Sunday, January 26, 2020

Armenians celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem

HAH EP Bartholomew is coming to the US in May

The Voice in France hosts seminarian contestants

(SPZH) - The jury members of the vocal competition were so delighted to listen to the choir of the Russian Orthodox Seminary that they did not have time to press the button.

The team of Schola Fratrum teachers and seminarians of the Russian Orthodox Seminary, located in the city of Epineux-sen-Senar on the outskirts of Paris, took part in blind auditions of the French vocal show “Voice”, performing the condo “My soul, rise up, why are you sleeping?” from the Great Penitent Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. It is reported by Interfax.

The jury members, including the famous French performers Lara Fabian, Amel Bent, Marc Lavoine and Pascal Obispo, sat with their backs to the participants of the contest and did not immediately understand how many people there were and in what language they were singing. During the performance, the judges looked at each other in amazement and, as they later admitted, got so lost in thought during the acapelic singing that they simply did not have time to press the button, due to which the Orthodox quintet lost the opportunity to continue participating in the vocal show.

Amazed by the performance, Lara Fabian invited the choristers to “combine voices” and perform with her at her upcoming concert in Moscow.

The choir of the Russian Orthodox Seminary from Eline-sous-Senard, who performed at the competition, included the liturgy teacher and regent Hierodeacon Dionisy (Volkov), assistant to the rector of the seminary for educational issues, Hieromonk Peter (Smirnov), a seminary graduate Vladimir Gimro and two seminarians. The kondak performed by them, “My soul, rise up, why are you sleeping?” sounds in Orthodox churches at the beginning and at the end of Lent, after the sixth song of the Great Penitent Canon of St. Andrew of Crete; during it the believers present in the church pray on their bended knees.

Note that the Russian Orthodox Seminary on the outskirts of Paris was founded in 2009 and is an educational institution of the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox of any nationality are accepted for training at the seminary, mainly graduates of theological educational institutions and theological departments of the Russian Orthodox Church. In a specialized educational institution, future teachers of Orthodox theological educational institutions and clergy of foreign parishes are taught.

As reported by the UOJ, on January 7, 2020, the winner of the show “Voice of the Country-2017”, Archpriest Alexander Klimenko presented a new video for the Ukrainian translation of the famous Christmas song “Mary, did You know?”.

Episcopal Assembly represented at March for Life

Honestly, I divide March for Life participation into two camps. Those hierarchs who come to the prayer vigil and enjoy a nice meal and those who actually get out onto the concrete - rain or shine, freezing wind or icy sleet - and prayerfully walk with the people. So, for example, nothing short of a blizzard would keep Abp. Michael (Dahulich) of New York from marching. The OCA and ACROD have been staples in DC for decades. And I'm pleased to see UOC-USA representation this year, too. God willing, future marches will see even more jurisdictions represented. One thing is consistent, though: young people. As the president said, young people are the backbone of this March. This is true about the Orthodox in attendance as well. I was proud to have some of my children marching as they have in years past. May the Lord have mercy on us for the great and tragic sin of abortion. Prayers for the mothers of the unborn, their fathers, and the children held close to our Lord's heart from conception into eternity.

Washington, D.C. (EA) - The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America sent a delegation to the annual March for Life in the nation’s capital on Friday, January 24, 2020. The event marks the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Bishop Apostolos of Medeia led the delegation. He was joined by Metropolitan Tikhon, Archbishop Daniel, Archbishop Melchisedek, Archbishop Michael, Bishop Thomas, Bishop Daniel, Bishop Paul, and Bishop David.

Bishop Apostolos also attended the National Prayer Vigil for Life at The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday, January 23, the evening before the march.

The rally, attended by President Donald J. Trump, began at noon with a prayer offered by Bishop Apostolos on the National Mall at 12th Street. Orthodox Christian marchers gathered under the “Orthodox Christians for Life” banner and signs.

The march began at 1 p.m. and proceeded along Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court, where prayers for the victims of abortion were offered.

Moscow continues to plant parishes atop existing dioceses

Given the tomos of the OCA and the existence of ROCOR here, how can Moscow defend the establishment of a new parish in North America? Whenever people bring up the existing MP parishes in the Americas the response is "These parishes requested to stay in the Moscow Patriarchate many years ago." No such historical exigences exist here.

(ROC) - A year ago the Orthodox citizens of the city of Cancún, Mexico, appealed to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, asking for his blessing, as they intended to establish a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Moscow Patriarchate’s Administration for Institutions Abroad instructed the acting administrator of the Patriarchal parishes in the USA, Bishop Matthew of Sourozh, to render assistance in organizing regular divine services for the community members and to explore a possibility for opening a parish in Cancún.

