News: Winter 2007

An Orthodox Appeal Against New Nuclear Weapons

In December Dn. John Chryssavgis, representing Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, presented testimony before a hearing at the US Department of Energy, the agency responsible for nuclear weapons. He opposed development and production of a “new generation” of nuclear weapons. Extracts from his statement follow:

“As theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, I have observed how environmental protection and peaceful coexistence among nations define his worldwide ministry, as witnessed most recently by his joint declaration with Pope Benedict during the Papal visit to Turkey.

“Why is increasing nuclear armament still uncritically considered a viable option when the sheer costs are exorbitant: human, financial, environmental and moral? … If taxpayers continue subsidizing weapons development, nuclear waste disposal, insurance against accidents (human and ecological), and the decommissioning of older facilities, then the financial expense alone of nuclear arms removes them from contention.

“Nuclear weaponry absorbs enormous intellectual and physical resources, directing scientific research away from the promotion of authentic human values toward the production of destructive devices…

“Submitting to the temptation of nuclear solutions betrays the moral fabric of the soul that directs us to solutions that benefit the whole world (environmentally) in the long-term, not the few (economically) in the short-term…

“Not only is nuclear weaponry unsustainable; it is primarily destabilizing. With the increasing danger of international terrorism – and with the US’s rightful insistence against the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran – the sheer vulnerability of nuclear facilities and weapons, combined with their leverage in the acquisition of further nuclear weapons, ought not simply to encourage the reduction, but also to oblige the elimination of nuclear arms. Nuclear dissuasion (based on the logic of fear) is no longer a valid policy or strategy.

“At the level of security, it is time to move beyond refinement to reduction of arms; and to move beyond mere deterrence to elimination of nuclear weapons. How can we ever imagine a future of peace when interests and investments increase in production of nuclear weapons and the development of facilities? Simply put, security based on force is no more legitimate than peace based on terror…

“It is not only a matter of adhering to religious principles of peace, which is justifiably the primary focus of religious institutions. It is a matter of common sense. Our world has received glimpses of the threat of nuclear destruction. Yet, we continue to blunder along the present path with all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. A ‘Reliable Replacement Warhead’ program can be neither reliable nor responsible. What will it take for us to realize that it is not … ‘modernization’ but a return to outdated politics of fear and power. It does not simply affect specific regions or states, but ultimately threatens the security of the nation as a whole and indeed the entire planet.

“The question is … how serious we are as a nation to lead the world with an alternative vision, which interprets power differently and promotes peaceful coexistence globally. And the US surely has a unique and historical role to play for the sake of the planet’s survival and the life of future generations. At our present moral and strategic crossroads, the world needs to see the US enforce a step-by-step … reduction and even prohibition of nuclear facilities and weapons – not their replacement or refurbishment. It needs to see the US initiate cooperative security measures, not increasingly military security policies. Instead, what do they see? They see an unrestrained drive to impose absolute global superiority in weaponry. Yet, US action will invariably encourage and invite reaction from other nations. Perhaps it is time for self-reflection, for reconsideration of our grave political and moral responsibility on a global level.

“In spite of any skepticism regarding the efficacy of international institutions and instruments, building peace presupposes trust and cooperation. It implies perceiving the other as a partner and not as a threat, committing jointly to constraint and regulation. I have to wonder sometimes if the US cannot itself restore authority to international agencies and agreements. Have these agencies and agreements lost their credibility, or have we undermined this credibility?…

“Progressive and concerted decommissioning is the only viable pledge for long-term, moral, and courageous leadership.”

Iraqi Death Toll Exceeded 34,000 in 2006

The United Nations reported in January that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed in violence last year, a figure that represents the first comprehensive annual count of civilian deaths and a vivid measure of the failure of the Iraqi government and American military to provide security.

The report was the first attempt at hand- counting individual deaths for an entire year. It was compiled using reports from morgues, hospitals and municipal authorities across Iraq, and was nearly three times higher than an estimate for 2006 compiled from Iraqi ministry tallies by The Associated Press earlier this month.

Numbers of civilian deaths have become the central indicator for the trajectory of the war, and are extremely delicate for both Iraqi and American officials. Both follow the tallies, but neither will release them. The UN said it used only official sources, most of which relied on counts of death certificates. A vast majority of Iraqi deaths are registered, at least to local authorities, so that Iraqis can prove inheritance and receive government compensation. Some deaths still go unreported, however, and the United Nations tally may in fact be lower than the true number of deaths nationwide.

About Face: Soldiers Call for Iraq Withdrawal

For the first time since Vietnam, a robust movement of active-duty US military personnel has publicly surfaced to oppose a war in which they are serving. Those involved are petitioning Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq. Sixty percent of the signers have served in the Iraq war. Their statement is brief: “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.”

