in March, the leaders of Churches in the Holy Land expressed their grief in seeing “more widows, orphans, mourning fathers and mothers on both sides. We deplore the increase of injured people because of killing, shelling bombarding, violence and incursions.”

“We believe that the key to a just peace is in the hands of both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. War shelling and destruction will not bring justice and security; rather it will intensify hatred and bitterness.

“We believe that Israeli and Palestinian peoples are called to be partners in an historic peace. We would confirm that we care for the security of both Peoples just as we care for the security of every human being. But the way the present Israeli Government is dealing with the situation makes neither for security nor for a just peace. We believe that the Israeli security is dependant on the Palestinian freedom and justice.

“For this reason, we join our voices with every Israeli and Palestinian seeking for a just peace. We ask everyone to take the appropriate measures to stop further massacres or tragedies for our two peoples. We want to say a frank, honest word to the Israeli conscience and the Israeli Government asking that you stop all kinds of destruction and death caused by the heavy Israeli weaponry. What assurance can be offered to a people deprived of freedom, self-determination, sovereignty and equality with every Israeli citizen? To the Palestinian people we urge an end of every kind of violent response.

“We believe that the way of peace is the way of negotiation. If there is a strong will for making peace all the pending disputed problems will find a dignified solution.”

Any religious support of actions that result in the killing of the innocent, they said, is a “desecration” of God’s name.

Patriarch Bartholomeos: “Most Muslims want peace”

Patriarch Bartholomeos told students at the Hellenic College near Boston that, while the world says “some circles” of Islam are at war with the West, Islam itself is not inherently violent. Visiting the college in March, Bartholomeos said he sees signs of increased openness toward religious tolerance in the Muslim world. He called the terrorist acts of Sept. 11 “exploitation of religion” and said religion must be a unifying force in society.

“In Islam, as in other religions, too, there are extremists, there are conservatives, there are people abusing the notion of religion,” the patriarch said. However, he added, religions must promote peace, because “a religion which divides, which preaches hatred, is not an authentic religion; it is a caricature of religion.”

Bartholomeos acknowledged the tension between Islam and the West, saying “some circles of Islam seem to be in conflict, but on the other side, the majority of the Muslim people want to have good relations with Christians, and they do.” Bartholomeos cited as evidence his recent visit to Iran, where he agreed to help organize an exhibit of Christian icons, a concert of Christian music, and a symposium on mysticism in Christianity and Islam.

“War in the name of religion is war on religion”

“The tragic events of September 11 have given rise to the demand for us to reveal to all nations the peaceful and peace-loving God and to erase the impression that God blesses bloodshed,” Patriarch Bartholomeos said at a December meeting of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Brussels arranged by the European Union.

“We and the religions that we represent have been criticized for bearing responsibility for catastrophic and bloody disputes between people. We stand charged with leading civilizations into bloodshed and competition for dominance,” Bartholomeos said. “War in the name of religion is war on religion.”

He said it was necessary to differentiate between true faith and the teaching of each of these religions and the “various false teachers who appear to express God’s will but are nothing but simple expressions of human opinions regarding His will.”

“The fact that there are so many conflicting opinions which claim to express Divine Will makes it obvious that not all of them can be right,” he added. “The New Testament does not refer extensively to war, but there is much regarding peace, and Christians are called upon to maintain this peace as well as is possible. The Old Testament and Koran, also, though they refer extensively to war, make it absolutely clear that peace belongs to a higher moral plane.”

Russian Church leader visits Iraq

With the United States considering military action against Iraq, the Russian Orthodox Church’s head of external relations, in mid-March Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the External Affairs Department of the Russian Orthodox Church, embarked on his first visit to the Arab country to meet with several Iraqi government ministers as well as both Muslim and Christian religious leaders. Kirill said he would discuss the humanitarian situation in the country and hand over medical supplies to a Baghdad hospital.

“With full understanding of the importance of international monitoring of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the Russian Orthodox Church is at the same time concerned with the situation of Iraq’s peaceful population, which lives in extreme poverty and is deprived of adequate health care as a result of extremely harsh economic sanctions.”

Bartholomeos visits Iran

During a four-day visit to Iran that ended in mid-January, Patriarch Bartholomeos called on Muslim and Christian leaders to do their part to relieve world tension.

“Dialogue is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. Religious leaders should play a key role in extinguishing tensions and working for peace,” said Bartholomeos.

It was the first visit to Iran by an Orthodox patriarch since the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

“We should listen to other people with care and sincerity, and a readiness for understanding and broad agreement, without arrogance or fanaticism, so that dialogue may overcome prejudices and all which impedes peaceful coexistence.”

The patriarch led a service in Tehran’s Greek Orthodox Church and met members of Iran’s biggest Christian denomination, the Armenian Apostolic Church, in the country’s historic capital, Isfahan. He also held talks with Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, and its supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian leaders have recently hinted at concessions to religious minorities, most of which have suffered discrimination in work and education since priests and ministers were forced to leave after the 1979 revolution.

