Keys to St. Nicholas Cathedral in Nice Handed Over to the Russian Church
Paris, December 20, Interfax - Deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration Sergey Bolkhovitin handed the keys of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Nice to its new rector Archpriest Nikolay Ozolin. This ended the long and dramatic process of returning the church to the Moscow Patriarchate.
As was reported to an Interfax-Religion correspondent by bloggers of the Diocese of Korsun (which covers the Russian Church parishes in Western Europe), the parties signed an official protocol formalizing the transfer of St. Nicholas Cathedral to the Moscow Patriarchate at a solemn ceremony that took place on the eve.
A divine service celebrated by the former and current rectors of the church preceded this long-awaited event, both priests communed the believers.
As was reported, on 19 May a French court affirmed Russia’s right of ownership to the church in Nice, however the Council of the Exarchate of Russian Parishes in Western Europe (the Constantinople Patriarchate) continued to consider itself the legitimate owner of St. Nicholas Cathedral.
In late October, the highest court of Nice ordered the community of the Constantinople Patriarchate to hand over the keys to St. Nicholas Cathedral to the Russian government within seven days, but the situation took one and a half month.
During the liturgy, celebrated the day before, the clergy commemorated both the Constantinople Patriarch and the Patriarch of Moscow.
Patriarch Kirill Urges Russians to Overcome Political Discords
Moscow, December 19, Interfax - Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia prays for civil peace in Russia after the parliamentary elections.
"Let the Lord teach everyone who has different points of view, in particular on political position in the country and on the recent elections, and help us start real civil dialogue in order not to destroy our national life," he said on Sunday after the Liturgy in the Epiphany Cathedral of Noginsk, the Moscow Region.
According to the Patriarch, "authorities should give more credit to people and contribute to this dialogue and communication, overcoming perplexities and disagreements so that neither human temptations, nor mistakes, nor incorrectly interpreted work for the country's welfare can divide people."
The church Primate noted that national life was tuned up with great difficulties and common efforts are needed to overcome perplexities and restore credit, to make society more united and capable to go into the future.
"We don't have the right to divisions. Blood shed in the 20th century doesn't give us such a right. To live together, put on the whole armour of God's truth as St. Paul teaches us," Patriarch Kirill stressed.
About 15000 Women Annually Die from Home Violence - Metropolitan Hilarion
Moscow, December 23, Interfax - The Moscow Patriarchate urges society and authorities to consider scales of violence in Russian families.
"Scales of home violence are impressive: about 15 thousands of women a year perish from hands of their husbands or cohabitors. This terrific statistics is only the top of the iceberg: great amount of women, children and old people become victims of physical and psychological violence in family," head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations (DECR) Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said in his address to participants of a round table on problems of home violence held in Moscow.
He stressed that family was urged to be "a school of bringing up a personality and true human unity," it is in the family that "love of husband and wife, love of parents to children and children to mother and father harmonically combine."
"That's why, we, Christians, should be concerned with manifestations of home violence. We can and should tell our society today that a problem of home violence is not a private problem of certain families. Fundamental links between family and society give ground for bringing the problems of family, including problems of home violence, to the judgement of society, for making them a subject of public discussion and object of state care," he further said in the address.
The Metropolitan believes "constant violence in families against its weakest members" witnesses to "the deepest spiritual and moral crisis," the DECR website reports.
Remembrance of the Heroes of December 1989 at the Patriarchal Cathedral
These days, the hierarchs, priests and deacons celebrate remembrance services at the cemeteries, monuments and crosses dedicated to those who sacrifices their lives 22 years ago for the freedom, faith and dignity of the Romanian people.
On 22 December 2011, the heroes of December 1989 were remembered at the Patriarchal Cathedral too. The religious service was celebrated by His Grace Varsanufie Prahoveanul, Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Bucharest, assisted by a group of priests and deacons.
To end with religious service, His Grace delivered a sermon in which he brought homage to the heroes of the events of December 1989.
Holy Synod of Bishops Expresses Solidarity with Coptic Church in Egypt
SYOSSET, NY [OCA]
The witness and mission of the Coptic Church in Egypt have their origin in apostolic times. Today, the Coptic Church of Egypt is the largest Christian Church in the Middle East. Under the leadership of His Holiness, Pope Shenouda, the Coptic Church is a dynamic and active Church, with significant and effective work in education, youth work, and social work.
