Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wonderworkers and Unmercenaries Cyrus and John

(left)Wonderworker and Unmercenary Cyrus
(right)Wonderworker and Unmercenary John
Commemorated on January 31
Saint Cyrus was a noted physician in the city of Alexandria, where he had been born and raised. He was a Christian and he treated the sick without charge, not only curing their bodily afflictions, but also healing their spiritual infirmities. He would say, "Whoever wishes to avoid being ill should refrain from sin, for sin is often the cause of bodily illness." Preaching the Gospel, the holy physician converted many pagans to Christ. During the persecution by Diocletian (284-305), St Cyrus withdrew into Arabia, where he became a monk. He continued to heal people by his prayer, having received from God the gift to heal every sickness.
In the city of Edessa at this time lived the soldier John, a pious Christian. When the persecution started, he went to Jerusalem and there he heard about St Cyrus. He began to search for him, going first to Alexandria and then to Arabia. When St John finally found St Cyrus, he remained with him and became his faithful follower.
They learned of the arrest of the Christian woman Athanasia and her three young daughters. Theoctiste was fifteen; Theodota, was thirteen; and Eudoxia, was eleven. Sts Cyrus and John hastened to the prison to help them. They were concerned that faced with torture, the women might renounce Christ.
Sts Cyrus and John gave them courage to endure what lay before them. Learning of this, the ruler of the city arrested Sts Cyrus and John, and seeing their steadfast and fearless confession of faith in Christ, he brought Athanasia and her daughters to witness their torture. The tyrant did not refrain from any form of torture against the holy martyrs. The women were not frightened by the sufferings of Sts Cyrus and John, but courageously continued to confess Christ. They were flogged and then beheaded, receiving their crowns of martyrdom.
At the same place they executed the Holy Unmercenaries Cyrus and John. Christians buried their bodies in the church of the holy Evangelist Mark. In the fifth century the relics of Sts Cyrus and John were transferred from Canopis to Manuphin. Later on their relics were transferred to Rome, and from there to Munchen (Munich) (another account is located under June 28).
Sts Cyrus and John are invoked by those who have difficulty in sleeping.
Troparion - Tone 5
O Christ our God, You did grant us the miracles of Your holy martyrsAs a stronghold and protection.Through their prayers, strengthen those in authority in every good deed,For You alone are merciful and love mankind!
Kontakion - Tone 3
O holy ones, you received as a grace the power of miracles:Do not cease to pour out your wonders on us.By spiritual skill, cut out our passions, O two great physicians,Divinely inspired Cyrus and Holy John!

Divided in Ravenna, Russian and Estonian Orthodox to talk

Bartholomew I is promoting a meeting between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church of Estonia. Last October the Russians quit the Ravenna meeting because of the presence of Estonian representatives. In concluding the prayer for Christian unity, the ecumenical patriarch expressed his desire to see the process of unification speed up, stressing how ‘historical’ was the joint declaration made by Catholics and Orthodox in Ravenna. He also talks about spreading the Gospel in Hong Kong.
01/29/2008 17:17
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and of the Estonian Apostolic Church should meet after their differences a few months ago almost scuttled the Ravenna meeting between Catholics and Orthodox when the Russians left the Italian city that hosted the ecumenical talks. The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople has in fact invited the two Churches to a meeting next month in a yet-to-be determined location to smooth over the dispute caused by the 1996 decision of the Church of Estonia to break from Moscow. The reason is that divisions are unseemly for an Orthodox world so richly endowed in traditions.

The ecumenical patriarch will be represented by the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas, whilst the Church of Estonia will send the metropolitan of Tallinn. Moscow has yet to respond to the invitation and it is still possible that it may reject it.
Promoting a meeting between the two Orthodox Churches was the last event in a week that ended in a series of prayers for Christian unity. On this occasion a Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdoğan, spoke for the first time about the ecumenical role played by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Later his words were also echoed by his foreign minister, Ali Babacan, who observed that ancient taboos must be overcome.

The evocative celebration of Byzantine Vespers in Saint George’s Church, in the Fanar, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, marked the conclusion of the prayer for Christian unity.
Representatives from all Christian confessions present in Istanbul stood side by side with the ecumenical patriarch as did many young people from abroad.

Indeed it was no accident that it all took place before the relics of Saint John Chrysostom, which Pope John Paul II returned in 2004, a sign that Christian unity is a duty.
In his brief but telling homily Patriarch Bartholomew said that prayer was necessary but so were working hard and early.

He explained that the Fanar, in co-ordination with other Churches, is a member of many organisations that promote dialogue geared towards Christian unity in order that full communion may be speedily achieved.
Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, secretary of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, outlined the history of the dialogue between Christians, stressing the historical significance of the joint statement made in Ravenna by Catholics and Orthodox.

The speech Bartholomew made before the new bishop of Hong Kong Nektarios received his crucifix was also significant. In it he stressed the importance of Christian witness in the lands of the East.
He noted that for the Ecumenical Patriarchate it is very important to propose the message of Our Lord to those who want to meet the real God and feel that eastern religions—even though they might possess some seeds of truth—are still far from satisfying the search for the true witness of the truth.

“We cannot disappoint them,” said Bartholomew. “Ignorance, suspicions, cultural and political prejudices, intolerance, the legacy of the past and some errors we Christians made give rise to hard-to-solve situations, creating less than friendly attitudes towards Christian missionaries. This is why, as members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we must make sacrifices for one’s fellow man as did Saint Paul whose birth 2,000 years ago we celebrate this year.” (NT)

Coptic Leader Hospitalized in Ohio

By MEGHAN BARR1 day ago

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt was being treated Tuesday at the Cleveland Clinic, where he had previously undergone surgery, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The clinic didn't plan to release any additional information about Pope Shenouda III, 84, said clinic spokeswoman Heather Phillips.

Pope Shenouda was scheduled to consecrate the church Tuesday at St. Mary's Coptic Church in Columbus, said Mary Sedarous, daughter of the Rev. Sedarous A. Sedarous, the church's pastor. She said he was taken to the hospital Monday night.

The cleric suffers from chronic cholecystitis, or stones in his gall bladder that cause a high fever and severe pain, and was hospitalized in November in Cairo.

He had spinal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in October 2006.

The Coptic Church is the native Christian church of Egypt, and has a doctrine similar to the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches.

Pope Shenouda has led the church since 1971. Copts are believed to be 10 percent of Egypt's 77 million population, making up the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

Under his leadership, the church has established congregations in the United States, South America, New Zealand and Australia. It has more than 100 North American congregations, up from four in 1971.

Associated Press Writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and Nadia Abou el-Magd in Cairo contributed to this report.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers and Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom

Commemorated on January 30

Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom: During the eleventh century, disputes raged in Constantinople about which of the three hierarchs was the greatest. Some preferred St Basil (January 1), others honored St Gregory the Theologian (January 25), while a third group exalted St John Chrysostom (November 13).

Dissension among Christians increased. Some called themselves Basilians, others referred to themselves as Gregorians, and others as Johnites.

By the will of God, the three hierarchs appeared to St John the Bishop of Euchaita (June 14) in the year 1084, and said that they were equal before God. "There are no divisions among us, and no opposition to one another."

They ordered that the disputes should stop, and that their common commemoration should be celebrated on a single day. Bishop John chose January 30 for their joint Feast, thus ending the controversy and restoring peace.

Troparion - Tone 1

Let us who love their words gather togetherand honor with hymns the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead:Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines.They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdomfilling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge.Ceaselessly they intercede for us before the Holy Trinity!

Kontakion - Tone 2

O Lord, You have taken up to eternal restand to the enjoyment of Your blessingsthe divinely-inspired heralds, the greatest of Your teachers,for You have accepted their labors and deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice,for You alone are glorified in Your saints!


