A Bimonthly Conservative Journal To Defend The Apostolic Faith, Morals And Canons Of The Ancient Orthodox Church.

Volume : XV MARCH - APRIL 2012 Issue : 2

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Hatem Maher

Pope Shenouda III, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope, has died on Saturday at the age of 88, after a long battle against illness.

The Coptic patriarch suffered from back and kidney problems for years and repeatedly traveled to the United States for medical treatment.

He was born on 3 August 1923 in Asiut, Upper Egypt and has been the Pope of Alexandria since November 1971 when President Anwar El-Sadat was in power.

“We lost today a great icon. His presence was crucial in repelling many threats against the country,” Amin Eskandar, a member in the People’s Assembly (parliament’s lower house), said in a phone call with state television channel Nile News.

“His patriotism and wise approaches to any issue were very helpful. May God compensate us for the loss of that great man.”

Shenouda was widely acclaimed by Christians and Muslims alike in recent years for his regular efforts to contain sectarian tensions following a number of incidents – some involving the burning of churches, but was also criticized for turning the church into a political entity.

He was also known for his support of Palestinian rights in the decades-long Middle East conflict. Because of these and other stances, he was often described as an Arab nationalist by many observers.

News of Shenuda’s death was certain to cause dismay among Egypt’s beleaguered Coptic population, many of whom looked up to him as a spiritual guide.

He was placed under house arrest by former president Anwar Sadat for his outspoken criticism of Sadat’s courting of Islamists.

But Shenouda was supportive of Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown January 25 revolution in 2011, which led to an Islamist-dominated parliament — the first in the country’s history.

In 2001, he famously stated he would never visit Jerusalem unless he entered the country with a Palestinian visa along with Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the late Grand Imam of Egypt’s foremost religious authority, Al-Azhar.

“I was full of admiration for the great patriotic stances he took throughout his life,” said Mohamed Refaa El-Tahtawy, the former spokesman of Al-Azhar.

“I remember his great remarks about the visit to Jerusalem, when he refused to go there under the Israeli occupation,” he added.


Pope Shenouda Will Be Laid to Rest on Tuesday


Cairo: It has been decided by the special session of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Church that Pope Shenouda will be laid to rest on Tuesday 20th March, 2012. The funeral ceremony time will be 11am. The body of the late Coptic Patriarch will lie in repose for two days in Abbasiya Cathedral.

According to his last wishes, the 88 year-old head of the Coptic Orthodox Church will be buried at St. Bishoy Monastery in Wadi Natrun, in the Nile Delta region to the north of Cairo.


Charismatic Pope Shenouda Ushered Coptic Church into A Wider World

By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent

On becoming the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church in November 1971, Pope Shenouda III showed interest in promoting Orthodox Christianity far beyond Egypt.

On becoming the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church in November 1971, Pope Shenouda III showed interest in promoting Orthodox Christianity far beyond Egypt. He built churches in Africa, mainly in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

During his 41-year papacy, the Coptic Orthodox Church set up branches in North America, principally in the US and Canada where he appointed the first-ever bishops to lead dioceses that now comprise more than 200 parishes compared with just four in 1971.

Pope Shenouda also founded the First Coptic Orthodox Church in South America.

An advocate of inter-denominational Christian dialogue, Shenouda, who died on Saturday at the age of 88, sought to enhance the Coptic Church’s ties with other churches. In 1973, he signed a joint declaration with Pope Paul VI of the Vatican to forge unity among all Christian churches.

Known as a gifted writer and a tolerant theologian, Shenouda devoted his writings to spread values of peace, co-existence and understanding among people of different faiths.

“He is like a philosophical peasant who combines monasticism and leadership, traits that have made him a unique spiritual leader,” wrote the late Egyptian thinker Gali Shukri.

Shenouda used to publish articles in Egypt’s semi-official newspaper Al Ahram. He showed a sense of humour during his weekly sermons.

However, many Egyptians, mainly Muslims, remember the late pontiff for rebuffing in the late 1970s the then President Anwar Sadat on his call to allow Coptic Christians to make a pilgrimage to occupied Jerusalem in Israel as a sign of normal ties between the two countries that had just signed a peace treaty.

Egypt’s Christians like its Muslims will not go to [occupied] Jerusalem before it returns to its original owners — the Palestinians,” Shenouda III was quoted as telling an angry Al Sadat.

“The Copts will not be used as a locomotive of the normalisation train [with Israel],” the pontiff added in a move that widened a rift between him and Sadat. Muslim militancy surged in Al Sadat’s era amid claims from his opponents that he deliberately nurtured the tendency to stifle his critics, mainly leftists and Christians.

In September 1981, Al Sadat deposed Shenouda and exiled him at a monastery in western Egypt. Al Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak, who took over in late 1981, released Shenouda and reinstated him.
Shenouda’s ties with Mubarak were less turbulent.


