Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
13 December, 2014, 27th Sunday - 10 January, 2014, Sunday after Christmas

26-28 November 2014 - Eastern Christian Thought & Practice for 21st Century Europe,Theotokos Institute, University of Cardiff. Prof Andrew Louth (Durham), Dr Roman Zaviyskyy (Lviv Ukrainian Catholic University), Bishop Vahan Hovhanissian (Armenian Apostolic Church in Britain) - Details from http://www.tics.org.uk/

27 November 2014 - Constantinople Lecture of the Anglican & Eastern Churches Association and the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius - Fr John Behr, Dean of St Vladimir's Seminary, New York USA: Take Back Death! Christian Witness in the Twenty-First Century. St Mellitus College, 24 Collingham Road, LONDON SW5 0LX. 6 pm Evening Prayer, 7pm Lecture. All Welcome.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Holy Family Cathedral, London, 9th November 2014

Galatians 6.11-18 – Luke 8.26-39

Picture Saint Paul dictating his letter to the Church in Galatia. When his assistant has finished, Paul takes up the pen personally, and adds some final thoughts. He speaks of writing with large letters. Perhaps he is losing his eyesight, for he was once an expert writer and religious official himself; or, perhaps, writing as small as his scribe could, to get as much wording on the page of the expensive parchment as possible, was now too painful for him – he speaks of being unable to deal with the Church troublemakers, because he bears the marks of Jesus on his own body.

These are very interesting last few sentences, conveying the thoughts right at the forefront of St Paul’s mind. He compares and contrasts outward physical appearances with the inner truths that last because they mean something. He begins with the outsize appearance of his handwriting; and he ends with the outward appearance of wounds upon his skin. But he turns to attention to the greater fact of life that lies among and within what we experience as real in the world. Thus he questions the Galatian Christians, a community of Jews and Gentiles alike, if they have lost sight of what being a Christian is all about. Christ was circumcised not because it was a cultural convention, but because from time immemorial it had been a sacramental sign of the people’s faith in their covenant with God. “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” it was the mark of an undertaking by the Hebrews and the Jews to take the law of God to their own hearts and keep it as the light of their lives. But here were people who did not take the law of God seriously themselves, yet insisted that the new people who wanted to follow Christ’s conform to an outward appearance, an appearance that on its own meant nothing without the inner meaning of love, obedience, and bonding with our God.

We are reminded of the words of the Prophet Micah, expressing the patience of God at humanity’s continual cycle of betrayal, disobedience and trying to buy back God’s favour with a surfeit of religion and sacrificial offering. The Lord asks, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” The response is predictable: the offer of year-old calves, rams in their thousands, rivers of oil to burn the Temple lamps, even a human sacrifice. Wearily, Prophet Micah explains it all over again: “You have been told what would be good; you have been told what the Lord requires: to do justice, to love goodness, and to work humbly with your God.” (Micah 6. 3, 8)

It is, of course, easier to perform the outward appearance of religion – the customs, the behaviours; the fretting over the way other people bow, or make the sign of the Cross; the sharp eye on other people’s morals, while presuming forgiveness for one’s own shortcomings; the profession of righteous activity backed up with a word of criticism (a hint of our own insecurity perhaps) for those who we want to show are not up to the mark. There is nothing new under the sun; and St Paul was as worn down by self-righteous troublemakers as his successors have been right down the ages to this day. He told the Church at Corinth that people like that are like brass gongs – a lot of sound is made when the hammer strikes, but they make no music of their own: much reverberation, but no heart; much noise, but no love (cf. I Corinthians 13.1). Pope Francis says exactly the same about the poison of gossip, telling religious superiors this week that it actually be more honest to come to blows, so much more insidious and harmful is the hidden attack of pitiless, unloving gossip (Address to 54th National Assembly of Religious Superiors of Italy, 7 November 2014).

He has spoken, too, of Christians who are lukewarm and mediocre, people who look like Christians, but who are really worldly. He says, “They are enemies of the Cross of Christ. They take the name but they do not follow the responsibilities of Christian life. Do I like to brag? Do I like money? Do I like pride, arrogance?... These types of people get corrupted bit by bit and end up becoming pagan Christians” (Homily on 8 November, 2014, Santa Marta, Rome on Philippians 3.18). He is quoting St Paul, who saw the remedy to all this in self-giving love. For he points all those people who make trouble - all those obsessed with outward form, all those intruding their own anxieties into the souls of others - to the only thing that matters, to Jesus Christ on his Cross, the Cross that makes everything else beside the point. Appearance, law, immemorial custom, personal identity, self-realisation, individual spiritualities: all these mean nothing, unless we have become a new creation at the hand of Christ nailed to its Cross.

It is no accident that St Paul seizes on what must have seemed to be an endless and enervating fine argument about circumcision. It is as though he is saying, “Do you foolish Galatians not realise that when Jesus was circumcised, it was the first time He shed His blood for us? Do you not realise you are arguing about the Cross itself? Do you not see that all this argument about who gets to belong to the people of God - who can and can’t come in - has itself been crucified. With Christ’s death it has been killed off and, unlike Him it has not risen from the dead. Only Christ is alive and His resurrection is what has freed us to be made into new creations.

He tells them that marks he bears in his body are those caused by a Cross that ended his old life. They are also caused by the Resurrection freeing him to be made into something different now. “I have been crucified with Christ,” he has explained to them. “It is not any more I who live, but Christ who lives within me” (Galatians 2.20). His parting word is that this grace, the very living of Christ in a human soul, will be in their spirit too.

And what of us, with our conflicting thoughts, wants, feelings, grudges, self-pity, words, thoughts, excuses, dreams, conceit and sin? Are we the pagan Christians of which Pope Francis spoke, gradually corrupted by mediocrity, settling for less when we are free to have everything if, like the Lord we follow, we did but do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God? The devil would certainly like us to think so, crowding into us so many of his unclean spirits, to make us feel defeated and overwhelmed, tormented even by the attempt of Christ at relief, neuralgic even at the thought of his touch.

Instead, let us be the ones who call out “Save us,” to the one we can see is not the Punisher but the Lover of Mankind (Kontakion of Sunday, Tone 5). Let us long even to endure that crucifixion with Christ that made St Paul into a new creation. Let it be that just one spirit casts out all else, one spirit that dwells in us richly: Christ who is God’s love, Christ who is our unbreakable bonding with His Father. 

Fr Mark Woodruff

Monday, 27 October 2014

Centre for Eastern Christianity - Michaelmas Term Programme

The Centre's programme of lectures for Michaelmas term in about to get under way:

- A Lecture Series on the Armenian Church in history, during the Soviet era and its rebirth post-secularisation

- Christianity in the Middle East - Life and Death of a Tradition? A collaboration with the Las Casas Institute at Blackfriars in Oxford

- Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church

- Oriental Orthodoxy in Dialogue with the Catholic Church: Christology

Please follow the special link to the Centre's page on our site by clicking on the tab above.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Catholic-Orthodox Pastoral Consultation in England

After almost two years of careful preparation, the first meeting of a new pastoral consultation between Orthodox and Catholics in England took place in Oxford in February 2014. It is jointly sponsored by the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius and the Society of St John Chrysostom, the sister societies for East-West unity founded within a year of each other in the 1920s. The initiative has the blessing of the chairman of the Department for Dialogue and Unity of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, and of Archbishop Gregorios of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, and Archbishop Elisey of the Russian Orthodox diocese of Sourozh.

