Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Call for Papers: “The Byzantine Liturgy & the Jews”

(NAPS) - The Institute for Ecumenical Research, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, is convening an international conference on the Byzantine Liturgy and the Jews, 9-11 July 2019. Presentation abstracts of no more than 200 words should be sent to cces@ecum.ro by 1 July 2018.

Anti-Jewish elements have persisted in the Byzantine liturgy for over a thousand years in areas under the influence of the Eastern Christian Empire. These elements have spread through translation from Byzantium to all countries and cultures which worship today according to the Byzantine rite. Despite the profound theological and liturgical changes that have taken place in the second half of the 20th century in Western Christianity, hymns that were composed in the polemical context of the 8th -9th centuries are still used today in Eastern countries and in the Christian Orthodox Communities of the diaspora.

The conference with the topic Byzantine liturgy and the Jews addresses the issue of liturgical anti-Judaism from various perspectives, in order to provide the necessary tools so that we can better understand this reality:

Historical-criticism – which hymns fall within this discussion? When were these texts included in the liturgy and what were the overall social and political contexts in which they were written? What differences can one identify between original versions and translated ones and what are the aspects that have led to innovation in translating these texts? And how do texts with Byzantine anti-Jewish elements differ from analogous texts from the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Georgian traditions?

Patristic and liturgical approach – which is the role of hymns within the liturgical structure? What is the relationship between hymnography and homilies and other patristic writings? To what extent can one identify a patristic origin of certain anti-Jewish topoi and how did this very fact assure their transmission in worship? And what can be said about the image of the Jews in Byzantine iconography and their possible relation with hymnographic texts?

Theological approach – what kind of relationship is there between biblical statements regarding Israel and anti- Jewish hymnography? What is truly anti-Jewish in the Byzantine rite? Which are the criteria that would guide us today in evaluating liturgical texts from this perspective?

Socio-cultural impact – to what extent can one follow how these hymns reflect, consolidate and modify the mentalities of given religious communities?

Presentation abstracts of no more than 200 words should be sent to: cces@ecum.ro. Deadline: July 1, 2018. Papers may be presented in English and German. Conference proceedings will be published in the Peter Lang’s Edition Israelogie series. Financial support may be available upon consultation with the organisers.

Antiochians clarify method for reception of converts

It is understandable that people might consider baptism to be the preferable process in the reception of people into the Faith. Such a method certainly has historical backing and is still the process of some in the Americas.

As more and more denominations become unmoored from the traditions they received (of which the baptismal formula is sadly also a victim), we can speak less surely about the baptisms those people received. On the other hand, asking someone to step into a horse trough to be submerged into water in front of other people is also a daunting thing to ask especially as we have established norms on the books already that usually require no such thing.

This is, to me, just another marker in the well. The water level will continue to sink and our reliance on the practices of others will continue to recede. Will it even be another 20 years before baptism becomes the norm and not the exception?

Englewood, NJ / February 20, 2018 (Antiochian.org) - In response to numerous unnamed sources spreading confusion over the internet, His Eminence Metropolitan JOSEPH reaffirms the long-standing policy of the Antiochian Archdiocese, which is in accordance with the practice of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, regarding the reception of converts to the Faith. To be clear, Holy Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, followed by Holy Chrismation, is the normative means by which one is initiated into the Holy Church. When receiving those coming into Holy Orthodoxy from religious confessions who profess a belief in the Holy Trinity and baptize with water in the Name of Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Church from ancient times has done so through means of Holy Chrismation or a profession of the Faith – depending on the circumstances. When questions arise requiring discernment as to how a person is to be received into the Church, a priest must consult with his local bishop.

His Eminence reaffirmed this practice recently during a clergy seminar for the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West, where he has continued to be the local bishop since his election as Metropolitan. In this capacity, His Eminence made clear that he is the point of reference for such questions for the clergy in attendance.

EP side with the Bulgarians/Macedonians? Think again.

(orthochristian.com) - In the communiqué of the regular session of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, held from February 7 to 9, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has declared that it considers the actions of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church regarding the schismatic and unrecognized Macedonian Orthodox Church to be un-canonical, reports Sedmitza.

