It has been reported by various sources that Orthodox Metropolitan Augustine of Germany of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has violated the holy cannons of the Orthodox Church by receiving sacramental oil from a Roman Catholic prelate as well taking part in non-orthodox liturgical services during an ecumenical event held on 5th may 2012, at Trier, Germany.
the event was attended by Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Roman Catholics, Anglican and several other Protestant denominations.Presence of female priestess were also very much visible.
Report by Mystagogy
Ecumenism Day (May 5) was established in Germany in 2003 to bring together divided German Christians of various denominations and churches who believe in the Holy Trinity to symbolically celebrate their mutual cooperation. This year on Ecumenism Day thousands of pilgrims gathered in Trier to venerate an alleged robe of Christ, probably of medieval origin, which is seamless and came to symbolize on this day the seamless unity of Christians which is desired. However when the various Christian representatives, among whom was Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany, gathered at the Basilica of Constantine, things went a little too far and the representatives got ahead of themselves with a symbolic baptism of each member by another member. They dipped their hand in water and symbolically baptized each other on the forehead with an open hand, saying: “You are baptized in the Name of the Triune God”.
Then, as a reminder of the theme of the pilgrimage, a white baptismal stole with the theme written on it was put on each representative. This was done to Metropolitan Augoustinos by a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Such are the unfortunate situations an Orthodox participant can get into when Ecumenism goes too far and the program is beyond their control and not properly evaluated beforehand to avoid a scandalous incident.Source:
Eastern Christian Countries Capable of Altering Humankind in 10 Years - Archpriest Chaplin
Moscow, May 14, Interfax - Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia and other Eastern Christian countries are meant to change the entire humankind together, the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin has said.
"Our Christian Orthodox, Eastern Slavic civilization is not the most numerous but it is central because it is it that knows today how to open doors to a better life for the whole world, especially for Europe," he said during a Moscow-Kiev-Minsk video linkup on Monday.
The linkup was dedicated to international public hearings that are due in Kiev on July 28, the Day of the Baptism of Rus, and will be chaired by Patriarch Kirill.
In the priest`s opinion, the future of Europe belongs not to London, Paris or Brussels, but to Kiev, Minsk, Moscow, Chisinau, Athens and Bucharest, "the cities that are centers of the Eastern Christian civilization."
"Today we - Kiev, Minsk and Moscow - are more than Europe, more than the West of our continent. The West betrayed the ideals of Rome, of Christianity, of Europe that used to be based on Roman law and Christian ideals which Emperors Constantine and Justinian combined with Roman law," he said.
"Remembering that today our civilization should not be following the weak-willed West or intellectually weak East. We should not be dependent or obedient in the world of a dialogue of civilizations. We should combine intellect and will, traditions and innovations, faith and life, spirituality and earthliness. It is our duty to change the world in 10 years and we can do it," the priest believes.
He voiced hope that festivities on the Day of the Baptism of Rus in Russia, Byelorussia and Ukraine will be spectacular and, more importantly, meaningful, attracting great numbers of young people, making them think that the feast "speaks of something much more important than the economy, politics or arguments about the subtleties of government."
"All that will change many, many times while the civil vector of the development of our peoples will remain unchanged as we hope and believe. We are called upon today to develop the Eastern Christian civilization that has keys to the future of the whole world," he concluded adding that "the apocalypse is the alternative to our road."
Inter-Council Presence’s Working Group on Relationship Between Science and Faith Holds Its First Session
On 11 May 2012, the Church Postgraduate and Doctoral School hosted the first meeting of the Inter-Council Presence’s working group on relationship between science and faith. The meeting was chaired by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, chairman of the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission and rector of the Postgraduate and Doctoral School.
The working group was set up by the decision of the Inter-Council’s Presence’ Presidium to work at the documents on similar themes. Members of the working group discussed future plans.