Consultation will involve common pastoral concerns, and promote mutual understanding, contact and exchange, including theological dialogue that can contribute to greater unity among the two Churches in the setting of contemporary society in the UK and also disseminate in this country the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.

At the first meeting, the Consultation looked at the place and education of Orthodox children in Roman Catholic schools, as well as present developments in the international dialogue. The second meeting in London on 29 September 2014 reviewed these discussions, and also began to examine questions of marriage and family life with a view to the forthcoming Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church.

The lifetime of the Consultation is five years in the first instance and will conclude with a final report. Reports and statements may also be issued along the way.

At the end of their September meeting, the Consultation issued a message of solidarity and support for the Christians and their Churches in Iraq and Syria at the present moment of their suffering, dispersal and witness for the sake of faithfulness to Christ.

The members are:

For the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius

Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia (Orthodox Co-Chairman and Patron of the Fellowship)
Archpriest Stephen Platt (Orthodox Co-Secretary and General Secretary of the Fellowship)
Protopresbyter Ian Graham, rector of the Parish of the Holy Trinity, Oxford
Dr Julia Konstantinovsky, University of Oxford (Sister Seraphima, Monastery of St John Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights)
Dr Brandon Gallaher (Lecturer in Theology, University of Exeter)

For the Society of St John Chrysostom
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham (Catholic Co-Chairman and Patron of the Society)
Father Mark Woodruff (Catholic Co-Secretary and Vice-Chairman of the Society)
Bishop Robert Byrne CO (Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham)
Sister Benedict Gaughan osb (Convenor of the East-West Monastic Meetings at St Mildred’s Priory, Minster Abbey)
Anthony O’Mahony (Director of the Centre for Eastern Christianity, Heythrop College University of London)

Archpriest Stephen Platt
Fr Mark Woodruff

29 September 2014

The Plight of the Christians of the Middle East: Message from the Catholic & Orthodox Pastoral Consultation in England, September 2014

The Catholic & Orthodox Pastoral Consultation in England, meeting in London for its 2nd Session, wishes to add its voice of support and union in prayer to the Apostolic Churches of Iraq and Syria, their Patriarchs and all their people, to the message of solidarity in prayer and hope from the 13th Session of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, that met earlier in September in Amman, Jordan.

At the present moment of their suffering, dispersal and witness for the sake of faithfulness to Christ, we pray for their continued growth, strength and enduring presence in the Middle East in peace and safety, as integral members of their societies’ history, identity and future.

Increasingly, these very Churches in diaspora are becoming close to us in England as the Christians of the Middle East seek safety and a future in the West. Already they are forming part of the developing character and shape of the Christian Church in Britain as a whole, not least as we seek the restoration of our unity in the one Body of Christ. To them and to their bishops among us we also extend our heartfelt concern and prayer for the security and deliverance of their families and fellow Church members in their homelands.

Above all we pray for a peace that is just, in which those of all faiths may live in harmony and freedom, Christian refugees can return to restore their Churches, wrongs are put right through mutual and equal respect, enemies reconciled and hope for the future assured.

Fr Mark Woodruff - Archpriest Stephen Platt
Society of St John Chrysostom - Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius
29 September 2014

Note: The Catholic-Orthodox Pastoral Consultation is an initiative to discuss matters of mutual concern and interest, jointly sponsored by the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius (www.sobornost.org) and the Society of St John Chrysostom (www.orientalelumen.org.uk), sister societies founded in the 1920s to raise awareness of the Eastern Churches and to work for East-West Church Unity.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Ecumenism in London, or What I Did This Summer | Royal Doors

Some new friends from Canada visited us in the summer, and attended the Divine Liturgy in English at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in London. Here is Brent Kostyniuk's story of August's Liturgy, which was attended by a lovely group of iconographers at the end of their study day.

Ecumenism in London, or What I Did This Summer | Royal Doors

Just one slight note of correction: the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London has its own territory, which covers Great Britain, and the Cathedral parish is not a personal parish forming part of the territory of the Latin primatial diocese of Westminster's local deanery; nor is its archbishop the metropolitan for the eparchy. That said, the relations with neighbouring Latin parishes - St James' Spanish Place, the Jesuit Church of Our Lady on Farm Street, and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham's parish at the Assumption & St Gregory - are excellent.

At Corpus Christi there is a large street procession between Farm Street and Spanish Place and for the first time this year it made a station at the doors of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, where the Blessed Sacrament was venerated at a specially erected Holy Table, while prayers in Ukrainian and English offered for Britain and Ukraine, and Benediction in the Latin rite given before the procession made its way. The Ukrainian Cathedral Choir welcomed the Procession and the Blessed Sacrament singing beautiful hymns that moved everyone. It was a remarkable meeting of Christian East and West, marked by the integrity of the two traditions respecting each other at a moment of intense faith and devotion. In 2015, the principal officiant at the Procession will be the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, assisted by Kyr Hlib Lonchyna the eparchial bishop of the Holy Family eparchy. Kyr Hlib has the distinction of being the first Catholic bishop "of London" since the deposition of Bishop Edmund Bonner in 1559 - not of the Latin but of a Greek-Byzantine Church.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Tone 1, Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London

