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Interview: Issues Etc., June 18, 2014 June 23, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Russian Orthodox.
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3. Media Coverage of the Religion in Russia and Poland – George Conger, 6/18/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org


Interview: Issues, Etc., April 7, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Here is a link to an interview I gave to Lutheran Public Radio’s Issues, Etc., program on 7 April 2014.

3. Media Coverage of the Crisis in the Ukraine & Gay Bishops in the Church of England – George Conger, 4/7/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org


Pod people: ‘Pinko’ Pat Buchanan and the Daily Mail: Get Religion, April 10, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox.
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Heavy breathing this week from London’s Daily Mail, which has denounced American political commentator Patrick J. Buchanan as a toady of Vladimir Putin.

Yes, GetReligion readers you read that correctly, while he has escaped the pinko, secret traveler and useful idiot sobriquets due to the march of history, the Daily Mail nonetheless is calling Pat Buchanan a Russkie stooge.

The lede of the April 5 story entitled “Pat Buchanan claims GOD is on Russia’s side and that Moscow is the ‘third Rome’” pulls no punches. Not only is God on Russia’s side, but so too is GOD.

Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan insists that God is now on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side. The bombastic pundit’s claims in a rambling diatribe posted to a conservative website that Russia is the ‘third Rome’ and the West ‘is Gomorrah.’

‘Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity,’ Buchanan wrote in the op-ed published by Human Events, adding that his recent speeches echo those made nearly 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II — in which the pontiff also criticized the West.

The article proceeds to summarize,with evident distaste, Buchanan’s April 4 syndicated column “Who’s Side Is God on Now?”

Not quite a tabloid, or “red top” in British newspaper parlance, the Daily Mailstraddles the line between respectable and hysterical journalism. This story leans to the hysterical side — to the delight I’m sure of Buchanan, for whom this is great publicity — but to the detriment of those seeking to understand what is happening in Russia today.

The story has undergone revisions since it was first posted online. The first printing called the former Nixon speech writer a “bombastic preacher,” though subsequent editions were changed to “bombastic pundit.” What has not been updated, however, is the Daily Mail‘s claim that Buchanan is making the claims about God and Russia — when it is quite clear when reading the original piece Buchanan is reporting on what Putin believes to be Russia’s mystical destiny.

Buchanan’s voice comes toward the end of his piece when he laments a world where the leader of Russia has donned the mantle of Christian morality. Good Catholics once prayed for the conversion of Russia, but today they should pray for the conversion of America.

In this week’s Crossroads podcast, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken and I touched upon the poor job Western reporters have made in covering the deeper currents of the Russia-Ukraine clash. And, while being blissfully unaware of Buchanan’s column and the Daily Mail‘s coverage, we spoke of the “Third Rome” and the belief held by many Russians (including Putin it seems) that Russia has been given a mission from God to renew and redeem the world.

The GetReligion piece “No peace in our time for the Ukraine” was a “got news” story — that is a GetReligion category of a religion related news story that has somehow been overlooked by the media.

The Western press has done a good job in reporting the words of John Kerry, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and other Western leaders. Putin is painted by most newspapers as a villainous KGB thug. However, the enthusiasm shown towards then new leaders of the Ukraine has been tempered by frustration with their inability to govern their country.

All of interest to a degree, I concede, but not of significant importance. The deeper currents of religion, ethnicity and national identity, I told Todd, were not being given a proper hearing. Without the context of historical background, of the five hunded year clash between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, of the battle between the Westernizers and the Slavophiles, it was not possible to understand what was happening, beyond the level of caricature (Putin bad, protesters good).

The religion angle as essential to understanding this dispute, yet it was not being addressed by the Western press. In my GR piece I reported on Russian and Ukrainian newspaper articles that presented harsh denunciations by local church leaders of their opposite numbers. I wrote:

Reading the statements from the Russian Orthodox Church published in the Moscow newspapers and the statements of the Catholic leaders published in Kiev quite clearly demonstrates the religious dimensions of this dispute. Putin’s Moscow is the inheritor of the civilizing mission of Holy Mother Russia while the Catholic Church is the bulwark standing fast in the face of the Asiatic hordes.

Church leaders have picked up the tempo in recent days. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Cyril I (or Kyrill or Kirill, which means Cyril) offered his strongest critique of the unrest in the Ukraine last week, comparing it to the October Revolution.

In an interview with Interfax, Cyril stated:

“Most of us can hardly imagine what revolution is. The latest events in Ukraine, terrible pictures of the revolutionary uprising in the capital, people killed, distraught spiritually and consciously – all this helps us to understand what happened in Russia back then,” the patriarch said to a small crowd following a prayer service he conducted near the relics of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia in Moscow’s Donskoy Monastery on Monday.

During the 1917 events “life was destroyed and this was accompanied by outrage and terrible injustice under slogans for achieving justice,” Patriarch Kirill said.

Putin may well deserve his reputation of being a thug. But Pat Buchanan’s observations about the turmoil in the East are on target.

Western leaders who compare Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria, who dismiss him as a “KGB thug,” who call him “the alleged thief, liar and murderer who rules Russia,” as the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins did, believe Putin’s claim to stand on higher moral ground is beyond blasphemous.

But Vladimir Putin knows exactly what he is doing, and his new claim has a venerable lineage. The ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers who exposed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy, was, at the time of his death in 1964, writing a book on “The Third Rome.”

The first Rome was the Holy City and seat of Christianity that fell to Odoacer and his barbarians in 476 A.D. The second Rome was Constantinople, Byzantium, (today’s Istanbul), which fell to the Turks in 1453. The successor city to Byzantium, the Third Rome, the last Rome to the old believers, was — Moscow.

Putin is entering a claim that Moscow is the Godly City of today and command post of the counter-reformation against the new paganism. Putin is plugging into some of the modern world’s most powerful currents. Not only in his defiance of what much of the world sees as America’s arrogant drive for global hegemony. Not only in his tribal defense of lost Russians left behind when the USSR disintegrated.

He is also tapping into the worldwide revulsion of and resistance to the sewage of a hedonistic secular and social revolution coming out of the West.

For Western ears, whose world view arises from a secularist enlightenment based notion of democracy and social order, these claims are hard to hear. That does not make them false.

No peace in our time for the Ukraine: GetReligion, April 3, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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One hundred years from now, when the history of these past few months in the Ukraine have been told and retold, what will be the key points scholars will discuss in their analysis of events? Will it be John Kerry’s or David Cameron’s or Angela Merkel’s diplomatic initiatives?

I think not. Who today remembers the names or the diplomatic moves of the French or British Foreign Ministers during the Sudeten crisis? (George Bonnett and Lord Halifax). We remember Neville Chamberlain, but not for the reasons he may have desired. While the Angl0-American newspaper fraternity focuses on the Western political angle of the Ukraine crisis, there are deeper — more profound — forces at work that have been all but ignored.

Scholars and students will likely note the peripheral noises made by the great and good of America and Western Europe, but I suspect their work will focus on the age old clash between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East. The crisis in the Ukraine is really about the interplay of religion, nationalism and politics. (Bet that came as a shock that GetReligion would bemoan the absence of religion in the news reports out of Moscow and Kiev.)

We are not alone, however, in calling attention to this so far neglected aspect of the dispute. Writing in the Washington Post last month, Henry Kissinger stated:

The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then.

Dr. K noted:

The Ukrainians are the decisive element.They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 , when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian , became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or break up.

We can see the clash of Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy in statements made by leaders of the two churches. Statements that have so far gone unreported in the Western secular media and have only had an airing west of the Vistula in religious newspapers.

On March 26 the Catholic news service, Asia.Net reported:

The Moscow Patriarchate strongly condemned the Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church in Ukraine for “meddling” in politics, in the current crisis in the country. For its part, Russia continues to accuse the Ukraine of “religious intolerance,” a charge the latter sharply rejects, noting instead how all religious denominations have come together to oppose violence and express support for Europe.

It cited a broadcast made by Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations, on March 22 aired on the Moscow-based television network Russia 24.

According to the transcript of the interview printed on the website of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion went for the jugular, attacking the Greek Catholics as a fifth column for Western interests in the Ukraine. He condemned the leader of the uniates, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk and his predecessor Lubomyr Husar for taking a:

 … very clear position from the beginning of what was a civil conflict, which grew, unfortunately, into an armed bloody conflict. They fought not just for so-called European integration, but even called for the Western countries to more actively intervene in the situation in Ukraine. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk with Filaret (head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate) even went to the United States, to the State Department and asked for U.S. intervention in the Ukrainian case.

Hilarion went on to condemn the Greek Catholics for backing the protesters that brought down the pro-Moscow Ukrainian government. This politicking was not the mark of a true church. Orthodoxy, in contrast:

… does not get on one side of the barricades. It unites all, and when necessary, steps between the warring parties, as did the monks who came out and stood up, risking their lives, their health, to prevent bloodshed between two warring parties.

The Greek Catholics have not taken the Russian Orthodox attacks lightly. In a March 28 interview with the Kiev newspaper The Day, (translated into English by Catholic World Report) Archbishop Shevchuk hits back at Moscow, calling them tools of the Russian state.

The silence of the Moscow patriarchate is “the sign of a definite weakness,” the Ukrainian prelate says. “For whenever the Church finds herself unusually close to a specific governmental institution, whenever harmonious state-church relations turn into a sort of domination of one by the other, then, obviously, the Church becomes incapable of speaking the truth in all its fullness in specific historical circumstances. And therefore I think that this is exactly what we are seeing now.”

In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church is preaching “God save the Tsar” and the tsar is Vladimir Putin.

Reading the statements from the Russian Orthodox Church published in the Moscow newspapers and the statements of the Catholic leaders published in Kiev quite clearly demonstrates the religious dimensions of this dispute. Putin’s Moscow is the inheritor of the civilizing mission of Holy Mother Russia while the Catholic Church is the bulwark standing fast in the face of the Asiatic hordes.

One expects, of course, to see media bias in the Russian and Ukrainian newspapers. Bias is to be expected from newspapers that see this conflict as a battle of civilizations.

To my mind the real issue here is the silence of the Western press. They just don’t seem to get it.

Back in the USSR! Izvestia on the Crimea: GetReligion, March 20, 2014 April 24, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Save for Mitt Romney, no one — in my opinion, at least — appears likely to benefit from the Anschluss in the Crimea. Not only has the annexation of the Crimea by Russia been a blow to the Ukraine, it has underscored the fecklessness of the EU and President Obama while also pointing to the structural weakness of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

And it is really, really bad news for the Russian Orthodox Church.

Bet that line caught you by surprise. When the crisis in the Ukraine first arose, GetReligion chided western newspapers for omitting the religion angle to the conflict. The press eventually caught up to what most Ukrainians knew about the interplay of religion, politics and ethnicity, but only after pictures of Orthodox and Catholic clergy acting as human shields to halt clashes between police and protesters in the Maidan (Independence Square) in Kiev flashed round the world via the wire services.

And when monks from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) opened their cathedral near the Maidan to the wounded, turning the church into an unofficial headquarters for the anti-Moscow protestors, even the Western press took notice.

The religion angle of the unraveling of the Ukraine continues to be under reported in the West, but it is emerging in reports out of Eastern Europe. Last week Izvestia reported that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) would not turn over its parishes in the Crimea to the Russian Orthodox Church now that the Crimea is once more part of Russia.

But before we dive into this article let’s say a few words about Izvestia. In the bad old days (good old days), from 1917 to 1991 Izvestia (which means Reports in English) was the official newspaper of record of the Presidium — the Soviet Government. Its formal title was Reports of Soviets of Peoples’ Deputies of the USSR. Pravda was the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union Izvestia was privatized but then purchased by oligarchs close to the regime. While not an official government organ, it does represent the views and voices of Putin’s regime.

Reading Izvestia and Pravda in the olden days was an art form — part astrology part psychoanalysis. There was always some truth to be found and for those with an eye and ear for the nuances of the regime Izvestia was a pretty good guide to what the people at the top believed to be true or were debating amongst themselves. (Which is not the same thing as truth itself, but I digress).

The paper still performs this role to a lesser extent. I make no claims of expertise in the intricacies of palace politics in Putin’s Russia, keeping track of the Byzantine ways of the Anglican Communion is a full time job for me, and it may well be this piece inIzvestia is a straight news story. Or does it reveal a discussion taking place within the Kremlim?

Patheos will not let me use Cyrillic script on this page, preventing me from pulling the direct lines from the story. But in a nutshell, the article says Patriarch Philaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) will seek to register its dioceses in the Crimea with Moscow as religious entities separate from the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) — the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches located in the Ukraine and under the ecclesiastical authority of Moscow — told Izvestia that they had not decided whether to move from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Izvestia further states:

Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate told Izvestia that the church has traditionally favored retaining canonical boundaries.

“Of course, the final decision on the results of the negotiations will be announced by the Russian Orthodox Church’s diplomatic department. The basis of our principles has always been such that the canonical territory [of churches] should not be changed. It should remain a sovereign entity and must always uphold the principle of not changing,” said Vigilyansky. “The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is composed of 15 countries. “We are defending the canonical territory of all the local churches.”

After Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian Orthodox Church still considers these lands canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Now what does this all mean? Following Putin’s annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, the Russian Orthodox Church declined to accept these regions under its authority, preferring they stay under the Georgian Orthodox Church. With Russia annexing parts of the Ukraine the question now arises what to do with the Orthodox Churches there?

If Moscow picks up the Crimean churches, they are likely to loose control over the churches under their oversight in the Ukraine proper in a nationalist backlash. At the start of the demonstrations Metropolitan Philaret wrapped the Kiev Patriarchate in the mantle of Ukrainian nationalism. And if the Moscow Patriarchate follows the Kremlin’s lead it would lose the support of its Ukrainians. But if it does not go along with Putin, it will alienate Russian nationalists, who will see their church acting against the interests of Holy Mother Russia.

Writing at the blog Portal-Credo.ru, Kseniya Doroshenko argued Putin has placed Patriarch Cyril of the Russian Orthodox Church in a “hopeless position” making the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow “inevitable”.

What we hear if we listen closely to Izvestia is the suggestion that there will be consequences to Putin’s putsch. He may pick up the Crimea but by doing so will harm Russia’s historic roll as defender of the Slavs and will weaken one of his strongest allies — the Russian Orthodox Church.

I will be the first to admit that this is Get Religion’s version of ecclesiastical Kremlinology. But for those who truly wish to understand what is transpiring east of the Vistula they need be aware of the tremendous religio-political undercurrents that are close to the surface of the Ukraine conflict.

What’s God got to do with it — in Maidan square?: GetReligion, February 21, 2014 April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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I’ve said it oncetwice, and I’ll say it again — there is more than one Orthodox Church in the Ukraine.

Does this matter? Is this pettifogging carping — dull minded pedantry? Am I just showing off a store of useless knowledge, or Is it important to distinguish between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) (KP) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriachate) (MP) when reporting on the demonstrations in Kiev?

If you want to understand what is going on and break free from the narrative being peddled that this is a conflict over “fundamental European values” (Guardian) with the protestors “defying the post-Soviet order imposed by Russia” (Economist) in order to build what British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes will be a “free, sovereign, democratic” Ukraine — then it is important to understand the local issues driving this conflict. Contrary to what the Western European politicians want to believe, this is not a rerun of the Cold War with Angela Merkel and David Cameron replacing Ronald Reagan as the hero. What then is going on?

On page A8 this morning the Wall Street Journal ran a story entitled “CathedralTurns Into Hospital as Ukraine Protests Worsen.” Casualties from the fighting in Independence Square, or Maidan Square as it is know to the locals, have been brought to the cathedral for treatment by volunteer doctors.

The lede states:

KIEV, Ukraine – In St. Michael’s Cathedral, Orthodox priests chanting prayers have been replaced by doctors calling for medicine.

The golden-domed church has been transformed into a field hospital of sorts for protesters injured or worse in days of deadly clashes with police.

And then the story shifts to interviews and man in the street accounts from doctors, volunteers and patients being treated at the cathedral. The article is strongly written and crisply presents the sights and sounds observed by the Wall Street Journal’s man in Kiev.


“We’ve had four or five corpses here already today,” says Taras Semushchak, a 47-year-old surgeon from Lviv in western Ukraine. “Most had gunshot wounds from snipers and Kalashnikovs.”

Yet for all the color reporting, the article does not ask the question why are the wounded being treated at St. Michael’s? Why not at St. Sophia’s Orthodox Cathedral on Volodymyrs’ka Street? Why a cathedral in the first place?

Is this a Kievan counterpart to the Occupy Wall Street crowd seeking to use Trinity Wall Street in lower Manhattan as a base of operations? With the difference being the Episcopal Church said no while the KP said yes?

Is a better analogy St. Paul’s Cathedral in London permitting protestors to use their precincts?

In our past posts on this subject, tmatt and I have explored the religious dimensions of this story noting there are three principal churches in the Ukraine: the Moscow Patriarchate, the  Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church).

The leaders of the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow. In late December the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its Ukrainian bishops, released a statement condemning proposals for the Ukraine to move closer to the EU at the expense of its relations with Russia.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last November Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate urged the Ukraine to break free from Moscow and secure its political, economic and religious independence. He was reported to have said:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

The Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Church have lent their support to the demonstrations — and as the Wall Street Journal story reports, the KP has opened its churches as sanctuaries for the wounded. The Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev has backed President Yanukovich — and its calls for calm echoes the president’s public statements to date.

Leaving out the affiliation of the cathedral to the KP blurs the ethnic-religious elements of this conflict. And it makes the setting of this story meaningless. It could just as well have been a school, museum or other large civic structure.

But aside from the spiritual resonance of a cathedral serving as a hospital for the souls of the sick and a cathedral serving as a shelter for the wounded — there is a practical link between St. Michael’s, its clergy, the KP and the unfolding demonstrations in Kiev. That’s a fact. It matters.

First printed at GetReligion.

The NY Times misses the battle for Belarus; Get Religion, August 9, 2013 August 10, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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I would like to draw your attention to a 28 July 2013 piece in the New York Times entitled “Putin in Ukraine to Celebrate a Christian Anniversary”. The article reports on the interplay of religion, politics and culture in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Yet the mention of religion in a story does not necessarily mean the reporter “gets religion.”

The article opens by focusing on what the Times sees as the political significance of the event, and then moves to an appreciation of the interplay of religion with politics.

MOSCOW — In an apparent attempt to use shared history to make a case for closer ties, President Vladimir V. Putin attended religious ceremonies in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday to commemorate the 1,025th anniversary of events that brought Christianity to Ukraine and Russia. At a reception in Kiev, the capital, Mr. Putin spoke of the primacy of the two countries’ spiritual and historical bonds, regardless of political decisions that often divide them. Relations have been rocky in part because of attempts by Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, to formalize its political and economic ties with the European Union.

“We are all spiritual heirs of what happened here 1,025 years ago,” Mr. Putin told church hierarchs at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “And in this sense we are, without a doubt, one people.”

Mr. Putin’s trip was also the latest sign of the deepening ties and common agenda of the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. The events last week commemorated Prince Vladimir of Kiev’s decision to convert to Christianity and baptize his subjects in 988, an event known as the Baptism of Rus, … The attention has also lent apparent endorsement to church criticism of Western democracy and secular culture, particularly homosexuality….

Patriarch Kirill invoked the concept of the Holy Rus, referring to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a unified spiritual expanse united under the faith. … The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

The article then looks at the church’s illiberal teachings, pulling quotes from Cyril made outside the Kiev celebrations.

The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything so that sin is never validated by the laws of the state in the lands of Holy Rus, because this would mean that the people are starting on the path of self-destruction,” he said at a Moscow cathedral, according to the Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate. He previously said that such “blasphemous laws” could prove as dangerous to believers as the executioners of the Great Terror during the government of Stalin.

Before I move to an analysis of the distortions to the story caused by the particular worldview of the Times, let me say a word about nomenclature beginning with names. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is called Kirill in this article and in other outlets is named Kyrill and Cyril. They are all the same name, but coming as I do out of an older style of journalism that anglicizes everything because that is how God intended it to be, I use Cyril — just as I call the pope Francis. And some regions of the world and nations are prefaced by “the” — the Sahara, the Arctic, the Sudan, the Ukraine — less frequently the Lebanon and the Yemen. I am not making a political statement when I call the host nation “the Ukraine”, implying it is a region rather than a nation state, or a mystical idealized place like la France of Charles de Gaulle, rather it is the style in which I was educated. That having been said …

The word “apparent” in the first line is problematic. It begs the question “apparent to whom?” The Times states this is Putin’s political goal and offers extracts from his speeches to illustrate this point, but spends little time in offering other views.

I am not saying the Times was incorrect in stating the trip for Putin was an opportunity to bring the Ukraine closer to Moscow. This theme was noted in the Russian press also. Moskovsky Komsomolets a Moscow-based daily with a circulation of approximately one million, called Putin’s Ukrainian visit “the second baptism of the Rus”, implying shared spiritual values make Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians “one people”.

The official text of Putin’s 27 July 2013 speech Putin makes this point clear.

The Baptism of Rus was a great event that defined Russia’s and Ukraine’s spiritual and cultural development for the centuries to come. We must remember this brotherhood and preserve our ancestors’ traditions. Together, they built a unique system of Orthodox values and strengthened themselves in their faith …

Putin then moves from spiritual unity to national economic solidarity, arguing the Ukraine’s strategic choice lies with the Eurasian and not the European integration project.

Competition on the global markets is very fierce today. Only by joining forces we can be competitive and stand a chance of winning in this tough environment. We have every reason too, to be confident that we should and can achieve this.

The stress placed on this point by the Times is not misplaced, but it is unbalanced. We are hearing only Putin and Cyril in this story — and what the New York Times thinks about them.

The article does not contrast Putin’s vision to the Ukrainian premier Viktor Yanukovych’s administration’s goal of Kiev assuming a leadership role in bringing not only the Ukraine, but also Russia and Belarus closer to Europe. It may well be the Moscow-based reporter’s job to write all-Putin all the time stories, yet the article’s emphasis on Putin clouds the issue.

The content of Putin’s speech is news as is the fact of the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of the East Slavs, but the significant event from a political and religious perspective is the boycott of the proceedings by the Premier of Belarus — a fact mentioned only by the omission of his name from the heads of state list given by the Times.

In other words, it is not new news the Russian Orthodox Church believes nationality, or Russianness is born from Orthodoxy. Nor is it news the Orthodox Church is opposed to gay marriage. Nor is it news that Putin is seeking to pull Kiev into Moscow’s orbit. Nor is the Times‘ comments about the rapprochement between church and state new news. Putin has been moving the state closer to the church for over a decade — and as the article states Putin revealed he had been baptized as an infant in the Leningrad during the Stalinist era. By focusing on the familiar — of how the ceremony relates to Putin, the Times missed in its coverage is the significance of the boycott of the ceremony by the Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka.


God Save the Tsar: Get Religion, December 31, 2012 December 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Corruption, Get Religion, Politics, Russian Orthodox.
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Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

So reads the second stanza of what may be the most politically incorrect poem in the English language. Interpretations of what Rudyard Kipling meant by his 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden“, written in the wake of the American annexation of the Philippines, have differed sharply. From Henry James and Mark Twain to the denizens of Lit-Crit faculties today, many have objected to the poem as racist and condescending. Others, especially as of the time of its writing (Theodore Roosevelt for example) saw in it an expression of a Christian duty to bring the light of civilizations to the darker corners of the world.

The era that produced “The White Man’s Burden” also formed the tenets of classical Angl0-American journalism. Motivated by many of the same moral imperatives that under girded Anglo-American imperialism, the liberal school of journalism sought to civilize the newspaper profession, replacing  partisan, hysterical, “yellow journalism” with an impartial, scientific, and honest retelling of the news of the day.

The mission of classical liberal journalism was summarized by the editor of the Manchester Guardian C.P. Scott in 1921. “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” While on the editorial page he said: “It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair”.

Scott’s dictum guides the writers at GetReligion. Yet this view is not universal. It is disappearing within the American newspaper guild and is all but gone in Europe. Yet not all agree that this approach to journalism is possible or ideal. Seeking balance and fairness in reporting is viewed (charitably) as being quaint, and (more commonly) as naive. It exhibits, the critics say, the same sort of condescension that makes Kipling’s poem so execrable. When truth is relative, this line goes, claiming to possess the sole truth is illusory — or an arrogant manifestation of a journalist’s “White Man’s Burden”.

This philosophical conflict can be illustrated by my critique of an article in the Observer, the Sunday edition of the Guardian. The article entitled “Church backs Vladimir Putin’s ban on Americans adopting Russian children” tells the story of the Russian Orthodox Church’s response to the passage of a law by the Duma that prevents Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Here we have a formidable caste of bogeymen — Vladimir Putin, Vsevolod Chaplin, the Russian Orthodox patriarch Cyril — playing off against orphans, Pussy Riot, and liberal democracy. What right thinking person would back KGB hacks and creepy clergy against orphans?

Before answering the question, let’s look at the article. It begins:

The Russian Orthodox church has been attacked for supporting a new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, at the end of a year that saw it plagued by scandal and accusations of collusion with an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-ranking priest and a spokesman for the church, said the law was “a search for a social answer to an elementary question: why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?”

Speaking to Interfax, a state news agency, last week, Chaplin said the path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. “They won’t get a truly Christian upbringing and that means falling away from the church and from the path to eternal life, in God’s kingdom,” he said.

This is a strong opening. It asserts church has been “plagued” by scandal and is in bed with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin before moving to a second hand quote from a church spokesman that is wonderfully awful (to Guardian readers). It then introduces a voice offering an opinion in line with the editorial slant of the story.

Critics say the church’s support for the law is the latest example of its submission to the Kremlin, in which it acts more like a government ministry than an independent spiritual body. “Everything is repeating – it’s like the 19th century, when the church lay completely under the state,” said Valery Otstavnykh, a theologist and Kremlin critic. “Everything was calm and fine until churches started getting blown up in 1917 and they all asked, ‘Why’?”