Announcement of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the occasion of the latest imprisonment of Archbishop John
After years of persecution, harassment, arrests and imprisonments, His Beatitude the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje kyr Dr. John, pan-Orthodoxly renowned and recognized canonical Prelate of the ancient Ohrid Archbishopric, was sentenced yesterday, May 11th, to two and a half years in prison under false charges of alleged fraud and embezzlement, the result of a politically motivated and staged pseudotrial of a Stalinist-type, organized upon the blatant request of the schismatic organization calling itself “The Macedonian Orthodox Church”. He was sentenced solely because of His unwavering commitment to the unity of the Church of God; because of his communion with the Serbian Patriarchate and thereby with universal Orthodoxy worldwide; and because of his persistent and confessional fight against the schismatic mentality and anti-Ecclesiastical ethnophiletism. This is a unique case in contemporary Europe – if not in the whole civilized world – of the authorities, by order, to commit an act of cruel violence and an atrocity upon the Orthodox Church and Her lawful senior representatives, most violently breaking both their own laws and international norms and conventions. Fortunately, several diplomats, representatives of the Orthodox Church, as well as representatives from organizations and institutions dedicated to the protection of human rights and religious freedom, attended the “trial”, and thus an accurate report and a clear picture of this sad and ugly scene staged in the Veles courtroom can be made to the relevant factors and the public.
The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, under whose canonical jurisdiction the autonomous Ohrid Archbishopric is, condemns with the deepest moral indignation this incomparable violence and persecution conducted under the guise of legal order, and is always with the brothers and sisters from the Ohrid Archbishopric, in prayer and evangelic love, and especially with their Shepherd, who gladly accepts and endures suffering for our forefathers’ faith as well as for the unity of Christ’s holy Orthodox Church. The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church finally calls:
for all sister Orthodox Churches throughout the ecumene;
for all other Christian Churches in the world;
for the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and other Christian organizations;
for the spiritual leaders of major world religions;
for the for governments and relevant public authorities of legally regulated states, primarily democratic;
for the international institutions;
for the institutions and organizations of human rights and religious freedom; and
for all people of good will;
to provide spiritual, moral, legal and any other possible support to the prisoner of conscience, the Archbishop John, and to contribute to his release from prison as soon as possible.
Belgrade, May 12th, 2012
The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church
On the Way to the Great Jubilee in 2013
Serbian Orthodox Church
THE EDICT OF MILAN (313-2013): A BASIS FOR FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF?
Novi Sad, Serbia: May, 2nd - 5th, 2012.
C O N C L U S I O N S
Departing from the Everlasting values and permanent actuality of Edict of Milan, at the eve of the Great Jubilee 2013, the participants of the conference THE EDICT OF MILAN (313-2013): A BASIS FOR FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF?, organized in the city of Novi Sad (SERBIA) from 2nd till 5th may 2012 discussed different aspects of ways in which the everlasting symbolic message associated with the so called Edict of Milan could be the source of inspiration and the guideline for practical implementation of principle of Freedom of Religion or Belief. The conference was organized and hosted by the Serbian Orthodox Church, His Grace Bishop Irinej of Backa and the Association of NGOs in SEE, CIVIS, in partnership with PRO ORIENTE Foundation and Peace and Crises Management Foundation and in cooperation with CEC. It brought together theologians, historians and experts from different religious communities from all over the Europe and even beyond. The participants expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the excellent framework for a fruitful exchange of views in an atmosphere of mutual respect, which the organizers have provided. The following conclusions, offered by the organizers of the conference, may serve as a basis for the future cooperation in promoting freedom of religion or belief.
o The ideas that in the given historical and social context inspired the Edict of Milan should be taken as the symbolic starting point in a new contextualization of libertas religionis for everybody, being a member of majority or minority, according to the realities of our times and the changing world.
o Churches and religious communities would need to continue to work together on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief as well as to strengthen their cooperation with the civil society in order to unite their voices vis-à-vis the state which is obliged to guarantee the universal fundamental rights to freedom of religion or belief.
