BRATISLAVA (Times of India) - Stanislav Zvolensky, the Roman Catholic archbishop of the Slovak capital here, was thrilled when he was invited to Brussels three years ago to discuss the fight against poverty with the insistently secular bureaucracy of the European Union. "They let me in wearing my cross," the archbishop recalled.
It therefore came as a rude surprise when, late last year, the National Bank of Slovakia announced that the European Commission (EC), the union's executive arm, had ordered it to remove halos and crosses from special commemorative euro coins due to be minted this summer. The coins were intended to celebrate the 1,150th anniversary of Christianity's arrival in Slovak lands but have instead become tokens of the faith's retreat from contemporary Europe.
"There is a movement in the EU that wants total religious neutrality and can't accept our Christian traditions," said Zvolensky, bemoaning what he sees as rising a tide of militant secularism.
In a continent divided by many languages, vast differences of culture and economic gaps, the archbishop said that centuries of Christianity provide a rare element shared by all of the soon-to-be 28 members of the fractious union. Croatia, a mostly Catholic nation like Slovakia, joins next month.
Yet at a time when Europe needs solidarity and a unified sense of purpose to grapple with economic crisis, religion has instead become yet another a source of discord. It divides mostly secular Western Europe from profoundly religious nations in the east like Poland and those in between both in geography and in faith like Slovakia.
In nearly all of Europe, assertive secularists and beleaguered believers battle to make their voices heard. This leaves the EC under attack from all sides, denounced by atheists for even its timid engagement with religion and by nationalist Christian fundamentalists as an agent of Satan.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
(The Telegraph) - Google, the internet giant, is to create a global database of child abuse images - which it will share with its rival companies - in a bid to eradicate child pornography from the web.
The company disclosed to The Telegraph that its engineers are working on new technology which will, for the first time, allow internet search engines and other web firms to swap information about images of children being raped and abused.
The new database, which is expected to be operational within a year, will allow child porn images which have already been “flagged” by child protection organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to be wiped from the web in one fell swoop.
Google is also setting up a £1.27 million ($2 million) fund available to independent software developers to produce new tools to combat child pornography, it announced.
The company’s new projects were heralded by independent child protection experts as important, game-changing developments in the war against child pornography.
It comes after web search companies, including Google, have come under intense political pressure to crack down on child porn.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said last week he was “sickened” by material available online and told companies to stop making excuses.
Pressure on the web giants further intensified after it emerged Mark Bridger, who murdered five year-old April Jones, and Stuart Hazell, who murdered Tia Sharp, 12, were both found to have accessed indecent images of children on the web.
The new system will work by sharing data on images which have been identified as illegal and then flagged, or “hashed”, using software originally created in 2008.
The lack of an industry standard means data on images earmarked in this way is difficult to share, and therefore hard to eradicate completely.
Scott Rubin, Google’s spokesman, said: “We are creating an industry-wide global database of ‘hashed’ images to help all technology companies find these images, wherever they might be.
“They will then be blocked and reported.”
John Carr, a government adviser on child internet safety, said: “This is an important moment. It should focus the minds of other industry leaders in relation to how they are going to join the fight.
“Google have stepped up. No one can argue about that. In all my time working in this space no company has ever devoted anything like this level of resources to working with civil society organisations to attack online child abuse images.”
Monday, June 17, 2013
MOSCOW, June 17 (RIA Novosti) – About 64 percent of Russians identify themselves as belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, but many of them have never read the Bible and rarely go to church or pray, a recent poll showed.
Some 52 percent of Russian self-identified Orthodox Christians said that they have never read the New Testament, the Old Testament or other key scriptures, while 24 percent said that they are rare church-goers, and 28 percent hardly ever pray, according to poll results released by the country’s Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) on Friday.
The survey, conducted back in April this year across 43 Russian regions, is partly based on the template of a poll carried out in the United States in 2005 by Newsweek and Beliefnet, the Russian Kremlin-backed pollster said in a report on its website.
The FOM results showed that there are more non-believers in Russia (25 percent) now than in the US back in 2005, when just 6 percent of Americans said they were not religious.
The Russian pollster noted that only 57 percent of those who identified themselves as Orthodox Christians said they believed that the universe was created by God. Some 43 percent think that heaven and hell truly exist, while another quarter believe in reincarnation.
The total number of all Russians surveyed who believe in the universe's divine origin was some 46 percent, while in the US that figure was 80 percent.
In the US, 67 percent of all people who took part in the poll said that they believed souls go either to heaven or hell, while in Russia that number was lower – 34 percent.