The Macedonian Orthodox Church, which formed as a schism from the Serbian Orthodox Church, appealed to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in November, to take on the role of its “Mother Church” and to intercede on its behalf to the other autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches to bring it back into communion with the Orthodox Church. The Bulgarian Church resolved on November 27 to help the Macedonian Church, a move which has also drawn serious criticism from the Serbian and Greek Churches.

His Holiness Patriarch Neofit of Bulgaria was present in Constantinople in late January for the ceremonial reopening of the city’s famous Bulgarian Iron Church. He met personally with the Ecumenical Patriarch, presumably discussing, among other things, the matter of the Macedonian Church.

However, Pat. Neofit has said that there is a consensus within the hierarchy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church about how to proceed with helping the Macedonian Church, and that they are hopeful for the future. A bishop of the Bulgarian Church was an official guest at the Macedonian Church’s celebration of the 15 Martyrs of Tiberiopolis (Strumica) in December, and a meeting between representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church was held in Sofia later that month.

On Saturday, Metropolitan Nicholas of Filippopol of the Bulgarian Church accompanied Bulgarian President Rumen Radev to visit one of the monasteries of the Macedonian Church, where they were both warmly welcomed.

An unnamed hierarch of the Patriarchate of Constantinople told the Romfea news agency, in response to this most recent event, “Unfortunately, the Buglarians show that they have no Church consciousness.”

The situation regarding the Macedonian Church is complicated by the fact that it came into existence by schisming from the Serbian Orthodox Church, and thus the normal canonical procedure would be to return to the Serbian Church. Yes. Exactly. Moreover, the Serbian Church has one canonical bishop, Archbishop Jovan (Vraniskovski) of Ohrid serving in Macedonia. He has endured many years of persecution there, including imprisonment, for his fidelity to the Serbian Church.

Jerusalemite Christians protest Israeli taxation

(Jerusalem Patriarchate) - On Saturday February 4/17, 2018, hundreds of Christians rallied in support of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the rest of the Jerusalem Churches against the recent tax measures (Arnona) imposed by the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality on the Holy Churches and their adjacent buildings. These tax measures are a flagrant violation of the Status Quo of Jerusalem, which has been established by the long-term sacred history and respected by the many rulers of Jerusalem over the past decades.

The peaceful protest, was followed by a rally that was launched at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem through the Christian Quarter and in the area before St. Helen’s gates and the Metochion of Gethsemane opposite the Holy Sepulchre. Protesters then roamed around the Holy Sepulcher Church while chanting against the Municipality measures.

After their march, leaders of the groups participating in the rally were received by H.H.B. our Father and Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III at the Patriarchate Headquarters. His Beatitude explained to them that governments so far have respected the tax exemption rights of the Patriarchate and thanked them for their honest and devout support.

Some liturgical changes for the OCA

If you bought the new Hieratikon, it comes with a booklet that explains all the changes from previous publications. It's a level of attention to detail and professionalism I find refreshing.

For those curious about the directives mentioned below, the changes are added here. Some might be surprised by the second one, but it has been a topic of discussion in clerical circles for some time online (usually in the weeks leading up to Lent). It's good to get clarification.

  1. To remove the interpolation “Making the change by thy Holy Spirit” from the Epiclesis in the Anaphora of St. Basil. The deacon’s three-fold Amen, together with a low bow or prostration, is now to come immediately after “…shed for the life of the world.”
  2. To clarify, in accordance with the ancient, universal tradition of the Church, that at the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, when the presanctified Lamb has been placed into the chalice, the wine mixed with water truly becomes the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, priests and deacons celebrating or communing at the Presanctified Liturgy are to commune of the holy chalice in precisely the same manner and with the same words as they would at the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or of St. Basil the Great. And a priest or deacon who must later consume the Gifts is still to partake of the chalice, as doing so in no way constitutes a breaking of the eucharistic fast.

(OCA) - In a letter to all clergy of the Orthodox Church in America dated February 15, 2018, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon announced two decisions of the Holy Synod of Bishops with regard to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great and the reception of Holy Communion by clergy at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts were announced.

