Every second Saturday of the month, Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ.
4pm Divine Liturgy. Next: 13th November 2021

Very sadly, the Divine Liturgy in English at 9-30 am on Sundays at the Holy Family Cathedral, Lower Church, have had to be put on hold. Until the practicalities we cannot use the Lower Church space. Hopefully this will be resolved very soon. Please keep checking in here for details.

Owing to public health guidance, masks should still be worn indoors and distance maintained. Sanitisers are available. Holy Communion is distributed in both kinds from the mixed and common chalice, by means of a separate Communion spoon for each individual communicant.

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.

To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Five Attacks on Holy Land Christian, Jewish and Muslim Holy Sites in January - Terrasanta.net

From Terrasanta.net :

(Milan/e.p.) - So far this year, anti-Christian graffiti was sprayed on the walls of a Catholic institution in Jerusalem, and three synagogues and a mosque were attacked and vandalized. The abusive graffiti was sprayed on the walls of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center on Jan. 8. Two synagogues were broken into and Torah scrolls desecrated on Jan. 10. The other synagogue, on the Sirkin military base, was vandalized on Jan. 9. The mosque in Deir Istiya in the West Bank was set on fire and graffitied on Jan. 15.

The attacks have prompted condemnations from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which describes them as “despicable” and which it says contribute to “a divisive and hostile environment.” The Council, which is registering all the attacks on its website, calls on the authorities in charge “to do their utmost to prevent such attacks and restore safety and respect for Holy Sites of all religions.”

The attacks often contain the graffiti “price tag” which means to exact a price from local Palestinians or from the Israeli security forces for any action taken against Jewish settlements. Such acts of vandalism are usually carried out by young Jewish extremists.

During a meeting with local Christian religious leaders at the end of December, Israeli President Shimon Peres condemned the attacks and stressed that Israel will not such abuse of holy sites. "The State of Israel will not tolerate aggression against members of the clergy,” he said. “I feel angry at the insults some religious leaders in Israel have faced recently. Israel has always been and will always remain committed to freedom of worship, freedom of religion. We will continue to guarantee access to holy sites for all.”

He said he prayed that in 2014 “harmony and coexistence” would reign in Jerusalem “as an example and an inspiration for the togetherness of faiths across the world.” “Wherever intolerance appears we will continue to take firm action against it,” he said. “There is no place for violence in our society, even more so when it targets people or places of faith."

Although the majority of “price tag” attacks appear to be carried out by Jewish extremists, some have been proven false or staged by Arab and left-wing activists. Jewish community leaders in Judea and Samaria have regularly expressed concern that "price tag" accusations are being used by left-wing and Arab extremists as part of a campaign of anti-Jewish incitement.

List of attacks since 2011 can be read here.


Inside the Armenian Island of Jerusalem - Terrasanta.net

Chiara Cruciati writes:

After going through the door of the Armenian Convent, a world in itself opens up before the eyes of the lucky visitor. It is a place apart, separate from the rest of the chaotic old city of Jerusalem, the tranquillity of which has been preserved for centuries by the small community that lives there.
The Armenian quarter, an integral part of the old city of Jerusalem, has a secret heart. Around the streets and alleys the tourists go down and which from the Jaffa Gate lead to the Esplanade of the Mosques, there stands the Convent, a city within the city and inaccessible to tourists and outsiders.
We enter accompanied by a young Armenian, Apo Sahagian: the only way to visit the small enclave is to be guided by one of the thousand residents. At the entrance, two tourists are stopped by one of the guards: entry is prohibited.

In the early hours of the afternoon, the quarter is quiet, there are very few people walking in the two small squares and alleys of the Convent, only a few priests dressed in black. It is Saturday, the Mass in the Cathedral of St. James is about to start. We enter: about ten religious have begin the ceremony. At the centre of the church a chair is waiting for the Patriarch, who enters amongst the faithful after a few minutes.

“The church of St. James represents the beginning and the end for us,” Apo, a 23-year-old musician and short story writer, explains to us. “We are baptized here and our funeral is held here. The life of a Jerusalem Armenian begins and ends in this church.”

We continue our visit: around the main square – “our Tahrir Square,” Apo calls it, there are two bookshops, the old printing press and a clinic. A little before that the Post Office and a little further on the museum. All the buildings are in cream stone, like the rest of the old city. The balconies and the stairs are coloured with vases of flowers of cacti. This land is owned by the Patriarchate which has run the Armenian Quarter since the time of the Crusades. When Armenian migration towards Palestine started: “Each of us has a house, we can do everything to it except sell it,” our guide explains.

Selling the property, especially  to non-Armenians, is considered inadmissible. The community present on this tiny piece of land for centuries, is still at the grips with a voluntary non-integration: a minority between two peoples in conflict. Behind this there is the need to keep their identity alive, to protect their roots and not lose the connections with other Armenian communities, spread through the rest of the Arab world.

The choice of the thousand Armenians who live in Jerusalem, within the walls of the Old City, is symbolized by the closed quarter in which they live. Inside they have everything they need to lead an autonomous existence and without external interference.

Read the full article here:
Inside the Armenian Island of Jerusalem- Terrasanta.net

IRAQ Mar Louis-Raphael, a year as Patriarch: unity, dialogue and mission, the challenges of the Chaldean Church - Asia News

In a pastoral letter His Beatitude recounts the first year at the helm of the Chaldeans , and presents guidelines for the future. He does not forget the difficulties, the exodus of Christians and sectarian violence. The call to revive "the original charism" that helps believers to really live the "gift" of faith. The hope of peace and thoughts for our “brothers and sisters” in Syria and Lebanon.

Baghdad ( AsiaNews) - "Our Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world has gone through difficult and critical circumstances" such as the massive emigration, lack of unity, the revision of the liturgy, fragmentation and isolation. Now is the time to turn to prayer " to see things in perspective of the Gospel" to walk "with honesty and trust in the Lord's Light and His enlightenment" writes Mar Louis Raphael I Sako in a pastoral letter addressed to the bishops, priests, nuns and faithful on the occasion of the first anniversary of his election as Chaldean Patriarch, which took place January 31, 2013 during the Synod in Rome. The former archbishop of Kirkuk succeeded His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, who resigned for reasons of age, and from the outset has placed the focus on the major challenges of the Chaldean Church: the exodus of the faithful , interreligious dialogue with Muslims and the rebirth of the communities of the East , the first protagonists of evangelization in Asia.

His Beatitude turn his thoughts to the Christians in Iraq and "the brothers in Syria and Lebanon," who "live today [in situations of] fear and instability, migration, and political and economic fragility" and to whom he expresses "sympathy, closeness and prayer". To them, but especially to the Chaldean community, Mar Sako renews his call to "revive" their original charism: "Gift of martyrdom during persecution, and steadfast in faith; gift of monastic life to live radically the Gospel, and gift of evangelizing, preaching and enculturation". "Our Church - he added - is invited to rebuild what was destroyed and distorted, gather the scattered, and brings back the immigrants".

In his pastoral letter to His Beatitude reiterates on several occasions the value of unity and communion, which will "free us from our divisions, internal and external " and "take us out from shutting on ourselves due to personal, sectarian and geographic reasons". "Unity is the only hope - he continues - for our future". And at the same time he emphasizes the values ​​of " love, charity, loyalty and sacrifice". The patriarch reaches out to all "Christian brothers and sisters" with feelings of "peace , love and respect " and thanks God for the gift of the Chaldean Church , in recent days, in fact , the community celebrated the consecration of three new bishops a sign of consolation , strength and hope" at a "critical" moment.

Mar Sako again emphasizes the role of lay men and women who enjoy the same dignity as "sons of God" and "equal rights" within the Church. They are "partners, not mere spectators" and "encourage them to participate in the life of the Church and public life, a real and effective participation". The Patriarch speaks of "great expectations" in view of the elections at the end of April 2014, and invites the Christian community to participate in order to become an active protagonist in the history and life of the nation.

Finally , His Beatitude also appeals for unity among the various churches, especially Eastern ones, which must look to the Pope with renewed confidence . And there is a reference to relations with the Muslim-majority in Iraq, renewing the commitment to a dialogue based on "mutual respect" as a basis "for peace and cooperation." He hopes that the Church will find a "new methodology" and a new " theological language", above all respecting the absolute value of "religious freedom".  The Patriarch particularly appeals to the "voices of moderate Islam" to promote a "peaceful coexistence" and reject "violence against Christians".

Born on 4 July 1948 in Zakho, northern Iraq, Patriarch Sako was ordained priest on 1 June 1974. On several occasions, the archbishop of Kirkuk denounced the exodus of Christians, whose numbers have been more than halved, appealing to Church officials and local political leaders as well as the international community to ensure that Christians have a future in their native land.In recognition for his work, the prelate received the Defensor Fidei award in 2008; two years later, he was given the Pax Christi international award.

