Istanbul is the kind of place in which the past often seems to be just as real, or even more real, than the present.
Sometimes this shows up in the headlines.
For example, back in 2004 I visited the center of Eastern Orthodox life there and learned the history of the stark, black, closed gate out front. At that time, I wrote this for Scripps Howard:
ISTANBUL — There are two front gates into the walled compound that protects the home of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Visitors enter through a door secured by a guardhouse, locks and a metal-screening device. They cannot enter the Phanar’s main gate because it was welded shut in 1821 after the Ottoman Turks hanged Patriarch Gregory V from its lintel. The black doors have remained sealed ever since.
A decade ago, bombers who tried to open this gate left a note: “We will fight until the Chief Devil and all the occupiers are chased off; until this place, which for years has contrived Byzantine intrigues against the Muslim people of the East is exterminated. … Patriarch you will perish!”
Please keep in mind that the capital of Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. This is a corner of the word in which more than a few people have long attention spans.
Thus, the thrust of the following Reuters report didn’t really surprise me:
ISTANBUL (Reuters) — Turkey is investigating an alleged plot to assassinate Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and has stepped up security around the patriarchate in Istanbul, his spokesman said. …
Spokesman Dositheos Anagnostopoulos said the patriarch had not received any direct threats but had learned of the alleged plot from Turkish media, which was later confirmed to the patriarchate by Turkish police.
“Later in the day, police informed the patriarchate of a possible threat and dispatched additional police officers,” Anagnostopoulos said.
Turkish broadcaster NTV said one man had been arrested in relation to the alleged plot, after state prosecutors in central Kayseri province received an anonymous letter saying there was a plan to assassinate Bartholomew on May 29, the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of present-day Istanbul.
Like I said, this didn’t surprise me very much, in light of unfolding events in that region. So what DID surprise me in this report?
Well, I was surprised that a major wire service produced the following chunk of text at the end of the report. Try to spot the clunker in this:
Known often by his full title Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the historical name for Istanbul, he is the spiritual head of worldwide Orthodoxy, which split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054.
Previous attacks on Christians have raised concerns about the safety of religious minorities in Muslim Turkey, which has around 100,000 Christians out of a total population of 76 million. In 2010, a leading Catholic bishop was stabbed to death at his home in southern Turkey by his driver and in 2006, a Roman Catholic priest was murdered in the Black Sea town of Trabzon by a teenager with suspected links to ultra-nationalists. In 2007, three members of a Bible publishing company, one of whom was a German citizen, were tortured and killed in Malatya in central Turkey.
Now, church history is a complex subject and I get that. I also know that leaders of the great ancient churches, East and West, have different views of what happened in the great schism of 1054.
But, honestly, the Eastern Orthodox “split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054.” Really? That’s about as fair, and accurate, as saying that the Church of Rome decided to leave Orthodoxy or, yes, that Rome “split from Orthodox Christianity in 1054.”
So, Orthodox and Catholic readers, here is my question: What’s a neutral, journalistic wording that would be more neutral in terms of the historic realities? Give it your best shot. Please.