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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Monday, 11 November 2013

METROPOLITAN HILARION ALFEYEV OF VOLOKOLAMSK ON THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS, ESPECIALLY IN SYRIA


Speech by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk at the OSCE high- level meeting ‘Preventing and Responding to Hate Incidents and Crimes against Christians’ (Rome, Italy, 12 September 2011)

Mr. Chairman, dear participants in the meeting:

The Russian Orthodox Church considers it to be an important and timely initiative of Lithuania, the current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to hold a special meeting dedicated to the position of Christians in the OSCE region. We value highly also the endeavours of the Holy See, which has taken an active part in organizing the event.
We believe that the time has come to discuss openly the violation of the rights of Christians and respond to this challenge through our common efforts. For decades now the encroachment upon of the rights of religious minorities has been widely discussed on the European continent. Yet, practice shows that the position of the majority, which is comprised of traditional Christians in almost all the OSCE participating states, is far from being the best guarantee of their rights. The most convincing example of this was the way the European Court of Human Rights conducted the Lautsi v. Italy case on the question of the presence of crucifixes in Italy’s schools. The resolution of this problem in favour of Christians was possible thanks only to the united efforts of a whole number of countries that spoke out against the Court’s original decision. Among the countries united in support of Christian identity in Europe were Russia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, and others. This was an unprecedented for our times fact of multilateral cooperation on the grounds of common Christian values.
If in Europe and the OSCE region voices can be heard against the presence of Christian symbols in public life, and there are signs of other forms of an intolerant attitude towards Christians, then this is a good occasion to think upon the reasons for such things. There is a simple axiom, understandable to every educated European. European civilization is a culture that has developed on a Christian foundation. Today Europe, and indeed the entire OSCE region, has acquired a clearly expressed multicultural nature, having become a place of contact between peoples and religions from all over the world. Yet, does this mean that the cultural and religious diversity of Europe definitely threatens her Christian roots? Not at all. The real threat is not in offering to the continent’s new religious and national communities the chance to make use of Christian hospitality. The basic danger is in attempting to use religious diversity as an excuse to exclude signs of Christian civilization from the public and political realities of the continent, as though this would make our continent friendlier towards non-Christians. I am convinced that society, which has renounced its spiritual heritage under the pretext of the radical separation of religious life from public life, becomes vulnerable to the spirit of enmity in relation to representatives of any religion. This indeed does create an atmosphere of intolerance in relation to Christians, as well as to representatives of other traditional religions. This statement can be proved by many examples.
Spain, as well as a number of other countries, has recently introduced a course on ‘Education in Citizenship’ in school syllabuses for primary school pupils which include sex education. Within this course pupils are indoctrinated with views on sexual relations which are totally inconsistent with the religious beliefs of their parents. This practice of the course has already resulted in mass appeals to the courts, locally and internationally, but the problem remains unsolved at the European level. I stress that although such educational experiments are opposed by Catholic parents, this is not a Catholic issue, but one which is shared by representatives of all traditional European religions. No religious community can remain indifferent to the destruction of the sanctity of family life. And in addition there is the internationally recognized right of parents to bring up children “in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions”. I should draw to your attention that in Russia, Orthodox civil society organizations in cooperation with Muslim and Jewish organizations, have effectively opposed such initiatives. In our own country, Russia, we have followed a quite different direction: we have launched a very effective experiment to introduce the teaching of religious culture in a way which gives parents the possibility of choosing the information about religion that a child will receive in school.
Organizations in the OSCE countries responsible for notifying the public about cases of Christianophobia regularly report cases of persecution of Christians who criticize social evils, albeit that they are legally recognized. For example, clergy and lay believers who criticize homosexuality as sinful often face public ostracism or severe discrimination. Statutory guarantees of freedom of speech laid down in international law are always ignored in such cases.
Christians in the OSCE region are consistently attacked because of their position on abortion and euthanasia. Opponents not only fail to see that behind their false justifications lie the deprivation of human life, but they also question Christians’ right to present their views and their democratic efforts to have them reflected in European legislation. It has been an encouragement and inspiration to see the recent recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe upholding the right to conscientious objection for medical workers who refuse to take part in such operations. I hope that refusal on grounds of conscientious objection will be an accepted approach in the educational and in public service spheres .
We are also concerned about the acts of vandalism aimed against Christian shrines that have become a sad social reality in contemporary OSCE region.
Nowadays, Russian Orthodox Church speaks openly about the necessity of protecting the rights of Christians outside Europe where their lives and health are under threat. These issues are at the top of the agenda when representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church visit the Middle East and North Africa and are discussed in numerous political contexts. In May this year the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a special statement on Christianophobia internationally, in which it expressed concern about the growth of persecution against Christians worldwide. The statement calls for the development of a comprehensive and effective mechanism for protecting Christians and Christian communities subjected to persecution or to restrictions in their religious life and work. We believe that these efforts will improve the conditions of life of our brothers in faith. However, our voice calling for protection of Christians outside Europe will sound more confident and authoritative if it is backed by our co-operation in making OSCE states an example of the upholding of Christian rights and freedoms.
The analysis of research of cases of an intolerant attitude towards Christians demonstrates that the cases, as a rule, bear an anti-religious motive. People who ignore or infringe on the rights and legitimate interests of Christians are often guided by secular maximalism, that is, they proceed from the notion that religion is no more than the personal affair of the individual and does not have a social dimension. In recent years, the OSCE has come to realize that the dominant factor of radical secularism is as dangerous to religious freedom as religious extremism in all its manifestations. This change in position has become possible thanks only to the efforts of Christian non-governmental organizations which monitor Christianophobia in Europe.
So that the rights of Christians and representatives of other traditional religions in the OSCE region can be effectively defended, the Organization is called upon not only to react to crimes but also to act in consolidating peace between all of the region’s religions. To propose a model of a peaceful inter-civilizational coexistence is a difficult theoretical and practical task, and the search for its solution is impossible without the creation of interactive mechanisms of dialogue among traditional religious communities. This model is needed not only in the OSCE region but also throughout the world, including those places where Christians feel themselves to be especially vulnerable.
The building up of social relations which exclude or minimize the appearance of inter-religious enmity, is unthinkable without paying attention to religious and inter-cultural education, without setting up conditions for the embodiment of ideals of virtue, justice, and mercy in public life, common to the majority of traditional religions. I hope that the work of the OSCE in the sphere of guaranteeing freedom of conscience will be realized in the spirit of sincere partnership of national governments, international structures, experts, and religious leaders who are determined to contribute to inter-religious peace in the OSCE region.