MOLDOVA: President attacks freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Brussels and Moscow

This article was published by F18News on: 29 January 2008

By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has attacked the Bessarabian Metropolitanate's religious freedom on visits to Brussels and Moscow, Forum 18 News Service notes. During a press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 14 January, Voronin stated that he had not ever threatened to revoke the registration of the Metropolitanate. He then claimed its existence could lead to a Kosovo-style conflict. Repeating his attacks after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy, Voronin claimed that the Metropolinate "is part of Romania's aggressive policy." Presidential spokesperson Natalia Visanu told Forum 18 that "he merely said that if there are problems it could come to the point of looking again at its registration," she told Forum 18. Asked about the Kosovo-style conflict claim, Visanu stated that "the President said (..) the government could look at the question of not fulfilling the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)." The Metropolitanate only achieved registration after a fine imposed on Moldova by the ECHR. A wide range of Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim communities are still denied registration.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has stepped up his rhetoric against the freedom of thought, conscience and belief of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate on visits to Brussels and Moscow, Forum 18 News Service notes. During a joint press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 14 January, Voronin stated that he had not ever threatened to revoke the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate. However, he then claimed that the existence of it could lead to a conflict similar to that in Kosovo. His spokesperson Natalia Visanu insisted to Forum 18 that the President's remarks have been "misunderstood". Yet she declined to explain to Forum 18 why Voronin has made repeated hostile remarks about a legally-functioning religious community.

Bessarabian church members have condemned the remarks to Forum 18. "The problems we have faced – including the expulsion of Romanian priests and intrusive check-ups on our parishes – are the consequences of the president's remarks," Deacon Andrei Deleu of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate told Forum 18 (see F18News 28 January 2008

A week after Voronin made his remarks in Brussels, he repeated in Moscow his criticism of the Church. "The establishment of the so-called 'Metropolis of Bessarabia' and its structures is part of Romania's aggressive policy against the Moldovan state," Voronin told the Russian Interfax news agency on 21 January after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy.

Presidential spokesperson Visanu vigorously denied that the President had spoken out against the Bessarabian Metropolitanate (though she pointedly avoided ever using the name of the Church to Forum 18). "No-one said that the government should cancel its registration," she insisted to Forum 18 on 17 January. "It is a misunderstanding of the President's remarks. He merely said that if there are problems it could come to the point of looking again at its registration. The President has no powers to strip anyone of registration."

Asked about Voronin's remarks about a Kosovo-style conflict, Visanu responded: "The President said that if events around it are such that it leads to a worsening situation, then the government could look at the question of not fulfilling the decision of the European Court of Human Rights."

The Bessarabian Metropolitanate only achieved registration in 2001 in the wake of a fine imposed on Moldova by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. A similar fine from the ECHR in February 2007 has still failed to overturn the denial of registration to the True Orthodox Church led by Bishop Antoni Rudei (see F18News 8 March 2007

The only Orthodox jurisdictions to have been able to gain state registration in Moldova by applying through normal state procedures are the Moscow Patriarchate and the Belokrinitsa Old Believers.

Without registration religious communities have no status in law, cannot run bank accounts, cannot employ people officially, cannot invite foreign citizens, cannot run bank accounts or receive funds, and cannot own, buy or sell property.

Bishop Filaret (Pancu), who leads the diocese in Moldova of the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, said that his Church tried to gain registration again in summer 2007. "They give no argument as to why they won't register us – they just won't," told Forum 18 on 17 January. "We won in all the courts, right up to the Supreme Court."

Fr Vasily Ikizli, who leads one of four parishes in Moldova of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Agafangel (Pashkovsky) of Odessa, says his parish was denied registration in 2006. "They won't register any parishes until we have a national body registered, but they won't do that," he told Forum 18 on 24 January from the village of Congaz in the southern Comrat District. He said that about 150 people attend the liturgy each Sunday held in a private house and he wants to build a church. "Without registration that might be difficult."

Also denied registration are all Muslim communities as well as many Protestant congregations (see F18News 24 January 2007 Talgat Masaev, who leads the Spiritual Organisation of Muslims in Moldova, complained that "someone must have given an order not to register us". He said the Justice Ministry rejected their latest registration application in December 2007, citing inadequacies in the group's statute. "The policy hasn't changed," Masaev lamented.

The Justice Ministry took over registration from the State Service for Religious Denominations in the wake of the adoption of a new Religion Law in 2007 (see F18News 6 August 2007's Muslim group has long complained of police check-ups on those leaving Friday prayers. He said the most recent such check-up was in autumn 2007. "The fact that they check up at Friday prayers is difficult to understand," he told Forum 18. "This and the denial of registration are strange, given that Moldova is supposed to be moving closer to Europe."

The Bessarabian Metropolitanate is the only religious community to have been subjected to such repeated extremely hostile rhetoric from senior officials. Speaking on national television on 30 November, President Voronin condemned the decision by the Romanian Orthodox Church – of which the Bessarabian Metropolitanate is a part - to reactivate three dioceses in Moldova to add to the one existing diocese based in Chisinau. He warned that he does not need "a second Kosovo" in Moldova and threatened to revoke the official registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate.

Presidential spokesperson Visanu maintained that there had been no problem with the Bessarabian Metropolitanate having legal status until October 2007, when the new dioceses were created. She claimed their existence created "tension in the country". However, she refused to explain to Forum 18 what tension she was referring to or why the Metropolitanate could not set up its own structures as it chose.

Visanu denied that the recent developments with the Bessarabian Metropolitanate were connected with the rights of religious believers, which she claimed continued to be respected. "This is not the question. Its registration was alright until they restored their dioceses a few months ago, causing tension in society." She insisted there was a "sub-text" to the issue, but refused to spell out what she believed this was.

Asked by Forum 18 why all the non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox jurisdictions have faced denial of registration and obstruction of their activity Visanu responded: "The president doesn't have anything against non-Moscow Patriarchate Churches. I can't answer for the State Service on Religious Organisations or the Ministry of Justice. The President can't follow everything." (END)

Further coverage of freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Moldova is available at

A printer-friendly map of Moldova is available at



Russian church figure suggests marking Day of Orthodox Family on Feb 14

29 January 2008, 13:26

Moscow, January 29, Interfax - Head of the property department of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk has criticized the tradition of celebrating St. Valentine's Day in Russia.

"For some reasons human rights activists are not acting against that even though they could have," he said at a plenary meeting of 16th Christmas Readings in Moscow on Tuesday.

In his opinion, the ideology of marking St. Valentine's day is alien to the Russian cultural tradition.

At the same time the church figure invited Russians to develop their own traditions, for instance, declaring February 14 the Day of the Christian Orthodox Family.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Translation of the relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius, the Godbearer and Bishop of Antioch

Commemorated on January 29

The Transfer of the Relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer: (See December 20). After the holy hieromartyr Ignatius was thrown to the lions in the year 107 on the orders of the emperor Trajan, Christians gathered up his bones and preserved them at Rome.

Later, in the year 108, the saint's relics were collected and buried outside the gate of Daphne at Antioch. A second transfer, to the city of Antioch itself, took place in the year 438. After the capture of Antioch by the Persians, the relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius were returned to Rome and placed into the church of the holy Hieromartyr Clement in the year 540 ( in 637, according to other sources).

