Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bright Wednesday

Commemorated on April 30

On Bright Wednesday we commemorate the holy monastic Fathers who have shone forth on the God-trodden Mt Sinai. This commemoration was established by the Church of Russia on April 17, 1997.

Saints Theocharis and Apostolos are local saints of Arta. The first fell asleep in 1845 and the second a little later. St Theocharis was a teacher at Komboti, Arta. The icons of these saints are in the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Arta.

The Kasperov Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is also commemorated today. Tradition says that this holy icon had been brought to Cherson from Transylvania by a Serb at the end of the sixteenth century. Passing down from parent and child, the icon had come to a certain Mrs. Kasperova of Cherson in 1809.

One night in February of 1840 she was praying, seeking consolation in her many sorrows. Looking at the icon of the Virgin, she noticed that the features of the icon, darkened by age, had suddenly become bright. Soon the icon was glorified by many miracles, and people regarded it as wonder-working.

During the Crimean War (1853-1856), the icon was carried in procession through the city of Odessa, which was besieged by enemy forces. On Great and Holy Friday, the city was spared. Since that time, an Akathist has been served before the icon in the Dormition Cathedral of Odessa every Friday.

The icon is painted with oils on a canvas mounted on wood. The Mother of God holds Her Son on her left arm. The Child is holding a scroll. St John the Baptist (Janurary 7) is depicted on one side of the icon, and St Tatiana (January 12) on the other. These were probably the patron saints of the original owners of the icon.

The Kasperov Icon is commemorated on October 1, June 29, and Bright Wednesday.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

6,000 Martyrs of the St David Gareji Monastery, Georgia

Commemorated on April 29

In 1616 the Persian shah Abbas I led his enormous army in an attack on Georgia. Having quenched his thirst for the blood of the Christians, he arranged a hunt in the valley of Gare (Outer) Kakheti. He encamped with his escorts in the mountains of Gareji and spent the night in that place.

At midnight the shah’s attention was drawn to a flaming column of lights advancing up the mountain. At first he took it to be an apparition. He was soon informed, however, that a famous monastery was situated in that place and on that night the monks were circling their church three times with lighted candles in celebration of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Immediately the shah commanded his army to march to the monastery and destroy all those found celebrating.

That same night an angel of the Lord appeared to Abbot Arsenius of David-Gareji and told him, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is calling the brothers to His Heavenly Kingdom. On this night great suffering awaits you—you will be killed by the sword. He who desires to prolong his earthly life, let him flee, but he who thirsts to purify his soul for eternity, let him perish by the sword, and the Lord God will adorn him with the crown of immortality. Tell this to all who dwell in the monastery, and let each man choose for himself!”

The abbot informed the monks about his vision, and they began to prepare for their imminent sufferings. Only two young monks feared death and fled to a mountain not far from the monastery. At the chanting of the Lord’s Prayer near the end of the Paschal Liturgy, the monastery was completely surrounded by Persian warriors. Abbot Arsenius stepped out of the church and approached their leader to request that the monks be given a bit more time to finish the service and for all the brothers to receive Holy Communion.

The Persians consulted among themselves and agreed to honor this request. The fathers partook of the Holy Gifts, encouraged one another, and presented themselves clad in festive garments before the unbelievers. First the Persians beheaded Abbot Arsenius; then they massacred his brothers in Christ without mercy.

After the Persians finished killing the monks, they were organized into several regiments and made their way towards the other monasteries of the Gareji Wilderness. Halfway between the Chichkhituri and St. John the Baptist Monasteries the Muslims captured the two young monks who had earlier fled and demanded that they convert to Islam.

The monks refused to abandon the Christian Faith and for this they were killed. A rose bush grew up in the place where they were killed and continued to fragrantly blossom through the 19th century, despite the dry and rocky soil.

At the end of the 17th century, King Archil gathered the bones of the martyrs with great reverence and buried them in a large stone reliquary to the left of the altar in the Transfiguration Church of David-Gareji Monastery. Their holy relics continue to stream myrrh to this day.

The brothers of the Monasteries of St. David of Gareji and St. John the Baptist received a blessing from Catholicos Anton I to compose a commemorative service for the martyrs and to designate their feast day as Bright Tuesday, or the third day of Holy Pascha.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Bright Monday

Commemorated on April 28

On Bright Monday the Church commemorates the Sweet-Kissing (Glykophilousa) Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos.

Like the Iveron Icon (March 31), the Sweet-Kissing Icon was also saved from the iconoclasts by a pious woman in the ninth century. It also traveled miraculously upon the sea, arriving at Mt. Athos, the "Garden of the Theotokos," where it was honored by the monks.

A nobleman named Simeon was an iconoclast who shared the emperor Theophilus's hatred for the holy icons. Simeon's wife Victoria, on the other hand, venerated icons, especially a certain icon of the Mother of God before which she prayed each day. Simeon could not tolerate his wife's piety, so he demanded that she give him the icon so he could burn it. Victoria threw the icon into the sea, hoping that it would be preserved through God's providence.

Years later, the icon appeared on the shores of Mt. Athos near the monastery of Philotheou. The igumen and the brethren of the monastery retrieved the icon and placed it in the church, where it worked many miracles.

In 1830 a pilgrim came to the monastery from Adrianopolis. He listened to the history of the icon and the miracles associated with it, but regarded such things as childish fables. The monk who had related all this was surprised and grieved by the pilgrim's disbelief, fearing that such doubts indicated an unhealthy spiritual state. He did all that he could to remove the pilgrim's skepticism, but the man stubbornly adhered to his opinion.

The Mother of God, in her compassion, finally healed the pilgrim's soul in a rather dramatic way. On the very day that he had his discussion with the monk, the pilgrim was walking on an upper balcony. Suddenly, he lost his footing and began to fall. In his distress he called out, "Most Holy Theotokos, help me!" The Mother of God heard him, and he landed on the ground completely unharmed.

The icon is one of the Eleusa (Tenderness) type. It is unusual in that it shows the Virgin kissing her Child. Christ raises His hand as if to repulse His mother's caress.

Other Sweet-Kissing (Tenderness) icons are: Lubyatov (March 19)

Novgorod (July 28)

Pskov (May 21, June 23, August 26, October 7)

Smolensk (March 19)

Sviatogorsk (July 17)

Yaroslavl (May 14)


Sunday, April 27, 2008

HOLY PASCHA The Resurrection of Our Lord

Commemorated on April 27

Pascha (Easter)

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith; receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. (Sermon of St John Chrysostom, read at Paschal Matins)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the center of the Christian faith. St Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our preaching and faith are in vain (I Cor. 15:14). Indeed, without the resurrection there would be no Christian preaching or faith. The disciples of Christ would have remained the broken and hopeless band which the Gospel of John describes as being in hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. They went nowhere and preached nothing until they met the risen Christ, the doors being shut (John 20: 19). Then they touched the wounds of the nails and the spear; they ate and drank with Him. The resurrection became the basis of everything they said and did (Acts 2-4): ". . . for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39).

The resurrection reveals Jesus of Nazareth as not only the expected Messiah of Israel, but as the King and Lord of a new Jerusalem: a new heaven and a new earth.

Then I asw a new heaven and a new earth. . . the holy city, new Jerusalem. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people. . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:1-4).

In His death and resurrection, Christ defeats the last enemy, death, and thereby fulfills the mandate of His Father to subject all things under His feet (I Cor. 15:24-26).

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Rev. 5: 12)


The Christian faith is celebrated in the liturgy of the Church. True celebration is always a living participation. It is not a mere attendance at services. It is communion in the power of the event being celebrated. It is God's free gift of joy given to spiritual men as a reward for their self-denial. It is the fulfillment of spiritual and physical effort and preparation. The resurrection of Christ, being the center of the Christian faith, is the basis of the Church's liturgical life and the true model for all celebration. This is the chosen and holy day, first of sabbaths, king and lord of days, the feast of feasts, holy day of holy days. On this day we bless Christ forevermore (Irmos 8, Paschal Canon).


Twelve weeks of preparation precede the "feast of feasts." A long journey which includes five prelenten Sundays, six weeks of Great Lent and finally Holy Week is made. The journey moves from the self-willed exile of the prodigal son to the grace-filled entrance into the new Jerusalem, coming down as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2) Repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and study are the means by which this long journey is made.

Focusing on the veneration of the Cross at its midpoint, the lenten voyage itself reveals that the joy of the resurrection is achieved only through the Cross. "Through the cross joy has come into all the world," we sing in one paschal hymn. And in the paschal troparion, we repeat again and again that Christ has trampled down death - by death! St Paul writes that the name of Jesus is exalted above every name because He first emptied Himself, taking on the lowly form of a servant and being obedient even to death on the Cross (Phil. 2:5-11). The road to the celebration of the resurrection is the self-emptying crucifixion of Lent. Pascha is the passover from death to life.

