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.

Monday 31 March 2014

Lebanon Security Chief: kidnapped bishops’ case ‘complicated’ | Lebanon News | THE DAILY STAR

30 March 2014

BEIRUT: The case of the bishops kidnapped in Syria for almost a year is complicated, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of Lebanon’s General Security, said in comments published Sunday, adding, however, that efforts to release them are "on the right track."

“The case of the two abducted bishops in Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim, is more complicated than the case of the Maaloula nuns, but it is on the right track,” Abbas told the Al-Raya Qatari newspaper.

“I would rather keep the information out of the public so as not to spoil the efforts being exerted in that regard, but I assure [the public] that all efforts are being exerted to resolve this humanitarian case,” he said.

Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop, Paul Yazigi, and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted on April 23, 2013 by gunmen while returning to the northern Syrian city from the Turkish border.

Ibrahim also praised the role played by Qatar in the release of the Lebanese pilgrims, who were held in Syria's Aazaz, and a group of nuns abducted from the Syrian town of Maaloula.

Ibrahim, who helped secure the release of the Maaloula nuns earlier this month, as well as the Lebanese hostages last year, has also been following up on the case of the bishops.

Read more:

Ibrahim says kidnapped bishops’ case ‘complicated’ | News , Lebanon News | THE DAILY STAR

Four Killed in Islamist Attack on Church in Egypt: ICN

An Islamist attack on a Coptic Church in Cairo on Friday left four people dead. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood held demonttrations across the country in reaction against the official candidate in the upcoming presidential election of General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

In the suburb of Ain Sham in Cairo, protesters carried out their violence against the Coptic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael. A young woman, Sameh Merry, driving past was shot dead when the mob saw that she had a cross hanging in the front of her car. A 25 year old journalist was also killed.

Bishop Raphael, secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, expressed words of condolences for the death of the woman.

Four Killed in Islamist Attack on Church in Egypt

Sisters of St Macrina: Praying history does not repeat - Herald-Standard, Uniontown PA

Prayers for peace in Ukraine are being said at Mount St. Macrina’s House of Prayer as Russia continues its annexation of Crimea and anti-government protests are held in Kiev’s Independence Square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

The eastern European country is where the Order of St. Basil the Great was founded in the fourth century, and Ukraine is home to the largest province of the religious order, with about 180 nuns serving throughout the country. The Our Lady of Perpetual Help Province, based at Mount St. Macrina, is one of the larger provinces in the order, at one time its second largest.

Sister Barbara Jean Mihalchick, who resides at Mt. St. Macrina, has been to Ukraine 25 times and was instrumental in getting property returned to the order taken during the communist regime.

She has seen the devastation of the church under communism and participated in the restoration of the church since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. She is praying that the annexation and political unrest don’t lead to yet another persecution of the church. Mihalchick said that so far the Crimean annexation hasn’t affected much in western Ukraine.

“Things are pretty normal there except the people are frightened for all, and they have asked for prayers. The reality in eastern Ukraine is different. The priests who have been serving there, like in Crimea, they have been threatened. One priest was abducted, at least one that we know of, but he has since been released,” Mihalchick said.

Mihalchick said the Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, who are permitted to marry, have moved their families from Crimea back to mainland Ukraine.

“The priests went back to their parishes. They said, ‘We will stay with the people in the middle of this crisis.’ What will happen now, I don’t know if they will chase all Ukrainians out of Crimea. I know they will be establishing a border, and there’s probably going to be a need now to have a passport to go between the two, or documents of some kind,” Mihalchick said.

Mihalchick said that in addition to the kidnapping, priests in Ukraine are already facing accusations from Russia reminiscent of the 1940s and ’50s, calling them Vatican agents.

“You can’t call them communists. They claim to be over that. The only reality is you are dealing with the same people who have changed their colors only, in some mindsets. It is still a threat to the mentality because they are afraid of foreign powers. If we are connected to the Vatican, and we are, then that’s like a fear of a foreign power right there. Fear of the West: the whole nervousness over Ukraine is because Ukraine was thinking of joining NATO and that would have put NATO right at their border of Russia, and they don’t like that idea at all,” Mihalchick said.

Those fears were acted upon in the past, leading to the destruction of many churches and the martyrdom of those serving in the religious life.

“The Sisters were forced into the underground around 1947 and then that release did not happen until 1990, that they could be seen as a legal reality within the country of Ukraine. So, they then began to organize, and this is why I’ve been in Ukraine already 25 times, to help restore religious life, to develop communities, to find buildings, to struggle with authorities to get rightful properties returned to the community,” Mihalchick said.

Mihalchick said circumstances are ripe in Ukraine for a foreign power to take over, following four months of protests against the government and nearly 100 people killed in clashes with police in protests in Kiev.

“A lot of the protests were spurred on by the intense corruption that’s part of that country, and they want to say, ‘Enough, enough. Look at all the years since communism fell, and we’re still living with the issues that won’t go away.’ People still need to pay for bribes to get their son or daughter into a university or into a specialty. Many people can’t make a decent living. Throughout the country, it has been an issue, and the country itself hasn’t been able to make the progress it should have, simply because of the corruption,” Mihalchick said. “The corruption has, in fact, made it easier for people to long for another country to help them, and Russia said, ‘We’re the ones who are going to give you more money.’ That can be attractive. But it’s because it’s such a struggle just to get ahead.”

Mihalchick said sisters from the Order of St. Basil the Great have been present in Independence Square in Kiev along with others in ministry, both Catholic and Protestant, holding prayer vigils.

“Our sisters, the Sisters of St. Basil, also went there in Kiev and were praying with them at times. They took shifts, they organized food and drink and it just became a real community-building, faith-building experience for them. And all the people are being strengthened, I think, those that want to save Ukraine. The Greek Catholics have always been contributors toward a love for their country and a protectionism of the country,” Mihalchick said.

Mihalchick said that the church, which has seen freedom for the past two decades in Ukraine, has had a great resurgence, both among those taking religious vows and in the congregations. It is unlikely it will be forced underground again.

“The people see this as a challenge, and they’re used to challenges. Truly, it’s a time of great prayer and a strengthening of one another,” Mihalchick said. “If you want to put us through the challenge, we’ve been there before. And by our faith and by our being able now to come together in churches, we’re not in hiding anymore. We’re right out there in public.”

Praying history does not repeat - New Today - Herald-Standard

Saturday 29 March 2014

A great Catholic renaissance in Ukraine may be at risk: John Allen interivews Bishop Borys Gudziak | National Catholic Reporter

John Allen, NCR, 28 May 2014

On any countdown of terrific Catholic stories over the last twenty years, the renaissance of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine would have to be near the top of the list. Numbering some five million faithful, about ten percent of the Ukrainian population, Greek Catholics follow Orthodox liturgical and spiritual traditions but have been in full union with Rome since the 16th century.

Under the Soviets, the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine was the largest illegal religious body in the world, and one of the most persecuted. The legendary Ukrainian Cardinal Josef Slipyi, who spent two decades in the gulags, once said that his church had been buried under "mountains of corpses and rivers of blood." During his 2001 visit to Ukraine, John Paul II beatified 27 Greek Catholic martyrs under the Soviets -- one of whom had been boiled alive, another crucified in prison, and a third bricked into a wall.

Given that history, the church's recovery in the short span of time since the Soviet Union imploded has been nothing short of miraculous. In 1939, the Greek Catholics boasted 2,500 priests; by 1989, the number had fallen to just 300. Today it's back up to 2,500, with 800 seminarians in the pipeline. Greek Catholics played key roles in the "Orange Revolution" of 2004/05, which for a brief, shining moment, promised to bring democracy and the rule of law to Ukraine.

In many ways, the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine has become a global model for the evangelization of culture.

Today, however, Catholicism in Ukraine may once again be at risk, as a new government has come to power which seems bent on reviving Soviet-style authoritarianism. On May 18, an official of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the successor to the KGB, visited the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv -- the only Catholic university in the former Soviet Union, which means it's the only Catholic university in twelve time zones. The police official warned the rector, Fr. Borys Gudziak, against students participating in illegal anti-government protests. (Gudziak, by the way, is a 50-year-old Ukrainian-American born in Syracuse, New York, who holds a Harvard doctorate in Slavic and Byzantine Cultural History.)

The SBU official also insisted that Gudziak sign a letter and then give it back, presumably to be placed in police archives. Gudziak refused, charging that asking people to sign letters and turn them over to the police was a classic KGB technique for recruiting collaborators. 

(Gudziak's description of the experience can be found here, which he says has no precedent in Ukraine since independence in 1991: New Government Pressures UCU)

As proof that the May 18 visit was not a one-off event, consider that Gudziak's cousin Teodor, a layman and mayor of a city in Western Ukraine, was recently arrested on bribery charges – despite the fact that he actually has video of plainclothes policemen breaking into his office to plant forged documents. Consider, too, that staffers at the Ukrainian Catholic University got calls from the SBU on their cell phones this week, a none-too-subtle way of saying "We know how to find you," and that when President Viktor Yanukovich visited Western Ukraine on Wednesday, where the bulk of Catholics are concentrated, the university conveniently lost its electrical power. Faculty and students have been using the Internet to inform the world of what's happening in the country -- and that, of course, requires electricity.

