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Interview: Issues Etc., June 18, 2014 June 23, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Russian Orthodox.
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3. Media Coverage of the Religion in Russia and Poland – George Conger, 6/18/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org

 

Anglican Unscripted Episode 99, May 17, 2014 May 17, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican.TV, Church of England, Serbian Orthodox, The Episcopal Church.
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Published on May 17, 2014

Anglican Unscripted is the only video newscast in the Anglican Church. Every Week Kevin, George, Allan and Peter bring you news and prospective from around the globe. Please donate athttp://anglican.tv/donate

Story Index
00:00 Twitter Diplomacy
11:37 No More Religion Reporters
18:57 Jersey Shore Gate
36:37 The Greatest Lawsuit in History
43:00 The Evilest Bishop of All Time (so far)
49:16 Closing and Behind the Scenes

Interview: Issues, Etc., April 7, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Here is a link to an interview I gave to Lutheran Public Radio’s Issues, Etc., program on 7 April 2014.

3. Media Coverage of the Crisis in the Ukraine & Gay Bishops in the Church of England – George Conger, 4/7/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org

GetReligion

Assad’s Easter and mysterious attacks on Syrian Christians: GetReligion, April 24, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Antiochian Orthodox, Get Religion, Greek Orthodox, Islam, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Why are Syrian Christians being targeted by Islamist rebels?

The Western press cannot agree on a reason, a review of recent reports from Syria reveals.

Can we credit the explanation given by the Wall Street Journal — that the rebels do not trust Christians — as a sufficient explanation? And if so, what does that mean? Are the reports of murders, kidnappings, rapes and overt persecution of Christians in Syria by Islamist rebels motivated by religion, politics, ethnicity, nationalism or is it a lack of trust?

Is the narrative put forward byITAR-TASS, the Russian wire service and successor to the Soviet TASS News Agency — that the rebels are fanatics bent on turning Syria into a Sunni Muslim state governed by Sharia law — the truth?

On this past Monday, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on its front page under this headline:

Christians of Homs Grieve as Battle for City Intensifies

That story examined the plight of Syria’s Christians. The Journal entered into the report by looking at the death of Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, who had been murdered by members of an Islamist militia in the town of Homs.

The well-written article offers extensive quotes from a second Syrian Roman Catholic priest on this tragedy and notes the late priest’s attempt to bridge the divide between Christians and Muslims. In the 10th paragraph, the story opens up into a wider discussion of the plight of Syria’s Christians and recounts Assad’s Easter visit to a monastery — whether Catholic or some variety of Orthodox, that detail is left out.

While the fighting raged in Homs, President Bashar al-Assad showed up unexpectedly on Sunday in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, about 30 miles northeast of the capital Damascus. The town was overrun by Islamist rebels in September and reclaimed by the Syrian army a week ago.

State media released video footage of Mr. Assad surveying smashed icons at the town’s damaged monasteries and quoted him as saying that “no amount of terror can ever erase our history and civilization.”

The fight over Maaloula, like the killing of Father Frans, both reflect the quandary of Syria’s Christians. Many feel an affinity for Mr. Assad. His Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, dominates the regime while the majority of Syrians—and opposition supporters—are Sunni Muslims.

Most Christians have become all the more convinced that only the regime can protect them after some rebels came under the sway of Islamic extremists who have attacked and pillaged their communities and churches and targeted priests and nuns.

Some Christians still seek to build bridges with both sides of the civil war, as Father Frans did. But in a landscape where religious and sectarian affiliations often define and shape the struggle, they find themselves under fire from both sides.

Many rebels say they don’t fully trust Christians, while regime supporters see those who reach out to the opposition as naive or traitors. Father Frans found himself in that position, say some close to him

What are we to make of these assertions — “some rebels” are Islamists, or that “many rebels say they don’t fully trust Christians?” Is that a fair, suffient or accurate statement of affairs?

A look at the Financial Times report on President al-Assad’s visit to Maaloula on Easter Sunday makes the argument that the Assad regime is playing up the Islamist angle for his political benefit. But it assumes the persecution is real.

President Bashar al-Assad made an Easter visit on Sunday to a historic Christian town recaptured by the army, in a rare appearance outside the capital that shows his growing confidence in state control around Damascus.

The visit also aims to portray him as the protector of Syrian minorities against a rebel movement led by Islamist forces.

The wire service stories also connect Christian fear of the rebels with support for Assad. AFP’s account closes with the explanation:

Syria’s large Christian minority has sought neutrality throughout the three-year war, and has viewed the Sunni-led rebels with growing concern as jihadists have flocked to their ranks.

The Los Angeles Times opens its story on the Maaloula visit noting that both Assad and the rebel leadership are courting Syria’s Christians.

But Assad appears to be winning.

DAMASCUS, Syria — President Bashar  Assad made a symbolic Easter visit Sunday to the heavily damaged town of Maaloula, a Christian landmark  enclave recaptured from Islamist rebels last week by government forces. The president’s visit, broadcast on state television, underscored his efforts  to portray himself as a defender of Christians and other minorities as he  prepares for an expected reelection bid in the midst of a devastating war now in  its fourth year.

Maaloula and several of its historic churches sustained significant damage  during heavy fighting and bombardment. Church leaders say priceless icons were  looted or destroyed during the rebel occupation of Maaloula, famous for its  preservation of Aramaic, a version of the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

“No one, no matter the extent of their terrorism, is able to erase our human  and cultural history,” Assad declared in Maaloula while in the company of senior  Christian clerics. “Maaloula will remain steadfast … in the face of the  barbarity and darkness of all who target the homeland.”

Opposition groups seeking Assad’s ouster generally dismissed the trip as a  stunt or faked. The exile-based Syrian National Coalition sent Easter greetings  to Syria’s Christians “at a time when Assad destroyed the country because of a  people who are demanding freedom.”

Comparing the reporting by Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph on the plight of Syria’s Christians to the the Wall Street Journal reveals the shallowness of the WSJ’spiece. Reporting on his visit to Maaloula shortly after it was recapture by government forces, Oborne writes:

Below, the village itself appeared practically deserted; most of its 5,000-strong, mainly Christian, population have fled since it first came under rebel attack, on Sept 4 last year.

According to Samir, a soldier who said he had been born in Maaloula, and joined up to defend his village, the ancient religious centre “will not change hands again because most of the young men in the village have joined the military”.

His friend, Imad, said there had been 32 churches in Maaloula and claimed that “all of them have been destroyed” – although it was clear from the vantage point near the monastery that in fact churches were still standing, albeit with signs of damage and some burning.

Anger among regime supporters at what they claim are the excesses of the rebels – who include radical Islamist insurgent groups – was palpable. “I can’t describe my feelings because the terrorists are destroying the Christian religion,” said Imad, who said he had been an electrician in Maaloula before he joined the military and the rest of his family moved to Damsacus two years ago. Samir claimed that the rebels had behaved brutally to young men of the town when they first arrived, killing many.

However, there have been no documented massacres of Christian inhabitants under the rebels’ rule of Maaloula and a group of nuns who were released last month after being kidnapped by the Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, said they had been treated well.

Oborne’s article allows both sides to speak, while offering facts that put the claims in context. The complexity of the war in Syria is better served by the balanced but nuanced approach taken by the Daily Telegraph, I believe, than the shy style adopted by the WSJ. While I have no firsthand knowledge of the events unfolding in Syria, Oborne’s story just feels right — it is a first-class example of the craft of reporting.

Where does the truth lay in all of this? The WSJ piece doesn’t feel right to me. I am not saying it is incorrect, but it is incomplete.

As a stand-alone piece on the murder of Father van der Lugt, the WSJ article is great. It seems to get into trouble, however, when it moves into a wider discussion of the causes and political-religious currents of Syria’s civil war. Frankly, I am not convinced it is telling the full story. It leaves me wonder why the WSJ is being shy in examining the persecution of Christians by Muslims?

Pod people: ‘Pinko’ Pat Buchanan and the Daily Mail: Get Religion, April 10, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox.
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Heavy breathing this week from London’s Daily Mail, which has denounced American political commentator Patrick J. Buchanan as a toady of Vladimir Putin.

Yes, GetReligion readers you read that correctly, while he has escaped the pinko, secret traveler and useful idiot sobriquets due to the march of history, the Daily Mail nonetheless is calling Pat Buchanan a Russkie stooge.

The lede of the April 5 story entitled “Pat Buchanan claims GOD is on Russia’s side and that Moscow is the ‘third Rome’” pulls no punches. Not only is God on Russia’s side, but so too is GOD.

Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan insists that God is now on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side. The bombastic pundit’s claims in a rambling diatribe posted to a conservative website that Russia is the ‘third Rome’ and the West ‘is Gomorrah.’

‘Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity,’ Buchanan wrote in the op-ed published by Human Events, adding that his recent speeches echo those made nearly 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II — in which the pontiff also criticized the West.

The article proceeds to summarize,with evident distaste, Buchanan’s April 4 syndicated column “Who’s Side Is God on Now?”

Not quite a tabloid, or “red top” in British newspaper parlance, the Daily Mailstraddles the line between respectable and hysterical journalism. This story leans to the hysterical side — to the delight I’m sure of Buchanan, for whom this is great publicity — but to the detriment of those seeking to understand what is happening in Russia today.

The story has undergone revisions since it was first posted online. The first printing called the former Nixon speech writer a “bombastic preacher,” though subsequent editions were changed to “bombastic pundit.” What has not been updated, however, is the Daily Mail‘s claim that Buchanan is making the claims about God and Russia — when it is quite clear when reading the original piece Buchanan is reporting on what Putin believes to be Russia’s mystical destiny.

Buchanan’s voice comes toward the end of his piece when he laments a world where the leader of Russia has donned the mantle of Christian morality. Good Catholics once prayed for the conversion of Russia, but today they should pray for the conversion of America.

In this week’s Crossroads podcast, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken and I touched upon the poor job Western reporters have made in covering the deeper currents of the Russia-Ukraine clash. And, while being blissfully unaware of Buchanan’s column and the Daily Mail‘s coverage, we spoke of the “Third Rome” and the belief held by many Russians (including Putin it seems) that Russia has been given a mission from God to renew and redeem the world.

The GetReligion piece “No peace in our time for the Ukraine” was a “got news” story — that is a GetReligion category of a religion related news story that has somehow been overlooked by the media.

The Western press has done a good job in reporting the words of John Kerry, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and other Western leaders. Putin is painted by most newspapers as a villainous KGB thug. However, the enthusiasm shown towards then new leaders of the Ukraine has been tempered by frustration with their inability to govern their country.

All of interest to a degree, I concede, but not of significant importance. The deeper currents of religion, ethnicity and national identity, I told Todd, were not being given a proper hearing. Without the context of historical background, of the five hunded year clash between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, of the battle between the Westernizers and the Slavophiles, it was not possible to understand what was happening, beyond the level of caricature (Putin bad, protesters good).

The religion angle as essential to understanding this dispute, yet it was not being addressed by the Western press. In my GR piece I reported on Russian and Ukrainian newspaper articles that presented harsh denunciations by local church leaders of their opposite numbers. I wrote:

Reading the statements from the Russian Orthodox Church published in the Moscow newspapers and the statements of the Catholic leaders published in Kiev quite clearly demonstrates the religious dimensions of this dispute. Putin’s Moscow is the inheritor of the civilizing mission of Holy Mother Russia while the Catholic Church is the bulwark standing fast in the face of the Asiatic hordes.

Church leaders have picked up the tempo in recent days. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Cyril I (or Kyrill or Kirill, which means Cyril) offered his strongest critique of the unrest in the Ukraine last week, comparing it to the October Revolution.

In an interview with Interfax, Cyril stated:

“Most of us can hardly imagine what revolution is. The latest events in Ukraine, terrible pictures of the revolutionary uprising in the capital, people killed, distraught spiritually and consciously – all this helps us to understand what happened in Russia back then,” the patriarch said to a small crowd following a prayer service he conducted near the relics of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and All Russia in Moscow’s Donskoy Monastery on Monday.

During the 1917 events “life was destroyed and this was accompanied by outrage and terrible injustice under slogans for achieving justice,” Patriarch Kirill said.

Putin may well deserve his reputation of being a thug. But Pat Buchanan’s observations about the turmoil in the East are on target.

Western leaders who compare Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria, who dismiss him as a “KGB thug,” who call him “the alleged thief, liar and murderer who rules Russia,” as the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins did, believe Putin’s claim to stand on higher moral ground is beyond blasphemous.

But Vladimir Putin knows exactly what he is doing, and his new claim has a venerable lineage. The ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers who exposed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy, was, at the time of his death in 1964, writing a book on “The Third Rome.”

The first Rome was the Holy City and seat of Christianity that fell to Odoacer and his barbarians in 476 A.D. The second Rome was Constantinople, Byzantium, (today’s Istanbul), which fell to the Turks in 1453. The successor city to Byzantium, the Third Rome, the last Rome to the old believers, was — Moscow.

Putin is entering a claim that Moscow is the Godly City of today and command post of the counter-reformation against the new paganism. Putin is plugging into some of the modern world’s most powerful currents. Not only in his defiance of what much of the world sees as America’s arrogant drive for global hegemony. Not only in his tribal defense of lost Russians left behind when the USSR disintegrated.

He is also tapping into the worldwide revulsion of and resistance to the sewage of a hedonistic secular and social revolution coming out of the West.

For Western ears, whose world view arises from a secularist enlightenment based notion of democracy and social order, these claims are hard to hear. That does not make them false.

No peace in our time for the Ukraine: GetReligion, April 3, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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One hundred years from now, when the history of these past few months in the Ukraine have been told and retold, what will be the key points scholars will discuss in their analysis of events? Will it be John Kerry’s or David Cameron’s or Angela Merkel’s diplomatic initiatives?

I think not. Who today remembers the names or the diplomatic moves of the French or British Foreign Ministers during the Sudeten crisis? (George Bonnett and Lord Halifax). We remember Neville Chamberlain, but not for the reasons he may have desired. While the Angl0-American newspaper fraternity focuses on the Western political angle of the Ukraine crisis, there are deeper — more profound — forces at work that have been all but ignored.

Scholars and students will likely note the peripheral noises made by the great and good of America and Western Europe, but I suspect their work will focus on the age old clash between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East. The crisis in the Ukraine is really about the interplay of religion, nationalism and politics. (Bet that came as a shock that GetReligion would bemoan the absence of religion in the news reports out of Moscow and Kiev.)

We are not alone, however, in calling attention to this so far neglected aspect of the dispute. Writing in the Washington Post last month, Henry Kissinger stated:

The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then.

Dr. K noted:

The Ukrainians are the decisive element.They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 , when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian , became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or break up.

We can see the clash of Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy in statements made by leaders of the two churches. Statements that have so far gone unreported in the Western secular media and have only had an airing west of the Vistula in religious newspapers.

On March 26 the Catholic news service, Asia.Net reported:

The Moscow Patriarchate strongly condemned the Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church in Ukraine for “meddling” in politics, in the current crisis in the country. For its part, Russia continues to accuse the Ukraine of “religious intolerance,” a charge the latter sharply rejects, noting instead how all religious denominations have come together to oppose violence and express support for Europe.

It cited a broadcast made by Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the Russian Orthodox Department for External Church Relations, on March 22 aired on the Moscow-based television network Russia 24.

According to the transcript of the interview printed on the website of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion went for the jugular, attacking the Greek Catholics as a fifth column for Western interests in the Ukraine. He condemned the leader of the uniates, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk and his predecessor Lubomyr Husar for taking a:

 … very clear position from the beginning of what was a civil conflict, which grew, unfortunately, into an armed bloody conflict. They fought not just for so-called European integration, but even called for the Western countries to more actively intervene in the situation in Ukraine. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk with Filaret (head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate) even went to the United States, to the State Department and asked for U.S. intervention in the Ukrainian case.

Hilarion went on to condemn the Greek Catholics for backing the protesters that brought down the pro-Moscow Ukrainian government. This politicking was not the mark of a true church. Orthodoxy, in contrast:

… does not get on one side of the barricades. It unites all, and when necessary, steps between the warring parties, as did the monks who came out and stood up, risking their lives, their health, to prevent bloodshed between two warring parties.

The Greek Catholics have not taken the Russian Orthodox attacks lightly. In a March 28 interview with the Kiev newspaper The Day, (translated into English by Catholic World Report) Archbishop Shevchuk hits back at Moscow, calling them tools of the Russian state.

The silence of the Moscow patriarchate is “the sign of a definite weakness,” the Ukrainian prelate says. “For whenever the Church finds herself unusually close to a specific governmental institution, whenever harmonious state-church relations turn into a sort of domination of one by the other, then, obviously, the Church becomes incapable of speaking the truth in all its fullness in specific historical circumstances. And therefore I think that this is exactly what we are seeing now.”

In other words, the Russian Orthodox Church is preaching “God save the Tsar” and the tsar is Vladimir Putin.

Reading the statements from the Russian Orthodox Church published in the Moscow newspapers and the statements of the Catholic leaders published in Kiev quite clearly demonstrates the religious dimensions of this dispute. Putin’s Moscow is the inheritor of the civilizing mission of Holy Mother Russia while the Catholic Church is the bulwark standing fast in the face of the Asiatic hordes.

One expects, of course, to see media bias in the Russian and Ukrainian newspapers. Bias is to be expected from newspapers that see this conflict as a battle of civilizations.

To my mind the real issue here is the silence of the Western press. They just don’t seem to get it.

Back in the USSR! Izvestia on the Crimea: GetReligion, March 20, 2014 April 24, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Save for Mitt Romney, no one — in my opinion, at least — appears likely to benefit from the Anschluss in the Crimea. Not only has the annexation of the Crimea by Russia been a blow to the Ukraine, it has underscored the fecklessness of the EU and President Obama while also pointing to the structural weakness of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

And it is really, really bad news for the Russian Orthodox Church.

