The re-appearance of the State of Israel as the Hebrew State of the Jews, based on the Books of the Prophets and the bi-millennial prayers of the Jewish communities scattered throughout the globe and all the Nations, left the Easterners of the Churches in real mental, cultural, societal, religious and eschatological shock. There is not “State of Israel”, hardly any “Eretz Israel, Land of Israel” for most of the hierarchs of the Orthodox Churches… and it should not be written in Hebrew, though the Armenian and some Syriac Christians may accept the tongue and the alphabet.
It is impossible to heal centuries of rejection, mutual absence of confidence, mutual ignorance and disdain in thirty years. It makes no sense. In the Eastern cultures, the Jews are “ethnically” known and ambiguous feelings exist, more tribal than in the Western tradition of Christianity that would prefer to consider all christened nation as assimilated in the big “Ecclesia ex Gentibus”, the Church of the Gentiles.
The Eastern tradition is good in one aspect that is very significant nowadays: there is no dream of mixing up all the nations and individuals into one analogous body. At least, Jews and Judaism have survived and Christianity has also overcome the gates of death and eradication.
Canon VIII (8) of the Eighth Council of Nicaea II (787 AD) – the last common Ecumenical Council recognized by the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches born of the Roman Empire of the East and the West – stressed that “camouflaged Jews should not be received into the ecclesial community unless they have made a total renunciation of their Jewish ways, especially of the Shabbat”. We can explain this decision by the fact that the Fathers firstly wanted to condemn the conduct of the “Syrian” i.e. “Semitic emperors who had used iconoclastic propaganda”. Then, most Jews and Judeo-Christians abandoned the Byzantine Empire and got sheltered in the Arab empire, passing “over” to the new religion of Islam as “malawi”. They belonged to the cast of the “Kuttab – scribes”. Thus, they strongly influenced the Quran and the related texts by introducing elements of specific Judaeo-Christian character.
This specific date and Church Canonic decision are still in force in the Eastern Orthodox Church. They put an end to the theological Schools of Antioch and Alexandria that had played an immense role in the development of the Church for seven centuries. Subsequently, Empress Theodora obliged the Fathers of the Council of Constantinople in 834 to institute the Feast of the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” with a procession of icons and celebrating the Church’s victory over all heresies.
Thus, the “Ecclesia ex Circumcisione/Church of the Circumcision” (the Church had only been Jewish till the synodal decision recounted in the chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles) has been wiped out from the Unity of the One Church and seemingly erased from her living. Since the year 135 AD and the last heads of the embryo Church of Zion and Jerusalem, there is no clear evidence that the bishops of the Holy City were Jews. The Church had become “open to the totality”, “upright and glorious” and “apostolic” (moving to heralding the Message of Christ to all the then-inhabited world (Ekumene), involved in the process of discovering the Earth along the ages.
The Roman Greek Orthodox of Jerusalem constitutes diachronic extension of the “Roman Empire of the East and of the West Churches” though the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”, gathering in “people of all races, nations, tongues” (Apocalypse 7:9) and expanding to the ends of the Earth. The Church, considered as the Risen Body of Jesus Christ and the Image of the Holy Trinity has no earthly, human or spiritual borders or limits. The Roman Empire of the East and of the West had the “Limes” on the Persian Plateau on the Easter frontier. The Mother Church of Jerusalem, her natural regions of extension (Antioch, Alexandria) proved to be definitely universal. Nobody is a stranger in the Church just as it is said in the Psalm “ולציון יאמר איש ואיש יולד בה… – Indeed, it shall be said of Zion, “every man was born there” (Psalm 87:5). True, the Church expanded beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. It could reach out to the dispersion not as a process of split and confusion, but as a constant effort to maintain and sustain the theological oneness and unity, uniqueness of the Resurrected.
Still, we have to seriously take into account the essential decision of the 8th Canon of the Second Council of Nicaea. It has not been abrogated, neither by the Eastern Orthodox Church (I prefer to mention this in the singular form) nor by the Roman Catholic Church. This should question all of us on how the Christians who were born of the original pentarchy can relate to the present existence and revival of the Community of Israel.
It is worth noting that the Roman Catholic “Nostra Ætate” document voted in 1965, deals with Judaism and Islam as other religions. It is positive toward a further recognition of Judaism, but it did not correct or remove the final decision of the 7th Council of Nicaea II at all! We do not pay much attention to that. “Nostra AEtate” was accepted by the participants of the Second Council of the Vatican, but the Oriental Patriarchs did not confirm the decision in their own Oriental-rite patriarchates. Then, only a full Ecumenical pan-Orthodox Council gathered – in a common acceptance of Faith and the Canons of the Church – with the whole of the Roman Catholic Church would eventually be entitled to change or remove this historic decision. Not to mention the Protestant Churches that consider the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils in their specific traditions.