Steep rise in gun sales reflects post-attack fears

Gun and ammunition sales across the USA rose sharply after September 11.

According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, surveys by firearms associations and anecdotal evidence from storefront gun shops and distributors from Arizona to Florida to Lower Manhattan, the jump in weapons sales followed quickly on the first jarring images of the terrorist attacks. The rise was anywhere from 9 percent to nearly 22 percent during September, October and November, according to F.B.I. statistics.

Some gun manufacturers are aggressively seeking new clients since Sept. 11. Ithaca Gun Company is selling its Homeland Security model for “our current time of national need.” The Beretta gun company has its “United We Stand,” a pistol bearing a laser-etched American flag.

The American gun industry has been in a general decline over the last three decades as the popularity of sport hunting has waned and fewer young people have been introduced to firearms. Low crime rates and a buoyant economy are also thought to have contributed to the downturn in gun ownership.

Still, the vast number of weapons already loosed upon American streets often wind up in the hands of those with insufficient training, gun control advocates say. And they stay in circulation for years. “We will see the ultimate consequences of that down the road when we see death and injuries that are associated with the proliferation of handguns,” said Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit gun control group in Washington.

He said most guns would sit on closet shelves or in glove compartments, never used to fight crime, let alone terrorism. “What are you going to do, shoot an envelope filled with anthrax or stop a 747 with a handgun?” he asked. “It’s crazy.”

Russian draftees given civilian service option

Young people have been assigned by the Nizhny Novgorod Draft Commission to alternative civilian service as medics in the First City Hospital rather than serve in the army.

In January, 21 draftees signed an alternative civilian contract that provides for two years of alternative service in a municipal hospital. An eight-hour working day, five-day work week was established for them. They will receive the wages of junior medical personnel.

Nizhny Novgorod is the only city in Russia where an experimental introduction of alternative civilian service is being conducted.

In the opinion of city Mayor Yury Lebedev, introduction of alternative service will give young people the legal right to serve in accordance with their convictions and for the city’s interests in social institutions, and it will make the first step on the countrywide level toward the formation of a professional army and construction of a democratic society.

Anti-Semitism decreasing, says Russia’s chief rabbi

Only six acts of vandalism have been registered in Russia’s synagogues and Jewish cemeteries over the past six months, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar told the Russian news agency, Interfax, in March. “There were times when synagogues were vandalized and cemeteries desecrated virtually every week.” State anti-Semitism has been eradicated and the level of anti-Semitism at the everyday level is lowering in this country, he said.

Lazar discussed problems worrying the Jewish community with President Vladimir Putin and Minister for Nationalities Vladimir Zorin.

“The Jewish community is rapidly growing, and new Jewish organizations — religious and cultural — are being established,” he said. Moscow’s Jewish community has at least 500,000 members, but there are only four synagogues in the city, Lazar said, adding that there are a lot more synagogues in other European capitals.

The Russian ethnic Jewish community is the world’s second largest, after the ethnic Jewish community in the U.S. Therefore American Jews, including business people, are greatly interested in Russia, Lazar said. “They are well aware,” he continued, “that no rollback to communism is possible and that they may trust Russia.”

Church hails Putin decree on clergy’s military service

The Russian Orthodox Church has hailed a presidential decree that allows the deferral of military conscription for clerics, a spokesman said in January.

President Vladimir Putin’s decree is “a reasonable and timely measure” and “is above all in the interests of society,” said Viktor Malukhin, of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“One can easily imagine a parish where there has been no priest for a long time, and a newly-appointed one is called up into the armed forces, disappearing for several years, and does not serve where his activity could bring the greatest benefit.

“If the law permits deferment of service in the armed forces for those who have disabled parents or two children, there is an even more urgent need for people who have spiritual responsibility for hundreds of people who need spiritual assistance.”

Russia has “an enormous shortage of Orthodox priests,” Malukhin said. “If this shortage numbers several dozen vacancies in Moscow alone, what can one say about those places that only missionary trains and steamers reach?”

Malukhin deplored the fact that priests and seminary students who are drafted serve in ordinary military units. “It would solve the problem to introduce the status of regimental priest, as was the case before the revolution, especially because there is an urgent need for them in the modern Russian armed forces,” he said.

Bishop protests oppression of Serbs in Kosovo

An open letter issued in January by Metropolitan Christopher, head of the Episcopal Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States of America and Canada, drew attention to the “violence and barbarity of Albanian extremists” aimed at the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

“Kosovo Serbs have been openly urged to participate in voter registration and in past elections in return for guarantees from the UN Mission in Kosovo. Despite strong participation in the electoral process, little has changed in terms of basic rights and indeed, in the very right to life itself. Organized crime and discrimination against non-Albanians is epidemic; 200,000 Serbs (two thirds of the prewar Serb population) have fled; 50,000 Roma, Slav Moslems, Croat Catholics and others had to leave; more than 1,000 Serbs have been killed; over 1,200 abducted and are still missing. This is ethnic cleansing of the first order.

