What is happening in Belarus?

Ruslan Yarotski , Head of the Leyan Theological Collegium, St. Leonty

Many people around the world question themselves: “What is happening in Belarus?” Our quiet and previously peaceful country has become the object of attention of journalists from all over the world. The reason is the results of the presidential elections held on 9 August 2020 in our country. It is difficult, if not impossible, to call them democratic. Many democratic candidates were imprisoned by trumped-up charges even before the official date of elections. President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled over the country for 26 years, has announced his complete victory, allegedly gaining 80,1% of the votes in his support. However, most people in our country did not believe it. It is obvious a very small group of people, if no one at all, voted for him, so how could he get over 80% of the votes? Obviously, people rushed to the streets peacefully protesting against the fraud elections in all major cities and villages of the country.

From August 9 till August 12 the internet service was largely shut down in Belarus to keep people ignorant and quiet. Nevertheless, Belarussians used an encrypted connection via VPN services to access internet privately and learned about the election results. Riot police was instructed to brutally suppress any protests. No one expected such cruelty! In few days, over 7000 people were detained, severely beaten, intimidated, some of them got shot  while peaceful demonstrations, some died of their injuries, others simply disappeared. In prisons, people were tortured and humiliated. In response to this unheard-of brutality and lawlessness, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in peaceful demonstrations. The authorities were forced to release most of the detainees, however, many of them are still in hospitals until today.

Relying on the weaponed forces and the police, Alexander Lukashenko has kept his power. Now propagandists from Russian mass-media have arrived to try implementing an information war against the truth in our country sponsored by our authorities. They do their best to shape and impose public opinion that there was no torturing or beating of the civilians in order to convince the world the protesters are a minority consisted of drug addicts, prostitutes and people who have been paid to protest.

All the events took place before our eyes in our native city of Grodno. People were beaten right at the parking lots near to our temples. The civilians were looking for refuge, hiding from the police in the church. The steering board of our Theological institute condemns cruel violence against civilians, torture in prisons, as well as any sort of manifestation of violence from any side. The bishop of  Grodno openly condemned the violence against civilians in his sermon, for which he has been severely criticized by the authorities, as well as priests who support the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. Most part of the leadership and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church try not to speak publicly about the events in Belarus.

Owing to social media propaganda, the authorities try to hide facts and make people forget what happened pretending nothing has happened. It seems many Christians believed this more than their own eyes and that’s very horrible and frustrating.

We are in desperate need of world-wide prayer support for healing, unity and peace for our nation from the Lord. We, as employees of the Theological Collegium, stand for peace to bring awareness of what’s just happened on the streets of our cities. Our position is clearly not politically related. We declare the position of the Holy Scriptures that encourages us not to call evil good and good evil. Isaiah 5:20-21

Ruslan Yarotski , Head of the Leyan Theological Collegium, St. Leonty

Head of the Leyan Theological Collegium, St. Leonty

The Oikosnet Zoom Conference on effects of the Corona

Walter Lüssi, president of Oikosnet Europe
As the Corona Pandemic affects us all in running our Academies and in reflecting on our role in our societies, the Board of Oikosnet Europe invited its members to a virtual Zoom Conference on the Effects of the Corona Pandemic and the role of Academies. This conference took place on June 18, 2020. After one session on general sharing the participants discussed in a session with three parallel thematic workshops:

Workshop 1: Practical issues and experiences with virtual formats:
The group stated that in the particular moment of the pandemic it was not quite a choice working with digital resources. As the possibility to meet in person was not given, we need to face digital possibilities as a replacement, but a replacement it remains. The alternative would be do nothing. Starting from this perspective the group analysed how we can use digital possibilities without loosing to much of the spirit our member academies stand for.

Workshop 2: The role of Christian Academies in our societies during and after Corona: Stating that the core foundation of the members of Oikosnet Europe will remain the physical gathering of people once again the group pointed out that Oikosnet offers the opportunity to organize projects and events and to find ways to support them financially. But Oikosnet is what its members are. Only a joint effort will help us to conduct an open, transparent and regular dialogue, as members of the civil society in political, ecclesiastical level etc.

Workshop 3 The new normal for Europe and the role for Oikosnet Europe:
The group held a discussion on topics such as Europe and Corona or Education, Culture, system relevance and the Public and discussed concrete issues. One of the main tasks identified was that Oikosnet Europe must first clarify its own definition of education and culture and needs to rethink its definition of academies – to be able to integrate the diversity of educational institutions throughout Europe.

Already the general sharing at the beginning of the Zoom Conference made clear, that the situation is different from country to country and that our members are affected differently by the current situation. The General Assembly will give us the opportunity to discuss this in more detail and reflect on the results and recommendations of the videoconference.

