Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
6 May 2019
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis met with Orthodox clergy, spoke with refugees, and gave First Communion to hundreds of children on Sunday during his visit to Bulgaria. Below, a brief video from CNS's Robert Duncan captures some of these encounters.

Tags: Pope Francis

15 June 2016
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

The title of the 1970 film, “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came,” has recently morphed into the question “what if they called a Great and Holy Synod and nobody came?”

Since 1961, there has been talk among the 14 autocephalous (or independent) Orthodox churches, comprising some 300 million people, about the possibility and necessity of a meeting — a Pan-Orthodox Council or, more formally, a Great and Holy Synod. The obstacles to convening a synod of the Orthodox churches have been many and sometimes great. But, finally, after decades of negotiating and tumultuous change in the lands of most of these churches, a synod was planned for June 2016. The original venue was scheduled to be in Istanbul, the seat of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, but that was unacceptable to the patriarch of Moscow of the Orthodox Church of Russia. Instead, the synod is to take place in Crete from 19 to 26 June.

The idea of a synod of all the Orthodox churches began in 1961 with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. While the ecumenical patriarch is recognized as the “first among equals” in the Orthodox communion of churches, he has no authority over those churches that are fully independent. Consequently, issues of leadership surface, raised especially by those Orthodox churches backed by powerful civil governments.

While synods of bishops generally govern each of the independent Orthodox churches, meeting at least annually, the Orthodox world has little experience with general councils: Occasional synods and councils, with varying degrees of participation and canonical recognition among the churches, stretch back to Nicaea in the year 787, when the last of the universally recognized ecumenical councils was convoked by the emperor of the Romans.

The proposed Great and Holy Synod has been compared in the media — especially in the West — with the Catholic Church’s Vatican II. In actuality nothing could be further from the truth. Should the synod take place, each of the 14 churches will be a full and equal member — there is no emperor or pope to convene and preside. And no single individual will approve the decrees of the synod; they are accepted or rejected by unanimous consensus.

A gathering of Orthodox leaders — a Synaxis of Prelates — met in January 2016 and set six issues on the synodal agenda: ecumenism, marriage, fasting, autonomy of churches, the diaspora and mission. But there is little unanimity on any of the topics. Ecumenism is a major issue of contention. Some Orthodox churches do not consider any other Christian body to be a valid church. These churches do not recognize the baptism or other sacraments of other Christians. Marriage between an Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian, even if the non-Orthodox individual is a baptized Christian, is forbidden. Other Orthodox churches are more open in their acceptance. At present there is clearly no consensus.

Deep theological issues, however, are not the only obstacles to the synod. There are conflicts among several of the Orthodox churches. Almost all of the objections can and are articulated in theological terms, making dialogue and compromise more difficult.

At present, five of the 14 autocephalous churches — Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Georgia — have indicated they will not attend. The patriarch of Antioch has broken communion with the patriarch of Jerusalem, who has appointed a bishop in Qatar, traditionally the territory of the patriarch of Antioch. Thus the Orthodox Church of Antioch, one of the first patriarchates and the third most in importance, will not participate in the synod. The Orthodox Church of Bulgaria has decided not to attend the synod because, among other things, it was not happy with the seating arrangements.

For an outsider this is a tragedy. The world has changed since Athenagoras first proposed a pan-Orthodox synod. One of the greatest strengths of Orthodoxy has been its ability to enculturate and adapt to the culture where it lives. While that is still of great value in the homelands of Orthodoxy, it proves an anomaly in the diaspora. More and more Orthodox Christians are living in the “New World,” which is culturally, linguistically and philosophically very different from the homelands of these churches. Almost every Orthodox Church is represented, for example, in North America. Very often they have little to do with other Orthodox churches in their area — despite being in full communion. As they lose contact with the ancient homeland, they run the risk of becoming ghettoized in the new world, isolated from the home church and also isolated from each other.

It is an open question whether the Great and Holy Synod will take place and, if it does, whether it will have any impact on Orthodoxy in particular and Christianity in general. It is not an open question whether the Great and Holy Synod is necessary. It is very necessary if Orthodoxy is to remain an integral part of the modern, globalized world.

Tags: Ecumenism Christian Unity Orthodox

2 April 2013
Greg Kandra

The Russian military's Orthodox chapel can be deployed wherever soldiers may be stationed. (photo: Russian Airborne Force)

Now, an unorthodox kind of church for Orthodox soldiers.

