Pascha

Mark Hemingway takes GetReligion-like stroll through years of New York Times religion gaffes

Mark Hemingway takes GetReligion-like stroll through years of New York Times religion gaffes

There was an interesting op-ed the other day in The New York Post that had a very GetReligion-esque feel to it, to say the least. The headline stated: “New York Times hits new low with mortifying Notre Dame correction.”

Then there was that familiar Hemingway byline.

“Mark Hemingway, that is.”

I realize that I have already written a post about this latest Gray Lady offense against 2,000 years of Christian doctrine, history and language. If you missed that one, click here: “Priest rushes under the flames inside Notre Dame Cathedral to save a ... STATUE of Jesus?” Here is a refresher, care of Hemingway:

… The New York Times later appended this correction to the story: “An earlier version of this article misidentified one of two objects recovered from Notre-Dame by the Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier. It was the Blessed Sacrament, not a statue of Jesus.”

How could the newspaper possibly confuse these two things? The most logical explanation is that Father Fournier referred to the “body of Christ,” and the reporter took his words literally and not seriously. It doesn’t appear to be a translation error; the reporter who wrote the story, Elian Peltier, appears to be fluent in French and tweets in the language regularly.

Why return to this subject?

What Hemingway offers in this short piece is a collection of stunning and, at times, unintentionally hilarious Times errors linked to essential Christian doctrines — including the narrative of Holy Week and Easter. (For Western Christians, this past Sunday was Easter. For Eastern Christians, such as myself, this week is Holy Week and this coming Sunday is Pascha, or Easter.)

Since we are talking about GetReligion basics, let me stress that no one believes that editors at the Times — the world’s most prestigious newspaper — need to BELIEVE these essentials of Christianity. The goal is to understand them well enough to be able to write about them without making embarrassing errors. Try to imagine Times-people making errors like these when dealing with the basics of Judaism, Islam or, for heaven’s sake, the latest Democratic Party platform.

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Yes, gunman in Russia killed five after Forgiveness Vespers (which isn't a Mardi Gras thing)

Yes, gunman in Russia killed five after Forgiveness Vespers (which isn't a Mardi Gras thing)

This past Sunday, I received an interesting email just after I got home from one of the most symbolic rites of the Eastern Orthodox year -- Forgiveness Vespers.

For Orthodox Christians, this service is the door into the long and challenging season of Great Lent, which leads to the most important day in the Christian year -- Pascha (Easter in the West).

During these vespers, each member of the congregation -- one at a time -- faces each and every other person who is present. One at a time, we bow and ask the person to forgive us of anything we have done to hurt them in the previous year. The response: "I forgive, as God forgives," or similar words. Then the second person does the same thing. Many people do a full prostration to the floor, as they seek forgiveness.

Then we move to the left to face the next person in line. Doing this 100 times or so is quite an exercise, both spiritual and physical. Tears are common. So is sweat.

The email I received pointed me to stories coming out of the Dagestan region of Russia, near the border of Chechnya. As worshipers came out of an Orthodox church in Kizlyar, a gunman -- shouting "Allahu Akbar" -- attacked with a hunting rifle and knife, killing five.

An Associated Press report merely said the victims were leaving a church service and even stated that the "motive for the attack was not immediately known."

I was struck by the timing, coming in the wake of the Ash Wednesday school shootings in Parkland, Fla. I had the same question as the GetReligion reader who emailed me: Were these worshipers shot after the Forgiveness Vespers? 

It certainly appeared that this was the case, so I immediately wrote a post: "Massacre on Ash Wednesday? Now, Orthodox believers shot leaving Forgiveness Vespers." Needless to say, this was a topic of interest to Orthodox believers, and others.

Now, a reader who speaks Russia has found a link to a Russian website -- "Orthodoxy and the World" -- that confirms the poignant and painful timing of this attack. Here is his translation of that information, if you are into factual journalistic details of this kind:

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Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

Stopping short of Pascha: The New York Times did cover the quiet courage of the Copts

I guess the big news this Easter is that there isn't any really big news at Easter. Yet.

Obviously, there was big news during Holy Week -- as in the lockdown in Egypt and in other Christian communities across the Middle East in the trembling aftermath of the hellish Palm Sunday bombings. That led to this somber New York Times feature that ran with the headline, "After Church Bombings, Egyptian Christians Are Resigned but Resolute."

It's a fine feature, one that -- as it must -- focuses on the political framework that surrounds the latest wave of persecution of Coptic Christians. After all, this is a tense land in which a near totalitarian Egyptian government that helps lock Christians in their place is also the only force strong enough to weakly protect them from the Islamic State and other truly radicalized forms of Islam.

