Pan-Orthodox Council

Got news? Will anyone cover that historic, and now shaky, Orthodox council in Crete?

Got news? Will anyone cover that historic, and now shaky, Orthodox council in Crete?

Every couple of centuries or so, the leaders of Christianity's ancient Orthodox churches get together to talk about issues of theology or church governance. It helps if everyone agrees that there is some kind of crisis that simply has to be addressed.

It also helps if everyone shows up. The whole point is for the church to speak as one body.

That's been rather complicated, you might say, since the Great East-West Schism of 1054. The ancient church of Rome has held its own great councils, after that ecclesiastical earthquake. The ancient churches of the East have not.

That's why it's rather important that, for 50 years, Orthodox leaders have been wrestling with the idea of a Pan-Orthodox Council. After a 1,000-year gap, there may some items of business to discuss. You think?

That council is now days away -- if it takes place. Several Orthodox churches have already pulled out or suggested that they plan to do so, for reasons that some might call "Byzantine." It's especially crucial that the ancient church of Antioch -- involved in a tussle with the symbolic, but now tiny and oppressed, church of Constantinople -- has called for a delay until painful problems can be resolved.

The meeting is supposed to happen in Crete. Why Crete? Because pretty much everyone agrees that it cannot, for myriad reasons, safely be held in Istanbul, in the allegedly secular state of Turkey.

It you were looking for a symbol of all of that, you might cite the issue of Ramadan prayers being broadcast from inside Hagia Sophia (click here for background), a once great Christian cathedral that is now a UNESCO historic site. For decades it has been considered neutral ground for Muslims and Christians, serving a massive cultural icon and museum.

Here's the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I discussed in this week's GetReligion podcast: Have you been hearing about any of this in news coverage here in America? Click here to tune that in.

So where would one need to go to find mainstream news coverage of this international story?

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Mirror-image news, again: Concerning those Ramadan prayers inside Hagia Sophia

Mirror-image news, again: Concerning those Ramadan prayers inside Hagia Sophia

It's time, once again, to take a mirror-image look at a story (click here for some earlier examples) that is in the news right now.

Well, it's sort of in the news. That's the whole point of this post.

Let's imagine that during a symbolic moment on the calendar -- perhaps a papal visit to Turkey, or the days leading up to a historic Pan-Orthodox Council -- a Christian leader entered the great Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and took out a prayer book and began chanting the ancient prayers of Great Vespers in Greek or even Arabic.

Turkish officials would be infuriated. Muslim leaders would be outraged. After all, this would violate agreements surrounding the status of this massive building -- once the greatest cathedral in Christendom, then a mosque after the fall of Constantinople -- as neutral territory, as a secular museum and a UNESCO world heritage site.

This would, in short, be a major news story and a threat to shatter Muslim-majority Turkey's status -- in the eyes of Europe, especially -- as a secular state that is dedicated to some protection for religious minorities.

Would this draw mainstream media coverage?

Now the mirror-image story, care of The Turkish Sun:

An angry war of words has broken out between Turkey and Greece after Athens protested a decision to allow a daily Quranic reading in İstanbul’s famous Hagia Sophia during Ramadan. The museum was for almost 1,000 years the biggest Greek Orthodox Christian church in the world.
The sahur, or pre-dawn meal, is to be broadcast each morning from the Hagia Sophia by Turkish national broadcaster TRT Diyanet along with daily readings from the Quran during the Islamic holy month, which began on Monday (June 6).
In one of the toughest diplomatic rebukes from Athens to Ankara in recent years, the Greek foreign ministry called the decision to allow the religious readings at the world heritage site, which is officially designated as a museum, “regressive”, “verging on bigotry” and “not compatible with modern, democratic and secular societies”.

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