Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mutual Greek - Russian diplomatic expulsions forthcoming

(RFE) - Greece has moved to expel two Russian diplomats and to block two others from entering over suspicions they attempted to undermine a deal between Athens and Macedonia last month, a Greek official told the Associated Press.

Russia has been given until July 13 to get the two diplomats out of Greece, said the official on July 12, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It was not immediately clear if they had already departed.

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said on July 11 that Athens wouldn't accept "behavior that violates international law" and disrespects the Greek state.

His remarks were in response to the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini's report about the expulsions for what it said were activities inconsistent with the diplomats' status.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it would respond in kind to the expulsions, Interfax news agency reported.

Kathimerini reported that Athens ordered the expulsions and bans after perceived attempts by the Russian diplomats to undermine a deal Greece brokered with Macedonia last month to end a decades-old standoff over its name.

The two countries agreed to the renaming of the former Yugoslav republic to North Macedonia.

Meanwhile, a Russian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly dismissed as "nonsense" allegations that Russian diplomats were involved in undermining Greek public support for the Macedonia deal.

In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that diplomatic expulsions typically bring a tit-for-tat response, but underlined the importance of Russia-Greece ties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Greece, originally planned for the fall, is unlikely to take place given the current situation, a high-ranking official at the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax.

Uniates claim innocence in Ukrainian autocephaly push

(RISU) - The UGCC claims that statements by Metropolitan Hilarion that the UGCC allegedly lobbied for the unification of Orthodox Ukrainians to convert all of them to the Union, to be a manipulation with facts and feelings.

Fr. Igor Shaban, Chairman of the UGCC Commission on Interreligious and Interfaith Relations told this to RISU.

“The UGCC is in no way involved in the process of granting the Tomos, neither directly nor indirectly. We are accused of the fact that certain Ukrainian politicians who declare themselves Greek Catholics promote these developments. I would like to emphasize that the Church did not bless them. They act solely at their own discretion or at the discretion of their political party. Therefore, I think that the words that the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church said in this regard should be interpreted as a primitive manipulation of the facts and feelings of Christians, and we strongly reject all Moscow's accusations that these movements began as our initiative,” he said.

The representative of the UGCC stressed that the unification of the Orthodox Churches to obtain the Tomos is only an internal affair of Orthodox Ukrainians.

“The UGCC has no relation to the process of obtaining the Tomos or to the process of unification of Orthodox Churches. This is the internal affair of our Orthodox brethren. We, as the Church, consider this type of competition aimed at the unity of Christians as positive since this position correlates with the commandment of Jesus Christ “that all may be one.” We are also ready for dialogue with all Orthodox Churches in accordance with the Ecumenical Concept of the UGCC,” said Fr. Igor.

The head of the UGCC Commission on Interreligious and Interfaith Relations also hopes that the receipt of Tomas on the autocephaly of the UOC and the creation of the One Local Orthodox Church will in no way affect the activities of the UGCC.

“In our opinion, this will help so-called non-canonical Orthodox Churches to overcome the church isolation and will eliminate the painful state of divisions and fragmentation. For the UGCC, for its activity and its inner life nothing will ultimately change. The only thing we would like the State to further ensure is necessary conditions for the free development of all Churches and would like the authorities not to offer preferences for any faith. However, I think that this will not happen anyway since Ukraine is a democratic state where all the Churches enjoy equal rights and freedoms,” Fr. Igor Shaban said.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

EP - Moscow try to "preserve inter-Orthodox unity"

(ROC) - On 9 July 2018, at his working residence in Chisty Lane in Moscow, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill met with members of a delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople – Metropolitans Emmanuel of France and Bartholomew of Smyrna.

Representing the Russian Orthodox Church at the meeting were also Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, and Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, DECR vice-chairman.

The participants in the meeting discussed various issues pertaining to the preservation of the inter-Orthodox unity.

The FOGCPJA... or something

Archbishop Athenagoras, The Living Church, Dec. 12, 1943
(Orthodox History) - Back in the early 1940s, several of the Orthodox jurisdictions briefly came together to form an organization with the unwieldy name, “The Federated Orthodox Greek Catholic Primary Jurisdictions in America.” That’s ridiculous, so we’ll just call it “the Federation.” Anyway, the Federation was a precursor to SCOBA, which morphed into the present-day Assembly of Bishops.