Orthodox Christians who read this piece may not make it to the end, growing tired of the politics and violence. Where is the ultimate message of Pascha? Where are the voices of those who still believe, who continue to keep the faith despite all the suffering? Aren't they part of the story?

They are. And that theme emerges at the end of the piece -- so wait for it.

The veneration of Christian martyrs is felt most keenly at the monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. There, barren desert has been transformed into a lush compound of gardens and monastic cells around a soaring cathedral. The seven Christians killed in last Sunday’s bombing were taken there for entombment in a martyr’s church under construction for the 2011 bombing’s 23 victims.
“The new martyrs will be buried beside the old ones,” Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, leader of the monastery, said as he walked around the site, weaving through a maze of wooden beams. “It is a gift for them to be buried here.” ... 
Many Coptic clerics are careful of engaging in public debate. Asked what was driving the Islamic State attacks, the monastery’s spokesman, Father Elijah Ava Mina, chuckled dryly. “I don’t know,” he said. “Ask them.”

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A question for journalists right now: Why don't Coptic Christians hold funerals during Holy Week?

A question for journalists right now: Why don't Coptic Christians hold funerals during Holy Week?

It may seem somewhat strange for GetReligion to feature a religion-news "think piece" during the middle of the week.

However, this is not an ordinary week. For churches around the world this is Holy Week -- this year on both the liturgical calendars of Eastern and Western Christianity.

Then again, this is certainly not an ordinary Holy Week for believers in the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. And how will that affect the celebration of Pascha (Easter in the West), the most important feast day in Christianity?

The bombings on Palm Sunday (click here for earlier GetReligion coverage) have led to a sad, yet totally understandable, decision by Coptic leaders in part of Egypt. Here is the top of an Associated Press report:

CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptian churches, in the southern city of Minya, said on Tuesday that they will not hold Easter celebrations in mourning for 45 Coptic Christians killed this week in twin bombings of churches in two cities during Palm Sunday ceremonies.
The Minya Coptic Orthodox Diocese said that celebrations will only be limited to the liturgical prayers "without any festive manifestations."
Minya province has the highest Coptic Christian population in the country. Copts traditionally hold Easter church prayers on Saturday evening and then spend Easter Sunday on large meals and family visits.

Yes, the family festivities are important. However, this also means that there will be no dramatic liturgical processions through public streets in the dark night of Good Friday. There will be no processions with candles through those same streets around major churches in the final dramatic moments before midnight, as Holy Saturday turns into Pascha (Easter), with the constant singing of hymns proclaiming, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in tombs bestowing life!"

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Believe it or not: The New York Times has quietly returned to its 'Jesus is dead' theme

Believe it or not: The New York Times has quietly returned to its 'Jesus is dead' theme

Let's start with a flashback.

Perhaps you remember a 2014 piece at The Federalist by one M.Z. "GetReligion emerita" Hemingway that ran with the headline, "Will Someone Explain Christianity To The New York Times?"

It focused on a travel piece that, once corrected, included the following material about tourism in the tense city of Jerusalem. The crucial passage stated:

On a recent afternoon in the Old City of Jerusalem, while fighting raged in Gaza, Bilal Abu Khalaf hosted a group of Israeli tourists at his textile store in the Christian Quarter -- one of Jerusalem’s tourist gems.
Dressed in a striped galabiyya and tasseled red tarbouche, Mr. Abu Khalaf showed his visitors exotic hand-loomed silks and golden-threaded garments from Syria, Morocco and Kashmir that adorn Israel’s most luxurious hotels and ambassadors’ homes. ...
Nearby, the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus was buried, usually packed with pilgrims, was echoing and empty.

Yes, that was what the Times piece said after it was corrected. What did it say before that? Believe it or not, it said, "Nearby, the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus is buried, usually packed with pilgrims, was echoing and empty."

In this case, it's easy to discern what the meaning of the word "is" is.

Hold that thought.

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A great loss for old New Yorkers; a greater loss for Serbian Orthodox believers at Pascha

A great loss for old New Yorkers; a greater loss for Serbian Orthodox believers at Pascha

If you have seen images of the fire that gutted the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava in New York City -- with the flames blasting through the rose window -- then you know why onlookers described this as a scene from hell.

In terms of the news coverage, this was a pretty straightforward story that metro-desk journalists know how to cover. You get quotes from eyewitnesses, you nail down the details from the proper city authorities and that is pretty much that.

A reader asked for my reactions and, frankly, I didn't think there would be much that was worthy of comment, in terms of journalism. I could offer my reactions as an Orthodox believer, of course.