Read more online here:

IRAQ Mar Sako, a year as Patriarch: unity, dialogue and mission, the challenges of the Chaldean Church - Asia News

As Church attacked, even the Heads of Egypt's Eastern Catholic Churches pay tribute to General al-Sisi - Fides News Agency

Cairo (Agenzia Fides) - After messages of support from the Coptic Orthodox Church to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, similar gestures of appreciation towards the strong man of the Egyptian army - and likely future candidate for the next presidential election – came from two Heads of the Catholic Churches in Egypt.

On Monday, January 27 The Supreme Council of the Egyptian armed forces promoted General al-Sisi from the rank of Colonel General to that of Field Marshal. A move interpreted by analysts as a green light to the presidential candidacy of the General, who currently also holds the positions of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. According to Egyptian sources consulted by Fides Agency, both the Patriarch of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak and the Eparch of Alexandria of the Armenian Catholics Kricor Okosdinos Coussa sent messages of congratulations to General al-Sisi. Patriarch Sidrak, in his message, invoked God's blessing on the "great responsibility" that waits the possible future President of Egypt. Bishop Coussa stressed that the promotion is a well-deserved recognition for the dedication shown by al-Sisi in his service to the Country, so that the Egyptian people will soon enjoy "the return of peace and security".

Meanwhile, on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 28th, a terrorist attack against a Coptic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in the western suburbs of Cairo, caused the death of a member of the security forces. In the evening, police sources gave news of the arrest of two terrorists responsible for the attack. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 29/01/2014)

Read more online here:
AFRICA/EGYPT - Even the Heads of Catholic Churches pay tribute to General al-Sisi - Fides News Agency

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Russian Orthodox Church calls Maydan protesters a "horde" and calls on Russia to intervene in the internal affairs of Ukraine | The Catholic Commentator

As reported by Interfax, the head of the Synodal Department of the Russian Orthodox Church on Church-Society, Vsevolod Chaplin, called the Maydanivskyy movement in Ukraine the "new horde."

Chaplin also believes that the Maydanivtsi are a small group of people, the majority of whom support far-right wing Ukrainian nationalists. "They are a small group of people spreading lies, both theological and from a public opinion perspective," - said the Moscow church dignitary. "An historic choice now confronts the will of the people" - to keep Ukraine with the regional orbit of Russia. Chaplin urged Russia and Belarus to actively intervene in the internal affairs of Ukraine.

Russian Orthodox Church calls Maydan protesters "horde" and calls on Russia to intervene in the internal affairs of Ukraine | The Catholic Commentator

EGYPT Cairo, Coptic Orthodox church attacked. One dead. - Asia News

Cairo ( AsiaNews) - A group of armed men yesterday afternoon attacked the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in the "October 6" district of the governorate of Giza. Police responded to gunfire and one officer died in the shootout, while two others were injured. The residents were able to stop the car carrying the attackers and stop one handing him over to the authorities. His accomplice was arrested a few hours later by officers. The two attackers are Mohamed Abdel-Hamid Ibrahim and Ahmed Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, both active in Islamic extremist groups.

The Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II condemned the attack and sent a message of condolences to the relatives of the murdered policeman. Father Samir Jerome, priest of the diocese of the district, told the MCN newsagency that in the coming security measures in front of religious buildings will be stepped up. "We will also post guards in front of the smaller churches ," said the priest , explaining that in the area there are several armed militias who "want to destroy the peace ."

Egypt has been hit by a wave of violence since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood by the government following the massive demonstration of 30 million people , 30 June 2013. The Islamists have branded Coptic Christians as supporters of the new military-backed government, accused of having launched a violent campaign against members of the Brotherhood. In mid-August, a few days after the dissolution of the Islamist sit-in in Cairo, thousands of extremists attacked Christian homes and churches across the country, destroying more than 200 buildings.

The approval of the new Constitution (which replaces the Islamist one launched in 2012) has increased the Muslim Brotherhood's subversive actions even more against the army and its supporters . Yesterday, gunmen killed Gen. Mohamed Said , a senior official of the Ministry of Interior of Egypt. The murder took place a few hours before the trial against the former president and leader of the Islamists Mohamed Morsi, currently in Cairo and one day from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ( SCAF ) go-ahead for Gen. Al- Sisi, Minister of Defense, to run for president.

Read online:
EGYPT Cairo, Coptic Orthodox church attacked. One dead. - Asia News

Meanwhile, recordings and transcripts of telephone calls between the ousted president Morsi and Al Qaeda in which the latter demand the subjection of the Coptic Church for  its perceived resistance to "Sharia Law" and facilitating secularists to oppose the endeavours of the Muslim Brotherhood to impose the supremacy of Islamism.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Archbishop Elias of Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee has resigned

The Apostolic Nunciature in Israel announced yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Elias Chacour, Archbishop of the Greek Melkite Archeparchy of Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and the Galilee. The archbishop, a native Palestinian, whose family and entire village were evicted when the State of Israel was formed, was the first Israeli citizen to be appointed a Catholic bishop. He has devoted his life to advocating non-violence and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Chacour is the author of two best selling books: Blood Brothers and We Belong to the Land. Blood Brothers covers his childhood growing up in the town of Biram, his development into a young man, and his early years as a priest in Ibillin. This book has been translated into more than 20 languages.

His second book, We Belong to the Land, recounts his work in the development of Mar Elias Educational Institutions at Ibillin, from humble beginnings to major schools for educating Palestinian young people and for helping to bring about reconciliation in a land of strife. This book has been translated into 11 languages.

The announcement of Archbishop Chacour’s resignation comes several months before his 75th birthday which takes place on 29 November - the usual retirement age for archbishops. The Vatican has not explained why he is retiring a little early.

Archbishop Moussa El Hage, who heads the Maronite Archeparchy of Haifa has been named by Pope Francis to serve as apostolic administrator of the Melkite archdiocese until a replacement for Archbishop Chacour is named.

Archbishop Elias ChacourArchbishop Emeritus of Akka [San Giovanni d’Acri; Tolemaide]
29 Nov 1939. Born in Biram.
24 Jul 1965. (25.7) Ordained Priest
7 Feb 2006 (66.2) Selected Archbishop of Akka [San Giovanni d’Acri; Tolemaide] (Melkite Greek), Israel
17 Feb 2006 (66.2) Confirmed Archbishop of Akka [San Giovanni d’Acri; Tolemaide] (Melkite Greek), Israel
25 Feb 2006 (66.2) Ordained Bishop of Archbishop of Akka [San Giovanni d’Acri; Tolemaide] (Melkite Greek), Israel
27 Jan 2014 (74.2) Resigned as Archbishop of Akka [San Giovanni d’Acri; Tolemaide] (Melkite Greek), Israel

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the socio-political conflict in Ukraine | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

Michael J Miller, Catholic World Report, 27 January, writes:

A Russian bid to draw Ukraine away from the European Union and more exclusively into its own economic and political orbit has had its equal and opposite reaction in the EuroMaidan movement:  demonstrations against oppressive government and in favor of European values that started in late November of 2013 on a central square [maidÁn] in the capital, Kyiv [Kiev], and have spread to more than half of the provinces of that former Soviet-bloc nation.  Remarkably, in a land where members of parliament have been caught on video throwing punches at each other during budget disputes, these popular demonstrations remained peaceful for two full months, until the Berkut (riot police) resorted to violent tactics, beat protestors mercilessly, and killed at least three. 

Hanging in the balance is not only the economic fate of independent Ukraine but also its future commitment to fundamental human rights and democratic principles.  Without commenting on political issues, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) has constantly and eloquently defended the freedoms of Ukrainian citizens to assemble, to speak their mind, and to choose and practice a religion.  Together with other members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, it has provided pastoral ministry to the demonstrators camped on the city squares, preached the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and offered to mediate between the opposition parties and the government. 
In early January 2014 Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture sent a letter to the head of the UGCC, pointing to the presence of Ukrainian Catholic priests on the Maidan as possible grounds for revoking the registration of their Church. 