All this is especially alarming because the Ukrainian Catholic University is a fascinating place, with much to offer the broader enterprise of Catholic higher education around the world. For example, the university has launched a "Center for Spiritual Support of the Handicapped" in conjunction with the L'Arche Community, a new movement in Catholicism founded by Canadian layman Jean Vanier, which fosters friendships with people who have physical and mental disabilities. Gudziak says the theory is that contact with the handicapped ought to be an integral part of theological formation. Next month, the university will break ground on a new dormitory, where the spiritual life will be inspired by L'Arche.

Gudziak says that L'Arche is a perfect fit for a society recovering from the systematic deception and lack of trust associated with the Soviet period -- because, he said, "the handicapped do not have masks."

So far, Western reaction to the pressures facing Gudziak and his fellow Greek Catholics has circulated mostly in conservative circles, among hawks already convinced that Putin and his allies in the former Soviet sphere are sliding back into Cold War-era patterns. In principle, however, this is not an ideological question, but a matter of religious freedom and human rights, as well as solidarity with fellow Catholics at risk -- wherever that risk originates.

On Wednesday, I reached Gudziak by phone at his office in Lviv to discuss the situation facing the university and the church.

Read the full interview here:
A great Catholic renaissance in Ukraine may be at risk | National Catholic Reporter

Missile on an Armenian church in Aleppo during Mass - Fides News Agency

Aleppo (Agenzia Fides) - The Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity in Aleppo was hit by a missle while the faithful were attending mass. The attack damaged the dome and broke the windows, but caused no injuries. This was confirmed to Fides Agency by the Armenian Catholic priest Joseph Bazuzu, pastor of the church.

"On Monday afternoon", says Father Joseph, "a number of missiles fell on the neighborhood of al-Meydan. One hit and damaged the dome of our church during the Eucharistic liturgy. Thank God no one was hurt. After so many years of violence, fear has become a sentiment that accompanies each day. People live with fear".

The missiles devastated some houses in the area surrounding the church, inhabited mostly by Armenians. "Before the start of the conflict" refers to Fides Fr Joseph, "the Armenian Catholic families of Aleppo were about 250. But the liturgy in the Armenian language was also attended by the Armenian Orthodox, for a total of eight hundred families. Now at least three hundred of them have had to leave their homes".

At dawn on Friday 21 March, the city of Kessab on the border with Turkey, was occupied by anti- Assad militias during the offensive launched by them to reach the coastal city of Latakia. Hundreds of Armenian families were forced to flee. According to Armenian sources, the three churches of Kessab were desecrated by Islamist militants of al-Nusra Front.

Meanwhile, in Armenia, the projects of the "New Aleppo", the residential area intended for Armenian refugees from Syria are about to be completed. In the initial phase, the residential complex should accommodate at least 500 families. According to data provided by the Armenian Ministry for the diaspora, about 11 thousand Armenian Syrian refugees have found refuge in Armenia. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 28/03/2014)

Missile on an Armenian church in Aleppo during Mass - Fides News Agency

CNEWA - Christians and Muslims Hold Marian Prayer Meeting in Beirut

by Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.
With mostly bad news coming out of the Middle East, it is encouraging to see that Christians and Muslims are working together in Lebanon to build peaceful relations.
Representatives from both faiths gathered this week in Beirut for the eighth Islamic-Christian Prayer Meeting, which had as its theme “Together Around Mary, Our Lady.”
The meeting took place on the Solemnity of the Annunciation (25 March), a national holiday in Lebanon and a day when both Christians and Muslims honor Mary, the mother of Christ. The meeting was organized by the St. Joseph University Alumni Assocation and the College of Our Lady of Jamhour.
Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a message to participants, on behalf of Pope Francis. In the message, the pope encouraged Christians and Muslims to “work together for peace and for the common good, thus contributing to the full development of the person and the edification of society”, and entrusts the participants in the meeting “and all the inhabitants of Lebanon to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace and Protectress of Lebanon.”
“The Virgin Mary and Islamic-Christian Dialogue” was the theme of the address given by Rev. Miguel Angel Ayuso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, during the meeting.
The Vatican news agency VIS reported: "In his address, which focused both on the figure of Mary and on the mission of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Rev. Ayuso emphasized that the feast of 25 March was “a true example of the co-existence between Muslims and Christians that characterises Lebanese history, in the midst of so many difficulties, and which also constitutes an important example for many other nations.

“Since Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church recognises that Muslims honor the Virgin mother of Jesus, Mary, and invoke her with piety,” he said. “Mary is mentioned various times in the Koran. Respect for her is so evident that when she is mentioned in Islam, it is usual to add ‘Alayha l-salam’ (‘Peace be upon her’). Christians also willingly join in this invocation. I must also mention those shrines dedicated to Mary which welcome both Muslims and Christians. In particular, here in Lebanon, how can we forget the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa?
“Devotion creates sentiments of friendship: it is a phenomenon open to everyone. The cultural experiences that our communities can share encourage collaboration, solidarity and mutual recognition as sons and daughters of a single God, members of the same human family. Therefore, the Church addresses the followers of Islam with esteem. During the last 50 years, a dialogue of friendship and mutual respect has been constructed.
"With reference to the dialogue between Muslims and Christians, he went on to explain that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue “seeks to establish regular relationships with Muslim institutions and organisations, with the aim of promoting mutual understanding and trust, friendship and, where possible, collaboration. In fact, there exist agreements with various Muslim institutions enabling the possibility of holding periodical meetings, in accordance with the programmes and procedures approved by both parties. With regard to the methods of interreligious dialogue and, therefore, the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, we must recall that dialogue is a two-way form of communication. ... It is based on witness of one’s own faith and, at the same time, openness to the religion of the other. It is not a betrayal of the mission of the Church, and much less a new method of conversion to Christianity. The document ‘Dialogue and Proclamation,’ published jointly by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue in 1991, identifies four different forms of interreligious dialogue: the dialogue of life, the dialogue of works, the dialogue of theological exchange and the dialogue of religious experience. These four forms demonstrate that it is not an experience confined to specialists.”
Rev. Ayuso concluded by analyzing the role of Mary as a model for both Muslims and Christians:
“In the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Marialis Cultus’, promulgated in 1974 by Pope Paul VI, Mary is presented as ‘the Virgin who listens’, ‘the Virgin who prays’, ‘the Virgin in dialogue with God’. ... But there is also the image of a model of dialogue of seeking when, addressing the Archangel Gabriel, she asks, ‘How is it possible?’. Mary, a model for Muslims and Christians, is also a model of dialogue, teaching us to believe, not to close ourselves up in certainties, but rather to remain open and available to others.”

Read more online:

Friday 28 March 2014

CNEWA - Attack on Christian Village in Syria - More details on Armenian Kassab

Michel Constantin - CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt

On Friday 21 March 2014, fighters from the Islamic Front and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front launched a surprise attack from the Turkish territories at the Syrian-Turkish borders in the north, seizing the Armenian Christian town of Kassab after taking the nearby border crossing.

The attack began at two in the morning. The inhabitants of Kassab, who are 95 percent Christian Armenians, were given only two hours to leave their houses or else risk getting killed.

Rebel fighters have also struck deeper into Lattakia province, attacking the town of Solas to the south and firing rockets overnight into Lattakia city, killing eight people. This has raised international concern, since the port of Lattakia is the main transportation hub shipping Syria’s chemical wepaons out of the country to be destroyed.

The attack also deepened the conflict between the two neighboring countries, especially since Syria accused Turkey of providing military cover for the rebel attack on Kassab, saying Turkish forces fired into Syrian territory. The Al Qaeda attack and takeover of the Kassab border crossing has caused up to 2,000 Armenian Syrians to flee the area. Mass looting and destruction of religious sites was reported by residents (similar to acts reportedly carried out in the city of Yabroud). Armenians are once again refugees like their ancestors who fled the Armenian genocide decades ago.

Some 680 Armenian families, the majority of the population of Kessab, were evacuated to safer areas in neighboring Basit and Lattakia; 300 Armenian families found shelter in their relatives’ and friends’ houses, while the remaining 380 have sought refuge in the Armenian Church’s hall. There is now concern about the fate of 10 to 15 families who couldn’t leave their village or chose to stay in their homes.

On Saturday 22 March, Syrian troops launched a counter-attack in an attempt to regain the border crossing point, according to eye-witnesses and state media. However, the following day the extremist groups once again entered the town of Kassab and took the remaining Armenian families hostage. They reportedly desecrated the town’s three Armenian churches, pillaged local homes and occupied the town and surrounding villages.

