International Orthodox Christian News

Constantinople ruins talk with Catholics

The Russian Orthodox Church representative to European institutions accused the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on Monday of seeking to establish itselfas the top authority in the world's Orthodox communion and of ruiningOrthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue.
The representative, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, wasreferring to the 10th meeting of the Joint International Commission forthe Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the RomanCatholic Church.
The delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate withdrew from themeeting, held in Ravenna, Italy, in protest against the participation inthe event of the Estonian Apostolic Church, a church set up by theConstantinople Patriarchate in 1996 in Estonia, which the Moscow churchconsiders part of its territory.
The Ravenna meeting resulted in a final document that did not bear the signature of the Moscow Patriarchate. "Metropolitan John of Pergamon [of the Constantinople Patriarchate]as co-president of the joint commission for Orthodox-Catholic dialogueis responsible for derailing the dialogue," Hilarion said.
"His comments and the final text of the document work on which hasfinished in Ravenna without the participation of the Moscow Patriarchatemay produce the impression that the Constantinople Patriarchate deliberately pushed the Moscow Patriarchate to withdraw from the dialogue so that decisions should be passed that would have been
impossible with the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate," the
bishop said.
In a statement after the signature of the final document, Hilarionsaid the fact that the dialogue excluded "the largest Orthodox church,one whose number of members exceeds the total number of members of all other Orthodox churches put together, calls into question the legitimacyof the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue."
Metropolitan John responded by accusing the Moscow church ofseeking to demonstrate its influence and of resorting to authoritarianmethods to do so.
"Constantinople," said Hilarion, "wants to force on us a model ofchurch organization that has never existed in Orthodox tradition andthat is closer to the centralized model existing in the Roman-CatholicChurch. In that model, the patriarch of Constantinople would have the
role of the 'eastern pope.'"
The next round of talks, to start in 2009, would show whether otherOrthodox churches would accept the alleged model, Hilarion said."However, it is already clear that the absence of the Moscow Patriarchate will make the work to develop such a model much easier," he said.


Catholic Archbishop Thank His Holiness Alexis II

Before leaving Russia, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz wanted to thank Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II for the years of cooperation the two leaders shared.

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow sent Monday a message of gratitude to the patriarch. The prelate has been assigned to the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev, Belarus. His successor, Father Paolo Pezzi of the Priestly Fraternity of Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, will be ordained archbishop Saturday. Father Pezzi, 47, was the rector of the Mary Queen of the Apostles seminary in St. Petersburg. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, 61, wrote to Alexy II: "After 16 years of pastoral care of Russian Catholics, I return to my home country, leaving in Moscow a part of my heart and remembering happy moments of fruitful cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church and with Your Holiness.

"With deep gratitude for the help in confronting the challenges of the modern world, I thank you for the high esteem you gave to our work in the words of welcome in the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe, where you highlighted that 'the community of Russian Catholics has sincere respect on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church.'

"Feeling faithful esteem for you, I look toward the future with the hope that our Churches will develop dialogue and cooperation."


His Holiness Karekin II, the spiritual leader of the world’s 9 million Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, will give an address and receive an honorary degree Friday, Oct. 26, at the University of St. Thomas.

His Holiness will give the talk at 10:30 a.m. in the Schulze Grand Atrium of the School of Law on the university’s downtown Minneapolis campus. The event is open to the public.Elected “Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of Armenia and of All Armenians” in 1999, His Holiness is visiting St. Thomas and the Twin Cities as part of a tour of more than a dozen U.S. cities in October. (“Catholicos,” from a Greek word meaning “universal,” is the highest ecclesiastical title in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church.)Born Ktrij Nersissian in Voskehat, Armenia, in 1951, he was ordained a celibate priest and received his priestly name, Karekin, in 1972. He continued his studies in Austria, Germany and Russia, and was consecrated a bishop in 1983 and elevated to archbishop in 1992. He is the 132nd in a continuous line of Catholicoi dating back to 301 when Armenia became the first nation to declare Christianity as its national religion.About 1,150 Minnesotans are from Armenia or of Armenian descent; most of them live in the Twin Cities. The state’s only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox church, the St. Sahag Armenian Church, was established five years ago. It is located at 203 Howell Street N., not far from St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus.His Holiness will participate in a service at the church at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25. The service will be followed by a public reception at 8 p.m. All are welcome; for more information call (651) 603-1940.Armenia is a landlocked former Soviet republic about the size of the state of Maryland. It borders Turkey on the west, Azerbaijan on the east, Iran on the south and Georgia on the north. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenians dealt with the results of a catastrophic earthquake, a two-year power outage and a collapse of their infrastructure.His Holiness has been active in helping his country rebuild after the earthquake struck Armenia in 1988. Since his election as Catholicos, he has been reorganizing the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church: building and restoring its churches, monasteries and seminaries; visiting church and government leaders throughout the word; and strengthening ecumenical ties.St. Thomas has a growing number of ties with Armenia, in part because of a friendship between the Rev. Dennis Dease, St. Thomas’ president, and Gerard Cafesjian, a retired West Publishing executive who is president of the Minneapolis-based Cafesjian Family Foundation.Cafesjian, who is of Armenian descent, and the Cafesjian Family Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting Armenian-oriented philanthropy, are collaborating with St. Thomas on several fronts.Dr. Thomas Rochon, executive vice president and chief academic officer at St. Thomas, traveled to Armenia last April to explore partnerships in the fields of business, law and journalism.

