21 December 2011
A girl lights a candle during Christmas night Divine Liturgy at the church of Three Prelates in Moscow. (photo: Julia Vishnevets)
Last night marked the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Tony Spence, of the Catholic News Service recently blogged about Christian and Jewish ties that date back to the origins of the celebration.
While most Christians know that the Jews are celebrating Hanukkah this season, not all that many know the the story of the festival and the heroic deeds of the Maccabees, the Jewish martyrs who resisted Greek attempts to make them turn away from their ancient faith. Scripture holds that a mother and seven sons chose torture and death rather than renounce their faith. The Maccabees were regarded by the early church as proto-martyrs of the early Christians who died for their faith across the Roman Empire.
In fact, both the Catholic and Orthodox churches even today remember the Maccabean martyrs in their calendars of saints.
In Friday’s The Wall Street Journal, Jon D. Levensen, a Harvard Divinity School professor of Jewish studies and author, writes in his essay — “The Meaning of Hanukkah: A celebration of religious freedom, the holiday fits well with the American political tradition,” that the origins of Hanukkah would have been forgotten in Jewish scholarship and history had it not been for the inclusion of the Book of Maccabees in the Christian Bible.
Read more on the Catholic News Service Blog. And to our Jewish friends: Happy Hanukkah!
20 December 2011
Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Jews Jewish
Father Kiril Kaleda watches children from his parish prepare for a Christmas pageant in Moscow. (photo: Julia Vishnevets)
Recently The New York Times reported on the Russian Orthodox Church’s role in mainstream education.
Just over 20 years ago, any religious education outside church walls was still banned in the Soviet Union. Today, churches are being built on state university campuses, theology departments have opened around Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church has built its own educational network with international contacts and even become something of a model for the secular system.
Still, state universities struggle on many levels to integrate into the international system; the Bologna Process, an agreement streamlining higher-education standards across Europe, has upset many Russian academics who contend that it undermines the achievements of the Soviet system, where a standard specialist degree required five years of study.
But the Russian Orthodox Church, which started building its education system virtually from scratch in the post-Soviet era, has applied international standards from the outset, said Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, deputy chairman of the church’s education committee. Speaking of the state education system, Father Hovorun said, “It is more concerned about finding compromises between the old Soviet system and the new European standards.”
In the March 2010 issue of ONE we also featured a story on how the Russian Orthodox Church is adapting to a changing society.
31 October 2011
Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church
A young woman touches an icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in Santa Maria Church
in Deir Azra, Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)
As the Latin Catholic Church marks All Saints Day on 1 November, it’s worth noting when and how the Eastern churches, especially the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the Byzantine tradition, honor all of the saints.
It doesn’t happen in the fall, but in the spring. The Byzantine Eastern churches celebrate the Sunday of All Saints, which takes place the first Sunday after Pentecost — and the timing has special significance, according to Russian Orthodox priest Father John McCuen:
“Now, the Holy Spirit has come; the church has been established, and is strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit. Each one of us who has been baptized and chrismated [receiving the sacraments of initiation] in the Orthodox Church has received this same Spirit. So, today we celebrate the means by which we are sanctified, by which we may become saints.”
Father McCuen also looks at the meaning of the saints in Eastern Christianity:
“One of the reasons we have icons in our churches and icons in our homes is to remind ourselves that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: the holy men and women who have shared our faith and way of life, and who, by their struggles and ascetic labors of prayer and fasting and worship and giving and forgiving and humility and service have shown us, in their words and deeds and lives the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the same life given to each one of us in our baptism, empowered by the same Holy Spirit, who descended upon the disciples in the upper room. The holy men and women were no different than any of us. They are made of the same nature, the same “stuff” as we are; yet they did so well, they grew so close to God, that they left this world behind, and lived the life of the kingdom of heaven instead. We honor them for their example, and we ask them to pray on our behalf, trusting that the greatness of their love for God will be shared with us as well. The icons are a way to honor and remember them, and to be encouraged to follow their example.”
So how does someone become a saint in the Eastern churches? The Eastern Catholic churches follow the processes instituted by the Holy See. But, how does someone become an Orthodox saint? Father Joseph Frawley, a member of the Orthodox Church of America’s Canonization Commission, explains:
“The glorification of saints in the Orthodox Church is a recognition that God’s holiness is manifested in the church through these grace-filled men and women whose lives were pleasing to God. Very early on, the church recognized the righteous ancestors of Christ (forefathers), those who predicted his coming (prophets), and those who proclaimed the Gospel (apostles and evangelists). Then those who risked their lives and shed their blood to bear witness to Christ (martyrs and confessors) were also recognized by the church as saints. There was no special canonization process, but their relics were treasured and the annual anniversaries of their martyrdoms were celebrated.