Tens of thousands of Copts Say Goodbye to Pope Who ‘Safely Guided the Ship’

Mostafa Ali

Streams of grieving Egyptian Copts have started on Saturday to descend on country’s main cathedral in Cairo to start 3-day period of bidding beloved Shenouda III farewell, looking ahead to a stormy future.

The main cathedral for Egypt’s 12 million Copts in the Abbassiya district of Cairo had been taken over by thousands of mourning Christians by the early evening hours of Saturday.
A steady stream of groups of hundreds of new comers made its way to the Orthodox Cathedral from all four directions as the night progressed.

Women dressed in black, young men on motorcycles, families crowded in automobiles or coming out of the nearby underground metro station, and senior citizens leaning on canes or supported by grandchildren – all kept pouring towards the church hoping to be in the proximity of the body of Pope Shenouda III who had been pronounced dead at 5 PM earlier in the afternoon.

The crowds that swarmed in and around the church caused a massive traffic jam on all streets that surrounded the building where the 88-year-old used for decades to lead and console the nation’s Coptic community.

At the main entrance to the church on Ramsis Street main TV stations interviewed mourners carrying the picture of the Pontiff. Police officers rearranged positions for metal barriers that were used to slow down, not to stop, the influx of people determined to bid the Pope Farewell dozens of times, but to no avail.

Some Muslim drivers who did not listen to the news on the radio all day discovered for the first time, as they drove at a snail’s pace past the never-ending crowds which overflowed on the asphalt, that Pope Shenouda III had passed away.

Despite all the signs of apparent chaos that engulfed the vicinity of the church, the mood was subdued, and an air of serenity strongly competed with the cold winds that kept other Egyptians in doors on this weekend evening.

Hundreds of blood-red eyes among the crowds revealed that millions of Copts had clearly poured their hearts out in tears for hours since the news of Shenouda’s death broke out earlier in the afternoon.

Ramon, a 20-year-old trade school student who sells shoes to pay for his education, stood quietly and pensively along with hundreds of young people, who also failed to make their way into the cathedral because of the crowd, on the sidewalk across from the entrance.

“I did not want to believe that he died. I asked two or three people hoping they say it was rumor. But, it was not.”

“I thought he was still in the United States receiving treatment and that he would come back soon and get well again.”

“But, I also realize that he is human, and that God has chosen this moment to lift him up to the sky so he can be close to Jesus,” Ramon figured.

In fact, millions of Copts had a good reason to believe that the Pope, despite progressively deteriorating health in recent years, would stand by them for at least some time to come.

After all, the 88-year-old had survived more than a dozen gruesome medical trips to the US in the last decade. He had always came back to the community which adored his regular Sunday mass and desperately filled the church every Wednesday night to share with him their stories of pain at his weekly public forums.

“He was a symbol for love and peace,” Sherif, a small-business entrepreneur told Ahram Online.

“We have lots of great Bishops, but none of them can really fill the shoes of our Pope,” a 50-something man, who planted himself near the main doors, made sure to inform everyone attempting to make their way into the church.

“Guys, my uncle who lives in the Netherlands just called me. He is devastated. He adored the Pope,” a teenager lamented loudly with schoolmates who were checking the internet on their mobile phones in search for the latest reactions on the Pontiff’s death.

Those who could not enter the church through the main gate circled the building to attempt a rush on the doors through a side entrance.

There, crowd of hundreds of young men raised their hands in the air to show the crosses tattooed on their Right wrists to two overwhelmed doormen.

“Please, proceed in order and display your tattoos clearly. If you do not have a cross on the wrist, prepare your national identification cards,” one of the guards who were carried on the shoulders of a volunteer yelled nonstop at the crowd that kept edging near.

The young men’s rush-attempt on the gate was only interrupted by the arrival of two ministry-of-electricity trucks carrying emergency power generators to supplement the near-breakdown, overwhelmed lighting matrix of a cathedral which is used to service thousands but not the tens of thousands of expected mourners.

Scores of young men, fearing that the growing size of the crowds would prevent them from seeing the Pope, jumped on top of the trucks in the hope that the guards, who they knew had to let the generators in to save the power system, would then have no choice but to let all those who adore Shenouda in as well.

Underneath all the love for Shenouda that was at display at the Cathedral on this Saturday evening, and had already manifested itself for years among Egyptian Copts, something more profound than simply respect from ordinary people to a priest seemed to lie.

In some ways, this was no ordinary wake for a beloved priest. Copts seemed to have poured on Abbasiya on Saturday evening not only to bid farewell to Shenouda.

Many might have come to begin searching for ways to battle growing anxiety over their future in Egypt in light of the rise of Islamic fundamentalist currents to positions of political power in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution; and to find new mechanisms to construct spiritual solace after the death of the man who they believe guided them through at least 40 years of suffering and injustices.