Bet that line caught you by surprise. When the crisis in the Ukraine first arose, GetReligion chided western newspapers for omitting the religion angle to the conflict. The press eventually caught up to what most Ukrainians knew about the interplay of religion, politics and ethnicity, but only after pictures of Orthodox and Catholic clergy acting as human shields to halt clashes between police and protesters in the Maidan (Independence Square) in Kiev flashed round the world via the wire services.

And when monks from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) opened their cathedral near the Maidan to the wounded, turning the church into an unofficial headquarters for the anti-Moscow protestors, even the Western press took notice.

The religion angle of the unraveling of the Ukraine continues to be under reported in the West, but it is emerging in reports out of Eastern Europe. Last week Izvestia reported that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) would not turn over its parishes in the Crimea to the Russian Orthodox Church now that the Crimea is once more part of Russia.

But before we dive into this article let’s say a few words about Izvestia. In the bad old days (good old days), from 1917 to 1991 Izvestia (which means Reports in English) was the official newspaper of record of the Presidium — the Soviet Government. Its formal title was Reports of Soviets of Peoples’ Deputies of the USSR. Pravda was the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union Izvestia was privatized but then purchased by oligarchs close to the regime. While not an official government organ, it does represent the views and voices of Putin’s regime.

Reading Izvestia and Pravda in the olden days was an art form — part astrology part psychoanalysis. There was always some truth to be found and for those with an eye and ear for the nuances of the regime Izvestia was a pretty good guide to what the people at the top believed to be true or were debating amongst themselves. (Which is not the same thing as truth itself, but I digress).

The paper still performs this role to a lesser extent. I make no claims of expertise in the intricacies of palace politics in Putin’s Russia, keeping track of the Byzantine ways of the Anglican Communion is a full time job for me, and it may well be this piece inIzvestia is a straight news story. Or does it reveal a discussion taking place within the Kremlim?

Patheos will not let me use Cyrillic script on this page, preventing me from pulling the direct lines from the story. But in a nutshell, the article says Patriarch Philaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) will seek to register its dioceses in the Crimea with Moscow as religious entities separate from the Moscow Patriarchate. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) — the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches located in the Ukraine and under the ecclesiastical authority of Moscow — told Izvestia that they had not decided whether to move from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Izvestia further states:

Archpriest Vladimir Vigilyansky of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate told Izvestia that the church has traditionally favored retaining canonical boundaries.

“Of course, the final decision on the results of the negotiations will be announced by the Russian Orthodox Church’s diplomatic department. The basis of our principles has always been such that the canonical territory [of churches] should not be changed. It should remain a sovereign entity and must always uphold the principle of not changing,” said Vigilyansky. “The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is composed of 15 countries. “We are defending the canonical territory of all the local churches.”

After Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian Orthodox Church still considers these lands canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Now what does this all mean? Following Putin’s annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, the Russian Orthodox Church declined to accept these regions under its authority, preferring they stay under the Georgian Orthodox Church. With Russia annexing parts of the Ukraine the question now arises what to do with the Orthodox Churches there?

If Moscow picks up the Crimean churches, they are likely to loose control over the churches under their oversight in the Ukraine proper in a nationalist backlash. At the start of the demonstrations Metropolitan Philaret wrapped the Kiev Patriarchate in the mantle of Ukrainian nationalism. And if the Moscow Patriarchate follows the Kremlin’s lead it would lose the support of its Ukrainians. But if it does not go along with Putin, it will alienate Russian nationalists, who will see their church acting against the interests of Holy Mother Russia.

Writing at the blog Portal-Credo.ru, Kseniya Doroshenko argued Putin has placed Patriarch Cyril of the Russian Orthodox Church in a “hopeless position” making the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow “inevitable”.

What we hear if we listen closely to Izvestia is the suggestion that there will be consequences to Putin’s putsch. He may pick up the Crimea but by doing so will harm Russia’s historic roll as defender of the Slavs and will weaken one of his strongest allies — the Russian Orthodox Church.

I will be the first to admit that this is Get Religion’s version of ecclesiastical Kremlinology. But for those who truly wish to understand what is transpiring east of the Vistula they need be aware of the tremendous religio-political undercurrents that are close to the surface of the Ukraine conflict.

What’s God got to do with it — in Maidan square?: GetReligion, February 21, 2014 April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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I’ve said it oncetwice, and I’ll say it again — there is more than one Orthodox Church in the Ukraine.

Does this matter? Is this pettifogging carping — dull minded pedantry? Am I just showing off a store of useless knowledge, or Is it important to distinguish between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) (KP) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriachate) (MP) when reporting on the demonstrations in Kiev?

If you want to understand what is going on and break free from the narrative being peddled that this is a conflict over “fundamental European values” (Guardian) with the protestors “defying the post-Soviet order imposed by Russia” (Economist) in order to build what British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes will be a “free, sovereign, democratic” Ukraine — then it is important to understand the local issues driving this conflict. Contrary to what the Western European politicians want to believe, this is not a rerun of the Cold War with Angela Merkel and David Cameron replacing Ronald Reagan as the hero. What then is going on?

On page A8 this morning the Wall Street Journal ran a story entitled “CathedralTurns Into Hospital as Ukraine Protests Worsen.” Casualties from the fighting in Independence Square, or Maidan Square as it is know to the locals, have been brought to the cathedral for treatment by volunteer doctors.

The lede states:

KIEV, Ukraine – In St. Michael’s Cathedral, Orthodox priests chanting prayers have been replaced by doctors calling for medicine.

The golden-domed church has been transformed into a field hospital of sorts for protesters injured or worse in days of deadly clashes with police.

And then the story shifts to interviews and man in the street accounts from doctors, volunteers and patients being treated at the cathedral. The article is strongly written and crisply presents the sights and sounds observed by the Wall Street Journal’s man in Kiev.

 

“We’ve had four or five corpses here already today,” says Taras Semushchak, a 47-year-old surgeon from Lviv in western Ukraine. “Most had gunshot wounds from snipers and Kalashnikovs.”

Yet for all the color reporting, the article does not ask the question why are the wounded being treated at St. Michael’s? Why not at St. Sophia’s Orthodox Cathedral on Volodymyrs’ka Street? Why a cathedral in the first place?

Is this a Kievan counterpart to the Occupy Wall Street crowd seeking to use Trinity Wall Street in lower Manhattan as a base of operations? With the difference being the Episcopal Church said no while the KP said yes?

Is a better analogy St. Paul’s Cathedral in London permitting protestors to use their precincts?

In our past posts on this subject, tmatt and I have explored the religious dimensions of this story noting there are three principal churches in the Ukraine: the Moscow Patriarchate, the  Kiev Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church).

The leaders of the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow. In late December the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its Ukrainian bishops, released a statement condemning proposals for the Ukraine to move closer to the EU at the expense of its relations with Russia.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last November Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate urged the Ukraine to break free from Moscow and secure its political, economic and religious independence. He was reported to have said:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

The Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Church have lent their support to the demonstrations — and as the Wall Street Journal story reports, the KP has opened its churches as sanctuaries for the wounded. The Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev has backed President Yanukovich — and its calls for calm echoes the president’s public statements to date.

Leaving out the affiliation of the cathedral to the KP blurs the ethnic-religious elements of this conflict. And it makes the setting of this story meaningless. It could just as well have been a school, museum or other large civic structure.

But aside from the spiritual resonance of a cathedral serving as a hospital for the souls of the sick and a cathedral serving as a shelter for the wounded — there is a practical link between St. Michael’s, its clergy, the KP and the unfolding demonstrations in Kiev. That’s a fact. It matters.

First printed at GetReligion.

Balkan absurdist reporting by Reuters: Get Religion, February 19, 2014  April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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At Get Religion it is usually considered bad form to criticize wire service reports for lacking context. There is only so much information that a reporter can pack into a 300 word story. The absence of an explanatory sentence or two that gives the reader some clues as to the meaning of the story is seldom fatal to an article’s journalistic integrity — but it can at times lead to an article coming across as a Haiku.

This article from Reuters entitled “Bulgarian police detain 120 after mosque attack” I readily concede does not fit into the 5 – 7 – 5 sound (on) pattern of classical Japanese poetry nor the 17 syllables of contemporary English Haiku. Nevertheless the imagery created in this short piece does a great job of telling the story.

A problem with imagery, however, is that the reader must be aware of the symbolic meaning of the nouns being used. The story has a wonderful lede:

Bulgarian police detained more than 120 people on Friday after hundreds of nationalists and soccer fans attacked a mosque in the country’s second city Plovdiv, smashing its windows with stones.

Why is this wonderful you ask? On one level there is an absurdist quality to this sentence with overtones of Monty Python, Lemony Snicket and Eugene Ionescu. A mosque has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque in Bulgaria’s second city has been attacked by a mob casting stones. A Bulgarian mosque in Bulgaria’s second city has been attacked by a mob of soccer fans and (Bulgarian?) nationalists casting stones.

Each iteration makes the story ever so slightly more ridiculous, but at the same time it conveys the absurdity of life through the incongruity of its elements and apparent absence of reason. But this is the Balkans.

The story continues:

 

Over 2,000 people had gathered outside a Plovdiv court as it heard an appeal case dealing with the return of an ancient mosque in the central city of Karlovo, taken over by the state more than 100 years ago, to Bulgaria’s Chief Mufti, the Muslim religious authority.

The soccer fans and nationalists then marched on a mosque in Plovdiv and pelted it with stones. Given the limitations of space Reuters did a great job in reporting this story. At its close the article offered two small bits of context:

Muslims make up about 13 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.3 million people. The Chief Mufti has launched some 26 court cases to try to restore Muslim ownership of 29 mosques and other property across the Balkan state, prompting some public opposition in the predominantly Orthodox Christian population.

These help the reader, but for those not au courant with the modern history of the Balkans, the incongruity of elements might make this story hard to follow. The mosque in Karlovo that served as the flashpoint for this controversy was confiscated by Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria after the Second Balkan War of 1913. That war saw an exodus of many Turks and Muslim Bulgarians — the Pomaks (Slav converts to Islam who speak Bulgarian but follow Turkish customs) from the region West of the River Maritsa or Evros. For Bulgarian nationalists the return of the mosque in Karlovo (which is in ruins but preserved as a historical site by the city government) is a political — ethnic — religious insult. Turkish nationalists might react in the same fashion if Hagia Sophia were returned to the Ecumenical Patriarch. An admittedly bad analogy might be if a Mexican-American group petitioned Texas for possession of the Alamo.

That might explain the nationalists in the mob. But soccer fans? In an American context that conveys images of mothers with mini-vans. In Europe it is code language of skin heads, or neo-nazis, or violent nationalists — whose energies are channeled into supporting a particular football (soccer) team and engaging in violent conflicts with the fans of other teams.

Tie all this into recent statements by the Turkish prime minister about his country’s role as a protector of Balkan Muslims, you have all the makings of a Balkan imbroglio.

How do you tell this story in less than 300 words? Reuters did a pretty good job. But it fleshing the story out with a word or two of “why” on the inter play of religion, politics and ethnicity would have made this piece even better.

IMAGE: courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Arab Spring turning into winter: The Church of England Newspaper, March 28, 2014 April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Coptic Orthodox.
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The Arab Spring was “not a spring or even an autumn, it was a winter,” said the Patriarch of Alexandria, Tawadros II, denouncing the revolutions that had stirred the Middle East and North Africa since 2010. In an interview broadcast on 22 March 2014 on the al-Watan network, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church said Western support for the revolutions had been profoundly misguided as was its support of the former President Muhammad Mursi, who ruled “in the name of religion” while distorting the tenets of Islam.  The Patriarch gave his blessing to General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, leader of the coup that had ousted Mursi calling him “the hero of the June Revolution who had saved Egypt”, adding support for the general’s bid for election as the country’s next president was an act of “patriotism”.

Archbishop says “no” to Hagia Sophia mosque plan: The Church of England Newspaper, February 7, 2014 February 17, 2014

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has lent his support to the Ecumenical Patriarch in the battle with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over plans to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Following the conquest of Constantinople the Ottoman Turks turned the ancient church into a mosque. However members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ruling party have called upon the government to overturn the decision made in the 1930s by Kemal Ataturk to turn the cathedral into a museum.

Archon news reports that during his visit with Patriarch Bartholomew I last month the Archbishop of Canterbury said Hagia Sophia “should not become a mosque.”

“That would be another loss, in which a great symbol of civilization throughout the world was transformed into a particular symbol of exclusivism,” the archbishop was quoted as saying.

No mention of Hagia Sophia was made, however, in the formal press statement released after the 13-14 January 2014 meeting in Istanbul between the Anglican and Orthodox leaders, and the archbishop’s comments could not be confirmed by his staff.

According to the Lambeth Palace Press Office, Archbishop Welby said that Patriarch Bartholomew had been “an example of peace and reconciliation, politically, with the natural world, and in your historic visit to the installation of His Holiness Pope Francis I.”

“Such reconciliation [is] very dear to my heart and is one of my key priorities. It is the call of Christ that all may be one so that the world may see. I will therefore be taking back with me the warmth of your hospitality and also, after our discussions today and tomorrow, a renewed and refreshed focus for greater unity and closer fellowship. We want to carry the cross of our divisions, but be filled with the hope and joy that comes from the grace and the love of Jesus,” the archbishop said.

Finding a faith angle in the Ukraine: Get Religion, January 27, 2014 January 30, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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A spate of wire service photos from the demonstrations in Kiev may have awakened the Western press to the religious element in the protests. As GetReligion‘s editor tmatt has noted, photojournalism has led the way.

The pictures from Kiev are telling a fascinating story — but unless you know what you are seeing and can interpret the images or place them in their political and religious context, you will not understand what is happening.

The “Eurorevolution” as some Ukrainian newspapers have dubbed the protests is about economics, politics, national identity, and religion. It is being articulated in protests over a trade agreements. Yet the dispute has as just as much to do with the Soviet past and the present battle over gay rights in Russia.

However, the press has so far been unable to get its head round all this. The stories I have seen rarely address more than one of these topics at a time and then do so from an American/English perspective.

Even when there is a direct religion angle to the news, as in this story printed on Jan 27, 2014 on the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, western reporters on the ground appear to be unaware of the symbolism (or perhaps iconography as we are talking about the Orthodox) of what they are reporting.

The ABC story entitled “Ukraine protests: Thousands mourn slain protester in Kiev as opposition rejects president’s bid to end unrest” is an example of the Western press’ lack of comprehension of the forces at work. It states in its sub-headline:

Thousands of people have packed into a church in Kiev for the funeral of a young protester shot dead during clashes in the Ukrainian capital last week.

Then the lede reports on the clashes, notes the calls by protestors for the president to step down and then moves to the funeral of one protestor killed in clashes with the security services.

There have been violent clashes in Kiev as demonstrators demand president Viktor Yanukovych stand down for pulling out of a free trade deal with the European Union in favour of closer economic ties with Russia, Ukraine’s former Soviet overlord. The fate of the government remains unclear, with demonstrators vowing to continue protests despite the president’s offer to give top jobs to opposition leaders.

The opposition called off a massive Sunday rally out of respect for the funeral of Mikhail Zhyznevsky, whose coffin was borne through the streets of Kiev before his burial. Zhyznevsky, a Belarussian living in Ukraine, was one of three people officially recognised by the prosecutor’s office as having died from gunshot wounds after clashes last week.

Mourners spilled over into a square outside Saint Michael’s Cathedral on what would have been his 26th birthday, many bringing flowers and waving Ukrainian flags with black ribbons.

The article goes into details of the funeral noting the presence of the chief opposition leaders, and then notes the political symbolism of some of the flags flown at the funeral.

Some red and white nationalist flags from before Belarus became a Soviet republic – currently banned by the country’s authoritarian regime – were also seen at the ceremony.

The article then closes out with reports on the street protests. All of this I assume is correct, but the story leaves out so many pieces of the puzzle that a anglophone reader will not truly understand what is happening.

Among the things the ABC neglects to mention is what sort of church St Michael’s may be. It belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate — not the larger Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate.

As I noted in a report last year on GetReligion, there are three principal churches in the Ukraine. One under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, or Moscow Patriarchate; an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Kiev Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The leaders of the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow. In late December the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its Ukrainian bishops, released a statement condemning proposals for the Ukraine to move closer to the EU at the expense of its relations with Russia.

 

God was on Russia’s side and God wanted the Ukraine to be linked, forever, with Russia. Faith should determine whether the Ukraine joined the EU or a Russian customs union, the Russian bishops said.

We call upon all to remember: the emancipation of morals will with time fully destroy a people, depriving their and each one’s soul of purity and integrity. As far back as the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom warned: “When families are broken, cities and states will fall”. It is as if the voice of the teacher of the Early Church speaks to our contemporaries. And the holy martyr Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Kiev and Galich noted in his works: “The whole human society is based on the family and in it, like a building in its foundation, it finds its solidity and stability”. That is why it is so important today that we stand for the immutable, God-given moral law concerning both family life and all the spheres of human existence including that of the development of society and state.

What are the Russian bishops talking about? Gay rights.

For the Moscow Patriarchate, the EU’s support for gay rights compared to Russia’s distaste for them should dictate how the Ukraine ordered its economic affairs. There is much much more to it that this — but that is the issue the Russian Orthodox Church has chosen to contest in the fight over an economic customs union.

The Kiev Patriarchate has been equally blunt. In a November speech in Washington Patriarch Filaret of the Kiev Patriarchate was reported to have said the Moscow Patriarchate’s opposition to the Ukraine’s opening to the EU was treasonous:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

It is not just the bishops who are linking the political struggle with religion. On Jan 23 Interfax reported the far-right Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, believed the battle in the Ukraine was between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Partition of the Ukraine into an eastern Russian client state and a western European state was the way forward, he argued.