In August three St. Thomas journalism professors visited Armenia to work on media-literacy, Web-training and public relations projects in the fledgling democracy. The faculty members were Dr. Wendy Wyatt, Dr. Mark Neuzil and Mike O’Donnell. A senior, Annemarie Iddins, joined them on the trip.Their visit included time at the English-language Armenian Reporter, a New Jersey-based weekly newspaper that is edited in Armenia but printed and distributed in the United States and Canada. They worked with the newspaper staff on design, style, writing and editing, Web sites and software.Several St. Thomas journalism students have become involved with the Armenian Reporter. Iddins, Pam Hendrickson, Jeff Day, Stephanie Edquist and Jennie Betchwars have been writing stories for the newspaper.Public relations students Brandon Fredrickson and Bridget Jewell were also involved in a research project for the paper.In another initiative supported by the Cafesjian Family Foundation, a deacon and a priest from Armenia are in residence this year at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas. The Very Rev. Father Zaven Yazichyan is pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology at the university and Deacon Manuk Malkhasyan is studying for a master’s in theology at the School of Divinity. More Armenians are expected to study at the seminary in coming years.St. Thomas in recent years has hosted talks and symposiums on Armenia. National and international scholars participated in a “Tribute to Armenia” program in 2001 and a “Windows on the Armenian Genocide” symposium in 2003.

More information about His Holiness and the pontifical visit can be found at .


His Holiness Karekin II visits southern state of Louisiana

The leader of the 7-million member Armenian Orthodox Church visited a church in the southern state of Louisiana, greeting new parishioners but making no reference to the political dispute in the U.S. Congress over his country's bloody past.Karekin II spoke to Baton Rouge parishioners on Wednesday without raising the question of whether Congress should declare that Turks committed genocide in the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in World War I. Armenians have urged the U.S. House of Representatives to approve such a resolution; Turkey, an important American ally, vehemently denies the killings amount to a genocide.The church patriarch avoided the topic of the House vote, saying "We are happy that the Armenian people have shaken off the difficulties and heavy burden of genocide."Karekin II has said he supports passage of the measure, and in previous appearances in his monthlong tour has thanked the House Foreign Relations Committee for approving it. His remarks Wednesday were in Armenian, translated into English later by an aide.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday the prospects of a vote on Armenian genocide were uncertain, after several members pulled their support over fears of souring U.S.-Turkish relations.Baton Rouge was Karekin II's latest stop in a U.S. tour that included a stop at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 10 — the day the House panel approved the resolution declaring the killings a genocide. The church's top official in the U.S., Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, said the timing was a coincidence.

"This is a pastoral journey that was planned about a year ago," Barsamian said.

On Tuesday, Karekin II was in New Orleans, where he helped paint a Habitat for Humanity house being built for a musician whose home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
Much of his speech to Baton Rouge's St. Garabed Armenian Church was focused on faith, and on thanking the American people for welcoming Armenians after they were driven out of their homeland.

"I'm sure my people will always be thankful to this nation," he said.

The Armenian Orthodox Church has roughly 1.5 members in the U.S., but only about 200 in Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. St. Garabed, which opened several years ago, is its only church in the state.Karekin II, head of the Armenian church since 1999, had an appearance scheduled in Dallas on Thursday. His tour, to end on Nov. 1, includes stops in Houston, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.


Ethiopian Orthodox Church faces competition from Evangelicals

As Ethiopia enters its third millennium, so does its Orthodox church, a venerable state-backed institution whose dominance is increasingly threatened by a myriad of evangelical faiths.

Patriarch Paulos, the current head of the 40-million-strong Ethiopian Orthodox Church, downplays any rivalry and stresses, as one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches, he has invited the leaders of other denominations on numerous occasions."Even though a difference in dogma exists, we all worship the same God," he said. "I am even expecting a delegation from the Abyssinian Baptist Church which will arrive from the US to take part in the millennium celebrations."Known officially as the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo (unification) Church, the 2,000-year-old institution has a rich heritage and traditions that set it apart from any other faith in Ethiopia.The country follows the church's unique version of the Julian calendar, which on September 12, saw Ethiopia enter its third millennium seven years after the rest of the world.Millennium celebrations put the spotlight on the church and believers turned out in larger than usual numbers for a September 27 procession celebrating a "Finding of the Cross" festival.But the church's ages-old stranglehold on Christianity here is now challenged by a growing number of evangelical denominations that have mushroomed all over the continent.

"A lot of people are coming," said David Ibiobamimo, an Addis Ababa-based pastor for one of these churches, the Winners' Chapel International. "Sometimes our new arrivals number 300 a week, most of whom are from the younger generation."The 40-year-old said that the traditional customs of the Orthodox church -- sometimes perceived as archaic -- were among the reasons why evangelical institutions were seeing a surge in the number of young converts."The power of the Orthodox church is breaking, people are seeing the light," he said. "People are questing for new knowledge. They are getting fed up with the old and traditional settings, they are seeking new experiences."According to CIA statistics, the non-Orthodox Christian population in Ethiopia has now reached 11 percent, up from next to nothing only a few years ago, with the trend expected to rise. Muslims represent about half of the country's 76.5 million population.Ethiopian church followers are expected to observe strict practices such as lengthy fasting periods -- practices younger people find out-of-date."They are very old traditions. I don't believe that God can be served this way in the 21st century," said 27-year-old Rahel, who gave only her first name.

