** Please be advised that the website will be unavailable between 4:30pm to 7:00pm on Thursday Feb 22, 2018. **
4 February 2013
Mother Elizabeth leads Russian Orthodox novices in prayer at the Martha and Mary Convent
in Russia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2002, we paid a visit to a convent in Russia, where young women were doing what they have done for centuries:
While Russia strives to catch up with the modern world, the work of the Martha and Mary Convent is not so different from what it was before the Soviet Union’s great atheistic experiment.
“People think we are outdated because we keep some traditions from the early 20th century,” said the Mother Superior, named Elizabeth in honor of the convent’s founder, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanov.
“We believe her ideas were so much ahead of her time that even now we are awed at her far-reaching concepts for helping the poor.”
The Communists forced the closing of the Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow in 1926, but it reopened in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, its sisters are carrying on the mission of the founder and now saint, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, born into the Lutheran noble house of Hesse-Darmstadt, was the granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, sister of the doomed Tsarina Alexandra and wife of the murdered Grand Duke Sergei who was an uncle of the last Russian tsar — Nicholas II. She founded the convent in 1910, some eight years before the bloody revolution also claimed her as a victim.
After her husband was killed in 1905, she visited his assassin in prison and spoke of forgiveness. Shortly after, she gave away much of her wealth, founded hospitals, opened soup kitchens and in 1909 took vows as a Sister of Love and Mercy.
Even prior to the death of her husband, Elizabeth had brought health reforms to peasant mothers in the countryside near Moscow and began visiting the city’s sick, imprisoned and orphaned.
The Bolsheviks executed Elizabeth on 18 July 1918 along with her loyal assistant, Barbara, and several other Romanov prisoners. A peasant who witnessed the murders said Elizabeth sang hymns and soothed the dying after the group had been thrown down a mineshaft. Elizabeth succumbed only after grenades were hurled in the direction of the singing. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized her in August 2000, along with Barbara.
Mother Elizabeth said the community today, as with the original community, bases many of its guiding principles on the deaconess movement popular in Lutheran religious communities at the end of the 19th century. Although Elizabeth converted to Orthodoxy in 1891, she retained many of the deaconess ideals, including caring for the sick and poor.
Elizabeth dedicated the convent to the values of Martha and Mary in the hope that the community would, in Elizabeth’s words: “combine the lofty destiny of Mary with Martha’s service to Our Lord...”
...As in the old days, the community’s routine combines prayer, study and service. They wake up at 6:30, take breakfast and then pray in a small chapel. At 9 they start school. Lunch is at noon, after which they continue their studies until 4. In the evenings they study theology, music and enjoy some free time. The young women, in their late teens and early 20’s, come from all over Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Their studies and accommodation are paid for, but they must often pay for their trips home.
Inna, a 20-year-old from Latvia, has sparkling eyes, an impish grin and studies at the college.
“My parents are not religious but I used to go to church and Sunday school with my friends; there wasn’t much else to do,” she said.
Read more about the convent in the November 2002 issue of our magazine.
1 February 2013
Tags: Sisters Russia Russian Orthodox Nuns
Children sing Coptic Orthodox hymns at the Al Karma Center. (photo: Sean Sprague)
While much of the news out of Egypt this week has been grim, it’s good to be reminded that every now and then the desert does bring forth promising flowers of hope.
In 2004, we looked at one of those, a center catering to the needs of isolated Christians in Egypt’s western desert:
Being a minority is never easy; being a minority newly settled in a once inhospitable terrain much less so. But such is the fate of some 40,000 Coptic Orthodox, who face poverty and isolation in the arid land west of the Nile Delta.
Most immigrated to the area from Upper Egypt to escape discrimination from Islamic fundamentalists and economic deprivation. Others came after the government encouraged them to leave the over-populated Nile Valley and settle along the desert highway linking Alexandria and Cairo. With only one church to serve them, all fear their faith and heritage will be lost on younger generations eager to escape the bleak landscape where jobs are few.
A multipurpose religious center near Alexandria, however, is providing this isolated community with an opportunity to bring their children together and strengthen their faith.
“The role of the center is to identify needy children and equip them with the tools and education to live their lives in a Christian way,” said Antoin Nabil, the coordinator of the Al Karma Center in Mariout, a southwestern suburb of the Mediterranean port city.
The center gathers children from across the desert for a three-day program of activities dubbed “Jesus the Child.” Boys and girls, ages 6 to 14, are shuttled to the center in groups of 50 to 60 for an up-close look at the life of the Coptic Church.
