Who will quote the Moscow patriarch?

This is a case where I know, in a few days, GetReligion readers are going to send me URLs for this Orthodox story when the mainstream media in America get around to covering it. Thus, I think I’ll go ahead and try to get ahead of the curve.

I imagine that there will be coverage, for all of the wrong reasons.

I certainly think that there should be coverage, for all of the right reasons.

Here is the top of the Moscow Times report that is causing a stir on the other side of the Atlantic. The headline is certainly an eye-opener: “Patriarch Blames Crime and Drugs for Haitian Quake.”

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said crime, drugs and corruption caused last week’s massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in Haiti.

Kirill, speaking during a … visit to Kazakhstan, said the Haitian people bore responsibility for the calamity because they had turned away from God, the Ferghana.ru news agency reported late Monday.

“Haiti is a country of poverty and crime, famine, drugs and corruption, where people have lost their moral face,” Kirill was quoted as saying.

He compared Haiti with the Dominican Republic, which are located on the same Caribbean island. “I’ve visited the island divided between two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. One of them is developing, while the other is affected by crimes, economic recession and political unrest. That part of the island was shattered by the earthquake,” he said.

While there is no mention of Voodoo in this text, I think it is safe to say that — to American ears — Kirill’s words are just as shocking as those of the Rev. Pat Robertson, which ignited a firestorm in the American media.

Will the mainstream media in America and Great Britain jump on these words in a similar manner? I’ll be honest: I totally understand why journalists may want to do so.

The theological principle here is quite similar to that offered by Robertson. The two men have simply accused the majority of the Haitian people of different sins. For Robertson, the Voodoo traditions centering on the worship of various spirits (Or is that “Spirits”? ) in addition to a greater God (Or is that “gods”?) represent a form of idolatry. The God of the Bible is not fond of idolatry. For the patriarch, other sins are involved in this national tragedy.

The crucial journalistic question, of course, is this: What did the patriarch actually say?

This is one reason that I hope the story draws some coverage, to flesh out some of the gaping holes in the Moscow Times report:

Asked to clarify Kirill’s comments, a church spokesman said … that the news report had “misinterpreted” the patriarch’s words and “taken them out of context.” The spokesman, Alexander Volkov, could not immediately clarify, saying only that a transcript of the speech would appear “later” on the Moscow Patriarchate’s web site.

A church scholar said Kirill’s comments had astonished his foreign listeners in Almaty, but they were quite ordinary to the Orthodox faithful.

“For those who often listen to Patriarch Kirill, such statements seem quite ordinary, but I know that some people in Almaty were amazed,” said the scholar, Alexander Soldatov, editor of the religious web site Portal-Credo.ru.

Kirill is known for his statements about large-scale disasters. Last year, he blamed the global financial crisis on the spiritual degradation of the world and called it a trial.

If you want to keep an eye out for that transcript, here is the link for the Moscow Patriarchate. This may take a while.

Some may find it strange that Kirill, in addition to making these controversial comments, has also expressed his condolences to the people of Haiti in their time of grief. Certainly, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (click here for info) have mobilized to send aid to Haiti. Of course, Robertson also repeatedly called for prayers for the Haitian people and urged his audience to give generously to efforts to pour aid into the stricken nation.

The bottom line: In Christian theology it is possible to believe that compassion and alms are Christian duties, while also believing that corporate sins may have mysterious consequences. The press likes this concept when it is applied to, oh, environmental issues and some aspects of American foreign policy.

Obviously this is a controversial and offensive stance in the modern world. It would be good if the press covered Kirill’s words and allowed intelligent, informed voices on both sides of this doctrinal debate to speak their minds. I am assuming, of course, that a transcript of what Kirill actually said is available, showing his words in context.

Meanwhile, the patriarch has also said:

“On these sad days, all Russian Orthodox believers and I condole with you and all residents of the island who have lost their relatives and loved ones,” the Patriarch said in a wire sent to Haitian President Rene Preval published by the Patriarch’s press service on Friday. The Patriarch said in the wire he is “praying for the prompt healing of the wounded and spiritual assistance to all those who have lost their housing, and also the strengthening of those who are now working on dealing with the aftermath of this natural disaster.”

Stay tuned.

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‘Orthodox’ complaint by reader

Trust me, I am aware that the Eastern Orthodox Churches have some rites that are unique and, to the eyes of outsiders, may seem a bit on the wild side.

