Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kosovo Needs Your Help

by Stella L. Jatras

A Ray of Hope for Kosovo," (Fall 2006) by Chrysoula Economopoulos is a fitting tribute to the wonderful work of the Decani Monastery Relief Fund and Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes. But all will be lost if the ongoing pressure within the UN to grant independence to Kosovo is successful. That is why I call upon all Orthodox Christians not to let that ray of hope for Kosovo be extinguished.

Before I begin, I must put things into perspective. What the Wailing Wall is to Jews, what the Vatican is to Roman Catholics, what Mecca is to Muslims, Kosovo is to Serbian Orthodox Christians. It is Serbia's heart and soul. Now, due to the continuation of a flawed US foreign policy, if granted independence, Kosovo will become another terrorist-controlled rogue state and those few Serbs who remain will be condemned to once again live under their Islamic masters and tormentors.

As someone who has followed and written about the events in the Balkans
for over a decade, I would like to impress upon all readers of The AHEPAN how dire and serious the situation is for our Serbian Orthodox brothers and sisters in Kosovo.

Please understand that the Serbs were once the majority in Kosovo until Hitler's Nazis ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Serbs from the region in World War II. More Serbs were driven out of Kosovo by Communist Dictator Josip Broz Tito, who, in his hatred for Orthodox Christian Serbs, encouraged Albanians to cross illegally into Christian Kosovo. "One of the first acts of Josip Broz Tito, who was half-Croatian and half-Slovenian, was to pass a law March 6, 1945, prohibiting Serbs who were expelled from Kosovo- Metohija from returning to their homelands."

Former-UNPROFOR Commander, Canadian Major General Lewis MacKenzie summed it up best when he wrote, "The Kosovo-Albanians have played us a like a Stradivarius. We have subsidized and indirectly supported their violent campaign for an ethnically pure and independent Kosovo. We have never blamed them for being the perpetrators of the violence in the early '90s and we continue to portray them as the designated victim today in spite of evidence to the contrary. When they achieve independence with the help of our tax dollars combined with those of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, just consider the message of encouragement this sends to other terrorist-supported independence movements around the world."

The Wall Street Journal Europe reported on 1 November 2001 of al-Qaeda's Balkan Links, writing, "For the past 10 years, the most senior leaders of al-Qaeda have visited the Balkans, including bin Laden himself on three occasions between 1994 and 1996. The Egyptian surgeon turned terrorist leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has operated terrorist training camps, weapons of mass destruction factories and money-laundering and drug-trading networks throughout Albania, Kosovo, [FYROM] Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bosnia. This has gone on for a decade."

There are some in Congress today, along with the pro-Albanian media, who are working to cede Serbia's Jerusalem to indicted Muslim terrorists who have achieved high government positions in Kosovo, such as Agim Ceku, the former Kosovo Liberation Army commander who has been linked to two of the grisliest episodes of brutality in the war in the former Yugoslavia. During his trip to Washington, Ceku, who now carries the title of Kosovar prime minister and who seeks to gain full independence from Serbia, recently met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. If independence is granted, Kosovo will become a mini-Iran, a haven for Islamo-Fascist terrorists.

President Bush said after 9/11 that we would do whatever it takes to defend our country against Muslim terrorists, yet we denied the Serbs the right to defend themselves against the same Muslim terrorists that we are fighting today.

But you can help. Where there once was no hope at all, there is today another "Ray of Hope for Kosovo," through the American Council for Kosovo at www.savekosovo.org. There, you will find more information on what is happening in Kosovo, and most importantly, how you can contact President Bush and your members of Congress to "Say NO to Kosovo Independence!" The DVD documentary, "Days Made of Fear," reviewed in the summer issue of The AHEPAN is also featured on the Web site, as well as a copy of the letter to President Bush from Bishop Artemije of Kosovo (who addressed AHEPA leaders at the Governor's Conference in Washington, D.C.), and other critical information.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

More Americans join Orthodox Christian churches



By Tom Breen, Associated Press

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Greg Mencotti worried he would never find a
spiritual home.

The Sunday school teacher grew up Roman Catholic, lost his faith and became an atheist. Eventually, he returned to Christianity, this time as a born-again Christian, spending years worshipping in a Methodist congregation. Still, he felt his search wasn't over.

That led him to the Holy Spirit Antiochian Orthodox Church in Huntington, W. Va., a denomination with Mideast roots that, like all Orthodox groups, traces its origins to the earliest days of
Christianity.

Today, Mencotti is one of about 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide - and among a significant number of newcomers attracted to this ancient way of worship. The trend is especially notable since so few in the United States know about the Orthodox churches here.

"I was like most Americans," said Mencotti, who was urged by his wife to explore Orthodox worship. "I didn't understand anything about Orthodoxy."

