Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trial of Serb Leader Karadzic Resumes, Will Portray Serbs as Minority Acting in Self-Defense

Radovan Karadzic -- the Bosnian Serb wartime leader in the early 1990s -- will seek to portray Bosnia's Serbs as a threatened minority who acted in self-defense throughout the war, when his genocide trial resumes on March 1, 2010 at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

The 1992-95 Bosnian conflict -- which killed 100,000 people, and displaced 2.2 million others -- "was a civil war that the Serbs did not want," Karadzic's legal adviser, Marko Sladojevic, has already told the court in a pre-trial statement, according to the Gulf-Times website.

The 64-year-old Karadzic faces 11 counts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Arrested on a Belgrade bus in July 2008 -- after 13 years on the run -- Karadzic risks life imprisonment. He has pleaded not guilty, and insists on conducting his own defense.

Christian Leaders in Mexico Call on Officials to Protect Evangelicals from Attacks by Rebels

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today (February 28, 2010) that Christian leaders in Chiapas, Mexico, are calling on state and federal officials to protect evangelicals following an attack in the city of Tumbala.

Sympathizers of leftist rebels known as zapatistas assaulted about 40 evangelical Christians while they were in their homes sleeping. A 49-year-old man was killed, and 20 other Christians -- including women and children -- were injured.

The Christians are members of the El Horeb Presbyterian Church. So far, no suspects have been arrested.

For years, Evangelicals in Chiapas have been the targets of leftist rebels and traditional religious groups.

Religious Group Rips Obama Administration for Meeting with "Hate-Filled" Atheistic Coalition

For the first time in American history, a presidential administration -- the Obama administration -- met with a group of nontheists on February 26, 2010 for a policy briefing at the White House, according to the Christian Post website.

Before the meeting, Secular Coalition for America Executive Director, Sean Faircloth, said, "Our Founders knew that there was no place in American government for the privileging of religion, or of one belief over another, and that will be a central theme in our interaction with the White House."

The Secular Coalition of America is an advocacy organization whose purpose is "to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States." The group represents atheists, agnostics, skeptics, humanists, and freethinkers.

A religious advocacy group, In God We Trust, blasted the meeting and accused the Obama administration of meeting with a "hate-filled" atheistic coalition.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

In First Public Address Since His Dismissal Bishop Artemije Calls for Unity of Serbian Church

"I am willing to accept the decisions of the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), although I do not agree with them," said Bishop Artemije yesterday (February 26, 2010) in his first public address since his dismissal from the administration of the diocese on February 13, according to the Raska-Prizren blogspot.

"What I maintain is the position that is most important to preserve the unity of the SOC. I have told the Synod that I can never accept nor can anyone force me to tear the chiton of the Church of Saint Sava; that is, to create a schism," said Bishop Artemije in Gracanica.

"I think that this problem that has emerged will be legitimately resolved at the meeting of the Assembly of Bishops; until then, things should be examined in peace, without commotion. Government bodies are also involved; let them examine all the facts, and then the Assembly will find the most suitable solution on the basis of its knowledge, the canons, and the Constitution of the SOC," concluded Bishop Artemije.

In Shift from Previous Administrations, Obama Mum on Genocide Resolution Opposed By Turkey

The Associated Press reports today (February 27, 2010) that a congressional panel will vote the week of March 1, 2010 on a resolution that would recognize as genocide the World War I-era killings of more than a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

U.S. President Barack Obama said as a candidate that he believed the killings were genocide; however, he has not taken a public position on the congressional measure. A congressional resolution that would recognize the genocide could alienate Turkey, a NATO ally and traditional friend of the United States that is crucial to U.S. foreign policy goals.

Past presidential administrations have defeated similar resolutions through public cajoling about U.S. national security interests and behind-the-scenes lobbying. The U.S. still wants Turkey's support for American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ankara has long made it clear that approval of the resolution could result in a significant negative impact on Turkish relations with the United States. Although Turkey continues to deny its genocide, most historians believe that Turkey was responsible for the deaths of as many as one and one-half million Armenians during and shortly after World War I.

Anti-Semitic Crimes Continue to Prevail on Crete As Hoodlums Carve Swastikas on Teacher's Arm

Police on Crete are seeking two men who carved swastika symbols on the arm of a 27-year-old teacher on Wednesday night (February 24, 2010)-- the latest in a string of anti-Semitic crimes on the island in the past two months.

The woman was attacked while getting into her car in the Halepa suburb of Hania by two masked youths who used a razor blade to carve two Nazi symbols onto the skin of her left arm and another three on her jacket sleeve, according to Ekathimerini website.

Police say they believe the perpetrators had targeted her because she had been offering Greek language lessons to the children of immigrants.

This week's attack follows a string of recent assaults on migrants, and two separate fires that were set on a synagogue in Hania in January, 2010.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bishops Agree Not to Criticize King of Spain for Signing a Bill into Law to Ease Abortion

If King Juan Carlos of Spain signs a new law easing restrictions on abortion -- as he is constitutionally required to do -- the country's Catholic bishops will not take any action against him, the general secretary of the Spanish bishops' conference said.

According to the Catholic News website, Spain's bishops had said Catholic members of parliament who vote to liberalize abortion would place themselves outside the Church and should not receive Communion. Spain's Parliament approved a law easing restrictions on abortion on February 24, 2010.

"That his majesty the king must sanction this law with his signature is a unique situation. No other citizen would encounter this," and so "general principles" cannot be applied, said Auxiliary Bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino of Madrid, conference general secretary.

I just cannot avoid asking a critical question relating to this situation. Should the King of Spain have the right to refuse to sign a bill into law that clearly violates Christian values? Feel free to comment with your thoughts on this matter.

Israeli Press, Muslims Blast PM Netanyahu for His Attempt to Retain Holy Sites in West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was lambasted by the Israeli press today (February 26, 2010) over his plan to renovate two holy sites in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank, according to the Middle East Online website.

The Israeli move is seen as an attempt to retain illegal Israeli control of holy sites in the Palestinian territories.

Three of Israel's leading dailies accused the prime minister of pandering to the settler lobby and the far right.

Netanyahu sparked outrage earlier this week when he said he hoped to include Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in a national heritage restoration plan.

The Islamic bloc at the United Nations has called for international action to force Israel to rescind its decision.

Libyan Leader Gadhafi Calls for Holy War Against Switzerland, Calls It a Destroyer of Mosques

The Deutsche Welle World website reports that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi today (February 26, 2010) called for a jihad -- or holy war -- against Switzerland, saying the Alpine nation is a destroyer of mosques.

Gadhafi said that any Muslim who worked with Switzerland was against the Prophet Mohammed and the Koran, referring to a recent Swiss referendum verdict barring the construction of minarets -- the spires that sit atop mosques.

A European Union (EU) spokesman called the comment "unfortunate."

"The masses of Muslims must go to all airports in the Islamic world and prevent any Swiss plane landing, to all harbors and prevent any Swiss ships docking, inspect all shops and markets to stop any Swiss goods being sold," Gadhafi said during a meeting in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Clothing Store Worker Fired for Wearing Head Scarf, Lodges Complaint with Federal Officials

The Jerusalem Post website reports today that a Muslim college student has lodged a complaint with federal officials, after she said she was fired from her job at a San Mateo, California clothing store for refusing to remove her hijab, or head scarf.

Hani Khan, 19, of Foster City, California was terminated from her job on February 22, 2010 at the Hollister clothing store at the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

Her firing came a week after a district manager visited the store, called her into a meeting, and said she was not supposed to wear the scarf while at work, said Khan, who is of Indian and Pakistani descent.

"I thought it was quite unfair," Khan said yesterday. She added, "It's really surprising to see blatant discrimination against someone who is of an Islamic state who is wearing a hijab."

