That cross in Kiev: What George Conger said, once again

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Simply stated, it is one of the most haunting Associated Press photographs that I have seen in my journalism career.

The caption under the photo, as it ran with a recent New York Times report, says:

Orthodox priests pray as they stand between protesters and the police in Kiev early Friday.

Actually, the photo (click here to see it, since it is copyrighted) appears to show an Orthodox priest and a monk and, perhaps, two laymen. One of the men — it’s hard to see which one, in the dramatic amber lighting — is holding a processional cross.

In the background there is a long row of police, protected behind a wall of riot shields. Apparently the priests are facing a sea of protesters, silently pleading for non-violence.

Who are the priests? What are they doing there? What is their role in this dramatic standoff? Most importantly, in the context of the Ukrainian disputes, which church do they represent — the Orthodox body aligned with Russia, the one loyal to Ukraine or the Eastern-Rite Catholic church loyal to Rome, and more in alignment with Ukraine? Is anyone in this photo aligned with President Viktor F. Yanukovych?

Or consider this: Is there any chance that this brave quartet of men includes representatives of one or more camps in this conflict?

As our own George Conger recently wrote, in a post that was way out front on this angle in this story that, day after day, continues to make headlines around the world:

Religion ghosts haunt the stories out of Kiev … but the Western press has yet to hear their shrieks.

The events unfolding across the Ukraine — protests against the government’s move away from Europe towards Russia — are not faith stories as defined by editorial desks in London and New York, but the clash of nationalism and politics in Eastern Europe cannot be understood without reference to religion.

So what did this particular Times story have to say about the religion angle in the unfolding drama, the story behind that dramatic photo of the priests and their cross?

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Two items of GetReligion biz (prayers for George, please)

Let me share two items with readers this weekend, both of a personal nature.

The first is personal, in that one of your GetReligionistas has been missing for a few days and his readers need to know why. Father George Conger recently had some serious spinal surgery and, while it went well, this is not the kind of thing that one recovers from quickly. He faces some pretty serious rehabilitation and it may be some time before he is his usual erudite, spunky self near a keyboard and a mouse.

So, those of you who feel comfortable with the word “prayer,” please offer a few invocations on our brother’s behalf. He has enough high-church blood in him to appreciate a few requests for the heroic prayers of St. George, I would think.

We will keep you posted, but know that this is not the kind of situation that you rush. Until then, your GetReligionistas will be working shorthanded (we’ve been down one scribe after the loss of Sarah Pulliam Bailey, as it was) for a while. So expect some days when there are only two posts, especially since I will be traveling for about a week, including a visit to New York City to lead a few seminars at this year’s spring College Media Convention.

Also, thank you for those who wrote kind notes appreciating my recent rather personal post about the coverage of the death of the great pianist (and Texas Baptist) Van Cliburn, one of my classical music heroes as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid growing up in East Texas.

Thus, I thought I would share a big chunk of reflection on the pianist, published in The Washington Post Style section. It concerns an encounter with Cliburn in the late 1950s, when the father of writer Patricia Dane Rogers was dying of cancer in the family’s New York apartment. Her parents met the pianist at their doctor’s office soon after his world-shaking victory in the international Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, which made him one of the most famous musicians in the world.

Months later, when it was obvious that her father’s illness was terminal, Cliburn offered to come over and play for him.

Did they have a piano?

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