The Federation was active for only a couple years, 1942 to 1944. Its biggest achievement was getting the Orthodox recognized by the Selective Service, which in turn meant that clergy were exempt from the draft and could serve as military chaplains. The Federation was also instrumental in the incorporation of several Orthodox jurisdictions, including the Antiochian Archdiocese, under New York law. (Click here to read a timeline of the Federation.)

What I didn’t know until recently was that the Federation apparently planned to create an English-speaking seminary. I learned this thanks to Lou Milicich, who sent me a link to the December 12, 1943 issue of The Living Church, a publication of the Episcopal Church in America.

The Living Church reported that Archbishop Athenagoras, head of the Greek Archdiocese (and future Ecumenical Patriarch), announced plans for the seminary — but, somewhat oddly, the seminary’s main purpose seems to have been training priests for service in Europe, not the United States. Athenagoras noted that there were already a number of Orthodox seminaries in America, with 155 students between them.

The primary motivation behind this new seminary seems to have been political, more so than pastoral. Here’s what Athenagoras said:

When priests trained at the seminary return to their countries they will help further good will and understanding between the Church in America and the Orthodox Church in Europe. Generally speaking, Americans interested in post-war problems do not realize that the Orthodox Churches in Russia, Greece, Syria, and other countries will have a great influence in rehabilitation efforts after the war. Our purpose is not only to train future priests in democratic precepts, but to convince them that real democracy consists of much more than mere lip service.

It’s easy to see why Athenagoras was the U.S. government’s first choice for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch after World War II, just as the Cold War was getting started. He was a church politician who was ardently pro-American (and anti-Communist).

Archbishop Athenagoras announced plans for other initiatives, including “a central bureau of publicity for Orthodox affairs” and a pan-Orthodox English-language magazine. And also this (reported by The Living Church):

Arrangements have already been made for a census of all Orthodox Churches in the United States, which will provide up-to-date statistics on the number of priests, communicants, churches, and schools in each of the jurisdictions. There are at present, the Archbishop estimated, over 5,000,000 Orthodox believers in this country, served by 25 bishops and 1,500 priests.

This was over 65 years before Alexei Krindatch came on the scene, and more than 75 years before the first really comprehensive census of Orthodox parishes, in 2010. Unfortunately, the proposed census in the 1940s didn’t happen, because the Federation unraveled shortly after this article was published. There was some sort of population data published in 1947, in a periodical called the Christian Herald. (For more on that census, and previous Orthodox censuses, click here.)

As I said, the Federation didn’t last very long, failing mostly due to leadership issues. (One of the driving forces behind the Federation was a Greek lawyer named George Phillies, who for some reason took communion both in the Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church. Once that got out, the Federation quickly fell apart.) That said, the idea of the Federation did live on, and thanks in part to the efforts of the Antiochian Metropolitan Antony Bashir (click here for more on that), from the ashes of the Federation arose SCOBA, which, for all its faults, served as a critical platform for pan-Orthodox cooperation for many decades.

Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako made cardinal

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Strengthening the unity of Christians, relaunching the principle of citizenship as an element common to all Iraqis and supporting the work of rebuilding homes and people, devastated by war and jihadist violence. These are the objectives set by the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako, who today receives the cardinal's beretto from Pope Francis. And the commitment to shortly appoint a priest for the parish of St. Paul in Mosul. A "strong and authoritative" personality assures the new cardinal who "will be chosen by the end of the summer" and who is a sign of "stability".

AsiaNews met the Chaldean primate a few hours before the ceremony. Here is what he shared with us:

Patriarch Sako, what value does a cardinal have for the Church in Iraq?

With this choice Pope Francis wanted to send a strong signal of support to the Eastern Churches. The appointment goes in this direction. It is also a message to Iraqi Christians, for us it means: 'Even if I cannot come, I am near you, I encourage you to stay and hope, to be patient, commit yourself to changing the situation'. It is an appeal to the Iraqi political class: everyone knows the importance and influence that the Vatican exercises at an international level. Muslims have taken this nomination as a further invitation to reconciliation, dialogue, common commitment to the rebirth of our nation. A choice with a high symbolic value, as the appointment as cardinal of the apostolic nuncio in Syria, Mario Zenari was also at the time.

What are your goals for the near future?