Yesterday I was buried with Thee, 0 Christ. Today I arise with Thee in Thy resurrection. Yesterday I was crucified with Thee: Glorify me with Thee, 0 Savior, in Thy kingdom (Ode 3, Paschal Canon).


The divine services of the night of Pascha commence near midnight of Holy Saturday. At the Ninth Ode of the Canon of Nocturn, the priest, already vested in his brightest robes, removes the Holy Shroud from the tomb and carries it to the altar table, where it remains until the leave-taking of Pascha. The faithful stand in darkness. Then, one by one, they light their candles from the candle held by the priest and form a great procession out of the church. Choir, servers, priest and people, led by the bearers of the cross, banners, icons and Gospel book, circle the church. The bells are rung incessantly and the angelic hymn of the resurrection is chanted.

The procession comes to a stop before the principal doors of the church. Before the closed doors the priest and the people sing the troparion of Pascha, "Christ is risen from the dead. . .", many tImes. Even before entenng the church the priest and people exchange the paschal greeting: "Christ is nsen! Indeed He is risen!" This segment of the paschal services is extremely important. It preserves in the expenence of the Church the primitive accounts of the resurrection of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. The angel rolled away the stone from the tomb not to let a biologically revived but physically entrapped Christ walk out, but to reveal that "He is not here; for He has risen, as He said" (Matt. 28:6).

In the paschal canon we sing:

Thou didst arise, 0 Christ, and yet the tomb remained sealed, as at Thy birth the Virgin's womb remained unharmed; and Thou has opened for us the gates of paradise (Ode 6).

Finally, the procession of light and song in the darkness of night, and the thunderous proclamation that, indeed, Christ is risen, fulfill the words of the Evangelist John: "The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

The doors are opened and the faithful re-enter. The church is bathed in light and adorned with flowers. It is the heavenly bride and the symbol of the empty tomb:

Bearing life and more fruitful than paradise Brighter than any royal chamber, Thy tomb, 0 Christ, is the fountain or our resurrection (Paschal Hours).


Matins commences immediately. The risen Christ is glorified in the singing of the beautiful canon of St John of Damascus. The paschal greeting is repeatedly exchanged. Near the end of Matins the paschal verses are sung. They relate the entire narrative of the Lord's resurrection. They conclude with the words calling us to actualize among each other the forgiveness freely given to all by God:

This is the day of resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast. Let us embrace each other. Let us call "brothers" even those who hate us, And forgive all by the resurrection. . .

The sermon of St John Chrysostom is then read by the celebrant. The sermon was originally composed as a baptismal instruction. It is retained by the Church in the paschal services because everything about the night of Pascha recalls the Sacrament of Baptism: the language and general terminology of the liturgical texts, the specific hymns, the vestment color, the use of candles and the great procession itself. Now the sermon invites us to a great reaffirmation of our baptism: to union with Christ in the receiving of Holy Communion.

If any man is devout and loves God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. . . the table is fully laden; feast you all sumptuously. . . the calf is fatted, let no one go hungry away. . .


The sermon announces the imminent beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The altar table is fully laden with the divine food: the Body and Blood of the risen and glorified Christ. No one is to go away hungry. The service books are very specific in saying that only he who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ eats the true Pascha. The Divine Liturgy, therefore, normally follows immediately after paschal Matins. Foods from which the faithful have been asked to abstain during the lenten journey are blessed and eaten only after the Divine Liturgy.


Pascha is the inauguration of a new age. It reveals the mystery of the eighth day. It is our taste, in this age, of the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God. Something of this new and unending day is conveyed to us in the length of the paschal services, in the repetition of the paschal order for all the services of Bright Week, and in the special paschal features retained in the services for the forty days until Ascension. Forty days are, as it were, treated as one day. Together they comprise the symbol of the new time in which the Church lives and toward which she ever draws the faithful, from one degree of glory to another.

0 Christ, great and most holy Pascha. 0 Wisdom, Word and Power of God, grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending day of Thy kingdom (Ninth Ode, Paschal Canon).

The V. Rev. Paul Lazor New York, 1977



Description of the Miracle of Holy Light (Holy Fire) that happens every year in Jerusalem

Holy fire will appear this year on April 26

Where and when does the miracle occur?

The ceremony, which awes the souls of Christians, takes place in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The date for Pascha is determined anew for every year. It must be a first Sunday after the spring equinox and Jewish Passover. Therefore, most of the time it differs from the date of Catholic and Protestant Easter, which is determined using different criteria. The Holy Fire is the most renowned miracle in the world of Eastern Orthodoxy. IIt has taken place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every single year for centuries. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and so steadily over time. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and so steadily over time. It happens in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth[2], where Christ was crucified, entombed, and where He finally rose from the dead.

Ceremony of Holy Light

In order to be as close to the Sepulchre as possible, pilgrims camp next to it. The Sepulchre is located in the small chapel called Holy Ciborium, which is inside the Church of the Resurrection. Typically they wait from the afternoon of Holy Friday in anticipation of the miracle on Holy Saturday. Beginning at around 11:00 in the morning the Christian Arabs chant traditional hymns in a loud voice. These chants date back to the Turkish occupation of Jerusalem in the 13th century, a period in which the Christians were not allowed to chant anywhere but in the churches. "We are the Christians, we have been Christians for centuries, and we shall be forever and ever. Amen!" - they chant at the top of their voices accompanied by the sound of drums. The drummers sit on the shoulders of others who dance vigorously around the Holy Ciborium. But at 1:00 pm the chants fade out, and then there is a silence. A tense silence, charged from the anticipation of the great demonstration of God's power for all to witness.

Shortly thereafter, a delegation from the local authorities elbows its way through the crowd. At the time of the Turkish occupation of Palestine they were Muslim Turks; today they are Israelis. Their function is to represent the Romans at the time of Jesus. The Gospels speak of the Romans that went to seal the tomb of Jesus, so that his disciples would not steal his body and claim he had risen. In the same way the Israeli authorities on this Holy Saturday come and seal the tomb with wax. Before they seal the door, they follow a custom to enter the tomb, and to check for any hidden source of fire, which would make a fraud of the miracle.[1,2]

How the miracle occurs

"I enter the tomb and kneel in holy fear in front of the place where Christ lay after His death and where He rose again from the dead... (narrates Orthodox Patriarch Diodor - ed.). I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees. Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake — it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn — I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp... At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church."

While the patriarch is inside the chapel kneeling in front of the stone, there is darkness but far from silence outside. One hears a rather loud mumbling, and the atmosphere is very tense. When the Patriarch comes out with the two candles lit and shining brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilee resounds in the Church.[2]
The Holy Light is not only distributed by the Archbishop, but operates also by itself. It is emitted from the Holy Sepulchre with a hue completely different from that of natural light. It sparkles, it flashes like lightning, it flies like a dove around the tabernacle of the Holy Sepulchre, and lights up the unlit lamps of olive oil hanging in front of it. It whirls from one side of the church to the other. It enters some of the chapels inside the church, as for instance the chapel of the Calvery (at a higher level than the Holy Sepulchre) and lights up the little lamps. It lights up also the candles of certain pilgrims. In fact there are some very pious pilgrims who, every time they attended this ceremony, noticed that their candles lit up on their own accord! his divine light also presents some peculiarities: As soon as it appears it has a bluish hue and does not burn. At the first moments of its appearance, if it touches the face, or the mouth, or the hands, it does not burn. This is proof of its divine and supernatural origin. We must also take into consideration that the Holy Light appears only by the invocation of an Orthodox Archbishop.[1]

The miracle is not confined to what actually happens inside the little tomb, where the Patriarch prays. What may be even more significant, is that the blue light is reported to appear and be active outside the tomb. Every year many believers claim that this miraculous light ignites candles, which they hold in their hands, of its own initiative. All in the church wait with candles in the hope that they may ignite spontaneously. OOften unlit oil lamps catch light by themselves before the eyes of the pilgrims. The blue flame is seen to move in different places in the Church. A number of signed testimonies by pilgrims, whose candles lit spontaneously, attest to the validity of these ignitions. The person who experiences the miracle from close up by having the fire on the candle or seeing the blue light usually leaves Jerusalem changed, and for everyone having attended the ceremony, there is always a "before and after" the miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem.

How old is the wonder?

