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Volume 45, Number 3
21 June 2012
Joost van Egmond

Sister Anastasija walks to the church at the Monastery of Gorioc, near the town of Istok in Kosovo's northwest. (photo: Laura Boushnak)

When Kosovo unilaterally seceded from Serbia, one question on many minds was what to do with the dozen or so Serbian Orthodox monasteries scattered across the country. In contrast to the mass exodus of Serbs from Kosovo over the past decade, the monasteries are very actively consolidating their presence. For religious Serbs, they are among the most valued symbols of their cultural heritage. Kosovo is considered the cradle of the Serbian nation and of the Orthodox Christianity Serbs embrace.

Many of these sites are also on UNESCO’s heritage list. One of the few things that all in Kosovo agree on is the immeasurable value of the ancient buildings, often adorned with medieval frescoes and icons. But the question of their ownership goes right to the heart of the intangible political problem that is Kosovo, dominated by predominantly Muslim Albanian Kosovars with painful memories of Serb rule.

Some take a purely conservational stance. “We need to convince the Serbs they are part of Kosovo’s heritage, and convince Albanian Kosovars that part of Kosovo’s heritage is Serbian,” says Nol Binakaj of Cultural Heritage without Borders, a non-governmental organization promoting interest in heritage without prejudice to ethnicity. He dreams of a day when tourists will pour in to visit the monasteries, now still heavily guarded for fear of attacks by Albanian Kosovars.

In the presently tense atmosphere, mass tourism is unlikely. Both the church and the Serbian state jealously guard the monasteries. The government in Belgrade will have nothing to do with the Kosovar state it does not recognize, and continues to fund and regulate the convents it considers on its own territory.

Financial imperatives may go some way towards bridging the divide. While politically sensitive, nobody in Kosovo seems much bothered by Serbia’s funding of the monasteries — which, after all, helps to preserve the buildings. “Serbian funding is not a problem per se for us,” says Haki Rugova, the mayor of the municipality in which Gorioc is located, as well as a leading national politician. “We can’t stop it anyway.”

At the same time, the clergy are happy to work with outsiders and even the Kosovo state when it can help them. The steps forward are tiny, but it is clear nobody wishes the monasteries to go to waste. Mr. Rugova is adamant he would maintain them, should Serbian funds dry up. “We have the money. We would do whatever is needed to preserve these buildings.”

Pack a bit of optimism, should you ever wish to visit some of the most amazing structures in the region.

Tags: Monastery Serbian Orthodox Church Serbia Kosovo UNESCO

18 May 2012
Erin Edwards

Miriam Ishak, a 25-year-old Coptic woman, says she experiences harassment and discrimination in her hometown of Samalut, Egypt, because she is Christian. (photo: Holly Pickett)

Independent Catholic News recently reported about a Parliament meeting that focused on the plight of Christian women in Pakistan and Egypt:

At a well-attended meeting in Parliament on Tuesday evening, chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool, Peers and MPs heard first-hand accounts about the plight of the persecuted church in Pakistan and Egypt — and in particular about the plight of Christian women, whom Lord Alton said faced “double persecution — both on account of their beliefs and their gender.”

The charity Aid To The Church In Need presented parliamentarians with copies of their new report: Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom, looking at persecution of Christians in 13 countries, with an introduction asserting the importance of religious freedom; and with copies of Christian Women in Pakistan and Egypt: A Briefing. The speakers included Mrs Asiya Nasir, a Christian woman who is a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly. The meeting also heard from a Pakistani Catholic woman and two Archbishops.

To learn more about the plight of Coptic women in Egypt, read Spotlight: Coptic Women from the September 2011 issue of ONE. Photographer Holly Pickett shared with us some of the difficulties faced by these women, such as Miriam Ishak (pictured above):

Miriam Ishak, a 25-year-old Coptic woman, says she experiences harassment and discrimination in her hometown of Samalut, Egypt, because she is Christian. She says she and her fiance will move to Kuwait after they get married. As members of a religious minority, Coptic women in Egypt often face discrimination. Because of the Coptic Church’s strict divorce laws, some Coptic men and women convert to Islam in order to divorce their spouses, a decision that has far-reaching social and legal consequences on the family and sometimes the entire community. In numerous instances, a Coptic woman’s conversion to Islam has sparked sectarian violence.

