Thursday, October 23, 2014

Innovation? No, thanks says St. Maximus

Often what makes news in the Catholic and Protestant worlds doesn't resound quite the same way in Orthodoxy. That's not to say Orthodoxy lacks its faults in execution (this blog is full of snapshots of such moments), but that things like an "Extraordinary Synod on the Family" get a muted response from the laity. Why? Because Orthodoxy is loathe to do anything new. If we can't find a biblical, patristic, or conciliar precedent for something it's not going to go very far. Even if we look to the Great and Holy Council set for 2016, we aren't going to see anything new I hazard to guess. We're going to see consensus on points that need consensus and some flowery wording on, as the agenda puts it, "Proclaiming Christian ideals to the work of Justice and Human Rights" and "Presence of the Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches" among other similar "timely" topics. The hot button topic of autocephaly and who grants it didn't even make it onto the schedule.

"[T]hose who have itching ears and itching tongues are those who wish only to hear or or tell of something new, who are always delighted by innovations, and in relocating the boundaries established by their fathers — to use a biblical phrase — and who take pleasure in the ephemeral and exotic, and who rise up against whatever is well known, well established, and unchanging, as being dull, commonplace, and of no value. They would gladly embrace the latest fashion, even though it were demonstrably false and could bring no benefit to the soul."

- St. Maximus the Confessor
Ambiguum 13

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pope of Rome to visit Turkey

(Hurriyet Daily News) - Pope Francis is set to become the fourth Pope to visit Turkey, after the Vatican published details of an upcoming three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Oct. 21 that Pope Francis was scheduled to touch down on Turkish soil on Nov. 28 in Ankara, before leaving the country from Istanbul on Nov. 30.

“Accepting the invitation of the president of the [Turkish] Republic, of His Holiness Bartholomew and the president of the [Turkish] Bishops’ Conference, Pope Francis will make an apostolic visit to Turkey from Nov. 28 to 30, traveling to Ankara and to Istanbul,” read the statement issued by Lombardi.

On the first day of his visit in the capital, the Pope is expected to visit the Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, before meeting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) head Mehmet Görmez.

Pope Francis will then fly on Nov. 29 to Istanbul, where he is scheduled to visit the Hagia Sofia Museum and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque).

The Pontiff will hold a Holy Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and privately meet Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I later in the day.

He will also sign a Common Declaration towards religious unity and have lunch with Bartholomew I on the last day of his visit, during which he is scheduled to make three speeches.

Pope Francis will be the fourth Pope to visit Turkey after Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

The visit will come three days after he addresses the European Union Parliament in Strasbourg, France, at a difficult time for people of various religions in the Middle East and at a time when Turkey is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Syria’s civil war has left more than 191,000 people dead since it began over three years ago, according to a U.N. report released in August.

Iraqi Christians have also fled their homes in fear of their lives in the face of attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militants, with most of them arriving in Turkey.

Asked whether the Pope may visit refugees from Syria or Iraq during his visit to Turkey, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told reporters that it had not been ruled out as “the program has not yet been defined.”

A U.S.-led coalition is continuing to strike ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria in an effort to help Iraqi government forces and Kurdish security forces fighting the terrorist group.

Turkey declared on Monday that it will help Kurdish security forces (known as Peshmerga) to cross the border and pass from Iraq to Syria, where Kurds are fighting ISIL militants in the border city of Kobane.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

OCA's Diocese of the West gets aux. bishop

(OCA) - On Tuesday, October 21, 2014—the opening day of the fall session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America—His Grace, Bishop Irénée of Québec City and Igumen Paul [Gassios] were canonically elected to the vacant Episcopal Sees of Canada and Chicago and the Midwest. In addition, the Holy Synod elected Igumen Daniel [Brum] to serve as Auxiliary to His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West as Bishop of Santa Rosa, CA.

