A church in a village in Al-Hasakah province, where more than 20,000 Christians still live.
Melke Rabo is a commander in the Christian militia Syriac [Assyrian] Military Council, one of the groups fighting back against the “IS” advance.
Syriac Military Council members inspect a church which was destroyed when the village was taken over by Jabhat-al Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate.
A Syriac Military Council soldier rests in a position overlooking “IS” positions.
A scene from the Christian neighborhood of Derek in northeastern Syria where Kurds make up most of the population.
A funeral service in the city of Derek where Kurds are carving out their own territory.
A Syriac Military Council soldier stands in a building recaptured from Islamic State forces. The rebel fighters lack the weaponry and resources to defeat IS permanently.
A Syriac Military Council soldier walks among ruins of the Mosque in Tel Marouf, a town recently retaken from IS forces. The Islamic State fighters have left a trail of destruction in many areas, breaking and looting valuable cultural artifacts. May 2015 -http://www.dw.de
In a 25-minute interview on Arabic satellite TV with Dr. Mona Roman, Coptic Christian Bishop Agathon fully exposed the plight of his Christian flock in Minya, Egypt—a region that has a large Coptic minority that is steadily under attack.
While several important points were made, most notable was that the Egyptian State itself is often behind the persecution of and discrimination against Christians.
According to the frustrated-sounding bishop, local governmental authorities—including the State Security apparatus—are not just ignoring the attacks on Copts, but are often the very ones behind them. For example, when the Copts were having a serious council meeting with government officials about the possibility of building a church, one of the authorities actually contacted the Islamic sheikhs of the village asking whether they “stand with the Coptic church or with the State?” If the latter, each Muslim household was instructed to send one family member to protest against the proposed building of a church—so that security can then point to the mob and, as usual, just tell the Copts, “Sorry, no can do.”
Other times, State Security is complicit: Male and female Christian minors—currently 21 from just Minya alone said the Coptic leader—are habitually abducted by surrounding Muslims. At the moment, the youngest Christian girl abducted had just started elementary school. Whenever any of these attacks occur, Copts, working with the church, prepare bundles of documents, including photos and other verifications, incriminating the culprits. These then are placed into the hands of top officials, to make sure they don’t get “lost” or “misplaced” by underlings. The bishop named many of these top people—at no small risk to himself—and said he even put such proofs and documents into the hands of the Director of Intelligence himself. “Absolutely nothing was done,” said the despondent Christian.
He discussed the difficulties that Copts encounter whenever they want to build a church—due to their dearth, some of the current churches serve tens of thousands of Christians—or even make simple repairs. By way of example, he explained how the Virgin Mary Church in Safaniya village has no bathrooms or running water. Christians “tried time and time again to get approval to build bathrooms, to no avail.” The bishop lamented how elderly and sick people sometimes urinate on themselves during service, while mothers must change their crying babies’ diapers right on the pews.
In response, authorities told the bishop to “Go and ask the Muslims of your region if they will approve the building of a church, or bathroom, or anything—and if they do, so will we.”
It should be noted that Islamic law specifically bans the construction or repair of churches.
Clearly frustrated, the bishop added: “We as Copts are human beings. And envy takes us when we see our Muslim brothers build mosques where they will, how they will, at any place and at any time. And the State helps them! But as for us, we cannot build anything and that which is already open is being closed…. We, the Copts, are citizens with rights; and we see Muslims get whatever they want, while we are always prevented.”
The Coptic bishop also said that sometimes Christians are punished whenever they go and “bother” authorities about their treatment. For example, when a Coptic delegation went to make a formal complaint, one of them was immediately kidnapped. His kidnappers demanded and received 120,000 Egyptian pounds for his release. Police were notified—even told where the exchange of money for hostage was to take place—but did absolutely nothing. The bishop referred to this incident as a “punishment” while Dr. Roman, the Coptic hostess, called Minya, Egypt a “State of Retribution” against those Copts who dare refuse to suffer quietly,” adding, “Al-Minya is apparently not an Egyptian province; it is governed by ISIS.”
Finally, Bishop Agathon made clear the despondency he and the average Christian in Egypt feel, repeatedly saying that, no matter which official they talk to, “nothing will change.” If anything, the plight of Egypt’s Christians has gone “from bad to worse,” said the bishop: “We hear beautiful words but no solution.”
Dr. Roman concluded by imploring Egyptian President Sisi, saying: “I’ve said it before: President Sisi is very meticulous and aware of the nation’s issues. Why, then, is it that the Coptic plight in Minya is being ignored? Why is he turning a blind eye toward it?”
Bishop Agathon concluded by saying that “Copts are between a state anvil and aggressor hammers,” meaning that, the state serves only to keep its Christian citizens in place while Islamic radicals pound away at them.
Sofia: The celebration of Anniversary of 1150 years since the Christianisation of the Bulgarian people was held on 3/5/15. His Holiness Neophyte – the Patriarch of Bulgaria presided over the celebration along with His Beatitude Daniel – Patriarch of Romania, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kive and All Ukraine and other Orthodox Prelates.
The Message of His Beatitude DANIEL, Patriarch of Romania, at the anniversary of 1150 years since the Christianisation of the Bulgarian people, 3 May 2015.
His Beatitude NEOPHYTE, Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Your Beatitude, Beloved brother in Christ the Lord,
CHRIST IS RISEN!
This year, 2015, together with the whole Bulgarian Orthodox Church we share in the joy of celebrating 1150 years since the Christianization of the Bulgarian people.
This bright festive moment aims to solemnly highlight the continuity and fruitfulness, over the centuries, of the confession of Christ on the soil of Bulgaria. This is also an appropriate opportunity to highlight the traditional Orthodox communion in the context of the South Eastern European area of the Balkan Peninsula, a space where the ages-old and permanence of fraternal relations between the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church are manifested.