I mean, watch the video attached to this post, which focuses on traditions — I stress that they are what we call “small-t traditions” — observed by some Orthodox believers during the recent “blessing of the waters” celebrations of Theophany (called Epiphany in the West). It is one thing to see people jumping into blessed waters as they observe these traditions in, well, South Florida. It’s something else to see it taking place in Russia, even in, let’s say, Siberia.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that it is time for reporters to start using the word “Orthodox” — with a large “O” — in the following context. If you happen to be Orthodox, you may want to sit down before reading the following chunk of this very strange story.

This is from The Star-Ledger in New Jersey:

A New York City woman on trial for starving four of her children was brought up in a “cult-like” religion that prohibited its members from direct contact with the outside world, her brother testified yesterday.

“It was an almost cult-like existence. We weren’t allowed to watch TV, go to the movies, or vote,” said Frederick Phillips, 45, of Manhattan, describing the lifestyles of members of the Brooklyn-based Church of the Brethren, an Orthodox Christian church that believed in a strict interpretation of the Bible.

Say what? Needless to say, the Church of the Brethren is not part of the ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. In fact, I am not even sure if this story is describing a congregation that is linked to the Church of the Brethren, as traditionally understood.

So what is going on here? I know one thing. GetReligion reader Jason Gilbert of Topeka, Kan., was right to pen the following letter to the newspaper.

I am writing about a factual error in your story, “Defendant raised in cult-like faith, brother testifies.” You use the term “Orthodox Christian,” which a proper noun that does not apply to the organization described. Additionally, your general treatment of the defendant’s religion in this story seems flawed.

Firstly, to capitalize the “O” in “Orthodox” means that the church is “Orthodox Christian;” that is, part of the Eastern Orthodox communion of churches (“Greek Orthodox,” “Russian Orthodox,” etc.). I am certain that the Church of the Brethren is not part of this communion.

The second error is more vague and perhaps forgivable. If you had not capitalized the “O,” then you would merely have been describing the church as “orthodox” in the sense of adhering to traditional Christian dogmas, beliefs, or practices. Nowadays, with the complete shattering of a cohesive Christian identification, it is understandable that a reporter is unable to pin down exactly what those are, but from the small about of space given to the description of this organization’s dogmas, beliefs, and practices, they don’t appear to fit the definition at all.

Furthermore, if you are going to mention a religious organization in the lede, you should take the time to find at least one other source of information about that organization. It appears that maybe you used “Orthodox” as a synonym for something like “ultra strict” or “controlling.” Some journalists use “fundamentalist,” or “extremist,” which are problematic. Using “orthodox” with a small “o” would also be problematic in this case. However, to make it a proper noun is simply factually incorrect.

Amen, all the way around. Strange, strange, strange.

In terms of good journalism, this story was most unorthodox.

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Exorcising the Cubs’ demons

Spring training is still six weeks away, but, with pro football winding down and pro basketball dragging on, attention is already being turned to America’s past time.

For Chicagoans, another season brings another opportunity to break the curse of the billy goat. It’s been 101 years since the Cubs have won the World Series. And, from the looks of this New York Times article, the atmosphere at the Cubs fan convention, which ended Sunday, has gotten desperate:

“There is an illness about being a Cubs fan,” said Jim Greanias, a Greek Orthodox priest who was invited by the Cubs to try to exorcise the team’s storied curses before the start of the National League division series in 2008. “In October, you think ‘I’m done with them, forget about it.’ Then all of the sudden, it comes back at you, starting with the Cubs Convention, you start getting that warm, fuzzy glow and think, well, maybe this year, they’ll do it.”

Let me just start by thanking God that I get to be a Dodgers fan, which is, usually, less painful. The Dodgers have their own unholy problems these days, but at least they don’t need an exorcism.

An exorcism?

Really? Well, I guess if any Major League skipper could turn his head backwards it would be Lou Pinella.

But what exactly did this priest do? That’s not clear. The Greanias paragraph exhausts the discussed religion in a story about faithful fans. I know one thing (besides the Cubs poor prospects of breaking the curse this year): I would have love to have seen this exorcism — or at least read some details about what it looked like.

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Entertainment Weekly can go get ‘Lost’

I have my share of friends who have consumed a bit too much Kool-Aid, when it comes to their devotion to “Lost.” I tried to watch an episode or two (and enjoyed those wonderful “Lost” in eight minutes features), but I just don’t have the commitment to hang in there for the long haul.