This morning, however, I saw the two-story package in The New York Times and there are several points I would like to make -- about the bad and the good.

As you would expect, the Times team made it very clear this building was a historic and beloved landmark in the city, offering an entire sidebar on the sanctuary's history -- stressing that it once was an Episcopal chapel created by the historic Trinity Church congregation in lower Manhattan. In other words, this wasn't just a New York landmark. This was a landmark of "old" money New York. In the past, this was a church that really mattered.

But the coverage did not slight the Serbians who have called the church their spiritual home for decades. However, there is evidence in the main report that some members of the Times team may not have understood all of the details provided by the Orthodox witnesses.

Here is the my main point: The story does not include details of the Easter -- the Orthodox call this greatest of all feasts "Pascha" -- services that took place in the hours before the blaze.

Why is this crucial? To be blunt, the church would have been full of hundreds of people with candles.

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Hey AP: Did you really mean to state, citing no source, that the Holy Fire rite is a fraud?

Hey AP: Did you really mean to state, citing no source, that the Holy Fire rite is a fraud?

The world's Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrated Pascha (Easter) this weekend, a full month later than Western churches this year. This is one of those exotic dates on the calendar that usually draws a little bit of coverage in the mainstream press.

At the very least, journalists spend a few lines trying to explain the mysteries of the ancient Julian calendar and why all those people with candles were marching around in the middle of the night singing (in the haunting Byzantine chant tone 6) the following, in English or the language of a particular parish's ethnic roots:

Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Savior, the Angels in Heaven sing.
Enable us on Earth to Glorify Thee in Purity of Heart.

In recent years, there has been a growing news-media awareness of the ancient "Holy Fire" rites in Jerusalem, which offers journalists an annual chance to wrestle with claims of the miraculous. My theory is that this news story has, in part, been gaining some traction because of smartphone videos being posted on YouTube each year.

So here is the top of a typical short Associated Press report this time around, with one line that jumped out at me. See if you can spot it.

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Thousands of Christians have gathered in Jerusalem for an ancient fire ceremony that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection.

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It's Easter for the Orthodox: Chicago Tribune comes this close to facing a weeping icon

It's Easter for the Orthodox: Chicago Tribune comes this close to facing a weeping icon

Writing a news report about an event that lots of people believe is a miracle is a difficult task. This is especially true with reports of healing when, often for legal reasons, the medical professionals linked to the case are not anxious to be interviewed or to provide relevant documentation from tests.

However, it's much easier to write about a phenomenon -- an object for example -- that can be examined by the senses, including the senses of skeptical journalists. That's what I kept thinking about as I read the Chicago Tribune news feature that ran under the headline, "Thousands flock to 'miracle' icon at south suburban church."

First of all, I am glad that the Tribune ran a story hooked to this year's Eastern Orthodox celebration of Pascha (Easter). This May 1 date on the ancient Julian calendar is very late in the spring, in comparison with this year's March 27 Easter date in the modern West.

Second, I was thankful that voices of believers are given quite a bit of space in this piece. However, well, where are the unbelievers? And if the story is going to focus on claims of a miracle then why not talk to some experts, in terms of theology and science? After all, we are talking about a very familiar phenomenon -- an Orthodox icon exuding a mysterious substance. Information on this phenomenon is only a few mouse clicks away. We aren't dealing with a large flour tortilla in Cleveland that appears to contain an image of LeBron James.

OK, let's look at a few pieces of this report, beginning with the overture:

As millions of Orthodox Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday and the miracle of Jesus Christ's resurrection, thousands across the Chicago area are flocking to a southwest suburban parish to see what they believe to be a different miracle.

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Classic M.Z. Hemingway: Why do journalists settle for lite (or mangled) Easter news?

Classic M.Z. Hemingway: Why do journalists settle for lite (or mangled) Easter news?

There she goes, there she goes again.

What we have here is another classic example of M.Z. "GetReligionista emeritus" Hemingway spotting another cultural hook that is big enough, and hot enough, to cover as a valid religion-news trend.

To state the question bluntly: Has Easter evolved into the new Xmas?

Saints preserve us.

Please note that Hemingway -- writing at The Federalist of course -- is not predicting something along the lines of the dreadful church-state "War on Christmas" stories that, tragically, have become a permanent part of America's cable-TV and click-bait online news marketplace.

No, she is asking a more serious question, one captured in the double-decker headline on her piece:

The Easter Bunny’s War On Easter Is Going Too Far
If you celebrate Easter with fake bunny ears, you're set. But what if you celebrate Jesus' resurrection?

Journalists note: The Easter Bunny is not the secular state. It's the bright, shiny world of pop commerce, which is way more comfortable with candy than with theology.

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