News (Pascha 2010)

Black priest in a white town

When he moved back home to Ash Grove, Missouri, in 1998, Father Moses Berry – an African-American Orthodox priest – wanted to settle down to small-town life with his wife and two children. He did not intend to become a one-man racial reconciliation committee. But some residents of this nearly all-white, rural town of 1,400 people say that he has done just that. He has not only founded a parish but also a black history museum. He has tried to remind people of a part of the region’s often-forgotten past, and to open up hearts and minds along the way.

“He brings peace to people. I’ve seen it,” said Gail Emrie, a local history buff who helped get the Berry family’s 135-year-old cemetery – one of the region’s few black cemeteries not on a plantation – listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “It is reconciliation, and it is his mission, reconciliation of our history between the races.” She is grateful for the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum that Father Moses opened in 2002. “Every little town down here could use this.”
“The cool thing about him is that anybody who has trepidation about the subject, he’s instantly disarming, so he gets people to open up a lot about it,” says neighbor Dakota Russell. “There’s an assumption when it’s a black person talking about racial issues that it’s going to come down to you versus us. But as it says on his museum’s web site, it’s a ‘shared heritage’.”
Father Moses, 59, has spent much of his life on a spiritual quest that began in San Francisco in the late 1960s. He was ordained in 1988 by an Orthodox church that he now regards as uncanonical. In 2000 he became a priest of the Orthodox Church in America.

He returned to the family home in 1998 after inheriting a 40-acre farm. At the time, he had no plan of starting an Orthodox church in a town, still less of opening a museum. “We thought my wife would teach while I studied to become an emergency medical technician.”

After he told a few friends that he wanted to have a prayer service in a shed at the cemetery, and a dozen people showed up, he decided to start the Theotokos “Unexpected Joy” Orthodox Church. It has grown into a congregation with about 50 members that holds services in a new cypress building on three acres of his farm.

The historical work also came unexpectedly, he said, when he started showing the memorabilia his family had collected over the years, and people responded positively.

He sees his church and his historical work as inextricably linked. “It’s all bound up in my faith,” he said. “That is, that we are all children of God and that we do have a shared heritage and not just a national heritage.”

The work has not been easy. When he first broached the idea of the museum, some relatives and friends said it might be a dangerous undertaking. Indeed, some locals were not happy, said Larry Cox, the town barber, who is white. “People would say, ‘Hey, that’s in the past. Why does he have to talk about it? We can’t do nothing about it’.”

Father Moses’ original idea was to put the museum inside the town’s former black school. He acquired the unused building and had it dismantled into sections, but as yet he hasn’t been able to raise the $15,000 needed to reconstruct it on his land. The pieces now sit in a field by his home with the museum housed in a storefront downtown.

Father Moses personally escorts visitors through the museum, showing his family’s photos on the walls and explaining the history behind each, including his account of how his great-grandmother Marie Boone, of mixed race, was born a slave.
There are quilts Marie Boone made to help those traveling north on the Underground Railroad and a slave neck iron that Father Moses’ great-grandfather kept after he was freed.

Father Moses always puts the eight-pound iron around his own neck first before inviting to visitors to try it on.
“I don’t want other people to run this museum because it’s too delicate, this issue of slavery,” he said. “I’ve tried having other people run this, but they get stuck on, ‘Oh, this is a horrible thing the white man did,’ which causes resentment. I want to explain it and bring them from suffering to freedom.” [Sean D. Hamill / NY Times]

Moscow fans exchange Paschal greeting at sports match

On Easter, fans exchanged Paschal greetings with each other at a Sunday evening soccer match at Moscow’s Lokomotiv Stadium.

At the beginning of the second half of the match thousands of fans of Dynamo team started chanting “Christ is Risen!” Thousands of fans of Lokomotiv team, on the opposite side of the stadium, responded by chanting “Truly He is Risen!” The exchange took place several times.

An Interfax correspondent who has attended soccer matches for almost 50 years said it was the first known occurrence of this kind in the history of Russian soccer.

Georgia: Convicts trade prison cells for monastic life

As part of a plan to reduce overcrowding in prison, well-behaved convicts in the Republic of Georgia are being offered the chance to finish their sentences in a monastery. One such prisoner, Tariel Maizeradze, now takes part in daily services, even assisting in the sanctuary. Tariel, 50, was sentenced in 2006 to seven years for offences he had committed while working as a policeman. After four years behind bars and barbed wire, he is now free to roam the monastic grounds – a pine forest on the outskirts of the city – as one of the first candidates in a government-led rehabilitation programme.

“I start every day in prayer,” he told a BBC reporter in March. “Then I feed the chickens and sheep. During the afternoon I usually sit together with the other monks and we discuss our faith.” He also takes part in Bible study, bee-keeping, gardening and playing with the monks’ pet bear.

Father Saba, the abbot, says he is ready to accept anyone prepared to ask for forgiveness, including murderers. “With God’s help, we are ready to welcome criminals who confess their sins and want to become better people.”
Although the scheme is being organized and funded by the Georgian government, the initiative came from the Georgian Orthodox Church. The government sees this project as a better way to rehabilitate some of Georgia’s 22,000 prisoners. Tato Kelbakiani of Georgia’s penitentiary department said that jails need reform.

