Patriarch Kirill On the Way to the Holy Land

OCP News:

Moscow (AFP)- Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Friday will make his first visit to the Holy Land since becoming head of the powerful church in 2009, in a trip which underlines his global influence as a religious leader.

Kirill’s first official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories will be held “under the sign of peace,” spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church, Father Alexander Volkov, told AFP.

The visit will see Kirill meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan in a new sign of his importance as a global religious figure.

His trip “is the most important (religious) visit (to Israel) since that of the Pope Benedict XVI” in 2009, Israel’s foreign ministry said.

Spokesman Volkov however ruled out any political dimension of the visit amid the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and analysts stressed its symbolic nature despite the growing power of the church at home.

The “visit has not and cannot have a political aspect,” Volkov said.

“It is chiefly a diplomatic visit, which will have no major consequences,” religious affairs analyst Vladimir Oivin said.

“The Patriarch will try to play a pacifying role” in the region, but his initiative “will probably have few results,” he added

During his six-day stay, Kirill, 65, is due to celebrate Mass with Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theoplilos III and meet with other local Christian leaders.

He will also visit main Christian sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — currently in the middle of a conflict between its co-owner, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and an Israeli water supply company.

The Greek Patriarchate has been seeking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help amid a dispute with Hagihon water supply company which saw Patriarchate’s bank accounts frozen as the company claimed 9 million shekels ($2.3 million, 1.8 million euros) in arrears.

Analysts said that Putin-backed Kirill’s eventual intervention with the matter would demonstrate significant influence he wields beyond his country over a community totalling some 150 million Orthodox Church members.

Amnon Ramon, an expert on Christianity at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Hebrew university, said that the Russian Church with Putin’s backing has become a globally-important Christian community.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate “might use the powerful Russian leverage to resolve issues such as the dispute over the water bill of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” he said.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some 1.2 million Russians — a quarter of them Christians — immigrated to Israel in the 1990s.

Israel is currently home to some 120,000 Arab Christians and 250,000 Orthodox Christians, according to different estimates.

The Russian Orthodox Church has seen a huge upsurge in power after the fall of the atheist Soviet Union and its leaders take a strong stand on moral issues that the Kremlin hardly ever ignores.

I wonder if he’ll help pay the Sepulchre’s water bill?



Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby: The Meteoric Rise of an ‘Astonished’ Former Oil Trader

Rising to speak in the House of Lords for the first time less than six months ago Justin Welby admitted he was “astonished” to be there at all.

The Telegraph:

But if his enthronement as Bishop of Durham, the fourth most senior role in the Church of England, took him by surprise it would prove to be just one step in a rapid rise.

The choice of the 56-year-old to lead the world’s 77 million Anglicans marks a decisive break with the past for the Church.

While his predecessors have drawn on long careers as academics or clerics, his experience is of the world of mammon as much as God.

A former oil executive he gave up a highly paid career after feeling a “call” to the priesthood in the late 1980s.

“Something in me just said ‘this is what you should be doing’,” he recently explained.

He was later able to draw on years of experience in oil exploration in troubled areas of west Africa, when his ministry led him to work in conflict resolution in the violent Niger Delta, where he narrowly avoided being shot dead.

At a time when the Church is grappling with the aftermath of the banking crisis, he combines – almost uniquely – an understanding of the working of the City with that of life in the inner city, gleaned as a parish priest and Dean of Liverpool.

He has used his seat in the Lords as a platform to challenge the “sins” of the multi-billion pound banks as much as the small-scale payday “loan sharks” he has seen at work on the North East – condemning the practice in the language of the Old Testament as “usury”.

Although educated at Eton and Cambridge and even a member of a Pall Mall club, he is seen as far from an establishment figure.

Theologically, he is unashamedly part of the evangelical strand of the Church, upholding a more traditional and conservative interpretation of the Bible than some.

But while he has, for example, publicly criticised the Coalition’s plans for gay marriage, he is not without support among liberals, some of whom believe he will prove a pragmatic and flexible Archbishop.