Bishop Irénée, who had been serving as Administrator of the Archdiocese of Canada, was nominated by delegates to the Extraordinary Archdiocesan Assembly held in Gatineau, QC on October 2, 2014. Igumen Paul, who had served as Administrator of the Diocese of the Midwest, was nominated by delegates to the Special Midwest Diocesan Assembly held in Broadview Heights, OH, on October 7.

Born in Montréal, Quebec on December 25, 1948, Bishop Irénée received a BA in Slavic Studies from the University of Ottawa in 1971, after which he began studies at Holy Trinity Seminary, Jordanville, NY. He was accepted as a novice at Holy Trinity Monastery and placed under the spiritual guidance of Archimandrite Kiprian. In 1974, he was tonsured a Rassophore monk. The following year, he was tonsured a Stavrophore monk with the name Irénée, in honor of the sainted hieromartyr of Lyons.

In 1978, he was blessed to serve in France. In May of the same year, he was ordained to the diaconate in Brussels, Belgium, and in August to the priesthood in Geneva, Switzerland. He continued to serve in France until 1982, at which time he returned to Canada to serve Montréal’s French mission. He and the mission’s faithful were received into the OCA in 1986.

In 1992, Hieromonk Irénée was elevated to the dignity of Igumen by His Grace, Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa, to care for the French language monastics in Québec. He also served as a supply priest to the parishes in Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto and Québec City.

In April 2009, the Holy Synod of the OCA elevated Igumen Irénée to the dignity of Archimandrite and elected him as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Canada with the title of Bishop of Québec City. In October 2009, ten bishops participated in his consecration to the episcopacy at Ottawa’s Annunciation Cathedral. On October 1, 2010, the Holy Synod appointed Bishop Irénée as Administrator of the Archdiocese of Canada.

Igumen Paul was born to Nicholas and Georgia Gassios, natives of Castanea, Greece, in Detroit, MI on April 6,1953. He, his parents, and his sister Agatha lived in Detroit until their move to the suburbs in 1973.

As an infant, he was baptized with the name Apostolos, in honor of the holy Apostle Paul, at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Detroit, MI—his home parish for the first 28 years of his life.

He graduated from Detroit’s Cooley High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, in 1971, after which he enrolled in Wayne State University as a history and psychology major. After his graduation in 1976, he worked with emotionally and physically abused children. He furthered his education at Wayne State, from which he received a Master of Social Work degree in 1980, and continued to work in his chosen field.

In the mid-1980s, he became a member of Holy Transfiguration Church, Livonia, MI. He began theological studies in September 1991 at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY, from which he received his Master of Divinity degree summa cum laude and served as valedictorian in 1994. He was ordained to the priesthood by His Eminence, the late Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, on June 25, 1994.

After ordination, he was assigned Priest-in-Charge of Saint Thomas the Apostle Church, Kokomo, IN, which he served until June 2005, after which he resided at Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery, Hayesville, OH until May 2006. He briefly served as Rector of Archangel Michael Church, St. Louis, MO and the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church, Desloge, MO before his transfer to the OCA’s Bulgarian Diocese and assignment as Dean of Saint George Cathedral, Rossford, OH in 2007. In August 2014, he was named Administrator of the Diocese of the Midwest and relocated to Chicago.

On October 20, 2014, he was tonsured to monastic rank with the name Paul, in honor of Saint Paul the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople.

Igumen Daniel [Brum] was born in Fresno, CA, on November 16, 1954, the oldest of three children born to Orville Antonio and Marjory Brum. He was raised in Riverdale, CA—a community predominantly comprised of Portuguese-American families—where he graduated from high school in 1973.

Raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, he enrolled at Saint Patrick’s College Seminary, Mountain View, CA, where, during his freshman year, he first encountered the history of the Orthodox Church and frequently attended services at Saint Nicholas Church, Saratoga, CA, at that time under the rectorate of Mitered Archpriest George Benigsen, who welcomed him and encouraged him to explore Orthodox Christianity further. In the early 1970s, he began reading the Church Fathers and tried to integrate what he was learning of Orthodoxy into his regular courses of study.

