Is Russia a Surprise Ally in the Defense of Persecuted Christians?

 

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, is paying a visit to the Pope.

According to Vatican Radio, this is the fourth time President Putin has visited the Vatican. He met twice with Pope John Paul II and once with Pope Benedict XVI.

President Putin, who is an Orthodox Christian, has said through his spokespeople that he and Pope Francis will focus on, among a couple of other things, “the protection of Christian minorities in the Maghreb and the Middle East.”

From QuestionMore.Live:

Hopes were high for warmer relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches as President Vladimir Putin flew Monday to Rome for his first audience with Pope Francis. Topping the agenda is likely help for Christians in the Middle East.

Putin, an Orthodox Christian, has repeatedly said that he is a man of faith and his administration has consistently sought closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.

His policies “have brought religion to the forefront and triggered positive change in ecumenical relations,” said Natalya Pecherskaya, rector of the St. Petersburg School of Religion and Philosophy.

But state interests will come first on the visit, officials said.

“Putin will be meeting Pope Francis as the president of Russia, and then only secondly as a Russian Orthodox [Christian],” said Father Kirill Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow.

As well as his visit with the Holy Father in the Vatican, Putin will meet with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and Romano Prodi, the country’s former premier and a special UN representative, in Rome. On Tuesday, Putin will travel to Trieste for talks with the Italian government.

The Kremlin announced ahead of the visit that Putin and Pope Francis would focus on the state of international institutions and their ability to respond to crises, as well as the protection of Christian minorities in the Maghreb and the Middle East.

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The Heresy of Politicized Christianity

Deacon Greg Kandra published a post today describing a “study” that says that “Christian Progressives” are on the cultural ascendancy.

I put the word study in quotes because all this study amounts to is some yo-yo with letters after his name who went out and tabulated Google searches, dividing them between “conservative Christian” and “progressive Christian.” His criteria: Google searches for “Christian right” vs google searches for “Christian left.”

Based on this handy-dandy spreadsheet workout, this person has extrapolated to all sorts of predictions and prophecies about the direction of Christianity in the future USA.

Aside from the fact that this is about as scientific as predicting the future by studying the entrails of a goat, it does reveal quite a lot about the researcher and the way that Christianity is discussed today.

After I converted to Catholicism, I encountered a lot of talk about which Catholics were “orthodox” or not. I remember wondering what the tar-heel an “orthodox” Catholic might be. I had some idea about what an Orthodox Jew was. But an “orthodox” Catholic seemed to be one of those vague, do-it-yourself monikers that people hang on themselves in order to chastise other people. To this day, I’ve never heard a useful definition of what an “orthodox” Catholic might be, even though I still read about folks who claim to be one and seem to think they know.

Now that I’ve dipped my toe in the blogging waters, I find myself repeatedly encountering verbiage that attempts to define Christians and Christianity along political groupings. Even here at Patheos we have a portal for “progressive” Christians. I don’t fault Patheos for this. The moniker is out there everywhere and the Progressive Christians themselves seem to think they are members of some clearly demarcated understanding of Christianity that groups them together and separates them from the rest of us who stand at the foot of the cross.

Not that I’m saying they don’t stand at the foot of the cross. But I guess they would place themselves in a separate group of before-the-cross-standers that distinguishes them from other, non-progressive Christians. Of course, we also have the “conservative” Christians there before the cross, as well. In this Americanized/politicized version of Christianity I guess the rest of us who don’t want to be “conservative” or “progressive” Christians just wander around aimlessly, or maybe circulate back and forth between the two groups.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider this imaginary portrait I just painted. We have the cross, with the crucified Savior of the World hanging on it. And we have His so-called followers standing there in front of it, looking not at Him, but at each other. The “conservative” Christians are standing as far away from the “progressive” Christians as they can get, and vice versa. They are not thinking about or concerned with the God who died for them on Calvary. They are not grieved by what their sins have wrought. They are not caught in wonder at the love God has for them.

Nope. They are both like the Pharisee who went to pray and spent his whole time thanking God that he wasn’t like that sinful tax collector over there.

Pharisee

Does anyone remember what Jesus had to say about the Pharisee? If you don’t, you can find it in Luke 8: 9-14.

I wrote a post yesterday, encouraging Christians to engage with the political structure. After reading the comments it garnered, I repented of that post. We aren’t ready.

Before Christians can engage the larger culture they’ve first got to be all-in for Jesus. That appears to be a major stumbling block for a lot of people. These ridiculous designations of “conservative” and “progressive” Christians are a symptom and an expression of just how far away we are from actually following Christ, or even taking Him seriously at all.