Frankly, I do hope that all of the characters are dead and that the whole show has been a life-in-purgatory kind of thing. I think that would freak out the world-weary youngsters who write and edit Entertainment Weekly these days, something that would be good in and of itself.

Anyway, this brings us to the artwork with this post — which is an ABC promotional photograph that is all over the place (along with the tweaked alternative visions). People seem to think that this image, like the show, has some great spiritual meaning.

Thus, at USA Today we read:

Many pop-culture institutions have participated in Last Supper-inspired photos: The Sopranos pic was highly publicized and over-analyzed. A shot of the Battlestar Galactica cast posed around the table had fans buzzing. And then there’s Robert Altman’s MASH — perhaps the flick that inspired it all — with its terrific scene inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.

The latest Supper snap? Lost, of course. In a new promotional photo, Locke, Kate, Jack, Hurley and the rest — well, sans Walt, Juliet, Rose and Bernard — pose at a makeshift table with a smorgasbord of Dharma products. (It’s being dubbed the “Lost Supper.”)

What clues can be found? Fans have noted these things so far:

– The table is made out of an airplane wing;

– Locke appears to be seated in the Jesus position. …

And so forth and so on, world without end (maybe). Amen.

I am not sure that this is journalism, but I understand — as a guy who enjoys writing about pop culture — that newspapers and magazines need to dig into these kinds of issues. People care deeply about entertainment, these days, which says a lot about our culture, me thinks.

I also, of course, enjoy writing about religion and popular culture, as do several other of your GetReligionistas. It is crucial, however, to always remember that you have to keep your religion facts straight, when you venture into pop religion territory. There are millions of people who take religion pretty seriously and they can get angry when their faith is twisted or trashed.

For example, please read the following commentary on the “Lost Supper” from Entertainment Weekly:

FUN FACT! The Last Supper – Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion — is commemorated by Christians through the sacrament of Communion, the eating of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Some Christians believe that when you eat the bread and drink the wine, the stuff actually converts into the body and blood of Jesus during digestion, although their appearances remain the same. (Which explains the weird carpentry aftertaste.) This miraculous conversion is known by a fancy term: Transubstantiation, ”the conversion of one substance into another.” Example sentence: ”If Jack’s ”Jughead” plans works, he and the castaways will be transubstantiated into a new reality.”

After reading this, please express your opinion on the following: The entertainment-magazine journalists who wrote and edited this tidbit were:

(a) Ignorant.

(b) Unprofessional.

(c) Silly and childish.

(d) Intentionally setting out to blaspheme a doctrine of ancient Christianity and, thus, to insult millions of believers.

(e) Counting on the fact that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers and Anglo-Catholics would not blow up their building.

(f) All of the above.

Thank you for your time. Many GetReligion readers will now want to go outside and scream.

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Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy …

The Orthodox church that I attend is part of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, which means that its ancient liturgical language is Arabic, even though our pan-Orthodox congregation uses English about 99 percent of the time.

However, during the years that I lived in South Florida — a period that including Sept. 11, 2001 — I attended a parish in which the majority of the members were of Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese descent. Obviously, the ancient, and often the daily, liturgical language of this particular parish was Arabic.

Thus, when we sang one of the most ancient hymns of Christianity, the English words were: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”

However, when we sang the same words in Arabic, they sounded something like this: “Quddouson Allaah, Quddouson ul-qawee, Quddouson ulladhee la yamout, Irhamna.”

Note the presence of the word “Allaah.” That is the Arabic word for God and, in Orthodox circles, there is no doubt about that when services are sung in Arabic. The language is the language and the ancient churches of the East are older than Islam.

It is interesting to note that, here in the West, there have been lively discussions of whether — when speaking English — Muslims should simply say “God,” instead of continuing to substitute “Allah.”

In other parts of the world, tragically, these kinds of debates are literally causing riots. Here is the top of a relevant New York Times piece from the other day:

BANGKOK – An uproar among Muslims in Malaysia over the use of the word Allah by Christians spread over the weekend with the firebombing and vandalizing of several churches, increasing tensions at a time of political turbulence.

Arsonists struck three churches and a convent school early Sunday, and black paint was splashed on another church. This followed the firebombing of four churches on Friday and Saturday. No injuries were reported, and only one church, Metro Tabernacle in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, had extensive damage.