The icon depicting the events of this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 5.1-11) shows the Lord standing on the shore of the lake. A crowd presses in on Him and there are too many, too close, for Him to make Himself heard. He sees Peter’s and James & John’s boats, and climbs in while the fishermen are mending their nets. He gets them to put out into the water just far enough, so that everyone can see Him and hear Him easily, using the surface of the lake to convey the sound of His voice.
At first, you might have thought He was putting some distance between Himself and the crowd, trying to get away from people’s demands. He has done this before, slipping through the crowds when accusers wanted to attack Him; or sensing someone in the crowd had taken power from Him, when it turned out that the woman with the bleed touched Him for healing.
But this is no act of escape. The true meaning of this story is not that He left the people behind on dry land, but that He “entered in”. He entered into a boat and from a vantage point actually turned back toward the crowd to drawn it into His world of the Spirit.
“Enter in” – where have we heard that phrase before? Think back to Christmas:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today..
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Emmanuel.
This story of the Lord, getting into a boat, coming among His people, is a story of the incarnation, of the God of heaven taking human form and voice, to be the Word of God living among humanity. The significance of the boat is that it alludes to another ark – the Ark that preserved God’s creation from the Flood and brought it to salvation. This Ark in turn alludes to the Ark of the Covenant, the throne of the Great King in the Temple, that held both the Law and the presence of God among His people. To us in the Church, both of these are vivid symbols of the Mother of God, who is often referred to as the Ark, on whom sits the Lord as God made Flesh, Emmanuel, God among us, and in Person the very arrival of salvation.
So it is that in the Theotokion for today we sing to the Mother of God,
“The Master of all became flesh in you, the Holy Ark … you have become wider than the heavens carrying your Creator. Glory to Him Who freed us through birth from you.”
We often think of heaven as our destination after life, and the world as the path of struggles we take to it. But truly the Kingdom comes to us here. Christians do not believe in life after death; we believe in eternal life now. “Death has vanished,” we declare, and Eve is “redeemed from bondage now” – now, not at some point in the future. We sing, “You arose … and gave life to the world” – here to the world, not hereafter to its faithful few survivors. This is what the fishermen saw, especially when the Lord told them, in that luminous phrase, to “put out into the deep water”, asking them too, like Him, to “enter in” to something; something now all round them, yet something they had never known to look for before. Because here, in the deep water, is the breadth of the heavens – don’t get confused by the story – carrying not more fish than the nets can haul out of the sea, but hauling out their Creator Whom they cannot contain. Simon Peter beholds what Jesus is, and what he himself is standing before Him, having beheld the deep. Here is humanity, inadequate, failing by its own efforts, frustrated by its limitations, undermined by its shortcomings, sinful and self-defeated. Yet here too is the Creator, Who does not steer clear of what He has made but enters into it.
Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee - the crowds too - have seen the Word of God and heard Him. Just as this Word turn from heaven to face the people, so too these people have been made, by the very entry of God into their midst, to turn round and face themselves in the deep. They experience amazement, but also do not like what they begin to see about themselves. As St Luke puts it, they were filled, but “begin to sink”.
Simon Peter’s words speak for us all in the face of the Kingdom of God that constantly comes to us, not as some afterthought to our life on earth, but arriving whenever we too put out into the deep water and attend the Liturgy, say our prayers, or behold the majesty of the Creator and Redeemer set in comparison beside so much suffering and cruel disfigurement of the goodness and beauty He has made in the world and our humanity. Simon Peter, who has ventured beneath the surface of life, says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. We join him at every moment when we say, “Lord, have mercy, Hospodi pomylui, Kyrie eleison”. But Simon Peter’s words are also prophetic, the gift of his realisation of the Kingdom standing before him in Person, that - he has also found - lies within. The Lord has entered in, and Simon Peter has begun to behold the Kingdom of God; so why does he ask the Lord to go away from him? He realises that there is more putting out into the deep to be done. If Jesus does not now go on His way, the fishermen have no way to go either. If Jesus does not move ahead, they have nothing and no one to follow.
So Christ enters in, casts out their sin. The boat that almost sank under the weight of a miracle of heaven, is the Ark of Salvation that bears God among us on earth, “born in us today”. The deep water is not in the lake, but the Kingdom of God that would well up from within us and flood us into being a superabundance of the coming of heaven to the world.
For it is we who are to be the Resurrection – this is why Christ turns to face us with it, eternal life entering in now, not after. For this the disciples left everything and followed Him. For this we join the heavenly powers crying out, “O Giver of life, glory to Your kingdom; glory to Your saving plan, O only Lover of mankind.”
No life else but Christ’s eternal life! No one else but Christ loves us so much as to enter in, cast out our sin and be born in us today. “O Virgin … Glory to Him Who freed us through birth from you.”

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Dialogue Goes Forward Says Greek-Catholic Bishop

During his stay at the Council of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic (UGCC) in Poland, which takes place in the city of Przemysl, Bishop Bohdan (Dziurakh), secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC commented for RISU on the recent statement of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate on the latter’s willingness to return to the issue of ‘Uniatism’ within the Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue. This proposal, as reported by Russian media, was put forward by Russian delegation during the last meeting of the Commission in Amman, Jordan.
According to Bishop Bohdan (Dzyurakh), there is always a lot of negativity in trying to raise the issue of so-called ‘Uniatism’: “it is always referred to as a ‘bloody wound on the body of Christianity’ and as something to be done with. I think that such rhetoric has no future, as it suggests that we should do something with a certain group of Christians, or rather do something they cease to exist. This is not a positive proposal, it is not a proposal that may have development and give rise to a good, creative and fruitful dialogue. In order that the dialogue was fruitful and constructive it must take place in love. And love requires respect for the rights of each party concerned.”
Commenting on the possibility of returning to this issue within an official dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, Bishop Bohdan expressed his conviction that it should be returned to in a positive format rather than negative: “We are inviting to the dialogue to find new formats of unity. Perhaps, the methods that were used 400 years ago now look anachronistic, but the idea of ​​unity does not come either from the Holy See or from a particular group of Christians – this is the commandment of Christ, a gospel postulate. So we have no choice here. For the choice here is to follow Christ, to go to unity or maintain this tragic dissent. I see that the authoritative representatives of the Orthodox Church in the person of the Patriarch of Constantinople understood it and along with the Pope withdrew the mutual anathemas that had emerged as a result of human sinfulness and ambitions.”
“I think that does not make sense to continue the dialogue in polemical manner. For ‘polemics’ comes from ‘polemos’ that means ‘war’ in Greek. In our case, this is war on religious grounds. We should rather seek and offer new models of unity. Regarding the statements of the Moscow Patriarchate representatives to turn back to the issue of ‘Uniatism’ within the theological dialogue. As far as I know, this proposal was not supported by the Commission members. This suggests that those who are looking for true dialogue think in a positive way. And this gives us hope that ecumenical dialogue is moving forwards despite the various difficult moments of crisis,” concluded the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC.

Source: RISU

Friday, 26 September 2014

Syrian Catholics fear airstrikes will worsen country’s woes - The Tablet - News

25 September 2014 14:05 by Liz Dodd

Bombing jihadists in Syria could make life worse for Christians in the region, the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo has warned.

Archbishop Boutros Marayati told the missionary news agency Fides that Syrian Christians did not consider those conducting the raids to be “liberators”.

"People here do not have a clear view of what is going on,” he said. “The prevailing sentiment is that the raids will not solve the problems, and may even increase them. The uncertainty that everyone lives every day increases even more. A question fathers and mothers of families ask themselves is whether it is still possible to remain or if the only salvation is to escape," he said.

Meanwhile the Catholic charity Pax Christi International urged the United Nations to look for non-violent solutions to the expansion of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS).

Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, and Marie Dennis, Pax Christi International co-presidents, and José Henriquez, the organisation's secretary-general, told the Catholic News Service that the air raids could serve to boost IS’s recruitment.

"We believe that especially the expansion of bombing is more likely to create significant recruiting bonanza for some of the extremist groups, ISIS included," Ms Dennis said.

Commenting on the situation in Iraq, Bishop Dowling said that the US invasion of the country in 2003 proved that war and violence was not a solution.

“We are now reaping the fruits of the fact that there wasn't an inclusive political, social response," Bishop Dowling said. He went on: “So we've got to find other ways, non-violent ways, inclusive ways."

Meanwhile Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope's secretary of state, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that terrorism "did not provide licence to meet violence with violence” but, in the words of St John Paul II after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “must be exercised with respect for moral and legal limits in the choice of ends and means”.

In addition, Parolin said, the international community must address the root causes of terrorism, which included social and economic inequality.

"Young people travelling abroad to join the ranks of terrorist organisations often come from poor immigrant families, disillusioned by what they feel as a situation of exclusion and by the lack of integration and values in certain societies. Together with the legal tools and resources to prevent citizens from becoming foreign terrorist fighters, Governments should engage with civil society to address the problems of communities most at risk of radicalisation and recruitment and to achieve their satisfactory social integration," he said.

People of faith have a "grave responsibility" to condemn those who used faith to justify violence, he added.

In the UK, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, on Wednesday said he would recall Parliament, and MPs will vote on Friday on whether to join in US-led military action against IS. The Cabinet is meeting today to discuss plans for air strikes. Addressing the UN in New York today Mr Cameron, said that the UK was "ready to play its part".