First of all, the unity of Christians, which touches our hearts because of the profound fragmentation that has characterized our Church for a long time. And again, the unity of Iraqis as citizens with equal rights and equal duties, according to the principle of citizenship. Finally, working for a better future starting from material and cultural reconstruction. In this sense it is important to have a greater presence at the level of relations with the Western Church, cultural exchange, the birth of Christian institutes, schools, clinics and hospitals, as is already the case in the other nations of the area (Syria and Lebanon). For too long we felt isolated, so it is important that today we open ourselves up to the world and encourage more and more people from the outside. We need to help this Chaldean Church, which is among the oldest, to be a visible sign through works and projects.

A rebirth that can start from Mosul, a long stronghold of the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis) and where the worst jihadist atrocities have taken place?

Exactly! To revive Mosul, we must rebuild homes and houses, to encourage people to come back. But it is also necessary to rebuild the people, first of all on the psychological and social level, with avenues of integration and discussion. Lastly, guarantee work, facilitating the resumption of commerce, industry, trade and micro-businesses along with local crafts.

What is the current situation in the city?

There is still a lot of destruction, but among Muslims themselves there is a new impulse to begin again, to react to the disasters of ISIS. It is necessary to educate people to open up, to guarantee the respect of the laws, to favor education and to avoid extremist drifts in matters of faith.

In this sense a return of Christians is fundamental, on the level of the faithful and clergy ...

Of course, that's why I will shortly appoint a priest for the parish of St. Paul in Mosul, who will return to live and reside there. He will be a strong and authoritative personality, and will be chosen by the end of the summer. Today the situation has changed and the time has come to rebuild the community, guaranteeing its stability. We want to send a strong message, to say that we are back, thus encouraging people to return, primarily university students.

The Vatican also recently approved the beginning of the process for the cause of beatification of Fr. Can Ragheed Ganni, does this instill trust and hope?

His story and his sacrifice, common to those of many other priests, deacons and bishops including Msgr. Rahho testify that the Iraqi Church is a continuous story of martyrs. This beatification process, which should end soon, will give new strength to the local community. It is a warning to make us understand that this blood is not poured out in vain, but it is the fruit of love and will bring peace.

Your Beatitude, the recent elections have led to a climate of uncertainty in the country, with allegations of fraud and appeals. What has the outcome been?

The situation is currently complicated and tense, struggles for power and money are in underway, corruption remains one of the country's endemic ills. However, there are some clear signs: at the last elections there was the highest percentage of new candidates entering Parliament for the first time. And this frightens those who have held the reins of power up to now and this is also why they have raised all these rumours of fraud, accusations of rigging, disputes. But I am sure that in the end a strong government will be born, with a civilian footprint and free from sectarianism. Today there is a different mentality compared to the past, determined perhaps also by a general economic and moral crisis. Here, in my opinion, the current situation at world level is determined precisely by this crisis of values, especially among Christians, who struggle to claim their identity and belonging when faced with the pride shown by Muslims.

Patriarch Sako, how do you picture the immediate future for Iraq and its Church?

We live in a moment of great challenges, fears and hopes. We must continue the language of dialogue with Muslims, not on the basis of abstract principles at the academic level but according to a current, concrete relationship, which is lived day by day. We must try to help them to correct the extremist drifts, favouring the respect of all and the protection of the weakest and most marginalized realities. It may be a slow passage, but I believe in this little miracle and I see it also from the relationships that have been created not only between Pope Francis and great personalities of Islam, like the great imam of al-Azhar, but also locally with an ever deeper bond that has been created with the highest Sunni and Shiite authorities in Iraq. Defending with absolute words and examples absolute values ​​such as human rights, religious freedom also and especially in countries with a Muslim majority, and the principle of citizenship separate from religion.`

EP opens new Synodal Hall at Halki Monastery

(Romanian Church) - His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew inaugurated Tuesday the new Synodal Hall at the Holy Trinity Monastery of Halki before the official opening of the July working session of the Holy Synod.

Prior to the works of the Holy Synod, Patriarch Bartholomew officiated the blessing service of the Synodal Hall organized at Halki Monastery through the care of Metropolitan Elpidophoros of Bursa, the abbot of the monastery.

Until now, most synodal meetings of the Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have been held at the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s headquarters at the Phanar.

During the session on Tuesday, July 10, the Holy Synod chose for the first time a Metropolitan of Ancyra since 1922 when the metropolitan seat was vacated.

Of libel and the wind

(COGD) - There was a man who went around the neighborhood cursing the parish priest and spreading libel about him. Finally, he felt sorry and went to the priest asking him to forgive his wrongdoings. He said that he was prepared to do anything to make up for his sin. The priest told him to tear up a pillow and let down fly with the wind. It sounded weird but easy to do.

