‘Christ is risen!’, for Greeks, Arabs, Russians & others

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A blessed Pascha to the Orthodox readers of GetReligion. I hope you are recovering from the long, but glorious, week of services and the middle-of-the night rites and feasts. Personally, I think it is high time for a post-Great Lent barbecue run — soon.

In terms of Pascha news, I, for one, am stunned that a quick online search found next to nothing in terms of mainstream media coverage of what is, or is not, happening in Syria and Egypt — where there are are huge, endangered communities of Eastern Christians in the middle of the news events. Maybe tomorrow’s newspapers?

Here in America, I am also seeing/hearing discussion among some Orthodox of President Barack Obama’s interesting official statement marking Pascha. On one level, it’s quite solid, and much appreciated. But on another level — maybe not. Here’s the heart of the message:

For millions of Orthodox Christians, this is a joyful time. But it’s also a reminder of the sacrifice Christ made so that we might have eternal life. His decision to choose love in the face of hate; hope in the face of despair is an example we should always strive to follow. But it’s especially important to remember this year, as members of the Orthodox community have been confronted with persecution and violence, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. For centuries, the region and the world has been enriched by the contributions of Orthodox communities in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. As a nation, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting universal human rights including the freedom of religion. And in this season of hope and restoration, we celebrate the transformational power of sacrificial love.

Now, other than a direct reference to the resurrection itself (which is a hard thing for a liberal Christian political leader to discuss), what is missing from this statement?

How about something specific about an unfolding drama in Syria, one involving the kidnapping by terrorists of Orthodox Bishop Paul Yazigi — the brother of Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi of Damascus — and Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church? It’s good to mention the generalities, but an actual call for the release of the two kidnapped bishops might have actually made news. Would that have rocked the U.S. State Department boat too much?

Meanwhile, the newspaper that lands in my front yard offered a quite nice Orthodox-angle Easter story that, as usual, focuses on Greek Orthodox life. Now, let me stress that the Greek Orthodox community in the Baltimore area is large and very important. It deserves coverage. However, the team at The Baltimore Sun seems to think that the Greek community and the Orthodox community are one and the same thing. This is not the case.

Anyway, Orthodox readers, check out the top of this story and tell me if you spot an interesting detail, or two (and I’m not talking about the fact that this particular Orthodox church has pews):

A moment as mysterious as the sacred idea it celebrates — the crucified Christ’s decent into Hades before his resurrection — arrived Saturday morning at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in a cascade of rose petals and a cacophony of bells, hands drumming on wood pews and a church elder chanting in his ancestral tongue.

It was a rich, even raucous moment affirming belief in Christ’s conquest of evil and heralding the arrival of the church’s most significant holiday.

This year, the Eastern Orthodox Church — the faith of an estimated 300 million people from the United States through Eastern Europe and the Middle East — celebrates Easter a month after the Western Christian observance, capping 40 days of fasting and a week of services marking different stages of the paschal narrative.

Read the whole piece. If you do, you’ll find it interesting that there are no references to other Orthodox Christians at all. Also, that “300 million” Orthodox believers reference is interesting and I do not know the source. While church statistics should always be taken with a grain of salt, most studies put the global total for Orthodoxy at 600 million — the world’s second-largest Christian community.

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Also, while the story says that “this year” the Orthodox are celebrating Easter/Pascha a month after the Western Christian date, it never mentions why that is the case. Try to imagine a story about Orthodox Easter that doesn’t briefly explain the ancient Julian calendar!

You just have to have a sentence or two that let readers know what is going on — why sometimes Easter and Pascha coincide and sometimes the two dates can be a week to a month apart. Honest, I thought that if there was one fact about the Orthodox that most newspapers editors know, if would be the whole calendar thing.

Meanwhile, the Greek-only content reaches a climax later in the piece with a long, concluding passage sure to tweak any Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Egyptians, Arabs, Serbs, Lebanese, etc., who still read The Sun:

In 2008, a Greek Orthodox publication explained the meaning of Holy Saturday service: “It is a day centered on a mystery beyond our comprehension. Christ is dead, His body lies in a tomb. Yet, at this moment of Death’s apparent victory over Life, Death is being put to death. Christ’s soul descends to Hades. He is both God and Man. Hades has no power over Him. It tries to hold Him, as it has held every other soul since Adam and Eve, and fails.”

…(The) story appears in many icons of the Eastern church, often with a Christ figure stepping over collapsed doors, fetters and locks while reaching for the hands of sinners to free them from hell.

While the Saturday service was rich with ritual and liturgy, Easter was to arrive fully at midnight at the four Greek Orthodox parishes in the Baltimore area. From darkened sanctuaries, the priests carry a single lighted candled from their altars to their parishoners outside, on sidewalks and in parking lots.