Read online: The Tablet - News

Friday, 19 September 2014

Bleeding Wound in a Political Heart

The Russian Army tries to force Eastern Catholics of Pratulin
 to abandon communion with the Apostolic See of Rome
The Maidan revolution of dignity was supported by all Churches and religious groups of Ukraine. It was opposed by the Kremlin and its allies. In a recent article for First Things, Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun identified the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) as a prominent and visible moral support to the justice movement. For this, the UGCC earned the ire of Putin and his cohorts. In January, the Russian strongman revealed his hand when, at a press conference in Paris, he lamented what he claimed had been agitation by "clergy from Western Ukraine" (read UGCC). Since that time, the rhetoric of the Russian state Church has taken on an increasingly hostile tone toward the UGCC (whom it continues to label "Uniate," an historical term which, already in the 18th century, had strong pejorative overtones), as well as to other religious groups in Ukraine. Such was the tone of a message by the Patriarch of Moscow, a close ally of Putin in his allegedly 'conservative,' anti-western crusade. 

The Moscow Patriarchate's chief of external affairs, Metropolitan Hilarion, a protégé of Kirill, has been consistent with Putin's anti-Ukrainian politik and its strong dose of anti-Catholic rhetoric. His statements resulted in him being banned from entering Ukraine, for a time, as persona non grata. For the past several years, Hilarion has attempted to smear Ukrainian Greek-Catholics in the eyes of, in his words, his "contacts in Rome." At the same time, the prelate has remained silent when asked, by the Apostolic See of Rome, to substantiate such claims.

The latest attack from the head of the Patriarchate's External Affairs Department comes directly on the heels of Russia's annexation of the Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine, accompanied by savage brutality toward (including execution of) non-Moscow churchmen. In a recent statement, the Metropolitan suggested that Catholic-Orthodox dialogue:

should revisit the issue of church unia, the discussion on which was not completed in 2000 due to sharp differences between the two sides concerning pastoral and canonical consequences of unia“Since unia still remains a bleeding wound on the body of the Christendom, as the recent events in Ukraine and extremely politicized statements of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic leaders have shown, this theme needs to be revisited.
In this statement, Metropolitan Hilarion expresses an anti-ecumenical line, linking the ecclesial reality of Eastern Catholics with political objectives. At the same time, the Moscow Patriarchate continues to ignore the accord reached by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants at Balamand in 1993. Issued by the Joint International Commission, the Balamand Statement condemned proselytism by all sides while, at the same time, it officially affirmed the right of Eastern Catholics to exist and flourish.

The Patriarchate's anti-ecumenical agenda manifests itself in its attempts to place wedges, at the ecumenical table, between Catholics and Orthodox, between Western and Eastern Catholics, and to refuse to recognize Eastern Catholics at all, just as the Kremlin (true to a centuries-old imperialistic politik) adamantly refuses to recognise the Government of Ukraine, or even its existence as a nation.

Orthodox and Catholics have made great strides in their pilgrimage of mutual understanding and have shown themselves capable of engaging in fruitful ecumenical dialogue. Orthodox and Eastern Catholics frequently sit down together at the table of ecumenical fellowship, where they are capable and willing to express mutual respect and recognition. Sadly, time and again, Moscow's representatives chose to act as obstacles to that mutual-respect and to ecumenical progress. They do this by politicising ecumenical issues, while simultaneously accusing everyone else of doing so.

If it is true, as Hilarion claims, that "Unia [Eastern Catholics to civilized folk] remains a bleeding wound," then this wound is not to be found at the heart of Christendom, as he claims, but rather at the political heart of an Evil Empire which he serves.

Ecumenical engagement is built upon a foundation of truth in charity. In seeking to pursue Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, Church officials face a serious moral imperative, not only for the honour of the Apostolic See, but also out of respect for those Orthodox Churches willing to dialogue and, finally, out of respect for the least of their brethren, the Eastern Catholic Churches. That imperative is to ask the Moscow Patriarchate to send a worthy, ecumenically-minded, and ecumenically-behaved representative, not a persona non grata to churches and states alike.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Beginning of the Indiction - Homily at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Beginning of the Indiction, Venerable Symeon the Stylite and Martha his Mother
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family of London, 1 September/14 September 2014

1 Corinthians 1.21-2.4 - Matthew 22. 2-14

At the height of the Christian Roman Empire, the great legal reformer Emperor Justinian, issued a decree (that is, an indiction) to ensure that everyone use a common dating system for contracts, official acts and legal documents. This had the remarkable consequence of moving the date of the imperial new year from its date from time immemorial - the Birthday of Augustus, pagan founder of the Empire, on September 23rd - to September 1st.

You will recall that St Luke describes how the Birth of Jesus took place in the context of another administrative decree from that very same Caesar Augustus, at a time which St Paul identified (Galatians 4.4-7) as “the fullness of time”, when there was peace throughout the known world of the Empire. So it is significant that, by the mid sixth century, the prestige of the founding Emperor was no longer common ground for the citizens of the Empire, or part of its identity. Instead, it is Jesus Christ himself. To this day, September 1st is the first day of the monthly Calendar for the Byzantine Churches of the Christian East. It remains programmatic for us all, because September is still the beginning of our academic and school years, and all of us feel the new working year really begins after the summer, with the burden of work to be done with the coming of the season of the harvest. This is reflected in the chants for today, which celebrate the bounty of God’s providence towards the people in the fruits of the creation: “Fashioner of all creation,” we sing in the Troparion for today, “Bless the crown of the year, O Lord, with Your goodness…”. Recently, September 1st has thus become for a large part of the Byzantine tradition a day of celebration and prayer for the environment, its careful stewardship and protection.

But today is also Sunday, a day when we think not only of this world, and its chronology and destiny, but of the Kingdom that is to come. In this Sunday’s Kontakion, in praising Christ our God, we go one further than this creation to the next: “With Yourself … You raised the dead and shattered the sting of death, and delivered Adam from the curse, O Lover of Mankind”. As St Paul reminds us, we set our affection on the things that are above, and not the things of the earth, because likewise we have died and our life is hid with Christ, in God (Colossians 3.2). In other words, we have to be whole people, leading holistic lives. Just as we are not complete persons if we live only with our material preoccupations, ignoring the human dimension that is spiritual, our soul; so we cannot live in the Resurrection of Christ, which became our defining characteristic when we were baptised in him, if we withdraw ourselves from the physical fact of the world and the body, as though they do not exist.

We have a clue to managing this seemingly impossible dual identity of ours - being citizens of the Kingdom of God, at the same time as active participants in the bountiful, beautiful and hopeful world he has created - in the words of today’s other observance, the feast of St Symeon the Stylite, of whom we have sung: “Seeking things above, you joined yourself to those on high; you made your pillar a fiery chariot, through which, O venerable one, you became a companion of the angels. With them, unceasingly implore Christ God on our behalf.” (Kontakion of St Symeon). Living in the company of the beings of heaven, he was also dwelling into advanced old age in the world, facing God at the same time as being seen by people, inspiring them and never forgetting to intercede for them.

We can put it another way. The great country, blues, and Gospel singer Johnny Cash captured an old saying, when he wrote a song about people who let their own light shine, without shining the light for others; who go to stand on the spiritual high ground for themselves, but don’t take the hands of those reaching to be lifted up there too. He sings, “You’re so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good” (The Rambler, 1977). This is precisely it: Christ wants it that, the more heavenly minded we are, the more earthly good we will be.

