Shameless appeal on behalf of a friend

dublin skyline 2 Over at his Crunchy Con blog, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher has decided to celebrate the anniversary (one third of a century, in fact) of the turning-point day in the life of our dear friend Frederica Mathewes-Green, a columnist, radio commentator, author of a bunch of books, etc.

Please hang in there with me while I join him in this effort. However, rest assured that I have some business to attend to, as well, in this post.

The story begins with Frederica and her husband — Father Gregory Mathewes-Green, now our parish priest — tramping through Europe on their honeymoon. She is, at this point in her life, a kind of feminist, Hindu hippie. This brings us to the key passage in Frederica’s book Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey Into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy:

On June 20, 1974, we took the ferry from Wales to Ireland, then hitchhiked to Dublin. After dropping our bags at a hotel, we walked sightseeing through the city in the waning light and stopped at an old gray church squeezed into the facade of a city block.

I strolled in the dim interior, past the massive main altar, past the statues. At last I came to a small altar surmounted with a statue of Jesus. The sculptor had depicted Jesus’ heart visible in the center of his chest, twined with thorns and springing with flames. I remembered from girlhood the story: he had appeared like this to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque three hundred years ago. He had told her, “Behold the heart which has so loved mankind.”

When I came to myself again I realized I was on my knees. I could hear a voice speaking inside. It was saying, “I am your life.

“I am your life. You think that your life is your name, your personality, your history. But that is not your life. I am your life. …”

She was, in a word, converted to Christian faith in one of those knocked-off-her-horse conversion experiences. Today, Frederica is one of those rare commentators whose traditional faith is rather hard to peg with American political and cultural labels. I mean, she is the author of a pro-life book called Real Choices that looks at the issue strictly through the eyes of women and features an endorsement by (wait for it) Naomi Wolf.

But when it comes to theology, Mathewes-Green is, well, orthodox and Orthodox.

That’s why, back in April, GetReligion called attention to a bizarre article about her in the Lynchburg (Va.) News & Advance, published just before she visited the area for a speaking engagement about her latest book, The Lost Gospel of Mary.

There were a number of strange passages in this article — things that Frederica knows she didn’t say because she knows the details of her own life and faith rather well. But then there was the really, really out of line section that said:

“People are hungry to know more about Mary,” she said. “They want a prequel to the Jesus story.”

Among other things, Mathewes-Green’s research led her to believe that Mary did not live out her life as a virgin.

“No one expected that of her,” she said. “She was a normal human being.”

In another sense, however, Mathewes-Green is quite conservative.

As I said at the time, a misquote is one thing. Heresy is another. Thus, I was one of several people who tried to contact the newspaper — since GetReligion takes his kind of journalistic error rather seriously — to request a correction.

Well, the version of the story on the newspaper’s website remains uncorrected.

So let’s try again. I was spurred to action, in this case, by the news that the ecclesiastical shepherd who leads our corner of the Antiochian Orthodox Church — one Bishop Thomas — heard about the case and suggested that the legal office of the archdiocese might want to give the newspaper a call. For journalists, an error is an error. However, the Orthodox do take doctrine rather seriously.

But perhaps we can head this off at the pass. If you wish, you might want to join me in contacting The News & Advance. Contact information is here. The reporter’s name is Darrell Laurant ( and the managing editor is Joe Stinnett (

I know that this rather late for a correction. Still, it’s the right thing to do. Better late than never.

Photo: The Dublin skyline

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Fr. Greg

    Has Khouria Frederica herself contacted the paper to say she was misquoted?

  • Christopher Orr

    Has Khouria herself made a public statement to the effect that she was either misquoted, misspoke or was misunderstood?

    Contacting the paper without such ammo could simply be construed as the naive, wishful thinking of Orthodox Christians that don’t want to believe such a pillar as Frederica could have come down with a case of the ‘free thinkings’ – or worse, that she has uncoverted back to Protestantism.

    Perhaps an online or email petition by Khouria could be signed or assented to by others, if she finds their mistake, not hers, important enough to correct.

  • tmatt

    Yes, Frederica has called and requested a correction. I learned about this snafu in an email from her to a circle of writers. I learned about the bishop’s concern from her as well. Naturally, at church.

  • Frederica

    I contacted the reporter shortly after the story was published and explained what the problem was. I was probably too nice about it–I said that I knew such things were complicated to outsiders, I knew our conversation had covered a lot of ground–but I did send an excerpt from my book explaining what I’d said. The reporter put this on his blog, but there never was a correction in the paper. A week or so ago, at the insistence of my bishop, I contacted him again, requested a correction, and composed one that would cover things. He said he would ask his editor to run it. That’s the last I heard–is it possible that it ran in the print edition, Terry, and you didn’t see it online? I’ll ask my friends who live in town if they’ve seen anything.

