Thursday, December 31, 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury Warns "Crises Don't Stop at National Frontiers"

In his new year message today, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, lists terrorism, war, national disaster, and the financial collapse as being among the disasters that have bedevilled the past decade, according to the Times Online website.

"Before we shrug our shoulders and lower our expectations, let's not lose sight of one enormous lesson we can learn from the last decade," he said. "The needs of our neighbors are the needs of the whole human family."

The Archbishop's own Church, the Anglican Communion, has also suffered its share of problems in the past decade, precipitated by the consecration of the gay bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire in 2003; however, the new year message is addressed to a wider society.

Dr. Williams emphasized that "crises don't stop at national frontiers. It's one thing that terrorism and environmental challenge and epidemic disease have taught us."

Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for Feast of St. Basil and the New Year

Archbishop Demetrios, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, has written an encyclical for the Feast of Saint Basil and the New Year, which can be read in its entirety on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (GOARCH) website.

In the encyclical, the Archbishop writes, "We greet the beginning of this new year and the end of the first decade of the new millenium in the grace and strength of our Lord. The coming of the New Year is always accompanied by a variety of emotions and concerns, as well as goals and plans. It is a time for reflecting on the past and anticipating what the year may bring."

His encyclical continues, "As we look back and forward in our thoughts, it is essential that we be mindful of the centrality of Christ and our spiritual well-being in all that we do. For reflection and anticipation are both characteristics of our lives as Orthodox Christians."

Oblate Priest Found Guilty in Protest at Colorado Nuclear Missile Silo

An oblate priest, who has long protested against America's nuclear weapons arsenal, was found guilty December 21, 2009, of criminal mischief and trespassing on government property at the site of a nuclear missile silo in northern Colorado, the Catholic News Service (CNS) blog reports today.

Father Carl Kabat, 76, was sentenced by Weld County Court Judge Dana Nichols to time served -- 137 days -- after his August 6 arrest at the silo near New Raymer, Colorado.

Testifying during the two-day trial, Father Kabat admitted he had cut a fence and entered the property. He argued that his action was mandated by God's law in order to oppose a greater evil.

The conviction was the 18th for Father Kabat in his prayerful quest to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He has served more than 17 years behind bars since his first protest in 1976.

Patriarch Kirill Calls on Christians for Optimistic View of Life in New Year

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church today called on Christians to have an optimistic view of life in the New Year, reports the Russian Information Agency (RIA) Novosti website.

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said in the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, "A Christian should have an optimistic view of life."

He added that the roots of Christian optimism are in the hope of God's good will and urging believers to pray for their country, nation, and their kindred.

"Today, on New Year's eve, while turning our prayers to God, we will strongly ask Him to give us His mercy and hear our prayers," the patriarch said at a divine service that some 1,000 people attended.

St. Vladimir's Press to Publish and Distribute Christian Educational Materials

Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press (SVS Press) -- the largest publisher of English-language titles about the Orthodox Christian faith -- now has assumed the responsibility for the publication and distribution of Christian education materials, according to the St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological School (SVOTS) website.

On December 22, 2009, SVS Press assumed the entire current stock of the Orthodox Christian Publication Center (OCPC), the publishing arm of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and will be responsible for the marketing, sale, and distribution of all of its educational titles.

The Press is now processing the OCPC inventory, and will be ready to sell and distribute the materials by April 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Metropolitan Jonah Urges Faithful to Join DC March for Life on Jan. 22

Orthodox Christians are being encouraged to bear witness to their faith at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday, January 22, 2010, the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) website reports today.

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah has issued a special invitation encouraging youth and young adults to join him in proclaiming that all life is indeed a gift from God.

The faithful are asked to gather by noon under the "Orthodox Christians for Life" banner to the left of the stage at the Ellipse, between the Washington Monument and the national Mall. Metropolitan Jonah will be the first of several speakers to address the public at the pre-March program.

At the conclusion of the March, Metropolitan Jonah will offer prayers for the victims of abortion.

Archbishop Writes Letters to Top Washington Officials Seeking Help for Patriarch Bartholomew

Archbishop Demetrios,head of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, has sent a letter to President Barack Obama, as well as other high-ranking Washington officials, in order to draw attention to the treatment of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew by Turkey, according to Kathimerini website.

In addition to President Obama, letters were sent to Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to ask for their help in protecting the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Archbishop Demetrios wrote the letters after Turkey expressed its displeasure at comments made by Patriarch Bartholomew in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" TV program, in which the patriarch complained that his treatment by Turkish authorities often left him feeling "crucified" and "like a second-class citizen."

Infuriated by Patriarch Bartholomew's choice of words, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said, "We regard the use of the crucifixion analogy as extremely unfortunate. We cannot accept comparisons that we do not deserve."

Is The European Union Discriminating Against Muslims?

The Examiner website reports this week that some people believe the European Union (EU) is discriminating against Muslims, because the EU announced a new visa regime that allows the citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Montenegro, and Serbia to travel to EU countries without a visa, but excludes three other Balkan countries with a Muslim-majority population -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo -- from doing so.

These people also claim that the EU has denied Turkey membership in the EU for several years, because Turkey is 99 percent Muslim.

The fact is that Turkey does not meet the standards of being worthy of EU membership. The EU has made it very clear to Turkey that there are two critical prerequisites that Turkey must achieve before it can become an EU member.

First, Turkey must reopen the Orthodox seminary on its island of Halki, which it illegally closed in 1971. Second, Turkey must withdraw its troops from the northern third of the island of Cyprus, which it invaded and seized in 1974, and allow that area to become an integral part of the republic of Cyprus.

Consequently, Turkey's membership in the EU is not being denied because it is a country that is 99 percent Muslim, but because Turkey must first undo what it illegally did to the Halki Seminary in 1971, and to the northern third of Cyprus in 1974.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New EU Foreign Policy Chief Condemns Israel's "Occupation" of Captured Land

Catherine Ashton, the new foreign policy chief of the European Union (EU), in her first speech condemned Israel's "occupation" of captured land, demanded that Israel lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, and blasted Israel's security fence.

Ashton said, "East Jerusalem is occupied territory together with the West Bank," the EUObserver website reports today. She added, "The EU is opposed to the destruction of homes, the eviction of Arab residents, and the construction of the separation barrier."

Following her address, some left-wing and liberal members of the EU called for taking measures against Israel, including a suspension of the EU's Association Agreement to trade penalties against products made in West Bank settlements.

League of Arab States Calls for Switzerland to Reconsider Minarets Ban

The League of Arab States today called for Switzerland to reconsider its decision on banning the construction of new minarets in the country, according to the Ria Novosti website.

"We wish the people of Switzerland would reconsider this mistaken decision, which risks fueling racism in Europe," the Arab League's Arab Parliament said in a statement.

Switzerland voted at a national referendum on November 29, 2009 to ban the construction of new minarets, sparking worldwide protests among Muslims.

Despite Swiss government calls for the proposal to be rejected, more than 57 percent of voters backed a Swiss People's Party (SVP) initiative aimed at stopping the "Islamization of Switzerland."

Ancient Language Used by Jesus (Aramaic) Still Spoken in Syrian Village

Ma'aloula is a tranquil village of clay houses and stone grottos in Syria, a few miles off the heavily traveled main road between Damascus and Aleppo.

The 5,000 residents of Ma'aloula are among the 18,000 speakers of Aramaic, the ancient Semitic language that Jesus used to preach to the apostles, according to the Edmonton Journal website. Aramaic is also spoken in two smaller villages near Ma'aloula, and in isolated communities in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

One of the ironies of Ma'aloula is that by a margin of nearly two to one, more Muslims than Christians still speak the language of Christ, although churches outnumber mosques by eight to two. The Christians of Ma'aloula are divided between Greek Catholic believers and those who follow the Greek Orthodox teachings.

True to Christ's teachings -- and unlike most of the world -- the various faiths in Ma'aloula have generally gotten along well for many centuries.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Southerners Lead United States in Being Most Active in Religious Practices

There is a reason the South is called "the Bible Belt." A recent survey shows that Southerners -- especially Missiissippians -- are most active in their religious practices and beliefs, reports the Religious News website.

Residents of Mississippi ranked first among Americans in a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, with 82 percent saying religion is very important in their lives.

Five other states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and South Carolina -- had at least seven in ten people stating that religion holds that kind of importance for them.

The findings -- published online by the Pew Forum on December 21, 2009 -- also indicate that New Hampshire and Vermont have the lowest percentage of respondents who view religion as being very important in their lives.

Israel to Build Housing on Eastern Jerusalem Land Captured from Jordan

Israel has solicited bids to build some 700 new apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports today.

The communities sit on land captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967. Israel has annexed the territory, but that move has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the territory to be Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Eastern Jerusalem was not included in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to a 10-month settlement construction freeze.

Palestinians say the building projects are a sign that Israel is not serious about peace.

Russian Muslim Organization Claims Responsibility for the Murder of Fr. Daniil Sysoyev

An organization calling itself "The Information and Analytical Section of the Staff of the Armed Forces of the Caucasus Emirate" has claimed responsibility for the recent murder of Russian Orthodox clergyman Daniil Sysoyev for insulting Islam.

A statement posted on the organizations's website said that the assassin entered the premises where the clergyman was staying and fired several shots at him, the Interfax-Religion website reports today.

"We are not waging a war against peaceful Christians living in Russian territory, but we are warning everyone that anyone who dares to open his mouth to insult Islam and Muslims may share Sysoyev's fate. The warning equally applies to all public figures, journalists, and politicians who dare to insult Allah's religion," the statement said.

Christmas Season Attacks by Hindu Extremists Aimed to Upset Christians in India

With at least two violent attacks and alleged "reconversion" to Hinduism of over 1,700 Christians in the week leading up to Christmas, a sense of fear is growing among India's minority Christian community, according to Compass Direct News.

On December 20, 2009, Hindu extremists attacked a church during worship in western Maharashtra state and a Christmas exhibition in central Madhya Pradesh state. The following day, extremists claimed having converted over 1,700 tribal Christians "back" to Hinduism in western Gujarat state.