Read the full overview here:
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the socio-political conflict in Ukraine | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

Aram I - Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia: The Ecumenical Movement is in search of a New Identity

On Monday 27th January, His Holiness Aram I gave a lecture on "The challenges facing the ecumenical movement" at the Near East School of Theology. Hereunder the outline of the lecture.-
A) What are the challenges of the Ecumenical movement?
Ecumenism is essential for "being church":
  1. it reminds the interrelatedness of churches;
  2. it emphasizes the crucial importance of healing the brokeness of the church;
  3. it strengthens the interconnectedness of unity and Missio Dei;
  4. it creates interaction between the local and global manifestations of the church.
B) Paradigm shift
Ecumenism is in search of new identity; transformation, configuration and stag-nation characterize the present ecumenical landscape. A growing shift of emphasis:
  1. from Christocentric to ecclesiocentric ecumenism;
  2. from global to local ecumenism;
  3. from institutional to people-centred ecumenism;
  4. from multilateral to bilateral ecumenism;
  5. from inter-church to confessional ecumenism.
What are the implications of this paradigm shift?.
C) Paradigm shift entails change of agenda
  1. from unity to issues pertaining to church and society;
  2. from mission and evangelism to people-centred spirituality;
  3. from church-centred to inter-religious ecumenism.
D) Change of agenda implies change of methodology
  1. from reflection to action;
  2. from consensus-oriented ecumenism to mutual respect;
  3. from an ecumenism to commitment to fellowship to a non-commit¬tal ecumenism.
A) The Middle East: the birth place of the ecumenical movement
  1. The Middle East became the birth place of Christianity, church division, and the ecumenical movement. After the first division of the church at the Council of Chalcedon (451), efforts for unity marked the history of the church.
  2. The emergence of the [Latin] Roman Catholic Churches in 12th Century and the Protestant Churches in 18th Century gave a new form and expression to Christianity in Middle East. It also changed the whole ethos of inter-church relations.
  3. Protestant Churches became the pioneers of the institutional ecumenism. They created Middle East Council Churches. They also established close relations with the Protestant Churches of the West.
  4. In 1974 the Council was restructured with the participation of the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches. In 1990 Catholic Churches joined the Council.
B) What the MECC achieved?
  1. It moved the churches from alienation to collaboration;
  2. it gave visibility to Christian presence in the region;
  3. it emphasized the pivotal importance of Christian-Muslim dialogue;
  4. it promoted values of human rights, peace and justice;
  5. it became a bridge between eastern and western Christianity.
C) What remains to be done?
  1. The ecumenical movement must become responsive to new realities.
  2. MECC must become a living reality in the life of the churches.
  3. The Council should revise its methodology by placing more emphasis on relationship rather than organizing consultations and meetings.
  4. The Christian unity in Middle East, more than in any region, is an urgent necessity. Common celebration of Easter, as a first step, will give concrete expression to Christian unity.
  5. Christian education must become a priority: what does it mean to be Christian in a Muslim environment?
  6. Christian–Muslim collaboration on issues of common concern should be given more importance.
The churches are challenged to take the ecumenical movement most seriously. Being ecumenical, en¬gaging in the ecumenical movement is no more an option. It is the raison d’être of the church. We feel that more existentially in our part of the world.

Syria's Assyrian Christians Find Refuge With Turkish Neighbours

MIDYAT, Turkey -- Miydat's Assyrian Orthodox community is still encumbered with festive cookies and candied nuts from their Christmas festivities. In every home, tables groan with remnants from the recent celebrations, which for many of Midyat's residents found themselves in situations far safer than the previous holiday spent in Syria.

Often reported to be sympathetic to the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, although all the Christians in Midyat are quick to assert their neutrality, Syria's Christian and Assyrian communities have come under an increased threat from more extreme Sunni rebel groups, like Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS); and many have sought refuge across the border in Turkey's south-eastern provinces.

"The Islamists were kidnapping us. It's another kind of terrorism," said Kalill, a former resident of Al-Qamishli, now living as a refugee in Midyat with the help of the local Assyrian community. A journalist by trade, Kalill had been critical of the Jihadists in the north of Syria near his home. "I didn't know which day the Islamist groups would come into my home. I had been writing against them, so I was threatened," he told The Media Line.

Turkey is home to nearly 600,000 registered Syrian refugees with hundreds of thousands more living in the country without registering with the authorities. The presence of refugees from minority groups within Turkey is a 'see it to believe it' phenomenon, with most Turks and Syrian's refusing to believe they exist. Abuna Ishok Ergun, a Syriac-Orthodox priest in Midyat, says many of the Christians who end up in Midyat do so because, "In Istanbul they won't accept them as refugees because they say there is no problem."

Read full article online here:
Syria's Assyrian Christians Find Refuge With Turkish Neighbours

Syria's heritage in ruins: before-and-after pictures | World news | The Guardian

Sadly no mention of the 90 churches, some no less ancient and important, damaged or destroyed:

Syria's heritage in ruins: before-and-after pictures | World news | The Guardian

AFRICA/EGYPT - Patriarch Tawadros II pays visit to General al-Sisi - Fides News Agency

Cairo (Agenzia Fides) - On Sunday 26 January, the Patriarch of Alexandria Tawadros II paid visit to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Deputy Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces. During the visit Pope Tawadros expressed his congratulations to the Egyptian Armed Forces on the occasion of the third anniversary since the beginning of the revolution which in February 2011 led to the fall of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. The large delegation that accompanied the Patriarch included 6 other Coptic Orthodox Bishops. Pope Tawadros - the statement said - expressed gratitude "for the price that the Armed Forces are called upon to support them in their fight against terrorism and for the maintenance of security in the Country". Even General al-Sisi in turn expressed appreciation for the Coptic Church and its contribution to the unity of the Country, against any attempt to sow discord among the Egyptians.

The meeting assumes a singular symbolic value if one takes into account the new phase of violence that is shaking the Country: terrorist attacks and deaths in squares during clashes between protesters and security forces. Last weekend, between Friday and Sunday, more than eighty people died across the Country, concentrated largely in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite the violent repression, the army continues to want to be credited as a guarantor of the process that should lead to the roots of the democratic system in the big African Country. The date of the next presidential election is expected to be announced soon, and General al-Sisi is hailed in the streets by his many supporters as a future head of State able to restore stability and security in the Country. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 27/01/2014)

Read more online here:
AFRICA/EGYPT - Patriarch Tawadros II pays visit to General al-Sisi - Fides News Agency

ASIA/SYRIA - Patriarchs Kirill and Yohanna X’s appeal at Geneva 2: only dialogue among Syrians can open glimmers of peace - Fides News Agency

Moscow (Agenzia Fides) – On Sunday, January 26th Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Yohanna X Yazigi made a joint appeal to the "Geneva II" international Conference on the Syrian conflict, which is currently underway in Switzerland, in order to invite all participants at the summit to "reject extremist demonstrations" and to put an end to "intolerance and political ultimatums". Only free and fraternal dialogue within the Syrian community - say the two Patriarchs in the letter - can pave the way to a peaceful solution of the crisis.

At the heart of the message of the two Orthodox Primates there is also the fate of Christians abducted during the conflict, from the two Metropolitan Bishops of Aleppo, the Greek Orthodox Boulos Yazigi (Patriarch Yohanna’s brother), the Syrian Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim – kidnapped last April –to the nuns kidnapped at the beginning of last December from the convent of St. Tekla in Maalula. "We" write Kirill and Yohanna "call on all parties to show humanity and mercy as a sign of their desire to restore peace in Syria". The message of the two Patriarchs also contains an appeal to "stop the destruction of the priceless cultural and religious heritage" that enriches Syria, and whose destruction is "a crime against future generations". (GV) (Agenzia Fides 27/01/2014)

Read more online here:

ASIA/SYRIA - Patriarchs Kirill and Yohanna X’s appeal at Geneva 2: only dialogue among Syrians can open glimmers of peace - Fides News Agency

Pope Francis' Homily at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Pope Francis' homily on Saturday at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Celebration of Vespers took place at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

"Has Christ been divided?" (1 Cor 1:13). The urgent appeal which Saint Paul makes at the beginning of his First Letter to the Corinthians, and which has been proclaimed at this evening’s liturgy, was chosen by a group of our fellow Christians in Canada as the theme for our meditation during this year’s Week of Prayer.

The Apostle was grieved to learn that the Christians of Corinth had split into different factions. Some claimed: "I belong to Paul"; while others claimed: "I belong to Apollos" or "I belong to Cephas", and others yet claimed: "I belong to Christ" (cf. v. 12). Paul could not even praise those who claimed to belong to Christ, since they were using the name of the one Saviour to set themselves apart from their other brothers and sisters within the community. In other words, the particular experience of each individual, or an attachment to certain significant persons in the community, had become a yardstick for judging the faith of others.

Amid this divisiveness, Paul appeals to the Christians of Corinth "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" to be in agreement, so that divisions will not reign among them, but rather a perfect union of mind and purpose (cf. v. 10). The communion for which the Apostle pleads, however, cannot be the fruit of human strategies. Perfect union among brothers and sisters can only come from looking to the mind and heart of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5). This evening, as we gather here in prayer, may we realize that Christ, who cannot be divided, wants to draw us to himself, to the sentiments of his heart, to his complete and confident surrender into the hands of the Father, to his radical self-emptying for love of humanity. Christ alone can be the principle, the cause and the driving force behind our unity.
As we find ourselves in his presence, we realize all the more that we may not regard divisions in the Church as something natural, inevitable in any form of human association. Our divisions wound Christ’s body, they impair the witness which we are called to give to him before the world. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, appealing to the text of Saint Paul which we have reflected on, significantly states: "Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only.

However, many Christian communities present themselves to people as the true inheritance of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ in outlook and go their different ways, as if Christ were divided". And the Council continues: "Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the sacred cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 1).We have all been damaged by these divisions. None of us wishes to become a cause of scandal. And so we are all journeying together, fraternally, on the road towards unity, bringing about unity even as we walk; that unity comes from the Holy Spirit and brings us something unique which only the Holy Spirit can do, that is, reconciling our differences. The Lord waits for us all, accompanies us all, and is with us all on this path of unity.