Breakaway Anglicans Working Eagerly to Meet Goal to Plant 1,000 Churches in North America

Conservative Anglicans, who began their own church less than a year ago because of their disapproval of the extremely liberal policies adopted by the Episcopal Church, are moving with great momentum to answer the call of planting 1,000 churches, according to the Christian Today website.

Hundreds gathered in Plano, Texas on Monday,February 22, 2010, for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) summit where they were told that they could be the leading church planting denomination in America if they succeed.

The vision of Anglican 1,000 was cast in the summer of 2009 by ACNA's Archbishop, the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, when the Church was constituted by some 700 parishes that had cut ties with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

"If we are accountable to the Word, tradition, and Holy Spirit, and if we are accountable for the transformation of society, we will have 1,000 churches in five years," Duncan said.

Russian Patriarch Blesses New President of Ukraine Ahead of Official Inauguration Ceremony

The Interfax-Religion website reports that Ukraine's new president, Viktor Yanukovich, received a blessing from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia today (February 25, 2010), at the Kiev Laura of the Caves, ahead of the official inauguration ceremony.

"May God bless you in your accession to power," the Patriarch told the president-elect. Following the blessing, Patriarch Kirill gave Yanukovich an image of the Savior as a present.

Some Ukrainians had feared that activists in support of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church would hold a protest rally during the prayer ceremony to show their support for the independent Kiev Patriarch -- rather than the Russian Patriarch -- celebrating the pre-inauguration service; however, there was no protest.

More than 50 policemen guarded the entrance and adjacent area to the Laura of the Caves, in an effort to ensure that the ceremony would be peaceful.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cardinal Sends Birthday Card to Patriarch Bartholomew, Calls for Closer Catholic-Orthodox Ties

The president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity sent a message to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, according to the Zenit website.

The Orthodox patriarch was born on February 29, 1940, the "leap day" that occurs every four years. Thus, he will celebrate his birthday this year on Monday, March 1.

Cardinal Walter Kasper wrote the message to affirm his "grateful recollection of the many fraternal meetings we have had over the last 10 years."

The cardinal expressed the hope that the patriarch "may continue to show tireless commitment in contributing to ever deeper knowledge and more fruitful collaboration between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches." In this way, he added, we can "offer the world a common witness of our faith in our One Lord Jesus Christ."

Head of the Lutheran Church in Germany Resigns; Bishop Margot Kaessmann Charged with Drunk Driving

The head of the Lutheran Church in Germany, Margot Kaessmann, resigned today (February 24, 2010), as a result of being pulled over for drunk driving last Saturday night, the Deutsche Welle website reports today.

Her resignation as head of Germany's Protestants and Hanover's bishop is effective immediately, but she will remain a pastor in the local Hanover church.

Police had stopped the 51-year-old for running a red light in Hanover. A test showed her blood alcohol level to be 0.154 percent -- three times the legal limit for driving in Germany -- prosecutors said.

"I am shocked at myself for committing such a grievous error," Kaessmann told Bild newspaper.

Kaesssmann, who is divorced, was elected in October 2009 to be the first woman to head the Protestant Church in Germany, which unites some 25 million Protestant Christians.

Hungary's Parliament Passes Bill Mandating Prison Time for Those Convicted of Holocaust Denial

The Jewish Times website reports today (February 24, 2010) that Hungary's Parliament has passed a bill making Holocaust denial a criminal offense.

The legislation, which would mandate prison terms of up to three years for those found guilty of publicly "denying, questioning, or making light of the Holocaust," was approved on February 22, 2010.

President Laszlo Solyom must sign the measure into law. Solyom has said he would approach any attempt at restricting the right of free speech with great caution.

Hitler's Nazi Germany was responsible for the murder of some six million Jews during World War II. More than 600,000 Hungarian Jews are believed to have perished during the Holocaust.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ukraine's Independent Orthodox Church Is Opposed to Russian Patriarch's Inauguration Prayer

The International Orthodox Christian News website reports that Ukraine's independent Orthodox Church has criticized president-elect Viktor Yanukovych for inviting the Russian patriarch to lead a church service before his inauguration as politically incorrect.

Yanukovych has invited Patriarch Kirill -- the head of the Russian Orthodox Church -- to lead a church service ahead of the inauguration on February 25, 2010 in an indication of his pro-Russian drive.

Bishop Yevstratiy, a senior Ukrainian official, said the Russian patriarch's blessing Yanukovych for president would look odd and could send reverberations across Ukrainian society.

Ukraine is predominantly an Orthodox country, but the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is divided, with the Moscow Patriarchy controlling its larger branch. The other major branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is independent, and is under the jurisdiction of the Kiev Patriarchate.

Serbia Issues International Warrant for Arrest of Kosovo Priest for Embezzling Church Funds

The Serbianna website reports today (February 23,2010) that Serbia has issued an international warrant for the arrest of a priest from Kosovo suspected of embezzling state and church funds.

Belgrade's Higher Court says it has launched an investigation against Simeon Vilovski on suspicion that he embezzled money that was meant for reconstruction of churches in Kosovo.

Media have reported that Vilovski may have fled to Greece. Vilovski had served in Kosovo under hardline Orthodox Church Bishop Artemije, who was recently replaced by the church over similar allegations.

Hundreds of Serbian Orthodox Churches and monasteries are located in Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Most nations of the world -- as well as the United Nations and the European Union -- have refused to recognize Kosovo as an independent country; moreover, Serbia has appealed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, in an effort to return Kosovo to its pre-secession status of being a province in Serbia.

COMMENTARY: Is Humanity Now Preparing for Its Second Crucifixion of Christ?

Make no mistake about it, humanity has already started the process for its second crucifixion of Christ. While Christ's unwarranted and brutal death on the cross at the young age of 33 was a physical phenomenon, His second "crucifixion" -- which began in the second half of the 20th century and continues to the present time -- is a theologically-oriented crucifixion with the ultimate goal of destroying Christ's attributes and teachings, as well as the peerless spiritual impact that Christ has had on society. A few examples below will provide credence for this belief.

In an interview with US magazine Parade earlier this month (February 2010), singer Elton John -- who is a homosexual -- said he believed Jesus was a "compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems."

For Elton John to call Jesus "gay" clearly illustrates his disrespect for the Savior of humanity. Apparently, John felt this was an effective means of rationalization, in order to justify and receive support for his own un-Christian gay lifestyle. John should be ashamed of himself for using Jesus as a scapegoat for his own deficiencies. He owes all Christians of the world a sincere apology.

In a more recent insulting incident -- one that occurred on February 20, 2010 -- a cartoon was published in a Delhi, India newspaper depicting Jesus raising beer in one hand and holding a cigarette in the other. Although the publisher of this cartoon is a Hindu, there can be no justification for the publication of this blasphemous image of Jesus.

The fact is that there are several salient examples that have made -- or attempted to make -- a travesty of Christianity since the second half of the 20th century. In 1963, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hare was responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated prayer in American public schools. This decision is even more appalling when one keeps in mind that the early American settlers' primary reason for establishing schools was so that children would be able to read the Bible.

In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion for the first time in America with its decision in Roe vs. Wade. We know the critical anti-Christian impact that this decision has had on our society, as millions of abortions are now performed in the U.S. every year. Abortion can be defined as the murder of a fetus.

In 1988, a movie titled "The Last Temptation of Christ" made a mockery of Jesus' life on earth by portraying Him marrying Mary Magdalene and fathering children. What Hollywood will do for money -- even in wrongfully portraying Jesus' life on earth -- is incredible and sacrilegious. This is another example of what a large portion of our society has become -- secular, materialistic, and even atheistic.

It is now time for Americans -- and indeed for society in general -- to resist and combat these types of anti-Christian occurrences. The Manhattan Declaration -- proclaimed in November 2009 -- is a good starting point, as millions of Americans have agreed that they will not accept laws that contradict the teachings of Jesus (for example, abortion). But this support of Christian ideals must be an ongoing process to be most effective.

