International Orthodox Christian News

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III falls ill during US Visit

The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest community of Christians in the Middle East, fell ill before an appearance in Columbus and was hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic.

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, 84, was admitted Monday night, said Mary Sedarous, daughter of the pastor of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church on the Far West Side.She did not know what was wrong but said it appeared to be an emergency. Shenouda has been in poor health recently.Mary Sedarous' father, the Rev. Sedarous A. Sedarous, rushed to Cleveland about midnight to be with the pope, his former teacher.

“He was very upset and very worried,” she said.

A Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman said the pope had requested that no information be released about his condition.Shenouda had come to the United States to visit several congregations, including St. Mary.

He was scheduled to consecrate the church's 3-year-old altar yesterday morning in an elaborate ceremony of prayers and blessings to be capped by a children's choir and a party.Coptic priests from all over the Midwest and Canada traveled to Columbus for the consecration, but many of them ended up in Cleveland to see him instead, Mary Sedarous said.“Everybody waits for this visit,” said Mike Elmaraghy, a deacon at the church. Just as Roman Catholics follow Pope Benedict XVI, Elmaraghy and others of his faith honor Shenouda as the highest figure in the church, he said. They consider him to be God's representative on Earth.

“We consider him our pope,” he said.

The doctrine of the Coptic Church is similar to Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches. Its rituals are similar to those of Roman Catholicism.Shenouda resides in Egypt, where the Coptic Church was founded in the first century by St. Mark. Today, Copts account for 10 percent of the Egyptian population.

“Everyone feels he represents all the Christian minority in Egypt,” Elmaraghy said.

The church had just four North American congregations when Shenouda became pope in 1971 but now counts more than 100, including four in Ohio.Under his leadership, the church has established congregations in South America, New Zealand and Australia. He has traveled extensively and tried to form bonds with other Christian leaders.

Shenouda suffers from chronic cholecystitis, or stones in his gall bladder that cause a high fever and severe pain, and was hospitalized in November in Cairo.

In October 2006, he underwent spinal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. He came to the United States several times last year for back surgery.On Monday, hours before he got word that the patriarch was ill, the Rev. Sedarous talked about his excitement leading up to the consecration. Once the church was consecrated, it would become a sacred place that could be used for prayer and liturgy only, he said.

He was looking forward to showing Shenouda updates to the church, including icons made with materials from Egypt. The building, which was formerly a Baptist church and then a Mormon temple, has been redone since Shenouda last visited in 1999.The Rev. Sedarous was one of Shenouda's students at the Clerical Theological College in Cairo in 1968, he said.

“He is my teacher,” he said. “He is everything for me.”


Russian and Estonian Orthodox to Talk

Bartholomew I is promoting a meeting between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church of Estonia. Last October the Russians quit the Ravenna meeting because of the presence of Estonian representatives. In concluding the prayer for Christian unity, the ecumenical patriarch expressed his desire to see the process of unification speed up, stressing how ‘historical’ was the joint declaration made by Catholics and Orthodox in Ravenna. He also talks about spreading the Gospel in Hong Kong.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and of the Estonian Apostolic Church should meet after their differences a few months ago almost scuttled the Ravenna meeting between Catholics and Orthodox when the Russians left the Italian city that hosted the ecumenical talks. The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople has in fact invited the two Churches to a meeting next month in a yet-to-be determined location to smooth over the dispute caused by the 1996 decision of the Church of Estonia to break from Moscow. The reason is that divisions are unseemly for an Orthodox world so richly endowed in traditions.

The ecumenical patriarch will be represented by the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas, whilst the Church of Estonia will send the metropolitan of Tallinn. Moscow has yet to respond to the invitation and it is still possible that it may reject it.Promoting a meeting between the two Orthodox Churches was the last event in a week that ended in a series of prayers for Christian unity. On this occasion a Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdoğan, spoke for the first time about the ecumenical role played by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Later his words were also echoed by his foreign minister, Ali Babacan, who observed that ancient taboos must be overcome.

The evocative celebration of Byzantine Vespers in Saint George’s Church, in the Fanar, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, marked the conclusion of the prayer for Christian unity.

Representatives from all Christian confessions present in Istanbul stood side by side with the ecumenical patriarch as did many young people from abroad.Indeed it was no accident that it all took place before the relics of Saint John Chrysostom, which Pope John Paul II returned in 2004, a sign that Christian unity is a duty.In his brief but telling homily Patriarch Bartholomew said that prayer was necessary but so were working hard and early.

He explained that the Fanar, in co-ordination with other Churches, is a member of many organisations that promote dialogue geared towards Christian unity in order that full communion may be speedily achieved.

Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, secretary of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, outlined the history of the dialogue between Christians, stressing the historical significance of the joint statement made in Ravenna by Catholics and Orthodox.

The speech Bartholomew made before the new bishop of Hong Kong Nektarios received his crucifix was also significant. In it he stressed the importance of Christian witness in the lands of the East.He noted that for the Ecumenical Patriarchate it is very important to propose the message of Our Lord to those who want to meet the real God and feel that eastern religions—even though they might possess some seeds of truth—are still far from satisfying the search for the true witness of the truth.

“We cannot disappoint them,” said Bartholomew. “Ignorance, suspicions, cultural and political prejudices, intolerance, the legacy of the past and some errors we Christians made give rise to hard-to-solve situations, creating less than friendly attitudes towards Christian missionaries. This is why, as members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we must make sacrifices for one’s fellow man as did Saint Paul whose birth 2,000 years ago we celebrate this year.” (NT)


Biography of His Beatitude Archbishop Christodoulos

His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece,Christodoulos, was born at Xanthi, Thrace (Northern Greece) in 1939. In 1962 he graduated from the School of Law and in 1967 from the School of Theology. In 1961 he was ordained a deacon and a priest in 1965. He served as a preacher and senior spiritual father at the parish of Assumption of the Virgin Mary at Palaio Phalero, Athens, for nine years, and, for seven years he served as a Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod.

He was elected Metropolitan of Demetrias in 1974 and Archbishop of Athens and all Greece in 1998. He is a Doctor of Theology, he has a degree in French and English, and he also speaks Italian and German. He is the author of many scientific and pastoral books. He has received "Honoris Causa" Doctorates from the University of Craiova and the University of Iasi.