After the Bulgarian people received the faith in Christ during Tsar Boris, in the year 864, at the end of the first millennium an extensive process of Christianization of the Slavic peoples of Eastern, Central and South Eastern Europe has followed. The relations of Slavic people with Christians in the area of the ethno-genesis and Christianization of the ancestors of the Romanian people contributed to this process from the early centuries of the Christian era, beginning with the preaching of Saint Andrew the Apostle in Scythia Minor (today Dobrogea). A special cooperation between Romanians and Bulgarians has taken place during the Romanian-Bulgarian Tsardom (12th – 14th centuries). It remains a fundamental milestone in this respect the particularly interesting correspondence, rich in content between Metropolitan Anthimos Critopoulos of Walachia and Saint Pious Nicodemus of Tismana with Saint Euthymius, Patriarch of Tarnovo, in the second half of the 14th century.
After the occupation of the Balkan Peninsula up to the Danube by the Ottoman Empire at the end of that century, followed by the fall in the same domination of Constantinople itself, in the year 1453, the Romanian Principalities have continued to provide substantial brotherly support to the Bulgarian Church and the entire Eastern Orthodoxy, in general, especially through religious books printed in Slavonic in the 16th – 17th centuries, in Romanian printing houses North of Danube.
There is well known, on the other hand, the material aid, especially churches built by many prominent ruler princes of the Romanian Principalities, in the South of the Danube, both on the territory of today’s Bulgaria and in the Mount Athos, where, among the monastic precincts, Zograf monastery, with mainly ethnic Bulgarian living there, was especially helped. In this regard, the Holy Ruler Princes Stephen the Great († 1504) and Neagoe Basarab († 1521), ruler prince Matei Basarab († 1654) and Holy Ruler Prince Martyr Constantin Brancoveanu († 1714) are worth remembering.
In the same historical context, relics of saints who lived in the South of the Danube were brought on the Romanian land, being particularly venerated in the Romanian capital cities, such as Saint Martyr Philothea in Curtea de Arges (end of the 14th century), Saint Pious Paraskeva in Iasi (1641) and Saint Demetrius the New (Basarabov) in Bucharest (1774).
In late 18th century and early 19th century, the strong current of the so-called Bulgarian renaissance, led by St. Sophronius, Bishop of Vratsa, has found shelter and support in Walachia; he was fraternally received in Bucharest in the year 1803. Many Bulgarian monks lived at that time in Romanian monasteries and, especially, in the large communities of Saint Paisie Velicicovschi at Neamt Monastery († 1794).
The first books in the Bulgarian language were translated and printed on Romanian soil, such as Nedelnic or Chiriacodromion comprising homilies for Sundays, Great Feasts and the most important great saints of the year, printed in 1806 at Râmnic, or the first Bulgarian translation of Tetraevangheliar printed in Bucharest in 1828, with the support of Saint Hierarch Grigorie Dascălul, Metropolitan of Walachia.
In the context of intense presence and activity of many scholars and advocates for the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman dominion, including Hristo Botev, Georgi Racovschi, Lyuben Karavelov or deacon Vasil Levski, the first Bulgarian newspapers and magazines were printed also in Walachia, that is in Bucharest, Giurgiu, Braila and Ploiesti, as well as a number of textbooks in the Bulgarian language.
Following the war in the years 1877-1878, after Romania obtained independence and Bulgaria obtained autonomy, the fraternal relations between the Romanian and the Bulgarian sister Orthodox Churches continued; there were, for example, moments of great significance in the time of worthy to remember Patriarchs Justinian of Romania and Cyril of Bulgaria, as well as in the recent decades, after the two peoples gained the freedom after the fall of the communist regime in the two countries.
Now, at this very special anniversary of 1150 years of the Christianisation of the Bulgarian people we address to Your Beatitude Patriarch NEOPHYTE, to the members of the Holy Synod, the clergy and the faithful of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church our warm and fraternal greetings and pray to God to bestow His rich gifts upon the entire Bulgarian Orthodox nation, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity and the wellbeing of Orthodoxy.
With brotherly love in the Risen Christ,
His Beatitude Daniel Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church
The Iraqi Interior Ministry has announced the creation of a joint task force to start military operations aimed at freeing Mosul and Nineveh province, currently in the hands of the Islamic State group, according to Fides news agency.
Such a move would have great implications for the tens of thousands of Christians who were forced out of their homes in northern Iraq last summer, as ISIS swooped in and gave them the ultimatum of converting to Islam, paying an exorbitant protection fee, leaving or facing the sword.
But retaking the territories would be complicated, to say the least, according to religious freedom advocate Nina Shea and others.
Fides reported that the joint task force will involve the military apparatus of Baghdad and the autonomous region of Kurdistan. The creation of the body was sanctioned during a summit meeting in Erbil which was attended by the defense ministers of the Interior and those of the two governments. The Iraqi media also reported that the US ambassador in Iraq, Stuart E. Jones, took part in the meeting.
In statements reported by the national press, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi ensured that Iraq will commit its army in the liberation of the province of Nineveh, as it did for the region of Tikrit. He asked the people of Nineveh to take part in the military operations against the militias of the Islamic State in order to be able to allow civilians to return to their homes.
“Whether this is going to happen or not is a good question because the Church is asking,” said Shea in an interview. She directs the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. “It’s important that [international] powers understand that the Christians were one of main victims of the ISIS takeover of Mosul, that their churches were destroyed and that all their members were driven out under a convert-or-die policy, and that Mosul really is critical strategically for the entire Nineveh Plain.”