From the Guardian:

The Russian military unveiled an unlikely new weapon in its arsenal this month — an army of parachuting priests. The unit of chaplains, who have joined the Russian Airborne Force to train in parachute jumping and vehicle assembly, will operate out of flatpack churches that can be airlifted in to wherever soldiers may be stationed.

The church could be mistaken for a standard-issue army cabin, taking the form of a khaki-colored shed on wheels, were it not for the cladding of gilded icons and the majestic onion dome spire sprouting from its rooftop. The mobile prayer room has also been fitted with a “life-sustaining module”, which includes a diesel power source, an air-conditioning unit and a fridge, reported Russia Today.

The chapel is flown in as a kit of parts, delivered via the kind of airborne platform usually used to carry armored vehicles and other heavy military equipment, and is then assembled on the ground. Within, the gilded interior incorporates crucifixes, bells and icons, as well as a mini theatre — which can be extended sideways with additional wings, thus forming the cross-shaped plan of an Orthodox church.

The initiative has not gone without controversy in the Russian government, where debate rages over the cost of rearmament and rising military spending.

While the Russian army insists this is the first ever flying chapel in the world, Orthodox Christianity is not the first to bring mobile worship to the battlefield. The Israeli Defense Force launched a mobile synagogue initiative in 2011 to allow troops to pray more comfortably as they operate the Iron Dome anti-missile system in southern Israel. The UK Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers (UKAWIS) has provided such mobile synagogues — which contain an ark, reader’s platform and washbasin — as “a source of spiritual sustenance [for the soldiers] as they carry the weight of Israel’s security on their shoulders”.

Read more.

Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Priests Church

25 January 2013
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Pope Benedict XVI received the leaders from several Oriental Orthodox Churches on the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, to discuss the progress of talks between them to reach full communion. Click the video to watch. (video: Rome Reports)

With the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity drawing to a close today, and Pope Benedict XVI meeting with members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches, we asked our external affairs officer Father Elias Mallon to explore a few interesting facts about the Roman Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox.

  1. The Oriental Orthodox churches are six ancient churches that differ from the various Orthodox churches in the Byzantine tradition, such as the Greek, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian, etc. They are: the Armenian Apostolic Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Eritrean Orthodox Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church, which is split into two groups, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church. Many of these churches have Catholic counterparts in full communion with Rome: the Armenian, Coptic, Ge’ez, Syriac and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches are much smaller than their Orthodox counterparts and share their liturgical rites, traditions and many of the same disciplines.

  2. These Orthodox churches are very ancient. The Coptic church traces its beginnings to St. Mark the Evangelist. The Syriac churches of the Antiochene tradition trace their roots to St. Peter. The Armenian church prides itself on being the oldest national church as Christianity became the state religion of Armenia in 301, though it traces its roots to Sts. Bartholomew and Thaddeus.

  3. These churches are not in communion with the Catholic Church and the Byzantine Orthodox churches. The split between the Oriental Orthodox churches and the rest of Christianity is traditionally dated to the Council of Chalcedon (451). This council’s formulation of the relationship of the humanity of Jesus to his divinity was not acceptable to the Oriental Orthodox church for various reasons. Modern theological and historical research among the Catholic, Byzantine Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches has come to the conclusion that the differences that have existed for almost 15 centuries are cultural and linguistic, and need not necessarily be church dividing.

  4. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches have improved dramatically since Vatican II. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue has — often against great odds, such as the arrest of Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church by the Egyptian authorities from 1981-1985 — made considerable progress, resulting among other things with the official Statement of Christological Agreement that was signed 12 February 1988, overcoming one of the major obstacles to unity between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches. Some ecclesialogical issues remain, but the commission continues to study the issues and to attempt to resolve them.

  5. CNEWA works where all these churches originated and maintain large communities — Armenia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iraq and Syria — and has developed an outstanding rapport with its leaders. CNEWA exercises the dialogue of charity in its many forms of assistance, from priestly formation in Ethiopia, refurbishing Syriac churches in the Middle East to humanitarian assistance in Armenia.