He recently published the book “Proselyte Hellenism - the transition from Αntiquity to Christianity”, where he interprets how the Christian Church managed to prevail and to proselytize the Greek and Roman world. Also his book “The European Psyche” has been recently published in 2nd edition. This is a study on the role of Christianity in the creation of the European world and the future of the European people in case its identity would be eradicated. His accession to the seat of the Prelate of the Church was for him the beginning of an important pastoral and diaconical work. His Beatitude has been working to create a well-organized and dynamic presence of the Church in modern society. He reorganized the Synodal Committees in order to have strong and direct intervention in all the crucial issues of modern society. Among them is the foundation of a Synodal Committee on Bioethics.

He encourages the existing services of the Church on social work and he launched new ones to confront social issues such as the welfare of drug-addicts and immigrants, the support for single mothers and abused women, the care for the victims of trafficking, the establishing of a chain of nurseries and infant schools, the assist of poor families and families with many children etc. He has also established Solidarity, a NGO of the Church of Greece, which allowed a humanitarian intervention of the Church on an international level ? in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

As it is often said, “Archbishop Christodoulos has introduced the Church into the digital era” establishing the Cultural Projects and Internet Service. Apart from the sites of religious interest, the Service has launched the first on line cultural center which includes a library, an art gallery, a music gallery, a video gallery, a site on the European spirit and a portal of cultural news.

His concern for European issues is of great significance. He established an ad hoc Synodal Committee and the Representation of the Church of Greece to the European Union in Brussels. His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece Mr. Christodoulos advocates for the dialogue of love between the Church of Greece and the Church of Rome. The visit of Pope John-Paul II in Athens, whose presence touched the hearts of Greek Orthodox people, was a decisive step towards this cause.


Greek Archbishop Christodoulos Passed Away

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the powerful church in the country, died on Monday at the age of 69.Christodoulos had suffered from cancer for the past seven months. He died at home."He brought the church closer to society, closer to modern problems and to young people," Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a statement.Christodoulos courted controversy from his first reformist days at the helm of the Church through to the conservative U-turn he made that drove many supporters away.

He grudgingly agreed to a landmark visit by Pope John Paul to Greece in 2001 that marked a turning point in relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches since the Great Schism of 1054 that split Christianity.Born Christos Paraskevaidis in north-eastern Greece in 1939, he became the youngest head of the powerful church when he was elected to the top post in 1998, following the death of his predecessor Seraphim.

His funeral will be held after a three-day wake.


Greek priests advocate for immigrants

Seven village priests in the northeastern Greek prefecture of Arta have joined forces to campaign against the exploitation of immigrant workers. Their message is clear: zero tolerance towards slave wages, sweatshop conditions and racism.

"We sent an open letter to the local media here in Arta in hopes of raising public awareness about the plight of immigrant workers in Greece," Father Haralambos of the town of Grammenitsa told the Athens News. "There are people who have fled their homeland, where they can never return, who endure low wages, long hours and substandard accommodation. We have to help them."

Father Haralambos and six priests from the Arta towns of Kalamia, Kostakio, Rokka, Hanopoulou and Halkiadon, where the total population does not exceed 10,000, launched their campaign to promote the rights of immigrants living and working in Greece on Christmas Eve

"People from faraway countries are outside our door naked and in need," reads the priests' letter. "A complete lack of compassion and shame is reminiscent of the Dark Ages... We don't care about a person's needs or his pain. He is cheap labour. What will he eat? Who cares where will he sleep?"

But pressure has been building on employers in Greece to treat immigrant workers fairly. After a landmark Supreme Court ruling was passed in November, employers are thinking twice about exploiting migrant workers, including those who are undocumented.

The court sided with two Albanian farm workers who claimed they had been paid much less than the minimum wage and systematically denied overtime pay before and after they secured legal residence status. Based on the ruling, even undocumented migrants are entitled to collect unpaid wages, plus a penalty, from their unscrupulous employers. Had the court ruled otherwise, it would have reduced employers' potential liability and made it more financially attractive to hire undocumented workers.

As the debate over the one million-odd immigrants in Greece grows increasingly heated and messy, Father Haralambos, who was ordained eight years ago, says he has started using his religious message to express support for immigrants and call for legislative reform.

Father Haralambos says he believes the Greek state is not doing enough to promote the integration of immigrants, who currently make up 10 percent of the country's population of roughly 11 million.

"We need a more organised effort from the state," he says. "We are trying to do what we can to help immigrants. We collect food and clothing, but we need more organised efforts... We have to help them no matter what. We are deeply troubled by the situation today."

A religious response

It is not the first time the Greek Church has spoken out on the issue. Three years ago, Archbishop Christodoulos told an Athens conference that the state and society ought to "embrace" immigrants. Taking a pro-immigrant stance, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church. "The Greek Church wants and can contribute to the integration of migrants, regardless of their ethnicity and religion," he said.

This past November and December, Father Timotheos Anthis of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece and local Muslim Imam Munir Mahmood held joint talks around Athens in an effort to spread an inter-faith message of solidarity. These public dialogues were arranged by the synod as part of European Union-wide activities marking the end of the 2007 Year of Equal Opportunities.

According to research conducted by the synod, immigrant Muslims residing in Athens suffer racism and ethnic discrimination, especially in the labour market. Many of the immigrant Muslims participating in the survey expressed displeasure with employers who they said do not respect their religious holidays and celebrations. Greece secured 3.6 million euros from the European Union last year to help fund its new initiative to integrate the country's immigrants into the workplace and society. The integration plan, known as Estia (Home), was drafted by the interior ministry. It is the country's first ever major attempt to integrate immigrants.

But a new report drafted by a special parliamentary committee has found that xenophobia is rife in Greece. Ruling New Democracy MP Elsa Papadimitriou, who chaired the committee, told a session of parliament last week that Greek society "has caught the social ailment - the epidemic of racism and xenophobia".

"Immigration is a parameter of globalisation, and we must look at it through the prism of peaceful cohabitation of peoples," Papadimitriou told parliament. Leftist parliamentarians took the opportunity to call for a general amnesty for all undocumented migrants. after dozens of Romanian immigrants, including young children, nearly died during a fire started in a makeshift wood stove. The immigrants were housed in squalid conditions on a poultry farm in the town of Kostakio. said Greeks must respect the human rights of all foreigners.


Minsk, January 24, Interfax - Head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church handed over to Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko his concern in connection with the creation of a population registration procedure and introduction of biometric control systems.

