Free At Last

The continuing saga of the Bulgarian nurses in Libya is finally at an end. Through a deal brokered by the EU with the help of Qatar, the nurses and their Palestinian doctor colleague have flown to Bulgaria. They were released under a 1984 prisoner exchange agreement

The Bulgarian president and prime minister both met the plane as it landed. The former hostages (let’s call it like it is) were travelling with the wife of the French President and the European Union foreign affairs commissioner. They were immediately officially pardoned by the president, who has even gone one step further and is putting them up at the presidential residence. This includes the doctor, who was granted Bulgarian citizenship last month.

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Libya agreed to release them after the EU agreed to take care of all of Libya’s HIV children in European hospitals for the rest of their lives. The Libyans were also offered normalised relations with the EU. I’d say they managed to pull of a good deal. Find some Christians who have come to your country to help people, arrest them on ludicrous charges, see that they get sentenced to death, and it is amazing how much leverage you can have.

While we rejoice in their freedom, let us not forget that there are other Christians imprisoned, killed, and otherwise persecuted for their faith by Islamic (and other anti-Christian) regimes around the world.

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Apologies

Checking my stats tonight, I saw that I had referrals to this site from stantonythegreat.org.uk. I thought this a bit strange, since I don’t have a link on that site. Then I realised that through all my messing around with my domain name, I had messed up that site, which is set up to reside in my old hosting account.

The site has been moved to new hosting and the links have been fixed. My apologies to anyone who might have though the views on this blog represent in any way the views of the Herefordshire Orthodox Fellowship of St Antony the Great.

Ransomed

The Bulgarians nurses I wrote about in May have had their death sentences commuted. They have not been freed, but rather merely given life imprisonment for crimes which research has shown the could not have committed.

They have been convicted of intentionally infecting 438 children in Libya with HIV. Even though the accusation is ludicrous, foreign experts with no vested interest in covering up the problem of AIDS in a Muslim country have determined that the infections started before the Bulgarians even arrived in Libya. They made confessions, but these were aided by the usual Libyan methods of torture.

In the end, it wasn’t just all of the foreign pressure from the civilised world that worked. It was the blood money that was raised. More than £200 million of it to be paid to the families. There were sweeteners for the Libyan government like all of their debt to Bulgaria written off. You know a country is in pretty bad shape when they are in debt to Bulgaria.

Now the pressure should not be let up until they are released.

Russian Civilisation?

If you were thinking that human rights are a reality in post-Communist Russia, you would be very mistaken. The former KGB officer serving president may claim to be a devout believer, but with another KGB agent leading the Holy Synod in which at least another two members were also KGB agents, perhaps its not surprising that things haven’t changed much in Holy Mother Russia.

When a Chechen meat wholesaler named Zaur Talkhigov helped the security services to negotiate the release of hostages in the Moscow theatre siege, he was arrested for terrorism and sent to Siberia. Investigating his case is one of the reasons investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. As reported in The Sunday Times:

Talkhigov is now in a cramped cell with 18 inmates sharing one lavatory in Komi, a remote and forbidding region that became infamous under Stalin for its many forced-labour camps. In winter, temperatures drop to -30C. In summer, the cell is a stifling 30C plus.

He is allowed out of his cell for just an hour a day and permitted to wash once a month. The food consists of buckwheat porridge, rancid fishbone soup and the occasional plate of boiled meat.

His mother Tamara can visit him only once a year, for three days. The return train journey to the prison from her home in Chechnya takes 84 hours.

“Conditions in the prison where I am now are relatively good,” said Talkhigov. “In Moscow I was held in a cell so cramped that we took it in turns to sleep. Tuberculosis was rampant. In another prison, where I was held in solitary confinement, two guards came into my cell shortly after I arrived and beat me all over my body with their truncheons as their way of welcoming me. I’ve been under constant psychological pressure.”

Yet this is a country that wants to be treated as an equal with the G7 nations. Putin has cooled relations with the US over NATO missile defence systems in free nations that have aligned themselves with the West, rather than their previous compulsory alliance with Russian under the Warsaw Pact.