The attacks, unlike anything Malaysia has experienced before, have shaken the country, where many Muslims are angry over a Dec. 31 court ruling that overturned a government ban on the use of the word Allah to denote the Christian God.

Though that usage is common in many countries, where Arabic — and Malay — language Bibles describe Jesus as the “son of Allah,” many Muslims here insist that the word belongs exclusively to them and say that its use by other faiths could confuse Muslim worshipers. That dispute, in turn, has been described by some observers as a sign of political maneuvering, as the governing party struggles to maintain its dominance after setbacks in national and state elections in March 2008.

And there you have it. In this story, the entire conflict is about politics and Malay identity. If you are going to say you are truly Malay, then this means that you are Muslim. If you are a Muslim, God is Allah. If you are not a Muslim, you are (a) not worshiping Allah and (b) not truly Malay.

The story does, while offering detailed discussions of the political realities, pause to give us the crucial numbers on who is who in this increasingly tense nation.

The tensions are shaking a multiethnic, multiracial state that has tried to maintain harmony among its citizens: mostly Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population, and minority Chinese and Indians, who mostly practice Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. About 9 percent of Malaysia’s population of 28 million people are Christians, most of them Chinese or Indian. Analysts say this is the first outright confrontation between Muslims and Christians. …

The line between race and religion is blurred in a country where the Constitution equates Muslim and Malay identities, said Jacqueline Ann Surin, editor of The Nut Graph, an analytical Malaysian news site.

“Malaysia is peculiar in that we have race-based politics and over the past decade or so we have seen an escalation of this notion that Malay Malaysians are superior,” she said.

What the story never does is give the reader any clue as to how the word “Allah” is used in worship or in religious education by different flocks of Christians and others who use the word “God.” What does this law require people to do, insert the English word “God” into texts written in Arabic or Malay? Could we have at least one practical example of what is at stake here? Is it illegal to carry a Bible containing the proper “Allaah” language?

I have more questions. Is this an issue in Catholic rites performed in Malay? Does it affect any Orthodox Christians who worship in Arabic or Malay? Is this violence targeting churches that are especially evangelistic? How many Protestants are in Malaysia? What about other religious groups that use God language?

Once again, the story does a fine job of handling the political details, but there is more to this story than politics. What are the details on the ground, in terms of how this affects the actual religious groups whose sanctuaries are being burned? How does the current law affect their lives? Are they rebelling against it in their pews and at their altars? How?

Just asking. This story is not going away.

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Mary Daly: R.I.P.

MaryDalyMary Daly, who died Sunday Jan. 3 at age 81, was “a Positively Revolting Hag.” At least that’s what she called herself on the back cover of her 1987 book, Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, which defined “hag” as: “a Witch, Fury, Harpy who haunts the Hedges/Boundaries of patriarchy, frightening fools and summoning Weird Wandering Women into the Wild.”

Daly, who earned three doctorates in theology and philosophy, also referred to herself as a “radical lesbian feminist,” and her radicalism was revealed in both her ideas and her actions, as we can see in the contrasting openings of obituaries that appeared in The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

The Globe began with Daly’s ideas:

Fiercely and playfully — often at the same time — Mary Daly used words to challenge the basic precepts of the Catholic Church and Boston College, where she was on the faculty for more than 30 years.

Dr. Daly emerged as a major voice in the burgeoning women’s movement with her first book, “The Church and the Second Sex,” published in 1968, and “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation,” which appeared five years later. That accomplishment was viewed, then and now, as all the more significant because she wrote and taught at a Jesuit college.

“She was a great trained philosopher, theologian, and poet, and she used all of those tools to demolish patriarchy — or any idea that domination is natural — in its most defended place, which is religion,” said Gloria Steinem.

The Times began with one of her most controversial actions:

Mary Daly, a prominent feminist theologian who made worldwide headlines a decade ago after she retired from Boston College rather than admit men to some of her classes, died on Sunday in Gardner, Mass.

Both obits did a good job of placing Daly’s writing in the context of contemporary feminism (both quoted Robin Morgan, a former editor of Ms. Magazine). And both praised her unique approach to language.

Only The Globe quoted theologians, but these experts don’t really help readers grasp Daly’s theology, which evolved throughout her life. The theologians’ comments have that vague, eulogistic quality that obscures as they summarize.

Daly’s journey took her from being a practicing Catholic to describing herself as “postchristian” (she didn’t capitalize the “C”) to embracing a more non-doctrinal spirituality that, to some, sounded increasingly New Age.

