Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Patriarch of Jerusalem on Christmas

The wording is so beautiful it necessitated my republishing...

Message of His Beatitude
The Patriarch of Jerusalem
Theophilos III

On the Christmas of 2008

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem

and see this thing which is come to pass,

which the Lord

hath made known unto us (Luke 2:15)

The Church, the body of Christ, which perpetuates His salvific work on earth, to day cries out again to all the people, to those who are near and to those who are afar, to her members as well as the whole world, the saving truth.

It proclaims the fact that the God of our fathers, who in the beginning created man out of love, in His image and likeness, without tolerating the distortion of His image that occurred with the fall, recreated him at the end of times. He recreated and reborn His creature in a way that surpasses human understanding and strength. God achieved this with the incarnation and becoming man of His Only Son through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. "When the time arrived, God sent His Son, who was born of a woman and under the law" (Gal. 4:4). God proceeded in the restoration of man by making man one with Himself. God, Himself became in the person of Jesus Christ the same as His creature, namely man, with all the irreproachable human passions. "He descended to human nature, without losing His attribute that He is God, receiving the human not as foreign, but as truly His", according to Saint Kyrillos of Alexandria (On king Theodosios, PG 76, 1169D). God appeared in the flesh at a specific time in history. "He came to the world, as man", without however by this losing His divine glory, by His Godbearing Father. (On the true faith, PG 76, 1177). He was born as man, during the time of emperor Caesar Augustus, in Bethlehem of Judea.

This mystery that transcends all understanding was realized far from all evil of this world. Christ "secretly was born in the cave", not powerfully and by force, without possessing any rule or authority, but with baby frailty and weakness, with humility and purity. He was revealed in the cave to pure and clean souls that could apprehend Him and embrace Him. He was visibly revealed first to the Virgin Mary, who admired and was astonished, seeing that in her was performed what the angel had foretold her in Nazareth. She was first to see the Invisible (Lord) lying in the manger and wrap Him in swaddling clothes, Him who cannot be contained. Joseph, her husband, is accompanying the Virgin and the child to Egypt. Simple in heart shepherds at the adjacent village, living in the open, are guided by the angels who sing in heaven the "Glory in the highest", and passing by Bethlehem, they see the baby wrapped and lying in the manger. The Magi coming from the East with gifts, prostrate with reverence before the newly born king.

From these faithful eye witnesses and deacons, this mystery is rendered to the Church. And first to this Church, which guards with the Hagiotaphitic (from the Holy Sepulchre) Brotherhood the Holy Places that received the mystery of the divine revelation. This Church erected magnificent and beautiful churches at the Most Holy Shrines, such as the Constantinian and Justinian Basilica of the Greek Orthodox over the Divine Cave. In her the Christians of the Holy Land and all pious pilgrims who flock from the ends of the world, are sanctified through the ages. In her their identity is formed, the ethos of love, of peace, of reconciliation and their harmonious cohabitation with the followers of other religions at the Holy Land. From this Church and from this place the evangelical salvific truth emanated to the whole world.

The fact of the divine kenosis (pouring out or emptying) and condescension the Church cries out today for some 2000 years in remembrance of the Birth of Christ. It proclaims that Christ "emptied" Himself by assuming the form of servant (Phil 2:7), so that man would not remain on earth in his fall, but ascend to heaven. This kenosis starting with the incarnation and through the flesh birth of the Son of God, extends to the Cross and the tomb, from where resurrection occurred.

This divine and philanthropic (used here as lover of man) way, the Church displays as valuable treasure of the truth, as an infallible compass of life even for today's man. She shares with him her experience and certainty that the answer to the question on the matter of life and the resolution of human problems is found in the adoption and application of the philanthropic attitude of life, that was revealed by Christ. That the consequence of the denial of the message of God by the people and of their departure from God is today obvious in humanity as never before. The raging wars, the military and terrorist violence, the destructive rage of the irrational which is unlawfully and unjustly manifested against simple and innocent people, the unequal distribution of physical and social goods and the resulting looming economic crisis, which nations and banks anxiously try to contain.

From this Sacred Cave, and the bosom of the Mother of the Churches, we bless with Patriarchal and Paternal blessings the members of this flock, which have been entrusted to us, at the Holy Land and everywhere and prompt them, to embrace Christ, who became man in the flesh and have Him as life's guide and we direct a plea to the powerful of the world to adopt as their goal the maintenance of peace and justice without force, and the freedom and wellbeing of the people.

In the Holy City of Bethlehem, Christmas 2008.

Ardent blesser in the Lord,

Theophilos 3rd

Patriarch of Jerusalem

A parent's prayer for children

This prayer is rather common in most jurisdictions and would make a good addition for a family's evening prayers.

O God, our heavenly Father, Who lovest mankind, and art most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon our children, Thy servants, (their names), for whom I humbly pray Thee, and commend them to Thy gracious protection. Be Thou, O God, their guide and guardian in all their endeavors; lead them in the path of Thy truth, and draw them near to Thee, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in Thy love and fear; doing Thy will in all matters. Give them grace that they may be temperate, industrious, diligent, devout and charitable. Defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life; and direct them in the way of salvation, for the merits of Thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the intercessions of His Holy Mother, and Thy blessed saints.


Church of England ponders eeny, meeny, miney, moe bishops

This pick and choose your bishop is like some sort of replacement for fries at a fast food restaurant mentality. Leaving aside all the other reasons why this is a bad idea, it also undermines the authority of the bishop by giving people the idea that there is choice in everything; that if they disagrees with their pastor or bishop on a certain point that they can start shopping for a view more to their liking. I can attest, having seen this with Episcopalian friends in the US, that the parishioner either becomes a relativist or a vocal defender on a few select topics that no amount of discussion will shake them from.

In an attempt to make a "big tent" of the Anglican Communion where a variety of beliefs and practices can live together in harmony, you instead end up with the inequality and individualism spoken about by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 where people were divided into different rooms of the house churches of the day. I hope that someone reminds them of that lesson.

(CT) - The Church of England’s proposals for complementary bishops have stirred up concerns among supporters as well as opponents of women bishops.

Draft legislation published on Monday outlined plans for a “national code of practice” under which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York could appoint complementary male bishops to offer pastoral care and perform functions for parishes opposed to the ministry of women.

Campaign group WATCH (Women and the Church) welcomed provisions in the legislation paving the way for women to become bishops but expressed concern over arrangements restricting the rights of bishops who are women.

The group’s chair, Christina Rees, expressed particularly strong opposition to the provision of male-only suffragan sees from which the complementary bishops would be appointed,

WATCH, she added, was “dismayed” that there was still no equality of opportunity for women in the Church episcopate.

“This report needs to be seen in the context of a General Synod which has for the past few years stated its desire to open the episcopate to women, and in the wider context of a Church which wonders why this is taking so long,” she said.

“WATCH will be making submissions to the Revision Committee about the contents of the Code of Practice, some of which we find unacceptable, but for now, we take heart that at last we have the draft measure which makes it possible for women to be bishops.”

WATCH said it was pleased that the draft legislation upholds the authority of diocesan bishops and that the delegation of certain functions to another bishop is not automatic. If a diocesan bishop did refuse to transfer power, parishes seeking alternative pastoral care would be left to challenge the decision with a judicial review.

Rod Thomas, spokesman for the evangelical Anglican group Reform, voiced concern for a future beset by legal wrangles.