In terms of law and justice, Russia still has a long way to go to be considered a civilised nation. The other question is whether the Church in Russia is going to be an agent of reform or of collusion.

Hindsight

Many of you who are Orthodox probably already regularly visit Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog. Fr Stephen is an OCA priest in East Tennessee.

He has a post today about The Spirit, the Modern World, Pentecostalism and Orthodoxy that I found particularly enlightening. He knows of what he speaks on more than just an academic level:

My wife and I met in a charismatic house Church so that I do not write as a stranger on the subject. I spent two years, as well, living in a charismatic commune. Many years ago I would have been about as hard core as they come. Today I judge the matter quite differently and see, with fear and trembling, Pentecostal thought and practice in a different light.

Though his spiritual journey does not mirror mine exactly, he has expressed the same concerns I have over a number of issues more eloquently and pastorally than I could.

Our Father Among the Saints Columba

Today is the 1410th anniversary of the repose of Columba of Iona, one of the patron saints of Scotland. He is by no means one of the earliest bishops in Scotland. St Ninian first worked in Scotland in the 4th century. Nonetheless, Columba’s missionary work amongst the Picts was one of the great evangelistic efforts in this island.

Though like Jesus he began his Scottish mission with twelve disciples, Columba turned Iona into a school for missionaries to the Picts, much as my own patron St Dyfrig did for the Welsh at Hentland and Moccas.

I went to Iona 17 years ago. Wow. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long ago. Anyhow, it would be a great place to be a monk, because there’s not much to do there other than pray. And you have to want to get there. Even today as a tourist attraction and place of pilgrimage, you have to want to get there. It’s not on the way to anywhere else.

Likewise, if you were going to be a missionary to the mainland or any of the other islands in the Hebrides in the 6th century, you would have to want to get there. You would have to be pretty committed to evangelism.

Columba would have probably never imagined that his rebuilt abbey and the community associated with it would be run by a woman and espouse liberal politics and theology, and pan-sexual ecumenism.

Adomnán’s Vita Columbae is one of the great hagiographies of the British church, written within first hundred years after Columba’s death. As the ninth abbot of Iona, Adomnán had access to those who knew Columba, so it is much more difficult to discount the stories told, as is often the habit of modern scholars when dealing with hagiographical literature. They have to find other ways of explaining away his prophetic gift and the miracles performed by him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because this aspect of his ministry is so well know, Columba is a popular figure with charismatics who have dabbled in Celtic Christian history. The only difference between them and the Orthodox is that as Orthodox, we don’t see the ministry of Columba as finished, but merely translated from this life to the next, where he prays for us as part of the great cloud of witnesses.

In response we sing:

By thy God-inspired life/ thou didst embody both the mission and the dispersion of the Church,/ most glorious Father Colum Cille./ Using thy repentance and voluntary exile,/ Christ our God raised thee up as a beacon of the True Faith,/ an Apostle to the heathen and an indicator of the Way of salvation./ Wherefore O holy one, cease not to intercede for us/ that our souls may be saved.

Okay Then

As every Orthodox reader already knows (all most non-Orthodox readers wouldn’t care to know) ROCOR has reconciled with the Moscow Patriarchate. While I’m always glad to see a schism end (though I’d really like to see the end of the one between Rome and the rest of the Patriarchates), I just haven’t gotten all that excited about this.

Maybe it has something to do with having been a member of the Moscow Patriarchate stuck under the Office for External Affairs because we were ethnically Russian. Since ROCOR is very Russian, I’m sure they won’t mind that Alexy and the Holy Synod believe in the use of strong-arm tactics to get their way. Alexy has promised to let the ROCOR hierarchy do their own thing for the “foreseeable future”. That’s probably true. It’s just that Moscow lacks prognosticatory powers.

That being said, we’ve traded Comrade Ridiger for Black Bart who appoints pro-abortion legislators as archons and whose theological contribution to the Church is to be the ecclsesiastical equivalent of Al Gore on the environement.

I know that there are some great and good hierarchs out there. Fortunately, the Church keeps going despite the others.