Producer Shades remixes Reflection Music Group artist Canon’s song “Grow Up” featuring Tragic Hero.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently announced in a Jan. 2 meeting with representatives from Turkey’s non-Muslim communities that the government would provide land for a church for the Syrian Orthodox community.
“It is the first time since the creation of the Republic. Churches have been restored and re-opened to the public, but no new church has been built until now,” a government official told the AFP.
The church, if completed, will be the first officially-sanctioned new church building in Turkey since the nation was founded in 1923. Most new places of Christian worship, particularly Protestant ones, do not have official recognition to be zoned as religious buildings.
But according to a source in the Turkish press, this announcement by the government is only posturing to the international community.
“This comes onto the agenda every election period. Votes were sought in the 2011 general, and 2013 local, elections with the promise that permission would be given for a [new] church,” an anonymous source told Taraf, a daily paper.
“Of course the same subject is coming up for the 2015 general elections. Because this year is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, they are bringing up this issue again in order to give positive messages to the international public.”
Some Turkish politicians are skeptical. Aydin Ayaydin, a parliamentarian for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) questioned whether the proposed church would actually overcome bureaucratic obstacles. In an inquiry to the Culture and Tourism Minister on Jan. 12, Ayaydin was quoted in Hurriyet newspaper as asking, “Why has the church’s application to the Higher Monuments Committee still not been processed until now? What is the reason?”
The city had promised to allocate a 2,700-square-meter plot of land to the church in the Yesilkoy neighborhood, where many Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Catholic churches are also located.
Over 17,000 Syriac Christians live in Istanbul, but the only church that has official recognition, the Virgin Mary Syrian Othodox Church in Tarlabasi, holds only 300. This has been a problem for Syriacs who live far away from the church building, due to a Syriac tradition that they must fast until their Sunday service concludes.
Because those in Yesilkoy do not have a building of their own, they have had to meet in a Latin Catholic church. It has led to scheduling problems, since Syriacs couldn’t begin their service until 11 a.m., creating difficulties for children or the elderly who do not want to break their fasts.
“The Latin church was not suitable for our purposes. It wasn’t large enough and we couldn’t use it for long enough. Only 200 people could fit inside,” said Sait Susin, president of the board of directors for the Syrian Church of the Virgin Mary Foundation.
The city government first promised permission for the church construction in 2009 amid local elections. It approved construction of the new church in 2012 to much fanfare from the pro-government press. The daily Star announced in a headline “A Mosque in Camlica, a Church in Yesilkoy,” a reference to a mega-mosque being built on the highest land area in Istanbul.
But while the mosque is nearing completion, the Turkish government has not cleared all hurdles for construction of the church to even begin.
In 2013 a government historical preservation committee denied a transfer of property from an Italian Catholic Church to a Syrian Orthodox committee in order to preserve the ruins of a chapel and graveyard on the land. It approved the transfer in 2014.
“We do not consider any religious or cultural tradition to be foreign,” Davutoglu said at the meeting with Christian representatives. He added that the government respects the “equal citizenship” of all Turkey’s minorities, regardless of religion.
But international watchdog groups disagree. According to the annual World Watch List issued this month by Open Doors International, a charity which monitors religious freedom, Muslim-majority Turkey is among the 50 countries in the world where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
Turkey is ranked 41st on the current list, which stated that four churches were attacked and damaged during 2014. The main “engines” of persecution against Turkey’s Christians were identified as Islamic extremism and religious nationalism.
Nevertheless, Davutoglu believes discrimination against Muslims to be an equally problematic global issue, when compared to anti-Christian discrimination. He has called on Turkey’s non-Muslim communities to raise their voices against Islamophobia.
“When we raise our voice together against Islamophobia, then we do not only stand against discrimination against Muslims, but we raise our voice against discrimination against all religious identities,” he said.
The Council of Europe hailed Turkey’s announcement that the Syriac community would be permitted to build a new church as “a sign of diversity,” wrote Daniel Holtgen, spokesman for the secretary general of the Council of Europe in his Twitter feed on Jan. 7.
Some Syriac church leaders agree that relations have improved with the Turkish government. Susin said that the government is paying more attention to the needs of the Syriac community than in the past.
He noted that the government allowed the first Syriac pre-school to open in Istanbul in
September 2014. Some 25 children attend the Mor Efrem Syriac Pre-school, surrounded by icons and crosses, singing songs in their ancient Syriac language, closest to the Aramaic dialect spoken by Jesus.
The Syrian Orthodox Church is a branch of Eastern Orthodoxy that constitutes one of the oldest distinct church bodies in Christianity. The ethnic Syriacs who make up this church community in Turkey now number only 20,000. Their numbers have grown slightly in recent years due to Christian refugees flowing from Syria and Iraq across the borders of southeast Turkey, where some 2,000 Syriacs are living in villages and small towns near the church’s 4th century Mor Gabriel Monastery in Midyat.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill called on Thursday for a deep cut in the “horrifyingly high” number of abortions, which he linked to a Western rejection of moral norms.