He received a BA in Humanities, with specialization in history, philosophy and English literature, from Saint Patrick’s College Seminary in 1977, after which he entered Saint Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, where he continued the study of Church history. In 1981, he received his Masters of Divinity degree and was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood. After ordination, he served in a variety of capacities and was especially involved in the Portuguese-American community. He also served as diocesan Director of Vocations and as editor of the Portuguese-language page of the diocesan newspaper.

Serbian Patriarch Irenaeus at Mt. Athos

( - Since Patriarch Paul as the primate of the Serbian Church did not visit Mount Athos, and that Patriarch German visited Mt. Athos in 1978, this is the first visit of the Serbian Patriarch to Mt. Athos after 35 years. According to the Athonite laws all primates of the Local Orthodox Churches when they enter the ground of Mount Athos they should visit its seat –capital town of Karyes. Patriarch Irenaeus was welcomed by protos – administrator of Mount Athos fathr Symeon from the holy monastery of Dionysiou (one-year mandate was given to representatives of the five Athonite monasteries: Saint Lavra, Saint Paul, Hilandar, Vatopedi and Dionysiou).

Monday, October 20, 2014

More on Met. Hilarion's visit to Rome

( - On October 6, 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at his residence in the Vatican. The DECR chairman is in Rome for the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Catholic Bishops, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
( - Answering questions from the interviewer, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, attending the plenary session of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Catholic Bishops as representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, spoke on the Christian understanding of the institution of the family and the stand taken by the Russian Orthodox Church with regard to the civic conflict in Ukraine.

– Your Eminence, please tell us which practices of the Orthodox Church with regard to the family and marriage can be adopted by the Catholic Church?

– I think, in the first place, it is necessary to renounce the rigorist approach. We have common church rules and a common understanding of marriage: marriage is the union of man and women, and it should be one and the only. At the same time however, in practice there is a great deal of situations where this doctrine is not observed for various reasons. Then the problem moves from doctrinal to pastoral plane, in which the Orthodox Church has accumulated a certain experience, first of all, sometimes using the principle of akriveia – the strict adherence to the rules and sometimes the principle of oikonomia – condescension for human weakness.

In the discussions I have heard here today, the question was raised whether divorced spouses may be allowed to take Holy Communion and to make Confession. It seems to me that this question should be subjected to a thorough study, and we are ready to present our pastoral experience to our Catholic brothers.

I think, it is absolutely inadmissible to replace the Sacrament of Holy Communion with what some speakers have called “spiritual communion”, for it cannot be a substitute at all. And here we have a great space for cooperation and exchange of opinions.

– After the week of the Synod’s meetings a so-called “post-debate report” has come out to provoke mixed reactions here. Is there anything confusing for you personally in it?

– Honestly speaking, I have had no time to read this report, but I have heard today numerous reactions to it, which will be published as well. From this reaction I have gathered that there is a considerable divergence of opinion among Catholic hierarchs, which is to be taken into account in drafting the final document. I have a feeling that the opinions expressed in that document were not final and some of the attitudes expressed may be incorrectly interpreted in it.

- Catholic communities in many European countries give their churches to Orthodox believers to use, including the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia are there Catholic communities which have no churches of their own while at a given settlement there is an Orthodox church. Do you think such practice is possible there, but the other way round?

- In each particular place, the problem should be resolved on the basis of pastoral wisdom and the mood of the faithful, and we should be sure that the implantation of a community into the soil of the other will not harm them both and will not become a cause for conflicts and misunderstandings between different communities.

- Your Eminence, what role can the Church or Churches play in settling the conflict in Ukraine?

– First of all, Churches should not interfere in a political confrontation. I have spoken about it openly today, referring to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

I believe our mission and our mandate, which we have received from the Lord Himself, is to unite people, to reconcile them. We should not go into details of the political process nor associate ourselves with a particular side of a conflict – let politicians and journalists do it. We should be open to people of any political orientation except for anti-human or chauvinistic one and support those who stand on the opposite sides of a barricade.