In the final analysis, Jesus does not deserve the abuse that various segments of society -- as well as individuals -- have resorted to, in their attempt to debase His theological wisdom. On the contrary, we must genuinely love and worship Jesus ad infinitum for His love, His forgiveness, and for everything He has given us, including our salvation as a result of His Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blasphemous Cartoon of Jesus Published in India Results in Clashes between Hindus and Christians

The Asia News website reports today that clashes broke out on February 20, 2010 in Batala -- a town in the state of Punjab in India -- between Hindu extremists and the Christian minority.

The violence was sparked by the publication of a cartoon with a picture of Jesus raising a beer in one hand and holding a cigarette in the other.

The chief minister of Punjab condemns the blasphemous image and promises an iron fist against anyone who "foments sectarian hatred." Bishop Anil Couto, Bishop of Jalandhar, invites the faithful "to peace and brotherhood."

The cartoon -- published by a publisher in Delhi -- caused violent clashes between Christians and Hindus, injuring 10 people, damaging several shops, and the burning of the popular Salvation Army "Mukhi Fauj" Christian Church in Batala.

Archbishop of Canterbury Expresses Deep Concern on Declining Number of Believers in Middle East

The Christian Today website reports that the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has expressed his "deep" concern over the declining number of believers in the Middle East, during a four-day visit to the region that began on February 20,2010.

"We worry deeply about the dwindling of numbers here," said Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, not long after arriving in Jordan for the first leg of his visit.

"I believe it's the first importance that we keep that solidarity, friendship, and presence," he added.

Dr. Williams, who is regarded as "first among equals" within the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, plans to meet Christians in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine during his visit, which ends tomorrow (February 23, 2010).

Patriarch Bartholomew's Encyclical Attacks Anti-Dialogue Fanatics Opposed to Christian Unity

Indifference in regard to Christian unity is not an option for the disciples of Jesus, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated in an encyclical issued on the occasion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, commemorated this year on February 21, 2010.

"It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians," Bartholomew wrote in the encyclical, according to the Ekklesia website.

The encyclical refutes "fanatical" challenges brought against theological dialogues among different Orthodox churches and against ecumenical contacts with the wider community of Christians by "certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy."

"The truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue," the encyclical letter states. "When in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Morocco Minaret Collapse During Prayer Caused by Heavy Rains, Results in 41 Deaths and 72 Injured

The death toll from the collapse of a mosque minaret during a Friday prayer in northern Morocco rose to 41, a civil protection official told the Chinese Xinhua news agency on Saturday (February 20, 2010).

The minaret and part of the ceiling of the 16th-century Khnata bent Bekkar mosque -- also known as Bab Berdieyinne -- in the old city of Meknes broke down onto the courtyard when worshippers were about to perform the Friday prayer.

The number of injured people also rose to 72, Meknes civil protection chief al-Elwi al-Ismaili said.

According to the state-run MAP news agency, King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent Interior and Islamic Affairs ministers to the scene to "supervise rescue operations and inquire after the conditions of the injured." Officials say the collapse was caused by heavy rains that hit Morocco over the past several days.

Army Continues to Investigate Five Muslim Soldiers Planning to Poison Food at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Recent news that the U.S. Army is investigating accusations of threats made by Muslim soldiers at Fort Jackson, South Carolina has sparked a wave of questions and concern, the CBN website reported yesterday (February 20, 2010).

Army spokesman Christopher Gray told the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) News that in December 2009, five Muslim men were questioned after they allegedly threatened to poison food in the Fort Jackson mess hall (cafeteria).

The men are no longer in custody, but many people wonder why it took so long for the Army to release details of this incident.

Gray said that to protect the integrity of the investigation, he could not comment further at this time. He stressed that the investigation is "open and continuing."

Serbian Police Arrest Director of Diocese Building for Illegally Appropriating 300,000 Euros

On February 17, 2010, Serbian police in Belgrade arrested the director of the Rade Neimar Building Center of the Diocese of Raska and Prizren, Predrag Suboticki -- a close associate of dismissed Bishop Artemije -- according to the Raska-Prizren blog.

Suboticki was arrested on suspicion of illegally appropriating about 300,000 euros that were given to him without a receipt for monastery reconstruction. The Rade Neimar company was engaged in reconstruction and rebuilding of monasteries in Kosovo and Metohja from 2004 to 2009.

Suboticki is the kum (that is, the best man or godfather) of the brother of Simeon Vilovski, Bishop Artemije's secretary, who is believed to have fled to avoid arrest.

On February 13, 2010, the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church replaced Bishop Artemije from administering the Diocese of Raska and Prizren on suspicion that there are financial irregularities in the operation of the Diocese. Atanasije Jevtic has been appointed Bishop Administrator.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Christian Anti-Defamation Head: Elton John Owes All Christians Apology for Calling Jesus Gay

Pop star Elton John declared publicly this week, "I think Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems," according to the Christian News Wire website.

"This is an outrage and the height of blasphemy and an offense to all those who are Christians," said Dr. Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission.

"Sodomy is a pernicious sin and to assert Jesus was homosexual is to allege he engaged in a most wicked and perverted activity. It denies the Christian doctrine of the sinless life of Christ who died as an innocent man on behalf of the guilty human race. If Jesus was a sodomite, then there is no atonement or forgiveness of sin," said Cass.

"To assert that Jesus was a homosexual only serves to confirm the twisted and depraved mind of Elton John," Cass said.

He added, "This is an obvious case of someone projecting their own lifestyle onto Christ in an effort to justify their own unrepentant buggery. Elton John owes all Christians an apology."

Pope Meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, Praises Harmony of Various Religions in Lebanon

The Earth Times website reports on February 20, 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI -- at a meeting in Vatican City today with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri -- praised the peaceful coexistence in Lebanon between various religious communities, including Druze, Christians, and Muslims.

"The country (Lebanon), through the exemplary coexistence of the various religious communities...may continue to be a 'message' for the region of the Middle East and for the whole world," the Pope said.

The two leaders also recalled "the importance of the presence and activities of Christians in the country."

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, expressed "great appreciation for the contribution made by the Catholic Church for the benefit of all society, especially through her educational, health care, and aid institutions."

Japanese Protestant Pastor Dismissed for Allowing Unbaptized People to Receive Holy Communion

Japan's largest Protestant denomination has dismissed one of its pastors for continuing to allow unbaptized people to receive Holy Communion at his church, the Ecumenical News International website reports today (February 20, 2010).

The fired minister, the Rev. Jiro Kitamura of the United Church of Christ in Tokyo, is appealing the decision because he says he cannot accept it.

The pastor has campaigned for some time to give the Eucharist -- another name for Holy Communion -- to those who have not been baptized.

During Holy Communion services in Protestant churches, people receive bread and wine as symbols of the body and blood of Christ.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Russian Patriarch Kirill to Attend New Ukrainian President's Inauguration in Kiev on February 25

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will attend the inauguration of Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine, the Ria Novosti website reports today.

The inauguration ceremony is scheduled to be held on February 25, 2010 in Kiev; however, it may be delayed over a legal appeal by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost the February 7 runoff by 3.48 percent.

Tymoshenko has refused to concede defeat, and she appealed to Ukraine's Supreme Administrative Court on February 16, claiming election fraud and demanding ballots be recounted in three Ukrainian regions.

Patriarch Kirill was one of the first persons to congratulate Yanukovich on the victory. He urged the new Ukrainian leader to assume "responsibility to God, people, and history."

Christianity in Ukraine is divided into three major divisions: One Orthodox division is under the Russian Patriarchate; a second Orthodox division is independent and is under the Patriarch of Kiev; and a third division is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is under the Papacy.

