If you paid close attention to all of the mainstream coverage of the fighting between Russia and Georgia, you may have noticed that the stories ignored a crucial fact about these two nations. Yes, there was a ghost in there. To the credit of the New York Times -- this is why we need major newspapers with foreign resources -- it finally plugged that hole in the soul. I'm sorry that this post is coming several days late, but your GetReligionistas have been caught up in, you know, Hurricane Sarah.
Here's the plain, but solid, lede, offering information that all Orthodox Christians know, but was missing from the headlines:
MOSCOW -- While the leaders of Russia and Georgia exchange recriminations, Christians in the two nations are worrying about the damage that the bitter conflict has inflicted on the cherished unity of the Orthodox Church.
More than 100 million Russians affirm the Orthodox faith, making up the largest Orthodox Church in Christendom. The post-Soviet Russian government has re-embraced Orthodoxy as the national faith. ...
Georgia is equally identified with its Orthodox Church. But the supposedly unthinkable prospect of two Orthodox nations at war with each other failed to deter either Russia or Georgia from armed conflict in August.
The two churches expressed dismay. The patriarchs of both the Russian and Georgian Orthodox Churches issued immediate appeals for peace. The strong urgings were all the more striking for the Russian patriarch, Aleksy II, who rarely differs publicly with the Kremlin.
And, yes, there is a story there.
In that part of the world, it is news when religious leaders stand up to their governments, in whatever way they can. That has happened at the top of the Orthodox church leadership in Serbia (and in other religious hierarches in that region, too).
It's pain to bullets flying, but it does offer moral clarity to hear religious leaders quoted as saying:
"Today, blood is being shed and people are perishing in South Ossetia, and my heart deeply grieves over it," Patriarch Aleksy said in a statement on Aug. 8 as the fighting raged. "Orthodox Christians are among those who have raised their hands against each other. Orthodox peoples called by the Lord to live in fraternity and love are in conflict."
Two days later, in a sermon in Tbilisi, Patriarch Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church said that "one thing concerns us very deeply -- that Orthodox Russians are bombing Orthodox Georgians." According to the church's Web site, he added: "This is an unprecedented act of relations between our countries. Reinforce your prayer and God will save Georgia."
Read on. This is really a background feature, as opposed to a news story. Much of the information is sad. There are times when faith appeals do not work. At the very least, these events have to knock a hole or two in all of those mainstream media reports that Vladimir Putin is a devout churchman of some kind.
Orthodox readers will flinch when they read parts of this report and differ with some of the conclusions drawn from the facts presented. But this is a crucial part of the clash between Russia and Georgia. I hope that the Times continues to pursue this angle.
And that icon? If you know anything about Georgia, then you know about St. Nina, Equal of the Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia. St. Nina, pray for Georgia and Russia.