Such was and is the stand of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which does not wish to identify with a particular segment of the political spectrum but supports all people. It should be mentioned that the faithful of our Church (I say “our” because the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is part of the one multinational Russian Orthodox Church), unfortunately, have found themselves on the different sides of the barricades. We should be fully aware of this and do everything to prevent the civic conflict from turning into an armed confrontation, to resolve all the controversies through negotiations so that people will not have to pay such a high price for their convictions.

And so it begins...

(The Spokesman-Review) - The owners of the Hitching Post wedding chapel filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Coeur d’Alene Friday, claiming that the city is unconstitutionally forcing them to violate their religious beliefs by performing same-sex marriages.

Owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp say in the lawsuit that they believe marriage is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman.

“Performing same-sex wedding ceremonies would thus force the Knapps to condone, promote and even consecrate something forbidden by their religious beliefs and ordination vows,” the suit reads.

The city passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2013. It applies to housing, employment and “public accommodation.” Religious entities are exempt from the ordinance. But in May city attorney Warren Wilson told The Spokesman-Review that The Hitching Post, which is a for-profit business, likely would be required to follow the ordinance.

According to the lawsuit, a man called the business Friday to ask about a same-sex wedding ceremony and was turned down. The Knapps are now asking for a temporary restraining order against the city to stop it from enforcing the ordinance. Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by fines and jail time.

“The Knapps are thus under a constant, coercive and substantial threat to violate their religious beliefs due to the risk that they will incur the penalties of jail time and criminal fines for declining to speak a message and perform a wedding service that contradicts their religious beliefs and ministerial vows,” the suit reads.

When reached by phone late Friday afternoon, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said he was not aware of the lawsuit and had no comment.

The city’s ordinance is a violation of the couple’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights along with a violation of the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed by Georgia and Arizona-based attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom in partnership with Coeur d’Alene attorney Virginia McNulty Robinson. The group’s website defines ADF as a “legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ground blessing service for Ground Zero church

Protests outside Bayonne Coptic church lead to arrests

( - The Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America is "saddened and dismayed" by the actions of those who protested at a Coptic church in Bayonne this past Sunday, according to a statement released to The Jersey Journal on Thursday.

"As congregants of the church, we attend the holy liturgy to worship God with one heart and one spirit, seeking the Lord's grace and forgiveness," Bishop Karas wrote in the two-page statement. "The actions of those who shouted and protested inside the church, disrupting the service, showed no regard for the holy eucharist on the altar. The actions of the protesters in insulting and cursing in the church and at the clergy is both inappropriate and against ecclesiastic law."

The first protest in what is expected to be a series of weekly demonstrations occurred this past Sunday, when a throng of churchgoers demanded their leaders bring back Father George Greiss to the St. Abanoub & St. Antonious Coptic Orthodox Church at 1325 Kennedy Blvd.

On Oct. 1, the Coptic church's pope, Pope Tawadros II, issued a Papal Decree reassigning Greiss to a church in South Carolina, according to Joseph Ghabour, a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Mark's in Jersey City.

Greiss' reassignment came after he spent 17 years at St. Abanoub & St. Antonious, which Ghabour said has been "the subject of unrest for more than 14 years," posing "numerous challenges" to Coptic church leaders.

In a letter sent to The Jersey Journal on Tuesday, Ghabour stated that the Bayonne church faces "administrative, financial, engineering, spiritual and behavioral challenges that require special managerial expertise and spiritual leadership." When contacted, he did not provide details on the issues cited, nor did he say if any complaints had been filed against Greiss.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Russian Church speaks very plainly to Catholic Synod

As always, Met. Hilarion was exceedingly direct in his address to the Catholic hierarchs assembled to discuss the Church and the family. It will be no surprise, then, that he brings up Uniatism as a stumbling block to further rapprochement.