"Unless bishops, in the future, are always going to respond to requests from petitioning parishes we're in danger of coming up with a set of proposals that will lead to these issues being tackled in the high court. The church is creating scope for a highly injurious number of court cases,” he was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

He added: "There is also the theological concern that although a woman is made a bishop, she is made one in a way that is contrary to the teachings in the Bible."

The draft measure will be put before the Church of England’s General Synod in London in February.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hilarity from Fr. Vasiliy

From The Onion Dome:

Dear Father Vasiliy,

My best friend, who is a Protestant, recently gave me an icon which he purchased at a Roman Catholic bookstore. Can I use this icon in my worship? It is a reproduction of Rublev’s “Hospitality of Abraham.”

Worried in Waukegan

Dear Waukegan,

I am worried to be hearing that your best friend is this Protestant. But perhaps you were at one time Protestant, and merely converted to One, True, Holy and Catholic Faith ahead of friend. Clearly friend buying of this icon is good sign.

Anyway, icon written by Rublev is good icon. Take to church and ask priest to bless icon, and any contamination from Roman Catholic bookstore will be removed. And please to keep praying for this friend. Is pity friend could not be born Russian, of course, but convert Orthodox is better than no Orthodox at all. Usually.

—Father Vasiliy

Dear Father Vasiliy,

I am worried I may have broken the church canon law. Recently, while flying in an Airbus 310 airplane from London to Edinburgh, one of the engines quit. The pilot came over the tannoy to tell us that we would be making an emergency landing in York. At that time I started praying to God and our Lady the Theotokos to save my life so I could see my little children again, who were waiting for me in Edinburgh. But I noticed many other people, some of whom I knew were not Orthodox Christians, also praying at the same time on the airplane. Does this constitute “praying with heretics”? Have I broken the canon law?

Edgy in Edinburgh.

Dear Edinburgh,

Was it Airbus 310 airplanes in Nineteenth Century Russia?! No, it was not! Airbus airplanes are made by godless French and German heretics who have little or no Orthodox piety. Then again, competitor Boeing’s airplanes are made by godless American heretics with little or no Orthodox piety. I am not sure how any of them stay in air for more than five or ten minutes.

But anyway, praying near somebody is not same as praying with somebody. If you go to Jerusalem and stand by Wailing Wall and pray, this does not make your prayer Jewish prayer. If you eat lunch next to Billy Graham and he prays over his meal with Billy Graham Protestant prayer, and you pray over your meal with Real Orthodox prayer, this does not make your prayer Protestant prayer. Although I must ask what you are doing eating lunch next to Billy Graham? This is real problem, not prayer in vicinity of non-Orthodox.

—Father Vasiliy.

Dear Father Vasiliy,

I have all of your CDs and I even have the picture of you from Strolling Rock magazine cut out and framed above my desk. Why did you have to quit music? Come back!

Fan in Fayetteville

Dear Fayetteville,

I am thinking you are confusing me with my son, Bug Vasileivichivich, who is former rap star and is now priest-in-training at Almondville Seminary in Almondville, New York. I have not released any of these CDs nor has my picture been in Strolling Rock magazine. Not that it couldn’t; Matushka tells me I am handsome and good-looking man. Usually at holiday celebrations involving much vodka.

—Father Vasiliy

Dear Father Vasiliy,

This may not get to you until after the election, but I am really not sure who I should vote for in this election. Neither candidate is Orthodox, and both have good and bad points, so it’s not easy to decide which one I should vote for. Can you give me any pointers for choosing political candidates?

Voter in Vicksburg

Dear Vicksburg,

This democracy is new-fangled invention which was certainly not ever practiced in Holy Russia before Bolsheviks, whose name I spit on, deposed beloved Tsar and Father and ruin good country. What is God-given form of government? Of course this is autocratic Tsar. Thus to decide which candidate to vote for, determine which will rule most like autocratic Tsar. Which will make arbitrary rules and enforce them or not depending on whim? Which will launch glorious wars to bolster his own renown? Which will do most to make life miserable and therefore increase prayer and dependence on God among peasantry? Vote for this man.

—Father Vasiliy

Metropolitan Jonah enthroned

WASHINGTON, DC (OCA Communications) - On Sunday, December 28, 2008, His Beatitude, the Most Blessed Jonah, Archbishop of Washington and New York, Metropolitan of All America and Canada, was enthroned at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC.

In attendance at the Enthronement were members of the OCA Holy Synod of Bishops and guests representing several Orthodox Churches in North America and abroad. "Unfortunately, because of poor travel conditions in some regions, not all of those who were to take part in the Enthronement were able to join us," said OCA communications director, Archpriest Andrew Jarmus.

Among the guest hierarchs and clergy that were able to attend the Enthronement were His Grace, Bishop Mercurius, Administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in the USA, who represented His Eminence, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Patriarchal Locum tenens of the Church of Russia, His Grace, Bishop Ilia of Philomelion, representing His Beatitude, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres, and All Albania, and His Eminence, Archbishop Abel of Ljublin and Kholm representing His Beatitude, Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland.

Hierarchs from North American jurisdictions taking part in the Enthronement included His Eminence, Metropolitan Christopher of the Serbian Orthodox Mid-western Diocese, His Eminence, Archbishop Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada, His Grace, Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and His Grace, Bishop Jerome of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

"In addition to visiting hierarchs, we welcomed Fr. Mark Arey, the ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who represented the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Archpriest Jan Polansky, representing the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia and Archimandrite Kirill Hovorun who represented the Church of Ukraine."

"We were also honored to have with us the Russian Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency, Mr. Sergei Kislyak," Fr. Andrew noted.

"Among other participants," Fr. Andrew said, "we were looking forward to having Ancient Faith Radio [AFR] join us to broadcast events from the Enthronement on the Internet. Unfortunately, they were among those who were unable come to Washington because of complications with their travel plans. This was disappointing for both the OCA and AFR. However, OCA Communications will be providing AFR with audio files to post on their web site."

Although unable to attend in person, His Eminence, Archbishop Leo of Karelia and All Finland conveyed his greetings in a message read at the Enthronement banquet. Archbishop Leo wrote that the election of Metropolitan Jonah revealed that the vocation of the OCA is to bring to Orthodoxy the hope that affairs in the Church do not always have to be conducted "in the same unproductive way" and hope "that the future can be good." His Eminence said that much that is not possible in Orthodox churches elsewhere in the world can be done in North America, and he encouraged Metropolitan Jonah to continue the OCA's tradition of "innovative continuity."

In his banquet address, Metropolitan Jonah said that the Church can keep the message of hope alive only if all of its members keep their eyes fixed on Jesus Christ alone. He stated that the vision of the Church had been very narrow in the past and that it was time to broaden it to include the work of bringing all people into communion with the Father. He said that this will only be achieved as members of the Church become the living presence of Christ in the world, "going into highways and byways to bring in whoever may come."

His Beatitude also stressed that Orthodox unity in North America is a goal to which all the faithful here must strive. He stated that unity is not only a canonical or institutional imperative, but the will of God. It is God who calls His faithful to put aside the things that separate them from one another. However, Metropolitan Jonah said, the task of achieving unity in North America must be carried out with utmost respect and love for the other Orthodox churches of the world who have faithful here.

