Archpriest Alexander A.Winogradsky Frenkel: “New/Old Tongues And Prophecy”
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Languages, sounds that make sense and are built in sequences of reasonable and expressive words or phrases, are at the very core of our connection to God and divine things.

In the real world, people would love Jewishness so far they have no price to pay, especially the fundamental “estrangement/Entfremdung” that distinguishes Jews from the Gentiles. This remains a irreductible feature of some indicible mental and spiritual split among all possible creed and beliefs in revelation processes.

I want to point this out and underscore that Jews are not to be Gentiles and that Gentiles are not to be Jews. This makes Jesus’ life an everlasting question that challenges reality, thus: “… that He might reconcile both (Israel and the Gentiles/Nations) to God in one body through the Cross, thereby putting to death the enmity’ (Ephesians 2:14-17sq.).

This makes prophecy at the heart of all monotheistic life and traditions. Either we can show that the world has been unifying in the wake of historic generations or we are liars. Prophecy introduces all believers to the veracity of their faith.

Language is at the core of human faith or answering to God. Over now more than forty decades, I have been working to define what we could call “Theo-Linguistics” or the specific theological and human/Divine connection that exists in the dynamics of God’s Presence in our societies.

Human beings became “sapiens” with understanding, knowledge, wisdom and capacity to distinguish between things and ideas because they are able to speak. Thus,  they turned to be “loquens” (able to speak). The capacity to utter sounds and words and to articulate them in a meaningful way allowed the humans to say and unveil God. It is a specific prophetic move.

Subsequently,  the “homo loquens” has been placed in the world with the task and the plight to connect with other humans by means of transmission, education as given and shown by the Jewish daily words of the “Shema Israel/שמע ישראל – Hearken, Israel”: “You shall repeat the Unicity of God to your children and you will tell them/discuss/speak of these words, while, sitting, walking on the roads, when lying down and getting up”; The move is thus connected to “living memory”, i.e. “generation to generation”. The Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has written that articulated language and cognitive speech are a part of heredity by matching the chromosomic heritage to the realm of conscience/consciousness defined as “noospheric” (“nous” = conscience) part to rational brains.

Jesus of Nazareth follows the same generating dynamics of linguistic creation as current in the Jewish tradition. When He says: “I give you a new commandment” (John 13:34), He refers to the basic Jewish blessing: “Blessed are You Lord, Our God King of the Universe/ Who makes new/renews (מחדש / “me’hadesh”) the actions/doings/works of what “was/came first/as at the head (of the process of the visibility of creation). /ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם מחדש מעשי בראשית /”.

This is why “language” does not belong to human beings. We know that languages evolve, speech changes from generation to generation. Still, we hardly accept that speech articulates coherent sounds as a part of our conscience. Language acts as the vector and unique medium to describe the unity of humankind in its relation to God.

Subsequently, phrases, ideas, thoughts and reflection are part of a miracle that has constantly been renewed throughout history, i.e. in the process of a significant generational transmission system.

Please go to your X-ray specialist and get a clear image of your throat. Rav Zalman of Lyadi expressed the matter in his “Tanya-תניא/Teaching”. He underscored the miracle that allows the humans to speak because there is no physiological reason for the humans to have a coherent speech, lexicons and languages.

The oral cavity, the vocal cords, the muscle of the tongue, the palate, the lips, the mouth, the pharynx, the uvula and the lungs combine ex nihilo and without physical reason and create coherent sounds and phrases. This action is so “bizarre” at first that the rabbi considered that it substantiates the Divine Presence and Utterances of the One God, Creator of heaven and Earth. God speaks through the medium of the humans who are enabled to respond to Him.

This refers to the distinction between “stiff” and “on the move” linguistic capacities. It allows to define prophecy in society as a consequence of the fact that all societies have been granted language abilities.

As defined in the Talmud, “prophecy/נביאות – נביאותא – nevi’ut (Hebrew), nevi’uta (Aramaic)” proceeds from a passive form of a verb “to blaze, burst, blow, inspire”. To begin with, the radical seems to be “ba/בא = to go, come, walk, move, enter, approach”. There is more with the radical “lavah/labbah-libbah (לבה-ליבה )” connected with the notion of “to be bright (lavan/לבן =white, bright (cf. the Transfiguration), to blow ablaze and enkindle”.

The passive form of the word for “prophecy” makes clear that the humans can be “inspired”. Indeed, the passive form underlines that God, and God Alone, is the acting Person. The human beings receive His Presence. They cannot and dare not be in place of God, which appears to be a constant temptation. This is why the passive form is used in the Oriental rites (for example for the Holy Baptism: “the servant of God … is baptized” compared with the Latin form where the priest says “I baptize you…”).

One of the constant temptations of all believers in all religions is to take the place of the divinity. It is quite impossible in the case of monotheism, i.e. when confessing the Only One God, Creator of heaven and Earth. It is totally impossible precisely because of prophecy.