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP: SYRIAN CHRISTIANS FACING EXTERMINATION
by JOHN COURETAS on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2012

In an interview for Acton’s Religion & Liberty quarterly, the Russian Orthodox bishop in charge of external affairs for the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, warned that that the situation for the Christian population of Syria has deteriorated to an alarming degree. Hilarion compared the situation today, after almost two years of fighting in Syria, as analogous to Iraq, which saw a virtual depopulation of Christians following the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The Russian Orthodox Church has been among the most active witnesses against Christian persecution around the world, particularly in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. In November 2011, Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, visited Syria and Lebanon. In a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kirill said that he shared a concern with Assad about the “spread of religious radicalism that threatens the integrity of the Arab world.”

That sentiment has been expressed widely in Christian communities in Syria — some of them dating to apostolic times — as civil war has progressively taken a heavy toll. Now almost two years on, as many as 30,000 people may have perished. Despite having few illusions about the nature of Assad’s autocratic rule, many Christians feared that the Islamist groups, involved in what the West initially viewed as another “Arab Spring” uprising, would eventually turn on them. Indeed this is what has happened. Entire Christian villages have been depopulated, churches desecrated, and many brutal killings have taken place at the hands of the “Arab Spring” insurgents. Most recently, Fr. Fadi Haddad, an Orthodox priest, was found murdered with brutal marks of torture on his remains. Car bomb attacks are now being waged against Christian neighborhoods. (See these backgrounders on the Syrian crisis from the Congressional Research Service and the Council on Foreign Relations).

In February, Hilarion delivered a lecture in Moscow titled “An Era of New Martyrdom. Discrimination of Christians in Various Parts of the World” in which he cited the work of groups such as Barnabas Fund and International Christian Concern. In his talk, he detailed the dire situation of the Coptic Christians in Egypt and in Syria, and various other nations. He noted that Muslims and Christians of various confessions – Orthodox, Roman and Syro Catholics, Maronites and Armenians – co-existed in Syria through centuries and that, until recently, “Syria was a model of wellbeing as far as interreligious co-existence was concerned.” What’s more, Syria has accepted 2 million refugees from Iraq, with several thousand of them being Christians, as they fled persecution in their homeland.

