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  1. The Agape Experience

    Charles McKinney is a Peace Corps TEFL volunteer in Macedonia where he teaches English in a rural primary school. When he’s not busy with Peace Corps work, he likes to explore new parts of the country and, when permitted to cross the borders, he endeavors to see as much of Europe as possible. Charles was a first-time visitor to Italy recently and a first-time participant at Agape’s political camp. Connect with him via LinkedIn.

    Tucked away in the bodacious Alps Mountains of Northwest Italy not far from the French border is found an ecumenical center by the name of Agape that has been around since 1947 when it was constructed post-World War II by a dynamic new generation of Protestant youth under the tutelage of a Waldensian pastor. Agape’s foundation and evolution to this day has been rooted in a spirit of volunteer service, communal living and diversity, equity and inclusion to all the people who encounter its atmosphere. Each year folks the world over flock to Agape to partake in the various camps it offers: political, theological, work, family, women’s (to name a few).

    This year I attended the international political camp on Migration: Breaking Down Boundaries on a Journey toward a Common Home in Prali, Italy, an hour by car from Turin (the nearest metropolis). Men and women from over 30 countries assembled for this impactful camp that explored the causes and effects of universal migration, the human rights issues associated with migration, and practical ways that we all can get involved as activists to combat injustices faced by migrants/refugees before, during and after their journeys in search of a new normal, a better way of living.

    Welcome to Prali! Photo by Charles McKinney

    We heard the powerful and heartfelt stories of migrants from Turkish Kurdistan, Somalia and Sudan, putting us up close and personal with the bona fide struggles they endure and the victories they work toward as they establish themselves in their new homeland, that being Italy (a Promised Land for many refugees escaping political, religious and/or military conflict or persecution in their native lands).

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    Personal story. Photo by Charles McKinney

    For a whole week, I had the chance of meeting, learning from and enjoying the company of newfound friends that all brought something unique to the table of brotherly love and unity. Community service remained at the forefront of this experience as everyone pitched in to prepare for each meal that we ate collectively and, likewise, to clean up afterward. The multiple interpreters present facilitated everyone’s ability to understand the guest presenters during the camp; English was not necessarily the lingua franca as I had presumed beforehand and was challenged in being able to communicate with the non-English speaking campers. Nonetheless, nonverbal communication became all the more important in this context.

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    Role play “The Challenges of Migration”. Photo by Charles McKinney

    Not only were we stretched intellectually, but also physically as many of us embarked on an intense daylong hiking adventure in the Alps on the third day. Most of the group persevered until it reached the zenith while the rest of us relished the idea of moving at our own pace, taking frequent breaks and snapshots of the breathtaking landscape before eventually eating lunch and power napping. Then we decided to make the descent down the mountain in an attempt to avoid what appeared to be a potential rainstorm. Gelati and crepes awaited us on solid ground!

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    High in the mountains. Photo by Charles McKinney

    One of the highlights for me at this political camp, especially as a Peace Corps volunteer representing both Macedonia and the USA, was when I conversed with Dr. Katalina Tahaafe Williams from Tonga. She sat on the human rights panel, discussing her work and the hardships she has witnessed by migrants in the fight against the dehumanization and discrimination that tries to impede their progress en route to a promising tomorrow. Dr. Williams told me how she was influenced by a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga and how her family even named her after the place where the Peace Corps volunteer (who was a nurse) was from in the States (Katalina Island). It was heartening to hear this educated, cosmopolitan Tongan woman applaud the Peace Corps for its longstanding grassroots work and to be connected in this way. Now I just need to keep on running, working and acting in conjunction with my convictions that proclaim the inherent dignity and sanctity of every human life, migrant or not. I remember the countless migrants stranded at the Macedonian-Greek border in refugee camps, stagnant yet hopeful they can reach their dreams, never to return to a life or country infused with violence, pollution and despair.

    Thank you God and Agape for this outstanding opportunity to live in a Utopian milieu for seven days, the prototype for how the whole world should be at its best!

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  2. The Holy & Great Council of the Orthodox Church: result in great & lasting good?

    Natallia Vasilevichfrom SCM Belarus represented WSCF-E at the Holy and Great Council as a journalist. She writes her dissertation at the University of Bonn on the social doctrine of the Orthodox Church in the framework of the Holy and Great Council and pre-conciliar process.

    The forefather of the World Student Christian Federation, John R. Mott, being a participant of a special American Mission to Russia appointed by US President Wilson, spoke on June 19, 1917 at the Great Sobor (Council) of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Council was a landmark in the history of orthodoxy, witnessing the theological revival and courage, which impressed the General Secretary of WSCF:

    It has been most encouraging and inspiring to visit this great gathering and to see the open-minded and thorough way in which so many of your church leaders are facing their problems and seeking to adapt the church to new and modern conditions. This process is sure to result in great and lasting good. Let us have the courage to welcome and accept the truth form any quarter. In this period of change and readjustment when we are earnestly seeking to lay hold of new truth for life and work of the church, let us with like intensity and conviction hold fast to all that is true in historic Christianity, let us continue to ring true regarding the unchangeable and mighty truths of creedal Christianity; let us in a day of crass materialism and of cold intellectualism preserve the priceless possession of mystical Christianity; let us at all costs see that our Christianity is abounding in vitality; and, through the fearless and unflinching application of Christ’s principles, let us insist that it be made an adequate transforming power in social and national life and in international relationships… Above all let the Church be unfailing  in reminding the people that God only can enable us to accomplish His high and holy purpose. While everything else is changeable and changing, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yea, and forever. 1

    Mott’s words full of hope: “this process is sure to result in great and lasting good” unfortunately were not to be accomplished for the Great Sobor, as the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and further terror against the church led to destruction of the Sobor’s best intentions and aspiration, its legacy survived only in emigration.  However, all these words could be prophetically addressed to the other Great Council, which opened its works on 19 of June, exactly 99 years after the speech of Rev. Mott in Russia.

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    Photo by Nikos Kosmidis. A group of ecumenical observers

    The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church took place on Crete 19-26 June 2016, and the main sessions took place in a small Cretan village of Kolymbari. This remote destination concluded century-long journey of preparations and efforts, challenges and obstacles on the way towards the Council, which became an extraordinary event, although the Councils shall constitute natural order of the church’s decision-making process and serve as an expression of its unity.

    Started on the day of Pentecost to manifest its charismatic character, the Council appeared to be a very “normal” event, far from spectacular miracles of flames coming from above, and rather with miracle of humbleness, miracle of proximity, miracle of simplicity; miracle that one could twit and broadcast live videos in facebook. As my friend Ilona Sidoroff commented:

    Feels kinda weird… I mean we learned the synods at schools and now three of my friends are present there and I can follow it in Facebook. I mean wow, but at the same time is this really happening?

    And the main miracle was that the Council really took place, being so many times in history postponed, canceled, having process of preparation frozen due to external circumstances like wars or due to hostilities between the local churches. The Orthodox church is, confesses to be and aspires to be the one, and not “a federation of churches”. However, it is organised as a family of local churches, each one with its canonical territory and administrative structure: there are fourteen diverse autocephalous local churches sharing mutual recognition.

