As journalists plot their new year plans, note that The Economist’s “The World in 2016” year-end special leads off the international section with “the most important gathering during the summer of 2016.”
That isn’t the Rio Olympics in August but the Great and Holy Council of 336 Eastern Orthodox bishops at Istanbul in late June.
Not to dis all those talented, sweat-drenched pole vaulters and sprinters, but the British newsmagazine’s claim is solid, considering that the Orthodox number as many as 300 million (by the more extravagant claims) and that this could be their most decisive event since the last authoritative council in A.D. 787. At minimum, it should or could turn out to be Orthodoxy’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s celebrated Second Vatican Council in 1962-65.
If, that is, the council accomplishes anything important. And if it actually occurs at all. Can you say "Byzantine"? (As in the sixth definition found here.)
As the newsweekly observes, last-minute church feuds, or tensions in the host country of Turkey, could postpone the event, which has been discussed for more than half a century yet somehow could never take place. Might the meeting be moved elsewhere?
The scheduling of the gathering is a diplomatic triumph for the presiding host, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 75, who since 1991 has been the “first among equals” who head Orthodoxy’s 14 self-governing branches. The key challenge has always been gaining full cooperation from the mighty church of Russia, currently led by Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill.
The easy part will be the hierarchs’ anticipated declarations on social matters, perhaps poverty, marriage, religious freedom or the environment. There may be some tinkering with details of religious observance, but no alterations in doctrine. The hard part will be the reasons a council is so necessary -- establishing a coherent policy on improved relations with other Christians, and resolving intra-Orthodox rivalries over jurisdiction, especially in the United States and Ukraine.
A word about The Economist itself. Annual subscriptions are a pricey $160, the same as for the resurrected print Newsweek. Far cheaper is Time magazine, where the Religion Guy once toiled and to which he loyally subscribes.
Readers of the newsmags, of course, should be aware of their heavily interpretive and somewhat opinionated spin, as opposed to strict objectivity.
Despite the cost, The Economist is worthwhile for journalists due to thorough world affairs coverage and the British viewpoints in the United States section. To the Religion Guy, the occasional treatments of religion seem grumpy, especially toward enthusiastic or conservative Christians in the onetime American colonies.
Economist subscribers get a second year-ender, “Pocket World in Figures.” This little 255-page booklet tells you all sorts of things about the nations, for instance which have the most endangered species (Indonesia for mammals, the U.S. for fish, Ecuador for plants), highest unemployment (Namibia), worst “brain drain” (Myanmar), or best economic growth rate (Qatar, Macau).
Sketches of the nations include their religious makeups, based on Pew Research and government data. The most non-religious population is found in the Czech Republic (76.4 percent), followed by Estonia, Japan, China, South Korea (North Korea isn’t listed), Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Vietnam and Belgium.
Oddly, there’s a virtual tie between the religion-drenched United States (16.4 percent) and post-Communist Russia (16.2 percent).
Journalists: How do we comprehend this mixed bag?
IMAGE: Inside the Orthodox Basilica of St. George, at the Phanar in Istanbul.