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Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas in Russia and around the world

Seraphim Hanisch

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Today, January 7th, many Orthodox Christians around the world witness the celebration of Christmas.  For Russians and most Slavic people, this day IS Christmas, and the western celebration on Dec 25th is a workday.

This is not an innovation.  It is actually because an innovation was never made to the Julian Calendar, which is followed by most Orthodox Christians in the world, so it lags behind the civil calendar by 13 days at present.  So, for the Church it is today which is December 25th.

In Russia, this brings an interesting shift in present-day life.  The Communist times were not able to destroy all the Christmas traditions, but it did shift many of them.  Father Christmas (a.k.a. Santa Claus) became “Grandfather Frost”, and got a sidekick, the “Snow Maiden”, and the celebration that is accompanied by what is unmistakably a Christmas Tree got centered on New Year’s Day.  To this day, even in post-Communist Russia, it is New Year’s that gets the bulk of attention.  This is an unwitting blessing, for it takes away the commercialized emphasis that Western Christmas has associated with it. Instead, the Nativity retains its character as a religious holiday in a very pure form.

A nativity scene in a chapel made of snow in Dubna.

The celebration of the Nativity of Christ, features very beautiful church services, lasting many hours. The one this author attended last night ran nearly six hours long, from 11pm until 4:45am.  The church was full of people from beginning to the very end.  These people have endurance.  As an American, to see the patience and dedication of the Russian people in church is humbling, especially that of the people who stand for that entire length of time.

The Russian Church has suffered greatly under the hale of Communism, but, starting in the late 1980’s and accelerating till today, the Church has regained much of its traditional role in this country as the “guardian of the conscience of Russia.”  The government and the Church work in a manner foreign to Western understanding, called “symphonia”, and this is a renewal of the ancient Byzantine model of government, where the Caesar (Tsar) was, in essence, a “bishop in charge of State affairs,” and hence a Christian believer, and responsible in his own office to uphold the Christian faith and principles in all secular and governmental matters.

While we do not have a Tsar today, some emulation of this structure exists, surrounding president Vladimir Putin.  He has long been a Christian believer (yes, even while in the KGB), and as he has grown older, he has shown an increasing level of commitment to protect Christians wherever they may be.  (This is actually part of the reason Russia got involved in Syria in 2015, because Syria is also an Orthodox Christian center, with a Patriarch resident in Damascus for the Antiochian Orthodox Church.)

President Putin attends Nativity services this year in his hometown of St Petersburg, at the Church of Saints Simeon and Anna.

The concept of symphonia means that the Patriarch of Moscow has significant say in the direction the country takes.  The Western narrative is that the Church is the “toady” to the State here, with Vladimir Putin, the thug, running the Church.  And there are some Russian people who hold the same view.  But the truth of this is the opposite, and most Russian Orthodox believers know this to be true – that the State is increasingly striving for symphonia with the Church, to gradually realign the country with the values appropriate to a Christian nation.

Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and all Russia

Every Christmas the Patriarch sends out his own greeting, just as President Putin does at the very end of each year.  This year the Patriarchal encyclical highlighted the remembrance of the beginning of the tragic period of Communism, which began just 100 years ago in 1917.  He highlighted the theme of the love of God even in this terrible time, because the people that would be needed to help the Church survive this fearsome persecution were set in place, both in the ranks of clergy and laity, and they endured through the trial, even though the Church was all but destroyed.

Further, Patriarch Kirill pointed to things today:

Today we are undergoing a special period: afflictions have not yet left this world, every day we “hear of wars and rumours of wars” (Mt 24:6). Yet how much of God’s love is poured out upon people! The world exists in spite of the forces of evil, while human love and family values abide in spite of the unbelievable attempts to destroy, desecrate and distort them. Faith in God is alive in the hearts of the majority of people. And our Church, in spite of decades of persecution in the recent past and the endeavours to undermine her authority in the present, remains and shall always be with Christ. (emphasis mine)

In a world that seems often like it is coming apart at the seams, most particularly in the West, this message speaks to much of the heart of the matter.  In this author’s experience, the ability to truly be “red-pill” – one who sees and faces reality – is impossible without the basic understanding of the way things are.  Although one tries to avoid a sermon here, it is pretty much impossible to be truly reality based without some sort of understanding that we are not the highest power in the world, and that there is Something or Someone that is.

Russia seems to be one of the very few places in the world where this relationship is understood and put into practice.  This is the real reason the Western media and politicians are so antagonistic, because to be traditional is “uncool”, “outdated”, and “not with the times…” – but the things that crowd to replace traditional values all share a very destructive tendency – to put people out of touch with their own reality, to deny the truth, and to blame everyone around them and insist that the world is full of persecutors and victims, with one’s self always the victim.

Russia stands in a much more honest and reality-based frame of reference than this.  And one major reason for this is in the souls of those thousands, maybe millions of people who stood for hours and hours in churches across the Russian land last night and today.

To all, a very merry Christmas!

 

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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