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  • Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas Amid Internal Divisions
    RFE/RL January 07, 2019 16:50 GMT
    Faithful Celebrate Orthodox Christmas In Former Soviet Republics

    Most Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas as believers gathered in Moscow, Kyiv, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Cairo, and cities throughout the world to mark in the holy day.

    Catholics as well Orthodox churches in Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria celebrate Christmas on December 25 under the Gregorian calendar.

    The Armenian Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on January 6.

    The January 7 celebrations come amid tensions between the largest Orthodox denomination-- the Russian church-- and the spiritual headquarters for the Orthodox faith in Istanbul.

    The Istanbul headquarters, known as the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, recently backed an effort by Ukraine to establish its own Orthodox church, independent of Moscow.

    Patriarch Bartholomew on January 6 handed over a document known as a "tomos" to the head of the new Ukrainian church, Metropolitan Epifaniy, at a ceremony in Istanbul on January 6.

    Hundreds of Ukrainians lined up at Kyiv's St. Sophia Cathedral complex on January 7 to view the document enshrining the newly gained independence of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

    "For the first time, we celebrate Christmas with an independent autocephalous church," President Petro Poroshenko said after attending services in St. Sophia Cathedral.

    "It is the basis of our spiritual freedom, we broke the last fetters tying us to Moscow," he added.
    Servicemen of the Interior Ministry of Belarus stand in line to kiss a cross during a service to celebrate Orthodox Christmas at a military base in Minsk on January 7.

    Efforts by Ukrainians to establish an independent church intensified after Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and began supporting separatists shortly thereafter in parts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

    Orthodox churches, including those in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, and Jerusalem are among Orthodox and Eastern Rite churches that celebrate Christmas observing the old Julian calendar. Currently (19012099), the Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.

    Catholics as well Orthodox churches in Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria celebrate Christmas on December 25 under the Gregorian calendar.

    The Armenian Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on January 6.

    In St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 7 presented the Transfiguration Cathedral with the icon of Christ Pantocrator as a Christmas gift, while Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia's Orthodox Church, conducted services in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

    Attendance at midnight Christmas Mass has become a tradition for Russian leaders -- some of whom, like longtime KGB officer Putin, were staunch supporters of the communist system during the Soviet era.

    Meanwhile, Putin fired a cannon in his native St. Petersburg to mark Christmas. Together with Putin, 85-year-old Vladimir Bendet pulled the lever on the howitzer that fires a daily noontime salute at the Petropavlovsk Fortress on the banks of the Neva River.

    In Bethlehem, hundreds of people marked Christmas on January 7 with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III at the Church of the Nativity, which was established on ground traditionally recognized as Jesus's birth site.

    Palestinian police stood guard as several dozen demonstrators shouted "traitor" in protest of the Greek Orthodox Church's sale of property in mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem to groups promoting Jewish settlements.

    Israeli purchases of church land and property in east Jerusalem have angered Palestinians -- including many Orthodox Christians -- who consider the territory to be the capital of their future state. Israel has annexed east Jerusalem, but the move has not been recognized by the international community.

    In Cairo, Egypt's president in a symbolic gesture inaugurated a new cathedral for the Coptic Orthodox Church and one of the region's largest mosques. It comes at a time when Islamic militants are increasingly targeting the country's minority Christians in deadly terror attacks.

    Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has spoken of sectarian harmony as a major policy goal, but he has still faced criticism for not doing enough to protect Christian and other minorities.

    "This is a historic and important moment. But we still have to protect the tree of love we planted here together today because seditions never end," the president said from inside the cathedral.

    With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and TASS
    NOTE: This article has been amended to clarify that some Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar on December 25.

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    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


    • The Pope expresses concern about the conflict in the Donbas
      UAWIRE January 8, 2019 4:00:03 PM

      On Monday, January 7, Pope Francis expressed his concern about the conflict in the east of Ukraine during the New Year's reception of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. He also added that in the conflict that has been going on for five years, new alarming events in the Black Sea recently occurred. However, he did not mention Russia.

      The head of the Roman Catholic Church urged adherence to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and called for respect for international law, which he called the foundation of security and coexistence in the region. The Pope said they were important tools to ensure the free exercise of religious rights.

