15 October 2012
The exterior of the restored Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer is as impressive as the original.
(photo: courtesy of the cathedral's official site)
It started as a convent. Then, Tsar Alexander I decreed that it should be taken down and built back up as a grand cathedral. The Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer would not be completed until the coronation of his great nephew. Under the rule of Josef Stalin, it was destroyed with dynamite, and fragments of the architecture were later repurposed to help build Moscow’s subway. In its place, Stalin sought to build a Palace of the Soviets. Then World War II interrupted its progress.
Then it became the site of a large, outdoor swimming pool, heated to a constant 80 degrees.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer was finally rebuilt. Despite its importance to the Russian people, as a sign of both national and spiritual identity, its rebuilding was not without controversy:
This cathedral is a virtual replica of the first. But whereas the first one took 44 years to build, the new one, thanks to modern construction techniques and seemingly unlimited funds, was built in three. It is said to have cost well in excess of $1 billion.
“The rebuilding of Christ the Redeemer was of particular importance to us at the turn of the new millennium,” said the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II. “It symbolizes both the rebirth of the Orthodox faith and the rebirth of the Russian nation.”
On the other hand, Father Gleb Yakunin, an outspoken Orthodox priest and former Duma deputy, opposed the project from the start.
“Now is not the time to build this cathedral,” he said. “It is wrong to spend so much money on a church when people are so poor.”
The statistics of the new building are as mind-boggling as the original: The cathedral stands 330 feet high, the cupola measures 100 feet in diameter and more than 800,000 square feet of marble and granite were brought from all over Russia or imported from throughout the world.
The white marble iconostasis, an icon screen separating the nave from the sanctuary, is shaped in the form of a chapel and stands four stories high with its own gold cupola 80 feet across and a marble surface of 7,000 square feet.
“Worthwhile things don’t just appear,” said sculptor Zurab Tseratelli, who designed the massive bronze doors at the front of the cathedral.
“This cathedral is the affirmation of the faith that was stolen from the people of Russia. I believe its rebuilding is the wisest decision.”
Read the full, remarkable story in Cathedral Heralds Rebirth of a Nation, in the August 2003 issue of ONE.
11 October 2012
Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Architecture Soviet Union Church
As mentioned in today’s Page One post, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople addressed Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops and faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square today. Above is a video report by Rome Reports.
The patriarch praised Vatican II and the efforts that followed:
Fifty years ago in this very square, a powerful and pivotal celebration captured the heart and mind of the Roman Catholic Church, transporting it across the centuries into the contemporary world. This transforming milestone, the opening of the Second Vatican Council, was inspired by the fundamental reality that the Son and incarnate Logos of God is “where two or three are gathered in his name," (Matt. 18.20) and that the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, “will guide us into the whole truth." (John 16.13). ...
Over the last five decades, the achievements of this assembly have been diverse as evidenced through the series of important and influential constitutions, declarations and decrees. We have contemplated the renewal of the spirit and “return to the sources” through liturgical study, biblical research and patristic scholarship. We have appreciated the struggle toward gradual liberation from the limitation of rigid scholasticism to the openness of ecumenical encounter, which has led to the mutual rescinding of the excommunications of the year 1054, the exchange of greetings, returning of relics, entering into important dialogues and visiting each other in our respective Sees. ...
As we move forward together, we offer thanks and glory to the living God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — that the same assembly of bishops has recognised the importance of reflection and sincere dialogue between our “sister churches”. We join in the “hope that the barrier dividing the Eastern Church and the Western Church will be removed, and that — at last — there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one” (“Unitatis Redintegratio” §18).
The full text of his address is available through the Vatican's news site.
10 October 2012
Tags: Vatican Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Dialogue
Children greet Msgr. Kozar on his visit to St. Anthony's Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters. (photo: John Kozar)
CNEWA works for, through, and with the churches of the East to effect real change and positive works through local partners. When CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar visited India earlier this year, he met many individuals receiving assistance from our dedicated partners. The Preshitharam Sisters,one such group of caregivers, run St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities:
The drama began the instant we arrived, when we were welcomed by all the children gathered at the front entrance to greet me with singing and clapping. Now, what I did not know was that about 80 percent of these beautiful children are not able to walk. They assembled there under their own incredible efforts. When the welcome ended they proceeded to crawl inside the building, down a long corridor (with the marble floor immaculately clean), then up a flight of stairs. I had tears watching them, as they demonstrated how they have overcome their disabilities. As I would easily discern, it is the result of the loving patience of the sisters, their devotion to teach these little ones how to overcome and to share with them the love of God for each of them. Let me tell you about three of these youngsters who typify the miracles taking place at this institution, which is supported by CNEWA.