CNEWA immediately responded to the urgent need and provided the refugees with emergency items for 380 families in Lattakia, through its contact with the Armenian joint committee composed of an Armenian Catholic priest, an Armenian Apostolic priest, an Armenian Evangelical pastor and two social activists. CNEWA also supported 50 families who fled to Beirut through the Karagheuzian center in Bourj Hammoud.

CNEWA - Attack on Christian Village in Syria

Greeting By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew At the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference in Hungary | Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

Your Eminence Peter Cardinal Erdö, President of the Bishops Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary; venerable and beloved members of the Conference,

“Rejoice in the Lord, and be strengthened in the power of His might.”

During these days, when the Christian Church is entering Holy and Great Lent, a period of prayer, fasting and reflection in preparation for the supreme feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, we are moved by a special sense of joy at being among beloved brothers, such as you, and we address Your Eminence and all our brothers here a wholehearted greeting of honor and love. At the Phanar, during this “clean week,” as we Orthodox call the first week of Lent, we normally spend our time between the church and our cell, where we pray and reflect on the Church, the world and our fellow human beings, and especially about the unity of the Church and the welfare of the world. Nonetheless, the signing of an agreement between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the State of Hungary with regard to our Exarchate in this land, has this year obliged us to travel to Budapest, even while continuing to be present through unceasing spiritual prayer and ongoing fasting in our homeland.

The signing of the Agreement between us, on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the Government of your nation, Hungary, surely constitutes an historical event for both sides, particularly in our contemporary times when values are in crisis. We have come here from our See, at the outset of this spiritual period, in order to perform a sacred task.

Dear brothers in Christ,

The Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with the entire Orthodox Church, continues to hold an official Theological Dialogue, “in spirit and truth,” with the Roman Catholic Church from 1980 to this day, alongside the other bilateral dialogues with other Churches and Confessions. In this regard, the Church of Constantinople always strives and endeavors to contribute to a cultivation of good and favorable relations, which are based on mutual respect and trust.

Today, more so than ever before, the Christian world needs dialogue and unity, which are demanded by the immense contemporary problems of our world, as His Excellency Victor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary so accurately highlighted in 2012 during his crucial address to the consultation on “Faith and the Christian Response to the Crisis” at St. Paul’s University in Spain, where he noted: “Europe, at least on the political level, feels a sense of shame for its spiritual roots. This is why the European Constitution unfortunately contains no reference to its Christian foundation.” Moreover, His Excellency rightly observes that the crisis, which plagues Europe today and threatens its unity, is the result of a process of its continuous spiritual decomposition, separation from its Christian tradition and the Church, and dissolution of the fundamental institutions of nation and family.

In this context of dialogical preparation for uniting what was formerly divided and lifting our differences in the Church, we find ourselves among you today, Your Eminence and beloved bishops, and assure you that we are especially moved and delighted for our forthcoming meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis, the Primate of the Roman Catholic Church, who already from the first year of his papal ministry has paved ways and created visions. We shall, therefore, meet together in the Holy Land of Jerusalem, where the mystery of the world’s creation occurred.

As you know, the meeting fifty years ago of the First-Bishops of Senior and New Rome, Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, was a milestone and starting-point in relations between our two Churches. It sealed a silence of centuries and opened the road to communication and dialogue. Every dialogue that stems from goodwill in itself constitutes an act pleasing to God, irrespective of the final outcome.

Thus, our departure from Rome and Constantinople respectively and our encounter once again in Jerusalem will prove to be a message that we shall no longer speak in isolation, but we shall assemble together in prayer for the continuation of our effort to transcend difficulties, called by God and calling upon all to apply the Lord’s words: “He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7.18), as we learn from St. John, the disciple of love.

Such encounters truly constitute a great blessing, as well as an opportunity of course to reflect together on matters that concern our Churches and the wider world.

Your Eminence,

In this ecumenical effort and ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we also believe that the signing of the Agreement with the Hungarian Government, after its long period of atheism, comprises a step of reconnection for Hungary with its historical past, a step of return to its Christian origins as well as to the apostolic message and evangelical spirit, which were conveyed here for the first time by the saintly brothers, Cyril and Methodius.

In this endeavor for Hungary to return to the Christian roots of its life and civilization, we assure all of you that we shall collaborate with you, Your Eminence, through our representative here, His Eminence Metropolitan Arsenios of Austria and Exarch of Hungary and Central Europe, in a spirit of dialogue, mutual respect and shared understanding. We know that this is also what you believe and desire. We are convinced that the signing of the Agreement opens a new page in the relations between our two Churches and establishes the basis for broadening and cultivating these relations for the benefit and edification of the blessed people of Hungary, who in its own way seeks the truth, which in our Church is never an indefinite or abstract concept, but always the personal experience of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, this truth is not acquired as an object of rational knowledge or sentimental experience, but rather as the fruit of communion with God through unceasing and unrelenting struggle for purification of the heart from passions, which is precisely the purpose of the period of Holy and Great Lent that commences today.

Furthermore, we Christians are obliged to unite our resources in order to protect our flock from the increasingly troubling persecutions and tragic waves of violence against Christians in various parts of our planet, especially in the Middle East, Africa and other place of the world. We would also like to take this opportunity to inform you about the concern and intense anxiety of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the protection of Christians in the lands, where Christ’s feet first stepped, where the Apostles lived and early martyrs died – a concern that we shall also share with our fellow-Cyrenaean in this humanitarian struggle, Pope Francis, during our highly anticipated forthcoming meeting.

We are grateful for the joy of today’s assembly and wish you every good gift from above for success in your efforts for the benefit of your nation and the responsible work of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary.

Read more here:

Greeting By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew At the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference in Hungary | Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

Metropolitan Hilarion: The crisis in the Ukrainian society offers the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church a unique opportunity to unite all - A Russian Orthodox Church Website

27 March 2014

On March 22, 2014, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who hosts the Church and World talk-show on Russia-24 TV channel, had as his guest the editor-in-chief of the Religion and Mass Media portal, journalist Alexander Shchipkov.

Metropolitan Hilarion: Good afternoon, dear brothers and sisters. You are tuned to the Church and World program. Today we will discuss Ukraine. My guest is journalist Alexander Shchipkov, editor-in-chief of the Religion and Mass Media portal. Good afternoon, Alexander.

A. Shchipkov: Good afternoon, Your Eminence. Ukraine is seething. The situation and events are developing with a catastrophic pace, a kind of motion picture speed. The situation is tense. Everybody is talking about political components alone and it is clear why. But as an Orthodox Christian and journalist I am concerned for the religious component. As is known, Ukraine is a place of heightened religiosity. There are many Protestants; the Greek Catholics are strong and, unfortunately, there is partitioned Orthodoxy. There is a major Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which predominates, and there are entities of non-canonical nature. In your view, how may the religious situation develop? What may happen in the nearest future?

Metropolitan Hilarion: First of all, I would like to say that the sad events, which happened early this year in Kiev and which caused a bloodshed and death toll, have not made Ukrainian religious confessions to stay aside. There were church and semi-church groups that took a very clear political stand on one side of the barricades. For instance, the Greek Catholics you have mentioned. In the person of the Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk as well former Archbishop Lubomir Husar, who is retired now, they took a very clear stand from the very beginning of this civic confrontation, which was to grow, unfortunately, into an armed bloody conflict. They did not just stand up for the so-called Euro-integration but even called Western countries to interfere more actively in the situation in Ukraine. It even came to the fact that Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk together with the false patriarch Philaret (Denisenko) went to the USA and batted around the State Department offices asking the USA to interfere in the Ukrainian affairs. It was one stand.

There is another one, taken by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is not merely a stand of non-interference in politics; it is a stand based on the fact that the Church should give room to people of diverse political beliefs, except for openly radical and chauvinistic. Among the faithful and clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, there are a great number of those who are not proponents of Euro-integration. There are those who participated in the events in Maidan. But at the same time, among the faithful of the UOC, there is a great number of those who aligned themselves with Russia, who stand for the preservation of Holy Rus’ as a single spiritual space sealed with the same faith. The canonical Orthodox Church holds all. She does not take a particilar side of the barricade. She unites all, and if need be, stands up between the warring parties, as did the monks who came out to stand up at the risk of their lives and health to prevent bloodshed between the two warring parties.

A. Shchipkov: Were they monks of the canonical Orthodox Church?

Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes. These were monks of the canonical Church.

A. Shchipkov: I had an occasion to talk with Ukrainian Uniates, Greek Catholics. They said: A certain mission is placed on us since we unite Eastern and Western Christianity. I responded to that rather sceptically, saying that for all these declarations, for the distinctness of theirs, they are in a sense a Catholic project. They make the liturgical mention of the Pope of Rome and stress their belonging to the Western world. It may be the reason why they look to this Western world. But still they are a minority. The majority in Ukraine are Orthodox. Relations between the canonical Church and the two non-canonical entities – Philaretians in the so-called Kiev Patriarchate – and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, how can they develop? Is any dialogue possible? Is it necessary at all, and how can it develop?

