Being together in the Great Assembly
It is quite a blessing that I have been serving now for almost fifteen years in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, serving in the two most ancient churches (dedicated to SS. Haralambos and Nikolaos) and also inside of the Holy Sepulcher, i.e. the Anastasis or Church of the Resurrection.
I was sent to Jerusalem in order to pray in Hebrew and the Slavic languages and I could even add Yiddish - arguing that the Former Union people als ocame from the Jewish Autonomous region of Birobidjan... But mainly the miracle consists that, through prayer and with constant steadfastness in the service of all the faithful, I never was really stopped to pray in different languages and always maintain a certain order of priorities due to the presence in church or in the country of faithful of various origins.
Sometimes, this is only "tolerated". hierarchs and priests and or visitors or pilgrims would advice not to attend some sort of "heretic" if not "Catholic" sort of Liturgy because some litanies or readings may be in Hebrew, Modern Russian, Ukrainian or foreign people are welcome to sing Orthodox hymns in there mother language, from Dutch to Finnish, Georgian or Serbian, or Scandinavian, Spanish whatever. Tonight, a woman lawyer from Moscow was amazed that I have on my pocket notebook the text blesssed by the first Patriarch of Moscow, St. Tikhon in the Aleutian language of Alaska that was a part of his territory when he served there as a bishop in America.
As a member of the Jerusalem Eastern Orthodox clergy, we confess in Greek - the original tongue - that I/we believe in the "one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" because "kath'olikan" means that "we are open to the totality of the universe and redemption share with all the living and the dead. In this, the Church of Jerusalem is the true Mother of All the Churches of God.
This is why I repeat that "everybody is at home in the Church", in particular in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Eretz Israel.
I use to say and repeat because this must be repeated that "we are all at home in the Church" and that we are overshadowed, sheltered, protected and welcomed in any place where two or three gather in the Name of the Lord, as also stated in the sayings of the Fathers/Pirkey Avot about the Torah. This woman was surprised of the use of different tongues; I answered to her that we have to sing the a "choir", where all sounds are gathered and brought on the way to Redemption by the Mystery of Resurrection.
The Church of Jerusalem often appears as totally broken down, split, as missing coherence and prospects. Changes happen, earthquakes of spiritual nature are not reckoned as such because of some ancient and constant fear that things are stable with real consistency.
History had created a group of believers that sprouted from the Jewish tradition of the first century. It was reaching out to educate the Jews and transmit the tradition of Judaism at a time of great hardships, lack of independence and control or some submission to a foreign and pagan Roman Empire.
The small group of the disciples grew quickly - at some point the disciples also quit Jesus when his words were too difficult to accomplish and finally, he was betrayed by Peter, the disciples got confused and on the verge of despair.
All tendencies of Judaism of that time are present in the spiritual directions given by Jesus Christ - from the zealots to full openness, in particular to women. The Church started as a Jewish "sect", got "two hands" after the first Synod of Jerusalem (49/52 AD) and bishop Yaakov (James, Jacob) decreed that the Gentiles were accepted into the covenant without having the necessity to be circumcized but rather by adopting and following some Commandments that are very close to the Noahide Commandments, still in force in Judaism (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15). Indeed, they both put Judaism and Christianity on some very similar level, safe the act of Christian faith that proclaims the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The initial Church of Jerusalem was Judaeo-Christian and mainly located at Zion and close to the Temple rites. For historic reasons it got separated from the other Gentile part of the Church that arose in the other part of Jerusalem. Until 135 AD, the several heads or bishops of Jerusalem were Jews. It makes no sense to speak of any "Judaization" or "tendency to reverse historic facts. The Early Church had a "Ecclesia ex Circumcisione" and an "Eccleasia ex Gentibus (Nations)". It relies upon the Jewish consideration that there were and still exist two "nations": Children of Israel as confessing the One True God and the "nations or pagans, heathens" that at that time did not confess the One Living God, even if a lot of residents in the Holy Land were attracted by Judaism and could join faith by adopting the Noahide Commandments and become "God-fearing persons".
There maybe a long-term misunderstanding that developed throughout history by a process of estrangement. The Church became mainly Gentile. It basically grew along the Roman Empire, even if there is also a very respectable Semitic tradition of the East that crossed through Persia, Mesopotamia, India, Tibet up to China.
The Church relies upon the acceptance of Saint Paul's words: "... you that used to be so far off (the Gentiles) have been brought close ( to the Jewish Community and Service of the One God) by the blood of Christ. For he is the peace between us, and has made the two (Israel and the Nations/Gentes) into one entity and broken down (made inefficient, vain) the barrier which used to keep them apart, by destroying (in fact, making "useless") in his body the hostility, that is the Law of Commandments with its decrees. His purpose in this was, by restoring peace, to create a single New Man out of the two of them, and through the Cross, to reconcile them both to God in one Body; in his person he killed the hostility (hatred; ie. making it vain, odd, non-functioning)" (Ephesians 2: 13-16).
This is why the Church resembles some "Russian dolls" that you can put together from outward to inward but they remain a part of a unique Body for the confession of Resurrection.
At this point, it is a matter of fact that the kerygma of the Good Tidings of Jesus of Nazareth was announced and initially written in Greek. It is possible to discuss what kind of Greek has been used. The Septuagint is a Jewish translation made by the Sages of Alexandria for the use of the Jews who had forgetten Hebrew and Aramaic. It may take time; but the Jews will turn back to their use of Greek in the Talmud and the Bible. It requires patience and time because of the strong and powerful revival of Hebrew as a spoken pan-Jewish and Israeli language that tracks back to numerous layers of Hebrew speech and written documents.
