A new 2018-19 series of articles shared on the roots and the prospects that unite Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Traditions to the realm of Jewishness and Hassidism, Compared semantics and exegetical “paysages” by Archpriest Alexander A.Winogradsky Frenkel (Patriarchate of Jerusalem). Below the twenty-sixth article: “Humbleness And The Spirit”.

Archpriest Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel: “Humbleness And The Spirit”
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The time that the Hebrew nation spent in the Sinai wilderness corresponds to a pedagogical tour. It is not a labyrinth because this wonderful space and route through sand, rare trees and mounts, stones is also comparable to the journey of a mind. It is marked by two possible goals. The Cretan labyrinth combined secrecy and hardship to get free and/or memorize cyclic or linear destinees. It was also a mythological way to control the Minotaur and, thus, to restrict one’s thought on limited solutions. The Egyptian pyramids were built after the same confusing patterns. Human rulers and leaders love these sorts of quizzes. Genetics and specialists of memory diseases or defects would show how such paths can be controlled with much insight.

The journey through Sinai is not of the same nature. It is not built upon myths and mythological attempts to tie up human beings. We are still in the Sinai in many ways, in particular with regards to our desires or expectations, beliefs or faith. We might persuade ourselves that we came out and will continue to come out of serfdom. Some would think they got a taste of freedom and they would clutch to some spirit of slavery… for the others. In the wilderness, the Hebrew nation, was a displaced living body that advanced in some dizzy darkness. This means they missed explanations, maps, central piloting headquarters and strategy. Today, just look at the mobiles. We get the last breaking news in whatever alphabet, weather forecasts for the Week or more -, a living map showing where we are and where we might go. There are often mistakes, applications can be misleading.

We hold the world in the palm of our hand, or around our neck, provided there is no strike somewhere. We can have one, two or more cell phones or so-called smartphones some connected watch or earphones. WiFi allows catching any voice or image from the whole world almost in a second or up-to-the-minute… say basically it is possible except in the event of a huge bug. We can reboot, at least data are stored somewhere in the new deserts of “clouds” and virtual techniques. 

The ancestors were journeying ahead with camels, donkeys and sheep, rattling around without real understanding where the route should lead them to. Barefoot or wearing special sandals, they were going… going – marching in and out and around. In this respect, as people were also dying in this environment, it should be interesting to analyze how they really intended to listen to the Moses’ speeches and advices.


It is written about him: “Moses was a very humble man more than any other man on earth (anav meod mikol adam asher al-haadamah\ענב מאוד מכל אדם אשר על האדמה)” (Numbers 12:3). This traces back to the first human being as stated: “With him, says the Lord, I speak mouth to mouth (peh al-peh) (v.8), without riddles he beholds the likeness of the Lord.”. Moses could not utter words properly. He was “ani\עני – poor” as God is when He counts on His people’s prayer (Psalm 104:2). Moses could not boast God or the Children of Israel, nor Pharaoh or anyone because of his personal experience of a special dialogue with the Most High. How can we expect anything of God if we think that we are strong and know all things about Him? Everywhere leaders will declare that they know the Lord. The best s show ever is when professional leaders and clerics of whatsoever denomination or creed deliver the core of a message that they publicize as actors in a studio or on stage. Faith means Something else: we know that we known nothing.

Moses’ humility has become a model that remains unsurpassed in the Bible. He is the model of the Jewish “anawim\ענויים – the poor who totally rely upon God”. Moses was obedient to God. “Obedience” does not mean a lot at the present. True, it sounds “too Christian” and rather servile. The Latin word “ob-audire” means “to hear, listen in a converging way, together”. This is the most difficult point to reach. It does not consist in “hearing” (sh’ma\שמע) and then to do what pleases us. It does not mean a sort of constantly frustrating reduction of personal freewill or freedom. On the contrary, as for “the poor in spirit – oi ptokhoi to pneumati / μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι,” (Matthew 5:3), lauded by Jesus, the way is widely open to who believes that God can work unexpected things. 

The Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate this week the Gift and Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost was poured upon the kernel group of the disciples and the Mother of the Lord at the Upper Room only on time in the course of history. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the feast of Shavuot (Jewish Pentecost) confirmed the words of Jesus of Nazareth that he came to implement, not to cancel or erase the Law(s) given at the Theophanies of the Sinai. We hardly can imagine the world in which we live without the presence of the Spirit. The ‘Ruah\רוח ” (Holy Spirit) was swaying over the space when the universe was created. It means that, whatever faith or religious attitude concerned, the Spirit as the blowing Divine Presence has always been refreshing the Earth and the whole of the galaxies. 