Your Holiness,

Your Beatitudes,

Your Eminences and Your Excellencies:

Allow me first of all to greet you on behalf of the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

The topic of the family is one of the most acute and vital today. It is an indicator of the moral state of the society in which we live.

We have anxiously watched as abuse of the notions of freedom and tolerance has been used in recent years to dismantle the basic values rooted in religious traditions. There is an increasingly aggressive propagation of the idea of moral relativism applied also to the institution of the family held sacred by all of humanity.

In quite a number of countries in Europe and America, despite numerous protests, same-sex unions are approved and recognized on the level of the state. In some places, the right of same-sex partners to adopt children has already been fixed legally and implemented, including through the use of “surrogate motherhood” technology.

At the same time, traditional families built on the notion of marriage as union of man and woman become weaker and weaker. Instead of concern for their consolidation, there is the propaganda of so-called “free relations”. The notions of fidelity, mutual respect and responsibility of spouses are replaced by the imposition of hedonism and calls to live for one’s own self.

Children are no longer seen as the desirable fruit of spouses’ mutual love. The right of abortion, restricted by almost nothing, has become widespread, and has led to the legalization of the destruction of millions of lives. Among the serious problems is the existence of orphans whose parents are still alive, and abandoned and lonely disabled children.

The ideas of moral relativism have also affected many Christians who in words confess the Church’s teaching on the family but in deed refuse to follow it.

Asserting the sanctity of marriage based on the words of the Saviour Himself (see Mt. 19:6, Mk. 10:9), the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church traditionally place personal responsibility above egotistical interests. To cultivate in a Christian this responsibility before the family, society and the surrounding world is the most important tasks for Churches today. The protection of human dignity and affirmation of the lofty value of love realized in the family is an integral component of the Gospel message that we are called to bring to people.

In November 2013, the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Pontifical Council for the Family led by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia held in Rome a conference on ‘Orthodox and Catholics Protecting the Family Together’. In the final statement, we underlined “our conviction that we bear a common responsibility for making marriage and family life the way to sanctity for Christian families”.

The time has come for Christians to join efforts and come out as a united front for the noble goal of protecting the family when confronted by the challenges of the secular world for the sake of preserving the future of civilization. It is the field in which our alliance may become really needed.

We should together defend our positions both in dialogue with the legislative and executive authorities in particular countries and on the platforms of international organizations, such as the UN and the Council of Europe. We already have a certain experience of such cooperation; it is enough to recall the well-known case of Lautsi versus Italy.

It is essential not to confine ourselves to noble appeals, but to press in every possible way for the legal protection of the family. It is necessary to restore in our society the awareness that freedom is unthinkable without responsibility for one’s actions.

The Orthodox Church consistently proclaims the ideal of the one and only marital union concluded once and for all. At the same time, conceding the weakness of human nature, in exceptional cases the Orthodox Church allows for a new church marriage in the instance of the breakup of the first marriage. In this our Church follows the principle of oikonomia, guided as she is by the love of the sinner who is not to be deprived of the means of salvation. In today’s world, in which the strict observance of the church ordinances becomes increasingly rare, the practice of oikonomia, which has existed in Orthodoxy throughout the centuries, may become a valuable experience in settling the pastoral problems of the family.

The Orthodox Church has accumulated a rich experience of pastoral care for the family. She has always preserved the institution of married clergy. As a rule, the families of priests are large and their children are brought up in the spirit of Christian devotion and faithfulness to church teaching. A priest with his own experience of family relations and parenting can better understand family problems and give his spiritual children the necessary pastoral aid. I believe it would be useful to notice this experience, which is also present in the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite.

Speaking about the Churches of the Eastern Rite, I would like to digress from the forum’s topics and to touch upon an issue that has become today a stumbling block in the relations between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. It is the problem of Uniatism which has become once again more acute as a result of the recent events in Ukraine. Regrettably, the conflict in that country, which has already taken the lives of thousands, from the very beginning has acquired a religious dimension.

