Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hieromartyr Cyprian the Bishop of Carthage

Commemorated on August 31

The Hieromartyr Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, was born in about the year 200 in the city of Carthage (Northern Africa), where all his life and work took place. Thascius Cyprianus was the son of a rich pagan senator, and received a fine secular education becoming a splendid orator, and a teacher of rhetoric and philosophy in the school of Carthage. He often appeared in the courts to defend his fellow citizens.

Cyprian afterwards recalled that for a long time "he remained in a deep dark mist.., far from the light of Truth." His fortune, received from his parents and from his work, was spent on sumptuous banquets, but they were not able to quench in him the thirst for truth. He became acquainted with the writings of the Apologist Tertullian, and became convinced of the truth of Christianity. The holy bishop later wrote that he thought it was impossible for him to attain to the regeneration promised by the Savior, because of his habits.

He was helped by his friend and guide, the presbyter Cecilius, who assured him of the power of God's grace. At 46 years of age the studious pagan was received into the Christian community as a catechumen. Before accepting Baptism, he distributed his property to the poor and moved into the house of the presbyter Cecilius.

When St Cyprian was finally baptized, he wrote in the Treatise To Donatus: "When the water of regeneration cleansed the impurity of my former life, a light from on high shone into my heart... and the Spirit transformed me into a new man by a second birth. Then at once, in a miraculous manner, certainty replaced doubt, mysteries were revealed, and darkness became light.... Then it was possible to acknowledge that what was born of the flesh and lived for sin was earthly, but what the Holy Spirit had vivified began to be of God.... In God and from God is all our strength.... Through Him we, while living upon the earth, have a hint of future bliss."

Two years after his Baptism, the saint was ordained to the priesthood. When Bishop Donatus of Carthage died, St Cyprian was unanimously chosen as bishop. He gave his consent, having complied with his guide's request, and was consecrated Bishop of Carthage in the year 248.

The saint first of all concerned himself about the welfare of the Church and the eradication of vices among the clergy and flock. The saintly life of the archpastor evoked in everyone a desire to imitate his piety, humility and wisdom. The fruitful activity of St Cyprian became known beyond the bounds of his diocese. Bishops from other sees often turned to him for advice on how to deal with various matters.

A persecution by the emperor Decius (249-251), revealed to the saint in a vision, forced him to go into hiding. His life was necessary to his flock for the strengthening of faith and courage among the persecuted. Before his departure from his diocese, the saint distributed the church funds among all the clergy for the aid of the needy, and in addition he sent further funds.

He kept in constant touch with the Carthaginian Christians through his epistles, and he wrote letters to presbyters, confessors and martyrs. Some Christians, broken by torture, offered sacrifice to the pagan gods. These lapsed Christians appealed to the confessors, asking to give them what is called a letter of reconciliation, i.e. an certificate for accepting them back into the Church. St Cyprian wrote a general letter to all the Carthaginian Christians, stating that those who lapsed during a time of persecution might be admitted into the Church, but this must be preceded by an investigation of the circumstances under which the falling away came about. It was necessary to determine the sincerity of contrition of the lapsed. To admit them was possible only after penance, and with the permission of the bishop. Some of the lapsed insistently demanded their immediate re-admittance into the Church and caused unrest in the whole community. St Cyprian wrote the bishops of other dioceses asking their opinion, and from all he received full approval of his directives.

During his absence the saint authorized four priests to examine the lives of persons preparing for ordination to the priesthood and the deaconate. This met with resistance from the layman Felicissimus and the presbyter Novatus, roused to indignation against their bishop. St Cyprian excommunicated Felicissimus and six of his followers. In his letter to the flock, the saint touchingly admonished all not to separate themselves from the unity of the Church, to be subject to the lawful commands of the bishop and to await his return. This letter kept the majority of Carthaginian Christians faithful to the Church.

In a short while, St Cyprian returned to his flock. The insubordination of Felicissimus was put to an end at a local Council in the year 251. This Council decreed that it was possible to receive the lapsed back into the Church after a penance, and it affirmed the excommunication of Felicissimus.

During this time there occurred a new schism, led by the Roman presbyter Novatian, and joined by the Carthaginian presbyter Novatus, a former adherent of Felicissimus. Novatian asserted that those who lapsed during a time of persecution could not be readmitted, even if they repented of their sin. Besides this, Novatian with the help of Novatus convinced three Italian bishops during the lifetime of the lawful Roman bishop Celerinus to place another bishop on the Roman cathedra. Against such iniquity, St Cyprian wrote a series of encyclicals to the African bishops, and later a whole book, ON THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH."

When the discord in the Carthage church began to quiet down, a new calamity began: a pestilential plague flared up. Hundreds of people fled from the city, leaving the sick without help, and the dead without burial. St Cyprian, providing an example by his firmness and his courage, tended the sick and buried the dead himself, not only Christians but also pagans. The plague was accompanied by drought and famine. A horde of barbarian Numidians, taking advantage of the misfortune, fell upon the inhabitants, taking many into captivity. St Cyprian moved many rich Carthaginians to offer up means for feeding the starving and ransoming captives.

When a new persecution against Christians spread under the emperor Valerian (253-259), the Carthaginian proconsul Paternus ordered the saint to offer sacrifice to idols. He steadfastly refused to do this. He also refused to give the names and addresses of the presbyters of the church of Carthage. They sent the saint to the city of Curubis, and Deacon Pontus voluntarily followed his bishop into exile.

On the day the saint arrived at the place of exile he had a vision, predicting for him a quick martyr's end. While in exile, St Cyprian wrote many letters and books. Desiring to suffer at Carthage, he returned there. Taken before the court, he was set at liberty until the following year. Nearly all the Christians of Carthage came to take leave of their bishop and receive his blessing.

At the trial, St Cyprian calmly and firmly refused to offer sacrifice to idols and was sentenced to beheading with a sword. Hearing the sentence, St Cyprian said, "Thanks be to God!" All the people cried out with one voice, "Let us also be beheaded with him!"

Coming to the place of execution, the saint again gave his blessing to all and arranged to give twenty-five gold coins to the executioner. He then tied a handkerchief over his eyes, and gave his hands to be bound to the presbyter and archdeacon standing near him and lowered his head. Christians put their cloths and napkins in front of him so as to collect the martyr's blood. St Cyprian was executed in the year 258. The body of the saint was taken by night and given burial in a private crypt of the procurator Macrobius Candidianus.

Some say that his holy relics were transferred to France in the time of King Charles the Great (i.e. Charlemagne, 771-814).

St Cyprian of Carthage left the Church a precious legacy: his writings and 80 letters. The works of St Cyprian were accepted by the Church as a model of Orthodox confession and read at two Ecumenical Councils (Ephesus and Chalcedon).

In the writings of St Cyprian the Orthodox teaching about the Church is stated: It has its foundation upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and was proclaimed and built up by the Apostles. The inner unity is expressed in an unity of faith and love, and the outer unity is actualized by the hierarchy and sacraments of the Church.

In the Church Christ comprises all the fulness of life and salvation. Those having separated themselves from the unity of the Church do not have true life in themselves. Christian love is shown as the bond that holds the Church together. "Love is the foundation of all the virtues, and it continues with us eternally in the Heavenly Kingdom."



Seminar leads families on cautionary journey to cyberspace

Theo Nicolakis will be in Modesto on Sept. 6, 2008, to speak at the Greek Orthodox Church about the dangers of emerging technology for children and teens.
Playboy Station Portable promotion shot of Playboy content for the PlayStation Portable

last updated: August 29, 2008 04:33:05 PM
If you've given high-tech games to your children or cell phones to your teens, you might want to listen to what Theo Nicolakis has to say.

Nicolakis, director of information and technologies for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, will present the all-day seminar "Journey to the iWorld" on Sept. 6 at Modesto's Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.
As a technology expert, "I've been aware of some of the things out there. But it was a rude, blunt, eye-slapping experience as I've learned of how pervasive (Internet pornography) has become. The thing to me that's the most shocking is how the adult industry is targeting devices sold and marketed to youth.

"Playboy has for years marketed content for the PlayStation Portable that most people think is a child-friendly device. A lot of parents don't know kids can access the Internet with them. In 2005, Playboy started a service called iBod. It was pornography specifically tailored to the iPod.
It would allow individuals to download soft porn for free right on their device."