Tags: Egypt Africa Coptic Orthodox Church Women (rights/issues) Discrimination

27 April 2012
Antin Sloboda

Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky in Rome in 1921.
(photo: Institute of Church History of the Ukrainian Catholic University)

Last week brought many meaningful moments to the Ukrainian communities in Canada and the United States, and also to the general public of the two countries as they welcomed leaders of all the major religious denominations of Ukraine: Greek and Latin Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim, as well as leaders of mainstream Protestant organizations.

Members of the delegation represented The Ukrainian Union of Churches and Religious Organizations, which represents some 95 percent of Ukraine’s believers. The main purpose of this North American visit was to promote awareness of the heroic work of Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky, who spoke and acted courageously to protect ethnic and religious minorities targeted by the Nazi regime in Europe during World War II, risking for example his own life to save more than 160 Jews from the Nazis. The metropolitan archbishop was also a champion of Christian unity and interreligious cooperation.

The delegation’s visit to North America includes stops in Toronto, Ottawa, Washington and New York. The representatives are scheduled to participate in a series of conferences and meetings with state officials and leaders of the local religious communities.

This visit proved to be exceptionally productive in Ottawa, where a special motion in Canada’s parliament was unanimously passed in the House of Commons to honor Metropolitan Sheptytsky for his courageous actions on behalf of the oppressed Jewish people in Ukraine during World War II. Also, an organization that has long worked closely with CNEWA Canada — the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies —hosted an excellent symposium at Saint Paul University called "Ethical Actions in Extreme Conditions". The symposium elaborated on the personality of Metropolitan Sheptytsky and the socio-historical context of his work. Among the distinguished speakers at the symposium were Rabbi Yaakov Don Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who succeeds Metropolitan Sheptytsky as the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

The visit opened a new era in Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue, and it has initiated development of a common approach in addressing sensitive issues of the past and fostering mutual cooperation in the future. The visit was organized and sponsored by the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter, a non-profit organization that promotes dialogue and cooperation between Jewish and Ukrainian peoples; it was established in 2008 by a a Ukrainian-Canadian businessman Mr. James Temerty.

Tags: Ukraine CNEWA Canada Ukrainian Orthodox Church

26 April 2012
Erin Edwards

A dance group performs at the 34th annual Greek Festival in Salt Lake City.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)

In the July 2010 issue of ONE, Cody Christopulos, the photojournalist who serves as our assignment editor, reported on the Greek community in Utah’s “Mormon Zion” — Salt Lake City — and efforts to preserve its cultural identity:

Today, the Greek Orthodox Church is the binding force for Utah’s Hellenic community. Father Matthew Gilbert, pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral, describes the parish as very active, with no shortage of activities, especially for the youth. Still, says the priest, himself “Greek” by marriage, passing down the faith to the next generation remains a challenge.

“The hardest thing is the spiritual aspect. It’s nice to dance and to play basketball. We have Greek schools, dance programs, Orthodox Christian camps in the summer, Greek camp, Sunday school. We offer everything imaginable, but it’s up to individuals to cultivate their spiritual life. It’s always easier to cultivate the fun things, but a spiritual life is difficult. It takes a lot of work. Being baptized is the easy part. The rest is commitment.”

For more, read Greek Orthodoxy in Mormon Zion.

Tags: Cultural Identity Greece

24 April 2012
Greg Kandra

Patriarch Kirill leads a call to prayer Sunday at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.
(photo: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov)

Tens of thousands gathered in Moscow on Sunday for a massive rally that blended protest and prayer.