Tags: Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Eastern Churches Orthodox Oriental Orthodox

10 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

At St. Sava’s dance classes, students wear opanak, traditional Serbian shoes. (photo: Andy Spyra)

Worship, though primary, is only one of the activities a church can host. In Germany, St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church caters to a strong community of Serbian immigrants, and helps to preserve many facets of Serbian culture:

Since the 1950’s, St. Sava’s has offered its youngsters catechetical courses and cultural classes — held every Saturday — that instruct and reinforce the church’s religious teachings and cultural heritage.

“In our new community center, we originally planned for two classrooms,” remembers Father Pejic. “Thank God we were underestimating the need!”

Currently, the community center has barely enough space to accommodate the nearly 130 children, between the ages of 7 and 17, who attend the classes. The curriculum includes seven grade levels with courses in religion, the Serbian language, traditional dance and singing.

For this and more, read Germany’s Orthodox Serbs, from the July 2009 issue of ONE.

Tags: Cultural Identity Eastern Christianity Germany Serbian Orthodox

5 December 2012
Michael J.L. La Civita

In April 2010, the CNEWA Board of Directors, led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan, right, visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignatius IV Hazim at the Latin Patriarchate in Damascus. (photo: CNEWA)

The CNEWA family learned today of the death of one of its primary partners in the Middle East, Patriarch Ignatius IV of the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Antioch. On Monday, he suffered a stroke and was rushed to St. George Hospital in Beirut, where he died today. He was 91 years old.

Since the 1940’s, he had been in the forefront of pastoral activity. He founded a youth movement dedicated to catechesis and formation. He reached out to the New World and set up structures here to encourage growth among the Antiochene Orthodox community. Back home, he reached out to non-Christians, establishing strong relationships with the Alawi, Druze and Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities. But it is perhaps his commitment to healing the ancient church of Antioch, once led by the Apostle Peter, for which he is known and loved.

Elected in 1979, Patriarch Ignatius established a warm relationship with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius I, who was elected in 1980 and also lived in the Syrian capital of Damascus. The two worked together to understand the Christological nuances of their particular tradition — nuances that have divided the Antiochene church since 451 — agreeing to provisions for intercommunion of the faithful and even the concelebration of the eucharistic liturgy.

He deepened, too, ties with the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which shares the same rites and traditions and remains in full communion with the church of Rome. The “Church of Antioch Initiative” pushed the ecumenical envelope for the healing of the church. Such advances include the sharing of churches, including the 2005 construction of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Damascus suburb of Doumar, which CNEWA assisted in developing.

Antioch’s Orthodox and Melkite Greek Catholic patriarchs, Ignatius IV and Gregory III, jointly consecrated Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Doumar, Damascus, in February 2005. (photo: CNEWA)

Another highlight during his patriarchate was the visit of Pope John Paul II to Syria in May 2001. The pope was cohosted by the Greek and Syriac Orthodox patriarchs, as well as the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch, Gregory III. Msgr. Robert Stern, then CNEWA’s secretary general, participated in the trip and wrote that the pope was welcomed to the Antiochene Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, where he was “warmly welcomed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Ignatius IV. Two other patriarchs of Antioch stood at his side: Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I and Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III.

“The packed cathedral included not only the Catholic and Orthodox bishops of Syria, but most of the other Catholic patriarchs, many of the Greek and Syriac Orthodox bishops of the two patriarchates from other countries around the world and an enthusiastic congregation.

“Beautiful symbols of unity were a joint profession of the Creed, warm and loving words from both the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the pope, a mutual embrace or kiss of peace and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer by all.

“Sometimes,” he concluded, “we talk so much about the need for Christian unity we almost forget how much real unity already exists.”

May this loving apostle of unity rest in the peace of Christ.

Tags: Middle East Unity Ecumenism Orthodox Church Patriarchs

15 October 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro

The exterior of the restored Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer is as impressive as the original.
(photo: courtesy of the cathedral's official site)

It started as a convent. Then, Tsar Alexander I decreed that it should be taken down and built back up as a grand cathedral. The Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer would not be completed until the coronation of his great nephew. Under the rule of Josef Stalin, it was destroyed with dynamite, and fragments of the architecture were later repurposed to help build Moscow’s subway. In its place, Stalin sought to build a Palace of the Soviets. Then World War II interrupted its progress.

