News Winter 2002

Orthodox memorial services at Manhattan’s Ground Zero

As Metropolitan Theodosius, head of the Orthodox Church in America, and other Orthodox clergy made their way to Manhattan’s “Ground Zero” on September 19, they encountered a lone woman keeping vigil for her three grown children from whom she had heard nothing since the September 11 attack destroyed the twin towers in which her children had worked. “I just want something, anything, that I can bury,” she said to Fr. Christopher Calin, of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Cathedral in lower Manhattan. “I don’t think they’ll find them, but I need something to bury.”

“We entered the area through a check point, at which we were asked for identification and then we were given red badges,” Met. Theodosius said. “Our eyes began to burn as we made our way past blocks of damaged cars, chunks of cement, broken glass, and choking dust.”

The group made its way to the site of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, destroyed when the first tower collapsed. Here two Greek Orthodox priests in the group found a barely damaged icon of St. Nicholas resting on the rubble. Afterward there was a brief Memorial Service for those who had lost their lives in the attack.

“I was overwhelmed by the respect and gratitude the workers at the site displayed during, and especially after, we prayed,” Met. Theodosius said. “They couldn’t stop thanking us for our presence and prayers.”

“In the midst of a war zone brought about by pure evil, pure hatred, the workers were living proof that love is indeed greater than hatred, no matter how diabolical,” he said. “Some had taken time off from their jobs, without pay, to perform this work of charity for the sake of those they had never even met.”

Five days later Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, led a memorial service at the ruins at St. Nicholas Church. Assisting in the service was Fr. John Romas, pastor of the destroyed church.

Fr. Romas had tried since September 11 to get permission to look for relics of St. Nicholas, St. Sava and St. Katherine. Each year on the feast days of the saints, Orthodox faithful venerated the bone fragments kept in a gold-plated box. The ossuary is in a fireproof safe. On Sept. 24, they found only a charred cross and a twisted brass candelabra. “With God’s help we will rebuild St. Nicholas as a memorial for all of those who lost their lives in the attack,” said Fr. Romas.

The parish, founded in 1916, was long a magnet for Greek sailors. Workers from the twin towers and other office buildings often stopped there to pray. “When you stepped inside, you felt like you were in a Greek village church right in the heart of downtown New York,” said Peter Drakoulias, a Greek-American who had planned to get married at St. Nicholas in November. (There is a web site with information about the parish: www.stnicholasnyc.org.)

Anastasios warns against use of faith to fuel hatred

Speaking in Athens in November, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania said that “the holy oil of religion must not be used to fuel hatred.” He said that “all crimes in the name of religion are crimes against religion.” He expressed support for a conference of religious leaders to consider the role of religion in combating terrorist acts carried out in the name of religion. “It is important for us to say religion should not be used to promote violence,” said the prelate of Albania’s Orthodox Church. “Terrorism violates the essence of religion,” he said.

He called for long-term dialogue. “Inter-faith dialogue has gone on for years. Such meetings should be as numerous and as credible as possible… To be able to meet, make joint statements and bring a spirit of dialogue back to our countries is useful. Personal contacts play a role and can help to avoid many misunderstandings.”

As leader of an ethnically mixed church in a religiously mixed region, Anastasios has had to grapple with the Balkan diplomatic tightrope since the Ecumenical Patriarchate sent him as envoy to Albania in 1991 and later elected him archbishop. His archdiocese was also active in relief efforts for Muslim refugees during the 1999 Kosovo crisis.

A former Athens University professor of religious studies with nearly four decades of missionary experience in Africa, Anastasios is well known and admired in Greece for his effective work in rebuilding the Albanian Church from scratch after decades of persecution.

Archbishop Christodoulos says terrorists untypical of Islam

Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece said in late September that terrorists were not typical of the Islamic faith. “This is not the true picture of Islam, the one that appears on the face of a terrorist,” Christodoulos told churchgoers in the Athens suburb of Aghii Anargyri. “We must not allow ourselves to harbor hatred or even suspicion for the entire Moslem world, the overwhelming majority of which is moderate,” the archbishop said.