Metropolitan Hilarion: To sum up the theme of the Uniates or Greek Catholics, in fact, from Rome’s point of view, the Uniates should serve as a bridge between East and West. Actually, this project was conceived as such. But this special project of the Catholic Church has always been perceived by the Orthodox extremely negatively because, as a matter of fact, the Uniates are people who wear Orthodox clothes, observe Orthodox rites while remaining Catholic. This peculiar status gives a certain room for manoeuvre both to the Greek Catholics themselves and to the Vatican. For instance, I happened to talk to some high-ranking Vatican officials concerning that stand taken by the Greek Catholics. I asked: How is it possible at all for the Greek Catholic Church to support the schismatic so much that they hold joint actions, prayer services and make joint trips? The answer was: But they are autonomous; we in the Vatican do not control them. I then said in precisely your words: But the Unia is your project; it is not our joint project. If you do not control it, then you might distance yourselves from these actions? But you do not do it either. Therefore we state that these actions of the Greek Catholics throw us backwards, also in our dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. We cannot fully tell apart the Greek Catholics and the Roman Catholics.

As for dialogue between the canonical Church and non-canonical church entities in Ukraine, I believe this dialogue has a perspective. It is not accidental that precisely now, at a time so difficult for Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has initiated this dialogue, not just resumption, but actually the beginning of dialogue because there has been no full-fledged dialogue so far. The point is: in what way this dialogue will go and what principles it will be based on. When a few years ago an attempt was made to begin such dialogue, the first request made by the schismatic entities was this: Let you first recognize our sacrament of baptism; do you really think that we are like Muslims, that even our baptism is invalid? I believe it is not the proper starting point to begin with because the recognition of the baptism will actually mean a partial recognition of the sacraments. Then the schismatics will say: They have already recognized our baptism and soon they will accept our priesthood as well and eventually they will recognize our validity. Still, the dialogue should be about the ways of reunification with the Church to be observed by those who have fallen away from her, as Primates of Local Orthodox Churches wished it to be and stated it in their message to the Christians in Ukraine who are outside the Church today, adopted a few days ago in Istanbul – Constantinople.

A. Shchipkov: Your Eminence, could you tell us in a little more detail about what took place in Istanbul? What was the aim of the meeting of Primates of Orthodox Churches? What decisions were made concerning Ukraine and not only Ukraine?

Read the interview in full here at Pravmir.com:

Metropolitan Hilarion: The crisis in the Ukrainian society offers the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church a unique opportunity to unite all - A Russian Orthodox Church Website

The-Copts’-choice- - Al-Ahram Weekly

Where do Coptic Christians stand on Egyptian politics, asks Michael Adel. 27 March 2014

For many Christians in Egypt, the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was a reason to feel secure about the future. The imminent nomination of Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for the presidency has likewise been greeted with satisfaction by church officials as well as laymen. Yet the spectre of fanaticism still looms over the country, as evidenced by recent abductions targeting Copts in the south.

Pope Tawadros II has had no qualms about stating his preference for Egypt’s next president. Calling Al-Sisi’s candidacy a “national duty”, the pope said that many Egyptians see the field marshal as a saviour: the hero of the 30 June Revolution. In a televised statement, the pope passed a grim verdict on the uprisings of the Arab Spring, saying that what they brought to the region was a long “winter” and the opportunity for “evil hands” to split our nations apart.

On a more optimistic note, the pope voiced satisfaction with the country’s political course over the last nine months. “Since the 30 June Revolution, Egypt has steadily pursued a roadmap to the future, one that began with the drafting of the constitution and that will take us through the presidential elections.” For Egyptians, 30 June marked a new beginning in the fight against fanaticism, he added.

“30 June wasn’t a normal day for Egyptians, Muslim or Christian. It saw the birth of a consensus and it was through the glorious solidarity it showed that the country was rid of the MB rule.”

Recalling images of 30 June, the pope said that “the nuns were waving the Egyptian flags next to their hijab-clad sisters at a decisive moment in our history.”

The pope pointed out that the church not only supported the MB’s ouster, but also stood up to western claims that the removal of the Islamists from power was a coup d’etat. “The Egyptian Church took a heroic stand at a time of chaos and hardship. We saw out churches and monasteries destroyed, while the western media falsified the facts and relayed distorted news,” the head of the Coptic Church said. “The church was careful to clarify the facts to western and foreign delegations who visited us after such events.”

Eager to share its views with Christian communities abroad, the Egyptian Church is reaching out to the Russians. Bishop Royce Morcos, secretary general of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral and spokesman of the Alexandria-based churches, said that Pope Tawadros II is planning to visit the Russian Orthodox Church soon. It will be the first visit to Russia by an Egyptian pope in eight years.

At the same time the frequent abductions of Copts in southern Egypt has raised concern among Coptic officials. In the governorate of Minya, ten Coptic citizens including five doctors were kidnapped in less than a week. Although security officials play down the abductions, describing them as “isolated incidents”, the Coptic community is appalled by the phenomenon. Some link the abductions to the ouster of the Islamists, noting that the Copts are once again being scapegoated over political differences (among Muslims).

Gabhat Mostaqbal Al-Saeed (The Upper Egypt Future Front), a Minya-based youth movement, is planning to stage demonstrations next week in protest of the sectarian kidnappings, the most recent of which involved the kidnapping of a four-year-old child, Peter Nagi Farag, in Mallawi. Nearly 100 Christians have been abducted in Minya since 25 January 2011.

According to the Bishopric of Minya and Abu Qorqas, the rate of abductions has recently risen. The Bishop of Minya and Abu Qorqas, Anba Makarius, said that the kidnappings are followed by demands of ransom by the abductors. Those who fail to pay can risk the death of their captive relatives. While concerned over the phenomenon, Church officials don’t feel that protests are the best way to address this crime. The bishop of central Cairo churches, Anba Raphael, pointed out that it would be prudent to refrain from holding Coptic protests.

“We must not focus exclusively on our problems,” he said. According to Anba Raphael, the main problem the Copts face in Egypt is not restrictions on the building of churches but persistent fanaticism. What Egypt needs is not just laws and regulations, but a culture of tolerance and acceptance, he said. Anba Raphael sees no point in current attempts to reach out to the MB. “I don’t see any reason to call for reconciliation with the MB,” he said. “They had their chance and they showed their true colours.”

The secretary general of the Egyptian Council of Churches, Bishop Bishawi Helmy, for his part, is satisfied with the way the country is dealing with its current problems. “Tomorrow will be better than today. Security and military forces are doing their job. And with help from the rest of the nation, we will defeat the terrorists and all such subversive groups,” he remarked. Helmy remains worried about the rise of sectarianism, nonetheless, for which he blames the MB and its Islamist supporters. “Sectarian attacks are now worse than they were in Mubarak’s time,” he said.

Helmy called for bringing the full force of the law on the perpetrators of sectarian attacks. The old methods of reconciling victim and aggressor no longer work, he stated, adding, “We hope to see fair trials.” Coptic judges agree with this assessment. Counselor Amir Ramzy, chief judge of the Shobra Al-Kheima Criminal Court, encouraged the government’s move to allocate special courts for terror-related crimes.

Read more here:
The-Copts’-choice- - Al-Ahram Weekly

Pope Francis's Schedule During Visit to the Holy Land | ZENIT - The World Seen From Rome

Pilgrimage of His Holiness Pope Francis in the Holy Land on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. (May 24 – 26, 2014)
Saturday, May 24, 2014
08:15 Departure from Rome Fiumicino Airport for Amman
13:00 Arrival at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman
13:45 ARRIVAL CEREMONY in the al-Husseini Royal Palace in Amman
16:00 HOLY MASS at the International Stadium in Amman. Homily of the Holy Father
19:00 Visit to the Baptismal Site at Bethany beyond the Jordan
19:15 MEETING WITH REFUGEES AND DISABLED YOUNG PEOPLE in the Latin church at Bethany beyond the Jordan. Discourse of the Holy Father

Sunday, May 25, 2014
8:15 FAREWELL FROM JORDAN at the Queen Alia Internal Airport in Amman
8:30 Departure by helicopter from the Queen Alia Internal Airport in Amman for Bethlehem
9:20 Arrival at the helicopter port of Bethlehem
9:30 ARRIVAL CEREMONY at the presidential Palace in Bethlehem
10:00 MEETING WITH THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY – Discourse of the Holy Father
11:00 HOLY MASS in Manger Square in Bethlehem. Homily of the Holy Father
REGINA COELI PRAYER. Allocution of the Holy Father
13:30 Lunch with families from Palestine in the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova in Bethlehem
15:45 FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF PALESTINE at the helicopter port of Bethlehem
16:00 Departure by helicopter from the helicopter port of Bethlehem for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
16:30 ARRIVAL CEREMONY at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Discourse of the Holy Father
17:15 Transfer by helicopter to Jerusalem
17:45 Arrival at the helicopter port of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus

18:15 Private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem. Signing of a joint declaration.