"The believers are concerned over the introduction of innovations in personal information collection and storage. People have been asking more and more questions concerning registration and introduction of biometric control systems," Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Philaret said at a meeting of Belarusian Orthodox Church Synod members with Belarusian President.

"We explained that these systems cannot injure a human soul," Philaret said. "Yet the state should also explain whether such databases can be protected against illegal use of information," Philaret said."There comes a question whether the collected data, including biometric data are meant for domestic use or any foreign persons can use them?" he said.

"The world tendency to provide possible online control over the location of a person are causing a real anxiety," he said.Philaret says the state should listen "to the voices of the people who attempt to protect themselves."


A deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) has called on Minsk and Slutsk Metropolitan Filaret, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus, to appeal for a softer punishment on journalist Alyaksandr Zdvizhkow.

Mr. Zdvizhkow, deputy editor of the now-closed newspaper Zhoda, on January 18 was sentenced by the Minsk City Court to three years in a medium-security prison over the reprinting of some of the controversial Danish cartoons that caused outrage among some Muslims across the world in 2005 and 2006. He was found guilty of "inciting racial, national or religious enmity or discord."

The case was opened in February 2006 following a complaint by Ismail Varanovich, mufti of the Spiritual Association of Muslims in Belarus. The Zhoda was closed down over the reprinting of the cartoons in the spring of 2006. In his open letter to Patriarchal Exarch Filaret, BPF deputy head Ales Mikhalevich denounced the sentence as unacceptable for a "Christian country," going so far as to suggest that "the conviction of the Christian on the basis of Muslim ethical norms is a provocation targeting the Christian community of Belarus."

Mr. Mikhalevich warned that the sentence might spark a "wave of justified social resentment among Belarusian Christians, which might undermine interdenominational peace in the country." He said that Mr. Varanovich had described the sentence as unjustifiably severe, and Abu-Bekir Shabanovich, chief mufti of the Muslim Religious Association in Belarus, had expressed regret over the conviction. He said that only the "wise advocacy by the church can save the Christian believer from prison and avert the threat of interdenominational conflict facing the country."
He called on Patriarchal Exarch Filaret to use the "great moral authority of the Christian Orthodox Church in Belarus to defend the journalist who was convicted for expressing his Christian beliefs." Mr. Mikhalevich told BelaPAN that the sentence was "indeed outrageous." He said that he expected the top Orthodox cleric to response to his appeal, noting that he should not necessarily act in public but simply talk to top government officials because his authority was great.


Greek Archbishop's Health Worsens, Treated at Home

The health of Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the powerful Church of Greece, is deteriorating and doctors say he will now receive medical treatment at home according to his own wishes.

Archbishop Christodoulos, 68, who was instrumental in improving ties between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church, was diagnosed with cancer in June and flew to Miami in August to wait for a compatible liver donor.

But an attempted transplant operation was cancelled due to his deteriorating health and the leader of about 10 million Orthodox Greeks returned to Athens for medical treatment.

"The archbishop remains at the official residence and is being treated there," a Church of Greece official said on Tuesday. "He has expressed the wish not to return to hospital."

Doctors confirmed late on Monday his health had taken a turn for the worse.

"Archbishop Christodoulos...showed a further deterioration of his clinical condition with his powers weakening," his medical team said in a statement.Elected Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece in 1998, Christodoulos tried to mend ties with the Vatican. In 2001 he received Pope John Paul II, the first pope to visit Greece in more than 1,000 years.

Since he was diagnosed with cancer, he has only made brief public appearances, mainly outside his residence, greeted by dozens of well-wishers.


Georgian children dressed as shepherds prepare to participate in an Alilo religion procession, to mark Orthodox Christmas in downtown Tbilisi, Georgia, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008.

Georgians carry their national flags during a procession to mark Orthodox Christmas in downtown Tbilisi, Georgia, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008.

Women sing carols and collect gifts as they celebrate Orthodox Christmas in the Ukrainian village of Pirogovo, near capital in Kiev, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008.

Women, municipal workers, sweeping snow near an Orthodox Christian church in the Chechnya's regional capital, Grozny, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008. Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia.

Women prepare to try a shot of vodka or horilka, as vodka is known in Ukrainian, with the traditional local appetizer, slices of pork fat, known as salo, and of pickled cucumbers on bread as they celebrate Orthodox Christmas in the Ukrainian village of Pirogovo, near the capital in Kiev, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008

A Bosnian Serb woman, citizen of Sarajevo, lights a candle for the dead during church service at main Bosnian Orthodox church in Sarajevo on Monday, Jan. 7, 2008. Bosnian Orthodox Serbs celebrate Jan. 7, 2007.

A sleigh driver braves the cold on the Christian Orthodox Christmas in Veliky Ustyug, in the Vologda region, about 650 kilometers (400 miles) north of Moscow, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008.

Georgian children prepare to participate in a procession to mark Orthodox Christmas in downtown Tbilisi, Georgia, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008.

Source of Snaps

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The ancient Orthodox rite of the blessing of the waters was celebrated by the ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with the launching of a cross to sea, to symbolise the Baptism of Christ. The ceremony took place in the Golden Horn, in Istanbul, a short distance from the Patriarchal See.

The rite, long desired and inaugurated by Bartholomew in 2003, was attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps, from other Christian confessions and thousands of people who had come from abroad, beneath the discreet by watchful eye of the police, present to avoid further provocations by members of the ultra-nationalist group the Grey Wolves. But this year, for the first time, they abstained from disturbing the ceremony. In the past they would gather shouting slogans against the rite.

Shortly before the beginning of celebrations, speaking to those groups which had come from abroad, Bartholomew expressed his optimism for the future of the Christian world and of the Patriarchate in Turkey. He invited the faithful to accompany the Patriarchal See’s work through prayers, moral aid and pilgrimage. “In this corner of our city – Bartholomew said - there is a century’s old institution at the service of Our Lord, the great Church of Christ, where for hundreds of years now the dreams, hopes, memories and desires of the Christian world have found refuge. Our Patriarchate hopes and prays that a spirit of peace, charity, brotherhood and solidarity, will prevail in our world”.

The title of ecumenical Patriarchate – which the authorities do not want to recognise – and the situation of Christian Orthodox in Turkey where instead dealt with by Bartholomew in an interview Sunday with the well respected daily newspaper Zaman, which is very close to the current government.