His Beatitude called the Enthronement a celebration of new birth in the OCA. Making reference to the process of strategic planning mandated by the 15th All-American Council earlier this year, Metropolitan Jonah said that it was time for the OCA to overcome old ways of being Church and to reevaluate every aspect of its life. This process of reevaluation, he said, must involve the Holy Synod of Bishops, the Metropolitan Council and clergy and faithful from all corners of the Church. He stated that the thing most needful was to put aside personal opinions and preferences for the sake of the Church. "Overcoming ourselves," His Beatitude said, "is a tremendous ascetic act."

Economic downturn affecting church-basement bookstores

From The Onion Dome:

Dusty Icons, the official trade magazine of Orthodox church-basement bookstores, notes in its most recent number that sales at its subscribers' stores have been affected this holiday shopping season by the worldwide economic downturn. Your intrepid Onion Dome editor sought out and was granted an interview with the --

"Is Outrage!" said a familiar voice as I was writing the article.

"What is outrage?" I asked.

"What is this shopping during holy fast?! Was it shopping during holy fast during Nineteenth Century Russia? No it was not! Is outrage!"

"Thank you, Father Vasiliy."

"Is not problem. Goodbye."

-- editor of the publication, Gustav Gustavanov.

OD: So the article in your mag says sales are off this Advent?

GG: Yes, it does.

OD: Can you say more?

GG: Yes. Church bookstores are finding that shoppers are going for lower-priced items, such as those icons on the bottom of the icon rack that nobody has bought since they were first stocked in the late 1970s, whose pricetags have never been changed.

OD: What else are shoppers buying?

GG: We have noticed that people are no longer buying 100-knot chotki, but are going for 33-knot and in some instances those little 10-knot finger ring things that are so cute don't you love them?

OD: Um, yeah. Anything else?

GG: Blockbuster theological bestsellers are sitting untouched while shoppers are buying leftover magazine issues from years past.

OD: Is there anything that is still selling well?

GG: Calendars. Everybody needs a calendar. Would you like one? This is a nice one here. See, every month has a lovely icon of the Theotokos.

OD: Yes, it's lovely, but I fast on the New Calendar and this gives the fasts for the Old Calendar.

GG: Heretic.

OD: Well that about wraps it up for our --

GG: Godless heretic.

OD: Thank you, Gospodin Gustovanov.

GG: Sergianist --

OD: The End.

Heresy of the week

In light of the holiday season (holiday = holy day so please no barbed comments) I gave the heresies a break. Reinvigorated by Christmas-themed tea and treats, I return to the task.


The Greek name (ἀποκαταστασις) for the doctrine that ultimately all free mortal creatures - angels, men, and devils - will share in the grace of salvation. It is to be found in Clement of Alexandria, in Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa. It was strongly attacked by St. Augustine of Hippo and formally condemned in the first anathema against Origenism, probably put out by the Council of Constantinople in AD 543.

- The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church pg. 83

The basic idea is that hell is purgative - that hell is a celestial timeout corner from which the head-strong Kindergartner, given sufficient time, will emerge and be able to rejoin the class. Clement of Alexandria called it a "wise fire" from which sinners are purified.

On Origen, I quote from Eschatology and final restoration (apokatastasis) in Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos the Confessor by Andreas Andreopoulos:

Origen's position follows naturally after two assumptions: that the power of free will remains to the soul after death, and that God has not created an eternal place of damnation. Augustine, on the other hand, believed hell to be eternal and also created specifically for the punishment of the sinful, and influenced, probably unfortunately, the entire Western Christian tradition. Origen saw the entrapment of the logikoi (rational intellects) in matter, as well as the flames of hell, both as a punishment and as a means of rehabilitation, so that they can be "encouraged" to return to God. Furthermore, he writes elsewhere (De Principiis 2 X 8) that hell is not eternal. "There is resurrection of the dead, and there is punishment, but not everlasting. For when the body is punished the soul is gradually purified, and so restored to its ancient rank. For all wicked men, and for demons, too, punishment has an end, and both wicked men and demons shall be restored to their former rank."

His beliefs were anathematized in the 10 anathemas against Origen. Here are the two cited against his universalist beliefs:

  • 7. Whoever maintains that the Lord Christ, as [he was] for human beings, will in the world to come also be crucified for the demons - let him be anathema.
  • 9. Whoever maintains that the punishment of the demons and godless human beings are temporal[ly limited], and that after a specified time they will have an end, that is to say there will be a restoration [apokatastasis] of demons or godless human beings - let him be anathema

Also from the Andreopoulos paper, Gregory of Nyssa:

Gregory of Nyssa in On the Soul and the Resurrection 7 and in the Catechetical Oration 26 followed Origen in that the fire of hell has a purifying role and is, therefore, not eternal. He goes even further in his argument however, positing that since evil has no real existence, its "relative" existence will be completely annihilated at the end of time. According to how much the souls are attached to the material condition, purification may be instant or long and painful. Gregory compared purification by the fire of hell to the chemical purification of gold by fire, and to a muddy rope that is cleaned when passed through a small hole. Although his images seem dangerously dualist, we should not forget that evil for Gregory has no real existence, and therefore what he presents is no more than the destruction of everything that was not created by God in the first place. In both writings mentioned above, he stated his belief in the final restoration of all: "When, over long periods of time, evil has been removed and those now lying in sin have been restored to their original state, all creation will join in united thanksgiving, both those whose purification has involved punishment and those who never needed purification at all" (Catechetical Oration 26).

Met. Kallistos (Ware) has a fine statement on the matter that will close out this topic:

"Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God. It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. Until the Last Day comes, we must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception. No one must be excluded from our loving intercession. ‘What is a merciful heart?’ asked Isaac the Syrian. ‘It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures.’Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the Devil."

- The Orthodox Church

Christmas in Iraq

Baghdad (Time) - The Catholic Church of Mar Yousif is modest and unassuming from the outside. On Christmas morning, a maze of cars obstructed the street in front, presenting a hundred-foot long physical barrier to any would-be car bomber. The faithful have learned to be cautious: their church is nestled in the Mansur district of Baghdad that was formerly home to some of the city's worst insurgent activity.

But the war seems almost distant once you get past the church doors. Inside, chandeliers from high ceilings illuminated a Christmas morning with nearly a thousand Iraqi Catholics filling row after row of packed pews -- more than the building has seen in years.

This year marks the first time in Iraq that Christmas is an official national holiday. Congregants at Mar Yousif (St. Joseph's) said they felt hopeful about the future, and many spoke earnestly about their optimism for the country, now enjoying the lowest level of violence since 2003. But others noted that even as conditions in Baghdad improve, Iraq's persecuted Christian minority continues to stream out of the country. At Mar Yousif's service on Christmas morning, the head priest, Pios Cacha, who has seen his congregation dwindle from 1,200 families to 650 since the U.S. invasion, led a sermon that was straightforward: Iraqi Christians should come back to Iraq and start rebuilding their broken country, and their community.

"Why are we afraid? We should not be afraid of the terrorists. When we were born, we were free," thundered Cacha from a red carpeted stage. He urged his congregation to embrace friendship, brotherhood, and open minds. "We need to teach the new generation how to live," he said.

Sectarian violence in the five-and-a-half years since the invasion has forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee the country, many of them to neighboring Syria and Jordan. Mansur, the predominantly Sunni district that houses Mar Yousif, was a dangerous insurgent stronghold until one year ago. And in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where many of the Syriac Catholic congregants hail from, the persecution continues. In February, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and murdered. Over a dozen others were killed this fall in direct religious targeting.