The man returned to the priest.

The priest said, “Now, go and collect all the down. Although your repentance and willingness to correct the evil that you've done are sincere, you cannot make up for the damage that you've done with your words, just like you can't collect all the down from a torn pillow.”

Friday, July 6, 2018

44th Clergy Laity Congress budget process causes uproar

If the pieces I have seen on the Clergy-Laity budget talks are even half true, emotions are running high and things are not looking good. Voting a deficit on purpose (even as the men put in positions to fix the problem threaten to quit) seems a dangerous path.

(Greek News Online) - Plenary at the 44th Clergy Laity Congress approves a budget with $1 ml deficit – Priests has chosen their benefits over Archdiocese’s financial recovery and stability – Michael Psaros announced his resignation.

During the various discussions that took place at the 44th Clergy Laity Congress on the financial crisis of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, one thing that was proven beyond reasonable doubt was that for at least two past Congresses the delegates were passing fictional budgets that had no chance to ever be balanced; contributing thus to accumulating deficits that were covered by illegal transfers from restricted accounts.

The difference between those Congress and the 44th Clergy Laity Congress is that then, people were presented with false information and their vote was based in a wrong presumption. This year, the delegates voted on the budget consciously knowing that it is not balanced.

By doing that they ignored:
  • The warning by the Chancellor of the Archdiocese that he will resign, if the Congress will approve the suggestions by the financial committee to allocate $1,000,000 to the clergy pension fund each year and not to raise the budget by 3%,
  • the compromises reached between the executive committee and the Clergy organizations for half the amount
  • the dramatic plea by the Treasurer of the Executive Committee Michael Psaros, who spoke for about an hour explaining the work done by the committee and the importance of having a balanced budget. When he saw delegates voting on items that would lead to deficits, he announced that unless they change it, he will resign when his term ends in October. Archbishop Demetrios told him he won’t accept his resignation. One of the delegates that spoke after Psaros announcement said “if he resigns there will be another treasurer”.
In spite all this drama, the budget approved has a deficit of at least $934,000, from additional funding of the priests pension plan and the School of Theology. A face safe vote that passed authorizes the executive committee and the Archdiocesan Council to find ways to balance the budget. The next Archdiocesan Council meeting will be in October, most likely without the Treasurer Michael Psaros.

Prior the final vote, the plenary has decided to take off the budget the publication of the Orthodox Observer, under the presumption that by doing that $800,000 will be saved. The true amount is the savings will be $360,000 if the Observer shuts totally and 200,000 if it will continue the publication on line.

This and other proposals were recalled with the vote to authorize the executive committee to make the decisions. Few minutes earlier the Archbishop spoke on the need for the Archdiocese to have its own publication and he revealed that when last year they had to publish an issue of the Observer in order to allow its Archdiocese to present its views against attacks, there was strong resistance by some people he didn’t name.
Complete article here.

Cleveland Pan-Orthodox event scheduled for October

On Prince William's trip to the Holy Land

(Haaretz) - Prince William somberly laid a wreath on the grave of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice, before praying with a Russian Orthodox priest at the Church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, in what was the most personal and emotional stop on his Middle East tour.

Greeted by church bells as he entered the compound, the Duke of Cambridge asked several questions about the history of the church and his family’s connection to the site as he was guided by Father Archimandrite Roman – the head of the Russian Orthodox mission in Jerusalem that administers the site.

From the church balcony, Father Roman pointed out what would be William’s final three stops in Jerusalem: the Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif), the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of Mary Magdalene (aka Church of Maria Magdalena) also contains several convents, and William was greeted at the church by a convent abbess with a loaf of bread and a cellar of salt, in the Russian Orthodox tradition.

After touring the church, he descended to lay flowers on the tomb of his ancestor, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. He continued on to the crypt of Princess Alice of Battenberg, where he laid a second wreath and prayed as Father Roman chanted a prayer for “the repose of Alice’s soul and the preservation of her memory.”

Before he departed, Father Roman presented the prince with gifts for his family: For William, a wooden cross from the 19th century; a glass royal Easter egg for his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge; and wooden Easter eggs and small wooden crosses for his three children, “so that each of them can have a cross from Jerusalem in their room,” the priest explained.