      Pope Francis has promised to continue earlier humanitarian projects to help Ukrainian citizens suffering from the conflict and especially in the eastern regions of the country. He announced his intention to draw even more attention to other humanitarian issues, one of which concerns the fate of numerous prisoners.

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      • Tomos for Ukraine Church signed by all members of Constantinople Synod
        Now, the document has been finalized.
        UNIAN: 12:25, 09 January 2019

        On January 9, in Istanbul, members of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate signed off the tomos of autocephaly of the newly-established Orthodox Church of Ukraine, thus granting it canonical independence.

        Now, the document has been finalized, TSN wrote, posting a photo report from a signing ceremony.

        Within a few days, the document will be returned to Ukraine.

        As UNIAN reported earlier, on December 15 the Unification Council of representatives of Ukrainian Orthodox churches elected Epifaniy, Metropolitan of Pereyaslavl and Bila Tserkva a leader of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

        On January 6, in the St. George Cathedral in Istanbul, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew handed to Epifaniy the tomos granting autocephaly to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine in a move that marked Ukraine's ultimate release from under Russia's religious grip which the Krelmin has systemically exploited in geopolitical games of influence.

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        • "Broken fetters": Crimean Tatar leader comments on significance of church autocephaly
          The MP told how Ukrainians rose the "tomos question" in discussions with Bartholomew back in 1990s.
          UNIAN: 0:15, 08 January 2019

          he leader of the Crimean Tatar people, MP Mustafa Dzhemilev believes that granting of autocephaly to the local Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Ecumenical Patriarchate is "an act that strengthens Ukraine's independence."

          Speaking with RFE/RL's Krym.Realii project, Dzhemilev said the event was a landmark not only for Orthodox Christians, but for the entire people of Ukraine.

          Fetters are broken that were imposed on Ukraine by the Russian Empire more than 400 years ago. Centuries will pass, but this day and this event will be in textbooks. This is a huge victory and the fruit of the efforts of so many people, he stressed.

          According to Dzhemilev, efforts to obtain independence for the Ukrainian church had been carried out from the first days of the country's independence, but only after the start of the war and the occupation of part of the Ukrainian territories by Russia did the need for autocephaly finally become obvious.

          We touched on the issue in our conversations with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as far back as the 1990s, but at that time, Constantinople had not yet decided to spoil relations with Moscow. At the same time, Russia fiercely resisted the granting of autocephaly, resorting to bribery attempts and other tricks, said the Crimean Tatar leader.

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          • INTERFAX-UKRAINE 13:47 10.01.2019
            Tomos returns to Ukraine, brought to Rivne Poroshenko

            The scroll of Tomos on the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has returned to Ukraine from Constantinople where it stayed for the duration of the day on January 9 to be signed by members of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine has said.

            "This morning the Tomos returned to Ukraine. By the decision of our primate, by His Holiness's blessing, it is here, in Rivne," Poroshenko said in his address at the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin in Rivne on January 10.

            After the words of the head of state, the scroll of Tomos was brought into the temple by clerics and demonstrated to those present in the temple.

            "The Tomos, which is equal to the Act of Independence of Ukraine, is today in Rivne. This is a historical event that will be written down in the history of this temple forever," Poroshenko said.

            As reported earlier, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All of Ukraine, received the tomos of autocephaly from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul on January 6. Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos on January 5.

            On January 7, Metropolitan Epiphanius and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko brought the scroll with the Tomos to St. Sophia's Cathedral in Kyiv for the Christmas liturgy.

            After that, the Tomos was returned to Istanbul to be signed by all members of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which traditionally meets on the 9th day of each month.

            It was also reported that the Tomos of autocephaly of the Ukrainian church would be briefly returned to Istanbul so that members of the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople could sign it.

            A spokesman for the OCU, priest Ivan Sydor, said that the Tomos on the autocephaly would be returned to Ukraine immediately after it is signed by the participants of the synod, after which it would always stay in Kyiv. At the same time, he noted that the document is valid after the signature of the Ecumenical Patriarch, "but according to the procedure, there must also be the signatures of those bishops who are members of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate."

