Archive for the ‘Orthodox’ category

Georgia passes new freedom of religion legislation

July 9, 2011

On the 5th July 2011 the Georgian Parliament passed into law new legislation that ensures the religious freedoms of ‘religious groups recognized as religious organizations in member States of the Council of Europe or having close historic ties with Georgia.’

Initial drafts limited the freedoms to just five groups, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Evangelical Baptist church of Georgia, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Jewish and Muslim communities of Georgia, in addition to the special status still accorded the Orthodox Church of Georgia. The Baptist Archbishop in Georgia, Malkhaz Songulashvili, reports that following the release of the first draft, Bishop Rusudan Gotziridze (Baptist), lobbied the parliament and requested that the legislation should be extended to all religious groups in Georgia. The draft was subsequently amended to meet this request. A press release from the Embassy of Georgia in London specifically refers to Evangelicals being granted the same freedoms.

According to the Embassy’s press release, lawmaker, Nugzar Tsiklauri, said ‘Georgia is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country and every citizen of this country, regardless of what religion he belongs to, must have equal rights.’

Previously it has only been possible for the majority of religious organisations to register as a non-profit association. The new legislation now allows for registration as a religious association although the lawmakers have been careful to allow religious organisations to decide whether they want to continue as a non-profit association or register as a religious association. The legislation is designed to ensure maximum flexibility for such organisations.

A copy of the press release can be downloaded here.

Moscow’s ‘National Prayer Breakfast’ has a new format

April 1, 2011

europeanmission is to carry summary versions of press releases written by William Yoder, working among the evangelical commmunity in Russia. This is the first such piece from William Yoder and we are glad to be able to offer this service.

— On the 15th March, approximately 200 religious and secular leaders gathered in Moscow’s exclusive “President-Hotel” for the 11th Russian National Prayer Breakfast (established 1995). This year’s gathering, which was entitled “Russia – a Multi-National and Multi-Cultural Country”, was marked by Nikolay Svanidze’s impassioned call for Russian society to address the crying social and economic needs of its young. Svanidze, a prominent TV journalist and head of the state-run “Commission of the Public Chambre for Multi-National Relations and Freedom of Conscience”, decried the aggressive, xenophobic nationalism increasingly prominent among the nation’s young. Millions of youth are suffering from “poverty, crudity, violence and unjust courts and are seeking a release for their aggressive emotions”. He described the state’s propaganda for the young as promoting xenophobia and being “majestically-superfluous and nationalistic in character”.

Svanidze noted that Russia’s “patriotic” societies and media have described the earthquakes in Japan as just “punishment for encroaching upon our rights to the Kuril Islands” just off the Japanese coast. This is an expression of our total lack of pity for the needy of Japan and elsewhere. He branded this inhumane reaction “a result of our moral isolationism, a post-imperial syndrome”. He consequently appealed for a “national programme teaching respect for one another, something almost completely absent from our country”. “Social escalator” programmes could instil in the young a sense of hope for the future. Russians too must learn that all of us are first-of-all simply human beings without ethnic or confessional boundaries.

Unity was the order of the day. Sergey Melnikov, Head Secretary of the “Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations at the Seat of the President of the Russian Federation”, cited the terrorist attack at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on 24 January which killed 37 and injured 180. He remarked that thanks to blood donations, “the blood in the veins of the survivors was merged with the blood of those from differing faiths”. This symbolises Russia’s existence as a united and single organism. Akhmad Garifullin, a deputy of Moscow’s head mufti, noted that the USSR’s victory over fascism was only possible because the nation acted as one organism irrespective of individual confession. Today‘s challenges demand a similar amount of unity: “Prayer is the weapon of the believers. We stand together in the struggle against terror.”

Alexander Torshin, First Vice-Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation (Upper House), explained the traditional Russian aversion to the term “tolerance”. Along with the positive connotations of friendship and mutual respect, it is to the Russian mind also associated with undue acceptance of “injustice, crudity and lack of culture”. Tolerance can mean, in English terms, that “anything goes”.

The event’s new format

Some church leaders expressed concern that they were unable to make any contribution to the event. The Russian Prayer Breakfast has traditionally been a forum largely for the self-presentation of Protestant churches and organisations. So this year’s format, in which the lectures and greetings were limited to politicians as well as one Catholic, Muslim and Jewish representative, was a significant remake.

Thanks to its brand-new format, this smaller and briefer Prayer Breakfast was not without hiccups. In a vast departure from Russian tradition, the audience usually did not rise from their tables for prayer. The prayers from the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim speakers seemed to be more read than prayed.