As an aside, I do not care for the word “theologist” — it is an uncommon word that is most often used in a pejorative sense. That may not be the case here as the statements of the theologist are in line with the views of the article, but it nonetheless is an ugly word.

The article then lays out the 2012 church scandals: Pussy Riot, the wandering watch, hit and run priests driving BMWs, church involvement in politics and suspect financial dealings. It then closes with a gratuitous unsubstantiated accusation and a plea by the outside commentator for the church to clean up its act.

Two weeks later, the state news agency RIA-Novosti cited an anonymous source as saying that a bordello was uncovered in a Moscow monastery.

“The church has also done a lot of good,” said Otstavnykh. “But the church as an organisation must change.”

There is no balance to this story. No facts are offered in mitigation nor voices in defense or explanation of the church’s actions. It may well be these actions are indefensible, but the reader cannot know this from this story. Throwing in the bordello line without further corroboration was improper.

The quote offered by Fr. Chaplin, who is a character about whom I have written, is taken from a Russian language story and is abbreviated in such a way by the Observer as to not allow for any nuance. The tail end of the first quote in the Observer story — “why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?” — continues in the original with a statement by Chaplin that Russia must take care of their own at the level of the family as well as at the local, state and national levels.

I would translate the second passages as:

As he noted, the adoption of children by foreign couples in most cases means “they can not get a truly Christian education, and thus fall away from the Church and from the road to eternal life in God’s Kingdom.”

“Orthodox people should remember and take seriously the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘He who has faith and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not have faith will be condemned’.”

The shading of the Observer’s version may leave the impression that children taken from Russia will go to hell because they have been taken from Russia. However Chaplin’s meaning is they may wind up raised in homes where the Christian faith is not practiced.

Chaplin’s views about the necessity of a Christian upbringing do not find favor with the Observer. In a Twitter exchange about the article, the author of the story responded to a critic who defended Chaplin by writing:

Your attempts to justify his statement as holding any logic or good will confound me.

The author may well think that, but should she have commented in public? If this article was in the op-ed section, I would say it would be appropriate for her to make this statement. But is it appropriate for a news story?

From a journalistic perspective, the critique offered by Mr. Otstavnykh should have been matched with a defense of the church’s actions. And it also would have helped the reader to know that Mr. Otstavnykh spoke in court on behalf of the Pussy Riot defendants, saying their actions did not constitute blasphemy.

Please note I am not speaking to the issues under examination. I am commenting on the professionalism and journalistic craft exhibited by this article. As a hit piece, the story is well done. As journalism, it is junk.

While many of the ideals expressed by Kipling in “The White Man’s Burden” are passé, “By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain”, is not. There is a story to be told from Russia on the interplay of the church, state and society. Mr. Otstavnyk’s concerns the Russian Orthodox Church is returning to the days when church and state were one is an important one. Is the Orthodox Church returning to the bad old days of the Nineteenth century, updating its prayer and priorities from God Save the Tsar to God Save the President? That story needs to be told.

The story told in this article, however, is neither plain nor simple, frank nor fair. And that is a shame.

First printed in Get Religion.

Anglican-Orthodox relations near death, Moscow warns: The Church of England Newspaper, December 2, 2012 p 6. December 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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Women bishops, gay marriage, and other innovations of doctrine and discipline will end meaningful Anglican-Orthodox relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) has warned.

At a 26 Nov 2012 meeting in Moscow, Ambassador Tim Barrow and second secretary James Ford met with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the official press statement “Metropolitan Hilarion greeted the Ambassador and shared his reminiscences of his student years in Oxford and his impressions of the recent visit to London where he attended celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Sourozh diocese.”

They also discussed the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the role the Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic Churches had played in reconciling the “peoples of Russia and Poland” and the state of “Orthodox-Anglican relations at present” – which the Moscow Patriarchate said were at a nadir.

On 13 Nov, Hilarion wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate, Bishop Justin Welby, offering his greetings upon the Bishop of Durham’s appointment as 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.  However, Hilarion said meaningful Orthodox-Anglican ecumenical dialogue had all but died, and it was the Anglicans who have killed it.

In a carefully worded letter, Hilarion stated Moscow expected Bishop Welby to discipline the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Welby had been “entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth.”

“Regrettably, the late 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium have brought tangible difficulties in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion,” Hilarion said.

“The introduction female priesthood and now episcopate, the blessing of same-sex ‘unions’ and ‘marriages’, the ordination of homosexuals as pastors and bishops – all these innovations are seen by the Orthodox as deviations from the tradition of the Early Church, which increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole,” he wrote.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Missile from Moscow for Justin Welby: Anglican Ink, November 13, 2012 November 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

Meaningful Orthodox-Anglican ecumenical dialogue has all but died, the Moscow Patriarchate has told the next Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – and it is the Anglicans who have killed it.

On 13 Nov 2012,Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk – the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian church – wrote to Bishop Welby extending Moscow’s greetings upon his appointment as 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

In a carefully worded letter, Hilarion stated Moscow expected Bishop Welby to discipline the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Welby had been “entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

The case of the wandering watch: Get Religion, April 10, 2012 April 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Religion Reporting, Russian Orthodox.
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As I write, the hammer is falling on a hapless editor in the offices of the Moscow Patriarchate for airbrushing a watch off of the wrist of Patriarch Cyril. The doctored photo of Cyril and the disappearing watch has been a gift to the Moscow press corps, prompting a flurry of arch and knowing stories written at the expense of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The coverage reveals as much about the mindset of some reporters as it does about Muscovite media morals. The article from the New York Times is a classic of its kind, a macedoine of self-righteousness, ignorance and cant served up in a context-free bowl. It is an op-ed piece masquerading as news.

If you examine the photos taken from the Patriarchate’s website, you can see a watch on Cyril’s wrist. This photo was doctored to remove the watch, but the editor omitted to remove the watch’s reflection. Eagle-eyed bloggers spotted the reflection and called out the church’s press office. They have since removed the watch free photo from the website replacing it with the original.

Photo-doctoring has a long history in Russia and has been driven by politics (removing non-persons from history) and embarrassment. David King’s 1999 book, The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia, is the best treatment I have seen of this topic.

“So much falsification took place during the Stalin years that it is possible to tell the story of the Soviet era through retouched photographs,” King wrote. The cover of the book shows a photograph of Stalin with three revolutionary leaders. Over time the photograph is airbrushed, cropped and clipped until Stalin alone is left, conveying the message that it was Stalin who owned the heritage of the revolution.

Other falsifications were less sinister. One of my favorites is a photo of Nikita Khrushchev arriving at Idlewild. The original photo shows the Russian premier hat-less. Sovfoto improved the picture by placing a hat on his head — but neglected to airbrush out from the photo the hat Khrushchev was holding in his hand. Nikkie Two-Hats.

One of the iconic photos from the Second World War was manipulated to prevent embarrassment. The photo of the Russian soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag was edited by photographer Yevgeny Khaldei before publication. To counter charges the Russian army had looted its way to Berlin, Khaldei removed the multiple wrist watches appearing on both arms of the officer standing below the flag.

Sixty-seven years later Moscow photo editors are still removing wristwatches.

Let’s see what the New York Times did with this story. The article entitled “$30,000 Watch Vanishes Up Church Leader’s Sleeve” begins:

Facing a scandal over photographs of its leader wearing an enormously expensive watch, the Russian Orthodox Church worked a little miracle: It made the offending timepiece disappear.

Editors doctored a photograph on the church’s Web site of the leader, Patriarch Kirill I, extending a black sleeve where there once appeared to be a Breguet timepiece worth at least $30,000. The church might have gotten away with the ruse if it had not failed to also erase the watch’s reflection, which appeared in the photo on the highly glossed table where the patriarch was seated.

The church apologized for the deception on Thursday and restored the original photo to the site, but not before Patriarch Kirill weighed in, insisting in an interview with a Russian journalist that he had never worn the watch, and that any photos showing him wearing it must have been doctored to put the watch on his wrist.

Why is this story shoddy journalism? Let me count the ways — but before I do remember the purpose of this blog is to discuss reporting on religion. It is not to discuss the issues in the underlying story.

Let’s begin with the lede. The author frames the story from the start as a scandal about the church hiding Cyril’s $30,000 Breguet watch through the magic of photo editing software. The news of the alteration of the photo is presented, followed by the assertion from Cyril that he was not wearing the Breguet watch; and if there is a photo of him wearing the watch Cyril claims the photo was doctored. The construction of this lede is to impeach Cyril by words out of his own mouth showing him to be a liar.

But was Cyril wearing the Breguet watch? Notice the Times says it appears he was, but there is no evidence or comment from a horologist to say the watch in the photo is the Breguet watch. Later in the story we hear Cyril say that he was wearing an inexpensive Russian watch when the photo was taken, and that he received the Breguet watch as a gift. If he was not wearing the Breguet, why remove the watch from the photo? I don’t know, and the Times does not try to find out.  The inferences and half truths offered at the start of the story have framed the narrative such that the reader will conclude Cyril is a hypocrite.

Having set the frame, the Times editorializes in earnest.

The controversy, which erupted Wednesday when attentive Russian bloggers discovered the airbrushing, further stoked anger over the church’s often lavish displays of wealth and power. It also struck yet another blow to the moral authority of Russian officialdom, which has been dwindling rapidly in light of recent scandals involving police abuse, electoral fraud and corruption.

A series of opinions mixed with general observations is then produced in support of the crooked cleric theme.

… Over the past decade, the church has grown immensely powerful, becoming so close to the Kremlin that it often seems like a branch of government. It has extended its influence into a broad range of public life, including schools, courts and politics. Patriarch Kirill publicly backed Vladimir V. Putin in last month’s presidential election.

… Then there is the question of the church’s wealth. Russian bloggers have published rumors that the patriarch has a large country house, a private yacht and a penchant for ski vacations in Switzerland, though none of this has been proved.

The watch, on the other hand, has been an object of fascination for years, and there is little question of its existence. It was first sighted on the patriarch’s wrist in 2009 during a visit to Ukraine, where he gave a televised interview on the importance of asceticism.

A Breguet watch “is virtually a sine qua non of any depiction of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie or, quite simply, a life of luxury and elegance,” the company says, noting that its products have been worn by Marie Antoinette and Czar Aleksandr I and cited in works by Dumas and Hugo.

… But the patriarch has presented himself as the country’s ethical compass, and has recently embarked on a vocal campaign of public morality, advocating Christian education in public schools and opposing abortion and equal rights for gay people. He called the girl punk band protest at the cathedral “sacrilege.”

Without offering any supporting evidence, the Times asserts the Russian Orthodox Church is in bed with the Putin regime. The church possesses vast wealth and Cyril jets around to Switzerland for the skiing, tools around in his yacht and weekends in the country. And, by the way, he wears a watch worn by the same firm that supplied Marie Antoinette. This is really crude. Cyril is a villain in Times-land. He supports school prayer, is anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-women. All that is missing from the Times’ roster of pet pieties is a comment about his views on minorities.

The articles tries to tie the vanishing watch into a commentary about Russia’s moral decline, linking the Russian Orthodox Church to public concerns about “recent scandals involving police abuse, electoral fraud and corruption.” How do we know that Russian public opinion believes there is a link between the church and the scandals? There may be individuals who say this, but does Russia say this? No evidence is offered to substantiate this opinion.

The Times offers four voices against the church, and one in favor to flesh out the controversy, beginning with:

Aleksei Navalny, an anticorruption crusader, called the episode “shameful,” and bloggers gleefully ridiculed the church as hypocritical.

The choice of Aleksei Navalny is as interesting for the omission the Times makes about Navalny as is Navalny’s opinion.

In January Navalny was the victim of a doctored photo scam in the press concocted by Putin supporters. A photo of Navalny with Russian oligarch  Mikhail Prokhorov (the photo on the left) was altered to that of Navalny and another oligarch (the photo on the right), Boris Berezovsky — a fugitive from corruption charges who lives in London. In an attempt to smear Navalny with charges of guilt by association with one of the Russian media’s chief villains, the caption to the doctored photo stated:  “Alexei Navalny has never hidden that Boris Berezovsky gives him money for the struggle with Putin.”

Adding this information about Navalny’s experience of being a victim of press photo doctoring would have given context to the story — as would mention of the Russian penchant for fixing photos to create the preferred reality. There is no context to this story, no sense of history, no balance, no understanding of Russia, its people, culture or politics.

Let me say that I am not defending the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church’s press office in making the questionable watch vanish. What I am concerned with is the integrity of the reporting about that incident — and the preference for slotting in facts to support a story’s theme as against allowing the facts to tell the story.

An anecdote about the French novelist Balzac bears on this point. Balzac was talking to a visitor about the heroes of his novels. The subject changed to political and other events of the day. After a pause Balzac suddenly said: “Let’s return to reality,” and started talking about his characters again.

It may well be that Cyril is a crook and the Russian Orthodox Church is a tool of the Putin-regime. The Times may think so and has written an article assuming that this is so, but has not provided any evidence in support of its contentions. All of the materials — the facts, the history, the setting, the new post-Soviet Russia of Vladimir Putin — are there for a great article. That story has yet to be written.