Appeal of Patriarch Pavle for a multicultural Kosovo

In September Serbia’s Patriarch Pavle sent an appeal to leaders of France, Italy, the USA, Britain, Russia and Greece as well as to the heads of the UN, NATO, the European Union and UNESCO, renewing his appeal for safeguarding minorities in a multi-cultural Kosovo and also protecting Orthodox monasteries and churches.

Pavle emphasized that for years the Serbian Orthodox Church has sought peace and forgiveness for all the peoples of the Balkans, regardless of their nationality or religion. “However, recent news suggests that unrest, suffering and destruction are not only continuing but spreading from the northwest to the southeast of the Balkans, having as their chief cause the growth of Albanian terrorism. Despite many appeals, the Monastery of Matejce… was gravely damaged while being used as a base by terrorists. The Monastery of Lesak near Tetovo was completely destroyed. And the Church of St. George in Mala Resica, also in the Tetovo area, was seriously damaged.

“It is clear that what is happening is no longer a battle for human rights but a battle for territory and the change of internationally recognized borders by means of terrorism and ethnic cleansing of the non-Albanian population. The Albanian extremists and terrorists do not want an end to clashes and a peaceful solution to all problems; they want the flames of war to continue to spread even further.”

Pavle appealed to those receiving the letter to do all in their power to end suffering and destruction in the ravaged Balkans so that “the time of death, devastation and tears be replaced by a time of birth, construction, tolerance and peace.”

Settling conflicts without war is possible

Civilians are increasingly the victims of the world’s armed conflicts, said Scilla Elworthy, head of the Oxford Research Group, speaking in London in November.

In the 20th century, more than 100 million people died in war, writes Elworthy. At the start of the century, military personnel accounted for four-fifths of the deaths, and civilians one-fifth. By the end of the century, it was the other way round.

Elworthy argues that the “vast majority” of conflicts are now within, not between, nations. Quoting the US State Department, she says that “in some countries it is easier and cheaper to buy an AK47 than… provide a decent meal.”

Fifty cases of nonviolent conflict resolution are described in a new book by Dylan Mathews: War Prevention Works. One successful intervention cited was in Serbia where the nonviolent student group Otpor grew into a mass movement in the forefront of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. Its poster campaigns and creative acts of theater helped break down fear. For the 2000 presidential election, Otpor trained two election monitors for every polling station, making it impossible for Milosevic to rig the results.

In another case, the Vatican headed off a war between Argentina and Chile over the disputed Beagle Channel and kept the peace during prolonged negotiations between 1978 and 1984. The eventual settlement was helped by political changes in both countries, but the Vatican played a pivotal role through direct mediation. It also succeeded in “buying enough time… to enable the political climate to change.”

“But for every one of these successful interventions, many others failed for lack of funds or resources,” Elworthy comments. She points out that nonviolent conflict intervention is very poorly funded. NATO member countries spend $430 billion a year on defense, according to Elworthy — 215,000 times the size of the budget of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the region’s main intergovernmental conflict resolution organization.

Nearly half the interventions described in War Prevention Works were carried out by people with a spiritual basis for their activities. (War Prevention Works: 50 Stories of People Resolving Conflicts by Dylan Mathews; the Oxford Research Group, UK. ISBN 0-9511361-6-X.)

Russian Orthodox Church condemns embryo cloning

The Russian Orthodox Church has condemned cloning human embryos. Any Orthodox believers who engage in cloning human embryos will be excommunicated.

“The destruction of embryos is equal to an abortion, hence, to murder,” said Fr. Anthony Ilyin, an official representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, at a press conference in Moscow November 26. The statement followed the announcement of successful cloning by a company in the USA, Advanced Cell Technology.

“We condemn therapeutic, as well as reproductive, cloning because the embryo from the moment of conception can be considered the carrier of human dignity and blessed with the gift of life,” Father Antony Ilyin.

Claims that the research would allow collection of stem cells was hypocrisy, he said, as another source of stem cells already exists in bone marrow, blood and other parts of the body which did not “involve human sacrifice.”