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The Relics Of Saint Seraphim: A Journey Through Russian Orthodoxy

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Saint Seraphim of Sarov

The Orthodox Church is going through deep changes in these last days of 2018. Ukraine is establishing an independent church leading to a serious controversy within the Orthodox world that has prompted a schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and Constantinople patriarchate.

In this series of articles, elements of the history of Orthodoxy in Russia will be (re-) explored to feed the debate covered in most media around religion, power and politics.

The story of Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833), one of the most revered Orthodox saints, is a symbolic journey through the various milestones in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) over the past two hundred years till nowadays.

After decades of seclusion, the pious hermit began to receive visits from pilgrims as word of his ability to heal body and soul spread among the faithful. Some accounts relate Seraphim’s prophesies about the fate of the last tsar Nicholas II who was killed during the Bolshevik revolution in 1918. Seraphim would also have foreseen the future of Russia under the Soviets. According to these narratives, he anticipated the repression against the church during the twentieth century. Other accounts raise the affinity that Seraphim might have had with the Old Believers, the Orthodox Christians who refused Nikon’s reforms of the mid seventeenth century to preserve traditional ways of worship. Seraphim’s teachings of internal unity and spiritual purity thus transcended the canonical differences between the ROC and the Old Believers, a schism that still exist today.

It is known that he was canonized in 1903, but Soviet authorities confiscated his relics when they closed the Sarov Monastery in 1923, at the beginning of the repressions against the Orthodox Church. Like many other objects of veneration, his relics were kept in a storage room in the Museum of Religion and Atheism in Leningrad. The city of Sarov where Seraphim engaged in ascetic struggle, became the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear program. Sarov was a closed city with limited access to keep the research secret. During the buildup of the nuclear center, many churches were destroyed or repurposed in a failed, yet violent attempt to eradicate religion and all its manifestations.

With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Saint Seraphim’s relics were uncovered and displayed in a Moscow convent. In the wave of spiritual revivalism and enthusiasm for Russian saints, Russian believers were now able to pay tribute to the holy man. In 2003, the Patriarch Alexey II and President Putin paid a visit to Sarov to celebrate Seraphim’s hundredth anniversary of canonization and the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 2016, a tiny piece of these relics orbited around the earth on board the spaceship Soyuz MS-02. Russian cosmonauts now regularly take religious objects with them into space, such as icons, the Gospels, and stones from Mount Tabor (the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus), symbolically spreading their faith around the world. This practice has become a tradition for space missions since 2008, when relics of Saint Sergius of Radonezh accompanied cosmonauts into space. Ironically, space conquest was formerly heralded as a great achievement of the antireligious Soviet authorities. A popular Soviet propaganda poster even depicted Yury Gagarin in space with the caption: “There is no God!”

Another chapter in the story of Seraphim’s relics was the meeting in Cuba in February 2016, where Patriarch Kirill offered some fragments of the saint’s remains to Pope Francis as a token of the rapprochement between the two churches. For memory, Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church are at odds since the great schism of 1054. This historic encounter in Cuba held a highly symbolic value as no head of the ROC had met with the head of the Catholic Church. During this encounter, both pontiffs agreed that “the past method of ‘Uniatism’ is not the way to reestablish unity”. The Joint Declaration further cast“ hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms,and that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony.” It was almost three years ago.

Recently, in December 2018, archeologists from the Russian Academy of Science have made interesting discoveries during their excavation in Sarov monastery. They found a marble plaque commemorating the canonization of Seraphim and testifying the attendance of the Tsar Nicholas II with his family. This artifact resurfaces as a thread connecting the past and the present.

Saint Seraphim’s unique journey during his life has continued after his death with each milestone epitomizing a key moment in the unfolding history of Russian Orthodoxy.

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Religion

How Muslim caste-structure in India has impeded their economic progress?

