These are the daily dates that I use to share every day on my different sites and blogs as they appear on this Sunday night:
יום א’ ראשון וראשי און א שיינעם זונטיק כ”ח דתשרי תש”ף.
Приятного Воскресенья 27-ого\14-ого Октября 2019-7528. Blessed Sunday 27\14 of October 2019-7528 – Safar 29, 1441.
6769, 29, (tishrin qadmaya) ܬܫܪܝܢ ܩܕܡܝܐ
It shows that we are on the first head day (of the week) [Hebrew], a nice Sunday [Yiddish] 28 of Tishri 5780 / a sweet Sunday or Day of the Resurrection 27/14 of October 2019-7528 [Russian] / on the 29th day of the Month Safar of the Year 1441 of the Hijri, i.e. on the 29th day of the first (month) on Tishrin in the Year 6769 after the Assyrian comput.
I daily refer to these traditions. Basically, it allows to appreciate times and delays. It means that we are on the move, live on the same planet, in different locations and that we understand the deployment of measurable periods and spaces according to contrasted cultural patterns. They maintain the primacy of a diversified system, among all the human beings, in view to approach the quality of living in a special generation. Contemporary existence and continuous streaming that advances ahead of future times.
A year ago, I had started to publish posts in English on this site. These were conceived as chronicles on the connection between the Eastern Christian Orthodox traditions and the way the Jewish traditions could meet at the present. It was just a sort of a launch, merely a project. Serving as an Orthodox priest in Israeli society and being born a Jew of Hebrew, Yiddish, multi-faceted backgrounds, I have spent long years of reflecting on the present development of new diachronic and synchronic cultural, mental, social, linguistic and spiritual-theological trends. I continue the reflection with back and forth travels and experiences in Hebrew-, Yiddish, Slavic-speaking environments.
One idea has been guiding my reflection based on “live” experience: a Jew is a native of the Church. The question is that there is no room for the Jews in the Churches as such. No territory – Israel is essentially Jewish and re-captures, in the small space where the notion of redemption has been heralded unceasingly, the space that had been kept and revived through constantly memorizing processes in the course of the ages and the different kinds of dispersion.
In the Church, there is no room for the Hebrew way of thinking. It does not mean that there cannot be some “Hebrew Christians”. This is not the purpose of this chronicle and those that I intend to write in this new series “Faith and Utterances”. Of course, the Church will make some room available to all its members. Her tongue, language, spirit, minds, brains, intelligence do not make use of the parlance, the words, the utterances as expressed by the Jews when they speak Hebrew, Judeo-dialects/languages (Yiddish, Ladino, Farsi-Tat, Judeo-Venetian or Greek and so forth).
In the course of my presence in the Church (forty-six years), I experienced that, at different levels, I really could act and behave as a Jew, thinking, writing, speaking, teaching in different languages rooted in my native Yiddish. It could be considered as a “singleton’s way”, but I would have dropped it if it were too abstract, out-singled. On the contrary, I met with individuals whose work and dedication could be a model. Born a Russian Jew, grown up in different countries of Europe, I considered that I had to make the sacrifice or to accomplish the mitzvah to help, as a very tiny link, to participate in the reconnecting process between some Jews and some Christians. The relationships had been estranged and disrupted on recurrent occasions. It is a very quiet attitude because, as late Fr. Kurt Hruby (1) used to say: “It will take centuries to repair centuries of fractures”. It makes things clear, cool, a prospect of eternity. I do not work for today. I try to experience something inherited from my education and studies. Then let’s meet in two or three centuries from now to see what the results may be.
Let me share just one real experience to explain the nature of the project. Some fifteen years ago, in Jerusalem, the small Orthodox community and I faced some internal conflicts due to the turbulence of the “local Rum Orthodox Church of Jerusalem”. Just “usual anti-Judaic stuff”. The lay representative of the community made a strong protest and met with the Secretary General of the patriarchate of Jerusalem. They had long talks in Hebrew. They did not use the same Hebrew. The archbishop spoke Greek in Hebrew and the layman expressed himself in Hebrew via his Jewish Russian mother tongue from Ukraine and Tajikistan with a touch of Yiddish background. The archbishop told him that the Greek Orthodox (of course, he focused on his own experience as a Greek from Crete and his Hellenistic education) had a great experience of the Jews who had converted to Greek Orthodoxy or had been seduced by the Greek style as it is common in Israel. They could assimilate more or less into the Hellenistic ways of thinking and acting. He said to the man: “Fr. Alexander remains a Jew – he is first a Jew and is a Christian, a member of the Orthodox Church, because he remains who he is. We are not used to this”.
