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News From Around the Orthodox World

• New York, NY

Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have signed a declaration saying they would not cooperate with laws that they claim could be used to compel religious institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or recognize same-sex couples.  The declaration is described by the NY Times as "an effort to rejuvenate the political alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelicals that dominated the religious debate during the administration of President George W. Bush." The signers included 9 Roman Catholic archbishops and Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of the Orthodox Church in America. (Read the full NY Times story here.)

• Syosset, NY

The OCA Chancery has announced several significant changes in its administration. Metropolitan Jonah has eliminated the position of the Director of Communications and Ministries, thereby eliminating the quadrapartite structure adopted two years ago by the Reorganization Committee.  Fr. Andrew Jarmus, the current Communications and Ministries Director, will continue in that position through the end of the calendar year.  A special committee under the Metropolitan leadership will reconsider the tasks in that position and will begin an evaluation of the OCA’s entire communications area. Members of this “special committee” were not announced.

In other chancery changes, Fr. Samuel Gantt’s employment at the chancery OCA will also end on Dec. 31, 2009. Fr. Gannt had been asked to develop several special projects. Finally,Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov will be relocating to the West Coast after Christmas, and will no longer serve as the Metropolitan’s deacon. He will continue to oversee the OCA website as well begin to oversee the OCA’s Diaconal Vocations Program.

• Moscow, Russia

Patriarch Kirill of Russia recently presented a report before an assembly of rectors of Russian Orthodox theological schools, which included the following comments:  

“We constantly speak about “obedience” in  our theological schools. But does not this mask a desire to obtain totally obedient and intimidated individuals incapable of speaking up before authorities under any circumstances? Do we not, along with obedience, inoculate them to act like toadies and kow-towing hypocrites? Can such a person be a spiritually unimpeded and a responsible pastor, a true leader of their flock? We both know too well that how often, behind a noble external facade there lurks hypocrisy, pretense and cynicism. I am now reading some of your reports asking about canonical procedures for coping with certain clerics. I also read correspondence from the laity. I sometimes wonder what kind of priests some of these people are. I read all this with a heavy heart. Somewhere and somehow these priests received their formation. They didn’t drop from the heavens. The majority of these are seminary graduates; some even finished an academy. We both know what hypocrisy and cynicism can be found in Church circles.
We must prepare and educate neither slaves nor rebels but free and at the same time, responsible people. Freedom does not mean a lack of discipline. Freedom must, primarily be an internal freedom, a freedom in Christ. We must be convinced that all restrictions and burdens placed sacred ministers are accepted by them consciously and voluntarily. This recognition of the voluntary acceptance of the burden of the Cross must be a characteristic of every priest since, the taking up of the Cross is inherent in the very desire to be a priest.
Discipline must first of all be self-discipline and obedience to the hierarchy must not be motivated by fear but by a firm and conscious adherence to Tradition, as a preservation of the divinely established structure of the Church. This canonical discipline and obedience is not something dreamed up by the present hierarchy. This is a principle from the Lord himself. It lies in the foundation of Church life and every priest must understand this clearly. Every seminarian must understand this before his ordination, that he is entering upon a path of obedience.” 

• Washington, DC

National Public Radio (NPR) recently broadcast the following story about the culture of corruption in Romania, in which the Romanian Orthodox Church sadly played a major role (November 12) . Concerning the Church, NPR reported:

"...Corruption and bribes are part of nearly every aspect of Romanian life: medical care, justice, education, even religion.

In one recent, high-profile case, Razvan Chiruta, a reporter with Romania Libera newspaper, and a colleague went undercover as prospective priests. They videotaped Archbishop Theodosius of Constanta, one of the highest officials in the Romanian Orthodox Church, allegedly agreeing to sell them positions in the priesthood.

Chiruta says they were told to pay $4,500, but it can go up to nearly $75,000 depending on where you are.

"It depends where you become a priest. If you become a priest in the countryside, it's cheaper," he says.

Old Mentality Fuels Corruption

In another case, nothing has happened so far to the former Romanian minister of agriculture, Decebal Traian Remes. Prosecutors caught him on tape allegedly using his ministry to steer lucrative contracts to a friend in exchange for about $20,000, a new car, 200 pounds of pork sausage and about 50 gallons of plum brandy.