The Islamic State is continuing to rule with an iron fist in Mosul. The group’s militants reportedly killed 300 Yazidi captives in the Tal Afar district west of Mosul, the BBC reported. And the radical Islamic group reportedly issued a decree ordering all men in the Iraqi city to grow beards on the grounds that the shaving of facial hair is forbidden under Shari’a law, said Radio Free Europe.
Retaking Mosul will not be a walk in the park. It’s true that Iraq’s military recently reclaimed the city of Tikrit from ISIS, but the hometown of Saddam Hussein is only about a third or a quarter of the size of Mosul, Shea noted. Even though half a million people left Mosul when ISIS moved in, to undertake a military operation in a city where 1 million people still reside is almost sure to create a humanitarian crisis.
“Of the people who remain, some of them are Salafis, who share the goals of ISIS,” she said. “Some are Saddam Hussein’s generals and officer corps, who have made a pact with ISIS and have invited them in. And some are people who adapt and benefited who may have something at stake now with the new order and hate the Shi’ites so much in Baghdad…that they may want to fight for ISIS’ control.
“It could be a very bloody battle,” she said.
In addition, if the operation were successful, Shea speculated that the 5,000 or so Christians who inhabited Mosul before last summer would find it difficult to return because their properties were taken over by their former neighbors.
“Those people will probably not be able to go back to Mosul because their homes will be occupied by someone else, and they also feel uncomfortable to say the least, insecure, with their former neighbors who did not protect them against ISIS, and some of whom may have made common cause with ISIS,” she said.
But Mosul must be liberated first if there is to be any hope of Christians returning to their ancestral homes on the Nineveh Plain, as the city controls the water power and security of Nineveh, she noted.
“Will there be reconstruction aid for these towns and villages? And how will that reconstruction aid be distributed, because after the US surge in 2008 our reconstruction aid was distributed through the main power structures–the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi’ites–and the Christians didn’t get their fair share,” she said. “So their villages did not get hooked up on the electric grid and they didn’t get their roads and schools built and so forth.”
Based on past performance of the Islamic State group, if ISIS is successfully pushed out of Mosul, the group could very well “pop up” in other places “and create terror and havoc,” she said. “So we can expect a prolonged insurgency against those towns and villages in Nineveh Province. So there has to be continuing protection of the Christians in those villages and towns.”
Meanwhile, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, where most of the country’s Christians have taken refuge, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that it will at least be several months before the areas occupied by ISIS can be liberated.
“If the government were to want to free Mosul first, many Muslims would flee from the city to the countryside because of the fighting. And where would they go? They would probably go to the currently abandoned Christian settlements near Mosul. This would create further difficulties,” he said. “On the other hand, if the government were to begin its operations on the Nineveh Plain, however, the Christian settlements could be seriously affected by the fighting.”
Archbishop Warda was skeptical as to whether international protection of Christian territories could be realized once they had been liberated.
“It would be important, but many countries will think twice before sending troops into this tricky situation. It would need to be preceded by a reconciliation process in the affected areas so that the Muslim neighbors did not see an international force of this kind as a hostile presence. I therefore believe it more likely that we will rather go in the direction of a national guard,” the prelate said.
According to Warda, the national guard would rely on local people, but be integrated into the Iraqi army. “We as a Church have made it clear from the outset that we are against a [separate] Christian militia. We suggest that our young people, if so inclined, join the Kurdish or Iraqi forces.”
Restore Nineveh Now, a group that is assisting Assyrians and Yezidis to reclaim their land in northern Iraq, is “meeting with officials in Baghdad to see what part Assyrians might play,” said Jeff Gardner, a spokesman for the group, which is affiliated with a start-up Christian militia called the Nineveh Plain Protection Units.
“When will it begin? Good question,” he said. “The House recently entered a bill that would send money and weapons directly to the Kurds but the administration (and Shia Baghdad) oppose it.”
Saturday, May 16, 2015 – 4 PMSt. Gregory of Nyssa Orthodox Church 2219 Summit St. Columbus, Ohio
The conference was originally held December 6, 2014 in Manhattan and hosted by the St. Phoebe Center for the History of the Deaconess.
Join St. Phoebe founder, Ann Marie Mecera, Caren Stayer, PhD (presenter and Board member), with reflections from Fr. Daniel Rentel (Board member), as they review conference presentations and results of discussion sessions.
AlsoRead about St. John’s Outreach Ministry, located in Dedham, Mass. Donna Sabbag oversees this ministry that provides visits for companionship, dealing with a loss, bereavement, chronic/terminal illness, convalescence, relocation, caregiving, special needs, divorce, and more.
Following a rigorous search process that began in October 2014, the Board of Trustees of Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (HCHC) on, May 1, 2015, voted unanimously to elect the V. Rev. Fr. Christopher T. Metropulos as the next president of the institution, in succession of the current president, the V. Rev. Fr. Nicholas C. Triantafilou, who after a fifteen-year tenure will retire at the end of June 2015.
Fr. Metropulos has been serving as the Senior Pastor of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, since 1989. He holds a BA from Hellenic College, a Master of Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and a Doctor of Ministry from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Fr. Metropulos founded and has successfully directed OCN (Orthodox Christian Network, a radio and internet ministry) and is currently its Executive Director. He has served as Dean of Admissions at HCHC, and thereafter in varying priestly capacities with the Archdiocese, including: Archdiocesan Representative to the UN and US Missions, Archdiocesan Council, Assistant Regional Director of Leadership 100, and President of the Archdiocesan Presbyter’s Council for two consecutive terms. In addition to being a Protopresbyter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, he is also Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Throne.