First printed in GetReligion.

The little dogs at the New York Times: Get Religion, March 30, 2012 March 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Interviews/Citations, Press criticism, Religion Reporting, Roman Catholic Church, Russian Orthodox.
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Exaggeration of every kind is as essential to journalism as it is to the dramatic art; for the object of journalism is to make events go as far as possible. Thus it is that all journalists are, in the very nature of their calling, alarmists; and this is their way of giving interest to what they write. Herein they are like little dogs; if anything stirs, they immediately set up a shrill bark.

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Some Forms of Literature (1851)

A long time ago (for me) and in a far away place (actually Harare) I had my first experience of the foreign correspondent’s life. Amongst the many lessons I learned on that trip, the most important — aside from learning how to ingratiate oneself with a policemen armed with a machine pistol — was the central place of the “mahogany ridge” in reporting.

While events played themselves out in different parts of the city, the real action, the real news in Zimbabwe was to be found at the bar of Meikles Hotel for many of the reporters present. These memories of that exotic species — the Fleet Street hack — came to the surface for me in recent weeks as I read a number of stories in the New York Times about events in Holland and Moscow.

I took the Times to task for its reporting of the alleged castration by the Dutch Catholic Church of young men (how that one got by the editors I do not know) and on Pussy Riot and Russian Orthodox Church. I argued these stories did not live up to the standards of good journalism and asserted they displayed a lack of balance, context, sensibility and history.

I was rather hard on the Times. Did these stories rise to the level of journalism decried by Arthur Schopenhauer? Is their flavor akin to Evelyn Waugh’s anecdote about the fictitious American reporter Wenlock Jakes in the novel Scoop?

Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn’t know any different, got out, went straight to an hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine-guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window — you know.

On this week’s Issues, Ect. host Todd Wilken and I talked about the Times‘ coverage of these two stories — and demonstrated my lack of polish as a radio commentator. This is my first foray into internet radio podcasting for GetReligion. We’ll see if they ask me back.

First printed at GetReligion.

From Russia with love: GetReligion March 24, 2012 March 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Religion Reporting, Russian Orthodox.
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An article from the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times has left me perplexed. On one level the story entitled “Punk riffs take on God and Putin” is a silly piece of journalism. What do I mean by silly? I’m not quite sure myself. The tone of the story is half post-modernist supercilious sneer half celebrity profile for Peoplemagazine. Now these are subjective assessments of mine and I find the style in which this article was written not to my taste. But taste is neither here nor there.

It is the journalism on display that has me perplexed. There is no balance, no sense of history to this story as well as an excess of adjectives. The heroes and villains are one dimensional characters. And at bottom, the story displays a worldview that affirms the Pussy Riot’s intellectual condescension towards the aspirations of the respectable — Russia’s church and her people.

Stylistically, this story is silly — journalistically, this story falls short — morally, this story is a wreck. Follow me through and see if you see what I see.

MOSCOW — In the month since it performed an unsanctioned “punk prayer service” at Christ the Savior Cathedral, entreating the Virgin Mary to liberate Russia from Vladimir V. Putin, the feminist punk band Pussy Riot has stirred up a storm about the role of the church, art and women in Russian society.

The group has been accused of blasphemy; three of the women are in pre-trial detention and could face up to seven years in prison.

Video of their performance, which went viral on YouTube, shows five Pussy Riot members in trademark masks dancing, arms flailing, in front of the altar of the cathedral, a vast structure rebuilt in the 1990s on the site of a cathedral that was blown up on Stalin’s orders in 1931.

The cathedral, where Patriarch Kirill I celebrates Christmas and Easter services attended by Mr. Putin and Dmitri A. Medvedev, the departing president, has become a symbol of the ties between church and state in the post-Soviet era.

The story then moves to a recitation of local reactions, noting that “top officials in the Russian Orthodox Church have called for the band’s members to be strictly punished — at times tempering this demand by saying that they do not insist on a long jail sentence.” Soft and hard statements are offered with “Russian Orthodox nationalists” calling for the group to be “flogged” while “other Orthodox activists have condemned such calls as shameful.” However, no names or examples are offered. The first voice to appear is that of:

The Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior Orthodox cleric known for his own outrageous statements on a range of topics, reiterated on Monday that there were no grounds for leniency and “that this text and this video are extremist materials, and their dissemination constitutes an extremist activity.”

The members of Pussy Riot “have declared war on Orthodox people, and there will be a war,” he told the Interfax news agency. “If the blasphemers are not punished, God will punish them in eternity and here through people.”

The group’s attorneys follow with their contention the charges have not been proved, and at that point the article notes that the:

scandal has had the interesting side effect of breaking a taboo around the word Pussy (Poosi in the Russian transliteration), as the band is usually referred to in short. It has been mouthed without embarrassment by commentators, officials and Russian Orthodox priests. Pravmir, an Orthodox news Web site, has translated the meaning of Pussy Riot as “uprising of the uterus.”

The story then offers details of the incident that led to the girls’ arrest noting the performance included the refrain about Orthodox bishops:

“The K.G.B. chief is their chief saint, he leads protesters to prison under convoy,” reads one verse in a version published on several Web sites. “In order to not offend His Holiness, women must give birth and love.” The chorus is in the form of an appeal to the Virgin Mary. “O Birthgiver of God,” sings the band, using Russian Orthodox liturgical language for addressing the Virgin Mary — “get rid of Putin, get rid of Putin, get rid of Putin.”

One of the groups members, the Times notes has been:

criticized especially harshly for participating in a 2008 orgy at a biology museum, in which she is shown having sex with her husband just days before giving birth. She has been condemned as desecrating motherhood and harming her child — now an adorable braided blonde who made a taped appeal for her mother’s release.

The article then closes with a comment from a feminist writer who states the performance has nothing to do with feminism. In defense of the way this story was framed, the International Herald Tribune printed this as part of a series on women after it first appeared in the Times. So perhaps the audience of this story were readers of People, who would respond appropriately to the bit about the “adorable braided blonde” who pleads for the release of her mother, and the lede sentence that promises a discussion on “the role of the church, art and women in Russian society.”

But this discussion never happens. Perhaps the closing comment that this is not feminism supplied the discussion, but it is otherwise absent from the story. Another omission is the nature of the crime. One need look outside the Times to find the women are being charged with “hooliganism“, not blasphemy. Their past public performances have led to their being charged with disorderly conduct and being let off with a fine, but the Cathedral incident on Shrove Tuesday has prompted public prosecutors to up the ante from a misdemeanor to a felony.

And what does the Times mean when it says the newly constructed cathedral, built on the spot where the old cathedral had stood until it was dynamited in 1931 by Lazar Kaganovich on the orders of Stalin, is a “symbol of the ties between church and state in the post-Soviet era.” Does this imply the church is a tool of President Putin? There is no explanation of this comment, nor voices speaking to this contention. Christ Our Savior Cathedral, Moscow

In the introduction to Fr. Chaplin, what does the Times mean by saying he is “known for his own outrageous statements on a range of topics”? These “outrageous” statements are not cited nor has the dialogue between the church and Pussy Riot taking place through Twitter and the media been explored.

The article also implies that Fr. Chaplin wants to see the girls imprisoned. However, he has stated that he wants them to be punished, but not jailed.

As an aside, I met Fr. Chaplin at the World Council of Churches meeting in 2005 in Porto Allegre, Brazil. And yes, he is a character. I sat with him while an official from a liberal American denomination was giving a speech and Fr. Chaplain played the cantankerous Russian — muttering under his breath, “heretic”, “schismatic”, “infidel”, “Bolshevik” every so often.

While the article does mention that senior Orthodox clergy were disturbed by the incidence due to memories of the Soviet past, it does not explain why such memories would provoke such a sharp reaction. Nor does the charge made by Pussy Riot against against the Orthodox bishops of being stooges of the KGB get a hearing.

The Russian Orthodox Church was nearly wiped out in the Stalinist era. The state sponsored persecution of the Orthodox Church began with the sort of spectacle undertaken by Pussy Riot in Moscow’s principle cathedral in the 1920’s eventually led to the arrest of 168,300 priests, monks and nuns in the purges of 1937-1938 (of these over 100,000 were shot). Some of those who survived, did so through collaboration with the regime. The extent of this collaboration was such that the 2008 the Keston Institute report that outed Patriarch Alexy II as a KGB agent was not that much of a surprise.

Stylistically I did not care for the story. As journalism, I believe it failed to live up to its lede. It did not offer a discussion of the “role of the church, art and women in Russian society;” or a balanced or thorough account of the issues. But the cheer-leading for Pussy Riot displayed a failing of sensibility.

Russian society is going through the painful process of rebuilding itself in the wake of the Soviet era. But this process is not fast enough for Pussy Riot, and the New York Times, which believes that by insulting the church — a symbol of Putin’s state in the Times‘ and Pussy Riot’s view — a short cut to social change will be found. They seek “perfection as the crow flies” in Michael Oakeshott’s phrase.

By pleading for tolerance for the actions of Pussy Riot, the Times seeks to elevate certain liberal ideas and constituencies above public criticism rather than trusting that they will eventually emerge victorious on their merits in open public debate. Framing the story as it does, the Times endorses the irrationalism of Pussy Riot against a villainous Russian government and a stodgy Orthodox Church. I’m not quite settled in my thoughts, however.

Am I taking a shovel to a souffle, beating with a cudgel this story from Moscow? Is too much being read into this article, or is there too little to read? Should the Times step back a bit, or can we trust it to pick the winners and losers in stories from far away about which we know very little? What say you GetReligion readers?

First published in GetReligion.

Arrest of abbot is an attack on Orthodoxy, Moscow Patriachate declares: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2012, p 7. January 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox.
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Archimandrite Ephraim, Abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery at Mt Athos

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Russian Orthodox Church has denounced the arrest by Greek police of Archimandrite Ephraim, the abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery on Mt. Athos, calling it an attack on the Orthodox Church.

On 28 December 2011, Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, told the Interfax news agency that it was unconscionable for Greece to refuse bail for the head of the thousand year old monastery in Northern Greece.

He said he had no knowledge of the charges brought against the abbot and added that “whether these charges are just, the Greek court will decide; we cannot interfere.”

“However, it is quite obvious that detention under remand of Archimandrite Ephraim, who does not pose any danger, without considering the case on its merits and before a court ruling, is an extraordinary action that surprises us deeply. The authorities arrested nobody but the elderly and ailing priest. This ruling arouses grave concern of believers of the Russian Orthodox Church, puts her hierarchs on guard, and makes us ponder over its true reasons,” Hilarion said.

On 24 December 2011 Greek police arrested the abbot and are holding him in cell at a maximum security prison in Athens.  A Greek appellate court subsequently ruled the elderly monk was a danger to society and should not be granted bail.

Ephraim is accused of being involved in a €100 million land swap deal with the Greek government that prosecutors say defrauded the government.  The monastery is alleged to have exchanged low value rural land for high value Athens real estate in a deal made with the New Democracy party government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis in 2008.  After news of the swap became public the government cancelled the deal and two ministers resigned after a public outcry.  The Greek Parliament voted to investigate the transaction.

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement via Twitter that said Moscow was concerned by Greece’s decision to arrest Ephraim and objected to Greece’s rejection of standards set by the European Court of Human Rights on arrest and bail.

Last month Ephraim escorted a relic from the monastery, the Belt of the Mother of God, to Moscow.  “Russians are deeply grateful to the brothers at Vatopedi Monastery for the opportunity to venerate the Belt of the Holy Mother of God,” the foreign ministry statement said.

Supporters of the abbot claim the arrest is politically motivated.  According to the Voice of Russia and Interfax, Sergey Rudov, head of The Society of Friends of the Vatopedi monastery said police bullied the abbot.

“Staying in cold Russia was a serious trial for [Ephraim]. And when he visited Patriarch Ilia in Georgia, he wasn’t far from dying. Father [Ephraim] needs constant medical attention. He was questioned for 30 hours in Greece. And they told him during questioning: you’ve been to Russia, you talked to Putin, Medvedev, but they won’t help you,” he said.

Rudov claimed there could be two reasons behind the arrest.  “One is that the EU has now been insisting for a long time that the Athos monasteries should be stripped of their special status and subordinated to the Greek government to a greater extent, because the EU is unhappy about the fact that currently, one needs a special visas to be able to visit the monasteries on Mount Athos.”

“The second reason is that some people in Europe are unhappy about the growing influence of Russians in Greece – mainly because of the close ties between the Greek and the Russian Churches.”

Hilarion said Ephraim was “widely known not only in Greece, but also in the entire Orthodox world as a spiritual leader” and was “near and dear to many in the Russian Orthodox Church.”

The Russian church and state were distressed by the arrest and as was the Greek Church which believes “that the ruling on Archimandrite Ephraim is a hostile attack against the [Athos] monks and the entire Orthodox Church,” Hilarion said.

Marian Mission to Moscow and the New York Times: Get Religion, November 25, 2011 November 26, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox.
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Who was the first journalist? Who was the first to adopt the intellectual and moral code that guides the craft of reporting? My vote would be for the Athenian historian, Thucydides, who wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War in around 420 BC.