The Ethiopian Orthodox church stamped its authority over the rest of the country in the 4th century when it was declared the state religion by a converted king.It enjoyed this status for over a thousand years until a Muslim kingdom in the east of the country threatened its existence, as hundreds of churches were burned and looted in an attempt to control trade routes.Orthodox Ethiopians then resisted Roman Catholic attempts to draw them into their fold, prompting the country to isolate itself from the rest of the world for centuries -- with the effect of strengthening the Orthodox faith within Ethiopia.Much of the church's land and property were confiscated, however, when Marxist leader Mengistu Haile Mariam seized control following emperor Haile Selassie's deposition in 1974, and held onto power until 1991.But Patriarch Paulos rejects any suggestion his church is on the decline."Nowadays we have more young people than ever before. We have more than 50,000 churches and 7,000 Sunday schools throughout the country. And 60 to 65 percent of all members are from the younger generation," he said.In a bid to demonstrate oecumenical goodwill, Paulos has praised the work of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, founded in 1806 in New York by free black men mainly from Ethiopia, which sent a delegation of 165 members to commemorate the millennium, notably with a ceremony in Addis Ababa's Holy Trinity Cathedral.

"Our relationship is important, we are both Ethiopians," said Paulos told AFP.

The goodwill was shared by the head of the Abyssinian Church, Reverend Calvin Butts, who called it a privilege to be in Ethiopia where "we have learned here of great traditions that have been kept and protected by monks and priests."Ethiopia "is without any question our holy land, we have found our brothers and sisters that we separated from 200 years ago," he said."We must stand together and use our faiths as a means to unite Africans, we'll go back to America looking to work closely with the Ethiopians in the diaspora," Butts said.


Pope urges Prayer for full unity between Catholics and Orthodox Churches

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A fresh appeal for Christian unity, in particular between Catholics and Orthodox was made by Benedict XVI today, who at the end of his general audience asked the faithful to pray for the successful outcome of the meeting of the International Mixed Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church currently underway in Ravenna.

At the end of his weekly encounter with over 20 thousand faithful gathered in St Peter’s square – among them also a group of Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka – Benedict XVI recalled that the tenth plenary assembly of the mixed commission is taking place this week in Ravenna, Italy. It is “discussing a theme of particular ecumenical importance: ‘the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of sacramental nature of the Church – ecclesial communion, conciliation and authority’. I ask you to join me in prayer – concluded the pope – so that this important encounter help the journey towards full communion between Catholics and Orthodox, and that they may soon share in the one and same Chalice of the Lord”.

The mixed commission meeting began Monday and continues through to Sunday. It is made up of 60 members, 30 Catholics and 30 Orthodox, and is jointly presided by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and His Excellency Ioannis (Zizioulas), metropolitan of Pergamo. During Benedict XVI’s trip to Turkey last November the idea that pope and patriarch Bartholomew I attend the session had been launched, as a sign of the strong desire between the two Churches to proceed towards unity. However, rumour has it that some Orthodox leaders strongly opposed the idea, first and foremost the Patriarch of Moscow, who maintains that there is no existing hierarchical structure within the Orthodox Church equivalent to the Catholic Church – with one single leader – and that the primacy of the ecumenical patriarch – unlike the pope – is “an honorary” one.

The commission which is due to publish a document at the end of its working session was established in 1979 by Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I, and held its first assembly in Patmos-Rhodes in 1980. These meetings have confronted various questions, but were suspended for a number of years, because of the deep seated disaccord of the Oriental rite Catholic Churches, the so-called uniates.

Today, before his ecumenical appeal, Benedict XVI continued his reflections on the figures of the “Early Church Fathers”, speaking of St Hilary of Poitiers. The “great” 4th century bishop was remembered above all for his “defence of our faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father”. He fought against the Arians, who believed Jesus was a created being, to confirm instead Christ’s divinity. In the words of the pope he “Hilary’s insight was the importance of our Trinitarian baptismal faith: I baptise you in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit”.

Benedict XVI’s final observation was that for Hilary, “humanity finds salvation in Christ alone”. By becoming human, Christ in fact took upon himself the nature of every man. “This is why the journey towards Christ is open to every individual” even if personal conversion is always required.


His Holiness Karekin II Visits America

Parishioners of St. Hagop Armenian Church are preparing for a historic visit by their world leader this week.His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, will arrive Saturday for a two-day celebration during which he will consecrate St. Hagop's new $2-million church. It will be the first time he has consecrated an Armenian Apostolic church in North America.Catholicos Karekin, whose ecclesiastical seat is in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, is on an 18-city visit to the United States that includes New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Detroit and two additional stops in Florida - Boca Raton and Hollywood.

This Sunday all Armenian Apostolic churches in Florida will be closed in honor of the visit and members of those congregations are expected to be among those who will travel to Pinellas Park to see the pontiff. He will travel to St. Hagop's in a motorcade with police escorts.Members of the local congregation, who come from as far away as Citrus, Pasco and Manatee counties, have been preparing for the pontifical visit for a year. Last October, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of New York made St. Hagop's a promise, said Dr. Hagop "Jack" Mashikian, vice chairman of the parish council.