The Rev. Anand Muttungal of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Madhya Pradesh said the attacks around Christmas could be a reaction to increased and favorable coverage of Christians and churches in newspapers and television channels during the festival season.

He added, "Rightwing extremists cannot tolerate this, and they cannot stop it either. So, in frustration, they launch attacks."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pope Has Lunch with Poor and Homeless at Soup Kitchen

Pope Benedict XVI today (December 27, 2009) had lunch with the poor and homeless at a soup kitchen in downtown Rome, according to the Reuters website.

The meal for those in need was organized by the Sant'Egidio Catholic community.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church told people who he shared the meal with that he is close to them and loves them, and called on everyone to always remember those in need and help them.

Parents Sue Pawtucket, RI for Granting Catholic School Exclusive Use of Public Field

Parents of public school students in Pawtucket, Rhode Island accuse the city of favoring Saint Raphael Academy -- a prominent Catholic school and alma mater of city and state brokers -- by granting its football team exclusive use of a public field. They say it is unconstitutional to give a religious school priority access to a field meant for public use, and they are suing the city.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is spearheading the lawsuit, reports the Associated Press today. "Government should not give special benefits to religious organizations over secular organizations, and we believe that that is precisely what has happened here," said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU's Rhode Island affiliate.

St. Raphael is a prestigious presence in Pawtucket, producing prominent alumni, including the city's mayor, the parks and recreation superintendent -- who awards field permits -- and the state attorney general.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Buddhist Monks March as Asia Marks Fifth Anniversary of Tsunami with Prayer

Thousands of candles lit up Thailand's Patong Beach, thousands of saffron-robed Buddhist monks marched, and people held vigils, as Asia marked the fifth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami today (December 26, 2009), according to Reuters website.

Hundreds of lanterns floated into the sky at Patong in one of many events across the region in memory of one of history's worst natural disasters when towering waves crashed ashore with little warning, killing 226,000 people in 13 countries.

In Indonesia's Banda Aceh, about 100 people took part in a prayer ceremony close to a fishing boat that landed on the rooftop of a two-storey house after being swept miles inland.

Indonesia was the worst hit country of the tsunami, with more than 166,000 dead and missing.

Church in Beverly, MA to Sell Silver Collection to Save Its Building

A Beverly, Massachusetts church is selling its collection of silver drinking vessels and other items that are more than a century old to finance an ongoing restoration project, the Associated Press reports today.

The 11 tankards, dishes, mugs, and urns belonging to the First Parish Church -- some nearly 200 years old -- are estimated to be worth $500,000 and are scheduled to be auctioned at Christie's in New York on January 21, 2010.

Church historian Charles Wainwright said it came down to the fact that people would rather have a church with no silver, than silver with no church.

The church was founded in 1667, and the current building that dates to 1770 is in dire need of modernization.

Pope's Christmas Message: World Beset by Conflicts and Financial Crisis Needs Light of Christ

On Christmas day, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a message of Christmas hope, saying a world beset by conflicts and a "grave financial crisis" needs the light of Christ, the Catholic News Service reports.

The pope spoke at his Christmas message and blessing "urbi et orbi" -- to the city and to the world -- from the balcony at St. Peter's Basilica.

He said, "Today, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with shepherds: 'Let us go to Bethlehem,' for there we shall find our hope."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Russian Orthodox Priest Proposes January 7 as Russian Holiday for Victory over Napoleon

A Russian Orthodox Church representative has proposed declaring January 7 the "Day of Napoleon's Expulsion" from the country in 1812 and a national holiday.

"Christmas Day is yet another victory day for our state: on this day (January 7, 1813, according to Gregorian calendar) Tsar Alexander I issued a decree announcing the expulsion of Napoleon's army from the Russian Empire," Father Hieromonk Filipp, deputy head of the External Affairs Department of the Russian Church said, according to the New York Times website.

Speaking at a media conference this week, he recalled that before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Russia used to celebrate both holidays -- Christmas and Russia's 1812 victory over Napoleon's invasion -- on the same day.

"I hope this tradition will be revived," Fr. Filipp said.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Woman Knocks Down Pope as He Walks Down Aisle at Christmas Eve Mass

A woman jumped the barriers in St. Peter's Basilica and knocked down Pope Benedict XVI, as he walked down the main aisle to begin Christmas Eve Mass on Thursday, the Associated Press reports today.

The 82-year-old pope quickly got up and was unhurt, said Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini. The woman was swarmed by bodyguards.

Benedettini said the woman who pushed the pope appeared to be mentally unstable and had been arrested by Vatican police.

Benedict made no reference to the incident as the service started. He did appear somewhat shaken and leaned heavily on aides and an armrest as he sat down in his chair.

B'nai B'rith Says Increase in Anti-Semitic Incidents in Argentina is "Deeply Troubling"

The recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Argentina is "deeply troubling," B'nai B'rith International said.

This week swastikas were painted on some 30 graves at a Jewish cemetery in the province of San Luis. "Death to Jews" was also scrawled on the cemetery walls, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports today.

In addition, Jewish graves at a cemetery in Buenos Aires were desecrated earlier this month.

A B'nai B'rith statement called these and other incidents "a most worrisome pattern. We hope these abhorrent hateful acts in a democratic nation with the largest Jewish population in Latin America are not an omen of more intolerance to come," said the B'nai B'rith statement.

Patriarch Bartholomew Tells Turkish Daily "We Are Without Oxygen, Patriarchate Is Dying"

Patriarch Bartholomew, who last Sunday on the CBS television program "60 Minutes" said he felt "crucified" by living in Turkey, today (December 24, 2009) told the Turkish daily Milliyet, "We are without oxygen, the Patriarchate is dying."

The Patriarch, who will turn 70 this February, asked, "What will we do, if we cannot raise men of the cloth? Our metropolitan bishops in Europe are over 70 years old. The ones here are 75 years old.

Patriarch Bartholomew was referring to the shortage of young clergy in Turkey -- and even in Europe -- because Turkey closed down its only Orthodox seminary, located on its island of Halki, in 1971. Turkey earlier this year promised to reopen the Halki Seminary, but it has not taken any action to do so.

Patriarch Bartholomew also complained that despite official freedom of worship in Turkey -- about 99 percent of Turks are Muslims -- his community has not remained in Turkey because of historical incidents in which Greeks were forced to leave the country. "We are now around 3,000 people living in Turkey," he said.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Anglican Priest in England Tells His Congregation It's OK for Poor to Shoplift

An Anglican priest in England finds himself in the center of controversy for telling his congregation that it is morally justifiable for the poor to shoplift, according to the Christian Today website.

Father Tim Jones of St. Lawrence and Hilda Church in York gave the example of prisoners being released from prison without benefits or other financial assistance, saying it was better for people in such circumstances to turn to shoplifting from large retailers rather than prostitution, mugging, or burglary.

"My advice does not contradict the Bible's eighth commandment, because God's love for the poor and despised outweighs the property rights of the rich," Father Jones said in a sermon on Sunday, December 20, 2009.

Speaking on behalf of the Anglican Diocese of York, The Archdeacon of York the Venerable Richard Seed, said the Church of England "does not advise anyone to shoplift or break the law in any way."

Head of Russian Orthodox Church Says Gays and Lesbians Must Not Be Persecuted

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says that, although the Church views homosexuality as a sin, homosexuality is a personal choice, the Associated Press website reports today.

Patriarch Kirill says gays and lesbians must not be persecuted or discriminated against in any way, although the Church still opposes same-sex marriage.

The patriarch's statements -- a breakthrough for the Russian Orthodox Church -- were made during a meeting today with visiting Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland.

Several high-profile Russian politicians have spoken against gay rights. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has described homosexuality as "satanic" and has blamed homosexuals for spreading AIDS.

Pope Says Jesus Was Born to Conquer Human Pride, Violence, Greed

With the birth of Jesus, God came to the world as a defenseless child to conquer human pride, violence, and greed with his love, Pope Benedict XVI said today.

"God conquers our hearts not by force, but by love, and thus teaches us the way to authentic freedom, peace, and fulfillment," the Pope said during his general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI hall December 23, reports the Catholic News Service website.

Second Orthodox Priest Killed in Moscow Area During the Past Month

Archpriest Alexander Filippov, who served at the Ascension Church in the village of Santino-Russkoye in the Podalsk District outside Moscow, has died after being shot in the heart last night, the priest's widow Yelena told the Interfax-Religion website.

Father Alexander was 39 years old, and had three teenage daughters.

This was the second murder of an Orthodox priest in the Moscow area during the past month. Father Daniil Sysoyev from Moscow's Saint Thomas Church, who played a major role in converting many Muslims to Orthodoxy, was killed on November 19.

A total of 26 Orthodox Priests have been murdered in Russia since 1990.

Over 1,000 People to Take Part in Gaza Freedom March December 31

On December 31, 2009, over 1,000 representatives from 43 nations around the globe will convene at the Gaza/Egypt border as part of the Gaza Freedom March, reports the Gaza Freedodm March website today.

This event is in response to a growing global initiative, to lift the crippling blockade on Gaza, in order to allow food, medicine, and rebuilding supplies to enter the Palestinian territory.

The international delegates -- including diplomats, doctors, lawyers, students, religious leaders, war veterans, women's groups, and members of the Jewish community -- will enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week in December.

In the morning of December 31, they will join Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza to the Erez/Israel border. On the Israeli side of the Erez border will be a gathering of Palestinians and Jews who are also calling on the Israeli government to open the border.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Patriarch Kirill Asks EU President to Value Europe's Christian Heritage

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia hopes that Herman van Rompuy's promotion to the European Union (EU) president will help to strengthen spiritual values on the continent.

"I hope that realizing your high authority, you will pay attention to value dialogue of European international structures with Europe's traditional religious communities, including the Russian Orthodox Church," the Patriarch said in his message to van Rompuy, published by the patriarchal press service today.