  • Fr. Greg

    For what it’s worth, I E-mailed the above-named journos a link to this blog entry, suggesting they use the occasion of making the correction to find out and report on why this is so important to Frederica and to her bishop.

    I received an auto reply from Mr. Laurant’s address, saying he is out of the office until June 26.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Forgive my Lutheran for showing, but what is the “heresy?” That Mary may not have remained a virgin? Yes, Luther held that Mary remained a Virgin (and called anyone a heretic who disagreed). However, Luther was not infallible and there is no scriptural support for the concept of Mary remaining a virgin.

    Perhaps the article could have been more clear on things. Perhaps in the follow-up apology that may come the newspaper can take this opportunity to explore what different Christian groups (Catholic/Orthodox, Lutheran, and Protestant) believe about Mary and her life. This is another issue beset with issues, landmines, Traditions, and beliefs, not all of which agree and much of which would be hard to call “heresy.”

  • David Palmer

    Anybody read Mark 6:3?

  • Irenaeus

    Have you read it in Greek?

  • Irenaeus

    Sorry the above was snarky. I’m a Prot evangelical considering Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and I don’t think it’s that hard to interpret the NT witness to hold that Mary was always a virgin. Click here and go to the section or Mary-Ever-Virgin if you are actually interested.

  • Mike

    Doesn’t matter, it’s meaningless unless you read it in the original Klingon…

    Generally, the explanation for this verse from those who hold to the eternal virginity of Mary was that “brother” was a generic term for all sorts of kinship relations; and that the brothers in question were probably cousins.

  • Fr John


    The Orthodox Tradition has mostly held that the “brothers” of the Lord are children of Joseph and his first wife. The RC teaching, following Jerome, I believe, was that they are cousins (a few Orthodox Fathers held this, also).

  • Christopher Orr

    I wrote the following:

    “I am writing to request that an official correction or clarification be printed or posted online concerning Darrell Laurant’s April 20, 2007 article, “Author to read from new book”, in the Lynchburg (Va.) News & Advance.

    Ms. Mathewes-Green is the wife (Khouria) of a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. This is an unordained though still quite high-profile and ‘official’ role in the Church. In fact, a priest cannot be ordained or remain a priest if he is married to someone that is not an Orthodox Christian in good standing. Issues of heresy and teaching contrary to the Orthodox Church – especially for someone as high profile as Ms. Mathewes-Green is in both Orthodox and non-Orthodox circles – are therefore important to her own and her husband’s livelihood and ministry.

    So, when it was reported that Khouria Mathewes-Green was led “to believe that Mary did not live out her life as a virgin”, which is directly contrary to Orthodox doctrine and not an indifferent point to the Orthodox, serious questions are raised. If she was quoted correctly, then this may have serious and justified ramifications to her and her husband’s ministry in the Orthodox Church. She may also have been misunderstood – this is, after all, a rather arcane and ‘byzantine’ point of dogma not shared or understood by most Christians in America – or simply misspoke. Whichever the case, I would request that either a clarification or correction be made to assist Orthodox believers, including Khouria and Fr. Mathewes-Green’s bishop and parishioners, in understanding whether canonical discipline may be required – or to clear her of any hint of heresy.”

  • Christopher Orr

    I just received this response from the Managing Editor of the Lynchburg News & Advance:

    “We have removed this story from our web site to clear up any confusion, and published a clarification in the newspaper.

    Thanks for your e-mail!

    Joe Stinnett”

  • tmatt

    Well, here is what you get when you click the story link:

    Author to read from new book
    Darrell Laurant
    Friday, April 20, 2007

    The story is gone.

    No sign of a correction and I can’t find anything in that strange online site.

  • Christopher Orr

    I took from the Managing Editor’s note that they were printing a correction in the paper. This may or may not appear in the online edition of the paper – depending, I’m sure, on whether they ever post corrections online.

  • Christopher Orr

    The following clarification and correction by Frederica herself can be found on the News & Advance website dated to April:

    “Reader’s Reaction

    “Posted on 04/22 at 09:04 AM

    “I had a good, long, wide-ranging conversation with Darrell Laurant, and I know as an interviewer myself that it can be hard to keep details straight. But I was astounded to read this line: > Absolutely not the case! I found that Christians consistently and unanimously believed Mary to be ever-virgin from the beginning. (continued)


    “Posted on 04/22 at 09:06 AM

    “The view that she and Joseph had a normal marital life didn’t take hold for 1500 years. My point was that the early Christians would not have invented her ever-virginity, because it served no rhetorical purpose. The first people they sought to evangelize, the Jews, did not expect the Messiah to be born of a virgin. This doctrine was, if anything, a tough sell. Yet they stuck to it unwaveringly. The best explanation is: they believed it was true. Just needed to correct that. Thanks.