“I think he was touched,” Father Roman said after the prince left, walking through the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the site mentioned in the New Testament as where Jesus prayed and slept the night before his crucifixion.

“This is something that is very personal for him, I’m sure,” Father Roman added. “To visit his family in such a holy place. With everything else, all the official parts of the trip, this was a half hour for some personal peace.”

Before visiting the church, the prince had enjoyed the breathtaking views of Jerusalem’s Old City from the Mount of Olives. Dressed in a beige linen suit, shirt, tie and sunglasses, William spent 20 minutes standing on a viewing point looking out over the sunbathed city, marveling at the sight below.

After the church visit, he proceeded on to the Western Wall, where he said a prayer at one of Judaism’s holiest sites. He was accompanied by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch during his visit to the Kotel.

Both William’s father, Charles, and his grandfather, Philip, have previously paid private visits to Princess Alice’s tomb at the Church of Mary Magdalene. Charles, Prince of Wales, went there after attending former President Shimon Peres’ funeral in 2016, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited his mother’s grave in 1994.

Princess Alice, the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was born in 1885 at Windsor Castle, England, and had a long, eventful and difficult life. Deaf from birth, she was still able to speak and function fully. She fell in love with Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, marrying him a year later in 1903, and bore him five children ‒ four daughters and one son. The son was Philip, who would later marry Britain’s Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth.

Earlier on his Israel tour, Prince William visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial center, which recognized Alice as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1993. She had protected a Greek-Jewish family when Athens was occupied by the Nazis in 1943. (The British government also named her a Hero of the Holocaust in 2010.)

Alongside her good deeds, however, Alice struggled with her mental health. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1930 and was subjected to some of the more tortuous treatments for mental illness at the time, being sent to sanatoriums by a Greek royal family ashamed of her affliction.

Pro-life clinics defeat compelled speech legislation

(Christianity Today) - Pro-life clinics offering pregnant women alternatives to abortion won a major free speech victory today.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to block a California law requiring pregnancy centers post referrals to state-funded abortion providers and birth control resources, forcing them to promote services that violate their beliefs.

In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, the court ruled that the state’s 2015 Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”

Christian and pro-life groups celebrated the decision, which follows several similar local and state-level reversals across the country in recent years.

“We applaud the US Supreme Court for sending a clear statement today that pro-life Americans cannot be discriminated against and targeted by government,” stated Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America.

“To be clear, this case was not about abortion. Malicious abortion politics definitely were the motivation behind it, but the case centered on the inappropriate mandate of the state compelling pro-life clinics to promote abortion in violation of their consciences. The case was about forced speech.”

The president of the religious liberty law firm Becket, Mark Rienzi, summed up the ruling this way: “When it comes to important issues, the government doesn’t get to tell people what to believe, and it also doesn’t get to tell people what to say about it.”

Most of the 3,000 pregnancy clinics (also called “crisis pregnancy centers”) in the US are run by evangelicals who oppose abortion due to their religious convictions. These centers outnumber abortion clinics three to four times over.

The NIFLA network at the center of this case represents 137 of California’s roughly 200 pregnancy centers. Under the FACT Act, all facilities offering pregnancy services, licensed or not, had been required to display and/or distribute a notice about abortion and contraception, which the state argued was appropriate form of regulated speech to ensure public access to medical services.

Instead, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the opinion of the court, “It imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest.”

The required message read:

California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].

The biggest issue pro-choice critics raise over pregnancy centers is that their marketing is “deceptive.” As CT previously reported, this negative perception undergirds the FACT Act; a legislative committee deemed it unfortunate that such centers “aim to discourage and prevent women from seeking abortion.”

Thomas’s ruling, with John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch concurring, has reversed the Ninth Circuit court decision that upheld the state act and sends the case back for further proceedings.

"Today is a victory for more than just the dedicated volunteers who staff pregnancy care centers; it is also a victory for the thousands of women who go to the centers seeking life-affirming care and support,” said Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life.

“On Certain Difficulties in Marriage” by Fr. Andrew Konanos

(Pravmir) - From the book “On Certain Difficulties in Marriage” by Father Andrew Konanos (translated from Russian by Julia Frolova):

One subconsciously believes in the “theology” of underestimation of human relations, marriage, love, embraces. All this conceals something unhealthy…

You are not a man of God with such an intolerable approach!

Let us call a spade a spade. On the outside you are a man of God. However, I doubt who you really are.