A significant role in its conception and development has been played by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. From the very first days of the conflict, the Greek Catholics identified with one of the sides of the confrontation. Contrary to the respect for canonical norms prevailing in relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholics have entered into active cooperation with the Orthodox schismatic groups.

The Joint Commission for Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue, as far back as 1993 in Balamand, recognized that Uniatism is not the way to unity. We are grateful to our Catholic brothers for their open recognition of the mistakenness of Uniatism. And we have to state regrettably again that Uniatism does not bring the Orthodox and the Catholics any closer to each other; on the contrary, it divides us.

On behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church, I would like to address the representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church present in this hall with an appeal to renounce any statements on political topics and any visible forms of support of the schism as well as calls to create “one Local Church of Ukraine”. For standing behind this call is a simple truth, the wish to tear away the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine from their Mother Church, the Moscow Patriarchate, with which Ukraine has been bound by age-old blood ties.

The principal mission of the Church is to serve the cause of people’s salvation. The mandate given to us by God does not presuppose interference in political and civil conflicts. In a world in which there are so many divisions, in which the very foundations of the survival of human civilization, including the institution of the family, are under threat, Christians are called to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13-14), bringing all to the love of each other and to unity in Christ.

We can do much together, also for the protection of the Christians who have become today victims of persecution. In Iraq and Syria and in a number of other countries in the Middle East and Africa, Christians are subjected to genocide. We should do all that depends on us to stop the killing of Christians, to stop their mass exodus from the places where they have lived for centuries, to draw the attention of the whole world community to their calamitous state.

I wish you all, dear brothers, God’s blessing and success in your efforts!

Ultra Spirituality

"Russophobia" and the world stage

Moscow, October 16 (Interfax) - Director of the Human Rights Center at the World Russian People's Council Roman Silantyev urges OSCE to consider the problem of Russophobia.

Meeting with the OSCE officials on tolerance and non-discrimination on Wednesday in Moscow, Silantyev suggested to set up a post of OSCE head representative on the problem of Russphobia, "which is actively instigated in Europe."

He was surprised with the fact that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were divided in separate sectors and entrusted to different curators while "the only person is charged with a great massive of other problems in this sphere."

Mufti of Moscow, the Central Region and Chuvashia Albir Krganov noted that hatred was instigated not only to Russians, but also to other peoples of Russia, for instance, to Chechens and Tatars. He suggested calling such a personal representative "an expert on defamating peoples of Russia."

Earlier, OSCE chairman appointed three personal representatives on tolerance and non-discrimination: Rabbi Andrew Baker (the USA) - on combating anti-Semitism, Professor Talip Kucukcan (Turkey) - on combating intolerance to Muslims, professor Alexey Avtonomov (Russia) - for combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination and also intolerance to Christians and representatives of other religions.

Personal representatives annually visit OSCE countries-members to analyze the existing problems, defining positive examples and working out recommendations to governments in the field of tolerance and non-discrimination.

Houston subpoena travesty continues drawing attention

For a little background and then the letter from the Texas Attorney General to the City of Houston. When government officials start demanding homilies we should all begin to worry.

(Houston Chronicle) - Houston's embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists that have sued the city.

Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. City attorneys issued subpoenas last month during the case's discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, "all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession."

The subpoenas were issued to several high-profile pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance. The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a motion on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas.

Plaintiff Jared Woodfill said the subpoena impinges on protected religious freedoms.

"This is the city trampling on the First Amendment rights of pastors in their churches," Woodfill said.

The city attorney's office has not responded to requests for comment.
And also...
Austin (Texas Attorney General) - Attorney General Abbott today asked that the Houston City Attorney to immediately withdraw the subpoenas sent last month to several Houston-area pastors seeking sermons, notes and other information.

In his letter to the city attorney, Attorney General Abbott said, “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

Dear Mr. Feldman:

Your office has demanded that four Houston pastors hand over to the city government many of their private papers, including their sermons. Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government. Nothing short of an immediate reversal by your office will provide that security. I call on you to withdraw the subpoenas without further delay.