We can put it another way still. In today’s Gospel, we have the extraordinary tale of the guests who are too grand or ignorant to attend the wedding of their king’s son. The doors are thrown open for all to attend, not just the chosen few, even to the extent of gathering in the people who live on the streets. Then the king throws someone out of the banquet for not wearing the appropriate finery. At first sight, it looks unjust that the king rounds up last-minute guests in the middle of what they are doing, and then punishes them for coming unprepared. Many scholars explain this away by saying that St Matthew has just added together two separate stories with a wedding theme; but I think they are missing the point. For Jesus begins by telling a story with a popular theme, familiar to us from the Magnificat: the rich put down and sent empty away, while the humble and poor are exalted in their place – a typical “them-and-us” story. But then he gives it a twist to surprise us all out of our complacency and self-satisfaction, rich and poor, powerful and powerless alike. In the Epistle, St Paul explains what Jesus means: “God establishes you in the Anointed Christ, and anoints you by putting His seal on us, and giving us His Spirit in our hearts as a first instalment.” So there you have it: first, God the Father compels us to come into the wedding feast of His Son and seals our adoption as His own sons and daughters, co-inheritors with Christ of the whole Kingdom itself. Then the Spirit is bestowed in our hearts as the first instalment of our new way of living. But those who misuse or waste this first flow of grace will lose when it comes to the ensuing graces, whoever they are: “Many are called,” Jesus observes, “but few are chosen.”

What in us has become of this first instalment of grace? Has it simply got stuck in our hearts, or does it show in our minds in the way we decide things; does it show on the outside through the way we act? Where is the grace upon grace? Where are the signs of spiritual progress, after receiving not only the King’s invitation, but the honour of a new standing in His Kingdom? Why do we look and behave and think as before? In the case of that unchanged wedding guest, something showed the king that everything he had been given had made no difference, for there was no sign of new growth in grace beyond that “first instalment” from the Holy Spirit. Either he was living in the world, cutting himself off from the heaven that had been planted in his heart; or he was living on a personally fulfilled religious plane, with no sign to show for it in the world and for the world. The guest thrown out was not fit for the Kingdom, not because he had made no effort, but because he was enjoying heaven for himself, and living as though nothing had changed. He was not, as the Lord’s Prayer implores, seek the Kingdom to come “on earth, as it is in heaven”. He was not a whole person, living spiritually and holistically in the world. He was unable to be what the Christian must always be seen to be: a new creation in Christ, a different way of humanity.

So what is this difference to humanity that, for instance, an astonishing saint like St Symeon, or a new Church Year resolves us to seek and emulate? Well, first, St Matthew reports how, even when we fast and lament, we should not put on the act of sorrow and penitence for public consumption, but anoint ourselves with the oil of gladness (Matthew 6.17), just like at a wedding. Joy and confidence in Christ as the centre of all things, then, are the first signs to the world of the presence of God in our midst. Secondly, as we face the prospect of war and the vicious destruction of Christianity in the lands that cradled the Church from its birth, the only point of Christians is that we are people not of revenge and ancient hatreds, of self-pity and recrimination, but of persevering forbearance and inexhaustible forgiveness, people serving reconciliation and bringing healing, people of faith in Christ’s promises, hope in His ever coming Kingdom, and unconditional love for God and neighbour - and enemy.

These are the precepts of heaven for a new Church Year: the more heavenly minded we are, the more earthly good we will be in serving the coming of Christ’s Kingdom on earth as it is in

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Bishops in Synod: Ukraine is flowing with blood

We, the bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church from Ukraine and from countries of Ukrainian settlements in North and South America, Australia, and Europe, gathered at the annual Holy Synod in Lviv, conscious of the responsibility entrusted to us for our flock, raise our voice on behalf of the people of Ukraine and call out to the people of the world: "Ukraine is flowing with blood!" This peaceful sovereign nation has been subjected to a direct military intervention by a northern neighbor. Hundreds of units of heavy weaponry and technology, thousands of armed mercenaries and soldiers of Russia’s standing army are crossing the borders of Ukraine, sowing death and destruction, in disregard for the terms of the ceasefire and recent diplomatic efforts. At the same time, propaganda continues at an unprecedented level of hatred and distortion of the real state of affairs, which is no less damaging than weapons of mass destruction.
The entire world has been able to witness how, over the last months, the aggressor commits crimes against humanity on the territory of Ukraine. The whole world was shocked with the criminal act of the downing of the Malaysian plane, in which 298 people from 10 different countries died. Thousands of people, especially women and children, have been recklessly killed; and it has not been possible to even bury them with dignity. Many of the wounded are forced to simply wait for death due to the inaccessibility of medical assistance. Thousands of people are being kidnapped and subjected to torture and public humiliation against their human dignity.. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are being forced to flee their homes due to threats against their lives and the danger of death. If these crimes are not stopped immediately, with the onset of the winter cold, the death toll will increase tenfold. Those, who kill people in Ukraine today, will not hesitate tomorrow to turn their weaponry against anyone, in their own country and beyond its borders, or attack any other nation in the world.
In the face of such grave crimes we call out to the consciences of believers of all religions and faiths, we appeal to all people of good will, to heads of state, and members of the international community: "Stop the bloodshed in Ukraine!" Today, silence or inaction, reluctance to recognize the gravity of the situation, which has arisen in our country, can not only turn everyone into a mute or indifferent witness, but also into an accomplice of the sin of murder, which cries to heaven for justice as the Scripture says: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Genesis 4:10). How can we not recall the words of Saint John Paul II, who in the distant year of 1979, in the vicinity of the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, said: "War is caused not only by those who wage it directly but also by those who do not do everything in their power to avoid it." We especially call for responsible action from those whom the Lord has given authority, to take the necessary decisions at the political level in order to restore peace and security in Europe. And once again we call all believers and people of good will to urgent prayers for the end of aggression and the restoration of a lasting and comprehensive peace in Ukraine.
Convinced that God is with us in our sufferings and troubles, that He will hear our common pleas and prayers, and with the coordinated efforts of the international community, we will be able to stop the bloodshed, to defend human dignity, and restore life-giving peace.
His Beatitude Sviatoslav
Major Archbishop of Kyiv and Halych
His Grace Ihor (Vozniak)
Metropolitan of Lviv
His Grace Volodymyr (Viytyshyn)
Metropolitan of Ivano-Frankivsk
His Grace Vasyl (Semeniuk)
Metropolitan of Ternopil
His Grace Ivan (Martyniuk)
Metropolitan of Przsemysl and Warsaw
His Grace Lawrence (Huculak)
Metropolitan of Winnipeg
His Grace Stephen (Soroka)
Metropolitan of Philadelphia
His Grace Volodymyr (Kovbych)
Metropolitan of Curitiba and Brasil
His Excellency Borys (Gudziak)
Bishop of Eparchy of St. Volodymyr in Paris for Ukrainians of the Byzantine rite
in France and Benelux 
And all the Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

Saturday, 30 August 2014

An Appropriate Response to the Crisis in the Christian East

The well-known and tragic crises unfolding in close proximity to our European home is showcasing the plight and, to some extent, the character of many of the ancient Eastern Churches. In my recent article for RISU, I argue that it is every Western Christian's responsibility to respond in charity, and that this charity must include knowledge and understanding.

After all, "Ecclesiarum Orientalium also states that ‘Those who, by reason of their office or apostolic ministries, are in frequent communication with the Eastern Churches or their faithful should be instructed according as their office demands in the knowledge and veneration of the rites, discipline, doctrine, history and character of the members of the Eastern rites.’ In other words, the Second Vatican Council envisages nothing less than that Christians in the West should be well-versed in the life of the Eastern Churches."

