Ecumenical Patriarch

Hagia Sophia evolving into mosque? The Los Angeles Times omits crucial Christian voices

Hagia Sophia evolving into mosque? The Los Angeles Times omits crucial Christian voices

This past Sunday, I was at a lunch in Seattle that included someone who runs a retreat center in Turkey. She knew of only 4,000 evangelical Christians like her in the country, which under the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been encroaching on the religious freedom of non-Muslims for some time.

Evangelical Protestants are one of the smaller groups among Turkey’s 160,000 Christians, most of them Orthodox Christians linked to the city's history as a crossroads in the early church. The Christian community that was, in 1914, 19 percent of Turkey’s population is now a tiny group amidst 80 million Turkish Muslims.

So I was interested to read a Los Angeles Times story about the increasing pressure by Islamic activists to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. We've covered this before but the volume has been amped up.

So what is missing in this report on a topic that will be of special interest to Christians, as well as Muslims, around the world? Want to guess?

As the time for afternoon prayers approaches, Onder Soy puts on a white robe and cap and switches on the microphone in a small 19th century room adjoining the Hagia Sophia.
Soon, Soy’s melodic call to prayer rings out over a square filled with tourists hurrying to visit some of Turkey’s most famous historical sights before they close for the day.
The room Soy is in -- built as a resting place for the sultan and now officially called the Hagia Sophia mosque -- fills up with around 40 worshipers, drawn not by the modestly decorated space itself, but by the ancient building it shares a wall with.

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Dear editors at The New York Times: Vladimir Putin is a Russian, but Putin is not Russia

Dear editors at The New York Times: Vladimir Putin is a Russian, but Putin is not Russia

As you would expect, quite a few GetReligion readers have asked for my take on the recent New York Times analysis piece about Russia and the Orthodox Church that ran under this headline: “In Expanding Russian Influence, Faith Combines With Firepower.”

Now, the editorial powers that be at the Gray Lady did not label this sprawling piece as a work of analysis, but that is what it was.

It was packed with all kinds of material that Orthodox people could argue about for hours (members of my flock, especially Russians, love a good argument). In many crucial passages, the Times team didn’t bother to let readers know who they were quoting — which usually means that they are quoting themselves or quoting beloved advocacy sources over and over and over and they didn't want to point that out with attribution clauses.

Thus, I am not going to try to dissect this piece, in part because (1) I am an Orthodox Christian and (2) I spend quite a bit of time hanging out with Russians and with other Orthodox Christians who hang out with Russians. But I do want to share one big idea.

You see, I hear people talking about Vladimir V. Putin quite a bit. I would divide these people into at least three groups.

* First, there are the people who consider him a corrupt, brutal strongman, at best, and a tyrant at worst. 

* Second, there are people who do not admire Putin at all, but they enjoy the fact that he gets under the skin of liberals and post-liberals here in the West. Putin is, in other words, a Russian and he drives elites in the West a bit mad.

* Third, there are Orthodox people who appreciate the fact that Putin -- for whatever reasons -- is defending some (repeat “SOME”) of the teachings of the Orthodox faith, whether he sincerely believes these moral doctrines or not. Of course, Putin's sins against Orthodoxy on many other issues are perfectly obvious.

Now, the tricky thing is that most of my Orthodox friends who closely follow events in and around Russia are in all three of these camps at the same time.

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Byzantine maneuvers: There's more to this Orthodox council story than Russia vs. Istanbul

Byzantine maneuvers: There's more to this Orthodox council story than Russia vs. Istanbul

Anyone who has worked on the religion beat for a decade or two probably knows the answer to this "lightbulb" joke, because it has been around forever (which is kind of the point).

Question: How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a lightbulb?

The answer is: Lightbulb? What is this "lightbulb"? (The point is that lightbulbs are modernist inventions that some heterodox folks might use in place of beeswax candles.)

However, I have heard another punchline for this joke that is highly relevant to the struggles that some journalists are having as they try to cover the long-delayed, and now stalled, Pan-Orthodox Council, which was supposed to open this week in Crete (previous post here).

So ask that lightbulb question again, but this time answer: Change? What is this "change"?

I have received emails asking me what is going on with the gathering in Crete. Most of these emails include a phrase similar to this: "What is Russia up to?" Well, there's no question that the Church of Russia -- far and away the world's largest Orthodox body -- is a big player. But to understand what many Orthodox people think about this gathering, you need to think about that lightbulb joke and then ponder how they would respond to this headline that ran the other day at Crux.

Leading cleric says Orthodox Church’s ‘Vatican II’ is a go

Disaster! Yes, a theological adviser to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said something like that.

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Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Any list of the defining moments of Christian history -- if not the history of religion on Planet Earth, period -- would have to include the Great Schism of 1054.

That's the split, of course, between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West and there is hardly anything that you can say about the who, what, when, where, why and how of that schism that will not lead to a millennium or two of debate. It's complicated. 

However, it's pretty easy to understand that the Church of Rome and the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy are not in full Communion -- with a big "C" -- with one another. The primary symbol, and reality, that demonstrates this is that their clergy cannot celebrate the Eucharist together.

Now, with that prologue, let's flash back to the recent meetings in Istanbul between Pope Francis and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Since I am Orthodox, lots of people have asked me what I thought about their latest statements on their desire for full unity, meaning Communion. My question, in response, was: Yes, the pope asked Bartholomew to bless him, but did either man kiss the other man's hand? There was also quite a bit of confusion about the rite they took part in at the Phanar.

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Hey Reuters: Historic details really matter in Istanbul

Istanbul is the kind of place in which the past often seems to be just as real, or even more real, than the present.

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