The question is Who the Spirit is; why and from where the Spirit is given anew by the Father with regards to Jesus, “true Man and True God” as states the very ancient Assyrian litany in Aramaic. In fact, it is the Divine Spirit that has inspirited Elisabeth and Mary before the birth of John and Jesus. The actions acquired in the giving of the Holy Spirit consist in a constant renewal and reviving, refreshing of what humankind can eventually understand of the Divine Fatherhood and the goals of our existences. “Shechinah\שכינה ” insists on an “overshadowing dwelling” while “ruah – revah = רוח\רו(ו)ח ” expresses the notion of freedom and release of mental or physical bonds. The Holy Spirit cannot frame us in a sort of jail-like position and the Holy Ghost cannot be fenced by our twisting capacities to distort reality according to our projects and desires.

In the course of my life, I met of course with individuals who had been true survivors of the Shoah, with incredible life-paths. They had escaped from the doors of hell, death, betrayal. It is not possible to say a word about them because they “made, paid their release”. I myself had been caught and kept in jail for some time without any assistance of my then-governmental authorities. In Israel, I welcomed crowds of people who had been in the Gulags or remote deportation.

Ten years ago, a dear parishioner passed away in Jerusalem. He was the typical computer whizz. Not a Jew, a Carelian Soviet citizen, a rare culture of the deep Russian folklore combined with Finno-Ughrian backgrounds. A typical refuznik who had arrived in Israel thanks to a Jewish young woman who had promised to give him the opportunity to live the rest of his life in a free world. Things cannot really be “free world” when a Russia-bred soul leaves the Slavic homeland… But, after years of Gulag, he accepted. He lived of a true Spirit and one anecdote shows this. We spoke of computers and he said that it is not nice to download all sorts of programs on a computer.  It was not “friendly toward the computer because the device may not stand it and it can make it sick”. He added: “You see, the computer cries, a computer is a living body but we are like tools with spirit and brains, but we are selfish. A computer feels that programs are wrong and it aches, it aches a lot but we do not feel that because we are often worse than tools or machines”.
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This is why he took great care in repairing the computers adequately. This is what the Spirit endeavors to do with us. The problem is that we prefer to ignore or walk further without trying to change our opinions, views, lifestyles. But the Spirit cares, which somehow corresponds to the English phrase: “Who cares”. He does. It only becomes visible when we radiate with the sprinkling joy that covers our longings.

The revelation in the Sinai gave the opportunity to human conscience to distinguish between good and evil, instinct and mind, mental progress, abilities. The Commandments are personal, they are not collective. Each individual receives the capacity to make a choice. Some people would argue that the choice is between evil and goodness. Perhaps this is the case, but there is more. Evil and good are not clear in the Semitic tongues because the roots can express mixed and two or more-sided feelings or intentions.

A choice between good and evil is a move linked to our dynamics. Discernment is a part of these human abilities that is unrestricted. At least, human brains are not able to measure how these skills can develop and be enhanced. Transmission is the basic call to move and is the process that is continuously on the move. The motion is always linked to the first words of Genesis, the Book of the commencements when the Spirit was swaying over the space like the eagle, fresh and renewing.

When God shaped and created Adam, He breathed into his nostrils a “Nishmat khayyim/נשמת חיים = i.e. both a breath, breathing movement that is also composed of a soul of life”. We can speak of a blow of vitality, of freshness that can defunct when it ceases to function, passes away. It will revive thanks to the vigorous respiration from High. Indeed, the Lord breathes and we can do the same so far we recognize that He shaped us in His image and likeness. All creatures breathe, so what is the advantage? There can be not privilege except to take up the light yoke of responsibility and consciousness and be open to all and everything. Jesus said it: “… so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45).

Life in the Holy Spirit surpasses the natural rule of accepting, tolerating, supporting or liking if not loving the world as it is. It consists in participating and entering the structure of motion that continues the work of creation launched by the Lord. it can be rather savage, inhumane. Thus, just have a look at what happens and has happened throughout billions of years. A wild combat against destruction.

Life in the breathing and blowing forces of the Spirit intends to show that we can overcome the natural laws of existence and allow any soul, any creature, any living person or animal to live to the fullest. How does it make sense?

We breathe because of the existence of the One God and Father, the One Son of Man, Jesus the Messiah and we can acknowledge that this is true because our tongues are under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

The word is correct. It shows how good and evil are intertwined for some idle souls.

The Old English gast meant “breath, good or bad spirit, angel, demon – then a person, man, human being,” as in Biblical use “soul, spirit, life”. The Indo-European root gheis-, used in forming words involving the notions of excitement, amazement, or fear linked to Sanskrit hedah “wrath;” Avestan zaesha- “horrible, frightful” is connected to Slavic uzhas/ужас = horror. Who is a guest? A man or a woman who can be either good or bad. Who are we ready to welcome and who will be expelled? Or accepted, exploited and then thrown away? Who is/are the neighbor(s) or who are the fellow people whom we cherish just because we are convinced that they are living creatures? Love and fright, awe and respect, fright or threats, attractiveness or rejection? We say this in the Byzantine Service of Compline: “Let us pray for those who loves us and for those who do not like us, [for those who hate us]”.