“Many of the children who come to the center have never even seen a church before,” said Bishop Tawadros, the center’s founder, “so the opportunity to see priests, bishops, deacons and many Christians together at prayer strengthens their faith.”
Al Karma also provides the children with many of the necessities and basic services their families are unable to secure. Upon arrival, the children are bathed, their hair combed and nails trimmed. A doctor also conducts a routine physical. Clothes, shoes, school bags and books are also provided.
“Some of the children come from extremely remote villages, where there are no schools or medical facilities,” said Bishop Tawadros. “Only about half of them attend school, which is a serious problem, especially for the girls.”
Read more about this Oasis of Hope in the March 2004 issue of our magazine.
31 January 2013
Tags: Egypt Coptic Orthodox Church Copts
In this image from 2003, a sick mother in Ethiopia holds her child. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
The AIDS epidemic has cast a long shadow over Africa, and in 2003 we reported on how one group of sisters was trying to bring light in Ethiopia:
What have the Daughters of Charity learned from their experiences in Ethiopia? That everyone there — rich and poor, educated and illiterate, elderly and infant — is directly or indirectly affected by AIDS. No one gets by unscathed.
As a result, most of the Daughters’ projects in Ethiopia, in social work, education or health, include an AIDS element.
The enormity of the AIDS epidemic in Ethiopia is staggering. According to the most recent United Nations estimates, three million of the 64 million people in Ethiopia are infected with the AIDS virus. One million children are orphaned. Fifty to 70 percent of prostitutes, many in militarized zones, test positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
The disease is spreading at such an alarming rate that by 2010, seven million to 10 million Ethiopians will be infected. More than 1.7 million, or 15 to 25 percent of Ethiopia’s children, will be orphaned.
Sister Aster Zewdie, the Provincial for Ethiopia’s Daughters of Charity, said she and the rest of her community of 67 sisters did not enter religious life to sit at a desk crunching numbers. They joined the Daughters to get their hands dirty.
In a spirit of humility, simplicity and charity, the Daughters of Charity have stepped into action to serve those in most need, following the example of their 17th-century founder, the French priest St. Vincent de Paul.
“It is our charism that we serve the poor through Christ and we serve Christ through the poor,” Sister Aster said.
“St. Vincent didn’t want Christians to stay away from the poor by praying.
“He said, ‘If the poor are looking for you, you leave God for God.’ So you go out from the chapel, and you go to serve these poor people. He always said, ‘Go find the poor.’”
With this in mind, the sisters say their morning prayers and head out to work.
Yet they are also the first to admit that the work of the Daughters of Charity in Ethiopia, a country roughly twice the size of Texas, does little to even register a blip on the fight-against-AIDS radar screen.
Sister Aster said: “Most of our sisters are very young. We are trying our best, but we are really limited when we see the need we have here in Ethiopia.”
Read more about how the Daughters of Charity responded to the AIDS crisis in the March 2003 issue of the magazine.
30 January 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Health Care HIV/AIDS Daughters of Charity
Father Volodymyr Havrylenko blesses a traditional Ukrainian meal before eating with his wife, Halia, and two daughters, Oksanka and Sofika, at their home in Yavoriv, a town eight miles from the Polish border. (photo: Petro Didula)
What’s it like when Father is also a father? A few years ago, the magazine looked at how a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest in a small Ukrainian town balances his responsibilities to his church and his family:
Even before meeting Volodymyr, Halia imagined herself as a priest’s wife. She grew up in Yavoriv, a center of the underground church. She had a regular underground confessor; underground nuns taught her catechism.
“When my brother decided to become a priest, he shared his concerns with me,” Mrs. Havrylenko says. “When I was younger I was afraid to become a priest’s wife. I knew this would be a great responsibility and my husband would have to sacrifice a lot for the church and his people.”
They married in 1997, the same year Volodymyr was ordained a deacon. A year later he was ordained a priest. His first assignment was at the Church of the Most Holy Eucharist in Lviv, a pastoral center for students. Mrs. Havrylenko took a job at a bank and had little time to help her husband…
…The life of a small-town priest is busy. Father Havrylenko gets up at 6 a.m. and celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Yavoriv at 8 a.m. He then hears confessions, which takes much of his time throughout the year, especially before Easter. Three days a week he teaches a course on Christian ethics at a local public school and a few times a week he leads evening devotions. He also teaches special catechism classes throughout the year.
Three priests serve St. George’s, so every third week Father Havrylenko takes his turn “on duty.” In addition to other tasks, he conducts funerals, makes sick calls and presides at baptisms and weddings.