The reality of those decades of pain could be detected on many grim faces on Saturday, just a much as one could unmistakably identify the religion of many Egyptians through the tattooed crosses on wrists or the Religion column on national ID cards.

“The people loved the Pope because they believe that he successfully saved many Christian lives at a time of rising intolerance in the country through his wise leadership,” Nader, an architectural engineer, told Ahram Online.

“He was, as a religious man, against getting involved in politics. However, he managed, in a clever way, to relay the fears and needs of Christians to the politicians”

“He did this very well because he always had his fingers on the pulse of the Coptic masses,” Nader added.

Sherif, the entrepreneur who believed Shenouda represented love and peace, told Ahram Online he harboured mixed feelings towards the future of the country.

“I believe that the Muslim Brotherhood who won the majority in parliament cherish national unity and will do well by Christians.”

“But, I am scared of the Salafists, who are ideological and do not believe in equality between people from different religions.” Sherif said.

By midnight, no one seemed to be going anywhere away from the church or the body of Pope Shenouda on this Saturday evening.

Even those who were leaving the premises were doing so in order to change clothes and come back to make their presence felt at the church in the three-day mourning period for the Pontiff who is set to be buried on Tuesday.

“They are here from all over Egypt. Many Christians have come from Upper Egypt already. Tomorrow, we expect loads of Egyptians to return from overseas to say goodbye to the Pope,” a man who left the church told Ahram Online.

But, some are not sure where to go once the Pontiff is gone.

“On Wednesdays, the Pope used to give advice to people on ways to cope with harsh realities and discrimination they faced in their daily lives. When he failed to provide answers to their problems, he comforted them by praying for them and with them,” Nader, the engineer, said.

“It is not clear who can do this, or do it as good as the Pope did for years,” Nader wondered.



People's Choice of Putin Is Wise - Russian Orthodox Church

Moscow, March 5, Interfax - The Moscow Patriarchate supports the choice the majority of Russians made in favor of Vladimir Putin in the March 4 election.

"The choice of the majority of people is obvious; this is a display of wisdom, seriousness and true care for the country and one's near. Our people are not senseless cattle as some might like to present it," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations, told the Interfax-Religion on Monday.

"People are highly sensitive to the developments, they can see all the dangers and can sense the truth and the lies. People understand the historic chance given to Russia and how easily it may be missed under the influence of puppet masters who do not wish well to the country," he said.

Russia had bright prospects in the beginning of 1917 but that chance was missed, he said.

"We have impressive achievements now and our own mission in world history. We must avoid revolutions and take the path of peaceful and responsible development in order to accomplish this mission. We chose that path again now," he said.

The priest was glad "that the division of elites was avoided and the people and the best part of the authorities understood each other."

"The transition of power from one chief of state to another is done peacefully, morally and it is necessary to give credit to the incumbent president, his patience, wisdom and nobleness. May God help the president elect. The might of this personality is obvious, the same as people's confidence unprecedented by its duration in the history of the Russian people's rule," he said.


Moscow Patriarchate Asks Authorities to Lean on Church, Remember Russia Has No Friends Abroad

Moscow, March 5, Interfax - The Russian Orthodox Church has called on the authorities to base their policy on Alexander III's bequest to his son, Emperor Nicholas II.

"Be independent in foreign policy. Remember that Russia has no friends. They fear our hugeness. Avoid wars. In domestic policy, support the Church in the first turn. It has saved Russia in times of ordeal before. Strengthen the family because the family is the pillar of the state," Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, said at the first meeting of the State Duma Speaker's Expert Panel.

These simple truths come from "one of the most outstanding rulers of this country and may become fundamental vectors of the Russian domestic and foreign policies," he said.

Not a single country, including Russia, can be immune from foreign influence, as is happening in the Middle East and North Africa where regimes are changing, the Metropolitan said.

One must think about public consolidation in the first turn in order to resist this influence, he said.

Focus on traditional moral and religious values and the family "should become the token of the sound evolutionary instead of revolutionary development of the state," he added.


General Bertolini at the Patriarchate of Pec


On Wednesday, Thursday March 1, 2012, the Stauropegic laura of the Patriarchate of Pec was visited by the Italian Joint Operations Headquarters Commander, Lieutenant General Marco Bertolini. General Bertolini visited the Office of the Committee for Kosovo and Metohija, and from there, accompanied by Bishop Jovan of Lipljan, vicar of Serbian Patriarch Irinej, went to the complex of churches of the Mother of all Serbian churches. From there he visited the guesthouse where he met mother Fevronija, heugomene of the monastery .

In a cordial talk, general Bertolini repeated that the Italian army, and he personally, is devoted to the protection of the Christian sanctities, cultural heritage and the peace on Kosovo and Metohija.