Catholic Scholars in Private Letter Appeal to Pope Benedict to Delay Sainthood of WWII Pope Pius

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency website reports today that Catholic scholars from three countries have asked Pope Benedict XVI -- in a private letter -- to delay his proposed sainthood of World War II Pope Pius XII.

The 18 scholars from the United States, Germany, and Australia said that Catholic-Jewish relations could be irreparably harmed if Pius achieves sainthood before the historical record of his actions on behalf of Jews during World War II is cleared up. Nazi Germany was responsible for the murder of more than six million Jews during World War II.

"Holy Father, we implore you, acting on your wisdom as a renowned scholar, professor, and teacher, to be patient with the cause of Pius XII," the letter reportedly said.

Critics have long accused Pius of having ignored Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. The Vatican and other supporters of Pius say the wartime pope worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

"The silence of Pius during the Holocaust was an abject moral failure; today's letter by Catholic scholars is an affirmation of the power and majesty of truth," the statement concluded.

Coincidentally, Pope Benedict XVI, who is of German ancestry, served as a soldier in Adolph Hitler's Nazi German Army during World War II.

COMMENTARY: Time for Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants to Unite in One Christian Church

Just a few days ago -- February 12, 2010 to be exact -- Pope Benedict XVI told a group of bishops that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches must unite, in order to defend Europe's Christian roots and to enhance the moral and civil growth of society.

The Christian Church has been divided since 1054 -- the year that the Great Schism tore it apart into Catholic and Orthodox divisions. The Christian Church became further divided in 1517 when Protestantism began, thus dividing the Church into three major divisions.

The highest spiritual hierarchs of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism -- including the Pope, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Archbishop of Canterbury -- now need to conduct weekly meetings until they agree to a united Christian Church. To argue that these hierarchs are too busy to attend weekly meetings to attain this goal cannot be accepted. The fact is that achieving Christian unity must be the number one priority of all three Christian divisions.

Dialogue at these weekly meetings must focus on what must be done to establish a united Church. Moreover, the hierarchs of these divisions must be willing to sacrifice some of their unique idiosyncrasies, if that is necessary to establish one Christian Church. In short, the goal of Christian unity must transcend the continuation of traditional church practices that can be modified or eliminated for a harmonious unity.

Flexibility, then, is an important criterion that the Church hierarchs must possess for Christian unity to occur. You may recall the flexibility that Pope Benedict XVI exercised in October, 2009, when he said that Anglicans -- thousands of whom had been shocked by their Church's recent liberal policies -- could convert to Catholicism without having to go through the usual "red tape" of converts.

Now is the ideal time for the hierarchs of the three major Christian divisions -- Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant -- to be flexible and eliminate the "red tape" that has divided Christianity for centuries. This flexibility will most likely lead to a thriving Holy Catholic Apostolic Church -- one Christian Church as Christ wanted His Church to be!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tally of U.S. Church Membership Shows Gains By Catholic, Mormon, and Assemblies of God Churches

The Associated Press reports today that an annual tally of church membership in the U.S. found gains by the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, and the Assemblies of God in 2009, while mainline denominations continued their decades-long decline.

The data was published in the latest Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, released this month by the National Council of Churches, based in New York.

Membership in the Catholic Church rose nearly 1.5 percent to more than 68 million -- the largest denomination by far in the U.S.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- also known as the Mormon Church -- saw a 1.7 percent increase in its U.S. membership to just under 6 million, while the Assemblies of God -- a Pentecostal faith group -- recorded a nearly 1.3 percent increase, to 2.9 million members.

The Southern Baptist Convention -- the nation's largest Protestant group -- reported a slight drop for the second consecutive year by 0.25 percent to about 16.3 million.

Membership in the United Methodist Church dropped by nearly 1 percent last year, to 7.9 million members, but the denomination remains the third largest in the nation.

Church of England Synod Tells British Government Video Games Induce Disturbing Effect on Society

The Ecumenical News International website reports today that the Church of England Synod -- a key Anglican governing body -- has demanded that the British government review regulations of video games, saying they are having a disturbing effect on society.

A delegate to the synod, which met in London from February 8 to 12, 2010, had offered to show the assembly of bishops, clergy, and laity a compilation of violent images.

"Why is it acceptable, indeed lawful, to portray the killing and burning of a woman in 'Fatality,' the sawing of a woman in 'Mortal Kombat,' rape, torture, and so on?" asked Tom Benyon.

Benyon added, "I have seen their pernicious effect; a family member who saw a so-called game had nightmares."

Pope: Catholic and Orthodox Churches Must Unite to Defend Europe's Christian Roots, Moral Values

The Catholic and Orthodox churches must unite in order to defend Europe's Christian roots, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of Romanian bishops on February 12, 2010, according to The Trumpet website.

As the Bishops concluded their regular consultation with the Pope -- their "ad Limina" visit -- Benedict emphasized the need for them to work with their Orthodox counterparts.

"I am aware of the difficulties that Catholic communities must face in this realm; I hope that adequate solutions can be found, in that spirit of justice and charity that must animate relations between brothers in Christ," the Pope said.

The Pope added, "A particularly important realm of collaboration between Orthodox and Catholics today has to do with the defense of Europe's Christian roots and Christian values, and with common witness on subjects such as the family, bioethics, human rights, honesty in public life, and ecology." He concluded, "Undivided determination on these arguments will offer an important contribution to the moral and civil growth of society."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Icon of Russian Soldier Beheaded for Refusing to Renounce Orthodoxy Gives Myrrh in Church

The Interfax-Religion website reports today that an icon of Evgeny Radionov has started giving myrrh in St. Lukas Church in the Russian city of Penza. In 1996 Russian soldier Rodionov was beheaded in Chechnya -- a predominantly Muslim-populated state in Russia -- because he refused to renounce the Orthodox faith.

"Myrrh came out in two spots, in a palm of his hand and where one wears the cross," the church Rector Alexy Burtsev told journalists.

Burtsev said it happened during the All-Night Vigil on February 15. Parishioners, who stood behind praying, could smell a strange pleasant aroma.

The priest noted that on February 15, 1996, Penza-born Evgeny Radionov was captured in Chechnya; imprisoned for a hundred days; and when he refused to renounce his Christian faith, militants beheaded him.

Archbishop Receives "Building Bridges Award" for His Commitment to Address Inter-Faith Issues

The Archbishop of Canterbury received the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths "Building Bridges Award" yesterday (February 16, 2010), the Christian Today website reports.

The award was made in recognition of Dr. Rowan Williams' commitment to addressing contemporary cultural and inter-faith issues.

The Archbishop said he was "delighted and very much honored" to receive the award from the Institute, which is dedicated to teaching, research, and dialogue in the encounter between Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

"I do so on behalf of all those who have made possible the various inter-faith encounters of recent years in which I have shared -- especially my dedicated staff and colleagues," the Archbishop said.

Christian Apologist: God's Word Being Replaced by Man's Word, America Entering Secular Age

America once stood on the foundation of God's Word. But that foundation is crumbling -- even in the church -- and being replaced by man's word, observed one Christian apologist.

"Whatever we (Americans) once were, we are no longer. We have changed," said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, in his second State of the Nation address on February 16, 2010, according to the Christian Post website.

Part of the problem stems from what students are learning in science class, Ham believes. Students are being told that science can only explain things and events using natural causes, and the supernatural explanations of natural events are outside the bounds of science.

Ham quoted an article titled "Fading Faith" that appears in the latest edition of "Free Inquiry" -- a magazine of secular humanism -- that states, "A historic transition is occurring, barely noticed. Slowly, quietly, imperceptibly, religion is shriveling in America, as it already has in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan -- across the developed world. Increasingly, supernatural faith belongs to the third world. The first world is entering the long-predicted Secular Age, when science and knowledge dominate."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bishop Artemije's Associates Investigated for Taking Money Donated to Kosovo Soup Kitchens

Bishop Artemije's closest associates and advisors are being investigated, according to Belgrade daily Blic.