o Fully aware of theological and behavioral differences related to the concept of freedom of religion or belief in various spiritual traditions that ought to be equally respected the participants came to the common assessment that such differences can be successfully overcome only if the dignity of the human person is put in the center of all concerns. In that sense universally accepted international human rights standards should provide the general legal framework for assuring the respect of human rights in the field of the freedom of religion or belief.
o Different models and experiences of Church and religious communities – state relations could serve as the useful empirical basis in creating the preconditions for constructive partnership between religious and governmental sectors of society with more effective impact of the civil society which in this respect should find with Churches and religious communities the objectively existing common ground. The participants emphasized the need for establishing of pertinent structural dialogue about all important issues for improvement of concretization in the area of the freedom of religion or belief. On their behalf, Churches and religious communities are ready to take the responsibility for preservation and development of all social values.
o Different forms and ways of cooperation and consultation between individuals and organizations already engaged in the projectEverlasting Value and Permanent Actuality of the Edict of Milanas well as welcomed contribution of other actors relevant for the domain of freedom of religion or belief should be intensified in the following period. This is the precondition for decisively achieving new dimension of quality at the next conference that should be held in year to come which is the year of the Jubilee of the Edict of Milan. The participants are convinced that by the successful common endeavor at this and previous conference within the same project sound basis has been created for substantial breakthrough towards the real progress in the utmost important and extremely complex sphere of freedom of religion or belief.
His Holiness Irinej, Serbian Patriarch Blesses Newly-built Monastery of St. Sava in Golija
Serbian Orthodox Church
His Holiness Irinej, Serbian Patriarch consecrated today newly built monastery of St. Sava in Golija with the concelebration of Their Graces Bishops retired Atanasije of Zahumlje-Herzegovina, Nikanor of Banat, Filaret of Mileseva, Joanikije of Budimlje-Niksic, Grigorije of Zahumlje-Herzegovina and Maxim of Western America on Sunday, May 13, 2012 and he served the Divine Liturgy there.
On this occasion of St. Sava of the First Degree Miodrag Daka Davidovic, the endower of this sacred place, the prominent economist of Niksic.
The assembled people was adressed by His Holiness, Irinej, Serbian Patriarch, Bishop Joanikije of Budimlje-Niksic, Mr. Miodrag Davidovic and academician Matija Beckovic.
Solemn Procession in Honor and Glory of Our Holy Father Basil of Ostrog the Wonderworker Went Through Streets of Niksic
Serbian Orthodox Church
His Holiness Irinej, Serbian Patriaarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral and Their Graces Bishops retired Atanasije of Zahumlje-Herzegovina, Nikanor of Banat, Filaret of Milesevo, Joanikije of Budimlje-Niksic, Grigorije of Zahumlje-Herzegovina and Maxim of Western America with great number of priests and believers led on Saturday, May 12 a solemn procession in honour and glory of Our Father Basil of Ostrog which went through streets of Niksic.
The Patriarch of Romania Reconsecrated the Church of Saint Basil the Great in Cotroceni
On 13 May 2012, the 5th Sunday after the Holy Easter, named of the Samaritan woman, His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church re-consecrated the church of Saint Basil the Great and of Saint Pious Parascheva situated in Cotroceni district of Bucharest, assisted by a group of priests and deacons, after the restoration and bedecking works made during the last few years.
On the occasion of the re-consecration, the place of worship has received one more dedication day: the Sunday of the Romanian Saints. Many faithful attended the religious service.
Further on, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel celebrated the Divine Liturgy assisted by a group of priests and deacons. After reading the evangelical pericope of Saint Evangelist John, chapter 4, lines 5 – 42, His Beatitude delivered a sermon in which he emphasised its spiritual truths: “The Gospel shows us, first of all, that the living water the Saviour speaks about is the saving grace given to all those who believe in Jesus Christ, who receive the baptism and learn to pray God-the-Father, worshipping Him and the Son and the Holy Spirit, if they pray in spirit and truth. They will pray in the Holy Spirit and confess Christ, the Way, Truth and Life. The saving grace is named - after the Gospel according to John – the living water, the water that gives eternal life. The second truth of today’s Gospel is the fact that Jesus Christ, our Saviour, changes mentalities and attitudes. He changes mentalities of hostility into attitudes of dialogue and cooperation. He considers a woman of a different nation and faith worthy of conversation. He also changes mentalities or breaks down the barrier of the Samarineans’ complex of inferiority towards the Jews as well as the barrier of the complex of superiority of the Jews towards the Samarineans, just as He breaks down the barrier of superiority of the man towards woman, calling to holiness not only men but also women.”