The appeal’s initiators are Jonathan Hutto and David Rogers. Hutto, 29, works in communications on an aircraft carrier. Rogers, 34, is quartermaster on a frigate. They’ve been friends since boot camp three years ago.

The petition was presented in January to Congressman Dennis Kucinich in January. “Just because you joined the military doesn’t mean your constitutional rights are suspended,” said Hutto, a petty officer third class and 1999 Howard University graduate. “True patriotism is having a questioning attitude about the government.”

The idea for the within-the-ranks antiwar group came after Hutto read Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War by David Cartwright. Hutto showed the book to Rogers. They invited Cartwright to come to Norfolk.

“I was so impressed by the seriousness of the discussion,” said Cartwright, who teach- es at the University of Notre Dame. He said “it takes guts for active military members to speak out, but they do it respectfully.”

Signers include:

Kevin Torres, 23, from Brooklyn, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne who has served two tours in Iraq. “I felt like with our being there, we were making more enemies,” he said. “The people hated us. They wanted us out of the city.”

Liam Madden, 22, a Marine sergeant from Vermont, spent seven months on the ground in Iraq. “I saw Iraq struggling to get on its feet and failing to do so – despite the best efforts of American military,” he said. “I have nothing against the military or my experience. It’s the policy I oppose.” One of the signers, Navy Lieut. Commander Mark Deaden of San Diego, enlisted in 1997 and is still considering the possibility of a Navy career. “So this was a very difficult decision for me to come to. I don’t take this decision lightly,” he says, but after two deployments in Iraq, he said that signing the Appeal was not only the right thing to do but also gave him personal closure. “I’m expressing a right of people in the military to contact their elected representatives, and I have done nothing illegal or disrespectful.”

Pope, Ecumenical Patriarch unite in Istanbul on “Christian Europe”

On a visit to Istanbul, Pope Benedict XVI prayed with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that progress would be made in overcoming ancient divisions.

“The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel,” said Benedict at a service on 30 November with Bartholomew. They met in the Church of St George on the feast of St. Andrew, the apostle and brother of St. Peter who preached after the death of Jesus in Constantinople, which is now Istanbul. Benedict and Bartholomew signed a joint declaration in which both noted the need to “preserve Christian roots” in European culture while remaining “open to other religions and their cultural contributions.”

In his homily, Bartholomew said, “We confess in sorrow that we are not yet able to celebrate the holy sacraments in unity.” Pope Benedict said his four-day trip to Turkey was aimed at resuming the process to full unity between the two oldest paths for Christianity, which remained divided, particularly over the degree of papal authority. The Ecumenical Patriarch has a special role among Orthodox bishops, though other Orthodox churches note his title in Latin is “primus inter pares” – first among equals. Part of their declaration was posted on the web site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (www.patriarchate.org). In it, the Pope and Bartholomew said, “We evaluated positively the path towards the shaping of the European Union. The key players in this huge endeavor will surely take into account all … non-negotiable rights, especially religious freedom, which is proof and assurance of respect for all other freedoms…

“In every initiative for union, minorities, with their cultural rights and religious distinctiveness, should be protected. In Europe, both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, while remaining open to other religions and their contribution to culture, should unite their efforts to safeguard Christian roots, traditions and values, in order to preserve respect for history and to also contribute to the culture of a future Europe.”

Pope, Greek Orthodox Leader Forge Anti-Secular Alliance

Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, agreed in December to join forces in defending Christian values against growing secularism in Europe.

In a joint declaration signed at the Vatican, the two leaders called for “constructive theological dialogue” on the road to Christian unity, appealed for an end to religious violence and reaffirmed the Churches’ opposition to abortion and euthanasia.

“We come,” Archbishop Christodoulos said, “to visit the eminent theologian and university professor, the assiduous researcher of ancient Greek thought and of the Greek Fathers of the East; but also the visionary of Christian unity and cooperation of religions to ensure the peace of the whole world.”

He said his visit offered the opportunity “to undertake a new stage on the common path of our Churches to address the problems of the present-day world.”

He expressed his commitment to “overcome the dogmatic obstacles that hinder the journey of unity in faith” until Orthodox and Catholics attain “full unity,” and can “commune in the precious Body and Blood of the Lord in the same Chalice of Life.”

“Europe,” Pope Benedict said, “cannot be an exclusively economic reality. Catholics and Orthodox are called to offer their cultural, and above all spiritual, contribution. It is necessary to develop cooperation between Christians in each country of the European Union, so as to face the new risks that confront the Christian faith, namely growing secularism, relativism and nihilism.”