    Contemporary Orthodoxy is a complex and even controversial phenomenon, sometimes giving the impression that the Orthodox Church is rather divided than united. However, the problem for unity is not diversity, which is legitimate and acceptable, but divisions and conflicts, which emerged when each of the local churches “promotes its own interests and ambitions”2. The differences in practices, conflicts and misunderstandings shall be dealt in sincere aspiration and trust, in a constant process of discussions by re-discovering again and again the truth of the Gospel, of the holy doctrinal and canonic Tradition, not denying the historic experience, social and scientific developments:

    Divided by reasons of history and differences of language and nationality, the local holy Churches of God find their unity in mutual love and their courage in close fellowship with one another; and they derive power to make progress in faith and devotion, rejecting the crafts of hostility and proclaiming the Gospel universally.3

    Definition of the Council as an “expression of unity” might sound in regard to the Holy and Great Council ironically if not sarcastically, to note that four synods of the local Orthodox churches out of fourteen in the last moment broke their commitment and refused that their delegations come to Crete, claiming to postpone the Council for a later date: Patriarchates of Antioch, Bulgaria, Georgia and Moscow (alph. order). In sport they call it “forfeit”, and those not coming considered to be the losers. Just imagine that some national teams would not come to the Euro football championship, which started in France at the same dates as the Holy Council, if claiming to postpone the tournament or change its venue after the long process of being qualified.

    However, even being physically absent at the Council, the four forfeited “teams” contributed significantly to the content of the Council’s documents and to the process of their reception: five of six draft documents enjoyed unanimous approval by all local churches, and all six were developed by committees formed from representatives of all the local churches. Moreover, all the final versions of the documents are open for those not present to join.

    In the regard of opted churches I would like to mention courageous open letter composed by young Georgian theologians (incl. those who are affiliated with SCM Georgia) addressed to their Synod. In their lamentation, blaming on the one hand fundamentalist forces, on the other hand, political establishments, these theologians have manifested the presence of an alternative voice inside the Church of Georgia:

    The aspiration of the Orthodox Church to show herself as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” and to give unanimous answer to modern challenges are hindered and criticized by fundamentalist and ultraconservative religious groups in our local church. These extremist groups of priests and believers disseminate false and incorrect information about the upcoming Council. The Patriarchate of Georgia does not reacting against these destructive forces in a proper way. On the contrary, it sometimes even justify their activity as a defense of Orthodoxy.

    The orthodox world around us is divided mainly in two major “camps”: pro-Constantinople and pro-Moscow Orthodox churches. If the Orthodox Church of Georgia will not attend the upcoming Council in Crete, it will confirm once again that our church is ally Moscow Patriarchate which is an instrument of the Kremlin disgusting policy in post-Soviet countries.4

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    Photo by Nikos Kosmidis. Ecumenical observers in the Gonias monastery during Pentecost liturgy. Sitting (left to right): (1) His Eminence Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Roman Catholic Church; (2) Archbishop Gomidas Ohanian, Holy See of Cilicia of Armenian Apostolic Church; (3) Mor Timotheos Moussa Al Shamani, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Mor Matta Monastery, Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch; (4) Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Roman Catholic Church

    Idea of a “national interest” or an “interest” which fits more geopolitics and Realpolitik and which overpasses the idealistic concepts of “unity” or “common good” unfortunately plays significant role in the self-identity of the local churches. Russian theologian Andrey Shishkov goes as far that in case of local churches as autocephalous, self-governed churches it’s time to restore the Schmittean concept of “sovereignty”, however insisting on necessity of the Council to become a new authority, which demands to diminish “privatised” particular authorities of the local churches and requires from the local churches to refuse from their “sovereignty” for the sake of universal church5. In the Encyclical of the Council it is stated:

    The Orthodox Catholic Church comprises fourteen local Autocephalous Churches, recognized at a pan-Orthodox level. The principle of autocephaly cannot be allowed to operate at the expense of the principle of the catholicity and the unity of the Church.6

    In some sense, step to come to the Holy and Great Council was for the local churches a step of courage, of trust, of self-restraint, of kenosis, but not all were unfortunately psychologically ready to give up their self-governance: like some old bachelors running away from marriage right from the altar! Continuing wedding metaphor, despite the runaway of four local churches, the marriage has happened. As it happened in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), despite that fact that half of the young ladies were not prepared for bridegroom’s arrival.

    As the result of the Holy and Great Council the following eight documents were adopted:

    Visualisation of the Council’s documents looks inspiring with the keywords: God, Christ, Spirit, Church, Human, Man, World, Peace, Love, Freedom, Life, Faith, Unity.7

    Church word cloud - Orthodox Council by Natallia Vasillevich

    One can easily see the largest and dominating word “Church”, that signifies both that the inner church issues were the most urgent to be addressed by the Council, but also that that was the Church who dealt with those topics; it signifies, how much the Council was concerned with the self-identity of the church: who we are and what we are concerned with.

    This central notion also boosted the biggest controversy of the Council in regard to what was called by the document on the ecumenical movement as “the rest of the Christian world”. Can we use the word “church” towards non-Orthodox communities, speaking about Roman Catholic Church or Protestant churches or that is the notion appropriate exclusively for our own church, the Orthodox one? Or can we erase from the document on ecumenical relations which welcomes participation in the ecumenical movement and in theological dialogues, the word “church” after centuries of using it in relation to heterodox communities, and to start to use simply, for example, notions like “Roman Catholic community” or “Protestants confessions”, denying their self-identity as churches? Despite the strong opposition, the fathers of the Council (with some individual exceptions of bishops not signing the document voted by the church delegations) unequivocally insisted, that “the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her”8, and claim that “the Orthodox participation in the movement to restore unity with other Christians in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is in no way foreign to the nature and history of the Orthodox Church, but rather represents a consistent expression of the apostolic faith and tradition in a new historical circumstances”9. In the same time, the Council condemned those individuals and groups, which “under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy” attempt “to break the unity of the Church”10.

    Next two significant words for the documents are “man” and “human”. And anthropology, teaching on human being, also played a central role in the Council’s concerns. In the document “Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s world” a human being was in the centre, and the very notion of “human being” was not away from controversies in relation to the notion of “person”. Theological debate were initiated by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, who claimed the problematic character of the notion “person” and fought against personalism, which, according to him associates “the energy-will with the person”, and not with the nature, while “will and self-rule do not belong to the person, but to nature. The person is the one who desires, while desire is an appetite of nature and will is a result of the desire of the one who desires.” Could be considered just as philosophical debates, but anthropology – how we see a human being, nature and freedom, results in how we treat the human being in relation to the society and its organisation, in particular, in implications how much important is to protect freedom of person – meaning freedom of choice, freedom of will, freedom of making personal decisions on the basis of unique personhood and not on the basis of human nature. Despite criticism, the Council insisted on necessity to use of the “modern” concept of a “human person”, arguing about its value, which implicitly includes also recognition of the value of personal identity and the freedom of a choice. The Council recognises that

    Human rights today are at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state. Our Church also adds to this the obligations and responsibilities of the citizens and the need for constant self-criticism on the part of both politicians and citizens for the improvement of society. And above all she emphasises that the Orthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that ” greatest of all is love”, as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced.11

    Natallia Orthodox Council 2016 - 3

    The third notion which I would like to pick from the picture is the “world”. As His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew manifested in his opening speech at the Council:

    The Church does not exist for itself, but for the entire world and its salvation, having as its head Christ ‘the firstborn of all creation’, in whom and through whom God pleased to ‘reconcile to Himself all things, making peace by the blood of His Cross, whether on earth or in heaven’ (cf. Col. 1.16, 20).

