5 November 2015
Parishioners process for the feast of the Virgin Mary in Kondolpoga, northern Russia.
(photo: George Martin)
Almost 25 years since the unraveling of the Soviet Union, the concerns that once plagued its Communist leaders — apathy, corruption, crime, cynicism, depopulation and underemployment, as well as the deterioration of industry — continue to scourge its political and spiritual heirs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, having consolidated his hold on Russia’s central government, has enlisted the assistance of the Orthodox Church to address some of these issues. This alliance of church and state — which except for a violent gap of some 70 years dates to the origins of the Russian state — has been cemented as Russian patriotism surges in defiance of sanctions imposed by the West for Putin’s involvement in Ukraine. So intimate is this link between state and church, it is difficult to determine which came first.
Russians, Belarussians, Rusyns and Ukrainians claim descent from the Eastern Slavs of Central Europe and the Varangians of Scandinavia. Collectively known as the Rus’, these peoples intermarried and, from their center in Kiev (now the capital of Ukraine) on the banks of the Dnieper River, they asserted control of the trade routes from the Baltic to the Black seas, establishing Kievan Rus’ as a regional force by the ninth century.
A Russian Orthodox believer marks Epiphany by bathing in the icy water of Saint Petersburg’s Neva River. (photo: Alexander Koryakov/Kommersant/Getty Images)
The rapid development of Byzantine Christianity among the Rus’ — which Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev pursued with vigor throughout his reign — coincided with the rise of the Kievan state. Vladimir and his successors consolidated their authority and augmented their dominion. They built important churches; promulgated the first code of law of the Eastern Slavs; supported monasticism, theological learning and the arts. Using Bulgaria’s church as a model, Yaroslav the Wise (978-1054) achieved some independence from Constantinople for the church of Kiev, overseeing the installation of a metropolitan archbishop in 1037.
Eventually, Rus’ natives dominated the episcopacy, whose sees were centered in various regional centers governed by the family of the grand prince, such as Chernigov, Novgorod and Smolensk.
Very little remains from this period. The Mongols, a nomadic people from central Asia, swept through the dominions of the Rus’ in the early 13th century, burning and sacking its cities, including Kiev. They killed much of the population and enslaved most of the rest.
The Mongol invasions merely accelerated the demise of Kievan Rus’, which began to disintegrate when the family of the grand prince challenged his authority. Without a communications network, rival cities — Novgorod, Vladimir and Suzdal in the northeast, Polotsk and Smolensk in the northwest, Halych in the southwest and even nearby Chernigov — grew more autonomous, fracturing the unity of Kievan Rus’, making it susceptible to invasion and subjugation. For over two centuries these communities lived as vassals under the Mongols.
With the decline of princes, church leaders quickly filled their roles, patronizing the building of churches and monasteries far removed from the centers of Mongol power. The Rus’ of Kiev sought refuge in the north, migrating in succession to Rostov, Suzdal and, finally, Vladimir. The effective leader of all the Rus’, the metropolitan archbishop of Kiev, left the devastated city for Vladimir in 1300. Eventually, Rostov, Suzdal and Vladimir all fell under the influence of Moscow, a minor principality led by ambitious princes. Just eight years after the move to Vladimir, the metropolitan archbishop of Kiev-Vladimir moved his court to the city of Moscow. Bolstered by a “golden ring” of fortified monasteries and towns, Moscow grew wealthy.
Click here to read more about church and state in Moscow, and the forging of a modern Russian alliance.