Another example: a Greek Orthodox higumen in Jerusalem, now an archbishop, used to come to listen to the Divine Liturgy in Hebrew. He told me on several occasions: “You should teach us the Talmud” – “Why? You can learn it at the University of Jerusalem if you want”, I answered. He replied: “No, we do speak Hebrew, but we do not speak the same Hebrew language as the Jewish Hebrew speakers whatsoever, because we do not understand how to speak the way the Talmud describes the reality of life, faith, Divine Presence. We cannot convince them that we are right in our faith”. I replied: “Because there is a barrier, indeed a deep, huge wall that separate the mental structure of our tongues and subsequently who we are. Only authentic and free Faith and Revelation can break through such a barrier”. Of course, the Christian would refer to the verse of the epistle to the Ephesians 2:14: “For He is our peace, Who has made both one, and has broken down the middle of partition between us”.
Old and new meet again. They did, at times, throughout the ages. Nowadays, Christendom cannot be framed or fence itself in one or restricted portions of territories. It is fundamentally all over the map, universal. It calls to unity and drowns into harsh conflicts because some of the existing bodies had not anticipated the rebirth or re-appearance of other “elements” that try to take part in the concert of the required dialogues between all the members of humankind.
The Orthodox Church(es) are not remote. They are dynamic and ready to go en route to the future. Time cannot be measured at such a stage of development. It is not a matter of some decades, one or two or more centuries. We speak in terms of redemption and eschaton.
Most of the Orthodox Churches came out from some dictatorship, dire conditions of living or catacombs only thirty years ago. It is short. It took two thousand years for the Bishop of Rome to cross the river and pay a visit to the Jewish people of synagogue of Rome. Decisions were taken at the end of the Second Council of the Vatican with regards to the relationships to the others (“other” Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, …). The question came up that the “Body of Christ” is bigger, wider than one specific or particular Church (initially Lumen Gentium).
The same question continues to show up within each of the different canonical – and non-canonical – Orthodox Churches born of the Byzantine traditions. We see how many jurisdictions are profoundly questioned on their identity, rites, role of the local languages, words and concepts. It can be brutal. It does exist and it is definitely important for all to enjoy a true freedom of speech in order to interrogate and investigate the vast realm of the Orthodox Faith as it is widely spread or scattered throughout the continents.
I do not agree upon the somehow beaming contentment shown by some Christians – in particular the Western Latin Catholics and some Protestants – who consider that, after the final Declaration of Nostra Ætate, things are done, settled and there will be evident and good relationships between the Catholic Church and the representatives of Judaism. This is rather utopian. Not real. There is a deep breach, a separation that cannot find any sacred bridge to cover centuries of disdain, hatred, rejection, mutual ignorance and despise. A simple example: the notion of “deicide – God-killer” has not been removed or clearly re-defined.
On the one hand, this means that the Churches try to measure who they are, together or despite of their original space and numbers of believers. The Catholic Churches have not Clarified their own relationships. Beside the Latin “universal” jurisdiction there are more than a dozen of Eastern-rite Churches who “were given the communion with the Holy See of Rome”. The real decisions of the Council that ended in 1965 were not confirmed by local Eastern patriarchal Synods. Therefore, the relationships with the Jews and the Muslims are not precise nowadays. There are diplomatic, cultural, political reasons for such situations. Within the Catholic Church, many representatives of each jurisdiction are aware that the questions raised during the Council are still pending because the main points of controversy are on hold, but pending: how to heal the splits of history? All true Church leaders are aware that there need a real debate, dialogue between all Christian partners in order to solve centuries of conflicts, breaches and anathemas. Frankly, were the anathemas lifted in all Churches? Definitely not as they are reminded by most Orthodox Churches on each first Sunday of Great Lent dedicated to the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
At this point, we see that none of the present Orthodox Churches is really concerned with the value of the relationships between Orthodoxy and Judaism, the Jewish traditions, the real development of Jewishness. Indeed, some individuals or groups try to learn Hebrew, at least the Hebrew of the Bible. Some clergy and laity may have studied Hebrew and Aramaic as the two languages have been used in the Scripture and the Talmud. In Jerusalem and Israel, some Eastern Christian priests did try to study these traditions. It always remained at a basic level because the hierarchy have condemned them and did not accept such an intrusion into the world of the Jewish teachings. There is something else, quite in-born for men of the Church: the Christians would consider learning some features of the Jewish heritage in order to get to access a culture and, subsequently, to use it as a tool for the conversion of the Jews.