Reuters has details:

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church warned tens of thousands of believers on Sunday they were “under attack by persecutors” on a nationwide day of prayer intended to heal divisions over a protest at the altar by a women’s punk band.

At least 40,000 people came to hear Patriarch Kirill lead them in prayer at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, where Pussy Riot performed a “punk prayer” on February 21 deriding the Church’s close relationship with President-elect Vladimir Putin.

The incident, and the arrest of three band members who face up to seven years in jail for their performance, has ignited a debate about the Church’s role in politics and left Kirill open to criticism from inside and outside the Church.

“We are under attack by persecutors,” said the Patriarch, his bass voice booming out through speakers from an outdoor stage where he stood under the cathedral’s steep white walls and golden domes, flanked by red- and gold-robed priests.

“The danger is in the very fact that blasphemy, derision of the sacred is put forth as a lawful expression of human freedom which must be protected in a modern society.”

Kirill depicts Christ the Savior as a symbol of the resurgence of the Orthodox Church since the end of atheist Soviet rule in 1991. It was rebuilt in the 1990s after being razed in the Soviet era and converted into a swimming pool.

But Kirill, who has steered the Church towards a more active role in politics, has faced criticism over his overt support for Putin, a former KGB spy whose 12-year rule has been described by the patriarch as a “miracle of God.”

You can read more here. The New York Times has more context, as well.

In the meantime, check out the story Orthodoxy Renewed from the March 2010 issue of ONE for more on challenges facing the Russian Orthodox Church.

Tags: Unity Russia Russian Orthodox Church Patriarchs

17 April 2012
Erin Edwards

A children’s choir performs at the Ethiopian Orthodox parish in Temple Hill, a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. (photo: Erin Edwards)

In 2009, I had the opportunity to visit with and learn from members of the Ethiopian community in Washington, D.C. Washington is home to the largest group of Ethiopians outside of the country itself — pretty remarkable. You can imagine the amount of culture, history and tradition that flows through the city. From the Ethiopian restaurants to the Orthodox churches, there were many moments in which I felt as though I was in Ethiopia.

Check out my interviews below with some of the young women I met while in D.C. For more, read the accompanying article by Vincent Gragnani, America’s Horn of Africa in the March 2009 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Africa Ethiopian Orthodox Church

10 April 2012
Erin Edwards

In this photo taken in 2007, Georgian Orthodox Christians light candles during Easter celebrations at the Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition in Tbilisi, Georgia. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)

This past Sunday, many Christians around the world celebrated Easter. The Orthodox churches in CNEWA’s world will celebrate Easter next Sunday, 15 April. Last November, our Education & Interreligious Affairs Officer Father Elias Mallon explored the reasons behind the two dates for Easter. You can read more about that here.

“Ultimately,” Father Elias concludes, “the most import issue is whether the common observance of Easter by all Christians would give significant witness to the world. If it would not, then the date or dates of Easter are immaterial.”

Tags: Georgia Easter Georgian Orthodox Church Tbilisi

26 March 2012
John E. Kozar

In Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 18 March, a priest lights a candle in front of a picture of Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, Egypt. Pope Shenouda, who served as patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church for 41 years, died 17 March at the age of 88.
(photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)

Yesterday, I represented Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a prayer service celebrating the life of Pope Shenouda III, who died on 17 March after leading the Coptic Orthodox Church for more than four decades.

I was warmly welcomed to the church of St. Mary in East Brunswick, New Jersey, by Bishop David, who leads the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese in North America, and by many priests of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which has a number of parishes in the New York metropolitan area. I was especially made to feel at home by the youth — young men and women devoted to the memory of their deceased pope. The church — filled with images of the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints — was overflowing, a testimony to the love and the leadership of this dynamic man of God.

In my remarks to the assembled faithful, I shared with them that, despite the reality of the dwindling numbers in our Christian families in the Western world, it was most uplifting to be present with so many committed young people.