“We – he explained – do not want to be like the Vatican. The title of Ecumenical Patriarchate dates back to the 6th century, but does not indicate a State. This is against the founding principals of Orthodoxy: State and Church are two separate entities and they must remain as such”. “Instead it indicates, the primacy among Orthodox churches, so that when someone must confront problems for which he has difficulty in finding a solution, then he turns to us to ask for our contribution and help”. Bartholomew highlighted the importance of having the Patriarchal see for Turkey and expressed the hope that in 2008 authorities will recognise its role and allow the theological college of Halki to be re-opened. “We are citizens of this country – he added – we pay taxes, rightly so, we vote, but we want to to have the same rights as our Muslim fellow citizens”.

Asked to comment in the end on the decreasing number of Orthodox in Istanbul, he replied that “if Orthodox citizens were content with their lives here they would not leave. Evidently they do not feel safe. And their loss has certainly impoverished the nation”.

It must be noted that the Patriarch thanked the authorities for allowing mass to be celebrated in the church of St Nicolas in Mira and in particular the Minister for Culture, who granted 30 thousand euros for restoration work.

In the end the Ecumenical Patriarch also sent his season’s greetings to AsiaNews, remarking that he will be in Rome in March next for the 90th anniversary of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he obtained his doctorate, and that on March 6th he will meet with Benedict XVI. (NT)


Christmas message of the Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia

What shall we offer you, O Christ, because you have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by you offers you its thanks: the Angels their hymn; the heavens the Star; the Shepherds their wonder; the Magi their gifts; the earth the Cave; the desert the Manger; but we - a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us Stanza for Lord, I have cried... for Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ Dear and beloved of the Lord your graces the archpastors, the whole of the priestly, diaconal and monastic order, pious laymen and women - the faithful children of our Holy Orthodox Church! We follow today the wise men of old, led by the star of Bethlehem, and come to the manger of the Divine Infant our Lord Jesus Christ. We recall how the Magi 'rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh' (Mt 2: 10 - 11). In entering the feast of the Nativity of Christ we too must ask ourselves: what can we bring to the manger which has now received the God who cannot be contained? He has no need of our pride, our fame, or our material achievements. Vain thoughts, the alarming events of life and peoples' endeavours to outdo each other will be reduced to naught in his eyes. So then may our main gift to the Saviour born of a Virgin be a strong and sincere faith, a faith an example of which the Most Pure Virgin Mary gave to us when the archangel announced the glad tidings to her: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word' (Lk 1:38). Many today have gotten used to the notion that their free and independent rational mind alone can bring them contentment. Yet the Church over the many centuries of her life has seen how those who have become proud and distanced themselves from God have ultimately become unhappy and pitiful. By contrast, the example of the Most Holy Mother of God speaks to us of the heights that the human person can attain when he submits himself in faith to the will of God. 'The Virgin Mary,' writes St Ephraim the Syrian, 'is the Daughter of the Light, for through her the world and its mansions have been bathed in the Light.' May we too with faith bring to the world the Light which is Christ the Lord. May another of our gifts offered to the manger of Bethlehem be love - the ardent and active love of one another and to all those who surround us. Let us be guided daily by the words of Christ: 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another' (Jn 13:35). Let us accomplish deeds of love and mercy for those who today find it hard and are lonely, who suffer and go through despondency and despair, for such people are always to be found near us. The mutual love of man and wife, children and parents, strengthened by love of God and neighbour, has always been the foundation of the strong Christian family. The forthcoming year in Russia has been declared the Year of the Family, and in many other countries where our Church serves God concern for the family is paramount. We, the faithful children of Christ's Church, need to manifest this concern with all zeal. The whole of society, especially our young people, must discover anew the simple and eternal truth that where there is no love, mutual responsibility and the willingness to make a gift of one's life to those whom we love there can be neither contentment nor the fullness of life. Divorce, abortion, the striving for wealth and endless pleasure, the neglect of one's own children who so often are deprived of parental affection and upbringing degrade the life of the individual and the entire nation into a joyless existence filled with the pangs of conscience. Yet if in the family love, faith and the joy of mutual self-sacrifice and support for each other reign, then we will be surrounded by yet far more contented people. The fate of our peoples too will change for the better. Dearly beloved! In this outgoing year the Lord has blessed his Church with peace, joy and success in the many labours undertaken for the salvation of the people of God. On the feast of the Lord's Ascension the fullness of unity was restored between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad, to which belong a significant part of our church people dispersed throughout the world. We are now again one Church, strengthened by communion in the sacraments and prayer, bearing witness to the truth of Holy Orthodoxy not only in our homeland but also 'unto the uttermost part of the earth' (Acts 1:8). The confines of our Church have embraced the precious relics of the holy apostle and evangelist Luke, St Spyridon of Tremithius and St John Chrysostom. There were brought from St Petersburg to Moscow the relics of the holy and right-believing Prince Alexander Nevsky, which in turn were brought to the towns historically linked with the earthly deeds of the heavenly protector of our homeland. A great multitude of the children of the Church came to Orthodox houses of worship to venerate the saints of God, to receive from them spiritual comfort and blessing and to be healed of their infirmities of soul and body. With the active participation of Orthodox people festivities were held in honour of the six-hundredth anniversary of the demise of St Savva Storozhevsky - disciple of St Sergius of Radonezh, prayerful intercessor for godly Russian rulers and teacher of monks. We prayed for a better future for Russia and the setting straight of her historical paths before the "Reigning" icon of the Mother of God on the ninetieth anniversary of its manifestation. We celebrated prayerfully and solemnly the ninetieth anniversary of the restoration of patriarchal rule in our Holy Church. A memorial cross was brought from Solovki Monastery to Butovo military field in Moscow in memory of the many hundreds of new martyrs and confessors of Russia, for the thousands and thousands of innocently murdered people during the years of the anti-God regime. May God grant that the memory of their spiritual heroism strengthen our nation on the paths of spiritual rebirth. Throughout the past year I have, by the grace of God, celebrated services in the Russian capital of Moscow, visited parishes and monasteries in the Moscow region and stayed at Valaam Monastery, where I consecrated a hermitage in honour of the Smolensk icon of the Mother of God. The Lord vouchsafed me to visit the Vologda, Izhevsk and Korsun dioceses of our Church and to testify to the spiritual values and social mission of the Orthodox Church before members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. It was of this - of our faith which illumines and transforms the world - that I spoke in meetings with statesmen and people of various faiths and convictions. The peoples who are spiritually sustained by the Russian Orthodox Church are treading firmly the path of rebirth. Many achievements have already been attained on this path. Yet life brings us difficulties, trials and temptations. In the past years attempts have been made to divide us along national, political and social lines. The Church, which has always been with her people in joy and grief, consistently reminds people that only unity can make us strong, free and capable of transforming the world. The conciliar unity of the people, from which neither the Church nor the secular authorities have any right to distance themselves, is becoming for Russian society the foundation of good deeds. Let us preserve in holiness 'the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' (Eph 4:3) in our Church. And during the present radiant feast let us come to know in the depths of our hearts and minds that it is unity to which the Lord, born in Bethlehem, calls us. 'How many blessings,' writes St Basil the Great, 'has the Saviour's becoming man brought us, for divided human nature, torn asunder into thousands of parts by its own powers, is now restored to unity with itself and God.' Your graces the archpastors, dear fathers, brothers and sisters, it is on the feast of the Nativity of Christ and the forthcoming New Year that I congratulate you all. May the light of the star of Bethlehem illumine our souls, granting us strength to tread the path of Christ. May he grant us health, peace and spiritual strength and guide us through the hard path of life. May the coming year of God's beneficence be for our Holy Church and the people of our world peaceful, creative and blessed with success. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (1 Thes 5:28). +Alexy,
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