    In this regard, the world is not something “outside” the Church, as the salvation is proposed to the whole creation, and all thing are to be reconciled in Him, so to say, to come “under His head”12. We see the world not as something alien and hostile for the church, but rather church is called to follow example of Christ, it

    shares in our anguish and existential problems, taking upon herself … our suffering and wounds, which are caused by evil in the world and, like the Good Samaritan, pouring oil and wine upon our wound… The word addressed to the world is not primarily meant to judge and condemn the world…13

    That is an important shift in the self-identity of the church: how to relate to the world which is wounded;  and touching the wounds, to be rather “oil and wine” to heal them, than “salt” which is never helpful for healing the wounds and causes more pain.

    In hope to receive “oil and wine” on the wounds, calling to the safe space, with a fear to be judged by the “salty” words as an answer to a personal story of sorrow of being LGBT in the Orthodox Church, Misha Cherniak on behalf of Orthodox LGBT Christians addressed courageous open letter to the Holy Council.

    ….Even though LGBT people are quite often presented as being a group external to the Orthodox Church, the European Forum of LGBT Groups can testify that, in fact, the proportion of people of non-traditional sexual orientation and gender identity is the same within the Orthodox Church as it is outside. This has become clear to us through our many activities related to Eastern Europe and thanks to the presence of Orthodox Christians among our member groups….

    We ask you: in your sermons and speeches, whenever you mention LGBT persons and issues, remember that we actually might be standing right before you! We are not an abstract concept, but actual human beings—your children, sisters, and brothers…

    We ask you: do everything you can to stop this violence and aggression! Too often, those who shout words of hatred claim to base them in the holy Orthodox Tradition. We plead with you, beloved teachers and guardians of our Tradition: do not let it be misused to bring death and destroy human lives! Let love and care precede admonition….

    We believe that Holy Scripture and the Orthodox Tradition offer many examples of consolation and blessing for the diverse reality of human sexuality, which includes LGBT persons and their relations. We are aware that our understanding of Holy Scripture and Orthodox theology as enabling the harmonious reconciliation of our sexual and religious identities may seem audacious—but we ask you to hear us out. We urge you to establish safe spaces for dialogue: situations and places where those of differing views can share not only their opinions, but also their doubts and personal stories.14

    Not an abstract concept, whether it be “person”, “human being”, or “man”; but “actual human beings” – what a powerful claim! The theological discussions do not deal with an abstract concepts, they have direct implications on the life of the concrete people. Concepts might be ideal constructions, like in the Document “The Sacrament of Marriage”, which quite abstractly prescribes, that “Marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians is forbidden according to canonical akribeia” (II.5.i). But when it comes to concrete human situation, this idealistic akribeia has to be reconciled and balanced by another principle of application of canons – oikonomia, pastoral flexibility and discernment (II.5.ii.). At the same time, even wide application of oikonomia is not the final answer to the challenges, because as a principle it proposes just exceptions from the rule, legitimate deviation from the norm. While dealing with concrete situations of the reality – with the “today’s world” which is dynamic and rapidly changing, with development of sciences, requires constant reflection, reconsidering and reconsidering of our canonical norms in new circumstances.

    In conclusion, I would like to recall again word’s of John Mott – as my personal impression:

    It has been most encouraging and inspiring to visit this great gathering and to see the open-minded and thorough way in which so many of your church leaders are facing their problems and seeking to adapt the church to new and modern conditions.

    Sometimes, of course, watching the process of the Holy and Great Council, I was not only encouraged and inspired, but disappointed and even devastated. Sometimes I had impressions that Great Sobor of the Russian Church in 1917-1918, one century ago, was much more progressive than the actual one. But there is still hope and conviction, that the Holy and Great Council is not something what just happened once, that it will result in great and lasting good. The Council boosted the theological reflection, diagnosed many divisions, wounds and weaknesses, and it will continue to be a reference point for the Orthodox Church, its identity and its positions.

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    Endnotes

    [1] Mott, John R. “Before the Russian Orthodox Church,” in America’s Message to the Russian People; Addresses by the Members of the Special Diplomatic Mission of the United States to Russia in the Year 1917. Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1918. Pp. 105-111

    [2] From the Opening Address by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Inaugural Session of the Holy and Great Council.

    [3] Answer of the Russian Orthodox Church to Patriarch Joachim III’s letter informing about his election as the Ecumenical Patriarch quoted in: Patriarchal and Synodical Letter of 1902. Orthodox Visions of Ecumenism. Statements, Messages and Reports on the Ecumenical Movement. 1902-1992. Compl. by Gennadios Limouris. WCC Publications, Geneva, 1994, 1-5

    [4] Open Letter of Georgian theologians to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Georgia – https://www.orthodoxcouncil.org/-/open-letter-of-georgian-theologians-to-the-holy-synod-of-orthodox-church-of-georgia-support-the-holy-and-great-council-?inheritRedirect=true&redirect=%2Fcommentaries

    [5] Shishkov, Andrey, Церковная автокефалия через призму теории суверенитета Карла Шмитта, in: Государство, религия, церковь №3, 2014, 197-224.

    [6] Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, p.5

    [7] Visualisation of the Documents content (created using Voyant Tools)

    [8] Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World, p.6

    [9] Ibid., p.4

    [10] Ibid., p 22

    [11] Message of the Holy and Great Council, p.10.

    [12] Eph. 1:10 “To unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth”, where unite in Greek is ἀνακεφαλαιὠσασθαι, so to say, to head-up. This concept of heading-up, recapitulatio was further developed by Irenaeus of Lyon in Adversus haereses: Christ embracing the entire Creation to save it.

    [13] Mission of the Church in the Today’s World, Introduction.

    [14] Open letter from the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, gathered at Crete, June 2016. http://www.euroforumlgbtchristians.eu/index.php/en/media-press/press-releases/223-open-letter-to-the-holy-and-great-council-of-the-orthodox-church

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  3. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me & to accomplish his work”: Reading & Responding to the Signs of the Times

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various professional and faith-based organisation including, PhISO, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands. 

    On 8 July 2016, I arrived at Mytilene International Airport, Lesvos Greece. The main purpose is to join the voluntary program of the Christian Peacemaker Teams Mediterranean (CPT). The Christian Peacemaker Teams is an organisation working and participating in a non-violent struggle around the world. Inspired by the public ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, the CPT stand for human rights, reclaim human dignity, and witness to the world without war. In response to the sudden influx of refugees in European nations, CPT is answering the call The CPT Mediterranean project was initiated by CPTers in Europe. In 2014, CPT was invited by Greek local partners and the goal of this project is to work alongside local of local partners to accompany and to protect refugees in the Lesvos Island, Greece.

    Photo by Hadje C. Sadje

    Photo by Hadje C. Sadje

    Situating the prophetic role of the CPT in EU Refugee Crisis

    Lesvos Island is one of the key points of entry for the refugees wishing to travel to Europe. The European Union heads of state or government were overwhelmed by the massive flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. In response, the EU frame the refugee crisis as security and economic issues. EU heads of state and Turkey government agreed and finalised the deal on 20 March 2016. In general, the outcome of the deal: all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey; and for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU. After the finalisation of the EU-Turkey deal everything has changed. The EU-Turkey deal puts asylum seekers stock up in limbo—a life of waiting for their applications. EU refugee’s everyday life is like a rat race. EU refuges stock up with no job, uncertain future, no freedom of movement, live in a constant fear of xenophobia, and live in poor housing conditions. EU refugee camp conditions vary wildly in their size and ethnicity. These people are risking everything for a chance on asylum application to be approved by EU states. In light of these disputed EU-Turkey deal, CPT Mediterranean Project might be brought into a more fruitful conversation and better inform the Church’s response to the global refugee crisis, particularly in European nations.