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Letter from His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) on the difficult situation in Ukraine

To the Catholic Episcopal conferences
То the World’s Religious and Political Leaders
To All People of Good Will
For nine months Ukrainians, have been on an arduous pilgrimage from post-Soviet fear to freedom and God-given dignity. Traumatized by twentieth century World Wars, brown and red totalitarianism and genocide, they seek a just society and a democratic, European future. With patience, endurance, and great human sacrifice they overcame in February the brutal regime of Viktor Yanukovych. This moral triumph was answered in March by Russia’s territorial annexation of Crimea. Now, for months the country endures foreign supported destabilization, separatism, and terrorist activity in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, in one word: war. Tragically, as became manifest in the criminal shootdown of Malasian Airlines Flight 17, the Ukrainian trial affects the global community.
All of the Churches and religious organizations of Ukraine stood together against the violence of the Yanukovych regime, the annexation of Crimea, and the division of the country. On the Maydan-Square for months, every day, and hourly in the night, in common prayer they insisted on respect of civil rights, non-violence, unity of the country, and dialogue. This civic ecumenical and inter-religious harmony and cooperation has been an important source of moral inspiration and social cohesion in Ukraine.
In annexed Crimea and in the Eastern war zone some of the Churches and religious communities have been targeted for discrimination, enduring outright violence. In Crimea the most exposed have been the Muslim Tatars. The Tatar community as a whole is in daily danger. Some of its leadership has been exiled, barred from their homeland. The existence of Greek and Roman Catholics ministries, Orthodox parishes of the Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Jewish community in Crimea has been variously menaced.
In April violence was instigated in eastern Ukraine.  According to Ukrainian authorities some1000 people, including international journalist and peace monitors, were kidnapped or detained; dozens were tortured or killed. The anti-terror operation launched by the Ukrainian government faces a foreign aggression that co-opts local rebels and local and international criminal delinquents.  As a result today there are over thousand civilian casualties in the densely populated cities, with the number rising by 50 deaths or more daily, not to mention the 298 victims of MA Flight 17. The infrastructure of the cities including roads and bridges, electric substations, coal mines, and industrial installations are being destroyed to cripple the economy and future reconstruction that will become the responsibility of the Ukrainian state. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee the warfare that has been brought into the heart of the cities by the so-called separatists.
Amidst the horrors of war the tiny Ukrainian Greek and Roman Catholic minority experience oppression on the territories controlled by the “separatists.” Three Catholic priests were kidnapped: Pawel Witek and Wiktor Wąsowicz (Roman Catholic), Tykhon Kulbaka (Greek Catholic). The later was kept in captivity for 10 days and deprived of medicine he needed. The episcopal residence of the Greek Catholic bishop in Donetsk was robbed and sealed, depriving him of his chancery and all documentation. The Cathedral yard was hit by “separatist” rocket fire damaging the building and windows with shrapnel. The bishop and almost all Greek Catholic priests were forced to leave the environs of Donetsk. Armed representatives of separatist regime entered the church and desecrated the sanctuary. They “allowed” priests to stay and conduct services but put them on travel restrictions. Terrorists blackmail the clergy by threatening to harm their parishioners.
Most recently, on Saturday, August 16, the small monastery of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Donetsk was seized and violated. The sisters who generously and humbly served the community and who were on a summer retreat or at summer camps for children outside of Donetsk cannot now return to their home now being used by the “separatists.”
Protestants are targeted by pro-Russian terrorist groups and have suffered the gravest violence: two sons of the pastor of the Evangelical Church “Metamorphosis” Alexander Pavlenko and two deacons of that church, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko were taken from a church service, tortured, and killed by the terrorists. Their bodies were exhumed from amass grave in Sloviansk.
Unfortunately, the beleaguered Ukrainian Catholics, Greek and Roman, faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and Protestants in the east of Ukraine are further endangered by the rhetoric of the Orthodox leadership in Russia, which is becoming increasingly similar to the propaganda of Russian political authorities and media.
In recent documents issued in Moscow at the highest level of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly in a letter to the Primates of the Orthodox Churches, Greek Catholics and the Ukrainian Orthodox of the Kyivan Patriarchate, disrespectfully called "Uniates" and "schismatics”, are defamed. They are held responsible for the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine and are accused of generating the warfare, especially the violence against Orthodox clergy and faithful endured as a result of military operations. Russian Orthodox leaders spread libelous information about Greek Catholics and other confessions thereby putting them in danger from the separatist militants who identify themselves as warriors for Russian Orthodoxy.
We strongly reject these claims and accusations. The Ukrainian military is not structured as a denominational entity. Therefore, chaplains of various denominations serve in the zone of the Antiterrorist Operation. Chaplains are not permitted to interfere in the life of local religious communities. Accusations that chaplains of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have committed acts of violence against members of other churches and religious groups are not true.
The tragedy that Ukraine is experiencing today, due to military aggression, is a tragedy for all peoples, believers of all faiths, and all social groups. Buildings, churches and monasteries of all religious and ethnic groups are being damaged or destroyed. Clergy of all faiths who exercise their pastoral ministry in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and Crimea have suffered, some risking their own lives. Two Orthodox priests who were killed in the region are among more than a thousand civilians killed during the conflict and their terrible deaths are not connected with their religious beliefs. They were accidental victims of shelling.
We pray for all the innocent victims and for peace in Ukraine. And our Church is doing everything to bring peace and alleviate the suffering of those affected by this terrible conflict.
Ukraine needs the effective support of the global Christian community and support of all people of good will. In a media context rife with propaganda we ask you to evaluate information critically. We need your prayer, your discernment, your good words and effective deeds.  Silence and inaction will lead to further tragedy. The fate of MA Flight 17 is an example of what may happen if the terrorist activity is allowed to continue.

Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych
Primate of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church

Saturday, 16 August 2014

UGCC Responds to Patriarch Kirill's Accusations

"Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, has recently called upon the Primates of Orthodox Churches to protect Orthodox Christians in Eastern Ukraine from "uniates" and "schismatics."
Here is the official response of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church:
1 The tragedy that Ukraine is experiencing today, due to military aggression, is a tragedy for all peoples, believers of all faiths, and all social groups. Buildings, churches and monasteries of all religious and ethnic groups are being destroyed. Clergy of all faiths who exercise their pastoral ministry in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts and Crimea have suffered, some risking their own lives.

During the months of military confrontation, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has continually called upon ways to seek a peaceful resolution. In no way should this resolution be construed as a denial of the rights and obligations of citizens of Ukraine to defend their freedom and independence. The UGCC and representatives of other Churches and religious organizations have taken concrete measures in providing humanitarian assistance to all victims of aggression in Eastern Ukraine, regardless of religious affiliation and national identity.

We strongly condemn all acts of violence against civilians in Ukraine, including its clergy, no matter which denomination, religion or ethnic group they belong to. The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations has called for an immediate cessation of violence and the disarmament of all illegally armed militia groups whose atrocities have claimed the lives of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, policemen, civilians, women and children.

2 The assertion that the Antiterrorist Operation only affects the Orthodox faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate is a dangerous one. Its purpose is to fan the fires of divisiveness and create the illusion that Ukrainian society at large is victimizing one denominational group. It is unacceptable and evil to place the rights of freedom and independence of the Ukrainian people into a denominational framework. This provokes new tensions and turmoil in Ukrainian society - this time in the area of interfaith relations. Today Ukraine needs religious men and women to nurture peace and not to provoke violence.