“It is possible already now to speak of an external military interference in [Syria] as thousands of extremist militants in the guise of opposition forces have unleashed a civil war in the country,” Hilarion said in the Moscow lecture. “Extremist groups, the so-called jamaates consisting of militant Wahhabites armed and trained at the expense of foreign powers are purposefully killing Christians.”

The Russian bishop also addressed the crisis on Oct. 23 in a speech at the United Nations. He detailed “various outrageous facts of discrimination and violence against Christians” for UN delegates:

Last year, Christians made up ten percent of the population of Syria. Today in this country, affected by civil war, tens of thousands of Christians have fallen victim to religious intolerance. Their churches and shrines are being destroyed, they are leaving cities and villages where they lived for centuries, their homes are ruined or captured by the radically-minded representatives of the dominant religion. No less than fifty thousand Christians have had to flee from the Syrian city of Homs.

The distinguished representative of Egypt stated a few minutes ago “that the Arab countries respect freedom of expression. One that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed towards one specific religion or culture. A freedom of expression that tackles extremism and violence.” We see, however, that Egypt, with a total population of eighty million people and with a Christian population of about eight million, is facing mass exodus of Coptic Christians because of the systematic persecutions on religious grounds. We call on the Egyptian government to make every effort to stop this persecution and to protect Christians from hatred and violence.

Over half of the sixty thousand Christians have left Libya during the civil war.

The extended Acton Institute interview with Hilarion, conducted Oct. 26 at the Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wis., will be published in the Fall 2012 issue of Religion & Liberty. What follows is an excerpt in which he talks about the situation in Syria and what he sees as parallels to other situations:

R&L: What, in your mind, needs to happen in Syria to bring an end to the violence and to begin the process of reconciliation in that part of the world?

Hilarion: If we look at events which have been unfolding in the Middle East for the last 10 years, we can see a tendency, which is noticeable in many countries. And this has to do with the gradual extermination of Christianity in the Middle East due to various political reasons, due to great political instability, which is peculiar to many countries of this region. I think if we look at the example of Iraq, for example, we’ll see that 10 years ago there were 1.5 million Christians living in that country. Now, there are only 150,000 left. So nine-tenths of the Christian population of Iraq was either exterminated or had to flee.

R&L: The situation is also dire for the Copts.

Hilarion: We see a very grave situation of Christians in Egypt where thousands of Coptic Christians have had to leave the country because they can no longer live there. We see a very difficult situation in Libya, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and now in even Syria. I was recently in Rome addressing the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, and two senior Catholic prelates from the Middle East region approached me. One was a Maronite and the other one was a Melkite. And both of them thanked me for the position of the Russian Orthodox Church and also for the position of the Russian Federation on the international scene with regards to Syria, because the Russian Federation does not take position in favor of one or another party of the country. But we believe that all parties of the conflict should be partners of the dialogue. If you simply ignore one party, then it doesn’t lead anywhere.

R&L: Are there any areas in Syria now where religious minorities are secure?

Hilarion: What we see now is that the inter-religious situation in the regions which are still controlled by the government is stable. It is as stable as it used to be for many decades, if not centuries. In the places where rebels take power, for example in the city of Homs, we see that immediately the Iraqi scenario is being put in practice. We see that Christians are in grave danger. They have to flee; they have to leave their homes. And people from Syria, the religious leaders with whom I spoke, they fear that if the regime is overthrown, then they will have to leave their country. This is what was happening in Iraq. This is what is happening in Egypt. And this is what is likely to happen in Syria. So I think the foreign powers, which try to work for democracy in these countries — in order to achieve it they intervene. They should always think about the Christian minority because it seems to me that these people are simply ignored. Nobody takes into account their existence, their sufferings, and the fact that they become the first victims of the unrest when the political situation changes of these countries.

I spoke about this at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. And most recently I spoke about this at the session of the Third Committee of the United Nations in New York. And I cited examples of several countries where the rights of Christians are violated. And I called on the international community to create a mechanism of defense of Christians in the Middle East, in particular, and in other countries as well. And this mechanism should involve the granting of political support or economic aide only in exchange for guarantees for Christian minorities.