In the event of any true intention to change this 8th Canon that traces back to 787 AD, thus in very exceptional circumstances that we cannot anticipate at the present, it is more than certain that such a decision should also be submitted to checking and agreement of the Jewish Communities, which simply shows the depth, width, breadth and length of such an unforeseeable decision at the moment.
We continue, in particular in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, to measure and judge each other. At times, we “suspect” the exactitude of the Creed and the faith confessed by our fellow believers. We love to check, verify and interrogate who the believers are, how close, far, foreign, and even enemies they can be, provided that “our” community is the right one, and the other ones are or can be heretics.
In the Church of Jerusalem, we are called not to judge each other but to see that there every believer is born there, continues to be born as the native ones into the One Mother of All the Churches of God . This is a huge, exceptional challenge, a real and truth-testing, faith-experiencing challenge. Beyond any human will, Jerusalem include all creeds and faiths from the Western Wall to the Holy Sepulcher/Anastasis (Place of the Resurrection) and back to the Temple Mount. Two “Temples” (the Mikdash/מקדש for the Jews and the Anastasis for the Christians are emptied holy sites full of a living and life-giving Memory.
It will take centuries to correct total and ongoing process of estrangement as defined by Hans Urs von Balthasar who wrote a very interesting book “Einsame Zwiesprache mit Buber – Lonely (“monologued”) dialogue with Buber”, first published in 1958 (1). We cannot fathom some correction right out of the blue. We ought to be aware of history. This can be confusing, definitely not easy. We have not right to supersede the identity of believers – at the same time, it is indeed very hard to upgrade the life of ancient traditions.
Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote the book before the Second Council of Vatican II started. Different ideas were in the air, mainly impacted by the overall tragedy of the “Endlösung” conceived by European and mostly baptized nationals who succeeded in setting up a whole system of extermination of the Jews for the only reason that they are who they are. It took the form of a general apostasy that, after nearly a hundred years, should be corrected by with a passionate thirst and authentic acts of true penance. It makes no sense to oblige anyone to ask for forgiveness so long the concerned persons with different levels of conscience do not allow themselves to return to the morals directed by faith, both Jewish and Christian rules and parameters. As time passes, memories fade, virtual archives replace fresh exactness of hideous reality. It diminishes the capacity to show true acts of forgiveness.
In Jerusalem, it is possible to encounter people whose cultural, psychological, linguistic and spiritual behaviors show us this sort of “unifying and fulfilling icon of redemption”, i.e. some can be of the 4th, 7th, 10th, 13th, 17th, 19th and present century. This is the fascinating aspect of the mental and religious life-witnesses who share the same period of history. People meeting without encountering, speaking without talking. They get unite beyond their alterity and disagreements.
This is the point: The Divine Presence and the Holy Trinity overshadow souls and bodies, air and land.
The “Pirqey Avot/פרקי אבות – Saying of the Fathers”(Avot 3:4) state: “If three have eaten at a table and uttered words of Torah there, it is as if they had eaten at the Table of God, for it is said : « זה השולחן אשר לפני ה’ – this is the table which is before [the countenance of] God» (Psalm 23:5; comp. Introduction to the Zimmun leBirkat HaMazon\זימון לברכת המזון – first prayer and portion said before sharing a meal, part of the Graces after Meal).
The same saying is uttered by Jesus Christ: “[Again, I say unto to you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father Who is in heaven]; For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). This is the positive aspect of the “community, assembly gathered in by the Holy Trinity”.
In fact, the question deals with a sort of reflection upon “Who is my neighbor? And You shalt love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:19). And even more! Is it possible ot trust this verset and question of Jesus to the young man. Jesus summarizes the Torah in two commandments of “Loving God with all our soul, heart and strength = resources” and “Loving your neighbor as yourself”. These words are present in the Synoptic Gospel (Deuteronomy 6:5-11:13 – 30:6 and Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27 along with Lev. 19.18).
We have the right in the Church to be who we are. This is why I mentioned, to begin with, the most-affecting, in-depth-harming decisions of Canon 8 at the Second Council of Nicea. We cannot fancy on how we would like to implement the concepts of independence or unity in our communities
Thus, we have the obligation “to sing in the choir “ (a reminder of late Patriarch Aleksei II), together with people, clergy, cultures, traditions that should not be split because of human misunderstanding of desire for power.
We do not choose each other in the Church. Never! We are chosen and called to gather in together with others and join the One Body of Christ. Why? Because “friendship, brotherhood” are the fruit of God’s forgiveness and definitely not some human capacities to cope with some or other people. Let’s read again and with true insights the meaning of the Gospel: “I call you not servants; for the servant does not know what his lord does; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain: that whatever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (John 15:14-16).