The first writtenaccount of the Holy Fire (Holy Light) dates from the fourth century, but authors write about events that occurred in the first century. So Ss. John Damascene and Gregory of Nissa narrate how the Apostle Peter saw the Holy Light in the Holy Sepulchre after Christ's resurrection. "One can trace the miracle throughout the centuries in the many itineraries of the Holy Land." The Russian abbot Daniel, in his itinerary written in the years 1106-07, presents the "Miracle of the Holy Light" and the ceremonies that frame it in a very detailed manner. He recalls how the Patriarch goes into the Sepulchre-chapel (the Anastasis) with two candles. The Patriarch kneels in front of the stone on which Christ was laid after his death and says certain prayers, at which point the miracle occurs. Light proceeds from the core of the stone - a blue, indefinable light which after some time kindles unlit oil lamps as well as the Patriarch's two candles. This light is "The Holy Fire", and it spreads to all people present in the Church. The ceremony surrounding "The Miracle of the Holy Fire" may be the oldest unbroken Christian ceremony in the world. From the fourth century A.D. all the way up to our own time, sources recall this awe-inspiring event. From these sources it becomes clear that the miracle has been celebrated on the same spot, on the same feast day, and in the same liturgical frame throughout all these centuries.[2]
Every time heterodox have tried to obtain the Holy Fire they have failed. Three such attempts are known. Two occured in the twelfth century when priests of the Roman church tried to force out the Orthodox church but by their own confession these ended with God's punishment. [3,4] But the most miraculous event occured in the year 1579, the year when God clearly testified to whom alone may be given His miracle.

"Once the Armenians (monophysites - ed.) paid the Turks, who then occupied the Holy Land, in order to obtain permission for their Patriarch to enter the Holy Sepulchre, the Orthodox Patriarch was standing sorrowfully with his flock at the exit of the church, near the left column, when the Holy Light split this column vertically and flashed near the Orthodox Patriarch.

A Muslim Muezzin, called Tounom, who saw the miraculous event from an adjacent mosque, immediately abandoned the Muslim religion and became an Orthodox Christian. This event took place in 1579 under Sultan Mourad IV, when the Patriarch of Jerusalem was Sophrony IV.(The above mentioned split column still exists. It dates from the twelfth century. The Orthodox pilgrims embrace it at the "place of the split" as they enter the church).[2, date and name are corrected]

Turkish warriors stood on the wall of a building close to the gate and lightning-struck column . When he saw this striking miracle he cried that Christ is truly God and leaped down from a height of about ten meters. But he was not killed-the stones under him became as soft as wax and his footprint was left upon them. The Turks tried to scrape away these prints but they could not destroy them; so they remain as witnesses [5].

He was burned by the Turks near the Church. His remains, gathered by the Greeks, lay in the monastery of Panagia until the 19th century shedding chrism.

Muslims, who deny the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, tried to put obstacles in the way of the miracle. Well known Muslim historian Al Biruni wrote: "… a (note: Muslim) governor brought a copper wire instead of a wick (note: for the self lighting oil lamps), in order that it wouldn't ignite and the whole thing would fail to occur. But as the fire descended, the copper burned."[6]

This was not the only attempt. The report written by the English chronicler, Gautier Vinisauf, describes what happened in the year 1192.

"In 1187, the Saracens under the direction of Sultan Salah ad-Din took Jerusalem. In that year, the Sultan desired to be present at the celebration, even though he was not a Christian. Gautier Vinisauf tells us what happened: "On his arrival, the celestial fire descended suddenly, and the assistants were deeply moved...the Saracens... said that the fire which they had seen to come down was produced by fraudulent means. Salah ad-Din, wishing to expose the imposter, caused the lamp, which the fire from Heaven had lighted, to be extinguished, but the lamp relit immediately. He caused it to be extinguished a second time and a third time, but it relit as of itself. Thereupon, the Sultan, confounded, cried out in prophetic transport: 'Yes, soon shall I die, or I shall lose Jerusalem.'"[7]

A miracle that is unknown in the West

One can ask the question of why the miracle of the Holy Fire is almost unknown in Western Europe. In Protestant areas it may, to a certain extent, be explained by the fact that there is no real tradition of miracles; people don't really know in which box to place the miracles, and they rarely feature in newspapers. But in the Catholic tradition there is vast interest in miracles. Thus, why is it not more well known? For this only one explanation suffices: Church politics. Only the Orthodox Churches attend the ceremony which is centered on the miracle. It only occurs on the Orthodox date of Easter and without the presence of any Catholic authorities.[2]
The question of the authenticity of the miracle

As with any other miracle there are people who believe it is a fraud and nothing but a masterpiece of Orthodox propaganda. They believe the Patriarch has a lighter inside of the tomb. These critics, however, are confronted with a number of problems. Matches and other means of ignition are recent inventions. Only a few hundred years ago lighting a fire was an undertaking that lasted much longer than the few minutes during which the Patriarch is inside the tomb. One then could perhaps say, he had an oil lamp burning inside, from which he kindled the candles, but the local authorities confirmed that they had checked the tomb and found no light inside it.

The best arguments against a fraud, however, are not the testimonies of the shifting Patriarchs. The biggest challenges confronting the critics are the thousands of independent testimonies by pilgrims whose candles were lit spontaneously in front of their eyes without any possible explanation. According to our investigations, it has never been possible to film any of the candles or oil lamps igniting by themselves. However, I am in the possession of a video filmed by a young engineer from Bethlehem, Souhel Nabdiel. Mr. Nabdiel has been present at the ceremony of the Holy Fire since his early childhood. In 1996 he was asked to film the ceremony from the balcony of the dome of the Church. Present with him on the balcony were a nun and four other believers. The nun stood at the right hand of Nabdiel. On the video one can see how he films down on the crowds. At a certain point all lights are turned off - it is time for the Patriarch to enter the tomb and receive the Holy Fire. While he is still inside the tomb one suddenly hears a scream of surprise and wonder originating from the nun standing next to Nabdiel. The camera begins to shake, as one hears the excited voices of the other people present on the balcony. The camera now turns to the right, whereby it is possible to contemplate the cause of the commotion. A big candle, held in the hand of the Russian nun, takes fire in front of all the people present before the patriarch comes out of the tomb. She holds the candle with shaking hands while making the sign of the Cross over and over again in awe of the miracle she has witnessed. This video appears to be the closest one gets to an actual filming of the miracle.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Great and Holy Saturday

Commemorated on April 26

Great and Holy Saturday is the day on which Christ reposed in the tomb. The Church calls this day the Blessed Sabbath. "The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day when he said: God blessed the second day. This is the blessed Sabbath.

This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works…."

Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)

By using this title the Church links Holy Saturday with the creative act of God. In the initial account of creation as found in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His own image and likeness. To be truly himself, man was to live in constant communion with the source and dynamic power of that image: God. Man fell from God. Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.


Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day - Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another - Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.

In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death that Christ continues to effect triumph.


We sing that Christ is "...trampling down death by death" in the troparion of Easter. This phrase gives great meaning to Holy Saturday. Christ's repose in the tomb is an "active" repose. He comes in search of His fallen friend, Adam, who represents all men. Not finding him on earth, he descends to the realm of death, known as Hades in the Old Testament. There He finds him and brings him life once again. This is the victory: the dead are given life. The tomb is no longer a forsaken, lifeless place. By His death Christ tramples down death by death.


The traditional icon used by the Church on the feast of Easter is an icon of Holy Saturday: the descent of Christ into Hades. It is a painting of theology, for no one has ever seen this event. It depicts Christ, radiant in hues of white and blue, standing on the shattered gates of Hades. With arms outstretched He is joining hands with Adam and all the other Old Testament righteous whom He has found there. He leads them from the kingdom of death. By His death He tramples death.

"Today Hades cries out groaning:

I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.

He came and destroyed my power.

He shattered the gates of brass.

As God, He raised the souls I had held captive.

Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord!"

(Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday)


The Vespers of Holy Saturday inaugurates the Paschal celebration, for the liturgical cycle of the day always begins in the evening. In the past, this service constituted the first part of the great Paschal vigil during which the catechumens were baptized in the "baptisterion" and led in procession back into the church for participation in their first Divine Liturgy, the Paschal Eucharist. Later, with the number of catechumens increasing, the first baptismal part of the Paschal celebration was disconnected from the liturgy of the Paschal night and formed our pre-paschal service: Vespers and the Liturgy of St Basil the Great which follows it. It still keeps the marks of the early celebration of Pascha as baptismal feast and that of Baptism as Paschal sacrament (death and resurrection with Jesus Christ - Romans 6).

On "Lord I Call" the Saturday Resurrectional stichiras of Tone 1 are sung, followed by the the special stichiras of Holy Saturday, which stress the death of Christ as descent into Hades, the region of death, for its destruction. But the pivotal point of the service occurs after the Entrance, when fifteen lessons from the Old Testament are read, all centered on the promise of the Resurrection, all glorifying the ultimate Victory of God, prophesied in the victorious Song of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea ("Let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously has He been glorified"), the salvation of Jonah, and that of the three youths in the furnace.

Then the epistle is read, the same epistle that is still read at Baptism (Romans 6:3-11), in which Christ's death and resurrection become the source of the death in us of the "old man," the resurrection of the new, whose life is in the Risen Lord. During the special verses sung after the epistle, "Arise, O God, and judge the earth," the dark lenten vestments are put aside and the clergy vest in the bright white ones, so that when the celebrant appears with the Gospel the light of Resurrection is truly made visible in us, the "Rejoice" with which the Risen Christ greeted the women at the grave is experienced as being directed at us.