Amjed Jaaved

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Modi 2.0 slogan `sab ka vishwas’ (all inclusive) caricatures ongoing persecution of the Muslim in India. In post-election India,  the Muslim is being `lynched, shot at and told to “go back to Pakistan” simply for having a  Muslim name, carrying or eating beef’ or `wearing a  prayer  cap and made to shout slogans in praise of Hindu gods’ (Aljazeera, and Organisation for World Peace dated June 4, 2019). Hindus even demanded that eid prayer-goers should not spill over on adjoining roads. BJP MLA Narendra Mehta, affiliated with dangerous bajrang dal, has started live weapons training at his Seven Eleven Academy. A Facebook user Prakash Gupta shared pictures of live-weapons training on Facebook from May 25 to June 1. NGO, Democratic Youth Federation of India, has filed a complaint with Navghar police station (Thane Rural police station). BJP President Amit Shah referred to undocumented Muslim immigrants as termites”. Nathu Ram Godse killed `Mahatma’ Gandhi `for supposedly cowing to Muslim demands’.  He is being glorified as a patriot. Modi himself as then chief  minister of Gujarat in 2002, `presided a pogrom that killed over 1,000  people; in 2011, a senior police officer testifying in the Indian Supreme  Court stated that Modi defended this violence at the time as a legitimate route through which Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger’. He described refugee camps housing Muslims displaced by riots as “baby-making factories”.

Modi’s first five years in office were marred by a rise in violent attacks on minority groups, particularly the Muslim. According to the Sachar Committee Report, conditions of the Muslim in India are worse than that of dalits (downtrodden/untouchable). But, the Muslim itself is to blame for its current plight. The Muslim literacy rate ranks well below the national average and the Muslim poverty rate is only slightly higher than the low-caste Hindu. The Muslim makes up only four per cent of the undergraduate student body in India’s elite universities. He falls behind other groups in terms of access to credit. So is the case despite the fact that the self-employed Muslim population exceeds other groups.

According to Islam, the Muslim society is homogeneous. There is no hierarchical caste-system in Islam, like the Hindu varna system of social stratification.  In Sanskrit, varna means type, order, colour or class. The term refers to social classes in dharma-shastra  (religious text) books like the Manusmriti. Hindu literature classifies society into four varnas: (a) Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers. (b) Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators. (c) Vaishyas: agriculturalists and traders. (d) Shudras: laborers and service providers.Communities which belong to one of the four varnas or classes are called savarna. The dalits and scheduled tribes who do not belong to any varna, are called avarna. This four-fold division is a form of social stratification distinguished from jāti or the European term “caste”. The varna system is discussed in Hindu texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The concept is generally traced to the Purusha  Sukta verse of the Rig Veda. Contrary to these textual classifications, many Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with the Varna system of social classification.

Unlike the Hindu caste system, where it is easy to discern the stratification, caste identities among Muslims are not defined rigidly. As such, the reservation quota and other benefits, available to scheduled castes,  do not trickle down to the needy Muslim. It is bitter reality that the Muslim in India could not remain immune from Hindu caste-system. The Muslim is divided into into ashraf (Muslims of foreign lineage) and ajlaf (local converts). The ashraf are regarded as the superior group and are mainly endogamous, while the ajlaf are considered to be inferior. Some scholars use another category, arzal, to denote the Muslim who converted from the lowest strata of society (bhangi, doom, choora or sweeper).

To ameliorate the lot of the downtrodden Muslim (arzal or ajlaf), there should be a caste-based census to identify those deserving `reservation’ in scheduled caste. Is such a census in accordance with  definitive text of Holy Quran Allah يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ادْخُلُوا فِي السِّلْمِ كَافَّةً وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا خُطُوَاتِ الشَّيْطَانِ ۚ إِنَّهُ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

“O you, who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” (Al-Baqarah : 208). Some Indian scholars justify Indian caste system according to Islam.

At the top of the hierarchy are the Ashrafs (nobles), of Arab, Persian, Turkish or Afghan origin.  They lay claim to a prestigious lineage that they trace back to the Prophet (in the case of Sayyids) or his tribe (in the case of qureshis). The shaikh (descendants of the Prophet’s companions), the pathan  (descendants of migrants from Afghanistan), and even the Mughal (originating in Central Asia and Iran) can also be included in this group. Many ashraf are either ulamas in the case of the sayyid, or else landowners, merchants or business people. One’s birth group constitutes a major criterion for defining social status. At the middle level, the ajlaf (low-born) represent the masses. His status is defined by both his profession (pesha) unlike the ashraf.  Many castes of intermediate status fall into this category, such as farmers, traders and weavers (ansari and julaha). Social elite of many ashraf in rural areas believe that this category is not part of the Indian Muslim community (millat).