St Ignatius introduced antiphonal singing into Church services. He has left us seven archpastoral epistles in which he provided instructions on faith, love and good works. He also urged his flock to preserve the unity of the faith and to beware of heretics. He encouraged people to honor and obey their bishops, "we should regard the bishop as we would the Lord Himself" (To the Ephesians 6)

In his Letter to Polycarp, St Ignatius writes: "Listen to the bishop, if you want God to listen to you... let your baptism be your shield, your faith a helmet, your charity a spear, your patience, like full armor." (Compare Eph. 6:14-17 and the Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20. Also THE LADDER 4:2)

Troparion - Tone 4

By sharing in the ways of the Apostles,you became you became a successor to their throne.Through the practice of virtue, you found the way to divine contemplation, O inspired one of God; by teaching the word of truth without error, you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood.Hieromartyr Ignatius, entreat Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion - Tone 4

Today you rose from the east,enlightening all of creation with your teachings, and you are crowned with martyrdom, God-bearing Ignatius.


Leader of Greek Orthodox Church Dead at 69

(above)Jan. 28: A woman cries over the body of Greece's Orthodox Church leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, at Athens Cathedral.

(left)Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, center, walks hand-in-hand with Christodoulos, left, Archbishop of Athens and Head of the Church of Greece.

Monday, January 28, 2008

ATHENS, Greece — Hundreds of mourners, many sobbing, gathered Monday at Athens' cathedral to file past the remains of Archbishop Christodoulos, the first leader of Greece's powerful Orthodox Church to welcome a Catholic pope to Athens in 1,300 years.

The charismatic cleric was often named Greece's most popular public figure but was also criticized as an ambitious reactionary. He died at his home in Athens on Monday at age 69 of cancer, leaving the race for his succession wide open.

Christodoulos has been credited with reinvigorating a church seen as distant from its followers in a country where more than 90 percent of the native-born population is baptized into it.

Greece's Orthodox Church holds considerable sway among the world's Orthodox churches. Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Arguably the greatest achievement of Christodoulos was helping improve ties with the Vatican.

"The doors of communication with the Catholic Church had rusted over and they were again opened by Archbishop Christodoulos," said the theologian Giorgos Moustakis. "This was a very difficult thing, and it was opposed by powerful fringe religious groups.

Despite vigorous protests from Orthodox zealots who marched through Athens denouncing the pope as the anti-Christ, Christodoulos in 2001 hosted the late John Paul II — the first pope to visit Greece in centuries. The archbishop followed up in 2006 with visit to the Vatican, where he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint declaration calling for inter-religious dialogue.

Orthodox zealots supported Christodoulos, however, on one of his most outspoken public campaigns. His efforts to stop the government from dropping the religion entry from state identity cards saw him holding public rallies before hundreds of thousands of people in 2001. The church claimed its petition campaign gathered 3 million signatures — more than a quarter of the population. But the campaign failed.

Christodoulos was elected church leader in 1998 and thundered onto the public stage, appearing on television and radio shows, visiting schools and hospitals, alternately fascinating and shocking Greeks with his fiery speeches.

"Clergymen are above kings, prime ministers and presidents," he once said.

Within months, he had expounded on everything from Greece's economy to relations with Turkey, leading some politicians to grumble about his apparent political ambitions.

A spate of scandals which saw senior clerics accused of embezzlement, involvement in sexual misdeeds and even trial-fixing in 2005 led to calls for his resignation. Christodoulos publicly apologized for failing to contain the scandal and defeated a no-confidence motion in the church's governing Holy Synod by a vote of 67-1.

But public criticism quickly faded after he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large intestine in June, and he was widely praised for the strength and dignity he showed during his illness. He refused hospital treatment in his final weeks.

The government declared four days of mourning, culminating in a funeral in Athens with full state honors Thursday. Christodoulos' body will lie in the capital's cathedral until then.

The Holy Synod has set the start of the election to chose a successor for Feb. 7.

"The Archbishop worked to bring people closer to the church ... now his tireless voice has fallen silent," the Patriarchate said. "His parting is painful."

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Holy Land Theofilos III described Christodoulos as "a very dynamic church leader... He was a man who worked in order to promote reconciliation and coexistence and mutual tolerance between the religions."

In a statement, President Bush said, "The late Archbishop was well known as an articulate voice of the Orthodox faith, for his engagement in inter-religious dialogue, and for his promotion of social programs to help the vulnerable. Our prayers are with the people of Greece and all those who followed his spiritual guidance."



Church calls to teach Orthodox culture at secondary school

MOSCOW, January 28 (Itar-Tass) --The Russian Orthodox Church has come out for teaching the fundamentals of Orthodox culture at secondary school, Metropolitan of Kaluga and Borovsk Kliment, who is in charge of the property management department of the Moscow Patriarchy, declared during the international conference “Christmas Readings” in the Kremlin on Monday.

At present, the Education and Science Ministry has been developing a new level of educational standards, Metropolitan Kliment said. On behalf of the Orthodox Church Metropolitan Kliment asked to take all possible measures so that experts who are working on educational standards now should include a new subject -- Orthodox culture, into a school curriculum to enable children from Orthodox families to study Orthodox, moral and spiritual culture, the metropolitan said.

The new school subject aims to teach children to tell the right from wrong, to imbue them with a sense of responsibility, love and respect for man despite national and religious differences and help them assume their own position in life, the metropolitan said.


A tiny native village in Alaska copes with urban encroachment

Ancient oasis: The St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, framed by the Chugach Mountains, sits on the grounds of Eklutna Village, one of the nation's more unusual tribal territories.
Nathaniel Wilder
Members of the Dena'ina Athabascan tribe, completely surrounded by metropolitan Anchorage, struggle to preserve their language and culture.
By Yereth Rosen Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the January 28, 2008 edition
EKLUTNA, Alaska - Outside in the crisp fruity air, traffic on the Glenn Highway emits its usual roar. Inside the log-hewn community center, surrounded by a forest of stunted spruce and golden-leafed birch, a dozen villagers attend the weekly elders' lunch and speak of times when this tiny enclave seemed a world away from Alaska's largest city.

Many decades ago, the fish were so thick in the Eklutna River that you could practically walk on them, says Julia Cooper, who grew up as one of a dozen children in a two-room cabin nearby. In the 1960s and '70s, homes were heated by wood stoves and residents hauled water from a spring across the highway, says Irene Chilligan, another local.
Unlike most native villages in Alaska, which are scattered over the roadless bush and isolated from urban areas, the Dena'ina Athabascan village of Eklutna – home to about 60 people – is located within the municipal borders of Anchorage. Just 26 miles to the west loom the imposing downtown buildings that house oil company executives, lawyers, and other blue-suited titans.

The near-urban setting has its obvious advantages – access to jobs, medical and social services, shopping, and schools.
But the remaining 250 or so tribal members, most residing outside the village, also worry about the erosion of life that dates back centuries. Now one of the nation's smallest native tribes is fighting back to preserve its culture – and making notable progress.

Their efforts are low key, as befits a tribe that shuns self-promotion. But they are pushing to revive a language that has almost disappeared and to garner more recognition from an outside world that, until recently, was barely aware of the tribe's existence.
Things have changed dramatically since he was growing up, says Aaron Leggett, the 26-year-old Dena'ina cultural historian at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. "You'd say you are Dena'ina, and people would say, 'What's that?' " Now, he says, his great aunt, the Eklutna tribe president, gets almost weekly requests to perform a Dena'ina ceremony. "I told her it's not long before you're going to be called to do Dena'ina blessings for weddings and bar mitzvahs."