Russians and Russified Ukrainians, and Westerners, who always live in Austro-Hungary, will always be enemies. The only solution is to divide Ukraine based on the civilization principle: Catholics in the West and Orthodox Christians in the East. Otherwise this bloodbath will last a long time.

Before we go too far afield let’s head back to the ABC and St. Michael’s. The article picks up the political – nationalist significance of flags, but overlooks the symbolism of the funeral setting. The original St Michael’s Cathedral was demolished on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1936, one of the many attempts to destroy religion and Ukrainian nationalism by the Soviet regime.

The cathedral where the service was held was rebuilt in 1999. Holding the funeral of an anti-Moscow protestor at the iconic structure of Ukrainian nationalism and religious identity sends a message, which the ABC missed.

Now I am not arguing that the Kiev protests should be covered as a religion news story. What I am saying is that a good reporter should be as aware of religious symbolism as political symbolism. Religion may not play a part in the iconography of western reporters, but to ignore it in their accounts of the Ukrainian demonstrations misses a major part of this story.

First printed in Get Religion.

Interview: Issues Etc., January 27, 2014 January 29, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Issues Etc, Press criticism, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 27 January 2014.

Media Coverage of the Ukrainian Protests – George Conger, 1/27/14

George Conger of GetReligion.org

Podcast: Download (Duration: 14:19 — 5.9MB)

Reporters: beware of Greeks bearing gay gifts: Get Religion, December 5, 2013 December 5, 2013

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The essence of life, its meanings, symbols and motives, can be found in television; reporting on the condition of man is reducible to vignettes from Seinfeld and Yes Minister.

This profundity came to me late last night as I perused The Guardian‘s report on the political and civil debate over same-sex unions in Greece. As my colleagues at Get Religion have shown, balance is not a requirement for many mainstream media outlets when reporting on gay marriage. The article “Bishop threatens to excommunicate Greek MPs who vote for gay unions” is unbalanced with only one side of the debate presented.

That is a commonplace of European-style advocacy reporting and The Guardian is not shy in proclaiming its leftist credentials. However in this instance the reporter’s desire to preach overcame her news gathering skills. Presented with a golden opportunity of promoting the rightness of the cause of gay marriage in the face of intolerance, The Guardian neglected to do its home work. It did not ask basic questions that would have provided essential context.

But first, let us turn to the canon of journalistic scripture. Reading from episode 19, series 3 number 5, of Yes Minister, “The Bed of Nails” recounts Jim Hacker’s acceptance of the gift of “Transport Supremo” from the prime minister. Hacker is delighted to be offered the job of developing an “Integrated Transport”‘ policy for Britain. The episode recounts his discovery the Supremo post is fraught with peril and might end his career. Sir Humphrey and Bernard urge the minister to think through the implications of what he has been offered as danger lies ahead.

Hacker: Furthermore, Sir Mark thinks there may be votes in it, and if so, I don’t intend to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Sir Humphrey: I put it to you, Minister that you are looking a Trojan Horse in the mouth.

Hacker: You mean, if I look closely at this gift horse, I would find it’s full of Trojans?

Bernard: If you had looked the Trojan Horse in the mouth, Minister, you would have found Greeks inside.

Odd look from Hacker… Bernard: Well, the point is it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan Horse to the Trojans, so technically, it wasn’t a Trojan Horse at all, it was a Greek Horse. Hence the tag timeo Danaos et dona ferentes which you will recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Or doubtless, you would have recalled, had you not attended the LSE.

Hacker: Yes well I’m sure Greek tags are all right in their way, but can we stick to the point, please?

Bernard: Sorry. Sorry, Greek tags?

Hacker: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. I suppose the EEC equivalent would be Beware of Greeks bearing an olive oil surplus!

Sir Humphrey: Excellent, Minister!

Bernard: Ah. Oh. Well, the point is minister, that just as the Trojan Horse was in fact Greek, what you describe as a Greek tag is in fact Latin. It’s obvious, really: the Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves, if one could use such a participle, ‘bewaring’, that is. And it’s clearly Latin, not because timeo ends in -o, because the Greek first person also ends in -o. Though actually, there is a Greek word ?????, meaning ‘I honour’. But the -os ending is a nominative singular termination of the second declension in Greek, and an accusative plural in Latin, of course. Though actually ‘Danaos’ is not only the Greek for Greek, its also the Latin for Greek, it’s very interesting really.

The moral of the story is that sometimes something that is too good to be true, is too good to be true. This can be seen in The Guardian story about Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus.

The Guardian reports:

A leading Greek bishop has warned lawmakers that they risk incurring the wrath of God – and will be excommunicated – if they vote in favour of legalising same-sex partnerships. In a letter lambasting homosexuality as “an insult to God and man”, the Metropolitan of Piraeus, Seraphim, pleaded with the country’s deputy prime minister, Evangelos Venizelos, not to condone gay unions.

The article discusses the content of a public letter released by Seraphim, whom The Guardian describes as a “57-year-old former monk, a prominent personality in Greece’s powerful Orthodox church” and offers a response from liberal critics. True to form, the article is one-sided. We hear from a spokesman for the Socialist Party, who likens the bishop to the Taliban, and from a gay activist. The Church of Greece is offered a chance to say they are against same-sex unions, but no argument is proffered against gay unions — save for Metropolitan Seraphim’s jeremiad.

The article then closes out with references to European court rulings endorsing gay unions and a slam at the country’s backward stance on gay issues. All rather predictable from The Guardian and pretty much as one would expect. But there is more to this story that The Guardian did not report, or did not know.

Who exactly is Seraphim? How influential is he? How should we weight his words? These questions are not asked nor answered — leaving the impression that Greece is a priest ridden small-minded country. A little research, or knowledge of the Greek religious scene, would reveal that Seraphim has form. In 2011 I reported:

Jews are to blame for a host of the world’s ills, from homosexuality to the Holocaust, a Greek Orthodox Church leader told an Athens television programme last month.

In a Dec 20 interview broadcast on the MEGA television network, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus laid the blame for Greece’s financial meltdown on an international Zionist conspiracy and a cabal of Jewish bankers who sought to “enslave Greece and Christian Orthodoxy.”

I grant you The Church of England Newspaper is not a must read for journalists. Sadly the paper’s circulation has not changed in recent years. When it started in 1828 it numbered around 12,000 subscribers and I think its current numbers are about the same –perhaps we should prune the circulation list. Nonetheless Seraphim’s views on Jews, (he believes Hitler was a tool of a Zionist conspiracy), have been reported in the New York Times and other English-language outlets.

Would it have put Seraphim’s letter in context if readers knew of his fantasies about a Jewish world conspiracy? Would his views on Freemasons and the nefarious influence of secret societies seeking to create a new world order provide context to his views on civil unions?

Presented with a golden opportunity of a crazed cleric denouncing politicians who would support same-sex unions, The Guardian ran an advocacy story that boiled down to its essence said: “See how opponents of gay marriage think. You can dismiss all objections to gay marriage because the argument does not rise above Seraphim’s silliness.”

I am not seeking to address the question of the rights or wrongs of gay marriage in this post. What I am discussing is journalism. What a good newspaper should have done in this case it to note Seraphim’s other controversial views in its description of the cleric. Context is key and the omission of important information, whether through ignorance or editorial design, colors a story.

In short, readers you cannot trust The Guardian‘s account to give you a full and balanced picture. If you are looking to reinforce preexisting prejudices, you have something here that will do quite nicely. But it is not journalism.

Reporters — a story that is too good to be true, should be investigated — as it may well be too good to be true.

First printed in Get Religion.

Viva la Eurorévolution: Get Religion, December 3, 2013 December 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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Religion ghosts haunt the stories out of Kiev this week, but the Western press has yet to hear their shrieks.

The events unfolding across the Ukraine — protests against the government’s move away from Europe towards Russia — are not faith stories as defined by editorial desks in London and New York, but the clash of nationalism and politics in Eastern Europe cannot be understood without reference to religion.

The Guardian‘s reporter in Kiev has described the scene on Monday morning:

Throngs of anti-government protesters remained in control of parts of central Kiev on Monday morning, as police kept their distance and Viktor Yanukovych’s government pondered its next move. After huge protests on Sunday, during which several hundred thousand people took to the streets of Kiev to call for the president’s removal, protesters erected makeshift barricades around Independence Square – the hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Nearby, the main City Hall building was taken over by protesters without police resistance on Sunday evening.

Many of the windows were smashed and “Revolution HQ” was daubed in black paint on its stone Stalinist facade. Inside, hundreds of people milled around receiving refreshments; many who had travelled from the regions to Kiev were sleeping on the floor.

The independent Eastern European press has characterized the street protests as a revolution.  Lviv’s Vissoki Zamok, stated that nine years after the Orange Revolution, “the Eurorevolution” was underway.

It is symbolic that on December 1, the anniversary of the referendum in favor of independence that took place 22 years ago, Ukraine was once again the theater of mass demonstrations in support of its sovereignty, the rights of its citizens and its European future.

Why is this happening? Protestors have taken to the streets to denounce President Viktor Yanukovych for refusing to sign an association and free-trade agreement with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 29.

In a front page above-the-fold editorial on Monday the Parisian daily Le Monde stated:

Demonstrations of love for the European Union are sufficiently rare these days for them to be rather arresting. Absorbed by the debt crisis, the struggle for more growth and lower unemployment, the rise of populism and the management of its enlargement, the union has forgotten that it retains a formidable power of attraction. For people who do not benefit from the rule of law, Europe symbolizes the hope for freedom, democracy, and modernity.

This is the message sent to us by tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have been gathering day after day to protest on the squares of Kiev and the other cities of the country.

Reading Le Monde‘s editorial and related news coverage one might think les citoyens of Kiev were linked arm in arm marching to the seats of power singing La Marseillaise. But an American might well ask why a trade treaty would spark such an uproar. What is going on here?

It is in the secondary stories that we see glimpses of the religion ghosts. Reuters reports that when attacked by riot police, some protestors took refuge in an Orthodox cathedral and barricaded themselves inside a monastery.

Around 100 Ukrainian pro-EU protesters took refuge from police batons and biting cold on Saturday inside the walls of a central Kiev monastery. With a barricade of benches pushed up against a gate to keep police out, protesters – who had rallied against President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to reject a pact with the European Union – checked their wounds in the pre-dawn light.

Some attended a 6 a.m. service in the lilac and gold St. Michael’s Cathedral on the monastery grounds after which a group of bearded, black-robed monks approached protesters to hear of their encounters with police and urge them not to seek revenge. “They gave us tea to warm us up, told us to keep our spirits strong and told us not to fight evil with evil,” said Roman Tsado, 25, a native of Kiev, who said police beat him on his legs as they cleared the pro-EU rally.

Further down in the story Reuters tells us what sort of church it was that gave shelter to the protestors.

The Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral, where the faithful light candles before gilded icons of saints, was destroyed during the religious purges of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt after independence.

What Reuters neglects to mention is which Ukrainian Orthodox church belongs to. St Michael’s belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate — not the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate.

What of it you might well ask. There are three principal churches in the Ukraine. One under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, or Moscow Patriarchate; an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Kiev Patriarchate; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

And the three churches have taken differing stands on the protests, with the Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholics backing the country’s realignment towards Europe, while the Moscow Patriarchate backs the president’s alignment with Vladimir Putin’s regime in Moscow.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last month Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) was reported to have said:

[T]he Ukrainian Churches would benefit from an Association Agreement. For one thing, it would place the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) in a new situation. With Ukraine committed to Europe and continued independence, that Church would have to decide which side it was on – that of Russia, or that of the Ukrainian people. By siding with Russia, the UOC-MP would assume the role of a fifth column for a hostile state. If, on the other hand, it sided with the Ukrainians, it would be obligated to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) into a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church, independent of Moscow.

Statements released by the three churches in the wake of the uprising illustrate these religio-political calculations. The Kiev Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Church have lent their support to the demonstrations — and as Reuters reports opened its churches to protestors as a safe haven from the police. The Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev has backed President Yanukovich — and its call for calm echoes the president’s public statements to date.

By raising these religion points, I am not stating the Eurorevolution is being driven by religion. I am arguing that a well rounded news report should touch upon the religion angles in this story — provide the context for a Western reader to understand. Not all of the protestors are motivated by religious fervor — but religion lies close below the surface of national politics east of the Oder and a good reporter should relate this information to his readers.

First printed in Get Religion

Chaos in Egypt: Anglican Ink, August 22, 2013 August 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Coptic Orthodox, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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The political chaos in Egypt can only be resolved by Egyptians, the country’s Council of Churches has declared, warning foreign governments and jihadists to keep out of Egypt.

The Council, led by Pope Tawadros II, “affirmed the right of its citizens to defend themselves against terrorism.” It follows a weekend of anti-Christian violence and arson by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have destroyed over four dozen Christian churches and schools this week.

The 17 Aug 2013 statement from the pan-Christian council, which represents the Coptic, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and reformed churches comes in the wake of reports that Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis had been detained by police after Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations were dispersed.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt, on 14 Aug 2013 released a statement reporting St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez was “under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

The NY Times misses the battle for Belarus; Get Religion, August 9, 2013 August 10, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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I would like to draw your attention to a 28 July 2013 piece in the New York Times entitled “Putin in Ukraine to Celebrate a Christian Anniversary”. The article reports on the interplay of religion, politics and culture in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Yet the mention of religion in a story does not necessarily mean the reporter “gets religion.”

The article opens by focusing on what the Times sees as the political significance of the event, and then moves to an appreciation of the interplay of religion with politics.

MOSCOW — In an apparent attempt to use shared history to make a case for closer ties, President Vladimir V. Putin attended religious ceremonies in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday to commemorate the 1,025th anniversary of events that brought Christianity to Ukraine and Russia. At a reception in Kiev, the capital, Mr. Putin spoke of the primacy of the two countries’ spiritual and historical bonds, regardless of political decisions that often divide them. Relations have been rocky in part because of attempts by Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, to formalize its political and economic ties with the European Union.

“We are all spiritual heirs of what happened here 1,025 years ago,” Mr. Putin told church hierarchs at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, one of the holiest sites of Orthodoxy, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. “And in this sense we are, without a doubt, one people.”

Mr. Putin’s trip was also the latest sign of the deepening ties and common agenda of the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. The events last week commemorated Prince Vladimir of Kiev’s decision to convert to Christianity and baptize his subjects in 988, an event known as the Baptism of Rus, … The attention has also lent apparent endorsement to church criticism of Western democracy and secular culture, particularly homosexuality….

Patriarch Kirill invoked the concept of the Holy Rus, referring to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a unified spiritual expanse united under the faith. … The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

The article then looks at the church’s illiberal teachings, pulling quotes from Cyril made outside the Kiev celebrations.

The patriarch has sought to unify the faithful with warnings of the encroachment of secular values. He recently warned that legislative efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe posed a grave threat to Russia.

“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything so that sin is never validated by the laws of the state in the lands of Holy Rus, because this would mean that the people are starting on the path of self-destruction,” he said at a Moscow cathedral, according to the Web site of the Moscow Patriarchate. He previously said that such “blasphemous laws” could prove as dangerous to believers as the executioners of the Great Terror during the government of Stalin.

Before I move to an analysis of the distortions to the story caused by the particular worldview of the Times, let me say a word about nomenclature beginning with names. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is called Kirill in this article and in other outlets is named Kyrill and Cyril. They are all the same name, but coming as I do out of an older style of journalism that anglicizes everything because that is how God intended it to be, I use Cyril — just as I call the pope Francis. And some regions of the world and nations are prefaced by “the” — the Sahara, the Arctic, the Sudan, the Ukraine — less frequently the Lebanon and the Yemen. I am not making a political statement when I call the host nation “the Ukraine”, implying it is a region rather than a nation state, or a mystical idealized place like la France of Charles de Gaulle, rather it is the style in which I was educated. That having been said …

The word “apparent” in the first line is problematic. It begs the question “apparent to whom?” The Times states this is Putin’s political goal and offers extracts from his speeches to illustrate this point, but spends little time in offering other views.

I am not saying the Times was incorrect in stating the trip for Putin was an opportunity to bring the Ukraine closer to Moscow. This theme was noted in the Russian press also. Moskovsky Komsomolets a Moscow-based daily with a circulation of approximately one million, called Putin’s Ukrainian visit “the second baptism of the Rus”, implying shared spiritual values make Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians “one people”.

The official text of Putin’s 27 July 2013 speech Putin makes this point clear.

The Baptism of Rus was a great event that defined Russia’s and Ukraine’s spiritual and cultural development for the centuries to come. We must remember this brotherhood and preserve our ancestors’ traditions. Together, they built a unique system of Orthodox values and strengthened themselves in their faith …

Putin then moves from spiritual unity to national economic solidarity, arguing the Ukraine’s strategic choice lies with the Eurasian and not the European integration project.

Competition on the global markets is very fierce today. Only by joining forces we can be competitive and stand a chance of winning in this tough environment. We have every reason too, to be confident that we should and can achieve this.

The stress placed on this point by the Times is not misplaced, but it is unbalanced. We are hearing only Putin and Cyril in this story — and what the New York Times thinks about them.

The article does not contrast Putin’s vision to the Ukrainian premier Viktor Yanukovych’s administration’s goal of Kiev assuming a leadership role in bringing not only the Ukraine, but also Russia and Belarus closer to Europe. It may well be the Moscow-based reporter’s job to write all-Putin all the time stories, yet the article’s emphasis on Putin clouds the issue.