Nativity of Christ


Coptic Christmas

The majority of Christians in Egypt belong to the Coptic Orthodox church, one of the oldest denominations of the Christian faith, and they celebrate Christmas on January 7. Celebrations begin on the evening of January 6 when families attend large church services which run until midnight, much the same as a Catholic Midnight Mass on December 24.

Many people are unaware of the Christians in Egypt, simply assuming that as its an Islamic country, all Egyptians must be Muslims. However just like in the Western world, Egyptians have a variety of religions co-existing alongside one another, and quiet peacefully compared to many other places in the world (Israel, North Ireland spring to mind). While 90% of the population are Muslim, the remaining 10% are a mix of Christians and Hindus. As a visitor to the country you will meet many Christians as the Tourism and Hospitality industry is dominated by workers from these faith, and its hard to understand how they are such a low number minority in the country.

Moses received the 10 commandments from God on top of Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula near Sharm el Sheikh, and the Holy family fled to Egypt during their persecution, so ties to the Christian church are quite strong. Most people tend to think of Jerusalem and the Vatican when thinking of the great religious sites around the world, however Egypt is also a destination worth considering if you are looking for a modern day pilgrimage style adventure.


Palestinians celebrate the Orthodox Christmas

Local Palestinians and international visitors flocked to the city from the early morning. Boy scouts bands from several parts of the West Bank played drums and Scottish bagpipes as they marched through the city.

In the early morning the Patriarch of the Assyrian Orthodox Church was the first religious figure to arrive in Bethlehem, he was then followed by the Patriarch of the Coptic Church.

At midday, the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Theofilos III, arrived at Manger Square in Bethlehem city centre, where he was greeted by Bethlehem Governor Salah Al-Ta’mari, Mayor of Bethlehem Victor Batarseh, and the Palestinian Minister of Tourism, Khouloud Daibes, and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) from the city.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and oldest church in Palestine. Palestinian security officials informed IMEMC that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will attend the Greek Orthodox midnight mass service in the Church of the Nativity on Sunday night.

Christmas is celebrated by Orthodox Christians throughout the world on the 7th of January in the Gregorian Calendar - 13 days after other Christians.


Vatican Crusade Against Orthodoxy Continues

Vatican Openly Supports Dismemberment of Serbia

According to the online translation of December 21 article from, Vatican chief Joseph Ratzinger has officially backed Washington-Berlin-Brussels policy of dismembering Orthodox Christian Serbia:

“Shortly before Christmas the Vatican under the management of the German pope confirms his approval with the forthcoming secession of Kosovo. As high-powered members of the Catholic clergy declare, "a new phase" of the "order" for the poverty area can begin "with the independence" of the southern Serbian province. At the same time the church state intensifies its activities in adjoining Albania and uses - how Berlin - Albanian forces for the breaking of the Serbian or Serbian-Orthodox influence.”

Instigating Dismemberment of Yugoslavia and a Series of Horrific Civil Wars

Vatican’s poisonous animosity towards Eastern Orthodox lands has never been much of a secret for the politically savvy. The fact it is veiled by shallow niceties, cunning diplomacy and simultaneous push for Orthodox submission to the pope through ecumenism and other heresies, is hardly a sufficient cover for its malignant actions whenever another opportunity to weaken and fragmentize Orthodox lands presents itself.

Dismembering Yugoslavia was one of such opportunities, so Vatican was at the very forefront of the belligerent drive to destroy it, and the first to recognize unilaterally declared independence of Croatia and Slovenia at the very start of 1992 — a move which directly instigated a series of bloody civil wars, since the Serbs, a constitutive nation in Croatia, were opposed to Tudjman’s pro-Ustasha government and wanted to remain in Yugoslavia.

Seeking to Weaken Russia by Destroying Serbia

Examining the crucial role of Vatican at the start of the civil wars in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, Michigan-based historian Carl Savich wrote:

“[...] Even before German recognition, another European state recognized Roman Catholic Croatia: the Vatican. The Vatican was the first state to recognize Croatia, a controversial action in that a religious body had taken a political step which violated international law and agreements. Why did the Vatican and a resurgent and nationalist Germany prematurely and unilaterally rush to recognize and destroy Yugoslavia, a multi-ethnic, democratic state, and a member of the United Nations? The motivations were ideological in nature.

Germany and the Vatican had waged war against Serbia and Yugoslavia throughout the twentieth century. The Vatican, in fact, sanctioned and authorized the Austro-German war against Serbia in 1914, ushering in the Great War. Both the Vatican and Germany were excluded from the Balkans and Eastern Europe, where they sought to reassert their influence and control. Serbia was an obstacle in their way. Being Orthodox, Serbia was associated with Russia, which was a major antagonist of Germany and the Vatican. Serbia would play the role of a surrogate for Russia and be a whipping boy or straw man target for Germany and the Vatican, who sought to destroy or weaken Russia by destroying Serbia. Germany and the Vatican could not antagonize Russia which remained a powerful nation, but Serbia could function as a surrogate to reassert their influence. The German and Vatican policies led to a disastrous and humiliating military defeat for its client Croatia, where a civil war began between Croats and Serbs within the Croat Republic. Peace, however, was not a goal. Both the Vatican and Germany sought war, if necessary, to achieve their objectives in the Balkans.”