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            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


            • Ukrainian autocephaly a defeat for Putin but a victory for a future Free Russia, Illarionov says
              EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul Goble 2019/01/11 - 12:03

              Many commentators have suggested that the grant of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is a great victory for Ukrainians but a defeat for Russians, but that is not the case, Andrey Illarionov says. It is a defeat for Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin but it is very much a victory for the free citizens of Free Russia in the future.

              The receipt of independence by the Ukrainian church, the Russian commentator says, is a death blow to the most important element of the Russian imperial institutional infrastructure that still has been preserved. The destruction of that infrastructure is necessary for a free Russia to emerge.

              Indeed, if that imperial infrastructure continues to exist, Illarionov argues, the appearance of a free Russia is, judging from everything, impossible. And thus the establishment of an autocephalous church of Ukraine is an absolutely necessary preliminary step on the path to a free Russia.

              The Russian imperial institutional infrastructure, which began to be put in place in the middle of the 16th century and achieved at the end of the 1980s the peak of its power consisted at that time of the following five elements:

              1. The communist party (i.e. the Communist Part of the Soviet Union and the parties of the satellite countries), State and multi-lateral institutions,
              2. The army (i.e. the Soviet Armed Forces and the armed forces of the Warsaw Pact),
              3. The special services (i.e. the non-public cooperation of special services of these states),
              4. Orthodoxy (i.e. the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate).

              The first of these was dismantled under Mikhail Gorbachev.

              The dissolution of the second one was partially completed by 2014 and has been further weakened by Moscows war against Ukraine.

              And the third and fourth have been weakened over time but still constitute a serious threat to and source of worry in Russias neighbors.

              That leaves the fifth element of this imperial infrastructure Orthodoxy or more precisely the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP). It had largely remained in place, at least at the level of claims, with the exception of the disputed cases in Estonia and Moldova and allowed Moscow to speak about a broad Russian canonical territory.

              Indeed, the ROC MP to this day claims a canonical territory which covers more than 35 percent of the earths surface, Illarionov says. And because the other four elements of Russian imperial infrastructure had disappeared or been weakened, it is not surprising that imperialists in Moscow placed and place particular hopes on the ROC MP and its canonical territory.

              The weakening and eventual demise of this fifth element required the rise of independent states seeking their own autocephalous churches.

              Ukraine is especially important because of its size and because of the way in which its independence and now the independence of its church strike at the imperial nature of the ROC MP and push it toward becoming a national church.

              Unfortunately, Illarionov continues, neither the ROC MP nor Russian society as a whole is in a position to escape on their own from the imperial nature of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ukraines action thus not only achieves something critical for the Ukrainian nation and its independence but also something at least as important for a future free Russia.

              Other national churches will emerge on the former Soviet space, he continues; but what is important and deserving of celebration now is that it has begun. Russian citizens thus should be extremely grateful to the Ukrainians, the Universal Patriarchate and Patriarch Bartholomew personally.

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              • Now-independent Ukrainian Orthodox church set to be major player internationally, Illarionov says
                EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul Goble 2019/01/10 - 16:49

                Russian commentator Andrey Illarionov has carefully compared the status of Ukrainian Orthodoxy in terms of 25 basic issues of church life and concluded that the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) is now completely out from under the control of the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP), has expanded its powers over its internal life and become an independent actor in international church affairs.

                Of the 25 issues that define the status of an Orthodox church, he continues, the status of the OCU is no greater than that of its Ukrainian predecessor, on six it has put itself under the Universal Patriarchate in Constantinople, in one it has acquired new obligations and limitations, but in 14 it has obtained new or better defined rights.

                Specifically, its status has not changed with regard to the title of the head of the church, its jurisdiction or its role regarding congregations abroad. In six cases, it has simply put itself under the auspices of the Universal Patriarchate rather than the Moscow one. And in one, it has accepted new limitations with representatives of Constantinople now playing a role in Ukraine.