She clearly rejected anything that might be labeled the “faith of our fathers” (all fathers were assumed to be fixtures of the “Cockocratic State”). And she boldly embodied the “Courage to Leave” (“virtue enabling women to depart from all patriarchal religions and other hopeless institutions”).

But readers of these obituaries don’t know precisely what she believed at the end?

In life Daly was a restless thinker and agitator. Now, may she rest in peace as she seeks to journey to the “Otherworld” (“Realms of Metamorphosis, true Homeland of all Hags, Crones, Furies, Furries, and their Friends…the Real World.”)

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In Philly: Sunrise, sunset, sunrise …

andrewsAnyone who has, for the past 20 years or so, followed the joys and sorrows of Eastern Orthodoxy in the United States knows that at least two important trends can be seen, all at the same time.

The story that has received the most media attention is the rise of the “evangelical Orthodox” and others who are converting into this ancient faith. I have been part of that story, of course, on both sides of the notebook. This is a story of the slow growth of an American expression of Orthodoxy, a process both painful and encouraging.

The other trend, however, is linked to the struggles of many — but not all — Orthodox parishes in the United States that are defined, for the most part, in terms of ethnicity and their ties to the “old country,” whatever that old country might be. This story has received little media attention.

But if you want to start somewhere to understand this second, painful, trend — click here, sit down and read. This will take you to a news feature in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the struggles of several Eastern Christian churches, not all of them Orthodox, in the old, hip, resurgent neighborhood known as Northern Liberties. The writing by David O’Reilly is quite good and I only have one major complaint about the reporting, which I will mention later. You must read the whole story.

Let it sink in, in all of its sadness. Here’s a crucial chunk of this long feature, near the top:

The ages-old glow of Christendom’s most elaborate, enigmatic liturgy no longer is a guiding light for the community. But inside St. Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, beneath four blue onion domes, the sanctuary is as luminous as the day it opened in 1902, if not nearly as brimful of youth and hope.

The Rev. Mark Shinn, bearded and gold-caped, appears through the “royal door” before the altar, an ornate chalice in each hand. Murmuring a prayer, he raises the goblets toward the worshipers, who bow and make the sign of the cross under the wide-eyed gaze of saintly icons. In a gesture of humility, some sweep their fingertips across the oak floor. A few prostrate themselves to kiss it.

They do not retake their seats. There aren’t any. The congregants stand for a candlelit service lasting at least two hours and celebrated almost wholly in Old Church Slavonic, an archaic Eastern European tongue.

On a typical Sunday, about 80 people attend. For that, the archpriest is grateful.

“We keep no rolls and collect no dues,” Shinn said. “If you come, you’re a member.”

If you come.

The neighborhood used to be the safe, transforming landing place for immigrants. Now it is emerging as the spiritual home of young urbanites who define themselves as, yes, “spiritual,” but not “religious.” Who wants to go to church, let alone one in an ancient tongue? This is life in the post-denominational, post-doctrinal world. The only creed is that there are no creeds, unless they focus on the environment or other worthwhile causes.

One pastor sadly quips, “We’d probably do better if we had a doggy day care.”

O’Reilly does a stunning job of painting the historic context for what is happening now, flashing back into the good old days when the churches were full and pastors knew that their mission was to provide a home to those who were settling so far from home.

So what is missing?

OrthodoxCandlesWhat is missing is the broader picture of what is happening in Orthodoxy elsewhere in greater Philadelphia, in areas where multi-ethnic and pan-Orthodox parishes are greeting newcomers with open arms, when, of course, the newcomers come seeking a place to practice the faith of Eastern Orthodoxy.

There is one nod to small changes in a few of the Northern Liberties parishes. At least two Russian heritage churches switched to English liturgies and some new members arrived. However, the older members of the parish are not sure that they want to allow these newcomers to threaten what one pastor calls “their authority, their prestige.”

It’s a sad story, but an important story. A few years ago, I was invited to speak to a national assembly of Orthodox laypeople on this topic — “What do the converts want?” Here is one pivotal part of my address, which may or may not be linked to what is happening in this one corner of Philadelphia.

America is all about assimilation. But I need to stress that Orthodox believers face two different forms of assimilation. One asks them to assimilate into America at the level of culture and language. The other tempts them to assimilate on the level of doctrine and practice.