One boy of about 15 — whose arms, hands, legs and feet are horribly contorted — demonstrated mobility by rolling himself down the long corridor, then amazingly up a long flight of stairs, all the while with a smile from ear to ear. I was choked up by his display of determination. His climbing up the staircase defied gravity, but not his human spirit.
Another special child was a 12-year-old boy, the only one presently confined to bed. He is recovering from surgeries that, hopefully, will reverse the ravages of a disease that form birth has eaten away at the bone structure in his joints. And because he is immobile, his condition is also complicated by bedsores. But do you know how this beautiful child welcomed me? He sang the most beautiful rendition, in perfect English, of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The three of us had tears.
Read more of Msgr. Kozar’s remarks here.
9 October 2012
Tags: India CNEWA Sisters Health Care Disabilities
Faithful celebrate Mass at a Roman Catholic church in Antakya, Hatay province. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In the May 2011 issue of ONE, Sean Sprague provides a window into the variegated Christian life of the Turkish city of Antakya, once known as Antioch:
To walk through Antioch today is to walk through a city that is both historically rich and religiously diverse.
With the great medieval bazaar on one side, with its tiny shops selling nuts, dried fruits, lingerie and cell phones, the old town forms what priests enthusiastically call an “ecumenical triangle.” Within short walking distance are the synagogue to the north, the Latin Catholic church to the west, the Orthodox cathedral to the east, and a scattering of ancient mosques in all directions.
By far the most impressive church is the Orthodox cathedral. With a high dome supported by sturdy limestone columns, it is discreetly hidden behind a narrow gateway so that you almost come upon it by chance. About 100 Arabic—speaking members of the Antiochene Orthodox community attend the evening Divine Liturgy on Ascension Thursday. Father Dimitri Dogum leads his small congregation in its ancient and haunting chant. …
Five minutes away, through a warren of alleyways, stands the Latin Catholic church. Its pastor, Father Domenico Bertogli, a Capuchin from Italy, has lived in Turkey for 42 years, and in Antioch for the last two decades.
Father Bertogli explains why so many different kinds of Christians live together peaceably. “Antioch is the place where we were first called Christians,” he says, “and it should not matter whether we call ourselves Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. Many of the young people tell me this. What matters is that we are Christians!”
Read more in Turkey’s Melting Pot.
4 October 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Unity Turkey Ecumenism Christian Unity
A farmer brings peppers to sell at a wholesale market in Malatia, Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Under the Soviet Union, Christians in Armenia were forced to practice their faith in secret. When Armenia declared its independence in 1991, the suppression of Christianity ended. Even so, some divisions, predating even Soviet communism, would still take time to mend.
In the January 2006 issue of ONE, John Hughes wrote on religious life in Armenia before and after independence:
“If you go to the left, you’ll find the Armenians,” explained a villager. “To the right are the Franks.”
The villager’s directions speak not only of a geographic divide, but a lingering theological and cultural divide that has survived despite 70 years of Communism.
In Dzithankov, Arevik, Lanchik and Panik — villages with large Catholic populations — there was a time when Armenian Catholic (“Franks”) and Armenian Apostolic Christians (“Armenians”) hardly mixed.
The two share the same rites and traditions, but Armenian Catholics maintain full communion with the Church of Rome. (The term Franks derives from the influence of French Catholic missionaries.)
In Arevik, 83-year-old Yeproxia Grigorian remembers when a “mixed marriage” would have caused scandal. It was practically forbidden for Franks to integrate with Armenians. But by the time her daughter Julietta married, only hardliners might have objected to a husband from the Armenian Apostolic Church, an ancient church to which 95 percent of Armenians belong. …
Julietta’s 13-year-old daughter, Armineh, is making up for the church-going opportunities denied her mother and her grandmother. And Armineh’s generation has only their elders’ recollections to connect them to the time when the church was divided by labels and lifestyles, even in a village of only several hundred.
“There was a time,” Julietta said, “when there was a big difference between Franks and Armenians. But there is one God.”
For the Catholic and Apostolic Christians of Dzithankov that one God is worshiped in St. Prkitch Church, which, since Armenia achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, both communities share.