    Standing on the Gaps

    In the rise of the far-right and nationalist parties, EU refugees lived under the constant fear, violence, and threat of xenophobia. Being a EU refugee, some far-right individual and groups perceived them as a threat to national security, lingering terrorist, not entitled to free movement, and the worst is a carrier of the disease. At the project’s onset, I am aware of the severity of ideological tensions among the European clergy, church members, and activists in response to EU refugee crisis. However, CPT takes an important step in the pursuit of Christian prophetic presence in the EU refugee crisis. I am aware that there are many different classifications of NGO works in the entire Island of Lesvos but CPT Team demonstrates that contemporary Christian community is not detached from the reality on the ground. The concrete contribution of CPT is redeeming the idea of social justice as one of the primary concerns of the Gospel of Christ, not simply praying for vulnerable but by undoing oppression, undoing racism, undoing heterosexism, and sexual harassment. The CPT Mediterranean Team is standing on the gaps for human rights, reclaim human dignity, and witness to the world without war.

    Hadje Lesvos 2

    Photo by Kayla Louise, CPT 2016

    I personally owe so much to CPT Mediterranean Team to have the privilege to work with them. Bringing me to volunteer opportunities throughout CPT Mediterranean Project, CPT Team helped foster my awareness of the EU refugee crisis and vulnerable economic migrants actualised my Christian faith marked for me by immense privilege. I developed a deeper understanding of the justice of God work as a response to standing for human rights, reclaim human dignity, and witness to the world without war.

    Hadje Lesvos 3

    Photo by Hadje C. Sadje

    Now, are we ready to accept the challenge? EU Refugee Crisis is calling—how will you answer? As our Lord Jesus Christ says:

    “Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

    NOTE:

    If you need more information about Christian Peacemaker Team program please contact us by email at . Or, to learn more about Christian Peacemaker Team please visit our official website: http://www.cpt.org/.

     

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  4. The Twilight of the Imago Dei & the Rise of Global Corporate Power

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various professional and faith-based organisation including, PhISO, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands. 

     

    “In a world of increasing inequality, the legitimacy of institutions that give precedence to the property rights of ‘the Haves’ over the human rights of ‘the Have Nots’ is inevitably called into serious question..

    David Korten

    At the beginning of the 21th century, the idea of neoliberalism had become so widespread in both popular and academic debates. In his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism a British Anthropologist David Harvey elegantly puts it this way, “neoliberalism is a political economic theory that proposes human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trades [1].” Despite its strong voice of individual freedom reiterated by a number of economists over the year, IMF and the World Bank admitted neoliberalism is wrong all along. Interestingly, it is not visible to us however, it is virtually assured. With grim repercussions to the present, what we see now on the global stage thus devolves from structural greed, materialistic, and utilitarian cultures.

    In 1995, American intellectual activist David Korten published a book entitled, When Corporates Rule the World, offered a critical analysis of elite corporate power and its destructive global economic system. Korten argues that elite corporate power is destroying the world and has emerged as a dominant government [2]. In this book, Korten still looking for reformist stance against global economic system. In the following publication, The Post Corporate World, Korten seems to say that he shifted into a radical perspective that capitalism is to be an evil social force. In the end, the implication of this Korten’s perspective is that there is a possibility for a world to be without capitalism. Although this radical stance is debatable among economic technocrats and social scientist, nonetheless, there are people who attempt to offer resistance and alternative options to these unstoppable corporate-led globalization.

    In this circumstance, these two important books reminds me of catastrophic aspect of the international trade triumvirate’s agenda: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Trade in Service Agreement (TiSA). At its early stage the TPP is being negotiated by the government of the United State and eleven other countries, encompassing 40% of the global economy. The TPP is beginning to unmask its economic regionalist project known as TPP, TTIP, TiSA Triumvirate. The international trade triumvirate claims to be a “free trade” agreement. However, it is a Trojan horse of elite corporate power to advance corporate interests.

    In addition, the international trade triumvirate’s agenda would instrumentalise to remove all of regulations that protect human rights. Critics contend that the rise of the international trade triumvirate is not just economic phenomenon but also a complex geopolitics of the conflict. After the TPP leaked documents’ secret agenda came out, it kept me worried about the future of humanity in the hands of a global elite corporation. Obviously, the impact of corporate power that is concentrated in the hands of a few elite is quite disturbing and alarming. I feel a deep sense that I am living in the end times. As a Christian activist, working on different social issues I never expected that this “outdated” socio-economic vocabulary will confront us again and again. It seems that neoliberalism is like an invisible enemy or foe working along with other social institutions.

    Source: Sepponet

    Image source: Sepponet

    In this short article, I will focus exclusively on TPP’s corporate agenda and the rest will be carried out. Recently, democratic values, human dignity and sanctity of God’s creation have again been under attack by market ideology. The legality of the TPP’s agenda, and its procedures emerged in the wake of heated debate over Western states, grassroots movements, and policy makers. The debate erupts over the TPP’s legality and legitimacy of the use of force to implement its neoliberal policy that would protect those elite corporations is against democratic values. As it turns out, TPP overrule the state power. Noam Chomsky during his live interview in HuffPost in 2014, describes the TPP agenda as:

    “…It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”

    It is clearly nothing new about the treat of elite corporate power that has plagued humanity since the beginning. Today, if I put it more controversially, elite corporate power is becoming more complex and aggressive. We are pressed on all sides knowing that this structural greed is eroding our human dignity. We will not be a bit surprised when, as faith-community, we circumscribed with this environment also known as structural greed.

    Source: Polyp.org.uk

    Image source: Polyp.org.uk

    A decisive point for the broader understanding of disastrous terms and conditions of the TPP, Naomi Klein describes:

    “This deal—the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP—has been called “NAFTA on steroids.” It’s the latest and largest in a series of international agreements that have attacked working women and men, fueled mindless and carbon-intensive consumption, and prevented governments from enforcing their own laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions. NAFTA-esque deals around the world have been a disaster for democracy, good jobs, and environmental justice.”

    Photo: Garry Knight/flickr/cc

    Photo: Garry Knight/flickr/cc

    This critical insight is expressed in several reasons, in which, why we need to stop and challenged the international trade triumvirate: TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. The Human Right Watch (2016) summed up some key issues about the TPP’s corporate agenda: first, it is extremely exploitation of workers. Lower wages and job off-shoring will rise in the US and in all TPP member countries. Second, new intellectual property rules would give big pharmaceutical companies to extend their lucrative monopoly of drug sale. In short, it will raise drug or medicine prices. Third, it will threaten and reduce environmental protection policies. Meaning, it will increased water and air pollution to ensure continuation of the fossil-fuel production. Fourth, it will increase the volume of importuned and potential risky food or genetically modified organism (GMO). Fifth, the TPP Investor Rights will kill local industries and it will empower multinational and foreign companies. Finally, the most disturbing and controversial aspect of the TPP is their proposal to establish the Investor-State Dispute Settlement also known as the ISDS. The ISDS serves as mediator to settle disputes between states and elite corporations. However, the critics suggest that it would empower elite corporations to overrun the sovereignty of state members in the future. It also made it difficult for the state members to limit and regulate multinational corporations. At its best, the international trade triumvirate will instrumentalize the ISDS in order for them to be outside, immune, and above the law. ISDS will challenge member state’s sovereignty. It is unimaginable, for example, to see how elite corporations will sue member states for the loss of profits and removing those regulations that protect labor rights. In short, it is more on trading, profits over people. When I think of these future terms and conditions I cannot help but to think of the twilight of the Imago Dei (Human Dignity) and the rise of Antichrist—Elite Corporation.