This is the same for Aramaic that was spoken by the time of Jesus and his disciples. At the moment, no original document written earlier than the Greek version of the New Testament have been found in Aramaic even if we know that the oral tradition has always been very strong; there are many signs of Hebraisms in the New Testament but the Aramaic version appeared much later.
It is more than important that the Jerusalem Church refers to the LXX in Greek because it confirms that she has full confidence in the Jewish tradition. Even if they consider it in a still rather "opaque" way.The New Testament Greek and the Epistles show profound Semitic influences. Still, the language in which the Good News wre spread is indeed and remains Greek.
This definitely applies to this Saturday and the memory of the dead. Few people accept at first that the troparion of the Resurrection consists of two Jewish daily benedictions recited three times a day from very ancient times: "Blessed are You/Who 1) resurrects the dead and 2) in Your faithfulness reinvigorates/revives those who lie in the dust (of Hebron = the ancestors). This echoes in the Paschal outcry that "Christ is risen from teh dead, through his death he trampled/destroyed death and to those who lie in the graves/tombs, he gave life (sustained life, cf. Hebrew benediction).
May it be a sign of some Providence that the first Memorial Saturday fell this year just after the feast of Purim, the rejoicing of the Lots: it happened far before any Second Temple in Jerusalem and before any Christian separation from the Judaic roots. There is a constant feeling shared by the faithful that they are survivors and called to be surviving, beyond tiny limits. This joice cannot be pre-determined, it does not depend on humans; it comes from God. This definitely calls to overcome and show real gladness and joy, the joy we have when we meet, speak, share and feel in silence and equanimity that Somebody unites us beyond all the limits we love to bring forth.
It is quite a miracle that the Christian faith could survive in Jerusalem from the very Early Church till now. There are historic factors, splits, schisms. But from the very beginning, both the locals and the foreigners could be unbelievably suspicious toward each other. We have accounts of some who had visions or dreams telling them not t ogo to this or that church or priest or bishop or whoever because THERE was the Devil. It comes up very quickly here: we can suspect a glance, a glimpse, a face, a way of walking, a disease. We can suspect historicity and the reality of what has happened throughout the ages. How in the world a Jew could even be a Christian?!!!
Once a nun yelled at me with harsh anger that she was born in the Church but that I was damned to be a perpetual wanderer with true faith in Our Savior! Good Gracious I told her, keep cool, will you, just behave! I told her she wanted to shout, please, just feel at home! It may be good at times that people can freely show their anger or hatred, maybe one of the best ways to challenged true alterity and demonization... and feel that silence and quietness may lead to some love and communion.
I realize right now that I have not a single family "according to the flesh" as anybody has. Yes, children may prolong my way initiated with my wife. But contrary to them, I have no parents, relatives, cousins. All are dead and mostly have been killed. But before me, and certainly after me - I do believe in that - God will continue to show that Yiddishkayt and Slavics can match with all the estranged forms of faith that showed throughout history. The joy is to see that Jerusalem is a Church as a Whole, as One and thus does not belong or can be possessed by some nation or culture or faith. History has shown that Christianity was saved here only by God's Finger and His Only Will. We have no right to focus and only be fascinated by martyrdom. More than that there is constancy and love, life beyond all life, hope beyond all hopes. Purim has reminded this these days, firstly to the Jewish Community.
It also extends the message to the Church of Jerusalem that have so many multi-faceted layers; at times people would seem to belong or refer to some 4th, 7th, 10th, 15th, 18th, 19th or our two last centuries and all the layers can live together; they may not greet each other. This is quite amazing and overwhelming that people walk and run to Holy Sites as rushes or flashes that track back to the first beginnings of history and human conscience. They would not meet, they can smile; they would not spak and can ignore each other with much arrogance or total absence of the price of life, the value of our days, the incredible gift that we share this generation, portion of time and space and are contemporary with the only target to build the future.
When we serve the Liturgy, we cannot avoid anybody; this is a constant disease of faith that exclusion seems more easy than communion, rejection is always more trendy than unity. This can reach to a high degree of lack of consciousness about Who the Redemptor is. Twenty-five years ago, I had the chance to participate in a wide research on socio-culture and we had measured the emergence of a societal tendency: "exclusion". Nothings specifically new in human destiny: Sodom is the archetype of harsh exclusion.
But this "new tendency" that we had found as a seed of the present-day societies is mainly based on "hedonism", i.e. on human self-love and the self-centeredness of his desires, will, powers, actions and spiritual quests or searches. At this point, Communion and Oneness in and with God as being "I am to be the One Who I am to be, true translation of I am Who I am", turn to some swirling and sliding down to "egotism" and materialism. The old dreams of getting divine by ourselves had turned to nightmares.
At the present, exclusion is not emerging anymore: it is an acting factor of destruction and framing. It will pass because of the dynamics of times and souls, brains.
On the other hand, memorizing the dead and the living is important: at every Liturgy we are together and we unite all times from old and all times to come in sharing the Presence because the Presence gives us to each other to be One. This can be foolish or wise; like by the time of Purim or when the Apostles seemed to be a bit drunk, the Presence unexpectedly covers us into the One House.
av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)