He is also a strong advocate of more modern styles of worship.

As Dean of Liverpool, where he almost doubled the cathedral congregation, he gave his blessing to a Halloween service called “Night of the Living Dead”, complete with a man in gothic dress leaping out of a coffin, to illustrate the message of resurrection.

To the surprise of some, he also allowed the cathedral bell-ringers to chime the Liverpool-born John Lennon’s Imagine, widely regarded as an atheist anthem.

Yet he is also an enthusiast for catholic styles of worship, has close links to Benedictines and regularly goes on spiritual retreats.

At a time when the Anglican Church worldwide is deeply divided between liberals and conservatives over issues such as homosexuality, what diplomatic skills he can muster look certain to be put to the test.

His family background is as colourful as some of the services he has attended. He recently discovered that his father Gavin was effectively a bootlegger, trading in whisky during the prohibition years in America.

Welby senior eventually came up with a better ruse to get around the ban – switching to selling Communion wine – and was later to move in the same circles as the Kennedy family.

Bishop Welby’s mother, Jane – a relation of Rab Butler, the former Conservative deputy prime minister – was Winston Churchill’s private secretary.

His parents separated when he was very young and boarding school was to be the backdrop to his childhood, including, famously, Eton. In stark contrast, he and his wife Caroline, a classics teacher, would go on to have a large and close-knit family.

They had six children, one of whom, their seven-month-old daughter Johanna, died in a car crash in France in 1983.

“It was a very dark time for my wife Caroline and myself, but in a strange way it actually brought us closer to God,” he said in an interview.

It was the start of the process which led him to the priesthood.

At the time he combined his work as group treasurer of Enterprise Oil with being an active member of Holy Trinity Brompton, the lively evangelical church in west London which invented the Alpha course – the short introduction to Christianity which has been followed by around eight million people around the world.

Known for his self-deprecating manner, he describes himself as having “drifted” into the oil industry because he could not get a job when he left university.

And asked in a recent interview for his comment after being tipped as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, he suggested he did not want the job describing himself as “one of the thicker bishops in the Church of England.”

But to those who know him he is anything but.

Among those who encountered him while he was training for the priesthood Cranmer Hall in Durham, he is described as “one of those students you just remember”.

He went on to serve as a curate in Nuneaton and then vicar of Southam, a small Midlands market town, where he saw the congregation treble.

He moved to Coventry where he served as director of the Cathedral’s internationally renowned reconciliation ministry. It was there that his knowledge of west Africa in particular would be put to good use and he developed skills of negotiation and dialogue which will be desperately needed within the fractious Anglican communion.

Later as Dean of Liverpool he oversaw strong growth in the congregation as well as being credited with strengthening the cathedral’s finances. One member of the congregation there said: “He spiritually (and fiscally) transformed the place and turned a moribund congregation around.”

The call for interview as possible Bishop of Durham last year came as complete surprise to him, he later said.

Facing the prospect of upheaval for his family, he took weeks to decide. But once there he set about reorganising the diocese’s finances and had begun a drive to revive dwindling congregations.

As the fourth most senior bishop in the Church, the position brought with it a seat in the Lords. Within months of his arrival he had been appointed as a member of the Parliamentary commission on banking standards, set up in the wake of the libor fixing scandal.

His contributions there recently earned him a profile in the Wall Street Journal, perhaps a first for a churchman.

But for all the dramatic changes in his life in the last year, perhaps the biggest has been much closer to home.

Earlier this autumn, as speculation swirled about his possible candidatures as Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Welby’s attention was on an even more dramatic change in his family life: becoming a grandfather.

He posted a message on Twitter speaking of how he felt a “powerful sense of the flow of time”.

It is a sense he is likely to feel acutely early next year as he ascends the throne of St Augustine as 105th in a line stretching back more than 1,400 years.



Blah, Blah, Blah…

The election has been a mess from start to end.