More than a cordial atmosphere was enhanced by the fact that general Bertolini commanded the parashoot brigade "Folgore" when it protected the Patriarchate of Pec and the Decani monastery during the 2004 March Pogrom. In July 23 of the same year general recieved on behalf of the unit the Order of Saint Sava from the hands of Metropolitan Amfilohije. The Serbian Church awarded the brigade "Folgore" in this way.


Sunday of Orthodoxy Solemnly Celebrated


Serbian Church

Gnjilane - On the first week of the Great Lent - the Sunday of Orthodoxy - Bishop Teodosije of Raska-Prizren served the Holy Liturgy in the monastery of Draganac near Gnjilane with the concelebration of protosyngellos Kiril and hieromonk Ilarion. About forty believers participated in the Liturgy and later partook the Holy Communion.

Decani - The Sunday of Orthodoxy was solemnly celebrated also in the monastery of Decani, where after the Holy Liturgy the procession with icons was held and the Synodical of Orthodoxy was read. The students of the Prizren Seminary enhanced this manifestation with their presence.

Zadar - On Sunday of Orthodoxy, March 4, 2012 His Grace Bishop Fotije of Dalmatia served the Holy Hiearchal Liturgy in the church of St. Elijah in Zadar with the concelebration of monks and priests of the Diocese of Dalmatia. At the end of the Holy Liturgy f. Petar Jovanovic, parish priest of Zadar prepared a table of love for the present guests and priests.

Mostar - In the old church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Mostar, the solemnly was celebrated the Sunday of Orthodoxy - the feast day of the victory over iconoclasm. The Divine Liturgy was led by His Grace Bishop Grigorije with the concelebration of local priests. The church was small to accept all believers whi came to partook the Holy Communion. After the Liturgy the Bishop held a sermon.

Bileca - The first week of the Great Lent, Sunday of Orthodoxy, was also celebrated in Bileca. In a solemn and prayerful atmosphere, and in the presence of many believers the holiday's morning service was served and then the Holy Liturgy which was led by head of the Cathedral church in Bileca, protopresbyter-staurophor Milutin Andric with the concelebration of protopresbyter-staurophor Radivoje Govedarica.

Nis - On Sunday of the celebration of the victory of the Orthodoxy over iconoclasm, the Bishop Jovan of Nis served the Holy service of God in the Cathedral church in Nis. After the Holy Liturgy the ancient Orthodox custom of the cross procession of the Orthodox who bore icons in their arms. At the porch of the church the Synodical from 843 was read and held a sermon speaking about today's feast day and of the miraculous victory of the Orthodoxy.


22 Years Since His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel Was Ordained Hierarch

Romanian Church

Sunday, 4 March 2012, His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church celebrates 22 years since he was ordained hierarch. His Beatitude was ordained Bishop on 4 March 1990, on the Orthodoxy Sunday, in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Timisoara by His Eminence Nestor, Metropolitan of Oltenia, His Eminence Nicolae, Metropolitan of Banat, and His Eminence Timotei, Archbishop of Arad. Hundreds of inhabitants of Timisoara city, clergy, and laic too participated in the ordination of His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel as hierarch.

His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel was ordained hierarch following his election by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church as Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Timisoara, with the title “Lugojanul”.

His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church was born on 22 July 1951, in Dobresti village, commune of Bara, county of Timis, as the third child to the family of teacher Alexie and Stela Ciobotea. He attended the primary school in his native village (1958 – 1962), Dobresti, and gymnasium in Lapisnic locality (1962 – 1966), county of Timis. In 1966, he begins the secondary school courses in Buzias city, which he would continue in Lugoj city, at “Coriolan Brediceanu” high school (1967 – 1970).

After passing the school leaving examination he becomes a student at the University Orthodox Institute of Sibiu (1970 – 1974), where he presents his graduation thesis in theology (New Testament).

From 1974 – 1976, he attends the post-graduate courses at the University Theological Institute of Bucharest, systematic section, under the supervision of Rev. Prof. Dr. Dumitru Staniloae. He continues his studies abroad: two years at the Faculty of Protestant Theology of the University of Human Sciences at Strasbourg (France) and two years at the University of “Albert Ludwig” of Freiburg im Breisgau, Faculty of Catholic Theology (Germany).

On 15 June 1979, he delivers his doctorate thesis at the University of Strasbourg, entitled: “„Réflexion et vie chrétiennes aujourd'hui. Essai sur le rapport entre la théologie et la spiritualité” (424 pages). The thesis was prepared under the supervision of two outstanding French professors: Gerard Ziegwald and Andre Benoit and got the greatest mark. So, he becomes doctor of the University of Strasbourg.

He prepared a lengthy version of this thesis under the supervision of his mentor Rev. Prof. Dr. Dumitru Staniloae and delivered it on 31 October 1980 at the University Theological Institute of Bucharest with the title: “Christian Theology And Spirituality. The Relations Between Them And The Present Situation”.