These Liturgical Instructions are available online, together with historical background information , titled “Notes on the Epiclesis in the Anaphora of Saint Basil and on the Chalice at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts,” by Dr. Vitaly Permiakov and Hieromonk Herman [Majkrzak].

Both of these decisions are reflected in the new Hieratikon recently published by Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Press with the blessing of Metropolitan Tikhon.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Welcome to Lent

Russians maybe not ready for stand-up comedy?

Moscow. February 19 (Interfax) - Overwhelming majority of Russians (82%) believe it unacceptable to make jokes about the Church no matter what are the circumstances, the VTsIOM (the Russian Public Opinion Research Center) reports.

The poll showed that Russians also do not accept jokes about Russian history, the USSR, Russian Empire (70%), national peculiarities and traditions of various peoples (65%), Russian historical personalities who have passed away (64%), Russian military forces (62%).

Most part of respondents believe it acceptable to laugh at Russia’s economic and social problems (53%) and acting authorities in general (54%).

The poll was held on February 9-10 among 2000 respondents.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Romanian Synod holds working session

(Romanian Church) - The Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church held this year’s first working session Thursday, February 15, at the Synodal Hall of the Patriarchal Residence, under the chairmanship of His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel.

During the meeting, the members of the Holy Synod proceeded to the election of an assistant bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy and an assistant bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Spain and Portugal.

The Holy Synod elected by secret vote the Very Reverend Archimandrite Atanasie (Tudor) Rusnac as Assistant Bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy. The new assistant bishop will bear the title of His Grace Bishop Atanasie of Bogdania.

The Holy Synod also elected by secret vote the Very Reverend Archimandrite Teofil (Petru) Roman as Assistant Bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Spain and Portugal. The new Assistant Bishop will bear the title of His Grace Bishop Teofil of Iberia.

The following decisions were made during the same working session:

The commemorative themes of the year 2018, declared Solemn Year of the unity of faith and nation and Commemorative Year of the founders of the 1918 Great Union, were completed with a new chapter entitled Consequences of the Great Union. Centenary lights: heirs and developers of the Great Union for 100 years.

Thus, personalities who through their achievements have developed this great moment of the Romanian national history will be highlighted: founders of places of worship, promoters and defenders of Romanian Christian culture, spirituality and education.

Given the 2018 Centenary, the Holy Synod encourages the intensification of pastoral, cultural and spiritual programs promoting the unity of faith and nation in the Romanian Orthodox communities outside Romania, especially the use of the Romanian language during the divine worship, in activities with the youth and in family. This is a bit contrary to the lingua franca push of other jurisdictions.

Given the Church’s contribution to the promotion of education for national unity and dignity, the Holy Synod decided that the Diocesan centres should continue offering financial and material support to schools that need repair, renovation and equipment.

Since cultural, artistic activities performed inside the places of worship can cause tendencies of self-secularization of the sacred space of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Holy Synod decides that cultural activities be organized in other parish spaces or in public spaces rented for this purpose.

Filming in places of worship will only be accepted with the approval of the Diocesan Centres and only in cases where it is desired to highlight the liturgical, architectural and historical heritage of the respective churches. Subsequently, broadcasting the divine services live on the Internet will be carried out only with the approval of the Diocesan centres, having the obligation to observe the liturgical norms and the Typikon (instructions).

The Holy Synod approved the inclusion of Saint Matrona of Moscow into the calendar of the Romanian Orthodox Church beginning with 2019, being commemorated on May 2.

The Holy Synod also included into the calendar of the Romanian Orthodox Church the Feast of the Syriac Icon of the Mother of God from Ghighiu Monastery to be commemorated on the Feast of the Life-giving Spring, beginning with 2019. The Holy Synod approved the Akathist and the Service of the Syriac Icon of the Mother of God.

The synodal fathers approved the Akathist and Service of Martyrs Claudius, Castorius, Sempronianus and Nicostratus (November 9), the Akathist and Service of the 26 Holy Martyrs in Gothia (March 26), the Akathist to St Luke the Evangelist (October 18), and the Akathist to the Holy Martyr Christopher (May 9).