In 2005, Nicolakis became part of the executive committee of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography, an interfaith coalition of Christian churches, Muslim groups and Jews to protect minors and families against pornography. He lives in Connecticut and works out of New York.

In the seminar's morning session, he'll speak on using modern devices, a talk appropriate for teens as well as adults.

"When I talk to kids, I never explicitly mention pornography because I don't want to introduce them to the software out there," he said. "Rather, I give them moral guidelines and framework on what constitutes the appropriate use of new technologies."

In the afternoon session, he'll speak to parents about emerging Web technologies.

"Parents think, 'Here's a great device. I can give it to my kids.' But they have no safeguards, so kids have access to all the illicit stuff on the Internet. Or they're taking compromising photos of themselves or others and sending them on. We're entering a brave, new world of challenges."

Nicolakis' goal is not to alarm, but to challenge teens to develop good morals and to educate parents.

"The amount of parental control on mobile devices that we're giving to kids is either nonexistent or just now beginning to become available. Let's take the PlayStation Portable that we're giving to 8-year-olds — no parent controls. The newest version of the iPhone only has an on-off switch for parental controls. But (the off switch) defeats the whole purpose, because then you turn off the whole Internet."

As he talks to parents across the country, "the consistent reaction is their jaws drop and their eyes pop because they had no idea what potential power they had given their kids through these seemingly innocent devices," Nicolakis said. "The two biggest challenges I face are parental ignorance and the technology gap between parents and kids. I'm trying to empower parents with information so they can make better decisions and open up dialogue between them and their children."

There is no easy answer, he said.

"We're naive if we think we're going to stop it," Nicolakis said. "These devices amplify human nature and character, and they are able to do that on a much more powerful stage than ever before.

"So if an eighth-grader goes into the girls locker room and takes a picture of girls changing, with one click he can send it anywhere. It's a powerful danger.

"Parents are the answer — parents, community and, in our case, church banding together as a cohesive front."

As part of that answer, he will give children and parents tools they can use.

The seminar at the church, 313 Tokay Ave., will be from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It is free (an offering will be taken) and includes lunch. For more information or to reserve a spot, call 522-7694

Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko decorated with Order of Miner's Glory of third degree in Luhansk today

29-08-2008 20:28

Ms Tymoshenko said that she had so far been awarded only the Order of St. Great Martyr Barbara by the Orthodox Church.

The Ukrainian Premier has no state awards unlike other government officials. "This is because I have always been in opposition even when I was in power," Yuliya Tymoshenko noted. She has recently been ranked 17th in the ratings of the world's most powerful women according to the American Forbes magazine.



Toledo musician wins Orthodox Church award

Article published Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chris Zervos of Toledo was honored at the 61st annual convention of the Mid-Eastern Federation of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians in Akron.

Mr. Zervos received an award for Orthodox Church musicians who made significant contributions to church music ministry at the regional and national levels.

A four-term past president of the Greek Orthodox musicians group, Mr. Zervos is a building inspector for the City of Toledo and a choir accompanist at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Venerable Alexander the Abbot of Svir

Commemorated on August 30

Saint Alexander of Svir was born on July 15, 1448, on the feastday of the Prophet Amos, and was named for him in Baptism. St Alexander was a beacon of monasticism in the deep forests of the Russian North, living in asceticism, and he was granted the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.

His parents, Stephen and Vassa (Vasilisa) were peasants of the near Lake Ladoga village of Mandera near Lake Ladoga, at the bank of the River Oyata, a tributary of the River Svira. They had sons and daughters who were already grown and lived away from their parents. Stephen and Vassa wanted to have another son. They prayed fervently and heard a voice from above: "Rejoice, good man and wife, you shall bear a son, in whose birth God will give comfort to His Church."

Amos grew up to be a special child. He was always obedient and gentle, he shunned games, jokes and foul talk, he wore poor clothes and so weakened himself with fasting, that it caused his mother anxiety. Upon coming of age, he once met some Valaam monks who had come to the Oyata to purchase necessities, and for other monastery business.

By this time Valaam was already known as a monastery of deep piety and strict ascetic life. After speaking with the monks, the young man was fascinated by their account of the skete life (with two or three monks together) and the solitary life of the hermit. Knowing that his parents had arranged a marriage for him, the youth went secretly to Valaam when he was nineteen. In the guise of a traveler, an angel of God appeared to him, showing him the way to the island.

Amos lived for seven years at the monastery as a novice, leading an austere life. He spent his days at work, and his nights in vigilance and prayer. Sometimes he prayed in the forest bare-chested, all covered by mosquitoes and gnats, to the morning song of the birds.

In the year 1474, Amos received monastic tonsure with the name Alexander. After several years, his parents eventually learned from Karelians arriving in Mandera where their son had gone. Following the example of their son, the parents also went to the monastery and were tonsured with the names Sergius and Barbara. After their death, St Alexander, with the blessing of the igumen of the monastery, settled on a solitary island, where he built a cell in the crevice of a cliff and continued his spiritual exploits.

The fame of his asceticism spread far. Then in 1485 St Alexander departed from Valaam and, upon a command from above, chose a place in the forest on the shore of a beautiful lake, which was afterwards named Holy. Here the monk built himself a hut and dwelt in solitude for seven years, eating only what he gathered in the forest (Later at this place, Holy Lake, 36 versts from the future city of Olonets and 6 versts from the River Svira, St Alexander founded the monastery of the Life-Creating Trinity, and 130 sazhen (i.e. 910 feet) off from it, at Lake Roschina, he built himself a hut on the future site of the St Alexander of Svir monastery).

During this time the saint experienced fierce sufferings from hunger, frost, sickness and demonic temptations. But the Lord continually sustained the spiritual and bodily strength of the righteous one. Once when suffering with terrible infirmities, he not only was unable to get up from the ground, but was unable to even lift his head. He just lay there and sang Psalms. Then a glorious man appeared to him. Placing his hand on the sore spot, he made the Sign of the Cross over the saint and healed him.

In 1493 while hunting for deer, the adjoining land-owner Andrew Zavalishin happened to come upon the saint's hut. Andrew spoke to him of a light he had seen at this place, and he entreated the monk to tell him about his life. From that point Andrew started to visit St Alexander often, and finally through the monk's guidance, he went to Valaam, where he was tonsured with the name Adrian. Later, he founded the Ondrusov monastery, and led a saintly life (August 26 and May 17).

Andrew Zavalishin was not able to keep silent about the ascetic, in spite of the promise he had given. News of the righteous one began to spread widely, and monks started to gather around him. Therefore, St Alexander withdrew from the brethren and built himself a dwelling place 130 sazhen from the monastery. There he encountered a multitude of temptations. The demons took on beastly shapes, they hissed like snakes, urging him to flee. However, the saint's prayer scorched and dispersed the devils like a fiery flame.

In 1508, twenty-three years after he came to this secluded spot, the Life-Creating Trinity appeared to St Alexander. One night he was praying in his hut. Suddenly, an intense light shone, and the monk saw Three Men, robed in radiant white garb, approaching him. Radiant with heavenly Glory, They shone in a pure brightness greater than the sun. Each of Them held a staff in His hand.

The monk fell down in terror, and coming to his senses, prostrated himself on the ground. Taking him up by the hand, the Men said: "Have trust, blessed one, and fear not." The saint was ordered to build a church and a monastery. He fell to his knees, protesting his own unworthiness, but the Lord raised him up and ordered him to fulfill the commands. St Alexander asked in whose name the church ought to be dedicated. The Lord said: "Beloved, as you see Those speaking with you in Three Persons, so also construct the church in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity One-in-Essence. I leave you peace and My peace I give you." And immediately St Alexander beheld the Lord with out-stretched wings, going as though along the ground, and He became invisible.

In the history of the Russian Orthodox Church this appearance is acknowledged as unique. After this vision the monk began to think where to build the church. Once, while praying to God, he heard a voice from above. Gazing up to the heavens, he saw an angel of God in mantiya and klobuk, such as St Pachomius (May 15) had seen.