Christ, dear friends, cannot be divided! This conviction must sustain and encourage us to persevere with humility and trust on the way to the restoration of full visible unity among all believers in Christ. Tonight I think of the work of two great Popes: Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. In the course of their own lives, both came to realize the urgency of the cause of unity and, once elected Bishops of Rome, they guided the entire Catholic flock decisively on the paths of ecumenism. Pope John blazed new trails which earlier would have been almost unthinkable. Pope John Paul held up ecumenical dialogue as an ordinary and indispensable aspect of the life of each Particular Church. With them, I think too of Pope Paul VI, another great promoter of dialogue; in these very days we are commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of his historic embrace with the Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople.
The work of these, my predecessors, enabled ecumenical dialogue to become an essential dimension of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, so that today the Petrine ministry cannot be fully understood without this openness to dialogue with all believers in Christ. We can say also that the journey of ecumenism has allowed us to come to a deeper understanding of the ministry of the Successor of Peter, and we must be confident that it will continue to do so in the future. As we look with gratitude to the progress which the Lord has enabled us to make, and without ignoring the difficulties which ecumenical dialogue is presently experiencing, let us all pray that we may put on the mind of Christ and thus progress towards the unity which he wills. And to journey together is already to be making unity!

In this climate of prayer for the gift of unity, I address a cordial and fraternal greeting to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and to His Grace David Moxon, the representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here this evening. With these two brothers representing everyone, we have prayed at the Tomb of Paul and have said to one another: "Let us pray that he will help us on this path, on this path of unity and of love, as we advance towards unity". Unity will not come about as a miracle at the very end. Rather, unity comes about in journeying; the Holy Spirit does this on the journey. If we do not walk together, if we do not pray for one another, if we do not collaborate in the many ways that we can in this world for the People of God, then unity will not come about! But it will happen on this journey, in each step we take. And it is not we who are doing this, but rather the Holy Spirit, who sees our goodwill.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord Jesus, who has made us living members of his body, to keep us deeply united to him, to help us overcome our conflicts, our divisions and our self-seeking; and let us remember that unity is always better than conflict! And so may he help us to be united to one another by one force, by the power of love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). Amen.

Statement on the Political Crisis in Ukraine from the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops in Western Europe

It is with great interest and hope that Ukrainians in Western Europe follow the events of the last two months in Ukraine: they follow and participate in them. Millions of our citizens in Ukraine have expressed their civic position peacefully, even festively, making their way like pilgrims on the sometimes daunting road towards God-given dignity. Your dignity has become a celebration of our dignity. Therefore, it is with anxiety and anguish that we observe, along with the rest of the world, the events which have recently taken place.

The bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Western Europe fully support the head of the UGCC, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, all the bishops, priests, religious and laity of our Church in Ukraine, which was suddenly once again threatened by the state.

The Church is not a political body. However, the Church is called to serve society and to be a rightful part of it. Its mission is to be with the people, especially with those who suffer. Our church wants to be responsible for its faithful, for all men of good will, and for the future of Ukraine. We are guided by the words of Pope Francis who said that “the shepherd must feel the smell of his sheep.” With Pope Francis, we prefer a wounded Church, perhaps even somewhat covered by the dust of the road and the sweat of labour, a Church that is with the people, rather than an abstract and detached Church.

With representatives of all churches and religious organizations, the Bishops of the UGCC in Europe strongly condemn murder and torture: anyone who commits such acts is responsible before God. We appeal to put a stop to bloodshed and anarchy.

We also encourage all parties to engage in dialogue. This dialogue is indeed difficult and requires patience, but in the present circumstances, any other alternative is unthinkable. Effective dialogue requires openness and sincerity, and cannot consist of a series of monologues, and even less so of blackmail by the stronger party which is moreover armed. Dialogue involves compromise, but not at the cost of truth and justice. We call on all parties to enter into a real and effective dialogue: the government, the opposition, the business community and the citizens of Kyiv and of various other Ukrainian cities, negotiating at various levels and in various formats.

We appeal to the Ukrainian leadership: you are responsible before God and men for the power which has been entrusted to you; exercise it for the good of the people, and not for their destruction. Follow the law, but never forget that if the law is unjust, it is justice itself that must prevail.

Political and social leaders must preserve the confidence of the people, their peace and their lives. The dignity and the interests of the Ukrainian people must be your reference point and the basis of all of your decisions and actions.

To the millions of those who are fighting for their dignity throughout Ukraine, we speak to you with the words of Christ himself: “Do not be afraid!” Recall the recent history of the Ukrainian nation and how it was preserved, the victorious testimonies of our martyrs and our confessors, and the history of salvation of each of us. This paschal conviction – the conviction that the cross leads to Resurrection, and that the Passion brings forth new life – can be a source of inspiration for us at this critical time which sometimes may seem frightening. The Lord has repeatedly brought us out of the house of bondage, and our pilgrimage to the “promised land” continues. We may trust that God will never abandon us.

We appeal to European citizens, states and institutions. We urge you to move to a deeper understanding of the events in Ukraine and to a more active involvement. Remember that ignorance and inaction in times of crisis can cause disasters. In the twentieth century, blood flowed in Ukraine mainly due to outside interference, but also due to external inaction, when the world was not able to hear and respond to the Ukrainian voice crying in the wilderness. The situation in Ukraine cannot be resolved without active mediation and international support. Ukrainians rely today on the effective solidarity of the international community.

Above all we encourage moral support and prayer.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, the legalisation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and freedom for all faiths in Ukraine, the peaceful development of an independent state over 22 years, despite the many historical traumas and painful memories of past injustices – all this was given to us by the Lord. Is it not really a wonder, this peaceful solidarity that has blossomed for two months in Kyiv and other maidans in Ukraine and the world? It is not political slogans that are heard there, but the voice of God-given dignity.

People seek stable relationships in every context: interpersonal, family, social, civic, religious, national and international. This requires the grace of God, God’s will and the will of the people – in Ukraine, in Europe and worldwide. Real relationships, true human dignity and the respect for human rights require freedom, work, sacrifice and responsibility of each of us.

Otherwise, this country which gained its independence peacefully and is learning the painful lessons of democracy could become a hellish place of conflict, a field of blood. Today, in order to avoid the mistakes of the past, our common task is to keep Ukraine united and peaceful, to preserve people from death and violence, and to help restore truth and justice.

We, the Ukrainian bishops of Europe, assure you of our support and our solidarity. We  promise to do everything we can to ensure that the voice of Ukrainians resonate more strongly in the countries that have been entrusted to our pastoral care. The European Greek Catholics unite with all Ukrainian churches in prayer and fasting for peace and unity in Ukraine.

Dignity and God-given truth are inalienable: dignity and God-given truth will prevail!

Munich, London, Paris, Rome,  24 January 2014

Bishop Petro (Kryk)
Apostolic Exarch for Ukrainians in Germany and Scandinavia

Bishop Hlib (Lonchyna)
Diocese of the Holy Family in London for Ukrainians in the UK
Apostolic Visitor for Ukrainians in Ireland

Archbishop Borys (Gudziak)
Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Volodymyr in Paris for Ukrainians in France, Benelux and Switzerland

Bishop Dionysius (Lyakhovych)
Apostolic Visitor for Ukrainians in Italy and Spain

Read online here:

Fr Athansius McVay: the background to the anti-corruption protestsagainst Ukraine's government and how the Ukrainian Catholic Church isbeing punished

