By Fr. George Welzbacher
March 30, 2008 - Divine Mercy Sunday
Two weeks ago, on Palm Sunday, I referred in this column to Chrst's prophetic admonition that His Church will always be subject to persecution: "If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you" (John 15:20). Throughout long decades of the twentieth century the Soviet Union and Communist China visited violence upon Christ's faithful on an unprecedented scale, as did Germany's Satanic Nazi regime, if for a much briefer span of years. (The world today scarcely remembers the persecution the Church endured in Mexico under a Marxist tyranny in the 1920's and 30's). And in Viet Nam in the wake of America's self-imposed defeat (a defeat that owed much to an astutely leftist propaganda campaign conducted by the media and to the treachery of the post-Watergate Congress) came intense persecution of the Catholic Church, though fortunately in recent years there has been some mitigation there. And let it never be forgotten that for over a thousand years Christian subjects in Muslim lands have seldom lived free of fear.
Persecution in the Soviet bloc came to an end in 1989 with the fall of Eastern Europe's Iron Curtain and with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on-of all days of the year- Christmas Day, 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev signed the official dissolution papers . (On Wednesday of the Holy Week we have just completed, March 19, 2008, Mr Gorbachev announced in Assisi at the Shrine of St. Francis that he has returned to the Christian Faith in which as a child he had been baptised!. May God be praised!)
Today throughout the sixth of the earth's surface that was once ruled by the Soviet Union the chief enemy of the Christian faith is the very same enemy that Christians face throughout the Western World.- rampant pornography with its incitement to promiscuity of every kind leading in turn to the related evils of widespread contraception and abortion.
In China, too, the persecution that characterized the nightmare regime of Mao Zedong has significantly abated, though the "underground" Catholic Church that has refused to sever its unity with the Pope suffers massive repression, in contrast with the government- sponsored (and formally schismatic) "Patriotic" Catholic Church. Nevertheless the accelerating spread of the Christian faith both in its Catholic and in its Evangelical Protestant forms is one of the most excitingphenomena in China today.
After Calvary a kind of resurrection. That is the focus of two reports that appeared in two of our leading newspapers on March 18th: one in the Wall Street Journal and the other (an obituary for a prominent churchman) in the New York Times. The focus of one report was on the focus of the other, on a healing of wounds religion in China;within the Russian Orthodox communion of believers. May I share those reports with you here.
* * * * *God and Man in China
Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2008
By: Bret Stephens
The violent protests in Tibet that began last week and have since spread across (and beyond) China are frequently depicted as a secessionist threat to Beijing. But the regime's deeper problem in the current crisis is neither ethnic nor territorial. It's religious.
If there's a template for Beijing's policy on religion, it's the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." In 1995, the regime effectively kidnapped Gendun Choekyi Nyima, a 6-year-old boy named by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second-highest ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism. In Nyima's place, Beijing designated its own "official" Panchen Lama, the slightly younger Gyaltsen Norbu. Nyima's whereabouts, assuming he's alive, are unknown. More recently, a new set of "implementation regulations" on Tibetan Religious affairs has come into force, drastically curtailing the freedom of monks and nuns to travel within China, and introducing political themes into the qualification exams required of religious initiates. Of the roughly 100 Tibetan political prisoners, fully three-quarters are [Buddhist] monks or nuns.
Much the same goes with China's Christians. The regime has substituted its own Catholic Hierarcity-the Catholic Patriotic Association-for Rome's since 1957, leading to endless friction between the Pope and the Communist Party. Similarly, Chinese Protestantism officially operates under the so-called "Three-Self Patriotic Movement" (the three "selfs" being self-governance, self-support and self-propagation), which in turn is regulated by the party. "The purpose of [the regime's] nominal degree of sympathy for Christianity is to indoctrinate and mobilize for Communist Party objectives," says journalist David Aikman, author of the 2003 book "Jesus in Beijing," "I've often joked that the most leftist people in China are members of the Three-Self Church."
The method here is not subtle. The regime banned religion-one of the so-called Four Olds-during the Cultural Revolution. Once it figured out that that didn't work, it sought instead to turn clergy into bureaucrats, and replace the idea of the divine with the mechanics of political control. The results have been, at best, a partial success. There are now some six million "Catholics" who adhere to the state-approved dogma, along with another 20 million or so "official" Protestants, whose activities are overseen by a director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. As for Tibetan Buddhists, those who venerate the state-approved Panchen Lama can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.
By contrast, the number of underground Catholics faithful to the Vatican easily equals the number of official ones. Unofficial Protestants, who attend unsanctioned "house churches," are said to number anywhere between 70 million and 130 million; one prominent Chinese pastor puts the count closer to 400 million. That latter figure is probably exaggerated, but there's no question that Christianity of the unofficial kind is winning Chinese converts in huge numbers. Not only that, it's winning them among every class of Chinese: farmers, urban migrant workers, professionals and intellectuals.
What is the appeal of Christianity to so many Chinese --- or for that matter, of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, the old-time peasant religions and the newfangled Falun Gong? In "smashing" organized religion, Mao Zedong also destroyed the traditional institutions of charity and social support that used to provide succor to the lonely and the needy. Now that succor is desperately in demand, and the churches are there to meet it.