As defined in the Talmudic Treaties Megillah and Baba Kamma -mainly but the matter is of course discussed in other treaties -, “prophecy” bursts out into the brains, minds. Prophecy rushes into space and time at specific “instants”. Prophecy substantiates predictable and expected “divine actions and revealed elements”. On the other hand, it does not mean that these elements can be understood or accepted by the time they pass from hidden to seemingly clear factors.

The spirit of prophecy relies upon the veracity of existing elements that dominate time, history, space, culture, tradition and speech. Prophecy enkindles fires or generates fights and remains uncontrolled. This is why, for instance, Prophet Jeremiah’s ministry is “unpopular”. The Prophet declared: “I said, I will not memorize and make mention of Him, nor speak anymore of His Name. But His Word was in my heart like a fire/והיה בלבי כאש/vehayah belibbi ke’esh…” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Talmud Baba Kamma VI,4 (59b) states: “If another (third person) came – after one brought the wood and another (one brought) the light – and blew the wood ablaze, he who fanned the flame is responsible”. The scene is comparable to the Transfiguration and the discussion between Jesus and Simon-Peter about the building of three tents.  The disciple, as the prophet, is responsible for a move, a new feature, a new project or inspiration that he feels compelled to materialize and that he still cannot control or understand to the full.

Transfiguration is the typical example for a correct in-depth apprehension of “prophecy”. The scene is a “on-burning flash or fire of total accomplishment”. Thus, it does not close history. It discloses a time of plenitude that is beyond speech.

Prophecy is so bright, radiant and full of light that it overshadows reality and converts, metamorphoses the whole of utterances (speech) and environments (space).

Subsequently, it is interesting to mention the statement of Talmud Sanhedrin 35a: “Although they (= the scribes) record the word of the mouth (= judgements), the heart (= impressiveness of the arguments that led to the judgments), once forgotten, remains forgotten (= they get empty, meaningless)”.

Whether recorded or forgotten, wiped out or retained and maintained, all things are vivid or dead as they participate in God’s brightness. The pretense of the believers has to be overcome: as all the disciples did – both in Judaism and Christianity – there is a moment when the faithful need to flee, run away, sleep and… they would be likely to drift away from the Word of God.

Things are even more serious with regards to Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God. From before the creation of the world (Pessahim 54a, Nedarim 39b and John 8:58) to past, present and future history, He was born, spoke, suffered, resurrected and lives forever. He also appeared in “flashes” to share both the words and His Body. This is why all prophecies came to fulfillment. Others would can hardly be accepted as such by those who confess their faith in such an achievement. We ought to read the sequence on the “Road in Emmaus”, thus Saint Luke 24: 13-27. The disciples were “thick-minded”, which means that their minds and spirits had been blurred. Walking along with the Lord was the short journey to revelation that got substantiated by the sort of Artoklasis or breaking, sharing of the bread… then disappeared, both the Lord and the portion of the loaf or ailment.

The desperate disciples told Jesus: “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and the people” (v. 19). Jesus replied: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the Prophets have spoken!… And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (v.25-26).

Aramaic “haw ‘harirei râynâ wayeq’rei libbâ/ܚܰܣܺܝܪܰܝ ܪܶܥܝܳܢܳܐ ܘܝܰܩܺܝܪܰܝ ܠܶܒ݁ܳܐ ܐܳܘ ” expresses “the refusal/(self-) prohibition to fathom new concepts and “slow of heart = the impossibility to open up to brightness by enhancing their own burden”. Greek “anoétoi/ἀνόητο” underscores the disciples’ absence of liability to accept a reality that did challenge their conscience.

In this view, it is possible to trace back to the link between “prophecy and speech”. The German-speaking Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote an opus entitled “Der Glaube Christi = The Faith of Christ”. It is a part of his general work “Herrlichkeit/the Glory”. He stated: “The capacity of “speaking” means that human beings (“der Mensch”) are enabled to freely showing and sharing their personal intimacy to the others through the tangible signs of sounds”.

This is why speech and languages aim at creating and constantly renewing things that are clearly stored into the past and continuously sow renewed seeds of life for each generation and the future. The genius of the Semitic tongues consists in focusing on the past and never be fossilized by words. Hans Urs von Balthasar gave another insightful concept: speech and language are transcendent and flash through time and space to a goal that never ends in itself: it designs, intends and purposes endless Life.

It is qui significant to stress, in particular in our generation that witnesses so many forms of spiritual renewals, to consider the language of faith as at the utmost mirroring “the one, holy, Catholic (Kath’olon/καθ’ολον = open to all, totality, pleroma) and Orthodox/ορθοδοξος (true, authentic faith/real Glory) and apostolic/αποστολικος (as the Word reaches out to the ends of the world/universe)”.

This why the language of Liturgy tends to be accomplishing and substantiating, inside of the non-religious, secular or secularized/heathen and/or Gentile world, the reality of what has been uttered and promised in words, duly shared in a holy and sacred space.