Speaking with a Forked Tongue

Back then, to add an insult to the injury, Vatican has sent a note to Belgrade immediately after recognizing Slovenia and Croatia in their ahistoric, communist borders, reassuring the Serbs its openly anti-Serbian position “‘does not have the character of a hostile act’ toward Yugoslavia and promising that the Pope's representative in Belgrade would continue to be accredited to the federation.”

Well, isn’t that comforting! They legalize dismemberment of Yugoslavia, but they wouldn’t want someone to think their action is “hostile toward Yugoslavia”. Save for shooting across another’s border, is there a more hostile act than legitimizing dismemberment of a state? And, of course their tentacles will continue to slither through Serbia — you couldn’t pry Vatican spies out of Belgrade with a bulldozer, let alone have them pack up and leave on their own.

But that’s the kind of forked-tongue speech Vatican is infamous for.

Beatifying Stepinac, a Patron Saint of Genocide

As if endorsing forceful dismemberment of a state in which Serbs were a constitutive nation in three republics and represented a large segments of population in both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina wasn’t enough, Polish pope Wojtyła decided to beatify notorious Croat cardinal Alojzije Stepinac in 1998, the “patron saint of genocide” who publicly supported Croat fascists — satanic Ustashi movement, famously declaring that “God, who directs the destiny of nations and controls the hearts of Kings, has given us Ante Pavelic [head of a Nazi puppet regime in Yugoslavia] and moved the leader of a friendly and allied people, Adolf Hitler, to use his victorious troops to disperse our oppressors... Glory be to God, our gratitude to Adolf Hitler and loyalty to our Poglavnik [fuhrer], Ante Pavelic.”

An exemplary candidate for sainthood, indeed.

Vatican’s Caritas Smuggling Weapons to Albanian Muslim KLA Terrorizing Kosovo Province

The next major opportunity to afflict misery upon Orthodox Serbs came during a 1998-1999 foreign-funded and foreign-instigated Albanian terrorist insurgency in southern Serbian province of Kosovo-Metohija.

Describing in detail how Vatican used its primary charity organization “Caritas” to smuggle weapons to Albanian terrorist KLA, Andy Wilcoxson wrote:

“On April 12 1999, a huge haul of arms and ammunition, destined for the KLA, was found in the Italian port of Ancona aboard trucks leased by Caritas. The cargo had officially been declared as a German Caritas humanitarian aid shipment for Kosovo refugees. The trucks were loaded at the Caritas center in Sarajevo. The customs officials, who searched the trucks, found 30 tons of war material, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, rocket launchers and machine guns.

“Most of the arms were of Russian or East European origin (these certainly came from East Germany and were available to the German Secret Services following the fall of communist East Germany - ed), but many bore NATO markings. More than 1,000 mortars said to have been stolen from a NATO arsenal in Germany were found onboard the trucks. There was some legitimate humanitarian aid onboard the trucks, but it was of poor quality, much of the food had already passed its expiration date.

“Italian customs officials arrested three drivers, Robert Buellesbach, Sead Klakar, and Drasco Kovacevic. The Italian authorities claimed that Buellesbach had links to German intelligence. On that basis one could speculate that he's the one who stole the mortars from the German NATO base.

“The 15-meter-long trucks had been rebuilt to transport illegal cargo. One truck was fitted with a double floor, while another one had a secret closet behind the driver's cabin big enough for six people. The Italian authorities said that the arms were destined for a training camp of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in Scutari in northern Albania. The name of the consignee on the export documents, was one Father Luciano Augustino, a parish priest in Scutari.”

Old Alliances Reinforced in a Common Front Against Serbia and Russia

No one should be surprised Vatican is allying itself with Muslims against the Orthodox Christians. Ever since the Great Schism that culminated in the ill-fated Fourth Crusade, also known as the Sacking of Byzantium, “one of the most profitable and disgraceful sacks [...] in history” which paved the way for Ottoman invasion of the Balkan peninsula, through its various “orders”, agents and mercenaries, Vatican has been known to use fanatical Muslims to conquer, pillage and subjugate Orthodox lands.

During the World War Two Vatican openly sided with fascist Croatia, Hitler’s willing puppet called the Independent State of Croatia, which never faced justice for committing an unspeakably monstrous genocide over 750,000 Serbs, 60,000 Jews and 30,000 Gypsies.

The lawsuit Alperin v. Vatican Bank, filed in Federal Court in San Francisco in November 1999 on behalf of concentration camp survivors of Serb, Jewish, and Roma background and their relatives, as well as organizations representing over 800,000 Holocaust victims in Independent State of Croatia, pope’s private attorney admitted Vatican’s involvement in the genocide, but said it was justified by international law.

Ustashi Croatia annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina at the onset of the WWII, where Bosnian Muslims promptly formed their own SS Handzar Division. At the same time, Albanian Muslims, also allied with Hitler, Pavelic and Mussolini, were organized into a Skenderbeg SS Division (or Skanderbeg Division).

So, is it any wonder that the ancient alliances are being reinforced once again? Should we be surprised that Vatican, one more time, chooses to support not only The Reich, but also Muslim terrorists against the Orthodox Christians? Sadly, no. Ecumenism, Islam, arming, smearing, lying and conniving .... all the way down to open warfare are mere tools in Vatican’s bottomless bag of never-ending anti-Orthodox crusade.

We are, once again, expected to either collectively submit to the pope’s rule and kiss his ring or perish.

The Serbs will sooner perish.


The Orthodox Church -2007 a Review

Orthodox Church events in 2007 were marked by a particularly heavy atmosphere that reached its peak with the sudden illness of Archbishop Christodoulos, primate of the Church of Greece. The death of the former Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, which came to pass a few days before Christmas, concluded the year.

The first issue to be considered is that concerning the Patriarchate of Jerusalem where the situation continues to be fluid.

Theofilos III was finally recognized by the Israeli government as the new leader of the Church of Jerusalem in mid-December, a full two and a half years after his election as patriarch. He was at long last handed the official document of recognition by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior on Christmas Eve.