“Finding a new president at this particular time was challenging indeed, due to the remarkable accomplishments and tenure of our retiring President, Fr. Triantafilou, who has become the longest running president in the history of HCHC,” said Dr. Thomas C. Lelon, Chairman of the Presidential Search Committee and Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
The search process commenced with the formation of a seven-member Presidential Search Committee (PSC), in accordance with the by-laws of HCInc. The process yielded a significant number of 41 highly qualified candidates, which after due process was narrowed to 36, following continuous assessment, the number of candidates was reduced to 22, and ended finally with 8 semi-finalists. At the end of March 2015, these 8 candidates were interviewed for two days off-campus by all members of the PSC.
After careful evaluation of the 8 semi-finalists, the PSC determined that two candidates reached the status of finalist. These two candidates were invited to on-campus visits on April 28-29, 2015. During these two days, the two finalists interacted with a cross-section of HCHC’s constituents, including: His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Trustees, Faculty members from the School of Theology and the College, Senior Administrators, representatives from the Student Body, and the Alumni Association of HCHC.
The final steps of the process entailed an intense review of the two finalists by the PSC and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. Upon deliberation, the PSC and the Executive Committee forwarded to the Board of Trustees the unanimous nomination of Fr. Metropulos for president.
Today, May 1, 2015, the Board of Trustees at a special meeting and after a thorough consideration of the unanimous nomination of both the PSC and the Executive Committee unanimously elected Fr. Metropulos as the next president of HCHC.
In announcing the election of Fr. Metropulos, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America said, “I kindly ask for prayers and support for the president-elect, and I express the need to work by any and all possible means to continue the very important legacy of the retiring president Fr. Nicholas Triantafilou. I strongly believe that by the contribution of all and the help of God, Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology will reach new levels of spiritual enhancement and academic achievement.”
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Onufry of Kyiv and All Ukraine, will be the main speaker at the formal dinner to be held during the 18th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America slated to be held in Atlanta, GA July 20-24, 2015.
Metropolitan Onufry was elected to succeed His Beatitude, the late Metropolitan Volodymyr, on August 13, 2014.
In related news, the Preconciliar Commission, charged with planning the AAC, announced that the proposed agenda, as blessed by the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops at their Spring 2015 session, is now available here. Note that rooms are subject to change and any changes will be announced.
Other updates include the following.
Two wonderworking icons—the Sitka Icon of the Mother of God, enshrined in the historic Archangel Michael Cathedral, Sitka, AK, and the Icon of Saint Anne from Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA—will be present and available for veneration throughout the gathering. A special exhibit of rare historical artifacts and items from the Museum of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Museum also will be on display.
FOCA events also will begin on Saturday and continue throughout the weekend. [See related FOCA story.
A Pan-Orthodox Vesper service, hosted by His Eminence, Metropolitan Alexios of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Atlanta, will be celebrated at 6:30 p.m. the same day. All AAC and FOCA Convention attendees are warmly invited to participate. Transportation from the hotel will be provided at 6:00 p.m.
At 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 19, a Synodal Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at the hotel. The choir of Saint Symeon Church, Birmingham, AL, will render the liturgical responses. Throughout the remainder of the day, various FOCA events, including a dinner-dance, will be held at the hotel.
Symposiums and Diocesan Assemblies will be held on Monday morning, with the first AAC plenary session slated to convene at 7:30 p.m.
Ten workshops related to the AAC theme—“How To Expand The Mission”—will be held on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. See the registration web site for options as they all relate to the theme of the Council “How to Expand the Mission.”
At 7:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 23, a Synodal Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at the hotel. Throughout the week Akathistos Hymns, Vespers and monastic services will be celebrated.
The final plenary session will convene on Friday morning, July 24. Among the highlights of this session will be a special youth presentation, during which participants will share their experience on the AAC theme. Delegates should plan to leave late Friday afternoon.
Hotel space is still available and registration is still open.
The deadline for submitting resolutions has passed. Submitted resolutions are currently being reviewed by the Resolution Committee.
The Delegate Handbook, which contains the agenda, notices, arrangements, procedures, the text of the final Revised Statute and approved resolutions will be available during the third week of May—60 days before the AAC opens.
Moscow, May 5, Interfax – Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has spoken about harassment of Christians in Europe.
“The phenomenon of Christianophobia is present not just in the Middle East. And what about Pakistan, Nigeria and several other African countries? And what about well-off European countries where people are not allowed to wear a cross when they go to work?” the patriarch said at a ceremony of receiving honorary doctorate from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy.
The word “Christmas” is being replaced by “the winter holiday” and instead of the word “Easter” they simply say “the spring holiday,” he said.
The patriarch also pointed to the growing number of same-sex “marriages,” cases of euthanasia, and expressed concern over the cult of sensual pleasures, the rise of new false values, and people developing a sense of permissiveness.
“A man who lives without God has started perceiving himself as a measure of things, freedom has ceased being a conscientious responsible choice,” the patriarch said.
Moscow, May 5, Interfax – Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has praised Vatican’s position on the Ukrainian crisis but condemned the activities in Ukraine of the followers of the Greek Catholic Church (Uniates).
“Pope Francis and the Holy See’s State secretary have taken a considered position on the situation in Ukraine, avoiding unilateral assessments and calling for an end to the fratricidal war,” the patriarch said at a ceremony on Thursday which saw him receiving honorary doctorate from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy. Such a position coincides with that of Moscow Patriarchate, the patriarch said.
“This is very important because, as we know, the Greek Catholics and schismatics in Ukraine have taken a unilateral position, add oil to the fire, incite negative feelings, pit people against one another, and call this the protection of national interests, stage witch hunts, seize Orthodox churches and from being a peacekeeping force have turn into an ideological one that serves one side of the civil conflict,” the church leader said.