Orthodoxy was born from the Great Schism of 1054, when feuds over papal authority and differences in the liturgy split Christianity into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox halves.

In the United States, Orthodox Christians are a fraction of religious believers, numbering about 1.2 million, according to estimates by Orthodox researchers.

In the past, their growth had been largely fueled by immigration, with churches forming mainly along ethnic lines. Some converts came to Orthodoxy through marriage to a church member.

But now about one-third of all U.S. Orthodox priests are converts - and that number is likely to grow, according to Alexei D. Krindatch, research director at the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, Calif. A 2006 survey of the four Orthodox seminaries in the country found that about 43% of seminarians are converts, Krindatch said.

There are no exact figures on the rate of conversion across the 22 separate U.S. Orthodox jurisdictions. But when Mencotti began attending Orthodox worship, the church was packed with converts, including the church's pastor, the Rev. John Dixon.

The Rev. John Matusiak, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Wheaton, Ill., part of the Orthodox Church in America, said his parish has grown from 20 people in the early 1990s to more than 600 today, with the overwhelming majority of new members younger than 40.

Krindatch's research found that one-third of the more than 200 U.S. parishes in the Antiochian Orthodox Church were founded after 1990.

Matusiak said growth is especially apparent in suburbs and commuter towns. "People in Wheaton weren't flocking to Orthodoxy, because there was never a church here," Matusiak said.

Many converts credit the beauty of the liturgy and the durability of the theology, which can be a comfort to those seeking shelter from divisive battles over biblical interpretation in other Christian traditions.

Dixon, who was raised an Old Regular Baptist, an austere faith of the Southern Appalachians, said his conversion grew from his studies about the origins of Christianity as an undergraduate at Marshall University. The turning point came when he first attended services at an Orthodox church.

"As soon as I came in that day," he says, "I knew I was home."

Convert-fueled growth, though, has its challenges.

Like converts in all faiths, the newly Orthodox bring a zeal that can be unsettling for those born into the church, who tend to be more easygoing in their religious observance. Parishes run the risk of dividing between new and lifelong parishioners, Krindatch says.

"Converts to Orthodoxy form their own little quasi-seminary and it's almost a closed group," says the Rev. Joseph Huneycutt, associate pastor of St. George Anti-ochian Orthodox Church in Houston, who was raised Southern Baptist then became Orthodox.

And some worry about converts' impact on the churches. They are entering the parishes at a time when many lay activists across Orthodox denominations are pushing church leaders to let go of ethnic divisions and pool resources so they can better evangelize in the United States.

Huneycutt, author of One Flew Over the Onion Dome, a book about conversion, and the editor of OrthoDixie, a blog about Orthodoxy in the South, said he was drawn to the faith by the beauty of its rituals and its teachings.

On his first visit, he said the church was filled with the smell of incense and the sound of the chanted Divine Liturgy. The altar was largely concealed by the iconostasis, a large screen or wall hung with icons of Christ, Mary, angels and Apostles. And worshippers received Communion from a chalice and spoon.

"I had become convinced that the Eucharist was the center of Christian worship - ancient Christian worship," Huneycutt says. "Once I had reached that point in my personal walk with Christ, there was no going back."

U.S. envoy: Serbian Kosovo status by April

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- A U.S. diplomat in Washington said a solution to the future status of Serbia's mainly ethnic-Albanian Kosovo province could be decided by April.

U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told Voice of America that U.N. special envoy to Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari will begin a series of talks with Kosovo ethnic-Albanian leaders in Pristina and Serbian authorities in Belgrade soon after Serbia's parliamentary elections set for Jan. 21.

Burns said he hoped the Kosovo solution could be found "one to two months" after the Serbian elections.

He said Washington does not support any option nor it has proposed any solution to the Kosovo status and added it will do so only after Ahtisaari announces his proposal on who will govern Kosovo, Belgrade's Beta news agency reported.

Ahtisaari's proposal will have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council.

U.N. administrators and NATO troops have been deployed in Kosovo after the 1999 armed fighting in a bid to contain ethnic conflicts.

Over the past years, leaders of ethnic-Albanians who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's population of 1.8 million insist on independence from Belgrade, while the Serbian government in Belgrade, representing 100,000 Serbs in Kosovo, say the province will always be an integral part of Serbia.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

PEACE FROM GOD — CHRIST IS BORN!