The archbishop, head of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, told St. Hagop's leaders that if they finished their church before Catholicos Karekin's pastoral visit to the United States, he would arrange for the pontiff to consecrate it.With that goal in mind, the congregation - the only full Armenian Apostolic parish on Florida's west coast - rushed to complete its traditional Armenian-style church. In June, they held a ceremony to top off the church with an 8- by 5-foot aluminum cross.This weekend Catholicos Karekin will enter an almost completed church. The altar and 19 crosses, all of which he will bless, are scheduled to arrive late this week. The pews will arrive after the consecration, but parish council president Arsen Bayandrian says the temporary chairs will allow optimum capacity for Saturday and Sunday's historic celebration. An overflow tent with a video feed will be set up on the church grounds, he said.Father Hovnan Demerjian, 33, the church's new priest, said he is starting under auspicious circumstances."It's a great way to begin," he said. It's like you're beginning with a great boost of energy and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the church is being consecrated and also visited by His Holiness. It's like a double blessing."This weekend's celebration will begin with a turnpatzek, or "opening the doors" ceremony, on Saturday. A private reception will follow. The consecration and pontifical divine liturgy will take place the next day, followed by a banquet at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

The ceremonies will be steeped in pageantry, though Sunday's is expected to be the more impressive. Demerjian, St. Hagop's new priest, said the consecration will be part of the normal Sunday liturgy."A main part of it is blessing 16 crosses that are sort of the pillars of the church," he said.Each cross has been dedicated to a saint, he said. Additionally, a godparent has been appointed for each cross and like a godparent, the role will be a supporting one.In effect, Demerjian said, the godparents agree to support the church "and raise it into a strong community of God."The 250-seat church and planned multipurpose building have been a long-held dream. Back in 1997, Catholicos Karekin's predecessor promised to consecrate St. Hagop's new church during his 1998 visit.

Catholic-Orthodox Theological Talks

Catholic and Orthodox theologians are meeting in Ravenna, Italy this week, for the 10th plenary session of a joint commission for theological dialogue.The joint commission was established in 1979, under the aegis of Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. After several working sessions, the commission reached an impasse at a July 2000 meeting in Baltimore, when the participants failed to reach an agreement on the status of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome.After a 4-year hiatus in the talks, Pope John Paul II suggested their resumption in June 2004, and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople agreed. The Commission met in Belgrade in 2006, and this week's meeting is the second plenary session since the talks were resumed.The 60-member commission includes 30 Catholic and 30 Orthodox theologians, with the Orthodox participants including a broad representation of the world's autocephalous Eastern churches including the patriarchates of Constantinople, Moscow, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The group is co-chaired by Cardinal Walter Kasper (bio - news), the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamo. This week's session is devoted primarily to a study of the sacraments as a focus of unity.In related news, the Russian Orthodox Church has established a working group to address the question of primacy in the universal Church.


Alexandrian Patriarch in Russia

Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa His Beatitude Theodoros II was welcomed here on Saturday by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia His Holiness Alexiy II at the Russian capital's airport, in the presence of representatives of Greece and Egypt.Immediately afterwards, the two Church leaders headed to the Monastery of St. Daniel, where they held talks in the presence of large delegations from both sides.

The official visit to Moscow by the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Africa is his first since his election three years ago.The two religious leaders had the opportunity to hold talks on Orthodox ecclesiastical issues on Saturday evening, as well as to issue pleas for world peace.
In welcoming the Patriarch of the ancient Alexandrian Church, the Patriarch of Moscow referred to the bonds of friendship and fraternal love with which the two Churches have been linked for centuries. On his part, Theodoros thanked the Church of Russia for its support of the African Orthodox Church's missionary work.


His Holiness Alexii II at France

PARIS, October 3 (Itar-Tass) - Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia said the positions of the Orthodox and Catholic churches coincide on many issues.

In his meeting with French Catholic bishops on Wednesday, Alexy II said the coincidence of the positions by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches on many issues “proves of effective cooperation between them (the churches)”. In his view, the Orthodox and Catholics “jointly come against abortions, euthanasia and homosexual marriages” that run counter Christian values.

“The French Catholic Bishops' Conference was one of the sides that organised my visit to your country. We are very grateful for this. I see in it one more step towards developing cooperation between the Orthodox and Catholics in preaching traditional Christian values,” the patriarch said. In his words, “The base of such cooperation is the coincidence of the positions of our Churches on many issues that the present-day world raises. Our views are close in public and personal moral, the public mission of believers, family values, bioethics and many other problems.” “We jointly come against abortions, euthanasia, homosexual marriages and other similar phenomena of the present-day world that run counter Christian ideology,” Alexy II stressed. “The coincidence of our stances is not accidental. We have common roots based on ancient Apostle traditions of Christianity. This is the fundamental of our effective cooperation,” the patriarch said. He recalled that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Rome Catholic Church have the examples of successful interaction. “Our representatives to European institutions in Strasbourg, Brussels and to the U.N. in New York jointly work in order to make the voice of Christianity to sound convincingly and powerfully all around the world,” he said. Alexy II said he praises contribution made by the Local Orthodox Church to Christianity. “Each eparchy, which represents any church in France, is designed to take part in a direct and fruitful dialogue with local authorities and the secular society, and with representatives of other Christian churches,” the patriarch noted.

The meeting involved Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and Archbishop Gabriel of Comana (Patriarchate of Constantinople), Bishop Juha of France and Western Europe (Serbian Orthodox Church) and Metropolitan Joseph (Romanian Church). The Russian Orthodox Church was represented by six hierarchs – Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun, who leads the Russian Orthodox Church parishes in France, Archbishop Feofan of Berlin and Germany, Bishop Ilarion of Vienna and Austria. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was represented by Bishop Mikhail of Geneva and Bishop Michael of Geneva and Western Europe, and Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart. Metropolitan Emmanuel thanked Alexy II for his invitation to take part in the prayer service at the Cathedral of Three Saintly Hierarchs and for his support for the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France. Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia was met at the Cathedral of Three Saintly Hierarchs with an offering of flowers, bread and salt.