The angel, standing in the air with outstretched wings and upraised hands, proclaimed: "One is Holy, One is the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Glory of God the Father. Amen." Then he turned to St Alexander saying, "Build on this spot the church in the Name of the Lord Who has appeared to you in Three Persons, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, the Undivided Trinity." After making the Sign of the Cross over the place three times, the angel became invisible.

In that same year a wooden church of the Life-Creating Trinity was built (in 1526 a stone church was built here). And at the same time as the building of the church, the brethren began to urge St Alexander to accept the priesthood. For a long time he refused, considering himself unworthy. Then the brethren began to implore St Serapion, Archbishop of Novgorod (March 16), to convince him to accept the office. And so in that very year St Alexander journeyed to Novgorod and received ordination from the holy archbishop. Soon afterwards, the brethren also asked the saint to be their igumen.

As igumen, the monk became even more humble than before. His clothes were all in tatters, and he slept on the bare ground. He himself prepared food, kneaded dough and baked bread. One time there was not enough firewood and the steward asked the igumen to send any idle monks for firewood. "I am idle," said the saint, and he began to chop firewood. Another time, he carried water.

When all were asleep, the saint was often busy grinding wheat with hand-stones to make more bread. At night he made the round of the cells, and if he heard vain conversations, he lightly tapped on the door and departed, but in the morning he admonished the brother, imposing a penance on him.

Towards the end of his life, St Alexander decided to build a stone church of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos. One evening, after singing an Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, he settled down to rest in the cell and suddenly said to his cell-attendant Athanasius, "Child, be sober and alert, because at this hour we will have a wondrous and astounding visit."

Then came a voice like thunder, "Behold the Lord and His Mother are coming." The monk hastened to the entrance to the cell, and a great light illumined it, shining over all the monastery brighter than the rays of the sun. The saint beheld the All-Pure Mother of God over the foundation of the Protection church sitting at the site of the altar, like an empress upon a throne. She held the Infant Christ in Her arms, and a multitude of angels stood before Her shining with indescribable brightness.

He fell down, unable to bear the great light. The Mother of God said, "Arise, chosen one of My Son and God. I have come here to visit you, My dear one, and to look upon the foundation of My church. I have made entreaty for your disciples and monastery. From this time on there will be an abundance; not only during your life, but also after your death. Everything your monastery requires will be granted in abundance. Behold and watch carefully how many monks are gathered into your flock. You must guide them on the way of salvation in the Name of the Holy Trinity."

The saint arose and saw a multitude of monks. Again the Mother of God said: "My dear one, if someone carries even one brick for the building of My church, in the Name of Jesus Christ, My Son and God, his treasure will not perish." Then She became invisible.

Before his death the saint displayed wondrous humility. He summoned the brethren and told them: "Bind my sinful body by the legs and drag it to a swampy thicket and, after covering it with skins, throw it in." The brethren answered: "No, Father, it is not possible to do this." Then the holy ascetic ordered that his body not be kept at the monastery, but in a place of seclusion, the church of the Transfiguration of the Lord. St Alexander departed to the heavenly Kingdom on August 30, 1533 at the age of 85.

St Alexander of Svir was glorified by wondrous miracles during his life and upon his death. In 1545, his disciple and successor, Igumen Herodion, compiled his Life. In 1547 the local celebration of the saint began and a service was composed for him. On April 17,1641, during the rebuilding of the Transfiguration church, the incorrupt relics of St Alexander of Svir were uncovered and his universal Church celebration was established on two dates: the day of his repose, August 30, and the day of glorification (and the uncovering of his relics), April 17.

St Alexander of Svir instructed and raised up a whole multitude of disciples, as the Mother of God had promised him. They are the Holy Monks: Ignatius of Ostrov, Leonid of Ostrov, Cornelius of Ostrov, Dionysius of Ostrov, Athanasius of Ostrov, Theodore of Ostrov, and Therapon of Ostrov.

Besides these saints, there are disciples and conversers with St Alexander of Svir, who have separate days of commemortation: St Athanasius of Syandem (January 18), St Gennadius of Vasheozersk (February 9), St Macarius of Orodezh (August 9), St Adrian of Ondrosov (May 17), St Nicephorus of Vasheozersk (February 9), St Gennadius of Kostroma and Liubimograd (January 23).

All these saints (except St Gennadius of Kostroma) are depicted on the Icon of the Monastic Fathers who shone forth in the land of Karelia (icon from the church at the Seminary in Kuopio, Finland). The festal celebration of the Synaxis of the Saints who shone forth in Karelia is celebrated by the Finnish Orthodox Church on the Saturday falling between October 31 and November 6.

The incorrupt relics of the saint were removed from the Svir Monastery by the Bolsheviks on December 20, 1918 after several unsuccessful attempts to confiscate them. There was an infamous campaign to liquidate the relics of the saints which continued from 1919 to 1922. Many relics of Russsian saints were stolen and subjected to "scientific examination" or displayed in antireligious museums. Some were completely destroyed.

Hoping to prove that the relics were fakes, the Soviets conducted many tests. However, the tests only confirmed that the relics were genuine. Finally, the holy relics were sent to Petrograd's Military Medical Academy. There they remained for nearly eighty years.

A second uncovering of St Alexander's relics took place in December 1997.

The relics were found to be incorrupt, just as they were when they were confiscated. The saint's appearance matched the description in the records from 1641. Once it was determined that these were in fact the relics of St Alexander, Metropolitan Vladimir of St Petersburg permitted them to be taken to the church of St Sophia and her three daughters Faith, Hope, and Love (September 17) for four months before their return to the Svir Monastery. As people venerated St Alexander's relics they noticed a fragrant myrrh flowing from them.

The holy relics were taken to the St Alexander of Svir Monastery in November 1998, and miraculous healings continue to take place before them.



the life of the orthodox monks


Anita Creamer: His path to a new faith

Father Timothy Robinson performs an anointing ceremony for healing at the request of Matt Holm, who had been in an auto accident.

A former Baptist with Scottish roots finds fulfillment as a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church

By Anita Creamer -

Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, August 29, 2008Story appeared in LIVING HERE section, Page K1

Sometimes, the parishioners at Sacramento's Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church still ask the question. They listen to their associate priest, Father Timothy Robinson, as he reads the liturgy in fluent Greek, surrounded by flickering candles and icons blazing with gold leaf in this church steeped equally in ancient rituals and immigrant family traditions.

And they ask him where in Greece, exactly, his people originated.

"I say, 'They're from the far northern part of Greece, around Edinburgh,' " says Robinson, 53.

It helps when pastors and their flocks have a sense of humor, not to mention a grasp of recent trends in their church.

Robinson, this sandy-haired convert from the Southern Baptist faith, has served at Annunciation for only two years. But for the better part of two decades, the associate priest position at the church across from McKinley Park has been filled by a convert, as opposed to someone raised in the faith and brought up in a Greek family.

The Greeks are a hospitable people. Besides, in the late 1980s, a generation of young evangelical preachers searching for more traditional religious experiences began turning to the Eastern Orthodox Church, drawn by the fact that its rituals date back to earliest Christianity.

And so the face of the Orthodox church in America is changing. Non-Greek students make up more than half the population at Greek Orthodox seminaries, according to Annunciation's presiding priest, Father James Retelas.

While Annunciation parish itself remains heavily Greek – populated with the third- and fourth-generation descendants of the immigrants who founded it in 1920 – more and more converts fill its pews.

It's a matter of continuing adjustment for longtime members and converts alike. And for Robinson, too.

For example, says Retelas: "He loves to preach. He preaches longer than we're used to because of his Baptist background. He'll go 20 minutes, but in our tradition, going past 10 is historically unacceptable.

"It's not a clash, really, but it's kind of a shift in culture."

That cultural shift has allowed Robinson and his wife, Marsha, who live in Folsom, to find a spiritual home at last.

He likes to say he was born to be a pastor. His parents, Howard and Juanita, now both deceased, were deeply religious. When they remained childless after several years of marriage, according to family lore, they asked God to intervene.

"They told God that if they could have a child, they'd give him back to God," says Robinson. "And nine months later, I came along."

By age 4, an only child, he was telling people he wanted to be a minister one day.

Otherwise, he had a fairly ordinary Bay Area childhood. His father was an Air Force veteran and school custodian, his mother a housekeeper. Robinson graduated from California State University, Hayward, and Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Ore.