The Russian Church Primate said that the dialogue "has already started" and expressed hope that "it will make us understand that it is impossible even to think about the future of the European continent without Christian heritage."

Patriarch Kirill's message to the EU president may have been sparked by a decision made by the EU-affiliated European Court of Human Rights several weeks ago, in which it ruled that crucifixes must be removed from classrooms in Italy, because they violate a student's right to religious freedom.

Pope Benedict's Decision to Proclaim Pius XII Venerable Draws Praise and Criticism

Pope Benedict XVI's recent decision to proclaim Pope Pius XII as "venerable" surprised and delighted many who have been campaigning to clear the wartime Pope's name, but provoked protests among some Jewish leaders, reports the National Catholic Register (NCR) website today.

Although some historians say there is plenty of well-documented evidence to suggest Pius was one of the Second World War's greatest heroes, critics still accuse him of being "silent" and doing nothing to save the lives of some six million innocent Jews who were murdered during the war.

Pope Benedict issued a decree on December 19, 2009 attesting to the "heroic virtue" of Eugenio Pacelli, pope from 1939 to 1958, giving him the title "venerable."

Now a panel of medical experts and Vatican theologians can proceed with investigations into alleged miracles attributed to the late Pontiff's intercession. Once a miracle is approved, Pius XII can be beatified.

Jewish leaders have called the move to proclaim Pius "venerable" as being "inopportune, premature, and regrettable."

Turkish Native Admits Turkey Is Crucifying Patriarch Bartholomew

"The patriarch is right. The state, with its ignorance of a Turkish institution for 38 years (Halki Orthodox Seminary was closed by Turkey in 1971.), has not been able to keep its word and has crucified the patriarch." These are the words of a Turkish native, Mehmet Ali Birand, as they appear in the December 21, 2009 edition of the Turkish English Daily, Hurriet Daily News website.

Birand's words refer to Patriarch Bartholomew's statement that he feels "crucified" living in Turkey, and being treated as a second-class citizen. The Patriarch made his statement last Sunday evening on the "60 Minutes" TV program.

In his objective and sincere analysis, Birand adds, "No offense, but the culture and custom of crucifying exists in our state (Turkey). It did not only apply it to the Patriarchate but also to its citizens and institutions, and it continues to do so."

Turkey closed down its only Orthodox Christian Seminary on its island of Halki in 1971. Although it agreed to reopen the Halki Seminary several months ago, Turkey has not taken any action to do so.

Birand concludes his article by warning Turkey to listen to Patriarch Bartholomew. Otherwise, he says, "let's not get angry if the Patriarch goes before the European Court of Human Rights." This European Union-affiliated court serves as the Supreme Court for European countries and Turkey.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Uniate Leader in Ukraine Calls for "Primitive Unity" with Three Ukrainian Orthodox Branches

The leader of the Uniates in Ukraine, Patriarch Lubomir Husar, has called for the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the self-proclaimed Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian autocephalous Orthodox Church, as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church into one local Church of the country, Interfax-Religion website reports today.

"We have a desire to see these four branches back to the primitive unity. But this unity will not be the same as in the times of Prince Vladimir," said the head of the Ukrainian Uniate Church at a press conference in Kiev on December 15, 2009. (A Uniate Church is an Eastern Christian Church that acknowledges the supremacy of the pope, but retains its own distinctive liturgy.)

In the view of Patriarch Husar, the Patriarch who will head one Ukrainian Church could belong to any of the four branches, and the spiritual center of the united Church will be the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev.

There has been no response to the Uniate Patriarch's desire for unity from any of the three branches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Greek Church Warns New Government: Do not Remove Crucifixes and Icons from Schools

The head of the Greek Orthodox Church has warned Greece's new socialist government that it faces a major battle if it removes religious symbols from schools, the BBC website reports today.

Because the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France ruled several weeks ago that Italy must take down crucifixes in its classrooms, many Greeks fear that the Greek government may also order that crucifixes and icons be removed from schools.

Advocates of crucifixes and icons in Greece's schools say that these symbols represent peace, justice, and love, and are an essential reminder of faith in a difficult world. Moreover, they believe that the Court in Strasbourg is undermining Europe's Christian heritage.

On the other hand, opponents say that a child should be in a school environment, where he or she is under no pressure to choose one religion over another.

Survey Finds Two-Thirds of Protestant Pastors Consider Islam "Dangerous"

Two out of three Protestant pastors believe Islam is a "dangerous" religion, according to a new survey from a Southern Baptist-affiliated research group.

The survey of more than 1,000 Protestant clergy by Life Way Research -- released on December 14, 2009 -- found that 45 percent strongly agree with the statement "I believe Islam is a dangerous religion" and another 21 percent agree somewhat with it.

The results of the telephone survey were based on a random sample of 1,002 senior pastors taken in October, 2008, reports the Ethics Daily website today.

On December 10, 2009, evangelist Franklin Graham told Cable News Network (CNN) that while he loves the Muslim people in countries he has visited with his Samaritan's Purse ministry, "I don't agree with the teachings of Islam, and I find it to be a very violent religion."

Remains Found of Dwelling in Nazareth May Have Been House from Jesus' Time

Just four days before Christmas, archaeologists today unveiled what they said were the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to Jesus, according to the Associated Press.

Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family," said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Nazareth holds a cherished place in Christianity. It is the town where Christian tradition says Jesus grew up and where an angel told Mary she would bear the child of God.

"This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with," Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends, she added.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Threats of Legal Action Force PA Officials to Remove Nativity Scene and Menorah

Threats of legal action forced officials in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to remove a nativity scene and a menorah from a courthouse lawn, the Christian Broadcast Network website reports today.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State said putting religious symbols on government property is an endorsement of religion.

Lucerne County commissioners said they cannot afford a legal fight, so they took the displays down.

The displays were owned by the County and have been placed on the property for several decades.

Christmas is " the Most Beautiful Time of the Year"

With Christmas less than a week away, it behooves us to reflect upon the happiness that we enjoy during "the most beautiful time of the year," and indeed throughout the entire year.

Christmas is ....

The day we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Seeing a child smile when he opens a gift.

The joy of giving to less fortunate people and to houses of worship.

Loving one's spouse more than oneself.

Uniting family members, some of whom live hundreds of miles away.

Having a cup of hot chocolate after shoveling snow.

Attending a party with friends, and listening to stories from bygone days.

Going to a concert and listening to "Oh Holy Night," and other Christ-loving songs.

Thanking God from the bottom of our hearts for everything He has given us.

Home-Visit Teacher in England Fired for Offering to Pray for Sick Child

A 54-year-old teacher in England was fired on November 25, 2009 because she offered to pray for a sick student, the Sky News website reports today.

Olive Jones was dismissed from her job as a home-visit teacher after she spoke about her faith with a girl's mother. Jones taught math lessons to children who were too ill to attend school.

Jones spoke to the girl's mother over a cup of tea and asked whether she could say a prayer. The mother of two children herself, Jones said when the woman told her that the family members were not believers, she did not go ahead with prayer.

The girl's mother complained to school officials that Jones's comments had distressed her and her child.

Consequently, the Oak Hill Short Stay School and Tuition Service in Neilsea, England fired Jones for sharing her faith with a child, because it could be deemed to be "bullying."

What do you think about this situation? Can a prayer -- or just offering to pray in this case -- be considered "bullying?" Please comment....

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Conference of European Churches Elects Metropolitan Emmanuel of France Its President

The Central Committee of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) met in Geneva, December 16-19, 2009, and elected Metropolitan Emmanuel of France as president of the fellowship of 120 Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican churches in Europe, according to the Archons website.

Metropolitan Emmanuel is the official representative for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the European Union, and has worked together with the Archons of the Order of St. Andrew in pursuing religious freedom in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Founded in 1959, the CEC is a fellowship of some 120 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, and Old Catholic churches from all countries of Europe, plus 40 associated organizations. It has offices in Geneva, Brussels, and Strasbourg.

"Work Sets You Free" Sign at Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp Stolen

The infamous Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Sets You Free) sign at the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland has been stolen, the BBC reports today.

The sign was taken from above the gate overnight. Police are looking for the culprits.

It is the first time the sign -- made by prisoners -- has been stolen since it was erected in the early 1940s.

More than a million Jews were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz during World War II.

The missing sign has been replaced by a replica.

Report Says One-Third of World's Countries Have High Restrictions on Religion

About one-third of the countries in the world have high restrictions on religion, exposing almost 70 percent of the globe's population to limitations on their faith, new research shows.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life based its analysis -- released on December 16, 2009 -- on 16 sources of information, including reports from the U.S. State Department and human rights groups as well as national constitutions.

"The highest overall levels of restrictions are found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices," the Pew Forum concluded.

Three-quarters of the countries affirm religious freedom in their laws or constitutions, and an additional 20 percent protect some religious practices, according to the Religion News Service website. But researchers found that about a quarter of the governments "fully respected" the religious rights included in their views.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission Completes Its Work in Switzerland

The Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission -- which met in Chambesy, Switzerland December 9-17, 2009 -- announced today that for Orthodox Churches to be granted autocephaly, Constantinople must issue a Tomos of Autocephaly to be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch and verified by the signatures of the Primates of Orthodox Churches invited for it by the Ecumenical Patriarch.

It is unknown at the present time what ramifications this has on the United States with its plurality of jurisdictions, some of which already claim autocephalous or autonomous status.

The question of the contents of the Tomos and the signing procedure will be considered additionally at the next meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission.

Patriarch Bartholomew on "60 Minutes" Says He Feels "Crucified" in Turkey

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the 300 million-member Orthodox Christian Church, feels "crucified" living in Turkey under a government he says would like to see his nearly 2,000-year-old Patriarchate die out.

His All Holiness speaks to "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon for a story to be broadcast on TV this Sunday, December 20, 2009, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, the CBS News website reports today.

History has seen the Ecumenical Patriarch and the part of his Church in Turkey -- who are Turkish citizens of Greek ancestry -- discriminated against in their traditional homeland inside what has become modern Turkey, where 99 percent of the people are Muslim. A population of Greek ancestry in Turkey -- once numbering nearly two million -- is now around 4,000.