Today, only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate has the peacekeeping potential, and it is “being persecuted precisely because it stands firmly on the peacekeeping position,” he said.
What is the Crown Princess of Bali doing in an Orthodox church, why do Russians prefer to confess to Indonesians, and why Orthodoxy is a blessing for Indonesia—these and other themes are discussed in the Indonesian notes of Fr. George Maximov.
The first thing that struck me upon landing in Jakarta was how undeveloped the airport was. You didn’t have the familiar electronic information boards—you had to walk up to someone who works there and ask them which baggage belt they were unloading luggage from such-and-such a flight on. I was also amazed at the Indonesian practice of gluing large photographs of themselves onto their carryalls and suitcases, with their telephone number written underneath—apparently they are easier to find in case of loss. But when these suitcases with the portraits of their owners are moving one after the other on the baggage belt, it looks pretty funny.The city itself is large, but by comparison with, for example, Bangkok, it doesn’t produce such a good impression.I had occasion to serve an all-night vigil in St. Thomas’s Church in Jakarta (ROCOR). The rector was an Indonesian, Fr. Boris. When I saw him, I thought that he was hardly over 20, and the thought flashed through my mind: “How could they have ordained such a young man?” It turned out that he was really 38 years old. Asians tend to look younger than their age, but Fr. Boris broke all records in this regard.
I found Indonesian Orthodoxy very touching, both in this church and in another that I served in. The priests, the servers, the choir, and the parishioners are all Indonesians, mostly former Moslems. No ‘white’ missionary travelled to them or preached—these Indonesians converted themselves, preach to others themselves, serve themselves, and try to lead a Christian life themselves. St. Nicholas of Japan’s preaching was very well organized, so that for the most part he was the only Russian missionary, while the Japanese converts—catechizers and priests—carried out the business of preaching; he only guided them and set them on the right course. It was thought through splendidly. And in Indonesia we see something even more amazing: where there is not one single missionary come from the outside at all to direct and supervise, but where everything is done by the Indonesians themselves.Among the parishioners one older couple comes to mind—the Crown Princess of Bali and her husband. She converted to Orthodoxy when her husband was in a coma and the doctors did not give him a favorable prognosis. But this grandmother began to pray fervently that the Lord would, if even for a short time, allow him to regain consciousness, so that he would be able to receive baptism and not die unbaptized. And the Lord fulfilled her request and then some: not only did her husband regain consciousness, but he completely recovered. Now they both go to church. When she found out that I was Russian, the Princess shared the news about the fact that they were going to go on a pilgrimage to Russia and were very excited about it.
St. Thomas the Apostle Church itself was built by a rich Orthodox Indonesian family. After the service, I talked with the mother of the family, Mrs. Christina N, and asked her how they came to convert to Orthodoxy (she has, by the way, eight children). She confessed that they had all been Moslems. Once she was at the beach, and a tragedy happened: some people came up to her and told her that her daughter had just drowned, and they pointed to the place where she had disappeared under the waves. Christina ran there immediately. She went into the water and began to go in the indicated direction. One can just imagine what feelings she experienced, going in search of her child who had just died! And as she was going along, getting deeper into the water with every step, suddenly the thought flashed through her mind: “If Jesus is God, let my daughter be alive!” And a miracle occurred: she spotted her daughter under the water, and when she lifted her up and carried her in to shore, the girl came back to life!It is no wonder that after this miracle not only Christina, but also her husband and all their children were baptized. They didn’t know anything about Orthodoxy, and therefore they became Protestants, as Protestants had long been in Indonesia and were well known to all. Now after her baptism, Christina began to read the Bible. She read it through several times in full—from Genesis to the Apocalypse. And during her reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles, it struck her that the Christian Church had been one, united Church, and that that completely did not apply to the fragmentation that Christina saw among the Protestants. She resolved to find out what had happened to the very first, original Church. And to find this out she set out for the place where it all began—in Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, which was possible thanks to her good financial situation. There she discovered that this Church, founded 20 centuries ago, still exists to this day, and that it is the Orthodox Church. Finding it, Christina convinced her whole family to become Orthodox.
As has already been mentioned, Christina and her husband built a church in honor of the Apostle Thomas on their own land in Jakarta. Unfortunately, not everyone liked this—one Moslem organization was outraged by this. It gathered a crowd of its supporters together and sent them to the Orthodox church. The whole territory was occupied by angry Moslems, many of whom were armed with knives. They were shouting that they would destroy the church and kill the priest, and they were demanding that we hand him over to them. Retelling this, Christina said that it was really terrifying. Glory to God, that time nothing serious happened, and after they had made a lot of noise, the crowd dispersed. But the leader of this organization announced that this was not the end of it, and that they would fight against our Orthodox parish church. However, it so happened that in the course of a year they all died. In their place came other leaders, who had changed their opinion so much, that now this Moslem organization officially rendered protection to the Orthodox parish.As is well known, Indonesia has the highest concentration of Moslem population in the world, in spite of the fact that, by its constitution, it is a secular state. And this is a country where in several areas there have been hotbeds of tension in the relations beween Christians and Moslems in the last years. This cannot but have its effect on Orthodox society, although the latter is still comparatively small.
For example, there was an incidence where an Orthodox priest from abroad came to Indonesia by the invitation of the Indonesian (Orthodox) community in order to help them with preaching and serving, but this evoked a very negative reaction on the part of the local Moslems: they sent threats, and he had to leave the country.
Because of the opposition of Moslem societies, in many regions it is extremely difficult to receive permission to build a church—and even if you receive it, there are cases where afterwards Moslem activists come to the building site and physically hinder the building work, and thus the church is left unbuilt.