By then, he was married to Marsha, this vivacious young woman he'd met in church during their teen years. By then, he was questioning his commitment to Protestantism, which adheres to the New Testament of the early church but not its liturgy or sacraments.

"When you've grown up in the movement and you find yourself on the outs with it, where will you go?" he asks.

For the better part of a decade, he had no answer. So he worked for Xerox Corp. in Oakland, and his parents, retired and living in Arizona, worried for his salvation.

"They were very concerned about us," he says. "We'd visit them, and I'd go to church with them. They stuck very much with the Baptist fundamentalism they were raised with. I just hated it. I thought it was the veneration of an angry God."

When he finally asked God for a way out of his spiritual wilderness, he says, God answered in the form of a Xerox customer who worshipped at Oakland's St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church. Soon, Robinson was an altar server there. And he decided to return to the ministry.

Churches of the Eastern Orthodoxy, the world's second largest Christian religion, are organized by nationality – Armenian Apostolic, for example, and Russian Orthodox. And, of course, Greek Orthodox.

Because the priesthood in the Armenian church tends not to be ethnically diverse, Timothy Robinson attended Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston starting in 1996. A decade later, after serving at churches in Irvine and Temecula, he came to Sacramento.

"We really love Sacramento," says Marsha Robinson. "The people here have been most welcoming to us and have really reached out.

"I'm not Greek. My husband's not Greek. And this community is very Greek still. Many of them still go home to Greece in the summer. It's a wonderful family community."

As the associate priest's wife, she shares many duties with her husband, attending baptisms and blessings along with him. Unlike him, she doesn't speak the language.

"Not at all," she says. "I know all of the food words, so that's good. Some of the older women here are still more Greek-speaking than English-speaking. I try real hard, and they try real hard."

And somehow, on both sides, an understanding. An acceptance. A willingness to welcome the new and embrace the changing church.

"Father Timothy is a marvelous co-worker," says Retelas, "and he's really great with seniors. His forte is hospital visits."

Maybe so, but consider this glimpse of the man from Despina Kreatsoulas, 38, a longtime parishioner and Sunday school teacher.

"He makes a huge effort to interact with our youth," she says. "He likes to have fun with them.
"I was teaching Greek dance to the kids, and they wanted to practice in their bare feet. Father came in and took off his shoes and danced with them. They thought that was the coolest thing."

He adopted the church, and he adopted its culture. Because his people, after all, are from the far northern part of Greece. In Scotland.
Robinson was raised a Southern Baptist and attended a Baptist seminary before he found himself called to the Eastern Orthodox priesthood.
Pictures, holy water and books crowd Robinson's church office. Brought up in a fundamentalist Baptist tradition, Robinson discovered that he preferred the liturgies and sacraments of the early Christian church.
Father Timothy Robinson lights candles before a supplication service at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Sacramento. He served in Orthodox churches in Irvine and Temecula before coming to Sacramento two years ago.


Seeing may not be believing, charismatics told

Member Wanda Hart of Portland, Tenn., prays at an evening service at Living to Go Church in Goodlettsville on Wednesday.
Magazine editor says Florida scandal is sign of gullibility
By BOB SMIETANA • Staff Writer • August 29, 2008
Clay Baggett doesn't yell "sheeka boomba," when he stands up to preach at Living to Go Church in Goodlettsville. He doesn't kick parishioners who come to him for healing prayer, or smack them in the head, proclaiming them healed.

Some preachers do that, and when that happens their followers should take a serious look at the showmanship to determine if the miracles really are legitimate, says the editor of a leading magazine for charismatics.
The ministry of Todd Bentley, a tattooed, charismatic preacher from Lakeland, Fla., garnered nationwide attention with claims of raising the dead and curing the terminally ill. He was scheduled to come to Tennessee in September, but his ministry ground to a halt amid revelations of marital infidelity.

Bentley's meteoric rise and fall sent shockwaves through Pentecostal and charismatic Christian circles. J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, a leading magazine for charismatics, said the Bentley scandal is a sign that believers are gullible and immature.

But local pastors say that they work hard to teach their followers how to recognize the real thing.
But that's not always easy, Baggett admitted.

"One of the hard things about the Pentecostal–charismatic movements is that we've become caricatures," he said. "We've allowed that to happen. We've created that in many forms and fashions."
'We believe in miracles'

Pentecostals and charismatic groups, also known as renewal movements, focus on the Holy Spirit more than most Christian groups. They trace their roots to the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, and practice speaking in tongues. They often stress signs and wonders, such as miraculous faith healings, and believe they receive direct messages from the spirit.

An estimated 600 million people worldwide make up the renewal movement, said David G. Roebuck, director of the Hal Bernard Dixon Jr. Pentecostal Research Center in Cleveland, Tenn.
"We believe in miracles. We teach that," Baggett said about his Pentecostal congregation. "We teach that God is the same yesterday, today and forever."

Pentecostal and charismatic services can be very emotional and include prolonged prayer. At times, worshippers can be so overwhelmed that they faint, a practice known as being slain in the spirit. Those manifestations of the spirit, Baggett said, make people nervous.

"I've had people ask me to pray for them, but they say, 'I don't want to fall over,' " Baggett said. "So I tell them, 'Don't fall over.' "

Baggett, who believes God does speak to people, says he still is wary when people claim that God is speaking to them. He says that any message from God has to be tested, first by reading the Bible.

"That's where you have to have a knowledge of the word of God," he said. "It has to line up with that.''

Grady, the magazine editor, fears that many renewal movement believers are too immature to follow that advice.

"Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study," Grady wrote in a column after Bentley resigned from the ministry. "Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It's way past time for us to grow up."

Despite extensive reporting, Grady said, he has seen no proof of the Lakeland revival's miraculous claims. Charisma's latest issue includes a notice, asking readers to send in accounts of alleged miracles from Lakeland.

"We are asking for a doctor's verification," Grady said.

One of the father figures of the charismatic movement is the Rev. Don Finto, former pastor of Nashville's Belmont Church. A former Church of Christ missionary, Finto left that denomination after saying he was filled with the Holy Spirit in the 1970s, during what was known as the Jesus movement.

Finto believes that many in the charismatic movement mistake spiritual gifts for spiritual maturity. "There are people who are extremely gifted of God," he said. "But their character does not match their giftedness. And they get ex posed because of their character."

The Rev. Dan Scott, pastor of Nashville's Christ Church, a charismatic-leaning congregation, said that a lone-wolf approach to ministry almost always ends badly. He tells his parishioners to test any spiritual messages against the scriptures, and to talk them out with other believers.

Scott, who grew up Pentecostal, says he draws on other Christian traditions. He says the rhythm of the church year, which balances high points like Easter and Pentecost with ordinary time, reminds him that not every day is filled with spectacular miracles.

He thinks the Eastern Orthodox Church has the best way to deal with miracle workers.

"In the Orthodox Church, if you've got gifts of miracles and healing and you are a monk, they assign you to shovel crap," he said, "because you need to be grounded."

Contact Bob Smietana at

Archbishop’s arrival commences Ethiopian Orthodox Church activities

Thursday August 28 2008

by Denesha Whyte

Archbishop Abba Thaddeus of the Diocese of the Caribbean and Central American Ethiopian Orthodox Churches and several members of his delegation arrived on island yesterday.
During a brief news conference held in the VIP Lounge at the V.C. Bird International Airport after his arrival, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the African Union, Bruce Goodwin, on behalf of the government and the people of Antigua and Barbuda, officially welcomed Archbishop Thaddeus and his delegation to the island.

Last evening, the church began its spiritual activities with a lecture at the Bendals Primary School.

Tomorrow, the events will come to an end with an Ethiopian Orthodox baptism at the Hero House Chapel at 7 a.m.

On Sunday, two of the church’s members will be getting married also at the Hero House Chapel and this begins at 11 a.m. Although the wedding is independent of the two days of activities, the public is invited to witness the Ethiopian Orthodox marital traditions.

Twenty members make up the St. Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Antigua which is one of five of its kind worldwide.

Archbishop Abba Thaddeus is making his second visit to Antiguan and Barbuda, after having visited in February of this year.