Alexander Torshin, a veteran participant at Washington’s National Prayer Breakfast, explained in his short speech the intended future direction of the Russian movement. In agreement with the North American model, the Russian event is intended to become more of a presentation from and for politicians – not clergy. That is something quite different from the past Protestant event attended by a few politicians. Torshin regards Russian politicians publically testifying of their personal faith to be a distant dream, but he does believe that prayer gatherings will begin to take place within the Russian Duma and Parliament in the coming months.

Criticism of the Breakfast’s new format centers on the fear that the event may not remain explicitly Christian. Evgeny Bakhmutsky, Senior Vice-President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, stated in an interview that he missed Christ-centered praying among the Protestant speakers.

For the first time in years, not a single Orthodox cleric was visible at the event. The Moscow Patriarchate explains increasingly that the Prayer Breakfast’s format does not sync with Orthodox convictions. In the Orthodox tradition, public prayers need to be prayed by Orthodox clergy, and joint prayer with non-Orthodox Christians is now discouraged. Consequently, the Orthodox are championing their own inter-confessional forum. Its first public sessions may take place as early as Fall 2011.

However, Russia’s National Prayer Breakfast movement is far from dead. A similar Breakfast was held in St. Petersburg on 20 March; another will take place in Krasnoyarsk/Siberia in April. Next year’s Moscow event is scheduled for 13 March.

William Yoder, Ph.D., “kant50@gmx.de” or “rea.org@mail.ru

October launch for The Way

August 26, 2010

News has just reached us that publication of the new Orthodox course ‘The Way’ is scheduled for the end of September. Published with the support of World Vision and drawing inspiration from the success of Alpha, ‘The Way’ will be formally launched at St Botolph’s without Bishopsgate, London, at 7pm. on the 7th October.

Dr. David Frost, the Director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, will host the evening and introduce the material and members of the team behind its production. He expresses his delight at the ‘launch of the course in the first week of October 2010, with a hope of copies being available earlier, toward the end of September.’

A brochure for the course can be downloaded by clicking here.

Turkey, EU membership & religious minorities

August 13, 2010

As the secular state of Turkey continues the long and drawn out journey towards membership of the EU, there remain important aspects of its commitment to religious freedom that need urgent attention. Forum 18 reports on the why it is still the case that Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic leaders are chosen with government permission as leaders of religious communities which do not exist in law and whose personal positions are not recognised in law.

These three religious communities strive very carefully to avoid confrontation with the Turkish state authorities but de facto are expected to seek permission from the Turkish state to elect new leaders for their respective communities. This is not legally required but it is widely acknowledged that if it were not sought, it would be extremely difficult for those leaders to gain recognition from the state as the representative leader of the religious community.

There three groups are recognised by the Lausanne Treaty of 1923  as legitimate ethnically composed religious communities. Other groups, including evangelicals, are not recognised as religious communities and so may choose their own leaders without the expectation of state interference. However, these leaders are not recognised therefore by the Turkish state as representing any religious community or church. Christian mission presence in Turkey must also exist in a ‘grey zone’ of existence.

The Orthodox Church has been present in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) for over 1600 years but in 2007 the Turkish courts ruled that the leader of the Orthodox Church in Turkey was not to be called the ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’ but the ‘Patriarch of the Fanar’ (The Fanar is the Istanbul district in which his residence is based) and that he had no authority over Orthodox churches outside of Turkey. All this is despite the fact the world Orthodox community clearly views him as the ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’ with authority over quite a number of scattered Orthodox communities in other parts of the world.

There is certainly a geographical and economic case to be made for Turkish membership of the EU, but until such dangerous eccentricities in its treatment of its religious minorities are addressed, Turkey is likely to face considerable opposition to its membership from other member countries of the EU.

The Way – Orthodox learning from Alpha

May 18, 2010

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge, has just announced the late Spring launch of a new teaching programme suitable for use in Orthodox Churches  and which closely models the teaching methods of the British Alpha programme. Called The Way each session of the 12 week programme involves a small group meal together, a talk or presentation, discussion, and questions and answers.

The creators of The Way write that it  “aims to present the basics of Orthodox Christian faith in an atmosphere of friendship, free exchange and trust, where no position is forbidden and no question treated as foolish or unworthy of attention.” It assumes that human relationship, worship and teaching are central to the transmission of faith.

The Way will be available as a boxed set of 4 DVDs at an rrp. of £20 and will be available via Amazon.


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