"It is not a crime to be a minority living in Turkey, but we are treated as second class," the Patriarch tells Simon. "We don't feel that we enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens."

Patriarch Bartholomew also said, "This is the continuation of Jerusalem and for us an equally holy and sacred land. We prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vicar of New Zealand Anglican Church Needs to be Reprimanded for Sacrilegious Billboard

A "Progressive" Anglican Church in Auckland, New Zealand paid to have a large billboard placed near its parish this week, showing an image of the Virgin Mary and Joseph in bed, with a printed message saying, "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow," Reuters reports today.

The vicar of St. Matthew's Anglican Church, Archdeacon Glynn Cardy, believes he did nothing wrong by having this billboard, and said he used it as "a cutting-edge strategy to engage non-believers."

Excuse me, Vicar Cardy, but I believe you were totally wrong to have used such an offensive message to attract non-believers. The fact is that we must never use a billboard -- or any other audio or visual means -- to degrade the Virgin Mary, Christ, or God. We just don't do that in our society.

I believe this irresponsible act of Vicar Cardy -- which shows disrespect to all Christians -- needs to be addressed quickly by Anglican hierarchs. The Archbishop of New Zealand's Anglican Church needs to reprimand Vicar Cardy -- perhaps even unfrocking him -- for implementing this evilhearted billboard.

Moreover, the Archbishop of Canterbury should present a statement that condemns this cowardly secular action to all worshipers.

What are your thoughts on this incredible situation? Readers want to know what you think about it. Please comment....

Danforth Foundation Gift of $30 Million to Fund Religion and Politics Studies

A $30 million endowment gift from the Danforth Foundation will establish and support the John C. Danforth Center of Religion and Politics at Washington University in Missouri, the St. Louis Today website reports.

The Center -- which will open in January 2010 -- will convene conferences and lectures focusing on a host of issues related to religion and politics at all levels of government.

Danforth, a three-term senator from Missouri and an ordained Episcopal priest, has long been concerned with the role of religion in politics. In 2006, he authored a book on the topic titled "Faith and Politics: How the Moral Values Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together."

Danforth, who will chair the Center's National Advisory Board, said he expects the Center to restrict studies to religion and politics in the United States, rather than exploring global religion.

Researchers Find Burial Shroud in Jerusalem Tomb from Jesus Era

A team of researchers said they have found a burial shroud from the time of Jesus in a tomb in Jerusalem, the eCanadaNow website reports today.

The team of researchers from Hebrew University said the shroud is much different from the Turin Shroud. Some people believe the Turin Shroud was used to bury Jesus, while others are convinced it was a fake.

The tomb is located in a section of a Jerusalem cemetery called the "field of blood." This is believed to be the site where one of the 12 apostles, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, hanged himself.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Britain's Supreme Court Rules London Jewish School's Admission Policy Discriminatory

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports today Britain's Supreme Court has ruled that a Jewish school in London discriminated against a child denied entrance, because his mother was not recognized as Jewish.

An appeals court had ruled earlier in favor of the 12-year-old boy, who claimed that the Jewish Free School's rejection of his application was discriminatory.

The boy's father is Jewish and his mother converted to Judaism, but not through an Orthodox synagogue. The school rejected his application because he is not considered Jewish, according to the office of the Chief Rabbi.

In its 5-4 ruling today, the Supreme Court said the school's admission criteria are discriminatory on the grounds of ethnicity. The ruling means that Jewish schools in Britain can no longer base their admission on whether a child is Jewish according to the Orthodox tradition.

Secular Group Has Public Nativity Scene Removed in Cincinnati Suburb

A Christian nativity scene on village property in the Cincinnati suburb of Addyston, Ohio vanished soon after a letter of complaint was sent by the Freedom of Religion Foundation.

An area resident alerted the Foundation on December 10, 2009 about the creche on public property, according to the Religion-in-Society website.

In a letter to Mayor Dan Pillow, Rebecca Kratz, Foundation staff attorney, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it is illegal for public entities "to maintain, erect, or host a holiday display that consists solely of a nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for, and endorsing one religion."

The nativity scene was removed by December 12.

Pope Benedict Says Laws Are Just Only If They Protect Human Life

A law is just only if it protects human life, Pope Benedict XVI said today, according to the Catholic News Service (CNS) website.

The only laws that can be considered just "are the laws that safeguard the sacredness of human life and reject the acceptance of abortion, euthanasia, and unrestrained genetic experiments and those laws that respect the dignity of marriage between one man and one woman," the Pope said on December 16, 2009 during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict also said just laws must respect the separation between church and state in a way that protects religious freedom, must allow local issues to be handled locally, and must promote solidarity with the poor "on a national and international level."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Officials Say Orthodox Priest Led Dozens of People in Smashing Menorah in Moldova

Dozens of people led by an Orthodox priest smashed a menorah in Chisinau, Moldova -- a small republic in Eastern Europe located between Romania and Ukraine -- using hammers and iron bars to remove the candelabra during Hanukkah, officials said.

The five-foot-tall ceremonial candelabrum was retrieved, reinstalled, and is now under police guard, the Associated Press reported today.

Police said they were investigating the Sunday (December 13, 2009) attack, but there was no official reaction from Moldova's Orthodox Church, which is part of the Russian Orthodox Church and counts 70 percent of Moldovans as members.

Jewish leader Alexandr Bilinkis called on the Orthodox Church to take a position over the priest's actions.

Islamic Countries, UN, and EU Pressure Switzerland to Overturn Vote to Ban Minarets

The Swiss ban on minarets might soon be struck down by Switzerland's Supreme Court or by the European Court of Human Rights, reports the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) today.

Swiss voters recently approved the ban on the iconic mosque towers by a wide margin, but opponents say the vote is religious discrimination.

The ban, however, does not apply to the country's four existing minarets and does not prohibit Muslims from free expression of their religion.

Nonetheless, criticism from Islamic countries, the United Nations, and the European Union is putting pressure on Switzerland to find a way to overturn the vote.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Jerusalem Vandalized; Hoodlums Threaten to Massacre Christians

The Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem was vandalized early on December 11, 2009, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

"Death" and "Death to Christians" were written in Hebrew in large red letters near the cathedral altar and ante-church, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission said.

A statement was made to the Jerusalem police.

There have been threats to the clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian confessions before, the Mission said. The hoodlums said that Christians must leave Jerusalem before they are massacred.

Pope Says Degradation of Environment Threatens Peace and Human Life

The degradation of the environment is a pressing moral problem that threatens peace and human life, Pope Benedict said today.

"We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening around us, for the deterioration of any one part of the planet affects us all," the Pope said in his message for World Peace Day, January 1, 2010.

Pope Benedict's message -- which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors -- was released at the Vatican December 15, 2009, reports the Catholic News Service (CNS) today.

The Pope emphasized that the future of the world hangs in the balance because of what people are doing today, and the negative effects of pollution and environmental exploitation already can be seen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Russian Orthodox Archbishop Believes Women Should Be Allowed to Wear Pants to Church

The Head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, urges people to be more tolerant of the way parishioners are dressed.

Sometimes casually dressed young men and girls in trousers came to Church "to find support and understanding, but were subjected to insults and humiliation," the Archbishop said.

He considers such an attitude "a disease we should fight against," the Department of External Church Relations website reported on December 14, 2009.

Archbishop Hilarion points out that women's trouser suits have been produced in Russia and in the West for over 80 years; consequently, we cannot consider trousers to be men's clothing only. He stressed, "The Lord looks at a person's heart, not at his or her clothes."

Armed Forces Bishop from England Apologizes for Praising Taliban in Afghanistan

The new Anglican bishop to the armed forces of England has apologized over comments he made about how the Taliban in Afghanistan could be admired for their "conviction to their faith."

The Right Reverend Dr. Stephen Venner said his words had been taken out of context by the Daily Telegraph of England in its December 14, 2009 edition.

"I'm not trying to support the Taliban," he told the BBC. "At the moment what they are doing is evil."

Bob Russell, a member of England's Parliament, accused Bishop Venner of aiding the enemy. Russell said, "What you never do is give comfort to the enemy."

Archbishop of Canterbury: Humanity Can Only Show Love by Making Earth a Secure Home

Bells rang as a warning on climate change after the Archbishop of Canterbury told a church service in Copenhagen -- attended by people from major faiths and Christian denominations -- that humanity can only show love to all by making the earth a secure home, reports Ecumenical News International (ENI) today.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the 77-million strong Anglican Communion, preached the main sermon before Danish royalty, Denmark's prime minister, and religious leaders in a packed Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen's Lutheran cathedral.

"We cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow humans unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a secure home for all people," Williams said at the December 13 service called "an ecumenical celebration for creation."

The service marked the midpoint of the United Nations-organized talks in the Danish capital to reach agreement on limiting emissions held responsible for causing climate change.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Millions of American Atheists Celebrate Winter Solstice in December Instead of Christmas

Surveys indicate that nearly 15 percent of Americans embrace "no religion." Within this category -- usually called "the seculars" -- are millions of atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and others, according to American Atheists, an educational organization of atheists.

In December, when most Americans celebrate Christmas, many nonbelievers celebrate Winter Solstice -- that time of year when the sun reaches its lowest point in the annual journey across the sky as seen from the Northern Hemisphere. The 2009 Solstice occurs on December 21.

The late Madalyn Murray O'Hair -- founder of American Atheists -- called for the recognition of Solstice and Equinox as "natural holidays" uniting all of humanity, as an alternative to the various religious celebrations of competing faiths. Needless to say, this idea was never approved.

On the other hand, O'Hair was successful in her effort to weaken the impact of public prayer in America, as she was able to convince the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 to rule that prayer in American public schools is unconstitutional.

In Chanukah Message President Obama Says Faith and Perseverance Are Powerful Forces

President Obama said the Chanukah story of the Maccabees "reminds us that faith and perseverance are powerful forces that can sustain us in difficult times and help us overcome even the greatest odds," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports today.

