Like the Virgin get the child

Do you understand the figure of speech in the above title? It is an idiom in the German language that means that something actually impossible has happened to someone. In English maybe: «It just fell into someone’s lap». But that is not the same, because so the reference to the Christmas story is completely lost.
I’ll come back to that. But first I will write what everyone is writing these days: We are at the end of a very special year. I don’t remember since I can think and observe that an experience like the pandemic of Covid-19 has ever moved the whole world, kept everyone on their toes and confronted humanity with problems that have not yet been solved.

I’ll come back to that. But first I will write what everyone is writing these days: We are at the end of a very special year. I don’t remember since I can think and observe that an experience like the pandemic of Covid-19 has ever moved the whole world, kept everyone on their toes and confronted humanity with problems that have not yet been solved. At the same time, we know that this one experience could distract us from so much that has also taken place – in our personal lives, in our institution, in Belarus, in the USA, in … We still see the many young people who have taken action against climate change under the name “Friday for Future”. We still see the masses who have let themselves be called onto the streets by the “Black Live Matters” movement.

«How may this be …?»

Educational events have become difficult. A lot of things, if we didn’t want to cancel everything, had to be converted into virtual formats, at least temporarily. Yet education needs encounters. And when it becomes essential, we have to be able to look each other in the eyes. This year, too, it became clear how fake news and conspiracy theories can proliferate virtually and on social media to an unprecedented extent. What does this mean for our educational efforts? And how do we have to shape our commitment to peace, justice and the integrity of creation, to solidarity and well-being for all in the future? How may this be, that something changes for the better?

In Luke’s Christmas story, Mary asks the angel who comes to her this very question: «And Mary said tot he angel, How may this be, because I have had no knowledge of a man?» (Luke 1,34). «And the Angel in answer said to her, The Holy Spirit will come on you …» (Luke 1,35).

«The Holy Spirit will come on you …»

The changes to the better will not come «like the virgin get the child». But just our own efforts will not be enough either. We cannot all always do more. Cooperation, consistent cooperation across borders will be necessary. Confidence in our own abilities and experience certainly too. And then still this hope that a good spirit will come to our aid. The Holy Spirit will come on you …» I wish this Christmas hope for all of us. Now. In the everyday of our lives. And when we start our projects again in the coming year with renewed energy.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you …” I wish this Christmas hope for all of us. Now. In the everyday of our lives. And when we start our projects again in the coming year with renewed energy.

In this senseand on behalf of the Board of Oikosnet Europe: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Rev. Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

Moscow Summer Theological Institute during the Pandemic

One of the most successful and important projects of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute is our annual Summer Theological Institute. We started it in 1999 in Belarus as a project to upgrade level of theological education of priests and future priests. Later we organised it in Kiev, Armenia and St. Petersburg, but the biggest event was always in Moscow (since 2002) and in Moscow the focus has shifted from upgrading clerical education to interdisciplinary and ecumenical education. MSTI is two weeks of very intensive studies with our best professors and students coming from all over Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other FSU countries including Central Asia. Every year we have two groups – one for those who already have basic theological education and another is more interdisciplinary with a stress on dialogue.

Normally we have 40-50 students and 8 professors. This year due the COVID-19 pandemic we were not sure how to manage it, postponed it several times and then decided to have both groups in the end of August but with reduced number of students – only 20 this year. The enthusiasm of the students was great and it was fit with even greater enthusiasm of the professors – all of them confessed that these were the first real students they saw since March when the pandemic started. The courses included theology of culture, political theology, theology in the postmodern era, Islam in contemporary world, religion and society, Eastern religions in contemporary world and many others. Next year in addition to our two groups in Moscow we hope to organise a summer institute in Grodno, Belarus.

This autumn St. Andrew’s celebrates its 30th anniversary and despite of the pandemic we plan too jubilee conferences – Theology of Openness on 6 November and The Person in a Post-Religious Society on 10-13 December, both in Moscow.

New normal or new fragile?

«For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.» (2 Timothy 1,7)

Dear members of Oikosnet Europe, dear friends!

First of all I look back gratefully on our Study day and Business Meeting. I am grateful that the General Assembly has confirmed me as President of Oikosnet Europe for another three years.

Then I say that we had to have our GA as a virtual meeting. That was a big limitation. I hope that another time we can meet again directly and discuss and meet each other in a lively way. This is indispensable, even though we have discovered new possibilities with zoom meetings to exchange ideas at short notice.

Covid19 triggers a whole range of feelings: sad, insecure, alone, lonely, confident, relieved, busy, sceptical, fatalistic, calm or over-anxious. However we react, there is one thing we have in common: we become aware of how fragile and precious life, living together, our society and the global economic system are.

Deep is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness

In a newsletter from the Retreat and Study Center Kirkridge in Pensylvania, I found a quote from Howard Thurman. Howard Thurman, the Pastor of The Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples, was one of San Francisco’s most sought-after preachers at college chapels. His contribution to the large audiences he addressed each year across the country and to his own inter-racial congregation consisted not only of prophetic quality, but also of an ability to lead a group into an atmosphere of devotion.

«Everybody knows that something has happened. Just when it happened, no one knows. But there is complete agreement that somewhere, something very important has given away and all sorts of things are pulled out of shape, or are sagging or falling apart. The results? Nerves. There is a sense of fear as of some impending doom around the next turning in the road. …. Some say we are caught in the open independence of the sea, far away from any port, and a storm of world revolution is upon us. They point to breaking up of century-old social patterns all over the world …. This meant and continues to mean, that no one may claim detachment. The result is deep strains and stresses in the soul of a people, for which they had no preparation and from which there seems to be no sure basis for recovery.» («Deep is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostles of Sensitiveness», 1950).

