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• Kiev, Ukraine

The Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), meeting in the Kiev-Pechersk Monastery in Kiev, announced on June 28th the convening of a Council of that Church beginning July 8, 2011 in Kiev. The only previous Council of that Autonomous Church was held in 1992. Diocesan meetings are currently being held to elect clergy and lay delegates to the Council, which will also include all members of the episcopate of the UOC, representatives from the monasteries and seminaries, as well as the heads of Synodal agencies.

According to the official website of the UOC-MP the Council will reflect on Church life over the past 19 years, which has seen a significant increase in the number of dioceses and parishes, as well as the structures of the institutions of the Church, and in the administration of the Church. The Council is expected to approve recent resolutions adopted by the Synod and its Council of Bishops, make changes to its Charter and “determine future plans”.

In addition to announcing the forthcoming Council, the Ukrainian Synod agreed to changes in the composition of its Supreme Rada (somewhat akin to the OCA’s Metropolitan Council), adding civil administrators, such as the UOC member of Parliament and the Commissioner of Higher Education to the body.

The Synod also excommunicated Dr. Valentin Lukianik, Chairman of an Orthodox Brotherhood, which “supports close ties with the Orthodox-patriotic organizations in Russia”. Lukianik’s activities were condemned as “anti-church, destructive and disquieting to the church and society.” Based on the Gospel of Matthew (18:17), the 31st and 55th Apostolic Canons, the 8th rule of the IV Ecumenical Council and the 64th rule of VI Ecumenical Council, Lukianik was suspended from communion until he offers a sincere public confession. The Synod announced that it is “impossible to participate in any actions organized Lukianik and still be in the Church”, citing the 10th Apostolic Canon as well.

Specifically the Synod faulted Lukianik and his supporters for “destructive activity” and “violent disobedience.” The Synod noted that Lukianik and his followers did not obey the decisions of the hierarchy of the UOC MP condemning “political Orthodoxy” (December 21, 2007) and continued “political activity” under the guise of “false concern for the church and for believers.” In this way they have sown discord in the church community and distrust of the clergy and the hierarchy. They were condemned for “artificially fomenting panic and fear in connection with the new identification instruments of citizens”, preached “false eschatological views,” as well as their own ideas and views on the general church issues that “directly contradicted the official position of the Church.”

• Detroit, MI

The Detroit Free Press ran a story by staff writer Niraj Warikoo on June 22nd entitled “ Hundreds of local Syrians support regime at Dearborn rally" that featured a photo with the caption:

“At Tuesday rally for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, three Christian priests sit in front row, including Fr. George Shalhoub of St. Mary Orthodox Church in Livonia. He’s talking with Syrian Ambassador to the US Imad Moustapha, on his left.”

The story reads:

“In a loud and lively rally, more than 500 Syrian and Lebanese people packed a Dearborn hall Tuesday night in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government has cracked down on protesters in recent weeks.

“With our blood, with our souls, we will sacrifice for you, Bashar,” the crowd chanted several times in Arabic during the nearly three-hour rally.

But the event -- which featured a talk by Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Imad Moustapha -- drew sharp criticism from other Syrians in metro Detroit who say Assad is a dictator who has repressed peaceful demonstrators.

And they questioned why such a rally was held when there is mounting criticism of the Syrian government for its actions.

“It’s sad,” Dr. Yahya Basha, a Syrian American from West Bloomfield, said of the rally. “I hope they won’t stand on the wrong side of history. Assad is on the wrong side of history and of humanity.”

Inside the Lebanese-American Heritage Club, a standing-room-only crowd that was mostly Christian or Shia Muslim banged drums, chanted pro-Assad slogans and whistled as speakers declared their support for Assad. In Syria, more than 1,400 people are said to have been killed by government forces and thousands others detained, human rights activists say.

But at Tuesday’s rally, speakers slammed the uprisings in Syria and said Assad was trying to prevent his country from turning into Iraq. Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab-American News, said it’s important to support Syria’s government because the alternative would lead to chaos in the region.

“They are destroying it,” Stephanie Hanna, 14, said of Syrian opposition to the crowd at the Dearborn rally. “They want to turn Syria into Iraq. ... What kind of freedom do they want? The freedom to kill people in the army?”

To loud cheers of approval, Stephanie said: “We have great leaders. ... Syria, in the end, will triumph.”

Stephanie is Orthodox Christian, as were many at the rally. Three Arab Christian priests, including the Rev. George Shalhoub of St. Mary Orthodox Church in Livonia, were at the rally and sat in the front to show their support for Assad.

Many Syrian Christians tend to support Assad because he has protected their community and has been generally secular, they say. They fear an unstable Syria or an Islamist takeover that would threaten them.

The other sizable group at the rally were Shia Muslims of Syrian and Lebanese descent. Assad is Alawite, which is considered a part of Shia Islam, and he has been close to the Shia leadership in Iran and in Lebanon. For years, Assad and his father backed Lebanese Shia groups.

Some speakers and people declared their support for both Assad and Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese Shia leader of the group Hizballah.

Many at the rally wore T-shirts with photos of Assad imposed on a Syrian flag. Underneath, it read: “We love you.” Others waved Syrian flags, small and big.