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) forwarded all documentation to the police on February 14, 2010. Bishop Artemije was head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo until last Sunday, when he was temporarily dismissed by the Holy Synod.

Police believe that money -- sent to the Eparchy for soup kitchens in Kosovo -- was going straight to private riches and luxurious lifestyles for several of Artemije's closest colleagues, including Monk Simeon Vilovski, his brother Vladimir Vilovski, his godson Predrag Suboticki, and Gordana Markovic, who was the director of the State Bureau for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in 2007.

At first Eparch money funded the office, but once it ran dry, Vilovski started using money that was donated to the soup kitchens in Kosovo, the Blic writes, adding that the money was meant to help feed 1,200 hungry Serbs in four soup kitchens in the province.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Issues Homily Offering Spiritual Guidance for Great Lent

The International Orthodox Christian News website reports today that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued a homily on February 14, 2010, offering spiritual guidance for Great Lent.

In his homily, the Ecumenical Patriarch states, "Fasting, abstinence, frugality, restriction of personal desires, intense prayer, confession, and similar ascetic elements are essential to the period of Great Lent and should not be considered burdensome obligations or unbearable duties that result in despondency or dejection."

The Patriarch's homily continues, "It is a sacred time of divine grace, which seeks to detach us from things material, lowly and corrupt in order to attract us toward things superior, wholesome, and spiritual."

Finally, Patriarch Bartholomew's homily concludes, "Great Lent instructs us to journey daily with a little less, without the arrogance of extravagance, waste, and display. It encourages us to surrender all forms of greed and ignore the challenges of commercial advertising, which constantly promotes new and false necessities. It emphasizes the need to seek God's assistance and mercy, placing our complete trust in His affectionate providence."

Arson Investigators Seek Three Men Who May Have Burned Down Ten Churches in Texas

The Christian Broadcast Network website reports today that arson investigators are searching for three men in connection with several church fires in east Texas. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has released sketches of the three persons of interest in the case.

Ten churches have been burned down during the past six weeks; however, that is not keeping congregations from worshiping.

"And now we feel that God wants us to really do the work that His church ought to be doing -- loving, sharing, and caring for our community and our world," said Pastor John E. Green of Lake Athens Baptist Church. He added, "And we certainly look forward to the day when they no longer are free to burn churches."

Church members across east Texas are volunteering around the clock to keep watch over their buildings.

Moscow Allocates Plot of Land on WWII Memorial Site to Build Buddhist Temple

Moscow authorities have allocated a plot of land on Poklonnaya Hill for a World War II memorial in the Russian capital's west, for a Buddhist temple, a deputy Moscow mayor said today (February 16, 2010).

"We have resolved the issue of providing a plot of land on Poklonnaya Hill to build a Buddhist temple," Sergei Baidakov, deputy Moscow mayor, said, according to the Ria Novosti website.

Baidakov added that it is unknown when the temple construction will be completed. Poklonnaya Hill already has an Orthodox Church, a mosque, and a synagogue.

Russia's four traditional faiths -- Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism -- played an important role in defeating Hitler's Nazi German invasion of the country, although Russia lost more than 20 million troops in World War II.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pope to Seminarians: "Living in Creativity of Love in Christ" Is Love Pervaded by "Dynamism"

Christianity does not consist of respecting external norms, but rather of penetrating the mystery of God, Pope Benedict XVI said on February 12, 2010, when he met with some 200 seminarian students of the Diocese of Rome at the Chapel of the Major Roman Seminary.

According to the Zenit website, the Pope delivered a "lectio divina" centered on the parable of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8),which he said "speaks indirectly, but profoundly, of the sacrament, of the calling, of being in the vineyard of the Lord and being servants of His mystery."

He explained that the vine is an Old Testament image that serves to indicate the People of God: "God planted a vine in this world. God cultivated this vine, His vine; He protected His vine."

Pope Benedict concluded that true justice itself is no longer revealed as "obedience to some norms," but as "the creative love that finds by itself the richness and abundance of good;" as "living in creativity of the love with Christ and in Christ," of a love penetrated by "dynamism."

Police in Greece Arrest Priest, Two Others For Stealing Religious Items from Monasteries

Ekathimerini website reports today that police in Ioannina, northwestern Greece, believe they are on the trail of a gang that has been stealing religious icons and other valuables from monasteries in the area, after arresting a priest who is alleged to have played a major role in the thefts.

The cleric -- who was not named -- was found to be in possession of 48 stolen icons, wood carvings, and various books. It is believed that some of the items were stolen from a monastery in Ioannina last year.

After arresting the priest, officers took another two men into custody.

Officers also searched a monastery in the Pamvotida municipality and the two suspects' homes, where they found more relics, a handgun, and some 500 bullets.

Serbian Orthodox Monks Supporting Artemije Clash with Monks Accepting Decision to Fire Him

Two groups of Serbian Orthodox monks clashed at the Gracanica monastery in the Kosovo Serb enclave of Gracanica yesterday (February 14, 2010), according to the Balkan Insight website.

The incident began around 2 p.m. on Sunday, when a group of supporters of Archbishop Artemije tried to force their way into the monastery to protect him after he was temporarily removed from his post by the church hierarchy.

The Holy Synod -- the church's top body -- decided on Saturday that Archbishop Artemije could no longer be allowed to run the eparchy in Kosovo, after it was discovered that he had been allegedly mishandling millions of euros in aid and government funds over the past several years. Bishop Atanasije has been chosen as his successor.

According to KIM Radio, after several failed attempts, around 20 monks -- led by the monks of the Crna Reka Monastery -- physically assaulted those at the monastery who support the decision of the Holy Synod.

After the conflict, the group withdrew and broke into the monastery through a back entrance. No one was hurt, but NATO-led forces in Kosovo, KFOR, helped prevent the conflict from growing. The Kosovo police did not interfere in the dispute, but their officers did try to separate the groups.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Young American Catholics Tend to Support Church Teachings Against Abortion, Euthanasia

Young American Catholics largely support their church's teachings against abortion and euthanasia, while taking a relativistic attitude to religion and morality in general, according to a new poll.

The poll -- released on February 11, 2010 -- indicates that 66 percent of Catholic "millennials" (aged 18-29) say that abortion is morally wrong, while 63 percent say the same of euthanasia. The poll was conducted by Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.

According to the Ethics Daily website, some of the survey results indicate a strong sense of religious identity among respondents. Eighty percent said that religion is at least "somewhat important" in their lives, and 65 percent described themselves as very or somewhat interested in learning more about their faith.

"The church has a great opportunity to evangelize, and has much to build on with the next generation of Catholics," observed Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus.

Egyptian Muslims Plead Not Guilty in Killings After Christmas Eve Service at Coptic Church

Three Egyptian Muslim men -- accused of a drive-by shooting that killed seven people outside a Coptic church -- pleaded not guilty yesterday (February 13, 2010), the International Orthodox Christian News website reports.

Egypt's prosecutor general has charged the three with murder and threatening national security in the January 6 attack on Orthodox Christmas eve, following a church service in the southern town of Nag Hamadi.

The shooting shocked Egypt's Coptic minority and underscored the government's failure to address chronic sectarian strains in a society where religious radicalism is gaining ground. Six Christians and a Muslim guard were killed, and nine other people were wounded.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak promised a quick trial for the three suspects -- all of whom have previous criminal records -- following nationwide protests by Egyptian Christians demanding better police protection. The trial was held in the city of Qena, about 30 miles south of Nag Hamadi. It was continued to March 20.

Christians -- mostly Orthodox Copts -- account for about 10 percent of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population of some 80 million people.

