FaithWorld

Moscow’s “Holy Rus” religious art show spotlights sacred Russia

(A member of gallery staff passes an exhibit at the Holy Rus exhibition at the Central House of Artists in Moscow May 25, 2011/Denis Sinyakov)

Russia opened an unprecedented exhibit of religious art pulled from across the country and abroad at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery on Thursday, in a show of Kremlin support for an Orthodox Church growing more powerful since the fall of Communism.

The state-sponsored exhibit “Holy Rus” displays art works from the Old Eastern Slavonic state, which existed in the middle ages and united the lands of modern Belarus, Ukraine and the European part of Russia, with its capital in Kiev.

Russia inaugurated a new holiday last year to mark its adoption of Christianity in 988 by the leader of the Kievan Rus Prince Vladimir more than 1,000 years ago. “It isn’t the political state called Russia, whose history we are telling here, it’s the historic period of ‘Rus’ we are showing,” Orthodox church representative Father Nikolai Kim said.

(A visitor looks at an exhibit at the Holy Rus exhibition at the Central House of Artists in Moscow May 25, 2011/Denis Sinyakov)

Is free Iraq becoming a more Islamic state?

baghdad shi'iteA group of men recently ordered Siham al-Zubaidi to close down her Baghdad hair salon for two months for Shi’ite religious festivities. She had no idea who they were but complied because she feared for her life.

“Can you just tell me who will pay the rent of my shop for these two months? What shall I do to support my family? What is the relation between hair dressing and religious events?” Zubaidi, 40, asked furiously. “This is a new dictatorship. They want Iraq to be an Islamic state. But this is not right. Iraq includes a variety of religious factions … These are alien ideas, not Iraqi.” (Photo: Shi’ites attend Friday prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City, northeastern Baghdad on March 5, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Recent efforts by authorities, clergy and unknown bands of neighbourhood enforcers to police morals by shutting nightclubs, bars and other establishments has heightened concerns among academics and intellectuals that Iraq, now emerging from war, is displaying the tendencies of a hard-line Islamic state.

U.S. appeals court hears key California gay marriage case

marriage 1Three federal appellate judges considering whether to allow gay marriage in California hear arguments on Monday in a case many expect to land in the U.S. Supreme Court and set national policy. California voters, with a reputation for social liberalism, shocked the United States in 2008 when they narrowly approved the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage only months after the top state court opened the door to same-sex weddings. (Photo: Same-sex marriage proponents at City Hall in San Francisco, August 12, 2010/Robert Galbraith)

More than 40 U.S. states have outlawed such unions, but the California challenge could shape the nation if the Supreme Court decides to review the appeals court decision. A lower court struck down the ban earlier this year, ruling that marriage is a fundamental constitutional right and that the defenders of the ban showed no justifiable reason for limiting the institution to opposite-sex couples.

marriage 2The ruling is on hold, though, while under appeal. (Photo: A man opposed to same sex marriage at City Hall in San Francisco, August 12, 2010/Robert Galbraith)

The Prop 8 ban proponents say the lower court ignored common wisdom and history that limits marriage to a man and a woman in order to spur procreation. Gay marriage proponents successfully argued in the lower court that the definition of marriage has changed over time, for instance including polygamy in some societies. Same-sex marriages would not harm the institution, they contended.

Tax dispute flairs between Cyprus gov’t and Orthodox Church

cyprus church

An Orthodox church in Limassol, Cyprus, 20 Nov 2007/Ewa Dryjanska

A furious dispute has erupted in Cyprus after the ruling communists set their sights on the island’s wealthy Orthodox Church of Cyprus to help plug a runaway deficit. The island’s government says it wants to start a dialogue with the Church regarding the millions it says the church owes in unpaid taxes.

The church says it does not owe a penny.

“We are not tax dodgers,” said Archbishop Chrysostomos, the prelate of the ancient church which traces its roots to some of the earliest followers of Jesus. The church has broad business interests ranging from a bank to a brewery.

Read the whole story here.

This echoes recent moves in Greece, where the government has decided to tax bequests and revenues from the Greek Orthodox Church’s property to help tackle a 300 billion euro ($409.9 billion) debt pile. The Church, in Greece as in Cyprus one of the country’s biggest owners of prime real estate, has until now been largely exempt from taxes even though the state pays priests’ salaries.

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.