They call it Mediterranean…

by Dr Kostas Zormpas, General Director of the Orthodox Academy of Crete

One could write a lot about the Mediterranean! Culture, music, gastronomy, deities… Every summer we wet our feet in the sea and the water sings -softly- back to us, in order to overcome the traumatic stresses of the winter. The blue of the Mediterranean covers our bodies and the sun warms our thoughts and our dreams. On the contrary, at the same time, the same sea becomes a “grave” for the thousands of refugees who are lost together with their dreams. The body of the Mediterranean is plowed by its boats and a new tragedy is ready to come: modern ships are preparing to rape the Mediterranean, by taking from deep insider the sea, its precious commodity: the energy!

We have been living in a geopolitical instability in this region for a long time, which is slowly becoming more and more dangerous. Turkey’s expansionist tendencies are disrupting the social cohesion of the region. This tension creates serious problems for the peaceful coexistence, which concerns the whole Mediterranean, causing issues to the European and global status quo. This situation is directly involved with the fossil fuels, and it increases the risk of a major oil spill at the Mediterranean!

Unfortunately, oil spills and fossil fuel accidents do happen in a regular basis worldwide and the consequences to ecosystems and economies can be felt for decades. It was 10 years ago, on April 20, 2010, when an explosion occurred on a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the Smithsonian Institute, a record estimate of 3.19 million barrels of oil were spewed into the ocean, before the leak was capped 87 days after the blowout occurred. That is equivalent to the volume of over 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Imagine if this is a case in the Mediterranean’s future…

For many years now, His Beatitude the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I. has been taking important initiatives and action for the protection of the natural environment. The regions around the Mediterranean, vulnerable to climate change and human activities, desperately need sustainable and organized political thought. Prompt solutions and decisions are necessary, in a spirit of reconciliation and justice. This constitutes a basic element of the work of all Academies, for the protection of life and the integrity of Creation that is constantly endangered. Taking into consideration that the word oikos does not only represent a natural, but also a spiritual reality, it is our duty to protect our right to live in the OIKOS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, learning at the same time to respect the wholeness as well as the holiness of the world.

Acknowledging the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Mediterranean and the need for Oikosnet Europe to raise its voice and to develop common action for the protection of the region, we propose that Oikosnet Europe adopt a Project for the Mediterranean, aiming at:

1. The development of an environmental consciousness, with communicational networking, organization of seminars, conferences, pedagogical programmes and printed educational material.

2. The application of environmental educational programmes and projects to raise awareness in the religious communities, in schools and NGOs in the respective countries around the Mediterranean.

3. The development of an inter-scientific approach regarding the introduction of environmental education in the official educational system as well as other educational activities.

4. The promotion of the dialogue and co-operation between the monotheistic Religions in the field of the environment.

5. The creation of a network between the different environmental initiatives and Foundations in the Mediterranean region.

We hope that will be an action!

Dr Kostas Zormpas, is the General Director of the Orthodox Academy of Crete

[1] «They call it Mediterranean and naked they play dark eyed children, bitter statues
it gave birth to the gods, Christ himself summer is not afraid of weather there, in the Mediterranean
…» (George Moustaki).

The General Assembly as a Virtual meeting

The Board of Oikosnet Europe met in two virtual meetings on 25 and 26 May and came to the decision not to hold the Annual Conference (AC) of Oikosnet Europe in the usual form. This is a novum in the longstanding history of Oikosnet Europe and a decision, which was hard to take, but the present circumstances forced the Board to take such decision.

The Academy of Bad Boll would have still be ready to receive us, but only under severe protection measures, which would have made an AC as we know it with close contacts among the participants almost impossible. In addition, we do not know what the situation in different countries of Oikosnet members and travel conditions will be in September.

Therefore, the Board decided to hold the Annual Conference 2020 as a virtual conference in two parts:

on 10 September from 14.00 to 17.00 designed as a study and discussion day and on on 11 September from 14.00 to 17.00 with important items on the business agenda, such as elections and the future of Oikosnet Europe, its accounts and budgets.

Please save the date and register to the virtual conference of 2020. Documents and links to get access to the meeting will be sent out to you in due time. Do not hesitate to contact the secretariat if you have any questions. office@sigtunastiftelsen.se

Read more

Zoom conference on how Christian Academies in Europe cope with the Corona Pandemic

As the Corona Pandemic affects us all in running our Academies and in reflecting on our role in our societies, the Board of Oikosnet Europe invites its members to a virtual Zoom conference the 18th of June on how Christian Academies in Europe cope with the Corona Pandemic. The session will have two parts. One session on general sharing and a session with three parallel thematic workshops. Please get in touch with our secretariat and you will recieve an invitation with access coordinates. office@oikosnet.eu

Videoconference on Corona: June 18, 9.00 – 10.30 AM
Session with general sharing of experiences

Workshop 1: June 18, 11.00 – 12:30AM
Practical issues and experiences with virtual Conference

Workshop 2: June 18, 11.00 – 12:30 AM
The role of Christian Academies in our societies during and after Corona

Workshop 3: June, 18 11.00 – 12:-30
The “new normal” for Europe and the role for Oikosnet Europe

Although the situation is different from country to country, we believe it will profit all to learn from each other as far as very practical issues are concerned, but also with regard to our visions and possibilities for the future. Results and recommendations of this video conference will be taken-up at  the Annual Conference in September.