In his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, Thucydides became the first writer to set himself apart from his own political system to examine critically the past. He recounted equally the virtues of Athens and its vices and stepped outside his culture, abandoning the notion that the gods controlled the destiny of men. The study of history was no longer explained by reference to myth and legend, but by the pursuit of truth about the past.

A modern journalist employs Thucydides’ methodology and is expected to stand outside his own political system, culture and religion, to criticize his own society and to pursue the truth. Even Robert Fisk, the doyenne of ideological journalists will state that the reporter’s job is to tell it like it is: “My job is to report what I have seen.”

When a reporter allows ideology or cultural biases to color a story this ideal is not met. A recent New York Times report entitled “In Russian Chill, Waiting Hours for Touch of the Holy” printed on page A8 of the 24 Nov 2011 issue illustrates this point.

A religious relic — the belt of the Virgin Mary — has been brought from the Vatopedi Monastery on Mt Athos in Greece to Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral by the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation. In the week that it was on display over a half million Russians lined up to gaze upon and perhaps kiss the glass case that enclosed the camel-hair jewel-encrusted relic. At times the queue stretched almost three miles with tens of thousands waiting in sub-zero temperatures. The faithful believe the relic was given by Mary the Mother of God to St Thomas before her Assumption. It is reputed to have miraculous powers and has helped women to conceive. The Itar-Tass and Novosti wire services provide a quick summary of events.

The Telegraph and the Washington Post  focused on the phenomena of the size of the crowds and the public display of piety. The Telegraph called the spectacle an “extraordinary display of the strength of Orthodox Christianity in post-Soviet Russia,” and observed:

Russia’s Orthodox Church had an incredible surge of influence and power in recent years as millions of Russians began to practice religion in the 1990s after decades of state-dictated atheism in the Soviet Union.

We heard from members of the crowd.

“I am 74, and I have suffered a heart attack. I am handicapped in my arm and leg,” said another man, identifying himself as Vladimir, after exiting the imposing white cathedral and leaning on his wife’s supporting arm. “Maybe it will help?” he said, tears welling up in his eyes.

The Post story ran with equally strong quotes that focused also on faith.

On the other side of the cathedral, Alexei Bogdanov, a 32-year-old truck-parts salesman, had seen the relic and was waiting for his wife. Tears came to his eyes when he touched the box, he said.“We lived in our country for almost 70 years without faith,” he said. “And now we have found it again.”

The New York Times took a different approach. It covered the crowd story, but also raised the political dimensions of the relic’s mission to Moscow. However, the flip and knowing way this was done, and its smirking condescension towards  the ignorant peasants as they stood in the cold, left me cold as well.

After it reported on the crowd, the New York Times raised the political angle.

As befits his status as the arbiter of most things Russian, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin was the first to greet the holy relic when it arrived … [The crowds] wait here, within view of the Kremlin, snaking past the hulking Ministry of Defense building and billboards in support of United Russia, the pro-Putin governing party.

The story offers a “why we’re here” quote from one member of the crowd and then resumes its arch tone.

Moscow’s city government closed streets around the cathedral — causing those Muscovites not so inclined to venerate relics to rant about the even-worse-than-usual traffic jams.

The article at this stage seemed ready to break away from its self-conscious cuteness and take a serious stab at explaining what is going on. The man responsible for the Moscow sojourn is named:  “Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railroads, who is close to Mr. Putin.”

Yakunin states:

“The belt of the Most Holy Virgin Mary possesses miraculous power,“ he said. “It helps women and helps in childbirth. In our demographic situation, this is in and of itself important.”

The story does not follow up on the political angle, however, and the sarcastic tone returns.

The blogs and Facebook pages of Russian Orthodox intellectuals have overflowed with debates about whether hysteria over the belt was a disturbing sign that many Russians’ faith is based on superstition. Many noted that Christ the Savior Cathedral and the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow, one of the most important monasteries in the Orthodox Church, have relics of the Virgin Mary that are just as precious.

At a bustling coffee shop near the cathedral that this week became an impromptu pit stop for the faithful, an excited young woman rushed in to tell waiting friends that she had venerated the Virgin Mary’s belt. Then she told them about her visit to a fortune teller.

Characterizing the response to the icon’s visit to Moscow by a half million Russian Orthodox Christians as hysteria, and the gratuitous fortune teller line is unfortunate. The attempt to bring politics into the story also fails because there is no context or explanation as to why this matters. What relationship does Vladimir Putin have to the icon’s visit? Who is Vladimir Yakunin and why is it important to know that he is a friend of Putin?

Yes, there is a political story here, but the New York Times misses it.  Yakunin is a close political ally of Putin and has brought the relic to Moscow in the run up to the national elections. Putin is running as Mr. Orthodox, wrapping himself in the mantle of Russian Orthodoxy and his critics have charged that the miracle of the Virgin’s Belt will be his re-election.

Reuters reports:

The [St. Andrew the First-Called] Foundation, chaired by the head of Russia’s state railways and long-time Putin associate Vladimir Yakunin, said the relic’s arrival shortly before the parliamentary election was coincidental.

“It is absolutely not related. We wanted it to come in the summer, but the entire process, the discussions, took a long time,” spokesman Alexander Gatilin said.

For a detailed look at the religious and political cross-currents surrounding this story, go to Batholomew’s Notes on Religion.

The Telegraph and Washington Post played this straight and focused on the religious angle, giving the pilgrims who braved the cold to stand in line to venerate the relic a sympathetic hearing. The New York Times took a different line offering faithful voices and fortune tellers and enclosing the whole in a box marked hysteria. It also sought the secular angle and gave us Vladimir Putin. But it neglected to explain why we needed to hear from Putin or of the political significance of the relic’s mission to Moscow.

But the bottom line for me was the snarky attitude. Instead of standing outside of its culture and attempting to report faithfully and fairly on what was going on in Moscow, it stood squarely within the jaded and hip mindset of Manhattan. What we got from the New York Times was a travelog with attitude.

First printed in GetReligion.

Prayers for Moscow airport bombing victims: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 28, 2011 p 7. January 29, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox, Terrorism.
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Patriarch Cyril of Moscow and All Russia

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has joined European church leaders in offering his condolences and prayers for those killed in the Moscow Airport bombing.

On Jan 24 a bomb exploded in an unguarded area of the international arrivals section of Moscow’s Domodedova airport, killing 35 and wounding 168.  No group has so far claimed responsibility for the blast, though past terror attacks in Russia have been linked to Chechens and other separatist ethnic groups in the North Caucasus region.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has vowed “retribution” for the attack.

Patriarch Cyril of Moscow and All Russia called the attack a “horrific crime” and urged Russians to unite in the face of terrorism.

“There is and there can be no justification for such criminal aggression,” Cyril said in a statement published on the Moscow Patriarchate website, and asked all Russia to “unite to fight the inhumane attacks that kill innocent people.”

Those who “committed this have put themselves outside law, both human and divine,” the patriarch said.

Dr Rowan Williams wrote to Cyril on Jan 25 offering his prayers.  “I write to assure you and all your people of our prayers for those injured and killed and our deep sorrow for this new trauma inflicted on the Russian people.  We shall be praying too for yourself and for all others among the clergy of the Orthodox Church who will be involved in ministering to those who have suffered.”

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent a telegram of condolence to Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, expressing the pope’s “profound suffering and firm condemnation at this serious act of violence,” the Vatican Information Service reported.

A survivor of the 9/11 attack in New York, Dr. Williams noted that “we know from experience in London something of what these atrocities feel like, and there will be very many here who will want to join me in expressing our sympathy and our condemnation of this indiscriminate violence.”

Moscow warns Church of England not to consecrate gay or women bishops: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 17, 2010 p 5. September 22, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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Metropolitan Hilarion

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to exclude members of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada from the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue commission is too little and comes too late to save one hundred years of dialogue between the two churches.

In an address given at Lambeth Palace on Sept 9, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, denounced the introduction of gay bishops and blessings by North American Anglicans, and warned that if the Church of England went ahead with women bishops, it would end any hope of the Orthodox recognizing the validity of Anglican orders.

While Metropolitan Hilarion’s comments to the annual Nicean Club dinner were not new, his remarks did come as a robust vote of no confidence in Dr. Rowan Williams’ handling of the Anglican crisis.  The Russian leader also dismissed out of hand claims there would not be major ecumenical consequences if the Church of England consecrated women bishops.

During a July 28, 2008 meeting at the Lambeth Conference, Hilarion told Dr. Williams the Russian Orthodox Church believed a “code of practice” was insufficient to protect opponents of women bishops within the Church of England.  The consecration of women bishops would be an “additional obstacle” to Orthodox-Anglican dialogue, Hilarion said, adding that such a move would exclude “even the theoretical possibility of the Orthodox churches acknowledging the apostolic succession” of Anglican bishops.

In his Nicean Club address, Hilarion returned to the same theme.  He recounted the history of Anglican-Orthodox dialogue, but noted that in recent years the Christian world had fragmented.

“Nowadays it is increasingly difficult to speak of ‘Christianity’ as a unified scale of spiritual and moral values, universally adopted by all Christians. It is more appropriate, rather, to speak of ‘Christianities’, that is, different versions of Christianity espoused by diverse communities,” he said.

Current Christian divisions were not primarily denominational, he said, as the “abyss that exist today divides not so much the Orthodox from the Catholics or the Catholics from the Protestants as it does the ‘traditionalists’ from the ‘liberals’.”

The Anglican Communion had split along these lines, while the “Orthodox-Anglican Dialogue itself has come under threat.”

While the Orthodox Churches “appreciate the proposal Archbishop Rowan Williams made this year to exclude from the dialogue those Anglican churches which failed to observe the moratorium on the ordination of open homosexuals,” this “proposal” was not “quite sufficient to save the dialogue from an approaching collapse. The dialogue is doomed to closure if the unrestrained liberalization of Christian values continues in many communities of the Anglican world.”

Relations between the Russian and English Churches were no better, Hilarion said.  The Russian view was that women priests had “taken Anglicanism farther away from the Orthodox Church and contributed to further division in Christendom as a whole,” he said.

Women bishops would deepen the divide.  “I can say with certainty that the introduction of the female episcopate excludes even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the apostolic continuity of the Anglican hierarchy,” he said.

The Russian Orthodox Church had suspended all relations with those “churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals,” he said, citing the 2003 break with the Episcopal Church and 2005 break with the Church of Sweden.

The Russian Orthodox Church would “not remain silent and look with indifference at a world that is gradually deteriorating,” Hilarion said.  However, the Orthodox had not given up on the Anglicans, he said, even though “many of our Anglican brothers and sisters betray our common witness by departing from traditional Christian values and replacing them by contemporary secular standards.”

“I very much hope that the official position of the Anglican Church on theological, ecclesiological and moral issues will be in tune with the tradition of the Ancient Undivided Church and that the Anglican leadership will not surrender to the pressure coming from liberals,” the Russian church leader said.

Russian honours for Dr Williams: The Church of England Newspaper, March 19, 2010 p 7. March 31, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been honoured by Moscow for his services to British-Russian friendship.

On March 11, the Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Yuri Fedotov, presented Dr. Rowan Williams with the Russian Order of Friendship. The citation for the award issued by decree of President Dmitri Medvedev recognised Dr. Williams’ “outstanding contribution to the cooperation and friendly relations between Russia and the UK.”

“What the Archbishop is doing helps tremendously to establish better understanding and to set a better climate in relations between Russia and the UK,” Ambassador Fedotov said.

Dr. Williams was also presented with a bilingual edition of his poetry, printed in Moscow by the All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature to commemorate the occasion.

The award was a “very special personal honour,” Dr. Williams said, and it was “an immense personal privilege to be recognised in this way so unexpectedly.” Russian religious philosophy had been one of his lifelong interests, he said, added noting that “the depths and challenges of the Russian world have continued to play a crucial part in my own life, in my mind and in my heart.”

Russia’s Interfax News Agency reported that Dr. Williams said he had been “keen on Russian culture, its philosophy and religious thought from my very young age. Great Britain and Russia are situated in opposite parts of Europe, Anglo-Saxon temper is almost contrary to Russian, but Christian faith unites us.”

“Studying Russian culture, I hear my culture echoing. However, for me personally, it’s easier to feel Russian mentality as I’m not an Anglo-Saxon, I’m a Welshman,” Dr. Williams told the BBC’s Russian service, Interfax reported.

Russian Orthodox threat to Lutheran Church: CEN 11.20.09 p 7. December 3, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, EKD, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Russian Orthodox Church has threatened to suspend ecumenical relations with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (EKD) in the wake of the election of Bishop Margot Kaessmann as its leader.

On Nov 11 the Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk as having said Moscow might suspend dialogue with the EKD as it did not recognize the validity of women ministers.

Russian Orthodox threat to Lutheran Church

“We planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our dialogue with the Lutheran Church in Germany in late November or early December. The 50th anniversary of the dialogue will become the end of it,” Archbishop Hilarion said.