His Beatitude spoke about the example of the Samaritan woman: ”Jesus Christ, our Saviour, shows us, in today’s Gospel one more truth: the saving grace, the living water which springs from Him and changes the people’s lives. Thus, a pagan sinful woman believes in Christ, brings a whole city to Him, becomes missionary, recognises the mistakes of her life and changes her life. This woman who converts herself, who believes in Christ, represents all the pagan nations who will believe in Christ and will join His Church. The Gospel also shows us that Christ, our Lord, has not come only for the Judaeans’ salvation, but also for the salvation of all peoples. All peoples are called to salvation by Jesus Christ”.
The Patriarch of Romania has also shown the importance of the consecration of a place of worship in the life of the faithful: “We have consecrated here a Gate of Heaven, a House of the Lord and an Icon of the Heavenly Jerusalem we are making for. The time consecrated in the Church is the foretaste of the holy never ending time of the Kingdom of Heaven. The sacred time when we pray is the foretaste of Heaven, and this is why the Church was named the Heaven on the Earth, especially when it is painted. So, the consecration of the church entrusted us a duty, namely to follow the faith of the saints martyrs we have remembered so many times and whose relics were laid in the leg of the Holy Table. Let us follow the faith of all the saints we have seen painted in icons, let us glorify together with Saint Apostles and confess together with them the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. This church calls us to a strengthening and confessing of the faith and, at the same time, to a spiritual renewal and bedecking”.
To end with the Divine Liturgy, the Primate of the Romanian Orthodox Church awarded the title of iconomos stavrofor to the parish priest Valentin Stefan, the order of “Sanctus Stephanus Magnus” to the former parish priest, and diplomas of worthiness to the faithful who helped with the restoration and bedecking of the holy place of worship. His Beatitude offered a blessing Cross and several books of service for the church of Saint Basil the Great – Cotroceni.
To end with, the few hundred of faithful who attended the religious service passed through the new consecrated altar, according to tradition.
700 Priests on a Conference at the Patriarchal Palace
On Monday, 14 May 2012, seven hundred clergy of the Archdiocese of Bucharest participated in the Spring semestral pastoral-missionary conference. The Conference was held under the chairmanship of His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church at the Patriarchate Palace, in Patriarch Teoctist Aula Magna Hall. Priests ofDeaneries I, II and III Capital, North Ilfov and South Ilfov, and the priests of charity from Bucharest and Ilfov county were present.
To start with the working session, the Patriarch of Romania addressed a speech to those present entitled: The priests pray, physicians treat, but God gives healing.
His Beatitude showed in his speech that looking after the sick is not limited to the medical treatment, but all the liturgical, educational catechetical, pastoral, social – philanthropic and medical work of the Church is a work for healing, keeping or recuperating the good health of the body and soul, of the person and of the community too.
This comprehensive understanding of looking after the sick by the Church is based on the basic truth that the Spring of life, of good health and of the healing is Christ – the Doctor of our bodies and souls. This is why when talking about the healing of the sick we can say that the priests pray, the physicians treat, but God gives healing or salvation, said His Beatitude.
Because the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church declared the year 2012 as Homage year of the Holy Unction and Looking after the Sick, lectures were presented during the conferences held, as follows:
1. Sacrament of the Holy Unction – Bible-patristic and historical presentation, lecture delivered by Rev. Petre Sperlea from Slobozia church, deanery III Capital;
2. Sacrament of the Holy Unction – theological existential significance, lecture delivered by deacon Cosmin Pricop from Delea Noua church of the Capital;
3. Sacrament of the Holy Unction from a liturgical point of view – lecture delivered by parish priests Silviu Tudose of Saint Ilie Gorgani church.