Equality, equanimity, equal relationships in considering the Mystery of Divine Revelation are not often taken into account when it comes to speak of Jews and Christians. It is impossible to speak on terms of equality between the two co-partners. The Pan-Orthodox Council had not a line on the nature of the relationships between the Orthodox Byzantine traditions born in Jerusalem and spread from the original Mediterranean Pentarchy and the Jewish communities. Still, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29).
It is time to suggest something. It cannot be great, exceptional. It only can be basic. There is a sort of religious precarity in making such a proposition for the Orthodox communities as they appear at the present. It will be a long way.
Most of the contemporary thinkers and theologians (in the Orthodox way of understanding the word) try to describe what is essential for the present-day Orthodox believers to receive, accept and understand from the huge heritage of the Greek, Russian, Romanian, Arab traditions in conformity with the traditions of the Church Fathers.
It encompasses an immense corpus of books, manuscripts, oral traditions, teachings, with documents and testimonies stored in the vast and ancient places of the Faith. Today, a lot of documents, books have been digitalized. But the world of the prayer and asceticism obliges the believers, the monks and the priests to update with their own traditional backgrounds before it could be possible to dialogue as equal partners with representatives of the Jewish traditions. The ancient ways of confessing the Name of the Lord have been split and estranged for far too many centuries. We all know that they are close. We understand that they have influenced each other in the course of history. Nevertheless, they feel that it is not easy to match with other jurisdictions and they hardly find a direct and common language in order to reach out to an adequate dialogue. All are easily trapped by the words, ideas, concepts whose original goals are to link the faithful and allow them to encounter, share and get to some true unity. At the present, there are people of good will everywhere – positive decisions are not common. There are a lot of publications, international conventions, the way will be a long journey and it is normal. Maybe a sign that we do not control times delays.
There are several points of discontinuity that developed along the ages. They grew into fractures, deep ruptures on dogmas. This means that, at the heart of the question, there is a linguistic disconnectedness.
In 1958 – 61 years ago – the Swiss German-speaking theologian Hans Us von Balthasar wrote a rather short and exceptional essay whose German title is “Einsame Zwiesprache mit Martin Buber” [Only translated into English in 1960: “Martin Buber & Christianity, A dialogue between Israel and the Church, London, Harvill Press, 1960]. I had the privilege to speak about the essay with the author in 1979 and to consider some new ways into renewed attitudes in the Eastern and Oriental Churches with regards to the Orthodox Jewish communities. He described the real stand of the “dialogue” between the Church – he meant the Latin Catholic body – and the Jews: “Since the foundation of the Church, a dialogue between Jew and Christian has always been rare and invariably brief. Judaism shut itself from Christianity, and the Church turned its back on the people which rejected it. The history of their relationships and contacts, is, it must be confessed, dispiriting”. (Martin Buber & Christianity, p. 12). This remains true for the Catholics to a large extent, in particular with regards to the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is definitely true and unchanged as concerns Judaism and the Orthodox Churches. This requires the ability to undertake some actions with confidence and goodness.