The meeting was the first at the Vatican between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and Greece’s most senior cleric. Pope Benedict gave Archbishop Christodoulos two links of the chain with which Apostle Paul was held as a prisoner.

Met. Kirill Urges Orthodox to Stay with World Council of Churches

A senior Russian Orthodox bishop said in November that it was important for the Church to continue its participation in the World Council of Churches. Self-isolation would not serve the Church, he said in a radio interview in Moscow.

Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Department of External Church Affairs, told Radio Mayak that the World Council of Churches is the best forum for the Russian Orthodox Church to bear witness and understand the state of contemporary Christianity. “On that platform,” he said, “we have the opportunity to immediately, instantaneously, see what is happening in the Christian world … to form a clear understanding of where contemporary Christianity is heading, to bear witness to our position and convince others.” He was responding to a listener’s question during a call-in as part of the broadcast. Kirill spoke of the dangers of cutting ties with the world, both in the religious arena and beyond.

“If you take it further, then Russia should go into isolation, withdraw from the UN, from regional organizations,” he said. “Can we live in isolation in the modern world? This is suicide.”

Kirill described in Biblical terms the only acceptable reason for withdrawal from the WCC: “When we understand that the World Council of Church is ‘the council of the wicked’, then we will leave, but for now one doesn’t get this impression,” he said. [Sonia Kishkovsky/ENI]

British Christians, Muslims Unite to Keep Religion in Christmas

Britain’s Christian-Muslim Forum has strongly criticized moves to take the religious message out of Christmas in the country on the grounds that offence might be caused to members of other faiths. The forum, launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to promote interfaith relations, draws half its membership for the Muslim community.

It warned that attempts to remove religion from the Christmas festival acted to encourage right-wing extremism. Some local governments have tried to excise references to Christianity from Christmas. One renamed their municipal celebrations “Winterval”. The statement was signed by forum leaders including the Anglican Bishop of Bolton, David Gillett and Ataullah Siddiqui, director of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education. It noted that some local authorities had decided that Christmas should be called by another non-religious name. “As Muslims and Christians together we are wholeheartedly committed to the retention of specific religious recognition for Christian festivals,” their statement said, “Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we wish this significant part of the Christian heritage of the country to remain an acknowledged part of national life. The desire to secularize religious festivals is offensive to both communities.”

“Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianize British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme right. They provoke antagonism towards Muslims and others by foisting on them an anti-Christian agenda they do not hold.”

Some church leaders have criticized the British Post Office for issuing Christmas stamps with no Christian theme.

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the second highest person in the Church of England hierarchy, attacked “illiberal atheists, who under the cloak of secularism, insist that religion must be a private matter.”

Catholic and Orthodox Leaders Jointly Bless Icon

Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders in San Francisco came together in late November to bless an icon, and, in the process, help bridge a millennium-old divide. The two hierarchs together blessed a mosaic icon depicting the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Prior to the event, no Catholic archbishop of San Francisco is known to have participated in a service exclusively with a Greek Orthodox metropolitan, the equivalent of an archbishop. Both churches have been working for years to remedy their longtime tensions.

“We’re the spiritual children of our mother churches,” said Fr. Michael Pappas, pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco, where the event was held. Speaking before the service, Pappas said the local leaders’ actions were “a reflection of what is happening in Constantinople” (where Pope Benedict was visiting Patriarch Bartholomew).

“This is, after all, what Jesus instructed his disciples to do at the last supper,” Archbishop George Niederauer said in an interview before the service.

“That his followers be one, just as he and the father are one. We are trying to respond to that from our own perspective.”

Christian Population Shrinking in Holy Land

The death threat came on simple white fliers blowing down the streets at dawn. A group calling itself “Friends of Muhammad” accused a local Palestinian Christian of selling mobile phones carrying offensive sketches of the Muslim prophet.

While neighbors defended the merchant saying the charges in the flier were bogus, the frightened phone dealer went into hiding. Now he is thinking of going abroad.

The steady flight of the tiny Palestinian Christian minority that could lead to the faith being virtually extinct in its birthplace within several generations – a trend mirrored in many dwindling pockets of Christianity across the Islamic world.

But Christian populations are in decline nearly everywhere in Muslim lands, most notably in the Holy Land.

For decades, it was mostly economic pressures pushing Palestinian Christians to emigrate, using family ties in the West. The Palestinian uprisings – and the separation barrier started by Israel in 2002 – accelerated the departures by turning once-bustling pilgrimage sites such as Bethlehem into relative ghost towns.

The growing strength of radical Islamic movements has added distinct new worries. During the protests after the pope’s remarks in September, some of the worst violence was in Palestinian areas with churches fire- bombed and hit by gunfire.

