International Orthodox Christian News

Orthodox youth flock to Istanbul

Friday, July 13, 2007

This week hundreds of Greek Christian Orthodox youth have arrived in Istanbul from all over the world for the second Orthodox Youth Conference. The Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeos welcomed them to their spiritual 'home'

On Wednesday 780 Orthodox Christian youths from all over the world flocked to Istanbul to participate in a five-day conference dedicated to them, hosted by Patriarch Bartolomeos and the young people of the dwindling Greek Orthodox community of the city. The conference titled Members of the Church – Citizens of the World is the second of its kind and will end with a first-ever concert of Greek singer George Dalaras at Rumeli Hisari on July 15. The first international conference for youth in Istanbul took place in 2000. At the opening of the conference Bartolomeos emphasized the ecumenical nature of the church and of the Patriarchy in Istanbul. “Our Patriarchy is not a national church. Due to its universal holy message and its great importance in the history of the church, the fathers and councils called it ecumenical,” he said. Bartolomeos welcomed the participants from 37 countries and told them they should feel at home in Istanbul. Youth came from as far as Hong Kong, Australia and the United States, while the Rum (Greeks of Turkey) scurried around welcoming participants and making preparations. The show of confidence and participation of the youth was an important event for the Patriarchate in Istanbul, considered by Greek Orthodox to be the home and hearth of not only Byzantium but also the church. Dimitris, 26, from Hopewell, Virginia, traveled all the way from New Jersey with 30 other young adults from the New York and New Jersey area. He had been in Istanbul for only a few hours but said it had already made a strong impression on him. “It's sacred and partially untouched by changes,” he said. For Dimitris, attending this conference in Istanbul was important for the continuation of Christian Orthodoxy. “To be able to go back and take home a more global representation of Orthodoxy from the heart of Byzantium… I think that is something pretty amazing and doesn't happen often in a lifetime,” he said. Other participants said they had also come to meet people their age who share their faith as some, like the Americans, felt isolated from the rest of the Orthodox community. Dimitris said that in his estimation, young people were more involved in their churches in the United States, where identity is intertwined with faith, than in Greece. George Konstantakis, one of the 120 participants that came from Crete, said that he had heard the Patriarch speak many times and was quite involved in his church back home. He, like many of the youth present, feels that this conference will contribute to strengthening the community and equipping them to deal with modern day secular challenges. “I believe that Orthodoxy can answer many of the problems and questions we have,” he said. International representations from Catholic, Armenian and Protestant churches were also present, as well as the World Council of Churches. Around 10 members of the Catholic representation came from as far as Israel, England, Poland, Italy, Germany, Romania and Turkey. Twenty-year-old Theresa Behrens from the United Kingdom, at the conference with the Catholic representation, said that as a youth worker she came hoping to find out what issues the Orthodox youth faced. She said she guessed they were similar to those of the Catholic youth. “A lot of the Catholic youth lack education. A lot of Catholics don't really understand their faith and need teaching,” she said. With Bartolomeos' campaign to reopen the Orthodox theological seminary on the island of Heybeliada, it could be argued that such education is a pressing need for the Greek Orthodox community. “I think the opening of the Chalki (Heybeliada) school is important for many reasons, political and religious,” said Dimitris from Virginia.

Dalaras sets foot in Turkey: George Dalaras, whose nationalistic tendencies have been reported by the media, has been invited in the context of the Second Orthodox Youth Conference to perform at Rumeli Hisari on July 15. This marks the first concert held at Rumeli Hisari in a year and the first time Dalaras has accepted an invitation to come to Turkey. George Dalaras, a world-renowned Greek singer, has been captivating audiences since the 1960s. Although his mother was a Greek refugee from Turkey and he has traveled around the world giving performances, until months ago he has refused to come to Turkey. In an interview with the Greek TV channel ET 1 six months ago, Dalaras said: “If Cyprus cannot be Greek, then I'm not setting foot in Turkey.”

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

Christians protest in London over Eritrea

LONDON, UK (ANS) — A service was held recently in London, UK, to protest against the treatment of the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

According to a story written by Martin Plaut, BBC Africa analyst, Patriarch Antonios is the head of two million Orthodox believers and is a high-profile prisoner of conscience.

“He was removed from his position earlier this year, after criticizing the Eritrean government for interference in church activities,” said Plaut in his story.

“Amnesty International says Eritrea displays one of the most extreme forms of religious persecution in the world.

“The meeting heard that this was only the latest example of religious repression.”

Plaut said that in 2002 a crackdown began against the Eritrean evangelical churches.

Health fears

“And now,” continued Plaut, “the patriarch of the Orthodox Church, to which most Eritrean Christians belong, has been removed from his post and imprisoned after objecting to Eritrean government attempts to stop a bible-reading group.”

The head of the British Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Seraphim, told the BBC he was very worried about his health.

“He’s 79. He is known to have diabetes. And he’s been kept in a darkened room in his residence and he complained on one occasion he was unable to even read his Bible.”

His story concluded, “Eritrea has a history of considerable religious tolerance between its Muslim and Christian communities, but the government comes from a Marxist-Leninist tradition.

“The church says it believes quiet pressure has failed, and it will now take the issue of Patriarch Antonios to the British government.”

© Assist News Service |

Jul 12 2007, 18:22

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - The leader of Romania's dominant Orthodox Church condemned July 12 a Vatican document in which Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, describing it as "brutal" and saying it made inter-church dialogue difficult.

Patriarch Teoctist said the document, which claims that other Christian communities were either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation, was pitting Christian churches against one other.