I was once asked by a Greek priest to teach him some Talmud. His explanation on why he wanted to have some Talmud is pretty much at the heart of the problem of “preferred election”. He could get to the Jews and thought that by the means of the Talmud, he would be able to discuss with them and convince them that only the Greek Gospel could bring him “salvation”.

He was right to think of the Talmud, i.e. the non-closed and unending open corpus of Divine Revelation that unveils and gives correct interpretation of the Hebrew Bible or TaNaCH (Law-Prophets-Writings). He did admit with much honesty that he considered Greek as being the final language of the Good Tidings of Jesus as Messiah and Christos.

Thus, the Jews do not stubbornly reject any Greek Gospel or even the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. Above all, there is a real matter of “Theo-linguistic approach”. Can a language replace another tongue for the sake of God’s revelation?

It is a question that deals with “prophecy”. Languages allow to be conscious and aware of what faith is enabled or not to admit or to proclaim.

It is known that the Song of the passing of the Red Sea in the Book of Exodus (ch. 15) is written in the imperfect tense. Hebrew focuses on the past to overlap all tenses and only target things that will happen in the future. This prophetic aspect is not shown at first in the tongues of the Gentiles. When the Jews translated the Bible into Greek (Septuagint), their translation could only be prophetic because of the existing tradition of the Oral Law that remained in Hebrew and Aramaic. This aspect is usually not taken into account because the Aramaic texts seemingly would not directly concern the Greek New Testament tradition.

Again, Hebrew is the paternal language, the language that carries out God’s speech and Commandments. It is definitely the language that fully includes all the algorithms, i.e. the set of unambiguous specifications of how to solve a numerous  layers of features that can lead to discover the Father, the Son and the Spirit, just as Jesus could explain that to the disciples on the Road in Emmaus.

Hebrew is not national, nationalistic. It is not ethnic, genetic, in-born. It is not a privilege. In his well-known book on the Semitic languages, Ernest Renan stated that “Hebrew is a language with a few letters, but they are letters of fire”. Indeed, it is a language of full prophecy.

Prophecy is galvanized because of the revival of the Hebrew language. It is prophetic at the present because it gathers in Jews from all the Nations (cf. Tobias ch. 13). It reinvigorates Jewishness and the Children of Israel “to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the service of God and the promises”. It should be noted that the verse is linked to the person of the Messiah: “to whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came who is over all, the eternal blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5).

This is why the Church hardly can accept the use of Hebrew as a full liturgical and Theo-linguistic medium. Its use has been only considered for the conversion of the Jews and the missions to the Jews. The prophetic aspect of the Hebrew speech for the performance of the Holy Mysteries/Sacraments is hardly envisioned as showing a divine and human passing over to the continuously revealing process of the Church newness.

Interestingly, the translation into Hebrew of the Divine Liturgy, made in 1841 by the former Talmudist V. Levinson for the Jerusalem Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the then-Synod of Moscow include very Talmudic phrases and expressions, which show how the words of the Liturgy deeply relate to a Semitic substrate. The liturgical texts show the profound imprinting of Jewish prophecy for the Eastern Orthodox Eucharist.

Rejection and mutual exclusion have prevailed throughout the history of the Church and its many jurisdictions. We know that the Russian Church tended to focus on Slavonic an to get astray from Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

We face powerful movements of nationalistic splitting pretense to capture the Word of God. On the other hand, the revival of Hebrew is comparable to a true part of resurrection. The scriptural Hebrew language became a part of the overall universal linguistic heritage of all the Nations, and in it there is “no Jew no Greek (pagan, heathen)” but the utterance of the One Father in the chromatic and life-giving letters. This is why it is not possible to supersede this heritage or to capture it. It universal and beyond all and nations because as all tongues it uncover Divine and human speech capacities that overshadows all historic past, present and future generations.

Therefore, it underscores the breach that exists as a mental and permanent fence that blurs Jews and Nations in a irrepressible framework that feels drawn to ever-longing oneness. Apparently, “Jewishness” has been misappropriated the way it is possible (not necessarily licit) to explain the Scripture and the Hebrew words outside of the realm of Judaism, mainly because of the Christian Church commentaries. Islam also proceeded in a very similar way since the very beginning of Hijri and the revelation of the Quran and the Hadiths.

It questions the Church in her totality as to give real substance to the unity of all souls and creatures. Because the continuous stream and transmission of Hebrew traditional understanding of the words and the Semitic structure is included in the unique process of revival and subsequent linguistic renewal that allows a new surfacing of a specific old-new method of prophecy.

The question remains whether “all the house of Israel” (Acts of the Apostles 2:36; cf. 2 Samuel 6:5) is enabled to walk ahead of history with a spirit of reviving prophecy for the Coming of the Messiah in glory (Talmud Sukkot 52a-b, Symbol of Nicaea).

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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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