1. On times and delays
One more year! I always wear two watches. That was the
first article I could publish in my Jerusalem Post blog some years ago.
Two watches because on the left hand, the “Jewish Watch” shows the
Hebrew calendar date, the time for the Jewish prayers, blessings and
reading portions (parashyot/פרשיות ) AND ALSO the Gregorian date + the
time in Jerusalem. On the right wrist, the watch shows the Julian
calendar date plus the time as it is in Jordan, Palestine, especially in
Summer, because the Patriarchate of Jerusalem never switch to to Summer
time. People usually do not pay attention to the fact that the Jewish
Orthodox time does not change and correspond to that measure of our
Patriarchate. Let’s say we are united beyond any sort of “conscious
This year, the program of the Semaine Liturgique of
the Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Sergius at Paris was
dedicated to “Fast, fasting”. I lectured about the connection that
exists between fast and Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement and that also
includes Tisha Be’Av, the Ninth day of Month Av on which the Community
of Israel commemorates the destruction of the Temple and other mishaps
in the Jewish history.
This started with the spies who lied to Moses when
they returned from their exploration in the Promised Land. They were
afraid to leave the comfortable and “secured” place in the wilderness.
Just as the generation of the Exodus had been frightened after some time
by the rude life in the desert. They regretted the Land of Egypt and
We are quite ready to long after spiritual matters.
The Jewish people has a long experience of spiritual turbulence. The
Jews also understand that the consequence of their sins maybe the
destruction or getting away of some visible or “somehow palpable”
Presence of God.
To begin with, Judaism is “faith and belief in joys
and rejoicing events and seeds of life”. Jews can mourn. Too often they
may consider themselves as a “mourning” or saddened community,
constantly facing adversity, feud, enmity. This is indeed the negative
element of some specific Jewish educational system. True, this is quite
obvious in Israel: the country shelters many individuals and groups that
would be subject to persecution, pogroms or hostility in other parts of
the world. Albert Einstein doubted about the real abilities of the
Jewish people to cope together with their own “tribes and fellow Jewish
ilk”. He stated that in 1938, speaking of what is usually translated in
German as “Geduld und Weisheit” (cf. in fact he spoke of “Tolerance and
Wisdom”). But he had added that, in exceptional cases of emergency,
Israel could be created as a Jewish state in order to provide the Jews
with a secure shelter.
Over centuries, the Jews have served many Nations in
almost all countries. Jews are to be found in almost all parts of the
world and among the most remote human groups. Many Jews continue and
will always serve the Nations and live among them. The return to
Jerusalem and Eretz Israel corresponds to a real call. It has often been
an economic “consequence”, if not the result of harsh persecution and
pogroms. The in-gathering of the Jewish people in Israel is inscribed
and clearly depicted in the Books of the Prophets.
I had been visiting and lived in Israel before I
arrived as a priest in charge of Israeli believers. But when I arrived
to serve among the inhabitants of the Jewish State (in Hebrew but also
in Yiddish and other Jewish tongues... this is a must and not some odd
folklore), I started by a socio-sociological study that I could convey
for one of the leading European and International company. They asked me
to make a sort of “overall photograph - map” of the spiritual
development of the Israeli society as a whole. It has been a fascinating
task and it allowed me to get into the many side segments of the
society. They asked for this “spiritual survey” because the “return of
the exiled” and the development of Israeli economic power does not rely
upon migration man power, new abilities or skills and competences. There
is a deep, very rooted spiritual, Biblical and TALMUDIC background to
the whole of Israeli society and their economic growth.
The Talmudic part is more than essential in the way we
can approach Israeli culture and education. Israel is a shelter. it
cannot be only a shelter. This would sound too “nudnik-like”. People
dare not arrive in Israel because they need baskets of money, financing,
economic assistance. Joseph Trumpeldor came as numerous olim/newcomers,
among them Eliezer Ben Yehudah, with a hope beyond any other hope. This
hope does not concern death, hostility, estrangement in foreign
countries, alienation, secularization or even conversion. At this point,
late Rav Kook did welcome all the Jews, religious or “secular, atheist,
apikoros - אפיקורוס/doubtful Epicurean, blazé style”. There is no model
of being “Jewish”. Maybe there is a type of how to get into contact and
fully adapt, cope the Jews and participate in the new Israeli society;
but again, “hope and joys/rejoicing beyond hope and sorrow”.
There deals with much more than political views over
Zionism in the “in-gathering of the exiled”. The spiritual challenge is
composed of multi-faceted aspects. One of them is “faith”, the
implementation of Jewish faith as such, as a coherent challenge to get
to redemption, salvation and to the “World-To-Come”. This constitutes
one of the reasons I could clearly describe during the survey I conveyed
before commencing my work in Israel. I could “scan” the influence of
many Protestant, in particular Scandinavian and American (Messianic)
groups that wanted to back the Jews to return to the Holy Land in order
to hasten th second and final coming of the Messiah Jesus. It is very
The Scandinavian Protestants got “deceived” because
the Jews did not behave according to their plans. They thought that the
in-gathering of the Jews would allow their conversion to Christianity
or, at least, serve the “end-of-time” prophetic expectations of the
Christian communities. This did not happen. The same happens today:
numerous “Messianic” or Evangelical groups swarm to Israel and back the
State for political and tactical reasons. These do not include any of
the fundamental patterns of regular and living Judaism. When the
Churches try to enter the “ocean-like world” of the Oral Tradition, they
do not read it as a part of Christendom. They would read it either in
English, German, Russian, but it requires years of daily training only
to get to the core of Judaism. It takes “lives’ time” to get to some
connection between Judaism and Christianity without abolishing anything
of the Talmudic heritage.