Throughout 2019, with the blessing of Bishop Matthew, Rev. Kirill Chacon, rector of the Church of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God in Mexico, visited the community of the faithful in Cancún, where at a local Catholic church, with the kind permission of Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cárdenas of Cancún-Chetumal, he celebrated the Divine Liturgy and administered Sacraments and rites.

On 19th January 2020, the feast of the Holy Theophany, with the blessing of Bishop Matthew of Sourozh, Rev. Mark Rashkov, chancellor of the Patriarchal parishes in the USA, visited Cancún and in concelebration of Rev. Kirill Chacon celebrated the Divine Liturgy and performed the rite of the Great Blessing of Water.

After the divine service Father Mark greeted all the worshippers with the feast of Theophany and conveyed to them blessings and warm wishes from Bishop Matthew of Sourozh. Acting on the instruction of the archpastor, Fr. Mark presented Rev. Kirill with a medal in commemoration of the centenary of the restoration of the Patriarchate in the Russian Orthodox Church and thanked him for taking pastoral care of the Russian Church’s believers in Mexico.

That same day later Priests Mark and Kirill met with Msgr. Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cárdenas, Bishop of Cancún-Chetumal, expressing their appreciation for providing on a gratis basis a church building to the Orthodox community for celebrating divine services.

Fr. Mark conveyed to the Bishop of Cancún-Chetumal Christmas greetings from Bishop Matthew of Sourozh and presented him with the ‘Eleousa’ Icon of the Mother of God.

World's largest Orthodox church in the works

(Moscow Times) - An influential spiritual leader plans to build the world’s largest Orthodox Christian Church in central Russia, the news website reported Monday.

Once completed, the 25-story structure on the site of a women’s monastery in the Sverdlovsk region will reportedly hold up to 37,000 worshippers.

“The Saint Sophia Church will become an outpost and the largest Orthodox Church in the world,” Zhanna Ryabtseva, a senior regional manager of the pro-government All-Russia People’s Front movement, told

“Construction of the first stylobate will begin in 2020,” Ryabtseva, who says is a parishioner of the project’s mastermind, said.

The mastermind is reportedly Father Sergei, the secretive leader of the women’s monastery where the church is set to be built and the confessor of several public figures, including former Crimean attorney general Natalya Poklonskaya. "The project is being masterminded by Father Sergei, a former policeman who served 13 years in a penal colony on charges that included murder, the Znak news website reported." - reported by another news source.

When asked about the construction deadline, Ryabtseva told “It’s all in God’s hands.”

Ryabtseva did not identify the church project’s investors, instead calling them “the spiritual children of Father Sergei.”

Investors from China plan to co-finance construction of the Saint Sophia Church, an unnamed businessman familiar with the project told Ryabtseva added that the new church plans to welcome a large number of Chinese parishioners.

A 3D model of the church showed an ornate three-tiered structure with a large golden dome towering over smaller domes. The lower temple fits 20,000 worshippers, according to the design, while 17,000 fit in the upper temple.

At 77 meters, the new church will still be shorter than Romania’s 120-meter People’s Salvation Cathedral set to be finished by 2024.

The Yekaterinburg diocese said it was unaware of plans to build the church, the city’s E1 news website reported.

The outlined plans follow protests in Yekaterinburg against the construction of a new cathedral on public-park grounds last year.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Pat. Kirill of Moscow: learn the lesson of the Holocaust

Moscow, January 24 (Interfax) - Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has expressed words of solidarity with the Jewish people in connection with the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust, saying he regrets that mankind has not fully learned this historical lesson.

"The memory of this horrific event of the 20th century is also important today. To our great regret, we are seeing a revival of radical ideologies not only at the level of separate terrorist groups but on the scale of whole states. The problem of particular political or religious figures assuming exclusive rights is very acute now. Against this backdrop, new precedents of anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, hatred of other religious traditions are becoming increasingly frequent," the head of the Russian Church said in his address to participants of the 5th World Holocaust Forum.

The patriarch said with regret that the international community had in the 21st century allowed the persecution of Christians whose rights, including the right to life, are encroached upon in many areas of the planet, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in Asia. "Speaking about the genocide of the Jews, it is impossible not to mention today's genocide of Christians," the patriarch said.

"Mankind should learn lessons from the horrific pages of world history so that no one ever again allows the deaths of innocent people and encroachments on people's dignity," he said.