Christian Leaders Around World Condemn Arrest, Torture of 43 Health Workers in Philippines

Christian leaders around the world have condemned the arrest in the Philippines of a church official and other health workers in the southeast Asian country, and say they are worried about reports of torture being inflicted on those held.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, joined other church leaders in expressing his concerns in a February 11, 2010 letter addressed to Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and members of her cabinet. Tveit called for the immediate release of those detained, according to the Ecumenical News International website.

Tveit said the WCC is concerned to have received a report of the arrest by members of Philippines army and police of Dr. Alex Montes, a staff member of the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines, and a member of the Community Medicine Development Foundation, plus 42 other health workers. Security forces have accused the 43 of being members of a communist guerrilla army.

"I am distressed by the reported news that the detainees have been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment amounting to torture, and that they have been deprived of their basic human rights while in custody," Tveit said.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Muslims Ordered Not to Go through Airport Body Scanners; They Violate Islamic Rules

Islamic scholars have forbidden Muslim travelers from passing through full body scans at airports, because they violate religious rules of nudity.

The Figh Council of North America issued a fatwa -- that is, a religious ruling -- on February 11, 2010 warning Muslims not to go through the scanners, according to the Newsvine website.

"It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women," read the order.

In the U.S., there are now 40 scanners in 19 airports, and there could be as many as 450 by the end of the year.

Claims Conference Fires Three Employees, Approved More Than 100 Fake Holocaust-Era Claims

The Jewish Week website reports today (February 13, 2010) that the Claims Conference fired three employees last week who allegedly approved more than 100 fraudulent Holocaust-era claims -- filed primarily by Russian Jews now living in Brooklyn -- that bilked the German government out of more than $350,000.

A federal investigation has been launched, but it is not certain if the employees -- one of whom was supervisor of the Hardship Fund -- were complicit in the fraud. The Claims Conference declined to reveal their names.

"The German government was defrauded," said Gregory Schneider, the Claims Conference's executive vice president. He added, "This was done by very sophisticated persons or a group whose aim it was to defraud. And the fact that it was connected to the Holocaust makes it even more disgusting."

Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference, said he was "outraged that anyone would engage in a fraud of what we consider 'Holy money.'"

Serbian Orthodox Church Fires Leader of Kosovo Serbs for Embezzling Church and State Funds

The International Orthodox Christian News website reports today that the Serbian Orthodox Church has removed the hard-line spiritual leader of Kosovo Serbs on suspicion that he embezzled church and state funds.

The Holy Synod -- the church's top body -- ruled today (February 13, 2010) that Archbishop Artemije can no longer lead the church in Kosovo, which is considered the heartland of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Kosovo broke away from Serbia and declared its independence in 2008.

Artemije -- known for his ultra-nationalist and anti-Western views -- was investigated by the church for allegedly mishandling millions of euros (dollars) in aid and government funds over several years.

Hundreds of Artemije's supporters -- including some priests from Kosovo -- gathered in front of the Orthodox Church headquarters in Belgrade today during the Holy Synod meeting.

Anglican Cathedral in Vancouver to Stay Open for Olympics, Feeding Hungry and Helping Homeless

With the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada held yesterday (February 12, 2010), many people have been praying for the athletes, for the community hosting the event -- and for snow.

The British Columbia cities of Vancouver and Whistler are hosting the winter games, but the area has been hit recently by unseasonably warm temperatures. Hundreds of workers have spent days and nights trucking and airlifting extra snow to outdoor venues, the Ecumenical News International website reports.

Vancouver's (Anglican) Christ Church Cathedral announced it will stay open 12 hours each day of the Olympics as a sanctuary for visitors.

The Rev. Peter Elliott, dean and rector of the cathedral, said, "Our intention is to be a sanctuary for people to offer prayer for the peace of the world." He added the cathedral will continue its regular programs throughout the games, and these will include feeding the hungry and helping the homeless.

Friday, February 12, 2010

R.I. Bishop Who Barred Rep. Kennedy from Receiving Communion Now Praying for His Future

The Rhode Island bishop, who told U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy to abstain from receiving Holy Communion and publicly feuded with him last fall over his stance on abortion, today said he is praying for the departing congressman's future.

Bishop Thomas Tobin said in a statement, "I wish him well and pray that God will bless all of his future endeavors," according to the Boston Herald website.

Based on "some personal struggles," Kennedy has decided not to run for re-election to congress, which will probably mean that the Kennedy family will not be represented in Washington, D.C. for the first time in more than six decades. Kennedy made the announcement in a video clip that circulated in the media last night (February 11, 2010).

Because the Catholic Church rejects abortion -- and Kennedy had a track record of supporting abortion as a member of congress -- Bishop Tobin barred Kennedy from receiving Holy Communion, and instructed priests not to deliver the sacrament to him.

Serbian Orthodox Church Set to Remove Kosovo Bishop Artemije for Defiance, Conflict of Interest

The Earth Times website reports today that the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is set to remove controversial Kosovo Bishop Artemije from power, after his defiance of the church's orders over the past four years. The SPC Synod met yesterday (February 11, 2010) to discuss Artemije after he refused to cooperate with a commission of bishops sent to investigate financial affairs at the Gracanica monastery, the seat of the Kosovo eparchy, the daily Danas Serbian newspaper said.

"The Synod delegation hinted to Artemije that an administrator may be imposed in the Raska-Kosovo Eparchy," sources from the SPC told the newspaper.

The Synod's session is scheduled to continue on Saturday, February 13, with Artemije invited to attend.

The new head of the SPC, Patriarch Irinej, ordered an investigation this week into allegations that Artemije has interests in a construction company conducting the restoration of Serbian shrines in Kosovo and other deals, radio B92 in Serbia said. If this is true, it would be a conflict of interest on the part of Artemije.

Pope Marks World Day of the Sick at Mass, Calls on Church to Increase Its Presence in Society

The pastoral care of the sick and infirm is a priceless gift the church offers to those who suffer, to their families, and to the world, Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday, according to the Catholic News website.

Accepting and offering up one's suffering along with sincerely and selflessly participating in the suffering of others are all "miracles of love" -- signs of God's love operating within the church, "performing great things through humble and simple people," the pope said February 11, 2010, as he marked World Day of the Sick on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Meeting and blessing sick people and their caregivers during a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, the pope said another miracle at work was the presence of God's grace in the many people who care for those who suffer.

The pope added that the church must increase its presence among the sick and in society, so it can better help defend human life from conception to its natural end.

Orthodox Church Thrives in Poland, Marks 5th Year of Liturgy in Polish Language

The Polish website Cerkiew reports today that February 5, 2010 marked the fifth anniversary of the first Orthodox Liturgy held in the Polish language in Warsaw. Fr. Henryk Paprocki, who is the parish priest of the Orthodox Pastoral Point of St. Gregory Peradze in Warsaw, said at the beginning Liturgies in Polish were held on Saturdays, once a month in one of the chapels in Warsaw.

In March 2006, Metropolitan Sawa, the head of the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church, blessed to move to the Polish-Catholic chapel. Since that time, Orthodox Liturgies are held regularly every Sunday.

Other Orthodox services -- including Great Lent, vespers, matins, vigils, 12 great feasts, and sacraments -- are now celebrated fully in Polish. Also, Sunday School has been organized for children, and Orthodox Christian lectures are often held for adults.

Although the population of Poland is about 97 percent Catholic, the Orthodox Church in Poland has slightly more than a half-million faithful. There are 250 Orthodox parishes in Poland. Most of them use the Slavonic language in their services.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

President Obama and Dalai Lama to Meet Next Week Despite Strong Warning from China

The Reuters website reports today that President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama will meet on February 18, 2010, despite China's warning that such talks could hurt already-strained Sino-U.S. relations.