Having passed the oral examination and presented the thesis, candidate Dan-Ilie Ciobotea was declared Doctor in Orthodox theology, with the greatest mark too. Rev. Prof. Dr. Dumitru Staniloae said on the occasion: “The thesis examination proved the board of examiners they have a well prepared candidate here, well informed, and most of all, willing to live a deep spiritual life. It is such people that we need, people willing to live in accordance with the teaching of our Church. The true spirituality of the priest is to live so as to be able to answer the questions of today’s man, and remain a true priest too. Priests with no theological culture and without living the sublime dignity and mission of priesthood can only move off the faithful people from the Church.”

In 1987, he takes the monastic vows at Sihastria Monastery, county of Neamt, with the name of Daniel, and Pious Father Archimandrite Cleopa Ilie as monastic Godfather. He is ordained hierodeacon on 14 August 1987 and hieromonk on 15 August 1987. In 1988, he becomes protosingelos and is appointed Patriarchal Counsellor, Director of the Department for “Contemporary Theology and Ecumenical Dialogue”. It is also in 1988 that he becomes a lecturer at the Chair for Christian Mission of the Orthodox University Theological Institute of Bucharest.

He is elected Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Timisoara with the title of Lugojanul and ordained hierarch on 4 March 1990. On 7 June 1990, he is elected Archbishop of Iasi and Metropolitan of Moldova and Bucovina. The enthronement took place on 1 July 1990. From 1990 – 2008, he unfolded a rich pastoral-missionary, cultural and social-philanthropic activity as Metropolitan of Moldova and Bucovina.

On 12 September 2007, the Church Electoral College elected him Archbishop of Bucharest, Metropolitan of Muntenia and Dobrudgea, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church and Locum Tenens of the Throne of Caesarea of Cappadochia. The enthronement of His Beatitude Patriarch took place on Sunday, 30 September 2007, in the Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest.


First Woman President of Kosovo Visits Boston Cathedral, Grave of Archbishop Fan Noli

Orthodox Church in America


Accompanied by Archpriest Arthur Liolin, Chancellor of the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese, and many faithful from Boston’s Saint George Cathedral, Her Excellency, Madame Atifete Jahjaga, President of the Republic of Kosova, visited the grave of Archbishop Fan Noli here on the afternoon of Sunday, March 4, 2012.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1908 and consecrated to the episcopacy in 1923, Archbishop Fan was the first Albanian Orthodox bishop in the US. At various points in his life, he had served in a wide variety of religious, political, literary, and diplomatic roles in the US and his homeland. In 1924, he served as prime minister and regent of Albania. Harvard educated, he was well known for his translation of the Divine Liturgy into the Albanian language, as well as for his numerous translations of other religious and liturgical texts.

President Jahjaga placed a wreath on Archbishop Fan’s grave as prayers for his repose were offered.

That morning, President Jahjaga attended the Divine Liturgy marking the Sunday of Orthodoxy at Saint George Cathedral, where she was welcomed by His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston and New England and the Albanian Archdiocese.

President Jahjaga is the first woman, first non-partisan, and youngest candidate to be elected to the presidency of Kosova, where all sides suffered during the Balkan wars.

During her US visit, President Jahjaga was received by US President and Mrs. Barack Obama, met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and delivered an address at Columbia University. She also participated in the Women of the World Summit in New York, NY.


The Synod of Bishops Convenes

Russian Church Outside Russia


On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, the Synod of Bishops held a regular teleconference, presided over by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Participating in the call were the Synod members: His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany; His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America; His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada, and His Grace Bishop Peter of Cleveland, Administrator of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America.

Opening the session, the President of the Synod of Bishops greeted everyone on the beginning of Great Lent and wished them beneficial spiritual labors. His Eminence then reported on his meeting with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on February 2, 2012, which took place at the Synodal Patriarchal Residence at Danilov Monastery in Moscow. Vladyka Hilarion’s conversation with the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church concentrated on the forthcoming celebration of the fifth anniversary of the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Orthodox Church. An official delegation of the Russian Church Abroad, headed by Metropolitan Hilarion, will travel to the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church to attend celebrations in May. The delegation will include members of the Commission on Strengthening Church Unity, which is preparing for the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion. Church celebrations abroad will be held concurrently with an assembly of archpastors of the Russian Orthodox Church in the diaspora to be held in London later this year.

His Eminence also reported on the decision of a French Court, recently recognizing the prior regulations and membership of the Association of the Church of Archangel Michael in Cannes dating from 2006. In connection with this, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia appointed the retired Bishop Varnava (Prokofieff) as Rector of this church, which is under the direct authority of the President of the Synod of Bishops of the Church Abroad.

Archbishop Mark reported on the canonization of Holy New Martyr Alexander (Schmorell) of Munich, which took place on February 5 in Munich, attended by an enormous gathering of worshipers. He also reported on the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem.