For more, read A New Start for Armenia’s Catholics.
4 October 2012
Tags: Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church Armenian Catholic Church Communism/Communist Soviet Union
Pope Benedict XVI uses incense in front of a statue of Our Lady of Loreto as he celebrates Mass outside the Sanctuary of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy, on 4 October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
At Marian shrine, pope entrusts Year of Faith, synod to Mary (CNS) During a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto, Pope Benedict XVI formally entrusted to Mary the world Synod of Bishops and the Year of Faith. The pope's visit marked the 50th anniversary of Blessed John XXIII's visit to the Marian shrine, about 175 miles northwest of Rome, when he entrusted to Mary's care the Second Vatican Council. "Fifty years on, having been called by divine providence to succeed that unforgettable pope to the See of Peter, I, too, have come on pilgrimage to entrust to the Mother of God two important ecclesial initiatives: the Year of Faith. ... I wish to entrust to the Most Holy Mother of God all the difficulties affecting our world as it seeks serenity and peace," the pope said.
Turkey approves military operations in Syria (Al Jazeera) Turkey’s parliament has authorized cross-border military action against Syria, if deemed necessary by the government. The mandate, valid for one year, was passed by 320 votes in the 550-seat Turkish parliament, the Anatolia news agency reported on Thursday. Besir Atalay, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said the authorization was not a declaration of war but was intended as a deterrent. The vote came as Turkey resumed shelling Syrian government military positions on Thursday morning in retaliation for a mortar attack which landed over its border in southeastern Turkey killing five of its citizens — a woman and four children from the same family.
Two Egyptian Coptic Christian boys charged with defiling a Quran (New York Times) Two Coptic Christian boys have been detained by the authorities on charges that they defiled the pages of a Quran, the latest in a spate of recent cases involving accusations that people have insulted Islam. The boys, ages 9 and 10, are being held in juvenile detention in the village of Ezbet Marco, south of Cairo, according to Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who is investigating the case. The charges seemed likely to add to growing anxieties in Egypt about free speech rights, the sway of hard-line Islamists and the status of the country’s Christian minority, which fears an erosion of rights under an Islamist government.
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church plays matchmaker (Indian Express) Going beyond its traditional role of performing weddings, the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has started an online matchmaking service to ensure that its members marry from among the state’s Catholic community. The church recently registered syromalabarmatrimony.org, controlled directly by its headquarters in Cochin. Bishop Joseph Porunnedam, head of the church’s internet mission, said: “Catholic youths are migrating in drives to various places in India and abroad for education and employment. ... In such a scenario, the chances of our men and women tying the knot with persons from other religions are high. If that happens, in future, they may even abandon the Catholic faith. Hence, we decided to launch a matrimony service.”
Papal exhortation gives hope to Middle East Christians (Fides) Christian and Muslim communities are reading, spreading and studying the post-synodal exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,” issued by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Lebanon. As reported by local sources of Fides Agency, the widespread interest is not exclusive to Lebanon but stretches to Syria, Jordan and the Holy Land. “Muslim communities that are studying it appreciate it. Christians of all denominations — Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants — underline a very important point: the invitation ’not to be afraid’, to live in the Middle East building peace and coexistence. It is a key phrase that remains etched in the minds of Christians, in the context in which we live today,” says Wissam Lahham, a member of the Assembly of Eastern Christians, an N.G.O. based in Beirut.
Egyptian Copts hold memorial service for Maspero victims (Daily News Egypt) The Coptic Orthodox Church held a liturgy on Wednesday at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. The service commemorated the protesters who died almost a year ago in Maspero Square. On 9 October 2011 a large group of predominantly Christian protesters marched from the Cairo neighborhood of Shubra and were confronted by the army near the state television and radio building, leading to an assault that left many Christian protesters dead. While S.C.A.F. conducted an investigation and claimed the army was not at fault, video and witnesses indicate that the army ran over many of the demonstrators with tanks. Wednesday’s liturgy marked the end of a three-day church-wide fast in preparation for the next stage of the papal election process.
3 October 2012
Tags: Egypt Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Coptic Christians
The faithful celebrate the liturgy at the Church of St. Nicholas in Kampala, Uganda. (photo: Tugela Ridley)
“Orthodox Christianity is not new to Africa,” noted Andrew Rice in his article appearing in the March 2006 issue of ONE. “According to tradition, the Evangelist Mark arrived on the continent around A.D. 43, and founded the Church of Alexandria and, by extension, all Africa. But ‘all Africa,’ for most of the church’s history, effectively ended at the Sahara.”