I recognize that the subpoenas arise from litigation related to a petition to repeal an ordinance adopted by the city council. But the litigation discovery process is not a license for government officials to inquire into religious affairs. Nor is your office’s desire to vigorously support the ordinance any excuse for these subpoenas. No matter what public policy is at stake, government officials must exercise the utmost care when our work touches on religious matters. If we err, it must be on the side of preserving the autonomy of religious institutions and the liberty of religious believers. Your aggressive and invasive subpoenas show no regard for the very serious First Amendment considerations at stake.

A statement released by the Mayor’s Office claims that the subpoenas were prepared by outside lawyers and that neither you nor Mayor Parker was aware of them before they were issued. Nevertheless, these lawyers acted in the City’s name, and you are responsible for their actions. You should immediately instruct your lawyers to withdraw the City’s subpoenas. Religious institutions and their congregants should never have to worry that a government they disagree with will attempt to interfere in their religious affairs. Instead of safeguarding that trust, you appear to have given some of the most powerful law firms in Houston free rein to harass and intimidate pastors who oppose City policy. In good faith, I hope you merely failed to anticipate how inappropriately aggressive your lawyers would be. Many, however, believe your actions reflect the city government’s hostility to religious beliefs that do not align with city policies.

I urge you to demonstrate the City’s commitment to religious liberty and to true diversity of belief by unilaterally withdrawing these subpoenas immediately. Your stated intention to wait for further court proceedings falls woefully short of the urgent action needed to reassure the people of Houston that their government respects their freedom of religion and does not punish those who oppose city policies on religious grounds.


Greg Abbott

Attorney General of Texas

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The new direction: Antiochian monasticism in America

( - This summer at the Summer Meetings at the Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph announced the new Antiochian Women Project for 2014-2015 which will incorporate his vision for the Antiochian Archdiocese well into the future. Over the next year, the Antiochian Women will work towards "Nurturing the Seeds of Orthodoxy Across North America".

The Project is two-fold:
  • "Regional Camping and Learning Centers" – His Eminence's vision is to offer Orthodox programs throughout all of North America and the ultimate establishment of facilities to house these events.
  • "Monastic Communities" – The vision is to make Antiochian Orthodox monastic communities prevalent across our continent.
Throughout our work on this Project, let us recall the parable of the mustard seed where Jesus said, "To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? ... It is like a mustard seed which, ... when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade." (Mark 4:30-32.)

We as Antiochian Women must help to nurture these mustard seeds, and Orthodoxy, across North America.

We would urge you to read the full description of the Project (PDF), and then download the promotional poster (PDF) to be shared with the contact person at your church or mission. Please ask the women to display the poster in a prominent place and to start planning events that will highlight our Project: "Nurturing the Seeds of Orthodoxy Across North America".

Also remember that March is "Antiochian Women's Month". More information will be forthcoming, but we recommend that you start the planning and fundraising for this Project now. Most importantly, everyone in the parish – men, women and children – should know about the Project.

Russian Church representatives going to Rome

( - In the evening of October 14, 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Church Relations, arrived in Rome for an official visit, which will last till October 18.

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, the DECR chairman, acting as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, will attend the plenary session of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Catholic Bishops on Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization and address the meeting. During his visit, Metropolitan Hilarion will meet with Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity Cardinal Kurt Koch, and will deliver a lecture at the opening of academic year at the Southern Italy Faculty of Theology in Naples.

Metropolitan Hilarion will be accompanied by Hieromonk Stephan (Igumnov), DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations, Rev. Alexiy Dikaev, staff member of the secretariat for inter-Christian relations, and Hierodeacon Nikolay (Ono), postgraduate of the Ss Cyril and Methodius Institute of Post-Graduate Studies.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ground Zero shrine update

(St. Nicholas WTC) - His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America extends an invitation to all of the faithful of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to join him along with the Holy Eparchial Synod in New York on October 18 to bless the hallowed and sacred ground upon which St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center will be built.