"We were stunned by such a statement, which troubles the entire Christian world. Such things do not make God happy," said Teoctist. "With such a brutal statement, it is hard to find a way to continue the dialogue with the Catholic Church, as long as it does not even recognize us as a church."

The document, which was published on July 10, also brought swift criticism from Protestant leaders. "It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries.

On July 11, the cardinal in charge of relations with other Christians reacted to criticism by the Protestant churches saying the document contained nothing new and that there was no "objective reason for indignation or motive to feel themselves harshly treated."

Teoctist said the Romanian Orthodox Church had expected Pope Benedict XVI to continue his predecessor's efforts to reconcile the Christian churches to find "holy unity." He said the Romanian Orthodox Church was hoping for "rays of reason," including from the other churches, so that "we don't fall into chaos and to avoid crushing so brutally a (reconciliation) activity which has been carried out in recent decades."

Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit predominantly Orthodox Romania in 1999, when he met with Teoctist and the two leaders called for the healing of divisions within Christianity. John Paul's visit was the first by a Roman pontiff to a mainly Orthodox country in nearly 1,000 years.

Aid to the Iraqis

Reuters AlertNet - London,England,UK

One Iraqi family's journey of 500 heartbreaking miles to Jordan began with airthday gift from an American soldier. A U.S. patrol in the Baghdad neighborhood of Mansur stopped to see why so many cars were parked by the family's house, a fairly common inspection in a city plagued by security problems. When the patrol's leader learned those gathered were celebrating a daughter's fifth birthday, he offered a present.

With the gift came major problems. Militants accused the family, who wish not to be named, of associating with Americans, and threatened them with violence. The threats grew so pronounced the family fled their native home as refugees to Amman, Jordan, joining a growing number of people seeking security, or even sustenance, beyond Iraq's borders. Iraq's escalating sectarian violence is pushing whole families out of their homes. Fleeing men, women and children will pay steep fees for undercover, safe transport out of the country. Iraq's neighboring states are trying to seal off common escape routes but the tide is still rising. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimates as many as 2.2 million Iraqis have fled their country as refugees since the latest war began. Home away from home From his pulpit in St. Ephraim's Syrian Orthodox Church in Amman, Fr. Emmanuel Al Bana has watched his congregation grow significantly since U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The church has about 5,000 members, the core of whom at one time were native Jordanians. Now, around 3,000 Iraqi Christians have joined St. Ephraim's, many within the last two years. Steve Weaver, who serves as Middle East coordinator for international humanitarian organization Church World Service, recently visited St. Ephraim's as part of a delegation examining how the faith community should respond to the Iraqi refugee crisis. CWS is working with other Action by Churches Together members, the Middle East Council of Churches, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Christian Aid and Norwegian Church Aid to coordinate a broader response supporting displaced Iraqis. In Amman, St. Ephraim's is helping refugees as it is able, distributing blankets, clothing and kits to help families with small children. "Iraqis here are not allowed to work," said MECC-Jordan director Wafa S. Goussous. "Ninety percent of Iraqi refugees are poor and only depend on our donations, and relatives abroad." Pushed beyond the fringe The poorest refugees are frequently female, widowed by violence and excluded by a patriarchal society. Such is the story of Brenita, a 42-year-old mother of four. Her husband left Iraq six years ago, seeking asylum in Sweden, hoping to bring the rest of his family along later. The last Brenita heard from him, her husband was detained in Nepal. The war forced Brenita to leave her Baghdad home. "I sold all my furniture, all my belongings to leave Iraq," Brenita said. The proceeds paid for her family's passage on a 24-hour-long bus ride to Amman. Brenita, her children, and her sister Berita survive on the little money Brenita earns cleaning and working in a glass factory, illegally. Berita was working as a nurse but was forced to quit due to medical problems. "Life is miserable here in Jordan but I prefer living in Jordan than being dead in Iraq," Berita said. Jordanian law prohibits Brenita's children and other displaced youngsters from attending public schools. Private schools are an option for those who can afford $450 per year tuition. Such fees are beyond the reach of Waadallih, a refugee who had a small contracting business in Baghdad. Militants kidnapped his cousin and business partner six months ago, and later threatened to kidnap Waadallih. With his life savings, he and his family fled for Jordan. Waadallih's daughters have not been to school since the family left. Most of the family's savings are paying rent on a small apartment ($220 a month) and for medicine for his wife's chronic illness ($100 per month). Jordanian law prohibits Waadallih from practicing his craftsman trade. He is searching for other ways to survive in the coming months. "Only God knows," Waadallih said. No end in sight, little welcome within reach "The larger story for Iraqi families is that there is no foreseeable resolution to this situation," CWS's Weaver said. "Iraqis routinely say it will take five to ten years for this to play out. So the two million Iraqis living in neighboring countries will not be returning home, voluntarily, anytime soon." Seeking refuge in neighboring states is about the only option for Iraqis in peril. Jordan and Syria are determining the best legal means to accept refugees through their borders. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is constructing a US$7 million high-tech fence to keep Iraqis from wandering into its territory. The U.S. State Department plans to resettle officially only around 7,000 Iraqis by September. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iraqis have been officially welcomed by Scandinavian nations. Yet processing official requests is not keeping pace with the demand for resettlement. For the first time in five years, the United Nations High Commission on refugees reports an increase in the number of refugees worldwide, largely a result of the Iraq crisis.

Media Contacts: Lesley Crosson, CWS/New York, 212-870-2676; Jan Dragin (24/7), 781-925-1526;


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