Interview with SSJC Committee Member in Catholic World Report

The Reverend Doctor Athanasius D. McVay specializes in the 20th-century history of Vatican diplomacy and of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. He co-edited a publication of Vatican archival documents on the 1932-1933 Holodomor famine in Ukraine, and has recently completed a major monograph on Blessed Nykyta Budka, Canada’s first Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop. Novelist and European correspondent Dorothy Cummings McLean spoke to him last week for CWR about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Dorothy Cummings McLean, CWR: Father McVay, can you explain to us what triggered the demonstrations?
Father Athanasius D. McVay: The immediate cause was President Yanukovych’s about-face regarding talks with the leaders of the European Union. The remote cause is the corrupt un-democratic regime which is heavily influenced by Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.
CWR: What has the Church’s role been in the demonstrations?
Father McVay: The Church is Christ’s Body so it is made up of all the faithful. The role of the priesthood in the Church is to minister to all the faithful, to teach and sanctify. People demonstrating at Independence Square (the Maidan) asked their clergy for ministry, prayer, liturgy, and the sacrament of confession. They preach Christ’s Gospel of peace and justice. The presence of the Greek Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant clergy helped the protests remain peaceful.
CWR: I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that the regime’s Culture Minister had threatened to “ban” the Catholic Church in the Ukraine. Were you surprised by this?
Father McVay: A letter was sent by an assistant to the minister threatening to “re-assess” the status of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church if it continued to celebrate the holy services on the Maidan. The minister later denied any knowledge of the letter. This is part of a long intimidation by the current regime against the Greek Catholic Church because the Church speaks out for freedom and justice and against corruption.
For example, the government has been making difficulties for the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv for several years now. Recently it charged one of the professors for a traffic violation in a city in which he was not even present. It is also demanding that the rector of the university be a Ukrainian citizen. The current rector is an ethnic Ukrainian from Poland.  The former rector, founder, and current president of the university, Bishop Borys Gudziak, is an ethnic Ukrainian from the United States.
CWR: What is the history of government oppression of the Church in the Ukraine, both before 1989 and after?
Father McVay: What is Ukraine today was ruled by foreign powers for seven centuries. In the region ruled by Poland, Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs united with Rome and their Church became known as “Uniate.” Subsequent Austrian rulers re-named the Church “Greek Catholic” to promote its equality with the Roman Catholic Church.  Because the Tsarist Empire destroyed the Greek Catholic Church in the eastern territories it annexed, it survived only in Austrian Galicia (western Ukraine). 
In 1945 Joseph Stalin gave the orders to Nikita Khruschev to suppress the remaining three dioceses in the newly acquired western Ukraine. He also ordered the Russian Orthodox Church to absorb [members of] the UGCC into their fold. Bishops, priests, religious, and faithful who refused to renounce Catholic unity were convicted of crimes against the Communist Party and sent to the gulag.  Blessed John Paul II beatified some of these martyrs in 2001 during his visit to Ukraine.
I recently completed a historical biography on one of these martyrs, Nykyta Budka, who had served as the first Ukrainian bishop in Canada from 1912 to 1928. Like many others, Budka died in a work camp in Kazakhstan. After Gorbachev initiated his Glasnost reforms, the UGCC emerged from the underground and demanded civil rights. These were granted shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
CWR: Father, you are based in Rome and minister to Ukrainian Catholics in a number of communities worldwide. What concerns or opinions have Ukrainians both in the Ukraine and outside (in the UK, Canada, and Italy) voiced to you?
Father McVay: Ukrainians at home and abroad and also those of Ukrainian descent consider themselves part of the Ukrainian nation or people.  Those who have retained the confession of their ancestors (Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Ukrainian Orthodox) also are spiritually united to their brothers and sisters in the old country because they are part of one Church. In the case of the UGCC, it is a particular Church existing on four continents. It is united to the Universal Church and all the Catholic Churches.
Both inside and outside the borders of Ukraine, Ukrainians are very grateful for the spiritual and moral solidarity coming from Catholics around the world and from people of other faiths. However, some have expressed concern that in some countries there appears to be little concern for our struggle for freedom, and that international leaders are not acting with greater vigor to dissuade the regime from its totalitarian tendencies. Also, Ukrainians are concerned when others try to “dissect” and “divide” Ukraine into zones and categories.  These spectators weigh the pros and cons of our alliance or integration with the European Union against creating closer ties to Russian and the Putin dictatorship. In doing do they do us a great disservice. The participation in the Maidan demonstrates that civic-minded citizens from every part of Ukraine are behind a movement for human freedom. This is not linked exclusively to the EU, but, above all, to European values and freedoms.
CWR: What can the Western, i.e. the Roman Rite, Church do to help the Church in the Ukraine right now?
Father McVay: Roman Rite Catholics can help by learning more about their Sister Church the UGCC and by expressing prayerful and moral solidarity. They should also examine the dire consequences for the Catholic Churches and all citizens if the regime continues along the dictatorial path it has chosen. Church leaders can make the faithful aware, especially through the press and Internet, of what is going on and what is at stake.  A magnificent example of solidarity has come from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who expressed unreserved support for the Ukrainian people and the UGCC hierarchy on his blog.  George Weigel has also been very helpful by explaining what is at stake in this conflict.

Read online here:

Monday 27 January 2014

Help suffering Syrians stay in the region - Aid to the Church in Need

Bringing refugees from Syria to the West is not the answer to the crisis, said the leader of Catholics in the disaster-stricken country, insisting that more can be done to help displaced people both in-country and elsewhere in the Middle East.

While sympathizing with refugees who seek a new life in the West, Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch urged that aid programs be boosted both within Syria and in neighboring countries, thus enabling Christians to stay in the region. Re-asserting the calls of many Middle East Church leaders for Christians and others not emigrate from the Middle East, Patriarch Gregorios said that there would be little chance of them returning if they were given asylum in countries such as the USA and Australia.

In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Patriarch Gregorios said, “It is better to help the [destitute] people within the country or the region and not invite them to go outside.”

“Of course, we cannot decide for ourselves what response our people should make, the suffering is so great, but the real answer is to provide more help, more relief, on the spot and not outside, which will encourage them to leave. But if they must go, we understand their situation.”  He added, “The danger is that if they leave the Middle East, they will never go back. This applies to other groups as well as the Christians.”

The Patriarch’s comments come a day after British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the British Government was actively considering a plan to accept “particularly vulnerable” Syrian refugees into the country, even as the Secretary stressed that the UK government’s “main effort” remains helping destitute people in and around Syria. Patriarch Gregorios said that, in spite of the overwhelming pressures on Jordan, Turkey and other countries that share borders with Syria, it remains possible to step up aid programs there.  He said: “There is more that can be done locally, within the region.”

Appealing for more help, the Patriarch continued by saying, “Daily the suffering is getting worse, daily the problems are growing. The level of suffering is much greater than the aid provided.”

The Patriarch’s comments come against the backdrop of Syrian peace talks that are making little progress so far.  “It is really very important that the US and Russia and Europe have one common vision, this can help the two groups [Syrian Government and Opposition] go ahead,” he said. “When the big countries are divided, it means the others will be, too. What matters is that we have a local, Syrian solution to the problem.”

The Patriarch repeated a call for an end to the import of arms into Syria, especially those ending up in the hands of Jihadist and other extremist groups.

Read more online from ACN here:
Help suffering Syrians stay in the region - Aid to the Church in Need

Sunday 26 January 2014

Pope: appeal for dialogue in Ukraine

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for constructive dialogue between Institutions and civil society in Ukraine.

Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus Prayer, the Pope said he is praying for the people of Ukraine, in particular for those who have lost their lives during the violence of the past days, and for their families. He said he is praying the parties involved will avoid resorting to violent actions, and that the spirit of peace and the quest for common good may prevail.

Weeks of protests in Kyiv have escalated into violent clashes between police and demonstrators angry that the government didn't sign a deal to bring it closer to the European Union.

"I am close to Ukraine in prayer, especially those who lost their lives recently and their families. I would like to see a constructive dialogue develop between the institutions and civil society, an end to all violent actions and the victory of the spirit of peace and pursuit of the common good in everyone’s hearts."

Read full Angelus Address online here:
Pope: appeal for dialogue in Ukraine

Our Society's Two New Friends: Spanish Orthodox and Romanian Catholic

Jose Pino Rodriquez (Iniciativo Oriente Cristiano, Madrid), Fr Eduard-William Fartan (Romanian Catholic Mission in London), Fr Mark Woodruff (Vice Chairman of Society of St John Chrysostom) and Archpriest Mykola Matwywskij (Economos, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London)

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2014 ended with two marvellous new encounters for the Society. After the Saturday vigil Divine Liturgy at the Holy Family Cathedral in London's Mayfair, served by Fr Mykola and Fr Mark, we met Sr Jose Pino Rodriquez, a lay Byzantine in Spain & Portugal, who has established the Iniciativa Orient Cristiano, to raise awareness of Eastern Christianity in Spain and to build ecumenical links between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, especially East-West Catholic-Orthodox reunion. He was accompanied by Fr Rafael (see below), a priest of the Spanish Reformed Church. We were later joined by Fr Edward-William Fartan, who came to London in 2012 to establish a mission for Romanian Catholics in the United Kingdom.

Earlier in the day, Senor Rodriquez and Fr Rafael had made visits to Hagia Sophia Orthodox Cathedral, for Mass at Westminster Cathedral and Choral Evensong at Westminster Abbey. On Sunday the visited Oxford's Orthodox Parish of the Annunciation, Canterbury Road, to see Metropolitan Kallistos, Fr Ian Graham and members of our sister Society, the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius. On Monday, they will go to Cambridge to visit the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies.

Fr Rafael (Spanish Reformed Church), Fr Mark and Fr Eduard-William at supper after the Liturgy

LEBANON - SYRIA Christians in global prayer drive on January 29th, for safe release of Fr. dall'Oglio - Asia News

On January 29, a global prayer drive will be held from Rome to Beirut for the safe return of the Italian missionary kidnapped in Syria. His abduction is shrouded in mystery and there is no news of the priest’s condition. During the evening some of his texts and testimonies on his mission will be read. There will be no references to any political positions.
Read more here:
LEBANON - SYRIA Christians in global prayer drive for safe release of Fr. dall'Oglio - Asia News

The Oxford of ancient times: Apollania | Art & Culture | World Bulletin

The Oxford of ancient times: Apollania
One of Albania's touristic hot spots, Apollonia ancient town demonstrates the country's deep-rooted historical richness. It was an ancient Greek city in Illyria where elites of Roman elites were educated and remained an educational center of the region until the medieval period.        

