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Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian world moves towards its culmination

Seraphim Hanisch

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Sometimes you may notice upon wishing someone a happy Easter that they say, “Thank you, but our Easter (Pascha) is not yet…”

With so much worldly attention focused on the enormous Roman Catholic Church and its celebrations of the Good Friday to Easter Sunday, it is easy to pass over the incredible tradition of the Week of the Lord’s Passion, Crucifixion, defeat of Death and Hades, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as it is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is the oldest and second largest Christian communion in the world. Oldest? Yep. It predates the Roman Catholic Church by 1,000 years. Second largest? Yes again. There are approximately 250 million adherents all around the world, with the largest population currently resident in the Russian Federation. Also known as the “Greek Orthodox Church”, “Russian Orthodox Church” and 13 other such titles, these groups represent fifteen canonically recognized national jurisdictions of one Church. Each national jurisdiction is independent of the others, yet all remain in communion with one another in an unbroken commonality of faith. In other words, one may attend an Orthodox Church in Russia, but be just as much at home in Greece, or Albania, Romania, or even the United States, for although the language used in Church services changes, the expression of faith and worship is the same. This is a unity that does not exist in any other Christian confession in the world.

The Orthodox celebration of services usually amounts to sensory overload for the newcomer, especially someone who is steeped in Western Christian tradition. The first thing that one often notices is a feeling that one has stepped into a very ancient world, and everything about it is just different than the world outside the walls of the church edifice.

We wish to focus just a little bit on the present season. This week has been the Holy Week for Orthodox Christians in most places in the world, and it comes after an already long period of fasting – some 47 days on the day that Holy Week begins, Palm Sunday. The character of the services takes us into the events of the last week of Christ’s earthly life before His Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Far from being a “re-enactment” or “remembrance” of events that happened 2,000 years ago, the Orthodox Christian tradition employs a technique understood best by the Greek people who were the early Christians. The Greeks understood the idea of eternity and the eternal now better than anyone else did, and it is certainly by no accident that this and other elements of Greek culture and thought were utilized by the will of God to create the experience one has in Orthodox Christian worship.

For, rather than looking at the past events through a window, or through the screen of one’s television set, Orthodox worship takes us there, into these moments of the life of Christ, and we are mystically present with Him and his disciples. This may seem like a very bold statement, but it is the common experience for us as Orthodox Christians to go through what might inadequately be called a catharsis, but with us is actually a real experience of these events.

For example, the services of the three Matins (Orthros, or morning services) for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, take us to when Jesus found a fig tree without fruit, and cursed it, causing it to wither away instantly. Later, upon entering the Temple, the chief priests question his authority to teach, to heal, to break the Sabbath by doing things against the Jewish law, and Jesus confounds them with his answer, backing them against the wall of their refusal to believe Him. As the services progress (and in the Orthodox Christian tradition, we pray nine times per day liturgically), event after event unfolds, with Christ’s teachings and experiences intermingled with references to the Old Testament and prophecies and signs made and fulfilled.

To the Western person used to an orderly interpretation of time as Chronos, sequential time, this is dizzying, for the Church seems to be at all points in time at once.

And this is exactly right. She (our pronoun for the Church) is, (and this kind of time is called kairos, the time of God) for She recognizes that all events in the history of the created universe center on the event of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. And as the services unfold, we see and feel, and hear, as well as taste and smell, all of reality converging upon this moment. All times are now for God, and we experience some of this ourselves as we go through the Holy Week services.

One great theme of Palm Sunday is the “wordly” victory that is but the barest hint of the true victory. Palm Sunday’s events were greeted by the multitudes, greeting Jesus so joyfully that they wanted to make him King right there and then. And indeed, Jesus looks over the Temple and the city as though he is the new earthly king of Israel, utterly in charge. But the joy that so many people felt at the prospect of a new king to kick out the Romans changed in just five days, to where many of that same crowd were demanding that this Man be crucified. And even worse, the Jewish authorites – the Pharisees and Scribes, who were consumed by envy and hard-heartedness, (think stubbornness) not only refused to accept Christ, but in that courtyard before Pontius Pilate, they actually commit a travesty, for when Pilate asks them ‘shall I crucify your king?”, these angry men scream back, “we have no king but Caesar!”

On this day, Holy and Great Friday, the Church shows us this convergence of all of history in the morning service:

Today He is suspended on a Tree who suspended the earth upon the waters.

A crown of thorns was placed on the head of the King of angels.

He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.

He who freed Adam in the Jordan is struck upon the face.

The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.

The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.

We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

Everything that we think is so important about our life comes to a halt over this statement. Politics, nationalism, opinions, all the fighting that people do with one another over whatever issue in life; all of this is shown in these above phrases to be with no real meaning. It all happens, but that is because it is easy to hide from this Great Fact that is mystically playing out before the eye of our souls today.

Christ hangs on the Cross, by his deliberate choice, not as a victim, but in order to carry out the ultimate defeat of Death and the Devil, and granting us eternal life.

I have to admit that as a journalist, if we all remembered this everyday, our trade would probably be put out of business.

And that would be no bad thing, now, would it?

A blessed Holy and Great Friday to everyone. Christ is doing everything for us today.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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