Laura Stefan is the anti-corruption coordinator for a Romanian think tank, the Romanian Academic Society.

"There were discussions in forums on the Internet, and one guy was saying, 'OK now we know how much the minister of agriculture is worth. I would like to buy the minister of finance — how much would that be?' " she says.

Stefan says the corruption problem is so pervasive in the country that it is almost unbelievable.

"We're not only fighting the communist mentality and the communist networks, which are still in place. We're fighting a mentality which is as long as [Romanian history]," she says.

"When you are in power, nobody should dare ask you questions. 'How dare you ask us what we do with the money. It's our business. I'm the minister; I decide,' " Stefan says.

The pork and brandy scandal became the butt of jokes in Romania....

Civic Accountability Needed

Dan Turturica is editor of Romania Libera, the Bucharest daily that broke the story of the allegedly corrupt archbishop. He says it is up to ordinary Romanians to demand accountability and transparency.

"This is democracy in its very essence. A protest should start immediately from the citizens who can't take it anymore. There is no other way," he says.

But 20 years after the revolution, there is little indication Romanians are clamoring for an end to corruption.

Turturica says after his paper exposed the cash-for-clergy scandal, readers responded with criticism calling the series slanderous — and a leading priest went on live television and denounced the reporters as unpatriotic atheists." (Read the full story here.)

• Belgrade, Serbia

Bishop Irenij of Australia published a letter on November 11th announcing that the former Bishop of Sitka and Alaska, Nikolai, had been received into the jurisdiction of the Serbian Church. He writes:

In accordance with the decision of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church SASno. 1170/zap.823 of September 7, 2009, I am honored to inform you that the Holy Synod of our most holy Church has deigned to approve the petition of His Grace the retired Bishop of Alaska of the Orthodox Church in America Nikolai (Soraich) and accept him into the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

By the same decision of the Holy Synod His Grace Bishop Grigorije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina has been requested to find Bishop Nikolai accommodation in his Diocese with permission to serve therein for his own spiritual needs.”

However, informed sources have indicated to that the Australian Bishop has overstated the facts. Metropolitan +Amfilohije, Chairman of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Synod, has written to the  OCA that Nikolai will not be fully accepted until all of the OCA’s conditions for his release have been met. This would include a formal renunication of all the Bishop’s current and future legal claims against the OCA for actions taken during his service in the OCA. The Bishop, who is suffering from prostrate cancer, currently has a multi-million lawsuit against the OCA for his forced retirement in 2009.

• Tampa, Florida and Crestwood, NY

A tale of two cassocks reveals the problems of proper attire for Orthodox clergy in modern America. The Tampa Bay News reports on November 10th:

Marine reservist was charged with attacking a Greek Orthodox priest he  mistook for a terrorist.

Jasen D. Bruce allegedly hit 29-year-old Alexios Marakis over the head with a tire iron and chased him for three blocks Monday evening before Tampa police officers intervened.

Marakis, a Greek Orthodox priest visiting from Crete, told police he had stopped to ask the 28-year-old reservist for help after getting lost in downtown Tampa. He had just performed a blessing of another priest and accidentally got off the highway.

Marakis approached Bruce as he was unloading his dry-cleaning, police said.

“Please, please help,” Marakis said to Bruce in his limited English.

Bruce pulled out a tire iron and attacked the priest, police said. He then called 911 as he chased Marakis, saying an Arabic man was trying to rob him. When officers arrived, Bruce told them the man was a terrorist.

Bruce also told police he heard Marakis yell, “Allahu akbar!” _ Arabic for “God is great,” according to Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Marakis, however, does not speak Arabic, McElroy said. He speaks Greek.

Police are working to determine if the offense meets the standard for a hate crime.

Authorities could not immediately provide the name of Bruce’s attorney.

Meanwhile, at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, NY, the Dean and Chancellor of the school announced the following policy change on November 8th:

“We have received notice from His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah, as the President of the Seminary, a stavropegial institution of the OCA, that OCA clergy under his omophor are expected to be attired in appropriate dress during their time here, that is, in cassock (with vest as optional), riason in Church, and, if ordained as a priest, their pectoral cross. “Civvies” may be worn at family events and other such events at their discretion and under the supervision of the Rector and Vice-Rector; there is no need for a clerical collar. This is effective immediately.”

-Mark Stokoe


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