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Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian world moves towards its culmination

Seraphim Hanisch




Sometimes you may notice upon wishing someone a happy Easter that they say, “Thank you, but our Easter (Pascha) is not yet…”

With so much worldly attention focused on the enormous Roman Catholic Church and its celebrations of the Good Friday to Easter Sunday, it is easy to pass over the incredible tradition of the Week of the Lord’s Passion, Crucifixion, defeat of Death and Hades, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as it is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is the oldest and second largest Christian communion in the world. Oldest? Yep. It predates the Roman Catholic Church by 1,000 years. Second largest? Yes again. There are approximately 250 million adherents all around the world, with the largest population currently resident in the Russian Federation. Also known as the “Greek Orthodox Church”, “Russian Orthodox Church” and 13 other such titles, these groups represent fifteen canonically recognized national jurisdictions of one Church. Each national jurisdiction is independent of the others, yet all remain in communion with one another in an unbroken commonality of faith. In other words, one may attend an Orthodox Church in Russia, but be just as much at home in Greece, or Albania, Romania, or even the United States, for although the language used in Church services changes, the expression of faith and worship is the same. This is a unity that does not exist in any other Christian confession in the world.

The Orthodox celebration of services usually amounts to sensory overload for the newcomer, especially someone who is steeped in Western Christian tradition. The first thing that one often notices is a feeling that one has stepped into a very ancient world, and everything about it is just different than the world outside the walls of the church edifice.

We wish to focus just a little bit on the present season. This week has been the Holy Week for Orthodox Christians in most places in the world, and it comes after an already long period of fasting – some 47 days on the day that Holy Week begins, Palm Sunday. The character of the services takes us into the events of the last week of Christ’s earthly life before His Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Far from being a “re-enactment” or “remembrance” of events that happened 2,000 years ago, the Orthodox Christian tradition employs a technique understood best by the Greek people who were the early Christians. The Greeks understood the idea of eternity and the eternal now better than anyone else did, and it is certainly by no accident that this and other elements of Greek culture and thought were utilized by the will of God to create the experience one has in Orthodox Christian worship.

For, rather than looking at the past events through a window, or through the screen of one’s television set, Orthodox worship takes us there, into these moments of the life of Christ, and we are mystically present with Him and his disciples. This may seem like a very bold statement, but it is the common experience for us as Orthodox Christians to go through what might inadequately be called a catharsis, but with us is actually a real experience of these events.

For example, the services of the three Matins (Orthros, or morning services) for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, take us to when Jesus found a fig tree without fruit, and cursed it, causing it to wither away instantly. Later, upon entering the Temple, the chief priests question his authority to teach, to heal, to break the Sabbath by doing things against the Jewish law, and Jesus confounds them with his answer, backing them against the wall of their refusal to believe Him. As the services progress (and in the Orthodox Christian tradition, we pray nine times per day liturgically), event after event unfolds, with Christ’s teachings and experiences intermingled with references to the Old Testament and prophecies and signs made and fulfilled.

To the Western person used to an orderly interpretation of time as Chronos, sequential time, this is dizzying, for the Church seems to be at all points in time at once.

And this is exactly right. She (our pronoun for the Church) is, (and this kind of time is called kairos, the time of God) for She recognizes that all events in the history of the created universe center on the event of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. And as the services unfold, we see and feel, and hear, as well as taste and smell, all of reality converging upon this moment. All times are now for God, and we experience some of this ourselves as we go through the Holy Week services.

One great theme of Palm Sunday is the “wordly” victory that is but the barest hint of the true victory. Palm Sunday’s events were greeted by the multitudes, greeting Jesus so joyfully that they wanted to make him King right there and then. And indeed, Jesus looks over the Temple and the city as though he is the new earthly king of Israel, utterly in charge. But the joy that so many people felt at the prospect of a new king to kick out the Romans changed in just five days, to where many of that same crowd were demanding that this Man be crucified. And even worse, the Jewish authorites – the Pharisees and Scribes, who were consumed by envy and hard-heartedness, (think stubbornness) not only refused to accept Christ, but in that courtyard before Pontius Pilate, they actually commit a travesty, for when Pilate asks them ‘shall I crucify your king?”, these angry men scream back, “we have no king but Caesar!”

On this day, Holy and Great Friday, the Church shows us this convergence of all of history in the morning service:

Today He is suspended on a Tree who suspended the earth upon the waters.

A crown of thorns was placed on the head of the King of angels.

He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.

He who freed Adam in the Jordan is struck upon the face.

The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.

The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.

We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.

Everything that we think is so important about our life comes to a halt over this statement. Politics, nationalism, opinions, all the fighting that people do with one another over whatever issue in life; all of this is shown in these above phrases to be with no real meaning. It all happens, but that is because it is easy to hide from this Great Fact that is mystically playing out before the eye of our souls today.

Christ hangs on the Cross, by his deliberate choice, not as a victim, but in order to carry out the ultimate defeat of Death and the Devil, and granting us eternal life.

I have to admit that as a journalist, if we all remembered this everyday, our trade would probably be put out of business.

And that would be no bad thing, now, would it?

A blessed Holy and Great Friday to everyone. Christ is doing everything for us today.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.




Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for

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Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question.



Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:

It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

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Russia Readies Own Web To Survive Global Internet Shutdown

Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.



Via Zerohedge

Russian authorities and major telecom operators are preparing to disconnect the country from the world wide web as part of an exercise to prepare for future cyber attacks, Russian news agency RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK) reported last week.

The purpose of the exercise is to develop a threat analysis and provide feedback to a proposed law introduced in the Russian Parliament last December.

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russian internet service providers (ISP) to guarantee the independence of the Russian Internet (Runet) in the event of a foreign attack to sever the country’s internet from the world wide web.

Telecom operators (MegaFon, VimpelCom (Beeline brand), MTS, Rostelecom and others) will have to introduce the “technical means” to re-route all Russian internet traffic to exchange points approved by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), Russia’s federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.

Roskomnazor will observe all internet traffic and make sure data between Russian users stays within the country’s borders, and is not re-routed abroad.

The exercise is expected to occur before April 1, as Russian authorities have not given exact dates.

The measures described in the law include Russia constructing its internet system, known as Domain Name System (DNS), so it can operate independently from the rest of the world.

Across the world, 12 companies oversee the root servers for DNS and none are located in Russia. However, there are copies of Russia’s core internet address book inside the country suggesting its internet could keep operating if the US cut it off.

Ultimately, the Russian government will require all domestic traffic to pass through government-controlled routing points. These hubs will filter traffic so that data sent between Russians internet users work seamlessly, but any data to foreign computers would be rejected.

Besides protecting its internet, Russia is simultaneously building a mass censorship system similar to that seen in China.

“What Russia wants to do is to bring those router points that handle data entering or exiting the country within its borders and under its control- so that it can then pull up the drawbridge, as it were, to external traffic if it’s under threat – or if it decides to censor what outside information people can access.

China’s firewall is probably the world’s best known censorship tool and it has become a sophisticated operation. It also polices its router points, using filters and blocks on keywords and certain websites and redirecting web traffic so that computers cannot connect to sites the state does not wish Chinese citizens to see,” said BBC.

The Russian government started preparations for creating its internet several years ago. Russian officials expect 95% of all internet traffic locally by next year.

As for Russia unplugging its internet from the rest of the world for an upcoming training exercise, well, this could potentially anger Washington because it is one less sanction that can keep Moscow contained.

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