Komi Orthodox Diocese Exploits War to Demonize Minority Christians

(August 29, 2008)

"During a time of real NATO aggression against Russia, religious sects have been tasked by the West to spread enmity between traditional confessions and society," the press secretary of the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church announced in Syktyvkar, Russia (Komi Republic), according to an August 28, 2008 report by the Rusnord news agency. The announcement by Igumen Filipp, obviously aimed at exploiting anti-western sentiment exacerbated by the war with Georgia, paints minority Christians as a fifth column engaged in a plot to destroy Russia by inciting tension between Russian Orthodox believers and Muslims. Father Filipp sees evidence of this conspiracy in the efforts of minority Christians (primarily Baptists and Pentecostals), thousands of whom recently signed a petition to block the introduction of Russian Orthodox theology in the republic's public schools.

"Unfortunately, the organizers of this petition aimed against the [Russian Orthodox] diocese were able to convince leaders of Komi's Muslim community that, 'the introduction of the course Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture threatens to incite inter-ethnic hatred.'" Father Filipp points out that the Church has advocated introducing Islamic theology courses in the public schools of majority Muslim regions of Russia, without mentioning that this explicitly contradicts the Russian Constitution and makes no provisions for the rights of religious minorities. Ironically, the announcement came the same day that the mayor of Moscow publicly stated his opposition to teaching theology in city schools.



Assyrian Bishops Call for Assyrian Autonomy in Iraq

Bishop Gallo Shabo

Stockholm (AINA) --- Ablahad Gallo Shabo is the latest bishop from the Syriac Orthodox Church to call for local self governance for the Assyrians in northern Iraq's Nineveh plain. The prelate expressed his call for local self governance during an interview with Ishtar TV, which broadcasts from northern Iraq.

Ablahad Gallo Shabo, who ministers a congregation of 30,000 Assyrians in Sweden, said the world community must help the Assyrians to achieve rights to govern themselves in the Nineveh plain, but at the same time that this must not be understood as a wish to break up Iraq.

Earlier this year, the bishop of Belgium and France, Hazail Soumi asked European politicians during a conference in the European parliament in Brussels why Assyrians are not allowed to gain autonomy in Iraq as the Kurds have.

Joining the two Syriac Orthodox bishops in the call for local governance for Assyrians are two bishops of the Assyrian Catholic church, Bawai Soro and Sarhad Jammo, who published a joint statement this year calling for the Nineveh plaines to become governed by Assyrians.


Ethiopian Orthodox Church to take part in National Day of Prayer

Thursday August 28 2008

by Denesha Whyte

Visiting Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Archdiocese of the Caribbean and Latin America, Abba Thaddeus, along with other members of his delegation will be participating in the National Day of Prayer next Monday.

The arrival of his delegation yesterday marked the opening of a few days of spiritual activities being held by the St. Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Antigua.

The national day of prayer, which will also be a half day public holiday, is being used as a weapon in the nation’s fight against the current crime situation.

On Monday, individuals are asked to have personal prayer and fast sessions from 6 a.m.-9 a. m and once again from 9a.m.-12 noon. Various churches will be having services during the day and at 3 p.m. an ecumenical service will be held at the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG).

The government was persuaded to declare this national holiday through the joint efforts of the United Evangelical Association, Antigua Christian Council, the Association of Independent Churches of Antigua and Barbuda, Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Churches, National Intercessory Network, Women Against Rape and other similar groups.

During Cabinet deliberations on 19 Aug., the idea received consideration and PM Baldwin Spencer announced the acceptance of the proposal during a press conference at his office last Thursday.


Bishops ordered to ‘cease fighting’

Friday, 29th August 2008. 11:44am

By: George Conger.

The Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church has stepped into the dispute within the church in Kosovo, ordering the battling bishops of the diocese of Ras-Prizren to cease their fighting. Belgrade newspapers have reported that the dispute between Bishop Artemije and his suffragan, Bishop Teodosije had led to fist fights between the bishops and rival bands of monks, and hinted at financial malfeasance in the reconstruction of church properties damaged during the war in Kosovo.

The split between the bishops of Kosovo mirrors the larger division within Serbian society over the country’s future in the wake of the secession of Kosovo, and factional fighting within the church over who will succeed its hospitalized head, the 93-year-old Patriarch Paul.

On Aug 26, the Holy Synod of Serbia, consisting of the bishops who head the church’s eparchies — administrative units akin to dioceses in the Serbian church — released a unanimous statement calling upon the bishops to cease their fighting as it "could jeopardize the Serbian Orthodox Church's mission in general, and especially in Kosovo and Metohija."

The fight between Artemije, a hard-line opponent of Kosovo independence, and his moderate deputy Teodosije, became public last week when Artemijie attempted to sack Teodosije and Sava Janjic, an outspoken monk in the Visoki Decani monastery.

However, the sacked Serbs refused to go quietly, and when Artemije’s secretary sought to serve notice of their suspensions upon the two clerics at the Visoki Decani monastery, monks loyal to Teodosije and Sava responded with vigour. A fist fight ensued between the rival bands of monks, and Artemijie’s secretary was tossed out the monastery door, injuring his foot.

Artemije accused Teodosije and Sava Janjic of "open, blatant mutiny," but the Synod refused to back him, saying his sacking of Teodosije was “hasty”. The two bishops were summoned to Belgrade and on Aug 26, the assembled bishops released a statement condemning the violence.

"The crucial decision on these and other top issues will be made by the Holy Synod of Bishops in due time," it was announced, but noted that “Bishop Artemije and his priests and monks and devotees enjoy the solidarity and support from the entire church in testifying to the love of Christ, truth, peace and justice, and all goodness."

The dispute between the two bishops mirrors the political divide within Serbia. Artemije has called for Serbia to blockade Kosovo in the wake of its unilateral declaration of independence in February. He has branded Serbia’s pro-EU President Boris Tadic a traitor and has sought the support of the Russian Orthodox Church, and by implication the Russian government, in his anti-independence campaign.

Teodosije has called for the church to work with the ethnic Albanian government in Kosovo, arguing the church and Serbian government can only safeguard Serbian religious and cultural sites with Kosovar co-operation. The pending appointment of a new patriarch also factors into the Kosovo church feud. In May the Holy Synod sought to remove Paul from office due to advanced age and ill health. Paul rallied from his sickbed and refused to step down, but power was shifted to an ecclesial regent to govern the church.

The patriarchal regent, Bishop Amfilohije is a rival to Artemije to succeed Paul, and has also been an ally of Teodosije. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reported that last week Artemije accused his rival of "meddling for long time" in the Kosovo eparchy.

DPA also stated Artemije is engaged in a power struggle of the letting of contracts to rebuild damaged Serbian churches in Kosovo, as many of the contracts have been awarded to the Belgrade-based Rade Neimar construction firm under his control.

In 2006 the Synod queried the bishop about his business holdings, but Bishop Artemije told the Belgrade press the Synod had been satisfied by his answers.



Russian Church together with Christians of the world extends humanitarian aid to South Ossetian refugees

29 August 2008, 12:09

Moscow, August 29, Interfax - The Russian Orthodox Church together with Christians of other countries has launched a program of humanitarian aid to displaced persons from South Ossetia in North Ossetian town of Alagir.

South Ossetians are given hygienic sets at a refugees transit station. Staff-members of the humanitarian program organized by the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations work together with nuns from the Alanian nunnery which sheltered 70 women and children during the recent military conflict.

Humanitarian action is carried out by the Russian Orthodox Church in cooperation with the Action by Churches Together international charitable organization, which unites several hundreds of Orthodox and Protestant Churches.

Christians from various countries including Western Europe donated money to help South Ossetian refugees.



Georgia: IOCC delivers aid to families who fled to North Ossetia

Baltimore, Maryland — With assistance from the Russian Orthodox Church, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) delivered humanitarian aid to 100 families that fled to North Ossetia (the Russian Federation) from the conflict in Georgia.

The families are taking shelter in the Alansky Epiphany Monastery in the town of Alagir. IOCC distributed hygiene supplies, linen, towels, kitchen utensils, toys, baby food, and diapers. More than 155,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Georgia and South Ossetia since the conflict began on August 8.

"IOCC's longstanding relationship with the Orthodox churches of Georgia and Russia allows us to serve all who have been victimized by this conflict," says Greg Manzuk, IOCC Emergency Response Coordinator for Georgia and Russia.