Read more online here:

The Oxford of ancient times: Apollania | Art & Culture | World Bulletin

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Papacy | Adam de Ville on Catholic World Report

Dr Adam A J De Ville writes:

Nearly three years ago now, I published a book on Orthodoxy and papal primacy and, at risk of being immodest, have since felt more and more that I had said everything that needed to be said on the topic. But the whole question, which has been at the top of the international Orthodox-Catholic dialogue for two decades now, recently roared back with a statement issued the day after Christmas by the Russian Orthodox Church, titled, “Position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the problem of primacy in the Universal Church”. The statement of the Russian Church, which is technically the largest Orthodox Church in the world (if one counts sheer numbers of people claiming to be Orthodox rather than, say, levels of sacramental practice or church attendance), may be read here, but I would also want to direct your attention to responses from individual Orthodox theologians, including my friend the Russian Orthodox historian Antoine Arjakovsky here and a semi-official Greek response here, both of which are extremely valuable and far more soundly argued than the Russian statement.

I glanced at the Russian statement in the lazy days of the Christmas break, and seeing little that is new or interesting, asked myself: Have I not said everything that needs to be said in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity? But in re-reading the statement a few days ago, I found that perhaps there are a few things to comment on. The Russian statement purports to offer an alternative Orthodox response to the 2007 Ravenna document (about which I have published elsewhere) of the official international Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, a meeting from which the Russians absented themselves for reasons I have always found less than convincing.
And that is also my response to this new statement of theirs: it is less than convincing.

Let us pick up at paragraph 3 and its opening claim: "On the level of the Universal Church as a community of autocephalous Local Churches united in one family by a common confession of faith and living in sacramental communion with one another, primacy is determined in conformity with the tradition of sacred diptychs and represents primacy in honour" (emphasis in the original).
The statement, not surprisingly, never defines this "primacy in honour," though it uses the phrase several subsequent times. I'm not surprised that this phrase is left vague because it is only useful when it is vague. What, exactly, does "honor" mean? I think the operative assumption for most people means "having no real power over anything or anyone," rather like the Queen in my native Canada: sure, she's officially head of state (exercised through her proxy, the Governor General), but she can do nothing except wave from her landau on ceremonial drives to open Parliament, which involves no more authoritative a task than simply reading a tedious “throne speech” in which she's had no input whatsoever, everything having been decided by "her ministers," right down to the commas in the text. If that's the kind of papal primacy "honor" entails, then who won't sign on to it? Such a pope, in other words, would be a completely toothless and indeed useless titular head of the church—a smiling, avuncular fellow we could all safely ignore when it suited us. The statement in fact admits this: "Primacy in the Universal Orthodox Church...is the primacy of honour by its very nature, rather than that of power" (no.5).

But "primacy of honor" has never meant that in the early Church, as the Jesuit historian and recent Ratzinger Prize recipient Brian Daley (himself secretary of the North American Orthodox-Catholic dialogue) demonstrated more than twenty years ago now. As I have crankily put it in the past, no person, Orthodox or otherwise, should again be permitted to open his or her mouth and utter this phrase until s/he has read and digested Daley's article, "Position and Patronage in the Early Church: the Original Meaning of 'Primacy of Honour'," Journal of Theological Studies 44 (1993). There Daley demonstrates beyond all doubt that what the ancients meant by that phrase is far different from how we imagine it. Such a primate did in fact have considerable authority, and was far from being a toothless titular. The Russian statement's failure to deal with the evidence unearthed by Daley is a fatal weakness.

The Russian statement, conveniently and not surprisingly, dodges all this and instead fixates (as the Russians are known to do) on rather arcane liturgical questions: the role of the diptychs—basically prayers for bishops used in the Byzantine liturgy—for here they can claim that "the canons on which the sacred diptychs are based do not vest the primus (such as the bishop of Rome used to be at the time of Ecumenical Councils) with any powers on the church-wide scale." Of course they don't: that was never their function. This is akin to saying "my Honda Civic owner's manual doesn't tell me how to fix my furnace." If we are going to treat primacy through a liturgical lens, then I much prefer we do so safely in the hands of someone competent to handle the matter that way, such as my Ukrainian Orthodox friend Nicholas Denysenko, who teaches at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, in his recent article, "Primacy, Synodality, and Collegiality in Orthodoxy: A Liturgical Model" (Journal of Ecumenical Studies 48 [2013]).

The other fatal weakness in this statement is this claim, absurd even to the recent history of Russian hierarchical structures, as I demonstrated in my book: "Throughout the second millennium up to today, the Orthodox Church has preserved the administrative structure characteristic of the Eastern Church of the first millennium" (no.4). One would have expected better things from educated hierarchs and theologians at this level. This kind of romantic nonsense, which one sees with depressing regularity in the Orthodox blogosphere, patently re-writes the past to suit today's agenda and insists that nothing has changed in Orthodoxy, and such rewriting is, as another great Jesuit historian, Fr. Robert Taft, has put it, the kind of thing that makes knowledgeable people resort to laughter, mockery, and sarcasm. Russian ecclesial structures have changed so much even since 1945 (and again in the last two decades) that the idea they have "preserved the administrative structure characteristic...of the first millennium" is, well, risible.

In the end, then, this statement advances nothing and, in fact, seems to have done more damage than good, starting with intra-Orthodox relations, as Metropolitan Elpidophoros makes clear in the first sentence of his statement: "the Church of Russia seems once again to choose its isolation both from theological dialogue with the Catholic Church and from the communion of the Orthodox Churches." This is very sad, and totally unnecessary—as well, of course, as being theologically unsound. 
But let us be frank: we are not dealing here with theology. Theology is merely a masquerade for questions of geopolitical significance and Russian nationalism. We are dealing with a country still reeling from the collapse of its Soviet empire in 1991, still struggling to find its way, still trying to differentiate itself (as recent and ongoing events in Ukraine make plain) from its neighbors, to say nothing of Western Europe or the United States. In this light, the Russian statement makes more sense: it is an attempt to keep "far from the madding crowd" and the emerging consensus, both within the rest of Orthodoxy and between that Orthodoxy and Catholicism, on the issue of primacy. For Moscow knows that if Orthodoxy and Catholicism unite, then its claims to being some kind of centre of significance and power will be forever dashed—and just as it seems on the precipice of finally toppling Constantinople and its pitifully few remaining Orthodox Christians (as Metropolitan Elpidophoros rightly argues, the Russian statement is really about advancing a wholly novel "primacy of numbers" [2, ii]). But if united to Rome, with its 1.5 billion Catholics (and growing by hundreds of thousands every year), then Moscow will return to being—if crude numbers are what we are considering—very peripheral indeed, and continuing to sink farther and farther down the list as its demographic death-spiral deepens.

In sum, this is a statement born of desperate, and desperately sad, insecurity. And there is no reason for that: in any coming Orthodox-Catholic unity, there is no reason to doubt that Moscow would continue to be given appropriate honor (!) and respect. Like many Eastern Christians—and Western Christians for that matter—I myself love much of the Russian liturgical, musical, and architectural traditions, and many of her saints (Seraphim of Sarov, John of Krondstadt, Xenia of Petersburgh, to name just a few). There is a greatness in the soul of the Russian Church, not least through her suffering in the past century, which is not honored by this document. Let us pray it is soon trashed just as the bogus “Soviet constitution” guaranteeing free elections was rightly rubbished.

This important piece by a member and friend of our society is reproduced with grateful acknowledgement to CWR. It can be read online here:
The Russian Orthodox Church and the Papacy | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

Saturday 25 January 2014

Ukrainian Catholic priest in UK: Catholic press has chosen to ignore our struggle for freedom

A priest of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Revd Dr Athanasius McVay, and a member of the Committee of the Society, has posted a personal appeal to Catholics in the UK.

"The Ukrainian Nation is fighting for its life against a totalitarian dictatorship of thugs, whose actions both Her Majesty's and the German ambassador have vehemently protested against not two days ago.

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the struggle for civil and religious liberty for over a century. Catholic lay leaders, hierarchs, and journalists throughout the world have recognized the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine and have lent support in word and deed.

Recently, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York offered strong and unwavering support in the name of American Catholics and expressed his strong admiration for Patriarch Sviatoslav and Bishop Gudziak. Other Catholic Churches have also expressed solidarity.

In the United Kingdom, however, the Catholic press has chosen to ignore our struggle for freedom and its consequences for the Churches. Church leaders also remain ominously silent. This shunning is in direct contrast with many clamorous ecumenical acta et gesta toward those of other confessions. Since our parents taught us the maxim that "charity begins at home," one might question why members of the Latin Church pay so little heed to their authentic Sister Church, with which they are in full ecclesial communion.