"I grieve with the Jewish people on such memorial days," the patriarch said in his address.

Trump, first president to speak at March for Life

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) meeting notes

Larnaca (AsiaNews) - Promote "ecumenical cooperation" between the Churches of the Middle East in the theological, social and media fields, with the aim of giving ever greater witness to Christ in a "unitified" perspective.

This is what the executive committee of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) asks, at the conclusion of the third meeting held on January 21 and 22 in Larnaca (Cyprus), chaired by John X Yazigi, patriarch of Antioch and Greek Orthodox primate. In the final release, Christian leaders also asked to pray for the "release" of Yohana Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, kidnapped in Syria in April 2013 and of whom there is no known information. People will have seen this month's updates that reported that they might have died some years ago.

The political and institutional situation in the various Middle East countries, marked by wars, ethnic-confessional violence and massive exodus are among the concerns of the members of the MECC, which underline the "escalation of tension" in the region and throughout the Arab world.

The meeting, held on the island disputed between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority, was also attended by Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean patriarch, Rev. Habib Badr, president of the Lebanese Evangelical Union and the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church Mar Ignatios Afram II.

Delegates from Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine were present at the third meeting of the executive committee. An appointment, the participants note, which comes in the midst of "bloody events and pains" that afflict the nations of the Middle East and in an atmosphere of "suffering, pain and challenges" for the peoples of the region, "including the Churches". For this reason they ask for greater "solidarity and closeness" to the "sons and daughters of the Eastern Churches", the first witnesses of Christ in a growing context of "challenges".

In the first of the two days of work, challenges were discussed in the areas of spiritual renewal, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, as well as the strengthening and institutional development of the Council itself. The second day was dedicated to the discussion of the report of the secretary general, Dr. Souraya Bechealany, which includes the results of the Council in 2019 and future prospects, also from a financial perspective.

The final declaration paid particular attention to Iraq and the anti-government protest movement which risks destabilizing a country already in difficulty. And again, the "suffering" of the Syrian people demanding an end to the siege and the resumption of a path that leads to the construction of peace and security, combined with the return of the displaced.

A thought is then dedicated to the Lebanese people and their peaceful protest, for a dignified life and the end of an endemic and widespread corruption that has fueled discontent. There was also praise for efforts to "restore unity on the island of Cyprus".

The Christian leaders call for greater support for churches in Palestine despite suffering "in light of the occupation, apartheid policy and isolation", along with respect for the legal status and status quo on East Jerusalem, the capital of a future Palestinian state .

The also addressed an invitation to all the peoples of the region to unite according to a criterion of "full citizenship" which is made up of "rights and duties" in a context of "diversity" which is a source of "wealth". The appointment is now set for the MECC general meeting, scheduled from 16 to 19 September in Lebanon with the motto "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!" (Matthew, 14:27).

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

French not too keen on state-funded fatherless inseminations

Paris, France, Jan 21, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA) - Debate began on a bioethics bill in the French Senate Tuesday after tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris to protest state funding for medically assisted procreation for lesbian couples and single women.

“A child is a gift to be received, not an order to be manufactured. The absence of a father is an injury that can be suffered, but it is monstrous to inflict it on purpose,” Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit said in a statement ahead of the protest on Sunday.

Critics of the bill have highlighted several bioethical questions surrounding in vitro fertilization, including preimplantation diagnoses, embryo storage, anonymous sperm donation, and the creation of so-called “savior siblings” -- embryos created via in vitro fertilization for the use of the stem cells in their umbilical blood to treat a sick older sibling.

Archbishop Aupetit, who practiced medicine and taught bioethics at a medical school before entering the priesthood, says it is urgent to raise awareness about the potential harmful consequences of this legislation for the most vulnerable.

“For years, we have been committing ourselves ever further to a commercial drift of wealthy countries which afford the luxury of organizing a eugenic trade with the systematic elimination of the most fragile, the creation of transgenic embryos and chimeras,” Aupetit said in a statement Jan. 15, issued in French.

Catholic bishops in France have vocally opposed the bioethics bill, the French bishops’ conference has compiled statements from 71 bishops on the subject from the last six months. In October, Bishop Jacques Habert of the Diocese of Seez called on French Catholics to pray and fast before the National Assembly discussed the bill.

The conference issued a statement January entitled “No one should treat another as an object,” in which the bishops raise concerns as to how the bill prioritizes parents’ desire over the good of the child and paves the way for eugenics through preimplantation diagnosis and embryo selection.