According to journalistic sources, governmental approval was finally secured only after the new patriarch agreed to ratify the contracts signed during his predecessor’s tenure regarding significant church properties in the Old City leased to Israeli companies.

Theophilos was elected in 2005 as successor to Eirineos who, for hitherto unknown reasons, was dethroned through unconventional summary proceedings following an atypically strong intervention by the Greek Government which was only to be subsequently emulated, in its turn, by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The issue of the new patriarch’s definitive recognition by Jordan and the Palestinians seems to be still pending. Jordan, along with the Palestinian Authority, had requested the following from the new patriarch: i) the cancellation of the aforementioned contracts; ii) a larger role for the Arabic-speaking Orthodox in the Patriarchate’s administration. Both had initially recognized Theophilos with the agreement that he would satisfy their requests. But, after these were not met over the course of two years, they withdrew their official recognition this past summer. However, following an intervention by the Greek Foreign Ministry, the patriarch was given a six month extension to comply.

It should be noted that the Jerusalem events of 2005 and the unorthodox ousting of Eirineos brought about fundamental changes in the Patriarchate’s operations there. Until 2005, the recognition of the Patriarch of Jerusalem was a mere formality attended to by Jordan, whereas, now, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and especially Israel have obtained a very strong say in the matter. Moreover, it seems that Israel has now asserted a right to interfere in the Patriarchate’s everyday operations. Last but not least, these events led the Arabic-speaking faithful, strongly supported by Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, to claim a substantial participation in the administration of the Church of Sion.

In 2007, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was faced with an increase of religious freedom and human rights questions in Turkey. There was the destruction of a monastery on the island of Halki by the local forest inspection, attacks on churches and confiscation of Greek-Orthodox church properties. Repeated representations and appeals to the Turkish leadership by the Patriarchate, the World Council of Churches and other ecclesiastical bodies such as the Archons in America, as well as steps taken by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, proved completely ineffective. Indeed, for certain matters regarding church properties, the Patriarchate has resorted to the European Court of Human Rights in the hope of obtaining a fair outcome.

This year, once again, the Ecumenical Patriarchate found itself seriously confronted with the issue of its ecumenicity. Turkish authorities have always contested the Patriarchate’s ecumenical role in one way or another but apparently they have now decided to enhance their anti-patriarchal position. Last June, the Turkish Supreme Court pronounced a judgment according to which the Patriarchate is in violation of the law when using its historical title “ecumenical.” Responding to such a development, the Patriarchate convened a synaxis of the Hierarchy of the Ecumenical Throne to study the question and issue a document. The fact that hierarchs from abroad now participate in the Patriarchate’s Synod is thus used as another argument in support of the Patriarchate’s ecumenicity. However, this view seems wanting should one consider that the majority of votes in the Synod are always in the hands of its members from Turkey.

The new principle in Greek foreign diplomacy, according to which "the Ecumenical Patriarchate issue is not part of the Greek-Turkish dialogue but is rather a broader question that concerns Europe and the international community" has become a source of grave concern to the Phanar leadership. Implementing said principle in a recent meeting with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara, Greece’s Prime Minister --irrespective of Bartholomew’s pleas-- did not bring up the issue of the Patriarchate in their discussions but, rather, charged his ministers to deal with the matter at a lower level. It seems the same method will be followed by Prime Minister Karamanlis during his upcoming visit to Turkey where he will first conclude talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara prior to visiting the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Such an approach signals a new course in Greek-Turkish relations.

The grave illness that suddenly stroke Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and primate of the Church of Greece, was a serious blow to Greek Orthodoxy. The Church of Greece was deprived of Christodoulos’ dynamic leadership and his illness quickly gave ground to excessive, inopportune and improper conjecture and talk about his potential successor. Such haste and inappropriate behavior by hierarchs aggrieved great numbers of believers.

Archbishop Chistodoulos’ succession is likely to cause new friction between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the majority of the Hierarchy in Greece. In spite of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s declarations to reporters months ago, namely that the Phanar "has no jurisdiction to interefere in issues that concern solely the Church of Greece," the Greek Government was recently notified that the Patriarchate opposes the canditature of a specific hierarch, that of Metropolitan Eustathios of Sparta.

On Mount Athos, more and more monks joined to voice their disapproval of the Patriarchate’s current leadership for making too many “concessions” to other religious denominations and, in particular, to the Roman Catholic Church. Through open letters, hundreds of monks from various Athonite monasteries and monastic dependencies asked for a new interruption of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s commemoration on the Holy Mount. Meanwhile, the situation at the Esfigmenou monastery continues to be unsettled with its rebellious monastic community still in possession of the monastery’s buildings and premises and persisting even more vehemently with its excessive claims.

The sad phenomena of pederasty and homosexuality among the clergy continued to taint the life of the Greek-Orthodox Archdiocese of America in 2007. In spite of initial efforts to understate the importance of such incidents, many articles and commentaries appeared in the Greek-American press, shocking believers and raising waves of deep indignation. The incidents are judged exceptionally worrisome as the press in Greece every so often continues to bring to light similar phenomena within the Church of Greece.

On a pan-orthodox level, the Moscow Patriarchate’s confrontation with the Phanar continued over the issue of the Esthonian Apostolic Church that was placed again under the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s authority a decade ago, the limited number of Russian monks on Mouth Athos and the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s jurisdiction over Orthodox believers in the Diaspora. The ongoing conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church of Romania is another issue worth mentioning. The reason for this clash is that the Bucharest Patriarchate has decided to reopen three Romanian dioceses in Bessarabia, considered by the Moscow Patriarchate as Russian ecclesiastical territory.

For the Russian Church, the most important event of the year was the official agreement of reunification between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Patriarchate of Moscow, an act that was achieved with the strong support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and that will materialize within the next year.

The heavenly abode of H.B.Teocist the Patriarch of Romania was a huge loss to the entire orthodox family. H.B.Daniel was selected as the new Romanian Patriarch.The fragile health conditions of the Serbian Patriarch His Holiness Pavlev was another area of concern for the Orthodox Church.

In the domain of the pan-orthodox dialogue with the Roman Catholics, one should note the official position, reiterated once again this summer, by the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI with regard to Orthodoxy. According to such view the Orthodox Church is indeed an "authentic" Church but that it still manifests an important "imperfection" in that she does not accept the papal primacy. Despite such an unfavorable announcement, the 10th meeting of the International Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches took place this autumn in Ravenna, Italy, where the commission drafted a joint document to serve as a basis for future dialogue.