Greek Metropolis of Hong Kong lauds canine good fortune

(OMHKSEA) - Message by His Eminence Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong and South East Asia on the occasion of the Chinese New Year of the Dog

Dear brothers and sisters,

Dog is the eleventh in the 12-year cycle of Chinese Calendar.

The Chinese tradition regards dog as an auspicious animal. If a dog happens to come to a house, it symbolises the coming of fortune. Dog is man’s good friend who can understand the human’s spirit and obey its master. It is loyal, faithful and grateful.

The virtue of the dog is a great example for the spiritual life of every Christian. We ought to be loyal, faithful and grateful to our Master and Saviour Jesus Christ. He gave to us a life of meaning and purpose! A means of change and transformation! A wellspring of mercy and forgiveness! A worldview of divine love and unconquerable hope! This is what faith in Christ can mean to each one of us.

We ought to be vigilant and to safeguard the freedom given to us by our Saviour Jesus Christ, and not to go back to the life of captivity and to become slaves of sin and corruption once more. Christian is called to live in purity in an impure world. Because this world will pass away, we ought to be holy and godly, living as citizens of the Kingdom of God through evangelism, prayer, holy living, repentance and obedience.




恭喜發財 Kung Hei Fat Choi

With my best wishes and love in Christ

+ Metropolitan Nektarios of Hong Kong and South East Asia

OCA jumps into gun debate

February 15, 2018 (OCA-MW) - Message from Bishop Paul regarding recent school violence

To Our Youth and their Parents in the Midwest Diocese,

Once again we have heard about another tragic mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida earlier this week.

“Police say the 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, killed 17 people and wounded at least a dozen others in the rampage,” reports Yahoo News. “Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters that Cruz had been expelled from the school for ‘disciplinary reasons.’ Israel said that an AR-15-style weapon and ‘countless magazines’ were recovered at the scene. According to the Associated Press, Cruz purchased the weapon legally about a year ago.”

This AR-15 style weapon, according to Yahoo News, has no fully automatic mode, but it is still marketed as coming from a lineage of military-grade arms. It is modeled on the M-16 used by the US Army and Marine Corps and carried by thousands of troops around the world.

I begin this note with this information because the time has come to ban private citizens from purchasing military-grade and other kinds of semi-automatic weapons designed for use by the military for war. This would not deny a citizen’s right to purchase a simple firearm to protect his or her family and home from possible danger. But this need not include military style weapons.

Of course, the only true answer to this and the many similar tragedies that occur all too frequently is not a ban. Rather, there is a need for us to repent from acts of violence and turn to the Prince of Peace, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, to receive forgiveness and reconciliation. As we enter into Great Lent, we need to call upon the grace of the All-Holy Spirit to give us the grace to do what is not in our fallen sinful nature to do — to forgive the troubled perpetrator from the horrible acts he committed in Parkland, Florida; and to pray for those who were slain and their family members who are suffering.

Forgiving, however, does not necessarily mean forgetting. Why can’t we learn from these tragedies? We live in a fallen world in which people do not always do what they should do. The Orthodox Church sees abortion as an act of murder and many call upon and pray for the day that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. But these horrific mass killings in our schools are equally a Sanctity of Life issue. We need to advocate for laws to be passed to protect our students from these military style weapons. In my opinion, doing so would help significantly to make our schools safer places for our youth to attend and learn.

Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest

Dr. David Ford to give talk on marriage in Chicago

CHICAGO, IL (OCA-MW) — Dr. David Ford, Professor of Church History at Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Canaan, PA, will deliver a lecture titled “Wisdom on Marriage from the Saints through the Centuries” at Holy Trinity Cathedral, 1121 North Leavitt Street, Chicago on Saturday, March 3, 2018. His lecture and refreshments will begin at 3:00 p.m. Vigil will be celebrated at 5:00 p.m.

Dr. Ford holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Colgate University, Hamilton, NY; a Master of Divinity degree from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK; and a Ph. D. from Drew University, Madison, NJ.

The public is invited. For additional information please contact Priest Alexander Koranda at ajkoranda@gmail.com.