“The idea of absolutely prioritising the value of free choice and of rejecting the priority of moral norms has become a slowly exploding bomb for Western civilisation,” he said in a speech to lawmakers.
“If we could just cut in half the number of abortions, there would be steady and powerful demographic growth.”
Russia’s population has been declining since the mid-1990s, hit by falling birth rates and life expectancy in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. It currently stands at 142.5 million, compared with 148.7 million in 1991.
Kirill’s speech was described by state media as the first address by a head of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Duma, or lower chamber of parliament, in modern Russia.
It was a sign of the church’s growing influence under President Vladimir Putin, who has sought to champion conservative Russian values at a time of heightened tension with the West, especially over the conflict in Ukraine.
“Russia’s ability to stand up in the face of modern pseudo-values depends to a large extent on the active stance of Russian parliamentarians,” the black-robed patriarch said.
Senior Roman Catholics and evangelicals in the US have joined forces to warn of a grave “threat” to society caused by same-sex marriage.
In a statement to be published in the March edition of First Things, the US journal of religion, they describe the legalisation of same-sex marriage as “a graver threat” to society than divorce or cohabitation.
“We must say, as clearly as possible, that same-sex unions, even when sanctioned by the state, are not marriages,” the statement, titled “The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage,” says. “Christians who wish to remain faithful to the Scriptures and Christian tradition cannot embrace this falsification of reality, irrespective of its status in law.”
Influential Christians such as Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist seminary and Timothy George, Dean of Beeson divinity school, are among the 30 senior Christian leaders who have endorsed the statement, according to Baptist Press.
The statement is the work of a consortium of Catholics and Protestants formed under the banner Evangelicals and Catholics Together, set up by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. The Catholics include George Weigel, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Centre.
Timothy George said the statement, headed: “The Two Shall Become One Flesh”, represents three years’ work by the group.
He told Baptist Press that Catholics and evangelicals “continue to disagree on lots and lots of issues. And the people who drafted this statement are well aware of those differences. We have not smudged them or pushed them under the rug.”
The members of the consortium “felt the complementarity of man and woman in marriage under God” was an issue on which evangelicals and Catholics could present a united witness. “We felt we had to speak out on this issue,” he said.
The statement sets out Bible teaching and concludes: “Marriage is a unique and privileged sign of the union of Christ with his people and of God with his Creation – and it can only serve as that sign when a man and a woman are solemnly joined together in a permanent union.”
It says marriage is in crisis throughout the Western world.
“The revolution in our marriage and family law, already well advanced, marches under the banners of freedom and equality. But these noble ideals are here gravely misapplied. When society systematically denies the difference between male and female in law and custom, our fundamental dignity is diminished, the image of God within us is obscured, unreality becomes legally established, and those who refuse to conform are regarded as irrational bigots,” the statement says.
It says gay marriage “threatens the common good” and “distorts the Gospel”.
“Keeping in mind the obligation to speak the truth in love, we must find ways to distinguish true marriage from its distortion, and we must do so without abandoning the public square,” the statement says. “We owe our fellow citizens a socially engaged witness to the truth about marriage, which, with the family, is the unalterable foundation of a healthy, humane society.”
The president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) has made an impassioned plea for the world to intervene against the Boko Haram insurgents who have ravaged the north and east of the country.
In an interview for the Baptist World Alliance, Rev Samson Ayokunle expressed “consternation” at the attitude of the international community in the face of the destruction.
He accused the world community of devaluing Nigerian lives, saying: “Does it not matter to the rest of the world if Boko Haram continues to kill hundreds of people every week? Are these people less human than those being killed in other place where they have gone to directly intervene? My people are being killed like animals and the whole world is just watching.”
Ayokunle was responding to the latest series of attacks by Boko Haram, including the destruction of Baga in Borno State, thought to have cost as many as 2,000 lives. An estimated 1.5 million people have been displaced as a result of the militant group’s attacks, which included the abduction of more than 250 schoolgirls from Chibok village in April last year.
He accused the group of deliberately targeting Christians, saying: “The main targets in all these attacks are the Christians first and any other person that opposes them. Any town they enter, after killing the Christians there, they go ahead to bring down all the churches there, sparing the mosques. Major Christian cities such as Gwoza and Mubi among others have fallen to them. Christians in cities such as Michika and Baga are also on the run.”
Ayokunle said that the Church was facing “severe persecution”. In one town, Mubi, he said that not a single church was still standing, that Baptist schools had also been closed and that 2,000 Baptists, including the pastors, had fled through Cameroon. He said that while they had now returned to Nigeria, “They have become displaced and are now living in displaced people’s camps scampering for food, without decent accommodation and naked.”
He asked for support for the refugees and for prayer, saying: “Continue to join us in prayer so that the gates of hell might not prevail against the Church of Christ in Nigeria.”