Serbian Church Elects New Patriarch

The bells at Belgrade’s Cathedral Church rang out in January to announce the election of Bishop Irinej of Nis as new patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The 79-year-old bishop promised he would carry the “burden and all the problems of my awesome and difficult duty together with my fellow bishops.”
He succeeds Patriarch Pavle, who died in November at the age of 95. Pavle had headed the church for almost 20 years, a period that included the ethnic wars of the 1990s, which accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Irinej will have to face long-lasting issues such as relations with the Vatican and churches in Macedonia and Montenegro that are seeking independence. Irinej has said he will not oppose a visit to Serbia by Pope Benedict, a welcome not all bishops support.

Bartholomew responds to ‘ecumenical heresy’ charge

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued an encyclical in February in which he vigorously stressed the need for increased dialogue between churches, countering accusations that ecumenism is heresy.
“Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world,” said Bartholomew. “The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue.”

The Church does not protect itself from heresy, Bartholomew said, by refusing to talk to those outside the Church. “If Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the ‘catholic’ and ‘ecumenical’ Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a ‘ghetto” on the margins of history…

“Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. This dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible.”
The aim of dialogue, he said, “is to discuss, in a spirit of love, whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.

“These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in a fanatical way … by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy, as if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church…

“Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue.”

A-bombed statue of the Virgin Mary brought to New York

The remains of a statue of the Virgin Mary that survived the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki 65 years ago will be exhibited in New York in May during a 26-day international conference in New York which will work to curb arms proliferation.

Nagasaki was and remains the national center of the Catholic Church in Japan. Apart from the head, the wooden statue, which once stood in city’s Urakami Cathedral, was destroyed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. The cathedral was reduced to rubble. Hiroshima was the first city to suffer a nuclear bombing. Nagasaki suffered a similar fate three days later.    The statue will first be seen during Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 2 May. The service will form part of a visit to New York by Nagasaki’s Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, himself an A-bomb survivor.
In February, Takami and the Catholic bishop of Hiroshima, Joseph Atsumi Misue, appealed to world leaders for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

Takami was born in Nagasaki in March 1946. His mother was pregnant with him when the city was bombed, causing the death of about 74,000.

The two bishops said that the sin of the atomic bombings in the two cities “should be borne not only by the United States” but “also the other countries, including Japan, which have kept on waging wars throughout their history.”

Russian and Polish churches initiate talks

In March, Poland’s Catholic Church launched its first dialogue with Russian Orthodox leaders in an effort to rebuild relations between the two countries. Archbishop Muszynski said that the Warsaw talks had been arranged at the “personal initiative” of Moscow Patriarch Kirill, and had focused on the “special duties of both churches towards their societies” as majority denominations in their countries.

“Both churches must recognize,” the archbishop said, “that the Polish and Russian nations are divided by very difficult, unresolved issues from the past, as well as by great misunderstandings… I am sure we will nevertheless be able to prepare a joint historic document together which will serve as a common testimony of our churches.” Both churches, he said, shared the experience of Communist-era sufferings and held similar positions on social and moral issues.

“Although these were introductory talks, key problems of mutual interest were discussed, and it was agreed to start work on a joint document about our churches’ contribution to the labor of reconciliation,” representatives of the two Churches said in a joint statement.

Themes for future dialogue had been agreed upon, which would be handled by a bilateral commission of both churches.
Poles have often criticized Russia’s silence regarding mass deportations and executions which followed the occupation of their country by the Soviet Army during the Second World War.

Christians, Muslims issue religious freedom plan

Christian and Muslim leaders from the United States, the Vatican and the Middle East issued a “plan of action” in March to address religious freedom and peace-building after a three-day summit at Washington National Cathedral. Areas of common ground include commitment to the sacredness of human life, overcoming terrorism and violence, and the right to religious convictions. A follow-up conference is planned for next year.

“The worship of God who demands serious moral purpose is at the very core of Christianity and Islam,” the statement reads. “Therefore, religious leaders must cooperatively work with each other and the political leaders in their respective countries in response to these crises.”

At a news conference, leaders of the summit said their three days of discussion included disagreements, but resulted in a statement on shared principals.

“I think this is a demonstration that religion is not something abstract,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Tauran described “proselytism” as imposing, rather than proposing, tenets of a faith.

Ahmad El Tayeb, president of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, said that, while “we don’t have a magic stick to solve all these problems,” the dialogue helped build tolerance among the different faiths even as tensions remain.

The final statement urges religious advocacy “particularly in situations where formal diplomatic talks have stalled.” It also opposes moral relativism, the oppression of women and children, and attacks on sacred places.

“To dismiss or demean another faith tradition, to impose a system of belief on others, or to proselytize them to change their beliefs, is a violation of the sacred dignity of the human person.”

Orthodox Church in Russia increases work with prisoners

The Russian Orthodox Church has introduced a special clergy department to help improve the notoriously oppressive situation in the country’s prisons, Patriarch Kirill announced in March.

