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CALENDAR OF EVENTS

August 2022
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World Interfaith Harmony Week Observed in Russia

World Interfaith Harmony Week, which is celebrated around the world during the first week of February following a 2010 declaration by the UN General Assembly, was also observed this year by UPF chapters in major Russian cities. Conferences, seminars and visits to places of worship of various faiths took place in Moscow, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

Moscow

Artists, scientists, public figures, religious representatives and other peacemakers took part in a conference in the Russian capital that focused on interfaith dialogue. One of the notable speakers, Ambassador for Peace Sergey Viktorovich Dvoryanov, the vice president of the club For a Better World, praised spiritual and moral education as necessary for creating a healthy social atmosphere. He emphasized the need for leaders who follow spiritual and moral principles in their everyday life and stated that different faiths can unite only if their followers have a personal experience with God.

UPF-Eurasia Secretary General Konstantin Krylov said that humans, having been created in the image and likeness of God, were endowed with reason and conscience, freedom and responsibility, so they should relate to each other with the spirit of brotherhood and mutual openness, and act for the greater purpose. He also said that international and interfaith marriages can lead to an ideal world in which there is a single global family with the one God in the center.

Ambassadors for Peace Vedagar Morgunov and Irina Golubeva led a "workshop of active dreams" concerning principles that are important in relationships between people of different faiths.

On February 5, members of the Youth Initiative Group and Young Ambassadors for Peace, as well as contestants in the Mister and Miss University Pageant 2014, joined with volunteers of the Restavros youth association to help restore a Russian Orthodox cathedral that had been built in 1861. The young people hauled bricks and cleaned debris. After work, they were given a tour of the cathedral and told about the icons and history of the church.

During the week the young people also visited the Jewish Museum and Center for Tolerance. Anna Nazarova, a representative of the Youth Initiative Group, wrote afterward: "I have never seen anything like that before. … I was deeply touched by the history and culture of the Jewish people. At the Center for Tolerance we witnessed real historical events, witnessed the incredible devotion of the Jews to their faith and traditions, transmitted from generation to generation, and we were amazed by the fortitude of this really brave nation that repeatedly suffered throughout its history and yet struggled forward even on the verge of extinction, faithfully keeping its faith. Awesome experience!"

On the final day, representatives from Vienna and Paris, as well as from the Urals, Siberia and Moscow, took part in an international telecast called a “space bridge,” in which issues relating to interfaith dialogue were discussed. The results of a survey carried out by UPF-Moscow were announced. The following questions had been asked: "Are you familiar with the traditions and teachings of the major world religions?" "Do you read anything from the holy books of major world religions?" "What, in your opinion, could help to resolve religious conflicts?" It turned out that the majority of respondents said they regularly read spiritual literature and have a respectful attitude to representatives of the main world religions.

The Austrian and French participants had many questions for the Russians, in particular, about religious education in Russia.

For more information about the video conference and survey results, see the Youth UPF blog.

Novosibirsk

The UPF chapter in Russia’s third-largest city, which is often called “the capital of Siberia,” organized an event called "Respect creates a foundation for interfaith harmony" in which participants visited many of the city’s religious cultural centers. On every day of the week, there were more than 20 participants of different ages and religious affiliations.

On Monday, the frosty weather could not stop those who wished to see the newly built Beit Menachem synagogue. The librarian of the synagogue, Tatiana, spent over an hour with the visitors, explaining in detail the meaning of the decoration style.

On Tuesday the participants visited the Catholic Cathedral of Transfiguration, where they were greeted by the rector of the cathedral, Father Sergei. He is a man of deep faith who has taken the vow of celibacy. Responding to questions, he talked about his path to God and how important it is to respect one’s confessional choice. Guests asked about special attributes of the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. The priest showed an icon that was a gift from Bishop Sergius of the Novosibirsk diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the visitors felt strong hope for reunification of these two branches of Christianity.

On Wednesday the tour visited the mosque of Novosibirsk. The administrator and ustaz (teacher) spoke about the importance of the mosque in a Muslim's life and said that a true Muslim is recognized as one who honors not only the Prophet Muhammad but also the earlier prophets Moses and Jesus. Participants learned that in the summer of 2014, a large mosque and madrassa (school) is scheduled to be opened in Novosibirsk, where any person can receive education, not only Muslims.

On Thursday, the visitors were welcomed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The chairman of the church, Pyotr Nikolayevich, spoke about the history of the Mormon Church and its development plans. The visitors received as a gift one of the most important books of the church, "The Book of Mormon." The church has a Relief Society and genealogy research center as its affiliations. Presentations were made by missionaries from the United States and Ukraine.