While the Coptic Church has experienced limitations to its work in the context of the Muslim majority of Egypt, the present time presents special challenges. In the midst of the changes in Egyptian political life during the last months, some of which are positive, there are aspects of current developments which make the Coptic Church vulnerable to discrimination and even violence.
For this reason, the Lesser Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, under the chairmanship of His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, has issued a Statement of Support for the Coptic Church of Egypt. This statement will be sent to the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, DC, to the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations, and to government authorities in Egypt. In addition, the statement will be shared with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The text of the statement reads as follows.
Statement of Support for the Coptic Church in Egypt
The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America expresses its solidarity with the Coptic Church in Egypt at this time of significant transition in Egyptian society. This time of transition is a time of hope as well as a time of anxiety. The people of Egypt and Egypt’s religious communities hope for a future of justice and peace. For justice and peace to prevail, all Egyptians must enjoy equality before the law.
The Coptic Church has faced unjust limitations and discriminatory practices. This means that the Coptic citizens of Egypt have been denied justice. One of the examples of this denial of justice is seen in the denial of approval for the building of churches. In such discriminatory practices administrative decisions based on existing regulations play the key role.
There also have been periodic occurrences of violence against Coptic Christians – violence killing and wounding many Copts. In this violence the key role has been played by religious extremism found in some groups of the Muslim majority in Egypt.
The building and maintenance of Justice and peace in Egyptian society will be at great risk if Egyptians and the religious communities to which they belong are not equally protected under the law.
In this regard work on the constitution of Egypt is critically important for the future of the country, and indeed for the future of the Middle East. Equality of Egyptian Christians under the law does not undermine the religious faith of Muslims. Rather, equality under the law protects all citizens and opens the road to peace, justice, and mutual respect between Muslims and Christians.
The Orthodox Church in America will remain in solidarity with the yearning of Egyptians for peace and justice and will continue to offer prayerful support and solidarity to the Coptic Church.
Bulgarian Orthodox Church Celebrates St. Naum
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church marks Friday the Day of Saint Naum of Preslav, a medieval Bulgarian scholar, writer and teacher.
St. Naum is one of the most dedicated and closest students and followers of the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet, the brothers Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. Naum took part in their mission to Great Moravia and in 867 or 868 became a priest in Rome.
In 885 Naum was expelled from Great Moravia after spending some time in prison for his resistance to the German clergy there. The same or the following year Naum reached Pliska together with Kliment of Ohrid and Angelarius. He became one of the founders of the Pliska Literary School (later Preslav Literary School) where he worked between 886 and 893.
After Kliment was ordained bishop of Drembica (Velika) in 893, Naum continued Kliment's work at the Ohrid Literary School. In 905 Naum founded a monastery at Lake Ohrid, which later received his name. He died in 910.
Greek Church Promises To Boost Charity Meals as Poverty Deepens
By Emmanouela Seiradaki
The leader of Greece’s Orthodox Church on Thursday promised to boost its campaign to provide free meals to the poor and homeless, amid the country’s deepening financial crisis.
Archbishop Ieronymos visited a central Athens food bank with members of the country’s national football team, to promote a campaign launched this week allowing supermarket shoppers at 10 chains and some 300 stores to donate food to church charities.
Ieronymos said the church was handing out 10,000 portions of food per day in greater Athens, with requests for a greater amount growing “every day.”
“It is very saddening to see a scene like this. Thousands of people each day line up for food. That is a sad fact,” Ieronymos said, as scores of immigrants waited in heavy rain for foil parcels of macaroni and meat sauce.
He also said in a radio interview: “Every day, the message we get is that more food is needed … we must take care to consider people’s dignity and that of their families.”
Greece has taken harsh austerity measures since late 2009 to cut its huge budget deficits and in exchange for rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.
The cuts have caused a sharp decline in living standards, with unemployment hovering at 18 percent and the U.N. International Labor Organization warning in a recent report that 20 percent of the crisis-hit country’s population is facing the risk of poverty.
Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said the city was helping feed 200 school children of unemployed parents, following a spate of reports of malnourished students and even children fainting in class.
“There is an alarming rise in the number of homeless and people who are malnourished — and we have found cases of that in schools,” Kaminis told state-run NET radio.
“In a very discreet way, the city is handling their meal — there are about 200 children. I hope that number does not increase.”
Church volunteer Father Andreas, an Orthodox priest, said more young people are seeking help.
“The number of people needing help is growing every day … We get every kind of person. Lately there are more young people who have lost their jobs,” said the priest, whose small Athens parish hands out 65 food-rations per day, cooked in the church basemen by volunteers.