5 November 2015
Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Eastern Churches
A construction worker examines the remaining damage to St. Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Garden, New Delhi. To learn more about the trend of vandalization and violence against the church of India, read ‘There Will Be More Martyrs,’ from the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
5 November 2015
Tags: India Violence against Christians Indian Christians Indian Catholics
Refugee and migrant children, living in a field on the Greek island of Lesbos, wait to register with refugee services on 4 November. (photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
Greek island struggles to provide medical care to refugees (Al Jazeera) Tragedy has struck the island of Lesbos, in the eastern Aegean Sea, repeatedly in the past year, and October was the worst month yet. Lesbos received 125,000 refugees, double the number in August. It saw dozens of shipwrecks, with at least 35 people killed on 28 October alone. Despite the worsening weather, people keep on coming — about 6,000 per day. Overwhelmed, Lesbos now faces serious gaps in emergency medical care…
U.N. calls for access to vulnerable communities in eastern Ukraine (U.N. News Center) The United Nations humanitarian chief today concluded a three-day visit to Ukraine, calling for sustained and unimpeded access to the vulnerable communities caught in the middle of the crisis and who urgently need humanitarian aid…
Christians demonstrate in Erbil against law on conversion of minors (Fides) On Wednesday, hundreds of people belonging to the non-Islamic components of Iraqi society demonstrated in front of United Nations representatives in Erbil to protest against the law that allows the automatic change of children to the Islamic religion when one of the parents convert to Islam. The demonstration saw the participation of various political and civil society organizations and groups of Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans…
Children’s photo exhibit brings plight of Syrian refugees to Washington (Al Monitor) UNICEF and a Lebanese nongovernmental organization are putting on an exhibit of photos taken by some 500 children between the ages of 7 and 12 in more than 200 informal settlements throughout Lebanon. For this project, the shots were taken in 2013 and 2014 by disposable cameras made available by UNICEF and ZAKIRA (“memory” in Arabic) in an effort to empower the children and help them overcome the trauma of war…
Moscow calls for agreement on opposition groups in Syria (AINA) “[The] U.S.-led coalition’s intervention in Syria lacks legitimacy since it is an action against democratically elected president and government; United States sought in Syria to lead a war of attrition and destroying Syrian infrastructure,” said a Russian spokesperson. Moscow now states it has arranged “working coordination groups” with “opposition representatives” aimed toward bolstering the fight against ISIS…
Egyptian naval fire kills Gaza fisherman, says official (Daily Star Lebanon) An Egyptian naval patrol shot and killed a Palestinian fisherman and wounded another Thursday off the coast near the border between Gaza and Egypt, a Gaza health ministry spokesman said. The victim was identified as Faris Meqdad, 18, ministry spokesman Ashraf al Qudra said. Egyptian forces have previously opened fire on Gazans they accused of crossing the maritime border between Egypt and the Palestinian enclave…
4 November 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Greece
It’s been an extraordinary year in so much of the world that CNEWA serves — and nothing sums it up better than our Annual Report.
We’re pleased to present this year’s chronicle of CNEWA’s work in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, India and parts of Eastern Europe. It’s now available online. In many ways, it is a great tribute to the generosity, sacrifice and love of our donors — you are the ones who make it all possible.
As CNEWA’s President, Msgr. John E. Kozar, notes in his introduction:
Because of you, CNEWA has been able to extend the loving hand of Christ to the poor and displaced...because of you, many are coming to know and recognize the face of Christ in those reaching out to them in their need.
Visit this link to read it all.
And check out the video preview below.
4 November 2015
Women prepare sweets as part of an income-generating program in the eastern Beirut neighborhood of Geitawi. A Lebanese-Armenian Catholic named Ani Kaloust discusses this program and much more — including her extraordinary life — in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE.
(photo: Dalia Khamissy)
4 November 2015
In the video above, the U.N. warns that the stakes are getting higher for refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria, because of the weather. CNEWA is partnering with the Vatican to raise funds to help Syria’s refugees survive the cold. Click here to learn how. (video: Rome Reports)
Ukraine prosecutor survives apparent assassination attempt (SkyNews) Ukraine’s top prosecutor has survived what could have been an assassination attempt after a sniper fired shots at his window. Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin’s life was saved by the bulletproof glass at his office in Kiev when the three shots were fired. No injuries have been reported...
Rough seas, falling temperatures fail to halt tide of refugees heading to Europe (The New York Times) The great flood of humanity pouring out of Turkey from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other roiling nations shows little sign of stopping, despite the plummeting temperatures, the increasingly turbulent seas and the rising number of drownings along the coast...
Copts, women make big gains in Egypt election (Ahram.org) On top of the biggest winners of the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, held between 17 and 28 October in 14 governorates, are Copts and women. Official statistics show that out of 110 running as independents and party-based candidates in the first stage, 32 women have succeeded in securing seats in the coming parliament. Statistics also indicate that 16 Egyptian Copts have also won seats...
Holy See: we must see the “human face of migration” (Vatican Radio) The Holy See delegation to the United Nations on Tuesday said “Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are a serious affront to human dignity and are inexcusable impediments to building an international community committed to the promotion of human rights...”