R&L: Some people are looking at Syria and drawing parallels to Kosovo or Northern Cyprus, places where Christianity is in danger of being destroyed or has disappeared altogether.

Yes. Kosovo is another example of the negligence of the Christian population because politicians had their own political goals, which they achieved with the separation of Kosovo from Serbia. But the result for the Christian population was disastrous. I visited Kosovo twice, and I must say that Christians simply left this region. And those who remain, they live in very difficult conditions. For example, I visited one Orthodox Church in Kosovo where four ladies live under the protection of the guards. One lady has her house across the street. For the last four years she could not visit her house even once, because as soon as she leaves the compound, she will lose the protection and she is likely to be killed.

Polish MPs highlight plight of Syrian Christians
27.09.2013 08:30
Members of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Polish Parliament have unanimously approved a draft resolution expressing solidarity with the Christian communities in Syria and Egypt.


In the document, MPs call on the government and Polish diplomatic services to lobby at the forum of the European Union and elsewhere for the defence of Christians.
Deputy foreign minister Artur Nowar-Far recalled during the meeting of the commission that Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski discussed the urgent need to protect Christians in his talks with many foreign politicians, including, most recently, with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Artur Nowar-Far welcomed the parliamentary initiative, saying that its importance cannot be overestimated.
“Now is the time for the Polish Parliament to make its voice heard on this serious matter,” he said.
The draft resolution speaks of solidarity with the Christian communities which are the victims of murders and persecution all over the world, particularly in Syria and Egypt, the countries which are engulfed by wars and social disturbances.
In the document, Polish MPs appeal to the international community to undertake bold actions in the defence of Christians against extermination.
“The contemporary world cannot stand idly by when people are being killed solely because they want to remain faithful to their religious beliefs,” the draft resolution says.
Christians make up about nine percent of the Syrian population, including a large community of Syrians of Armenian heritage.
Since clashes broke out in Syria in the spring of 2011, Islamic extremist elements within the rebel forces have been widely blamed for attacks on Christians.
It has been estimated that 15 -25 percent of the rebel forces are tied to groups of Islamic extremists. A large proportion of these fighters, including many of those serving in the Al-Nusra front hail from foreign countries including Saudi Arabia and Libya.

More about Syria:
AN EXCELLENT BLOG (click)

It looks as though we Catholics in the UK must look to Russia to represent us on the world stage. Obama, David Cameron and company make Christian noises now and then; but it is clear that our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria and Egypt are going to receive no help from them.   The British Parliament showed more sense by staying out of Syria.   Let us hope that they also show concern for the victims of the conflict, including the Christians who have been there since Apostolic times.   At the moment, I am proud of our parliament and ashamed of our government.

50 000 Syrian Christians ask for Russian citizenship

Moscow, October 16, Interfax - A group of Syrian Christians have applied for Russian citizenship, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

"Since Syrian law allows dual citizenship, we have decided to seek citizenship of the Russian Federation if this is possible. Russian citizenship would be an honor for any Syrian Christian who wished to acquire it," the group said in a letter to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

A Russian translation of the Arabic text of letter is posted on the ministry's website.

"Our appeal does not mean that we have any mistrust in the Syrian army or government. However, we are scared of the conspiracy of the West and hateful fanatics who are waging a brutal war against our country," the letter says.

"It is for the first time since the Nativity of Christ that we Christians of Qalamoun living in the villages of Saidnaya, Maara Saidnaya, Maaloula and Maaroun are under threat of banishment from our land. We prefer death to exile and life in refugee camps, and so we will defend our land, honor and faith, and will not leave the land on which Christ walked," it says.

"The Christians of Qalamoun believe that the purpose of the Western-backed terrorists is to eliminate our presence in what is our native land, and with some of the most revolting methods as well, including savage murders of ordinary people," the letter says.

"We see the Russian Federation as a powerful factor of global peace and stability. Russia pursues a firm line in the defense of Syria, its people and its territorial integrity," it says.


"None of the about 50,000 people - physicians, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, - who are willing to sign this application want to leave their homes. We possess all that we need, we are not asking for money," the letter says.
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