“Most of the Christians here are either in the process of leaving, planning to leave or thinking of leaving,” said Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust, a Bethlehem-based peace group. “Insecurity is deep and getting worse.”

The native Palestinian Christian population has dipped below 2 percent of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem, down from at least 15 percent in 1950. The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land said Christians could become “extinct” in the region within 60 years. “It certainly doesn’t look good for us,” said Mike Salman, a Palestinian Christian who has conducted studies on demographic trends.

“Here is where Jesus was born and over there, across the hill in Jerusalem, is where he was crucified,” a Christian restaurant owner, Ibrahim Shomali, said. “We Christians now feel like we are on the cross.” Some are trying to change the momentum. Groups dedicated to Muslim-Christian cooperation are active.

During the protests over Benedict’s remarks, militiamen from Islamic Jihad vowed to protect a West Bank church. A poll released Oct. 18 by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found 91 percent of respondents opposed attacking churches to protest Benedict’s comments.

These days Palestinian Christians – dominated by Greek Orthodox and Latin rite churches – face questions about whether their hearts lie in their homeland or in the West. It gets even more complicated because of the strong support for Israel and Jewish settlers from American evangelical Christians.

“We are stuck in no man’s land,” said a leading Palestinian Christian activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of reported death threats.

“In the eyes of the West, we are Arabs. In the eyes of Arabs, we are a fifth column.” At the St. Theodosius Monastery, a site with a Christian history dating to the fifth century, the Greek Orthodox caretaker, Father Ierotheos, said he mostly remains behind the walls. He claims he was harassed by “Muslim fanatics” for speaking about Christian fears on a local television show. “It’s a jungle for us now,” he said.

US Prison Population Sets Record

In the USA, a record 7 million people – one in every 32 U.S. adults – were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to a Justice Department report released in Decameter.

Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year, according to the report. More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005. Prison releases are increasing, but admissions are increasing more.

Men still far outnumber women, but the female prison population is growing faster. Over the past year, the female population in state or federal prison increased 2.6 percent and the number of male inmates rose 1.9 percent. By year’s end, 7 percent of inmates were women.

The study found that racial disparities among prisoners persist. In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men – about one in 13 – are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men.

The figures are similar among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and more than three times as likely as white women to be in prison.

From 1995 to 2003, inmates incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth.

OCA “Stunned” by Extent of Financial Abuse

Leaders of the Orthodox Church in America, who had long resisted calls for an investigation, acknowledged in December a history of financial abuse at church headquarters in Syosset, NY.

“Large amounts of church funds were used to improperly pay for personal expenses,” said a statement issued by the Holy Synod of Bishops and the Metropolitan Council, a governing body of clergy and laity.

Church leaders heard from attorneys and accountants hired in March to investigate allegations raised by a former church treasurer and others. Their statement said they were “stunned by the magnitude of today’s revelations.”

“The severity of some of the problems could not be fully determined due to a lack of documentation. However, these abuses of church trust were determined to be centered on and around one individual and were not found to be widespread among the employees of the church,” the statement said. The report said financial controls had been circumvented since at least 1998. It cited “numerous unsubstantiated cash withdrawals.”

It said credit cards were abused, trips were reimbursed without proper documentation, there were attempts to divert money from charities and financial reports were poorly documented, untimely and sometimes even falsified.

“The Metropolitan Council will oversee the implementation of appropriate accounting procedures in the OCA’s accounting office, which will include the replacement of antiquated accounting systems,” the statement said.

“But the new direction is clear – changes need to be made in order to bring the church to the high level of accountability that is expected of it.”

The investigation will continue under a special committee led by Archbishop Job of Chicago. It will include Greg Nescott, a Pittsburgh attorney.

Mark Stokoe, a layman from Dayton, Ohio, whose Orthodox Christians for Ac- countability had documented the allegations on its Web site, was jubilant. He said he expected more details when the investigating committee reports next year.

“It’s a great day for the OCA,” he said. “It’s beginning to restore integrity to the institutions that have really been challenged. A lot of people had been losing hope that things could be changed. This shows they can be.”

Survey: 744,000 People Homeless in US in 2005

There were 744,000 homeless people in the United States in 2005, according to the an estimate issued in January by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

A little more than half were living in shelters, and nearly a quarter were chronically homeless. A majority of the homeless were single adults, but about 41 percent were in families.

The group compiled data collected by the Department of Housing and Urban Development from service providers through- out the country. It is the first national study on the number of homeless people since 1996.

Counting people without permanent addresses, especially those living on the street, is an inexact process. But the new study provides a baseline to help measure progress on the issue.

In Communion number 44 / Winter 2007