Sundays are particularly full for Father Havrylenko. He celebrates one liturgy each in Yavoriv and Koty before driving to Nemyriv to lead the liturgy at Father Stetskyi’s parish. Sometimes he has an afternoon baptism, followed by evening prayer, often conducted in two parishes. “I get home and have breakfast at 7:30 p.m.,” he laughs.
Read more about Serving Church and Family from the magazine’s January 2004 issue.
29 January 2013
Tags: Ukraine Village life Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Priests
An Ethiopian boy stands outside the Mevaseret immigrant absorption center near Jerusalem. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
A few years ago, we took a look at a particularly interesting demographic in the Holy Land: Jews who had moved to Israel from Ethiopia:
“Everything was difficult,” said Bat-El Ananey, a 28-year-old attorney, as she recalled her family’s culture shock when they first arrived in Israel from the African nation of Ethiopia.
“We came from a place with no toilets, no electricity, no telephones or television. I remember fetching drinking water from the river,” she continued. “And we had never seen white Jews before!”
Ms. Ananey and her family are among the 110,000 Ethiopian Jews, known as the Beta Israel, or House of Israel, who today call Israel home. For thousands of years, the Beta Israel lived in obscurity in northwestern Ethiopia, where they observed a form of Judaism that predates the rabbinical form practiced by most Jews since the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. However, Ethiopia’s great famine in 1984 and the West’s response ended their relative isolation and irrevocably altered their fortunes.
Read more about Challenges For A Land of Immigrants in the November 2008 issue of ONE.
28 January 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Israel Immigration Ethiopian Jews
Ukrainian Bishop Peter Stasiuk celebrates the Divine Liturgy on Epiphany in Melbourne, Australia.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Anyone who thinks Australia is just kangaroos and koala bears should check out Sean Sprague’s profile of the continent’s diverse religions from 2007:
Once Europeans gained a foothold on the continent, the native population, estimated at about 350,000 at the time of settlement, began its precipitous decline, due mainly to infectious diseases. Open land, a gold rush and the building of railroads generated an immigration boom — not limited to Europeans — in the mid-19th century. But reactionary, anti-Asian discriminatory practices soon generated laws restricting the settlement of Australia to northern Europeans alone. This “White Australia Policy,” enacted nationally in 1901, controlled immigration for more than four decades, until reforms in the second half of the 20th century all but eliminated its effectiveness.
In 1975, the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which ended these racially based immigration policies. Subsequently, the country has seen an influx of non-European immigrants. In addition, the indigenous population has rebounded.
Among these recent arrivals have been Eastern Christians — Armenians and Assyrians; Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite Greek and Ukrainian Greek Catholics; and Coptic, Greek, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Syriac Orthodox — whose small but vibrant communities are developing a multicultural Australia. To learn more, I visited three.
Over a lunch of New Zealand mussels, kangaroo steaks and a bottle of local cabernet sauvignon, Bishop Peter Stasiuk, who prepared the meal with relish, spoke about his small but growing community of Ukrainian Greek Catholics.
“Our liturgy attracts many outsiders, and several hundred have crossed over to join us, especially people wanting to become clergy.”
The Canadian-born bishop is responsible for 34,000 souls scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand. Most Ukrainian Greek Catholics, however, live in Melbourne and Sydney.
“There are 1.5 million Latin [Roman] Catholics in Melbourne, and many of our people attend their churches if they are closer to where they live.”
This back-and-forth is representative of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic experience in Australia, Bishop Peter said, an experience not unlike that of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in North America.
Read more about Diversity Down Under in the May 2007 issue of ONE.
25 January 2013
Tags: Armenia Eastern Churches Greek Catholic Church Coptic Australia
Father Mezo hears confessions at Protection of the Virgin Mary Church in Nyírascéd, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
In 2006, ONE reported on Greek Catholics holding on to their faith and their traditions in a village in rural Hungary:
Wherever he goes in the Hungarian village of Nyírascád, Father György Mezo is greeted with the traditional “Dícsoség Jézus Krísztusnak,” or “Glory to Jesus Christ.” Most of the residents are Greek Catholics, and Father Mezo has headed the village’s Greek Catholic parish, Protection of the Virgin Mary, for 15 years. Life is not easy in this village in northeastern Hungary, near the Romanian border. The birthrate is down. Couples used to have five or more children, but providing for a family that size has not been possible for the last 50 years or so. Even now, in this post-Communist era of the European Union, forestry, the main occupation of most villagers, is not the industry it once was. Most couples have one child these days. And jobs are scarce too. Many villagers work in nearby cities or, if they are well educated, they go to Budapest.
But as the world changes around them, the villagers of Nyírascád hold on to their traditions, which is why Father Mezo is held in such high regard.