3 The Ukrainian military is not structured as a denominational entity. Therefore, chaplains of various denominations serve in the zone of the Antiterrorist Operation. They exercise their ministry in conformity with the regulations of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. These regulations and guidelines were created by an interfaith pastoral council, whose membership includes representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate]. Chaplains are not permitted to interfere in the life of local religious communities. Accusations that chaplains of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church have committed acts of violence against members of other churches and religious groups are not true. We strongly reject such claims and accusations.

4 We call upon the Primates of all Christian Churches, religious and government leaders, and the international community to express their solidarity with the Ukrainian people during this difficult time. We also call upon all people of good will to honestly assess all acts of aggression against our country, regardless of how this aggression is disguised. Let us work together to stop bloodshed so that peace may reign in Ukraine, and that justice and good neighborly relations may exist between all countries and peoples of the modern world."

Protopresbyter Ihor Yatsiv
Office of Communications, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
(Translation by Father Myron Panchuk)  see the original Ukrainian here

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Plight of the Church in Iraq: Vice Chairman's Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday of Christ Walking on the Water, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, 10th August 2014, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, London
Troparion of the Resurrection, Tone 8. You came down from on high, O Merciful One, and accepted three days of burial to free us from our sufferings. O Lord, our life and our resurrection, glory be to You.

1 Corinthians 3:9-17

Matthew 14:22-34

It is difficult at the present time to think of the Church as being built, when daily news arrives of our ancient sanctuaries being destroyed, either as collateral damage in war, or as a direct act of intended destruction on the part of violent, jealous men, who hide behind religious zeal their true identity as bank robbers, as perverts that rape girls and disabled old ladies, and as psychopathic serial killers that are even now murdering our brothers and sisters in the Household of Faith, or condemning them to the searing heat of the desert without food, water or shelter. It looks like the Church is being destroyed in the lands where it first took root, Iraq - the cradle of civilisation, where different peoples (such as the Assyrians, Arabs, Turkics and Persians) and different faiths (such as Sunni and Shia Islam, Zoroastrianism, Assyrian and Syriac Christianity, Catholic and Orthodox) have lived in harmony side by side for centuries.

But somehow and somewhere in all this we are to see the work of the Lord who is faithful to his people and to all humanity, even when we are tested, as St Paul tells us, in the fire. The apostle’s words recalls to us the Lord’s own parable of the house built upon sand and the house built upon the rock. The point he is making is not about the relative strength of faith, but the strength of the grace that we rely on, as opposed to our own efforts. It almost goes without saying that the House of the Lord which is the Church of God in Iraq, led so nobly by the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, is a house whose foundations are the gold and silver and precious stones that really have been tried in the fire. The buildings and everything they have may have been taken away - as St Paul says “the builder will suffer loss”; and did not our Lord say “from those who have nothing even what they have will be taken away”? – but the grace of God has been shown to be the foundation not just of an ethnic or religious identity, but of the house of their faith.
Compare this with the story of St Peter, bidden by Christ to walk on nothing more than water to meet him. Peter did not believe that it was possible, started out, thought again and began to sink. It was the Lord’s hand, not his own efforts and will power, that caught him. Jesus questions the strength of Peter’s belief in him, yet at the same time makes it clear that everything that can be achieved and withstood depends not on our strengths but on the hand of God.
Paul speaks of testing construction handiwork by fire; the construction of Peter’s foundations in faith is flooded out by water. But it is the same story. In time, with the help and grace of the Holy Spirit, he rebuilt and became the Rock on which Christ was able to build his Church. Likewise the Christians of the old Roman Empire were able to face the onslaught, knowing what was to be demanded of them, because they saw that Christ is the centre and summit of all existence and of human society, whatever the appearances. Thus Paul clearly recognised the coming of a moment when God’s temple, where the Spirit dwells in Christ’s own people, would be destroyed.
I cannot presume to know what our brothers and sisters in Iraq are going through, having lost not only everything they have but, for the second time in a century for some of them, being driven out of their historic lands and holy places. I cannot begin to enter into their grief, bitterness, desperation and mourning: now is not the time for those in the comfort of Britain to exhort them to fortitude, courage and joy in adversity. But we and they can recognise in their suffering and destruction the Lord who trod this path before and who, as he passed through death, spoke somehow of forgiveness, redemption and the promise of paradise.
Because of this, we who are Christians pin all our hopes on the resurrection, knowing that it is not some far off after-life, or a dream to console us in our pain and misery. The resurrection of Christ back then, is the same as the coming of the Kingdom of God now. For as we sing today, “You came down from on high, O merciful One, and accepted three days of burial to free us from our sufferings.” 
St Paul said that if anyone destroys God’s temple, the holy place which we Christians are, then God will destroy that person. So let our prayer today on behalf of all our suffering brothers and sisters in the temple of God, the House of Faith in which we all dwell in the Spirit, be that those who hate the Church and who hate the humanity made in the image of God’s Christ himself, may be brought not to the destruction of their lives but of all that is wrong in them. Let them now be put to the test – whether it be water or fire – so that all that is evil and vain, and resentful and unforgiving and merciless, may melt away and the underlying structure of God’s handiwork be revealed – a frame on which there can be more grace, more forgiveness, and more humanity. Let them be converted to the Lord and live.
And as for us, in this Cathedral of the Holy Family, under the patronage of St Joseph who provided a home for Our Lord and the Mother of God, which began as a Church for inspiring and consoling those in exile, and which now stands as a sign for nations and societies in whom the Temple of the Lord is being rebuilt, let us remember that we have nothing to stand on unless it is the Lord that reaches out his hand to hold us up. We stand because he has stood up having been beaten down by death. Now risen from the dead, he leaves nothing behind that calls out to him, “Lord save me.” For, seeing us, who call upon God’s help to be the human beings that God means us all to be – people of love, and grace, forgiveness and hope –the world recognises Christ and turns to him as Lord. So, hearing our words and our songs ringing true, could it be that those who do not know him and even now oppose him and would bring down his Kingship - could it be that they too - would sing:
O Lord, our life and our resurrection, glory be to You? 
In hope of this, let us say with Patriarch Louis Raphael the prayer he has just written and issued to all the world that the cries of the Christians in Iraq will be our own in complete solidarity:
Lord, the plight of our country is deep
and the suffering of Christians is severe and frightening.

Therefore, we ask you, Lord,
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience,
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.

Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.

Glory be to You forever.


Saturday, 2 August 2014

IRAQ Patriarch of Baghdad, Mosul Christians should be able to stay in Iraq, not forced into exile - Asia News


Patriarch of Baghdad, Mosul Christians should be able to stay in Iraq, not forced into exile
Mar Sako thanks France and Bahrain for the proposal to facilitate visas for Iraqi Christians, but calls for support for "a political solution" so the population is not forced to leave Iraq. Desperate need for emergency aid and shelters for refugees.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The families that have fled Mosul "must be able to stay in our homeland, Iraq". Facilitating their exile through special visas is not the real solution, rather a political effort is needed that will "allow us all to remain in this nation that we love and to live in safety, equality and dignity with everyone", says the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Raphael Louis Sako, in a message sent to AsiaNews, after the flight of about 500 thousand Muslims and Christians from Mosul, following the Islamic State's conquest of the city and its establishment of a Caliphate there under strict sharia.

In recent days, France and Bahrain reportedly stated they are willing to offer asylum to Christians from Mosul, facilitating visas for them.