“We can develop the dialogue, but there raise lots of simple protocol questions. How will the Patriarch address her or meet with her?” the Russian Church representative said.

On Oct 28 the EKD elected Bishop Kaessmann of Hanover as its first female leader. The sole nominee to succeed Bishop Wolfgang Huber of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia as chairman of the EKD’s church council, Bishop Humber polled 132 out of 142 votes at the national synod meeting in Ulm.

Elected Bishop of Hanover in 1999, Bishop Kaessmann made headlines in 2007 when she filed for divorce from her husband of 26 years. However, her marital difficulties did not appear to play a role in the vote.

More power goes to Cyril: CEN 4.09.09 p 6. April 11, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church has restructured the church’s administration, centralizing power into the hands of the church’s new patriarch, Cyril.

At the close of its March 31 meeting, the first synod for Cyril as patriarch since his election earlier this year, the Department for External Relations (DECR) was dramatically downsized, with many of its former powers transferred to new agencies. Under the former patriarch, Alexy II, Cyril served as head of the DECR, and by virtue of that office was the second most powerful man in the church.

The breakup of the church’s foreign ministry moves many of Cyril’s former powers at the DECR into the office of the patriarch. Oversight of the church relations with dioceses, monasteries and other internal ecclesial entities was passed from the DECR directly to the Patriarch’s office.

Communiqué 18 from the Holy Synod also created the Department for Relations between the Church and Society, charged with representing the church in its relations with the “organisms of legislative power, with the political parties, with the labor unions, cultural organizations, and the other institutions of civil society” in Russia and the former republics of the Soviet Union. The new department will be run by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Cyril’s former number two and close aide at the DECR.

The Synod also created a Special Secretariat for Foreign Affairs headed up by a second aide of Cyril’s at the DECR, Bishop Egorevsky, tasked with direct relations with overseas churches.

Archbishop Hilarion of Vienna, the former representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to European institutions, was appointed director of the downsized DECR, which will now be responsible only for the “oversight of institutes that conduct ecclesiastical diplomacy,” the minutes of the synod stated.

Kosovo independence opposed: CEN 4.09.09 p 8. April 11, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Kosovo, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox.
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Patriarch Cyril of Moscow and All Russia has denounced NATO on the tenth anniversary of the Kosovo War and pledged its support to the Serbian Orthodox Church and government in its bid to regain Kosovo.

In a letter addressed to Patriarch Paul of Belgrade published on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website on March 24, Cyril stated “the Russian Church will endeavor to raise its voice and protect God’s truth, protect our Orthodox brothers and sisters living in the Kosovo district of Serbia and exiled from it, protect all victims of violence and flouting of justice.”

The expulsion of Kosovo’s Serb population following the war, has led to the wholesale destruction of Serbian religious and cultural sites by Kosovo’s Albanian majority, Serbia has claimed. The Russian Patriarch condemned the destruction of Orthodox churches, monasteries and religious sites saying the “the hands of impious” Albanians had fallen “with impunity” against the “sacred things in the heart of Serbian orthodoxy.”

The Russian government has also opposed Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, and has strongly opposed NATO’s attempts to resolve the conflict by backing the Kosovar independence.
NATO’s intervention on the side of the Kosovar Albanians was unjust, Cyril said.

“Several countries, being sure they have the right to determine world’s fate, united to impose their will on a nation,” he said. The Russian Orthodox Church “has more than once spoke up to support our Sister-Church regarding the ways of settling the current crisis,” and would continue its campaign against Kosovar independence.

“Your sorrows are the pain of the entire Orthodox Church,” Cyril told Patriarch Paul.

Primates Welcome New Patriarch: CEN 2.20.09 p 8. February 22, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Primates Meeting 2009, Russian Orthodox.
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The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Cyril I

The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Cyril I

The Primates of the Anglican Communion have written to Cyril I (Kyrill) congratulating him upon his election as Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

In a letter dated Feb 2 sent from the 2009 Primates Meeting in Alexandria, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams conveyed the primates “warm and fraternal greetings to you, our brother in Christ, on your election to the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia. This is an ancient and noble office, and one to which all the Christian world looks for an exemplary Christian witness.”

The churches of the Anglican Communion, Dr. Williams said, had “always valued and respected their links to the Orthodox Churches, and not least their warm relations with the Patriarchate of Moscow, and we trust that these fraternal bonds may be upheld and sustained in the years ahead as you embark on your ministry.”

Pope Benedict XVI earlier welcomed Cyril’s election writing, “May the Almighty also bless your efforts to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue.”

Metropolitan Cyril of Smolensk and Kaliningrad was elected Patriarch in a secret ballot Jan. 27 at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. The son and grandson of priests, Cyril led the church’s department for external relations since 1989. He received 508 of the 700 votes cast by delegates to the church’s Senior Council, defeating conservative rival, Metropolitan Clement of Kaluga and Borovsk, who received 169 votes. The third candidate nominated by bishops, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, withdrew before the vote and urged his supporters to back Metropolitan Cyril.

Considered the most progressive of the three candidates, Cyril had championed closer relations with the Roman Catholic and Western Churches. However, in an interview with reporters on Dec 29, Cyril said he was strongly opposed to any church reforms.

“The Church is conservative by nature, as it maintains the apostolic belief,” he told the Inter-Fax news agency. “If we want to pass the belief from one generation to another for centuries, the belief must be intact. Any reform damaging the belief, traditions and values is called heresy,” he said.

During the 2008 Lambeth Conference the Russian Orthodox Church warned Dr. Williams that the consecration of women bishops and further liberalizations on gay clergy would end irreparably damage Anglican-Orthodox relations. Following the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 the Russian Orthodox Church ended all ecumenical contacts with the Episcopal Church.

Cyril has also been a staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin, and like the Russian leader is alleged to have served in the KGB. An examination of the KGB’s archives by a committee of the Russian Duma, or parliament, led by dissident priest Fr. Gleb Yakunin in 1992 found that many of Russia’s bishops were agents of the KGB. The former Patriarch, Alexy II was identified as an agent codenamed “drosdov” (blackbird) while Cyril was alleged to be an agent code named Mikhailov. All three candidates for election as Patriarch on Jan 27, Cyril, Clement and Filaret were alleged to have been one time agents of the KGB.

Russian Orthodox challenge for Hugo Chavez: CEN 10.27.08 October 27, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox, Venezuela.
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The Russian Orthodox Church has urged South American strongman Hugo Chavez to set forth a theological rationale for his Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

Meeting in the Miraflores Palace in Caracas on Oct 23, President Chavez and the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad pledged closer ties between Venezuela and Russia. Accompanied by Russian government ministers, Kyrill’s goodwill tour is part of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s push to expand his government’s alliances in the developing world.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Cuba consecrates Russian cathedral: CEN 10.24.08 p 6. October 27, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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Cuban President Raul Castro marked the 46th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis by attending the consecration of the Our Lady of Kazan Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Havana. A delegation of church and state leaders from Moscow attended the ceremony, which was heralded as a sign of continued Russian-Cuban relations in the post-Cold War era.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has extended Moscow’s reach back into Latin America following a pullback of air and naval forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Next month Russian naval forces will conduct joint maneuvers with Venezuela, while the Itar-Tass news agency has reported that “preliminary discussions” have been held between Russia and Cuba about constructing a missile launch facility on the island in support of a Cuban space programme.

The Russian Orthodox Church has lent it support to Prime Minister Putin’s expansionist foreign policy. Last week Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations told reporters that “Latin America should become a priority in the sphere of international policy” for Russia.

Russian and Latin America were twin centers of Christian civilization, he said, urging closer cooperation between the two regions. Brazil, Argentina and Chile were “becoming very significant players as their economic potential and contribution in international affairs is growing.”

Last week Kyrill, Deputy Trade Minister Stanislav Naumov and Deputy Energy Vyacheslav Sinyugin traveled to Havana for bilateral talks between the two nations, part of a month long tour of Latin America.

On Oct 18 Kyrill said the Havana Cathedral was a “monument to Russian-Cuban friendship and all the efforts that have preserved our relations including the most difficult moments of the Cold War” a report from Gramna said.

On behalf of Patriarch Alexy, Kyrill decorated Caridad Diego, head of the Office for Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and historian Eusebio Leal for their services to the Russian Church.

Kyrill also thanked President Castro, and his brother, former President Fidel Castro, for their support in opening the Russian Church, which will service the Russian expatriate community in Havana.

Romanovs to be rehabilitated: CEN 10.03.08 October 3, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Persecution, Politics, Russian Orthodox.
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The execution of Czar Nicholas II and his family was a government sanctioned political murder and the Romanovs are to be legally “rehabilitated,” Russia’s top court has ruled.

On Oct 1, the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court overturned a ruling of its Criminal Panel and formally exonerated Russia’s last Czar, in a ruling hailed by the Moscow Patriarchate as setting right a 90-year-old injustice.

“The presidium of the Supreme Court has ruled to recognize Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov, Alexandra Fyodorovna Romanova, Olga Nikolayevna Romanova, Tatyana Nikolayevna Romanova, Maria Nikolayevna Romanova, Anastasia Nikolayevna Romanova, and Alexey Nikolayevich Romanov as groundlessly repressed and rehabilitate them,” the Presidium said.

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations told the Interfax news agency the church was “glad that the government has finally said that these people are not criminals and the repressions are unfounded.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Romanovs to be rehabilitated

Now Moscow issues warning to Lambeth: CEN 8.22.08 p 1. August 25, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Lambeth 2008, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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GAYS and women bishops could wreck relations between the Church of England and the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church reports.

On July 28 Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to European institutions met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and his secretary Canon Jonathan Goodall during the Lambeth Conference to discuss the state of Russian Orthodox–Anglican relations.

In a report printed last week, Moscow said that its representative told Dr Williams of its distress over the July decision by General Synod not to provide legal safeguards for traditionalists opposed to the consecration of women bishops. The consecration of women bishops would be an “additional obstacle” to Orthodox-Anglican dialogue, Bishop Hilarion told Dr Williams, adding that such a move would exclude “even the theoretical possibility of the Orthodox churches acknowledging the apostolic succession” of Anglican bishops.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Moscow in warning to Anglican Communion

Orthodox leaders in call for ceasefire:CEN 8.15.08 p 5. August 16, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Georgian Orthodox, Politics, Russian Orthodox.
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The leaders of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches have issued calls for an immediate ceasefire in the Caucuses, and a return to negotiations over the fate of South Ossetia. However, the calls for peace have been issued independently as both churches continue to support their country’s conflicting foreign policy aims in the region.

The Moscow Patriarchate has backed calls for self-determination for the people of South Ossetia, while the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church has called for the faithful to pray to the Virgin Mary, seeking her intercession to prevent the division of Georgia.

The 15-year old border dispute between Russia and Georgia escalated Sunday when Russian troops thrust deep into Georgia occupying the towns of Gori, Senaki and Zugdidi, while airstrikes targeted military formations around the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi intensified following Georgia’s 2003 “Rose Revolution.” In recent years Tibilisi has moved towards the West, seeking to integrate Georgia into NATO and the EU. Moscow has responded by backing separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The current round of fighting began Aug 7, when Georgian troops occupied the capital of South Ossetia, Tshkinvali and over two-thirds of the territory of the breakaway republic. Formerly one of Soviet Georgia’s three semi-autonomous regions, along with Abkhazia and Ajaria – South Ossetia declared itself independent of Georgia and under Russian jurisdiction following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Georgia has sought to reincorporate the region, but Moscow has resisted granting Russian citizenship to over 70 percent of the region’s inhabitants.

On Aug 8, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Alexy II released a statement saying that “having learnt about the hostilities in Tshinvali and its outskirts, I call upon the warring parties to cease fire and return to the path of dialogue.”

“Blood is being shed in South Ossetia and people are being killed and this makes my heart to grieve profoundly,” he wrote, decrying the conflict between “Orthodox nations who are called by the Lord to live in brotherhood and love.”

He appealed to those “who have gone blind with hatred: stop! Do not let more blood be shed, do not let today’s conflict be expanded many times over! Show common sense and virtue: sit at the negotiation table for talks with respect for the traditions, views and aspirations of both the Georgian and Ossetian peoples.”

Alexy said the “Russian Church is ready to unite efforts with the Georgian Church and help in achieving peace.”

On Aug 9, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev mobilized Russian troops to repel the Georgian forces and by the evening of Aug 10 had taken Tskhinvali. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called for a ceasefire on Sunday evening to spare civilian casualties, saying his troops had left South Ossetia.
In his Sunday sermon, the Georgian Catholicos Patriarch Illia II condemned Russia’s airstrikes on Georgia and called for a ceasefire.

“Indeed, we are facing very serious peril, but don’t be afraid of anything, God is with us and Virgin Mary is protecting is, but one thing concerns us very deeply that Orthodox Russians are bombing Orthodox Georgians,” he said on Aug 10.

“This is unprecedented act of relations between our countries. Reinforce your prayer and God will save Georgia. There is a saying ”Water will flow up and down and will return to its weir.’ So, believe that God will not separate Georgia into pieces,” Ilia said.