“People have preserved the traditional rites, both liturgical and legal,” said Gyula Katona, Nyírascád’s mayor since 1973. He said the village was an exception to most of Hungary, where Communist rule and the enticements of the modern, secular world had combined to dilute the faith. Even under Communist rule, “catechism remained in the schools because the villagers wanted it there.”
“Processions were held each year, at Easter and on the feastday of the church,” he continued. “In other villages they held processions juston the church grounds, but here they paraded through the streets. From Good Friday to Easter morning, the holy tomb is always guarded by young men, as is traditional. We could do all this because tradition is very strong here.”
Read more about Holding on in Hungary from the May 2006 issue of ONE.
24 January 2013
Tags: Eastern Europe Hungary Greek Catholic Church
One of the many ancient manuscripts found in Debra Zion. (photo: Sean Sprague)
On 24 January, the Latin church marks the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of writers and journalists. In 2004, writer and journalist Sean Sprague paid a visit to Ethiopia and discovered some treasures of the written word:
Ringed by volcanic hills, Lake Ziway is known for its birds. On a typical day African pygmy geese, yellow-billed storks, white pelicans and other birds swoop over the 187-square-mile lake in central Ethiopia. Ornithology aside, there is another reason to visit Lake Ziway: Its largest island, Tullu Gudo, shelters the oldest active religious community south of Ethiopia’s Christian heartland, Debra Zion. Tradition holds that Tullu Gudo once housed the Ark of the Covenant, said to contain the Ten Commandments. …
The original church of Debra Zion and its monastery fell into ruin by the early 19th century, but its treasures — various ancient Christian manuscripts and icons — were preserved. … At the back of the Debra Zion church is a padlocked door behind which are the island’s historic treasures.
Looking over the various manuscripts, Abune Gregorius was particularly interested in one book, a history of the saints, written in Ge’ez. This ancient language predates the Aksumite empire, but remains the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Read more about these treasures and Ethiopia’s Island Sanctuary in the January 2005 issue of ONE.
23 January 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Orthodox Church Orthodox Ethiopian Christianity
A local woodcarver sits outside his home in Kosmach. (photo: Petro Didula)
In 2004, we turned a spotlight on the Hutsuls, nestled in the Carpathian Mountains:
Tucked into the Carpathian Mountains in southwestern Ukraine, Kosmach is the center of the 500,000-strong Greek Catholic and Orthodox Hutsul community.
The 13th-century Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus — which includes parts of present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine — is an essential chapter in Hutsul history. Many of those who survived the ruthless devastation of their homeland, peasants mostly, headed for the hills, seeking refuge in the Carpathians. ...
The Soviets frowned on tradition, particularly those traditions rooted in religion. But the Hutsuls took pride in their distinctive dress, dances and songs, says Vasyl Markus, editor of the Encyclopedia of the Ukrainian Diaspora and a professor at Loyola University in Chicago. Families continued to decorate Easter eggs, orpysanky, as well as practice embroidery and other examples of folk art. And unlike most parts of the Soviet Union, religious expression never really wavered. But that expression is not purely Christian.
“The Christian faith in the area is nuanced,” says Father Hunchak. “There is faith, but it is not exactly Christian, rather half-Christian, half-pagan … a mystical faith. In the Carpathian Mountains, there are people who know about trees, plants, nature.”
Read more about the Faith and Tradition of the Hutsuls in the November 2004 issue of ONE.
22 January 2013
Tags: Ukraine Russia Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Ukrainian Orthodox Church Belarus
Seniors play chess and backgammon in a Yerevan, Armenia, park. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Four years ago, we took readers to Armenia, for a glimpse at some of the challenges facing many of the elderly:
The income gap in Armenia has widened and poverty remains widespread. Armenia’s most vulnerable citizens, children, the disabled and the elderly, have experienced a decline — at times dramatic — in the quality of their lives.
Most senior citizens depend on pensions to survive. And though the average pension has increased by $10 over the last five years, the cost of living has risen, mitigating the effectiveness of any increase. Today a typical pension pays a third of what is considered necessary for the average person to maintain the minimum standard of living in Armenia.
“The problem with raising pensions is quite difficult,” said Anahit Gevorgian, who heads the Elderly Issues Division in the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues. “Paying higher pensions is impossible in a country with widespread unemployment.
“Today there is just 0.9 worker for every pensioner, when there should be at least two workers to pay for one person’s pension.” About 11 percent of Armenia’s citizens are 65 or older.
Read more about Pensioners in Crisis in the January 2008 issue of ONE.