Faithful GetReligion readers may have noticed two of my obvious biases. First of all, I am really intereted in news coverage of religion trends and events. Surprise. Second, I am active in an Orthodox Christian parish. Thus, I am very interested in news coverage of Eastern Orthodoxy. Most of us are driven to find news about the topics that affect us directly. So I have learned some of the places that one goes on the World Wide Web to find news and commentary -- independent of the church-sponsored sites -- about Orthodoxy.
Some of these sites are fairly predictable, such as the Orthodoxy pages at Beliefnet, or a specialty page such as Orthodoxy Today. Other sources are not quite as obvious, such as the ongoing coverage offered by the Protestant/Anglican news crew at Christianity Today (nice pair of stories up at the moment, in fact) and the consistently excellent work of Ann Rodgers, the veteran religion-beat specialist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But today I am writing to ask readers a question that is indirectly related to this topic. Does anyone know of a place on the World Wide Web to link to the work of UPI religious affairs specialist Uwe Siemon-Netto? I realize that UPI exists in a kind of journalistic purgatory these days. But week after week, this veteran European writer ships out religion news stories and commentaries (I receive them on his own private listserv) on topics that are off the beaten path and, thus, interesting. His brand of conservatism is certainly hard to label in the context of North American religion.
A recent column is a fine illustration, focusing on the decision by Pope John Paul II to return to the "Our Lady of Kazan" icon to the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a symbolic gesture. But it is a very powerful symbol.
Here is a major chunk of Siemon-Netto's story.
Russian armies used to carry the "Kazanskaya," as Russians call this 13th-century work of art, into battle in centuries past. It had a reputation of being a protector of their motherland. The pope had originally intended to personally deliver the treasured icon to Kazan and hand it to Alexei II, patriarch of All Russia. But his flailing health and a veto from Alexei II against a papal visit to his realm forced a change of plans.
Still, news that the pontiff will give back "Our Lady of Kazan" as an unconditional gesture of reconciliation is considered highly indicative of the current state of ecumenism, Vatican sources say. It is seen as further evidence that despite Alexei's intransigence, John Paul has given greater urgency to unity with Orthodoxy than with Western Protestantism.
The latter's "tendency to succumb to secular fads has become so irritating that our relations cooled considerably," a Catholic ecumenical officer in Germany told United Press International.
The Kazan icon hangs across from the pope's desk in his Vatican apartment. It had disappeared from Russia in 1918 shortly after the Bolshevik revolution and turned up in North America, where it was bought by a Catholic organization called Blue Army of Our Lady in Fatima.
The image was to be handed back when Russia converted, a development the Virgin Mary is said to have prophesied in 1917 during an apparition in Fatima, Portugal, which is now a Marian shrine. Catholic conservatives strongly object to the icon's return at this point, saying that Russia had not converted.
But the pope is serious about making some kind of breakthrough with Eastern Orthodoxy on his watch. This makes people uncomfortable in some Roman circles and, truth be told, in many Orthodox circles as well. But it is certainly a major news story -- affecting the oldest and largest bodies in Christendom. As Siemon-Netto says, it is hard to ignore what the pope calls his campaign to "make Christianity breathe again with both lungs."
This UPI column goes on to cover a wave of other Orthodox and Catholic issues. I wish I could provide a link to it -- somewhere, anywhere. It is interesting to note that the best current story on this topic found elsewhere is online at Al-Jazeera. I guess that news team knows a story when it sees it.