Ghost is the English word for “supernatural being.” In Christian writing in Old English it is used to render Latin spiritus, as preserved in Holy Ghost. It evolved into the sense of “disembodied spirit of a dead person,” imagined as wandering among the living or haunting them. Just as most Semitic words hesitate between wicked and migrating souls and the virtue of a sound and life-giving breath (dybbukim). In Hebrew and Aramaic, Ruah/רוח-רוחא is profoundly based on the notion of joint actions of breathing, growing and being released, free.

Languages have not disappeared. On the contrary, they are on the rise. On the other hand, human mind is able to match roots and words, phrases and expressions in such a way that they show the deep human oneness in its capacity to depict the visible world and apprehend the invisible one with much wisdom and insights.

This is why the revelation of the tongues of fire over the inhabitants of Jerusalem on that unique day of history – we are not sure of the day – extended the tent of the theophany at the Sinai to all the Nations, without any possible exclusion. As Abraham had welcomed the three persons or angels at Mamre’s oaks in the heat of the day. Guests were unknown and welcomed in a blossoming environment.

Again, Pentecost and the Descent of the Holy Spirit trace back to the fundamentals of the Seeds as I described the process in previous articles. A “conversation” is the fruit of a grain” in Hebrew. It climaxes with the fruitful harvest that give a lot of good and beautiful plants. The celebration of the Holy Spirit is possible when we mature, when we reach the state of grown-ups, with the mental, intelligible ability to sow, multiply, conquer ourselves with goodness. Just an exploit, but such are the gifts of the Spirit.

Interestingly, the feast of the Pentecost and Descent of the Holy Spirit is definitely linked to the blossoming forces of nature as a dynamic process that is essential to the divine project of communion to the Most High. This explain the celebration of fruits, branches, wood, flowers in the Christian Orthodox Churches as it is quite pregnant in the Jewish celebration of Shavuot (Weeks). Yiddish that developed in Slavic areas, along Byzantine and other Christian traditions has it: Pentecost is “di grine khuge/די גרינע חגא”= “the green festival”. The Yiddish expression focuses on the ecological aspect of the Pentecostal revelation because the Lord constantly revives all plants and fruit. It should be noted that the time of Pentecost does not stop quickly after a few Sundays in the Eastern tradition but extends till the end of the liturgical cycle.

The feast marks the birthday of the Church. In Jerusalem, the very early Church of Zion and Jerusalem was an embryo; seeds have been sown and the Lord could be shared in the Mystery of the Eucharist that took some time to be defined. The birth of the Church needed the spirit of Kath’olic (toward the totality, fulfillment), Ortho-dox (upright, true faith) and, subsequently, to be vivified in the Apostolic dynamics. At this point, do we continue the same task and service of heralding the Message in the blowing move of unity and love?

The linguistic miracle of the Feast is that, from the Sinai to the Pentecost in Jerusalem after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Living Word has been transmitted and interpreted generation after generation. The Written Law was given, according to the tradition of the Jews, as a coherent corpus together with the Oral Law (the Talmud). This does not really comply with what compared history can accept. On the other hand, it stresses on the importance of writing patterns and oral living heritage, on memory and faithfulness. Believers or God-seekers can spend lives on studying and appreciating the value of each word and letter.

This is maybe the miracle of receiving the Holy Spirit. It holds tight all the Words uttered together with the letters in written charts revealed in order to save and share the Message of life.

The long breeding, seeding chain that evolves from the launching of the work of creation till our days allows to read, memorize and feel how constantly updated the actions of the Holy Trinity are – three in one dynamic Presence. As the Lord said: ” Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17). Paul of Tarsus testified that: ” Do we, then, nullify the Law by this faith? Certainly not! Instead, we uphold the Law.” (Romans, 3:3). Finally, Jesus had told: “So then, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19-20).

To begin with, it will take decades and decades before it might be accepted or even correctly adopted by the Churches as an internal part of their creed in the Lord. Just as the Gospel and the Epistles that we have are full of quotations of the Mishnah and the corpus of the Talmud, the Church has the task to see how the Talmudic words of the first century impacted the Evangelical texts for the ages to come. It strongly influenced the reflection and behavior of Jesus, his disciples and the people with whom he conversed.

Here is the quizz that, in this eon – time of history – separates the Jewish community from Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy that has retained the initial Light of the revelation. Whereas the Jews have the Talmud and learn it daily, the Church believers have recourse to the Holy Spirit to understand the updating interpretation and deep meaning of the Gospel. The Talmud plays the role of the Paraclet through the many levels of comprehension of the texts tha can be compared to an endless ocean of Divine Presence. In these circumstances, the Church may slowly overcome the fences of alterity as the Jewish and now Israeli scholars may pave the way to future apprehension of the works of the Spirit of Sanctity, Spirit of Truth Who is present everywhere and fills everything.

Dear readers,

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About the Author

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev, maître de conférence en Droit canon et Histoire des Églises locales à l’Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint Serge à Paris, recteur de la paroisse Notre Dame Souveraine, à Chaville en banlieue parisienne.

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