On Friday, on coming to the Ascension Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church, the participants learned that the previously scheduled tour had been canceled due to new regulations. Therefore, the participants visited the cathedral independently, admiring its beauty and decoration. American missionaries of the Christian church who joined the tour took the opportunity to light candles. The participants then visited the art exhibition "Sacred Places of Siberia," with pictures that presented all the Orthodox churches of the Novosibirsk region. The organizer Dmitry Dobry told us about his personal spiritual experience with the icon of Princess Olga, who he said has helped him in creating and maintaining the exhibition.

On Saturday there was an interfaith charity concert for the elderly and veterans. Artists of different faiths performed with love and warmth a program that included trombone, accordion, choirs, soloists and even a theatrical play about happiness.

On Sunday the Interfaith Harmony Week ended with a hike to the Center of Vedic Culture. The participants joined about 100 believers at a service that was followed by songs and beautiful dances. Afterward there was a feast of vegetarian cuisine and a talk with a spiritual teacher from India who was visiting Novosibirsk.

The following are excerpts from several reflections written by participants: "Surprisingly the followers of different religious beliefs could be so tolerant to each other! I love it when people live in peace! Such projects contribute to mutual understanding between believers and world peace!" … "Although the followers of all religions call God by different names, religions teach basically one and the same—love God and love people! The time has come when all believers of this world must become friends and work together to make a lot of good for people." … "‘Unity in diversity’ is one of the major appeals of the modern world, and we were able to witness this. Unity manifested in hospitality, the friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the meetings ... and we could see the diversity at each visit.”

St. Petersburg

The regular meeting of the local Ambassadors for Peace on February 8 was dedicated to Interfaith Harmony Week. Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire on "the role of religion on the way to a common culture of peace."

Ambassador for Peace Nikolai Sokurov said that because the external always reflects the inner, the state of the world reflects the level of human consciousness. Therefore it is essential to revive a culture of spiritual consciousness. Manifesting love and respect to all people will positively transform the spiritual atmosphere, Mr. Sokurov said.

Another Ambassador for Peace, Dr. Lydia Y. Verb, a professor on family and children at the University of Culture and Arts, said that peace is reached through faith. The role of religion is to contribute to the harmonization of mind and heart.

Irina Solovieva sang the traditional song "The River," and there was a presentation about the life and work of Mother Teresa.

Ambassador for Peace Eugene Mirzyanov shared the results of a survey among youth about the role of religion. Although most of the youth surveyed did not know about Interfaith Harmony Week, they said they believe that the week is needed to get people to think about eternal values, learn more about different religions, and address religious conflicts. Many respondents said that they have friends of other faiths.

Ambassador for Peace Tatiana Krasnosumova reported the results of a similar survey taken at the beginning of the meeting, and Ambassador for Peace Tatiana Kudryavtseva recited a poem she had written, in which she very emotionally expressed her life position.

Yekaterinburg

In the fourth-largest city of Russia, located on the border between Europe and Asia, the local chapter of UPF organized a number of activities under the motto "Through faith to peace."

On February 5 UPF members presented a showing of the film “The Message,” about the origins of Islam. Eleven persons attended the showing and stayed for a discussion afterward. In Russia Christians and Muslims have lived close to each other for centuries, and it’s not unusual for a Russian to have a friend or family member of a different faith.

After the film, Dmitry Oficerov wrote in a reflection: "Analyzing why this film had such an impact on me, I thought about two things: 1) we fear things we do not understand, and 2) by getting to understand you start loving. … These two things harmoniously united gave me a new understanding of the values that embrace interfaith meetings. It is simple: You just need to make an effort and try to understand the others.”

On February 7, eight persons attended a showing of a film about John Wesley, the 18th-century Anglican priest who founded the Methodist movement. The discussion after the film was joined by a young Christian member of the Protestant church.

Following the pattern of Interfaith Harmony Week celebrations in the past two years—which featured visits to a Lutheran church, a synagogue, a Buddhist temple, a mosque, an Orthodox church, a Catholic church and a Hare Krishna temple—this year participants visited the newly constructed Armenian church and heard a talk about the history of Christianity in Armenia.

After the tour, one of the 10 participants wrote: "We were profoundly impressed by the abbot’s singing in the Armenian language. I experienced internal peace. After visiting the temple we were filled with joy and elation inspired by the contact with such great traditions."

“Principles of Peacemaking” was the title of a seminar presented by during Interfaith Harmony Week. After showing a video about UPF activities in 2013, UPF-Yekaterinburg representative Evgeny Skvortsov spoke on the two major principles of the Universal Peace Federation: "Humanity is one global family whose parent is God” and "A human being has a spiritual and moral aspect that strives for truth, goodness and beauty."

One participant wrote in a reflection that the topics presented are valuable “not only for believers but also for non-believers.” This participant also wrote: “The one who lives in harmony with his conscience seeks to resolve conflicts between people. His knowledge and skills help him to do this in interpersonal relationships or family, social activities, and international relations. In any case, it seems to me that conscientious people are the best peacekeepers."

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