The prayer service with the participation of Alexy II made a good start to the patriarch’s visit to Paris. “It is a great honour and excessive joy for us today to accept the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,” Archbishop Innokentii of Korsun said. “This unforgettable day opens a new page in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in France,” he stressed. In his words, France granted asylum to many immigrants in the difficult times. “Then it was not easy to take a decision in order to preserve the Church’s unity,” he noted.

“Initially, the prayer house was placed at the car park’s underground storeroom. Then parishioners could build this church at their own expenses. May the founders of the town church hope that the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia will come here,” the archbishop said. “We are convinced that irrespective their church jurisdiction many compatriots would be glad to share this joyful event jointly with us,” the archbishop stressed.

“Your arrival gives peace and graceful spirit of union in the period of restoration that is linked with the name of Your Holiness,” Archbishop Innokentii told the patriarch. “Your visit will give a new life to our eparchy,” he said by donating him the icon of Paris’ patrons – St. Dionysius, St. Germanus and Venerable Genevieve. Alexy II thanked parishioners and presented the Korsun archbishop the icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir. He also thanked Archbishop Innokentii for his works as chairman of the commission for the restoration of canonical unity within the Russian Orthodox Church and awarded him the second-class Order of St. Vladimir.

“I entered this saint cathedral with special feelings. I am grateful that God gave me an opportunity to visit this church,” Alexy II said. The patriarch spoke with fervour about those who “put a light to their faith 75 years ago in order to help anyone see the light of Orthodoxy”. “The founders of this cathedral gave Western Europe rich traditions of theology and icon painting. Their works helped many natives of this country come to Orthodoxy,” Alexy II said. In addition, the patriarch said, “It is time to think of building a new church that would worthy represent the Russian Orthodox Church.” “The laity is growing and the cathedral cannot contain all parishioners,” the patriarch said. “That is why it is necessary to build the new church,” he said. Addressing parishioners, Alexy II said the restoration of canonical unity within the Russian Orthodox Church “is the first step towards strengthening Orthodoxy in other countries”. “I’m grateful that God helps us restore unity when all reasons for schism among immigrants disappeared,” the patriarch said. He said he is hopeful that “those who did not establish canonical relations with the Church due to old-dated views on Mother of the Church will also take part in this”. The patriarch greeted Orthodox hierarchs who represent the Church of Constantinople, the Serbian and Romanian Churches. He called for “building up the unity of Holy Orthodoxy by following special traditions”. “This problem should be solved by each Orthodox church. The unity should not be implanted artificially, but it may occur through people’s communication and interaction,” Alexy II stressed. The patriarch wished all participants in the prayer service to increase the faith and brotherly affection”. The patriarch’s visit to France is completing the solemn celebrations devoted to the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church. Since September 1 the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church and the choir of the Sretensky Monastery have visited Russian churches all around the world. The choir will accompany the patriarch’s divine services in Paris – at the Russian cathedral of the Three Saintly Hierarchs, at Notre Dame de Paris before Christ’s Crown of Thorns and at the Russian cemetery St.-Genevieve de Bois. The official visit by Alexy II was held at the invitation of PACE President Rene van der Linden who considers the development of an inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue one of the most important tasks of his presidency.

The speech by Alexy II at the PACE was devoted to the restoration of Christian culture that created conditions for strengthening mutual understanding and interaction between the peoples on the European continent.

The patriarch’s speech at the PACE proves of the PACE contribution to developing such dialogue, van der Linden stressed. Alexy II said the Orthodox and Catholic Churches should protect Christian values. In an interview with Le Figaro, Alexy II said he is convinced that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches “must protect Christian values against freedom, which is interpreted as permissiveness”. In his words, he “does not rule out a possibility of meeting Pope Benedict XVI”. “Maybe, we’ll meet in a year or two years, but not in a month,” the patriarch added. Alexy II stressed that he “comes against my meeting with the Pope (it should be historical) to be only an event for the press. It should really help us settle disagreements”. The French press reports that relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches warmed after 2002. According to French mass media reports, Alexy II is visiting a Catholic country for the first time after the Schism of 1054. The revival of the Christian cultural tradition in Europe would have a favourable impact on the relations with people of different cultural and religious traditions, the patriarch said. “Christian cultural revival will consolidate the ground for a dialogue and for cooperation of various cultural and religious traditions,” he stressed.


Homosexuals are ill - H.H.Alexii II

Homosexuals are like kleptomaniacs and have an illness, the head of Russia's Orthodox Church said yesterday.

Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia told MPs at the Council of Europe that civilisation was threatened by a split between Christian morality and human rights, which were being used to excuse declining moral standards."We can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality, and in how human rights are used to justify immoral behaviour," he told a meeting of the council's Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. Earlier this year, Alexy II banned a gay rights parade through Moscow.

He said that sinners could be accepted despite their sins, but ignoring the moral teachings of the Bible threatened Europe's standing in the world. But the patriarch insisted that no state power should interfere with an individual's personal life. "After all, being moral or immoral is a matter of free personal choice.


Boston pilgrims greeted by Orthodox Patriarch

ISTANBUL -- Boston’s Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims made their way from the heart of the Church in the West to the heart of the Church in the East arriving in Istanbul -- formerly known as Constantinople -- on Sept. 20.

The group of nearly 100 pilgrims set out from Boston Sept. 16 on a 10-day ecumenical pilgrimage, led by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios. During their three days in Rome, the pilgrims not only visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican, but were able to visit the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls, where they were given the opportunity to kiss the chains of St. Paul. Before leaving Rome, the pilgrims attended the Holy Father’s Wednesday general audience at the Vatican in which the pope greeted Cardinal O’Malley and Metropolitan Methodios. They prayed vespers at the Church of St. Theodore, the church John Paul II gave to the Greek Orthodox in Rome.