    Corporate school Hadje

    Image source: Polyp.org.uk

    The question for the Christian churches, then, is why the international trade triumvirate agenda matters? In view of this, I believe our world today stands in need of a serious moral thinker that would wrestle with problems which are not out of date, but which recur again and again in our life. For me, there are five indispensable reasons for Christian churches and activists to resist and condemn the international trade triumvirate general agenda. First, TPP’s corporate agenda is, however, not only a socio-economic phenomenon it also has theological, and moral dimensions. Second, I learned Christianity as a way of life is centered totally on serving God by loving and siding with marginalised community. It is not an option but it is a must. Third, neoliberalism is not an impasses subject in contemporary moral and ethical debates, it is a form of “Idolatry of the Market” which is at its root in spiritual matter. The recent TPP’s corporate agenda exposed the underlying scandalous corporate greed at the expense of our fundamental humanity. We are assured by powerful elite corporations that they were running the global wealth effectively that has not turned out to be the case. Fourth, we should remind these elite corporations that God’s creation is not owned by them. We are stewards not owners. God’s creation is intended to be justly, and equally distributed among people. TPP’s corporate agenda distorts and enslaves God’s intention for human communities and for all of creation. Fifth, TPP’s corporate agenda has deleterious effects on human dignity, democratic values, and sanctity of God’s creation. I was horrified at the corporate agenda of TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. It is clear enough that international trade triumvirate’s corporate agenda pushes human being subject for dehumanisation and exploitation. The global corporate agenda considered human being not as a human being created in the image of God but reducing human being to their economic value and destroying their lives to its commanding false needs. Treating human being as acquisitive individuals who must be seduced into materialistic, greedy, and utilitarian cultures is basically not of God.

    Charity and trade

    Image source: Polyp.org.uk

    We, Christians should rediscover our prophetic role to challenge the modern day Babylon namely, the Wall Street. Being made in God’s image, we have fundamental rights that elite corporation should value, respect, and recognize. As Christians, God expects us that we should challenge individuals, communities, cities, societies, and countries to stand against TPP, TTIP and TiSA. We must stop worshipping this structural greed. We should condemn the prevailing structural greed and its materialistic culture which perpetuates suppression, exploitation, and dehumanize us. This is the task of the Christian community to live out of its theology and so to proclaim and enact the Kingdom of God.

    References

    [1] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (UK: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2.

    [2] David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World, (United States: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc, 2001).

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  5. In Christ there are both males & females, both grown-ups & children

    Natallia profileNatallia Vasilevich, Ecumenical Orthodox Belarusian living in Germany. Studied law, political sciences and theology in Minsk and Bonn, currently writing her PhD at university of Bonn on topic of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church. Represents WSCF-E in the Thematic Reference Group on Human Rights of CEC. Director of Belarusian SCM Centre “Ecumena”.

     

    Report: WSCF-E at CEC Summer School on Human Rights

    31 May – 4 June 2016 I participated in the Summer School on Human Rights of the Conference of European Churches, which took place in Thessaloniki in cooperation with the Theological Faculty of Aristotle University. This summer school is the third one organised by CEC and more precisely by the Thematic Reference Group on Human Rights, where I am representing WSCF-E. The topic of the summer school was an imperative: “Stand up for women’s and children’s rights”, and included sessions on theological, legal and practical approach to children’s and women’s status and rights in churches and societies all around Europe.

    At the opening - member of the working group Geesje Werkman from the Netherlands. Picture by Patrick Roger Schnabel. More than 90 people participated at the opening session, including many students of the Aristotle University.

    At the opening – member of the working group Geesje Werkman from the Netherlands. Picture by Patrick Roger Schnabel. More than 90 people participated at the opening session, including many students of the Aristotle University.

    Women and children are still vulnerable members of the societies and churches, and often are victims of violence and harassment. Their dignity is diminished by the existing hierarchical social structures, by poverty and violation of the basic human rights and needs. In situation of refugees and other disadvantaged groups, these problems are increasing significantly. Apart from sitting for women’s and children’s rights at the university, sometimes we were also standing up – participants also could participate in study visits. Myself I visited organization Faros Tou Kosmou led by archim. Athenagoras Loukataris, Orthodox priest, working – and living – with Roma minors in Thessaloniki, promoting their education and activities. On Saturday participants visited detention camp / refugee relocation center in Diavata, where people are waiting months and months in tents in quite poor sanitary conditions. A lot of volunteers and NGOs try to help to the refugees to survive, but their possibilities are very limited, due to difficult financial situation in Greece.

    Natallia SSHR 2016-6

    Selfie with Fr. Athenagoras and Roma teenagers.

    The Thematic Reference Group on Human Rights is one of 10 Thematic Reference Groups as the working mechanisms of the Conference of European Churches. For CEC human rights is a part of it’s DNA, European Churches recognized them as a very important topic in the significant ecumenical document Charta Oecumenica. Working group consists of representatives of the member churches and organisations, and is lead by CEC’s secretary on human rights Mag. Elizabeta Kitanovic. The work of the Thematic Reference Group concerns not only theological reflection on human rights, but also monitoring and advocating for human rights.

    During break - still discussing women’s place in the church. With Fulata Moyo from WCC.

    During break – still discussing women’s place in the church. With Fulata Moyo from WCC.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on June 9th, 2016 10:42 pm / Continue Reading »

  6. Report: WSCF-E at “Gender Equality Matters” seminar by Council of Europe

    Salma picSalma Charaf is recently elected WSCF Vice-Chairperson. Raised  in Morocco, in an open-minded Russian-Moroccan family, Salma is currently based in Paris, and represents SCM France. She also represents WSCF at UNESCO. Ms Charaf is a student of International Relations and Management.

     

    Gender Equality seminar, held at the European Youth Center (Council of Europe) in Strasbourg from 1st until 3rd June, was a great opportunity for representatives of different European organizations to meet and to share experiences and thoughts on this very important topic.

    Salma gender equality 2

    This seminar has gathered participants from 21 countries and has been a center of discussion and learning represented by people who are professionals in this field, such as the speakers that has shared their presentations, but also the participants who also work on gender quality issues in their own countries.

    The objective of this seminar was to understand and to explore the meaning of gender equality, and more precisely to understand it in the context of youth environment. The idea of the seminar was to organize an intercultural non-formal educational youth activities taking in account gender equality policies of the Council of Europe.

    Salma Gender equality 1

    The workshops have helped to understand how current practices in the youth department apply gender equality and gender mainstreaming, what are the new tools, and what are the new guidelines that would help a youth organization to develop its gender equality policy.