In his first presidential Chanukah message -- which was released December 11, 2009 --Obama also said the holiday is "not only a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but for people of all faiths to celebrate the common aspirations we share."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Second Pan-Orthodox Meeting Opens in Switzerland to Prepare for Pan-Orthodox Synod

The second round of pan-Orthodox meetings opened December 9, 2009 in Chemin de Chambesy, Switzerland, in preparation for the first pan-Orthodox Synod of the modern era, according to the Asia News website.

The first pan-Orthodox meeting in June, 2009 decided on the creation of Episcopal conferences in the countries of the Diaspora that will refer to Constantinople. In the current meetings -- which will last one week -- the issue of autonomy and the autocephalous nature of the Orthodox Churches will be discussed.

The meeting aims to resolve issues that have emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the consequent emergence of new nation states, whose churches have sought independence from the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Regarding relations between the Orthodox Churches, Patriarch Bartholomew said that "the role of Constantinople is one established by the canons of the Ecumenical Synods. It lies in the diaconate, having the responsibility for the coordination and expression of unanimity of the Orthodox Churches."

Pope Criticizes U.S. Embargo Against Cuba, Urges More Religious Freedom on Island

While welcoming Cuba's new ambassador to the Vatican on December 10, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI criticized the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, but he also called on the Cuban government to expand religious freedom on the island.

The Pope told Ambassador Eduardo Delgado Bermudez that he knows Cubans are suffering from the economic crisis, which "together with the devastating effects of natural disasters and the economic embargo particularly strikes poorer people and their families."

Pope Benedict said that he hoped the "signs of detente in relations with the nearby United States would signal new opportunities for a mutually beneficial rapprochement."

The late President John F. Kennedy imposed a U.S. economic embargo against Cuba in 1961, shortly after Fidel Castro seized control of the government. Cuba has remained a godless communist country since 1959, although U.S. President Barack Obama has said that he is considering ending the embargo against the island.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Palestinian Christian Leaders Call Israeli Occupation of Palestine "A Sin Against God"

Palestinian Christian leaders have issued a call for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, which they described as, "a sin against God and against humanity," and have appealed for support from the world's churches.

"The injustice against the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted," the Christian leaders said in a document that was almost two years in the making.

The initiators of the statement -- made public at a meeting in Bethlehem on December 11, 2009 -- have referred to the text as the "Kairos Palestine" document. "Kairos" is a Greek word used in the Bible for a God-given time of challenge, grace, and opportunity.

"It is a call to the international community worldwide to look at the plight of the Palestinians and put pressure on Israel to conform to international law," spokesperson and coordinator Rifat Kassis told Ecumenical News International (ENI).

The full title of the document is, "A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering."

Signatories include the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the region, Latin Patriarch emeritus Michel Sabbah; the Lutheran bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan; and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Manhattan Declaration Signed by 275,000 People Since Its Approval Two Weeks Ago

More than 275,000 people have signed the Manhattan Declaration -- just two weeks since it was approved -- to stand against laws that defy traditional Christian values, the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) News reported today.

The document -- written by Christian, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders -- calls on believers to fight for traditional marriage, the unborn, and religious liberty, even if it means breaking the law.

Chuck Colson, who co-authored the Manhattan Declaration, explained to CBN News why so many people have signed the declaration in such a short period of time. "It's time we Christians stood up and defended what we believe -- and if it costs us, so be it," Colson said. He added, "If we don't speak out now about these values, we are going to have things crammed down our throats within a few years that we cannot live with."

The Manhattan Document concludes with a powerful spiritual statement which says, "We will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but we will not render unto Caesar that which is God's."

Pope Benedict XVI: "The Resurrected Christ is Really Present" in the Eucharist

Pope Benedict XVI said the Eucharist is not a symbolic representation of the Lord because Christ is wholly and entirely present under the species of bread and wine, according to the Catholic News Service website.

"Even today, there is the danger of reducing the reality of the Eucharist -- considering it almost as just a rite of communion or socialization -- and we too often easily forget that the resurrected Christ is really present," the Pope said during his general audience on December 9, 2009.

The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist draws people out of their own narrow concerns and interests, "incorporating us in His immortal body, and in that way guides us toward a new life," he said.

"That the Lord is wholly and entirely present is a mystery to be adored and always loved anew," Pope Benedict said.

The Pope asked the faithful to "rejoice in the knowledge that Christ remains with us at every moment of our lives and throughout history."

Russian Orthodox Church Proposes Alliance with Catholic Church to Combat Secularism

The Russian Orthodox Church has proposed a strategic alliance with the Catholic Church aimed at saving Europe's soul from "Western post-Christian humanism," according to the Russian Patriarchate.

The offer came this week in an introduction written by Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion to a book of speeches by Pope Benedict XVI on Europe's spiritual crisis.

Archbishop Hilarion, who is president of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, took a combative tone in his text.

He denounced the "militant secularism" adopted by an increasingly united Europe, warned that religion was being closed off in the "ghetto" of private devotion, and urged Christians to confront their governments on issues like abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage -- even to the point of civil disobedience.

In contrast, Archbishop Hilarion said, the Russian Orthodox Church has emerged from more than 70 years of godless communism with new vigor: New churches are being built, seminaries are full, and millions of people are returning to God in a "religious renaissance."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Patriarch Kirill Selects St. Iosef as Patron Saint of Orthodox Businessmen

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill announced this week that after weighing all potential candidates, he has selected St. Iosef of Volotsk as the patron saint of entrepreneurs, The Moscow Times reports today.

The Patriarch acted after Orthodox businessmen -- hit hard by the financial crisis -- appealed to the church to select a patron saint. The selection of St. Iosef of Volotsk, who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries and had no obvious link to business, sends a clear signal to businessmen that the church expects them to contribute generously to receive the saint's favor, religious scholars said.

Iosef, a prominent Orthodox ideologist and defender of the notion that an Orthodox tsar was an embodiment of God on Earth, supported the idea of strong and thriving monasteries.

Wealthy Orthodox businessmen have contributed significantly to the church's needs since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and many once-dilapidated churches, restored through their donations, bear plaques with their names.

Episcopal Church Loses 200,000 Members Since 2004, Primarily Due to "Internal Conflicts"

Domestic membership in the Episcopal Church dropped by three percent in 2008, continuing a decline in which the denomination has lost some 200,000 American members since 2004, according to Episcopalian researchers.

The Episcopal Church now counts slightly more than two million members in about 7,000 U.S. parishes.

Matilda Kistler, who heads a state-of-the-church committee in the denomination's House of Deputies, said, "We find ourselves facing a society that is gravitating toward secularism. We also believe that the church-going segment of the public is aging significantly."

Kistler acknowledged that "internal conflicts within the Episcopal Church have also distracted from the message of hope our clergy and lay leaders seek to share."

In 2003, the church consecrated an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, causing a furor among conservative Episcopalians and the global Anglican Communion, which counts the Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch. Four dioceses and dozens of parishes have since left the Episcopal Church, some to join a rival denomination, the Anglican Church in North America.

UN Meeting Begins in Denmark as Political and Faith Leaders Discuss Climate Change

When bells start ringing in Copenhagen -- and all around the world -- at 3 p.m. on December 13, 2009, they will represent a call to action and prayer to respond to impending climate change, according to Ecumenical News International (ENI).

More than 100 world political leaders, as well as faith leaders and supporters of action to deal with climate change, are converging on the capital of Denmark. A crucial 11-day United Nations (UN) meeting began on December 7 in Copenhagen to set the international agenda on climate, so that the city can live with the nickname of "Hopenhagen" that it has been given by one group of campaigners.

On December 13 -- before participating in a climate change service -- Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and activists from around the world will present a global petition to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The event is organized by the global Countdown to Copenhagen Campaign, which includes church-related development organizations, partner groups in the Global South, and the World Council of Churches, in cooperation with Hopenhagen -- the name of the campaign.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pope Blasts Mass Media for Its Emphasis of Evil News

On the feast of the Immaculate Conception yesterday (December 8, 2009), Pope Benedict XVI had some stern words on the role of the mass media in our everyday lives in this information age, according to the National Catholic Register website.

"Every day, in the newspapers, television, and radio, evil is told to us, said again, amplified, so that we get used to the most horrible things and become desensitized," the Pope said at the Spanish Steps in Rome.

The Holy Father added, "In a certain way, it poisons us, because the negative is never fully cleansed out of our system but accumulates day after day. The heart hardens, and thoughts become gloomy. For this reason, the city needs Mary, whose presence speaks of God, reminds us of grace's victory over sin, and makes us hope even in the humanly most difficult situations."

The Pope concluded his address saying, "The border between good and evil runs across everyone's heart, and none of us should feel entitled to judge others. Instead, each one of us must feel duty-bound to improve ourselves. Mass media make us feel like 'spectators,' as if evil only touched others and that certain things could not happen to us. Instead, we are all 'actors,' for better or worse, and our behavior influences others."

More Than Half of Turkey's Population Opposes Non-Muslim Religious Meetings

More than half of the population of Muslim-majority Turkey opposes members of other religions from holding meetings or publishing materials to explain their faith, according to a recent survey.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said non-Muslims either "should not" or "absolutely should not" be allowed to hold open meetings where they can discuss their ideas. Fifty-four percent said non-Muslims either "should not" or "absolutely should not" be allowed to publish literature that describes their faith.

The survey also found that almost 40 percent of the population of Turkey said they had "very negative" or "negative" views of Christians. Over 60 percent of those polled said there is one true religion. More than 90 percent of the population of Turkey is Muslim.

Ali Carkoglu, one of the two professors at Sabanci University who conducted the study, said no non-Muslim religious gathering in Turkey is "risk free."

The report -- issued in November, 2009 -- was part of a study commissioned by the International Social Survey Program, a 45-nation academic group that conducts polls and research about social and political issues.