Upon arriving in Istanbul, the pilgrims visited sites of great significance in the Orthodox faith, including the Hagia Sophia, the former cathedral of the Church in the East, where the group of pilgrims participated in a celebration of great vespers with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I Sept 22.

At the conclusion of the vespers service, Cardinal O’Malley and Metropolitan Methodios extended their greetings and made brief addresses to the patriarch.

In his remarks, Cardinal O’Malley cited the example of the close relationship between Boston’s Catholic and Orthodox Communities and pledged to work toward the goal of Christian unity.

“It is my pleasure to come here with my esteemed brother, his Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston to manifest in this pilgrimage the fruition of a deeper relationship between the sister churches in Boston,” Cardinal O’Malley began.

The cardinal cited instances in which the Vatican and the Orthodox Church have collaborated in recent times.

“We in Boston have also exchanged many expressions of the love and solidarity,” he continued, underscoring that his friendship to Metropolitan Methodios is an example of that solidarity.

“Dialogue needs to be in the context of such relationships in order to bear fruit,” Cardinal O’Malley continued.

Concluding his remarks, Cardinal O’Malley pledged himself “to keenly do all that I can, with God’s help, to hasten the full physical unity, the restoration of priceless communion between the churches of East and West to the spread of the kingdom and the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.”

Metropolitan Methodios echoed Cardinal O’Malley’s sentiments, adding that it is his hope “that our pilgrimage may be a forerunner of many pilgrimages -- from the United States and throughout the world -- to Rome and Constantinople, so that our brothers, Orthodox and Roman Catholic alike, may come to pray.”

The metropolitan also prayed that all Christians “may see that [God’s] will is that, one day, we may all be one.”

Speaking to the patriarch, Metropolitan Methodios also called for the reopening of the Orthodox seminary on the Turkish Island of Heybeli, most commonly referred to by its Greek Name, Halki.

The Halki seminary was established in 1844 on the island of Heybeli, the second largest of the Princes’ Islands. It was the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Earlier in the day the Boston pilgrims had paid a visit to the island seminary that was closed by the Turkish government in 1971 when the country outlawed all private religious institutes of higher learning.

“The time has come for Halki…to open,” stressed Metropolitan Methodios.

After the cardinal and metropolitan spoke, Patriarch Bartholomew offered his remarks.

“It is with sincere pleasure and paternal joy that we humbly welcome you,” Patriarch Bartholomew began.

Speaking to the group, he noted that this pilgrimage is much more than tourism.

“[You are] participating in the journey toward reconciliation to which Christ calls all of his disciples.”

Patriarch Bartholomew stressed that creating unity among the churches of the East and the West, “requires openness -- to learn from one another -- and faithfulness -- to work with one another.”

“It is only in this way that we will gradually create the necessary conditions to overcome prejudice, to appreciate differences and to discern the roots of our faith,” he said.

“This means that all of us -- both you and me -- from our own particular position and unique perspectives, are called to engage in and explore ways of overcoming barriers,” he said.

Later in the evening the patriarch held a special audience with the pilgrims. After greeting each pilgrim personally, he presented them with a small golden cross to mark the occasion.

After making stops in Rome and Istanbul, the pilgrimage was to conclude in St. Petersburg, Russia with visits to such sites as St. Isaac and Kazan Cathedrals and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.

Eritrean Christians tell of torture

A new BBC feature...

An Eritrean refugee lies contorted on the ground. Balanced on his belly, his hands clutch his feet behind his back, bending his legs back almost double.

Paulus is demonstrating a torture technique known colloquially as "the helicopter".

It is one [that] he knows well. It was in this excruciating position, he claims, that soldiers left him tied up for 136 hours, in an attempt to force him to recant his faith.

"They kept asking me to sign a document," he recalls, "and agree to not participate in church activities or express my faith in any form. I was told [that] I would be untied and released the minute [that] I agreed to their requests."

Paulus is an evangelical Christian from Eritrea, one of an increasing number fleeing the tiny Red Sea state because of religious persecution.

Home these days is Shimelba refugee camp in northern Ethiopia, close to the disputed border with Eritrea. Here, in the Ebenezer Evangelical Church on camp, Paulus is free to worship in a way that is unthinkable back in his homeland.


During the past five years, a brutal campaign has been waged in Eritrea against Christian minorities, focusing mainly on the evangelical and Pentecostal movements.

Weddings, baptisms, church services, and prayer meetings have been raided by security forces. Guests or congregation members have rounded up and detained en masse.

According to Compass Direct, a non-governmental organisation reporting on the persecution of Christians around the world, it is estimated that almost 2,000 people are being held in jails across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs.

The crackdown on Eritrea's minority churches followed a government announcement in May 2002 that only its four oldest faiths - Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Islam - would receive official sanction.

The rest were invited to register and declare their sources of funding. To date, none has been registered.


Evangelical Christians who have been arrested face severe pressure to recant their faith. Some prisoners have been held in metal shipping containers.

Accounts of torture, lack of food, and terrible conditions are commonplace.

Samuel (not his real name) is 24 and university-educated. Along with 19 others, he was arrested in 2005 when he attended the wedding of a friend.

For the next 12 months, he was imprisoned and forced to do backbreaking manual labour. He was also regularly beaten.

