FaithWorld

Greek faithful return to pray in ancient Turkish homeland

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew leads prayers at St Theodore in central Turkey on June 27/Photo by Simon Johns

About 1,000 Greek Orthodox gathered in central Turkey this weekend for a pair of emotional liturgies led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the Greek faithful seek to reclaim a cultural and religious link to their ancient homeland.

Elderly women wept as black-clad nuns and monks recited mournful chants on Sunday in the 19th-century St Theodore’s Church in Derinkuyu, a sleepy hamlet Greeks once called Malakopi in the popular tourist region of Cappadocia. Most of the worshippers were the descendants of Greeks who were expelled from Turkey almost 90 years ago with the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at St Theodore’s Church in Turkey, 27 June 2010/Simon Johns)

Bartholomew of Constantinople faced the altar flanked by three crowns: Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece and Archbishop Hilarion, the head of Russian Orthodox external relations. Hilarion has been a key player in a rapprochement between the Churches of Moscow and Istanbul. Bartholomew said Hilarion came on a pilgrimage to Cappadocia.

Hilarion urged worshippers to continue returning to the land of their forebears to maintain Orthodox holy sites. “Cappadocia is a much suffered land, as its churches, once magnificent and beautiful, have fallen in desolation,” he said. “We believe that the light of Christian faith will be rekindled in this holy land.”

Bartholomew began presiding over annual June services a decade ago in Cappadocia’s deconsecrated churches as Muslim Turkey, a European Union candidate, relaxed restrictions on Christian worship. In a sign of the growing tolerance, Bartholomew recently won permission to celebrate the Divine Liturgy this August at the more politically sensitive Sumela Monastery on the Black Sea for the first time since 1923. Last year, local authorities and residents tried to block Greek and Russian tourists from praying there.

from Raw Japan:

Church attacks shake Kansai

In the minds of many people, religious rivalry could occasionally be expected to  spill over into violence in places as diverse as the occupied West Bank or Glasgow's 'Old Firm' football derby.

Japan's Kansai region, home to the world's most renowned Zen gardens and some of the country's finest cuisine, on the other hand, is not generally seen as a tinderbox of religious tension.

But over the last year a series of mysterious attacks on Protestant churches and other facilities have roiled the area, leaving many churchgoers shaken and perplexed.

Bishop of Arabia dismayed by minaret ban in Swiss homeland

minarets-trainMany supporters of the Swiss ban on minarets justified it with the argument that limitations on mosques in Europe were permissible because Christians can’t build churches in some Muslim countries. This was also a recurring theme in comments to FaithWorld (see here and here). But doesn’t this tit-for-tat approach simply provide further arguments for Muslim authorities who don’ t want to concede more religious freedom to their Christian minorities? (Photo: Posters for “yes” vote to minaret ban in Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

One man uniquely placed to judge this is the Swiss-born Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Hinder. Based in Abu Dhabi, he is at the frontline of the “reciprocity” debate on treatment of Christian minorities in the Middle East. In an interview in today’s French Catholic daily La Croix, Hinder says he was “dismayed” that the minaret ban passed in a referendum last Sunday. “For us Christians in Arabia, it will certainly not make our work easier, although some might think they have done us a favour by saying yes to this initiative,” he said.

“Nobody can deny that the ban on minarets punishes a specific religious community, whose members in Switzerland have done nothing wrong,” he added. “I certainly understand the irrational fears of many Swiss faced with the heightened visibility of religion that they previously knew only by hearsay but now find right at their doorsteps or in the apartment next door.”

from Route to Recovery:

Emulating the greatest generation and avoiding “God Inc”

BELLA VISTA, Arkansas – Pastor Jonathan Watson says that he would like to be more like America’s greatest generation than the destructive one that followed it.

“Many people I know of my generation would like to be more like our grandparents’ generation than our parents’ generation,” Watson, 34, said in his office at the Bella Vista Assembly of God. “That was America’s Greatest Generation. They were children of the Great Depression and they were a generation of people who lived by a standard.”