Archbishop of Canterbury Warns Episcopalians Confirming Lesbian as Assistant Bishop Will Split Church

On Sunday, December 6, 2009, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams -- also known as the Archbishop of Canterbury -- strongly and swiftly warned Episcopalians that confirming the Rev. Mary Glasspool -- a lesbian -- as assistant bishop of Los Angeles "will have very important implications."

Williams lacks the authority of a pope to summarily excommunicate churches or members that stray from the fold, but he said that he would significantly reduce the Episcopal Church's role in the communion.

Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia said that Glasspool's election gives Williams "every reason to dissociate the Episcopal Church" from the Anglican Church of North America, as the legitimate U.S. branch of Anglicanism.

The threats from Williams and other Anglican leaders have been steadily rising in intensity ever since Episcopalians elected V. Gene Robinson -- an openly gay priest -- as bishop of New Hampshire three years ago.

Russian Supreme Court Halts Activities of Jehovah's Witnesses, Bans Its Books

The Russian Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that halts the activities of a regional branch of Jehovah's Witnesses, and bans dozens of its publications.

In September, a court in Rostov-on-Don outlawed the group's activities in the region, seized its assets there, and labeled 34 of its publications extremist. The Russian Supreme Court upheld that ruling yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

The list of banned books includes a children's book of Bible stories, and the Jehovah's Witnesses' signature magazine, "The Watchtower."

Jehovah's Witness spokesman Yaroslav Sivulskiy said, "We are deeply disappointed with that decision."

Sivulskiy added, "We consider it to be a rollback to the past," in a reference to the Soviet communist era, when many members of Jehovah's Witnesses were put in prison. "The Supreme Court makes it illegal for us to profess our views."

The group plans to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights. There are more than 160,000 Jehovah's Witnesses living in Russia.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

U.S. Military Faces Criticism for Bringing Controversial Islamic Speaker to Fort Hood

The U.S. military is facing much criticism for bringing a controversial Islamic speaker to the Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, according to the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) news.

The criticism comes just one month after a radical Muslim's shooting spree at Fort Hood that killed 13 soldiers.

Dr. Louay Safi lectured on Islam last week to U.S. troops about to deploy to Afghanistan. He is a top official for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

In 2007, that group was named as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorism financing trial in U.S. history.

Evidence introduced at the trial showed that ISNA is closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is a global Islamic jihadist movement that laid the foundation for groups like al Qaeda and Hamas.

Dr. Safi has also worked for a Saudi-funded organization called the International Institute of Islamic Thought. That group has been on the radar screen of federal investigators for years.

Turkey Needs to Clean Its Own Backyard Before It Can Scorn Switzerland

More than any other nation in the world, Turkey has conveyed its extreme anger in reacting to a recent Swiss referendum that bans the construction of minarets in Switzerland.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the vote was a "disgrace" for Switzerland. Turkey's Minister for European Affairs Egemin Bagis made an appeal to Muslims in which he asked them to withdraw their money from Swiss banks, and urged them to choose Turkish banks.

It is ironic that Turkey is so upset with Switzerland for banning minarets, because Turkey has suppressed Christian freedom and growth in its Islamic country for many years. Turkey's anger with Switzerland illustrates par excellence the adage that says "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

Today, it is almost impossible to build a new church in Turkey, or even return an old unused church to its original use, according to the Asia News website.

Despite promises by Turkey several months ago that it would soon reopen the Orthodox Theological School of Halki -- which Turkey shut down in 1971 -- nothing has been done about its reopening. Moreover, there is no sign that it will reopen anytime soon.

Although the Turkish government has been reassuring the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch for several years that steps would be taken with respect to religious freedom, Christians continue to have a difficult time finding a church that is open. Many Christians in Turkey continue to experience social discrimination; consequently, they choose not to show their religious identity in public.

Pope Benedict to Celebrate Lord's Nativity Mass at 10 pm Instead of Midnight

Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity in St. Peter's Basilica at 10 pm this year instead of midnight.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the decision -- made two weeks ago -- was so that the Pope "would become less tired out and could retire earlier in anticipation of reading the "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world) message the following day."

Mass "will end at midnight," Father Lombardi said, according to a report in today's "Il Giornale" newspaper.

Father Lombardi stressed that "there are no concerns of any kind regarding the health of the Pontiff."

Over the past few days, some commentators have speculated that the Mass time may have been changed because of the Pope's poor health. One news agency noted that the time of the papal midnight Mass had never been changed -- even during the last years of John Paul II's pontificate when he had become very frail.

What do you think of Pope Benedict's decision to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Nativity at 10 pm instead of midnight for the first time in history? Does this change of time diminish the spiritual effect of this Mass? Will this set a precedent for future popes? Feel free to comment on this change....

Monday, December 7, 2009

Orthodox Seminary is Opened in France; Patriarch Kirill Thanks Catholic Bishops

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia thanked Catholic bishops for their support in opening a Russian Orthodox seminary in France, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

"The seminary will not only help bring up clerics for our parishes abroad, but also will give Russian parishes people who know cultural life of Western Europe and modern theology of the Catholic Church," the Patriarch said. He made his remarks at a meeting held in Moscow on December 3, 2009, with Archbishop of Bordeaux Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard, Bishop Benoit Riviere of Autun, and Auxiliary Bishop of Bordeaux Jacques Blaquart.

Patriarch Kirill said Russia and France have very special relations, in particular thanks to Russian immigrants and the new opportunities today for developing bilateral contracts.

At the meeting, the Patriarch also pointed out that there is a growing number of Russians currently living in Western Europe.

Report Says Church of the Future Will Adopt Progressive Social Values

The church of the future will reside in an urban setting, will consist of many minorities, and will adopt progressive social values, according to a report published recently by the Center for American Progress titled "New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation."

According to this report, the Millennials -- born from 1978 to 2004 -- are an increasing force in American life and politics. The Millennial group will dwarf the size of the baby boomer generation, while bringing about changes in society that the boomers abandoned after they matured.

Sixty-four percent of Millennials agreed that "religious faith should focus more on promoting tolerance, social justice, and peace in society, and less on opposing abortion or gay rights," according to the report. Only 19 percent disagreed.

Millennials were a major force in the election of Barack Obama in 2008. By the year 2020, they will constitute 40 percent of the entire American electorate.

Indeed, the trend toward multiculturalism, urbanism, and changing social ideas is a reality. Just how these trends will influence and shape the church of the future remains to be seen.

FBI Investigates Embezzlement of $1 Million at Greek Orthodox Church in CT

Members of Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Orange, Connecticut have turned to the FBI for help, after discovering an embezzlement scheme may have drained them of a lot of cash, according to the WTNH (New Haven) website.

The Church has been undergoing a $6 million expansion project, and as much as a million dollars may have been embezzled, making it difficult for the Church to recoup and continue the project.

In a statement to News Channel 8 (CT)today, attorney for the Church, John Martini, said, "Saint Barbara's is a possible victim of financial fraud committed by one or more other people. We are now working and cooperating with the FBI in connection with its investigation of the facts and circumstances relating to this matter."

The member of the Church under investigation is not being named, but that person reportedly had access to the Church's endowment and building funds. That person also reportedly handled personal investment and retirement accounts for Church members.

More than 150 members of the Church met at an emergency meeting Sunday night (December 6, 2009) to discuss this matter.

Russian Archbishop: Vatican Must Take "Concrete Steps" Before Patriarch-Pope Meeting Can Occur

The Russian Orthodox Church is not against a meeting between its head, Patriarch Kirill, and Pope Benedict XVI, but it expects the Vatican to "take concrete steps to show that there is a desire to be cooperative," the Russian Church's foreign relations chief said in a television program on December 5, 2009.

"Our position has remained unchanged for many years. We never excluded the possibility of such a meeting," head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department of External Church Relations Archbishop Hilarion told Rossiya television.

Archbishop Hilarion added, "We expect the Vatican to take concrete steps to show that there is a desire to be cooperative and heal all the wounds that were inflicted in the extremely harrowing period of the early 1990s."

He said, "In that period, more than 500 Orthodox Churches in Ukraine were forcibly seized by Greek Catholics and the Orthodox believers were ousted from them."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Missionaries Face Fines for Sharing Their Faith with Strangers in Russia

Ordinary believers in Russia face fines for sharing their faith with strangers in the metro or on the street under amendments drafted by the Justice Ministry on December 1, 2009 that are stirring worries among Protestant groups about a clampdown on religious freedom.

Under the proposed changes to the Law on Religious Activity, only leaders of registered religious groups and their officially authorized missionaries would be allowed to pass out religious literature, preach, and talk about their faith in public, according to The Moscow Times website.

Anyone else who shares their faith will face a fine of $65 to $170 for individuals, and $170 to $230 for legal entities.

The amendments are expected to benefit the dominant Russian Orthodox Church -- about 70 percent of Russians are Orthodox -- which rarely engages in missionary work, but often accuses other Christian groups of poaching Orthodox believers.

Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles Elects Lesbian as Assistant Bishop

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected a lesbian as assistant bishop on December 5, 2009 -- the second openly gay bishop in the Anglican fellowship, which is already deeply fractured over the first.

The Rev. Mary Glasspool, 55, of Baltimore needs approval from a majority of dioceses across the church before she can be consecrated as assistant bishop in the Los Angeles diocese, according to the Associated Press.

Her victory underscored a continued Episcopal commitment to accepting same-sex relationships, despite enormous pressure from other Anglicans to change their stand.

The head of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, is scheduled to consecrate Glasspool on May 15, 2010 in Los Angeles, if the church accepts the vote.

The Episcopal Church -- which is the Anglican body in the United States -- caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. This consecration caused much discontent among Anglicans, resulting in many of them to leave the church.

Several weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI eased the process for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, because of the plethora of Anglicans who were disenchanted with their church.

Coptic Priest Spreads God's Word Despite $60 Million Bounty on His Head

Egyptian evangelist Father Zakaria Botros is one of the most controversial figures in the Middle East. He is a Coptic priest who has led thousands of Muslims to Christ via the Internet and television -- and militant Muslims want him dead because of that, according to the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) website.