In Modern Hebrew, “חבר =chaver” means “friend, often a boy (girl)friend”. In the rabbinical tradition “a chaver” is a “ordained member of the community” in order to serve in a Jewish “congregation”. At the Talmudic period, the “chaverim” were ordained and given a letter of ordination. This is why the “chavurah – חבורא\חבורה” is a “religious association”. In a rather ironic way, the “chevra qaddisha” is today the example of love and assistance to our fellow people: they are in charge of burying the Jews with much humanity and decency. There is a Yiddish saying stating that a cemetery is a wonderful model of the world-to-come because it gathers people who are quiet, peaceful. They have to repose in the hands of the Most High.
We all face the constant and very questioning problem of how God can or does redeem us. How does He allow us to be “one and diversified” without fencing ourselves. Viktor Frankl, the famous Austrian psychiatrist who witnessed to his experience in the Nazi period and concentration camps, stated that the following pattern of two human attitudes seems to abide and govern human nature in the best and worse situations. He wrote: “If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life – an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival” (Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 123).
In 1958, Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote in his “Einsame Zwiesprache mit M. Buber” as follows: “Since the foundation of the Church, a dialogue between Jews and Christians has always been rare and invariably brief.” This has definitely been the case and it remains a pending concern. As in the 19th century when some German Lutheran theologians tried to survey the sources of the Gospel in the Talmudic sayings. It opened some new prospects. They could not spiritually stop the Nazi catastrophe and ideology. It did not allow to share on the reality of the Jewishness in her daily faith as it has developed over the centuries in all parts of the world. Today, in a free state, the Israelis are more likely to apprehend the Christian environment that cannot be reduced to some holy sites and historic stones or ruins. There are the living persons and they have to tame each other.
The Orthodox Churches came out of the catacombs with no real interest, no direct care for the Person of Jesus the Jew as belonging to the realm of the Mitzvot (Commandments) that the Jews have maintained throughout harsh period of persecution and forced conversions. The Orthodox Churches have kept and maintained, with much diversity and evolutions, the Liturgical, i.e. theological frameworks of the traditions of the East, mainly Eastern-Orthodox born of the initial pentarchy and Byzantine contexts.
It was urgent to carry out one task: to re-deploy, reprint, publicize the texts as they had been stopped at the turn of the 20th century. So later works focused on the heritage of the Church Fathers. Until now, whatever studies proposed in some circles or universities, it is far too early to reconsider some of the texts of the Liturgies – in particular after the feasts of Easter and Pentecost – that sound “anti-Judaic”.
It will take decades, maybe centuries before Jews, Israelis the different groups of rabbis and heads of yeshivot as individuals of good will be able to anticipate changes based on mutual respect and acceptance. The Orthodox traditional Churches have to meet with Judaism at a level of real equality. Judaism must also be truly interested and feel concerned at its level by looking into some common heritage with the Eastern Churches. Relationships are still developing in a very imbalanced Theo-Logical environment on stand-by or general ongoing competition if not constant suspicion.
In Jerusalem, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, the local traditional Churches (not those that have been imported in the past two centuries) had not anticipated the return of the Jews to Zion, the unprecedented ingathering of the exiled according to the Prophets. They are still in shock and reality of such a hapax is blurred.
This spiritual earth-quake deeply shook old and stiffening, often frightened ancient and prestigious Church communities that had lived under the Ottoman and European colonial rules. The new situation will not be a period of spiritual ease and peace. On the contrary! It may be quite significant as we do not go through periods of true inter-religious dialogue. We are more involved in processes of search for identities, authentic expressions of faith. Each congregation takes a breath and checks how the other jurisdictions are doing.
Hans Urs von Balthasar has it too, interrogating Martin Buber who had collected the Hasidic accounts: “How much of the Jewish tradition is still valid, and what has ceased to matter? Where can we find a solid foundation? What do the origins and sources of Judaism means to us today – Moses, the Law [H. U. v. Balthasar omits to mention the importance of the Jewish Oral Law for a correct understanding of the Gospel and the Epistles], the Kingdom the Prophets and the Apocalyptic element?”. Martin Buber never met with the Swiss German-speaking theologian.
We know that a large part of the Jewish tradition got lost along the ages. At the present, an immense corpus of texts has been assembled for the first time in history because of the new electronic techniques that allow immediate access and comparison of the texts.
The Churches face a similar situation thanks to the age of electronics. It allows to measure how traditions have disappeared from the Churches or have been kept on hold. This opens to the possibility to make exceptional comparisons of ideas, canons, Liturgies, interpretations and overcome stiffness or ignorance. It is a messianic task in which the Body of Christ is offered the capacity to show how “catholic, orthodox and apostolic” he is and will be for ever.