"People are still thinking about leaving. From their point of view, things are still bad, like in education and health," says Maha Selma, who sat in the front row of Mar Yousif with her elderly parents. "Those who leave don't come back."

On Christmas morning, Monsignor Pios Cacha led a service in which Arabic hymns mingled with long, chanted prayers in Aramaic, and even a few tunes in English from the young mixed gender choir. "We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas," they sang to the accompaniment of a keyboard. As Cacha stood at the altar, his traditional sermon about Jesus and Bethlehem also mixed with pragmatic appeals for peace and reconstruction.

"I'm asking all the Christian brothers to come back and rebuild the new Iraq," he told his audience, adding that he had stayed through the worst years of the violence, during which he took on the leadership of two additional churches whose priests had fled. After the service, others in the congregation echoed his pride.

"My sister and her family are in America now as humanitarian refugees in Chicago. But they feel like strangers there, and they miss this atmosphere," says Ghassan Khudher, a pediatrician who has attended Mar Yousif on Christmas for the past 10 years. "Here there is still fear for our families and our children," he says to me. "But I don't like being outside [Iraq], because your country is not like Iraq."

As the service wound to a close around noon, families swarmed across the red carpets to receive communion from white-robed priests. One cleric later donned a Santa mask and hat to pass out toy trucks and pink purses to a crowd of screaming children.

As the congregants headed home, a car bomb exploded in Shula, a predominantly Shi'ite neighborhood northwest of Mansur, the AP reported. The bomb appeared to have been targeted at the Iraqi police.

MOSUL, Iraq (NY Times) — Iraqi Christians in the northern city of Mosul say this year has been the worst in living memory. After a wave of killings and attacks in October, more than 2,000 families fled to nearby villages.

Mosul remains one of the most dangerous places in Iraq and a stubborn holdout of the insurgency, but security has improved enough that at least half of those families have returned. On Thursday, they braved the violence and biting cold and rain to attend Christmas Masses and pray for their safety.

At the nearly thousand-year-old Chaldean church of Miskinta, where a bomb had exploded in October and graffiti praising the insurgency remains on a nearby wall, about 50 parishioners followed a deacon outside to the courtyard, where a fire was lighted to symbolize the birth of Christ.

Many tried to hold back tears as they prayed for “the rebirth of tormented Iraq to a new life of forgiveness and compassion.”

Among those attending the Mass was Fadi Ammar, 5, who lost his father and another relative in a bombing in the Mosul Al-Jadida neighborhood of the city on Dec. 1, which killed 21 people. The family had just returned to Mosul after fleeing in October to their ancestral village in the adjacent Nineveh Plain, which, although part of the province that includes Mosul, is now under the effective protection of Kurds from the semiautonomous Kurdistan region and is considered significantly safer than Mosul.

Another Mass, at St. Paul’s on the east side of the city, was held on Wednesday afternoon instead of on Christmas Eve because of security precautions.

To the extent that security has improved, it is thanks largely to the nearly 3,000 national police officers sent here from Baghdad to bolster the local force in October.

But many of the Christians who have returned said they did so because they were inspired by the determination and faith of one priest and a handful of nuns to remain in the city against the odds.

At St. Paul’s, Mikhail Ibrahim said the only reason he returned to Mosul after fleeing for a few weeks with his family was because of his faith in the Rev. Basman George Fatouhi, the Chaldean Church’s de facto leader in Mosul.

“He was the only one who stayed and took care of the community,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “He told us to come back and we did.”

Father Fatouhi, a charismatic 27-year-old priest, was thrust into the effective leadership of the Chaldean Church in Mosul after the kidnapping and death this year of its leader, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho. Archbishop Rahho’s closest aide, another senior figure in the church, was killed in 2007.

Father Fatouhi had negotiated with the archbishop’s kidnappers, who abducted the archbishop after a church service and killed three of his companions.

Their demands went from $300,000 to $20,000, but after the lesser sum was paid the negotiators were told that the archbishop had died in captivity because he did not have his diabetes medication.

Father Fatouhi and another church member dug his body out of a shallow grave and took it to the morgue.

Since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians have been hit hard, particularly in parts of Baghdad and Mosul. Numerous churches and the Chaldean archdiocese building in Mosul were bombed, and many priests and parishioners were killed or kidnapped for ransom.

The largest Christian denomination is the Chaldean Church, an Eastern Rite church that is part of the Roman Catholic Church but maintains its own customs and liturgy.

Attacks on Chaldeans are just one element in Mosul’s stew of simmering ethnic, political and sectarian tensions.

Mosul is home to a mix of Sunni insurgents once linked to Saddam Hussein and to the home-grown group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Nineveh Province is also the contested buffer zone between the central government and the semiautonomous Kurdistan region. About 5,000 American soldiers are stationed in the province.

There is ample evidence to suggest that many of the kidnappings and killings of Christians were carried out by Sunni militant groups and that ransom money has gone to finance the insurgency. But there is increased talk among Christians and the central government in Baghdad that the violence may be the work of Kurds who want to push Christians in Nineveh to ask to have their historic lands absorbed into the relative safety of Kurdistan.

Kurdish leaders strongly deny those charges.

Also on Christmas, a roadside bombing in western Mosul killed two civilians and wounded five, Iraqi security officials said.

A car bomb left at a crowded riverside park was dismantled by American forces before blowing up, according to several witnesses. And an American soldier was killed in an “indirect fire attack” near the city, the military said.

Amid the violence, the few remaining church leaders like Father Fatouhi and Sister Autour Yousif, who also belongs to the Chaldean Church, are working against the tide to keep their faith alive.

During the depths of the crisis in October, they were not only providing moral and spiritual support, but often venturing out at great risk to buy food and provisions for families who were too scared to even go to the market. They have also been determined to maintain church services in some of the most dangerous parts of the city.

On numerous occasions the pair have found themselves carrying out the grim task of collecting the bodies of Christians from the morgue because their families were too afraid to do it.

Sister Yousif is among three nuns at a convent next to the Miskinta church who have refused to leave Mosul. They care for 27 orphan girls and reach out to Muslims and Christians alike.

“We are like the rest of the people,” she said. “We will remain until they all leave. The poor need us.”

In his homily on Thursday, Father Fatouhi compared Jesus to a flame that continued to “warm the hearts” of the faithful during difficult and trying times.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A no to phone or Internet confessions

CAIRO (Directions to Orthodoxy) – Egypt's Coptic pope has banned the faithful from confessing their sins to priests over the telephone because intelligence agents might be listening in, a newspaper reported on Friday.

Confessions over the telephone are forbidden, because there is a chance the telephones are monitored and the confessions will reach state security," the independent Al-Masri Al-Yom quoted Pope Shenouda III as saying.

The leader of the Coptic minority also said confessions over the Internet were invalid because they might be read by web surfers.

"A confession over the Internet does not count as a confession, because everybody can look at it and it won't be secret," he said.

Priests are strictly bound to respect the privacy of confession, even in the face of threatened punishment, and many countries' legal systems specifically protect the "seal of the confessional."

Coptic Patriarch Anba Morcos told AFP that people have begun to phone in their confessions.