During the Conference a documentary made by the Social Philanthropic Department of the Archdiocese of Bucharest and TV Trinitas was presented showing the activity of the priests of charity in the hospitals and looking after the sick in the medical centres which cooperate with the Archdiocese of Bucharest (Saint Spiridon – Vechi, MED AS etc.) and the consulting rooms in parishes.
To end with, the Primate of the Romanian Orthodox Church offered the priests present a theological, liturgical and pastoral guide concerning theSacrament of the Holy Unction. The book appeared with the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel, at Cuvantul vietii publishing house of the Metropolitanate of Muntenia and Dobrudgea.
The Conference was preceded by the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and by the Te Deum service at 8.00 o’clock hours, in Saint Spiridon the New church. 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.
West Has Betrayed Christianity, Russia Will Save It - Orthodox Church Official
Countries of the “Russian world” are capable of changing the globe within ten years, believes top cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church Vsevolod Chaplin.
By the “Russian world” he means states with a historically strong tradition of Orthodox Christianity which, apart from Russia, include Ukraine, Belarus, Greece, Romania and several others.
“Our Orthodox civilization may not be that large, but today it has a key role in the world as it knows how to find a way to a better life for the whole world and especially Europe,” Chaplin said on Monday during a videoconference between Moscow, Kiev and Minsk.
The West has betrayed the ideals of Christianity, which Emperors Constantine and Justinian merged with Roman law, Chaplin says. In his opinion, the Europe, which was based on these principles, no longer exists.
Bearing this in mind, the Eastern Christian civilization should not follow in the steps of either the “weak-willed West” or the “intellectually weak East, ” he says.
“We do not need to be led… we have to reunite mind and will, traditions and innovations, faith and living, the spiritual and the secular. Our duty is to change the world in ten years, and we are able to do so,” he concluded.
The Fifth Round of Dialogues Between the Center for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholicate of Cilicia
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - The fifth round of dialogues between the Center for Interreligious Dialogue and the Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholicosate of Cilicia, kicks off yesterday, May 14, in Tehran.
Titled “The Role of Religion in Promotion of Ethical Values in the Society”, the forum has been organized by the Organization for Culture and Islamic Relations in cooperation with Armenian Orthodox Church.
A number of officials and experts including Dr Mohammad Baqer Khorramshad, head of the organization, Ayatollah Taskhiri, Secretary General of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, Archbishop Sebuh Sarkisian, the Armenian Orthodox primate of the diocese of Tehran, Patriarch Aram Keshishian, Catholicos of Cilicia for the Armenian Orthodox and Mohammad Reza Dehshiri, educational-research deputy of the organization, are among the leading figures attending the event.
Mohammad Reza Dehshiri gave a speech at the meeting and elaborated on the cultural commonalities of the two faiths namely Islam and Christianity, describing Armenian religious minority as the biggest minority group in the country.
“Islamic Republic of Iran attaches great importance to the status and rights of all the religious minorities in the country”.
Referring to the historical aspects of ethics in Islam and Christianity, he underscored the pivotal role of ethics in resolving crises during the history and described the relationship of Fiqh and ethics as crucial in both faiths.
It is underway at the premises of Culture and Islamic Relations Organization.
Coptic Christians Among Jersey City Faith Groups Helping 25 West Point Cadets Deepen Appreciation for Other Cultures
By Charles Hack/The Jersey Journal
After a tour of Ellis Island and a lunch featuring Egyptian cuisine hosted by a Coptic Orthodox Church, 25 West Point cadets visited the church on Bergen Avenue to learn about Coptic history and the church’s role in the community.
The next stop for the cadets who are studying “Winning the Peace” at West Point’s Department of Social Science on their packed three-day trip was a Catholic Church and then a mosque.