Pope: help persecuted Christians in Middle East (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday gave his support to the work of Aid to the Church in Need, which offers help to persecuted Christians around the world. The Church in Poland is marking on Sunday a “Day of Solidarity with the Persecuted Church,” which is promoted by Aid to the Church in Need in collaboration with the Polish Bishops’ Conference...
UN says climate change a major threat to food security (Vatican Radio) On November 30th a major international conference on climate change will open in Paris in an attempt to agree a legally-binding deal which will keep rises in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius. But less than a month before the summit begins the UN special rapporteur on the right to food has sounded the alarm, saying climate change is a big threat to food security...
3 November 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ukraine Copts
A Greek Catholic priest hears confession at Protection of the Virgin Mary Church
in Nyíracsád, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
For centuries, Hungary dominated the culture, geography and socioeconomic life of Central Europe. Its defeat in World War I, however, cost the nation three-quarters of its territory, all of its coastline, a third of its population and much of its diverse demography. Today, Hungary is a landlocked and largely homogeneous country — a shadow of its former self.
In Hungary’s rural northeast — near its borders with Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania — one small community of faith offers a glimpse of Hungary’s multiethnic past. Sheltered by the Carpathian Mountains, some 290,000 people — ethnic Hungarians (Magyars), Gypsies (Roma), Romanians, Rusyns and Slovaks — make up the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church.
While each of these ethnic groups maintains its own proud history and traditions, they together have forged a dynamic church authentically Hungarian, Byzantine and Catholic.
Hungary’s Greek Catholics were spared the persecutions suffered by Greek Catholics in Romania and Ukraine during the Soviet-dominated era. Though religious communities were closed, priests and religious dispersed, schools shuttered, catechesis limited and non-liturgical activities monitored, the church survived. In 1950, Bishop Miklós Dudás, O.S.B.M., established a seminary within the walls of his residence in the town of Nyíregyháza. While youth programs and sodalities were prohibited, parish pilgrimages to Máriapócs, a little Greek Catholic village famous for its miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, continued with great enthusiasm.
Crucifix in front of the Protection of the Virgin Marcy Church in Nyíracsád, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Hungary’s Greek Catholic Church surged to fill the void left after a half-century of despotic rule. Led by Bishop Szilárd Keresztes, Hungary’s Greek Catholic community collected icons, liturgical books, vestments and other sacramentals. These the bishop immediately offered to the once banned Greek Catholic churches in Romania and Ukraine.
Because of its central location, Bishop Keresztes suggested that his seminary — dedicated to St. Athanasius — should play a key role in the revival of Europe’s Greek Catholic churches. In 1990, he opened it to Romanians, Rusyns, Slovaks and Ukrainians interested in the priesthood. To improve the quality of the education offered there, the bishop invited an impressive number of foreign educated professors. As a result, the theological faculty became an affiliate of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome in 1995.
Formation of lay catechists also figured prominently in the life of the church and in 1992 the bishop signed an agreement with the Teachers Training College in Nyíregyháza and set up a corresponding department at the seminary for the formation of teachers.
The Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, which Pope Francis reorganized in March as a metropolitan church led by an archbishop, shares in the socioeconomic challenges affecting the country. Even as birthrates continue to fall, driving down the number of men and women entering priesthood and religious, the demands placed upon the church grow. Increasingly, Greek Catholic priests are working to diffuse tensions between Hungary’s growing Roma minority and ethnic Magyars. And the depopulation of Hungary’s eastern rural villages, the traditional center of the Greek Catholic Church, is affecting family and parish life.
Read a full account of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church here.
3 November 2015
A Franciscan Sister of the Cross greets a child in Deir el Kamar, Lebanon. In the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE, Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on how CNEWA and Pope Francis are bringing the message of God's love to those most in need. (photo: John E. Kozar)
3 November 2015
Local residents and a search team inspect a collapsed building and try to rescue people after Syrian air forces struck residential areas in the Kellese region of Aleppo, Syria,
on 30 October 2015. (photo: Beha el Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Russia pushes for Syria peace talks (Reuters) Syrian government officials and members of the country's splintered opposition could meet in Moscow next week as Russia pushes to broker a political solution to the crisis, a senior official said on Tuesday. “Next week, we will invite opposition representatives to a consultation in Moscow,” Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying...
Egypt dismisses ISIS claims of credit for Russian jet crash (Al Jazeera) Egypt’s president has dismissed as “propaganda” claims that ISIS fighters could have downed a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula, as U.S. defense officials reportedly suspect either a bomb or a fuel tank explosion may have been responsible for the crash...