On one occasion, Samuel said, he was suspended by his arms from a tree for three days in the form of a crucifixion. He was also constantly pressured to leave his faith.

"They asked me if I would like to leave it. They asked every night for four months," he said. Some of his friends did recant after endless beatings.

Samuel, as well as Paulus, were repeatedly asked about their links with the US. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are widely perceived by the Eritrean authorities as having originated in the States, even though many fund themselves.

The US is threatening to declare Eritrea a rogue state for its alleged support of terrorists, and the mood of President Isaias Afwerki and his Marxist-oriented government is now openly anti-American.

Yet even official, long-established faiths have not escaped government interference.

Patriarch Abune Antonios, the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church - a faith followed by more than 40% of Eritrea's population - has been under house arrest for almost two years.

'No repression'

Four months ago, the 80-year-old, who suffers from diabetes, was moved to an undisclosed location. Since then, there has been little information about what happened to him.

No official reason has been given for his disappearance. His supporters, however, claim that he was arrested after he objected to the jailing of church leaders from the Medhane Alem, a spiritual renewal movement within the Orthodox church.

In May [of] this year, a new patriarch was installed with the support of some Eritrean bishops. But the new patriarch has not been accepted by the Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt.

Abba Seraphim is the head of the British Orthodox Church, which is launching an online petition to protest about the plight of the patriarch.

He told me [Tanya Datta] the patriarch was put under house arrest after he refused to do the government's bidding. "The only thing [that] we've heard is that he's being kept in a darkened room. He managed to get a message to someone complaining about this," Mr Seraphim said.

But, according to Girma Asmeron, the Eritrean ambassador to Belgium, the disappearance of Patriarch Antonios is far from sinister. The patriarch, he claims, has retired to an isolated monastery and is very much "alive, kicking and praying".

Mr Asmeron denies that there is any repression of religious freedom in Eritrea. He says [that] persecution claims have been made up. And allegations of torture, he says, are stories invented by refugees "simply as a certificate" to enable them to get political asylum.

Refugees certainly continue to pour out of Eritrea. In two years, the number of asylum applications by Eritreans to the West has increased by 57%. The UNHCR recently described the exodus as "one of the world's most-protracted refugee situations".

My last contact with Eritrea's persecuted Christians came in an e-mail sent to me last week.

"The situation in Eritrea is getting worse and worse after the president stated that the US is funding the Pentecostal church in Eritrea," it said.

"Many Christians are suffering in military concentrations [camps] and police stations... Pray for the Christians in Eritrea, and pray for the prisoners and their families."

BBC World Service's Assignment programme is broadcast on Thursday, 27 September at 0800 GMT, 1100 GMT and 1900 GMT.

World’s Only Amber Church to Appear in Russia


Russian Pediatric Medical Academy in St. Petersburg is creating a new wonder of the world – it is planned to turn the hospital church into the only ever amber Orthodox church. Today, September 27, the church’s rector got a cross encrusted with amber and also three icons with their wooden kiots decorated with amber.
However, these are sample icons: later the priesthood and the church’s visitors will choose the style the kiots will be done in. It is planned to fully re-decorate the church inside within the nearest 5-7 years: the iconostasis, ornaments, windows, and even furniture – everything will be made of amber.


Alexy II to Address PACE

His Holiness Patriarchy Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia goes to France on official visit today, October 1, 2007. During the tour, he will address PACE to announce collapse of liberal values and put forward an alternative concept of human rights. By making such statements, some political analysts say, the patriarchy will attempt to justify violation of human rights in Russia to the world community.

It will be the first official tour to France ever made by the patriarchy of All Russia and the importance of this historic event is hard to overestimate. But the speech that His Holiness Alexy will deliver to PACE tomorrow is, perhaps, of even greater significance.

“For the first time, a religious leader will speak in PACE not as the head of the state or as an expert, but as a religious leader and under the protocol of the head of the state,” said Hegumen Filaret (Bulekov), who represents Russian Orthodox Church in Strasbourg. “It will be the first experience for European Parliament.”

The patriarchy will deliver the 25-minute report and answer five questions of parliament members after it. The content of his speech is a top secret, but the sources say Alexy II will present to Europe an alternative concept of human rights. “The patriarchy will speak about the human rights arisen, amid other things, from the Christian doctrine on dignity of a person,” Filaret confirmed.

The hegumen said, Alexy II will clarify to Europe’s PMs “the standing of Russian Orthodox Church and, along with it, the standing of all Christian world on a number of issues,” including human rights, bioethics, education of a person. According to Filaret, the patriarchy agreed to address PACE “to show that the church is open for a dialogue with society. The future of Europe couldn’t be decided without taking into account positions of the faithful, of religious organizations.”

Ethan Cole
Christian Post Reporter
Mon, Oct. 01 2007 10:25 AM ET

For Paulus, an Eritrean refugee in northern Ethiopia, a helicopter is not only an aircraft people can spot above in the sky, but also a form of torture where victims are forced to balance on their belly with hands and feet tied together and legs bent behind their back.

And the evangelical Christian said he knows “the helicopter” well because, he claims, he was tied in that position for 136 hours in an effort to pressure him to recant his faith.

“They kept asking me to sign a document,” he told BBC News in a report last week, “and agree to not participate in church activities or express my faith in any form. I was told I would be untied and released the minute I agreed to their requests.”

Sitting in Shimelba refugee camp close to the border of Eritrea, Paulus told of different torture techniques he endured in his homeland for being an evangelical Christian.