At the bottom of the social scale is the arzal (vile, vulgar). It is a group comprising non-untouchables and converted “untouchables” who, as in Hinduism, practise supposedly impure trades. This was the case of slaughterers, laundrymen (dhobi), barbers (nai, hajjam), tanners (chammar),  and so on.

Like the Hindu caste-ridden society, relations between Muslim social groups are governed by a social taboos _ sharing a table, marriage, sociability) and spatial restrictions (access to domestic areas and places of prayer, segregation in cemeteries and neighbour-hoods.

The ashraf opposes caste based count of Muslim community. But the ajlaf and arzal support it. The ashraf, being a “creamy layer”, obstruct any step that may improve lot of the downtrodden. The Indian Supreme Court decision to exclude the “creamy layer” from the quotas in 2008. But, it was never implemented. Questions about Islam mostly relating to ibadaat  like hajj are asked in Indian parliament by the non-Muslim. No question about economic justice for all and sundry is asked.

Conclusion

Though Islam preached homogeneity, social stratification among the Muslim in India is a fact.

The Muslim caste system has hampered their progress in various realm of life. The Indian Muslim is impervious to whatever happens in Kashmir, or in the world.

The Muslim should learn from the Christian. To ruling Bharatya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after the jain. Today, the Christians live all across India, particularly in the South and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeastern India. Through sheer hard work, Indian Christians developed niches in all walks of Indian national life. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners. Christian women outnumber men among the various religious communities in India.

The paradox of belonging to Islam, a religion that is premised on the notion of equality, and at the same time imbibing local traits which affirm inequality has to be admitted. Muslims are segmented into different status categories on the basis of income, occupation, education and lineage.

It is the Muslim himself who can change his lot by following Islam in full. They should resist stratification and demand equality from their community. The Muslim world at large should help them with funds.

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Meaning of Macedonian Issue in Geopolitical Game between Churches

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On June 11, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece will celebrate Patriarch Bartholomew’s name day in Istanbul. Right after this, the Hierarchs’ Council of the Church of Greece can be convened to discuss the recognition of the Autocephalous Church in Ukraine, which was established by the Ecumenical Patriarchate earlier this year.

The new Church was created in collaboration with former Ukrainian president Poroshenko and the existence of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate headed by Metropolitan Onufriy was ignored. That led to disrupted ties between Constantinople and Moscow and pushed the Orthodox world to a possible historic schism. None of the Local Churches has decided to recognize the new Church yet. Now the Patriarch is exerting pressure on the Archbishop of Athens to convince him to recognize the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, which currently witnesses a fierce conflict between its Primate Metropolitan Epiphanius and Honorary Patriarch of Kyiv Filaret both struggling for power.

For saving his political project in Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew is ready to sacrifice the reputation of the Church of Greece and its relations with other Local Churches. If Athens decide to obey, the next step will be to make the Church of Greece recognize the FYROM Church schism.

According to available information on negotiations between uncanonical Skopje hierarchs and Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew is forced by external political groups to eventually recognize the uncanonical FYROM hierarchy. First of all, this goal is pursued by those who want FYROM to join NATO. But what is the benefit for the Greek people and Greece?

The recognition of uncanonical organizations in Ukraine and FYROM are important for NATO’s expansion and the growth of American influence in Europe. However, a division between Greeks and Orthodox Ukrainians and Russians is not what they’d want. The recognition of the uncanonical FYROM Church is a great blow for Greek interests and can pave a way for a schism with the Church of Serbia. The first step for the recognition is holding divine services in the so-called “Macedonian dialect”. Archbishop Ieronymos understands it well.

When Archbishop Ieronymos seeks compromise in the relations between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, some say that unlike his predecessor he lacks firmness. But here is a document that shows – the Archbishop is unwavering while dealing with the issues important for the Church and Nation.