“This trip is about learning about aspects of warfare that do not involve a gun,” said David Shields, 22, a cadet from Tampa, Fla. “We are here to learn about different faiths and communities and how they all interact.
“It’s been awesome, getting to interact with different people. Everyone here has been hospitable,” he added.
The Rev. David A. Bebawy, pastor at St. George and Shenouda Church, provided a slide show presentation about the Coptic faith, which started with a history of the language and religion.
After Cadet Lt. Nate Freeland, 23, of Keyville, Va., asked what role the church plays in Jersey City’s diverse community, the Rev. Anthony Basily explained a range of services the church provides such as helping new immigrants, bringing comfort to housebound people in the community and feeding the homeless.
The purpose of the cadets’ program is to immerse them in one of the most diverse cities in the country to give them a greater respect and understanding of different cultures.
Retired Jersey City Police Detective Rich Boggiano, who has two children who graduated from West Point, initiated the program at the suggestion of one of his sons, who was asked by the school to talk to cadets about his experiences with the culture and religion in Iraq.
“This is our eighth year,” said Maj. Andrew Gallo, the course director and assistant professor of American politics at West Point. “The community has been incredibly helpful and gracious.”
At the Islamic Center of Jersey City, where the cadets stay, program organizer Ahmed Shedeed said the visit to the city is an eye-opener for some students.
“Some of these soldiers have never seen anybody different. Some have never seen a black person or eaten Chinese food, and they come to a place like Jersey City and they understand they’re not the only ones in the world, that there are civilizations and cultures that came before theirs,” he said.
Many of the cadets who will be commissioned officers when they graduate next month will be sent to Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries where an understanding of other cultures will help them in their assignments.
Copts to Shun Islamists in Egypt’s Presidential, Vote Fear Sectarian Conflicts
By YASMINE SALEH
Egypt’s Coptic Christians complained of discrimination under Hosni Mubarak but fear it may get worse if an Islamist takes his place in next week’s presidential election.
Long-suppressed Islamists already dominate parliament. Islamist contenders for the presidency say Christians, who form about a tenth of Egypt’s 82 million mostly Muslim people, will not be sidelined, but mistrustful Copts will not vote for them.
The single biggest Coptic grievance and the source of most sectarian violence in Egypt is legislation that makes it easy to build a mosque but hard to construct or even repair a church.
A new mosque needs only a permit from the local district. A church needs extra paper work and the president himself must sign off, a task Mubarak eventually delegated to city governors.
Coptic voter Medhat Malak hopes those discriminatory rules will be changed if his choice for president wins - Mubarak’s last prime minister and former military commander Ahmed Shafiq.
He worries that an Islamist head of state would make life more uncomfortable for Copts, who blame ultra-orthodox Salafi Muslims for a surge of attacks on churches since Mubarak’s overthrow in a popular uprising 15 months ago.
“Islamist policies on Christians are vague. It is possible they would restrict our freedoms to gain popularity among strict Muslims at our expense,” said Malak, 33, whose Cairo church has been the center of a row over whether it has a proper license.
A senior Orthodox Coptic church official said 6 million Copts are among the 50 million eligible voters who go to the polls on May 23 and 24 and again next month in a run-off if no candidate scores more than 50 percent in the first round.
If Christians voted as a bloc - which may not happen - they could help swing an unpredictable race whose main contenders are either Islamists or men who served under Mubarak at some time.
Many voters are undecided, but ask a Copt and most are swift to declare a preference for Shafiq or Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief and Mubarak’s one-time foreign minister.
Both are Muslims, like all 13 candidates, and both were part of the Mubarak era, when Christians complained of being treated as second-class citizens in the workplace or elsewhere.
But Copts see them as safer bets than Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi or former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, despite the latter’s attempts to woo liberals as well as the Salafis whose leaders have endorsed him.
No election rally is complete without an appeal to “all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians”, but the place of Christians and the reach of Islamic law are burning issues in a country struggling to work out its new identity and aspirations.