A friend of mine has experienced all this blurred reality. Do you know what he told me? “A church is a place where everyone can either come and bloom or come and wither away. Somebody may come to the temple to hide”. If entering a church, you learn God of Truth, the One Who is the source of all beauty, the source of all love, the source of rebirth and bloom, then, of course, you will surely bloom. If you are taught to perceive God as something loveless and gloomy, then you will wither away.

A church may either be a place of sanctification, prosperity, and growth, or a place of condemnation. It may even affect your health as well as be a shelter where you often come to hide. It can be a stash of your problems.

One woman did exactly that: for her a church has become a stash of melancholy and of her unloving nature, of pathogenesis and of her spiritual problems. She attended the church, but instead of trying to heal herself from all her suffering she concealed everything, in the meanwhile she made God her excuse. Therein lies the tragedy: such unhealthy things are done in the name of God.

She tells her husband: “I will not hug you because I love God. I reject intimacy because I want to pray. I do not show affection because I am in a hurry to go to church. I do not convey warmth because I am like an iceberg in the ocean for spiritual reasons”. What does she do with all these false excuses? She hides. This is how a church may serve as a hiding place.

That is why Saint Porfiri in Oropo sometimes advised spouses, who needed help of specialists, to buy the recommended medicine. The saint wanted marital relations to become warmer and not colder, to become stronger and not to fall apart because he knew well: one does not go to heaven if one’s soul does not rejoice or gets warm near Christ.

I want to ask you something else, my dear. How do you feel if your spouse becomes colder towards Christ because of you? You give him the cold shoulder. After that he meets a priest and tells him: “These priests made my wife like that”, which is unloving, distant, and strange. I think you understand that something is not right. Thus, if you are an ascetic, an abstinent, or a virgin and at the same time you do not have even a little oil in your heart, forget about heaven. Abstinence, asceticism, and virginity are beautiful but under the right conditions. The criterion is the presence of this oil of mercy, affection, kindness, and humanity.

St. Vlad's seminarians travel to Uganda for service trip

(SVOTS) - Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

From May 21to June 3 of this year, I, alongside eight of my seminary colleagues, had the amazing opportunity to travel to Uganda as part of a teaching missions trip sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). Thanks to the support of OCMC, St Vladimir’s Seminary, and many others, the nine of us were given the incredible opportunity to serve the communities of the Ugandan Orthodox Church, which would not have been possible on our own. With the blessing of Metropolitan Jonah of Kampala and all Uganda, we were able to travel across the country and serve many communities, especially those in Northern Uganda.

Our first few days were spent in Nsinze in the Eastern region of Uganda where we had the honor and privilege to participate in the diocesan clergy conference. Over fifty priests from all over the country were present. We spent time both in prayer and fellowship as we focused on the tough realities of ministry. The priests of the Uganda Orthodox Church do not have a salary and must have secular jobs to provide for the needs of their families and their churches. Despite the many sacrifices, it was an inspiration to see how these clergymen found strength in Christ and in each other as they prepared themselves to continue serving their people.

Two truly memorable occasions occurred next. For the conclusion of the clergy conference, we had the blessed opportunity to celebrate the Divine Liturgy alongside these fifty priests who had gathered together. It was a great act of fellowship and comradery as we were able to serve as brothers in His ministry. From there, we traveled to Gulu in Northern Uganda where we had the opportunity to participate in the Feast of Pentecost, celebrated by Metropolitan Jonah and the local clergy. In this moment, alongside the people of Gulu, we were able to transcend barriers of language, culture, and ethnicity, as we became the One Body of Christ during this service, similar to that of the very day of Pentecost two thousand years ago. As we prepared ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit and renew ourselves in our commitment to serve the Church and each other, it was a powerful moment as we all prostrated together before the mighty throne of God.

The next week of our trip flew by quickly as we worked alongside a medical mission team traveling to different schools and communities across Northern Uganda from Gulu to Lira. We spent our days in prayer as we used our time there to preach the Gospel, be with the people, and try to understand their struggles. It was an exhausting effort since we spent many hours every day traveling to reach these communities, but it was definitely worth it. Personally, it was a humbling experience to see the people of Uganda, who have so little, give so much for the Church. I was able to witness first-hand the love that they have for their Church and for each other. These people looked out for each other; they made sure the most ill were taken care of first. They shared their food and took the time to show concern and care for their neighbor. Uganda is the Pearl of Africa—not because of the beauty of the land but because of the treasure that is found in the hearts of its people. Regardless of the wealth they may not have, they are rich in their love for Christ, and it was truly an unforgettable experience to receive so many blessings from their unending treasury. May God strengthen us all to have the same resolve in faith and love that He has given His people in Uganda.