On the wall hung a large banner with a photo of a smiling Assad, his hand waving to the crowd. It read: “Syria Believes in You.”

Moustapha, the ambassador, referred to some opponents of Assad as terrorists, saying they wanted to create tensions between Muslims and Christians.

But Basha, the doctor from West Bloomfield, said before the rally of Moustapha: “He’s going to lie. ... He evades questions and doesn’t answer with facts.”

Basha noted that Syria has been ruled for more than 40 years by the Assad family, which he said has cracked down on some of his family members over the years. It’s time for a change, he said.

Basha also noted that the Syrian government has banned foreign news media from entering Syria. He said he wonders how long the Assad regime can continue committing crimes against the Syrian people. “It’s outrageous,” Basha said.

But at the rally, speaker after spearer declared their support for the Syrian ruler.

“Radical armed groups are trying to destroy the country,” said Dr. Tamam Mohamad, 34, of Detroit.

“We support the unity” of Syria.”


• Howell, New Jersey

Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) informed the Council of ROCOR’s Eastern Diocese on June 28th “that at the last meeting of the ROCOR Sobor of Bishops, the Sobor resolved that one outcome of our unification with the Moscow Patriarchate was the normalization of relations with other Orthodox Churches. ROCOR, as an inseparable part of the Russian Orthodox Church, is in Eucharistic communion with all of the remaining canonical Local Orthodox Churches.” This list officially includes the OCA. An encyclical to this effect has been published on the Eastern Diocese’s website and sent to all clergy. (Read that here.)

+Hilarion also officially announced that the “Entrance of the Theotokos Convent” in Washington DC, headed by Abbess Aemiliane received a "canonical release" from Metropolitan Jonah and has been received into the Eastern American Diocese from the Orthodox Church in America.

• Bronxville, NY

Bishop Michael of New York & New Jersey has issued a pastoral letter to his clergy and faithful regarding marriage in the light of New York's recent recognition of same-sex marriage. You can read the full text of the statement in the Reflections section here.  You can read a second Reflection on the issue by Fr. Robert Arida here.

In related news, in an interview on June 29th in Moscow, the Secretary of the Theological Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate, Fr. Vladimir Schmal stated that: "Homosexuality, if it is not realized in practice, is not even a sin."

"Legalizing same-sex marriage - it's very sad, because it is one more step towards transfering homosexuality and homosexual acts from the category of socially tolerable deviations to the category of socially and legally recognized as the norm,"

"Towards people who have an un-traditional sexual orientations Christians act with sympathy and compassion, because homosexuality itself, if it is not realized in practice, is not even a sin, but rather a painful illness or sinful tendency" he continued.

Archpriest Vladimir stated that "a person with a homosexual orientation may well be a good Christian. Moreover, homosexuality, for some, can be a cross to bear and a kind of test, like any other illness or sinful inclination, which Christians need to fight. But homosexual relations - are an undisputable sin. And, here, references to innateness, and to people with a homosexual orientation needing sexual relations and homosexual marriage, are absolutely unacceptable."

"Legalizing same-sex marriage - is another sad evidence of traditional society's departure from moral values. They speak of permitting sin through legislation. Legalizing the so-called same-sex marriage, from the standpoint of Christianity, means one more step in the legislative consolidation of immoral forms of social behavior. This decision reinforces, in society's consciousness, the admissibility of such relationship -- if you will, to some extent even promotes them. I think this decision is also detrimental to the moral health of the younger generation."


• Anchorage, Alaska

The long Alaskan Diocesan nomination process has taken yet another turn. A leading candidate, Archimandrite Juvenaly (Repass), a former monk at St. Tikhon’s monastery and current instructor at St. Herman’s Seminary, nominated unanimously by all four Yupik deanerirs and a majority of the Alaskan clergy, was not cleared to become a candidate by the Synod at its recent meeting in Syosset last week.

To date, though, no names of potential candidates have been published to the diocese beyond that of Archimandrite Gerasim (Eliel), who has expressed his desire to complete his degree at St. Vladimir’s this coming year. It is now widely expected by Alaskan clergy that the nominating assembly in Anchorage in July will most likely return a vote of “None of the Above”, rather than the name of a candidate.  It has been suggested that in lieu of a bishop being nominated a new administrator would be appointed for the Diocese.

• Washington DC

Metropolitan Jonah has approved the name of Fr. Valery Shemchuk, the current associate Pastor, to assume the duties of acting Dean at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington DC. The search for a Dean of Metropolitan Jonah’s cathedral, since the departure of the former Dean, Fr. Joseph Fester, last month, has been difficult. Multiple candidates have refused consideration. Fr. Fester was recently released from the OCA and according to reports, will be serving the former Carpatho-Russian parish of the newly-elected Bishop of Chicago, Matthias, on Long Island.

• Syosset, NY

At their recent Synod meeting the Bishops agreed that they would not put forward a member of the episcopacy to be Chancellor as was previously suggested in Chicago. Rather, agreement was reached that the Chancellor should indeed be a priest. The new Chancellor must be appointed by the Synod upon recommendation of the Metropolitan Council, according to Statute. It is expected that an official posting soliciting nominations for the open position, as has been the case in the former search four years ago, will be posted sometime this summer on

- Mark Stokoe



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