About 900,000 prisoners are currently held in the country’s prisons. The new department will work to create parishes in each penitentiary

“It often happens that in prison a man who once lost his footing turns into a recidivist, a person who can’t imagine living in society,” Kirill said.

“The Church must work for each prisoner’s conversion.”

The new department is headed by Bishop Krosnogorsky Irinarkh, previously in charge of the Perm and Solikamsk episcopates.

European campaign to keep Sunday free of work

More than 70 organizations , including churches, trades unions and civil society groups, met in the European Parliament in Brussels in March for the first European Conference on a work-free Sunday. The meeting concluded with an appeal to the heads of governments, due to meet the following day in the European Council, for a Sunday free of work for all European citizens.

Rev. Rüdiger Noll, director of the Church and Society Commission of the European churches, argued that work-free Sundays also benefitted secular society:

“The protection of a work-free Sunday is of paramount importance for workers’ health, for the reconciliation of work and family life, as well as for the life of civil society as a whole. This common weekly day of rest serves to strengthen social cohesion in our societies, a cohesion severely undermined by the current economic crisis. More than any other day of the week, a free Sunday offers the opportunity to be with family and friends. Common free time is an important precondition for a participatory society, which allows its members to engage in civil activities.”

Earlier in March, Martin Kastler, a European Parliament member for Germany’s co-governing Christian Social Union, launched the EU’s first international citizens’ referendum to restore Sunday as a day for rest and family life. “This is the right time to show that, as European citizens, we want to involve ourselves not only through elections but also in other ways,” said Kastler. “Europe should be the most child-friendly region in the world, so people from different political and social backgrounds should rally behind the protection of Sunday.”

In Germany, a public campaign has been launched which has as its theme, “Mum and Dad belong to us on Sunday.” This campaign, Kastler said, “should build up huge public pressure. In this way, no one will be able to ignore us. The work-free Sunday is part of our European culture. We need time for our families and relationships, for civil society and religion. A life full of working days is unlikely to be fulfilling.”

Calls for the preservation of work-free Sundays have increased in the 27 countries of the European Union, where many shops and businesses now routinely require staff to turn up on weekends without extra pay.
A Europe-wide campaign, “Mum and Dad belong to us on Sunday,” has been launched.

‘Banker to poor’ urges new financial structures

At a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, held in April, Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for championing microcredit loans to the poor, called for a the re-invention of global financial systems to reduce poverty and protect the underprivileged. A new system, he said, could allow those excluded from mainstream banking to access credit that would enable them to live in dignity.

“We want to make sure our fellow human beings can stand on their feet with pride and dignity no matter where they live,” Yunus said at the opening of the four-day Africa-Middle East Microcredit Summit. 1500 delegates from 75 countries, including representatives of Christian-based microcredit organizations, such as the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund, attended the meeting.

Yunus said that microfinance is providing lessons in how the lives of the poor could be changed. If lending to the poor was brought to the level of other financial products, he said, more people would escape poverty. “It is the time we made possible what has been thought of as impossible,” he said.

Yunus began his microcredit initiative 30 years ago with a $27 loan to a group of women in Chittagong. Since then, the movement has grown widely and delivered millions of small loans to poor people with no access to mainstream banking services.

African microfinance organizations, some church-based, said they hoped to learn from the success and growth of similar institutions in Asia, where more than 150-million people have benefitted from microfinance.

Anger Harms the Heart

The saying that chronic anger is like an acid that does more harm to the bottle that contains it than to that which it is poured upon turns out not only to be spiritually but also medically true.

Frequent anger might raise the risk of heart disease significantly, reports Dr. Laura Kubzansky, associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She led a study of the role of stress on cardiovascular disease.

Negative, irritable, raging and intimidating personality types worry heart researchers and doctors alike. “We’re talking about people who seem to experience high levels of anger very frequently,” says Kubzansky.

However, expressing anger in “reasonable” ways can be healthy. “Being able to tell people that you’re angry can be extremely functional,” she says. But people frequently in a state of rage or harboring suppressed rage are at greater risk of heart disease.

“You get high cortisol and high adrenaline levels and that is the cardiotoxic effect of anger expression,” says Jerry Kiffer, a heart-brain researcher at the Cleveland Clinic’s Psychological Testing Center. “It causes wear and tear on the heart and cardiovascular system.” Frequent anger may speed up the process of atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up in arteries.

The heart pumps harder, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure surges, and there are higher levels of glucose in the blood and more fat globules in the blood vessels. All this can cause damage to artery walls. “A change of mind can lead to a change of heart,” Kiffer says.
An analysis of findings from 44 studies published last year in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology confirms a link between emotions and heart disease.

“We’re really good at treating heart attacks, but we’re not that good at preventing them,” says Holly Andersen, MD, cardiologist at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“Stress is not as easy to measure as your cholesterol level or your blood pressure, which are clearly objective. But it’s really important that physicians start taking care of the whole person – including their moods and their lives – because it matters.”

Spring Issue IC 56/ PASCHA  2010