The Liturgy of St Basil continues in this white and joyful light, revealing the Tomb of Christ as the Life-giving Tomb, introducing us into the ultimate reality of Christ's Resurrection, communicating His life to us, the children of fallen Adam.

One can and must say that of all services of the Church that are inspiring, meaningful, revealing, this one: the Vespers and Liturgy of St Basil the Great and Holy Saturday is truly the liturgical climax of the Church. If one opens one's heart and mind to it and accepts its meaning and its light, the very truth of Orthodoxy is given by it, the taste and the joy of that new life which shines forth from the grave.

Rev. Alexander Schmemann

Troparion - Tone 2
When You did descend to death, O Life Immortal,You did slay hell with the splendor of Your Godhead,And when from the depths You did raise the dead,All the Powers of Heaven cried out,O Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory to You!

Kontakion - Tone 6
He who shut in the depths is beheld dead,Wrapped in fine linen and spices.The Immortal One is laid in a tomb as a mortal man.The women have come to anoint Him with myrrh,Weeping bitterly and crying:"This is the most blessed SabbathOn which Christ has fallen asleep to rise on the third day!"


AP interview: Greek Orthodox patriarch says church recovering from moral crisis

2008-04-25 17:22:17 -

JERUSALEM (AP) - The Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land is trying to recover from a moral and financial crisis, its top clergyman, Patriarch Theofilos III, told The Associated Press in a rare interview.

In recent years, the church has been shaken by secretive real estate deals with Israelis, by Palestinian laymen angry about domination by Greek priests, and by a vicious power struggle that resulted in the rare removal of an incumbent patriarch, Theofilos' predecessor.Installed in 2005, Theofilos faces multiple challenges.His congregation is shrinking. He is struggling to maintain a delicate balance between the church, its Arab congregants and the Israeli government. And he says he is trying to bring fiscal transparency to an institution that is the second largest landowner in the Holy Land, yet chronically in debt.«I say that our position is the position of an acrobat,» he said of his church.It took the patriarch until December to win the required recognition from the three governments in the Holy Land _ Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. For the first time in three years, he is leading Easter Week rites unchallenged.Still, this year's Holy Week _ the Eastern rite churches are marking it now _ was overshadowed again by squabbling. Several days ago, on Palm Sunday, Armenian and Greek Orthodox worshippers exchanged blows during a dispute over rights of worship at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site where tradition says Jesus was buried and resurrected.

Renewed tensions are expected during Saturday's holy fire ceremony at the Holy Sepulcher.

Speaking in his office in Jerusalem's walled Old City this week, Theofilos said the Palm Sunday dispute was the result of a misunderstanding and that he hoped it could be resolved through dialogue.

«We don't want to have more problems like this because they damage and destroy the image and the spirit of such events that are really very unique,» said the 56-year-old patriarch.

Before the interview, the black-robed slight patriarch greeted Greek pilgrims and handed out pictures of Jesus, while leaning on his sculpted staff.Still, Theofilos insisted that his church has a special role as one of the oldest denominations in the Holy Land _ an argument that has riled other Christian groups competing for a share of the holy sites.

«The patriarchate considers itself the host, and not the guest» in the Holy Land, said the Greek-born clergyman who grew up in Jerusalem said.

Theofilos acknowledged that recent years have been difficult for his church.«The crisis that the patriarchate passed through, it was both moral, which was the most important, and of course financial,» he said. «There is no doubt about it. Now we are gradually recovering because order has been restored.

The patriarch's predecessor, Irineos I, was ousted in May 2005 amid allegations that he leased two church-owned hotels in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem to groups trying to expand a Jewish presence there.

Irineos has denied the allegations, but the leases enraged the church's predominantly Palestinian flock. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Theofilos has said he considers the leases invalid because they were never presented to the church's leadership group, or synod, for approval. The dispute has since moved to an Israeli court.

The patriarch said he would honor legitimate transactions with the state of Israel, such as the long-term lease of land on which Israel's parliament was later built.

However, all future transactions would be closely studied by the church leadership, he said. «We are not going to accept anymore the patriarchate to be treated as a real estate agency,» he said.

Theofilos said the synod is now reviewing all business transactions.Acknowledging that the church was plagued in the past by corruption and mismanagement, he said that now «there is transparency concerning the administration and finances.

Israel only recognized Theofilos in December, more than two years after he was installed by his flock. During the period of limbo, Irineos refused to step down or leave his official residence. He has since been demoted to monk.

Israel's long delay in ratifying his appointment was a «grave mistake,» Theofilos said.Yet Theofilos is not a rebel _ his church depends on a delicate balancing act in dealing with the three governments in the Holy Land. «The patriarchate ... emerges as a state within a state, as an entity, a very powerful entity, spiritual entity but it is an entity which lives on the ground and not in the clouds,» he said.

He has also addressed complaints by Palestinian Christians that they are being kept out of positions of authority in the church. He has appointed an Arab clergyman as his spokesman, promoted another to archbishop, and appointed a third to the 18-member synod.

Palestinian Christians say Theofilos has helped restore the church's tainted image.«People (once) were embarrassed to say they were Orthodox,» said Dimitri Diliani who had been among those pushing to remove the previous patriarch. «He (Theofilos) managed to go through a thorny road with nobody mad at him by adhering to being a head of a church.


Orthodox churches observe Pascha

Published:Saturday, April 26, 2008

By Linda M. Linonis

There are some 30-35 hours of services marking Orthodox Holy Week.

BOARDMAN — Tonight at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church, the sanctuary will go dark and the Rev. Thomas Constantine will appear with a single lighted candle. From that candle, others held by those attending the late-night services will be lighted.

“It signifies the light of Christ illuminating the world,” Father Constantine said. “The effect is incredible,” he said, of the a single light slowly growing to many. “We’re glorifying Christ, who is risen from the dead.”

St. John’s will have the Resurrection Orthos service at 10:45 p.m. and Resurrection liturgy at midnight. Other Orthodox churches in the Mahoning Valley also will have similar services.

For the Orthodox Church, Pascha (Easter in the Western Church) is Sunday. Great Lent began March 10 and Holy Week started last weekend, Lazarus Saturday. Some 30-35 hours of services are prepared.

Why is the Orthodox Pascha now? “It’s the first Sunday after the spring equinox. And it follows Passover,” Father Constantine said of the date. The eight-day Jewish observance of Passover started at sundown last Saturday. Sometimes Eastern and Western observances coincide, Father Constantine said.

Last weekend, Lazarus Saturday was observed. “It marks a miraculous event,” Father Constantine said of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. He had been in the tomb four days. The time frame is significant because stories relay that people, who had been thought to be dead, had been entombed for three days then “awakened” (possibly a coma or some other medical condition that gave the appearance of death).

“Christ purposely waited for the fourth day and called Lazarus out. It was a miracle,” Father Constantine said.

Palm Sunday comes next and Orthodox Holy Week. “It’s now we experience the Passion of Christ,” Father Constantine. Technically, there should be matins (morning services) but because of work and school considerations, many churches have evening services so more people are able to attend.

Bridegroom services took place Monday through Wednesday. “Christ is the bridegroom and we are the bride,” Father Constantine said of the symbolism. In Scripture, Christ refers to himself as the bridegroom and the church, often termed “she,” as the bride.

Monday featured the parable of the 10 virgins, five foolish and five wise. “If we’re not wise, we will miss out on Christ,” Father Constantine said. Tuesday involved the story of a sinful woman who anoints Christ’s feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. “It’s about repentance and humility,” he said.

Wednesday centers on the Holy Unction service. “The theme is healing and miracles. There is anointing with consecrated oil for healing of the soul and body,” Father Constantine said.

Holy Thursday was highlighted by the Divine Liturgy of the Last Supper. “The entire Passion of Christ, all four Gospels, are read,” Father Constantine said, noting this service is longer but beautiful. “We process with the cross around the inside of the church,” he said.

“This is an emotional service,” Father Constantine said, noting that Scripture conveys that Pontius Pilate was troubled by the crowd’s desire to crucify an innocent man. “You feel the letdown,” Father Constantine said, when Pilate relents to the crowd’s cries.

In the Greek, it’s Holy Great Friday, Father Constantine said. “We re-enact what happened,” he said, referring to the nailing of Christ on the cross.

Unlike the Western Church, which uses statues, the Orthodox Church relies on icons, a pictorial representation. “Icons are two-dimensional not three. We don’t have statues,” he said, noting that the icons focus on spirituality not humanity. And among icons, the Blessed Virgin Mary has high esteem. “She is our mother,” he said.

Friday was a lamentation service, something like a funeral service. “Lamentations are chanted but there is a glimpse of hope,” Father Constantine said, in that the priest wears a gold vestment to symbolize hope. There was a procession outside before the icon of Christ, covered with a decorated shroud, was placed in a flower-decorated carved wooden tomb.