He is among a growing number of Eritrean Christians fleeing the country to escape religious persecution. Inside Shimelba refugee camp where Paulus lives is the Ebenezer Evangelical Church where he and others like him can worship freely without fear of persecution – unlike back home.

Eritrea, a small country in East Africa on the Red Sea, is one of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world. The government is highly suspicious of newer Christian movements such as the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and frequently harasses their followers. A harsh crackdown began five years ago on all churches outside of the government-approved Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran denominations

There are an estimated 2,000 Eritrean Christians under arrest without trial or legal charge for the sole reason of their religious beliefs, according to Compass Direct News, a Christian news agency that reports exclusively on persecution of Christians. Eritrean security forces raid weddings, baptism, worship services, prayer meetings, and other religious gatherings and arrest both hosts and guests.

College-educated “Samuel” (not his real name), 24, was arrested in 2005 along with 19 other people while attending a friend’s wedding ceremony. After he was imprisoned, Samuel was forced to perform backbreaking manual labor for the next 12 months and regularly beaten, according to BBC.

One of the tortures he had to endure involved being hung from a tree with his arms stretched in the form of a crucifixion for three days.

“They asked me if I would like to leave [my faith]. They asked every night for four months,” he told BBC News.

Other tortures faced by Christians include being held in metal shipping containers under the hot sun, beatings, and deprivation of food.

Eritrea also recently cracked down on the Orthodox Church, which it previously had a close relationship.

The head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church – former Patriarch Abune Antonios, 80 – was illegally dismissed from his position in January 2006 after criticizing the government for interfering in church activities and for its persecution of evangelical churches, according to human rights group Amnesty International. For nearly two years he has been under stringent house arrest with little news heard about his condition in the past few months.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May recommended that Eritrea be re-designated by the State Department as one of the 11 “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for 2007. The U.S. Department of State for three straight years has designated Eritrea as a CPC – the worst religious freedom violation label.


PARIS: The slow rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican - separated for almost a thousand years - gathered momentum Monday as Russia's spiritual leader called for an alliance to promote Christian social values.

At the start of a visit to France, Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, also predicted that a meeting with the pope might take place within two years. The two churches must cooperate to combat the rise of same sex marriages and "propaganda in favor of euthanasia and abortion," the patriarch said in an interview with the daily Le Figaro, adding that he had "the same approach" to Europe's lack of spiritual values as Pope Benedict XVI.

The comments underline a thaw in relations between two churches and a growing willingness to promote common causes, even though the Russian Orthodox Church objects to the activities of Roman Catholic missionaries in Russia and former Soviet Republics.

Relations have improved notably since the death of Pope John Paul II who was regarded with suspicion by the Russian Orthodox hierarchy.

However, the patriarch's brand of moral conservatism could provoke criticism Tuesday in Strasbourg when he addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a body dedicated to upholding civil and human rights, including nondiscrimination.

His brief address to the assembly will focus on human rights and ethical values. Critics have accused him of being too close to the Russian government.

Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National Strategy Institute, a Russian research organization, said the patriarch traveled as "a direct representative of the Kremlin," and the Russian daily Kommersant suggested Tuesday that the visit aimed to counter European criticism of Russian human rights practices.

The patriarch will also meet with the Catholic Bishops' Conference and President Nicolas Sarkozy. In his interview in Le Figaro, Alexy said that, in terms of a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, he excluded "nothing." It could happen, "perhaps not in a month but in a year or two."

Hans-Gert Pöttering, president of the European Parliament and a practicing Roman Catholic, described the visit to France and meeting with Sarkozy as "highly significant at the current time," adding, "We need this dialogue if we are to avoid a "clash of civilizations."

Despite the positive message from the patriarch, obstacles could still prevent a meeting with the pope. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, underlined the problems of "missionary activities among some people belonging to the Catholic Church in Russia and some Greek Catholics in some parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan."

"Some activities of certain parts of the Roman Catholic Church hurt deeply," he said in an interview by telephone, "and there are those who say the Vatican puts forward one hand for shaking hands and the other to hit us. To avoid this impression it is important to solve the problems in sincere and concrete dialogue."

Nevertheless analysts point to a steady improvement in relations.

"The Vatican's relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church was not going to be easily improved under John Paul II," said Father Leonid Kishkovsky, director of external affairs for the Orthodox Church in America.

Under Benedict, the Russian Orthodox Church has been more willing to stress areas of convergence with the Roman Catholic Church because "they see it as giving them a more resonant voice in a Europe that is highly secular," Kishkovsky said.

Benedict visited Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world's 220 million Orthodox, in Istanbul last year.

Anatoly Krasikov, head of the Center for Socio-Religious Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said he did not rule out the possibility of a meeting between Benedict and Alexy.

"I think that sooner or later this meeting must occur," he said. "There is more understanding between both churches." Still, he added, "there is much that still divides Catholics and the Orthodox."

The Reverend Ronald Roberson, an expert on the Orthodox with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the patriarch's comments were significant as it apparently was the first time he had mentioned any concrete time for a meeting with the pope.

"That's an important step forward," Roberson said. "They have never been saying that. They have been saying we can't meet until we have progress on those certain issues. So if he's talking about a meeting in a certain period of time, that is something that is quite new."

Like his predecessor, Benedict has made a closer union with the world's Orthodox, themselves divided into 14 self-ruling churches, a central goal of his papacy. His first trip outside of Rome was to Bari, in southern Italy, a city important to Orthodox and Catholic alike and so considered a bridge between them, and talks between theological experts on both sides restarted last year after six years of dormancy.

Ian Fisher reported from Rome and Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Moscow.



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