“We have chicken, meat and fish every day, except on days when the church observes a fast.”
Violence leaves Syria’s Christians with Little Mood to Celebrate Christmas
By Roueida Mabardi
DAMASCUS – Nine months of unrest in Syria have stripped Bab Tuma, the oldest Christian quarter of Damascus, of any sign of Christmas joy. No decorations or lights adorn the streets and seasons greetings are exchanged with a heavy heart.
“Christians have decided to cancel celebrations and only observe Christmas mass which will be dedicated to peace in Syria,” Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias al-Dabii told AFP.
“It is a message to say we all form a single family.”
Unprecedented protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime which erupted in mid-March have met with a bloody response from security forces which has left more than 5,000 people dead, according to UN figures.
“We are living a sad situation,” said Mazen, an oriental carpets merchant sitting in his shop in one of the alleyways of the Old City which would normally be bustling with activity. But there have been no clients for months.
The handful of shops that sell festive decorations are all empty.
In the Christian quarter of Qassaa, five street vendors dressed up as Santa Claus sell balloons, trinkets and toys. Only the shops in the luxurious commercial strip of the Four Seasons put on a real show of Christmas cheer.
Christians, who make up seven to eight percent of Syria’s 22 million population, have been alarmed by the daily violence and fear the country is plunging into political chaos after 50 years of authoritarian rule.
Many fear any collapse of the regime could clear the way for the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned and repressed by Damascus for decades.
“If the regime falls and Islamists take over, there will be no Christians left in the country in 20 years,” said Farzat, 55, a civil engineer.
“Of course, there will be no Christmas tree or presents for the children this year. There is no reason for joy. We are going to stay home,” he said.
Others play down the risk of an Islamist takeover.
Human rights activist Anwar Bunni, says Christians have “always lived in harmony with the country’s other communities with whom they share the same culture”.
“Minorities have nothing to fear. In Syrian society, there was never inter-communal conflict,” the Christian lawyer told AFP.
He believes “decades without democracy has made minorities anxious.”
Troubled by spiralling violence, the Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Syriac Orthodox patriarchs met on December 15 in a convent near Damascus to discuss “the events that shake our beloved country.”
After expressing their “sadness over the tragedies” and fears over the “deteriorating economic situation,” the clerics said they “reject any foreign intervention in Syria” and called for a lifting of sanctions.
The European Union and the United States, followed by the Arab League, have adopted a series of targeted economic sanctions in a bid to pressure the Syrian authorities to end their crackdown.
The patriarchs denounced “all forms of violence” and called for “national reconciliation,” encouraging the “reforms and positive measures undertaken by the government.”
Patriarch Kirill Lauds Medvedev’s Anti-corruption Drive
Combating corruption remains modern-day Russia’s top priority, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said after President Medvedev’s state-of the-nation address to the Federal Council in Moscow on Thursday.
“One of the biggest headaches for ordinary people, corruption prompts public protests and negative reaction from the public. The fact that the President has outlined a concrete program to fight this evil is very important, “Patriarch Kirill told reporters in Moscow earlier today.
He said that containing corruption would help put the country’s financial affairs in order and was important from the ethical point of view.
He also praised Medvedev’s focus on the problems related to children, orphanages and disabled people.
Professors from Greek Aristotle’s University Undertake Restoration Project of Theological School of Halki
The Aristotle’s University of Thessaloniki is taking an active part in reviving the Theological School of Halki in Istanbul. This trend has been supported by 30 professors of the Greek University, who will provide the Ecumenical Patriarchate with their knowledge and know-how (in terms of research and study) in order to propose alternative methods of rebuilding and renovating the School.
This is a joint initiative of the University’s Deanery and the Technical Sciences Department of the University, which was officially announced during the meeting of Dean Yannis Mylopoulos with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Fener.
Reason for this meeting was the presentation of a special scientific volume entitled “Is Martyrion tis Ethnesi” (According to the national testimony) paying tribute to the 20th anniversary of His Holiness Bartholomew from rising to the Orthodox Throne of Fener.
The publication was made under the auspices of the Theological Department of the University in Thessaloniki, while the meeting was also attended by a delegation from the Greek University and Professor Mr. Michalis Tritos.
“This new initiative of the University to restore the Halki building without any charge, is just another proof of the excellent relations between the Aristotle’s University and the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is a project of great significance for both the Greek nation and Orthodoxy” pointed out Mr. Mylopoulos.