Eklutna does offer a small slice of bush Alaska in the big city. The tribal headquarters office, clinic, and support buildings are mostly a collection of trailers. In typical rural Alaska fashion, old vehicles and machines that can be cannibalized for parts lie scattered about. A few sagging couches and easy chairs perch in the woods. It's all in sharp contrast to the well-heeled suburbs just to the east.
At the heart of the village is St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Anchorage's oldest structure, a weathered wooden building erected here in the 1870s. It encompasses a cemetery where traditional native "spirit houses" – dollhouselike structures painted in family colors – are topped with Orthodox crosses. A wooden chapel just big enough for one person sits nearby. All reflect Eklutna's status as a stronghold for Orthodoxy during Alaska's Russian period.

The faith is not a thing of the past here. Adjacent to the historic church, which holds icons of saints considered so fragile that flash photography isn't allowed inside, stands a modern Orthodox church built a century later. It is used for special religious and family events. The Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska maintains the facilities, conducts regular tours, and has even established a new monastery here.
Historically, Eklutna's Dena'ina people made their home over a much bigger area. The indigenous residents moved up and down the coastline and into the surrounding Chugach Mountains, following the ebbs and flows of fish and game. At what is now the Eklutna Lake campground in Chugach State Park, they hunted sheep on the mountain slopes. From the now-prestigious downtown Anchorage address of Third Avenue and K Street, Alex Vasily – the famous Dena'ina tribal chief and shaman – ran his smokehouse.
At Ship Creek, the waterway on which modern-day Anchorage was founded as an early 20th-century tent city, the ancestors of today's Eklutna villagers hauled in huge catches of stickleback, a dietary staple.

To this day, Eklutna Dena'ina have struggled to keep their identity from being overwhelmed by the outsiders who have transformed their homeland into Alaska's dominant city. "It was hard for us because we lost our language," says Dorothy Cook, president of the Eklutna native village. "If we were more remote, we would have held onto it."
Still, efforts are under way to revive the culture, starting with the local dialect. "Chi'an, Gu Ninya," says a wooden sign by the churchyard, which translates to "Thank you, you came here." Tribal members are excited that Anchorage's new convention center, now under construction, will bear the Dena'ina name. That is the result of a warm relationship with Mayor Mark Begich, who locals say has made special effort to recognize the indigenous culture.

The state-owned Alaska Railroad has struck a deal with village elders to return a pair of cultural icons to the Eklutna people. Two geologic "knobs," initially quarried during World War II to supply gravel for the railroad without permission from the natives, are central to the tribe's cultural identity.
Overlooking a branch of the Cook Inlet, the knobs were used as lookouts for fish and game and possible invaders. They were also critical landmarks for travelers. "When you saw those two knobs – and you saw them way before you saw the Eklutna River – you knew you were getting home," says Curtis McQueen, chief executive of the native-owned Eklutna Inc.

In a departure from the past, a corporation set up to make money for the Eklutna people is increasingly promoting the tribe's culture as well. Eklutna Inc. is a for-profit corporation created by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Like other native corporations in the state, Eklutna Inc. operates separately from its tribal counterpart.
While the company's mission is to make money for its native shareholders, the tribal government's mission is social. The company is the biggest private landowner in Anchorage. The village government owns no land. Even the venues of the two entities are starkly different: While the tribe operates out of rustic buildings in the village, Eklutna Inc. is headquartered in a Comet-clean business park in an upscale suburb.

To help preserve the tribe's heritage, the corporation is likely to lease rather than sell land in the future – particularly parcels near the Eklutna Village. "They don't want to sell the land. Once it's sold, it's gone," says Jim Arnesen, Eklutna Inc.'s land manager.
The corporation is now focusing on a hoped-for buyout of land long held by National Bank of Alaska and its successor company, Wells Fargo. That is an important berry-picking and food-gathering site for villagers, who fear it will be developed into some subdivision.


Despite the proximity to supermarkets, shopping malls, and drive-by espresso stands, Eklutna tribal members still rely on local woodlands and rivers as an important source of food. The village's surrounded-by-a-city status merits it a special "educational" fishing permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for personal harvests.
Where do these "educational" harvests take place? On a sun-splashed late fall day, Ms. Cook, the tribal village president, kibitzes with other tribal members at the spare community center. She is, not surprisingly, mum about the whereabouts of the harvests. After all, she doesn't want more civilization encroaching on their ancient culture – in this case in the form of masses of urban sport fishermen.

"We get our fish," is all she will say.

Sudbury churches celebrate unity; 'It's a sign of hope in a broke world' (comment on this story)

Pianist Jordan Stopciati, of St. Patrick's parish, accompanies the four choirs from St. Mark's United, St. James Anglican, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic churches at the Christian unity dinner on Sunday night.
Gino Donato/ the sudbury star

Posted By Rachel Punch

Members of the Roman Catholic, United, Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches in the south end gathered together to share a meal on Sunday in the name of unity.

"It's a sign of hope in a broke world," Rev. Jim Hutton, of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, said about the event.

"It's a witness to the desire that people have to somehow be one with each other."

It was the second year the Christian Unity Dinner was held. This year, it was held at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Ester Road.

About 230 members and clergy from South End churches - St. Mark's United Church, St. James Anglican Church, St. Nicholas and St. Patrick's - gathered for the dinner.

"It's an event that was dreamed up last year as a way to promote Christian Unity Week," Hutton said. "This particular year was the 100th anniversary of that effort for Christians to come together and pray about trying to be one."

Christian Unity Week, on Jan. 18-25, began in 1908 in New York when the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement held the first Church Unity Octave.

The week of prayer encourages Christians of all denominations to meet, participate in liturgical and other community activities and pray together that all may be one.

Before the dinner, Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe told the crowd he thought it was "a wonderful occasion."

He said all of the churches at the national level have been involved for a number of years in dialogue. He is also involved in dialogue with the Greek Orthodox church leaders, whom he meets with once a year.

He said he can go back to those meetings this year and tell them the people of Sudbury can really come together.

"This is a wonderful way of doing this, coming together in Christ," Plouffe said.

Rev. John Mathew, minister at St. Mark's United Church, said there is a lot of room for church leaders and members to forget about their differences.

"In this secular age ... we need to work together," he said. "To come together once a year is the least we can do."

He said church members do work on some projects together, such as work with the poor.

"Sometimes we wait for a crisis to happen (to come together)," Mathew said.

Hutton belongs to a group called Sudbury Ministerial, a small group of church leaders who gather regularly for prayer and to share a meal. This has also helped bridge gaps between the churches.

For example, the group recently had an ecumenical service at the Salvation Army Church, which focused on the Sudbury Hospice.

The annual dinner is another way to encourage unity.

"It's kind of an encouragement to bring people together, not just once a year," Hutton said.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Venerable Ephraim the Syrian

Commemorated on January 28

Saint Ephraim the Syrian, a teacher of repentance, was born at the beginning of the fourth century in the city of Nisibis (Mesopotamia) into the family of impoverished toilers of the soil. His parents raised their son in piety, but from his childhood he was known for his quick temper and impetuous character. He often had fights, acted thoughtlessly, and even doubted God's Providence. He finally recovered his senses by the grace of God, and embarked on the path of repentance and salvation.

Once, he was unjustly accused of stealing a sheep and was thrown into prison. He heard a voice in a dream calling him to repent and correct his life. After this, he was acquitted of the charges and set free.

The young man ran off to the mountains to join the hermits. This form of Christian asceticism had been introduced by a disciple of St Anthony the Great, the Egyptian desert dweller Eugenius.

St James of Nisibis (January 13) was a noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians. St Ephraim became one of his disciples. Under the direction of the holy hierarch, St Ephraim attained Christian meekness, humility, submission to God's will, and the strength to undergo various temptations without complaint.

St James transformed the wayward youth into a humble and conrite monk. Realizing the great worth of his disciple, he made use of his talents. He trusted him to preach sermons, to instruct children in school, and he took Ephraim with him to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325). St Ephraim was in obedience to St James for fourteen years, until the bishop's death in 338.