Chrysostom on Fasting

As is my annual custom, St. John Chrysostom "On Fasting."

Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, becomes useless because of the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it, the weather conditions and the season of the year and the appropriate diet of the sick and many other things. If any of these things are overlooked, the medicine will do more harm than good. So, if one who is going to heal the body needs so much accuracy, when we care for the soul and are concerned about healing it from bad thoughts, it is necessary to examine and observe everything with every possible detail

Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.

In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well. Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness. Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights. Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well. Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.

Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers? He who condemns and blasphemes is as if he has eaten brotherly meat, as if he has bitten into the flesh of his fellow man. It is because of this that Paul frightened us, saying: "If you chew up and consume one another be careful that you do not annihilate yourselves."

You did not thrust your teeth into the flesh (of your neighbor) but you thrusted bad talk in his soul; you wounded it by spreading disfame, causing unestimatable damage both to yourself, to him, and to many others.

If you cannot go without eating all day because of an ailment of the body, beloved one, no logical man will be able to criticize you for that. Besides, we have a Lord who is meek and loving (philanthropic) and who does not ask for anything beyond our power. Because he neither requires the abstinence from foods, neither that the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting, neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs, but that we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distanced ourselves from secular things. If we regulated our life with a sober mind and directed all of our interest toward spiritual things, and if we ate as much as we needed to satisfy our necessary needs and offered our entire lives to good works, we would not have any need of the help rendered by the fast. But because human nature is indifferent and gives itself over mostly to comforts and gratifications, for this reason the philanthropic Lord, like a loving and caring father, devised the therapy of the fast for us, so that our gratifications would be completely stopped and that our worldly cares be transferred to spiritual works. So, if there are some who have gathered here and who are hindered by somatic ailments and cannot remain without food, I advise them to nullify the somatic ailment and not to deprive themselves from this spiritual teaching, but to care for it even more.

For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving, let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words. In this, our somatic illness is not a hindrance. Let him become reconciled with his enemies, let him distance from his soul every resentment. If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else. It is for this reason that he asks us to abstain from food, in order to place the flesh in subjection to the fulfillment of his commandments, whereby curbing its impetuousness. But if we are not about to offer to ourselves the help rendered by the fast because of bodily illness and at the same time display greater indifference, we will see ourselves in an unusual exaggerated way. For if the fast does not help us when all the aforementioned accomplishments are missing so much is the case when we display greater indifference because we cannot even use the medicine of fasting. Since you have learned these things from us, I pardon you, those who can, fast and you yourselves increase your acuteness and praiseworthy desire as much as possible.

To the brothers, though, who cannot fast because of bodily illness, encourage them not to abandon this spiritual word, teaching them and passing on to them all the things we say here, showing them that he who eats and drinks with moderation is not unworthy to hear these things but he who is indifferent and slack. You should tell them the bold and daring saying that "he who eats for the glory of the Lord eats and he who does not eat for the glory of the Lord does not eat and pleases God." For he who fasts pleases God because he has the strength to endure the fatigue of the fast and he that eats also pleases God because nothing of this sort can harm the salvation of his soul, as long as he does not want it to. Because our philanthropic God showed us so many ways by which we can, if we desire, take part in God's power that it is impossible to mention them all.

We have said enough about those who are missing, being that we want to eliminate them from the excuse of shame. For they should not be ashamed because food does not bring on shame but the act of some wrongdoing. Sin is a great shame. If we commit it not only should we feel ashamed but we should cover ourselves exactly the same way those who are wounded do. Even then we should not forsake ourselves but rush to confession and thanksgiving. We have such a Lord who asks nothing of us but to confess our sins, after the commitment of a sin which was due to our indifference, and to stop at that point and not to fall into the same one again. If we eat with moderation we should never be ashamed, because the Creator gave us such a body which cannot be supported in any other way except by receiving food. Let us only stop excessive food because that attributes a great deal to the health and well-being of the body.

Let us therefore in every way cast off every destructive madness so that we may gain the goods which have been promised to us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pope of Rome, Melkite Patriarch concelebrate mass

Vatican City, Feb 13, 2018 / 06:55 am (CNA) - At Mass at Santa Marta Tuesday, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass with the patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Youssef Absi, saying that offering the liturgy together is like an embrace between the two Churches.