19.00 ECUMENICAL MEETING on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Discourse of the Holy Father

20:15 Dinner with the Patriarchs and Bishops and the Papal suite at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem

Monday, May 26, 2014
8:15 VISIT TO THE GRAND MUFTI OF JERUSALEM in the building of the Great Council on the Esplanade of the Mosques. Discourse of the Holy Father
9:45 Laying a wreath at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem
10.00 VISIT TO YAD VASHEM in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father
10:45 COURTESY VISIT TO THE TWO CHIEF RABBIS at Heichal Shlomo Center in Jerusalem, next to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. Discourse of the Holy Father
11:45 COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father
13:30 Lunch with the Papal suite at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem
15:30 Private visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the building next to the Orthodox church of Viri Galileai on the Mount of Olives
16:00 MEETING WITH PRIESTS, MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS AND SEMINARIANS in the church of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Discourse of the Holy Father
17:20 HOLY MASS WITH THE ORDINARIES OF THE HOLY LAND AND THE PAPAL SUITE in the room of the Cenacle in Jerusalem. Homily of the Holy Father
19:30 Transfer by helicopter from the helicopter port on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
20:00 FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF ISRAEL at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
20:15 Departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv for Ciampino Airport in Rome
23:00 Arrival at Ciampino Airport in Rome

Here is the link to the Official Website of the Holy Father's Visit to the Holy Land

Here is the link to the Israeli Tourist Board's Website for the Papal Visit

AINA - "Will the Assyrian Orthodox Church Split After the Death of the Patriarch?"

By Augin Kurt Haninke, 2014-03-27

Stockholm (AINA) -- On the same day I received the news that Patriarch Zakka had passed away in a hospital in Germany (AINA 2014-03-21), I was invited to a cultural event organized by the St. Augin Association in Sweden, in support of the eponymous monastery in Turabdin, Turkey. I received a bouquet of flowers from the association's president Iskender Gabrielsson in recognition of my translation of St. Augin's biography into Swedish. I gave a short acceptance speech and also expressed my condolences on the patriarch's death, which I concluded with the following message: "Let us hope that his successor will work for the well-being of both the Church and the nation."

The Syrian Orthodox Church is split into two rival factions. One wing is anti-Assyrian and hides behind an "Aramean" identity and has gained an increasing foothold in the Church. The other faction rejects any ethnic imprint on the Church, Aramean or Assyrian. A bitter feud over the new patriarch is expected. The main actors are the bishops who are entitled to vote at the synod which will elect a new patriarch, but behind the scenes different interests are at work, such as the Ba'ath regime in Syria and the Turkish government, who is keen to move the Patriarchal See from Damascus back to the Zafaran Monastery in Mardin, Turkey.

Hostile regimes in the Middle East have always attempted to infiltrate the Assyrian churches, with varying degrees of success, since they have great power over their respective parishes. The goal is of course to alienate the Assyrians from their ethnic identity and make them identity themselves as Christian Arabs, Christian Turks or Christian Kurds. The Barzani clan in northern Iraq is the latest among the actors using this strategy, but the Kurds have no direct influence over the Syrian Orthodox Church, unlike the Baathist regime in Syria and the Turkish government.

Different bishops have probably already started plans to take over the patriarch's office and an intense power struggle behind the scenes is what we can expect. The church and its congregations are already divided into two main factions, as a result of the deceased patriarch's policy of forming new and competing archdioceses. The actors in this power struggle are using the name conflict among the Assyrian people as an instrument of their power ambitions. The "Aramean" side is claiming that bishops and parishes that do not support them are followers of the Assyrian side. The Aramean faction's clergy openly attack the Assyrian movement both in their preaching and in various anti-Assyrian media. Bishops who support an "Aramean" identity and their parishioners are happy to cooperate with various hostile forces to change everything named Assyrian to Aramean -- perhaps soon even the church's name as well. This anti-Assyrian faction equates the Assyrian word suraya1 (meaning Assyrian) with "Aramean" and displays the so-called "Aramean" flag on church premises and on its roof in many places in the world.

This may be the start of a split within the Syrian Orthodox Church. Even a hundred years ago a group in India left the Church to protest against the patriarch's actions. The Assyrian Professor Ashur Yousef criticized Patriarch's policy in strong terms in an article in 1914. Before that, the Syrian Catholic Church broke from the Syrian Orthodox Church. The most famous split occurred in the end of 14th century when city of Turabdin, Turkey formed its own patriarchate. In 1839, nearly 500 years later, they would reunite under the same patriarch.

No faction among the bishops to elect a new patriarch will want to settle for half the cake -- it will fight for the whole. But if it can't succeed a split may become a reality. The new patriarch will be very important for the Assyrian nation. If he remains neutral and focuses on managing the internal affairs of the Church, there will be harmony. An anti-Assyrian patriarch will increase tensions within the community.

The experience of the last three patriarchs shows that even if a bishop is an Assyrian patriot he may change sides and become an opponent of the Assyrian national movement. Before we get into potential candidates, it is useful briefly review the three previous Patriarchs.

In January 1933 Bishop Afrem Barsom was elected in his diocese in the city of Homs in Syria, which was then a French Mandate. Thirteen years earlier, he had demanded a free Assyria at the Paris Peace Conference. But the Great Powers who won the First World War betrayed all their promises and Bishop Barsom was deeply disappointed. The Patriarchal See had now move from the Zafaran monastery in Mardin to Homs as the new Patriarch was no longer welcomed in Turkey. He had confronted Turkish representatives about the Assyrian genocide, Seyfo, and was declared by Turks a persona non grata. He eventually began to cooperate with the Arab nationalists in Syria to drive France out of the country. 1946 Syria became independent. As patriarch Afrem Barsom hoped that the remaining Assyrians who had survived the genocide would find peace and safety in the Arab country of Syria.

His later transformation was stunning. He no longer spoke in terms of an independent Assyria, but became an anti-Assyrian of the first degree. He began a smear campaign against the Assyrian name. He claimed afterwards that Assyrian was synonymous with Nestorian (Eastern Assyrians) and asserted that it was the British who had given the name Assyrian to the Nestorians of Hakkari, Turkey2. Even today anti-Assyrians in Sweden and other countries claim the term Assyrian applies only to the Eastern Assyrians. In March, 1920 Bishop Barsom met with Lady Surma, the sister of the Eastern Assyrian Patriarch, in London and said that "our people had come a step closer to unity." But in 1947 he issued a patriarchal decree forbidding his congregation from cooperating with Nestorians "because Nestorius was still banned."

In December 1952 Patriarch Barsom ordered the three churches in the United States, which he himself had consecrated in 1927-1928, to change the name Assyrian Orthodox Church to Syrian Orthodox Church. This created major tensions and conflicts among Western Assyrians in the United States. In recent years, two of those churches were renamed to Syrian or Syriac, but the third is registered as a foundation that prohibits changing its name. Thus there is now a single Syrian Orthodox church in the world which in English is called Assyrian Orthodox Church. It is located in Paramus, New Jersey.

1957 Barsom was succeeded of Patriarch Yakub III. The Assyrian patriot bishop Dolabani held the synod's opening speech and gave his support to Bishop Yakub, who won by just one vote. The other candidate, Boulos Behnam, was one of the most educated bishops in church history, but Dolabani preferred bishop Yakub because he was considered to be an Assyrian patriot. Four years earlier bishop Yakub had written a book about the history of the church in which he said in the preface that the church nationally belongs to Assyrians and Arameans who had given the civilization to the world. But as patriarch he soon began acting against the Assyrian national movement and in 1977 he nearly banished Assyrian leaders in Sweden.

Patriarch Zakka Iwas took office in September 1980 and promised to introduce more democracy in the church. His predecessor was known as a dictator. Patriarch Zakka introduced a system in which each bishop had a free hand to take care of his diocese in the best way. This was abused by bishops Cicek and Abboudi in Europe. They created major conflicts among the Assyrians when they refused to perform religious services to members of Assyrian Associations. The patriarch had probably no involvement in this.

Another struggle for power within the leadership of the Church in Sweden led to the patriarch contributing to a brand new division within the church. Bishop Abboudi had been driven away from Sweden when the church's central board published tape recordings revealing incriminating information about him. He was succeeded by Bishop Abdullahad Gallo Shabo in 1987.