I learned that in all things, Pope Shenouda III was a devoted father and teacher. “A church without the youth is a church without a future,” he once said. “And the youth without the church are a generation without a teacher.” Despite being responsible for millions of Coptic Christians scattered throughout the globe, he never ceased to give weekly lectures from the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, which drew millions of young men and women for decades.

The papacy of Shenouda III marked an unprecedented expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, especially in North America, where there are now more than 200 parish communities in Canada and the United States. He also ushered in a revival of catechesis, focusing on the formation of youths, and Christian monasticism, which began in the deserts of Egypt in the early fourth century.

Thank God for this loving servant of the church, and may the Lord bless the Coptic family, the spiritual sons and daughters of Shenouda III, and heal them in their time of grief.

Tags: Egypt Coptic Orthodox Church Copts Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria

19 March 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita

In this 6 January 2010 photo, Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch, blesses the congregation during a Divine Liturgy celebrating Christmas at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. (photo: CNS/Asmaa Waguih, Reuters)

A lion of the universal church died on Saturday, 17 March.

Shenouda III, pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, led some 15 million Coptic Orthodox Christians — most of whom live in Egypt — since his election in 1971.

Not since the earliest days of the Egyptian church has one man impacted the Christian community of the region more than Pope Shenouda III. Picking up where his predecessor, Pope Kyrillos VI (1959-1971), left off, Pope Shenouda III spearheaded a revival in catechesis, particularly among youth, that spawned a resurgence in monastic life, renewed liturgical life and stimulated theological learning and Scripture study.

The pope also ended centuries of near isolation of the Coptic Orthodox Church, strengthening relations with other churches with which it maintains full communion — the Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Malankara Syrian and Syriac Orthodox churches. He also reached out to other churches, particularly the Anglican, Byzantine Orthodox and Catholic churches. In May 1973, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI issued a joint statement that put to rest the Christological discord that divided the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches since the fifth century.

“He who is God eternal and invisible,” declared the popes, “became visible in the flesh, and took upon himself the form of a servant. In him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.”

Egyptian Christianity is as old as Christianity itself, predating Islam and the Arab invasion of the country by six centuries. Despite 15 centuries marked by periods of persecution and peace, the Coptic Orthodox Church (which today accounts for up to eight million of Egypt’s 80 million people) thrives. Churches are packed with young and old; ancient monasteries flourish with monks and nuns; social outreach programs touch the needy and catechetical programs instill values and a sense of identity for the young — who are increasingly emigrating to the West.

Pope Shenouda III responded by setting up jurisdictions and establishing hundreds of parishes throughout Europe, North America and Oceania. Today, perhaps as many as four million Copt Orthodox Christians live outside Egypt, all of whom today are joining with their families back home in mourning the death of their beloved papa.

Tags: Egypt Patriarchs Coptic Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Monasticism

22 December 2011
Erin Edwards

Bohdana Havryliuk, left, Marichka Semeniuk and Marichka Havryliuk carol near Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Kosmach, Ukraine. (photo: Petro Didula)

Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the winter solstice. It is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The image above, from the November 2004 issue of ONE, shows carolers in Ukraine in the snow. What better way to weclome winter!

As the article notes:

“They can carol for a whole day at one house, if the man of the house provides enough food and drink. In the 1980’s some carolers came to Kosmach from another village to make more money,” he remembers. “At first people didn’t know the difference, but now they don’t give outsiders anything.”

But outside ways are making an impact on the Hutsuls; a dearth of job opportunities threatens the Hutsuls and their traditions.

“There’s no work in the village,” says a native of Kosmach, Anna Havryliuk. “Young people leave the country looking for work in the Czech Republic, Portugal and Italy.”

Still, even as they venture out into the world, the Hutsuls hang on to their traditions. On Christmas visits, Mrs. Havryliuk’s three grandchildren never fail to return to carol.

For more from this story see, Faith and Tradition.

Tags: Ukraine Orthodox Church Carpatho-Rusyn

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