After the capture of Nisibis by the Persians in 363, St Ephraim went to a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he saw many great ascetics, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves with a certain plant.

He became especially close to the ascetic Julian (October 18), who was of one mind with him. St Ephraim combined asceticism with a ceaseless study of the Word of God, taking from it both solace and wisdom for his soul. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his counsel, which produced compunction in the soul, since he began with self-accusation. Both verbally and in writing, St Ephraim instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which at that time was causing great turmoil. Pagans who heard the preaching of the saint were converted to Christianity.

He also wrote the first Syriac commentary on the Pentateuch (i.e. "Five Books") of Moses. He wrote many prayers and hymns, thereby enriching the Church's liturgical services. Famous prayers of St Ephraim are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the Most Holy Theotokos. He composed hymns for the Twelve Great Feasts of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funeral hymns. St Ephraim's Prayer of Repentance, "O Lord and Master of my life...", is recited during Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal.

From ancient times the Church has valued the works of St Ephraim. His works were read publicly in certain churches after the Holy Scripture, as St Jerome tells us. At present, the Church Typikon prescribes certain of his instructions to be read on the days of Lent. Among the prophets, St David is the preeminent psalmodist; among the Fathers of the Church, St Ephraim the Syrian is the preeminent man of prayer. His spiritual experience made him a guide for monastics and a help to the pastors of Edessa. St Ephraim wrote in Syriac, but his works were very early translated into Greek and Armenian. Translations into Latin and Slavonic were made from the Greek text.

In many of St Ephraim's works we catch glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, which was centered on prayer and working in various obediences for the common good of the brethren. The outlook of all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The monks believed that the goal of their efforts was communion with God and the acquisition of divine grace. For them, the present life was a time of tears, fasting and toil.

"If the Son of God is within you, then His Kingdom is also within you. Thus, the Kingdom of God is within you, a sinner. Enter into yourself, search diligently and without toil you shall find it. Outside of you is death, and the door to it is sin. Enter into yourself, dwell within your heart, for God is there."

Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within man's soul gives him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking of spiritual perfection by degrees. Whoever grows himself wings upon the earth, says St Ephraim, is one who soars up into the heights; whoever purifies his mind here below, there glimpses the Glory of God. In whatever measure each one loves God, he is, by God's love,satiated to fullness according to that measure. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here on earth, has a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of St Ephraim, does not mean to pass over from one realm of being into another, but rather to discover "the heavenly," spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestown on man through God's one-sided efforts, but rather, it constantly grows like a seed within him by his efforts, toils and struggles.

The pledge within us of "theosis" (or "deification") is the Baptism of Christ, and the main force that drives the Christian life is repentance. St Ephraim was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. Moreover, they (i.e. the tears) enliven, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength "to walk in the way of the the Lord's commandments," encouraging hope in God. In the fiery font of repentance, the saint wrote, "you sail yourself across, O sinner, you resurrect yourself from the dead."

St Ephraim, accounting himself as the least and worst of all, went to Egypt at the end of his life to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received great solace from conversing with them. On his return journey he visited at Caesarea in Cappadocia with St Basil the Great (January 1), who wanted to ordain him a priest, but he considered himself unworthy of the priesthood. At the insistence of St Basil, he consented only to be ordained as a deacon, in which rank he remained until his death. Later on, St Basil invited St Ephraim to accept a bishop's throne, but the saint feigned madness in order to avoid this honor, humbly regarding himself as unworthy of it.

After his return to his own Edessa wilderness, St Ephraim hoped to spend the rest of his life in solitude, but divine Providence again summoned him to serve his neighbor. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the saint persuaded the wealthy to render aid to those in need. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the poor and sick. St Ephraim then withdrew to a cave near Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.

Troparion - Tone 8
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!Our Father Ephraim, pray to Christ God to save our souls!

Kontakion - Tone 2
Ever anticipating the hour of Judgment,you lamented bitterly, venerable Ephraim.Through your deeds you were a teacher by example;therefore, universal Father, you rouse the slothful to repentance.


Books I've Read(or am reading)-Twelve: The Life of Our Holy Father Maximus the Confessor

The publishers of this book are against ecumenism in its current, politically correct form.

The book was published in 1982 but its message holds true even more so today, on January 14, 2008.

Our modern ecumenists, which seem to assume that because of the passage of time and the modern threats Christianity faces today in the form of Radical Islam and Militant Atheism, the reasons separating the Orthodox Catholic Churches and the Roman Catholic Church are not important and can be rapproached, especially with some of the formulations coming out of Rome in these last few years under Pope Benedict the XVI.

Unity is being sought under all circumstances under the auspices of a "dialogue of love" which would have us believe that love means the acceptance of contrary and opposing views under one giant feel-good umbrella and that because the umbrella is "love" the things that have separated the two communions for a millenia can easily brought under the one roof and both made to get along under pressure from the forces that threaten both. A forced union. One that is artificial and not of free will nor of truth.

I will not go into here the many and deep issues that underlie our separation. But I will state that those "little things" matter. Alot. That is why the Church calls this man, Maximus the Confessor, a Saint. The truth, in its most minute details mattered to him and he was unwilling to compromise under any terms with those who contended with him.

Saint Maximus did not seek conflict but was a simple monk who enjoyed the love and respect of the people of his day and as such, his favor and endorsement were courted by the Emperor who sought to dogmatize the Monothelite Heresy into the Church. Saint Maximus did not wish for the controversy to attract itself to him but when it did, he did not shy away but stood his ground.
Interestingly, he fled to Rome because Rome alone amongst the other Sees had confessed the Orthodox Catholic Faith which the Saint held. Rome's Pope Saint Martin and the Saint were dragged back to Constantinople where they stood trial for opposing the Emperor and his heresy.
The story contains many lessons and it is right that we call this man "Saint". Let us not also be found among those whom he would have to confess against had he been among us in this present evil day and age.

Visiting bishop's sacred items stolen from car in Arlington

Visting clergyman says thief also took Bible from car in Arlington

12:00 AM CST on Sunday, January 27, 2008

By STEVE THOMPSON / The Dallas Morning News

To one Arlington car burglar, it seems nothing is sacred.

He or she, or maybe they, stole a Greek Orthodox bishop's jeweled crown woven of gold and silver Friday evening. His New Testament Bible was also taken.

"We parked in a brightly lit place, and with all the lights there, we thought we were fine," said Metropolitan Isaiah, a bishop who ministers to many states, including Texas.

Visiting from Denver to meet with area parishes, the bishop was dining with others at the Piccolo Mondo restaurant in Arlington when the burglar struck.

"We came out at 10 o'clock, and the window was smashed," the bishop said. From the back seat, someone had grabbed his symbolic crown, his Bible, his veil and his cellphone.

A black fabric bag that is dear to the bishop – who also is an ex-Marine – was also stolen. The bag was a gift given many years ago by the widow of another Marine.

"It has my name on it, embroidered Metropolitan Isaiah, so who can use it?" he said Saturday evening after attending a vespers service where he was the only priest with no head-covering.

He is to lead worship services this morning at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Worth.

"It'll be the first time in my years as a bishop that I will serve the Divine Liturgy without the crown," he said.

Nor did it appear he would have his Bible to refer to this morning.

"I've had that for 30 years, and I know exactly where to go to when I want to find something," he said.

The crown, a gift to him 22 years ago, would cost $6,000 to $10,000 to replace, the bishop guessed.

"So I'm willing to give a monetary gift in the four figures if I receive it the way I last saw it," he said.

Anyone with information can call St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church at 817-626-5578.