But, it needs to be noted that nevertheless, Indonesia is not a country under Sharia law, and moreover there are regions where the majority are non-Moslems. For example, on the island of Bali it is basically Hindus who live there, and in the Province of Papua, Protestants. There are also areas populated by tribes which to the last man confess heathenism.
Despite some difficulties, I must say that the Lord protects the Orthodox, and in the past years there have not been any incidents where our churches have been blown up, or our brothers and sisters massacred, as took place in regard to the Protestants.
The next day I served at Liturgy in the parish of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir (Moscow Patriarchate). The rector here was Hieromonk Ioasaph (Tandibilang), and helping him was Deacon Basil Manuputi. When I was in Jakarta, the services were still performed in an apartment—we didn’t have our own church. The temporary church was situated in the home of one of the parishioners—a widow whose only property was this house. She had thoughts about renting this apartment, but Fr. Ioasaph said to her, “Have faith: as long as you offer your house for the divine services, the Lord will take care of you, so that you will not be in need of money.” She believed, and so it was: all seven years that she offered her house free of charge for the services, her children received very good jobs, so that their salaries were enough to cover her own needs as well. Now Fr. Ioasaph has already built a separate church on land that an old Russian emigré, Vladimir, who died several years ago, willed for that purposeFr. Ioasaph’s manner of preaching made an impression on me. His sermons were in Indonesian, and when I listened to them, I had the strange feeling, that although I didn’t understand a word of Fr. Ioasaph’s speech, I believed him, because you could only speak the way he spoke, about the truth.
Although his sermons are long, he holds his listeners’ attention very well: he has a good feel for timing, he knows how much time he has left. So that the parishioners wouldn’t get tired from standing a long time, Fr. Ioasaph introduced the practice of sitting during the sermon. And that, perhaps, is the only difference from what goes on in our Russian churches—Fr. Ioasaph is an expert and zealot of the services according to the Church rules and of the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy, so that, in his parishes, everything is exactly the same as is commonly done, as he was taught in Russia. At that time he had two parishes—in Jakarta and Surabaya, and now Bali has been added.
Looking at Fr. Ioasaph preaching and at the attention that he commands, I was amazed, and wondered whether all Orthodox priests here were such Chrysostoms. It turns out that not all are—only the founder of the mission in Indonesia, Archimandrite Daniel (Bayantoro) and Fr. Ioasaph.
Thanks to such talent, on the evening of the same day that we served Liturgy, Fr. Ioasaph was invited to Deacon Agapit’s house (ROCOR) to give a speech in memory of the latter’s mother-in-law. Fr. Ioasaph took me with him. Inasmuch as many non-Orthodox people were coming to the memorial, it was necessary to devote a few words in general to the Orthodox understanding of a person’s lot beyond the grave, and also to the question of why we pray for the dead (which the Protestants do not do). It is worthy of respect, that Orthodox Indonesians try to use any opportunity for their mission that presents itself.
And so, closer to evening we drove to the place. I thought, “Someone close to these people has died. They are in mourning, and I should look like I am, too.” However, when we arrived, I saw smiling people in a good mood. They didn’t look at all like people in mourning, as we understand it. There really were a lot of people there! Everything began with a pannikhida, which Fr. Boris served, then there was a sermon by Fr. Ioasaph. After that Fr. Agapit gave a short eulogy about the deceased, and then suddenly a cake was brought out and everyone began to sing “Happy Birthday to you.” And then I found out, to my amazement, that the Indonesians had decided to combine the memorial of Fr. Agapit’s mother-in-law with his wife’s birthday. I looked at what was going on and realized that if you told anyone in Russia about something like this, it would be perceived as blasphemy. But these Indonesians were equally sincere in both the first half of the celebrations and the second. You didn’t feel at all as if anything weren’t right—it all looked natural, although we, of course, could not even imagine such a thing. That’s how important a difference in mentality can be.
Fr. Ioasaph, too, had been a Moslem. I asked him how he had converted to Christ. He told me that he had always taken religious life seriously, and he had had questions about his faith, for example: why was it necessary to pray exactly five times a day? Why couldn’t you translate the Koran into Indonesian, why did the holy text have to be only in Arabic? He posed such questions to the imam and teachers of Islam, but they answered, “Don’t ask, just do as it is prescribed.”“But I didn’t want to do something, not knowing why,” confesses Fr. Ioasaph. “And then I began to look at Christians. At first I went to the Protestants, but they couldn’t resolve all my questions, either. In addition, I saw some questionable things with the Protestants: praying to guitar accompaniment, dances, etc. I asked myself: is it correct to serve God as if you were at a disco or bar? And then I heard that there was a new religion in Indonesia, where they serve differently, where they perform their prayers in a dignified manner, where the women cover their heads and so on, and I asked, “What religion is that?” They told me that it was Orthodoxy. Then, in 1996, I met with Fr. Daniel (Bayantoro) and asked him many, many questions—two days in a row I questioned him, and he answered everything. And thus I realized that Orthodoxy is the true religion.
I still remember the story Batiushka told me of how he learned to venerate the Mother of God. After his conversion to Orthodoxy he experienced the same thing that all converts from Protestantism do: with his mind he acknowledged the Orthodox teaching on the Mother of God, but in his heart he was indifferent: he never prayed to Her, never venerated (kissed) Her icons, and so forth.
Now when he was getting ready to go to Russia to study at the seminary, he quit his job, sold part of his belongings, and bought a ticket. And, in accordance with the requirements, he had to pass a medical examination and blood and urine screenings. But when he went to find out the results, they told him, “You have a terminal disease in the last stage, and it’s unlikely that you will even live a month longer.”