Fr. Zakaria, 75, is perhaps the most hated man in the Middle East. He is confronting Islam with an "in your face style" of TV and Internet evangelism.

His weekly 90-minute television program, Truth Talk, airs Friday during prime time throughout the Middle East.It is broadcast on the al-Hayat satellite channel and is watched by nearly 60 million Arabs.

Zakaria's Internet discussion show, Pal Talk, is broadcast online for six hours every Tuesday and Thursday.

Today, he is hiding. Al Qaeda terrorists have placed a $60 million bounty on his head, and that has made him cautious, but not afraid.

Did Swiss Ban Minarets Because of Minaret Inelegance or Because They Oppose Islam?

When Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on construction of minarets in a referendum on November 29, 2009, they surprised some pollsters and disappointed many European leaders -- including those of their own government -- who opposed the ban.

Babacar Ba, the Geneva ambassador of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said he was surprised and disappointed by the vote.

On the other hand, far-right politicians in several countries were gleeful over the results, and publicly wished for similar bans. "It's a signal that Muslims have to adapt to our way of life, and not the other way around," said Filip Dewinter, a member of the Vlaams Belang Party in Belgium. Dewinter said he plans to pave the way for a minaret ban in Belgium soon.

Switzerland is a member of the European Convention on Human Rights, which will probably be the basis for legal challenges to the Swiss ban of minarets, according to the New York Times news blog.

What do you think of Swiss voters banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland? Are they opposed to minarets because they detract from the beauty of the country? Or are they opposed to minarets because of their intolerance of Islam? Your comments on this issue are encouraged....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jordan Demands Israel Halt Work on Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Jordan summoned Israeli ambassador Nevo Dani on December 3, 2009 to demand a halt to the unilateral work carried out by the Jewish state on the outer walls of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- regarded by most Christians as the holiest place in Christendom.

The Jordanian government demanded Israel "immediately halt such actions and restore the status quo" in an official letter handed to the Israeli ambassador, according to the International Orthodox Christian News.

A Jordanian official said the Israeli authorities "have removed iron bars around a gate in the walls that have been sealed since the British mandate of Palestine (which ended in 1948) and opened the gate." The official added the Israelis "claimed that they were doing renovations but nobody asked them to do anything."

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by six Christian denominations -- Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox, as well as Roman Catholic.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, which forbids any unilateral work being done on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In its letter to the Israeli ambassador, Jordan stressed the "need to maintain the status quo between all Christian denominations."

Pope Benedict Praises Albanian Orthodox Church; Promises Commitment to Catholic-Orthodox Unity

Pope Benedict XVI met with His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania yesterday in Vatican City. In an address to the audience in English, the Pope shed light on some of the history of Christianity in Albanian lands, dating back to Apostle times, according to the Examiner website.

The Pope said, "Since it acquired its freedom, the Orthodox Church of Albania has been able to participate fruitfully in the international theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox." He considered the work of His Beatitude to restore Albania -- now free of communism -- to be a true inspiration to all the Albanian people.

Pope Benedict concluded his address by promising the Archbishop that the Catholic Church would do everything it could "to offer a common witness of brotherhood and peace, and to pursue with you a renewed commitment to the unity of our Churches."

Archbishop Urges Christians to be Bearers of Good News for God's Creation

Christians are called by Jesus to be the bearers of good news not only for humanity, but for the whole of creation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said today.

Some 3,000 Christians gathered today in Westminster for an ecumenical service before joining tens of thousands of campaigners in a march through London to call on the United Kingdom to take the lead at next week's United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen, according to the Christian Today website.

Dr. Williams said, "We are to be bearers of good news for the world that God has made. Not for any one little bit of it, not any one community at the expense of others, not even for humanity at the expense of everything else in the universe. Good news for all creation."

The Archbishop added, "Our liberation is the world's liberation. Good news for us should be good news for the whole of God's world."

Corps of Experienced Ushers Prevent Gate-Crashers from Meeting Pope

The fact that a Virginia couple managed to infiltrate a state dinner at the White House recently raises a question: Does the Vatican sometimes have to deal with gate-crashers? The answer is yes -- but rarely.

Every week the Pope meets and greets hundreds of people in VIP lines in public and private audiences, and he frequently distributes Communion to a selection of individuals at papal liturgies, according to the Catholic News Service (CNS) website.

Participants usually go through ID checks before they are allowed near the pontiff, but if a group is large enough, it is possible for outsiders to slip in. In these bigger groups, the Vatican relies on the expert and watchful eyes of the papal gentlemen -- a corps of experienced ushers who quietly and discreetly bounce anyone who should not be there.

Vatican gate-crashers have sometimes included imposters who dress up in ecclesiastical garb -- usually as a priest or a nun -- so they can be closer to the Pope.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ukraine Needs to Unite its Three Orthodox Jurisdictions into One Holy Christian Church

Eastern Orthodoxy is the primary religion in Ukraine; however, there are three major Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine: Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Moscow Patriarchate; Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- Kiev Patriarchate; and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Each of these jurisdictions considers itself to be the "true" Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The fact is that these three jurisdictions need to get together soon -- and exchange some serious Christ-inspired dialogue -- with a determination to unite these jurisdictions into one harmonious Orthodox Christian jurisdiction. Incredible as it seems, achieving this goal will result in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church becoming the largest jurisdiction in the entire Orthodox Church (an honor now held by Russia).

Ukrainian President Yushchenko believes Ukraine should have one national church. Recently, on a Ukrainian TV channel, he said, "A nation which is not united by faith...hard to say what it can be united in."

Archbishop Makarii of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church recently told the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (RISU) website that the unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions will occur with prayer, as God can do it very unexpectedly. He said unification can happen the same way the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 -- instantly and unexpectedly.

Chechen Rebels Claim Responsibility for Murder on the Nevsky Express

At least 26 people were killed and more than 100 hospitalized, after a homemade bomb derailed a luxury express train running from Moscow to St. Petersburg on November 27, 2009, according to The Moscow Times website.

Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, said, "It's a challenge for our people. A crime, in which any one of us could have been a victim, has been committed for effect. Everyone living in Russia is being intimidated."

The Nevsky Express -- the fastest train between Moscow and St. Petersburg -- was traveling at about 200 kilometers per hour with 652 passengers and 30 crew, the Interior Ministry said.

A bomb equivalent to seven kilograms of TNT on the tracks exploded, causing three of the train's 14 cars to be derailed.

Chechen rebels have claimed responsibility for this bombing. Chechens are predominantly Muslims living in Chechnya, which is located in the North Caucasus Mountains. Because Chechnya is a part of Russia -- and many Chechens want it to be an independent country -- Chechens have committed several terrorist acts in Russia in the past, in an effort to convince Russia to let it be independent.

Such terrorist acts have failed to have any impact on Russia yielding to Chechen demands in the past. It is also very unlikely that this train bombing -- if in fact it has been committed by Chechen rebels -- will have any effect on Russia in granting Chechens their demands.

What do you think about this terrorism? How can it be prevented? We want to know your thoughts. Comments please....

Pope Benedict Says Sickness and Suffering Can Benefit the Church

The experience of sickness and suffering can become a school of hope, maturity and union with Christ, and benefit the whole Church, Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday in his message for the 18th World Day of the Sick.

In this Year of Priests, the Pope asked the sick to "pray and offer your sufferings for priests, so that they will be faithful to their vocation and that their ministry will be rich in spiritual fruits, for the benefit of the whole Church."

The Holy Father concluded, "what cures man is not to shun suffering and flee in the face of pain, but the capacity to accept tribulation, to mature in it, and find meaning in it through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Patriarch Kirill Believes Women's Primary Duty is to be a Wife and Mother

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all of Russia believes that women should take an active position in society, but they should remember that their primary duty is to be a wife and mother, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

"You make the voice of the faithful heard through the active participation of women in all spheres of public life. However, at the same time, under no circumstances can we alter the role of women as wives, mothers, and homemakers," Patriarch Kirill said today at the opening of the First All-Russian Forum of Orthodox Women in Moscow.

His Holiness added, "We see that women are happiest when they are wives and mothers. If our society does not learn how to support women's roles, it has no future. Women should follow the Creator's Design, not fall into an intemperate mannishness."

The Patriarch concluded, a Christian woman "must be aware of herself as a member of civil society, responsible for the fate of our country. The Church, the Motherland, and even the whole world expect action from faithful women."

Russia Establishes Diplomatic Relations with Vatican

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, and signed a decree to establish diplomatic relations with Vatican City.

Under the decree, Russia's mission in the Vatican will be transformed into an embassy, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Parliament of World's Religions Begins Inter-Faith Festival in Australia

The Parliament of the World's Religions -- one of the world's largest inter-faith organizations -- today opened its inter-faith festival in Melbourne, Australia, according to the Voice of America (VOA) news website.

Up to 8,000 people from 80 countries are expected to attend this six-day inter-faith festival. Delegates will discuss issues such as climate change, indigenous rights, and the West's relationship with Islam.

Native American leaders, rabbis from Israel, and Buddhist monks from Vietnam will join Muslim scholars, Hindu philosophers, and representatives of the various Christian denominations at this event.

The Parliament convenes every five years. Its primary purpose is to cultivate harmony and bring together different people to share their beliefs and ideas.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pope Says Real Theologians Are Those Aware of Their Own Limitations

Pope Benedict XVI says real theologians are those who are aware of their own limitations and do not fall into the temptation of trying to restrict God to the limits of human intelligence.

The Pope gave this definition today, December 3, 2009, during his homily at a Mass he celebrated for the International Theological Commission, Vatican Radio reported. The Commission has gathered in Rome this week for its annual plenary assembly, which continues through December 4.

"The great scholar becomes humble, and precisely in that way, sees the folly of God that is wisdom -- wisdom that is greater than any human wisdom," the Pope said in his homily.

Patriarch Bartholomew: Progress Being Made on the Path to Catholic-Orthodox Unity

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is confirming that progress is being made on the path to Catholic-Orthodox unity, and says that uprooting the obstacle caused by the "thorny question" of papal primacy will be the key for continued progress, according to the ZENIT website in Rome.