In today’s America, “conservative” and “progressive” are political terms. If we were being honest, we’d just dispense with those terms and say what we mean. On the one side we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following right wing politics instead of following Jesus, and on the other side, we have people who twist the Gospels to justify themselves for following left wing politics instead of following Jesus.

They are, both of them, following the world instead of following Jesus. And they are claiming that Jesus not only supports them in this, but He is following them. 

I’m not a theologian. I’m just a pew-sitting Catholic who is grateful that, after the things I’ve done, they let me inside the Church at all. But I love Jesus.

This disregard of Him, this crude claim of ownership of Him, by people who carry His name hurts me. It stings and bites at me when I think about it. What is wrong that so many people can look at the living God and see a self-justifying reflection of themselves?

I repeat: I am not a theologian. But I think that this twisting of the Gospels to suit fashionable politics and political power is heretical. It is also, evidently, deeply embedded in people’s hearts.

Diamond cross pendant er41160

If you look at the cross and feel smirky holier than thou self-justification for you and your politics, then I would wager that you are not looking at the cross at all. You are considering a piece of jewelry you’ve hung around your neck that is made of cold metal and, without the real cross that it symbolizes, can not save you.

Conservative/Progressive/Right/Left Christianity is a human invention. It gives us what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” which is to say self-approval. It makes us self-righteous and mean.

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If you are interpreting the Gospels in the light of your politics, then you are not following Christ. This business of co-opting the Gospels to fit the world has eternal consequences.

There is one Jesus; one narrow way; one means of salvation; one cross.

Our job as American Christians is to believe that one Jesus, walk that narrow way, and to conform our lives, including our politics, to Christ and Him crucified.

I want to follow Christ. I do not want to follow conservative Christ or progressive Christ or right or left or middle of the road Christ. I want to follow and I pray for the grace to follow, Christ and Him crucified by conservatives and progressives and rightists and leftists and all the rest of the crowd who will not follow Him without reframing Him to suit themselves.

That is why I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church. Not because they are easy or politically correct. But because I’ve tried making God in my own image. I know that I can’t judge, can’t decide, can’t know. Left to my own devices I will do horrible things, just as my heretical brothers and sisters on the left and the right are doing horrible things.

Standing before the real cross means that you know you are not worthy to be there. You know that your own understanding put Him there. You know yourself for what you are and you realize that without Him you are doomed to the hell you have created and earned; to the hell you deserve.

“Lean not on your own understanding” the scriptures tell us.

It’s good advice.

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Healing the Breach: Pope Francis and Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros Meet, Pray Together

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There is one Jesus. 

Every difference between Christians is a difference that human beings have created. Because there is one Jesus and He is the same Jesus for all of us.

We live in an era with rising violent persecution of Christians in much of the world. That is coupled with a militant secularism that appears to be setting up the framework for legal discrimination and marginalization of Christians in most of the rest of the world. 

Christians must stand together against these threats. 

It gladdened my heart when I saw the photos of Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros, laughing, talking and praying together. 

According to a CNA article, Pope Tawadros had this to say:

“We must prepare our people for this very real and needed unity that we know and live, we must work quickly and seriously,” said Pope Tawadros II in May 10 remarks provided to CNA by his office.

His visit to the Vatican is significant because he leades Egypt’s largest Christian Church with ten million members, as well as historic, since the May 9-13 trip is the first to Rome in 40 years.

“The rising of Islamic parties in countries like Egypt and Syria means Christians are now feeling they are second or third class citizens,” said Father Rafic Greiche, director of the press office for the Catholic Church in Egypt.

“We Egyptian Christians want our brothers of all world churches to help us, to pray for us and to be real brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ,” he told CNA on May 10 in Rome. (Read the rest here.)

I agree with this sentiment. Christians must help Christians. 

Here, from Vatican Radio is Pope Francis’ statement:

Your Holiness,

Dear Brothers in Christ,

For me it is a great joy and a truly graced moment to be able to receive all of you here, at the tomb of Saint Peter, as we recall that historic meeting forty years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and the late Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after centuries of mutual distrust. So it is with deep affection that I welcome Your Holiness and the distinguished members of your delegation, and I thank you for your words. Through you, I extend my cordial greetings in the Lord to the bishops, the clergy, the monks and the whole Coptic Orthodox Church.
Today’s visit strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood that already exist between the See of Peter and the See of Mark, heir to an inestimable heritage of martyrs, theologians, holy monks and faithful disciples of Christ, who have borne witness to the Gospel from generation to generation, often in situations of great adversity.

