In Moscow, Orthodox Christian churches draw closer


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (C), Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill (R) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I meet in Moscow's Kremlin, May 25, 2010/Dmitry Astakhov

President Dmitry Medvedev warmly welcomed the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians Tuesday, hailing improving ties between Russia’s powerful church and its ancestor faith.  Relations among the Orthodox have improved after past strains when churches in former Soviet states such as Estonia and Ukraine broke away from the Russian mother church and tried to pledge allegiance to the patriarch in Istanbul.

“The visit of your Holiness is a significant event and, beyond all doubt, it will help strengthen the dialogue which always linked the two sisterly churches,” Medvedev told Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, according to a transcript published by the Kremlin.

Russia’s influential Patriarch Kirill has assigned a high priority to improving inter-faith relations since his election last year. Church sources say dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church has improved markedly.

The previous day, the two patriarchs led a procession of 40,000 through central Moscow to commemorate the name days of Cyril and Methodius, the saints who brought Orthodoxy to the Slavs in the ninth century.

A “model” Islamic education from Turkey?

imam-hatip 1

Turkish girls at the Kazim Karabekir Girls' Imam-Hatip School, 10 Feb 2010/Murad Sezer

In the Beyoglu Anadolu religious school in Istanbul, gilded Korans line the shelves and on a table lies a Turkish translation of “Eclipse,” a vampire-based fantasy romance by U.S. novelist Stephanie Meyer. No-one inside the school would have you believe this combination of Islamic and western influences demonstrates potential to serve as a ‘moderate’ educational antidote to radical Islam.

But there is fresh outside interest in schools like this, which belong to the network known as imam-hatip.  Some people, particularly officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan, have suggested the Turkish system can light the way to a less extremist religious education for their young Muslims.

Turkish language fest shows Muslim preacher’s global reach

gulenThe 700 children who have come to Turkey for the Turkish Language Olympics — an annual event described in my feature “Turkish language fest shows preacher’s global reach” — will know little if anything about the controversy here over the powerful socio-religious community behind their schools. (Photo:School girls sing at Turkish Language Olympics in Istanbul, 3 June 2009/Halit Omer Camci)

Getting ready to perform in a huge auditorium in Istanbul more often used for international conferences, the 30-odd signing competition entrants appear giggly and excited, fussing over their elaborate folk costumes. Most are visiting for the first time and have been completely charmed by Turkey – just as Turkey has been charmed by them.

The children attend schools run by individuals or associations inspired by the teachings of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen. He is revered by many Turks as a tolerant, moderating force in Islam, but suspected by some secularist Turks of harbouring a covert political agenda. Gülen groups are active in publishing, inter-faith dialogue, charity and above all education.