Other administrative and financial matters were discussed, followed by intercessions by the archpastors for awards for their diocesan clergymen and laypersons. The next session of the Synod of Bishops will be held on June 12.


Church to Teach Russian to Migrants


(RIA Novosti)

Following on a proposal by president-elect Vladimir Putin, the Russian Orthodox church announced plans to teach Russian language and culture to labor migrants from former Soviet countries.

A test language and culture course will open in Moscow, with more to follow nationwide if the idea works out, the press service for the capital’s eparchial council said on Wednesday.

The program is supported by the Federal Migration Service, the press service said. It did not specify when the course will begin.

Putin, who won the presidential elections on Sunday, said in a campaign article last month that labor migrants should be required to take tests in Russian language and culture to qualify to work in the country.

About 1.2 million foreigners legally traveled to Russia to work here in 2011, and a further 3.5 million could be illegal migrants, according to data from the Federal Migration Service. Many of them come from former Soviet republics in Central Asia, as well as Ukraine.


Priests to Test World’s Only Paradrop Church


Priests with the Russian Airborne Troops will take a crash course next week to operate the world’s only paradrop Orthodox Christian church, the military said.

The one-week course for the priests, many of whom are experienced paratroopers with more than 500 jumps, will take place at an airborne troops facility in Ryazan region in central Russia, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Orthodox Christianity has many rituals utilizing many religious items, which makes catering to the flock without a church impossible, the senior priest for the Airborne Troops, Archpriest Mikhail Vasilyev, told RIA Novosti.

The paradrop church comes complete with nonbreakable religious items, a crate to carry them, as well as a diesel generator, air conditioning, refrigerator and a multimedia unit complete with a mini-theater booth and projector, the military said.

The number of Orthodox Christians among airborne troops grew 10 percent to reach 90 percent of all paratroopers since last fall, the military said.


Syrian Christians worry about life after Bashar Assad

By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times


They fear civil war and revenge attacks if President Bashar Assad falls, an anxiety fed by the sectarian violence seen in Egypt and Iraq.

Reporting from Damascus, Syria

For 40 years, Um Michael has found comfort and serenity amid the soaring pillars and ancient icons of St. Mary's Greek Orthodox cathedral.

But as a priest offered up a prayer for peace one recent Sunday, the 70-year-old widow dabbed tears from her eyes.

"I was wishing that life would go back to the way it used to be," she said.

At night, Um Michael can hear the echoes of fighting near her home in Bab Touma, the centuries-old Christian quarter of Damascus. Like many Christians here, she wonders whether Syria's increasingly bloody, nearly yearlong uprising could shatter the veneer of security provided by President Bashar Assad's autocratic but secular government.

Assad has portrayed himself as the defender of the nation's religious minorities, including Christians and his Alawite Muslim sect, against foreign-backed Islamic extremists. Opposition activists scoff at that notion, saying he has deliberately exploited sectarian fear to stay in power.

But warnings of a bloodbath if Assad leaves office resonate with Christians, who have seen their brethren driven away by sectarian violence since the overthrow of longtime strongmen in Iraq and in Egypt, and before that by a 15-year civil war in neighboring Lebanon.

Many here fear revenge attacks against minorities, who helped buttress four decades of repressive rule by the Assad family, and the emergence of what they describe as a new dictatorship by the Sunni Muslim majority.

"If the regime goes, you can forget about Christians in Syria," said George, a 37-year-old dentist who, like others interviewed, asked to be identified by either a first name or nickname. "Look what happened to the Christians of Iraq. They had to flee everywhere, while most of the churches were attacked and bombed."

Although not all of Syria's Christians back Assad, their fear helps explain the significant support he still draws despite the ferocious crackdown on what began as mostly peaceful protests and his government's increasing international isolation.

Worried Christians have only to look to the strife-torn city of Homs to see what a civil war might look like. There, residents say, Sunnis, Christians and the Alawite community, a small offshoot of Shiite Islam, have fallen victim to gruesome kidnappings and killings.

The rise of Islamist parties in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia has added to the feeling among Syria's Christians that they are under siege. Some find affirmation of their fear in the demonstrations that take place every week after Muslims' Friday payers, when antigovernment protesters spill out of mosques nationwide, chanting religious and political slogans.

"Of course the 'Arab Spring' is an Islamist movement," George said angrily. "It's full of extremists. They want to destroy our country, and they call it a 'revolution.'"

Syria's Christians, who represent no more than 10% of the country's 22 million people, trace their origins two millenniums to the beginnings of the faith. The apostle Paul is said to have converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, from which he went on to spread the religion across the Roman Empire.

Church leaders have largely aligned themselves behind the government, urging their followers to give Assad a chance to enact long-promised political reforms while also calling for an end to the violence, which has killed more than 7,500 people on both sides, according to United Nations estimates.