“Later, the ascetics, who followed Christ through self-denial, were numbered among the saints. Bishops and priests who proclaimed the true faith and fought against heresy were added to the list. Finally, those in other walks of life who manifested holiness were recognized as saints.
“While the glorification of a saint may be initiated because of miracles, it is not an absolute necessity for canonization. The Roman Catholic Church requires three verified miracles in order to recognize someone as a saint; the Orthodox Church does not require this. There are some saints, including Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain (commemorated 14 July) and Saint Innocent of Moscow (commemorated 31 March), who have not performed any miracles, as far as we know. What is required is a virtuous life of obvious holiness. And a saint’s writings and preaching must be ‘fully Orthodox,’ in agreement with the pure faith that we have received from Christ and the apostles and taught by the fathers and the ecumenical councils.
“Can the church ‘make’ a saint? The answer is no. Only God can do that. We glorify those whom God himself has glorified, seeing in their lives true love for God and their neighbors. The church merely recognizes that such a person has cooperated with God’s grace to the extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt.
“Are saints ‘elected’ by special panels or by majority vote? Again, the answer is no. Long before an official inquiry into a person’s life is made, that person is venerated by the people where he or she lived and died. His or her memory is kept alive by the people who pray for his or her soul or who ask him or her for intercession. Sometimes people will visit his or her grave or have icons painted through their love for the person. Then a request is made, usually through the diocesan bishop, for the church to recognize that person as a saint. A committee, such as the Orthodox Church in America’s Canonization Commission, is formed to research the life of the person who is being considered for glorification and to submit a report to the holy synod stating its reasons why the person should or should not be recognized as a saint. Then the holy synod decides to number that person among the saints and have icons painted and liturgical services composed.
For more, check out The Orthodox Church of America website or read this essay by George Bebis, Ph.D., which explains more about the different categories of Orthodox saints.
28 October 2011
Tags: Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Eastern Churches Icons
A boy plays near the construction site of a new facility at New Orthodox School in Madaba. (photo: Joseph Zakarian)
In our July 2010 cover story, journalist Nicholas Seeley reported on the revitalization of Orthodox schools in Jordan. In the story we learned that these schools also acted as a foundation for interfaith collaboration and tolerance:
“I’m in a Christian school, but I wear my Muslim veil, and nobody asks me, ‘Why are you wearing that?’ It’ normal,” says Tyba Hardan, an Iraqi-born sophomore in her first year at Amman’s Patriarch Diodoros I School.
Most teachers and students say that preventing sectarianism is not a concern and that the schools remain places where people of different faiths build trust and respect.
“That respect develops when you work with children from kindergarten through high school. They sit together, Christians and Muslims, and they grow up together. This is our contribution,” Archimandrite Innokentios says, “teaching them, guiding them into this way of accepting one another.”
For more see, Rebuilding a Sure Foundation.
27 October 2011
Tags: Children Jordan
Young girls celebrate one of Ethiopia’s holiest days, Mariam Zion or
Mary of Zion in Askum, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Today, according to the Latin calendar, is the feast day for Saint Frumentius, who is considered one of the apostles of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church venerates Saint Frumentius, however, on August 1.
St. Frumentius is the first Abune — a title given to the head of the Ethiopian Church— and credited with the founding of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
In the May 2010 issue of ONE we profiled the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and its origins:
The character of Aksum changed in the early fourth century when the emperor, Ezana, declared Christianity the official state religion. Influenced by his tutor, Frumentius, Ezana had embraced the Christian faith and later installed his former tutor as Aksum’s first bishop. Ordained to the episcopacy by Athanasius, the sainted patriarch of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Frumentius established filial bonds with the Egyptian church that remained for centuries. Until the middle of the 20th century, a Coptic (derived from the Greek for “Egyptian”) metropolitan archbishop governed the Ethiopian church.
Ezana is also credited with obtaining the most important symbol of Ethiopian Christianity, the Ark of the Covenant. According to an ancient Ethiopian tradition, the Jews of Aksum guarded the Ark on an island refuge. It had been carried from Jerusalem to Aksum by Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, a figure Ethiopians and Eritreans claim as their own.
To learn more about The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, read our profile in the May 2010 issue of our magazine.
26 September 2011
Tags: Africa Ethiopian Orthodox Church
This photo of two Georgian Orthodox monks was taken in July of 2001. Photographer Justyna Mielnikiewicz has documented the Caucasus region extensively for many years.
(Photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
In the November 2009 issue of ONE, we featured a beautiful photo essay by photographer Justyna Mielnikiewicz, profiling the diverse Caucasus region. Annie Grunow wrote the text accompanying Mielnikiewicz’s beautiful imagery:
While the Armenians, Georgians and Chechens may be most familiar, there are countless other peoples in the Caucasus who staunchly retain their own ethnic identities. Geographic names usually reflect a portion of an area’s ethnic population, but by no means can a geographic name be mistaken for ethnic homogeneity. Linguistic and religious differences also occur within a seemingly distinct ethnicity. Refugee and emigrant populations further confound the picture.
Abkhazians, Chechens and Ossetians are present in both Georgia and Russia; each group is struggling to gain some degree of autonomy. Abkhazians and Ossetians, which are distinct ethnic groups with their own languages, are largely Orthodox Christians.
For more about the Caucasus region read, Where Europe Meets Asia.
8 September 2011
Tags: Georgia Monastery Georgian Orthodox Church Caucasus
Trinity Monastery now functions as the primary theologate of the Russian Orthodox Church. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In the September/October 2001 issue of CNEWA World, Sean Sprague reported on Trinity Monastery — believed to be the first religious house named after the Trinity in Russia — and the powerful influence of St. Sergius on generations of religious seeking spiritual guidance at Trinity.
Today, Trinity Monastery is once again a beacon of faith to the Russian people. Pilgrims seeking their cultural roots and religious identity flock to the newly renamed town of Sergei Posad (two hours north of Moscow by commuter train) that surrounds the monastery’s fortified walls. Now free of Communist restraints, Trinity Monastery welcomes the faithful. They come to revere their beloved saint, whose remains lie within the monastery walls, to pray and to reestablish their Christian faith, wounded but not destroyed by 70 years of Communist rule.
For more about this Russian spiritual house and St. Sergius read, A Saga of a Saint.
Meanwhile, Russians — like many Americans — are gearing up for a presidential election next year. And one of the Russian candidates has a resume that is Orthodox — but decidedly unorthodox:
While the Putin-Medvedev tandem remains silent on who will be the main candidate for president in 2012, in the last days first official challengers in the race to the Kremlin have emerged. The one creating the most buzz is the director and temporarily suspended Orthodox priest, Ioann Okhlobystin, whose become the protagonist of discussions on forums, blogs and social networks in Cyrillic. Today artistic director of Euroset, Okhlobystin announced his candidacy on Sept. 5 as an independent.
Learn more about this unusual candidate.
6 September 2011
Tags: Russia Orthodox Church Monastery
Father Pejic is the only full-time staff member at St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church located in Hanover, Germany. (photo: Andy Spyra)
In the July 2009 issue of ONE Joachim Dethlefs reported on the diversity within the parish of St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Germany’s Orthodox Serbs.
Following tradition, Father Pejic celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic, but pauses at several points to repeat select passages first in Serbian, then German. Readings from the Gospel, on the other hand, are chanted in Serbian and then read aloud in German.
For more about this community of Orthodox Christians, read the story, Germany’s Orthodox Serbs.
Meanwhile, just today the Catholic News Service reported on Pope Benedict XVI’s message to Catholic and Orthodox scholars at a meeting in Salonika, Greece, Aug. 30-Sept. 2.
In many countries, Catholics and Orthodox face the same challenges in strengthening Christian life, and an important part of that effort is working together with love and respect, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Read more of this story in our “News” section.
18 August 2011
Tags: Orthodox Church Serbian Orthodox Church
The faithful at Ba’ta Mariam Church, on one of the Mariam feast days. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In November 2010 writer Peter Lemieux brought us a story called “Relevant or Relic”, about Ethiopian life and culture. In one of Peter’s unpublished interviews, a source offered some insight on how women are treated in the country:
Women take a backseat to men in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and elders in general in society. “If a woman seeks counseling in the church, she’s sent to a man. In marriage counseling, they’re more concerned about you being submissive to [your] husband. You don’t talk about personal relationships or married life. You don’t disclose that. If you do, you’re likely to be discriminated against or viewed as different, not following the line,” says Halina Atlabachew.
That wasn’t the first time Peter Lemieux and ONE had looked at gender issues in Ethiopia. For more check out our May 2009 story, An Uphill Battle. In a multimedia feature, we also heard from two Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who have worked with women extensively in Ethiopia.
17 August 2011
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Local youth from Derbent in Russia, spend time at the shore of the Caspian Sea. Often identified with the legendary Gates of Alexander, Derbent claims to be the oldest city in the Russian Federation. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
Check out the November 2009 edition of ONE magazine to find out more about the remarkable history of this place in the story “Where Europe meets Asia.”
Photographer Justyna Mielnikiewicz has traveled and documented the Caucasus region extensively. Learn more about her work in the multimedia feature, A Photographer’s Perspective.