"I just hope and pray that those who took it will have a change of heart," said the bishop, who has spent the past 45 years as a clergyman trying to teach people to treat one another properly – "not to take advantage of people and not to take things that don't belong to us."

Staff photographer Evans Caglage contributed to this report.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Translation of the relics of St John Chrysostom the Archbishop of Constantinople

Commemorated on January 27

Saint John Chrysostom This great ecumenical teacher and hierarch died in the city of Comana in the year 407 on his way to a place of exile. He had been condemned by the intrigues of the empress Eudoxia because of his daring denunciation of the vices ruling over Constantinople. The transfer of his venerable relics was made in the year 438, thirty years after the death of the saint during the reign of Eudoxia's son emperor Theodosius II (408-450).

St John Chrysostom had the warm love and deep respect of the people, and grief over his untimely death lived on in the hearts of Christians. St John's disciple, St Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (434-447), during services in the Church of Hagia Sophia, preached a sermon praising St John. He said, "O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus ChriSt O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint."

Those who were present in church, deeply touched by the words of St Proclus, did not allow him even to finish his sermon. With one accord they began to entreat the Patriarch to intercede with the emperor, so that the relics of St John might be brought back to Constantinople.

The emperor, overwhelmed by St Proclus, gave his consent and gave the order to transfer the relics of St John. But those he sent were unable to lift the holy relics until the emperor realized that he had sent men to take the saint's relics from Comana with an edict, instead of with a prayer. He wrote a letter to St John, humbly asking him to forgive his audacity, and to return to Constantinople. After the message was read at the grave of St John, they easily took up the relics, carried them onto a ship and arrived at Constantinople.

The coffin with the relics was placed in the Church of Holy Peace (Hagia Eirene). When Patriarch Proclus opened the coffin, the body of St John was found to be incorrupt. The emperor approached the coffin with tears, asking forgiveness for his mother, who had banished St John. All day and night people did not leave the coffin.

In the morning the coffin was brought to the Church of the Holy Apostles. The people cried out, "Father, take up your throne." Then Patriarch Proclus and the clergy standing by the relics saw St John open his mouth and say, "Peace be to all." Many of the sick were healed at his tomb.

The celebration of the transfer of the relics of St John Chrysostom was established in the ninth century.

Troparion - Tone 8
Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe;It has shone to the world the riches of poverty;It has revealed to us the heights of humility.Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom,Intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.

Kontakion - Tone 6
Having received divine grace from heaven,You teach all men to adore the one God in three persons.O all-blessed John Chrysostom, we rightly praise you,For you are our teacher, revealing things divine!



Head of Russian Orthodox Church rejects invitition to Rome

Moscow - The Russian Orthodox Church has rejected an invitation from the Vatican for the Patriarch of Moscow and primate of the Russian church to visit Rome, Interfax news agency reported Thursday. A trip by Alexi II to Rome in June would be premature, said the cleric responsible for the foreign relations of the Patriarchate, Igor Vyshanov.

The "delicate topic" of a meeting between the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, and Alexi II would require serious discussions between both sides.

The Vatican recently invited the Russian primate to visit Rome to mark St Paul's year.

The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been separated since a schism in the 11th century. Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church remain strained despite ecumenical efforts by Pope Benedict.


Babacan signals new policy over ‘ecumenical' row

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who visited Patriarch Bartholomew during his visit to İstanbul, said the Patriarchate was indeed a ‘passport’ for the EU aspirant Turkey into the 27-nation bloc.

Recognition of the ecumenical status of the İstanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate should no longer be a "taboo" subject, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said yesterday, triggering curiosity over whether the Turkish government has plans to amend the country's long-established policy on the controversial issue.

Babacan's remarks came in İstanbul in response to a question from a correspondent ahead of his departure for the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum. His statement followed earlier remarks by PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the issue.
Speaking at a joint press conference held following his meeting with visiting Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday, Erdoğan said the government was working on a solution that would allow the patriarchate to reopen a Greek Orthodox seminary in Turkey and emphasized that the government has been doing its best to make things easier for the patriarchate.

"As a matter of fact, the ecumenical issue is an internal issue of the Orthodox Christian world. Turkey's positive attitude [toward the patriarchate] has been revealed in the elections [of patriarchs] and is obvious," Erdoğan said, without elaborating and in an apparent reference to the fact that the patriarchs have been elected freely by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate since the 1923 foundation of the Turkish Republic.
At the same press conference with Erdoğan, Karamanlis said having the patriarchate based in Turkey was "an EU passport" for Turkey.

Babacan initially referred the correspondent to Erdoğan's remarks, describing the issue as "an internal issue" for the Orthodox world.
"Actually, when we look at the issue with a long-term perspective and when we also take Turkey and İstanbul's vision into consideration, perhaps it is an issue on which we should develop a new view. It is an issue we should not consider taboo," Babacan added.

Erdoğan's remarks have already been interpreted as a divergence from Ankara's well-known stance considering the patriarchate a domestic issue since it is by law a Turkish institution.
These remarks led the Reuters news agency to note in its related report that "Erdoğan seemed to signal a softer stance on Wednesday when he said the title was an internal matter of the Orthodox Church." The same report also stated that "Turkish nationalists often accuse Bartholomew of wanting to create a Vatican-style mini-state in the heart of Istanbul, a claim the patriarch and most foreign diplomats reject as absurd."

Yet, a senior diplomat, speaking with Today's Zaman following the prime minister's remarks, made clear that the remarks by no means signal a shift in Ankara's policy. "A change of policy, even the slightest one signaling the possibility of recognition of an 'ecumenical' status for the patriarchate, is out of the question. As a matter of fact, the prime minister's remarks are a reconfirmation of Ankara's stance. What he meant is the fact that Turkey, as a secular state, is not in a position to consider the patriarchate's religious status. It is an internal issue for the Orthodox world," the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
Ankara sees Patriarch Bartholomew as the leader of the Greek Orthodox community, although the world Orthodox community considers him their spiritual leader. Turkey's position puts it at odds with the European Union, with which it is involved in accession negotiations, and Washington, both of which consider the status of the patriarch a matter of religious freedom.

Turkey has also been resisting EU pressure to reopen the Halki seminary on the island of Heybeliada near İstanbul, which was closed to new students in 1971 under a law that put religious and military training under state control. The theological school once trained generations of Greek Orthodox leaders, including the current patriarch. The seminary remained open until 1985, when the last five students graduated.
An ethnic Greek but a Turkish citizen, Bartholomew says the dwindling Orthodox community could soon die out in Turkey if the seminary is not reopened.

The same diplomat also noted that Erdoğan's remarks describing the ecumenical controversy as an "internal matter," could also be interpreted as a reference to ongoing divides within the Orthodox world. Bartholomew is called the "first among equals" among the Orthodox leaders, but he wields little real power over the world's more than 250 million Orthodox souls. That power rests with the patriarchs of the various self-governing churches, the largest of which is the Russian Orthodox Church of Patriarch Alexy II. The Russian Orthodox Church is said to be increasingly aggressive in contesting the leadership of Bartholomew.

[SACRED SITES]Surp Hreşdagabet: an example of architectural pluralism in Balat

The entrance to the Surp Hreşdagabet Church

İstanbul’s neighborhoods developed in such a way that they grew up around religious cores such as churches, mosques and synagogues, with a good example of this phenomenon found in Balat.

Despite its predominantly Jewish population, people of different religions and ethnicities have lived, and continue to do so in smaller numbers, and worked there side by side, with the urban mix of the area the result of the neighborhood’s diverse ethnic population.
Once you enter Kamış Street in Balat, the garden walls of the Surp Hreşdagabet Armenian church, located near Yanbol Synagogue and Ferruh Kethüda Mosque greet you with a beauty that has resisted the course of time. Historically it is located in the Bulgarian quarter.