Archbishop Ieronymos’ letter No. 1308 dated March 28, 2018 and addressed to Patriarch Bartholomew was written to comment on the plea of the “Macedonian-speaking” communities of Northern Greece to His All-Holiness so that they were allowed to hold divine services in the so-called “Macedonian language”. On behalf of the Holy Synod the Archbishop expresses his concern and objection against the request being fulfilled. Ieronymos calls a spade a spade: the “Macedonian language” is a “new Slavic Bulgarian-Serbian dialect – a false construction designed to serve dubious political ambitions and goals”. He warns the Ecumenical Patriarch of the consequences of an “inconsiderate decision” on this issue and suggests that it should be jointly studied.

The letter is said to have been sent with an article by Director of Personal Secretariat of Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, theologian Ioannis Tsouras (Ιωάννης Τσούρας, Διευθυντής Ιδιαιτέρου Γραφείου Αρχιεπισκόπου Αθηνών και πάσης Ελλάδος), which was earlier published on the Internet. Tsouras accurately and conclusively dispels a myth about “Macedonians” and their language and demonstrates the harmful effects of the Prespa agreement for the Greeks.

The Orthodox world can only hope that there are enough Greek hierarchs as rational and brave as Archbishop Ieronymos to prevent the Church of Greece from getting involved in dangerous political games.

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Will Georgian Orthodox Church recognize Patriarch Bartholomew’s Primacy in Orthodox World?

Tamar Lomidze

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The Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church is about to convene in next few days. A group of hierarchs allegedly led by Metropolitan Daniel of Chiatura and Sachkhere is up to discuss the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which was established in Kyiv in December 2018, and received autocephalous status from the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Constantinople is especially interested in the OCU recognition. If recognized, metropolitan Epiphanius and his organization can augment the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s power in the Orthodox world, weaken the Moscow Patriarchate’s influence and allow the Patriarch of Constantinople to make decisions on extremely important matters for Orthodoxy by sole authority.

Local Churches are in doubt: despite pressure, none of them has recognized the OCU yet. How could autocephaly have been granted to the Ukrainian Church if it still lacks unity, and some parishes seize the churches of other parishes? Why was autocephaly granted solely by Patriarch Bartholomew, without any discussion with the other Local Churches? Why there was so much haste with the Tomos, why did it happen shortly before the electoral campaign of Ukraine’s former president Poroshenko? Could the Ukrainian autocephaly cause a schism in the Orthodox world? These and other questions were addressed to Constantinople delegations by Local Churches before and after the OCU was established.

Some Local Churches have opposed Patriarch Bartholomew’s policy – including the Patriarchate of Antioch, which once granted autocephaly to the Georgian Orthodox Church; and the Patriarchate of Serbia, which claimed that the OCU hierarchy hasn’t got canonical succession. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania asked Patriarch Bartholomew to convene the Synaxis of Primates but he firmly refused.

The OCU’s future is uncertain; the relations between the groups which formed it are unstable. Even now there is a conflict between Filaret Denysenko, the honorary patriarch of the OCU, and its formal head Epiphanius. This conflict undermines the OCU unity and can lead to its breakup in the nearest future.

If the Georgian Orthodox Church recognizes the OCU, it won’t be able to independently deal with its own issues. Abkhazians have already asked to be allowed to join the Ecumenical Patriarchate and receive the status of autonomy. Metropolitan Emmanuel of France once hinted to the Catholicos-Patriarch at the fact that the Abkhazian plea can get a positive answer if the Georgian Church doesn’t support Constantinople. But now Constantinople pretends to have the right to grant autocephaly anywhere across the world. If we recognize the OCU, we will let the Greeks in to the canonical territory of the Georgian Church.

During the previous meeting of Constantinople hierarchs with Ilia II in Tbilisi, one of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s representatives, metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianopolis is said to have begun his speech with the words: “There is an opinion that the Orthodox Church is led by Jesus Christ. But in fact the Church is led by the Ecumenical Patriarch.” The Catholicos-Patriarch seems to disagree with this statement. Those Orthodox hierarchs who are famous for their spiritual experience and purity of their edifying life disagree with that either. For example, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, who restored his Church after communist repressions and who is already considered to be saint by many Greeks. The Orthodox Church has never followed the suit of Roman Catholics. But those of spiritual clarity understand that the Orthodox Church is facing a new large-scale threat, and the Ukrainian issue is only a part of it.

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