The content of Putin’s speech is news as is the fact of the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of the East Slavs, but the significant event from a political and religious perspective is the boycott of the proceedings by the Premier of Belarus — a fact mentioned only by the omission of his name from the heads of state list given by the Times.

In other words, it is not new news the Russian Orthodox Church believes nationality, or Russianness is born from Orthodoxy. Nor is it news the Orthodox Church is opposed to gay marriage. Nor is it news that Putin is seeking to pull Kiev into Moscow’s orbit. Nor is the Times‘ comments about the rapprochement between church and state new news. Putin has been moving the state closer to the church for over a decade — and as the article states Putin revealed he had been baptized as an infant in the Leningrad during the Stalinist era. By focusing on the familiar — of how the ceremony relates to Putin, the Times missed in its coverage is the significance of the boycott of the ceremony by the Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka.

(more…)

Ghosts of Volhynia: Get Religion, June 30, 2013 July 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainian Orthodox (Kiev Patriarchate), Ukrainian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate).
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L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. … We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians.

Massimo d’Azeglio, Memoirs (1867).

When the Kingdom of Savoy created the modern Italian state in 1861, it also began the work of creating an Italian identity. Not since the fall of the Roman Empire had the whole peninsula been ruled as a single state — and its inhabitants saw themselves as Milanese, Neapolitans,  Romans, Tuscans and so forth. It took a world war and Mussolini to solidify an Italian identity.

National identity has not been a problem East of the Danube. A Pole has long identified himself as a Pole. While there may be regional dialects and traditional customs, a Pole knew what he was not —  a German or Ukrainian or Lithuanian or Russian or a Jew.

The Twentieth century was not kind to this corner of the world crushed between Hitler and Stalin. The Jews are gone — killed by the Nazis. The Germans are gone — driven West at the close of the Second World War — and the borderlands emptied of Poles, pushed West into former German lands by the Russians. This bloody history returned to center stage this weekend when Polish and Ukrainian church leaders issued a joint statement of apology and forgiveness commemorating the 1943-47 massacres in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.

A comparison of the reporting from Warsaw and Kiev on this issue indicates the passions of the past remain alive. Religion and nationalism remain intertwined in the conscience of Eastern Europe. And, like the dog in the night, this story is all the more significant because of who is not barking — Moscow.

On 28 June 2013 the front page of Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborcza reported that the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, had traveled to Warsaw to seek forgiveness from:

every Polish family who lost relatives from the hands of my compatriots.

Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemysl, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, was quoted by the Warsaw daily as saying in response, the Ukrainian statement was a:

a sign of sound and brave patriotism, free of nationalist or backward thinking.

Radio Poland provided some background:

The appeal accompanies the 70th anniversary of the Volhynia massacres, which took place in a Nazi-occupied region that had been divided between Poland and the Soviet Union prior to the Second World War. After sporadic killings, a concerted action was launched on 11 July 1943, and from 1943 to 1945, it is estimated that 100,000 ethnic Poles were killed in the Volhynia area. Units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a guerilla force of Ukrainian nationalists, carried out the actions.

“We are aware that only the truth can set us free, the truth, which does not beautify and does not omit, which does not pass over in silence, but leads to forgiveness,” today’s statement reads.

Besides citing “the evil” that was done against ethnic Poles, the resolution also refers to Polish counter-attacks, and the partisan war that unfolded. It is estimated that about 2000-3000 Ukrainians were killed in Volhynia, and about 20,000 more when the fighting spread to other areas of south east Poland (1944-1947).

The agreed statement from the church leaders follows upon motion adopted last week by the Polish Senate calling the Volhynia massacres an “ethnic cleansing bearing the hallmarks of genocide,” Radio Poland reported.

Peering at this issue through a Polish lens, the story is one of Ukrainian contrition. Yet if you look at the Russian and Ukrainian newspapers we see a slightly different story — moral equivalence and inter-Orthodox rivalries. Ukrainska Pravda provides details about the agreement which was endorsed by the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches in Poland and the Ukraine remembers the events of 1943-1947 to be a

mutual ethnic cleansing of the Ukrainian and Polish population carried out by peasant self-defense units …

Ukrainska Pravda further noted the agreed statement had to be re-written after the head of the Roman Catholic Church said the first Greek Catholic draft that called on each side to forgive and ask forgiveness, implying a degree of moral equivalence between the two sides, was “nonsense”.

The Russian-language Ukrainian news portal Polemika headlined its story: “The Catholics of two countries have urged reconciliation between the people of the Ukraine and Poland”.

But while the agreement was between the Ukrainian uniate and Polish Catholic Churches this was not an all-Catholic affair as:

The request for forgiveness, [Archbishop Shevchuk] said, had been joined by the head of the Orthodox Church of Kiev, Patriarch Philaret, and the Volhynian Council of Christian Churches.

“What of it?”, you might ask. Poland and the Ukraine are very far away and Volhynia is the back of beyond of the back of  beyond. I have not seen this story reported in the Western or English-language media, save for the Radio Poland English-language broadcast.  Those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Orthodox-Catholic relations or with the players in this story may well pass this by as being a bit of religion news exotica.

Yet as the Balkan wars of the 1990s demonstrated religio-ethnic wars can return to Europe. I am not suggesting that will happen in this case, but a rapprochement between Kiev and Warsaw is not in the interests of Moscow. While Polemika reports Metropolitan Philaret backed the agreement, nothing was said about Metropolitan Vladimir. Philaret leads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, which broke away from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the oversight of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church for nationalistic reasons. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Vladimir (the larger of the two), issued its own statement commemorating the 70th anniversary of the massacres.

For Metropolitan Vladimir the causes of the “interethnic conflict” remain the subject of historical debate. However the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) has

… always supported the motherland and always cherished Christian patriotism. … Our love for our native land takes form “in protecting the homeland from the enemy, working for the good of the Fatherland, and caring for for people’s lives”

But Vladimir noted the church had

denounced the “sinful phenomena of aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, national exclusiveness, ethnic hatred” … The Volhynia tragedy was a sad example of just such a sinful distortion of national feeling. Christian patriotism is incompatible  with violence against other people. Because the Orthodox Church unequivocally condemns ethnic hatred, as being contrary to Christian ethics.

However ….

Unfortunately, today we see how the different political forces try to use the sad anniversary of the Volhynia tragedy for social manipulation. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church unequivocally condemns any attempt to use the tragedy, which claimed many Polish and Ukrainian lives, for political speculation.

Is he talking about Ukrainian nationalists or the Polish Senate? As Vladimir follows the Moscow line, my assumption is that this will be heard in Warsaw as a rebuke of Poland.

He closes with the statement that:

Our peoples are neighbors. We have to build fraternal relations, overcoming the heavy burden of historical confrontations and conflicts. … The Orthodox Church has always tried to carry out the mission of reconciliation between nations involved in the feud. Today, we call on the Ukrainian and Polish nations to seek mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.

For Vladimir the terms of reference are those rejected already by the Catholic Church. I expect Moscow to weigh in at some point, but the grounds of dispute seem pretty clear. Religion, ethnicity and history still have a hold on the politics of the East.

First printed in Get Religion.

Prayers for the release of kidnapped Syrian bishops: The Church of England Newspaper, May 5, 2013 p 6. May 5, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch.
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The Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster have issued a call to prayer for peace in Syria.

On 25 April 2013 Archbishop Justin Welby and Vincent Nichols issued a joint statement in response to the kidnapping of Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Aleppo and Boulos Yaziji, the Greek Orthodox archbishop of the city. The two clerics were abducted on 22 April in Kafr Dael near the Turkish border. Their driver, a Syriac Orthodox deacon, was killed.

Mgr. Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Greek Melkite bishop of Aleppo, told AsiaNews. “The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are doing their best to mediate with the kidnappers,” but “at present no one understands the reasons for this act and who is behind these criminals.”

The English Archbishop said their prayers “go with the ancient communities of our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria. The kidnapping” was “another telling sign of the terrible circumstances that continue to engulf all Syrians.”

“We both continue to pray for a political solution to this tragic conflict that would stem the terrible violence and also empower all Syrians with their fundamental and inalienable freedoms,” The Anglican and Catholic archbishops said. “We also call for urgent humanitarian aid to reach all who are suffering. We pray that Syria can recapture its tradition of tolerance, rooted in faith and respect for faiths living side by side.”

Sectarian clashes outside Cairo Cathedral: Anglican Ink, April 9, 2013 April 9, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Coptic Orthodox, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral, Cairo

Egypt remains on edge this week after two men were killed and 89 injured in clashes between Coptic Christians and Islamists outside St. Mark’s Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo.

The Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis warned: “Such attacks could lead the country into the abyss of sectarian sedition and deteriorate the social, economic and political conditions of the country. These actions could worsen the image of Egypt in front of the international community.”

A spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Health said 66 people had been treated and released from hospital while 23 remained in care after fighting broke out on 7 April 2013  outside the cathedral as mourners left the church following a funeral for four Christians who were killed in sectarian violence in the northern town of Khusus over the weekend.

Read it all Anglican Ink.

New patriarch for Ethiopia: The Church of England Newspaper, March 31 2013, p 7. April 4, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
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His Holiness, Abune Mathias, Sixth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot and Archbishop of Axum

The general Synod of the Ethiopian Tewahdo Orthodox Church has elected a new patriarch. On 28 February 2013 the Synod elected Abune Matthias as its sixth leader since the church received its autonomy from the Coptic Patriarch in Alexandria..

Abune Matthias, 71, served as the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem at the time of his election. In 1980 Matthias denounced the Communist regime of President Mengistu Haile Mariam and went into exile in Washington, D.C.  Following the collapse of the communist government he returned Ethiopia in 1992 was appointed Archbishop of North America.  In 2009, he was appointed Archbishop of Jerusalem for the Ethiopian church.

The new patriarch received 500 of the 806 ballots cast by members of the General Synod and was enthroned as His Holiness, Abune Mathias, Sixth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot and Archbishop of Axum at a ceremony held at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Abba on 3 March 2013.

139th Patriarch of Antioch elected: The Church of England Newspaper, December 28, 2012 January 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Antiochian Orthodox, Church of England Newspaper.
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His Beatitude Youhanna X

The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Antioch has elected a new Patriarch, His Beatitude Youhanna X.

At a 17 Dec 2012 meeting at the Balamand Monastery in Lebanon, 18 hierarchs – metropolitans, archbishops and other church leaders – elected Metropolitan Youhanna Yaziji of Western and Central Europe to be the 139th Primate of the Orthodox Church of Antioch, Patriarch of the Great City of God Antioch, Cilicia, Iberia, Mesopotamia and All the East.

In a letter of congratulations to the new patriarch, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams offered his felicitations and stated it “has been a pleasure and honour to know you in our pastoral ministry in Western Europe, and your work here has increased the already great esteem and affection we feel towards the Patriarchate and its clergy and faithful.”

Dr. Williams wrote: “As you take up this dignity and burden, at a time of such trial for the faithful in Syria and the Middle East, we pray very earnestly that you will be strengthened and upheld by the prayers of all your holy predecessors.”

Born in 1966 in Latakia, Syria, Youhanna graduated from the St. John of Damascus Orthodox Theological Institute at the Balamand Monastery in 1978 and entered the Monastery of St Paul on Mount Athos.  Ordained deacon in 1979 and priest in 1983, Youhanna taught at Balamand before his election in 2008 as bishop of the Patriarchate of Antioch’s Diocese of Western and Central Europe, which includes Great Britain and Ireland.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

God Save the Tsar: Get Religion, December 31, 2012 December 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Corruption, Get Religion, Politics, Russian Orthodox.
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Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

So reads the second stanza of what may be the most politically incorrect poem in the English language. Interpretations of what Rudyard Kipling meant by his 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden“, written in the wake of the American annexation of the Philippines, have differed sharply. From Henry James and Mark Twain to the denizens of Lit-Crit faculties today, many have objected to the poem as racist and condescending. Others, especially as of the time of its writing (Theodore Roosevelt for example) saw in it an expression of a Christian duty to bring the light of civilizations to the darker corners of the world.

The era that produced “The White Man’s Burden” also formed the tenets of classical Angl0-American journalism. Motivated by many of the same moral imperatives that under girded Anglo-American imperialism, the liberal school of journalism sought to civilize the newspaper profession, replacing  partisan, hysterical, “yellow journalism” with an impartial, scientific, and honest retelling of the news of the day.

The mission of classical liberal journalism was summarized by the editor of the Manchester Guardian C.P. Scott in 1921. “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” While on the editorial page he said: “It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair”.

Scott’s dictum guides the writers at GetReligion. Yet this view is not universal. It is disappearing within the American newspaper guild and is all but gone in Europe. Yet not all agree that this approach to journalism is possible or ideal. Seeking balance and fairness in reporting is viewed (charitably) as being quaint, and (more commonly) as naive. It exhibits, the critics say, the same sort of condescension that makes Kipling’s poem so execrable. When truth is relative, this line goes, claiming to possess the sole truth is illusory — or an arrogant manifestation of a journalist’s “White Man’s Burden”.

This philosophical conflict can be illustrated by my critique of an article in the Observer, the Sunday edition of the Guardian. The article entitled “Church backs Vladimir Putin’s ban on Americans adopting Russian children” tells the story of the Russian Orthodox Church’s response to the passage of a law by the Duma that prevents Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Here we have a formidable caste of bogeymen — Vladimir Putin, Vsevolod Chaplin, the Russian Orthodox patriarch Cyril — playing off against orphans, Pussy Riot, and liberal democracy. What right thinking person would back KGB hacks and creepy clergy against orphans?

Before answering the question, let’s look at the article. It begins:

The Russian Orthodox church has been attacked for supporting a new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, at the end of a year that saw it plagued by scandal and accusations of collusion with an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-ranking priest and a spokesman for the church, said the law was “a search for a social answer to an elementary question: why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?”

Speaking to Interfax, a state news agency, last week, Chaplin said the path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. “They won’t get a truly Christian upbringing and that means falling away from the church and from the path to eternal life, in God’s kingdom,” he said.

This is a strong opening. It asserts church has been “plagued” by scandal and is in bed with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin before moving to a second hand quote from a church spokesman that is wonderfully awful (to Guardian readers). It then introduces a voice offering an opinion in line with the editorial slant of the story.

Critics say the church’s support for the law is the latest example of its submission to the Kremlin, in which it acts more like a government ministry than an independent spiritual body. “Everything is repeating – it’s like the 19th century, when the church lay completely under the state,” said Valery Otstavnykh, a theologist and Kremlin critic. “Everything was calm and fine until churches started getting blown up in 1917 and they all asked, ‘Why’?”

As an aside, I do not care for the word “theologist” — it is an uncommon word that is most often used in a pejorative sense. That may not be the case here as the statements of the theologist are in line with the views of the article, but it nonetheless is an ugly word.

The article then lays out the 2012 church scandals: Pussy Riot, the wandering watch, hit and run priests driving BMWs, church involvement in politics and suspect financial dealings. It then closes with a gratuitous unsubstantiated accusation and a plea by the outside commentator for the church to clean up its act.

Two weeks later, the state news agency RIA-Novosti cited an anonymous source as saying that a bordello was uncovered in a Moscow monastery.

“The church has also done a lot of good,” said Otstavnykh. “But the church as an organisation must change.”

There is no balance to this story. No facts are offered in mitigation nor voices in defense or explanation of the church’s actions. It may well be these actions are indefensible, but the reader cannot know this from this story. Throwing in the bordello line without further corroboration was improper.

The quote offered by Fr. Chaplin, who is a character about whom I have written, is taken from a Russian language story and is abbreviated in such a way by the Observer as to not allow for any nuance. The tail end of the first quote in the Observer story — “why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?” — continues in the original with a statement by Chaplin that Russia must take care of their own at the level of the family as well as at the local, state and national levels.

I would translate the second passages as:

As he noted, the adoption of children by foreign couples in most cases means “they can not get a truly Christian education, and thus fall away from the Church and from the road to eternal life in God’s Kingdom.”

“Orthodox people should remember and take seriously the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘He who has faith and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not have faith will be condemned’.”

The shading of the Observer’s version may leave the impression that children taken from Russia will go to hell because they have been taken from Russia. However Chaplin’s meaning is they may wind up raised in homes where the Christian faith is not practiced.

Chaplin’s views about the necessity of a Christian upbringing do not find favor with the Observer. In a Twitter exchange about the article, the author of the story responded to a critic who defended Chaplin by writing:

Your attempts to justify his statement as holding any logic or good will confound me.

The author may well think that, but should she have commented in public? If this article was in the op-ed section, I would say it would be appropriate for her to make this statement. But is it appropriate for a news story?

From a journalistic perspective, the critique offered by Mr. Otstavnykh should have been matched with a defense of the church’s actions. And it also would have helped the reader to know that Mr. Otstavnykh spoke in court on behalf of the Pussy Riot defendants, saying their actions did not constitute blasphemy.

Please note I am not speaking to the issues under examination. I am commenting on the professionalism and journalistic craft exhibited by this article. As a hit piece, the story is well done. As journalism, it is junk.

While many of the ideals expressed by Kipling in “The White Man’s Burden” are passé, “By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain”, is not. There is a story to be told from Russia on the interplay of the church, state and society. Mr. Otstavnyk’s concerns the Russian Orthodox Church is returning to the days when church and state were one is an important one. Is the Orthodox Church returning to the bad old days of the Nineteenth century, updating its prayer and priorities from God Save the Tsar to God Save the President? That story needs to be told.

The story told in this article, however, is neither plain nor simple, frank nor fair. And that is a shame.

First printed in Get Religion.

Anglican-Orthodox relations near death, Moscow warns: The Church of England Newspaper, December 2, 2012 p 6. December 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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Women bishops, gay marriage, and other innovations of doctrine and discipline will end meaningful Anglican-Orthodox relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) has warned.