The Patriarch thanked Paris and Sana'a "for their generous proposal", "it honors us and honors the countries that make it", but he stresses that "if we leave our homeland we will destroy the memory of our ancient history". Rather than a temporary, humanitarian solution to the emergency, a "political solution" is what is needed: "all components of the Iraqi nation and the international assembly needs to think about finding a lasting solution that respects everyone and can save our country from this chaos and barbarity. "

The patriarch - who yesterday returned from a visit to the families who have sought refuge in Kurdistan - says that "today, these displaced families have nothing left, the jihadists robbed them of everything and they are in a situation of insecurity, pain and dire need".

While respecting the personal decisions of each of refugees, Mar Sako says that "if France and other countries really want to help, [they should do so] encouraging these families to stay by sending them emergency aid to ease their pain and help the construction of housing in the cities where they can live in security".

He points out that on the other hand, the proposal to accommodate these families abroad, without knowing their number "is no simple thing, and certainly we must also think about the huge uprooting this entails with regard to the difference in language , culture, mentality and customs".

Source: IRAQ Patriarch of Baghdad, Mosul Christians should be able to stay in Iraq, not forced into exile - Asia News

Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons - ICN

Saturday, August 2, 2014 11:28 am

What does it mean for a Christian in fear of their life in Iraq, a Syrian Christian bombed out of home and church or a child whose whose family has been blown to bits in Gaza or somebody with the Ebola virus, to hear those words of Paul, ‘nothing can separate us from the love of Christ?’. Would they find comfort in a pain beyond words, in a loss we can only vaguely acknowledge.

This is where pious platitudes and sentimental religion collapse, this is the point where the Christ of salvation loses his clothes and church finery, moves out of a safe sacramental world we create and becomes the bloodied Christ of the cross. The one who cries ‘ father forgive, they know not what they do!”.This is the point where the raw love of God remains our hope!

We are all complicit in the savagery of this world, we in the West have it so easy, but that cannot last. If we follow the Lord the cross is ours to carry and transformation comes through bearing one another’s burdens. Jesus in the Gospel sees the crowd and takes pity on them, but before he celebrates a meal with them he is active in curing the sick. A message for us who have weekly Eucharist, that the beginning of our sacramental celebration lies with the care of real people, there the body of Christ is first encountered. The needs of the poor, hungry, homeless come before our need for sacramental celebration which connects with our active love.

Isaiah shows us God literally calling people from want and need to life, but that, on this earth has to be through us! The scriptures are not simply pages in a book or nice poetic readings, they are God’s voice calling us to respond now!

But back to my initial question, how do people who have had far more suffering than we ever will know, who in a true sense take on sufferings far more painful than the Christ on the cross, find that love of God?

As I grow older I notice more that in the tangled mess and problems of the world, there is one thread that never snaps, somehow deep in all of this is the presence of Christ alive, loving, suffering with them. The presence of that loving Christ is our constant loving care for these little ones!

Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Chaplain for the Melkite Greek Catholics in Britain.

Source: Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons - 3 August 2014 - Independent Catholic News

Friday, 1 August 2014

Russian-Ukrainian War: High Time to Preach Justice

Below is an abbreviated English translation of the key points from a recent interview by Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Major-Archbishop (Patriarch)-emeritus of Kyiv-Halych. The complete Ukrainian-language interview may be found at credo.ua.

1. This is a war between Russian and Ukraine, which Russia began preparing 10 years ago. Those in power in Ukraine were, to some extent, agents of Russia. What is happening in eastern Ukraine today is the result of aggressive zombification. After being fed on lies for years and years, they believed them...

2. Russia worked on western Europe the same way they did with our own people. All radio and television programs, in whatever language, were pro-Russian. That's why the Maidan was something strange and fearful to them. They had no freedom and lived in fear. It will take a long time to teach them to be free...

3. We must weed out unworthy people from government, and there are very many...

4. We have 200 registered parties alone: lots of politicians but few national and civic leaders. And that is true for the rest of the world...

5. Moscow's aggression creates a similar situation to Hitler. The problem begins within the structure of Russia itself— it's an empire and Putin did not invent it, he is only fulfilling the role. The roots of this problem go back 400 years. All Russian leaders, from Peter to Stalin and now again, want to build an empire...

6. Communism/Bolshevism was just a continuation of this empire...

7. We have a a very influential body, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches, which brings together 19 of the largest religious groups, Christians, Jews, Moslems, and all want a united Ukraine. But now, brothers, it's time to preach to the people: tell them that they must be honest, not to steal, not be lazy, not wait for someone else to do your share.Let's get to work! The Church, left to itself, forms responsible people and becomes a danger to any kind of criminal, bandit or dictator...

8. Honor thy father and mother also applies to your father/motherland. This is a healthy patriotism. Unfortunately, the churches found themselves caught between political patrons, including Stalin...

9. The state must support all churches and not interfere in their internal matters. All our former presidents wanted to have at least one church at their side, just like Russia does with Patriarch Kiril.. The Ukrainian Council of churches was also a child of Kuchma who, through his representative, tried to dictate to us what we should do. This quickly ended...

10. Saint John Paul II called the situation in Ukraine an ecumenical laboratory. Despite the number of religious groups, we do not fight with one another. Alhough we are not united, we support one another...

The Priest - "Pop" (Film with English Subtitles) - YouTube

At last, this beautiful and moving film of the faithfulness and suffering of a Russian Orthodox priest and his people during both Nazi occupation and the persecution of the Communists, now on You Tube with English subtitles.

▶ The priest-Pop.(English Subtitles). - YouTube

In Ukraine, the church sets the record straight: Fr Andriy Zelinskyy SJ: Peace, human rights & nothing but love for Russians - YouTube

Source: Catholic News Service ▶ In Ukraine, the church fights back - YouTube

World on brink of third world war - Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev: Interfax-Religion

Moscow, July 31, Interfax - Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations has expressed concern over the current international situation, claiming that the world has found itself one step away from a global war.

"The current situation is increasingly reminiscent of that in the run-up to the First World War. News programs have turned into frontline news summaries, each day we hear about more and more victims. Yes, so far the conflicts have been on a local scale but whole countries and whole military-political blocs are getting sucked into the militaristic rhetoric," the metropolitan wrote in an article published in the weekly supplement to the Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russian Newspaper - Week) newspaper on Thursday.

Polarization has reached a critical point, the author said. "Various countries create and maintain, through mass media, an image of the enemy. And that is one step away from a declaration of global war," the article said. [Cf. His Eminence's own repeated comments to demonise the new Ukrainian government as fascist and anti-Russian, and to accuse the Catholic Church as its mover and accomplice. Ed. SSJC]

The hierarch thinks the main lesson of both world wars consists in that they had no winners. "The one hundred years since the beginning of the First World War is unlikely to prompt an ardent international response. Some places will build monuments to the heroes, others will clean up the memorial cemeteries, and festivities will be held elsewhere. But will the war anniversary become a reason for rethinking its outcomes on the global scale? Will the outcomes of the two world wars be a lesson to global leaders on whom it depends whether the third one will begin," the hierarch asked.

According to Metropolitan Hilarion, today the parties to the standoff have already used the Malaysian plane crash in Ukraine for mutual accusations, "loud political statements and calls for reprisals and retribution." [Metropolitan Hilarion has himself blamed the Ukrainian government for causing the problems that prevented international investigators to access the crash site. Ed. SSJC]

"The same as 100 years ago when a shooting by a Serbian terrorist of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne led to war. It looked as if the leading global powers had been waiting for this shot to start the global slaughter," the article said.

Source: Interfax-Religion