“Not only is wanting a child without any genetic variant an illusion, but it would also dehumanize our humanity,” the statement reads.

The bill was introduced to the French Senate Jan. 21 after the lower-house National Assembly passed it in October. Debate on the details of the bioethics bill will continue through Feb. 4.

According to Paris police estimates, on Sunday more than 41,000 people participated in the March for Children in protest of the bill.

Fr. Pierre Amar wrote on Twitter that there was a “massive presence of young people” at the peaceful protest.

In France, IVF is now restricted to men and women who are married or have cohabited for at least two years. Preimplantation diagnosis during IVF treatment is only permitted in cases where one parent is diagnosed with an incurable disease.

The creation of “savior siblings” -- permitted under a previous bioethics law in 2004 - could be reintroduced to the Senate bill after the National Assembly voted in October to discontinue its use in in vitro fertilization in France.

“We reiterate that every child should be allowed to grow up free and protected in their dignity, in communion with all others, throughout their life, whatever their ethnic or social origin, religion or lack of religion and sexual orientation. No human being can treat another as an object,” the bishops said in a joint statement.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Icon of the Theotokos "Protectress of the Unborn"

For those of you marching with me for Life this month and for those who simply wish to pray for our holy innocents, here's an icon from Uncut Mountain Supply you might like: Icon of the Theotokos "Protectress of the Unborn".

O believers, come let us perceive
a type in the law, and the shadow and the letter.
Every male that opens the womb shall be holy to God.
So the unoriginate Father's firstborn Logos and Son,
who is the firstborn of the Mother who knew not man, we magnify.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"Orthodox Parenting" virtual conference coming up

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New Armenian patriarch enthroned in Constantinople

History is an interesting thing. There was no Armenian patriarch in Constantinople until the Ottomans conquered it, relocated Armenians into the city, and placed a leader for them there. Armenians - being non-Chalcedonians - were not permitted to operate in the Orthodox city before the sacking. So to have the EP at the enthronement is a turn-around that reflects the effect a few hundred years can have on relations.

According to the narration often repeated and generally accepted regarding how and when the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate was established, the establishment coming with the conquest of Istanbul took place as follows: “When Mehmet the Conqueror was in Bursa before the conquest of Istanbul, he showed an intimacy and love for the Armenian people and Hovagim who was the spiritual leader of them there. When the Conqueror was talking with Hovagim one day, Hovagim prayed that “May God make your kingdom higher than the other kingdoms” and the Conqueror responded a promise which was “If I achieve to conquer Istanbul, I will take you and Armenian leaders to Istanbul and I will make you the leader of them.” The Conqueror who came to Bursa a few years after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 remembered his promise and he brought many Armenian families and Episcopos Hovagim from Bursa to Istanbul. In this same period, he brought Armenian groups from other regions to Istanbul and placed them in the capital.

(Hurriyet) - Sahak Maşalyan (Mashalian), the 85th Patriarch of Turkey’s Armenians, was enthroned as Sahak II in a ceremony held at the Surp Asdvadzadzin Patriarchate Church in Istanbul on Jan 11.

Born in 1962 in Istanbul with the Turkish name Şahin Maşalı, he was ordained a priest in 1992, receiving the name Sahak.

On Dec. 11, Sahak II won the election held among Armenian Gregorian churches across the country after receiving 102 votes out of 119 against his rival Aram Ateşyan, who had served as acting patriarch during the absence of Mesrob II, the previous patriarch who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease from 2008 until his demise on March 8, 2019.

The congregation included Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, representatives of other Christian denominations in Turkey and foreign diplomatic missions in Istanbul.

Turkish Deputy Interior Minister Muhterem İnce and Chief Rabbi of Turkey Rav Isak Haleva also took part in the ceremony.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

HCHC on two-year probation with accrediting body

(Boston Globe) - Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline has been placed on probation following concerns about the school’s financial resources and planning, according to the school and an accreditor.

In a joint statement Thursday, the Greek Orthodox school and the New England Commission of Higher Education said the commission voted in November to place the college on probation for two years.

According to the statement, the “Commission found that Hellenic College, Inc. does not now meet the Commission’s standards on Institutional Resources and Planning and Evaluation. The Commission also issued a Notation to the College that it is in danger of not meeting the standards on Organization and Governance and The Academic Program.”

The commission will monitor conditions at the school during its probationary period, and the college will maintain its accreditation during that time, with continued “eligibility for federal funding, including student financial aid,” the statement said.