At a 26 Nov 2012 meeting in Moscow, Ambassador Tim Barrow and second secretary James Ford met with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the official press statement “Metropolitan Hilarion greeted the Ambassador and shared his reminiscences of his student years in Oxford and his impressions of the recent visit to London where he attended celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Sourozh diocese.”

They also discussed the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the role the Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic Churches had played in reconciling the “peoples of Russia and Poland” and the state of “Orthodox-Anglican relations at present” – which the Moscow Patriarchate said were at a nadir.

On 13 Nov, Hilarion wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate, Bishop Justin Welby, offering his greetings upon the Bishop of Durham’s appointment as 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.  However, Hilarion said meaningful Orthodox-Anglican ecumenical dialogue had all but died, and it was the Anglicans who have killed it.

In a carefully worded letter, Hilarion stated Moscow expected Bishop Welby to discipline the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Welby had been “entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth.”

“Regrettably, the late 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium have brought tangible difficulties in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion,” Hilarion said.

“The introduction female priesthood and now episcopate, the blessing of same-sex ‘unions’ and ‘marriages’, the ordination of homosexuals as pastors and bishops – all these innovations are seen by the Orthodox as deviations from the tradition of the Early Church, which increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole,” he wrote.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop Tikhon of Philadelphia elected Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of America: Anglican Ink, November 13, 2012 November 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Orthodox Church in America.
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Archbishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania has been elected Primate of the Orthodox Church in America.

Meeting at Holy Trinity Church in Parma, Ohio, 593 delegates elected the 46 year old convert from the Episcopal Church on the third ballot.  Tikhon succeeds Metropolitan Jonah of Washington – also a convert from the Episcopal Church – as leader of the church.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Coptic pope selected: The Church of England Newspaper, November 11, 2012 p 7. November 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Coptic Orthodox.
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A blind folded altar boy choosing by lot has selected Bishop Theodore (Tawadros) of Beheira to be the 118th Pope of Alexandria.

On 4 November 2012 the names of three finalists selected by the synod of bishops and lay council of the Coptic Orthodox Church were presented to the congregation of St Marks’ Cathedral in Cairo by the acting leader of the church, Archbishop Pachomios.  The names were then inscribed on pieces of paper — one slip with the name of Bishop Raphael of Heliopolis, the second with Fr. Raphael Ava Mina of St Mina Monastery near Alexandria, and the third with the name of Bishop Tawadros – and placed in a black box that was sealed with red wax.

At the close of the Sunday morning service of Holy Communion the sealed box was placed on the altar and opened by the archbishop. An altar boy, Bishoy Gerges Mossad, was blindfolded and his hand guided to a box.  In a tradition dating that according to church lore dates to the time of the Book of Acts, the choice of a pope for the Egyptian church was given to the Holy Spirit acting through selection by lot — and the name revealed was that of Bishop Tawadros.

The new pope succeeds Pope Shenouda III who died in March after 40 years on the throne of St Mark.  Bishop Tawadros (59) serves as an auxiliary bishop of Beheira in the Nile Delta and is a suffrgan bishop to Archbishop Pachomios. Born in 1952, Bishop Tawadros was educated in Britain, and has a degree in pharmacy from Alexandria University before he entered the church.

Bishop Tawadros will be installed as Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Holy See of St Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle on 18 November 2012 at St Mark’s Cathedral.

 

Missile from Moscow for Justin Welby: Anglican Ink, November 13, 2012 November 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Russian Orthodox, Women Priests.
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Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

Meaningful Orthodox-Anglican ecumenical dialogue has all but died, the Moscow Patriarchate has told the next Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – and it is the Anglicans who have killed it.

On 13 Nov 2012,Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk – the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian church – wrote to Bishop Welby extending Moscow’s greetings upon his appointment as 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

In a carefully worded letter, Hilarion stated Moscow expected Bishop Welby to discipline the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Welby had been “entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Egypt’s Christians must stick together, new pope tells Anglicans: Anglican Ink, November 7, 2012 November 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Coptic Orthodox, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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Pope Tawadros II and Dr. Mouneer Anis

Christians in Egypt must put their denominational differences to one side and work together towards transforming Egyptian society, the newly elected Patriarch of Alexandria has told Bishop Mouneer Anis, the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

In a 7 November 2012 letter Dr. Anis told Anglican Ink that he met with the newly elected pope, who will assume the name Pope Tawadros II upon his enthronement on 18 Nov at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo.

The meeting with the new leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church at St Bishoy’s Monastery in Wadi Natroun was a joyful occasion Dr. Anis wrote. Tawadros told the Middle East and North Africa’s Anglican leader “it is important that we have a strong and cordial relationship with each other” and that the Orthodox and Anglicans pray for each other so that they fulfill God’s purposes for their ministry.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Spies of the Balkans: Get Religion, November 7, 2012 November 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The 98-year old leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has died.

I guess you weren’t prepared for that bit of excitement from GetReligion the morning after the election. As many of our readers are going through news withdrawal at this moment, I thought I would help ween them from their addiction with something nice, safe and far away: a drawing room media mystery to settle their minds and hearts.

Patriarch Maxim did have the good sense to die on 6 Nov 2012 when the world was watching the American presidential election. And to be fair, I suppose that if he had passed during the dog days of August — the silly season when news is so short on the ground that just about anything can become a major story (remember Chik-fil-A?) — his story still would not have set the hearts of journalists a flutter.

De mortius nil nisi bonum is the line being taken by the Bulgarian press. Reuters and the Associated Press have also decided that it is more fitting to say of the dead nothing but good. The Reuters man in Sophia (sounds like that is from a spy novel doesn’t it) begins his report with:

Patriarch Maxim, a conservative who led Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church for 41 years in times of Communist rule and democracy, died, the church said yesterday.

Followed by the text of the official announcement, the story gives a very brief biography and offers this as context:

Patriarch Maxim has kept a low public profile but was an influential figure with a controversial past. He oversaw a major religious revival in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communist rule. Dozens of new churches were built across the country and monasteries reopened.

And what was this controversial past? Reuters does not say. Maybe the AP can help. It reports the same basic facts but offers a bit more background:

After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.

So Maxim was “a Communist-appointed figurehead”, the AP reports. Yes, Maxim’s appointment was engineered by the Communist regime and following the fall of the “Evil Empire” anti-Communists sought to get rid of him. And even though Bulgarians are not Episcopalians, the ensuing battle led to a schism and lawsuits over church property.

The AP is mistaken when it reports the schism has been healed, though in 2010 Metropolitan Innokenty, the head of the rival synod which held the allegiance of a third of the country’s clergy was received by Maxim back into the “official” church. However the submission of Innokenty did not end the split. Here is a reference to a post-2010 article on the accidental death of one of the leading clergy of the Alternative Synod. If there are still rebel clergy in control of church property that is a clue the rupture has not been healed.

I am confident that at this point in our tale I have hooked the Bulgarian aficionados in our audience — the good people at Patheos have not yet told us how large a demographic this is for Get Religion though. Others might ask, “So what?”  But bear with me, all of this does play its part in solving the mystery.

The clue that has been left out — though broadly hinted at in the AP story — is the allegation that not only was Maxim a Communist-appointed figurehead, he was also considered by some of having been a spy. Twenty-two years after the fall of the Communist regime, the Bulgarian government opened the books from the Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS. What it found was that 11 of the 15 bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church currently in office were informers or agents of the 6th Directorate of the DS, which was tasked with combating political dissent.

The English-language Sofia Echo has written extensively about this scandal: the initial report, what the bishops did for the secret police, popular reaction, calls for the bishops to resign, actions to be taken by the church’s synod. It is also reported that not just the Orthodox bishops betrayed their people, the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Sophia and the present and former chief Mufti of Bulgaria were named as collaborators. Maxim was cleared by the committee investigation collaboration — to the surprise of the Alternative Synod — but suspicions remained of his guilt as his parts of his file appeared to have been mislaid.

While the canard that Pius XII was a pro-Nazi stooge continues to excite journalists — a real story of church leaders collaborating with evil was overlooked by Reuters and the AP in their report on the death of Maxim. Reuters even managed to lead with the descriptor that Maxim was a “conservative”. What can that mean in these circumstances.

After the news broke in January of the bishops’ ties to the secret police, Metropolitan Gavril of Lovech – one of the bishops not named as a collaborator — told the Sofia Echo the church was torn over how to respond to the revelations. “We cannot now think about asking for the resignations of 11 people. That is impossible. If it had been one, or two or three, that is another matter.  The Synod must remain united and these problems should be resolved in some way so as to benefit, but also on the other side, not to destroy, the church,” he said.

What Reuters and the AP seemed to have missed — apart from the disagreeable bits about Maxim’s past — is the fact that the death of the man who caused the schism may well end the schism.

The Bulgarians are not alone in avoiding scrutiny of church and state in the Communist era. Russia has yet to examine the Stalinist era. The Moscow Patriarchate — the official name for the Russian Orthodox Church — was set up on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1943 as a front organization for the NKVD and all of its senior positions were vetted by the Ideological Department of the Communist Party, according to reports published in the U.K. following the defection of KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin  in 1991.

In two books written with intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, The KGB in Europe and the West and The KGB in the World, Mitrokhin claimed that Russian Orthodox priests were used as agents of influence on behalf of the KGB in organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the World Peace Council.  Patriarch Alexius II was also named as KGB agent with the codename DROZDOV, whose services earned him a citation from the regime.

TMatt has discussed this question in a number of posts. In his 2007 story “Mere candlestick holders in Moscow?” he wrote that in 1991 an anonymous priest in Moscow told him the post-Soviet Russian church had four kinds of leaders:

A few Soviet-era bishops are not even Christian believers. Some are flawed believers who were lured into compromise by the KGB, but have never publicly confessed this. Some are believers who cooperated with the KGB, but have repented to groups of priests or believers. Finally, some never had to compromise.

“We have all four kinds,” this priest said. “That is our reality. We must live with it until God heals our church.”

While the setting is Bulgaria and the characters are Orthodox clergy and secret policemen, the issues are of collaboration with evil and the battle for truth. Change the characters and the same story could be told of Vichy France, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche and the Confessing Church in Germany, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the House Church movement in China.

In French there is an expression très balkan: meaning hopelessly confused with the connotation of labyrinthine or byzantine machinations. It would be easy to dismiss this story as being a très balkan intrigue more worthy of an Eric Ambler novel than hard news. However the death of Maxim and the saga of the Orthodox Church raises profound questions of morality.

What is the journalist’s task in all of this? Is it too much to expect a discourse of the ethical and moral ghosts that lay behind a story on collaboration with evil — or is it enough to just report the events. How should society judge those who collaborated with evil or who were agents of evil?

First printed in GetReligion.

Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria dead at 98: Anglican Ink, November 6, 2012 November 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Bulgarian Orthodox.
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Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria

Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria, the metropolitan archbishop of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and alleged communist-era spy, has died after 40 years in office.  He was 98.

The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church announced on 6 November 2012 the patriarch had died earlier that day of heart failure in a Sofia hospital where he had been receiving treatment for the past month.

The 13 senior bishops of the Holy Synod will elect an acting patriarch in the next few days, who will convene a meeting of the church’s Council within 120 days to elect a successor.

Born on 29 Oct. 1914 as Marin Naidenov Minkov, the future patriarch was educated at the Sofia Seminary and served in parish ministry for three years before returning to Sofia to teach theology in 1938.  On 4 July 1971 the synod, allegedly under the instructions of the former communist regime’s Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS – elected him patriarch of the Bulgarian national church which counts over 80 per cent of the country’s population as members.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Coptic Orthodox Church chooses new pope: Anglican Ink, November 4, 2012 November 4, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Coptic Orthodox.
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Bishop Tawadros of Beheira

A blind folded altar boy choosing by lot has selected Bishop Tawadros of Beheira to be the 118th Pope and Lord Archbishop of the Great City of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy Apostolic Holy See of St Mark the Evangelist and Holy Apostle.

The 4 Nov 2012 selection took place at Cairo’s St Marks’ Cathedral in Cairo and began with the reading of the names of the three finalists selected last week by the church’s synod of bishop and lay council by acting pope, Archbishop Pachomios.  The names were then written on three pieces of paper and placed in a black box that was sealed with red wax.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Coptic Church selects three candidates for Pope of Alexandria: Anglican Ink, October 30, 2012 October 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Coptic Orthodox.
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Brother Raphael

Bishop Tawadros

Bishop Raphael

Delegates to a special electoral synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria have selected a monk and two bishops as candidates to succeed Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.

On 29 October 2012 the 2,405 members of the Synod of Bishops and the church’s General Lay Council meeting at St. Mark’s Cathedral, in Cairo’s Abbasiya neighborhood cast ballots to select three candidates for the post. Seventeen names had been put forward for consideration by the commission, which narrowed the list to five candidates.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Canterbury & Constantinople invited to Rome: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 5. October 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Orthodox, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Bishops at Vatican II

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch have been invited to participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Benedict XVI has invited Dr. Rowan Williams and Patriarch Bartholomew to attend the mass at the Vatican marking the anniversary of the start of the 11 Oct 1962 council. Anglican and Orthodox observers took part in the 1962-1965 council that saw 2500 bishops from around the world reform the church and which also marked the start of the modern era of ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox and Anglican world.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Election date set for Coptic Patriarch: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 6 October 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Coptic Orthodox.
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Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria

The Coptic Orthodox Church has set 2 December 2012 as the date for the election to a successor to Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria.

According to the announcement distributed via the Egyptian State Information Service, the 2,405 members of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the church’s General Lay Council will cast ballots on 24 November to select three finalists drawn from a short list of candidates prepared on 4 Oct.

The names of three nominees will be written on three slips of paper and a blindfolded child will then chose one of the three slips of paper at random and by this action, symbolizing the power of the Holy Spirit, the winner will be named  the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Canterbury condolences for Ethiopian Patriarch: The Church of England Newspaper, August 26, 2012 p 6. August 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury has written to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church offering his condolences following the announcement of the death of the church’s patriarch, Abune Paulos.

On 16 August 2012 the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry released a statement that Abune Paulos had died but gave no cause of death.  However an opposition newspaper, the Ethiopian Review, reported the 76 year old leader of Ethiopia’s 40 million Orthodox Christians since 1992 suffered from hypertension and had died of a heart attack following a service he had conducted on Wednesday.

Born Gebre Medhin Wolde Yohannes in Ethiopia’s Tigray Province, the future patriarch was educated at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York and earned a doctorate at Princeton Theological Seminary. Imprisoned following the 1974 overthrow of the Emperor Haile Selassia by the communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam, he went into went into political exile in the United States after being freed and later returned to Ethiopia following an amnesty granted by the government.

Abune Paulos was elected Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St Tekle Haymanot, and Archbishop of Axum in 1992, a year after the communist regime collapsed and was instrumental in modernizing the institutions of the Orthodox Church in the country.

Dr. Williams stated Abune Paulos “played a unique role in reviving and strengthening his church after a period of prolonged crisis and much suffering. The Ethiopian Church is now seen as a major presence in international Christianity, rising to the new challenges of modern Africa.”

“His Holiness provided steady and dependable leadership for his people and won great love and veneration. He served the world Church as a President of the World Council of Churches showing particular leadership in support of refugees and in inter-faith dialogue.”

“Our prayers are with all the faithful of the Ethiopian Church as they mourn their Father in God; and we join them in giving thanks to God for the sacrificial ministry of Abune Paulos over the years, and in the hope that his legacy in consolidating the faith of his people will be a lasting one,” Dr. Williams said.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 46, July 27, 2012 July 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in 77th General Convention, Anglican.TV, Church of England, Orthodox Church in America, The Episcopal Church.
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This week we talk about Forward and Faith and their resolution to the ACNA College of Bishops. Kevin and George also talk about Metropolitan Jonah and being spat out of the Holy Synod of OCA. The rest of the news includes Nigeria, Aurora, and that thing that happened in Bangkok. Peter Ould talks about guilt by association and Allan Haley lays into the chaos we call TEC. Send comments to AnglicanUnscripted@gmail.com #AU46

Jonah dismissed for incompetence, synod reports: Anglican Ink, July 17, 2012 July 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Anglican Ink, Orthodox Church in America.
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Metropolitan Jonah addressing the ACNA Assembly in Ridgecrest NC on 8 June 2012

The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of America has released a statement explaining its reasons for asking the leader of the Church, Metropolitan Jonah, to step down.

The 17 July 2012 statement accused Jonah of administrative incompetence, but dismissed suggestions he was forced from office due in response to his alleged sympathies to the left in America’s “culture wars.”

At the close of a meeting of the Holy Synod in Syosset, New York, on 7 July Jonah resigned as metropolitan, writing “as per your unanimous request, as conveyed to me by Chancellor Fr. John Jillions, I hereby tender my resignation as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and humbly request another Episcopal assignment.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Women clergy and doctrine dividing the Orthodox from ACNA June 9, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Anglican Ink, Orthodox Church in America, Polish National Catholic Church, Women Priests.
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Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA addressing the ACNA Assembly in Ridgecrest, NC on 8 June 2012

The Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude Jonah has called upon the Anglican Church of North America to ditch women clergy, Calvinism and the filioque in the name of Christian unity.

This is an “opportunity to return your church to its original catholic heritage” Jonah told delegates attending the ACNA’s 2nd Assembly at the Lifeway Conference Center in Ridgecrest, NC on 8 June 2012.