I believe that Orthodox Christians have divided into two different camps, whether this choice is conscious or unconscious. In many parishes, we see people who are struggling to assimilate into American culture, but don’t know what parts to accept. They are struggling to retain their language and to some extent their art. But on the level of faith and practice, they have already assimilated and their children have as well. You walk into their homes and you see little or no iconography. Yet when you walk into their church, they are not speaking English.

It’s an interesting mix of what they’ve given up and what they’ve chosen to cling to. As an Orthodox priest of an ethnic parish once told me: “Most of the members of my congregation have never been to confession in their lives. They have no idea that this even exists as a part of our church. They see no connection between confession and the life of our parish and the sacramental reality of our parish.”

So, let me offer some sad, but sincere, applause for O’Reilly and the team that produced this deep, vivid story. I hope they explore some other sanctuaries, looking for the other side of the Orthodox equation here in the “new country.”

Top photo: From the “Weekend in Philadephia” page at Cgunson.com.

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Another dangerous Christmas in Iraq

ChristmasParadeInIraqTimes continue to be tough for Christians who live and who attempt to worship in Iraq. As you would expect, several mainstream news outlets used Christmas as a hook for updated reports about this issue, which touches at the heart of human-rights concerns about the plight of religious minorities in Iraq.

How tough did things get this Christmas? Here’s the top of a Washington Post report on the subject:

Christians in Iraq are preparing for a muted holiday season, with one bishop in the southern city of Basra calling for a ban on public festivities while other congregations across the country have canceled services and cautioned worshipers to keep their celebrations private.

The Chaldean bishop of Basra, Imad al-Banna, is asking Christians “not to display their joy, not to publicly celebrate the feast of Nativity” to avoid offending Iraq’s Shiite community, whose Ashura holiday falls two days after Christmas this year. According to Louis Sako, chief archbishop of Kirkuk for the Chaldean Christians, a Catholic sect that originated in Iraq, none of the northern archdiocese’s nine churches has scheduled a Christmas Mass this year.

“This is the first time we have had to cancel our celebrations,” he said.

Conditions continue to worsen for the Christian minority there and the report has the sad numbers to illustrate that. Here’s a sample:

Hundreds of thousands of Christians remain in Iraq, but many live in isolated enclaves, according to church officials. … (The) Chaldean archbishop, said that 10,000 Christians have fled Kirkuk in the past three months, and church officials in Basra have reported that the Christian community there has halved to about 2,500 people because of militia attacks.

The United Nations reported over the summer that 12,000 Christians had left Mosul and recently called for a “redoubling of efforts” to protect the besieged minority. Many Christian families have sought refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, where church services and festivities are held with no apparent security problems.

You can read many of the same facts in this Los Angeles Times report, as well, which includes details from Dec. 25th events.

The news is especially bleak since there were signs of hope not that long ago. Thus, we read:

Only months ago, there was optimism that Iraq might be on the verge of stability, but after weeks of rising bloodshed, many churches closed their doors … or hosted few guests for a late-afternoon Christmas Eve Mass.

Most Christians fled Baghdad in 2006 and ’07 at the height of the sectarian violence when Islamic militants branded them U.S. collaborators, attacked their churches and gave them an ultimatum to either convert to Islam or pay a religious tax. A year ago, some returned triumphantly to their neighborhoods. But now they again are alarmed by the security situation in the city and nervous about drawing attention to themselves.

I really only have one concern about these reports, which are gripping — but incomplete.

To see what I am talking about, click here.

You would think, if you read the Christmas news reports, that all Christians in Iraq are in Eastern Catholic churches linked to Rome, such as the Chaldeans. Let me state right up front that it is understandable that these larger groups, especially those with ties to the West, would dominate reports in Western media.

Still, are there no Protestants in Iraq? There used to be a few. What about the Orthodox Christians, in a number of different Eastern and even Oriental traditions? There are Orthodox Christians in the Middle East (think Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, for example) who continue to celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, according to the ancient Julian calendar. Are they being forced to close their doors this year, as well?

Again, I understand that the Chaldeans are the dominant church. Still, I think it would have been good to include some material on how the current crisis is affecting other bodies. Are some being hurt worse than others?

Just asking. Yes, as an Orthodox Christian I admit that I am sensitive on this issue, in large part because of the years I spent worshiping in an overwhelmingly Arab parish in South Florida. All of the Christians in the Middle East feel abandoned and the realities on the ground are quite complex and, yes, they deserve coverage.

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