The Patriarch made this assertion when he welcomed a delegation from the Holy See for the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Orthodox Church, yesterday, December 1, 2009. The Vatican delegation was headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper and Bishop Brian Farrell, president and secretary respectively, of the Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Patriarch Bartholomew said the presence of the delegation in Istanbul "confirms the desire to eliminate the impediments accumulated in the course of a millennium to attain the fullness of communion."

The Patriarch asserted that this dialogue "progresses, by the grace of God, despite the occasional difficulties."

Vatican Refuses to Ordain Women in Catholic Building

An Anglican ordination, scheduled to take place today in a Roman Catholic Church in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, was moved at short notice to a Protestant Church, because the Vatican refused to allow women to be ordained in a Catholic building, according to Ecumenical News International (ENI).

Pope Benedict XVI eased the process for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism several weeks ago; however, the Catholic Church does not allow women to be clergy, although the Anglican Church does.

For Anglicans to allow women to be clergy is just one of the ongoing conflicts existing between Catholics and Anglicans. Anglicans also allow married priests and openly gay priests to be clergy, while the Catholic Church does not.

Greek Orthodox Church Sues Turkey for Preventing Greek Cypriots to Worship

The Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus has taken Turkey to the European Court on Human Rights over allegedly preventing the 500 Greek Cypriots living in the Turkish north from worshiping at religious sites there, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit concerns 520 churches, monasteries, chapels, and cemeteries under Turkish control since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974.

The north's Greek Cypriot community cannot worship at these sites, because they are either derelict or have been converted into mosques, army barracks, stables, or nightclubs.

The Orthodox Church leader in Cyprus, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, said the Church has "documented proof" of the destruction of religious sites in the north , and will seek unrestricted access to its property there, so the faithful can worship freely.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pope Notes "Urgency" of Pursuing Christian Unity in Message to Patriarch Bartholomew

Pope Benedict XVI sent his greetings to the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on November 30, 2009, as the Ecumenical Patriarch celebrated the feast of St. Andrew, the patron of Constantinople, according to the Vatican news service.

In his message to the Orthodox leader, the Pope spoke of the "urgency" of pursuing Christian unity, saying that the Christian world must speak with one voice in response to today's challenges.

Pope Benedict said, "Our Churches have committed themselves sincerely over the last decades to pursuing the path towards the re-establishment of full communion, and although we have not yet reached our goal, many steps have been taken that have enabled us to deepen the bonds between us."

The Pope also congratulated Patriarch Bartholomew for his outspoken statement in defense of the natural environment, and said that he hoped to "work together in drawing attention to humanity's responsibility for the safeguarding of creation."

Somehow, I have a feeling that Pope Benedict's "urgency" for Christian unity will result in a rapprochement of Catholic-Orthodox relations. Could it be that Pope Benedict is contemplating easing the process of Catholic-Orthodox unity, as he recently did for Anglicans to become Catholics? Let us know what you think of this "urgency" by posting a comment.

Russian Orthodox Priest Noted for Converting Muslims is Killed in Church

The Rev. Daniil Sysoyev, a Russian Orthodox priest who was known for promoting missionary work among Muslims, was shot in his church November 19, 2009, the Ria Novosti news agency reported.

Father Sysoyev, 35, died at a Moscow hospital of gunshot wounds to the head and chest. The parish's choir director was wounded in the shootings at the Church of St. Thomas in Moscow.

A Moscow Patriarchate official called Father Sysoyev a "talented missionary" whose work among Muslims might have been the motive for the shooting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Orthodox-Catholic Working Group Discusses Role of Pope at Meeting in Kiev

A meeting of the St. Irenaeus Orthodox-Catholic Working Group was held in Kiev, Ukraine, November 3-7, 2009, according to Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological School (SVOTS) website. The Working Group was hosted at the Kievan Monastery of the Caves and the Kiev Theological Academy, and was received by Metropolitan Wolodymir of Kiev.

The Working Group, founded in Germany in 2004 -- at a time when the official Orthodox-Catholic international dialogue was at a standstill -- is an informal gathering of 24 scholars and theologians, equally divided between Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

Meeting annually since its inception, this year's meeting of the group centered on the Vatican I declarations on the infallibility and universal jurisdiction of the Pope, which poses a major stumbling block in the relationship between the two churches.

Dr. Paul Meyendorff, professor of theology at St. Vladimir's Seminary, who attended the meeting, said, "A close reading of the conciliar decree in its historical context, indicates that the Catholic doctrines regarding infallibility and universal jurisdiction may not be as absolute as they are often understood on both the Catholic and Orthodox sides." He added that a better understanding of these dogmas "could help to resolve this major obstacle to the rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Patriarch Kirill Supports Serbia in Resolving Kosovo Problem

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia recently expressed his support of the people of Serbia.

"The Russian Orthodox Church will never leave brothers in the Christ in Kosovo enduring the difficult period on the territory of the sacred and God-loving ancestors," he wrote in a message to the President of the Association of the Serb Municipalities in Kosovo, according to the Moscow Patriarchate website.

The Patriarch added, "The Moscow Patriarchate has been invariably supporting efforts of the Serbian state and the Serbian Orthodox Church in search of the weighed and fair decision of the Kosovo problem."

Kosovo broke away from Serbia and declared itself an independent state several months ago. The United Nations, the European Union, and most nations -- including Russia -- have refused to recognize Kosovo as an independent nation.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Orthodox Carpatho-Russians: The People from "Nowhere"

When American pop-artist Andy Warhol was once asked where he came from, he answered, "I come from nowhere." In a sense, he was right, because his real name was Ondrej Varchola, the son of Carpatho-Russian immigrants who came to Pittsburgh in 1918.

You will not find Carpatho-Russia on a map. It exists, and yet it has never existed; indeed, it is "nowhere." It is no wonder that some people call Carpatho-Russians "the Kurds of Europe."

A more common name for Carpatho-Russia is Ruthenia. These Eastern Slavs live in and around the Carpathian Mountains, and speak a language which is similar to -- but different from -- Ukrainian. For more than 1500 years, they have lived in these Carpathian Mountains -- the original home of all the Slavs.

With their emigration, the Carpatho-Russians number as many as one and a half million people. By folklore, the Carpatho-Russians resemble the Slovaks, Ukrainians, and Poles, with influences from Austrians and Hungarians.

Most Carpatho-Russians are Orthodox Christians. They comprise one of the nine major national Orthodox Jurisdictions in America -- the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA (ACROD).

St. Nicholas Icon Exhibition Begins December 1 at Museum of Russian Icons

The Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts is presenting an extraordinary collection of icons and holiday events from December 1 through January 9, 2010 to mark the Feast of St. Nicholas and Orthodox Christmas.

The exhibit places 11 St. Nicholas icons together in the upper South Gallery on display to the public for the first time, including the first icon acquired by museum founder Gordon Lankton in 1991.

Visitors will be able to see works spanning four centuries, with 14 others shown throughout the Museum.

St. Nicholas performed good works for the poor and oppressed. His many deeds entered the realm of myth and contribute to stories of Father Christmas, St. Nick, and Santa Claus.

"Free Hugs" to Occur at Celebration in Moscow Today

A celebration titled "Davaite Obnimat'sya!" ("Let's Hug!") will assemble today, November 28, at Pushkin Square in Moscow, according to the Voices from Russia website.

It will be part of a series of such actions around the world, designed to give a warm greeting to people on the street, organizers of the rally said.

Organizers believe that 100 to 150 people will take part in the Moscow celebration.

This celebration reminds me of the "Christ is in Our Midst" portion of the Sunday church services. Some churches do encourage hugging by parishioners at that time, because it portrays how loving Christ is toward mankind. We do need more love -- and less hate -- in our society today. Do you agree with me? Let us know how you feel by posting a comment....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Russian Patriarch Protests Court Ruling to Ban Crucifixes in Italian Schools

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has supported Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's opposition to the idea of banning crucifixes from Italian public schools.

"Italy and other European countries' Christian heritage must not be subject to scrutiny at European rights agencies," Patriarch Kirill said in a letter to Berlusconi, posted today on the Moscow Patriarchate's website.

The Patriarch was commenting on the ruling, passed by the European Court of Human Rights on November 3, on a lawsuit, filed by an Italian mother, who claimed that the crucifixes in public schools are a violation of human rights.

A mother from Greece, whose son is studying in Italy, appealed the ruling to ban crucifixes in Italian public schools two weeks ago.

Orthodox and Catholics to Prepare Joint Approach on Dialogue with EU

Orthodox and Catholics intend to develop a joint approach to forming dialogue with the European Union (EU), according to the Interfax-Religion website.

The first working meeting was held on November 17, 2009. Representatives of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches at the EU took part in it.

During the discussion, participants at the meeting underlined the importance of a uniform approach development of Christian Churches for forming institutional dialogue with the EU.

They especially noted the importance of the joint mission of Orthodox and Catholic Churches, because these churches tend to have the same positions in the majority of pressing questions.

As a result of this meeting, participants have decided to hold such consultations regularly as of December, 2009.

Russian President to Meet with Pope Benedict in Vatican on December 3

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on December 3, 2009 during his brief visit to Italy, the Kremlin said today.

Medvedev's talks with the Pope could help in mending ties between the Roman Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church.

The late Russian Patriarch Alexi II refused to meet with the then Pope John Paul II, and called for resolving disputes between the two churches.

Earlier this year, Medvedev had spoken about plans to improve ties with the Vatican, which have been strained in recent years over the Orthodox Church's displeasure at the Roman Catholic Church's missionary activities and conversions in Russia.

New Russian Patriarch Kiril, who succeeded Alexi II earlier this year, is considered to be a liberal in the predominantly conservative Russian Orthodox Church, and is reported to be eager to mend relations with the Vatican.

A meeting between Patriarch Kiril and Pope Benedict XVI is expected to occur in 2010, because of the friendly ecclesiastical interaction that has prevailed between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Vatican in recent months.