    There are corrections posted on the News & Advance website (e.g., “Marine who refused to quit” by Darrell Laurant, May 13, 2007). I imagine they may also have taken an intermediate step if Mr. Laurant is out of town and unavailable to clarify whether this he misunderstood, Frederica misspoke or whether he stands by the accuracy of his quote.

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  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    The issue of Mary’s Virginity is itself a touchy issue–one bound to trip up reporters who don’t “know religion” or “get religion” all that well. Or to find someone who can crack that “subservient woman” thing about Mary. A good reporter should have verified with the Khouria herself if she was quoted accurately. Maybe a good reporter would even explore further the various CHristian teachings about Mary’s virginity.

    Also, for what it’s worth. Yes, the Greek words tended to have rather broad meanings as well as specific meanings. Thus the word for “hand” in the crucifixion is a word that often referred to the wrist as well, the controlling agent for the hand as it were.

    But Mark 6:3? Well, context has the residents of Nazereth speak about Jesus, then his parents, the “brothers and sisters” (some even by name). Context hardly would support a “cousin” rendering of the Greek in this case.

    Matthew 2:25–…”[B]ut he [Joseph] had no marital relations with her UNTIL she had borne a son, and he named him Jesus.” Seems to me he did have such relations with her AFTER the birth.

    Often, I believe, reporters give religious coverage short-schrift mainly because Christians don’t agree on many doctrines. A calm, shallow overview is less likely to ruffle feathers and keep crusades from coverging at your place of business.

  • An Sionnach

    (11) “The Orthodox Tradition has mostly held that the “brothers” of the Lord are children of Joseph and his first wife. The RC teaching, following Jerome, I believe, was that they are cousins (a few Orthodox Fathers held this, also).”

    So in essence one is saying that the church does not really know, but only presume, if not assume to know whether or not Jesus’s brothers were cousins, step brothers or true blood brothers.

    I vote all of the above. At least this way I know I have a 33% chance that I am right. Hey that’s how many years Jesus was believed to be alive, or was it 34. Will of God? Destiny? Coincidence? or a sign? You decide.

  • Chirstopher Orr

    Each distinct church tradition knows where they stand on this ancient teaching of Christianity: pro, con, indifferent. So, Christianity as a sociological phenomenon may be of different minds on this teaching, but each church and those in communion with her know their own mind.

    For instance, the Orthodox Church is very clear on the fact that the Theotokos was ever-virgin, as she was referred to as in passing by a couple of Ecumenical Councils. While Orthodoxy has not ‘dogmatized’ this fact, dogma in the Orthodox Church is generally limited to those teachings proclaimed by Ecumenical Councils, and the last one was in the 700s. All else remains authoritative in the Church’s tradition, however. Dogma is proclaimed only when a resilient heresy arises that will either not listen to tradition or to which tradition did not have to deal with specifically in the past.

  • An Sionnach

    Ah, now you have made it clear, it’s based upon interpretation. So while something may not necessarily be fact, it is, true, because you interpret it to be true, or the church interprets it to be true.


  • Chirstopher Orr

    I am simply making the point that there are many Christian churches and denominations in the world, they do not all hold that other Christians are in fact so, in the proper sense of the word – they are not “all the same”. While “Christians” as a spectrum of somewhat similar religious faithful (though, Unitarian to Orthodox to Pentecostal to Catholic is a stretch for ‘similarity’) may disagree on this matter, each Church knows her own mind. “Church” is not always synonymous with ‘all Christians’, depending on the denomination.

  • An Sionnach

    So at what point do we say something is wrong or someone else is heretical. Is it when the church says it has interpreted the truth, or is it when the truth has been proven? As noted above it seem that someone is heretical when the church says they are, based on their interpretation, regardless of whether it’s the truth or not.

  • Christopher Orr

    Honest people can disagree and thus we end up with different versions of ‘the truth’. Christians can not all be lumped together indiscriminately. Each Church believes, for the most part, that their understanding of Christianity is the full truth with all other churches in error to greater or lesser degrees. Each church believes they have ‘proven’ their truth as truth, and other churches disagree holding they have the full truth. So, one church finds sola Scriptura heretical another holds it to be dogma. Thus is the way of the world with religions, between religions, and between the religious and areligious.

    The point, insofar as the Frederica issue is concerned, is that journalists and readers need to be aware that there is a major difference between ‘Christians’ and ‘Christianity’ and the various churches that hold sometimes wildly differing views on a range of topics and doctrines. One can describe these differences and give some background as to their sources and causes together with a dissenting view, but a value judgement as to the veracity of a given doctrine of faith or its detractors is inappropriate – as is lumping all Christians (or Muslims) together indifferent to doctrinal divergences.