Obama's White House meeting with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader is likely to set off a new round of lashing out from Beijing, which has seen tensions with Washington rise over issues from trade to currencies to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

"The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious leader and spokesman for Tibetan rights, and the president looks forward to an engaging and constructive dialogue," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The U.S. accepts Tibet as part of China, but wants Beijing to sit down with the Dalai Lama to address differences over the region's future. The Dalai Lama has said he wants autonomy for Tibet, which he fled in 1959.

Russia Acquires Land Near Eiffel Tower, Plans Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center

Russia was chosen this week for submitting the highest bid for a plot of land in downtown Paris, where it will build a spiritual and cultural center on the banks of the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower, according to the Russian Novosti website.

Russia plans to build an Orthodox Church on the plot of land -- for which it is estimated to have paid at least $70 million -- and to relocate a divinity school currently located on the outskirts of Paris.

Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of Russian parliament's International Affairs Committee, said that the Russian state would hand the piece of prime real estate over to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The plot will be the second major French acquisition this year for the Russian Orthodox Church, after a court ruled in January, 2010, that Russia was the rightful owner of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Nice on the French Riviera. This church -- originally the property of Tsar Nicholas II -- had been given to the Archbishop of St. Petersburg on a 99-year lease, which expired on December 31, 2007.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cardinal Suggests a Shared "Ecumenical Catechism" in Effort to Quicken Catholic-Protestant Unity

A Vatican official has floated the idea of a shared "ecumenical catechism" as one of the potential fruits of 40 years of dialogue among Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and members of the Reformed churches, the Catholic News website reports today.

"We have affirmed our common foundation in Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity as expressed in our common creed and in the doctrine of the first ecumenical councils," Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told representatives of the churches.

Opening a three-day symposium at the Vatican to brainstorm on the future of ecumenism, Cardinal Kasper said it is essential "to keep alive the memory of our achievements" in dialogue, educate the faithful about how much has been accomplished, and prepare a new generation to carry on the work.

He also called for "a people-centered ecumenism" that would support and give new energy to the theological dialogues.

Orthodox Jews May Have Torched Israeli Synagogue in Attempt to Intimidate Conservatives

The Jerusalem Post website reports today that unknown assailants torched a Conservative synagogue in Arad, Israel on Monday night (February 8, 2010) -- a year after a failed attempt to burn the shul.

No one was hurt in the fire, which scorched the outside of the building, but was extinguished before it damaged the synagogue within.

The torching follows an attempted break-in at the synagogue last week, when unknown assailants managed to drill a hole in the wall before fleeing. On February 8, someone returned to the scene and poured flammable liquid in the hole before starting the blaze.

The Shira Hadasha Synagogue -- the only non-Orthodox Synagogue in Arad -- is one of 60 Conservative shuls in Israel. Yitzhar Hess, general manager of the Conservative Movement in Israel, called it "a miracle" that there wasn't more damage and that no one was hurt. He added, "the Conservative Movement won't give in to violence."

Archbishop of Canterbury Urges Anglicans to "Discover an Ecclesial Fellowship" of Mutual Trust

In his presidential address to the Church of England General Synod yesterday (February 9, 2010), the Archbishop of Canterbury said he was "profoundly sorry" for the "carelessness" that may have given the impression to homosexual Anglicans that they were ignored or undervalued.

Dr. Rowan Williams said the decision by the Episcopal Church to ordain a partnered homosexual bishop had had a "devastating" impact on the freedom of Anglicans elsewhere to proclaim the Gospel, while the freedom of Anglicans in Uganda to support anti-gay legislation had had a "serious impact on the credibility of the Gospel" in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

According to the Christian Today website, he called for a "major change of heart all around" among Anglicans and urged them to "discover an ecclesial fellowship in which we must trust each other to act for our good."

The Archbishop concluded, "I deeply believe that this Church and this Synod is still capable of showing that face, and pray that God will reveal such a vision in us and for us."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sixty Moroccan Officers Raid Bible Study, Arrest 18 for Promoting Christianity

The Christian Post website reports today that a large, military-led team of Moroccan authorities raided a Bible study in a small city southeast of Marrakech last week, arresting 18 Moroccans and deporting a U.S. citizen.

About 60 officers from the Moroccan security services on February 4, 2010 raided the home of a Christian in Amizmiz, a picturesque city of 10,000 mainly Berber (a Muslim tribe) people 35 miles southeast of Marrakech. A church Bible study was in progress at the home with visitors from western and southern Morocco.

The Christian leaders said authorities iterrogated participants in the Bible study for 14 hours. The authorities filmed the interrogations with digital video cameras and cell phones.

A statement by the Interior Ministry of Morocco said that the raid took place "following information on the organization of a secret meeting to initiate people into Christianity, which would shake Muslims' faith and undermine the Kingdom's religious values."

Patriarch Bartholomew Tells ELCA Delegation Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogues Will Continue

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, world Orthodox leader, said that all official theological dialogues with Lutherans in the United States will continue, along with a longstanding global dialogue with Lutherans, according to the ELCA website. He made the comment as he hosted an official delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Istanbul on February 8, 2010.

Leading the official 12-member ELCA delegation was the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

With only a few thousand Orthodox Christians left in Turkey -- and nearly 70 million Muslims -- the Orthodox are often the subject of discrimination, the Ecumenical Patriarch said. He added that as Christians, they must always "remain optimistic and never despair."

Rev. Hanson said the ELCA delegation was honored to be meeting with the Orthodox. "I'm always struck by your faithful witness in the shadow of the cross," he told the world Orthodox leader.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bishop of Manchester Regrets Delay on Women Bishop Debate in Church of England

The Bishop of Manchester, England expressed his regret today (February 8, 2010) at the delay to a debate on the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England, according to the Christian Today website.

The Rt. Rev. Nigel McCulloch told General Synod -- the Church of England's governing body -- meeting in London, that the scale of the task has made it "impossible" for the Revision Committee to complete draft legislation in time for debate this week.

The committee has received nearly 300 submissions in the nine months since it was charged with drafting the legislation at last year's February Synod.

"It has been an extraordinary logistical challenge for the committee to ensure that everyone has the say that they are entitled to," Rev. McCulloch said.

Court Rules Turkey Must Remove Religious Affiliation Section frorm ID Cards

The Compass Direct website reports that the European Court on Human Rights on February 2, 2010 ordered Turkey to remove the religious affiliation section from citizens' identification cards, calling the practice a violation of human rights.

Religious minorities -- and in particular Christian converts -- in Turkey have faced discrimination because of the mandatory religion declaration on their identification cards, which was enforced until 2006. Since then, citizens have been allowed to leave the "Religion" section of their IDs blank.

"Religion on the ID has been known to affect whether people get a job or not," said Zekai Tanyar, president of the Turkish Protestant Alliance, citing prejudice against Christian converts. "Therefore, I think the ruling is a good and appropriate thing," he added.

The Court found in a 6 to 1 vote that any mention of religion on an identity card violates human rights. The country was found to be in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights -- to which Turkey is a signatory.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Metropolitan Hilarion Asks Priests to Perform Mixed Marriage Ceremonies of Christians

The head of the Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, reminds worshipers that the Russian Orthodox Church accepts mixed marriages between Christians of different confessions.

"Basic Social Conception allows mixed marriages, but not all priests follow this recommendation," Metropolitan Hilarion said on February 4, 2010 in the Moscow session of the Christian International Consultative Committee of the Baltic countries, according to the Interfax-Religion website.

He said he often had to deal with complaints from believers, as priests refused them in marriages with representatives of other confessions.

Head of the Catholic Archdiocese of the Holy Virgin in Moscow, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, urged the participants "to mutual search of ways to overcome spiritual crisis."

Critics Say Obama's Faith Advisory Council Is Just "for Show"

February 5, 2010 marked the one-year aniversary of President Obama's Faith Advisory Council, but a growing number of critics say the group is just "for show." Opponents claim faith leaders have to "water down" their religious convictions for the council, according to the Christian Broadcast Network website.