Rebels reportedly using Syrian soldiers as human shields (CNN) Rebels are caging captured Syrian soldiers and others loyal to the regime and using them as human shields to fend off government attacks, Human Rights Watch and a Syrian opposition group reported. “Nothing can justify caging people and intentionally putting them in harm’s way, even if the purpose is to stop indiscriminate government attacks,” said Nadim Houry with Human Rights Watch...
Properties returned to churches in Turkey (Fides) The Court of Appeal returned 439 acres of land that had been confiscated from the Syriac Orthodox monastery in Mor Hananyo, located in Mardin, in the southeast of Turkey. As Fides has learned, at the end of a legal dispute, the church authorities obtained a favorable verdict. Although the title deed of the land clearly indicates that it belongs to the foundation of the monastery, the land had been confiscated by the state and then was returned to the Church in 2006...
Report on anti-Christian violence in India being prepared (Fides) The Commission of Inquiry on anti-Christian violence that took place in 2008 in the district of Kandhamal, in Orissa, concluded its work and hearings on 30 October and is preparing to publish a detailed report on the investigation, which will be released at the end of December and presented to the government of Orissa...
2 November 2015
Tags: Syria India Egypt Russia Turkey
In this image from 1986, Pope John Paul II greets Rabbi Elio Toaff at Rome’s main synagogue.
(photo: CNS/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)
Fifty years ago, on 28 October 1965, Vatican II promulgated “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” It is also known by the Latin title Nostra Ætate from the opening lines of the declaration: “In our time...” From the very outset, it was clear this was no ordinary declaration. It begins by recognizing that religions ponder the deepest questions about human existence and their meaning. Using Hinduism and Buddhism as examples of how these questions are treated differently by different religions, the declaration makes a statement that for the time was astounding:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men (Par. 2).
For centuries, the church regarded other religions of the world as, at best, competitors and, at worst, repositories of error and even evil. When attempts were made to understand other religions, it was to refute them. While there were a few open spirits, such as the Rev. Matteo Ricci, S.J., the Rev. Louis Massignon and others, who tried to understand other religions as they were experienced by the believers of those religions, this was the exception and not the rule. The declaration, Nostra Ætate, however, completely transformed the atmosphere between the Catholic Church and other world religions from one of distrust and even disdain to one of respect and dialogue. The declaration makes the challenge: “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.”
Although often mistakenly referred to as the “Church’s Decree on Jews,” the changes that the declaration brought about between Christians and Jews were probably the most visible ones for people in the Western world. For centuries, Christians had looked down on Judaism as a religion that had become overcome. Supercessionism, as it is called, saw the advent of Christianity as rendering Judaism empty and without value. Throughout more than a thousand years Jews suffered — often with violent consequences — under the accusation of deicide. That is to say, Jews were held to be responsible for having killed God in Jesus. The Catholic Church repudiated this forever in Nostra Ætate: “... what happened in His [i.e., Christ’s] passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures” (Par. 4).
The declaration also spoke at length about Muslims and the importance of dialogue with this, the second largest religion in the world, a religion whose members were often in bloody conflict with Christians over the centuries.
Fifty years after Nostra Ætate, there remains a great deal to be done. Catholic Near East Welfare Association knows all too well that conflicts with elements of religious motivation still rage throughout our world. And, in places like the Middle East, it seems to have worsened. Much of CNEWA’s work is geared to relieving the suffering of people who are victims of these conflicts. There are also still far too many places in the world where Christians and other peoples of faith suffer for what they believe, often at the hands of other believers. Nonetheless, the trajectory set by the declaration has been nothing short of incredible. The Catholic Church — as well as other Christian communities around the world — has set up dialogues with the major religions of the world. Programs of education have made what was once strange and exotic better understood and familiar. In an almost prophetic way, Nostra Ætate prepared the way spiritually for the huge movement and displacement of peoples that would take place in the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.
In the next year, there will be many events commemorating and celebrating the promulgation of Nostra Ætate. It is indeed something very worthy of commemorating, celebrating, studying anew and handing on to generations to come. As people from the different world religions increasingly come together in our world as immigrants and refugees, Nostra Ætate can provide a type of manual as to how Christians can accept these people with at one and the same time love, respect and faithfulness.