"It's a new thing; it's been happening for the past four or five years," he said.

Morcos added that Pope Shenouda has also banned monks in Coptic monasteries from using cell phones.

"The monk is supposed to be secluded from the world. But the mobile phone brings the world to him," he said, adding that monastery administrators were allowed to keep their cell phones.

The Vatican does not recognise confessions by telephone or over the Internet.

Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, has said "confession requires the physical presence of the priest and the penitent.

"Privacy is absolutely not guaranteed on Internet, and there is no certainty as to the identity of the two parties to the communication. You can't have confession by e-mail, any more than you can have it by telephone or letter."

An interview with Metropolitan Jonah (OCA)

Voices from Russia has an interview with Metropolitan Jonah on a few topics (next Patriarch of Moscow, the OCA, Orthodoxy in the New World).

Andrei Shitov: Vladyki, how did Orthodoxy arrive in America? How many Orthodox are there in the USA? What is the general state of Orthodoxy in America, in your opinion?

Metropolitan Jonas: Orthodoxy was originally brought to America by Russian missionaries. With great care, we preserved their spiritual heritage and the influence of Russian traditions is very strong. In total, there are less than one million active Orthodox in the USA. We have about 2,500 parishes and hundreds of monasteries (sic) in the USA. Of these, the OCA has about 650 parishes and 20 monasteries. 30 parishes are directly under the Moscow Patriarchate and the ROCOR has some 100 parishes. There are some 15 different church jurisdictions operating in America. The OCA has about 100,000 active parishioners and it is the second-largest bloc after the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

As a whole, I would say that Orthodoxy here is still very much a “carryover” from the Old World, in the OCA it is still basically Russian, and the GOA is still basically Greek. By no means has it become a completely “American” phenomenon. However, the essence of the Faith, not the specific cultural expressions of it, is what is important, that we maintain the fullness of our spiritual traditions. This is what we mean when we use the term sobornost (a word weakly translated as “catholicity” or “collegiality”, but, it is much more: editor’s note). I desire that our church should remain a part of the single Orthodox pleroma, but, that it would also acquire some distinctive American features over time.

Andrei Shitov: Please, if you would, describe the relationship of the OCA to the MP.

Metropolitan Jonas: Our church is the “daughter” of the MP. We have had very close relations with the MP, especially after our autocephaly in 1970, and these ties deepened after the fall of the Soviet régime. The OCA became a major source of financial support for the MP...

Complete article here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Orthodox-Catholic vespers service held in Worchester

As posted a few weeks ago here, a joint Catholic-Orthodox vespers was held Worchester, MA with a service to be help at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in March.

(CFP) - Father Gregory Christakos, associate pastor of St. Spyridon Cathedral, was raving about the Greek Orthodox-Roman Catholic vespers that had just concluded at St. Paul Cathedral Sunday.

“It was so moving,” he explained. “It’s not just discussing and dialoguing about unity, but actually worshipping together.”

“It’s wonderful because it brings us together,” said Alberto Huaman, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. “Some of my best friends are Orthodox.” Now he’s looking forward to the vespers at St. Spyridon’s in March, he said.

Both services were planned for the Year of St. Paul, which Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated June 28 to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the apostle’s birth. The pope expressed pleasure that Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople also arranged for a Pauline year for his faithful.

Sunday Bishop McManus told Metropolitan Methodios, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, that his presence and the presence of his clergy and laity honored the Worcester Diocese and added ecumenical significance to the diocese’s celebration of the Year of St. Paul.

He gave the Metropolitan and Father Dean Paleologos, dean of St. Spyridon’s, copies of the image of St. Paul which parishes in the Worcester Diocese had received at a diocesan Mass inaugurating the jubilee year.

Vespers, or evening prayer, is part of the Liturgy of the Hours clergy and religious pray daily in the Latin Church. It is very similar in the Greek Orthodox Church, said Father Robert K. Johnson, director of the Worcester Diocese’s Office for Worship.

Sunday’s vespers began with members of the Orthodox Church singing The Great Doxologies in Greek by the Easter candle. The congregation’s candles were then lit from it, as at the Easter Vigil. This Lucernarium, of one of the rites of solemn vespers, proclaims Jesus as light of the world, Father Johnson said. In the ancient church there was a practical purpose for lighting the lamps, and it later became a ritual, he said.

The vespers also included a reading from St. John Chrysostom, the singing of intercessions and a Marian hymn in Greek and other hymns and Psalms, led by the St. Paul Cathedral Choir, in English.

In his homily Metropolitan Methodios expressed appreciation for the deepening bond between Catholics and Orthodox and hope for eventual “full ecclesiastical unity.”

He said he and Bishop McManus were replicating the examples of the partriarch and pope and expressed appreciation for the presence of Bishops Reilly and Rueger. He noted that Bishop Flanagan and Archbishop Iakovos, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of North and South America, first opened Orthodox-Catholic dialogue in the United States.

“The ecumenical movement is not an option, but, in obedience to the will of God, an imperative in our ministry,” the Metropolitan said in his prepared remarks.

“This Christmas in the darkness that surrounds us, the light of the world…comes to grant…salvation,” he said. He mentioned war, terrorism, financial worries and hunger. He said Catholics and Orthodox are “distressed that our nation is permeated with tragedy, violence…scandals,” horrified by abortion and ashamed that kindergarteners are exposed to “unethical lifestyles.” In Washington, D.C., buses have posters which say, “You don’t have to believe in God, just ‘be good for goodness sake,’” he said.

“The angel speaks of tidings of great joy for us who listen in faith this Christmas,” he said. “Whatever the circumstances in our personal lives and the life of the world, Jesus is, for those who believe, the Savior.”

He quoted Revelation 3:20: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with me.”

“The question is whether we will notice Christ this Christmas, whether we will have time to dine with him,” he said. “This Christmas, the infant Savior comes to renew our way of thinking, to reorder the priorities in our lives, to free us from the bondage of sin.” Only by inviting the incarnate Savior in can people better the world, he said.

“United, let us proclaim that the Lord lives and that ‘whoever believes in him will have eternal life,’” he said.

At the informal reception afterwards, John Smithhisler, president and CEO of St. Vincent Hospital, said the Metropolitan’s words “can inspire us during the Christmas season to begin to make a change,” and become a more morally based people.

“The Church needs to speak with one voice to our culture,” said Father Kenneth DeVoie, of Emmanuel Orthodox Church in Warren, an Antiochian Orthodox Church. “The division doesn’t help us. The culture is in some way pushing the Church back together.”

“It’s this huge family that’s been alienated for years, and you finally run across members of the family,” Dwain Robbins, of St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge, said of the Catholics and Orthodox. “You understand the connection that you have with them.”

“We’re very elated,” said Christopher Lekas of St. Spyridon’s. “As his eminence said in his homily, hopefully someday we’ll all be able to praise Jesus in one Church. That’s my prayer.”

“It’s for me a very significant thing,” Metropolitan Methodios told The Catholic Free Press after the vespers. “It’s another manifestation of our tireless efforts to share in the Holy Eucharist. I’m very happy that there’s such close relations between Catholics and Orthodox here in Worcester.”

“I think it’s a historic celebration in the life of the Diocese of Worcester,” Bishop McManus said. “What Bishop Flanagan began 40 years ago continues tonight in this cathedral celebration.”

Ah... snow.