One of many examples of a synthesis of different architectural forms, Surp Hreşdagabet (also known as Holy Archangels) was originally a Greek Orthodox church known by the name of Hagios Eustration that was built in the 13th century and was given to the Armenian community as a gesture of good will in 1627. It is also said that the church was then blessed by Stepanos of Bursa.
After being abandoned by its Greek Orthodox congregation, Surp Hreşdagabet was given to the around 20,000-strong Armenian community that had settled in Balat as compensation after an Armenian church in İstanbul’s Fatih district was transformed into Kefeli Mosque in the same period. Surp Hreşdagabet is a church dedicated to the archangels Michael and Gabriel.

The church underwent restoration in 1628, according to the inscription on the wall behind its altar; however, the present building dates from 1835 and was built after the original wooden church was destroyed by fire several times. The side chapel and the ayazma (sacred spring) in the building are original Byzantine features. The ayazma is said to be built upon the bones of St. Antonios, discovered during the latest restoration.
There is an imposing building located to the south of the church that today serves as a warehouse. According to historical sources, it was an Armenian school back then the Armenian community was much larger during the 19th century.

The reliefs depicting St. George killing a dragon and Jesus chasing thieves as well as the cast iron door that has German and Latin inscriptions on each side and opens from the main room to a side gallery are impressive. This door, dating back to 1727, is said to have been discovered in an excavation during the reign of Sultan Mahmut I in Topkapı Palace.
Every Sept. 14, the church holds a unique ritual in which animals such as sheep or roosters are sacrificed and distributed to the poor. People also believe that the water at the church’s ayazma has curative abilities, so people of various religions flock to the church on holy days to find a remedy for their illnesses.

Wandering through the streets of Balat is sufficient to realize how different ethno-religious groups rubbed shoulders in this district. Ferruh Kethüda Mosque is within easy reach of Surp Hreşdagabet. Another church and synagogue also stand near by.

Some facts on İstanbul’s Armenian community:
Armenians were Christian elements brought to İstanbul from the eastern Anatolian and Caucasus regions after the conquest of İstanbul by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror in 1453.

In addition to large groups of Armenians summoned to the new capital, Mehmed II also brought to İstanbul Bishop Hovakim of Brussa (today’s Bursa), whom he made patrik (patriarch) over all Armenians and non-Orthodox Christians in his territories and gave him all the privileges accorded to the Greek Orthodox patriarch in 1461.
Large numbers of Armenians brought to İstanbul, the capital city then, also helped in the repopulation of the city. Armenians mostly settled along the shores of the Marmara Sea and some in neighborhoods such as Balat, Kumkapı, Hasköy and Samatya as well. The number of Armenians coming to İstanbul kept increasing gradually because other Ottoman sultans who succeeded Mehmed II followed his policies. There were around 200,000 Armenians living in İstanbul in 1895.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Venerable Xenophon of Constantinople

Commemorated on January 26

Saint Xenophon, his wife Maria, and their sons Arcadius and John, were noted citizens of Constantinople and lived in the fifth century. Despite their riches and position, they distinguished themselves by their simplicity of soul and goodness of heart. Wishing to give their sons John and Arcadius a more complete education, they sent them off to the Phoenician city of Beirut.

By divine Providence the ship on which both brothers sailed was wrecked. The waves tossed the brothers ashore at different places. Grieved at being separated, the brothers dedicated themselves to God and became monks. For a long time the parents had no news of their children and presumed them to be dead.

Xenophon, however, already quite old, maintained a firm hope in the Lord and consoled his wife Maria, telling her not to be sad, but to believe that the Lord watched over their children. After several years the couple made a pilgrimage to the holy places, and at Jerusalem they met their sons, living in asceticsm at different monasteries. The joyful parents gave thanks to the Lord for reuniting the family.

Sts Xenophon and Maria went to separate monasteries and dedicated themselves to God. The monks Arcadius and John, having taken leave of their parents, went out into the wilderness, where after long ascetic toil they were glorified by gifts of wonderworking and discernment. Sts Xenophon and Maria, laboring in silence and strict fasting, also received from God the gift of wonderworking.

Troparion - Tone 4

O God of our Fathers,always act with kindness towards us;take not Your mercy from us,but guide our lives in peacethrough the prayers of Venerable Xenophon and his family.

Kontakion - Tone 4

You kept vigil in the courts of the Lord with your wife and two children, blessed Xenophon,and you gladly lavished your wealth on the poor.Therefore, you have inherited divine joy.


Russian bishop concerned about Christianophobia in Europe

25 January 2008, 13:57

Brussels, January 25, Interfax - Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in European international organizations, has drawn the attention of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to the increase in the crime against Christians in Europe.

"We often hear about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and very little is said about Christianophobia, which is gaining strength in many European countries," Bishop Hilarion said during a meeting between Barosso and representatives of the Orthodox Churches to the European Union.

Among the forms of Christianophobia in Europe, Bishop Hilarion mentioned the removal of Christian symbols from the public sphere, the denigration of Christianity and refusal to recognize the Christian heritage of Europe, the persecution of people who openly express Christian convictions and who choose to live according to Christian moral standards."

Mentioning the recent discussion of the matter in the British parliament, Bishop Hilarion called for a similar discussion in European international organizations and called on representatives of the European churches to take part in it.

He also informed the European Commission president on the recent initiatives by the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the human rights debate.


Greek PM meets Orthodox Patriarch in Turkey

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2008, 11:16 (GMT)

Greece's prime minister pledged support on Thursday for the rights of Turkey's tiny Greek Orthodox community during an audience with Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians.

Costas Karamanlis is on the second day of an official visit to Turkey that caps a steady thaw in bilateral relations as the two ancient rivals try to set aside disputes over Cyprus and the Aegean and focus on booming trade and business links.

Istanbul is the ancient seat of Orthodox Christianity but Greek Orthodox, who make up 20,000 of the Turkey's 71 million people, often complain of discrimination and prejudice in the predominantly Muslim but secular country.

"I am fully aware of the difficulties of the present time. In the struggle to defend the Patriarchate's rights we will not waver, we will not back down," Karamanlis told reporters after his meeting with Bartholomew.

"The opening of the Halki seminary is a top priority for us," he said, referring to a training college for priests shut down by Turkish authorities in 1972.

Bartholomew has said failure to reopen the seminary, located on an island near Istanbul, could spell the end of the Greek Orthodox church in Turkey. The European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, has also called for the reopening of the school.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, said on Wednesday after talks with Karamanlis in the capital Ankara that his government was working on the problem.

Some Turks fear reopening the Halki seminary will lead to a relaxation of laws governing Muslim schools in Turkey, which still keeps religion under tight state control and fears a possible increase in militant Islam.


Bartholomew, an ethnic Greek but Turkish citizen, said he hoped Karamanlis's visit would cement better ties with Turkey.

"We believe the people of Turkey and Greece can live in love and brotherhood under the same sky, which we hope will never be clouded by conflict," the bearded patriarch said.

Bartholomew has also been locked in a dispute with Turkey over his use of the ancient title "ecumenical", which means "universal" in Greek. Turkey argues that the title has political overtones that could undermine Turkish sovereignty.

Erdogan seemed to signal a softer stance on Wednesday when he said the title was an internal matter of the Orthodox Church.

Turkish nationalists often accuse Bartholomew of wanting to create a Vatican-style mini-state in the heart of Istanbul, a claim the Patriarch and most foreign diplomats reject as absurd.

Istanbul, the former Constantinople, was capital of the Greek-speaking Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire for centuries until it fell to Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453.

