Trust me, I know that covering religion news is complicated, especially when you are dealing with ancient religious groups in which it seems that everything is encrusted with centuries worth of doctrine, tradition, rubrics and symbolism. However, facts and facts and words matter.
How do journalists justify basic errors? They shouldn’t even try.
As you may have guessed by now, this is another picky tmatt post about Eastern Orthodoxy.
Consider, please, the top of this story (free registration required) in the Financial Times about a very symbolic and emotional event in an ancient region that is today included in Turkey.
Five hundred Greek orthodox Christians have celebrated mass in the beautiful 1,600-year-old Sumela monastery in north-eastern Turkey, ending an 88-year ban on religious services at the site.
Conducted by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Dimitri Bartholomew I, the mass attracted orthodox Christians from Greece, Russia, Georgia, the US and Turkey to the monastery that sits on a ledge high in a cliff inland from the Turkish Black Sea port of Trabzon
The mass was conducted with the blessing of Turkey’s ministry of culture, which has funded an extensive restoration of the monastery that until a decade ago was in an advanced state of dereliction. The event, which was televised live around the world, occurred in contrast to attempts made last year to hold an orthodox mass at the site that were halted by ministry officials intent on upholding a ban on religious services at the monastery.
Where to begin (other than the issue of why the Turkish government can ban services in a monastery, shut down seminaries, etc.)?
First of all, I assume that this was an event of great importance for Eastern Orthodox — with a large “O” — Christians, not just the Greeks. After all, the story says precisely that a few lines later.
With that in mind, it is also important to note that Patriarch Bartholomew I is the “ecumenical patriarch,” the first among equals, of the shepherds of all of the Eastern Orthodox churches in a global communion. He is not the Greek Orthodox patriarch, in large part because his throne is in Istanbul. He is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Oh, and his name is “Dimitrios,” not “Dimitri.”
Last but not least, the proper name for this Eucharistic service in the churches of the East is “Divine Liturgy,” not the “Mass.” I know that there is a tendency among journalists — note the same mistake at the top of this Asia News report — to assume that Catholic terms are used by all liturgical churches. For example, there are high-church Anglicans who often use the word Mass to describe the Holy Eucharist, while many other Anglicans do not. That’s confusing and I understand that.
However, the vast majority of Eastern Christians observe the Divine Liturgy, including those who are in communion with the pope of Rome. That is the proper name for this service in the Byzantine tradition.
So there are corrections to be made by the FT staff. Several of them.
Photo: The location of this monastery must be seen to be believed. Click here for a larger collection from Google Images.