He was thunderstruck. “I came home, locked myself in my room and cried all day and all night, and didn’t even eat or drink,” recounted Fr. Ioasaph. “The next day, I suddenly remembered that I had in my breast pocket a small icon of the Mother of God that someone had given to me. And it was as if a voice in my mind said to me, “You have a Mother, you know—beseech Her!” Fr. Ioasaph took out the little icon and began fervently to pray to the Mother of God, that She would save him. And he spent yet another whole day and night in prayer. The next day was Monday, and Fr. Ioasaph left the house to go to the hospital. He was riding in the elevator with an elderly man, who asked him why he was so sad. Fr. Ioasaph told him about his misfortune, and then the stranger invited him to come with him. It turned out that he was the head of a private clinic. There they did blood tests, and the tests did not support the diagnosis that he had received. So after this incident Batiushka acquired sincere love for the Mother of God.
In Russia, he studied at Belgorod Seminary, and there he was also ordained. He recalls that when, after his ordination, they sent him off to hear confessions, he asked, “But how will I be able to do that, seeing that I still understand and speak Russian poorly?” One of the priests joked, “Don’t worry! Whatever they tell you, just raise your eyes to heaven and say, ‘Oy, oy, oy!‘
Fr. Ioasaph took this seriously and went over to the analogion. This babushka began to confess to him and said something. Fr. Ioasaph raised his eyes upwards and said, “Oy, oy, oy!”1 The bábushka looked at him and said, ‘What do you mean by “Oy, oy, oy”?
But later—I heard this from Metropolitan John of Belgorod—when the parishioners found out that Fr. Ioasaph didn’t understand Russian very well, he became the most popular confessor in the parish. They stood for him in lines longer than for any other of the other priests—lines consisting of those who had given in to the false shame of really confessing their sins, or to lame thoughts like “the priest will tell my confession to other people” or “Fr. So-and-so will be disappointed with me.” It is too bad that not everyone realizes that an open confession—despite this shame and such thoughts—makes the confession sincere and gives a feeling of freedom from sin. In Indonesia some Russians purposely do not go to Fr. Ioasaph for confession, since he now understands Russian very well, but go to other Indonesian priests, confessing to them in Russian, so that they would, without understanding what they heard, then simply read the prayer of absolution. Such a deceitful confession is a confession without confession, in order to simultaneously tell one’s sins to the priest, supposedly, but while doing so remain as if they had not been told.When I was in Jakarta, I saw some Russians there put pressure on Fr. Ioasaph, saying that the land that the church was on, which was donated by the emigré mentioned above, wasn’t suitable, because it was situated unbelievably far away, and it would take them too long to get there. Instead of this, they proposed that he sell this land and with the help of some machinations try to get the use of a parcel of land in the center of the city. The matter was totally not doable. Fr. Ioasaph and I went to look at the land, and I purposely noted how much time it took to get there. Then I said to those Russians, “I checked, and it takes an hour to get there.”
They replied, “There you go, you have to be on the road a whole hour!”
I, then, marvelled: “As a matter of fact, I personally also travel an hour to my church in Moscow, in order to get to services. And so do many Muscovites. Why do you, living in Indonesia, a non-Orthodox country, think that the church should be closer to you than to people who live in the capital of Russia?” I think that Fr. Ioasaph did the right thing, that on balance he built the church on the land the he already had in hand, rather than getting involved in some risky venture.
If we return now to the subject of Indonesian Orthodoxy, one sad circumstance needs to be noted, that is, the jurisdictional division, intensified from without. Missions from the Church of Constantinople and from the Russian Church Abroad function in this country, and there are also parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate. And although all the clergy and laity are Orthodox Indonesians, they do not associate with each other, to a large part because of the hostile position of the hierarchs of the Church of Constantinople, who regard only themselves as “canonical,” and stigmatizing all the others as schismatics, and forbidding their faithful to associate with them. All this, of course, is crazy, and is a grave sin, because of which obstacles are arising in the very first steps of Orthodoxy in Indonesia. And what is more, this is not from unbelievers, but from the “Orthodox bosses” across the sea.
I also should say something about the sights in Jakarta, or rather, about the most memorable one—”Little Indonesia Park.” Within quite a large space there are situated sectors; in each of the sectors buildings and homes have been built in the traditional style of one people or another who have settled in Indonesia. One may look around it all, both from above in a cable car, and below, going into each house and examining the traditional way of life of the given people. It is very well done, and it is unbelievably interesting to take a walk there. You need to reserve a whole day to visit this park. Far less time was at our disposal, so we covered only a small part of it.
Fr. Ioasaph took me to an exposition that presents the culture of the people who live in the Sumatran mountains. Part of the people to this day are pagans, and they have some quite difficult rules of burial. It is regarded as possible to perform the burial only after you bring a large number of cows as an offering to the spirits (I have already forgotten just how many now). There is no way an ordinary family can afford to buy this many cows all at once—it’s too expensive. So they labor for a year or sometimes more in order to save up enough money for the performance of the ritual. And all this time the decomposing corpse of the deceased is supposed to remain in the home, alongside the living—including children! For me, this was one of the examples of how evil spirits mock the heathen, who have fallen under their power.
And after carrying out the ritual the burial is performed—they put the remains in a specially hollowed-out crypt in a cliff, and at the entrance to the crypt they put a wooden statue of the deceased, full-length, in his own clothes. If you look at this from far away, it seems as if living people are sitting there, but up close it becomes clear that this is a cemetery.
In conclusion, I would like to quote Fr. Ioasaph’s words, which he spoke to me in answer to a question on the prospects of Orthodoxy in Indonesia:
I think that Orthodoxy is a blessing for our country. I see that in other Christian confessions a person’s life does not change very much for the sake of God. But when people become Orthodox, they change for the better, and this is noticeable to all. So, it isn’t hard to say that Orthodox people are different people, because with us, everybody looks not so much at what someone says, as how they lead their life. And people say, ‘What should we accept a religion for, if it doesn’t change a person’s life?’ And, glory to God, Orthodoxy gives a person the strength to change, and this is God’s blessing for Indonesia.”
