Metropolitan Obama?

th liturgy11Every now and then, it is important to offer GetReligion readers who are not journalists a glimpse inside the workings of daily journalism. For example, readers may have noticed that your GetReligionistas -- as folks who are working or have worked in the mainstream -- rarely attempt to call names when we point out errors or what we believe are weaknesses in stories.

Why not blame the reporter or reporters whose names are in the byline? Well, anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows that the story that appears in print is often not the story that the reporter turned in or that, at the very least, the story was cut drastically or the reporter was not given enough space to do a solid job covering the territory that the story would have needed to cover in order to be balanced and complete. Journalism is almost always a team sport.

Anyway, I bring this up because some readers have sent in the URL of a recent Washington Times report about the election of Metropolitan Jonah, the new leader of the Orthodox Church in America. Some people thought that the headline was a bit much.

Since the new metropolitan will soon be enthroned in the OCA cathedral here in Washington, D.C., this is kind of a local story. I still wonder if journalists in Dallas and Fort Worth realize that this is a major local story there, too, but nevermind. That headline said:

Orthodox leader seizes own 'Obama moment'

Now, it really helps to know that reporters hardly ever, ever write their own headlines. You can see how some readers may have thought that comparing the leader of a highly traditional ancient faith with a liberal Democrat headed into the White House was, well, a bit too cute.

However, if you read the story you'll note that the Obama image was being applied to the election itself, not to the man. Tricky. Here's the lede:

They already are calling him "His Beatitude," and comparing him to Barack Obama.

In less than a month, Metropolitan Jonah, 49, will be enthroned as the leader of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the nation's second-largest branch of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Some have termed Metropolitan Jonah's election an "Obama moment" because of perceived parallels between him and the U.S. president-elect: a much younger man with little experience shaking up a corrupt status quo by coming from outside the establishment via an electrifying speech.

Maybe the headline writers thought they needed an election metaphor on A1 in story here inside the DC Beltway? After all, the body of Julia Duin's story is dedicated to new material, drawn from an interview with the new metropolitan.

In particular, Orthodox readers will be interested in the material near the end of the report which focuses on why this monk made the decision to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy -- he was raised as an Episcopalian -- in the first place.

He was persuaded to join Orthodoxy through the reading of one book: "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church" by Vladimir Lossky.

After attending St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary on Long Island, he traveled to Russia in 1993 at the age of 33 for a year to think through his future and decide whether to marry his girlfriend. If an Orthodox candidate for the priesthood wishes to marry, he must do so before ordination. Orthodox monks cannot marry at all. ...

"I wanted some resolution to my dilemma, but I didn't want to go according to my own will," the new metropolitan remembers. "The whole spiritual life is built on obedience, respect and trust in love to your spiritual elder."

After several months at the Valaam Monastery, on a lake island north of St. Petersburg, he was introduced to a venerable Orthodox elder known as Kyrill.

"So I asked the old man what should I do," Metropolitan Jonah said. "Should I get married or should I become a monk? He said, 'I know, I know.' He blessed me and said, 'Become a priest-monk.'"

A rather radical form of career counseling, but there you have it. Interesting reading, if you wanted a glimpse into the process that leads a young American into a monastery and then on into a leadership role that seemed to come out of nowhere.

PHOTO: OCA photo from the new metropolitan's first Divine Liturgy after his election.

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