IOCC began providing assistance to displaced persons in and around Tbilisi on August 13, assisting more than 1,000 individuals in three distributions. The displaced families included South Ossetians, ethnic Russians, and Georgians. IOCC will expand its assistance to other parts of the country that are receiving less assistance than the capital.

Since the early 1990s, IOCC has been active in both Russia and Georgia, working in cooperation with the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches to provide food assistance, agricultural development, infrastructure repair and micro finance programs.

To help in providing emergency relief, call IOCC's donation hotline toll-free at 1-877-803-4622, make a gift on-line at, or mail a check or money order payable to "IOCC" and write "Conflict in the Caucasus" in the memo line to: IOCC, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, Md. 21263-0225.

IOCC, founded in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), has implemented over $275 million in relief and development programs in 33 countries around the world.

Media: Contact Ms. Amal Morcos at 410-243-9820 or (cell) 443-823-3489.



ACT Update Georgia & Russian Federation 01/2008: Conflict in Caucasus response operation

Geneva, August 29, 2008

General situation

Since the opening of hostilities on or about August 8, 2008, tens of thousands of people have been displaced from South Ossetia into Russia and other parts of Georgia. The scale of damage within South Ossetia is difficult to assess due to limits to the access of international organisations. Several locations with some military or strategic significance also suffered damage. Free travel along the country's only major highway has only recently become possible. Unexploded ordinance and looting are a concern in some locations. Access to the town of Gori, just outside the de facto buffer zone established along the boundaries of South Ossetia, has recently become possible. Entry into South Ossetia from other parts of Georgia is still not allowed. UN estimates place the number of displaced people in Georgia at more than 120,000.

The bulk of those displaced into other parts of Georgia have gathered in collective centers in Tbilisi, although significant numbers have also gathered in the larger regional towns. It is estimated that several thousand have taken shelter with relatives or friends. This creates greater difficulties in assessing total internally displaced person (IDP) numbers and reaching those in need.

In recent days, there has been a large movement of refugees from North Ossetia back to South Ossetia. From August 22 to 26 all of the 22 Temporary Accommodation Centers (TACs) in North Ossetia were closed as well as most of the TACs in other regions of North Caucasus.

Migration Service of Russia says that by August 29 the remaining 9 TACs for South Ossetian refugees will be closed in Southern Russia, and refugees will remain only in the private sector. The refugees that previously stayed in TACs and in the private sector are massively returning to South Ossetia.

According to the most recent report from the Russian Federation's Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM), the current status of the estimated 35,300 people who crossed the border into North Ossetia following the recent conflict is as follows: 23,609 people have returned to South Ossetia; 8,707 are in the North Caucasus staying with relatives; and 2,950 people are living in 41 temporary shelters who will return to South Ossetia by September 1.

An ACT member responding in North Ossetia reported that the refugees have returned back to South Ossetia so fast that the international humanitarian organisations who planned relief operations in North Ossetia have to urgently reconsider their plans and transfer their operations to South Ossetia.

ACT response

ACT issued a Rapid Response Fund (RRF) of $60,000 to ACT member, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) on August 21 to assist the refugees who fled to North Ossetia. Due to the rapid change of the situation, the ROC had to adjust the RRF implementation plan. On August 26-28, the distribution of 1,020 hygiene kits for persons returning to South Ossetia was implemented.

Most of the returnees will be accommodated in TACs in Tskhinval (the number of kits was increased from the original RRF plan). The distribution is organised in Alagir (North Ossetia, close to the boarder with South Ossetia) at the transit station for the refugees returning to South Ossetia.

ACT member organisations in Georgia have already undertaken distributions of food and non-food items along with the provision of psychosocial support. An assessment team of ACT members has met with representatives of the Georgian Patriarchate, local partner agencies, UN-coordinated sector groups, and has visited collective centers and distributions. ACT members are meeting regularly and are preparing plans for a coordinated ACT response to the fast developing situation in Georgia. The ACT assessment team has completed its work in parts of Georgia excluding South Ossetia and a preliminary appeal is being prepared.

The ACT members working in Georgia, but outside of South Ossetia, are: International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Swiss Interchurch Aid (HEKS) and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH).

ACT members will also take part in an assessment mission to South Ossetia on August 29-30 and will prepare an appeal based on the assessment findings. Those members are: Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), FinnChurchAid (FCA), Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Also, Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) has representatives in the region and plans to conduct an assessment in the Russian Federation and also in some parts of South Ossetia.

Specific activities and achievements

ACT members and partners continue co-ordination between each other and with other non-governmental organisations (NGO) and UN agencies.

Activities of ACT member organisations to date:

Distribution of food and non-food items including bedding
and hygiene parcels to 1,000 IDPs
Tbilisi and

Distribution of food, MREs, hygiene items, medicines and
some supplementary food to 55,600 IDPs
Tbilisi and Imereti region

Distribution of food to 800 IDPs

-Mobile health service (through local NGO Genesis) for 7,253
IDPs at 26 collective centers
-Distribution of food through Civil Development Institute and
Ombudsman's office in Tbilisi:
-Psychological Support
TbilisiTbilisiAteni Gorge

Distribution of 1020 hygiene kits and food parcels.

Thank you for your attention.

For further information please contact:

ACT Director, John Nduna (phone ++41 22 791 6033 or mobile phone ++ 41 79 203 6055)


ACT Appeals Officer, Michelle Yonetani (phone ++ 41 22 791 6035 or mobile phone ++ 41 79 285 2916)

ACT Web Site address:



Friday, August 29, 2008

St Anastasius of the Strumitza Eparchy

Commemorated on August 29

The New Martyr Anastasius, a Bulgarian, was born in 1774 in the Strumnitsk diocese, in the village of Radovicha. His parents gave him over to military studies. When the youth was twenty years old, he happened to be with his teacher in Thessalonica. The master wanted to sell some Turkish clothes without paying the customary duty. He told his disciple to dress himself as a Turk and go into the city. The collectors of the duty stopped him and demanded the written receipt of duty payment. The youth answered that he was a Turk. Then the collectors demanded that he recite the salutation with the Moslem prayer. The youth became confused and quiet. They ordered him to appear before the commander, who in interrogating the martyr suggested that he become a Moslem. The youth refused, and they led him away to the chief tax-collector.

The official tried at first to flatter, then to threaten the martyr, who admitted his civil guilt, but would not agree to betray the holy Faith. The tax-collector made this known to the mufti, who in turn answered, "You have in one hand the sword, in the other the law, use what you wish."

He knew that by law the tax-collector ought to collect the tax from the youth, but then by judgment of the mufti he would not be a follower of Mohammed, armed with a sword. When he had received such an answer, the commander of the haraje sent the youth to the local mullah together with five Turks, who were obliged to testify that the Christian had blasphemed the Moslem religion.

To the accusations of blasphemy against Mohammed by these witnesses, the youth honestly answered that he did not blaspheme him, but he would allow having shown disrespect to Moslem customs. They subjected him to torture and condemned him to hanging. Along the way, they continued to urge the martyr to renounce his faith, but bleeding and exhausted, he fell upon the wayside and died on August 29, 1794.



Georgians pray for nation after war with Russia

Thu Aug 28, 2008 4:32am EDT
By Mark TrevelyanTBILISI, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Georgians flocked to churches on Thursday to pray for their country reeling from military defeat by Russia and the secession of two of its provinces.
Hundreds of worshippers packed into Tbilisi's riverside Sioni church for a three-hour service led by Orthodox Patriarch Ilia the Second to mark the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the entry into heaven of the mother of Jesus.
They crossed themselves repeatedly as a bell chimed to mark the start of the service and a column of bearded priests filed through the church in vestments of red, green, white or gold.
"Today we have a great crisis in Georgia. A big war is starting, I think. Our patriarch told us to pray every day," said Ucha Andguladze, an unemployed 25-year-old man.
Georgian forces attempted on Aug. 7-8 to recapture the breakaway, pro-Russian region of South Ossetia but were overwhelmed by Russia's military in a war that lasted just a few days. Russia says it intervened to stop Georgian "genocide" against South Ossetians, many of whom hold Russian passports.
This week Russia said it was recognising South Ossetia and a second breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent states under its protection, a move that drew strong international condemnation.
In the dark interior of the vaulted church, many worshippers lit candles and kissed the wooden frame and glass cover of a portrait of Christ. Others stood quietly reading from prayer books.
As the service opened, a group of male singers burst into deep, resonant song on one side of the church and were answered by the lighter sound of a mixed-voice choir on the other.
Saints stared down from the walls in icons that have been blackened over the centuries so that many of the figures appear only as dark silhouettes crowned with pale haloes.
"We have so many threats, we have people crying," said Nino Dzigua, a young woman wearing an orange headscarf.
"Today Georgians are praying for Mary and for our country. Today the whole of Georgia prays to Saint Mary that she saves Georgia from wars, from damages, from the devil," the 23-year-old accountant said in English.
In a country which adopted Christianity as early as the fourth century, the festival of Mary is a national holiday with special significance. According to a Georgian legend, it was Mary herself who gave Georgians their homeland and exhorted them to look after it.