In any case, we are looking forward to first hearing from you and later on to seeing you, at least virtually. Our Executive Secretary is in the process of contacting each of our members in order to get informed about your situation and in order to evaluate in which way Oikosnet Europa can be of support.

with every good wish,

Walter Lüssi

Oikosnet President

Glimpses from the Annual Conference in Agape

In September, many of or members had some most enjoyable days at the Agape Centro Ecumenico in Italy. Our hosts, Malte Dahme and Sara Marta Rostagno had prepared an excellent program on the theme Identities moving landscapes: an historical view from the Alps where the Waldensian valley and it´s history became an inspiring resource for reflection on the question of migration in general.

Welcoming of new members
During the Business Meeting we had the pleasure of welcoming a new member of Oikosnet Europe, The The Orthodox Grodno Laity Center in Belarus. We all look forward to hear more about their centre and their work in the future.
Jörg Hübner, director at the Academy of Bad Boll, Germany, was elected as a new member of the board. Many of you have probably met him at earlier Annual conferences and you will definetely have the possibility to make the acquaintance at the Annual Conference next year, as it will take place at Bad Boll.

Ideas become projects
One of the most aprreciated part of the Annual Conferences are the exchange of ideas. On the last day of the conference Malte Dahme facilitated a most fruitful workshop where members could partner up around common projects. It was very inspiring to see how many ideas became more concrete during the session and the board are already working on how to develop them further.
A more detailed information from the Business meeting is presented in the minutes and we yet again want to thank Sara Marta Rostagno and Malte Dahme and all their staff for their wonderful hospitality.

Minutes from the Business Meeting

Oikosnet Europe present at the EAD Member Assembly

The president of Oikosnet Europe Walter Lüssi attended to EAD Member Assembly earlier this year. At the meeting he gave a presentation of the work of Oikosnet Europe with an emphasis on the relevance of the European Dimension and the significance of civil society. The EAD have the tradition of inviting the president of Oikosnet Europe to their yearly Member Assembly. The meeting this year took place in Baden.

100 questions on climate change

In the days last days of November, the Evangelische Bildungstätte, Schwanenwerder in cooperation with Oikosnet Europe arranged a workshop on the topic Ernergiewende and citizen participation. At the laity center just outside Berlin, participants from Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic gathered for a trinational dialogue focusing on the role of civil society in this very complex question. The 21 participants started the the dialogue with a list of 100 questions on climate change. Many of the questions we will surely come back to in many dialogues and conferences ahead. 

Engagement in CEC

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) regards Oikosnet Europe as an “organisation in partnership”. Earlier this year, CEC presented a draft of a strategic work plan to all its member churches and partner organisations for commenting. The strategic plan is to guide CEC’s work for the years to come and also to determine as to where CEC wants to make a difference in bringing a faith-based voice to the European institutions. Oikosnet Europe took the challenge seriously and, after discussions in the Board, responded to CEC’s plans and offered its comments and resources with regard to strategic issues as well as in view of the many topics which CEC sees as part of its work plan.

In follow-up of this consultation process and a meetings of CEC’s Governing Board, CEC now issued a letter with three overarching aims for its future work and announcing six working groups to be established. These working groups will work until the next CEC Assembly in about 2023. The frequency of meetings is usually two to three times a year. The six broad themes around which the working groups are to convene are:

– ecclesiology and mission

– diversity, pluralism and education for democracy

– economic and ecological justice and sustainable future

– science, bioethics and technology

– human rights education and advocacy

– social justice.

As Oikosnet Europe is an organisation in partnership, we are also eligible to suggest members for these working groups from among our constituency. Therefore, Oikosnet members are invited to suggest potential candidates with adequate expertise, to the Oikosnet Executive Secretary (noll@evangelische-akademien.de) until 1.September 2019.  The next Annual Conference of Oikosnet Europe (11-15 September) will then discuss the matter and take a decision about names to be forwarded to CEC. The final selection of working group members will remain entirely in the hand of CEC.

The letter from CEC (and its appendices) to its member churches and organisations in partnership can be found on the Oikosnet website under: www.oikosnet.eu/partnerships

The OAC officially a RESEARCH CENTRE

With a recent bill by the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, passed by the Greek Parliament on 23 April 2019, the Orthodox Academy of Crete (OAC) was included in the Law 4310/2014 (A´ 258) concerning “Research, Technological Advancement and Innovation“ and is, thus, officially one of the State-acknowledged Research Centres (Government Gazette 4610/7-5-2019, Art. 255).

This fact constitutes a very important development for the OAC and recognition of the responsible work that is being done for more than 50 consecutive years (1968-2018), and is expected to be a landmark for its future course and academic progress on a local, a national as well as an international level.

The Foundation will now be able to respond to the “signs of the times” and continue to offer its diaconal work to the Church, but also to the well-being of our Society and our Education.

Those Members of OIKOSNET EUROPE who would like to cooperate with the OAC with regard to this new property, please contact oac@otenet.gr (Dr Antonios Kalogerakis).