Rice described how an Orthodox Christian identity in sub-Saharan Africa — the Ugandan Orthodox Church — was shaped by colonialism in the 19th century, two African rebels and just a bit of confusion over a name:
[Anti-colonial rebel Reuben] Spartas was, in short, a man in search of a vehicle for his nationalist passions. As it turned out, that vehicle was to be a church. He was a devout man, but by the mid-1920’s Spartas had grown increasingly frustrated with what he saw as the established church’s compromises and inconsistencies. He and an army buddy, Obadiah Basajjakitalo — Metropolitan Jonah [of Kampala and All Uganda]’s grandfather — began exploring other religions. What happened next has taken on the air of a creation myth: Spartas supposedly ran across an entry for the word “Orthodox” in the dictionary. “Like another Archimedes,” a subsequent church leader wrote, “he ran out into the streets shouting: ‘I have found, I have found!’ ”
The real story is a bit more complicated, involving an iconoclastic early civil rights leader and a case of mistaken religious identity. Sometime in the 1920’s, Spartas got hold of a copy of a newspaper called the Negro World, which was published by Marcus Garvey, the West Indian progenitor of the “back to Africa” movement. Spartas learned that Garvey had championed the creation of an African Orthodox Church. Other than sharing a name, Garvey’s church had no relationship to mainstream Orthodoxy. But Spartas did not know that. In 1925, he wrote African Orthodox Church leaders in America, saying he wanted to join up and convert other Ugandans.
After a long courtship-by-letter, Spartas announced that he had left the Anglican Church and declared the establishment of a new church “for all right-thinking Africans, men who wish to be free in their own house, not always being thought of as boys.” In 1932, one of Garvey’s bishops traveled to Uganda and ordained Spartas and Basajjakitalo priests. The kabaka of Baganda donated a section of his personal estate at Namungoona to the new church, and within a few years, it claimed 5,000 members.
There was just one problem — the church was not really Orthodox. Spartas discovered this when a Greek expatriate in town came to baptize a child and told him he had the rituals all wrong. Worried correspondence with Alexandria ensued and, after some confusion, all links to Garvey’s church were severed, and Spartas traveled to Egypt to be ordained by Patriarch Christophoros II. The Ugandan Orthodox had Alexandria’s recognition. Acceptance would be longer in coming.
For more of this fascinating story, read Orthodox Africa.
3 October 2012
Tags: Christianity Africa Orthodox Church Orthodox
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer at the United Nations in Geneva, speaks at a town hall discussion on migration hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See at the Pontifical North American College in Rome on 8 March 2012. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Archbishop urges solidarity and protection for refugees (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, made a statement before the 63rd session of U.N.H.C.R.’s Executive Committee: “Mr. Chairman, The surge in the number of recent conflicts has produced new waves of refugees and displaced persons. ... Forcibly uprooted people challenge the international community, which has failed to prevent it, to respond to their vulnerability. ... [A]s armed clashes persist and new uprooted people are obliged to seek survival in exile and in precarious conditions of physical and psychological suffering, it becomes our common responsibility to search and apply more creative and concrete forms of solidarity and protection.”
More than 40 killed as 4 bombs strike Aleppo (New York Times) Four huge explosions struck a government-held district of Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday, shearing off the fronts of two tall buildings, killing more than 40 people and filling the streets with rubble in a square near the area’s public park, according to video, photographs and reports from the Syrian government and its opponents. The bombings hit a central square bordered by a graceful public garden, a downtown district full of hotels and offices, and the Christian neighborhood of Aziziyeh, where many people had sought refuge over the weekend.
Huge turnout for Sukkot blessings in Jerusalem (Haaretz) Tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers descended upon Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Wednesday to hear the traditional priestly blessing that is considered a hallmark of the annual Sukkot festival. “The aura was just amazing,” said 38 year-old Emily of Massry of Brooklyn, New York, who attended the event for the first time, along with three of her friends. “We felt the achdut, the unity, of so many different communities coming together.”
Study: Orthodox Christians in Russia lack churches (RIA Novosti) Orthodox Christians constitute 43 percent of the Russian populace, but they have less churches and parishes per believer than any other major confession in the country, according to a new study presented on Wednesday. “There’s a huge demand for faith, which is not being met” due to a shortage of religious facilities, said sociologist of religion Roman Lunkin of the Sreda polling service at a presentation in Moscow.