What is worse, today an attack against our hierarchy appeared in The Tablet: http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/362/0/ukraine-government-threatens-pro-eu-greek-catholic-priests-saying-mass-in-independence-square, reporting a "fictitious" critique by unnamed RC bishops".

Ukrainian Catholic priest in UK: Catholic press has chosen to ignore our struggle for freedom

Roman Rights and Wrongs | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

Our friend Dr Adam De Ville writing in CWR for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, asks, "What Needs to Change for East-West Unity to Happen?"

Read online here:
Roman Rights and Wrongs | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

What needs to change for East-West unity to happen?     

Every January for over a century now, Christians have set aside a special week to pray for unity. This week, my friend the Orthodox priest and historian Oliver Herbel posted an excellent reflection in which he upbraided his fellow Orthodox for, as he powerfully put it, “spitting in the eye of Rome” every time she makes advances towards East-West unity. Father Oliver then went on to note some changes that he and his fellow Orthodox should make to respond better to Rome’s invitations.
Let me return the favor of my gracious friend. Speaking as an Eastern Catholic who tries to help East and West understand each other, let me offer a few reflections on the kind of changes Eastern Catholics and, perforce, Eastern Orthodox, want to see in very practical ways for unity to become a closer and more realistic possibility. However, I do not want to be thought querulous, so let me dwell briefly on areas where I think Roman practice is right and needs to be encouraged:
1) Ecclesial organization: Anyone who knows anything about Orthodoxy in North America knows that one of her besetting struggles is with ecclesial disorganization. Early ecclesiology rather strictly prescribed one bishop to one city to avoid the problems of overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions. Orthodoxy still upholds this as the ideal (as does Rome), but has long struggled with making it a reality in this country. Indeed, the most recent effort to overcome this problem—the so-called episcopal assembly of all Orthodox bishops—seems this month on the verge of collapse, which is sad but not surprising.

Rome, however, has in some ways been better able (though not perfectly so) to avoid these problems and to keep Catholics of all traditions—Eastern and Western—united in certain (imperfect) regional structures. For example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) includes Latin and Eastern bishops on full and equal terms and they regularly meet together in organized fashion twice a year, with Eastern Catholics also serving in the other committees of the USCCB. Though the USCCB (and comparable conferences around the world) are not the synods, they could and should be, as I have argued elsewhere, and they are at the very least a commendable start down that road.
2) Canonical updating: Part of the way you keep your home life organized is through periodic purges in which you force yourself to realize that sweater from 1979 no longer fits and that coffee pot from your great Aunt Hilda, who died in 1936, no longer works. The Church is no different. As we recognize that certain old canons do not adequately deal with the conditions and issues of today, we must make a choice: to ignore the canons, to abolish the canons, or to update the canons. Orthodoxy usually chooses the first option while Rome has preferred the latter two. Thus, in 1990, Rome published the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, an (imperfect) attempt to bring Eastern canon law into the 20th century and to give it some rational coherence and consistency. 
3) Money: Eastern Catholics need to be frank in acknowledging the generosity of Roman institutions in many ways. For decades the Catholic Near Eastern Welfare Association has given generously to Eastern Catholics (and Orthodox!) around the world. Many Eastern communities (including my own mission parish here in Ft. Wayne) are too small to afford their own buildings, and local Roman parishes immediately open their doors and let us use their facilities for worship and fellowship without any cost to us. Other examples could be mentioned. Though we are a tiny drop in the Catholic bucket (a few millions compared to over a billion Latin Catholics in the world), we benefit from belonging to a larger, global institution in very practical ways, including these kinds of “subsidies” in which big, wealthy local churches in, say, the United States or Germany, can help small, impoverished churches in Ukraine or the Middle East and Africa. One regularly sees such subsidies given in the form of scholarships to Eastern Catholic seminarians and priests to be able to pursue advanced degrees in pontifical universities, both in the Eternal City and elsewhere.
4) Intellectual life: This latter point reminds us that the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome itself has long been one of the premier centers of Eastern theological scholarship, and not a few of today’s leading bishops and theologians in Orthodoxy (including the current Ecumenical Patriarch) have studied there. Catholic intellectuals (especially the Jesuits, including Robert Taft, Michael Fahey, Brian Daley) have long been recognized as world-class specialists in Eastern theology. Catholic-sponsored scholarly journals (including the one I edit, Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies) have long focused, either in whole or in part, on Eastern Christian scholarship, making it far more accessible than it would be if it were confined to Orthodox periodicals. And numerous Catholic universities—Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Dayton, Notre Dame, Fordham, Saint Paul University (Canada), CUA in Washington, and many others—have in the past (and still today) opened professorial appointments to Orthodox theologians who would be otherwise out of academic work because there are no Orthodox universities anywhere on this continent—nor in most of the rest of the world.
5) Universal focus, universal spokesman: Say what you want about the papacy (and I have in my book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy) but I think no fair-minded observer can deny that the papal office remains a salutary trans-national focus for Catholics around the world, reminding all of us that we are but one part of a vast organization with a presence in huge numbers around the world. In other words, it keeps us from descending into smug little enclaves where, as St. Paul puts it, one part can say to the other, “I have no need of you.” Moreover, though not without risks, the popes are able to command instant, widespread international media attention, making it possible to get the word out immediately on any number of issues. When Pope Francis, for instance, called for a day of fasting for Christians in Syria (most of whom are Orthodox or Eastern Catholic), there were millions around the world who immediately responded. Similar calls to focus on the plight of Syrian Christians, issued by the patriarchs of Antioch and even the Ecumenical Patriarch, never have gained the same level of attention (this is not triumphalism but a simple factual observation of media habits).
I hope, in view of the foregoing litany, that I may be permitted now to note a few areas in which there is room for improvement. Indeed, let me state it as strongly and bluntly as I can: absent significant and unambiguous evidence of change—and not merely vague promissory notes with an unspecified future date—in the following areas, unity with Orthodoxy will not happen.
1) Clerical Celibacy: The whole history of much of Orthodoxy in North America would be inconceivable without the complete fiasco of Latin bishops trying to force priestly celibacy on Eastern Catholics in the early 20th century. When the Latins attempted this with staggering arrogance and insensitivity, tens of thousands of Catholics became Orthodox. Today’s Orthodox (and Eastern Catholics) need it made very clear that while we all honor celibacy highly, in the East the longstanding custom has been that parish priests are usually married while celibate priests are usually monastics. No requirement, therefore, can again be demanded of Eastern Christians whereby all seeking priestly ordination must be celibate. The East should be able to decide about a married priesthood without interference just as the West decides about a celibate priesthood without interference. The Eastern custom, as valid and ancient and “apostolic” as the West’s tradition, must be accepted on equal footing without cavil or qualification. (If the West decides to alter her tradition, it should only be changed after very careful discernment and deliberation as to the major costs—financial and administrative, inter alia—that such a change would bring. It should also be changed not because of some supposed “vocations shortage,” because a married priesthood is no guarantee of lots of priests.)

2) Local election of bishops and patriarchs: Similarly, the right of local churches to elect their own bishops, and especially their patriarchs, must be preserved. The idea that Rome, either by history or custom—or, more absurdly, “divine law”—can and must appoint all the world’s bishops is an innovation so new (emerging juridically only in 1917 with the Pio-Benedictine code of canon law) that the Cambridge historian Eamon Duffy has rightly called it a coup d’Église, unjustified by Vatican I and Vatican II. Not even Gregory VII or Pius IX in their most ultramontane moments would have dared arrogate such power unto themselves.