Today’s services will project a completely different mood. “It’s a joyful liturgy and anticipation of the Resurrection,” Father Constantine said. “The emphasis is on Resurrection and not Christ’s suffering.”

The midnight service will take the congregation into “the beginning of a new day” and the celebration of Pascha.

After the service, the congregation has a meal. Egg Lemon Soup is featured at St. John’s along with lamb. “We’ve been fasting for 40 days with no meat, dairy or fish,” he said.

At 11 a.m. Sunday, there will be Agape vespers. The Gospels are read in many languages, signifying how Christ’s word spread around the world. Bright Week follows, with the emphasis on the Resurrection.


Orthodox Christians to celebrate Easter event

About 1,000 Midlands-area residents to break fast, honor Pascha


Eastern Orthodox Christians will gather tonight in solemn candlelit processionals as they prepare for the celebration of Pascha, the Easter celebration that is the culmination of the liturgical year.

Orthodox Christians — who number about 1,000 congregants in four Midlands congregations — base their holy calendar on the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar.

At midnight, they will break a 40-day Lenten fast from meat and dairy products, and prepare for Easter Sunday and the glorious celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

“That anticipation of celebration, of breaking the fast is dramatic,” said the Rev. Gregory Rogers, pastor of St. Barnabas Orthodox Church in Lexington, an Antiochian congregation.

The congregation plans to gather at 10:30 p.m. for the procession around the church.

“We light candles and go around the church three times representing the three days that Christ was in the tomb,” he said.

On the third circuit, Rogers said, he will knock at the church door and seek entry, saying this passage from Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in!”

Then somebody inside the church will reply: “Who is the king of glory?”

Then Rogers said he will answer: “The lord of hosts. He is the king of glory!”

The divine liturgy will be repeated at other Midlands orthodox congregations, including Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Church in West Columbia, and St. Elizabeth the New Martyr Russian Orthodox Church in Cayce.

Red eggs, representing the blood of Christ and the rebirth, serve as rich symbols of Orthodox Easter and the Paschal celebration.

They will be handed out at midnight and some congregants will also share Easter baskets.

“The spiritual aspect gets focused on a little more instead of the Easter Bunny,” said Lillian Mackay, a member of St. Barnabas. “People will bring their baskets and have them blessed.”

Although her sons are grown, she recalled filling baskets for them with foods that had been off-limits during Lent.

Services Sunday will culminate a series of Holy Week services. Then, Orthodox Christians will begin the seven-day celebration of Bright Week, when they revel in the joyfulness of the resurrection of Christ.

Reach Click at (803) 771-8386.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Great and Holy Friday

Commemorated on April 25

Great and Holy Friday

On Great and Holy Friday, Christ died on the Cross. He gave up His spirit with the words: "It is finished" (John 19:30). These words are better understood when rendered: "It is consummated." He had accomplished the work for which His heavenly Father had sent Him into the world. He became a man in the fullest sense of the word. He accepted the baptism of repentance from John in the Jordan River. He assumed the whole human condition, experiencing all its alienation, agony, and suffering, concluding with the lowly death on the Cross. He perfectly fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

"Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12)

The Man of Sorrows

On the Cross Jesus thus became "the man of sorrows; acquainted with grief' whom the prophet Isaiah had foretold. He was "despised and forsaken by men" and "smitten by God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:3-4). He became the one with "no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). His appearance was "marred beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men" (Isaiah 52:14). All these Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus as he hung from the Cross.

As the end approached, He cried: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). This cry indicated His complete identification with the human condition. He had totally embraced the despised, forsaken and smitten condition of suffering and death - alienation from God. He was truly the man of sorrows.

Yet, it is important to note that Jesus' cry of anguish from the Cross was not a sign of His loss of faith in His Father. The words which He exclaimed are the first verse of Psalm 22, a messianic Psalm. The first part of the Psalm foretells the anguish, suffering and death of the Messiah. The second part is a song of praise to God. It predicts the final victory of the Messiah.

The Formal Charges

The death of Christ had been sought by the religious leaders in Jerusalem from the earliest days of His public ministry. The formal charges made against Him usually fell into the following two categories:

1) violation of the Law of the Old Testament, e.g., breaking the Sabbath rest; 2) blasphemy: making Himself equal with God.

Matters were hastened (consummated) by the moment of truth which followed His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He had the people behind Him. He spoke plainly. He said that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. He chastised the scribes and Pharisees for reducing religion to a purely external affair;

"You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:27-28).

It was the second formal charge; however, that became the basis for His conviction.

The Religious Trial

Christ's conviction and death sentence required two trials: religious and political. The religious trial was first and took place during the night immediately after His arrest. After considerable difficulty in finding witnesses for the prosecution who actually agreed in their testimony, Caiaphas, the high priest, asked Jesus the essential question: "Are you Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus, who had remained silent to this point, now responded directly:

"I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:61-62).

Jesus' reply recalled the many other statements He had made beginning with the words, "I am." "I am the bread of life . . . I am the light of the world. . . I am the way, the truth, and the life. . . before Abraham was, I am." (John 6 through 15). The use of these words themselves was considered blasphemous by the religious leaders. The words were the Name of God. By using them as His own Name, Jesus positively identified Himself with God. From the burning bush the voice of God had disclosed these words to Moses as the Divine Name: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exodus 3:13-14).

Now Jesus, as He had done on many other occasions, used them as His own Name. The high priest immediately tore his mantle and "they all condemned Him as deserving death" (Mark 14:64). In their view He had violated the Law of the Old Testament:

"He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death" (Leviticus 24:16).

The Political Trial

The Jewish religious leaders lacked the actual authority to carry out the above law: to put a man to death. Such authority belonged to the Roman civil administration. Jesus had carefully kept His activity free of political implications. He refused the temptation of Satan to rule the kingdoms of the world by the sword (Luke 4: 1-12). He often charged His disciples and others to tell no one that He was , the Christ, because of the political overtones that this title carried for many (Matthew 16: 13-20). He rebuked Peter, calling him Satan, when the disciple hinted at His swerving from the true nature of His mission (Matthew 16:23). To Pilate, the spineless and indifferent Roman Governor, He said plainly: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Jesus was not a political revolutionary who came to free the people from Roman control and establish a new kingdom based on worldly power.

Nevertheless, the religious leaders, acting in agreement with the masses, devised political charges against Him in order to get their way. They presented Christ to the Romans as a political , leader, the "King of the Jews" in a worldly sense, a threat to Roman rule and a challenge to Caesar. Pilate became fearful of his own position as he heard the charges and saw the seething mobs. Therefore, despite his avowed testimony to Jesus' innocence, he passed formal sentence, "washed his hands" of the matter, and turned Jesus over to be crucified (John 19:16).

Crucifixion - The Triumph of Evil

Before succumbing to this cruel Roman method of executing political criminals, Jesus suffered still other injustices. He was stripped, mocked and beaten. He wore a "kingly" crown of thorns on His head. He carried His own cross. He was finaIly nailed to the cross between two thieves at a place called Golgotha (the place of the skull) outside Jerusalem. An inscription was placed above His head on the Cross to indicate the nature of His crime: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." He yielded up His spirit at about the ninth hour (3 p.m.), after hanging on the Cross for about six hours.

On Holy Friday evil triumphed. "It was night" (John 13:30) when Judas departed from the Last Supper to complete his act of betrayal, and "there was darkness over all the land" (Matthew 27:45) when Jesus was hanging on the Cross. The evil forces of this world had been massed against Christ. Unjust trials convicted Him. A criminal was released to the people instead of Him. Nails and a spear pierced His body. Bitter vinegar was given to Him to quench His thirst. Only one disciple remained faithful to Him. Finally, the tomb of another man became His place of repose after death.

The innocent Jesus was put to death on the basis of both religious and political charges. Both Jews and Gentile Romans participated in His death sentence.

"The rulers of the people have assembled against the Lord and His Christ." (Psalm 2 - the Prokeimenon of the Holy Thursday Vesperal Liturgy)

We, also, in many ways continue to participate in the death sentence given to Christ. The formal charges outlined above do not exhaust the reasons for the crucifixion. Behind the formal charges lay a host of injustices brought, on by hidden and personal motivations. Jesus openly spoke the truth about God and man. He thereby exposed the false character of the righteousness and smug security, both religious and material, claimed by many especially those in high places. The constantly occurring expositions of such smugness in our own day teach us the truly illusory nature of much so-called righteousness and security. In the deepest sense, the death of Christ was brought about by hardened, personal sin - the refusal of people to change themselves in the light of reality, which is Christ.

"He came to His very own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11).

Especially we, the Christian people, are Christ's very own. He continues to come to us in His Church. Each time we attempt to make the Church into something other than the eternal coming of Christ into our midst, each time we refuse to repent for our wrongs; we, too, reject Christ and participate in His death sentence.