But in 1990 a new power struggle flared up when Bishop Shabo demanded transparency in the church's finances. That led to his banishment from the church. He gathered around him members who were unhappy with absolutism in church governance, and managed to remain in Sweden. Several delegations of bishops visited Sweden and met with both sides to report to the patriarch. The general opinion of all who had followed the development was the Patriarch would take action against the civil church council which had driven out its bishop. There were also rumors that the old church board planned to join a splinter group in India. It is said that the board also had purchased an ambulance as a gift for those in India. But the decision by the patriarch was not forthcoming. Meanwhile, Bishop Shabo's opponents became directly subject to the Patriarch. After a few years Patriarch Zakka decided to appoint a new bishop to the old board and in February 1996 the split was sealed when Bishop Benyamen Atas became known as patriarchal deputy. Since then there have been two distinct camps within the same church with their own bishops. Both are registered as Syrian Orthodox Church, but one side uses the name Syrianska Orthodox Church on their church buildings. The two episcopals are located just steps away from each other in the town of Sodertalje, Sweden. The system of two or more episcopates soon spread to other countries.

Read the full article at AINA here:

Will the Assyrian Church Split After the Death of the Patriarch?

Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Buried Near Damascus: AP Report

DAMASCUS (AP) -- The patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who led one of the world's oldest Christian sects, was buried in a village near Damascus on Friday after an elaborate memorial service in the Syrian capital's cathedral.

The bells of St. George's Cathedral, located in the walled section of Damascus, rang out from the early morning as mourners dressed in black came to pay their respects to Ignatius Zakka Iwas, praising him for his loyalty to the church and the Syrian state.

A large banner bearing the patriarch's portrait hung on metal gates at the cathedral's main entrance pledging that Christians will remain in Syria. "Syria is our eternal homeland," it read.

Recent assaults on predominantly Christian towns by rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule have fueled fears among the country's religious minorities about the growing role of Islamic extremists in the revolt.

Christians believe they are being targeted in part because of anti-Christian sentiment among Sunni Muslim extremists and partly as punishment for what is seen as their support for Assad. The Syrian leader himself hails from a religious minority, the Alawaite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Iwas, a native of Iraq and a vocal proponent of Christian-Muslim coexistence, has lived in Damascus since he was enthroned as patriarch in 1980. He died in a hospital in Germany last week at the age of 80.

When Iwas conducted services at St. George's Cathedral, he spoke in Syriac, a modern version of Aramaic, the language Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken. Friday's memorial service was conducted in Arabic. After it ended, eight clerics carried the coffin on their shoulders before it was transported to the Christian village of Sednaya, north of Damascus. He was buried in the Mar Ephraim monastery there.

"He loved Syria and did not know the difference between a Christian and a Muslim," said Wasal Abi Khalil, a 50-year-old worshipper who attended Friday's service in Damascus. Iwas' official title was the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. The Syrian Orthodox Church was founded in the year 452 after a schism with the bulk of the world's Christians. There are more than 4 million members living in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, although there are also significant communities in Germany, Sweden and the United States.

Assyrian Orthodox Patriarch Buried Near Damascus

And here is the substantial biographical note, from the Syriac Orthodox Diocese of the Eastern United States:

His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church

Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, the 122nd successor to St. Peter in the Apostolic See of Antioch, completes 25 years in the Patriarchal See on the day of the Feast of Holy Cross, 2005. The Universal Syrian Church with its flocks spread over many nations, celebrates this unique historic occasion, of His Holiness’s Silver Jubilee of the Patriarchal enthronement, with great fervour and enthusiasm. It was on September 14, 1980, the Holy father was enthroned as the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church. He is one of the very few primates of the Syrian Church who have been in the Patriarchal office for an entire quarter of a century. As a true Shepherd, His Holiness has led the Holy Church to greater glories in these years of his Patriarchal See.

His Holiness was born on April 21, 1933 into the faithful family of ‘Iwas’ in Mosul, Iraq. He was born as the fourth child and was named ‘Seenaherib’ (name of the father of St. Behnam). His Holiness had three brothers and three sisters. The forbears of Patriarch Zakka, the Iwas family, originally belonged to Jessera on Tigris; they migrated to Mosul about three hundred years ago. Some of his ancestors adorned very important posts in the Kingdom. His grand father has received an award from King Faisal I of Iraq for his excellence in his job as Chief craftsmen and architect of the State.

The father of His Holiness, Basheer Iwas, who graduated from the University in Istanbul, the then capital of Ottoman Empire, later became a Professor in the Military Engineering College there. A faithful member of Church, he was very enthusiastic in attending the Church Services regularly and also inspired others to follow his path. It was his ardent desire to mould one of his sons as a priest to serve the Holy Church. After a few years of teaching, he left for his home state in Iraq where he started a wood-working factory of his own. But unfortunately, misfortune struck the family a few years later; Basheer Iwas died of a Cardiac arrest. His Holiness was only 10 at that time. Two years later in 1945, his wife, the mother of His Holiness, also passed away. Thus the young Seenaherib, who later came to be known as Zakka, becomes parentless at a tender age of 12.

Ecclesiastical Life & Graduation

After the death of his parents, Young Zakka decided to enter into the ecclesiastical life, thus fulfilling the wishes of his beloved father. But then some of his family members who felt bad about the parentless child being dragged into difficult circumstances, tried to discourage him. However our holy father, who from the age of six dreamt of becoming a monk, remained determined in his choice which finally paved the way for the family too to comply with his decision. Thus he joined the St. Ephrem Theological Seminary in Mosul in 1946 at the age of 13 and was henceforth came to be called ‘Zakka’.

On November 28, 1948, young Zakka was ordained ‘Koroyoo’ (Deacon) by H. E. Mor Athanasius Touma Kasseer and on February 8, 1953, he was elevated to the rank of ‘Afodyaknoh’ (Half Deacon) by H.E. Mor Gregorios Paulos Behnam. The very next year he graduated with a diploma from the seminary.

June 6, 1954, is an important date in the life of His Holiness. The Holy father accepted the order of monastic life on that day. He was then 21. It was Mor Gregorios Paulos Behnam who ordained him Rabban (monk). His Holiness recalls this as a very special day in his life. He used to say that he always felt the God caring him greatly though his parents left him in his childhood; he prayed to God and He cared him greatly.

On December 18, 1955, the new monk was promoted to the rank of full deacon by H.E. Mor Divanasious Jirges Behanam. In the year 1955, he joined the Patriarchal Staff in Homs as an assistant to the Patriarchal Secretary.

Young Zakka’s performance in schools was always excellent; he consistently scored high marks. His elementary education was in the schools at the Al-Tahra Al-Dakhilyah’s church (Our Lady’s church) and Mor Touma’s school (St.Thomas school) at Mosul. In 1957 he graduated from the college with 97 % of marks. Thus he completed his studies with success on the fields of history, philosophy, theology and church-law. He advanced in Syriac, Arabic and English languages, and received diplomas in each of these fields.

Soon after the graduation, he joined the faculty of the seminary where he taught Syriac, Arabic and the Bible. Little later, Rabban Zakka was called to the Patriarchate by the then Patriarch of Antioch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem I, one of the most erudite scholars and efficient administrators the Church has seen in modern times. Rabban Zakka became the second, and later the first, Secretary to the Patriarch. After the demise of Moran Mor Aprem I, he continued as First Secretary to the new Patriarch, Moran Mor Ya`qub III.

On November 17, 1957, Patriarch Mor Ya`qub III ordained him a priest. On April 15, 1959, the
Patriarch decorated him with ‘the Holy cross of the grand monk’.

From 1955 to 1958 Rabban Zakka studied journalism as a part-time student and took a diploma in journalism. In 1960, he joined the General Theological College of the Episcopal Church in New York in the United States, where he studied oriental languages, philosophy and pastoral theology and mastered in the English language. The college, later in 1983, offered His Holiness an Honorary Doctorate in theology.

Rabban Zakka travelled widely, both on his own and in the company of Patriarch Ya`qub III. He was at that time fortunate to visit all the countries in the Middle East and the America. In 1962 and 1963 he was delegated by the late Patriarch to attend the two Sessions of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council as an observer. It was while at the Vatican that he was called to the Episcopal office.


On November 17, 1963, Rabban Zakka was ordained Metropolitan by the Patriarch Mor Ya`qub III for the Mosul Archbishopric with title ‘Severious’. Thus he came to be known as Mor Severios Zakka.

The very next year in 1964 he visited India along with the Patriarch where he participated in the Universal Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church, held in Kottayam. He later assisted the Patriarch Mor Ya`qub III during the consecration of the first canonical Catholicos of Malankara, Mor Baselios Augen I, on May 21, 1964.

Discovery of St. Thomas Relic

On September 1, 1964, during the renovation of the Madboho of the ancient St.Thomas Church at Mosul, Mor Severious Zakka discovered the remains of Apostle Thomas in the sanctuary wall. It was a memorable event in the Episcopal life of the Holy Father. In the first sermon of the Holy father when he visited India as Patriarch of Antioch in 1982 he said, “When we think of St. Thomas, our heart is particularly thrilled because we are very closely connected to St. Thomas. Even though St. Thomas enjoyed his martyrdom here in India, and was entombed in Mylapore, we were the Metropolitan of the church in which the holy relics of St. Thomas have been kept for the past many centuries. One day, unexpectedly, by the grace of God, we were led to reveal the Holy Relics of St. Thomas once again to humanity. It was unknown to the present generation, as to where the holy relic of St. Thomas was kept. But in 1964, according to the will of God, we were able to discover the Holy Relics which were kept in the walls of the sanctuary of our St. Thomas’ church in Mosul, Iraq which is the Cathedral church of our Archdiocese of Mosul.”