On the opther hand, the White House claims the Council has worked on important issues, ranging from the swine flu to Haiti relief efforts.

"We are fundamentally shifting what the office is all about. The previous office was about grants; ours is issues," Joshua Dubois, executive director of the Faith Council said.

Meanwhile, a member of the president's Faith Council is being criticized for his comments about the Pope. Harry Knox said the Pope is "hurting people in the name of Jesus" by not promoting the use of condoms to control the spread of AIDS. Several members of Congress are demanding Knox be removed from the Council for making this comment.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Patriarch Kirill Says Orthodox and Catholic Churches Standing Together on Current Social Issues

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia is affirming that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church stand together on many current social issues.

The Russian Orthodox leader stated this on February 2, 2010 -- while addressing a bishops' meeting of his Church in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral -- the Zenit website reports.

He observed "We have similar positions on many problems facing Christians in the modern world. They include aggressive secularization, globalization, and the erosion of the traditional moral principles. On these issues Pope Benedict XVI has taken a stance close to the Orthodox one."

On the other hand, the patriarch said "the Russian Church has seen less Protestant communities cooperating in the cause of preserving the Christian legacy" due to "the relentless liberalization of the Protestant world." He also criticized the Protestant Church for allowing women to be priests, and especially for its recent election of a female bishop, Margot Kaessmann, as head of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

Kosovo Says It will Allow Patriarch Ceremony But Will Not Tolerate Political Speeches

Kosovo's government said on February 4, 2010 it would allow the ceremonial enthronement of Irinej, patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in a monastery in the breakaway province, but would not tolerate political speeches, the International Orthodox Christian News website reports.

"If his (Irinej's) request is of religious character I do not think we will refuse it," Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told reporters in Pristina. "If his visit is a political one, we will be very careful in presenting our stand," he added.

Serbian media reported on February 3 that Belgrade and Pristina were heading for a feud over Irinej's enthronement, as the government of Serbia has no intention to ask permission from Kosovo officials to hold the ceremony in the Pec monastery on April 25, 2010.

The Pec monastery in western Kosovo has been the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church patriarch since the 13th century. It has been under the protection of peacekeepers from NATO since the Kosovo war in 1999.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia and declared its independence in 2008, but it is not recognized by the United Nations, the European Union, and most nations of the world.

President Obama on Prayer: "It Can Remind Us That We Are Children of an Awesome and Loving God"

The Christian Today website reports that President Obama called for civility in the public square, as he said prayer could help people become more humble during his address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 2010.

Regarding prayer, the President said, "It can touch our hearts with humility. It can fill us with a spirit of brotherhood. It can remind us that each of us are children of an awesome and loving God."

The President's attendance at the annual National Prayer Breakfast follows a long tradition dating back more that a half-century.

The event is sponsored by the secretive evangelical Christian organization, The Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family. Its members include high-ranking U.S. government officials, corporate executives, and heads of religious organizations, as well as non-U.S. leaders and ambassadors.

Pope: Conversion to Christ Breaks Bonds of Selfishness and Helps Create a Just Society

Conversion to Christ gives people the strength to break the bonds of selfishness and work for justice in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for Lent 2010, according to the Catholic News website.

"The Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love," the pope said in the message released February 4, 2010 at the Vatican.

Because people are created in God's image, they not only need food, water, shelter, and jobs; they need God and they need love, he said.

"Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one's own need -- the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship," the pope wrote.

Attendants at OCF Ministry Conference Agree to Implement Regional Chaplaincy Network

Representatives from the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA (ACROD), the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the USA, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) took part in a campus ministry conference hosted by the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) at the Courtyard Marriott in Tempe, Arizona from February 4-6, 2010.

According to the ACROD website, the purpose of the conference was to implement a regional chaplaincy network that would support the building up of existing OCF chapters and the establishment of new chapters throughout North America.

Plans were set in motion for implementing improved communication and enhanced resources to local OCF chapters and parish youth ministry programs designed to prepare high school students for the transition to college.

OCF is the official collegiate campus ministry of SCOBA (Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America). The OCF headquarters is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, and supports 270 local university chapters across the U.S. and Canada.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Israeli Flags Displayed for Winter Olympics in Vancouver Are Defaced

Two Israeli flags that were part of an Olympic display in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada were removed after being defaced.

The Israeli flags were covered in paint with the words "Free Palestine" written on them, the Vancouver Sun reported on January 31, 2010. The defaced flags were removed.

The display on the streets of the city features 450 international flags from 80 countries. Vancouver is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on February 12.

The Israeli flags will be replaced before the start of the games. Their slots are now empty.

Moroccan Man Denied French Citizenship for Insisting His Wife Wears a Veil

A Moroccan man has been denied French citizenship because he demanded his French wife wear a full-face Islamic veil, the Reuters website reported this week.

"It emerged during the inquiry and the interview process that this person forced his wife to wear the full veil, deprived her of freedom of movement with her face exposed and rejected the principles of secularism and equality between men and women," France's immigration Minister Eric Besson said in a statement on February 2, 2010.

The ruling states, in part, that the lifestyle Mr. X has chosen "may be justified by religious precepts but is incompatible with the values of the Republic, notably the principle of equality of the sexes."

The ruling comes after months of fierce debate over the compatibility of the Islamic veil and France's secular values.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We Will Miss You, BILL.....

In respect for my older brother, Vasilios P. Patsourakos, who fell asleep in the Lord on February 1, 2010, there will be no articles written in the Theology and Society blog until after his funeral on Friday, February 5.

"Bill," as my brother was commonly called, was ill for the past four and one-half years. He miraculously lived for 10 months while on hospice, as a result of his wife Beverly's superlative care for him 24 hours a day. He died peacefully in his home with his devoted wife of 43 years by his side.

Bill was a member of the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, and received a Certificate of Appreciation from that Church several years ago for taking care of all its legal work gratis for over 50 years. Bill was a lawyer, but first and foremost, he was a true Christian, who cheerfully gave to others and to his Church.

Bill enjoyed helping people, not only from a legal perspective (often gratis), but also in an unusually kind and understanding way. In short, Bill had a lot of empathy for others. Perhaps his wife, Beverly, described him best on one of my visits to their home. She said, "If Bill doesn't go to Heaven, I don't know who will." Bill, you will be dearly missed by all of us.....

Monday, February 1, 2010

GOA Department of Youth Ministries to Launch 2010 Awareness Campaign for Young Adults

In an effort to revitalize young adult ministry in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries will launch a 2010 National Awareness Campaign for Young Adults: Find them, Greet them, Love them.

In conjunction with Metropolis Youth Offices, the campaign will encourage parish leadership to bring young adults into the realms of the Church, the Orthodox Beacon website reports today.

It is the hope that parishes will embrace this vision of inclusiveness and welcome young adults using the following programs: "10 for 10" in 2010, a program offering 10 service projects throughout the Archdiocese; social networking and enhanced websites; 10 Parish Visitation -- each Metropolis director will visit 10 parishes and assist them in starting one or revitalizing a young adult ministry; and create an avenue for networking this vision, sharing the successes and failures.

For more information, contact your local Metropolitan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries or the Archdiocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at 646-519-6180.

Pope Benedict Confirms He Will Visit Britain This Year

Pope Benedict XVI confirmed today that he would make the first papal visit to Britain since 1982, the Reuters website reports.

In a speech to bishops from England and Wales on February 1, 2010, Benedict said he looked forward to witnessing at first hand the faith of Catholics in England and Wales during "my forthcoming Apostolic visit to Great Britain."

It was the first time the pope publicly confirmed the trip. He did not give a time, but church officials said it is expected to take place in September, and will include a visit to Scotland, which has its own Catholic bishops' conference.

The papal visit will be the first to Britain since Pope John Paul II's visit in 1982.