Explosion in east Lebanon kills at least four (Lebanon Daily Star) An explosion that ripped through a house in east Lebanon killed at least four people and wounded three more, according to security sources. It is not yet clear what triggered the blast. A local official in Nabi Sheet, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star that the explosion most likely targeted a “Hezbollah arms depot.”
2 October 2012
Tags: Lebanon Jerusalem Syrian Civil War Vatican Russia
Despite his busy schedule, Father Jose is always available to his parishioners. (photo: Sean Sprague)
For decades, the people of Kerala have suffered from high poverty rates, exacerbated by high rates of unemployment. The Indian government’s Ministry of Labor and Employment recently released a report revealing that against India’s average rate of 3.8 percent, unemployment in Kerala currently hovers at 9.9 percent. Though lower than a decade ago, this is still very high in absolute terms.
In such an environment, people like Father Jose Thottakkara are a godsend. In the May 2008 issue of ONE, Jomi Thomas reported:
“Once priests start to think of themselves as sacrament machines, they lose the real sense of what they do,” said Father Jose Thottakkara, a Syro-Malabar Catholic priest working in suburban Ernakulam.
A highly educated 44-year-old, Father Jose epitomizes a new, dynamic breed of priest. Founder and director of Naipunya International — a nonprofit agency of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly that places thousands of qualified young people in good jobs worldwide — the priest also leads more than 100 families at St. George Church, a suburban Syro-Malabar parish.
For a son of poor farmers, the priest has accomplished a great deal at a relatively young age. After some eight years of advanced education, he holds degrees in business management, economics, theology and world history. Complementing these studies, he undertook formal and on-the-job training in social work and management. In addition, he has received faculties to serve both Syro-Malabar and Roman Catholic communities.
Father Jose manages a tight schedule during the week. And while his responsibilities at Naipunya take up the lion’s share of his day, the families to whom he ministers remain close to his heart.
Read more about Father Jose in A Priest With Global Reach.
2 October 2012
Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Economic hardships
Shelling leaves a church in ruins in the Old City of Homs, Syria, on 30 September. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network handout via Reuters)
Syrian Christian churches urge protection of heritage (Fides) Christian leaders of all denominations and communities have filed an appeal to UNESCO, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Pontifical Council for Culture. “Religious buildings (synagogues, churches, mosques, monasteries and sanctuaries) are used for military purposes, which causes their progressive destruction. We implore the belligerents to save the protected areas and not to use them for military purposes.”
Franciscan monastery in Jerusalem vandalized (BBC) Vandals have spray-painted anti-Christian graffiti on the main door of a Franciscan monastery outside Jerusalem, Church officials have said. Photographs published online showed blue graffiti denigrating Jesus at the Convent of Saint Francis on Mount Zion. Also painted on the door were the words “price tag”; Jewish settlers and extremists have been carrying out so-called “price-tag” attacks in retaliation for Israeli government curbs on settlement growth.
Poll: most Jordanians oppose admitting more refugees (Christian Science Monitor) As Syria’s civil war drags on in bloody stalemate, Jordan has maintained an open-door policy for its refugees, allowing in tens of thousands of people. But with no end to the conflict in sight, the friendly relationship between Jordan and its “guests” is showing signs of strain. According to a nationwide poll by the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, 65 percent of Jordanians oppose allowing more Syrians into the country, and more than 80 percent said the Syrians already present should be confined to camps.
Austerity measures may begin to target Greek Orthodox Church (Der Spiegel) The Greek Orthodox Church has managed to cling onto many of its economic privileges, despite austerity stinging nearly all other parts of the country’s society. Now, fueled by continued stagnation and growing popular resentment in the face of scandal, the Greek government has begun scaling back its financial support for the church.
On Palestinian right of return, Israel raises matter of Jewish refugees (Christian Science Monitor) Israel is demanding that the losses of displaced Arab Jews be acknowledged and compensed in some way. In doing so, the campaign touches one of Palestinians’ most sensitive wounds, harbored since Israel’s founding in 1948: their right to return to lands and homes left in 1948-49, when at least 750,000 either fled or were expelled by Israel. Though many Palestinians recognize at least some Arab Jews as refugees, they are concerned that Israel is trying to cancel its debt to them by putting the suffering of Arab Jews on the same international ledger.
Tags: Syria Refugees Jerusalem Violence against Christians Jordan