During a televised campaign debate, Moussa asked Abol Fotouh whether Muslims had a right to convert to Christianity. Abol Fotouh said a Muslim who did so would face efforts to make him return to his old faith all his life - a stance comparable to a Catholic priest trying to save a lost member of his flock.
The main Islamic schools of thought consider converting a forbidden act, but differ over how to deal with it, with some strict Muslims saying such apostasy is punishable by death.
Christianity takes a looser attitude, but in Egypt Copts who leave the faith may be ostracized by their community.
Moussa, a self-declared liberal nationalist, in turn faced questions about what role he would give Islamic sharia.
“All of the Islamist presidential candidates including Abol Fotouh are unclear on issues related to minorities and Christians,” said Peter el-Naggar, a lawyer who has often represented the church and Muslim converts to Christianity who want the state to recognize their change of faith.
“We still don’t know and don’t trust what they would do to us if they came to power,” he said, citing conversion and church-building as the most sensitive sectarian issues.
A year ago Islamists accused priests in the church in Cairo’s poor Imbaba area of holding captive a Christian woman who had converted to Islam. Deadly clashes ensued and the church was burned down. The ruling military council had it renovated.
A church official, who took part in talks to resolve the Imbaba dispute and who asked not to be named, said the outcome might have increased Coptic support for an “army” candidate.
“I can see many ordinary Christians are supporting Shafiq as they see in his military background strength to protect their rights against Islamists,” he said. “They saw their church burned and destroyed and they don’t want that again.”
Conflicts over conversions, cross-faith romances or church-building have long flared in towns or villages where turf wars or family rivalries often loom as large as sectarian loyalties.
But the attack on the Imbaba church was one of several that have
Coptic fear and anger since Mubarak’s overthrow.
After one such reported church attack in southern Egypt, Copts protested in Cairo outside the state radio and television complex of Maspero. About 25 people were killed in clashes between Christians, unidentified thugs and military police.
The sectarian element in a still-murky episode was a sickening jolt for many Egyptians after the harmonious images of the anti-Mubarak revolt in Tahrir Square, when Copts formed protective cordons around Muslims at prayer and Muslims brandished the Koran and the Bible, chanting “in one hand”.
Copts suffered another blow to their confidence when Pope Shenouda died in March, aged 88. Many viewed him as a political as well as a religious patriarch and his death left them feeling bereft of a voice as Islamists rose to power.
Hafez Abu Saeda, the head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, says four-fifths of sectarian violence in the past five years was related to church construction issues and that even-handed legislation was vital to defuse tension.
For many Copts, it may be too late. Plenty have emigrated and others say they will leave Egypt, home to the Middle East’s largest Christian community and one of its most ancient.
Christian activist Naguib Gobrail told Al-Masry Al-Youm daily in April that about 100,000 Christians had departed last year and many more would go if an Islamist became president.
“I want to feel relaxed in my country,” said Ayman, a 36-year-old Coptic taxi driver, giving only his first name.
He had earlier tried to cover the traditional cross tattooed on his hand when he saw a veiled Muslim woman request a ride, but made his feelings clear when asked about the election.
“I want a fair, liberal person to balance the spread of Islamists. Only God knows what they would do to us and to moderate Muslims if they won.”
UK Parliamentarians Hear Plight of Christian Women
By John Pontifex and John Newton, Aid to the Church in Need
Revelations about the scale of hate crimes against Christian women in Pakistan and Egypt are to be the subject of a meeting in parliament today.
At the briefing in the House of Commons, MPs and peers will hear how Christian women in countries marked by religious persecution experience kidnapping, violence, rape, and even have basics like water denied them.
Evidence of widespread discrimination against Christian women is highlighted in a number of new reports.
These include the Life on the Margins report by the Pakistani Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, and Catholic charity Aid to the Need (UK)’s new book, Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom, which will be launched at the event in parliament.
According to research, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment or rape because of their lower social status – which is due to both their religion and their gender.
One survey of women from minority religions in Pakistan revealed that 30 per cent of those with jobs had experienced sexual harassment.