Then it became the site of a large, outdoor swimming pool, heated to a constant 80 degrees.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer was finally rebuilt. Despite its importance to the Russian people, as a sign of both national and spiritual identity, its rebuilding was not without controversy:

This cathedral is a virtual replica of the first. But whereas the first one took 44 years to build, the new one, thanks to modern construction techniques and seemingly unlimited funds, was built in three. It is said to have cost well in excess of $1 billion.

“The rebuilding of Christ the Redeemer was of particular importance to us at the turn of the new millennium,” said the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II. “It symbolizes both the rebirth of the Orthodox faith and the rebirth of the Russian nation.”

On the other hand, Father Gleb Yakunin, an outspoken Orthodox priest and former Duma deputy, opposed the project from the start.

“Now is not the time to build this cathedral,” he said. “It is wrong to spend so much money on a church when people are so poor.”

The statistics of the new building are as mind-boggling as the original: The cathedral stands 330 feet high, the cupola measures 100 feet in diameter and more than 800,000 square feet of marble and granite were brought from all over Russia or imported from throughout the world.

The white marble iconostasis, an icon screen separating the nave from the sanctuary, is shaped in the form of a chapel and stands four stories high with its own gold cupola 80 feet across and a marble surface of 7,000 square feet.

“Worthwhile things don’t just appear,” said sculptor Zurab Tseratelli, who designed the massive bronze doors at the front of the cathedral.

“This cathedral is the affirmation of the faith that was stolen from the people of Russia. I believe its rebuilding is the wisest decision.”

Read the full, remarkable story in Cathedral Heralds Rebirth of a Nation, in the August 2003 issue of ONE.

Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Architecture Soviet Union Church

10 October 2012
Mariya Tytarenko

Colorful murals and icons adorn the nave of the Armenian Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. (photo: Petro Didula)

In the September 2012 issue of ONE, Lviv-based journalist Mariya Tytarenko wrote about an Armenian Apostolic congregation's efforts to rebuild church and community. Presented below are some of the thoughts and impressions she recorded on site.

After the Divine Liturgy in the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Lviv, I was invited to join the choir in the church sacristy for a special event.

“Don’t even hesitate,” Andriy Shkrabiuk, a chief cantor of the choir said. “You’ll have a chance to get some extra information for your article that you’ll never get just by interviewing us!”

I was curious. When it’s cold in the church, Father Thaddeos Gevorgian, whom everybody calls in Armenian ter hair, conducts a homily after the Divine Liturgy in the much warmer sacristy. Since there had been a homily during the Divine Liturgy, I assumed this would be something else.

I followed the choristers, who had accepted me into their little “family” the first time we met, last Sunday. That was 26 February — Mardi Gras, or Bun Barekendan in Armenian, which marks the beginning of the Lenten fast.

Romana Melnyk was carrying a hyacinth in a flowerpot. “It’s Yulia Tsviakh’s 23rd birthday today, and this is her favorite flower,” she whispered as we entered the sacristy.

Romana, 35 years old, is Ukrainian, but her husband is Armenian. Her parents still have not accepted her husband, whom she married against their wishes. “I’m very stubborn,” she had remarked on the circumstances of her marriage, as well as her first impression of the church choir in May 2001: “I was born to sing here!” Since then, she has been a soloist in the choir.

Archbishop Grigoris Bouniatian, the Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Eparchy of Lviv, is inside the sacristy speaking with Karlo Sargsian, the president of the Armenian community in Lviv.

“You’re lucky,” Andriy said, “Although Lviv has a cathedral for the Armenian Apostolic Diocese in Ukraine, Archbishop Grigoris is a rare guest here since he is usually away traveling to other regions of the country. He almost lives in his car.”

We all stood around a large table, and everyone greeted each other in turn in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and Armenian, along with translations from Armenian into Ukrainian, since many of us, including Yulia, didn’t know any Armenian. There are only five Armenians in the 12-person choir.

Yulia looked very happy, especially after Archbishop Grigoris and Father Thaddeos had given her their blessings. She treated everyone to cake and drinks — juice, in observance with the Lenten fast.

“I’m Armenian; that’s why I’ve never raised a toast drinking juice in place of cognac,” Karlo joked, raising a toast to Youlia’s health.