“This is what the ceremony of today means: the embrace of the father of a Church with Peter. A rich Church, with its own theology within the Catholic theology, with its own wonderful liturgy, and with a people,” the Pope said Feb. 13.

Speaking in place of a homily, Francis noted how a great number of the people of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church are being “crucified, like Jesus.”

He also said that the Mass was being offered “for the people that suffer, for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, who give their lives, give their goods, their properties, because they are driven away. And we also offer Mass for the ministry of our brother Youssef.”

At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Youssef, who concelebrated, offered his own words to the Pope, saying that he was moved by “his fraternal charity, by the gestures of fraternity, of solidarity that he has shown to our Church during this Mass.”

“We promise to keep it always in our hearts, in the heart of all of us, clergy and faithful, and we will always remember this event, these historical moments, this moment that I cannot describe for how beautiful it is: this fraternity, this communion that binds all disciples of Christ.”

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite in full communion with Rome. It consists of some 1.5 million members and is based in Syria and Lebanon, with most of its eparchies in the Arab world. It also has structures to serve the Melkite diaspora in Australia, Turkey, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.

On Feb. 12, Pope Francis met with bishops of the Greek-Melkite synod, assuring the patriarch and bishops of his closeness in prayer.

In his speech, the Pope remarked on the presence of their Church in the Middle East, in particular Syria, where their Church “is deeply rooted and performs a precious service for the good of the People of God.”

He also extended his prayer for all the people and priests of the Church throughout the world. “In this difficult historical period, many Christian communities in the Middle East are called to live their faith in the Lord Jesus in the midst of many trials,” he said.

“I sincerely hope that with their testimony of life, the Greek-Melkite bishops and priests can encourage the faithful to remain in the land where Divine Providence has wanted them to be born.”

Francis said that on Feb. 23 he has called for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace, and that on that occasion he would not fail to make special mention of Syria, which has been hit in recent years “by unspeakable suffering.”

Referencing the most recent assembly of the synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which took place in Lebanon earlier this month, he said that those meetings are both an important moment of communion and when important decisions are made for the faithful.

Among these decisions is the election of new bishops, which Francis said are called to be shepherds, accompanying their people and helping them to seek the things of Christ, not of the world.

“We need so many Pastors to embrace life with the breadth of God's heart, without settling on earthly satisfactions, without being content to carry forward what is already there, but always aiming high,” he said.

He also asked the bishops and the patriarch, when they return to their offices, to remind the faithful, and the men and women religious, that they are “in the heart and in the prayer of the Pope,” and gave his apostolic blessing.

The Historical and Orthodox Saint Valentine

Full disclosure: My wife is getting dinner and a movie tonight.

(GOARCH Blog) - Now a commercialized holiday celebrating modern Western courtship and romance, the ancient Christian origins of Saint Valentine’s Day are largely forgotten. The actual Orthodox liturgical Feast Days of Valentinos (Greek)/Valentinus (Latin) commemorate two Early Christian saints, Saint Valentine the Presbyter of Rome (July 6) and Hieromartyr Valentine the Bishop of Intermna (Terni), Italy (July 30). Although the historical records for these two saints are not complete, and what we do know about their lives has often been subjected to considerable confusion, their martyrdoms are well known to us. Because of their refusal to renounce their faith in Christ, both Valentines were imprisoned, tortured, and executed around 270, during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor, Claudius II.

Because they shared the same name, were contemporaries, resided near each other in central Italy, and ultimately, shared similar fates, the two Valentines’ personal histories were intermingled and conflated over the centuries, producing inconsistencies and puzzlement in many accounts of their lives. What most sources indicate, however, is that Bishop Valentine was renowned during his lifetime as a healer of the sick and blind, while Valentine the Presbyter would become notable in the historical memory of Christians, originally both Eastern and Western, as a courageous steward of marriage. Indeed, because of his connection to the sacrament of marriage, it would be the latter Valentine, the Presbyter from Rome, who would serve as the inspiration for the Late Medieval Western literary foundations for what would by the nineteenth century evolve into today’s popular, secular Valentine’s Day.