New Hellenic President George M. Cantonis said in the statement that things are improving at the school.

“We want to reassure our students, faculty, staff, donors and larger community that under our new leadership, Hellenic College Holy Cross is taking appropriate action to address NECHE’s recommendations,” Cantonis said. “We are implementing plans to increase giving and improve revenue streams, simplify and make effective our governance structure and focus our degree programs. Our financial situation is improving.”

Cantonis said the college “ended Fiscal Year 2019 with an excess of revenue over expenses from operations and we are currently operating a balanced budget. We look forward to working with NECHE to address the areas of probation and notation expeditiously and continue our tradition of developing the best clergy and lay leaders.”

The Globe reported in August that the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education noted last spring that the college had run an operating deficit for nearly eight years, borrowed money from its endowment, and suffered from declining enrollment and poor planning. Like many small colleges, Hellenic, which enrolls just over 154 students, relies heavily on tuition and suffers when enrollment declines.

Religious schools in the Northeast are among those that have seen the most precipitous drop in enrollment over the past decade.

Hellenic describes its mission on its website.

“Hellenic College’s curricula in the liberal arts and pre-professional studies stimulate students’ minds while preparing them for careers in which they can serve both society and the Church,” the site says. “Whether in education, human services, business, law, or ministry, our graduates embody their faith and enrich our world through their other-directed vocations.”

Isaiah to John to Jesus

A homily entitled "The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness" by Archimandrite Jack (Khalil). Hat tip to a favorite blog (also essential reading as a gateway to the Arabic-speaking Church) Notes on Arab Orthodoxy.

The four evangelists agree that John the Baptist was the voice crying out prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah (40:3). According to the Apostles Matthew and John, the Baptist himself was the one who announced that Isaiah's prophecy was being fulfilled.

The prophecy appears in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 40, which announces the consolation of Jerusalem. Its context is very important for understanding the message that the Baptist wanted to deliver by declaring that the prophecy was being fulfilled. The Prophet Isaiah had previously informed the King Hezekiah that his people would be taken captive to Babel and enslaved there (39:6-7). After that, he announced God's visitation to Jerusalem and His pardon of its sins (40:2) and His coming there to save it (40:5, 9-10).

He told of the voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord (40:3). The Baptist's indicating the fulfillment of this prophecy is in harmony with the main idea of the message that he brought, that he was at the forefront of God who had drawn near to "save His people from their sins." The Baptist's indicating the prophecy about the voice crying out in the desert bears his declaration to Jerusalem and to all the nations over the generations, that God has visited His people and stretched out His hand to point with His finger to show us Jesus, the Lord of Glory, saying "Behold your God" (40:9).

As for the main idea of the prophecy about the voice crying out, it must be pointed out that that the reading of the Masoretic text differs from the translation of the Septuagint, the reading on which the four evangelists relied. According to the Septuagint, the phrase "in the desert" grammatically modifies the word "voice", so the sentence is "a voice crying out in the desert," while in the Masoretic text the phrase belongs to the main clause. That is, "in the desert prepare the path of the Lord."

Whatever the case may be, it is established that what the Prophet Isaiah prophesied about the coming of our God to His people has been fulfilled. Wherever the term "wilderness" may be in the formulation of the phrase, its theological meaning remains undistorted, just as the Prophet Isaiah intended.

What, then, is the meaning of the "wilderness" emphasized by the Prophet Isaiah?

In order to answer this question, we must remember that it was in the desert that the covenant between God and His people was established. It became God's promise to them and they learned to live according to the covenant's law.

The life of the wilderness made its impression on the Jews' spiritual experience. For this reason, the desert transcended its geographical definition to take on a theological meaning. It is the way of life of the covenant between God and His people. It is the emptying in which man finds no help apart from God.

He ate from the provision that God gave him, drinking His water and warming himself from His heat. The experience of the wilderness is summarized in the Holy Bible by liberation from cares, abandonment of all human guarantees, absolute reliance on God and remaining in His presence.

When the Baptist said that he was the voice crying out in the wilderness, he was addressing to us the announcement that the fullness of time had come and that "He who sits above the circle of the earth and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in," (40:22), God the Word, who created everything, had become incarnate and come to dwell among us.

In the wilderness, John cried out to remind us that we attain knowledge of God when we rely on Him alone and nothing else and that we are made holy by His blessings when we are freed from earthly cares and live before Him according to His Gospel.

- Archimandrite Jack (Khalil)
Saint John of Damascus Institute of Theology