The commission’s task was not without obstacles, however, if one is to judge the stance assumed by the Russian delegation which left the meeting and subsequently claimed that the joint document cannot be considered valid as it was drafted in the absence of the "largest Orthodox Patriarchate’s" delegate and that, furthermore, it should be revised by theologians and historians for the "inaccuracies" contained there-in. The Patriarchate of Moscow, as Russian Patriarch Alexios and other dignitaries of the Russian Church have insinuated, is likely to re-examine the possibility of abstaining from the pan-orthodox dialogue with the Roman Catholics as long as it has not solved its differences with other Orthodox Churches and with the Vatican itself, given the increase in Roman Catholic dioceses on Russian ecclesiastical territory in the last years.


Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholo-mew thanked the Turkish government yesterday for granting permission for religious services to be held at the Church of St. Nicholas in Demre this year.

Reviewing the year 2007 at a New Year's reception after a religious service at the Fener Greek Patriarchate, Patriarch Bartholomew listed the Ministry of Culture's permission for religious services to be held at the Church of St. Nicholas among the important events of the year for Orthodox Christians.

The Church of St. Nicholas in ancient Myra -- modern Demre -- near the city of Antalya is a ruined Byzantine church containing the tomb of St. Nicholas of Myra, the inspiration for the Santa Claus figure, as well as many fine mosaics and murals.

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism allocated YTL 40,000 for restoration on the Church of St. Nicholas following a visit to the church by Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay on Oct. 29.

The urgent work includes repairs on the roof, the building of a path to protect the marble at the entrance, repair of the pumps that remove rainwater and the protection of the church's paintings from sunlight and humidity. While the urgent restoration is scheduled to be completed in a short period of time, planning for the long-term projects will continue.

Bartholomew said he had been to Ankara twice in 2007 to discuss the Greek Orthodox community's problems with Turkish officials.

The Greek Orthodox community has been seeking permission to hold religious services in some remote areas of the country. The Orthodox community has come under intense pressure from Turkish nationalist elements. The patriarchal seminary of Halki in the Princes' Islands has been closed on government orders since 1971.

Patriarch Bartholomew also mentioned efforts to draw attention to the world's environmental problems. As part of the Religion, Science and the Environment (RSE) movement -- originally conceived in 1988 on the Isle of Patmos at a meeting of environmental and religious leaders -- Patriarch Bartholomew attended the 2007 Arctic Symposium in Greenland Sept. 6-13.

The patriarch has gained a reputation as a prominent environmentalist, putting the support of the Patriarchate behind various international environmental causes. This has earned him the nicknames "the Green Patriarch" and "the Green Pope" in addition to various awards.

Among the significant events of the last year the patriarch listed his address in January to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly on the necessity of interfaith dialogue. In that speech Bartholomew had stressed the importance of dialogue with the Muslim world.


Iran's minority Christians celebrated the New Year on Tuesday by converging on churches at midday to light candles and pray for a prosperous year, hours after ushering in 2008 with colorful midnight fireworks.

In the historic central city of Isfahan, members of Iran's Armenian Christian community — which numbers 100,000 among Iran's 70 million strong population — gathered at Vank Church to attended a service led by archbishop Babken Charian.

Earlier, at midnight Monday, they had also gathered outside the same church to set off fireworks within the church compound.

Armenian Christians — who in Iran are predominantly Gregorian, a branch of the Christian Orthodox — "usually hold church meetings on the first day of January in Iran to celebrate the New Year and pray for prosperity, justice and peace throughout the world," church official Yerevan Hosepian said.

Families happily snapped group photos next to well-decorated Christmas trees and a statute of Santa Claus set up in Vank's large compound.

Many embraced each other and exchanged kisses. Women appeared without the traditional headscarves, while young men and women mingled freely, holding hands.

Iran's Islamic laws require women to wear the headscarf in public and ban any physical contacts between men and women who are not relatives, but the country's religious minorities are free to take off the veil and mix inside their own clubs and churches.

Despite their small numbers and the country's hard-line Islamic government, Christians are free to practice their religion, including celebrating Christmas and New Year's. However, Christian communities are prohibited from having their priests and bishops appear in public in Tehran to preach Christianity.

Inside the Isfahan church, archbishop Charian held Mass and recited from the Bible. He ended the service offering every member of his community a piece of bread dipped in wine — the Armenian Christians' holy communion.

A crowd of more than 500 showed up at Vank Church, fully decorated with oil paintings and elaborate engravings in Persian, Armenian and European style. The paintings depicted themes from both the Old and New Testament.

"Today's celebration speaks more than words to prove that we freely practice our religion," said Aspit Simon, one of the worshippers attending the service at Vank.

In Isfahan alone, there are 13 Armenian Christian churches.

Apart from Armenians, which comprise most of Iran's Christians, there is also a sprinkling of Protestants, Assyrians, Catholics and other Orthodox denominations. Five seats out of 290 in the Majlis, or parliament, go to recognized religious minorities, including Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews.

Over the past week, Christians were out in large numbers, buying Christmas trees and decorations for the holidays. Iran Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, which they consider the correct date of Jesus' birth.

Around the world, Christmas Day is predominantly celebrated on Dec. 25, with Christmas Eve falling on Dec. 24, according to the modern, Gregorian calendar implemented by a Catholic Pope. The majority of Eastern Orthodox churches, however, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, according to the old, Julian Calendar.


Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia is praying God to bless Motherland and grant it peace, accord and prosperity in the coming year.

Alexy II held a New Year service at the Theophany Cathedral.

“We thank God for all mercies he granted us. We ask him God’s mercy and goodness to attend us in our life. We ask him our Motherland to strengthen and peace and accord to reign between people and God’s name to be glorified in the churches and in the hearts of each of us,” the patriarch said before the service.

He named the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad the key event of the expiring year. “This event put an end to the civil war and the difficulties that our Motherland faced during the revolution and in 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s (during World War II), as well as in 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s,” the patriarch said.

He named “spiritual renewal in Motherland” as “God’s mercy”. The patriarch called for remembering the people who professed in the atheistical period of Russia’s history.

Alexy II called on Russians to live according to conscience, “to be a Christian by life and not only by name”



Enter your email address:

OBL Feeds | FeedBurner

Copyrighted | Holymonk Studios |