The Vespers

The Vespers, celebrated in the Church on Holy Friday afternoon, brings to mind all of the final events of the life of Christ as mentioned above: the trial, the sentence, the scourging and mocking, the crucifixion, the death, the taking down of His body from the Cross, and the burial. As the hymnography indicates, these events remain ever-present in the Church; they constitute the today of its life.

The service is replete with readings from Scripture: three from the Old Testament and two from the New. The first of the Old Testament readings, from Exodus, speaks of Moses beholding the "back" of the glory of God - for no man can see the glory of God face to face and live. The Church uses this reading to emphasize that now, in the crucifixion and death of Christ, God is making the ultimate condescension to reveal His glory to man - from within man himself.

The death of Christ was of a wholly voluntary character. He dies not because of some necessity in His being: as the Son of God He has life in Himself! Yet, He voluntarily gave up His life as the greatest sign of God's love for man, as the ultimate revelation of the Divine glory:

"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

The vesperal hymnography further develops the fact that God reveals His glory to us in this condescending love. The Crucifixion is the heart of such love, for the One being crucified is none other than He through whom all things have been created:

Today the Master of creation stands before Pilate. Today the Creator of all is condemned to die on the cross. . . The Redeemer of the world is slapped on the face. The Maker of all is mocked by His own servants. Glory to Thy condescension, 0 Lover of man! (Verse on "Lord I call", and the Apostikha)

The verses also underscore the cosmic dimensions of the event taking place on the Cross. Just as God who revealed Himself to Moses is not a god, but the God of "heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible," so the death of Jesus is not the culmination of a petty struggle in the domestic life of Palestine. Rather, it is the very center of the epic struggle between God and the Evil One, involving the whole universe:

All creation was changed by fear when it saw Thee hanging on the cross, 0 Christ! The sun was darkened, and the foundations of the earth were shaken. All things suffered with the Creator of all. 0 Lord, who didst willingly endure this for us, glory to Thee! (Verse I on 'Lord, I Call')

The second Reading from the Old Testament (Job 42:12 to the end) manifests Job as a prophetic figure of the Messiah Himself. The plight of Job is followed in the services throughout Holy Week, and is concluded with this reading. Job is the righteous servant who remains faithful to God despite trial, humiliation, and the loss of all his possessions and family. Because of his faithfulness, however, "The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42: 12)

The third of the Old Testamental readings is by far the most substantial (Isaiah 52:13 to 54:1). It is a prototype of the Gospel itself. Read at this moment, it positively identifies Jesus of Nazareth as the Suffering Servant, the Man of Sorrows; the Messiah of Israel.

The Epistle Reading (I Corinthians 1:18 to 2:2) speaks of Jesus crucified, a folly for the world, as the real center of our Faith. The Gospel reading, a lengthy composite taken from Matthew, Luke and John, simply narrates all the events associated with the crucifixion and burial of Christ.

All the readings obviously focus on the theme of hope. As the Lord of Glory, the fulfillment of the righteous Job, and the Messiah Himself, humiliation and death will have no final hold over Jesus. Even the parental mourning of Mary is transformed in the light of this hope:

When she who bore Thee without seed saw Thee suspended upon the Tree, 0 Christ, the Creator and God of all, she cried bitterly: "Where is the beauty of Thy countenance, my Son? I cannot bear to see Thee unjustly crucified. Hasten and arise, that I too may see Thy resurrection from the dead on the third day! (Verse IV on "Lord I call.")

Near the end of the Vespers, the priest vests fully in dark vestments. At the appointed time he lifts the Holy Shroud, a large icon depicting Christ lying in the tomb, from the altar table. Together with selected laymen and servers, a procession is formed and the Holy Shroud is carried to a specially prepared tomb in the center of the church. As the procession moves, fhe troparion is sung:

The Noble Joseph, when he had taken down Thy most pure body from the tree, wrapped it in fine linen and anointed it with spices, and placed it in a new tomb.

At this ultimate solemn moment of Vespers, the theme of hope once again occurs - this time more strongly and clearly than ever. As knees are bent and heads are bowed, and often tears are shed, another troparion is sung which penetrates through this triumph of evil, to the new day which is contained in its very midst:

The Angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said: "Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.

A new Age is dawning. Our salvation is taking place. The One who died is the same One who will rise on the third day, to "trample down death by death," and to free us from corruption.

Therefore, at the conclusion of Holy Friday Vespers, at the end of this long day of darkness, when all things are apparently ended, our eternal hope for salvation springs forth. For Christ is indeed a stranger to corruption:

"As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (I Cor. 15:21-32)

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." (Mark 8:35)

- Father Paul Lazor

Troparion - Tone 2

The Noble Joseph,When he had taken down Your most pure Body from the tree,Wrapped it in fine linen,And anointed it with spices,And placed it in a new tomb.

Troparion - Tone 2

The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said:Myrrh is fitting for the dead,But Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.Kontakion - Tone 8

Come, let us all sing the praises of Him who was crucified for us,For Mary said when she beheld Him upon the tree:Though You do endure the cross, You are my Son and my God!


Masonic Influence in the EU

From the desk of The Brussels Journal on Thu, 2008-04-17 11:11

A quote from a communiqué of the French Federation of Le Droit Humain, one of France’s major anti-Christian [“liberal and adogmatic”] Masonic lodges, 11 April 2008 [English translation here]

The French Federation of Le Droit Humain represented by its president, Michel Payen, met on April 8, 2008 with the president of the European Commission, José-Manuel Barroso, [...] This meeting constitutes a major event regarding the place of Freemasonry in the construction of Europe; this place was underscored not only by the interest and attentiveness that President Barroso showed to the delegation and the time he accorded them, but also by the commitments he made to the values espoused by liberal and adogmatic Freemasonry, its positions and its opinions on subjects of concern. It was the first time that Freemasonry, as such, was able to express itself to such a high level European institution.

The delegation received assurances from President Barroso of his attachment to the spirit of "laïcité" and to the principle of separation of religion from the State. The delegation stressed the importance of the Enlightenment in the history of Europe, a dimension to be taken into account at least equally with its religious roots, and certainly more closely tied to the roots of antiquity.

Finally, a principle of communication between the liberal and adogmatic Masonic Orders and the services of the European Commission, to be used whenever needed, was decided upon. Thus the French Federation of Le Droit Humain will propose, in the near future, a recommendation concerning the principle of emancipation that ought to form the basis of all European education systems, in direct relation to a recognition of the contribution of the Enlightenment to the common culture of the peoples that compose Europe, and in accordance with the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.


Greek Easter time for family

By KARAN MINNIS, Guardian Lifestyles Reporter,

It was last month that other Christian denominations celebrated Easter, but members of the Greek Orthodox faith are in the midst of their Easter and Holy Week. "The Orthodox date for Easter is not chosen in the same manner as other denominations," explains Rev. Fr. Teodor Bita, the priest of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, West Street. "It is based on a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, and according to the decree, Easter must be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox but always after the Hebrew Passover to maintain the biblical sequence of events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection."

Easter, also known as Pascha, is the most sacred and holy time of the Orthodox Church's ecclesiastical year. Like other denominations they also believe that the remembrance of the events of the last week in the life of Jesus Christ has a practical appeal to the heart of the Christian believer.

"We believe that one's beliefs constitute his being. That the more our beliefs are true and firm, the more purposeful meaning life has. Therefore during this time of celebration, the resurrection of Christ in relation to His Crucifixion and mystic supper continues to be present in the mind of the believer as a fact, as well as the source of the power from above for which the believer prays. We also believe the assurance of a personal participation in the enactment of the same events in the life of Christ becomes an unfaded happiness for the Christian," he said.

Like other denominations, before Easter this church also celebrates the "Great Lent" when they prepare themselves to praise and glorify God as Lord and Savior.

"It is like a workshop where the character of the faithful is spiritually uplifted and strengthened. Where life is rededicated to the principles and ideals of the Gospel. Where the faith culminates in deep conviction of life; where apathy and disinterest turn into vigorous activities of faith and good works."

He said during Lent, the individual believer prepares himself to reach for, accept and attain the calling of his Savior. The deep intent of the believer during the Great Lent is forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

"During the entire Lent the faithful try to practice and live the ideals and standards of this period in the light of Easter," he said. "This is why the Hymnology of the entire period of Lent, especially during Holy Week, refers to the Resurrection of Christ as the center of the Christian Faith.

"Each day of Holy Week is dedicated to the events and teachings of Christ during His last week on earth. The faithful who participate in the services of this week are more conscious of their duties to themselves and to their neighbors through fasting, praying, giving alms, forgiving the trespasses of others. In other words, participating, day by day, in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ. Holy Week will end with the Holy Sunday of Easter, where the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be celebrated."


* Find a Greek, Eastern or Orthodox Christian church near you and attend services during Holy Week, during which special ceremonies are performed to symbolize Christ's journey to the cross, his death and his ultimate resurrection.

* Invite your friends and family to join your Greek Easter celebration and start planning your menu accordingly. Traditionally, lamb is the main dish, eaten to symbolize the biblical sacrificial lamb.