The FOM survey, which comprised answers given by 1,500 Russians, has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.
Last week, Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a bill in its final reading that will make offending religious believers’ feelings a criminal offense punishable by up to three years behind bars. The initiative, proposed in the wake of the Pussy Riot trial last year in which three young women were convicted of “hooliganism incited by religious hatred” and sentenced to prison terms for performing a punk protest in Russia’s main Orthodox church, was slammed by critics as taking Russia back to the Dark Ages.
A separate opinion poll conducted by the FOM earlier this year showed that 45 percent of all Russians believed that offending religious believers’ feelings should be a criminal offense. Twenty-two percent said it should not be a crime, and 33 percent could not answer the question.
The Orthodox Leader has a new post entitled "The Orthodox Priesthood: Every Man for Himself?". After reading it I thought what the current jurisdictional construction affords priests in bad situations and what a post-jurisdictional/Chambésy America would mean to these men. Right now a priest who is being treated poorly can jump ship and serve another jurisdiction. Where will a priest in the new, unified episcopal assembly configuration go if things aren't fixed before the merger?
I am familiar with one priest whose parish leadership has repeatedly refused to pay for him to attend diocesan assemblies and pastoral gatherings. The same parish has previously objected to paying housing costs for the priest who is otherwise meagerly compensated.
I am familiar with a second priest in another jurisdiction and diocese whose leadership has done likewise. This parish has also been resistant to structuring parish finances to allow for a gradual shift to full compensation for this priest.
Other priests have taken on bullies in their parishes, only to receive disciplinary letters for telling the bullies to apologize.
Another brother was routinely berated and slandered by his own dean, shattering every attempt to build up a new parish as rumors took hold, such that he finally departed the diocese.
Yet another brother was the victim of an ugly alliance between a controlling layman and the rector of the parish, resulting in the priest’s “termination” (!) without any compensation or any means to provide for his family. He, too, left his diocese.
I know of three priests, all acquaintances, who were removed from their parishes by their bishops for the sole reason that they were not of a particular ethnic heritage. The parishes were healthy and growing at the time of their removal. Instead, the priests had to relocate (at considerable cost), to say nothing of coping with the upheaval of family life...
Saturday, June 15, 2013
BRUSSELS (AFP) - Belgium is considering a significant change to its decade-old euthanasia law that would allow minors and Alzheimer's sufferers to seek permission to die.
The proposed changes to the law were submitted to parliament Tuesday by the Socialist party and are likely to be approved by other parties, although no date has yet been put forward for a parliamentary debate.
"The idea is to update the law to take better account of dramatic situations and extremely harrowing cases we must find a response to," party leader Thierry Giet said.
The draft legislation calls for "the law to be extended to minors if they are capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate."
Belgium was the second country in the world after the Netherlands to legalise euthanasia in 2002 but it applies only to people over the age of 18.
Socialist Senator Philippe Mahoux, who helped draft the proposed changes, said there had been cases of adolescents who "had the capacity to decide" their future.
He said parliamentarians would also consider extended mercy-killing to people suffering from Alzheiner's-type illnesses.
Euthanasia was allowed to an Alzheimer's patient for the first time in the Netherlands last year.
In Belgium, some 1,133 cases -- mostly for terminal cancer -- were recorded in 2011, about one percent of all deaths in the country, according to official figures.
A seriously ill prisoner serving a long jail sentence this year became the first inmate to die under Belgium's euthanasia laws.
Friday, June 14, 2013
WASHINGTON (GOARCH) - The Communications Department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) have launched www.faithandsafety.org, a resource for adults to help children safely navigate online. The website and complementary social media channels (Twitter and Facebook) address safe use of the Internet, mobile devices and other technology, emphasizing the positive use of technology to support children's faith. June is Internet Safety Month.
The initiative is funded by a grant from the Catholic Communication Campaign, which receives donations from U.S. Catholics.
"Our children look to their parents for wisdom and guidance. However, many parents feel somewhat ill-equipped to help their children traverse the unfamiliar terrain of the digital social world," said Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. "This joint initiative between our two Churches is a positive step in helping parents equip their children in the digital world. We have a responsibility to the Lord Himself Who said, ‘Let the children come unto Me' (Matt 19.14)."
"Faithandsafety.org is intended to be not only a set of practical tools and guides for adults, but also a place where they can find a faith framework for conversations with their children about the need to be ethically and morally equipped when they go online," said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communication. "We believe that this site, presented from the perspective of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Church, provides a unique perspective on being missionaries of faith on the Digital Continent."