    Salma Gender Equality 3

    As for me, this seminar has helped me to understand better the topic, it also gave me the opportunity to share about WSCF’s work on gender equality, and share the latest activities and conferences that we have organized on the topic. Ialso appreciate a lot the opportunity to get acquainted with participants, to learn about their organizations, and to exchange contacts for our further cooperation.

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  7. Why I chose to become a homo oecumenica? Challenging the Politics of Labelling

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various professional and faith-based organisation including, PhISO, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands. 

     

    “When we require that all people must say the same words or subscribe to the same creeds in order to experience God, we underestimate the scope and power of God’s activity in the world.”.
    —Rachel Held Evans

    The future of Christian identity has become a general concern at this very difficult yet crucial part of the 21th century. We have entered a new phase in the debate about identity formation. A Jewish activist Judith Butler called it, “identity politics” discourse. While an American critical theorist Nancy Fraser described it as “politics of recognition” debates [1]. Although these concepts are contestable, it is suggested that our identity could be philosophically, politically, and socially construct based on the notion of “us” and “them”. As we go about our daily lives, we are polarized by categorical labeling, great inequalities, and injustices but we are also increasingly interconnected. Globally, everything is so interconnected by modern technologies that enable us to challenge those conventional notions of categorical labelling, identity formation, and the politics of representation.

    labels

    We find ourselves every day in a constant identity formation and identity crises. At all times, our lives are intimately interwoven in social networks, social expectations, and reproduction of meaning with other people. Definitely, the decisions of our immediate families, political affiliations, and social environments will probably have a major impact on our own choice and identity. In reverse, it might be said, that these social construct affect people’s perception of both themselves and their relationship to other people.

    We, as faith community, have lived through a moment that will continue to define our capacity to face those daunting challenges of diverse trajectories. Therefore, we must be critical and reflective, as Ros Hague argues, to those we considered as unchosen or enforced identities upon us [2].

    Many years ago, I was misinformed about the ecumenical advocacy of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Some of my “close Christian friends” wrongly equated the World Council of Churches vision and mission to religious syncretism. I was stunned how they categorised the WCC as false Christian organisation. Since the establishment of World Council of Churches, the ecumenical movement has been much maligned and severely misunderstood in the conservative Christian circle. Labels such as “conservative” and “liberal” Christianity are so insufficient or obscure concepts. I wilfully refuse to be labelled as “conservative” or “liberal” Christian because I believe that “categorical labeling” is a divisive language. Such label is used to interpret the stranger’s world into our own set of standard, norm, and biases. Despite Christian churches’ agreement that progress has been made in the last years of the 20th century, using superficial grasp or stereotype still continue to have distorted the imagery of the World Council of Churches, painting them all with the same brush. A common misconception about ecumenical movement is that it promotes “syncretism’ among Christian churches. Some conservative Christian communities have used some alarmist hate speeches against the WCC. For example, conservative views argues that WCC mission and vision statements paved the way for the Antichrist. Many conservatives regarded ecumenical movement as a form of New Age Movement or Satanism. For them, it is compromised that resulted in jeopardizing the Kingdom of God and loss of our Christian identity.

    I am very grateful and honoured to be a member of the World Student Christian Federation-Europe despite the odds. As a member of WSCF-E I have become so vulnerable to moral panic. I have received much criticism after this public exposure. Last month, annoyed as I was, I tried to maintain my composure and calmly responded to those individuals who tried to question my faith, theological-orientation, and advocacy. I was politically-charged as a left-wing Christian. They thought that I was losing my Christian faith and identity. Honestly, I struggled to engage my conservative family members, friends, and colleagues who have been compounded by their lack of understanding of what WCC and WSCF-E do. As was to be expected, without taking a minute, they responded back to me by quoting Biblical verses, justifying their bigotry through the Christian Scripture.

    Shortly after my three months of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) program, everything has changed. As a result of my understanding of Palestinian struggle, witnessing, and experiencing life under Israeli occupation I have realised that I needed to rethink my Christian theological stance. Undoubtedly, the EAPPI program was an eye-opener for me. It was a sudden realization that changed my life and how I see God working far beyond conventional human understanding. My growing dissatisfaction with some of my previous social organisations, cultural practices, and theological convictions led me to explore the social ministry of the World Council of Churches and World Student Christian Federation-Europe. I can say, I finally found my calling as a Christian human rights advocate. Most of all, I have found my answer to my earlier question, why I chose to be a homo oecumenica or ecumenical being. Because my insatiable curiosity led me to realization, far from imposing “categorical labeling,” and WSCF-E and WCC have been strong examples of resilience and dignity, and their insistence in building God’s Kingdom of justice, reconciliation, and peace (see Luke 4: 16-30).

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    To avoid confusion, we need to define the word, “ecumenical” or “oikoumene” (Greek translation). It means simply “the whole world.” This does not mean syncretism but promoting unity in diversity among Christian churches to challenge social injustices around the world. I would say, we are united with Lord Jesus Christ, as a centre of integrating principle. Contrary, to Stanley J. Samartha’s description syncretism as an uncritical mixture of elements from different religions without a centre of integrating principle. Samartha contends, it leads to spiritual poverty, theological confusion, and ethical impotence [3]. However, Julio Santa Ana contends that the word ecumenical is interpreted differently by different Christian groups and different time periods [4]. So different types of Christian organisations developed their own understanding of ecumenical movement. In attempt to have a broader description Thomas E. Fitzgerald put it,

    For Fitzgerald,

    “…the ecumenical movement strictly refers to the quest for Christian reconciliation and the restoration of the visible unity of the Christian churches in shared Christian faith, in the sacraments, and in witness [5].”

    Ecumenical movement is a form of awakening and responding to undaunted calls for “reconciling diversity.” Some of us tend to totalize our Christian identity. Worse, the rest of us tend to think that we have a monopoly of religious “Truth”. Admittedly, we were tempted to outcast, criticises and marginalizes people who do not share our views, beliefs, and convictions. Obviously, conservative views have no tolerance for diversity of rituals, social identities, and convictions. However, we Christians are called to embrace unity in diversity or “reconciling diversity”. The Holy Spirit that dwells in us, as community of believers, inspire us to unite against categorical labelling, discrimination, injustices, and to promote equality for all. This concept of “reconciling diversity” was introduces in the WCC document entitled, “The Church: Towards a Common Vision in 2013.” According to WCC document (2013),

    “Legitimate diversity in the life of communion is a gift from the Lord. The Holy Spirit bestows variety of complementary gifts on the faithful for the common good [6].”

    In this section, it is clearly stated that we must recognize, therefore, that diversity is a gift from the Lord. We, Christians from diverse backgrounds are called by God to make up the hedge and stand in the gap, in order to work toward peace based on justice and reconciliation. We, WSCF-E must challenge the misguided information shared by critics and those distorted imagery of the ecumenical movement.

    hands

    I should like, in closing this reflection, to return to how people use labels to assign how others should see themselves. As Steffi Retzlaff argues, labelling is a political act since labels include and exclude [7]. We should not deceive ourselves. “Categorical labeling” is a form of symbolic violence. In most cases, it is the exercise of violence that leads to the marginalization of those people who do not share our views, beliefs, and convictions. In the religious context, “conservative” and “liberal” Christian should not be used as general descriptors. Such labels or categories represents over-simplification of our individual identities, and the people living in the margins of society have no choice but to use them. In the process, labeling might leads to marginalization, discrimination, and moral evaluation against people who do not share our views, beliefs, and convictions. We must welcome, embrace, nurture, and promote the concept of “reconciling diversity” among Christian community (including non-Christian community). We should understand that God’s Spirit moves beyond the church. We cannot and should not limit God’s work. According to the Second Prophet Isaiah (55: 8-9);

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    We, Christians should challenge the politics of labelling. We should stop this exercise of violence, categorical labelling. We welcome the stranger and strange world. We, WSCF-E as student ecumenical movement called to join the advocacy of justice and peace action network.