Other reports revealed how abductions of Coptic women in Egypt have increased, with 800 cases of Christians kidnapped and pressured to convert to Islam since 2009.
The Commons meeting will hear from Thomsena Anjum, originally from Pakistan’s Punjab province, who fled to the UK with her family after being shot at following a blasphemy allegation against her son.
Mrs Anjum, whose husband Stephen worked closely with assassinated Pakistan minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, will say: “I am a witness to the plight of Christian women in rural areas – but also deeply saddened because of the atrocities they faced on a daily basis due to their religion.
“These hate crimes towards Christian women are increasing and do not seem to end. These crimes are unreported and unpunished.”
Mrs Anjum visited hundreds of Christian families in Punjab province as a district councillor and social worker in Faisalabad between 1998 and 2009.
Chaired by Lord David Alton of Liverpool, the meeting will also hear testimonies from Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, and Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt.
At the House of Commons meeting Aid to the Church in Need’s John Pontifex will outline the findings of research by the charity and other organisations.
He will say: “Taken as a whole, this research suggests that Christians in general are often treated at best as second class citizens and Christian women are treated as if they are barely citizens at all.”
ACN has compiled a briefing document specifically looking at the extent of persecution of Christian women in Egypt and Pakistan and highlighting the findings of key research into the subject.
Among those quoted in the briefing is Peter Jacob from Pakistan, one of the authors of the Life on the Margins report, who highlights the rape of Christian women.
He said “the number of attacks against women in Pakistan is four times higher than the cases that [are] reported” and many crimes “based on sex pass in silence”.
At the Commons meeting, Mrs Anjum is set to describe other problems faced by Christian women – including how in many places they have been denied water after local Muslims claimed that wells would become ‘unclean’ if Christians touched them.
She said: “Christian women are the poorest of the poor in Pakistan and they are living with shame and suffering discrimination silently.”
Syrian Christians Fear Islamist Rule If Assad Goes
Damascus: Christians living in conflict-torn Syria are afraid their community would fall victim of religious extremism if President Bashar al-Assad's regime collapses and Islamists come to power.
"I am afraid that we will suffer bad times," a member of Damascus's Christian community, who identified himself as Jorge, told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.
A full-fledged civil war will break out in Syria if Assad's enemies and their western supporters continue efforts to topple the President, he said.
"If the regime falls, Islamists will come to power," Jorge said.
Islamists "wrongly believe that we support the current regime", and for that reason they will complicate the life of Christians, he said.
"Sunni Muslims who predominate Syria think that if President Assad's regime representing the interests of the Alawi minority falls, they will live better. But I personally think that they are wrong. Syria is a secular state and its people, including Muslims, will not like it if the new power starts thrusting orthodox Islamic norms of moral and behaviour on them," he said.
According to Jorge, extremist forces rather than liberals would come to power in Syria.
Another Syrian, an engineer from Homs, said on condition of anonymity that he is sure that if Assad's regime falls, Christians will be "expelled from the country in one day".
Presently, the situation in Homs is quite complicated. Almost all of the local Christians have moved away. Their homes have been occupied by militants and their families, and the shops have been looted. Refugees are temporarily living in other regions of the country.
Jorge said Islamists are trying to show that if the regime changes, Christians would not come under attack.
"They do it to appease them (the Christians), attract them thus losing their support of the regime," he said.
Muslim leaders put messages on social networks saying that Christians and Muslims have for centuries lived together in Syria. They have also tried to distance themselves from the damage that has been inflicted on Christian homes and churches in Homs.
The engineer from Homs said that government forces could have "pushed out" Islamist militants from Homs if they continued shelling the city for at least three more days.
"But then they adopted (UN and League of Arab States ambassador) Kofi Annan's plan and gunfire was terminated. But this does not bring anything good to us. Our homes remain occupied by militants," he said.
He said the majority Christians do not consider emigration a possibility. "This is our homeland. Christians have been living in Syria long before the Muslims. Why should we move away?"
Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria's 23-million population. Approximately half of Syria's Christians belong to the Antiochian Orthodox Church.