A prayer on this day of His Nativity

A quick post of the Ambon Prayer from last night that I found profound and moving. Merry Christmas to all. Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Glory to you, O Christ our God, "without father, without mother or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life." For in your eternal birth a woman had no part, nor a man in your becoming flesh in time. You did not make the divine nature a slave, but while remaining Lord and Master of all, you put on the human nature. You sit at the right hand of the Father, but were hidden by the cave and manger. The Magi honor you with their gifts, the heavenly hosts glorify you in song, the shepherds watch in joy, and the angels praise you with a loud voice. With them, we, your sinful and unworthy servants, have arrived at this brilliant and solemn feast of your birth, and offer you these hymns and spiritual songs: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all in your good will." O Lover of us all, receive our lowly praise, and bestow on us in return the riches of your mercy. Give us a peaceful life subject to your will, grant peace on earth to our country and to all nations, and make all of us heirs of the kingdom of heaven, through the prayers of our most pure Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary. For you are the King of peace, and we give glory to you, to your Father without beginning, and to your all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and forever.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Presentation of relics a sign of warming relations

Kemerovo 12/22/2008 (ACN) – During these days of Advent there are once again clear signs of a warming between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church in Russia. During a solemn Orthodox Liturgy on 19 December, Catholic Bishop Josef Werth of the diocese of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Novosibirsk formally presented Russian Orthodox Bishop Aristarch of Kemerovo and Nowokuznesk (Siberia) with a relic of Saint Nicholas. This solemn Liturgy, which was also attended by the apostolic Nuncio in the Russian Federation, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, was being held to celebrate the Russian feast of Saint Nicholas in the Orthodox cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kemerovo which, despite the fact that it was a weekday, was filled to overflowing.

In his address at the solemn ceremony, Bishop Aristarch described the gift as "a true sign of love and esteem between the Russian Orthodox and the Catholic Church". And he repeatedly underlined the joy of the faithful over this relic, emphasising that both Eastern and Western Christianity share a common veneration for numerous saints.

(From left to right: Bishop Aristarch, Nuncio Mennini and Bishop Werth)

Bishop Josef Werth, who described Bishop Aristarch as his "brother in the episcopate", for his part emphasised that this day was an example of how relations between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church could be. He stated: Orthodox and Catholic bishops, priests and faithful are meeting with one another and praying to the same Lord. I am certain that in future the same kind of cordial relationships will also develop in other cities and towns of Siberia."

The apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, explained that the presentation of this relic was intended as a "gesture of fraternal love" on the part of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who had personally expressed the wish that it should be handed to the Orthodox bishop and faithful of Kemerovo. He explained that for the Catholic Church it was important to continue the dialogue with the Orthodox Church and to make use of every possible means of deepening it.

Representatives of both churches were in agreement in describing the event as "historic". Peter Humeniuk, who is responsible for the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need's contacts both with the Catholic Church in Russia and with the Russian Orthodox Church and who was also present at the handover ceremony, remarked, "People often talk only about the thousand year division between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church. And yet Christians in East and West can look back on a thousand years of shared history, during which Christians were not divided." He added that in today's society Christians of all denominations were facing numerous joint challenges and observed that Saint Nicholas, who in both traditions is regarded as the patron saint of seafarers, could thus "be our companion and guide during these stormy times".

(Bp. Aristarch of Kemerovo, in front of icon of St. Nicolas and the relics of St. Nicolas handed over to him by bishop Josef Werth and Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation, Abp. Antonio Mennini)

The international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has for over 10 years now maintained good contacts with the young eparchy of Kemerovo and already had close links with the predecessor of Bishop Aristarch. Peter Humeniuk remarked that Kemerovo was an example of continuing good relations between the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Church.

A number of Catholic priests and faithful from Kemerovo took part as invited guests at the Liturgy. One Catholic woman remarked, "I am overwhelmed. Yesterday evening our Catholic community celebrated Mass in our chapel with Bishop Werth and Archbishop Mennini, and we too had an Orthodox priest with us as a guest. It was a very beautiful occasion. During the Lord's Prayer we all joined hands. I was standing next to the Orthodox priest and we all prayed the Our Father together as brothers and sisters. And now today this ceremony together in the Orthodox cathedral. A world like this is what I dream of -- I am so happy!"

The city of Kemerovo is situated some 2,100 miles (3,400 km) east of Moscow in the Kusbas region.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Abuse support group requests censure of Met. Isaiah

(Pokrov) - A top Greek Orthodox church official is being harshly criticized for claiming that five men who reached a multi-million dollar child sex abuse settlement actually made up allegations.

Leaders of a support group for survivors of abuse in the Orthodox Churches are writing to Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis and the other members of the ruling body of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). They want that group to discipline Metropolitan Isaiah Chronopoulos and force him to apologize for accusing the five men of lying.

In October, the men settled their lawsuit against Fr. Nicholas Katinas and numerous church entities. But two weeks ago, Chronopoulos publicly accused these victims of making false charges in that action. He made his allegations in a letter sent to all members of his Denver-based diocese, as well as posting them on the diocesan website.

“Chronopoulos should explain and apologize for his hurtful claims,” said Melanie Jula Sakoda of Moraga, California. She is a co-founder of a San Francisco-based support group called Pokrov.org. “Church officials can’t have their cake and eat it too. They can’t pay millions to avoid an embarrassing public trial which will expose their complicity in child sex crimes, yet afterwards pretend the victims are lying.

In a December 22nd letter, sent by fax and email to Trakatellis and the denomination’s Synod of Bishops, Sakoda writes, “Pokrov.org has in its files material submitted to the court before the case was sealed. Contrary to the metropolitan’s claim, there was indeed evidence supporting the allegations of a cover-up.”

“It’s disgraceful for the metropolitan to claim that ‘there was no cover-up by anyone in the parish or at the Metropolis’ when the claims against both the church and the diocese were dismissed in the confidential settlement agreement.”

Katinas was defrocked in July of 2007 because of child sexual abuse allegations by other men. There is also another lawsuit pending in Illinois against Katinas and the Greek Church.

Pokrov.org went online in June of 1999. It was founded by three Orthodox women who wanted to see the problem of sexual abuse in the Orthodox churches addressed. Pokrov is the Russian word for protection. There are a dozen or more Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States in addition to the GOA.

Metropolitan Isaiah oversees the Denver diocese of the GOA, which includes some 50 churches in an area from Montana to Texas. His title, Metropolitan, is one given to some Orthodox bishops. The metropolitan previously come under fire from Pokrov.org for taking almost four years to try the case of another priest accused of child sexual abuse. That clergyman, Fr. Gabriel Barrow, who worked in Toledo, Ohio, and Houston, Texas, was defrocked by the Greek Church in May of 2005.

Evagrius and the ladies

So I've continued reading Four Desert Fathers and just finished the section on Evagrius Ponticus, the great Coptic monk and ascetic. What struck me was his continuous battle with lust. Throughout his life, before his life in the desert and while he lived there, he struggled with the "demons of lust." For him there were different types of demons that attempted to turn people from the right path. Wikipedia encapsulates this well:

The eight patterns of evil thought are gluttony, lust, greed, sadness, acedia, anger, vainglory, and pride. While he did not create the list from scratch, he certainly refined it. Some years later, Pope Gregory I would revise this list to form the more common Seven Deadly Sins.