The party also helped destroy traditional morality in the name of an ideology it has itself largely abandoned. To a degree that alarms even Chinese rulers, morality and ideology have been replaced by corruption, opportunism and widespread indifference to life's ordinary decencies. Religion offers a corrective to this, too, as it does to the quandaries of 21st century existence. "A lot of urban people have challenges in their lives," says Mr. Aikman. 'Professional challenges, divorces; all sorts of things that didn't exist 15 years ago are now requiring people to ask very serious questions about the way they lead their lives."
Just as remarkable is how all this is slipping beyond Beijing's grip. The repression of Tibetan Buddhist and the Falun Gong has been severe, mainly because both dared to challenge the Party directly. Most Christians pose no such obvious challenge, particularly Protestants who belong to no formal organization, have no connections to outsiders, and do not openly question government policy. Some party leaders even see Christians as model citizens, patriotic even if they are not members of a "patriotic association."
Yet precisely because the party's captains and engineers tend to assess threats and opportunities in purely utilitarian terms, they tend to miss the real threat that a religious revival poses to their power. As French essayist Guy Sorman notes in his brilliant book "Empire of Lies," religion operates "in the realm of beliefs and conscience, where the party has no control." Mr. Sorman, who spent the year of the rooster (2005) traveling the length and breadth of China, recalls that one religious uprising, the 19th-century Taiping rebellion, destabilized the Manchu Dynasty, which in turn was succeeded by the Republic of Sun Yat-Sen, a Christian.
Might the same happen again in China? Nobody can say. But on the streets of Lhasa, China has again had a vivid demonstration of the power of conscience to move people to action against a soulless, and brittle, state.
* * * * *Metropolitan Laurus is Dead at 80; Healed Rift in Russian Orthodox Church
By Douglas Martin
From: New York Times of March 18, 2008
Metropolitan Laurus, who led the overseas branch of the Russian Orthodox Church to a historic rapprochement with the Moscow mother church from which it split after the Communist revolution in 191 7, died Sunday at a monastery in Jordanville, N. Y. He was 80.
Nicholas Obotin, a church spokesman, said no cause had been determined. News reports from Russia made much of the day of his death; it was the Feast of Orthodoxy when those who have given greatly to the Church are venerated.
Metropolitan Laurus's most historic moment occurred last May in the Great rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which Stalin had once destroyed to build a swimming pool. As leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, he exchanged kisses on the cheek with the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksei II.
The gesture symbolized a momentous step toward ending a feud that began three years after the Bolshevik revolution, as the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union wilted under intense government pressure. By 1927, the Moscow patriarch had pledged loyalty to the Communist authorities, and the overseas Church, in disgust, cut all ties with its Russian parent.
But last May, eight decades after the final break, the Churches avowed spiritual unity. Bishops from the overseas Church-which has 400 parishes in the United States, Canada, Australia. New Zealand, Germany, Britan and South America-must now be approved by a council in Moscow.
Metropolitan Laurus emphasized that the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia remained administratively independent. And some issues are still sticking points: prominent among them, there is no unity on how best to cooperate with other religions.
Four years before the historic accord, other kisses dramatized the new, welcoming attitude of Russia's post-Communist rulers toward the Orthodox Church. While visiting New York the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, kissed Metropolitan Laurus three times.
Saying that the Kremlin is Russia's spiritual, as well as political, center, Mr. Putin invited Metropolitan Laurus to Moscow to lay the groundwork for reunification with the original Russian Orthodox Church.
Orthodoxy arrived in Russia from Byzantium in 988 A.D. at the invitation of Grand Prince Vladimir, who had searched the world for a faith for his people. Russians loved their new religion, and after the Turks sacked Constantinople in 1453, they became the strongest defenders of Orthodoxy.
In 1472, Ivan III, the grand duke of Moscow, married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor. Ivan then took the title of czar, an adaptation of Caesar, and Moscow called itself "the third Rome."
The Communist revolution changed everything. According to Nathaniel Davis's "A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy" (2003), there were more than 50,000 churches before the revolution and no more than 300 functioning ones by the late 1930's. More than 80,000 priests, monks and nuns were killed.
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia became the defender and bearer of traditions that went beyond religion. The foreign church canonized Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1981, something the Russian Church did only when it was absolutely safe, in 2000. That canonization helped pave the way for the churches' rapprochement.
Princess Olga Kulikovskaya-Romanova, a member of the House of Romanovs, said in an interview on Monday with Itar-Tass the Russian news service, that the reunification owed much to Metropolitan Laurus's "very delicate and cautious" approach.
She said the cleric had "many opponents who didn't want to part with their stereotyped perceptions of Russia."
Vassity Mikhailovich Skuria was born on Jan. 1, 1928, in present-day Slovakia. At 8 or 9, he went to a nearby monastery and asked to become a monk. His father-poor and a widower with three other children-agreed, a church biography said. By law, the boy also had to attend public school.
He and other monks fled advancing Soviet troops and, by a circuitous route, arrived at the Jordanville monastery in 1946. He graduated from an associated seminary there and then taught the Old Testament and other subjects. He did the work of a monk, cooking, milking cows, packing books and digging graves. He also edited church publications.
He ascended the Church hierarchy, from dean of the seminary to bishop of Manhattan to archbishop to metropolitan of the Eastern United States and New York. In 2001, he was elected first hierarch, or top leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. He won on the first ballot, something that had not happened in 65 years.
Reports from Russia on Monday said Church leaders there were pushing to name streets and a church, perhaps a cathedral for him.
* * * * *St. Paul said it well. "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but notforsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (II Corinthians 4:8 and 9). Christ has died! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
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