Ignatius IV, patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, described Syria as an oasis of religious tolerance where Christians can worship freely, build sanctuaries and run schools, activities that are restricted by varying degrees in a number of Middle Eastern countries.

Christian clerics are frequently shown on television taking part in joint prayer services with their Muslim counterparts. The defense minister is a Christian, as are other senior members of the government and security forces.

"Wherever you go, you find Christians and Muslims," said the patriarch, who has a photograph of himself with Assad displayed on his office wall. "There is no distinction."

Although there are dissenting voices, few dare to speak publicly, said a priest who did not want his name published for fear of retribution. In January, a fellow cleric was shot and killed while trying to help an injured parishioner in the city of Hama, a center of the uprising. Each side blamed the other for his death.

"In my opinion, [Assad] did not protect minorities, he protected himself," said the priest. "It's a regime of family, friends and corruption. And corruption does not have a religion."

Opposition activists blame the government's own policies for the deepening sectarian divide, including the use of Alawite-led security forces and a predominantly Alawite militia to beat, torture and kill protesters.

"This is their game," said Abdu, a 27-year-old Christian activist who has taken part in numerous antigovernment demonstrations. "They are playing the sectarian card."

Abdu is not afraid of a government dominated by Sunnis. He said he has often prayed in mosques, because that is where protesters gather before a demonstration.

"We were very welcome there," he said.

But after months of unrelenting violence, he fears that the government's propaganda may become reality. "I think we are headed into a civil war," he said.

Louay, 26, a recent university graduate, said he never thought the Arab Spring would spread to Syria.

"I thought we lived in one of the best Arab countries," he said over tea at a trendy Damascus cafe, where wealthy women and their fashionable offspring while away the afternoon.

When he heard that demonstrators were being shot and killed, he worried that the government "was going overboard with its repression." But now, he said, he is just as repelled by the main opposition leaders.

"They are acting like the regime in some ways, not caring about how much killing is happening," said Louay, who fears that the opposition is too fragmented to keep a lid on religious and ethnic tension.

"I think the best solution is for the government to stay," he said. "I hope they will give Bashar al-Assad another chance."

Special correspondent Rima Marrouch and another Times employee in Damascus contributed to this report.


Austrian Undersecretary For Integration Says “Orthodox Church Promotes Progress in Austria

By Fani Toli


During the Assembly of the Episcopes of the Orthodox Church at the Greek Metropolis of Austria, the Austrian Undersecretary For Integration, Sebastian Kurz, stated that the Orthodox Church promotes progress in Austria as well as multiculturalism and cultural diversity.

During the Assembly of the Episcopes, Sebastian Kurz emphasized that the Orthodox Church can bring about the solution of the integration problem in Austria.

Moreover, Kurz stated that migrants to Austria can maintain their identity and be integrated into the Austrian community, something that is being accomplished by the Orthodox Churches of Austria.

On his part, Metropolitan of Austria and Exarch of Hungary and Mid-Europe, Arsenios, praised the humanitarian work done by the Catholic and Evangelical Church.

Today, Orthodox Christians in Austria amount to 500,000, while a religion lesson concerning Orthodoxy has been established at the Austrian schools and an orthodox religious service in the Austrian armed forces.


Syrian Christians Fleeing to Lebanon


Amid reports that 1,000 Syrians are now fleeing the country daily for Lebanon, the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Lebanon described the Church’s response.

“We have direct experience of Christian families who have fled to Syria [from] the violence or the oppression of the regime,” said Father Paul Karam. “There are families who have relatives in Lebanon who have fled here and want to change their lives, looking for work. The Church's response in Lebanon was the hospitality and care of these people: we host them in parishes, provide food and clothing, we assist them at an economic level and insert them into the social fabric.”

“As a Church we reiterate that we are against violence,” he added. “We want to promote peace and encourage dialogue. As for the Christians, the danger that looms is a scenario like Iraq, where Christians are forced to flee the country. The risk is that a dictatorial regime is replaced with an Islamist type which imposes the Sharia.”


Arab Christians need to feel secure

By Joseph A. Kechichian, Special to Gulf News


Fleeing native lands is not the answer; they have to insist on equal rights, elect capable and sensible leaders and muzzle clerics who thrive on fear.

Despite understandable rhetoric, neither Nouri Al Maliki in Iraq nor Bashar Al Assad in Syria will desist from sacrificing their Christian minority populations, should circumstances warrant it. Field Marshal Mohammad Hussain Tantawi in Egypt can safely be added to this list though disposing of 10 million Copts may be far more difficult than pushing a million Iraqis or half a million Syrians to leave.

Resettling Lebanese Christians on the other hand, would be far more difficult, although economics forced many to uproot themselves and seek more peaceful shores. Why are Christian minorities so threatened and what can be done to stop the emigration trend?

