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?