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Massacre on Ash Wednesday? Now, Orthodox believers shot leaving Forgiveness Vespers

Massacre on Ash Wednesday? Now, Orthodox believers shot leaving Forgiveness Vespers

A few days ago, I expressed surprise that more mainstream journalists didn't recognize the poignant ties between the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the ancient Western Christian traditions linked to Ash Wednesday.

The bottom line: How many of the dead and wounded had, earlier that day, attended rites in which a priest marked their foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross? This was done, of course, to remind them of their mortality as they began the great spiritual journey through Lent to Easter. Thus, priest say: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

How many of those caught up in the massacre had planned to go to Ash Wednesday services in the hours after school dismissed? Did reporters attend any of those services that evening?

I was assuming, of course, that an ordinary local South Florida newsroom -- or national-level newsrooms -- would include a few Catholics, Episcopalians or Lutherans who would immediately recognize the timing of this tragedy.

A few did. Many more did not.

Now we have a similar Lent-related story from the other side of the world. Here is the top of a typical report, at FoxNews.com:

Five women were killed and several others were injured after a gunman opened fire with a hunting rifle on people leaving a church service in Russia's Dagestan region on Sunday, Russian media outlets reported.
The shooting took place outside a church in Kizlyar, a town of about 50,000 people on the border with Chechnya. ... The gunman was shot dead by police responding to the scene, a law enforcement source told the Interfax news agency. According to Interfax, the gunman has been identified as a local man in his early 20s.

The timing? Well, the report noted that this was an evening service and:

Parishioners were at the church celebrating the end of the Russian festival of Maslenitsa, a holiday which marks the start of Lent for Russian Orthodox Christians, according to RT.

An Orthodox Christian reader sent me this item, which I read within minutes of walking in the door after services at St. Anne Orthodox Parish here in Oak Ridge, Tenn. For the reader, this story raised an obvious, powerful question: Did these people die immediately after taking part in Forgiveness Vespers?

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Russia honors Kalashnikov, a man whose faith was too complex for this New York Times story

Russia honors Kalashnikov, a man whose faith was too complex for this New York Times story

When the average news consumer reads the word "Kalashnikov," what is the first thing that comes to mind?

That would, of course, be an image of the AK-47 -- one of the world's most famous combat weapons, used in countless wars and, yes, acts of terrorism.

But what if the creator of that famous weapon was a devout religious believer -- an Eastern Orthodox Christian, in this case -- who late in life expressed, in writing, a deep sense of shame and remorse about many of the deeds committed with the weapon bearing his name? Would this be an interesting angle to include in a New York Times feature story about his legacy and Russian rites to honor him (in this case with a large public monument)?

Of course, I think that the answer is "yes." However, I am an Eastern Orthodox layman, so I am a bit biased about things like that. This is the kind of information that I am talking about:

... Kalashnikov did not have a simple life. In his old age, he was deeply tortured by the knowledge that his rifle was used to do evil, even though he knew his weapons were also used to destroy evil and defend the Motherland.
In an attempt to find peace, like Nobel and Oppenheimer, this old weapons designer also turned his eyes to a quiet life in the hopes of seeing a silver lining. Seeking redemption, he wrote a letter to Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Church, saying:
“My soul ache is unbearable and has one irresolvable question: if my rifle took lives, does it mean that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov, aged 93, a peasant woman’s son, an Orthodox Christian in faith, am guilty of those people’s deaths, even if they were enemies?"
Though he was told, reportedly, that he was not condemned for this, his sadness continued.

With that in mind, it's interesting to note the role that religion played in this recent Times feature: "Giant Monument to Kalashnikov, Creator of AK-47, Is Unveiled in Moscow."

MOSCOW -- A towering monument to Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, designer of the AK-47, the Soviet rifle that has become the world’s most widespread assault weapon, was unveiled ... in the middle of one of central Moscow’s busiest thoroughfares.
The ceremony took place to the sounds of Russian military folk music, the Soviet anthem, Orthodox prayers and words about how his creation had ensured Russia’s safety and peace in the world.

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Bacon at a mosque: media don’t get to the meat of a Florida vandalism case

Bacon at a mosque: media don’t get to the meat of a Florida vandalism case

Which is worse -- a machete or slabs of bacon? No, that's not one of those riddles you'd hear in, say, philosophy class or late at night in a bar. It's a question posed in stories about vandalism of a Florida mosque.

Someone took a machete to the Masjid al-Mumin building in Titusville, near the Kennedy Space Center. The vandal used the weapon to hack at lights, windows and security cameras, then scattered raw bacon around the front door. Some cameras still worked, though: Police arrested one Michael Wolfe from surveillance images.

It's just one of a rash of vandalism against mosques around the U.S. since recent jihadi attacks like the massacres in Paris and San Bernardino. The interesting thing about the Florida incident is what the stories chose to lead with -- and whether they grasped the effect of the crime.

Among the more sensationalistic was the Religion News Service, which ran a USA Today story and headlined it "Man accused of swinging machete through Florida mosque." The original headline was a milder "Man accused of vandalizing mosque, leaving bacon." But both versions don't neglect the blade, saying Wolfe "is accused of slashing his way through the mosque, shattering lights, windows and cameras with a machete."

An official from the Council on American-Islamic Relations ties the two offenses together:

"People are afraid to take their children back to the mosque ... a machete was used," said Rasha Mubarak, the advocacy group's Orlando regional coordinator.  "They know we don't consume pork. This is something that those who are Islamaphobic tend to bring up or use."

A gold star to the story for adding this background: "Eating pork — including bacon and ham — is prohibited in the Quran. The Bible's Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy also forbid it." Pretty impressive for a secular newspaper.

The article borrows heavily, of course, from coverage in Florida Today, its affiliate in east-Central Florida. That newspaper quotes Muhammad Musri, who oversees 10 mosques in the area and, it says, has often done interfaith work:

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