I have commented his booklet at length in my Saturday sermons in Russian and Hebrew along weekly divine Liturgies for more than twenty years. In fact, I did not focus on the Swiss German-speaking and Jesuit-educated scholar and thinker only. I mixed his reflection to the encounter with Orthodox theologians, Greek and Slavic scholars, Syriac and Assyrian priests. This was also possible because of intimate and “native” relationships with the Yiddish-speaking scholars in Israel. Interestingly enough, I could do this quite openly in a the very special context of the Old City of Jerusalem. The actual patriarch of Jerusalem, whilst a young archbishop at the Holy Sepulcher told me once that, in a difficult context, he opined that I never had acted with a spirit of “ethno-phyletism” or “Hebraic-centeredness”. I chose another path: the narrow gate of faith and universality in the sense of “open to the plenitude, the authentic faith and its apostolic dynamic process of ingathering all”.
This is why I tried to mix the reflection of Hans-Urs von Balthasar with those – in Russian – of Vladimir Solovyov (2) who had decided to become a Russian Catholic of Byzantine rite. There are no real examples of similar routes inside of the Orthodox field of experience so far I could see. Daniel Chwolson had a special way from the Jewish shtetl of Mohilev to the Theological Academies of Saint-Peterburg but his work remains rather unknown (3)
Vladimir Solovyov had shared his reflections on Judaism and the Christian question. The booklet had been edited in the West, but most of the newcomers who, in Israel, had read the writings of Father Alexander Men (3), thought that it was intriguing to inquire the path that the Russian philosopher had opened in 1884!
A dialogue can exist if we are connected by a common agreement on the multi-faceted meanings of words and phrases. This appears to be a very twisted and most difficult task in the dialogue between all religious denominations in Israel. Each party will jerk on words and texts according their own tongues and cultural heritage and interests.
The resurrection of Hebrew in Israel created a real hapax, brand new revelation per se. The Hebrew version of the Bible had been seized – just a matter of fact and not necessarily a negative point – and reinterpreted by the numerous Christian communities that have shown up along the ages. They took up the Bible and left aside the Talmud. They accepted the Written Law of life and neglected the Oral Tradition. Some Karaites and the Samaritans have also dropped the Oral Tradition.
The Eastern Orthodox traditions read the Bible in the Greek Septuagint version made by the Jews of Alexandria. They are not likely to refer to the Hebrew original version of the Massoretic tradition. The Russian Synodal Bible is based on the Hebrew text but refers to the LXX when the Hebrew words are ambiguous. Thus, the Byzantine traditions trust the way the Jews have translated the Scripture, which means that they access the Revelation through a Semitic medium expressed in a major Indo-European language. Is the Greek language of the LXX still a European tongue or is it merely a sort of para-Judeo-Hellenistic dialect?
Hebrew is a real exception in terms of linguistic experience: it is the first time that a supposedly dead language revives, is reinvigorated, definitely dynamic. It is a sort of miracle – at least an unexpected phenomenon. It is sealed with the deep mark of the life-giving Spirit of prophecy. Hebrew becomes anew the tool that allows refreshing reflection and approach of all the diachronic / synchronic elements carried with faith, and expressed by all monotheistic traditions. It is a mentally prophetic process of an emerging big bang.
This is why I will analyze selected words or phrases from the Hebrew and Jewish diversified linguistic traditions (Aramaic, Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-dialects) and show how they match with the ways the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Orthodox and Catholic translations can meet in order to open up to some understanding of redemption (4).
(1) Kurt Hruby was an Austrian scholar, a Roman Catholic priest ordained after WWII in Belgium who dedicated his life to the recognition of the Jewish theology and reality as a full element of the history of salvation. He lectured in Orthodox circles and university, in particular at the St. Sergius Institute of Theology – Liturgical Week programs. I continued his work there since 1992.
(2) Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (1853-1900): “Freedom, Faith and Dogma: Essays by V S. Soloviev on Christianity and Judaism.
(3) Daniel Chwolson (1919-1911): Russian-Jewish Orientalist, professor of Talmud.
(4) For the French-speaking readers, cf. the recent book of Jean-Claude Larchet: “En suivant les Pères… La vie et l’oeuvre du Père Georges Florovsky, Editions des Syrtes 2019. The Russian theologian had insightful views on the universality of the Church, the role of Hellenism and the Greek language. I will also refer to the work of Barbara Cassin who entered the Académie Française and is a philosopher specialized in the role of the Greek language and way of thinking.