Additionally, for him much of our failings are caused by gluttony and that the solution to this is a strict and continuous asceticism to prepare the person for the demons when they come to tempt you.

The story of Deacon Evagrius begins in Constantinople with him lusting for a married woman. He tries, through prayer and keeping a sensible distance, to stay away from her, but she grows mad and makes a public spectacle of herself. In the midst of this turmoil a dream comes to him; God sends an angel dressed as a soldier who binds him in chains and puts a collar around his neck. He knows in the dream that this is punishment for his - as yet unconsummated - relationship with the woman. The scene changes and now the angel takes the form of a friend. The angel asks him why he thinks he is in this state, to which Evagrius claims ignorance. The angel then asks him if he will leave the city to avoid this future punishment. He agrees, wakes up and packs, and leaves immediately for Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem he again succumbs to "vain habits and bodily pleasure" by dressing lavishly - changing clothes twice a day and living it up. He becomes gravely ill to the consternation of his doctors. St. Melania tells him that this is punishment for his recent actions and that, if he wants to recover, he must leave and become a monk. Days later he is hale and hearty, puts on monastic garb, and walks to Egypt.

In the caves of Egypt and still tempted by lust he asks his abbot how to escape the demon of fornication. The abbot replies, "Do not eat anything in order to be filled up, neither fruit nor anything cooked over fire." This rule he keeps for eight years until his body can no longer survive. He allows himself small amounts of cooked barley, but no more.

Years later the demons again attack him. He stands naked in a cistern through the icy desert night until his skin is "as hard as a rock."

Many other stories remain dealing with his battles with the demons and his advice to others who were doing the same. It made me wonder, late at night, how this response to God's call would be taken by his neighbors today. What would the response be to an emaciated man wearing rags, living in a cave, and eating what he found on the ground? What would they say if they saw him standing outside in ice-cold water praying through the night? Would people publicly condemn him for his woman chasing or sartorial splendor? Would he be vilified or told that the "heart wants what it wants"?

The simple irony is that the greater dominion the demons of whatever caste (e.g. lust, greed, pride) control the less seriously we take the sway they have over us.

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and euthanasia

From Moscow:

Moscow, December 22, (Interfax) - Locum tenens Metropolitan Kirill has supported Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, who refused to sign into law a bill legalizing euthanasia in his country, referring to the fact that it contradicts traditional Christian values.

"Your decision is an example of courage and loyalty to beliefs which inspire the majority of European residents. I believe that the protection of traditional values of peoples on the European continent will help maintain the basement of our common house," Metropolitan Kirill's letter to Grand Duke Henri posted on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate on Monday reads.

The locum tenens pointed out that the Russian Orthodox Church supports maintaining traditional moral values all over Europe. Late Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia stated the need to protect traditional moral values in European countries for the sake of the future from the PACE rostrum last year. And this June, the Russian Orthodox Church's Archbishop Council adopted the basics of teachings of human dignity, his freedoms and rights, which deal with the fact that it is unacceptable to introduce norms "eroding or canceling both the evangelic and natural morals" to the human rights sphere.

"The legal provision of the right to euthanasia is an example of how traditional morals are destroyed," Metropolitan Kirill said.

"The legalization of euthanasia encroaches on the sacred gift of life, reverent attitude to which was nurtured in Europe's Christian culture for years," he said.

"The Russian Orthodox Church, as well as other religious communities in Europe, opposes the recognition of the right to euthanasia, which humiliates human dignity and perverts the professional duty of doctors, who are called to save not end life," the metropolitan said.

"Christians know about sufferings of those terminally ill. They pray that their sufferings are soothed and give them assistance and help. It is absolutely unacceptable to kill the afflicted and help them commit suicide," the letter reads.

According to earlier reports, Grand Duke Henri refused to sign into law a bill allowing euthanasia in Luxembourg on December 1. According to Luxembourgian laws, the grand duke can shelf bills approved by the parliament for three months but cannot veto them.

Luxembourgian MPs then almost unanimously passed a bill limiting the powers of the grand dukes and again passed the euthanasia bill, with 31 backing, 26 opposing it and three abstaining. Controversies over this bill led Luxembourg to a crisis of authorities, and this confrontation could downgrade the Luxembourgian constitutional monarchy to a mere formality. If the bill takes effect, Luxembourg could become the third EU country with legalized euthanasia after the Netherlands and Belgium.

From Rome:
(ANSA) - Vatican City, December 18 - Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday urged the Luxembourg parliament not to legalise euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, expressing deep concern for such an ''evil'' law. In accepting the credentials of Paul Ruhr, the largely-Catholic state's new ambassador to the Vatican, the German pontiff said lawmakers should always ''reaffirm the greatness and inviolable nature of human life''.

Lawmakers, doctors and families should bear in mind that ''a deliberate decision to deprive innocent humans of their lives is always evil from a moral point of view and can never be lawful''.

Luxembourg will become the third European Union country to legalisize euthanasia once revisions in the bill - which has already passed first reading - are approved.

The Netherlands did so in 2002 and Belgium followed suit in 2003. The bill, which is due to be approved later on Thursday, would allow those with incurable diseases to die if they repeatedly asked to do so and had the consent of two doctors and a panel of experts. In a new doctrinal document released last week the Vatican reiterated its condemnation of abortion, euthanasia contraception, the so-called 'morning after pill' and all uses of embryos in research.

Top Vatican officials have also recently spoken out in several controversial cases where terminally ill patients were allowed to die, sometimes by having life-sustaining therapy suspended.

Catholic doctrine states that human life must be defended from conception to natural death, hence it is unacceptable to kill embryoes or to let a terminally ill person die, even if he has requested this.

Last month the Church criticized the World Health Organization's 60-year-old definition of health, warning it could pave the way for euthanasia.

A front-page editorial in the official Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano said the widely accepted definition was dangerously broad.

WHO defines health as ''a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity''.

''If the individual makes the final decision on what constitutes illness, he may end up claiming that life itself is an illness in his personal view, resulting in the provision of structures and means to bring it to an end,'' warned the commentary, written by Carlo Bellieni.

''This is what happens in Switzerland. A study by the Fond National Suisse de la Recherche Scientifique shows that 30% of assisted suicide cases do not involve someone affected by a terminal illness but individuals such as the 23-year-old Briton unable to bear a second-class existence in a wheelchair''.

The almost entirely paralysed rugby player, who travelled to Switzerland in September with his parents, is one of several right-to-die cases to draw media attention in recent months.

Italy's highest appeals court in November issued a landmark ruling that authorised doctors to switch off the life support system of a woman trapped in an irreversible coma for the past 16 years.

The Court of Cassation ruling was hailed by the woman's father who has been fighting for ten years against Catholic officials and politicians who support the Vatican's position that removing a feeding tube is tantamount to murder.

The Church has also spoken out against living wills, which allow people to specify what steps should be taken if they are no longer able to make decisions in the future. Some clarification here: The Church has warned the laity to not sign living wills that contravene the Church's teaching and to appoint a surrogate as someone who can make decisions for you should you be unable to (see this article from the NCBC).

It recently expressed the view that medical advances meant brain death should no longer be accepted as the legal definition of death.

Armenian Church has no status in Georgia

(PanARMENIAN) - Armenian Church doesn’t have any status in Georgia. The other religious minorities experience the same problem, the head of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church said.