A portion of this Holy relic discovered by Mor Severios Zakka was presented to Malankara Church when Catholicos Mor Augen I paid a visit to the Patriarchate in 1965. In 1994, a small portion of the Holy Relic was again presented to Malankara to be kept at the ancient Mulanthuruthy Marthoman Church which is known as the 2nd Jerusalem of the Syrian Church. Three fathers of the Syrian Church who arrived from Near East were entombed in this church. The Holy Mooron was consecrated in this church once by Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Abded ’Aloho, in 1911. This ancient church has also been the venue for two historical Synods of the Malankara Church, one in 1876 and the other in 2004; both were held under the auspices of the Patriarchs of Antioch.

Involvement in Ecumenical Movements

In 1965, Mor Severios Zakka attended the Pan Orthodox meet at Adis Ababa. He was one of the 15 theologians from all over the world who met for the unofficial consultations between Oriental and Eastern Orthodox theologians in August 1964 and later. In 1968 Mor Severios attended the Lambeth Palace Conference as an observer. He participated in the consultation between Oriental and Eastern theologians, held again, in Geneva in 1970.

In 1969 Mor Severios assumed the charge of Baghdad & Basra Archdioceses. During this period he also served as the Head of Syriac Studies and a member of the educational academy in Bagdad. In the same year he was appointed to the membership of “Academy of Iraq Culture” and to the presidency of “Academy of Syrian Language and Culture”, besides being the Chairman of its Syriac Section and an honorary member of the pro-Oriente Organization in Vienna, Austria. In 1972 he was in Pro-Oriente, Vienna, to give a lecture on “The Church and the Ecumenical Synod.” Next year he addressed them again, this time on “What makes a Council legitimate and acceptable.” The topic of his address at the Pro-Orinete in 1976 was “The need for, and signs of, communion between local churches.” Following that he was granted their Fellowship. He was also given the rare privilege of preaching in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, in the presence of the Cardinal and other Roman Catholic dignitaries, the first Syrian Orthodox Bishop to be so honoured. In 1976, 1978 and 1979 he served as a consultant on the Pontifical Commission for revision of Oriental Canon Law in the Roman Catholic Church.

At Nairobi in 1975 Mor Severios was elected to the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, which position he held till his enthronement as Patriarch in 1980. From 1995 onwards, His Holiness the Patriarch, is one of the Presidents of the World Council of Churches.

Major Contributions

The Holy father who has an Honorary Doctor’s Degree in Syriac Literature from Sweden (Institute of Oriental Studies) and Diploma in Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law, has many works to his credit. He has published a series of text books for use in Christian schools. Some of his other major works are ‘Doctrine of Incarnation and Salvation’, ‘The Seven Sacraments’ (co-authored with Metropolitan Haksaka), ‘Yakoub III: Life and Apostolic Visit to Middle East and Latin America’, ‘Apostolic Visit of Yacoub III to North America’, ‘The Dove by Bar Ebraya, transalation from Syriac to Arabic, with footnotes and a foreword on the theme of monastic life’, ‘Mor Aphrem the Syrian’ (published by the Ministry of Information, Government of Iraq, in 1974 on the occasion of St. Aphrem’s Jubilee), ‘Mor Jacob of Edessa’ (633-708 AD), ‘Mor Dionysius Talmahari’ (ninth century), ‘Story of Seven Sleepers-a perspective from Syriac Sources’, ‘Syrian Orthodox Church through the Ages’, ‘Syriac literature in the sixth century’, ‘Bar Hibarius’. Among his important addresses includes “Syrian Orthodox Church and Ecumenical Movement”, “Position and Role of Women in the Church”, “Religious Virtues and Family Welfare”.

Additional Charges as Metropolitan

As Metropolitan of Mosul the Holy Father took special interest in youth activities. Under him, the diocese flourished spiritually and materially. In 1967 he was given additional charge of the European Diocese. In 1969 he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Baghdad and Basra, perhaps the most prestigious archbishopric in the Middle East. In Baghdad he built churches and opened secondary schools and high schools. As in Mosul, in Baghdad also he took keen interest in the spiritual life of the youth.
Following the demise of H.E. Thimotheos Yacoub, Metropolitan Mor Severious Zakka was given the additional charge of the ancient monastery of St. Mathew (Mor Mattai Dayro) in Iraq. In 1976, he was appointed as the Metropolitan of Middle Europe and Scandinavian countries and in 1978 Mor Severios Zakka was given additional responsibility for the new diocese in Australia. He consecrated several churches and organized congregations in Melbourne, Sydney and a few other places.

On June 26, 1980, the Patriarch Mor Ya`qub III passed away and was entombed at the St. George Cathedral, Damascus. Consequent to this, the Episcopal Synod was called to choose the new successor to the Apostolic See. The Holy Synod held on July 11, 1980, with His Beatitude the Catholicos of the East Mor Baselios Paulose II in the chair, unanimously elected Mor Severios Zakka, Archbishop of Baghdad and Basra as the new Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. This marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the Church.

Patriarchal Enthronement

On September 14, 1980, Mor Severios was installed as the 122nd Patriarch of Antioch & all the East, by name IGNATIUS ZAKKA I, in a rite officiated by the late lamented Catholicos of the East Aboon Mor Baselios Paulose II, along with the archbishops of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church. It was for the first time in the history of the Universal Syrian Church that the chief celebrant for the Patriarchal enthronement was an Indian.

Since that blessed day, the Syrian Orthodox Church has witnessed a remarkable revival through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the pastoral care of H. H. Ignatius Zakka I Iwas. The 25 years of Mor Ignatius Zakka’s Patriarchate have been eventful and significant. In his very first address after adorning the Patriarchate, he stressed the need for a major seminary and centre for the Church. This was a great dream of the new Patriarch. The Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate after moving from the Monastery of Mor Hananyo (Deir ez-Za`faran/Kurkumo Dayro) in Turkey, to Syria in the last century, lacked a proper centre in the new circumstances. It was the Holy fathers’ vision that filled this gap. He acquired extensive lands, about 20 miles away from Old Damascus, where he built a magnificent Seminary with all facilities for theological students, accommodations for the visiting dignitaries, residence of the Patriarch etc.. Though officially, the Patriarchate still functions in the St. George Cathedral, Bab Touma, in the city of Damascus, His Holiness resides at the Mor Ephrem Seminary in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya, in the suburb of Damascus, Syria.

The Church which was in turmoil for a while because of persecution, is now witnessing a revival with establishment of churches and institutions in all parts of the world where the Syrian Christians has migrated. The largest congregation of the Church outside the Middle East and India is now situated at Germany where about 100,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians has settled. Similarly the Church has grown to other nations like Holland, Australia, USA, Canada and South America. And in all such countries, Monasteries, churches and other institutions have come up. Young bishops selected and ordained by the Holy father increased the pace of growth in all these places.

Despite his busy schedule, His Holiness has written many articles on a variety of subjects, in Syriac, Arabic and English. Selected articles and sermons of the Holy Father is to be published soon by the St. George Church, Chicago.

Another major achievement of the Holy Father is his close relationship with the other Churches and communities. The relationship with the Roman Catholic and the Byzantine Orthodox Churches were rewritten during his tenure. The Oriental Orthodox family came closer. From 1998, heads of the 3 Oriental Churches in Middle East – the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon) – meet regularly every year; two of such meetings were held at our Seminary in Ma`arat Sayyidnaya. Another meeting of the heads of Oriental Churches will soon meet in December again at the Mor Ephrem Seminary. For many decades, the Church is involved in the activities of the World Council of Churches in which both Episcopal and Non-Episcopal Churches are members. The Holy Father is now one of the honorary Presidents of the World Council.

The apostolic visits of His Holiness to India thrice, in 1982, 2002 and 2004, and to the various Archdioceses in the Middle East, Americas and Europe have been most successful. It was during the 2004 apostolic visit, the Holy father consecrated the new headquarters of the Church in India in co-operation with His Beatitude the Catholicos and the Metropolitans.

On July 26th 2002, His Holiness installed Mor Dionysius Thomas, the president of the Episcopal Synod of Indian Church, as the Catholicos of India with the title Baselios Thomas I. This was a great event in the history of the Church in India. The new Catholicos was consecrated as the immediate successor to the late Mor Baselios Paulose II who led the enthronement ceremony of His Holiness in 1980. Now the Holy Synod of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church consists of 41 prelates besides the Patriarch and the Catholicos, of which 22 were ordained by our Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas.