Forty years ago the Common Declaration of our predecessors represented a milestone on the ecumenical journey, and from it emerged a Commission for Theological Dialogue between our Churches, which has yielded good results and has prepared the ground for a broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the entire family of Oriental Orthodox Churches, a dialogue that continues to bear fruit to this day. In that solemn Declaration, our Churches acknowledged that, in line with the apostolic traditions, they profess “one faith in the One Triune God” and “the divinity of the Only-begotten Son of God … perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity”. They acknowledged that divine life is given to us and nourished through the seven sacraments and they recognized a mutual bond in their common devotion to the Mother of God.

We are glad to be able to confirm today what our illustrious predecessors solemnly declared, we are glad to recognize that we are united by one Baptism, of which our common prayer is a special expression, and we long for the day when, in fulfilment of the Lord’s desire, we will be able to communicate from the one chalice.

Of course we are well aware that the path ahead may still prove to be long, but we do not want to forget the considerable distance already travelled, which has taken tangible form in radiant moments of communion, among which I am pleased to recall the meeting in February 2000 in Cairo between Pope Shenouda III and Blessed John Paul II, who went as a pilgrim, during the Great Jubilee, to the places of origin of our faith. I am convinced that – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – our persevering prayer, our dialogue and the will to build communion day by day in mutual love will allow us to take important further steps towards full unity.

Your Holiness, I am aware of the many marks of attention and fraternal charity that you have shown, since the early days of your ministry, to the Catholic Coptic Church, to its Pastor, Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak and to his predecessor, Cardinal Antonios Naguib. The institution of a “National Council of Christian Churches”, which you strongly desired, represents an important sign of the will of all believers in Christ to develop relations in daily life that are increasingly fraternal and to put themselves at the service of the whole of Egyptian society, of which they form an integral part. Let me assure you that your efforts to build communion among believers in Christ, and your lively interest in the future of your country and the role of the Christian communities within Egyptian society find a deep echo in the heart of the Successor of Peter and of the entire Catholic community.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). This is a law of the Christian life, and in this sense we can say that there is also an ecumenism of suffering: just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, so too the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity. And this also applies, in a certain sense, to the broader context of society and relations between Christians and non-Christians: from shared suffering can blossom forth forgiveness and reconciliation, with God’s help.

Your Holiness, in assuring you of my prayers that the whole flock entrusted to your pastoral care may be ever faithful to the Lord’s call, I invoke the protection of both Saint Peter and Saint Mark: may they who during their lifetime worked together in practical ways for the spread of the Gospel, intercede for us and accompany the journey of our Churches.

Text from page 
http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/05/10/pope_francis_welcomes_egypts_coptic_orthodox_pope_tawadros/en1-690886 
of the Vatican Radio website 

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Christian Persecution: Turkey, the EU and Treatment of Turkish Christians

Turkey was once a Christian country.

However, from the Fall of Constantinople until now, Christians have been subjected to severe discrimination and violence. This violence reached its peak with the Armenian Genocide early in the 20th Century.

I have seen the tiny corners of society into which Christians are pushed in Turkey. I stood at the spot where the Patriarch was hung by a mob in the early 20th Century. Christians can not build churches there, and there are severe restrictions on ordination of new priests.

Turkey is a beautiful country with many wonderful people. Their hospitality is incredible. I believe that Turkey can become a great nation. But it must move past its history of discrimination and violence against Christians to do this.

An important German politician recently took the same position regarding Turkey’s admission into the European Union. Volker Kauder, chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, says that Turkey must allow Christians to build churches in Turkey before it can be admitted to the EU.

Frankly, I think that is a bare minimum. Christians in Turkey should have the same rights as all other citizens. They should be free to worship, and to witness for their faith publicly.

Volker Kauder, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in Germany
Vorderstrasse / CC BY 3.0

Volker Kauder, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in Germany
Vorderstrasse / CC BY 3.0
A leading German politician has criticised Turkey’s record on religious freedom, saying that the country should allow Christians to build churches without restrictions if it wants to join the EU.
Volker Kauder, chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told a party congress last Wednesday (5 December) that he expected a “clear signal” on the issue from the Turkish government before membership talks, which began in 2005, could continue.
He said:
country that wants to be part of Europe must accept the basic principle of religious freedom. That means, that we expect Christians in Turkey to be able to build churches without any restrictions, just as Muslims build mosques here in Germany.
The EU has previously criticised Turkey’s treatment of its Christian community, which comprises less than 0.1% of the population. Despite Turkey’s having the veneer of a modern secular state, Christians face much discrimination, restrictions and occasional violence. The rights of churches to own property, conduct services and open other facilities such as theological schools are limited.
Despite Turkey’s human rights abuses, Britain has been a strong supporter of the country’s accession to the EU. Member states are divided on the issue.
Mr Kauder’s comments come as the deadline for a draft of the new Turkish constitution looms with no sign of a consensus; the protection of freedom of religion or belief is one of the disputed issues.(Read more here.)

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