The generation that followed – the Baby Boomers – were the “hippies of the 1960s, the disco goers of the 1980s and the power brokers of the 1980s," Watson said. “That generation has eaten up everything that their parents left them and leave nothing but debts behind them for the rest of us."

Some east German Protestants feel overlooked as Wall recalled

thomaskircheAs Germany celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Protestants feel the crucial role their church played in shepharding the democracy movement to success is quietly being overlooked. This seems strange to someone like myself who reported on those events back then. Any reporter in Berlin in the tense weeks before Nov. 9, 1989 knew the Protestant (mostly Lutheran) churches sheltered dissidents and was working for reform. But the idea that this was fading from public view came up during my recent visit to Leipzig when, at an organ recital in Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), the pastor mentioned the point in a sermon. (Photo: St. Thomas Church in Leipzig with Bach statue, 17 Oct 2009/Tom Heneghan)

When I later went up to Berlin, I ran the idea past a leading east German Protestant theologian and a pastor and two parish council members from the Gethsemane Church (Gethsemanekirche). That church in eastern Berlin was one of the most active centres of protest in the tense months before demonstrators forced open the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. They all agreed.

The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the “peaceful revolution” that ended communism. Films and photos of dissidents packed into the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin or Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), the leading houses of worship that sheltered them until the Wall opened , are among the trademark images.  But those crowded “peace prayer” evenings were only the tip of the iceberg of behind-the-scenes work by pastors and lay people who considered it their Christian duty to promote civil rights and human dignity in a rigid communist society.

from Africa News blog:

Oprah magic for Man of God

Nigerian author Uwem Akpan, who is a Jesuit priest, said he was "humbled" that his debut collection of short stories was chosen by influential U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey for her book club.

Oprah picked "Say You're One Of Them" as her 63rd book club selection, the first time she has chosen a book of short stories, saying these stories "left me stunned and profoundly moved."

The collection, published in 2008, includes five separate stories from the perspective of an African child that were described as capturing the resilience of children growing up in the face of unimaginable devastation.

U.S. court nixes faith displays in postal station

Another dispatch from the trenches of the U.S. church/state wars, this one from my colleague Jonathan Stempel in New York.

A Connecticut church may operate a postal station without violating the constitutional separation of church and state, as long as it clearly distinguishes it from private space, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.

You can see his report here.

USA-TAXES/

It will be interesting to see wider reaction to this decision, which found the church in the town of Manchester did violate the U.S. Constitution by including “religious displays” — but that it could easily fix the violations by removing them and making it clear to customers where the postal station ends and church property begins.

from India Insight:

Can you outsource God?

– Saritha Rai writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

It is dawn in Kerala, a palm frond of a state in India's South West. As the sun's first rays hit the church steeple, a Holy Mass is being conducted in the local Malayalam language.

Only, the prayer is dedicated to a newborn by his Catholic family half a world away in the United States.

from India Insight:

The Mormons in India

– Sonya Fatah writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

Their voices rang out, echoing in the nearby passageway. "Count your many blessings," they sang. "Name them one by one. Count your many blessings. See what God hath done." And so, the women, some 25 of them, members of the Sisters Committee at one of the six churches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in New Delhi, closed their Sunday post-service meeting.

"Let us all work together so we can have a temple here,” urged the chair of the meeting, eliciting head nods and verbal assents all round.

from Raw Japan:

Where’s the holy water?

My young son and I were heading into Catholic church on Sunday in Tokyo when we noticed something odd: There was no holy water at the entrance.

It felt strange. What could be more Catholic than crossing yourself with a dab of holy water as you race into Mass to find a pew?

JAPAN-CHRISTIANS/

At least that's my image from as far back as childhood, along with all the standing-sitting-kneeling action and kids squirming in their seats anxious to grab a pastry in the basement lounge area after the service.