Read more and see more pictures from the trip on the Uganda Orthodox Church website.

Read more seminarian reflections in Seminarians Speak.

Amal Punnoose is entering his third year as a seminarian in SVOTS’ Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program. He hails from Atlanta, GA, and is a member of the Diocese of Southwest America of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. He has given lectures and led youth retreats and other events at Malankara Orthodox parishes around the U.S. and Canada. Joining Amal on the OCMC trip to Uganda were members of the graduating class of 2018 Rev. Fr. Christopher Moore (Team Leader), Dn. Simon Menya (a native of Uganda), Dn. Gregory Potter and his wife Faith Potter, Dn. Larry Soper, and Dr. Tracy Gustilo, and current seminarians Dn. Herman Fields and Cornelius Schuster.

St. Tikhon's has new dean

Very Rev. Archpriest John E. Parker III, D.Min.
(STOTS) - The Board of Trustees of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Canaan, PA, has named the Very Rev. Archpriest John E. Parker III, D.Min., as the new Dean of the school. The announcement was made on Thursday, July 5, by His Eminence, Archbishop Michael (Dahulich), Ph.D., Archbishop of New York and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, and the Rector of St. Tikhon’s Seminary.

Father John is presently the Rector of Holy Ascension Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. He succeeds the Very Rev. Archpriest Steven Voytovich, who has served as the Seminary’s Dean for the past five years.

Father Parker earned his Bachelor of Arts degree (major in Spanish Language and Literature and minor in German) at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he met his wife, Jeanette in 1993. After marrying in 1994, he taught Spanish for three years at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA, before doing full-time youth ministry at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, PA. In 2001, Fr. John earned his Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and served for a brief period as curate at Holy Cross Episcopal Church on Sullivan’s Island, SC.

During his last year at TESM and his time at Holy Cross, he and Jeanette, along with their two sons, discovered the Orthodox Faith. On July 7, 2002, the Parkers were received into the Orthodox Church at Holy Ascension Mission, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The Parkers moved to St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, NY, in August 2002. Fr. John was ordained deacon by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman, in November 2002, and priest in April 2003, by His Eminence, the late Archbishop Dmitri, of Dallas and the South, of blessed memory. Fr. John pursued a Master of Theology degree (with his thesis entitled, “The Sanctity of Chastity: An Orthodox Approach to Homosexuality”), which he earned in 2004.

Since June 2003, Fr. John has served as the pastor of the very mission into which the Parkers were received. There, fueled by the remarkable gifts, talents, and generosity of the local faithful, they built a parish family well-known for its warm, southern hospitality and a commitment to excellence in sacred music and arts. This hospitality spills out into the 12 Step Addiction communities—hosting the weekly “We’ve Been Waiting for You” AA meeting, and the only Sexaholics Anonymous meeting in Charleston, especially devoted to freeing men from slavery to pornography.

From 2006-2008, the parish built and completed a remarkable Byzantine Temple, to honor the Lord’s Holy Ascension; there, music and arts festivals, workshops, and symposia are held, including a now-annual iconography workshop led by world-renowned iconographers.

Cypriot primate recovering from surgery

(OrthoChristian) - “I am very well and will return to my duties within days,” His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos II of New Justiniana and All Cyprus told Romfea a few days after his recent colon surgery.

The 77-year-old Cypriot primate underwent surgery on June 25, after which doctors announced that the operation was successful and His Beatitude was recovering well.

Abp. Chrysostomos reiterated in a phone conversation with Romfea that his surgery was an absolute success and that his state of health is recovering at a very quick pace. He also emphasized that the doctors caring for him are the most acclaimed and they assured him that his condition is perfect manageable and he would be able to return to his duties within the week.

His Beatitude was visited by Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades yesterday, and thanks all who visited him and have been praying for him.

Finally, Abp. Chrysostomos also emphasized that the Cypriot Church would always stand with the people.

His Beatitude (b. 1941) entered the Monastery of Ayios Neophytos in Paphos at the age of 12, and in 1963 was ordained as a deacon. In 1972 he was elected as the abbot of the monastery and ordained to the priesthood. He was consecrated as the Bishop of Paphos in 1978, and became the Archbishop of All Cyprus in 2006.