                But on 14 issues, the Ukrainian Orthodox church has acquired new rights or had its rights more carefully defined, including its name, status, canonical links, sources of law, organs of power and administration, election of its head, the administration of internal affairs, the formation of bishoprics, church courts, inter-church recognition, its place in the hierarchy of autocephalous churches, and its participation in inter-church and inter-Orthodox councils.

                All those gains mean that the OCU will now be an important player in the Orthodox world and also in the ecumenical world as well, having gained new rights and the status of the second largest Orthodox church in the world, a status that is especially important because the largest, the ROC MP, has declined in size so markedly because of Ukrainian autocephaly.

                As the author of these lines and others have said, the achievement of Ukrainian autocephaly changes the world as much as the achievement of Ukrainian political independence in 1991. It contributes to the completion of that process and opens the way to a role for Ukraine internationally far beyond what even the most optimistic assumed was possible a few years ago.

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                • Ukrainian Orthodox Church head says Russian Orthodox Church will remain in Ukraine as many want it and hes not against that
                  EUROMAIDAN PRES 2019/01/05 - 17:37

                  To hear Moscow propagandists talk, you would think that the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in combination with the Ukrainian government would use Gestapo-type tactics to suppress all congregations there now affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate.

                  But Metropolitan Epiphany of Kyiv, the head of the new OCU, says that is absurd and that the Moscow exarchate will continue to exist in Ukraine because many believers want it to and that he has nothing against that outcome.

                  We understand that in Ukraine the Russian Orthodox Church will in the future continue to exist and that many want to remain there. We do not have anything against this. A hierarch or priest with his flock must decide for themselves. If they decide they want to voluntarily join the newly formed OCU we will accept them in our structure of a single OCU.

                  The doors of the OCU are open for all Orthodox in Ukraine. Each must make a choice, and if one speaks of any OCU strategy about those beyond its ranks, it must be formed on the evangelical principle of love, peace, mutual understanding and fraternal mutual respect, Metropolitan Epiphany says.

                  Many parishes and some hierarchs of the Moscow exarchate have already shifted to the OCU, and the church leader hopes there will be more. One reason for that shift is the new Ukrainian law which requires the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate to identify itself openly as the Russian Orthodox Church, one whose headquarters are not in Ukraine but in Moscow.

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                  • Are the Uniates about to make common cause with newly autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox?
                    EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2019/01/05 - 16:5

                    With the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) receiving the tomos of autocephaly from the Universal Patriarch Bartholomew, the religious balance in Ukraine swings away from Moscow to Kyiv, with the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (ROC MP) losing many of its current positions and the OCU becoming a sign of Ukraines increasing independence from Moscow.

                    But a development two weeks ago, little noticed then but a matter of concern in Russia now, may give the new OCU even more clout and power not only within Ukraine but vis--vis Moscow in the Orthodox world. And that is this: the head of the 4.5 million Uniates suggested his church, which is Orthodox in practice but subordinate to Rome, should ally with the OCU.

                    On December 18, the head of the Greek Catholic Church, as the Uniates are known officially, sent a letter to incoming OCU head Metropolitan Epiphany proposing that the two churches work closely together and thus begin together the path to unity and truth.

                    Although today we are not in complete eucharistic community, we are called upon to jointly overcome the obstacles which stand on the path to unity, Uniate Archbishop Svyatoslav said. Noting their common roots, he said that he was extending his hand in the name of our Church to You and to all Orthodox brothers.

                    The archbishop added that in his view, the future of Ukraine depends on Church unity. Ukrainian outlets not surprisingly are thrilled by this given that the Uniates are concentrated in the western portions of Ukraine and tend to be more nationalistic than many of the Orthodox in the east.

                    But for precisely that reason, Russian commentators are worried about this possibility, with Yevgeny Chernyshov of the Nakaune news agency professing in an article today to see this as the work of the Vatican and very much directed against the Russian Orthodox Church and Moscows interests.

                    Whether anything will come of this remains to be seen, but if the Uniates do unite with the OCU, that will make the latter not only overwhelmingly the largest church in Ukraine but one with links to Rome as well as Constantinople, both of which will make the new church vastly more important and vastly more of a threat to Russia than it would otherwise be.

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