“We were offered a status of a non-governmental organization but we rejected. We urge the Georgian authorities either to pass a law on religion or conclude an agreement with the religious minorities, recognizing them as artificial persons,” bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan said. I don't think they meant "artificial."

At the same time, he remarked that the intelligentsia and clergy should not involve the flock in the problem of return of churches. “This problem should be resolved at the highest level and religious fanatics should not instigate national hostility. Georgians should understand that Armenians are not crazy to lay claims to a Georgian Church in Tbilisi,” he said.

The Georgian Patriarchate doesn’t comment on the issue. “It’s well known that Georgian and Armenian churches differ on belonging of the historical religious monument, what Armenians call Norashen (pictured above right). A commission consisting of professional experts will be formed to deal with the issue,” says the statement published by the Patriarchate on December 8.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"My beloved creations..." a message from Abp. Demetrios

Setting up a readers service is hard

I've been tasked with organizing and conducting Reader-led vespers services during the week beginning next year. I have to learn:

  • Learn those things proper to priests and clergy and those which I can do. Also, what replacements should be made where.

  • Learn the samohlasen tones.
Samohlasen – literally “same tone;” the name given to the musical family of
eight tones (i.e. formulas) used to sing certain texts in Vespers, Matins, and other
  • Learn the stichera from the Octoechos for the week I'm doing the service and stichera for the saint of the day based on the specific saint or the common class of saint (martyr, hierarch, venerable, fool for Christ, etc.).
Octoechos - meaning the "Eight Modes", is the fundamental structure for classifying and describing modes (echos) in Byzantine music.

Sticheron – literally “verse;” a generic term for ecclesiastical hymns sung alternately
with psalm verses, particularly at the Lamp-lighting Psalms of Vespers and the
Psalms of Praise at Matins.
  • Learn the Prypivy (Cantor Verses) in the Eight Tones for Vespers and Matins.
  • Learn when and how to cense the parish and the people therein.
  • Learn a lot more...
At the moment I feel like I'm putting a puzzle together. Some sections of vespers my family already does for evening prayers, some I am used to through experience as a parishioner, and some are completely confounding to me.

Please pray for me!

Joint declaration from Jerusalem's hierarchs

JERUSALEM, DEC. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org) - Here is the Christmas message signed by 13 patriarchs and heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem.

Dear Sisters & Brothers


As we prepare to celebrate Christmas there seems to be even more, darkness, conflict and despair in the world around us. That means for us, as Christians, we must think even more carefully and deeply about Jesus -- the baby born in Bethlehem's stable.

Many people are afraid of the dark whether it be the absence of light around them or fear of the unknown in their personal lives or the world at large.

Despite all this we need to think and mediate about Jesus:

"A light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower." (John 1:5)

St. John's Gospel goes on to remind us of the facts of Jesus' birth:

"That he was born into a world which did not recognize him and a people that did not receive him." (John 1:10-11)

So, as we approach another Christmas we must show the world around us that Jesus is a light in the dark which never goes out, a burning light which takes the terror from the night and moreover, a light on which we should fix our eyes not least when the clouds appear to be gathering around us.

Just as the baby in the stable is the focal point of our Christmas celebrations, so we must affirm and witness to the fact that Jesus is the light which shines out from our personal and corporate lives at all times.

Again and again we need to ask ourselves "What would Jesus do, what would Jesus say". Then, our thoughts and ideas of His actions and words must be translated into the daily life of our community -- particularly in this Holy Land.

Similarly, we have to convince the world's political leaders that the true peace will only come on earth when we seek God's will for his people … not least through the words and actions of Jesus. Nor must we belittle the fact, affirmed in St. John's Gospel, that to all who accept Jesus, He gives power to become the Children of God.

This means we must stand alongside all who suffer around us -- the hungry, the homeless, the unemployed and the bereaved since Jesus tells us that when we help others we are doing it to Him as thought He were suffering for them.

To stand alongside also involves us in action. We need the light of Christ to shine on this Land to enable us to work more realistically for a two state solution which would end the burden of restrictions arising out of Occupation.

(So we pray for the president-elect of the United States that he and other world leaders may see the urgent need for peace in the Middle East and not least in this Land).

We need also to see the situation in which many are suffering in Gaza in the light of Christ and make a determined effort to bring them urgent relief.

Moreover, we must never forget our duty to point our children and young people to the light of Christ assuring them that, through Jesus we all have hope for a better world.

Then we would greet our Sisters and Brothers across the world -- not least the thousands who have visited this Holy Land recently. It is important to recall that you are walking in the footsteps of Jesus and when you pause to see the plight of many of your fellow Christians that you respond as you believe He would.

We are conscious of all who suffer across the world but for all we believe the only way forward is to see people and situations in "The light of Christ".

Be assured of our good wishes and prayers for all of you as Christmas approaches and may God's blessing be on your homes and families.

"Walk in the light and the light will illumine your path,
Walk in the truth and the truth will set you free,
Walk in the way of peace and you will have, through Christ,
The peace which passes understanding."

(Prayers of the Way: by John Johansen-berg).

Jerusalem December 2008

Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

H.B. Patriarch Theophilos III Greek Orthodox Church
H.B. Patriarch Fouad Twal Roman Catholic Church
H.B. Patriarch Torkom Manooghian Armenian Orthodox Church
Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham Coptic Orthodox Church
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad Syrian Orthodox Church
Archbishop Abouna Mathias Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Archbishop Paul Sayyah The Maronite Church
Archbishop Youssef Jules Zreyi The Greek Melkite Church
The Rt. Revd. Suhiel Dawani The Anglican Church
The Rt. Revd. Mounib Younan The Lutheran Church
The Rt. Revd. Pierre Malki The Syrian Catholic Church
Father Rafael Minassian The Armenian Catholic Church

Ukrainian Orthodox representatives visit Rome

(UOC) - On December 15, in the morning the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox church were received by Ambassador extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine at the Holy See Izhevska T.I.. Archbishop Anthony granted her the order of "1020 years of the Baptism of Rus".

Thereafter the meeting of the delegation of the Ukrainian Orthodox church with the head of Pontifical Council for Promotion of the Christian Unity cardinal Walter Casper took place. Taking part in the meeting were the co-workers of the Council. In the course of the meeting some important issues were raised, in particular, the problem of schism in the Ukrainian Orthodoxy and of the Union. Cardinal Casper assured that the Roman-Catholic Church treats the union in terms of the Balamand statement; i.e. does not consider it the means for achievement of the Christian unity. He also emphasized that Rome recognized only one canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine - the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kyiv and All Ukraine. The Roman See considers other Orthodox communities to be schismatic and is not in contact with them. He also assured that the Roman Church does not provide and would not provide support to those representatives of the non-canonical groupings which address her asking for help in performing worship in Italy and other traditionally Catholic countries.

After the dinner, arranged by Cardinal Walter Casper for the Ukrainian guests, they set off for the Embassy of Ukraine in Italy. There they had a meeting with Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary of Ukraine in Italy G.V. Chernyavskyi, who was granted the order of "1020 years of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus". They also discussed with him the perspectives of cooperation with the Embassy in patronizing the Ukrainian Orthodox diaspora.

Finally the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church visited the orthodox parish of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in via Palestro, where they met with its rector archimandrite Pavlo (Fokin). In the morning, December 16, the Ukrainian delegation started out for Kyiv.