Frederica Mathewes-Green

Massacre on Ash Wednesday? Now, Orthodox believers shot leaving Forgiveness Vespers

Massacre on Ash Wednesday? Now, Orthodox believers shot leaving Forgiveness Vespers

A few days ago, I expressed surprise that more mainstream journalists didn't recognize the poignant ties between the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the ancient Western Christian traditions linked to Ash Wednesday.

The bottom line: How many of the dead and wounded had, earlier that day, attended rites in which a priest marked their foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross? This was done, of course, to remind them of their mortality as they began the great spiritual journey through Lent to Easter. Thus, priest say: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

How many of those caught up in the massacre had planned to go to Ash Wednesday services in the hours after school dismissed? Did reporters attend any of those services that evening?

I was assuming, of course, that an ordinary local South Florida newsroom -- or national-level newsrooms -- would include a few Catholics, Episcopalians or Lutherans who would immediately recognize the timing of this tragedy.

A few did. Many more did not.

Now we have a similar Lent-related story from the other side of the world. Here is the top of a typical report, at FoxNews.com:

Five women were killed and several others were injured after a gunman opened fire with a hunting rifle on people leaving a church service in Russia's Dagestan region on Sunday, Russian media outlets reported.
The shooting took place outside a church in Kizlyar, a town of about 50,000 people on the border with Chechnya. ... The gunman was shot dead by police responding to the scene, a law enforcement source told the Interfax news agency. According to Interfax, the gunman has been identified as a local man in his early 20s.

The timing? Well, the report noted that this was an evening service and:

Parishioners were at the church celebrating the end of the Russian festival of Maslenitsa, a holiday which marks the start of Lent for Russian Orthodox Christians, according to RT.

An Orthodox Christian reader sent me this item, which I read within minutes of walking in the door after services at St. Anne Orthodox Parish here in Oak Ridge, Tenn. For the reader, this story raised an obvious, powerful question: Did these people die immediately after taking part in Forgiveness Vespers?

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Concerning that drive-by Washington Post story about Rod Dreher and 'The Benedict Option'

Concerning that drive-by Washington Post story about Rod Dreher and 'The Benedict Option'

If you care about issues of religious faith and public life, then you probably know that there has been a tsunami of writing in the past year (here's a current Google News search) about Rod Dreher and his bestseller "The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation."

As you would expect, there has been way more argument and commentary than news coverage focusing on what Dreher is saying and why he is saying it. That's the age we live in. Opinion is cheap and quick. Information is expensive and takes time.

During this media storm, I have come up with a quick test to determine whether I think a critic or journalist has read Dreher's book: Does the review-story-essay discuss Vaclav Havel? Why is that so important? Read the book and find out. Hint: It has something to do with the mantra among some critics that Rod wants orthodox believers in ancient faiths to flee to the hills, abandoning cities, public life, core institutions and culture.

I have avoiding writing about all of this at GetReligion for a simple reason: It's hard to critique coverage of someone who has been a good friend for more than two decades. I mean, I know Rod's strengths and weaknesses and, trust me, he knows mine. We share many friends and I was one of his online associates who watched the Benedict Option material develop through the years.

So why discuss the new Washington Post Style section piece? That's the one with this rather snarky headline: "Rod Dreher is the combative, oversharing blogger who speaks for today’s beleaguered Christians." Well, I have two reasons.

First, while this article passes the Vaclav Havel test (barely), there is little evidence that reporter Karen Heller has read "The Benedict Option" or is interested in its thesis. Instead, this feature is kind of a new old New Journalism thing about her personal reaction to Dreher. There are glimpses of Rod in this piece, but they are edited and warped to fit her view of the man.

Second, you can get a look behind the curtain on this journalism process because another writer -- Frederica Mathewes-Green -- has posted reactions to how her views of Rod were handled in the Post piece.

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Baltimore Sun gets the little picture: Convert-era Orthodoxy comes to local Greek parish

Baltimore Sun gets the little picture: Convert-era Orthodoxy comes to local Greek parish

More than 30 years ago, there was a big story that rocked the rather small and obscure world of Eastern Orthodox Christianity here in the United States.