On Aug 11, the Church of England’s lead bishop of Georgian affairs spokesman, the Bishop of Wakefield the Rt. Rev. Stephen Platten issued a “plea to both the Russian and Georgian governments for forbearance in the present tragic situation.”

The Church of England would not “apportion blame” in the current crisis, noting however, that local “churches have worked hard to promote peace in the region.”

“At this time we would call upon all church leaders in Georgia to pray and work for peace and to put pressure on the leaders of both Russia and Georgia to cease hostilities. We believe a peaceful and stable Georgia will benefit not only the nation of Georgia itself but all people within that region,” Bishop Platten said.

The Russian Orthodox Church reacts to the decision taken by the General Synod of Church of England: CEN 8.01.08 August 1, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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The Russian Orthodox Church has released a statement denouncing the Church of England, calling the July 7 vote by General Synod not to create legal safeguards for opponents of women bishops an abandonment of the true faith.

The decision taken by General Synod “alienates Anglicans from the Orthodox Church and contributes to further division of the Christian world,” the Moscow Patriarchate said in a statement released on its website on Aug 1.

The Moscow Patriarchate stated that it opposed the ordination of women to the priesthood as “such a practice contradicts centuries-old Church traditions dating back to the first Christian community. Orthodox Christians consider women bishops to be even more unacceptable,” the statement said.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Vatican “disappointed” by General Synod vote on women bishops: CEN 7.09.08 July 10, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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The Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have expressed their disappointment with General Synod’s vote to permit women to be consecrated as bishops, saying the move will impair ecumenical relations.

On July 8 the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity released a statement expressing its regret of the Synod vote. “Such a decision signifies a break with the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the Churches since the first millennium and is, therefore, a further obstacle to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England,” the statement said.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Vatican ‘disappointed by General Synod vote on women bishops

Russian Orthodox issues ultimatum on ecumenical dialogue talks: CEN 5.30.08 p 6. May 31, 2008

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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Russian Orthodox Church has threatened to pull out of Anglican-Orthodox talks, if representatives of the breakaway Estonian Orthodox Church are seated at the dialogue table.

At a meeting last week of the Steering Committee of the International Commission for Anglican Orthodox Theological Dialogue in Istanbul, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and all Austria of the Russian Orthodox Church warned that his church would not participate in any ecumenical dialogue where representatives of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church were present.

In 2007 talks between the Vatican and the Orthodox churches collapsed after Russia walked out of a meeting in Ravenna, Italy due to the Estonian presence. The dispute however was not with Rome, but between Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I—who extended the invitation to the Estonian church to attend the Vatican talks.

Prior to the Russian invasion of 1940, the Estonian Orthodox Church was an independent church. However, when Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, its church was absorbed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonian speaking members of the Orthodox community in 1993 petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarch for a restoration of their Church, which Bartholomew granted three years later. Moscow has refused to recognize the reconstituted Estonian Church and briefly broke relations with Bartholomew over what it sees as an invasion of its ecclesial territory.

During last week’s Istanbul meeting, Bishop Hillarion told Bartholomew’s representative to the talks, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokletia, and the representatives of the Anglican Communion: the Rev. Canon Gregory Cameron of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer of Virginia Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Canon Jonathan Goodall, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Ecumenical Affairs officer, that Russian would withdraw if Estonia were seated.

Canon Cameron told The Church of England Newspaper that the Anglican Communion respects “our dialogue with the Orthodox Churches as a whole and with the Moscow Patriarchate as dialogue partners in particular,” but the question of who represents the Orthodox is “not one which Anglicans can make. It must be between the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate, the Estonian Church and the other Orthodox Churches to settle the matter.”

However, Canon Cameron noted the meeting was “a very positive one in every other respect. There has been a good reception for the Cyprus Statement (The Church of the Triune God), which will be discussed at Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican representatives were warmly received by the Ecumenical Patriarch and Orthodox delegates.”

EU says religious groups can help in climate change campaign: CEN 5.09.08 p 9. May 10, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Environment, EU, Multiculturalism, Persecution, Russian Orthodox.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper

Religion must play its part in combating climate change, EU political leaders told a gathering of European religious leaders on May 5. However, Russian delegates used the one-day conference in Brussels to urge the EU to direct its political energies towards supporting oppressed Christians around the world.

Twenty Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders—including the Bishop of Hulme, the Rt. Rev. Steven Lowe met with the Presidents of the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament in the fourth annual meeting of EU officials and religions leaders.

European Council President Janez Janša, the Prime Minister of Slovenia, told the delegates the environment was “not only natural but also a sacred place.”

“Community and loyalty between man, nature and the Creator is a basic principle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike,” he said. “Climate change requires us to rethink how we channel imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship into creating a world, free of dependence on fossil fuels, and yet prosperous and connected as never before.”

EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso added that climate change “obliges all of us to take urgent action,” and that “thanks to their outreach and role in our societies, religions and communities of belief are well placed to make a valuable contribution in mobilizing” against climate change.

Noting that 2008 was the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering asked faith leaders to take the lead in “building bridges between people and to safeguarding peace based on mutual respect.”

“Intercultural dialogue” he argued, was an “important contribution” to a common EU foreign policy “in particular in the Mediterranean region”.

However the Russian Orthodox delegate, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria said the EU’s notions of intercultural dialogue placed Christians at a disadvantage.

“Tolerance should not cause detriment to Christians, who still make up the majority of the European population. Phobia and discrimination of Christians should be condemned officially,” he said.

Bishop Hilarion called upon the EU to protect Europe’s Christian heritage, citing Muslim predations against Orthodox Christians in Kosovo and Cyprus. Turkey should not become part of Europe, he argued while it continues to “disregard the needs of its Christian population.”

The Russian Orthodox Church called upon the EU to “do more for the protection of Christians outside Europe, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and many other Islamic countries,” Bishop Hilarion said, according to a statement released through the Interfax news agency.

Russian Orthodox Church attacks Stalin nostalgia: CEN 3.06.08 March 6, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Politics, Russian Orthodox.
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Published in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

The Orthodox Church has denounced Russia’s growing nostalgia for Stalin and Stalinism.

Speaking on March 5—the 55th anniversary of the death of Joseph Stalin—the secretary for public relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Fr. Georgi Ryabykh told the Interfax news agency Russians should not look to the Stalinist era as a guide for the country’s future.

“Present and future Russian citizens should be aware of what Stalin’s era really was and should not be painting idealistic pictures of the time,” he said. While the Stalinist era was of “great historical significance”, that era “should never return.”

While Russian was able to “recover after the civil war, to preserve its unity, to carry out industrialization, to win the war, and to build its scientific potential” during Stalin’s tenure as General Secretary of the Communist Party, those “achievements in social building cannot be justified by the victims of the Soviet regime during the years of Stalin’s rule,” he said.

Russia can achieve material and social progress “without sacrificing our own citizens,” Fr. Ryabykh said.

The cult of Stalin remains alive in Russia and has had been invigorated by the country’s declining economic and political fortunes. On Wednesday, Communists gathered at the Kremlin to lay flowers at Stalin tomb. Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov lauded Stalin as a great politician and patriot whose five year plans turned Russia into an economic giant.

“During the first ten years of his rule Stalin, together with the nation, managed to build 9,000 highly modernised plants. By the tragic year of 1941 we were equipped with up-to-date weapons to fight the Nazis. It took Europe almost 50 years to reach the level of industrial and scientific development which our nation reached in just ten years. Stalin managed to keep us unified as a nation and allowed no one to break it into pieces,” Zyuganov said according to accounts printed in Russian newspapers.

The cost to Russia of collectivization and industrialization, scholar Robert Conquest notes, was upwards of 10 million people, a figure “higher than the dead of all the belligerents of the First World War.”

The nostalgia for Stalin has support outside the remnants of the Communist Party. A 2003 survey by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, found that 20 percent of those surveyed had a “very positive” view, and 30 percent a “somewhat positive” view of Stalin. Only 12 percent had a “very negative view” of Russia’s late leader.

In the March 4 issue of Rossiyskaya Gazeta dissenting views of Stalin’s legacy were presented. Film director and author Aleksey German described Stalin as a creature from hell who recreated the Tsarist Russian Empire under the guise of a socialist state. Historian Evgeney Federov saw Stalin as a statesman who though he sacrificed millions restored Russia to a position of greatness as a nation. The day may come, Federov warned, that the continued mismanagement of the state may elicit a call from the people that “We need a Stalin.”

Popular culture has also painted a softer picture of the former dictator. Moscow’s international broadcaster, Russia Today started an English language advertising campaign in November feature Stalin. Under the slogan “proud to be different”, RT ran full page ads featuring Stalin in his marshal’s uniform holding a quill in his hand with the caption, “Stalin wrote romantic poetry. Did you know that?”

A 40-part miniseries broadcast last year on the NTV network also portrayed a gentler despot. “Stalin was not only an executioner, but also a victim of that era,” series producer Grigory Lyubomirov said.

The series also portrayed Stalin as secret Christian, who returned to the faith of his youth at the end of his life. “According to the information that we have, Stalin in the last months of his life came to repentance. He rethought his life from the position of a man of faith,” Lyubomirov told the Moscow News, citing interviews with Stalin’s bodyguards to support his claim.

Stalin left a mixed legacy for Russia and the Orthodox Church, the Deputy Director of the Department of External Relations, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin noted. “Some consider him a murderer and a monster while for others he is almost a secret Orthodox zealot.”

Stalin was a murdered and tyrant who “didn’t have a whisper of repentance for it.” Yet, it was Stalin who restored the Church’s freedoms and “even helped strengthen its international influence when it became politically profitable,” he said.

“I don’t think it means that he was a secret Christian and even ‘a builder of the third Rome’,” Fr. Chaplin wrote. “Stalin and other historical personages had both good and bad features. It is applicable to every person. Even to saints who also made mistakes and committed sins. It doesn’t diminish their achievements in fighting these sins. It makes the truth of it even more convincing than retouching history and substituting a real person with a polished image,” he said.

Russians slam Archbishop: CEN 2.22.08 p 6. February 22, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Russian Orthodox.
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The Russian Orthodox Church has slammed the Archbishop of Canterbury for his remarks over Sharia law, saying the head of a Christian Church should not be promoting the tenets of non-Christian religions.

While church leaders in Britain have rallied to his defense, Orthodox, Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders abroad have been less charitable in their remarks. The Feb 7 interview with the BBC and his subsequent speech at the Temple Church on certain aspects of Sharia law, have elicited sharp comments from overseas Anglican and Christian leaders, while Dr. Williams’ subsequent explanation, that his remarks were misunderstood, appears not to have appeased his critics.

Speaking to the opening session of the World Council of Churches’ Standing Committee meeting in Geneva on Feb 14, the Russian Orthodox’s representative to ecumenical organizations, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria said “many Christians around the world are looking up to Christian leaders with hope that they will defend Christianity against all the challenges it faces.”

“Our role is not to protect Sharia law, to glorify an alternative style of behavior or to preach secular values. Our sacred mission is to announce what Christ announced, to teach what his disciples taught,” he said.

“Politically correct Christianity will die,” said Bishop Hilarion. “We have already been watching the process of liberal Christianity’s gradual decline as newly introduced moral norms lead to splits, discrepancies and confusion in several Christian communities,” he said.

The head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) told German radio on Feb 16 there must be a single law for all citizens, regardless of race or religion.

Dr. Wolfgang Huber, Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia and Chairman of the Council of the EKD said the premise behind Dr. Williams’ remarks was flawed.

“Hoping to achieve integration through a dual legal system is a mistaken idea,” Dr. Huber told Deutsche Welle. “You have to ask the question as to what extent cultural characteristics have a legitimate place in a legal system. But you have to push for one country to have one system.”

Russian church and state officials blast Kosovo independence move: CEN 2.18.08 February 18, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox.
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CHURCH and state officials in Russia have denounced Kosovo’s declaration of independence as a breach of international law and a threat to Orthodoxy.

Kosovan independence “is a defeat of the Orthodox world and the further destruction of disobedient Orthodox Serbia,” said Russian nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic party in the Duma.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Russian church and state officials blast Kosovo independence move

Russian Orthodox backing for Serbia in Kosovo dispute: CEN 12.11.07 December 11, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Politics, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox.
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The Russian Orthodox Church has backed Serbia in the struggle against an independent Kosovo, warning against any further moves towards independence by ethnic Albanians.

“We want Serbia to retain its integrity,” Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (pictured) said on Dec 3 in a statement that underscores the heightening religious and ethnic tensions in the Balkans.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Russian Orthodox backing for Serbia in Kosovo dispute

Norway Move Attacked: CEN 11.30.07 p 8. November 29, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Norway, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Russian Orthodox.
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The notion of gay clergy violates Christian decency and Biblical norms, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said last week in response to the Church of Norway’s vote to permit gay clergy.

The Russian Orthodox Church’s secretary for inter-Christian relations Fr. Igor Vyzhanov said Moscow “totally denies that homosexual persons may be ordained to church ministry.  It is an unbiblical act repugnant to the Christian moral norms and absolutely unacceptable for us.”