“Approximately 120,000 Serbs lost employment overnight; the Serbian language is completely banished from public life; all Serb inscriptions have been systematically removed; thousands of Serb books in public libraries have been burned; Serb cultural monuments, including 110 churches and monasteries have been destroyed; and Albanians greatly pressure Serbs to sell their property under threats and extortion. Refusals result in example torching, killings and grenade attacks. When will it end?

“Kosovo is still ruled by apartheid. We agree with President Kostunica who stated: ‘Kosovo Albanians must decide if they envisage a serious change of policy towards peace and stabilization . . or whether they intend to continue to live within a context of violence’.”

Christopher appealed to President Bush, and Secretary of State Colin Powell “to do what is vitally necessary in moving the United Nations and NATO to act swiftly and decisively against terrorism in Kosovo and Metohija, restoring civilized law and order, returning all the refugees to their homes, and together working toward peace in the world.”

Sanctity of Life appeal from Metropolitan Theodosius

In a message read from pulpits on Sanctity of Life Sunday in January, Metropolitan Theodosius of the Orthodox Church in America said that the events of September 11 “redefined the very meaning of indiscriminate violence, inhuman brutality, and disrespect for the precious gift of life. At the same time, they have challenged us all the more to proclaim the sanctity of human life and to recommit ourselves to protecting this most sacred gift.

“Human life — and therefore the human person — can only be fully understood in relationship to God, the Source and Giver of Life, the One Who is Life Itself. It is the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, whose life has been destined from all eternity to be holy and blameless.

“Paradoxically, while our society continues to grieve the senseless loss of innocent life witnessed on September 11, it continues to condone the taking of innocent life through abortion. And the increasing interest in and support for the harvesting of human embryos, medically assisted suicide, capital punishment, and related issues provide a frightening image into the ongoing devaluation of the human person and the sacred gift of life.

“As Orthodox Christians, we must continue to proclaim and, at this point in history, to proclaim with renewed conviction and commitment, that all life is a participation in and reflection of the One Who is Life Itself. But if we are to transform the collective heart and mind of our society, we must begin by transforming our own hearts and minds. And we must employ every positive means at our disposal to engage those with whom we live, work, and interact to understand that life is indeed a holy gift, one which must never be destroyed for any reason.”

OCA Synod opposes cloning of human embryos

The Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America issued a statement in January expressing “firm opposition to creation of cloned embryos, either for reproductive purposes for so-called therapeutic purposes… Although the latter is usually judged acceptable even where the former is condemned, we urge recognition of a basic truth: All cloning is reproductive.”

Challenging the notion that pre-implantation embryos are merely cellular and not human life, the hierarchs stated that “scientifically and biologically, all human cellular life is by definition human life,” constituting “an actual organic unity, a specific and unique human individual, endowed with human nature and bearing the image of God.”

“The fact that much in the life of an embryo is potential does not alter its nature as a human being,” the bishops continued. “Because the DNA or genetic code is fully present from the onset of embryonic growth, unique and individually differentiated human life is fully present, even though it has not been expressed as specific organs or capacities, and even though it may twin to produce multiple offspring.”

The statement calls for a legal ban on nuclear transfer and parthenogenesis, which it sees as “inherently immoral,” adding that “we may not use evil means to achieve good ends; therefore we may not kill human embryos, even to make possible life-saving or life-enhancing therapies.”

The bishops noted that research on “harvesting of stem cells from adult tissue and from the blood of umbilical cords,” which have “proven to be as potentially useful for therapeutic purposes,” should be supported with public (government) funding.

“Laws, such as exist in Western European nations, covering the private sector as well as government-funded institutions, should be passed to prohibit all human cloning and embryonic cell research.”

Study Finds Link Between TV and Violence

Teenagers and young adults who watch more than an hour of television daily are more likely to commit violent crimes and engage in other forms of aggressive behavior later, according to a report published in the April issue of the journal Science. The investigators, led by Dr. Jeffrey Johnson of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, followed children in 707 families in two counties in northern New York State for 17 years. The researchers found that adolescents and young adults who watched television for more than seven hours a week had an increased likelihood of committing an aggressive act in later years. When adjusted for factors like differences in income, the increased likelihood fell between 16 percent and 116 percent.

“By decreasing exposure to media violence, we may be able to prevent millions of Americans from being raped and murdered,” Dr. Johnson said in an interview.

Studies, arguments and concern about the effects of television and televised violence date from 1946, when television sets began to come into use in American homes. In 1972, the United States surgeon general wrote that “televised violence, indeed, does have an adverse effect on certain members of our society.” Over the years, a variety of professional groups, including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have issued similar statements.

But now, said Dr. Leonard Eron, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and a pioneer in the study of television’s effects on behavior, “this shows that adolescents and young adults are also affected.”

“My own feeling was that children are very impressionable and that this is the way they learn — by watching others,” Dr. Eron said.