Concerning that gathering called by the Ecumenical Patriarch

“Journalism is the first rough draft of history,” according to a famous quote by publisher Philip Graham of the Washington Post. If so, shouldn’t journalists have a sense of history? Especially when the history stretches over centuries?

Like when Reuters reports on a recent conference of Orthodox patriarchs. It starts out OK, then degrades quickly:

Patriarchs of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians ended a rare summit in Istanbul on Sunday calling for a peaceful end to the crisis in Ukraine and denouncing violence driving Christians out of the Middle East.

Twelve heads of autonomous Orthodox churches, the second-largest family of Christian churches, also agreed to hold a summit of bishops, or ecumenical council, in 2016, which will be the first in over 1,200 years.

Here’s where to hit the “pause” button.

Are we talking about an “ecumenical council” or an Ecumenical Council, as in a meeting of the leaders of the ancient patriarchates called by the Ecumenical Patriarch? In this case, the upper-case letters really matter.

Either way, this is big news.

But watch how ya throw that term around, buddy. An ecumenical council — no big E, no big C — would be one called by the leaders of all faith groups to settle church-wide matters. And as Theopedia shows, only seven councils — the last in the year 787 — have been honored by Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism alike. Of course, those events took place before the Great Schism of 1054.

Adds the site:

Many Protestants (especially those belonging to the magisterial traditions, such as Lutheranism and Anglicanism) accept the teachings of the first seven councils, but do not ascribe to the councils themselves the same authority as Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox do. Supporters of the councils contend that they did not create new doctrines but merely elucidated doctrines already in Scripture that had been misinterpreted by heretics. The primary value of these early ecumenical councils is their documentation of the early consensus of doctrines regarding the nature of Christ and the Godhead.

Nor does the roster for the upcoming meeting include Oriental Orthodox churches, which accept only the first three “ecumenical” councils. The Oriental Orthodox include a couple of newsmakers, the Copts of Egypt and the Armenians. Other notables include the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox in east Africa, and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in India.

What’s the deal? Well, none of these churches are currently in communion with the Eastern Orthodox churches (although talks with the Copts are getting interesting) and the Ecumenical Patriarch. Thus, they are not being invited to this gathering of the Eastern Orthodox bodies that are in communion with one another. It would help if the story explained some of these differences.

All told, that’s a lot of Christians to overlook, when it comes to the information in this story. There are some holes.

Dare I add a little finger-waggling on the need to hire religion writers who actually know something about religion?

To be fair, this Reuters story gets a lot right.

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‘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):

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