    Let me conclude this short article by inviting you to reflect on this powerful passage from the Gospel according to Mark 9: 39-41;

    John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

    References

     

    [1] Nancy Fraser, “Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition, and Participation,” The Tanner Lectures On Human Values Delivered at Stanford University (April 30–May 2, 1996), 1-67. Assessed May 5, 2016.  http://tannerlectures.utah.edu/_documents/a-to-z/f/Fraser98.pdf.

    [2] Ros Hague, Autonomy and Identity: The Politics of Who We Are, (US: Routledge, 2011), 11.

    [3] Stanley J. Samartha. “The Holy Spirit and People of Other Faiths,” The Ecumenical Review 42, no.3 (1990): 250-263.

    [4] Julio de Santa Ana and Ninan Koshy. ‘On the Meaning of ‘Ecumenical’. In: Julio de Santa Ana et al. (eds.) Beyond Idealism: A Way Ahead for Ecumenical Social Ethics, 30–55. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.

    [5] Thomas E. Fitzgerald. The Ecumenical Movement: An Introductory History, (US: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2004), 4-5.

    [6] World Council of Churches 10th Assembly Resource Book. Geneva: WCC Publications, 2013, 16.

    [7] Steffi Retzlaff. “What is in a name? The Politics of Labelling and Native Identity Construction,” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXV, 2 (2005), 609-626.

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  8. First impressions from the Study Session 2016

    Greetings from European Youth Centre Budapest – here for the study session “Let’s talk about sexuality”. Here, Niels Gade from Denmark, shares his experiences about the meeting.

    Niels, what was the most interesting thought you have discovered because of yesterday’s discussions or encounters?

    One thought is that in cultures where same-sex marriage is currently legalised, pastors reserve the right to not officiate marriages between said couples. That they have the right and may opt not to do this, is largely frowned upon by many and seen as discriminatory – but is that a fair critique? Would forcing pastors to perform same-sex marriages when it is against their conviction not in itself be an unjust limitation of theological convictions in the church?

    The most shocking gender stereotype from other cultures/countries that you have discovered during today’s “gender-in-a-box” discussion?

    Apparently, ‘curry’ is a desired quality in the ideal woman..?

    Name three of your new favourite foods or drinks from other countries – from yesterday’s international banquet?

    – Ajvar, which is forever my favourite.
    – Baklava, which is to die for.
    – Italian wine from Sicily. It is wine, after all.

    13214535_10156881019335582_439951109_o

    Stay tuned for more news from the study session! Or, check our twitter feed: (link)

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  9. Orthodox Easter for Dummies

    orthodoxeasterfordummies

    Orthodox Christians sometimes celebrate Easter at a different time than other Christians. This year (2016), Orthodox Easter period starts on May 1, while the Western Churches are just two weeks short from the Pentecost Feast. (Find out why.) This Easter we have interviewed a Romanian Orthodox Christian “source” to understand better, what is going on in the Orthodox church in this period.

    The actual day of Easter is preceded by the Great Lent, which is the time for preparation, silence, and concentrating on what Easter is all about – the time of renouncing of worldly distractions, and concentrating on Christ’s journey to Resurrection. This year, with Easter celebrated on 1 May, the Great Lent has started on 14 March. Each Easter week is marked by a thematic Sunday.

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    1. Sunday: Triumph of Orthodoxy
    2. Sunday: St. Gregory Palamas
    3. Sunday: Veneration of the Cross
    4. Sunday: St. John Climacus
    5. Sunday: St. Mary of Egypt
    6. Sunday: Palm Sunday. The Lord’s Entry in Jerusalem, in Romanian named Flower Sunday (Duminica Floriilor). This Sunday is preceded by Lazarus Saturday.

     

    Normally in the Orthodox Church tradition, any given day starts on the evening of the previous day. This is a little complicated to explain, but the idea is the same like in Jewish time understanding – the Sabbath starts on Friday at sunset, and ends on Saturday on sunset. So, in Orthodox Christianity, normally Sunday celebration is already getting mentions – officially starting – on Saturday evening. This is how it normally goes. However, during the Holy and Great week, the time double-speeds-up, in the words of our Romanian source, hurrying up towards the Easter, trying to get to the Feast of Feasts faster.

    After the 6th Sunday starts the Holy and Great week, where each day carries a special meaning and is celebrated differently. Since today is Holy Thursday, we paid most attention to the services from today on and until Sunday.

    On Holy Thursday morning, the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) Holy Thursday begins with the celebration of vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, in representation of the earthly presence of Christ realized at the Last Supper. In ROC, the choir sings a special chant “From the feast table of the Lord” (“Din ospatul Stapanului“) instead of the usual Hymn to the Mother of God (Axion) – like a few other chants, this one is sung only once a year at this specific service.

    In some churches, during the service, the highest-ranked priest washes and dries the feet of twelve priests, monks or laymen, to connect the today with the humble gesture of Christ towards his disciples at the Last Supper.

    sfanta_si_marea_joi_-_cina_cea_de_taina

    On Holy Thursday evening, the liturgical time for the services is actually the Matins of Friday morning. The Holy Passion service of the reading of the Twelve Gospels is conducted. In these readings Christ’s last instructions to his disciples are presented, as well as the prophecy of the drama of the Cross, Christ’s prayer, and his new commandment. The twelve readings are:

    1. John 13:31-18:1
    2. John 18:1-29
    3. Matthew 26:57-75
    4. John 18:28–19:16
    5. Matthew 27:3-32
    6. Mark 15:16-32
    7. Matthew 27:33-54
    8. Luke 23:32-49
    9. John 19:19-37
    10. Mark 15:43-47
    11. John 19:38-42
    12. Matthew 27:62-66

    In ROC, after the 6th gospel, the time of Christ’s crucifixion symbolically arrives. A full-sized cross is taken out from the altar and brought to the middle of the church by the highest-ranked priest. The Cross is carried in the manner the original Cross was carried by Christ.

    The Great and Holy Friday begins with reading of the Royal Hours leading up to Vespers of Friday afternoon, at which time the removal of the Body of Christ from the Cross is commemorated. The priest removes the cross from the middle of the church. In a Friday evening service, called the Lamentations at the Tomb, the priest carries the Epitaphios, the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ, from the altar around the church before placing it in the Sepulcher, a bier symbolizing the Tomb of Christ. This procession, with the faithful carrying lighted candles, represents Christ’s descent into Hades.

    prohodul-domnului-vinerea_mare_prohodul_talpalari-foto-oana-nechifor

    In Romanian, the Lamentations at the Tomb service is called Prohodul, which is also the name for a service for grieving for one’s recently deceased close relative or friend. In this way the Orthodox Christians mourn Christ’s death as if he is a very close member of the family.