According to the most common narrative, Presbyter Valentine, a priest in Rome, drew the ire of Emperor Claudius by ignoring the imperial ban against allowing men who had not fulfilled their military obligations to the Empire to marry. Remaining loyal to his moral commitment and beliefs as a Christian priest, Valentine refused to compromise the sanctity of marriage to the will of the state. In defiance of imperial edict, Valentine continued to unite and bless Christian couples, which were legally barred from marrying. This association with young Christian beloveds became the muse over several centuries for an increasingly fictionalized, romantic expropriation and reconstruction of Saint Valentine in the West, one that has led to the modern Saint Valentine’s Day. Indeed, the memory of Saint Valentine became so distorted and uncertain over the centuries, that the Roman Catholic Church ended its commemoration and veneration—traditionally associated with mid-February in the West—of him as a calendar saint in 1969, effectively surrendering the historical Valentine to his appropriation and exploitation by Western popular culture.

As in other matters of reverence and faith, the Orthodox Church’s veneration of Saint Valentine remains immutable. Secularization in the West accounts in large part for the Papacy’s move to discard the memory of Saint Valentine’s martyrdom in the face of commerce and frivolity, but Orthodoxy still honors Saint Valentine, the Presbyter from Rome, for his martyrdom—and as for all its saints, the Orthodox Church honors St. Valentine as a model of the life in Christ.

For Orthodox Christians, Saint Valentine’s Day is most fully understood as a celebration of romantic love and of God’s love. Indeed, Valentine was willing to sacrifice his life not for Eros but in order to sanctify and make whole the union of young couples through the blessing of God’s love. Demonstrating our love for God and reaching our fulfillment in Christ through our relationships with our spouses, families, and communities, is a way of life that is at the heart of Orthodoxy. By living a life in emulation of Christ, Saint Valentine shared this fundamental truth of Orthodox Christianity with the world, one that is more beautiful and lasts longer than flowers and cards—it is eternal.

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Copts dedicate church to 21 Martyrs of Libya

Minya, Egypt, Feb 13, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA) - The Coptic Orthodox Church will dedicate on Thursday a new church to the 21 Martyrs of Libya, who were beheaded by the Islamic State, three years after their deaths.

The church will be opened Feb. 15, according to Fides News Agency. It is located in the village of al-Our in Egypt’s Minya Governorate. The village was home to 13 of the martyred men.

“Any way that the Church of today can honor her martyrs is a blessing. The story of these 21 brave men is worth telling. In way too many places Christians are under siege from the dark forces of extreme hatred, and their freedom is conditioned by this hatred,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn told CNA.

The church may someday house the 21 martyrs’ remains, which were identified in a mass grave on the Libyan coast in September.

The Coptic Orthodox Church recognized the 21 Coptic Christians as martyrs to be commemorated every Feb. 15 within only a week of their murder in 2015 along the Libyan coast, which was filmed by the Islamic State and released in an internet video.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.

Although Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi authorized the building of the new church, its construction in a village that is 70 percent Muslim has faced resistance.

“Some of the villagers protested and threw stones when construction started on the church. Churches are a sensitive subject throughout Egypt, even though about 10 percent of the population is Christian. It's hard to get permits to build them,” Jane Arraf of NPR reported from al-Our.

Christians in Egypt face a constant threat of violence. Earlier this week, a man was found guilty of stabbing Coptic Orthodox priest, Samaan Shehata, to death last October.

On Palm Sunday last year, two Islamic State suicide bombings at Coptic churches in Egypt claimed the lives of 47 people.

“We pray for our Coptic brethren as they continue to witness to their beautiful faith and way of life in Christ Jesus. They live in the most terrifying of circumstances, never knowing the hour or the place of the next attack. May the prayers of the Mother of God be their comfort and strength,” said Bishop Mansour, who continued: “Egypt was the first place of refuge for the holy family and continues to be a place of refuge for God’s holy family, mystically present in his Coptic Christians.”