Church slams move on religious lessons

The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece yesterday condemned a government initiative that gives schoolchildren the right not to attend religious education classes without their parents having to provide a reason, saying that it is a violation of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, a new circular distributed by the Education and Religion Ministry notes that schoolchildren who choose to skip RE lessons will be obliged to attend Greek language lessons or another class on a subject in which they are slacking.

But the Holy Synod called for the enforcement of a circular issued by the ministry in 2006, which allows schoolchildren to skip RE classes only if their parents provide the school with a written explanation. «Religious education classes are compulsory for Greek Orthodox pupils, in accordance with Article 16 of the Constitution,» the Holy Synod said in a statement.

The ministry's initiative also provoked the ire of the dean of the Theology School of Thessaloniki's Aristotle University, Ioannis Kogoulis. In a letter to Minister Evripidis Stylianidis, Kogoulis said the initiative «boosts the efforts of all those who seek to ignore, conceal or distort the sacrifices and contribution of the Orthodox Church to the nation.»


Orthodox Church Marks Assumption of Virgin Mary August 28

Assumption of the Virgin Mary is marked by Orthodox Church on August 28.Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II will conduct a service prayer in the St. Mariam Assumption Sioni Cathedral at 9.00am on august 28.

The feast is preceded by a fast period, the most devoted Christians observe.The Most-holy Mother of God after the Ascension of Jesus Christ continued to live on earth several years. One Christian historian says — ten years, and another — twenty-two years. Apostle John the Theologian, according to the instructions of Jesus Christ, took Her into his home and cared for Her with great love as Her own son until the end of Her life. The Most-holy Mother of God became a mother to all twelve of the apostles in general. When the Christian faith had spread to other lands, many Christians came from distant countries to see and listen to Her voice.

One day, when the Mother of God was praying thus on the Mount of Olives, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her with a branch from a date palm in Paradise and told Her the joyful news that in three days She would finish Her earthly life, and the Lord would take Her to Himself. The Most-holy Mother of God silently rejoiced over this news. She told Her adopted son, John, and began to prepare for Her end. At that time, the other apostles were not in Jerusalem, as they had dispersed to other countries to preach about the Savior. The Mother of God wanted to bid farewell to them, and so the Lord in a miraculous manner gathered all the apostles to Her, except Thomas, transporting them by His omnipotent power.

At the hour of Her death, an extraordinary light shone in the room where the Mother of God lay. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, surrounded by angels, appeared and received Her pure soul.

Orthodox Church calls death of St. Mary Assumption, as she slept for a while and resurrected in three days. She overcame all laws of the nature.

However, Virgin Mary even after her Assumption never lets the World alone and she assists everybody who asks her sincerely for assistance.


Moscow Mayor Comes Out Against Mandatory Orthodox Theology Courses in Schools

(August 28, 2008)

Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov has come out against the mandatory teaching of Russian Orthodox theology in public schools, according to an August 27, 2008 report by the Interfax news agency. Such mandatory courses have been introduced in a few regions, along with elective courses in several others. "Our schools are multi-confessional," the mayor said. "There are hotheads from Orthodoxy who want to make such classes mandatory, and I'm an Orthodox person, so I speak from experience on this." If such classes are mandated, "we will end up not with united, multi-confessional relations, but a country divided along confessional lines." He would be willing to support elective history of religion classes, however, "but not more than that." Aside from the heads of predominantly Muslim regions like Tatarstan, Mayor Luzhkov is the first major regional leader to state opposition to the plan, which is backed by the Russian Orthodox Church and some officials. Human rights activists have opposed the introduction of theology courses in the schools as a violation of the Russian Constitution and have pointed out that the main textbook that accompanies the courses contains antisemitic passages.


The Missing Debate

St. John of Rila of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church

28 August 2008

Women can, and should, play a bigger role in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. If only we could discuss it.
SOFIA When I returned to Bulgaria from my theological specialization at Oxford University, I wanted to deliver a series of lectures on modern Christian theology to the theological students at Sofia University. I had in mind presenting major contemporary writers from the Catholic and Protestant traditions, on the one hand, and from the modern Western Orthodox thought, on the other.
What was my disappointment when I was not allowed even to submit my project for consideration at an academic faculty meeting because, as I was bluntly told, “There is no such a thing as modern theology!” I argued that I had studied “that thing” for a whole year at Oxford and I was pretty sure it was a necessary subject because Bulgarian students should have basic knowledge on Western Christian schools of thought. To little avail, as the verdict was: “You do not have any chance to teach a course here. You obviously have forgotten that you are a woman.”
This happened more than 10 years ago. Despite the fact that at that time there already were female students in the theology department (admitted after the 1991 restoration of the communist-era Spiritual Academy to its initial status of a theological department at Sofia University), no woman was teaching there, except for one or two part-time teachers in foreign languages. The situation in the theological department at Veliko Turnovo University was much the same. However, gradually a few part-time female lecturers in disciplines other than foreign languages have been “granted” the right to teach. The fact that today there are a few postgraduate female students and even a couple of assistant professors in these departments shows a considerable shift from the radical approach to the issue of women theologians in Bulgaria. As for me, I was “allowed” to teach theological students at Veliko Turnovo an optional course on religion, nationalism, and civil society in Eastern Europe in the 2002-2003 school year, and my book, Eschatological Anthropodicy: The Human Person and History in Contemporary Orthodox Thought, as well as theological books edited or translated by me, are widely read by professors and students at both universities.
Unfortunately, prejudice and ill-advised loftiness, coupled, to my mind, with a serious amount of fear and defensiveness, prevail in academic and ecclesiastical circles in Bulgaria. Despite the fact that my university course was well attended and highly rated by students, it was discontinued without explanation. Some female theologians complain that although the negative attitude on the part of the older professors has subsided somewhat, it has been, alarmingly enough, taken on by members of the junior male faculty. When I discussed with Bishop Kallistos Ware of the University of Oxford my idea to translate and publish in Bulgarian the book The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church, written by him and Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, he expressed concerns as to how the book would be met in the religiously conservative Bulgaria. He was right to worry and I had to slightly change the title of the Bulgarian edition, omitting the fearful word ordination. Certainly, Ware’s visit to Bulgaria in 2002 and the lectures he gave to the academic community, attended by most of the theologians and some clergymen in Sofia, made easier the acceptance of the book and propelled its official “approval.” Now it is being sold in many churches in the country. Interestingly enough, when some time ago I talked to a person selling books at one of the churches, he mentioned that this particular book was being bought mostly by men rather than women! This small fact invites further consideration and explanation from a sociological point of view.
Considering its recent history, the church’s arm’s-length embrace of women is ironic. Under communist rule the surviving church leadership opted for compromise with the regime and pledged its loyalty to the government. In Bulgaria, as in Romania and Serbia, the Orthodox Church became a committed ally in the nationalist aspirations of the state. Church attendance dropped off, as in most of the Eastern European countries; those attending church were under the surveillance of the security agencies and persistence often meant a job loss. No wonder that the churchgoers were mainly elderly women who were not afraid of persecution and who secretly brought to the church their grandchildren to be baptized. In this way in Bulgaria, as in Russia, the parish structures of the Orthodox Church survived the atheist persecution because of the faith and perseverance of those courageous elderly women. As for the monastic life at that time, it suffices to note that in 1987 there were 135 monks and 170 nuns. Today the female monasteries outnumber considerably the male monasteries: for example, the ratio in the eparchy (diocese) of Veliko Turnovo is 12-to-6.
Women are also a majority among theological students in Bulgaria. At the theology department of Veliko Turnovo University, for example, two-thirds of the students are female. Very few, however, work in the field of theology after graduation. Normally they take a second major, so they can find a job after leaving university. This only confirms that religious education that is open to women does not necessarily mean that they will enjoy more than a symbolic and rather fragmented presence in the religious job market.
Until now, the issue of women and their specific activities in the church has not been seriously discussed in Bulgaria, nor has there been a theological debate on female charismas and spiritual gifts. Such silence is part of a social ethos in which feminist themes and attitudes, on the one hand, and religious problems, on the other, are generally neglected and underrepresented. Although in Bulgaria between 1900 and the communist take-over, according to Krassimira Daskalova, one of the few feminist scholars in the country, an important “indigenous” feminist tradition had developed, this tradition has remained largely unknown, and it barely included religion-related discourses. Today, the sporadic feminist activities in Bulgaria are predominantly secular-oriented. Orthodox women tend to avoid any problematization of their place in the church. For the most part, they do not see the limitation of their activities to the field of social work (diaconia) as restrictive. Clearly, Bulgarian women are far from seeking any official recognition of these diaconical activities through the restoration of the ministry of deaconess (which was gradually abandoned in the Christian East from the sixth century onward).
Earlier, when giving talks on this topic at several international meetings, I shared my hopes that in spite of the absence of a debate on the role of women in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and notwithstanding the hostility and misunderstanding in certain ecclesiastical circles toward women’s initiatives, a slow shift to a wider representation of women in church-related activities could be observed in the not so distant future. Today, without having given up this hope altogether, I am less optimistic.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Uncovering of the relics of the Venerable Job, Abbot and Wonderworker of Pochaev