Iconic Buildings to Shed More Light on Heritage
By Wendy Wong
SINGAPORE: The facades of six iconic buildings in Bugis and Bras Basah have been turned into canvasses of light - to shed new light on their heritage.
It's part of efforts by the National Heritage Board to raise awareness of their past and create a new experience.
A new look for a church that has been around since 1835.
The facade of the Armenian (Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator) Church - the first Christian church built in Singapore in 1835 - is alive in an interplay of light and shadows.
Pierre Hennes, committee member of the Armenian Church of St. Gregory, said: "The church is very white... and giving it a bit of colour highlights that at one time the church had different colours - it was painted blue and green as well. So I think it gives a modern touch to a national monument."
The designer used lights to cast shadows and create effects on the trees and pillars.
Stage lighting designer and designer of the light up, Lim Woan Wen, said it's an attempt to "imagine a narrative that explores relationships between the monumental buildings and their spatial, architectural, historical and spiritual domains."
"I'll be very happy if (people) come and walk away feeling like this has helped them to appreciate the church in a different light. But I'll be most happy if they can pause and linger here and be able to sense that there are untold stories in this space," he added.
A few streets away is the Singapore Art Museum, which is sitting on the old premises of St Joseph's Institution.
Two previous students of the school drew on their fond memories of the place.
(ENEWS: Central to their storyline are values such as faith and love.)
Jackson Tan, artist and designer of the Bras Basah.Bugis Monuments Light-up, said: "One of the things we tried to do is not to clash with the building itself but to give a subtle hint of these memories."
The selected buildings will come alive with lights every weekend from 7.00 pm to 10:30 pm until January 29.
The project called "A Little Light Magic", saw six local artists and designers coming together to design and light up six iconic buildings: Singapore Art Museum (SAM), SAM at 8Q, National Museum of Singapore, Peranakan Museum, Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator and School of the Arts.
Curator of the Bras Basah.Bugis Monuments Light-up Selwyn Low said: "We wanted the artists and designers to use architectural lighting as a medium to flesh out stories and narratives about the buildings that we may not know about."
Coptic Christian Asylum Seekers Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem
Zachary A. Bennett
Every year on the eve of January 6th, which marks Christmas for Coptic Christians, hundreds of North African refugees, based in Israel, make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to visit Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity for mass.
Last year I, being the only visible journalist and non-refugee, was fortunate enough to join this unique group of people on their journey, which began at approximately 10 p.m., when hundreds of African refugees filed into roughly 15 buses parked at Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv's south end, and ended at 5 a.m.
These refugees, who fled their countries, mostly due to religious persecution, after an unspeakable journey through North Africa, have ended up in Israel and are mostly Christians. Israel has a liberal policy on taking in refugees compared to its neighbor, Egypt. It is not uncommon for refugees to be kidnapped or murdered while making a journey through the North African countries or be killed on the borders of Egypt.
The pilgrims listened to loud religious music with origins from Eritrea and Ethiopia as the buses made their way through East Jerusalem and swiftly past the checkpoints into Bethlehem, which was completely open to the group -- not making us stop on the way in or out of the West Bank. On any other day, crossing into the West Bank can be a very long process and access is not guaranteed.
Upon arrival, Bethlehem was filled with festive Christmas lights decorated on every structure in sight while armed guards with machine guns lined the roads dressed in all black. The guards were placed every 100 feet or so starting more than a mile before the city center, Manger Square.
Once parked the refugees filled the streets of Bethlehem while vendors became very excited by the sight of visitors, trying to sell little wooden figurines and falafel balls.
Eventually all the festivities began in Manger Square with drum beating and loud prayers on intercom systems. Christmas was undoubtedly in the air this evening in Bethlehem, more than any other day.
Eventually, many people started showing up in fancy cars, and motorcades sped through the tiny streets of the Old City. These motorcades, were likely filled with diplomats and significant religious figures such as the Greek Patriarch, Syrian Archbishop, Coptic Archbishop and the Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and All The East. Very few refugees made it into the Church, because the Church was filled with what could be perceived as 'preferred visitors.' Of all days, this was an unfortunate sight on Christmas. The African Refugees were visually the largest group of people present in Bethlehem, while they were the least represented within the Church of Nativity.
Even though being denied entrance after their long journey, the Coptic Christians from Eritrea and Ethiopia sang louder, kept smiling and celebrated near to one of the holiest place in their religion.
According to attendees, for many, this was the first time in a long while that they were able to celebrate their faith in public -- without fear of persecution.