Content on the site includes mobile app reviews, how to address issues faced by children online, such as bullying, and resources to educate parents on protecting their home networks. Content will be expanded over the next several months and feature regular columns by leading Catholic and Orthodox figures on connecting faith and technology, as well as news updates, how-to guides and video content.
Faithandsafety.org will feature content by Common Sense Media, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of media and technology.
From the blog Power of Prayer, an explanation of this photo.
The Story Behind the Photo
Moments before I was to walk down the aisle my soon to be mother in law came in the dressing room where my bridesmaids and I were all gushing with giggles and fluttering about finishing last minute details.
“Sweetheart, your groom has called for you!”.
In a nervous tizzy I said, “What?! I’m not ready! I have to get my shoes and…” She had already taken my hand and led me to a corner, where my groom was waiting. I barely sat down; I was filled with so much anticipation! So much excitement! So many nerves!
“Is he going to like my dress? Does my hair look pretty? Can he see me?!”
Right around the corner sat my soon to be husband, I so was nervous he might see me yet secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of him. In my excited state I was the first to speak,
“Hi sweetie! We’re getting married today!”
“I know baby and I want to pray with you before we do.”
There we sat around the corner hand in hand, and together we bowed our heads. People were rushing about; the wedding coordinator directing people here and there, the photographers snapping photos and the bridal party enjoying each others company. Yet in that moment, in the quietness of our hearts and minds, my husband and I were alone in the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
My husband prayed that God would bless our marriage, that through thick or thin together we would never lose hope in one another. That instead of focusing on each others imperfections we would always rely on Christ’s perfection. That we would wake up every day and chose to love one another not through our own strength but by the power of Christ’s perfect love...
|It wasn't Darth Vader who gave the blessing to the first communion children. This was personally undertaken by Pastor Christoph Nobs with a bright green laser sword at the celebration of a Star Wars First Communion Mass. The idea for the stars-War Communion came from Nicolas Gkotses community director. Star Wars had been a theme for the children in their religious instruction and so he tried to communicate the gospel in this way in a timely manner. - "May the force be with you!" H/T: Deacon's Bench|
June 14th (UOC-MP) - Rector of the Kiev Theological Academy and Seminary, managing the UOC Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Chancellor of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary Archpriest Chad Hatfield signed a cooperation agreement between the two theological schools.
From Kiev Academy were present at the signing of the first rector Archpriest Sergei Yuschyk, Vice President for Scientific and theological works Vladimir Burega, scientific secretary Archpriest Rostislav Snigirev.
The agreement provides for exchange of students and teachers exchange experiences in the field of modern educational methods, the development and implementation of joint research projects, conducting research symposia, conferences and seminars, exchange of publications, educational and scientific publications of mutual interest.
After signing the agreement the parties exchanged gifts - scientific publications Kyiv Theological Schools and New York.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
(Acton Institute) - Most Christians who are received into the Eastern Orthodox Church as adults do so for the same reasons that others embrace the Roman Catholic Church: They are tired of the moral relativism or the shallow theological traditions of their former communions. These great historical Churches offer an oasis of clarity where the first questions are settled and the foundations do not have to be laid again in every generation. At least that’s the idea.
Alas, it is not always so. Orthodoxy and Catholicism have their share of dissenters but this is nothing new to anyone who knows their history. Yet this realization often comes as a surprise – even a shock -- to many Orthodox converts. They assume that the precepts of the moral tradition will be taught in our generation as well. Sometimes they aren’t.
Analyzing the present culture and discerning how the moral tradition speaks to it is always a complex business because people are dynamic beings. Truth is relational because Truth is a person – Jesus Christ. As such, any self-revelation of Christ whether it be Him directly or through the words and work of His followers requires much more than an outline of propositions. If it were that easy we would all be fundamentalists.
This relational dimension however, is where it gets dicey. Christianity’s secular counterpart – Progressive morality – has impressive fluency in the language of human compassion in which ideas that are inimical to the Christian moral tradition are hidden. It confuses believers and convinces secularists and lies at the root of much internal dissent in the historic Christian churches...
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Creating a "competent" Christian political class, training well-prepared priests, boosting the faithful's role as a "bridge between cultures" and partner with Muslims, reviving the ecumenical movement by opening a "brave and honest dialogue with the Church Assyrian Church of the East" are but some of the issues mentioned in the final paper issued by the Synod of the Chaldean Church, held on 5-10 June in Baghdad.
As chair of the assembly of Fathers, which brought together all the bishops of Iraq and the Diaspora, except for Mgr Sarhad Jammo from California, the Chaldean Patriarch, His Beatitude Mar Raphael I Louis Sako, used the occasion to present his thoughts on "the bishop's pastoral work", whose success depends on "spirituality and prayer," not on "administrative work alone."