Biography of the Holy father prepared by John Philip Kottapparambil, India

Ukrainian crisis may split Russian Orthodox Church | National Catholic Reporter

Sophia Kishkovsky  | 

Ukrainian crisis may split Russian Orthodox church | National Catholic Reporter

Archbishop Soroka - Religious fault lines underlie Ukraine-Russia tensions - Catholic Philly, Lou Baldwin

March 26th, 2014, By Lou Baldwin

Three archbishops — Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox — joined together in prayers for peace at Philadelphia’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Sunday, March 16.

This was not unusual, at least for the United States, according to Archbishop Stefan Soroka, who is Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archeparchy (Archdiocese) of Philadelphia and the leader of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States.

He was joined that day by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and by Archbishop Antony, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States as well as a congregation of 500 mostly Ukrainian-Americans. (See a related story here.)

The prayers were in the wake of the overthrow of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine and the subsequent secession of Crimea from Ukraine and its annexation by Russia. Crimea, a peninsula in south Ukraine, hosts a heavily ethnic Russian population.

The annexation has been widely condemned by most world leaders amid fears that Russia may attempt to annex other areas of Ukraine that have ethnic Russian populations.

“We offer in America something that I know they wonder about (in Ukraine),” Archbishop Soroka said in a March 24 interview with CatholicPhilly.com. “Our Ukrainian Catholic Church and our Ukrainian Orthodox Church here in America have been meeting for years. We meet every year for two or three days to discuss issues of concern. Our focus is not trying to resolve our differences but to understand one another. The more we come together, the more we realize how little difference there really is.

“When we meet, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Ukraine are champing at the bit for our press release even before it is out. We are an example to them how different churches can come together.”

As a matter of fact, Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S. willingly meet and pray with all denominations, Christian and non-Christian, something that is less likely to happen in Ukraine and Russia, according to Archbishop Soroka.

In Ukraine the majority religion is Orthodox, which by one estimate (Britannica 2014 Year Book) is composed of Ukrainian Orthodox at 19 percent, Russian Orthodox (Ukrainian Church of the Moscow Patriarchy) 9 percent and other Orthodox or unaffiliated Orthodox at 16 percent.

About 6 percent are Ukrainian (Greek) Catholics and about 2 percent are Roman (Latin) Catholics.

Probably as a result of harsh religious persecution under seven decades of communism, about 42 percent of the people are unchurched.

If there seems to be a larger number of Catholic Ukrainians in America than these figures would suggest, there is a reason, according to Archbishop Soroka, who relates the experience of his own family.

Most Catholics in Ukraine live near the western border near Poland, in an area that was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. Many of the people were taken captive and sent to Austria and Germany to slave labor camps. This was the experience of Archbishop Soroka’s parents.

After the war many of these captives, especially religious people, ignored orders to return to Ukraine under communism and instead kept moving west and ultimately migrated to places like France, England, Australia, New Zealand the United States and Canada.

To read the full article, visit Catholic Philly

Religious fault lines underlie Ukraine-Russia tensions - Catholic Philly

Thursday 27 March 2014

Violence Against Christian Copts in Egypt Continues Despite Fall of Muslim Brotherhood

By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter, March 26, 2014

Violence in Egypt against Coptic Christians has continued despite the fall of former president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, with believers still facing abductions and the
government seizing their property, the Board of Inquiry in Cairo reported.

The report, according to Fides News Agency, shows that Copts, who make up close to 10 percent of the population, are continuing to face "endemic forms of violence and abuse" in many parts of Egypt, particularly in the governorates of Luxor, Sohag and Aswan.

"The worrying scenario has been reconstructed in detail on the basis of meetings with community representatives, civil society organizations and material provided which witness this phenomena of violence," Fides reported.

See the full report on AINA & Fides here:

Violence Against Christian Copts in Egypt Continues Despite Fall of Muslim Brotherhood

TURKEY Orthodox church vandalised in Istanbul - Asia News

by NAT da Polis, 26 March 2014

A group of youth break into a church. After causing mayhem, they stole sacred objects and left two pro-Kurdish party flags. The incident could be a pre-election provocation. The police refuses to act. Patriarch Bartholomew reacts with pain and anger.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - A group of young thugs, apparently from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), vandalised an Orthodox Christian church in Istanbul. Although informed of the incident, the police refused to intervene.

The desecration took place last Sunday. The church, Agia Paraskevi, is located in ​​ Kazlıçeşme, just outside Constantinople's ancient Byzantine walls (photo by Nikos Manginas).

The church is famous for its spring of water, deemed holy according to Eastern Byzantine tradition
Church custodian Athanasios Ozkaremihologlu said that a bunch of young men forced their way through the building's front door. After causing mayhem, they took several sacred objects and the bell of the historic church.

Eventually, he sought refuge at a nearby police station. However, the agents on duty at the time refused to intervene, saying that such action would make matters worse.

The regrettable act of vandalism took place a week before next Sunday's local elections, during celebrations marking Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which falls on the first day of spring, and is widely celebrated across the region.

Before leaving the holy place, the vandals left two HDP flags. The party has many Kurdish members. For some observers, incidents like this one are nothing new. Acts of provocation are commonplace at election time.

In fact, Turkish voters are getting ready to cast their ballots next Sunday, a vote that will determine the fate of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has ruled the country since 2002.

When informed of the incident, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I expressed his regrets and indignation, calling on law enforcement agencies to shed light on what happened.

TURKEY Orthodox church vandalised in Istanbul - Asia News

RUSSIA - UKRAINE Moscow Patriarchate slams Ukrainian Catholic 'Uniates' for "meddling" in politics and taking a pro-West stance - Asia News

The positioning of the Moscow Patriarchate speaks for itself, except to say that it is calculated to provoke the Ukrainian Catholic Church, in directing its "grievance" to Rome, by treating it as a mere subset of the Roman Catholic Church instead of treating it as a Self-Ruling Church with its own Head. It's worth pointing out that in doing so Moscow is effectively treating the Roman papacy as an appellate authority for redress - it cannot thus mean to recognise to recognise primacy at the universal level of the Church by appealing to its authority in respect of a sister Church with which it is in dispute, surely?

03/26/2014, by Nina Achmatova

Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Department for External Church Relations, slams Catholic Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv for his positions. He also says he asked the Holy See for explanations. Diplomacy is faltering over the religious divisions.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Moscow Patriarchate strongly condemned the Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church in Ukraine for "meddling" in politics, in the current crisis in the country. For its part, Russia continues to accuse the Ukraine of "religious intolerance," a charge the latter sharply rejects, noting instead how all religious denominations have come together to oppose violence and express support for Europe.

For Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and his predecessor, Lubomyr Husar, took a "very clear position from the beginning of the civil conflict, which grew unfortunately into an armed bloody conflict".

In his view, the Uniates not only advocated integration with Europe, "but even called for Western countries to intervene more decisively in the situation in Ukraine."

Speaking on The Church and the world, a programme on the Russia-24 TV channel, Hilarion also noted that "Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk and [. . .] Filaret (Denisenko) even went to the United States, [. . .] to the State Department and asked for US intervention in Ukrainian affairs."

Excommunicated by the Moscow Patriarchate, Filaret is the head of the breakaway Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate.

In early February, Archbishop Shevchuk spoke before the US Congress. On that occasion, he said that the Ukraine situation transcended politics and asked for US mediation to resolve the crisis.

Conversely, for Hilarion, the Greek-Catholic Church is a major obstacle in relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Holy See.

The Orthodox, he said, have always perceived the Uniates in a very negative light, "as a special project by the Catholic Church," because "they dress like Orthodox, follow Orthodox rituals, but are in fact Catholic," which gives them and the Vatican a certain leeway.

When he asked a Catholic official for an explanation about the show of support from the Greek-Catholic Church for the breakaway Orthodox Church, the only answer Hilarion said he got was "We do not control them."

For his part, Shevchuk, who recently met with Pope Francis, bemoans the disappearances of people in Ukraine, who were "abducted and tortured" by the Berkut, the special police in the government of ousted president Yanukovych.

Moscow and Kyiv also continue to trade barbs over religion. The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture has rejected Russian accusations of "religious intolerance" with regards to alleged threats and seizure of parishes that are under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine.

According to the ministry's Religious Affairs Department, no such actions have taken place. On the contrary, during protests at Maiden (Independence) Square, "all the churches, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Church," came out to defend the people and show their support for a pro-European orientation in the country's development.

Likewise, Kyiv has denied claims by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian government that the country is in a civil war.

Instead, Russia continues to be under diplomatic pressure to avoid a wider Ukrainian crisis, following its annexation of the Crimea.

In fact, US President Barack Obama is in Brussels for a summit with EU leaders Barroso and Van Rompuy to discuss possible new sanctions.

RUSSIA - UKRAINE Moscow Patriarchate slams Ukrainian Catholic 'Uniates' for "meddling" in politics and taking a pro-West stance - Asia News