* Serve appropriate accoutrements. Common side dishes may include Greek salad with feta cheese, roasted peppers and tomatoes with feta cheese, Greek Easter egg bread, margeiritsa soup, and wine, to name a few.

* Toast the gathering as you sit down at the dinner table. Ouzo, a Greek liqueur, usually accompanies this toast, but many people may find Champagne more to their liking.

* Pass a loaf of bread —Easter egg bread, if you prefer — from which everyone pulls off a piece for dinner. This symbolizes the original breaking of the bread that Jesus shared with his disciples.

* Give everyone a colored Easter egg after dinner. Have your guests tap their neighbors' eggs until everyone's egg is cracked; the person whose egg cracks last is said to be destined to receive good fortune for the coming year.

* Play Greek music and teach your relatives and friends a traditional Greek dance such as Tsamikos.

* Pray together. Giving thanks to God is an important part of any Greek Easter celebration.

* Have a good time and "Kalo Pascha!"


Message to Russians Reveals "Warmhearted" Pope

Aid Organization Welcomes Documentary's Positive Reception

KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, APRIL 24, 2008 ( Benedict XVI's video message to the people of Russia gave viewers a look at the "warmhearted" Pope of "great dignity," affirmed the Russia specialist for Aid to the Church in Need.

Peter Humeniuk gave this analysis of the response to a documentary that aired in Russia on the state channel Vesti on April 16, the Holy Father's 81st birthday. The documentary included a personal message from the Pope to all Russians.

Humeniuk said the film brought the Holy Father closer to many of the Russian people. Viewers saw the Pope as "a person of great dignity and at the same time kind, and [having a] warmhearted personality," he said.

Many people found it especially beautiful that the Holy Father gave part of his message in Russian, Humeniuk added.

Father Joaquín Alliende, the international ecclesiastical assistant and president-elect of the Germany-based aid organization, expressed his delight at the warm reception, both among the Russian public and in the international press.

According to Father Alliende, the Pope's greeting had "sprung from the Holy Father's heartfelt desire to promote the growth of mutual love between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church."

The Pope received Father Alliende in private audience the day the message was filmed. The priest said he saw for himself how Benedict XVI was deeply convinced that a personal message would help to convey his esteem and affection for all the people of Russia.

The message was "an important step along the road toward a deeper sense of closeness between Catholic and Orthodox Christians," Father Alliende emphasized.

One Catholic priest working in Eastern Siberia told Aid to the Church in Need that he thought the film had been "a real breakthrough" and would undoubtedly "bear fruit for the Church of God in East and West." It was a source of great pleasure for Catholics to know that the film project had also been approved by the Orthodox Church, he said, for this showed what could be achieved when "our Churches draw closer together."



Greek Easter tradition calls for fasting, reflection, and then feasting

By Robyn Bradley Litchfield • • April 23, 2008
While for much of the world Easter has come and gone, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation's special celebration is still a few days away.

As part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Montgomery church's Easter, or Pascha, is based on the Julian calendar as opposed to the Gregorian calendar, said Father Michael Condos of the Montgomery congregation.

Members of the church observe a 40-day Lenten season that begins with Clean Monday (much like Ash Wednesday) and includes fasting and prayer. The period ends on the Friday before Holy Week.

"This is a time for purification of the body and soul, a time to prepare for Holy Week -- like spring training for baseball," said Condos, who is always eager to share his faith and traditions with others.

In the days leading up to Easter, members of the church will refrain from eating meat, dairy products, eggs, olive oils and seafood (shellfish is allowed). So when Easter arrives, everyone marks the holy day with great feasts, either as a church family or at home with loved ones.

Longtime church member Harriette Kamburis said, "It (Easter meal) is one of the biggest and best meals of the year."

Traditional meals include lamb, which symbolizes the Lamb of God, a sweet braided bread called kouloures, which represents the sweetness of life and eggs that are dyed red, symbolizing the blood of Christ. Meals also usually include potatoes, Greek pastries and salads with plenty of cheeses and olive oils.

Leading up to Easter, the church has a number of moving services. Condos said members gather late Saturday evening for a service that is based on the tradition of the Miracle of the Holy Fire that took place in Jerusalem. The sanctuary lights are turned out and the priest brings out a lighted candle, which is then passed around for everyone to receive the light.

Then, congregants go outside and read the gospel about how the women came to find the empty tomb, Condos said, adding, "We go outside to signify that the message is for everyone and not just for ourselves."

Kamburis said that before departing that evening, the church family moves to the community center to break the fast with mageritsa soup, a blend of either lamb or chicken with eggs, lemon and rice.

"Easter is a special time and has some wonderful traditions," she said. "And you want to carry them on with your children and grandchildren."


Churches Divide Vlachs in Eastern Serbia

22 April 2008 Attempts by the Romanian Orthodox Church to expand into Eastern Serbia are causing an unholy row in the region.

By Sasa Trifunovic in Bor

The rolling hills of the Timok region of eastern Serbia are home to a large portion of Serbia’s Vlach minority community.

One of the few regions of Serbia devoid of ethnic divisions, its harmony is now in jeopardy as a result of divisions within the Vlach community itself.

The cause of the discord is the Romanian Orthodox Church, which to the dismay of its Serbian counterpart has begun setting up parishes in eastern Serbia and splitting the Vlach community.

One group pledges allegiance to the Romanian Church, based is Bucharest, and which uses Romanian-language services, while the other remains loyal to the Serbian Patriarch in Belgrade.

Police have had to intervene twice to stop the two sides from coming to blows in recent years.

Serbia’s 40,000 Vlachs live in about 50 villages in eastern Serbia, in the district of Bor and the towns of Pozarevac, Jagodina and Paracin.

Previously claimed by both Serbs and Romanians, Vlachs gained the status in Serbia of a national minority in 2007.

The confusion has arisen over some Vlachs who have decided to declare themselves ethnic Romanians.

The Romanian Orthodox Church, meanwhile, has become increasingly active in the area since 2003, drawing about 10 per cent of the Vlachs into Romanian congregations.

Two Romanian priests now work in the area, joining the 26 Romanian priests serving the long-established Romanian community concentrated in Vrsac, in the northern province of Vojvodina.

The latest squabble between the two sides occurred in the village of Malajnica.

Bojan Aleksandrovic, a Romanian Orthodox priest ordained by the Romanian bishop from Vrsac, said police had “questioned” a family simply for holding a funeral service in the Romanian language in January.

Aleksandrovic said he complained to the police in nearby Bor about the grilling but the police insisted they acted within their rights.

“The police needed to gather information because of reports that an incident was about to happen,” Slavisa Barac, head of Bor police station, told Balkan Insight. “They had no intention of intimidating anyone.”

But Fr Aleksandrovic said that the move was not protective but intimidating and added up to “a blatant violation of the constitution which guarantees religious rights to all its ethnic groups”.

He added: “We have no problems with Serbs but we do have one with priests who are full of prejudices,” he said, referring to rivals from the Serbian Orthodox Church.

“Whenever I perform a mass, Serbian Church priests harass the people who attend,” he added.

The Vlach National Council, based in Bor, condemned the police for getting involved in the funeral service in Malajnica.

It has sent a letter of protest to the Ministry of Religion, the Interior Ministry and the Human and Minority Rights Department as well as to the Serbian Orthodox Church.

“We want a dialogue with all relevant state institutions and the Serbian Church so we can avoid similar problems in the future,” Zoran Jankovic, a member of the council, told Balkan Insight.

Some years ago, in May 2005, a more serious incident occurred. This took place after the Vlach Association of Serbia, a separate community organization, announced plans to mark the 610th anniversary of a battle against the Ottomans in the village of Rovine, near Negotin.

Fr Aleksandrovic of the Romanian Church was to have held the mass for the Vlach duke and his troops in the local Koroglas monastery.

But the religious service was called off after locals confronted the Romanian Vlach activists, telling them to “go to Romania”. Police had to intervene and separate the two camps.

The association’s secretary, Dusan Prvulovic, said their organisation had later demanded whether the Serbian Orthodox Church backed the people who stopped them from going into the monastery.

The hostility shown on that occasion reflects concern in the Serbian Orthodox Church about Romanian priests poaching their congregations.

This feeling has been growing in strength since 2002, when a Serbian monk named Justin issued a public complaint about the Romanian Church’s actions in eastern Serbia.

He complained that Vlachs in eastern Serbia were facing pressure to declare themselves as ethnic Romanians in the upcoming census.

The monks said the affair had been “cooked up by international factors with the aim of destabilising the region in order to forcefully turn Vlachs into Romanians”.

The monk supported his theory by showing anonymous pamphlets in which people were urged to “proudly declare yourself a Romanian Vlach in a democratic Serbia”.

He also condemned the visit to the village of Slatina by a Romanian archbishop and the Romanian ambassador to Serbia.