That was when a flock of evangelicals -- led by a former Campus Crusade leader, the late Father Peter Gillquist -- were embraced by the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Church. Regular GetReligion readers know my own family later joined that number, through a close friendship with another leader in that flock, the late Father Gordon Walker of Franklin, Tenn.

The mainstream press gave the "evangelical Orthodox" story a modest amount of ink at the time. Like I said, it was an important story in a small, but growing, flock. The key was that it was a sign of things to come for the faithful in the world's second-largest Christian communion.

Years before I converted, I wrote a column about the growth of an American expression of this ancient faith, built on an interview with the late Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was born in Turkey, but by the end of his life he could see ripples of change in America. The converts were coming, whether some Orthodox leaders wanted them or not.

"I cannot visualize what an American Orthodoxy would look like. ... But I believe that it will exist. I know that it must be born," said Iakovos. ...
"I do know this for sure. The essential elements of the Orthodox tradition will have to remain at the heart of whatever grows in this land. The heart has to remain the same, or it will not touch peoples' souls. It will not be truly Orthodox. I know that this will happen here, but I do not know when it will happen or how."

That was 1992. Why bring this up now? Well, the Baltimore Sun recently published a lengthy and admirable feature about a local development in this larger national story. This piece offered an in-depth look at the story of a former Southern Baptist (from East Tennessee, of all places) who has found his way into the Greek Orthodox priesthood.

To be blunt, there is only one problem with this story: It never really places this one priest in the context of this larger, 30-year-old trend in Eastern Orthodoxy. It also failed to note the degree to which this trend had already had a big impact in Baltimore, especially as symbolized by one of America's best-known "convert friendly" parishes.

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Did Charlotte Observer miss key questions linked to Hank Hanegraaff's move to Orthodoxy? (updated)

Did Charlotte Observer miss key questions linked to Hank Hanegraaff's move to Orthodoxy? (updated)

Controversy and questions have dogged Hendrik "Hank" Hanegraaff since at least 1989, when he announced, at funeral services for Christian Research Institute founder Walter R. Martin (who originated the "Bible Answer Man" radio program now hosted by Hanegraaff), that Martin had designated him as Martin's successor.

Martin's family later disputed that claim, as Jill Martin Rische, the late apologist's daughter, has documented on her own apologetics website.

People like to argue about the work of outspoken apologists. So it's no surprise that Hanegraaff's latest move -- from an unspecified evangelical Christian affiliation to being received as a member of the Orthodox Church -- would garner media attention and controversy. After his conversion into an ancient, non-Protestant branch of the Christian faith, Hanegraaff's radio program has lost a significant number of radio stations, The Charlotte Observer reports:

On Palm Sunday, [Hanegraaff] and wife Kathy and two of their 12 children were “chrismated,” or confirmed, at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in southeast Charlotte. During the sacramental rite, a priest anointed them with oil and invoked the Holy Spirit.
And then ...
A photo of the April ceremony started popping up on evangelical news sites. Within a week, the “Bible Answer Man” had lost many of his listeners.
His sin in their eyes: Converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, the world’s second largest Christian denomination and one steeped in rituals, icons and mysticism – aspects of faith that seem foreign to many evangelical Protestants. Instead of tradition, they look to the Bible as the only infallible guide and the final authority on matters of Christian faith and practice.
As the news about Hanegraaff spread on social media and the Internet, between 100 and 150 radio stations dropped his nationally syndicated show from their daily lineups.
“That picture of Hank kneeling before a Greek Orthodox priest -- that was hard for many evangelicals to see,” said Mike Carbone, chief operating officer at The Truth Network, which booted the “Bible Answer Man” show from six of its stations, including those in Charlotte and Raleigh. “Hank is as likable a guy as you’ll find, but we were not able to go where he was going.”

Of course, the Bible Answer Man is not kneeling before a priest, although priests are praying over these converts. He is kneeling before the altar of the church, with icons of Jesus Christ and the Holy Apostles.