    Epitaphios is an icon embroidered usually on a piece of cloth, depicting Christ after he has been removed from the cross, lying supine, as his body is being prepared for burial. The scene is taken from the Gospel of St. John (John 19:38-42). Epitaphios is used in the Holy week as part of the ceremonies marking the death and resurrection of Christ. In ROC, the epitaphios is placed in the middle of the church, and there is a tradition to pass under that construction with epitaphios on top, on one’s knees and towards altar, to symbolize going with the Christ through the grave towards resurrection.

    epitaf

    Great and Holy Saturday Vespers and a Divine Liturgy of St. Basil are served in ROC on Saturday morning, marked with readings of Psalms and Resurrection hymns that tell of Christ’s descent into Hades, celebrated as the “First Resurrection” of Adam and the conquering of Death.

    Saturday evening is when Pascha, the Feast of Feasts, celebrations begin, just before midnight with the singing of the Odes of Lamentation as the Resurrection Vespers begins with the church in complete darkness. As midnight approaches the priest taking a light from a vigil light within the altar passes the flame to the faithful for their candles while singing “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning life, and, glorify Christ, who arose from the dead.”

    sfanta-luminaaaa

    Then the priest leads the faithful out of the church in procession. After circling the church either one or three times, as the procession nears the entrance door of the church, the priest leads in the singing of the hymn of Resurrection. “Christ has risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and has bestowed life upon those in the tombs!” At this point the priest and faithful enter the well-lighted church for the remaining part of Vespers and the breaking of the fast with the Divine Liturgy. After conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, in many communities, the faithful retire to an agape meal to break the Fast together, and then return home as dawn arrives. Later in the day of Pascha the faithful again gather for prayer with lighted candles in a vespers service, singing the hymn “Christ is Risen from the Dead,” and greeting each other joyously, “Christ is risen” and responding with, “Truly He is risen.”

    invierea_domnului_5

     

    Reportage prepared by Maria Kozhinova, WSCF-E Communications Officer. For all questions or clarifications, please write to publications@wscf-europe.org.

     

     

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  10. Religious Violence, one of the greatest myths ever told in 21st Century

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various faith-based organisation including, Escaping Barcode Life-The Netherlands, PhISO, and Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands.

     

     

    ‘International relations can no longer afford to use uncritical, outdated,
    and essentially Western concepts of “religion” and “secular”
    as if they were neutral descriptors of the facts on the ground.’

    William T. Cavanaugh

    Religious violence is hotly contested public topic among religious and non-religious circles. Obviously, religious violence is now a global challenge, and demand our careful attention, as being a member of WSCF-Europe, we should be a vigilant citizen, particularly in the current situation. By this time, mainstreams media displays disturbing images of jihadist out of context and retrofitting them to the polemical purposes, religion as the main root cause of modern violence. Conceivably, this image of religion stirs up controversy depicted as, intrinsically, anti-rational. For instance, the prevailing currents of thought about Islam.

    Image source: Interfaith Explorers

    It may be possible, as Edward Said argues, this misleading category is inspired by the thought of the American conservative political scientist, Samuel Huntington. According to Huntington’s thesis, the global politics would be dominated by the war between West and non-Western civilisations (Islam & Confucianism). In other words, these would be national identity and cultural clash. Said added, it is a recycle version Cold War rhetoric. I would say that, global war of terror, is a religious rhetoric version of the Cold War. Although, it is contestable, the connection between the 9/11 attacks and Huntington thesis has led to some ultraconservative political movement to promote anti-Islam, particularly in the Western countries.

    It may be possible that misinformed individuals’ gets basic facts wrong about religion from the mass media or press. Clearly, mass media or press plays an influential role in the life of modern society, and contributed to prevailing and damaging depiction of religion in our times.

    In the light of the recent terrorist attacks, suicide bombing continuously unceasing on the global scale, the pertinent question would be, does religion cause violence? According to William T. Cavanaugh, the myth of religious violence is used to create a religious “other” which can then be exploited, marginalized, coerced, and denigrated (1). Therefore, religion should be separated from secular or mundane activity. However, Cavanaugh disagree with the conventional differentiation of religion and secular categories. Also, Cavanaugh argues, these categories are too simplistic, and not based on empirical studies. Usually, as Cavanaugh argues, when we define something it means wildly different things to different people, particularly religion and secular categories. As Edward Said describes, both definition and meaning, are contestable. For example, “the separation of church and state” are foreign concept to Muslim countries.

    Since, the secular apologists arguing the main cause of modern violence is religion, Cavanaugh contend with the great deal of tension on the following modern concepts such us, nationalism, secularism, ethnocentrism, fascism, and humanism—ideologies in other words, could be violent as some religious ideologies. Using religious language to cover-up their political agenda, Cavanaugh argues, this myth is a rhetoric to hide secular causes of global war on terror, and to commit hostility, and to marginalize certain individual and group.

    Historically, it reminds me about the Great Fire of Rome. According to Tacitus (Roman historian), as scapegoat, Emperor Nero blamed early Christians, in results, Christians were subjected to public humiliation, massive persecutions, torture, and mass murder. Today, I believe that, religion in general, suffer the same situation. I would dare to say, to blame all deadly attacks to religion we failed to see the whole picture. We must take care to look at the whole picture. We need wisdom in this time of uncertainty. It appears to be that violence and war become a precondition to use as a rational for peace. However, peace without justice is a dream speech. Peace is always depends on justice—just-peace. As long as there profit in violence and war, it will continue to reinforce fear and anxiety upon us. A feminist activist Naomi Klein once observed, war generates profits, peace does not (2). We, WSCF-E should be vigilant and bold to speak out against all acts of terror associated with religions, and condemned those who legitimize it, profit from wars, and disrespect human rights and the rule of law.

    Today, the increasing recognition of crucial role of the religious community, to facilitate and promote humanity, and for peace and harmony in a world terrorized by fear. So there is the need for a new vision—beyond the short term foreign and domestic policies imposed to us. We, WSCF-E must offer our resources and capabilities as a state actor to promote rule of law and human dignity. As Douglas Johnston at Cynthia Sampson argue, since religion associated with many international conflicts, states should understand and acknowledge the crucial role of the religious community as a missing dimension of statecraft, for example, in cultural diplomacy (3).

    As the World Council of Churches stated that, at such time it is appropriate to point to the rich resources in religion which can guide us to peace and reconciliation [v]. The Church is called to be a community for such people and task. We, WSCF-E called to dialogue and manage our religious differences. We are not only aware of our religious difference but we try to cope those differences as well by investigation of the foundation of the religions. We understand each other through a daily life dialogue. We live out the culture of dialogue, it is a way of life. Thus, openness in religious differences does not mean one must abandon his or her faith tradition. Rather, openness to other faith traditions, means a brave and humble attitude to bring religious differences into contact with each other without destroying and marginalizing them. Through daily life encounter and sincere dialogue with them, we realize that God is also with them.

    Photo source: PeaceTimes.news

    Photo source: PeaceTimes.news

     

    “No peace among the nations
    without peace among the religions.
    No peace among the religions
    without dialogue between the religions
    No dialogue between the religions
    without investigation of the foundation of the religions.”

    ― Hans Küng

     

    Further Readings

     

    [1] William T. Cavanaugh (2009). The Myth of Religious Violence: The Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. UK: Oxford University Press.

    [2] Naomi Klein (2007). The Shock Doctrine. US: Pan Books Limited.

    [3] Douglas Johnston at Cynthia Sampson (1994). Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft. UK: Oxford University Press.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on April 21st, 2016 3:50 pm / Continue Reading »

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