The visit was held to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding the Democratic Movement of Romanians in Serbia.

Fr Aleksandrovic responded by accusing the monk of orchestrating threats from the local authorities to demolish a Romanian Orthodox church, standing on his own land.

“Inspectors came to my property illegally, without my knowledge or consent,” Aleksandrovic claimed.

In the event, the controversial church building has remained where it was. But the priest continues to complain that Vlachs who identify with the Romanian Church suffer harassment.

In an interview earlier this year he said Romanian Vlachs in the area were being “deprived of their rights,” including the right to “pray in their native language”.

Locals in Malajnica, on the other hand, mainly take the side of the Serbian Orthodox Church and accuse the Romanian Orthodox Church of creating a rift in the Vlach community.

“We are Serbian and not Romanian Vlachs, so I see no reason why we shouldn’t have mass in Serbian,” Vojislav Aleksandrovic, 73, said.

Sasa Trifunovic is the Bor-based correspondent of Beta news agency. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication.

This article was published with the support of the British embassy in Belgrade as part of BIRN's Minority Media Training and Reporting Project.


ABKHAZIA: Only Georgian Orthodox priest expelled

This article was published by F18News on: 23 April 2008

By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

The internationally unrecognised entity of Abkhazia has expelled a Georgian Orthodox priest, Fr Pimen Kardava, after a "special decree" of the canonically unrecognised Abkhaz Orthodox Church. Independent sources who preferred not to be identified have told Forum 18 News Service that the expulsion was carried out by the entity's SSS security police. Fr Kardava's expulsion, just before the Orthodox celebration of Easter, leaves the entity's Georgian Orthodox believers without any priests. Yuri Ashuba, head of the SSS security police, declined to speak to Forum 18, but a subordinate stated that "You should speak to Fr Vissarion Aplia of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church." He admitted that Fr Aplia is not a state official but would not say why he was the appropriate person to answer questions. The Abkhaz diocesan administration's telephone was not answered. Also, Batal Kobakhia, chair of the entity's parliamentary Human Rights Committee, told Forum 18 that a Religion Law is being prepared.

Officials of the State Security Service (SSS) of the unrecognised republic of Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast have denied to Forum 18 News Service that it was involved in the 10 April expulsion of a Georgian Orthodox priest, Fr Pimen Kardava. The priest had been serving for no more than a few weeks in his native Gali District, where his mother still lives. His expulsion leaves the Georgian Orthodox population again without any priests. "You shouldn't address this question to us," Major Jansukh Muratiya, head of the SSS security police in Gali District, told Forum 18 on 23 April. "We weren't involved at all." He insisted the expulsion was a decision of the Abkhaz Orthodox diocese. However, independent sources who preferred not to be identified, told Forum 18 that Fr Kardava was expelled by the SSS.

A nun from the Georgian city of Zugdidi, close to the border with Gali District, reports that the Zugdidi Diocese is expecting many Gali residents to try to come across the border to attend Easter services over the coming days. (The Georgian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter on 27 April.) "Many will come across for Easter, it's always that way as they don't have their own priests there," she told Forum 18 on 23 April. "Those that are able to and can afford to do so will come to pray in church with us, but not everyone can afford it."

Forum 18 tried to reach Yuri Ashuba, the head of the SSS security police, at his office in the capital Sukhum (Sokhumi in Georgian) on 23 April to find out why his agency expelled Fr Kardava and why no priests of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate are allowed to serve local church members in Abkhazia. The duty officer relayed Forum 18's questions to Ashuba, but he declined to speak to Forum 18. "The chief won't comment," the duty officer told Forum 18. "You should speak to Fr Vissarion Aplia of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church." The duty officer admitted that Fr Aplia is not a state official but would not say why he was the appropriate person to answer Forum 18's questions. He then put the phone down.

The telephone number of the Abkhaz diocesan administration was not answered on 23 April.

The Abkhaz state news agency Apsnypress on 10 April quoted Fr Aplia as declaring that Fr Kardava's expulsion had been ordered by a "special decree" from the Abkhaz Diocese. Fr Aplia was reported as saying that although Fr Kardava is a resident of Gali District, that does not give him the right to act there as a priest. Fr Aplia also claimed that his Abkhaz Diocese has enough priests.

Abkhaz and Georgian forces fought a bitter war for control of Abkhazia in the early 1990s, a war the Abkhaz won. The Abkhaz government in Sukhum has not been recognised by the international community. Almost the entire ethnic Georgian population fled in the wake of the defeat. However, some 30,000 are estimated to have remained in or returned to the southern Gali District, which abuts Georgia proper, where they make up the vast majority of the population.

Since the war, ethnic Abkhaz Orthodox priests have formed the Diocese of Sukhum and Abkhazia, which has some 16 clergy but no bishop. The Diocese is not recognised by the Georgian, Russian or other Orthodox Patriarchates, though the Moscow Patriarchate has been prepared to ordain its priests. The Abkhaz Diocese insists that it is the only Orthodox jurisdiction with the right to function in Abkhazia, a position backed by the Abkhaz authorities.

"The activity of the Georgian Orthodox Church does not extend to Gali District or elsewhere in Abkhazia," an official of the Information Office of Abkhazia's President, Sergei Bagapsh, told Forum 18 from Sukhum on 23 April. "We have our own Church." The official conceded that individuals have the right to choose their own faith or none, but insisted that the Georgian Orthodox Church cannot be one of those choices.

Asked about the expulsion of Fr Kardava, the official – who would not give his name – said that the priest had failed to fulfil procedures for "foreigners" to live and work in Abkhazia. When Forum 18 pointed out that according to press reports he had been born in Gali District, the official responded: "So what? He's a Georgian citizen and needs to fulfil the procedures, whether he's an engineer, doctor or priest. Besides, when priests conduct politics we kick them out." However, the official declined to give any evidence that Fr Kardava had "conducted politics".

Abkhazia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Maxim Gvinjia, also complained about Fr Kardava, though he insisted that the problem was "more political than religious". "Such a problem could happen to any other priest coming to preach in a country without notification and approval of the local Church and Archbishop," Gvinjia told Forum 18 from Sukhum on 23 April. "Imagine a Russian priest coming to Georgia by himself or sent to Georgia by the Russian Orthodox Church without notifying the Georgian Orthodox Church. I am sure he would immediately be expelled from Georgia."

Gvinjia described the decision of the Georgian Orthodox Church to send Fr Kardava to Abkhazia "without due administrative procedures" as "more than provocative". "If Georgia wants to send a priest to Abkhazia they first of all have to approach the Abkhaz Archbishop and proceed according to all necessary Church procedures.

"The expulsion of Fr Kardava once again leaves Orthodox members of the local ethnic Georgian population without access to clergy. "Many Orthodox here want to be able to attend services and have churches to pray in," one local Orthodox Christian who preferred not to be identified told Forum 18. "No priest except for Fr Pimen has served here for fifteen years. But we can't do anything about this." The source noted that are about five old Orthodox churches in Gali District that could be brought back into use with only minor repairs. "The rest are in ruins."

Defending the Abkhaz authorities' harsh line against the Georgian Orthodox Church is Batal Kobakhia, a deputy in the entity's parliament and chair of its Human Rights Committee. "It is because the conflict is unresolved that the entry of citizens of Georgia is strictly regulated," he told Forum 18 from Sukhum on 22 April. "It's also because the Georgian Church is so politicised that people in Abkhazia find it hard to accept the arrival of Georgian priests." He claimed that in the 1990s the Georgian Patriarch Ilya II had blessed the murder of Abkhazians by Georgian fighters.

The Georgian Orthodox Church has long complained of the impossibility of serving the Georgian Orthodox population of Abkhazia. Back in 2004, when he was a member of a civil society organisation, Kobakhia defended this to Forum 18. He also defended the 1995 Presidential Decree banning the Jehovah's Witnesses in Abkhazia (see F18News 27 April 2004

Kobakhia continues to insist that the unresolved conflict justifies the ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses. "As long as Georgia refuses to sign a non-aggression treaty, the Jehovah's Witnesses' refusal to serve in the army and propaganda on this is considered a threat to national security."

Abkhazia's Deputy Foreign Minister agrees, but points out that "Jehovah's Witnesses are practicing in Abkhazia though the Presidential Decree was not cancelled yet". Gvinjia insisted though that the Abkhaz government is right to be worried as, he claimed, some twenty percent of the population had become adherents of this "alien belief" after the war "not because of their belief but because of material benefits". "It was really alarming at that time. I am sure that if any sect represented such a great influence in any other country it would immediately be closed."

Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 that they would like the Presidential Decree to be lifted, but said they can now practice their faith fairly freely in Abkhazia.

Kobakhia also told Forum 18 that he is now preparing a Religion Law. Abkhazia has not so far had a specific Religion Law. (END)

A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is at

A printer-friendly map of Georgia, including Abkhazia (whose extent in the north-west is not marked), can be found at