The ACNA can “overcome generations of schism, a schism forced upon the English church” by Rome if it eliminates the filioque from the Nicene Creed, the Orthodox leader said. The Filioque – the phrase “and from the Son” is a clause found in the Western Christian Church but not in the Eastern Churches.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Bulgarian bishops galore: GetReligion, May 5, 2012 May 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Orthodox Church in America, Press criticism.
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Regular readers of GetReligion will appreciate this story in today’s Toledo Blade concerning the consecration of an Orthodox bishop. The story entitled “Bulgarian Diocese to install new bishop” by religion beat professional David Yonke is nicely crafted. It balances the news of the consecration of Dr. Alexander Golitzin with  just the right amount of human interest. It is a really good local news religion story.

It begins:

Nearly five years after the bishop’s chair became vacant, the Rev. Alexander Golitzin is to be consecrated today as Bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

The consecration is to take place in a three-hour ceremony at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, with nine bishops from across North America scheduled to participate. Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be the main celebrant.

Bishop-elect Alexander, a native of California, will become only the second bishop of Toledo, succeeding Archbishop Kyrill, who led the diocese from 1964 until his death in 2007 at age 87.

Today’s consecration ceremony marks a new era for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which until now required all bishops to be born in Bulgaria.

“Before even the selection process began, we had to change our diocesan constitution,” said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, a Fort Wayne pastor who headed the bishop search committee. “Basically we acknowledged that realities have changed. We are in America and there is a much broader base of people we minister to now in our parishes. They are no longer just the Bulgarian faithful.”

The story presents some interesting bits about the new bishop’s background — studies at Oxford under Kalistos Ware, a year at Mt Athos, professor at Marquette University, and a touch of Hollywood (nephew of art director Alexander Golitzin — winner of Academy Awards for The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, Spartacus in 1960, and To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.)

The article also gives background on the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America: its history, previous bishops and demographics. All in all a great local news story.

My question for GetReligion readers is whether it would have been appropriate to mention that there are two Bulgarian Orthodox dioceses belonging to two different churches in the U.S? The article states up front that this consecration is for the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). However there is also a Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia that is part of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.

The article states the:

Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese has 16 parishes in the United States and Canada, mostly in the Midwest, with a total of 5,000 parishioners. The OCA to which it belongs has about 200,000 U.S. members, according to Father Andrew.

The other diocese is based in New York and around 25 congregations and monasteries. There is a degree of bad blood between the two groups — and there is a rivalry between the OCA and the Sofia-based Bulgarian Orthodox Church (as well as with some of the other ethnic Orthodox Churches in the U.S.) This article from a Russian-based website claims that ethnic Bulgarians in the OCA’s Bulgarian diocese are upset with the influx of non-Bulgarian clergy and want to jump ship.

Bulgarians living in the U.S. and Canada are gathering signatures on the petition to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church. The letter will contain a request to the Synod about the transfer on Bulgarian parishes that are currently under the jurisdiction of the OCA, to the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia. This jurisdiction, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, currently has 27 parishes and monasteries.

The petitions states that today 80 percent of the clergy in Bulgarian churches are not Bulgarian, do not celebrate the feast days of Bulgarian saints, or observe Bulgarian national holidays and traditions.

The Toledo Blade article does not mention the other diocese, and uses language that would lead someone not familiar with the Bulgarian Orthodox ecclesial scene to believe this is the only Bulgarian game in town. The article does speak to the transition from an ethnic to an American church — a point of contention for some in the church — but does not develop this angle.

My point, however, is not to play the game of spot the real Bulgarian bishop — but to raise the underlying journalistic question of how to deal with schisms and splits and multiple claimants to a church brand name. Who is the “real” Bulgarian bishop? It is the same question as “who is the real Anglican?”

While there are a plethora of Protestant denominations sharing a Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran or congregational background — the Orthodox Churches (as well as the Episcopalians) have an ecclesial self-identity that does not contemplate multiple expressions of a single polity. In the Orthodox polity — as well as Anglican polity — there is only one bishop in a city. Yet the reality is that there are overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions and with the formation of the Anglican Church in North America there is now a rival to the Episcopal Church.

Where does the reporter’s duty lie in explaining or articulating for his readers these schisms? In the Toledo Blade article highlighted in this story should there have been a line mentioning the other Bulgarian Orthodox body? In stories that reach a national audience, should the distinctions between rival claimants be noted?

How much information is too much? How little is too little? Does it make a difference to the story? And — if a distinction is made, is it proper for a journalist to separate Bulgarian sheep from Bulgarian goats? What say you GetReligion readers?

First published in GetReligion.

Orthodox lay presidency at the Eucharist?: Get Religion, April 21, 2012 April 21, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic Church.
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Reuters has a dispatch from Athens on the difficulties the Greek financial collapse is causing the Orthodox Church. The article entitled “Crisis proves a curse for Greece’s Orthodox Church” will appear in various forms in newspapers and websites this weekend and I encourage you to read it, as it provides a strong account of the hardships facing the Church.

However, a GetReligion reader, Dominic Foo, was struck by one section of the article. He wrote:

I find it incredibly hard to believe that an Eastern Orthodox Church would permit lay celebration of the Eucharist, unless of course, this is merely sloppy journalistic reporting and what is permitted is not “mass” but a prayer service.

He was questioning this section of the story:

To cover the shortage of priests, some bishops are permitting laymen to take services. These volunteers receive no state wages and don’t wear the characteristic vestments.

For instance, a retired army officer recently started holding mass at Avantas, a village close to the eastern border with Turkey, said Father Irinaios. “Priests in small villages retire or pass away and there is nobody to replace them,” he said. “We are going to have a huge problem.”

If Reuters is correct in its reporting, this is highly significant development. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions it is inconceivable that a lay person would be permitted by a bishop to celebrate the Eucharist as the administration and celebration of the sacraments is the essence of the priesthood. For Roman Catholics this teaching is set down in a number of formal statements and encyclicals: Lumen Gentium 28; De ordinatione episcopi, presbyterorum et diaconorum 2; 6; 12.

For the Orthodox lay presidency is a non-starter. The doctrinal confessions most accepted in the Orthodox world, The Confession written by Dosietheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1672) and The Orthodox Confession written by Peter Mogilas, Metropolitan of Kiev (1643) state the Eucharist may be celebrated only by a “lawful” priest.

In my corner of the church world, the issue of lay celebration of the Eucharist has the potential to supplant the fights over homosexuality. The Diocese of Sydney — the most influential evangelical diocese in the Anglican Communion — supports  allowing lay people licensed by the bishop to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The diocese has debated this issue for almost a generation and prepared a number of theological papers in support of its views.

One clue to the debate is the use of the phrase “Lord’s Supper” rather than Mass by Sydney Anglicans. Their understanding of what takes place in Holy Communion is very different than that of High Church Anglicans, not to mention the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. However, the Archbishop of Sydney Dr. Peter Jensen, has so far declined to implement the diocesan synod’s request as the wider Australian church — and Anglican Communion does not agree with this innovation.

If the Greek Orthodox Church is allowing lay celebration of the Eucharist this would be a break with tradition. For a religion reporter this would be great news — I have visions of a pan-Orthodox council being called (allowing me a trip to Greece on my editor’s dime.)

Perhaps something less dramatic, but still highly significant is taking place. Has some form of Liberation theology arisen in Greece? That would be news! In marginalized or deprived communities where a priest is not present to preside at the Eucharist, such as in Latin American base communities, Leonardo Boff and other radical theologians have proposed holding a eucharist-like fellowship meal as an admittedly less than adequate substitute for the Eucharist.

Or, as is most likely, the Reuters reporter was confused or his article was mistranslated. I’m afraid I won’t be jetting off to Greece this summer as I suspect the liturgy being used at services where no priest is present is the Typica or Reader’s Service.

While the Typica may not be common in areas where there is a settled Orthodox presence, it can be found in places like the American South or Africa where there are new Orthodox congregations but no resident clergy. Here is a link to a Greenville, NC Orthodox Church that explains the value of Lay-led Services.

While this Reuters story focuses on the effects of Greece’s economic implosion on the Orthodox Church, the statement about lay led masses should be addressed. If wrong, I would hope it would be corrected. If right, then there is a major story here that has so far gone unreported.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

The case of the wandering watch: Get Religion, April 10, 2012 April 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Religion Reporting, Russian Orthodox.
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As I write, the hammer is falling on a hapless editor in the offices of the Moscow Patriarchate for airbrushing a watch off of the wrist of Patriarch Cyril. The doctored photo of Cyril and the disappearing watch has been a gift to the Moscow press corps, prompting a flurry of arch and knowing stories written at the expense of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The coverage reveals as much about the mindset of some reporters as it does about Muscovite media morals. The article from the New York Times is a classic of its kind, a macedoine of self-righteousness, ignorance and cant served up in a context-free bowl. It is an op-ed piece masquerading as news.

If you examine the photos taken from the Patriarchate’s website, you can see a watch on Cyril’s wrist. This photo was doctored to remove the watch, but the editor omitted to remove the watch’s reflection. Eagle-eyed bloggers spotted the reflection and called out the church’s press office. They have since removed the watch free photo from the website replacing it with the original.

Photo-doctoring has a long history in Russia and has been driven by politics (removing non-persons from history) and embarrassment. David King’s 1999 book, The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia, is the best treatment I have seen of this topic.

“So much falsification took place during the Stalin years that it is possible to tell the story of the Soviet era through retouched photographs,” King wrote. The cover of the book shows a photograph of Stalin with three revolutionary leaders. Over time the photograph is airbrushed, cropped and clipped until Stalin alone is left, conveying the message that it was Stalin who owned the heritage of the revolution.

Other falsifications were less sinister. One of my favorites is a photo of Nikita Khrushchev arriving at Idlewild. The original photo shows the Russian premier hat-less. Sovfoto improved the picture by placing a hat on his head — but neglected to airbrush out from the photo the hat Khrushchev was holding in his hand. Nikkie Two-Hats.

One of the iconic photos from the Second World War was manipulated to prevent embarrassment. The photo of the Russian soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag was edited by photographer Yevgeny Khaldei before publication. To counter charges the Russian army had looted its way to Berlin, Khaldei removed the multiple wrist watches appearing on both arms of the officer standing below the flag.

Sixty-seven years later Moscow photo editors are still removing wristwatches.

Let’s see what the New York Times did with this story. The article entitled “$30,000 Watch Vanishes Up Church Leader’s Sleeve” begins:

Facing a scandal over photographs of its leader wearing an enormously expensive watch, the Russian Orthodox Church worked a little miracle: It made the offending timepiece disappear.

Editors doctored a photograph on the church’s Web site of the leader, Patriarch Kirill I, extending a black sleeve where there once appeared to be a Breguet timepiece worth at least $30,000. The church might have gotten away with the ruse if it had not failed to also erase the watch’s reflection, which appeared in the photo on the highly glossed table where the patriarch was seated.

The church apologized for the deception on Thursday and restored the original photo to the site, but not before Patriarch Kirill weighed in, insisting in an interview with a Russian journalist that he had never worn the watch, and that any photos showing him wearing it must have been doctored to put the watch on his wrist.

Why is this story shoddy journalism? Let me count the ways — but before I do remember the purpose of this blog is to discuss reporting on religion. It is not to discuss the issues in the underlying story.

Let’s begin with the lede. The author frames the story from the start as a scandal about the church hiding Cyril’s $30,000 Breguet watch through the magic of photo editing software. The news of the alteration of the photo is presented, followed by the assertion from Cyril that he was not wearing the Breguet watch; and if there is a photo of him wearing the watch Cyril claims the photo was doctored. The construction of this lede is to impeach Cyril by words out of his own mouth showing him to be a liar.

But was Cyril wearing the Breguet watch? Notice the Times says it appears he was, but there is no evidence or comment from a horologist to say the watch in the photo is the Breguet watch. Later in the story we hear Cyril say that he was wearing an inexpensive Russian watch when the photo was taken, and that he received the Breguet watch as a gift. If he was not wearing the Breguet, why remove the watch from the photo? I don’t know, and the Times does not try to find out.  The inferences and half truths offered at the start of the story have framed the narrative such that the reader will conclude Cyril is a hypocrite.

Having set the frame, the Times editorializes in earnest.

The controversy, which erupted Wednesday when attentive Russian bloggers discovered the airbrushing, further stoked anger over the church’s often lavish displays of wealth and power. It also struck yet another blow to the moral authority of Russian officialdom, which has been dwindling rapidly in light of recent scandals involving police abuse, electoral fraud and corruption.

A series of opinions mixed with general observations is then produced in support of the crooked cleric theme.

… Over the past decade, the church has grown immensely powerful, becoming so close to the Kremlin that it often seems like a branch of government. It has extended its influence into a broad range of public life, including schools, courts and politics. Patriarch Kirill publicly backed Vladimir V. Putin in last month’s presidential election.

… Then there is the question of the church’s wealth. Russian bloggers have published rumors that the patriarch has a large country house, a private yacht and a penchant for ski vacations in Switzerland, though none of this has been proved.

The watch, on the other hand, has been an object of fascination for years, and there is little question of its existence. It was first sighted on the patriarch’s wrist in 2009 during a visit to Ukraine, where he gave a televised interview on the importance of asceticism.

A Breguet watch “is virtually a sine qua non of any depiction of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie or, quite simply, a life of luxury and elegance,” the company says, noting that its products have been worn by Marie Antoinette and Czar Aleksandr I and cited in works by Dumas and Hugo.

… But the patriarch has presented himself as the country’s ethical compass, and has recently embarked on a vocal campaign of public morality, advocating Christian education in public schools and opposing abortion and equal rights for gay people. He called the girl punk band protest at the cathedral “sacrilege.”

Without offering any supporting evidence, the Times asserts the Russian Orthodox Church is in bed with the Putin regime. The church possesses vast wealth and Cyril jets around to Switzerland for the skiing, tools around in his yacht and weekends in the country. And, by the way, he wears a watch worn by the same firm that supplied Marie Antoinette. This is really crude. Cyril is a villain in Times-land. He supports school prayer, is anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-women. All that is missing from the Times’ roster of pet pieties is a comment about his views on minorities.

The articles tries to tie the vanishing watch into a commentary about Russia’s moral decline, linking the Russian Orthodox Church to public concerns about “recent scandals involving police abuse, electoral fraud and corruption.” How do we know that Russian public opinion believes there is a link between the church and the scandals? There may be individuals who say this, but does Russia say this? No evidence is offered to substantiate this opinion.

The Times offers four voices against the church, and one in favor to flesh out the controversy, beginning with:

Aleksei Navalny, an anticorruption crusader, called the episode “shameful,” and bloggers gleefully ridiculed the church as hypocritical.

The choice of Aleksei Navalny is as interesting for the omission the Times makes about Navalny as is Navalny’s opinion.

In January Navalny was the victim of a doctored photo scam in the press concocted by Putin supporters. A photo of Navalny with Russian oligarch  Mikhail Prokhorov (the photo on the left) was altered to that of Navalny and another oligarch (the photo on the right), Boris Berezovsky — a fugitive from corruption charges who lives in London. In an attempt to smear Navalny with charges of guilt by association with one of the Russian media’s chief villains, the caption to the doctored photo stated:  “Alexei Navalny has never hidden that Boris Berezovsky gives him money for the struggle with Putin.”

Adding this information about Navalny’s experience of being a victim of press photo doctoring would have given context to the story — as would mention of the Russian penchant for fixing photos to create the preferred reality. There is no context to this story, no sense of history, no balance, no understanding of Russia, its people, culture or politics.

Let me say that I am not defending the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church’s press office in making the questionable watch vanish. What I am concerned with is the integrity of the reporting about that incident — and the preference for slotting in facts to support a story’s theme as against allowing the facts to tell the story.

An anecdote about the French novelist Balzac bears on this point. Balzac was talking to a visitor about the heroes of his novels. The subject changed to political and other events of the day. After a pause Balzac suddenly said: “Let’s return to reality,” and started talking about his characters again.

It may well be that Cyril is a crook and the Russian Orthodox Church is a tool of the Putin-regime. The Times may think so and has written an article assuming that this is so, but has not provided any evidence in support of its contentions. All of the materials — the facts, the history, the setting, the new post-Soviet Russia of Vladimir Putin — are there for a great article. That story has yet to be written.

First printed in GetReligion.

The little dogs at the New York Times: Get Religion, March 30, 2012 March 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Interviews/Citations, Press criticism, Religion Reporting, Roman Catholic Church, Russian Orthodox.
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Exaggeration of every kind is as essential to journalism as it is to the dramatic art; for the object of journalism is to make events go as far as possible. Thus it is that all journalists are, in the very nature of their calling, alarmists; and this is their way of giving interest to what they write. Herein they are like little dogs; if anything stirs, they immediately set up a shrill bark.

Arthur Schopenhauer, On Some Forms of Literature (1851)

A long time ago (for me) and in a far away place (actually Harare) I had my first experience of the foreign correspondent’s life. Amongst the many lessons I learned on that trip, the most important — aside from learning how to ingratiate oneself with a policemen armed with a machine pistol — was the central place of the “mahogany ridge” in reporting.

While events played themselves out in different parts of the city, the real action, the real news in Zimbabwe was to be found at the bar of Meikles Hotel for many of the reporters present. These memories of that exotic species — the Fleet Street hack — came to the surface for me in recent weeks as I read a number of stories in the New York Times about events in Holland and Moscow.

I took the Times to task for its reporting of the alleged castration by the Dutch Catholic Church of young men (how that one got by the editors I do not know) and on Pussy Riot and Russian Orthodox Church. I argued these stories did not live up to the standards of good journalism and asserted they displayed a lack of balance, context, sensibility and history.

I was rather hard on the Times. Did these stories rise to the level of journalism decried by Arthur Schopenhauer? Is their flavor akin to Evelyn Waugh’s anecdote about the fictitious American reporter Wenlock Jakes in the novel Scoop?

Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn’t know any different, got out, went straight to an hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine-guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window — you know.

On this week’s Issues, Ect. host Todd Wilken and I talked about the Times‘ coverage of these two stories — and demonstrated my lack of polish as a radio commentator. This is my first foray into internet radio podcasting for GetReligion. We’ll see if they ask me back.

First printed at GetReligion.

Anglican encomiums for Pope Shenouda III: The Church of England Newspaper, March 23, 2012 p 7 March 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Coptic Orthodox.
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Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria

The Archbishop of Canterbury has offered his condolences to the Coptic Orthodox Church following the death of Pope Shenouda III on 17 March 2012.

“His Holiness has been an exemplary and outstanding Christian leader both within Egypt and far beyond its boundaries,” Dr. Rowan Williams stated on 19 March.  “His long ministry in the See of St Mark has seen the most extraordinary revival in the Coptic Orthodox Church, not least in its monastic life; and his own personal witness as a man of prayer, a peacemaker, a teacher of the faith and a disciple willing to suffer for the sake of his Lord has been an inspiration.”

Born Nazeer Gayed on 3 August 1923 in Egypt, the future pope was educated at Cairo University and Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary. On 18 July 1954 he was tonsured and become a monk, known as Fr. Antonious El-Syriani.

He lived in a cave as hermit on the edge of the Egyptian dessert for six years, but on 30 Sept 1962 he was named president of the church’s seminary and consecrated as bishop, taking the name, Shenouda.

On 4 November 1971 following the deliberations of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the General Lay Council of the Church, the names of three nominees were written on three slips of paper.  A blindfolded child then chose one of the three slips of paper at random and by this action, symbolizing the power of the Holy Spirit, Shenounda was named  the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.

The Presiding Bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt told The Church of England Newspaper Pope Shenouda was “well known for defending the rights of Christians, and because of this he was put under house arrest by President Anwar Sadat.  He was released after the death of Sadat.  In spite of this he continued to love Egypt and often said, ‘Egypt is not the country in which we live but the country lives in our hearts’.”

Dr. Anis noted that in the midst of the country’s political turmoil it “is not easy for Egyptian Christians to lose Pope Shenouda, the father of the church in Egypt, at this time of uncertainty about the future.  I was not surprised to see hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Cairo yesterday, immediately after the announcement of the passing away of the beloved Pope, who was such an important symbol for the nation.”

Dr. Williams and Dr. Anis noted the Coptic pope had been a staunch friend of the Anglican Church.  “Our relationship to the Coptic Orthodox Church is the strongest among the different denominations in Egypt,” Dr. Anis said, adding that “several times he mentioned to me how much he appreciated the fact that he started his career as a teacher of English in our Anglican School in Cairo.”

Dr. Williams said he had first met Pope Shenouda in the late seventies and had “always found in him a depth of Christian love, welcome and wisdom. He has shepherded his flock through very difficult times, always accessible to his people and keenly aware of the pressures they have faced and still face today. He has been a good friend to the Anglican community in Egypt and to the Communion at large.”

In his forty years as leader of the Egyptian church, Shenouda has seen its ecclesiastical expansion to the U.S., Brazil, Australia, and the United Kingdom as well as a revival of the monastic tradition in Egypt. As of 2009 over 20 communities each with over 100 monks are active in Egypt. Since 1971 he has ordained more than eighty Metropolitans and Bishops and over 600 priests.

Dr. Anis stated that “every Wednesday for the last 41 years, he met with his people (between 5000 and 6000 each week) to answer their questions and teach from the Bible.”

“In our churches we have prayed for the Coptic Orthodox Church and we have thanked God for Pope Shenouda, his life and his ministry in the assurance that he now celebrates eternal life with his Lord Christ,” Dr. Anis said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

From Russia with love: GetReligion March 24, 2012 March 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Religion Reporting, Russian Orthodox.
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An article from the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times has left me perplexed. On one level the story entitled “Punk riffs take on God and Putin” is a silly piece of journalism. What do I mean by silly? I’m not quite sure myself. The tone of the story is half post-modernist supercilious sneer half celebrity profile for Peoplemagazine. Now these are subjective assessments of mine and I find the style in which this article was written not to my taste. But taste is neither here nor there.

It is the journalism on display that has me perplexed. There is no balance, no sense of history to this story as well as an excess of adjectives. The heroes and villains are one dimensional characters. And at bottom, the story displays a worldview that affirms the Pussy Riot’s intellectual condescension towards the aspirations of the respectable — Russia’s church and her people.

Stylistically, this story is silly — journalistically, this story falls short — morally, this story is a wreck. Follow me through and see if you see what I see.

MOSCOW — In the month since it performed an unsanctioned “punk prayer service” at Christ the Savior Cathedral, entreating the Virgin Mary to liberate Russia from Vladimir V. Putin, the feminist punk band Pussy Riot has stirred up a storm about the role of the church, art and women in Russian society.

The group has been accused of blasphemy; three of the women are in pre-trial detention and could face up to seven years in prison.

Video of their performance, which went viral on YouTube, shows five Pussy Riot members in trademark masks dancing, arms flailing, in front of the altar of the cathedral, a vast structure rebuilt in the 1990s on the site of a cathedral that was blown up on Stalin’s orders in 1931.

The cathedral, where Patriarch Kirill I celebrates Christmas and Easter services attended by Mr. Putin and Dmitri A. Medvedev, the departing president, has become a symbol of the ties between church and state in the post-Soviet era.

The story then moves to a recitation of local reactions, noting that “top officials in the Russian Orthodox Church have called for the band’s members to be strictly punished — at times tempering this demand by saying that they do not insist on a long jail sentence.” Soft and hard statements are offered with “Russian Orthodox nationalists” calling for the group to be “flogged” while “other Orthodox activists have condemned such calls as shameful.” However, no names or examples are offered. The first voice to appear is that of:

The Rev. Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior Orthodox cleric known for his own outrageous statements on a range of topics, reiterated on Monday that there were no grounds for leniency and “that this text and this video are extremist materials, and their dissemination constitutes an extremist activity.”

The members of Pussy Riot “have declared war on Orthodox people, and there will be a war,” he told the Interfax news agency. “If the blasphemers are not punished, God will punish them in eternity and here through people.”

The group’s attorneys follow with their contention the charges have not been proved, and at that point the article notes that the:

scandal has had the interesting side effect of breaking a taboo around the word Pussy (Poosi in the Russian transliteration), as the band is usually referred to in short. It has been mouthed without embarrassment by commentators, officials and Russian Orthodox priests. Pravmir, an Orthodox news Web site, has translated the meaning of Pussy Riot as “uprising of the uterus.”

The story then offers details of the incident that led to the girls’ arrest noting the performance included the refrain about Orthodox bishops:

“The K.G.B. chief is their chief saint, he leads protesters to prison under convoy,” reads one verse in a version published on several Web sites. “In order to not offend His Holiness, women must give birth and love.” The chorus is in the form of an appeal to the Virgin Mary. “O Birthgiver of God,” sings the band, using Russian Orthodox liturgical language for addressing the Virgin Mary — “get rid of Putin, get rid of Putin, get rid of Putin.”

One of the groups members, the Times notes has been:

criticized especially harshly for participating in a 2008 orgy at a biology museum, in which she is shown having sex with her husband just days before giving birth. She has been condemned as desecrating motherhood and harming her child — now an adorable braided blonde who made a taped appeal for her mother’s release.

The article then closes with a comment from a feminist writer who states the performance has nothing to do with feminism. In defense of the way this story was framed, the International Herald Tribune printed this as part of a series on women after it first appeared in the Times. So perhaps the audience of this story were readers of People, who would respond appropriately to the bit about the “adorable braided blonde” who pleads for the release of her mother, and the lede sentence that promises a discussion on “the role of the church, art and women in Russian society.”

But this discussion never happens. Perhaps the closing comment that this is not feminism supplied the discussion, but it is otherwise absent from the story. Another omission is the nature of the crime. One need look outside the Times to find the women are being charged with “hooliganism“, not blasphemy. Their past public performances have led to their being charged with disorderly conduct and being let off with a fine, but the Cathedral incident on Shrove Tuesday has prompted public prosecutors to up the ante from a misdemeanor to a felony.

And what does the Times mean when it says the newly constructed cathedral, built on the spot where the old cathedral had stood until it was dynamited in 1931 by Lazar Kaganovich on the orders of Stalin, is a “symbol of the ties between church and state in the post-Soviet era.” Does this imply the church is a tool of President Putin? There is no explanation of this comment, nor voices speaking to this contention. Christ Our Savior Cathedral, Moscow

In the introduction to Fr. Chaplin, what does the Times mean by saying he is “known for his own outrageous statements on a range of topics”? These “outrageous” statements are not cited nor has the dialogue between the church and Pussy Riot taking place through Twitter and the media been explored.

The article also implies that Fr. Chaplin wants to see the girls imprisoned. However, he has stated that he wants them to be punished, but not jailed.

As an aside, I met Fr. Chaplin at the World Council of Churches meeting in 2005 in Porto Allegre, Brazil. And yes, he is a character. I sat with him while an official from a liberal American denomination was giving a speech and Fr. Chaplain played the cantankerous Russian — muttering under his breath, “heretic”, “schismatic”, “infidel”, “Bolshevik” every so often.

While the article does mention that senior Orthodox clergy were disturbed by the incidence due to memories of the Soviet past, it does not explain why such memories would provoke such a sharp reaction. Nor does the charge made by Pussy Riot against against the Orthodox bishops of being stooges of the KGB get a hearing.

The Russian Orthodox Church was nearly wiped out in the Stalinist era. The state sponsored persecution of the Orthodox Church began with the sort of spectacle undertaken by Pussy Riot in Moscow’s principle cathedral in the 1920’s eventually led to the arrest of 168,300 priests, monks and nuns in the purges of 1937-1938 (of these over 100,000 were shot). Some of those who survived, did so through collaboration with the regime. The extent of this collaboration was such that the 2008 the Keston Institute report that outed Patriarch Alexy II as a KGB agent was not that much of a surprise.

Stylistically I did not care for the story. As journalism, I believe it failed to live up to its lede. It did not offer a discussion of the “role of the church, art and women in Russian society;” or a balanced or thorough account of the issues. But the cheer-leading for Pussy Riot displayed a failing of sensibility.

Russian society is going through the painful process of rebuilding itself in the wake of the Soviet era. But this process is not fast enough for Pussy Riot, and the New York Times, which believes that by insulting the church — a symbol of Putin’s state in the Times‘ and Pussy Riot’s view — a short cut to social change will be found. They seek “perfection as the crow flies” in Michael Oakeshott’s phrase.

By pleading for tolerance for the actions of Pussy Riot, the Times seeks to elevate certain liberal ideas and constituencies above public criticism rather than trusting that they will eventually emerge victorious on their merits in open public debate. Framing the story as it does, the Times endorses the irrationalism of Pussy Riot against a villainous Russian government and a stodgy Orthodox Church. I’m not quite settled in my thoughts, however.

Am I taking a shovel to a souffle, beating with a cudgel this story from Moscow? Is too much being read into this article, or is there too little to read? Should the Times step back a bit, or can we trust it to pick the winners and losers in stories from far away about which we know very little? What say you GetReligion readers?

First published in GetReligion.

Pope Shenouda III dead: Anglican Ink, March 17, 2012 March 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Coptic Orthodox.
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Pope Shenouda III

The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III has died from cancer.  He was 88 years of age.

An aide to the Egyptian Christian leader, Hany Aziz told the Reuters news agency the pope had “died from complications in health and from old age”.

Born Nazeer Gayed on 3 August 1923 in Egypt, the future pope was educated at Cairo University and Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary. On 18 July 1954 he was tonsured and become a monk, known as Fr. Antonious El-Syriani.

He lived in a cave as hermit on the edge of the Egyptian dessert for six years, but on 30 Sept 1962 he was named president of the church’s seminary and consecrated as bishop, taking the name, Shenouda. On 4 November 1971 he was elected the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

11 Bulgarian bishops outed as Communist spies: The Church of England Newspaper, February 10, 2012 p 6. February 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Church of England Newspaper.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Eleven of 15 bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church currently in office were spies for the former communist regime’s Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS — according to an inquiry carried out by the government’s Committee on Disclosure of Documents.

On 17 January 2012 the government commission charged with naming those who collaborated with the secret police named the 11 as spies for the 6th Directorate of the DS, which was tasked with combating political dissent under the Communist regime.  Along with the Orthodox bishops, the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Sophia and the present and former chief Mufti of Bulgaria were named as collaborators.

However, the 97-year old patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, who had been appointed by the Communist regime in 1971, was not named as a spy following a review of the DS archives.

Speaking to the media on 21 January after a service celebrating his name day, Maxim said the bishops’ cases would be examined individually by the church’s Holy Synod at a special meeting to be held 15-17 February.

On 23 January the bishops released a letter of contrition to the patriarch stating: “Suffice not the other crosses you have born, but now God has also burdened you with having to accept our confessions and humble repentance, and to grant forgiveness for our sins.”  They have also agreed to provide to the Commission copies of the personnel records of the church’s priests, monks, nuns and church wardens for review.

However, Bulgarian media reports have stated the bishops of Veliko, Turnovo, Stara Zagora and Varna – named as collaborators — have refused to cooperate with the synod, while the other bishops have offered their contrition and have asked for forgiveness.

Metropolitan Gavril of Lovech – one of the bishops not named as a collaborator — told the Sofia Echo the church was torn over how to respond to the revelations. “We cannot now think about asking for the resignations of 11 people. That is impossible. If it had been one, or two or three, that is another matter.  The Synod must remain united and these problems should be resolved in some way so as to benefit, but also on the other side, not to destroy, the church,” he said.

Smyert Shpionam — Death to Spies: Get Religion, January 26, 2012. January 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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This will set the mood.

“Balkan, Balkan,” they said in France of a pimp slapping a whore or three kids beating up a fourth — anything barbarous or brutal.

— Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows (2000)

Eleven of 15 bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church currently in office were spies for the former communist regime’s Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS — according to an inquiry carried out by the government’s Committee on Disclosure of Documents.

If you had not heard this news, I would not be surprised. While this has dominated the news in Bulgaria and in the former Soviet bloc, only the Agence France Press (AFP) among the Western wire services picked up the story. And as far as I have been able to tell via the magic of Google, only two Australian news organizations subsequently published the story — nothing so far in the U.S. or U.K.

Well what of it? Am I writing this post to capture the Bulgarian Orthodox demographic audience for GetReligion?

While the setting is Bulgaria and the characters are Orthodox clergy and secret policemen, the issues are of collaboration with evil and the battle for truth. Change the characters and the same story could be told of Vichy France, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche and the Confessing Church in Germany, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the House Church movement in China.

While the canard that Pius XII was a pro-Nazi stooge continues to excite journalists — a real story of church leaders collaborating with evil is being ignored. In French there is an expression très balkan: meaning hopelessly confused with the connotation of labyrinthine or byzantine machinations. It would be easy to dismiss this story as being a très balkan intrigue more worthy of an Eric Ambler novel than hard news. However this story raises profound questions of morality and journalistic integrity.

Follow me through the Balkan labyrinth and see if we emerge in the same place.

As you might expect the Bulgarian press has been all over this story.  The English-language Sofia Echo has half a dozen stories: the initial report, what the bishops did for the secret police, popular reaction, calls for the bishops to resign, actions to be taken by the church’s synod — as well as the surprising revelation that the 97 year old Patriarch of the church, Maxim, was not a spy.

Before the report was released the country’s largest circulation daily newspaper Dneven Trud called for the bishops to seek forgiveness.

The clergy have had 20 years to prepare the faithful for this moment, to do penance and explain how they served the police as well as God: ‘To save the Church and protect you from persecution we had dealings with the secret police”, or something along those lines. But only Joseph, Metropolitan of the New York Bulgarian Orthodox Church, has shown contrition for his connections to the secret police. All the others claimed to be clean and free of blame. In view of the anticipated revelations the Church must prepare itself for a retaliation from society.

After the report was  released the daily Standart — which is Russian owned and follows a pro-Russian line — called for repentance from the bishops but forgiveness from the people.

The bishops did everything possible to prevent the files in question from coming to light. … But as the Bible says: “Nothing is concealed that won’t be revealed and nothing is hidden that won’t come to light.”  … What the bishops will do now depends on them and is a matter of conscience since the law does not foresee lustration. But now is not the time for excuses but for repentance. For God loves the sinner who repents more than the just. In this respect the disclosure of the secret service files could prove to be salutary for the Church.

The Echo noted that those debating the church’s relation to the Communist regime could not stand in isolation from the current political scene.

… the secular political element has become most obvious with the grouping of a number of left-wing intellectuals who have publicly hit out against what they described as a politically-motivated attack on the church and on ancient Bulgarian traditions (the group accuses some media of connivance in this attack). These intellectuals, in turn, have come under fire among centre-right commentators in the media as well as from other academics and theologians as including several who were State Security collaborators and avowed supporters of the communist atheist system.

A week after the story broke in Sofia, The Australian on 23 January 2012 published the AFP story under the headline “Bulgarian bishops were communist spies.” The following day the Australian newspaper chain News Limited published a story on its website entitled “Communist past catches up with bishops”.

The AFP stories run in Australia give the basic details of the case, but no background or context. They also offer the voices of commentators critical of the church — when as the Echo reported a lively debate is being waged between defenders and critics of the church. It is hard to fault a wire service story for brevity — the AFP has no control over the title or the length of the story its subscribers use — but a casual reader would take away very little from these reports.

And in America we hear? Nothing.

The tone and feel of the story also would do little to challenge Western prejudices that this is a très balkan affair taking place in the back of the beyond. Yet the Bulgarians are attempting to address their past in a way no other former Soviet state has done.