In the aftermath of the war for Iraq, Christian communities came under attack, few stood up to voice their opposition to such despicable acts. For years, Egyptian Copts suffered because ignorant extremists organised violent assaults. Even in Lebanon, a democratising country that granted Christians political parity after the 1989 Taif Accords, subtle discrimination persisted.

Still, there are those who fail to appreciate how valuable Christian contributions to Arab civilisation are. Regrettably, the novice patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, Bechara Boutros Al Rahi, recently chimed in with skewed interpretations.

Sadly for the cleric, repeated political comments provided unnecessary cover to regimes that divide to rule, pretending to protect minorities. In one of his more obtuse elucidations on the Syrian Baath party, Al Rahi conceded that Damascus was ruled by "an extreme and dictatorial regime", though he quickly and mistakenly compared it with "many others like it in the Arab world".

Obtuse arguments

Even worse, the cleric opined that Al Assad did not rule over a "Muslim" country in the strict sense of the word, which presumably meant that Syria was "the closest thing to democracy" in the region.

Beyond the absurd comparison, Al Rahi was careless in his analogy, given that most Arab governments fell under three categories: monarchies, dictatorships, and truncated republics. Four dictatorships — Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen — are now embarked on long-term healing processes that will, hopefully, usher in genuine democratising features that will empower citizens to live in dignity.

Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Palestine confronted serious challenges and may literally experience dramatic changes before long. Mauritania, Djibouti and the Comoros, along with Lebanon, were assured of relatively peaceful transitions, while the eight Arab states — Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — fared much better precisely because they did not pretend to be what they were not.

In time, several Arab kings were likely to transform their countries into constitutional monarchies but to impugn that they are dictatorships is a poor reading of reality. Ironically, it fell on paternalistic monarchs to oppose strongmen who, more often than not, shrouded their brutality under the false ‘protecting minorities' cloak.

When Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz called Al Assad — three time no less — to advise him to halt the current streak of violence before it was too late, he honoured his own faith and, equally important, illustrated the futility of the endgame — to remain in power at all costs.

Strong response

Still, it fell on Shaikh Ahmad Assir, a fiery Lebanese Sunni cleric from Sidon who opposed the Baath regime in Damascus, to respond to Al Rahi.

Speaking at Liberty Square in Beirut during an anti-Al Assad rally, Assir addressed Lebanese Christians pointedly: "You can protect Muslims in the regions by remaining in the Middle East because Israel is seeking to kick you out of the area". He continued: "We not only seek to liberate Al Aqsa mosque [in occupied Jerusalem], but the Church of Nativity as well," which was telling to say the least.

This was a clarion call though the physician who became a politician, Ahmad Fatfat, one of Lebanon's most astute parliamentarians, provided a far more eloquent plea. Representing parts of Akkar near Tripoli, which was and remains a seat of serious sectarian clashes, Fatfat sensibly declared in 2010 that Lebanon gave an "individual Muslim the freedom to enhance his acceptance of Christian parity".

The future of Christian minorities in the Arab and Muslim worlds will only be threatened if and when Christians flee their native lands. Short of that, all they need to do is to insist on laws that protect them as equal citizens, muzzle clerics who thrive on fear and, elect representatives who reject pretentious ideas under the cover of legitimacy.

In short, their need is to have faith in themselves as well as all fellow citizens, regardless of race, religion, creed or even colour.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.


Repairs for Saint Nshan: Georgia to Restore Armenian Church


The National Agency for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Georgia announced Tuesday that it has begun restoration of Saint Nshan church, an Armenian house of worship that was seriously damaged in two fires during January.

Restoration is expected to take three months.

In mid-January, a group of experts from the Ministry of Culture of Armenia led by the head of the Agency for Protection of Monuments of History and Culture Serzhik Arakelyan, went to Tbilisi to assess damage to the church.


Indian Orthodox (Malankara Syrian Christian) Association meet held in Pathanamthitta

Orthodox Syrian Church of the East- Malankara

The meeting of Malankara Syrian Christian Association was held at the Catholicate College grounds here on Wednesday afternoon.

Fr Johns Abraham Konat was elected as Priest Trustee and Mr M George Muthoot as Lay Trustee for the second time.

The association is regarded as the supreme parliament of the Malankara Orthodox Church and Wednesday’s meeting was to elect a new clergy trustee, lay trustee and 129 members (43 priests and 86 laymen) to its managing committee.

The Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan, Moran Mor Baselius Mar Thoma Paulose-II, was escorted from the Basil Bishop’s House in an open jeep to the meeting venue, Catholicate College grounds, in Pathanamthitta, in the afternoon.

The Catholicos presided the meeting. Dr Youhanon Mar Diascorus, Metropolitan of the Chennai diocese of the Church, delivered the introductory speech.

The election was held after the presidential address by the Catholicos.

Mr C.K. Koshy, former Additional Chief Secretary of Gujarat, was the returning officer.


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