Pardon me, but you need to read a 2008 Greek Orthodox publication — a paper source — to find material explaining the most important day in the Christian year? Good grief, quote a living human being or two as they march around a church in the dead of night carrying candles. The people will tell you what all of this means. Why should local reporters settle for paper?

And, again, why say that all of this concerns the “four Greek Orthodox parishes in the Baltimore area”? Maryland has a large, complex Orthodox community, including a few congregations that are literally nationally known. Yes, the Greeks MUST be part of this scene. But what about everybody else?

So, yes, Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti! But join in with a few other believers (from a few recent Agape Vespers rites at my own parish). Apologies for not being able to get Arabic straight into WordPress:

al-Masih qam! Haqqan qam!

Christos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese!

Hristos a înviat! Adevarat a înviat!

Hrystos voskres! Voistynu voskres!

Pikhristos Aftonf! Khen oumethmi aftonf!

Kristus telah bangkit! Dia benar-benar telah bangkit!

Kristus aq ungwektaq! Pichinuq ungwektaq!

Tá Críost éirithe! Go deimhin, tá sé éirithe!

Christ est ressuscité! Il est vraiment ressuscité!

Kristus telah bangkit! Dia benar-benar telah bangkit!

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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.

  • Jerry

    There’s a time for stories about minorities that are endangered. And there are times for stories about religious holidays. You’ve wanted them to be together but to me it’s not necessary. Otherwise stories about Christmas would include references to birth control, abortion, homosexuality etc. Do you really want Christmas stories to list those issues rather than focus on the special nature of the day? Sometimes it’s fine to put them together but I would not ding stories in general for focusing on the Holy Day itself.

    Also, I did note these stories. From Egypt http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/05/04/four-processions-four-churches-one-neighbourhood/

    But since you want stories about the two together: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nelly-van-doornharder/easter-greetings-in-egypt-may-you-be-well-every-year_b_3216065.html Yes it’s not the traditional MSM, but these days news is where you find it.

  • tmatt

    News is news, Jerry. Pascha is a day of great joy AND DANGER for Christians in the Middle East.

    Cover the news.

  • Julia

    “However, the team at The Baltimore Sun seems to think that the Greek community and the Orthodox community are one and the same thing. This is not the case.”

    It would be like thinking that the Latin church is only in Latin America. LOL

    Who are the Arabs you reference? The Christians in now-majority-Arab countries are almost all indigenous and, although most are Semitic, they are not Arabs – even though they now speak Arabic.

    My ancestors were Norwegian, English, Irish, French, German and Jamaican – but us descendants now speak English because that’s the lingua franca of this country – it doesn’t change our national ancestry.

  • Bro AJK

    Alithos Anesti! Indeed, He is Risen!

  • Will

    And what about “Monophysites” in Egypt and Syria? Unless you have decided to readmit them to the “Orthodox” fold….

  • tmatt


    That question is really irrelevant. The Orthodox remain VERY concerned about the rights of the Copts. And in Syria, you have the home of the Antiochian Orthodox patriarch himself.


    I was referring to Syria and, to some degree, the Palestinian Christians.

  • Julia

    The Christians in those countries didn’t come from the Arabian peninsula, even though they now speak Arabic.
    Many of the Christians in Syria and Iraq are actually Assyrians. I met a bunch of them at a wedding last year who were very clear about that. Most of the indigenous people in the Levant probable did convert when the Islamic Arabs conquered that area, but I doubt that many of the Arab conquerors became Christian.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/donna.farley Donna Farley

    Christ is Risen, Terry!

    If you scroll down the page where this video appears on the Huffington Post, they also have a slide show of ‘Orthodox Easter’ around the world. I sent them the following reaction:

    “Thanks for the wonderful photos. However, this beautiful international slide show once again gives the impression that Orthodoxy is an exotic religion practiced only by people of Eastern European descent, and a few Ethiopians and Copts. But for decades now there has been a growing movement of mostly English-speaking converts in the US, Canada and the UK– and even among other not-traditionally-Orthodox ethnic groups worldwide. For a start, check out antiochian.org and oca.org. Perhaps approach well-known journalists Terry Mattingly and Rod Dreher, both of them members of English-language Orthodox churches in the US . Here in BC Canada, my husband, Fr. Lawrence Farley, has pastored such an English-speaking Orthodox congregation for over 25 years. Access our website at saintherman.net. It would be great next Pascha (Orthodox Easter) to see a story that breaks out of the usual picturesque ethnic stereotypes of exotic ethnic customs.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/donna.farley Donna Farley

    for some reason, the link at top says ’7 comments’, but the only one loading is my own….

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