On Nov 16 Norway’s General Synod voted by a margin of 50-34 to overturn the national ban on gay clergy, giving the dioceses a local option on whether or not to permit gay clergy to serve in parish ministry.

The Moscow Patriarchate has denounced the Norwegian vote and is reconsidering its ecumenical relations with that country’s Lutheran state church.  However, the decision to break relations with the Church of Norway would be up to the Moscow Patriarchate’s Holy Synod, Fr. Vyzhanov told Interfax on Nov 22, but at the very least the Norwegian vote was “unhelpful for dialogue.”

In 2003 Moscow ended over a hundred years of ecumenical dialogue with the Episcopal Church in protest to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.  It later reached out to the conservative Anglican Communion Network in 2005, exploring ways of continuing dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and traditionalist Anglican dioceses in the US.

After the Church of Sweden authorized rites for the blessing of same sex unions in 2005, the Moscow Patriarchate broke off relations with that country’s Lutheran state church, stating gay blessings “destroyed the moral basis of the European civilization and radically harms its spiritual influence worldwide.”

Russian Church leader hits out at secularism: CEN 11.23.07 p 8. November 22, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Multiculturalism, Russian Orthodox.
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alexy-and-putin.jpgSecular liberalism will deposit Western Civilisation on the ash-heap of history, the number two man of the Russian Orthodox Church told a political rally in Moscow last week.

Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Relations told a rally at Moscow State Technical University for activists of the Young Guard—the youth wing of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russian Party—that postmodernism will lead to the collapse of the West.

“We live in the times of the postmodern that is characterised with the dangerous idea: that postmodern does not imply the conception of the truth – it is relative, that there are as many truths as human minds,” he said.

Metropolitan Kyrill cited Western Europe’s experiments with civil gay marriage as the primary example of its moral and cultural decay. Fifteen years ago gay marriage was unthinkable he said. Now laws were being enacted to normalize the practice across Europe.

“Pedophilia will be the next step in this process” that elevates the “popular conception of human’s rights” above all else, he said.

The end to this process was “Hades, the fire of the Apocalypse,” Kyrill said.

Metropolitan Kyrill urged the activists of the Young Guard to reject Western cultural ideals, adopting instead a mindset influenced by Holy Mother Russia. While truth was undivided across creation, no single social model contained the “ultimate truth” that required the world’s allegiance, he said, according to an account printed by the Interfax news agency.

President Putin’s Russia and the Orthodox Church believed in a “diverse world” based on peaceful co-existence. The new world order should be one of “harmonic union” Kyrill said, and not founded purely on the “western liberal” ideal of human rights and personal freedoms.

Putin visits memorial to victims of Stalinist Great Terror: CEN 11.08.07 November 8, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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IN A SHARP about-face, President Vladimir Putin has attended a memorial service outside Moscow led by the Patriarch of the Russian Church at the sight of a mass grave of victims of the Yezhovshina, the ‘Great Terror’ of 1937.

President Putin joined Patriarch Alexy II for a ceremony at the Butovo shooting range on Oct 30, the Day of Victims of Political Repression, for the service honouring an estimated 20,000 opponents of the regime, including 1,000 priests, monks and nuns, murdered there between 1937 and 1938.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Putin visits memorial to victims of Stalinist Great Terror

Orthodox Churches walk out of unity talks in Estonia row: CEN 10.19.07 p 8. October 19, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Roman Catholic Church, Russian Orthodox.
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john-zizoulas.jpgTalks between the Vatican and the Orthodox Churches over the primacy of the pope collapsed last week, after the Russian Orthodox delegation walked out of the meeting. The collapse of the Oct 8-15 talks held in Ravenna, Italy lay not in disputes between the Vatican and Moscow, but over Russian objections to the presence of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church within the Orthodox delegation.

In a dispute akin to the Anglican Communion’s spat over African Provinces invading the US, Russia has accused the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of invading its jurisdiction and planting a second Orthodox Church on Russian church territory.

In 1996 Bartholomew I recognized the Estonian church as an autocephalic church of the Orthodox community. Moscow objected saying the former Soviet Republic was already served by the Russian Orthodox Church. Moscow refused to recognize the new Estonian church and briefly broke relations with Bartholomew.

Negotiations in Ravenna between the head of the Russian delegation Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Metropolitan John Zizioulas (pictured) of the Ecumenical Constantinople Patriarchate over the Estonian presence failed to resolve the dispute and the Russians quit the conference on its second day.

Bishop Hilarion said that while Moscow valued on-going dialogue with the Vatican, the participation of the Estonian Church on the Orthodox side would “mean the implicit recognition by the Moscow Patriarchate of the canonical (validity) of this church structure.”

The roots of the conflict over the Baltic nation’s Orthodox Church are a legacy of the Soviet era. Prior to the Russian invasion of Estonia in 1940, the Estonian Orthodox Church was an independent church. However, when Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, its church was absorbed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonian speaking members of the Orthodox community petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1993 for a restoration of their Church, which Bartholomew granted three years later.

The Vatican press secretary Fr. Federico Lombardi said the Roman Catholic Church hoped the dispute would be resolved amicably, and that “such inter-Orthodox difficulties won’t prejudice the official dialogue between Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church.”

Митрополит Кирилл October 17, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Russian Orthodox, WCC.
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Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Chairman of the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate. These photos were taken at a press conference in Porto Alegre, Brazil on Feb 16, 2006. His answers consisted of “Da’s” and “Nyet’s”. He is the Russian Church’s director of foreign relations.




Patriarch’s Gay Rebuke: CEN 10.12.07 p 6. October 12, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, EU, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Russian Orthodox.
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alexy-ii-in-strasbourg.jpgHomosexuality is a mental disorder the Patriarch of Moscow told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, France on Oct 2. Speaking to the issue of “gay pride” parades, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia restated his church’s opposition to the marches, saying they were “propaganda and advertisement of sin.”

(Novosti photo)

Alexy’s comments on the homosexual condition come in sharp distinction to comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams at last month’s meeting of the American House of Bishops.

The Russian Patriarch stated Christians “love sinners despite their sins” but noted homosexuality was an illness—a position rejected by Dr. Williams.

In a 50-minute speech and question and answer session, Alexy backed the Russian government’s stance on the Balkans, opposing an independent Kosovo and denouncing attacks upon Serbian churches and cultural sights in ethnic Albanian hands. “We cannot silently stand by when those monuments are being destroyed” he said.

The bulk of the Patriarch’s speech, however, spoke to the threat to Europe’s Christian values through secularism and an antinomian view of human rights. European culture had witnessed a “break between human rights and morality, and this break threatens the European civilization.”

He reiterated the Russian Orthodox Church’s call for an alliance of traditionalist European Christians to reject the “new generation of rights that contradict morality” and are used to “justify immoral behavior.”

Questioned by British Lib-Dem council member David Russell-Johnston about the Russian Church’s opposition to gay pride parades, Alexy said his Church viewed the parades as an advertisement for sin.

Homosexuality was an “illness” and a “distortion of the human personality like kleptomania,” he said. “Nobody must try to force me or my brothers and sisters in faith to be silent and [to prevent us from] using the word sin for something that is called sin in God’s Word,” the patriarch said.

Lord Russell-Johnston said later the analogy of homosexuality and kleptomania was “ridiculous.”

During his press conference at the US House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans on Sept 21, Dr. Williams rejected suggestions homosexuality was an illness.

Asked his views upon healing ministries for those with homosexual orientations, Dr. Williams said, that “presupposes that homosexuality is a disease. Healing is available to any human being by the grace of God, but in order for that healing to be effective we need a clear diagnosis of what that matter is.”

“I do not assume that homosexual orientation is a disease,” he said.

The 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10(3) which called for a listening to the “experience of homosexual persons” also affirmed the Church’s belief in the healing of homosexuals through “God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships.”

Patriarch’s Warning: CEN 10.12.07 p 9. October 11, 2007

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Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia in Parish. (AFP photo)

Unity of faith must precede unity of worship, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia said last week during a visit to France.

The patriarch’s comments came after French newspapers reported a joint Russian Orthodox-Roman Catholic Eucharist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

Church unity is expressed “in the full harmony in confessing the faith”, and only this “can be a basis for the common celebration of the Eucharist” he said to reporters.

“In our search to God-commanded unity, we should avoid compromises affecting the essence of our faith,” Alexy told the Dernieres Nouvelles d’Alsace, newspaper.

The Moscow Patriarchate disputed the story of a joint Eucharist saying Alexy had visited Notre Dame to venerate a relic, Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. Prayer, not a joint Eucharist, was then held in the Cathedral.

“As the pilgrimage of Orthodox people to various countries for venerating the early Church’s shrines develops, so does the tradition of Orthodox prayer services before shrines kept by other Christian Churches”, the Russian Church said.

On Monday members of the Joint Orthodox-Roman Catholic Theological Commission began meetings in Ravenna to prepare a common on the Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church.

The commission has so far been unable to resolve disputes over Roman Catholic claims of the universal primacy of the pope.

Orthodox Church’s Blessing for Moscow’s Military: CEN 8.31.07 p 6. August 30, 2007

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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An RAF Typhoon tracking a Bear over the North Sea on Aug 17. Photo: MoD

Relics of a legendary saint and military commander have been deposited by the Russian Orthodox Church in the chapel of the Russian Long Range Air Force. The Aug 20 religious ceremony also commemorated the resumption by Moscow of long range bomber patrols.

Representing Patriarch Alexy II, Bishop Amvrosy of Bronnitsy delivered the relics of St. Alexander Nevsky and offered the Church’s greetings on the occasion of the resumption of strategic air patrols against NATO. The ceremony at St. Elijah’s Chapel in Moscow is the most recent example of the Russian Orthodox Church’s close association with the nationalist policies of President Vladimir Putin.

On Aug 8 a Russian Tu-95 ‘Bear’ bomber over flew the US naval base on the Pacific island of Guam, prompting a scramble by US fighters from the Seventh Fleet to escort the bomber out of US air space. While on Aug 17, two Typhoon fighters from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire intercepted and shadowed a ‘Bear’ detected by early warning radar over the North Sea.

President Putin on Sunday defended Russia’s resumption of strategic air patrols. “In 1992, Russia unilaterally ended flights by its strategic aircraft to distant military patrol areas. Unfortunately, our example was not followed by everyone,” he said.

“Patrolling will take place in areas of busy shipping” and of strategic economic importance to the Russian Federation, President Putin said.

The Russian leader’s announcement came at the close of joint military exercises held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a mutual security organization consisting of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan created in 2001 as a counterbalance to NATO.

“The long range air force personnel face difficult tasks these days,” the Deputy Commander of the Long Range Air Force, Major General Anatoly Zhikharev told the Interfax news agency.

“The Orthodox Church is with us to help and support us. Today we are receiving another shrine, so that there will be not only St. Theodore Ushakov’s relics but also St. Alexander Nevsky’s in our chapel,” he said.

The air force leader stated all of Russia’s strategic bombers had been blessed by the Church. “When the aircraft is named, they bless her.”

In addition to the Long Range Air Force, St. Alexander Nevsky is the patron saint of the FSB, Russia’s internal security service and successor to the KGB. St. Barbara is the patron saint of the Strategic Rocket Forces, St Anthony serves as the patron saint of the treasury police, St. Vladimir is the patron of the MVD (Ministry of the Interior troops), while St. Ilya Muromets is patron saint to Russia’s Border Guards.

Stalin’s ‘Great Terror’ remembered: CEN 8.14.07 August 16, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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PRIESTS of the Russian Orthodox Church consecrated a 41ft-high pine cross last week on the site of a mass grave outside Moscow to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Yezhovshina, the “Great Terror” of 1937 that led to the death of over 700,000 imagined opponents of Josef Stalin (pictured). stalin-1.jpg

Following a 13-day journey from the Solevetsky Monastery on Solovki island, the site of one of the first camps of the Gulag Archipelago — so described by Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn — in the White Sea, the cross was erected on Aug 8 at the site of the Butovo shooting range where an estimated 20,000 opponents of the regime, including 1,000 priests, monks and nuns, were shot between 1937 and 1938.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Russia must repent of its sins, warns Solzhenitsyn: CEN 8.08.07 August 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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RUSSIA can only come to grips with its bloody past once it repents of its sins, Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn (pictured) told Der Spiegel recently.

“Only the voluntary and conscientious acceptance by a people of its guilt can ensure the healing of a nation,” the 88-year-old author told the German weekly, disputing suggestions the Russian Orthodox Church had become an instrument of state power.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Russia 'must repent of its sins'

Russian Orthodox Back Putin Against US’s Euro-Missile Shield: CEN 6.15.07 p 6. June 16, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Arms Control/Defense/Peace Issues, British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Russian Orthodox.
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The Russian Orthodox Church has backed President Vladimir Putin’s opposition to US plans to install a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

The head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad urged religious leaders last week to stand with the Russian Orthodox Church in opposing an American “arms race” in Europe.U.S. plans to install an anti-missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland were a threat to a “peaceful future” for Europe, Kyrill said to European church leaders in Cologne on June 5, according to a transcript published on the internet by the Moscow Patriarchate.

Russian Orthdodox Church backs Putin against US missile plans

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.