3) Restoration of liturgical tradition: Many Orthodox (and, again, many Eastern Catholics) are rightly scandalized at the state of the liturgy in Latin parishes today. Though we seem, thankfully, to have moved well beyond the (possibly apocryphal) clown Masses of the high 1960s, still today there is a liturgical culture too often marked by a “domestication of transcendence” (William Placher), by banality and mediocrity instead of mystery and reverence. This is inconceivable to the East where, through centuries of persecution, the liturgy was often the only thing the Church was permitted to do, and so has acquired a pride of place as theologia prima.
4) Discipline of dissenters: The fact that Catholic academics, especially so-called theologians, are permitted to teach for decades in Catholic institutions while openly dissenting from Catholic teaching does not go unnoticed in the East. Heterodoxy needs to be given a simple ultimatum: put up or shut up. The failure of bishops to show much spine here appalls many in the East who are, after all, concerned precisely about, well, orthodoxy.
5) The filioque: Following the statement of Rome in 1995, and the 2003 statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, as well as even more recent statements by leading Orthodox theologians such as Metropolitans Kallistos Ware and John Zizioulas, and the Orthodox historian Edward Siecienski, no serious observer today believes that, theologically, the filioque (the belief, expressed in the Nicene Creed, that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and the Son [filioque in Latin]) is a church-dividing issue. However, the fact of its continued usage liturgically in the Latin tradition every Sunday does rankle procedurally for many Orthodox. In other words, even if both sides understand and can accept the theological meaning of the other, the fact that the Western church unilaterally altered the creed outside of the procedure of an ecumenical council remains a sore point for the East, made all the more so by the fact that recent popes have said the Greek original remains the authoritative text. If that is so, then why do liturgical translations not use the Greek as their source-text for translation, rather than the Latin with its interpolation? With careful preparation and catechesis the filioque could and should be deleted from common liturgical usage. Yes, it would be a gesture of extraordinary generosity for the Latin Church to remove the filioque from the Creed. But merely to issue a clarification on it would not, I think, be enough for most Orthodox.
6) Papal primacy and jurisdiction: Finally, we come to the major issue widely agreed to be the most important one requiring resolution before unity. I will not get into details here for I have already written an entire book on the topic. I am not being immodest when I say that of the reviews I have seen so far from serious Orthodox observers (i.e., not the illiterate cranks on Amazon who admitted they were never going to read the book but slagged it nonetheless), all of them have said my proposals could offer a way forward.
Certain Orthodox apologists writing this list would add 3, 5, 15, or 30 more items—unleavened bread, priestly beards, altar girls, statues vs. icons, and so on. No sober observer today believes these are remotely serious issues justifying continued division. Other, relatively more serious theological issues—e.g., the modern Marian dogmas, or purgatory—are, properly understood, compatible with Orthodox theology as others (see Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God; and Emmanuel Lanne, “L’enseignement de l’Église catholique sur le purgatoire,” Irénikon 64) have shown. In the end, if unity is to have a realistic prospect in this century, Rome needs to step up to the plate and prove, by unmistakable actions and not hoary promises, that she means business on these six issues at least. Then the ball will be back in Orthodoxy’s court.

Bishop Borys Guziak Says Ukraine in a "Battle for Dignity" | ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome

The “brutal” crackdown on demonstrators in Ukraine is acting as a recruiting sergeant for the protest movement, according to a senior bishop, who described the country as engaged “in a battle for dignity”.  

Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris defended protestors on the streets coming under fire from government forces, but repeated calls of that they do not take up arms.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity which for decades has supported the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Bishop Gudziak spoke out against the security response to the demonstrations, describing many protestors as prayerful and non-violent.

Speaking from Paris Jan. 24, the bishop said: “The people are out not out on the streets to campaign for a party or candidate; they are gathering around principles.

He added: “The country in somewhat traumatic ways is trying to break the bonds of the past and the bonds of fear and subjugation by declaring the God-given dignity of every human being.”

“The events in the last few months and days is a pilgrimage in our battle for dignity.

“In the last two months, Ukraine has changed dramatically. The level of social consciousness has increased.

“The brutality of the special forces is rallying more and more of the population in an active role in this bid for dignity.”

Bishop Gudziak, formerly rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, reasserted the calls made by religious leaders on 10th December.

These include a request to the Ukrainian government to listen to the protestors’ demands, a denunciation of violence either by the regime or by protestors, and an appeal for dialogue between the regime and the various groups involved in the demonstrations.

Highlighting the need for dialogue, Bishop Gudziak said: “Dialogue is a very difficult and has a very arduous methodology but there are no better alternatives.”

This article has been published courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need. Read online here:
Ukrainian Bishop Says Country in a "Battle for Dignity" | ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome

His Beatitude Sviatoslav to President Yanukovich:We were, we are, and we will be with the people

Patriarch Sviatoslav with Orthodox and Protestant Church leaders (with the Armenian and Latin archbishops to his left) meeting President Yanukovich to repeat his pleas for peace, justice and democracy on Friday.

According to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Yanukovich refused anything to the Church leaders and lectured them that their role was to do their job and tell the people not to revolt. Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk said to Yanukovych "We were, we are, and we will be with the people."

Address of His Beatitude Sviatoslav to UGCC faithful and all people of good will on the Day of Unity of Ukraine

Ukrainian Catholic Church & Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops - Letter of prayer and solidarity for the people of Ukraine by the CCCB President

While the Vatican, and UK and Ireland Conferences wait for the moment to speak in solidarity with fellow Catholics of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church:

The Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), has sent a letter of solidarity and prayer to His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and to Archbishop Lawrence Huculak, O.S.B.M., Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in Canada. In his letter, Archbishop Durocher writes: "I ask you to assure the people of Ukraine that Canadian Catholics and their Bishops are united with you in prayer and solidarity. We plead for the guarantee of all rights and liberties in Ukraine, particularly the right to life and dignity, freedom of conscience and religion, and liberty of expression and self-government."

Read full details online here:
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops - Letter of prayer and solidarity for the people of Ukraine by the CCCB President

Egypt Copts want 10% representation in parliament | Middle East | World Bulletin

Sources close to Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II said the pontiff had asked interim president Adly Mansour to specify a 10 percent quota of parliamentary seats for Christians.

"The Pope reiterated the support of the church and Christians for the transitional roadmap and the new constitution," one source told Anadolu Agency, requesting anonymity for the sensitivity of the issue.

Mansour met Wednesday with the pope and several senior clergymen to discuss a wide range of political issues, including the election system for the next parliamentary elections, whose date has not been decided yet.

Sources said the Pope and church leaders welcomed the application of an individual representation election system, provided that Christians are represented fairly.

They said the church leaders also told Mansour that around 48 churches were attacked in the violence that followed the army's ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi last summer.

Officials from the Egyptian Presidency and Orthodox Church were not immediately available for comment.

Pope Tawadros II had campaigned for a "yes" vote on the amended version of Egypt's 2012 constitution.

Egypt's High Election Commission announced on Saturday that 38.6 percent of eligible voters, estimated at around 53 million, had cast their ballot in last week's two-day referendum.

It said 98.1 percent of the voters approved the new charter.

Mansour paid an unprecedented visit by an Egyptian head of state to the Orthodox Church early this month to congratulate church leaders on the occasion of Christmas.

Pope Tawadros II, together with Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayedb, stood should to shoulder with army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi when he announced the post-Morsi roadmap on July 3.

Read online here:
Egypt Copts want 10% representation in parliament | Middle East | World Bulletin

Friday 24 January 2014

ROCOR Says Overlapping Dioceses are Canonical: An Ecclesiological Analysis | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

On January 15, 2014, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) clarified its vision for the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. This came in the form of an epistle from Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, acting as the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the ROCOR to Archbishop Demetrios, chairman of the Assembly of Bishops. This letter was subsequently posted to the official ROCOR website. Before we analyze the contents of the letter, some background is necessary.

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops is an institution established out of the decision of the 4th Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference, convoked in Chambésy, Switzerland in 2009. Among many tasks, the Assembly of Bishops is charged with “The preparation of a plan to organize the Orthodox of the Region on a canonical basis” (Rules of Operation of Episcopal Assemblies, Article 5). This plan was agreed to by all fourteen Autocephalous Churches, including Moscow, based on their desire for ”the swift healing of every canonical anomaly that has arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements.” Pursuant to this goal, in the 2013 meeting of the Assembly of Bishops, the Committee for Regional Canonical Planning presented a Proposal for Canonical Restructuring of the Orthodox Church in the USA, followed by lengthy discussion with the bishops. The centerpiece of this proposal is the restructuring of the various Orthodox jurisdictions so that no bishop’s territory overlaps another’s, according to apostolic custom: one bishop in one city. Some of the details of this proposal were presented by Protodeacon Peter Danilchick in Cleveland in November of 2013.

In responding to this, admittedly ambitious, proposal, the epistle from ROCOR to the Episcopal Assembly makes a bold claim, namely:
…we cannot and do not consider… that the present situation of multiple Sister Churches tending to the diverse needs of the flock in the unique cultural situation of North America is, of itself, a violation of canonical order.
Put simply, ROCOR does not believe that the overlapping dioceses are a violation of canonical order but rather that there are other violations of canons which must be the primary task of the Assembly, especially
the conducting of inter-faith marriages; the practices of reception into the Church; divergent approaches to fasting; issues of confession and preparation for Holy Communion; the release and reception of clergy; etc.
 In support of this opinion, Archbishop Kyrill puts forward three arguments:
  1. The unique challenge of the unity-in-diversity of North and Central America.
  2. Previous canonical precedent for diocesan variation.
  3. The achievement of the goal of the “bond of love.”
The goal of this writing is to analyse the claims made in this document to see if they hold up to theological and historical scrutiny. I am not however attempting to put forward any plan of unity, or endorse any such particular plan. The difficulties are great, and indeed many political ambitions are present. However, any such political ambitions as such are not the intention of this work. Rather, the goal is to examine the specific arguments presented in this document and to weigh them against the Patristic dogma of the Church.

Here is the substantial analysis of Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco's letter on behalf of ROCOR, from an Orthodox point of view, by Dr Nathaniel McCallum:
ROCOR Says Overlapping Dioceses are Canonical: An Ecclesiological Analysis | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

And here is the text of Archbishop Kyrill's letter on the ROCOR website:
Letter from the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops to the Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in North and Central America