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Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

By now there is a good chance that many of you have read the story of the pregnant teen who got shamed by her conservative Christian school in rural Maryland and how even fellow Christians are lambasting said school for its nasty behavior.

Heritage Academy is a place that lots of people like to hate: Merciless and judgmental when it came to one of their own students getting pregnant in her senior year, not to mention the school’s decision to use her as an example.

Yet, were all the leads followed on this story? Here’s how the New York Times handled it:

BOONSBORO, Md. -- Maddi Runkles has never been a disciplinary problem.
She has a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy, the small private Christian school she attends; played on the soccer team; and served as president of the student council. But when her fellow seniors don blue caps and gowns at graduation early next month, Ms. Runkles, 18, will not be among them.
The reason? She is pregnant.
The decision by school officials to bar Ms. Runkles from “walking” at graduation — and to remove her from her student council position — would have remained private, but for her family’s decision to seek help from Students for Life. The anti-abortion group, which took her to a recent rally in Washington, argues that she should be lauded, not punished, for her decision to keep her baby.

That is interesting. The family knew how the court of public opinion would rule on this, so took the plunge.

Ms. Runkles’s story sheds light on a delicate issue: how Christian schools, which advocate abstinence until marriage, treat pregnant teenagers.

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Baltimore Sun attempts to navigate complicated world of Orthodox iconography

Baltimore Sun attempts to navigate complicated world of Orthodox iconography

What we have here is a beautiful little feature story about a subject that is, literally, close to the heart and soul of any Orthodox Christian -- icons. The story ran in The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that landed in my front yard for a decade, which means that it's about an Orthodox congregation that I have actually visited.

Iconography is a complicated subject on several levels, both in terms of the theology, the history and the craft itself. This story gets so many details right that I hesitate to note an error or, maybe, two -- one of mathematics (I think) and the other is, well, just a strange hole that would have been easy to fill.

First things first: Here is the overture.

As  Dionysios Bouloubassis picks up his paint brush at Saint Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church early one morning, the large canvas before him is blank but for the outlines of an angel he has sketched in pencil.
Swirling on reddish-brown pigment, he brings its wings to life. He fleshes out a Bible, then two hands to hold it. By nightfall, the cherub seems alive, its eyes gazing down from heaven.
The angel, a figure from the Book of Revelation, is one of 16 that Bouloubassis, a master iconographer from Greece, plans to paint and affix to the 60-foot dome inside Saint Mary, part of a years-long project in art and worship the Hunt Valley congregation launched in 2013.

So far so good. However, the very next paragraph contains a crucial error of history.

If all goes as planned, Bouloubassis will leave the interior of the year-old church covered in icons -- mural-sized renderings of Christ, the saints, angels and other religious images that have been part of the Orthodox Christian worship tradition for more than 1,200 years.

Where did that reference to 1,200 years come from?

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Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

Wait a minute, NPR: Catholics are the only Christians who seek the help of the saints?

The other day I received a note from a GetReligion reader who clearly knows some theology.

The email concerned a passage in a National Public Radio story about St. Teresa of Kolkata that our reader knew, since I am an Eastern Orthodox layman, would punch my buttons. The reader was right. There is a good chance that NPR producers know little or nothing about Orthodox Christianity. Hold that thought.

The key to this case study is a very, very fine point of theology that is going to be hard to explain. It's possible that the story may have just barely missed the mark. However, it's more likely that it contains a spew-your-caffeinated beverage error that needs to be corrected.

Let's carefully tip-toe into this minefield. The passage in question focuses on the miracles, documented by church officials, that led to the canonization of the famous Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

A key quote comes from Bishop Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Read carefully and, well, pay attention to details about theology and church history:

Humanitarian work alone, however, is not sufficient for canonization in the Catholic Church. Normally, a candidate must be associated with at least two miracles. The idea is that a person worthy of sainthood must demonstrably be in heaven, actually interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing.

Let me pause and note the presence of the word "interceding."

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