Russia has yet to examine the Stalinist era. The Moscow Patriarchate — the official name for the Russian Orthodox Church — was set up on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1943 as a front organization for the NKVD and all of its senior positions were vetted by the Ideological Department of the Communist Party, according to reports published in the U.K. following the defection of KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin  in 1991.

In two books written with intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, The KGB in Europe and the West and The KGB in the World, Mitokhin claimed that Russian Orthodox priests were used as agents of influence on behalf of the KGB in organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the World Peace Council.  Patriarch Alexius II was also named as KGB agent with the codename DROZDOV, whose services earned him a citation from the regime.

The Bulgarian stories — writing it is true with the luxury of space in the paper to report and the immediacy of the issues — have also spoken to the issues of repentence. How should society judge those who collaborated with evil or who were agents of evil?

Is this an Orthodox thing? A Bulgarian thing? Or a human response?

Imagine if the New York Times devoted articles on the Roman Catholic pedophile scandal to how or why abusers should be forgiven?

Over the holidays I happened to read a new book about Gertrude Stein (yes we GetReligion writers lead exciting lives).  Written by Barbara Will the book Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Columbia University Press, 2011) examined the novelist’s war years.

As one reviewer put it — the question facing biographers was:

How had Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas—foreigners, lesbians, and Jews—somehow managed to survive World War II in a rural enclave in southeastern France?

The answer Will and other researchers found was that the celebrated feminist author was a collaborator, who translated Marshall Petain’s speeches into English and penned a number of articles supporting his regime — even after it was apparent what collaboration with the Nazis meant.

What is the journalist’s task in all of this? Is it too much to expect a discourse of the ethical and moral ghosts that lay behind a story on collaboration with evil — or is it enough to just report the events. Or, is the behavior being disclosed not evil? Reams of newsprint have been devoted to the pedophile scandals — and rightly so — but little to no work has been done on the fellow travelers and useful idiots that provided moral sanction to an evil regime.

I would have hoped that one of the major newspapers or serious magazine would have picked up this story. Perhaps the Balkans are too far away and the Cold War a fading memory — but I believe that the truth and journalism have not been faithfully served so far.

Bishops photo courtesy of office of the Bulgarian president.

First published at GetReligion.

Arrest of abbot is an attack on Orthodoxy, Moscow Patriachate declares: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2012, p 7. January 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox.
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Archimandrite Ephraim, Abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery at Mt Athos

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Russian Orthodox Church has denounced the arrest by Greek police of Archimandrite Ephraim, the abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery on Mt. Athos, calling it an attack on the Orthodox Church.

On 28 December 2011, Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, told the Interfax news agency that it was unconscionable for Greece to refuse bail for the head of the thousand year old monastery in Northern Greece.

He said he had no knowledge of the charges brought against the abbot and added that “whether these charges are just, the Greek court will decide; we cannot interfere.”

“However, it is quite obvious that detention under remand of Archimandrite Ephraim, who does not pose any danger, without considering the case on its merits and before a court ruling, is an extraordinary action that surprises us deeply. The authorities arrested nobody but the elderly and ailing priest. This ruling arouses grave concern of believers of the Russian Orthodox Church, puts her hierarchs on guard, and makes us ponder over its true reasons,” Hilarion said.

On 24 December 2011 Greek police arrested the abbot and are holding him in cell at a maximum security prison in Athens.  A Greek appellate court subsequently ruled the elderly monk was a danger to society and should not be granted bail.

Ephraim is accused of being involved in a €100 million land swap deal with the Greek government that prosecutors say defrauded the government.  The monastery is alleged to have exchanged low value rural land for high value Athens real estate in a deal made with the New Democracy party government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis in 2008.  After news of the swap became public the government cancelled the deal and two ministers resigned after a public outcry.  The Greek Parliament voted to investigate the transaction.

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement via Twitter that said Moscow was concerned by Greece’s decision to arrest Ephraim and objected to Greece’s rejection of standards set by the European Court of Human Rights on arrest and bail.

Last month Ephraim escorted a relic from the monastery, the Belt of the Mother of God, to Moscow.  “Russians are deeply grateful to the brothers at Vatopedi Monastery for the opportunity to venerate the Belt of the Holy Mother of God,” the foreign ministry statement said.

Supporters of the abbot claim the arrest is politically motivated.  According to the Voice of Russia and Interfax, Sergey Rudov, head of The Society of Friends of the Vatopedi monastery said police bullied the abbot.

“Staying in cold Russia was a serious trial for [Ephraim]. And when he visited Patriarch Ilia in Georgia, he wasn’t far from dying. Father [Ephraim] needs constant medical attention. He was questioned for 30 hours in Greece. And they told him during questioning: you’ve been to Russia, you talked to Putin, Medvedev, but they won’t help you,” he said.

Rudov claimed there could be two reasons behind the arrest.  “One is that the EU has now been insisting for a long time that the Athos monasteries should be stripped of their special status and subordinated to the Greek government to a greater extent, because the EU is unhappy about the fact that currently, one needs a special visas to be able to visit the monasteries on Mount Athos.”

“The second reason is that some people in Europe are unhappy about the growing influence of Russians in Greece – mainly because of the close ties between the Greek and the Russian Churches.”

Hilarion said Ephraim was “widely known not only in Greece, but also in the entire Orthodox world as a spiritual leader” and was “near and dear to many in the Russian Orthodox Church.”

The Russian church and state were distressed by the arrest and as was the Greek Church which believes “that the ruling on Archimandrite Ephraim is a hostile attack against the [Athos] monks and the entire Orthodox Church,” Hilarion said.

Bethlehem Broom Brawl: Get Religion, December 30, 2011 December 31, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Armenian Apostolic, Get Religion, Greek Orthodox, Press criticism.
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Wednesday’s broom fight between Greek and Armenian clergy at the Church of the Nativity has come as a god-send to the editors manning the desks of news rooms this Christmas. With the year-in-review pieces done and the boss away until Tuesday, the junior editors ruling the roost have been handed a fun item with which to play.

The general outline of the story as reported by the wire services was that fist fight erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic clergy at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. A six century church built on the purported site of Christ’s birth, the Church of the Nativity is jointly administered by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church and the Franciscan Order of the Roman Catholic Church. Each has their own portion of the building under their administration, the newspapers report, with the turf jealously guarded against encroachment.

While cleaning the building following the Catholic Christmas services on Dec 25 in preparation for the Orthodox (Jan 7) and Armenian (Jan 6) Christmas services, the dividing line between territories was breached.  This led to a shoving, swinging of brooms and fisticuffs. Palestinian Authority Police, evidently prepared for just such an outbreak of violence, quickly broke up the fight — which took place before a tourist group and was recorded on video. No injuries were reported or arrests made, the news services reported.

Several of the longer news pieces noted that brawls between rival churches over their rights and responsibilities at the Church of the Nativity had taken place for centuries. Last year the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran a story about a dispute that led to tourists being trapped in the grotto under the church — the traditional place of Jesus’ birth — a priest took a shortcut and trespassed on Armenian space.

In 2002 Palestinian terrorists damaged the building when they seized the building, holding a number of monks and nuns hostage.

The best report on the incident I’ve seen was in the Daily Mail. It provided the facts, context and an overview of what was behind the dispute.

The Sun has had the best — meaning worst — headline so far. “Affray in a Manger”.  The New York Post comes a close second with “Brawl is mano amen-o” with the Mirror coming third with “Rival Monks in Broomstick Brawl in Bethlehem Church”.

Not given the freehand of their tabloid brethren, many of the “quality” press turned to alliteration with some form of “Clerics Clash” (Reuters, The Independent, USA Today; “Clergymen  Clash” (CBS, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Time); or “Brawl in Bethlehem” (Irish Independent, BBC).

Other outlets mined phrases from popular culture for headlines: “Monks gone wild at the Church of the Nativity” Global Post, or “Bethlehem Rings in Christmas With Annual Priestly Broom Fight” in The Atlantic.

Commentary about the fight was all over the place. One European news agency (MINA) quipped:

Nothing says Christmas as the annual fight between Armenian and Greek priests in Bethlehem. Just like in previous years, both groups continued their tradition and fought over “territory” and who has the right to be at the church which in Christianity is believed was the birthplace of Jesus.

Both groups attempted to clean the Church, to signify the birth of Jesus when a scuffle erupted. Although the place was crawling with police, they still didn’t manage to prevent the annual priest fight, which hopefully Spike TV will air later tonight.

This is perhaps what’s wrong with priests in general, unlike shaolin monks who can actually fight. Our hats off to Greek and Armenian priests… true believers should always fight each other … in Church.

The National Review and the Guardian drew very different lessons from the fracas (imagine that!)

David Pryce-Jones notes that:

Rivalry between Christians was one reason why the Holy Land of the Crusaders was lost to Islam. The bigotry remains as primitive and destructive as the Sunni–Shia divide is to Islam, and when there are no more Christians in any Muslim country it will be too late for regrets.

The fealty given by Christian Arabs to their Muslim rulers will do them no good, Pryce-Jones argues.

Bethlehem used to be at least three-quarters Christian, but that figure is down to about a quarter as its inhabitants emigrate to escape the PLO. Christmas is of course the high point of the town’s calendar. Victor Batarseh, the mayor, is a distinguished medical specialist, aged 76, and Roman Catholic.  He marked this Christmas with a speech calling for a complete boycott of Israel. This would be suicide. The day the Christians are at the exclusive mercy of the PLO, and never mind their Hamas compatriots, is when this church would become a mosque. An omen: Ayia Sofia, once the Byzantine cathedral of Istanbul, was converted into a mosque, then a museum, and under rising Islamism is now a mosque again.

Giles Fraser — the Church of England clergyman whose invitation to the Occupy LSX movement led to the on-going mess at St Paul’s Cathedral — noted that the Nativity brawl was a sign for some people that the church had lost its way.

Church buildings have become a fetish, admired by secular aesthetes and those who want an impressive stage set in which to celebrate life’s big events, but a drain on the resources and moral imagination of the church. What we need is another dose of healthy iconoclasm to remind us that the message of the gospel is not to be confused with bricks and mortar.

While he had sympathy with this view, he believed that:

Christianity is not some esoteric philosophy. It is rooted in time and place. It begins on the streets before it points to the stars. And church buildings are an expression of the rootedness of the incarnation. Where it all goes wrong is when those who are so caught up in the running of church buildings forget about the purpose for which the place was built, and come to believe that the stones matter in and of themselves. When that happens Christianity becomes petty and narrow, all about who cleans a few metres of floor, rather than a means of imagining human life from the context of all eternity.

A few news outlets managed to mangle the story. CNN appeared not to have read TMatt’s recent post and referred to the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Churches as “sects”. Wrong word, of course. TMatt explains why.

And the Washington Post has over egged the pudding.

At one of oldest churches in the world, built over the cave that tradition marks as the place Jesus was born, Franciscan, Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests have brawled annually around Christmas Day for more than a century.

This year was no different.

This year was different in that they did brawl. They do not brawl every year.

They have, of course brawled frequently. Karl Marx, writing in the New York Herald-Tribune on 15 April 1854 took the churches to task for their unedifying conduct.

… the common worship of the Christians at the Holy Places resolves itself into a continuance of desperate Irish rows between the diverse sections of the faithful; [however] these sacred rows merely conceal a profane battle, not only of nations but of races …

Marx did note the appointment of an Anglican bishop in Jerusalem was “the first and only cause of a union between all the religions at Jerusalem” who were united in their common dislike of the Church of England. Reading Israeli press  reports shows that little has changed.

First published in GetReligion.

Marian Mission to Moscow and the New York Times: Get Religion, November 25, 2011 November 26, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Russian Orthodox.
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Who was the first journalist? Who was the first to adopt the intellectual and moral code that guides the craft of reporting? My vote would be for the Athenian historian, Thucydides, who wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War in around 420 BC.

In his account of the war between Athens and Sparta, Thucydides became the first writer to set himself apart from his own political system to examine critically the past. He recounted equally the virtues of Athens and its vices and stepped outside his culture, abandoning the notion that the gods controlled the destiny of men. The study of history was no longer explained by reference to myth and legend, but by the pursuit of truth about the past.

A modern journalist employs Thucydides’ methodology and is expected to stand outside his own political system, culture and religion, to criticize his own society and to pursue the truth. Even Robert Fisk, the doyenne of ideological journalists will state that the reporter’s job is to tell it like it is: “My job is to report what I have seen.”

When a reporter allows ideology or cultural biases to color a story this ideal is not met. A recent New York Times report entitled “In Russian Chill, Waiting Hours for Touch of the Holy” printed on page A8 of the 24 Nov 2011 issue illustrates this point.

A religious relic — the belt of the Virgin Mary — has been brought from the Vatopedi Monastery on Mt Athos in Greece to Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral by the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation. In the week that it was on display over a half million Russians lined up to gaze upon and perhaps kiss the glass case that enclosed the camel-hair jewel-encrusted relic. At times the queue stretched almost three miles with tens of thousands waiting in sub-zero temperatures. The faithful believe the relic was given by Mary the Mother of God to St Thomas before her Assumption. It is reputed to have miraculous powers and has helped women to conceive. The Itar-Tass and Novosti wire services provide a quick summary of events.

The Telegraph and the Washington Post  focused on the phenomena of the size of the crowds and the public display of piety. The Telegraph called the spectacle an “extraordinary display of the strength of Orthodox Christianity in post-Soviet Russia,” and observed:

Russia’s Orthodox Church had an incredible surge of influence and power in recent years as millions of Russians began to practice religion in the 1990s after decades of state-dictated atheism in the Soviet Union.

We heard from members of the crowd.

“I am 74, and I have suffered a heart attack. I am handicapped in my arm and leg,” said another man, identifying himself as Vladimir, after exiting the imposing white cathedral and leaning on his wife’s supporting arm. “Maybe it will help?” he said, tears welling up in his eyes.

The Post story ran with equally strong quotes that focused also on faith.

On the other side of the cathedral, Alexei Bogdanov, a 32-year-old truck-parts salesman, had seen the relic and was waiting for his wife. Tears came to his eyes when he touched the box, he said.“We lived in our country for almost 70 years without faith,” he said. “And now we have found it again.”

The New York Times took a different approach. It covered the crowd story, but also raised the political dimensions of the relic’s mission to Moscow. However, the flip and knowing way this was done, and its smirking condescension towards  the ignorant peasants as they stood in the cold, left me cold as well.

After it reported on the crowd, the New York Times raised the political angle.

As befits his status as the arbiter of most things Russian, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin was the first to greet the holy relic when it arrived … [The crowds] wait here, within view of the Kremlin, snaking past the hulking Ministry of Defense building and billboards in support of United Russia, the pro-Putin governing party.

The story offers a “why we’re here” quote from one member of the crowd and then resumes its arch tone.

Moscow’s city government closed streets around the cathedral — causing those Muscovites not so inclined to venerate relics to rant about the even-worse-than-usual traffic jams.

The article at this stage seemed ready to break away from its self-conscious cuteness and take a serious stab at explaining what is going on. The man responsible for the Moscow sojourn is named:  “Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railroads, who is close to Mr. Putin.”

Yakunin states:

“The belt of the Most Holy Virgin Mary possesses miraculous power,“ he said. “It helps women and helps in childbirth. In our demographic situation, this is in and of itself important.”

The story does not follow up on the political angle, however, and the sarcastic tone returns.

The blogs and Facebook pages of Russian Orthodox intellectuals have overflowed with debates about whether hysteria over the belt was a disturbing sign that many Russians’ faith is based on superstition. Many noted that Christ the Savior Cathedral and the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow, one of the most important monasteries in the Orthodox Church, have relics of the Virgin Mary that are just as precious.

At a bustling coffee shop near the cathedral that this week became an impromptu pit stop for the faithful, an excited young woman rushed in to tell waiting friends that she had venerated the Virgin Mary’s belt. Then she told them about her visit to a fortune teller.

Characterizing the response to the icon’s visit to Moscow by a half million Russian Orthodox Christians as hysteria, and the gratuitous fortune teller line is unfortunate. The attempt to bring politics into the story also fails because there is no context or explanation as to why this matters. What relationship does Vladimir Putin have to the icon’s visit? Who is Vladimir Yakunin and why is it important to know that he is a friend of Putin?

Yes, there is a political story here, but the New York Times misses it.  Yakunin is a close political ally of Putin and has brought the relic to Moscow in the run up to the national elections. Putin is running as Mr. Orthodox, wrapping himself in the mantle of Russian Orthodoxy and his critics have charged that the miracle of the Virgin’s Belt will be his re-election.

Reuters reports:

The [St. Andrew the First-Called] Foundation, chaired by the head of Russia’s state railways and long-time Putin associate Vladimir Yakunin, said the relic’s arrival shortly before the parliamentary election was coincidental.

“It is absolutely not related. We wanted it to come in the summer, but the entire process, the discussions, took a long time,” spokesman Alexander Gatilin said.

For a detailed look at the religious and political cross-currents surrounding this story, go to Batholomew’s Notes on Religion.

The Telegraph and Washington Post played this straight and focused on the religious angle, giving the pilgrims who braved the cold to stand in line to venerate the relic a sympathetic hearing. The New York Times took a different line offering faithful voices and fortune tellers and enclosing the whole in a box marked hysteria. It also sought the secular angle and gave us Vladimir Putin. But it neglected to explain why we needed to hear from Putin or of the political significance of the relic’s mission to Moscow.

But the bottom line for me was the snarky attitude. Instead of standing outside of its culture and attempting to report faithfully and fairly on what was going on in Moscow, it stood squarely within the jaded and hip mindset of Manhattan. What we got from the New York Times was a travelog with attitude.

First printed in GetReligion.