1 Oy, oy, oy!—an eminently Russian exclamation which has no real equivalent in English. It can mean anything from an expression of sympathy: “Oh, dear me!” “Oh, that’s awful!” “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that!” to acknowledging that something is a serious problem: “Oh! What are we going to do?” to absolutely telling someone off: “What did you do that for?! You shouldn’t have done that!”
After the Saviour had miraculously healed the paralytic, the Jews, especially the Pharisees and Scribes, were moved with envy and persecuted Him, and sought to slay Him, using the excuse that He did not keep the Sabbath, since He worked miracles on that day. Jesus then departed to Galilee. About the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, He went up again to the Temple and taught. The Jews, marvelling at the wisdom of His words, said, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" But Christ first reproached their unbelief and lawlessness, then proved to them by the Law that they sought to slay Him unjustly, supposedly as a despiser of the Law, since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath. Therefore, since the things spoken by Christ in the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles are related to the Sunday of the Paralytic that is just passed, and since we have already reached the midpoint of the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost, the Church has appointed this present feast as a bond between the two great feasts, thereby uniting, as it were, the two into one, and partaking of the grace of them both. Therefore today's feast is called Mid-Pentecost, and the Gospel Reading, "At Mid-feast"--though it refers to the Feast of Tabernacles--is used.It should be noted that there were three great Jewish feasts: the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Passover was celebrated on the 15th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which coincides roughly with our March. This feast commemorated that day on which the Hebrews were commanded to eat the lamb in the evening and anoint the doors of their houses with its blood. Then, having escaped bondage and death at the hands of the Egyptians, they passed through the Red Sea to come to the Promised Land. It is also called "the Feast of Unleavened Bread," because they ate unleavened bread for seven days. Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after the Passover, first of all, because the Hebrew tribes had reached Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt, and there received the Law from God; secondly, it was celebrated to commemorate their entry into the Promised Land, where also they ate bread, after having been fed with manna forty years in the desert. Therefore, on this day they offered to God a sacrifice of bread prepared with new wheat. Finally, they also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles from the 15th to the 22nd of "the seventh month," which corresponds roughly to our September. During this time, they live in booths made of branches in commemoration of the forty years they spent in the desert, living in tabernacles, that is, tents (Ex. 12:10-20; Lev. 23).Reading copyright Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, MA, used by permission. All rights reserved. (show less)
On this day in the year 351, not long after Cyril had succeeded Maximus as Archbishop of Jerusalem, during the reign of Constantius, the son of Saint Constantine the Great, on the day of Pentecost, the sign of the Cross appeared over Jerusalem. Saint Cyril, in his letter to the Emperor Constantius, says, "At about the third hour of the day, an enormous Cross, formed of light, appeared in the heaven above holy Golgotha and reaching to the holy Mount of Olives, being seen not by one or two only, but manifest with perfect clarity to the whole multitude of the city; not, as one might suppose, rushing swiftly past in fancy, but seen openly above the earth many hours in plain sight, and overcoming the beams of the sun with its dazzling rays" (PG 33:1 16q).
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Saint Arsenios was a deacon of the Church of Rome, born of an illustrious family, and wondrous in virtue. In the days of Saint Theodosius the Great, he was chosen to be the tutor of the Emperor's young sons, Arcadius and Honorius. While living at the imperial palace in Constantinople, compassed with all luxury and innumerable temptations to sin, Arsenios often besought God with tears to guide him to salvation. This prayer was answered one day when a voice came to him saying, "Arsenios, flee from men, and thou shalt be saved." He sailed secretly to Alexandria, and from there went to Scete, where he became a monk. Yet after he had withdrawn from the world, and was come among the most illustrious monks of his day, he heard, 'Arsenios, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the causes of sinning not." Following this call, he separated himself even from his fellow monks, practicing extreme silence. On Saturday evenings, he would turn his back on the setting sun, and would stretch out his hands in prayer to Heaven, till the sun shone upon his face the following morning, and only then would he sit down. Once a monk came to visit him, and looking into his cell saw Arsenios entirely like a flame of fire. After living some fifty-five years as a monk, and attaining to heights reached by few, he reposed in peace about the year 449, at the age of ninety-five.
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The feast today in honour of the holy Apostle John commemorates the miracle taking place each year in Ephesus, in which a certain dust or powder, called manna, suddenly poured forth from his tomb and was used by the faithful for deliverance from maladies of both soul and body. For an account of his life, see September 26.
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The Prophet Isaiah, the son of Amos, was descended from a royal tribe. He prophesied in the days of Ozias (who is also called Azarias), Joatham, Ahaz, and Hezekias, Kings of Judah. About 681 B.C, in the reign of Manasses, the son and successor of the most pious Hezekias, when this Prophet was censuring Manasses' impiety and lawlessness, he was sawn asunder with a wooden saw, and thus received a martyr's end.
Of all the Prophets, he is called the most eloquent because of the beauty and loftiness of his words. His book of prophecy, divided into sixty-six chapters, is ranked first among the greater Prophets. The Fifth Ode of the Psalter, "Out of the night my spirit waketh at dawn unto Thee, O God . . ." is taken from his book. It was this holy Prophet who foretold that a Virgin would conceive in the womb (7:14); that not an ambassador, nor an angel, but the Lord Himself would save fallen man (63:9); that the Messiah would suffer, bearing our sins (ch. 53). His name means "Yah is helper."
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Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church