“Oh, I’m used to drinking juice,” 26-year-old Solomiya Kachmar responded cheerfully. She was in her seventh month of pregnancy. When I asked her whether it was not too cold for her to sing in the church during the two-and-a-half-hour Liturgy, she answered: “Not at all! Just the opposite — my blood circulates better when I sing!”

“It’s because Solomiya is pregnant,” 25-year-old Marichka Dolna interrupted. “I get cold really quickly, whether I’m singing in the choir or playing the organ.” Marichka said she plays organ for the church every Saturday from 3:30 to 5 PM.

Another Marichka — 20-year-old, half-Ukrainian and half-Uzbek Marichka Rubaieva — didn’t sing today because she had been away for a year, and Andriy didn’t allow her to join the choir without a rehearsal. When I asked her how she felt today, standing outside the choir, she answered: “I realized how much I missed all this.”

When I was about to leave the company of this wonderful Armenian-Ukrainian group, Andriy said to me while putting on his favorite Stetson hat: “I bet you’ll soon be singing in our choir!”

Tags: Ukraine Armenian Apostolic Church Prayers/Hymns/Saints

16 August 2012
Greg Kandra

Msgr. Kozar met with Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Patriarch, Abune Paulos during his pastoral visit to Ethiopia in April. (photo: CNEWA)

From Ethiopia today came the sad news that the leader of of the Orthodox Church there, His Holiness Abune Paulos has died:

Paulos, whose full title was His Holiness Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum, died early Thursday in Addis Ababa, aged 76.

The patriarch, who was one of the seven serving presidents of the World Council of Churches is said to have been taken ill a few weeks ago, but the cause of his death, is yet to be established.

Born in Adwa in Tigray Province of the northern part of the country, the patriarch did his education at the Theological College of the Holy Trinity in Addis Ababa under the patronage of Patriarch Abune Tewophilos.

He was sent to study at the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in the United States and later undertook doctoral degree at Princeton Theological Seminary.

During his pastoral visit to Ethiopia in April, Msgr. Kozar had a chance to visit with the patriarch:

Our last stop of the day, in the late afternoon, was most notable. We were received by His Holiness, Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. This role places him as the supreme shepherd of more than 35 million souls in this country, plus a significant number of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living elsewhere.

The patriarch is quite a character. Entering the receiving room, resplendent with elegant furnishings, and seeing him seated on a throne, one expects that his manner would be quite formal and the visit very pro forma — quite the contrary. This man is full of wisdom and insight, but also very disarming with his humor. Out of the blue comes a quip or a jovial word. But make no mistake; this man is a first-class public relations expert and a high-power salesman. He is so good at promoting the church, I kidded him and told him some of the bishops in North America might want to hire him as a development consultant!

We had a delightful conversation and he obviously regards the solidarity with the Catholic Church as a precious gift. He especially holds Gerry Jones, our regional director in Ethiopia, in highest regard and made references to that relationship many times, sometimes in jest, but always with deep respect.

As I was bidding him goodbye and receiving his blessing, I offered him a heartfelt invitation to honor us with a visit to our office in New York. He received this invitation warmly.

Our thoughts this day are with the people of Ethiopia, and we join them in praying for the soul of their patriarch.

Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Orthodox Church

27 June 2012
Erin Edwards

A child undergoes physical therapy sessions at Pokrov’s day care center, which treats children with special needs. (photo: Sean Sprague)

In the January 2007 issue of ONE, Sean Sprague reported on the efforts of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to restore its public presence following the fall of Bulgaria’s communist government:

Over the past 12 years, the Pokrov Foundation has launched an assortment of programs — philanthropic, educational and promotional — that have done much to help restore the role of the Orthodox Church in Bulgarian life. Many are run out of Mr. Sinov’s spiritual home since his baptism, the Church of the Pokrov, located on a quiet street hidden by Sofia’s Hotel Rodina.

In the church’s basement, the foundation operates a parish center that caters to about 4,000 people each year. Here, food, clothes, counseling, financial support and social space are offered to the needy. If the foundation lacks the resources to help someone, then it refers him or her to another nongovernmental organization that can.

“We are open daily, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.,“said Maria Spasova, the parish center director. “Ours is the first parish center in the country, and the idea has spread to about 10 other parishes already.”

For more, read Under Mary’s Mantle.

Tags: Children Orthodox Church Bulgarian Orthodox Church Bulgaria

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