Serbian Orthodox Church to her spiritual children at Christmas, 2006

P A V L E
By the grace of God


Orthodox Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch, with the Hierarchs of the Serbian Orthodox Church — to all the clergy, monastics, and all the sons and daughters of our Holy Church: grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, with the joyous Christmas greeting:

PEACE FROM GOD — CHRIST IS BORN!
“Great indeed is the mystery of our religion:
God is manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit,
seen by angels, preached among the nations,
believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
(I Tim. 3:16)

These words of the Apostle Paul, our dear spiritual children, most fully depict all the beauty of the joy of Christmas in which we truly participate in the great mystery of God descending from Heaven to earth and man’s ascending from earth to Heaven and sitting at the right hand of God the Father. This, in essence, is the divine sonship of everyone who desires it through an active faith. The Son of God came to call us into the everlasting Kingdom of God and to bring us into the reality of eternal life, being that He, our Lord, is always the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:5).

The event of Christ’s birth from the Virgin Mary brings together all hopes and longings of mankind throughout the centuries preceding it, as well as the faith of all the centuries that followed it, and it will last throughout all the centuries to eternity. This is the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), for God and man are united together in the person of Christ. God is born as a man without ceasing to be God, so that man can become “god by grace,” without ceasing to be man.

Are We Truly Responsible in Our God-Given Freedom?
Rejoicing in eternal and indescribable joy because of the great gifts of God’s love, let us ask ourselves as believing Christians, called out and sent into the world to be “the salt and light of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14), are we, and to what degree are we, truly responsible in our God-given freedom. It is not good to make excuses for ourselves to someone else and yet see his mistakes, for condemning is not the way of faith. Often times this is an obstacle on the road of life and too heavy a yoke for him who acts this way. This is why we turn to you, sons and daughters of Christ’s Church, “not as lords over your faith, but as helpers of your joy” (II Cor. 1:24). On bended knees we implore you: show love without hypocrisy toward one another and toward all people — “let us not grow weary in well-doing.” (Gal. 6:9) Let us work to carry out the lesson of our Holy Fathers: “Every Christian needs to be such a person that God is never ashamed of him.” We can fulfill this axiom, noble people of God, but only if we make some effort will we succeed in the good works of our noble faith.

False “Greatness”
There are many selfish people today who think that they can do everything alone. Many are the false “great” people and nations and, each thinks that he alone can change the world. That is why we need the faith of the righteous Joseph, the simplicity and hospitality of Bethlehem’s shepherds, and the wisdom of the Magi from the East who, guided by the star, brought gifts to Christ without fearing King Herod. Let us believe with the faith of the prophets and righteous from the Old Testament, and let us persevere together with the holy apostles in witnessing to the great Mystery of faith, knowing that besides Christ “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

This knowledge in faith does not hinder us in love toward others. On the contrary, it directs us forward and opens us up to every person, regardless of who he is, how he prays, or whether he prays. For “God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Act. 10:35) Our faith that Christ is the Savior of the world and mankind, equips and enables us to always serve the improvement and salvation of the world. The Son of God, for us and our salvation, became man and our servant. So each one of us is called to serve for the betterment of life and for the salvation of all and everyone. How much better and different everything would be if we Christians would actively understand the meaning of the “great ones” serving the “little ones”! Life would be more beautiful and the world would be much better. It is possible — but only if each one conquers self-will, renounces his own selfishness, abandons personal self-interest, and exchanges it for a self-sacrificing and unselfish way of life.

Do Not Close the Door of Your Hearts to the Blessing of Life
We were committing lawless acts — let us stop, and God will forgive. The greatest error we commit is abortion, because we will not admit that it is the sin of murdering a child, motivated by the selfishness of unworthy parents. It is most hideous murder, the refusal of God’s blessing and the denial to a new person of the right to life. The unborn child is not a nameless embryo, a fetus; it is a person — a living soul. We implore you, dear parents, not to do this any more; do not close the door of your hearts and homes to the blessing of life. There is enough room and food for all. Remember those childless parents who with tears in their eyes beseech God to bless them with children! Do not let the lack of material possessions be an excuse for abortion. Do not cut yourselves off from God’s blessing!

We know that some self-proclaimed defenders of people’s rights will say that the Church is limiting freedom and the rights of people, but let it be known that we are counseling with love, without degrading. May God forgive their sin and may He bring them into the communion of love. We will rejoice if they favorably respond. Many nations give heed to their historical existence and eternal salvation, and our Serbian people have killed, regretfully, more unborn children than all our enemies in all wars put together. We would mention that in our homeland the annual number of deaths, more than twenty five thousand, is greater than the number of new births. It is hoped that this statistic will move many to a more responsible way of thinking and to better actions.

Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija Bear the Wounds of Christ and are Victorious
In doing good works, in forgiving and in prayer, we need to persist and endure to the end, for “when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate…” (I Cor. 4:12-13), knowing that “the victory that overcomes the world — (is) our faith.” (I John 5:4) Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija experience and know this very well, along with all those who have been left homeless, driven by persecution from their homesteads. They bear the wounds of Christ on their bodies and are victorious over their persecutors. Many, because of their self-absorption and fear, do not understand them. They, like the early Christian martyrs and confessors, are victorious over those who think that they can reach their goal by defeating others. We deeply believe that the time will come when the aggressors will be put to shame. We pray for our enemies, that they may see that doing evil cannot bring good results to anyone. May it be known to them that after all debacles which they are inflicting upon others, in the end, they themselves will be defeated with hopelessness. And for them we pray that they may overcome “self” in order to become partakers of the peace which Christ gives.

We Have Survived All Golgothas and Crucifixions by the Joy of Bethlehem Shepherds and by the Wisdom of the Magi
Dear spiritual children, our holy Serbian Orthodox Church has survived all historical Golgothas and crucifixions by the joy of Bethlehem’s shepherds and by the wisdom of the Magi from East, and it will continue to survive forever, in conciliar unity with all the local Orthodox Churches which together comprise One Holy Church. In her fullness (sabornost) she gathers the entire Serbian population, on all continents and in all countries, and is open to all people of good will. She has gathered her faithful children throughout the centuries, walking the narrow path and building bridges of peace and love among people and nations.

We know well our downfalls, schisms and divisions. We pray to God that they cease, forever asking all of you to be one in our Lord, so that we may show others the pure faith and holy unity, all the beauty of faith in God and faith in the man of God. It will happen when we stop creating divisions among ourselves, mostly for foolish reasons. Let us strive, in the joy of the Christmas celebration, to reconcile ourselves and let us gather around the crib of the Divine Infant, overcoming all our senseless divisions!

Of course, it is necessary to think through everything, to encounter different opinions and to discuss things, but this cannot be a reason for hatred either among ourselves or towards anyone. The rule must remain in force which states: “he who would be first, should be servant to all”. Christ with His life showed all this, and we Christians have a sacred duty to affirm this life of service. Today is the most appropriate day to reexamine and correct ourselves and others so that our joy can be complete and lasting.

Every one of us needs to see in every other person the image of God, the image of our brother and of our eternal friend. Then will our hearts truly be Bethlehem’s cave in which Christ is continually being born anew. And the more hearts there are like this, the better everything will be and the better we will all be.

PEACE FROM GOD — CHRIST IS BORN!
Given at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade, at Christmas, 2006. (Julian Calendar)

Your intercessors before the divine Christ-Child:

Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch PAVLE; Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana JOVAN, Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Coastlands AMPHILOHIJE, Metropolitan of Midwestern America CHRISTOPHER, Metropolitan of Dabro-Bosna NIKOLAJ, Bishop of Sabac-Valjevo LAVRENTIJE, Bishop of Nis IRINEJ, Bishop of Zvornik-Tuzla VASILIJE, Bishop of Srem VASILIJE, Bishop of Banja Luka JEFREM, Bishop of Budim LUKIJAN, Bishop of Canada GEORGIJE, Bishop of Banat NIKANOR, Bishop for America and Canada (New Gracanica Metropolitanate) LONGIN, Bishop of Eastern America MITROPHAN, Bishop of Zica CHRYSOSTOM, Bishop of Backa IRINEJ, Bishop of Great Britain and Scandinavia DOSITEJ, Bishop of Ras and Prizren ARTEMIJE, Retired Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina ATANASIJE, Bishop of Bihac and Petrovac CHRYSOSTOM, Bishop of Osijek and Baranja LUKIJAN, Bishop of Central Europe CONSTANTINE, Bishop of Western Europe LUKA, Bishop of Timok JUSTIN, Bishop of Vranje PAHOMIJE, Bishop of Sumadija JOVAN, Bishop of Slavonia SAVA, Bishop of Branicevo IGNATIJE, Bishop of Milesevo FILARET, Bishop of Dalmatia FOTIJE, Bishop of Budimlje and Niksic JOANIKIJE, Bishop of Zahumlje and Hercegovina GRIGORIJE, Bishop of Valjevo MILUTIN, Bishop of Western America MAXIM, Bishop of Gornji Karlovci GERASIM, Bishop of Australia and New Zealand IRINEJ, Vicar Bishop of Hvostno ATANASIJE, Vicar Bishop of Jegar PORFIRIJE, Vicar Bishop of Lipljan TEODOSIJE, Vicar Bishop of Dioclea JOVAN, Vicar Bishop of Moravica ANTONIJE

THE ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF OCHRID: Archbishop of Ochrid and Metropolitan of Skoplje JOVAN, Bishop of Polos and Kumanovo JOAKIM, Bishop of Bregal and locum tenens of the Diocese of Bitolj MARKO