The Synod, which saw the leaders of the Chaldean Church address a number of issues, ended with a dinner given by the patriarch. Political and religious leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, took part in the repast. The patriarch used the venue to propose a committee to promote dialogue.
In their final paper, the Fathers expressed "regret for the violence in the region, especially in Syria" and said that they would pray that "Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, the two kidnapped bishops, be released."
Invoking the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary "on the children of the homeland and the diaspora," the prelates said that they supported political action by "lay people" and the establishment of " cultural and social centres as well as schools where to teach our language".
They also went along with what Patriarch Sako had already said, namely that the clergy must "engage in priestly vocation and services" and give their support to (Christian) politicians in the defence of "the dignity and rights of the people."
Renewing the "structures of the Patriarchate" is one of the many challenges that lay ahead. Inspired by the motto "Authenticity, Unity and Renewal" His Beatitude chose at the time of his election, this renewal will affect the way the Patriarchate and all the dioceses, religious orders and church institutions are organised.
With this comes a commitment to train the clergy and nurture religious and priestly vocations. However, "the ordination of priests should not be done in a rush just to fill pastoral vacancies". Good solid training is needed to avoid "negative repercussions for the Church."
The Synod Fathers also raised some questions about the practice of moving priests from one diocese to another "without the permission of the bishop", a practice that "undermines the priestly service". For this reason, they call on the dioceses not accept "priests without the permission of their bishop."
Among the topics for reflection, "the Christian presence in Iraq" took centre stage. Even though half of the community left in the past ten years, Christians are and will continue to be "a bridge between communities" and work to "strengthen mutual coexistence and raise the voice of truth vis-à-vis ongoing changes."
As the last item, Patriarch Sako and the bishops turned to the contents of the letter sent to Pope Francis through the papal nuncio to Iraq, Mgr Giorgio Lingua. In their message, the Synod Fathers "express love" for the Pontiff and "respect for his points of view, which encourage openness and dialogue between nations."
(British Orthodox) - On 10 June the Most Rev’d Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, invited the episcopal members of the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches to join him for lunch at Lambeth Palace. The bishops were warmly welcomed and Archbishop Justin assured of his commitment to the ongoing ecumenical dialogue, especially welcoming the resumption of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Dialogue, which would be hosted in October by the Church of England. Over lunch a number of topics of common interest were discusse,d with especial concern expressed for events in the Middle East, and the Archbishop spoke of the need for continuing efforts and prayer for the release of the two kidnapped Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo. The company was joined by the Bishops of Europe (The Right Rev’d Geoffrey Rowell) and Southwark (The Right Rev’d Christopher Chessum).
It is often the very thing a person most publicly denounces in others that he has the most problems with himself. I've been yelled at by a portly priest on the subject of how fasting "doesn't matter." I've sat through homilies from priests on the evils of lying who were later removed for financial dishonesty. I've listened to men complain about how women are immodestly dressed at church whose marriages have fallen apart due to adultery. You get the picture.
Religion is an easy target (Christianity chiefly because it doesn't "hit back") and has been blamed for all the world's ills. A careful study will show that it is not actually the Church that causes these troubles, but the Church has quite often been used as a tool to accomplish secular goals; politics, money, and expansion of empire come immediately to mind. So, when an atheist decides to blame the Church for being morally bankrupt and a source of iniquitous behavior then is found to have engaged in the same behavior he decried, I see a continuation of some Freudian projection behavior at play here.
(First Things) - Noted philosopher of the mind Colin McGinn is resigning from the University of Miami:
Mr. McGinn . . . denies allegations that he behaved improperly. Those allegations were lodged by a female graduate student who has said that the professor sent her a series of sexually explicit e-mail and text messages, starting in the spring-2012 semester. . . Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.
McGinn, a wide-ranging but not terribly careful critic of religious belief, wrote in 2008 that sexual abuse in the Catholic church was “made possible” by “unquestioning obedience to the authority of the representatives of the church, i.e. priests.”
McGinn also has held up the idea of “atheist as ‘role-model’” which he calls a “revolutionary concept”:
[Atheists] make up in morality what they lack in belief; whereas believers have to do so much work to believe that they have no energy left over for morality. The depravity of the Catholic Church is a nice illustration.
Yet the abolition of the priesthood would not mean the end of clerisies, nor would it stop the abuse of authority. As Colin McGinn’s sad case reminds us, a world without faith is not a world without sin.