New Archbishop of Canterbury – a message from the Secretary General

I thought it might be helpful to clarify that the arrangements for announcing the next Archbishop of Canterbury are the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office rather than Lambeth Palace or Church House. Downing Street has now confirmed that there will be an announcement at 11am tomorrow. Until then, press stories about the appointment remain speculative.

William Fittall

Professional propagandists. Still trying to look and feel important.



When the Living Have to Bury their Own Dead

Church-planters probably never even consider factoring this in when they start. That was certainly the case for some friends of mine in Turkey. For who would have guessed that setting up a cemetery might have to become a key feature of their growth strategy?

For centuries, if you were Turkish, you were Muslim. In fact, there has never been a point at which Turks were Christian. Until now. We easily forget that, not least because the region was the epicentre of global Christianity from biblical times onwards. But the Turks swept in from the east, bringing Islam with them, eventually conquering Constantinople in 1453. Ever since, the only sizeable Christian groups in the area were Greek or Armenian.

So what’s this got to do with anything? Well, there are now around 3000 Turks who have become Christian in the last 30-40 years or so. Many have come from a fairly secular background, which perhaps makes it a little more understandable. But now that the Turkish church has been around for a bit, there’s a new problem. Where to bury them when they die. It perhaps sounds rather macabre but it is, believe it or not, a real headache.

Muslims have their own cemeteries throughout Turkey, of course; the few Greeks that are left get buried in orthodox land, and the Armenians have their own solutions. But Christian Turks don’t ‘belong’ anywhere after death. The sectarianism of life gets perpetuated in the grave.

So it’s a quite challenge for these friends to find land.

But it’s simply yet another example of ministry’s unpredictability and the risk we all run of being so wedded to our strategic planning that we fail to see the pressing needs.





Math Can Be Truly Painful

Now here is something I can relate to:

For math-phobes, anticipation of arithmetic activates pain centers in brain.


Does the thought of 1+1=ouch?

If you hate math, it might—literally. According to a new study, the mere prospect of a math problem causes pain centers to light up in number-phobic brains.

Researchers at the University of Chicago measured the neural activity of 28 adults—14 who’d been identified with high math anxiety and 14 with low math anxiety. Each subject was given a series of word and math questions (some of which are below) while his or her brain was scanned.

Result: When those in the high-anxiety group saw a math task was coming, their dorso-posterior insulas and mid-cingulate cortexes—the parts of the brain that perceive pain and bodily threats—reacted as if the subject’s hand had been burned on a hot stove. Those in the low-anxiety group showed no such response.

What’s more, said study co-author Ian Lyons, “the anxiety occurred only during anticipation. When they actually did the math problems, they didn’t seem to experience pain. That suggests it’s not the math itself that hurts; it’s the thought of it that’s painful.”

Well, maybe it’s not that bad… I simply can’t do the numbers well…

Rest here.



This Is True, and Not Just in the USA

Wherein Fr Z reflects:

The Roman historian Livy wrote about the terminal decline of the Roman Republic that “Nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus… We can bear neither our vices nor the remedies.”

Alas, I fear that our vices have called forth precisely the leaders that reflect those vices.  The vices feed the leaders, and they the vices.

We may no longer have the collective will to make the changes that must be made to change course.

The last couple days have prompted me to reflect on the Church’s primary job: to keep as many people out of hell as possible.

People will chose to sin, die in sin, no matter what we do to help them to a different course.  We must strive to help save ourselves and as many others as possible.

St Augustine one day, in his basilica in Hippo, one day was preaching a tough message.  He broke off his line of thought and explained that if he didn’t preach his tough message he could not be saved. If they listen or didn’t listen he was going to preach anyway and thus save his soul.  “But” he concluded, “Nolo salvus esse sine vobis!  … I don’t want to be saved without you!”

Now that we in the USA are, I think, are on a course toward the iceberg, we need to think soberly about how we will approach the time and resources we have left.

During this time when Benedict XVI has called us to revive the Faith where it has died or still just slumbers, get to work.

Will our shepherds be able to bear applying the remedies?

Augustine also said that the doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for him to stop.

Think frequent confession.

Think fallen away Catholics.

Think Four Last Things.