Commemorated on August 28

Saint Job of Pochaev died on October 28, 1651, and his relics were transferred to the church of the Holy Trinity on August 28, 1659. A second uncovering of the relics took place on August 28, 1833. In the year 1902, the Holy Synod decreed that on this day the holy relics of St Job be carried around the Dormition cathedral of the Pochaev Lavra after the Divine Liturgy.

Troparion - Tone 4
Having acquired the patience of your Forefather,and having resembled the Baptist in abstinence,you shared the divine zeal of bothand were counted worthy to receive their names.You were a fearless preacher of the True Faith;in this way you brought a multitude of monastics to Christ.You strengthened all people in Orthodoxy,Job, our venerable father;pray that our souls may be saved

Kontakion - Tone 4
Podoben: "Today You have shown forth..."You were a pillar of the True Faith;a zealot of the commandments of the Gospel;a denouncer of pride,and a defender and teacher of the humble.Therefore, those who honor you pray for the remission of their sins,and that this, your holy habitation, be kept safe from all harm,Job, our father, who resembled the long-suffering Patriarch of old.



I Invented the Internet (Ep. 4: Kill and Destroy)

Thinking about voting for Obama this election?

Serbia: Church calls for end to Kosovo monastery quarrel

Belgrade, 26 August (AKI) - The Serbian Orthodox Church on Tuesday called for a quarrel between two of its senior officials in Kosovo to cease, saying unity was vital at a moment when Serbs there were going through difficult times.
A Synod of all archbishops convened in Belgrade after hardline Kosovo archbishop Artemije dismissed bishop Teodosije, the head of the Kosovo monastery Visoki Decani last week.
The monastery's monks violently resisted Teodosije's dismissal, turfing Artemije's secretary, Simeon out of the monastery and reportedly injuring his foot in the process.
Artemije claimed Teodosije and his allies were undermining his position at the request of the United States and spreading lies about his alleged business ventures.
The archbishop is the staunchest opponent of Kosovo's independence, declared by majority ethnic Albanians in February. He would like Serbs to cut all cooperation with foreign and local officials in Kosovo.
The more moderate Teodosije, on the other hand, argues the the church should work with any authorities to ensure the protection of Kosovo's tiny Serb minority and its shrines.
But Belgrade daily Politika and some analysts said that behind the quarrel was actually a power struggle for the successor to ailing patriarch Pavle, who has been hospitalised since last November.
Artemije and rival archbishop Amfilohije have emerged as the main candidates to take over the spiritual leadership from Pavle of some eight million Orthodox Serbs.
After a four-hour meeting, the Synod said: “The key decisions on this and other urgent matters will by taken by the highest Church body, the Holy Church Assembly in a foreseeable period of time."
It pleaded for the Kosovo quarrel to stop in the meantime.
Some reports have however quoted unnamed church sources as saying Artemije is seeking to retain control over the lucrative business of the reconstruction of Serb shrines in Kosovo.
A large work amound of the work was carried out by a Belgrade-based firm under his control, the sources said.
Kosovo independence was recognised by the United States and over 40 countries including most other western powers.
But Belgrade continues to oppose the move and to wage a diplomatic battle to retain Kosovo.

Moscow Patriarchate Likely to Lose Big as a Result of the Kremlin's Moves in Georgia

August 27, 2008

August 27, 2008

Paul Goble

The Russian Orthodox Church may turn out to be one of the biggest losers as a result of the Kremlin's aggression in Georgia and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, losing its position of power in the former Soviet republics and its influence in the Orthodox and Christian worlds more generally.

That is because Moscow's actions took place despite an appeal by Iliya II, the catholicos-patriarch of Georgia, not to support separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the Russian government's rebuff of that appeal not only will alienate the Georgian autocephalous church but also give new energy to efforts by Kyiv to form a single autocephalous Orthodox Church there.

Given that nearly half the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate are in Ukraine – parishes whose number allows it to claim to be the largest Orthodox church in the world – and that many bishops there were handpicked by Moscow to ensure the election of Kirill as the next patriarch, the shift of their allegiance would have a major impact on Orthodoxy and interfaith relations.

On Monday evening, Iliya II issued an appeal to the president and prime minister of the Russian Federation asking them to refrain from going ahead with the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (the text of his appeal is available here).

Georgia, the catholicos-patriarch pointed out, has always contained many cultures and religions, which have on occasion clashed. But while each group may have its own goals, all "have a common interest in the preservation of the territorial integrity [of the country] and the maintenance of national uniqueness."

And he continued that "it is especially sad that Russia and Georgia, two Orthodox countries," find themselves embroiled in a military and political conflict that threatens those values. But Iliya added, a Russian move to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia would have far greater consequences than that.

It would, he argued, lead to more separatism around the world. "Separatism is a terrible force, which destroys the foundations of states, and if it is given the chance to develop, chaos will dominate the world." There are "small peoples in all states," he continued, "and if they all want political independence, wars without end will begin."

And he concluded, recognizing these two breakaway regions would be "extremely dangerous for Russia itself, giving an impulse to the development of separatism in your country, and in the future, you will have many more problems than there are in Georgia. That is something that ought to be considered."

Unfortunately, neither Dmitry Medvedev nor Vladimir Putin took the warnings of the Georgian church leader seriously and went ahead with recognition. But as they were doing so, the Moscow Patriarchate, clearly aware of the dangers this step represents for the Russian church, took a number of steps to try to calm the situation.

First of all, Russian Patriarch Aleksii II sent greetings to Iliya II on the 45th anniversary of the latter's entering the priesthood. Then, it had one of its theologians announce that the fate of Orthodox churches in Abkhazia would depend exclusively on parish members.

And finally, today, the Moscow church announced that it was continuing conversations with the Georgian church, conversations that Archbishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz, the Moscow patriarchate's man in the Caucasus, said would be based "not on political norms but on church laws".

But few in the Georgian church and even fewer religious leaders in Ukraine are likely to accept that line, especially given some of the radical nationalist Orthodox commentary in Moscow (For an example of its argument and tone, see Vladimir Semenko, "The Church, the Empire and 'The Nationalities Question'" see here).

As a result, the Moscow Patriarchate faces an uphill task to avoid suffering any more collateral damage from what the Kremlin has done in Georgia than it has experienced over the last several weeks.