Jean Richardson, the head of the Center Kirkridge, quoted this excerpt from Howard Thurman’s book in late June of this year in connection with “Black live matters” and the new sensitivity to the still serious racism. Everybody knows that something has happened. And the sense of fear as of some impending doom around the next turning in the road, the sense of fear also links people to Covid19 and the unknown that has gripped our world with this virus – and remembering our Study Day – also with the seemingly unstoppable climate change.

I guess we should soon talk about a ‘new fragility’ instead of a ‘new normal’ and decide in Oikosnet Europe on concrete action. The next few years will show this. But that also means that we have a lot of work to do. By “us” I mean first of all the Board of Oikosnet Europe. But it will only succeed in taking concrete and further steps if Oikosnet gains a new importance among its members. One depends on the other. But the need to bring our efforts at European level decisively closer together again is obvious.

With best wishes,

Rev. Walter Lüssi, President of Oikosnet Europe

Up-date from the General Assembly 2020

There is a saying, which translated into English sounds something like this: “Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measurements and instruments”. In about 65 years of existence this year’s General Assembly was the first one, which took place as a virtual Assembly. For many of us this is the “new normal”, for Oikosnet Europe it was a novum. And it was clear for everyone: a virtual Assembly cannot replace a person to person encounter. It is, therefore, that we are looking forward to the next General Assembly in 2021 as a person to person meeting in Sigtuna or Malta and 2022 in Bad Boll. However, the General Assembly as a virtual Assembly also offered opportunities, for instance, in that more members participated due to the fact that they could save money and time for travelling. The 2020 General Assembly was the most representative since years. The Oikosnet Board will look carefully on which events are in the future useful as virtual and/or as person to person events.

Study Day on the Green Deal

The 2020 General Assembly took place in two parts, a Study Day and a Business Session. The theme of the Study Day was: “Climate Change and the European Green Deal – The role of Oikosnet Europe”. We listened to and exchanged with two impressive presentations from Anja Bakken Riise (Norway) and Sven Giegold (MEP, Germany). Anja Bakken Riise explained the impressive work of her NGO in Norway, which tries to engage grass-roots people and civil society in changing peope’s consciousness and behavior towards the sustainable development goals, Sven Giegold emphasized the common political work in order to reach the targets. The Green Deal is a major political step forward on the European Political level, which needs the involvement of the civil society. Now is the time to develop and review national action plans and the recovery plans for times during and after the Corona crisis. A new agricultural policy and green standards in trade agreements are key at this stage. The discussion centered on the complementary effects of engaging people in sustainable development issues and on setting legally binding frameworks on the European as well on the national level.

The Oikosnet Board is in the process of setting priority issues for its thematic work in a European framework for its future work. Issues which emerged from the Study Day certainly belong to the list of priorities. But also other issues were highlighted, such as: our understanding of education, the future of Europe, migration, racism … Inputs from Oikosnet members to this debate are welcome.

Elections

As part of the Business Session, the General Assembly re-elected Walter Lüssi (from Plusbildung Schweiz) as President for the next three years and Katerina Karkalla Zorbas from the Orthodox Academy of Crete as a new member of the Board, equally for three years. Congratulations! The next meeting of the Board is envisaged for 30 November 2020.

Staff Exchange

Several Oikosnet members asked as to how Oikosnet Europe could help facilitating an exchange of staff, may it be for a shorter or a longer period of time. Such an exchange is to be seen as a process of mutual learning and of bringing Academies close to each other. Board member Kristin Gudleiksrud Raaum developed a discussion paper on the issue, which needs to fed with the expectations and needs of potential participants. The paper can be obtained from the Oikosnet Office in Sigtuna or from Kristin herself. Again, contributions are welcome.

Budget

The General Assembly also adopted the accounts for 2019 and the Budget for 2021. It is clear, that many members of Oikosnet Europe are also suffering under financial constraints due to the Corona crisis. But is also clear, that the work of Oikosnet Europe at this stage largely, if not exclusively, depends on membership contributions. Extra financial support is only acquired for special projects.

Projects

The General Assembly also received reports from projects like the Arab-European Citizens Dialogue, Dialogue for a Peaceful Change and the Civil Society Project for Central Europe. These are summarised in the Annual Report to the Assembly. More extensive reports are available upon request.

Belarus

Much too little time was left at the end of the General Assembly for listening to the witnesses of our members in Belarus about the situation in their country and their own involvement after the elections. The short reports were impressive. Oikosnet members are involved in supporting victims, in documenting atrocities and in spreading the truth through social media. Oikosnet can be proud of their involvement. As time was too short there will be a special invitation for a longer Zoomconference in October.

Rüdiger Noll, Executive Secretary of Oikosnet Europe

Welcome to the virtual General Assembly of Oikosnet Europe

Dear members and friends of Oikosnet Europe,

The Board of Oikosnet Europe is looking forward to welcoming you to the GA on 10 and 11 September. We are very much aware, that a virtual GA cannot replace an in-person GA, but paying tribute to the present circumstances, a virtual GA seemed to be the only reasonable possibility. It also opens possibilities: more OE members will be represented and many more staff people from Academies can take part.

The a virtual zoom conference is divided in two parts on 10 and 11 September 2020, from 14h00 to 17h00 on both days.
On 10 September the GA will take the form of a study day under the theme: “Climate Change and the European Green Deal – The Role of Oikosnet Europe”. Program

The second part on September 11 will be the Business session. It is only one person per Academy/member organization tha can vote at the few occasions, where votes are constitutionally necessary. All participants, however, must be registered for the GA. Link for registration

In this sense, we are looking forward to an inspiring General Assembly with a broad participation of Oikosnet members.

With every good wish,
Walter Lüssi, president of Oikosnet Europe an Rudiger Noll Executive Secretary

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

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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