History was also keenly felt earlier on Thursday when Karamanlis visited the mausoleum in Ankara housing the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish republic who once drove Greek armies into the sea.

Karamanlis laid a wreath at Ataturk's tomb but did not visit the mausoleum's museum, which celebrates Turkey's crushing military victory over Greece in 1922 with models, pictures, memorabilia and recordings of martial music.



Greek priests advocate for immigrants

Seven Orthodox priest in northeastern Greece are defending the rights of immigrants who are forced to endure sweatshop conditions. They want zero tolerance for slave wages, sweatshops, and racism.

Thursday, January 24, 2008By Kathy Tzilivakis

Seven village priests in the northeastern Greek prefecture of Arta have joined forces to campaign against the exploitation of immigrant workers.

Their message is clear: zero tolerance towards slave wages, sweatshop conditions and racism.

"We sent an open letter to the local media here in Arta in hopes of raising public awareness about the plight of immigrant workers in Greece," Father Haralambos of the town of Grammenitsa told the Athens News. "There are people who have fled their homeland, where they can never return, who endure low wages, long hours and substandard accommodation. We have to help them."

Father Haralambos and six priests from the Arta towns of Kalamia, Kostakio, Rokka, Hanopoulou and Halkiadon, where the total population does not exceed 10,000, launched their campaign to promote the rights of immigrants living and working in Greece on Christmas Eve after dozens of Romanian immigrants, including young children, nearly died during a fire started in a makeshift wood stove. The immigrants were housed in squalid conditions on a poultry farm in the town of Kostakio.

"People from faraway countries are outside our door naked and in need," reads the priests' letter. "A complete lack of compassion and shame is reminiscent of the Dark Ages... We don't care about a person's needs or his pain. He is cheap labour. What will he eat? Who cares where will he sleep?"

But pressure has been building on employers in Greece to treat immigrant workers fairly. After a landmark Supreme Court ruling was passed in November, employers are thinking twice about exploiting migrant workers, including those who are undocumented.

The court sided with two Albanian farm workers who claimed they had been paid much less than the minimum wage and systematically denied overtime pay before and after they secured legal residence status. Based on the ruling, even undocumented migrants are entitled to collect unpaid wages, plus a penalty, from their unscrupulous employers. Had the court ruled otherwise, it would have reduced employers' potential liability and made it more financially attractive to hire undocumented workers.

As the debate over the one million-odd immigrants in Greece grows increasingly heated and messy, Father Haralambos, who was ordained eight years ago, says he has started using his religious message to express support for immigrants and call for legislative reform.

Father Haralambos says he believes the Greek state is not doing enough to promote the integration of immigrants, who currently make up 10 percent of the country's population of roughly 11 million.

"We need a more organised effort from the state," he says. "We are trying to do what we can to help immigrants. We collect food and clothing, but we need more organised efforts... We have to help them no matter what. We are deeply troubled by the situation today."

A religious response

It is not the first time the Greek Church has spoken out on the issue. Three years ago, Archbishop Christodoulos told an Athens conference that the state and society ought to "embrace" immigrants. Taking a pro-immigrant stance, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church said Greeks must respect the human rights of all foreigners.

"The Greek Church wants and can contribute to the integration of migrants, regardless of their ethnicity and religion," he said.

This past November and December, Father Timotheos Anthis of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece and local Muslim Imam Munir Mahmood held joint talks around Athens in an effort to spread an inter-faith message of solidarity. These public dialogues were arranged by the synod as part of European Union-wide activities marking the end of the 2007 Year of Equal Opportunities.

According to research conducted by the synod, immigrant Muslims residing in Athens suffer racism and ethnic discrimination, especially in the labour market. Many of the immigrant Muslims participating in the survey expressed displeasure with employers who they said do not respect their religious holidays and celebrations.

Greece secured 3.6 million euros from the European Union last year to help fund its new initiative to integrate the country's immigrants into the workplace and society. The integration plan, known as Estia (Home), was drafted by the interior ministry. It is the country's first ever major attempt to integrate immigrants.

But a new report drafted by a special parliamentary committee has found that xenophobia is rife in Greece. Ruling New Democracy MP Elsa Papadimitriou, who chaired the committee, told a session of parliament last week that Greek society "has caught the social ailment - the epidemic of racism and xenophobia".

"Immigration is a parameter of globalisation, and we must look at it through the prism of peaceful cohabitation of peoples," Papadimitriou told parliament.

Leftist parliamentarians took the opportunity to call for a general amnesty for all undocumented migrants.

Kathy Tzilivakis writes for Athens News and appears here with permission.


Island dispute highlights unease of Turkey's religious minorities

Island dispute highlights unease of Turkey's religious minoritiesBy C. ONUR ANT - Associated Press Writer© AP
2008-01-25 12:00:37 -

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) - The Orthodox church says it's a historic monastery, and the Turkish government describes it as old pig farm. A dispute over a dilapidated structure highlights tension over Turkey's religious minorities, a key concern as the European Union considers membership for the Muslim-majority nation.In November, forest ministry officials knocked down part
of a building that the church said was a monastery on Heybeliada, an island in the Sea of Marmara off Istanbul. They said renovation there was illegal because it was taking place on government property.Now the ruins are the subject of a legal battle between the government and the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarchate, which has been hosting Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis during his trip to Turkey this week, the first by a Greek premier in almost five decades.Greece has been an advocate of the Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey, though Greek opposition parties have blamed the government for not doing enough to support the dwindling community.
The row over the building underlines the unease of Turkey's religious minorities. Many Turks view the demands of those minorities with suspicion, fearing they could undermine national unity in an echo of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century.
Rights groups claim ultranationalists, often with the tacit approval of state officials, bully anyone pushing for minority rights into silence through court actions, threats and even violence. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his government will not tolerate ethnic nationalism or discrimination.
The dispute in the Sea of Marmara is the latest episode of a problematic past between the Patriarchate and the Turkish state. The church has long called for the reopening of its theology school on Heybeliada, which was shut down in 1985 after the last students graduated.
The official argument for the seminary's closure is that a religious institution without government oversight is not compatible with secular institutions of Turkey, a country where all Muslim clerics are trained and paid by the government, and are handed scripts of Friday sermons by a state agency.
Patriarch Bartholomew says Ankara refuses to open the seminary because it aims to prevent the church from raising new leaders. The church's leader has to be Turkish, which makes it difficult for the community of several thousand to produce any candidates.
The Greek premier, Karamanlis, said Wednesday in Ankara that the opening of the school was something Turkey should «deal with sincerely» as it seeks EU membership.
Bartholomew said he used to pray once a year at the building that was knocked down by government officials. Dositheos Anagnostopoulos, a spokesman for the Patriarchate, said the plot is where the historic Makarios Monastery once stood.«Earlier, our properties were taken away without any court ruling,» Anagnostopoulos said. «But this is the first time a church is being demolished.
local official in Heybeliada, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the Orthodox church was unfairly trying to erect a new house of worship in place of an old, deserted one.
He said the building, now a pile of roof tiles and stones filling a narrow hall, was long left on its own with no religious ceremonies taking place there.Egemen Bagis, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Erdogan, said in an e-mail to the Patriarchate's advocates that the building was «not a historical church but an old pig farm.
The e-mail was shared with The Associated Press by a Houston-based public relations company that is working for the patriarchate.Bagis, who confirmed the e-mail's authenticity, denied that the building's destruction was fueled by anti-Christian sentiments.
Turkey declines to say that the Patriarch has ecumenical, or universal status. It says he is only the leader of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey. Many Turks fear a Christian church with universal status could carve out a Vatican-like state in Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city.