This is why American Evangelicals are often astounded
by the attitude of Israelis. To begin with, they seem to be welcome in
the country. But they cannot pretend to any privilege on long-term and
this is the itching point. The “Christian Embassy” pays tons of dollars
or whatever currencies to allow the Jews to make their aliyah/return to
the homeland. In between, as I often have to face it, they not only
distribute furniture or pay for new “teeth” or whatsoever.... they do!
They also suggest that the concerned individuals or their families could
convert and be baptized. This is strongly forbidden by the law of the
State of Israel. Indeed any soul may convert to any sort of spiritual
belief, creed and faith. But the law provides that this only can be
total free, without any financial advantage and that the people who
convert to any other religion should do it with much awareness and ttoal
freedom of reflection and choice.
The deported German Rabbi Leo Baeck stated that
“rarely in history a Jew converted in full knowledge and awareness of
what he was doing; usually he did it in order to get some advantage...
rarely the Jews converted to get more faith and less advantage...”.
I had the privilege to serve as a priest with late
Father Elia Shmain, a wonderful Jewish-born priest. He came to Israel
with the new wave that arrived after the fall of communism in Soviet
Union. He had spent many years in the Gulag for faith. When he came to
Israel with his family, he served in the Israeli army. It was quite
funny, because while serving as a priest at the Russian cemetery at
Sainte Geneviève des Bois where I replaced him but also co-worked with
him before he returned to Russia, we used to pray for the
“Adelphotitoi/Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher” of the Greek Orthodox
Patriarchate. The list was a bit obsolete but we read from the official
booklet. Then he used to show the books that he had received from the
Israeli Army, in particular the newest pocket edition of the Talmud for
When we met, we had of course a nice and open
discussion about why we were Christian faithful... and priests. We had a
lot in common, especially a real experience of suffering, prison, lack
of freedom. We both had to bring up and take care of handicapped
children. We knew the price of such handicaps added to the
“disadvantage” to be Jews and priests among the Gentiles. He was right:
Jews in the Soviet Union could desire to become “priests” or dedicate
their life to God in the Christian Church(es) because at that time it
was far too dangerous if not impossible to become a rabbi or to lead a
Jewish community. Then, he told me that the “Kiddush/קידוש “ (Blessing
over the cup and bread) was precious for him, but he felt much more in
“Presence” is not comparable to anything. In my
teaching and lectures, I always point out what Kiddush means to the
Jews: the blessing is pronounced in order to thank God for His creation
and the fruit He gave or allowed the humans to “shape” and share. The
blessing allows to take something that firstly belongs to God and to
hand it over to human use.
2. Kiddush and Eucharist
We may discuss at length about the origin of the
Eucharist. Is it a Kiddush or really the anticipated Paschal Meal
according to some Essene or other side groups? The Gospel do not allow
to fix the issue, event if it is clear that Jesus died as the Feast of
Pessah was to start in Jerusalem.
As for many actions in the Gospel, we have to refer to
true faith. For instance, Jesus died on a Shabbat eve: for the Jews,
the Shabbat prevails because it fully includes the total Presence of God
Himself. Pious Jews would be able to “feel” the difference with the
In comparison, the Curé d’Ars, Saint Jean Baptiste
Marie Vianney used to say that a priest “would die on the spot if he
could see the Presence in the Eucharist”. In that sense, the very
reality of the Eucharist is to be found and understood in this immense
mystery of Divine Presence in the world, though not clearly “visible”,
just as the Shabbat. The Divine Presence in the Eucharist has nothing to
do with what we - as humans - understand, feel, accept or reject. This
it cannot be reduced to a pagan act. Just as some Jews would never
accept the Divine Presence on the Shabbat but enjoy a day off, the
Eucharist has nothing to do with what has always been prohibited and
confirmed as being forbidden, i.e. meals offered to idols (Acts of the
Apostles 15; and the “Noahide Laws” reinvigorated in the present State
of Israel and Modern Judaism).
3. The specific role of Yom Kippur and Tisha Be’Av
The theme of the annual Semaines Liturgiques de Saint
Serge was to display the roots and backgrounds of “fasting” in the
Eastern Orthodox Church and of course the other denominations. I was
asked to describe some link to Yom Kippur. But I would underscore
something else that I could not develop during the Semaine Liturgique
except in a sort of apart discussion with the lecturers. It would be a
whole theme by itself on which I have been reflecting for many years.
Yom HaKippurim/יום הכיפורים is undoubtedly the major
Jewish Feast. It is a day of atonement, of pardon. On that day, each Jew
should pray to be released by God from all his sins reckoned in
different categories of 37 supplications. The feast is rooted in the
Sumerian tradition and Ugarit “Kipuru”, a sort of “ransom” that wipes
out, eradicates and suppresses all sins, transgressions that a human
being may commit in so various ways, considering that it goes far beyond
any conscience, consciousness, awareness or soft, light, deep, profound
absence or desire to get aware of the sins that were committed. .
This is why introspection joined to our capacity to
analyze misdeeds make us real “human and humane beings”. In the course
of history, pardon and forgiveness have been a vivid sign that Jews were
always driven, not “compelled, to forgive their feuds. On the other
hand, there is a real difference with the position of the Gentiles.
Judaism is basically “positive” and “oriented to life, life-giving,
birthing”. It is strange to note that the only language in which we can
track back the heart of the Kippur or Day of Atonement is the Prayer of
the Lord in Greek only; whereas only in this tongue is kept the move
that we as humans firstly ought to pardon our fellowmen and other
humans. Consequently, God can pardon us. This is at the core of the the
Eucharistic move because it is at the original point of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is the “soul”, the day of some full tending
to real consciousness of our sins. Many rabbis insist at the present
that we seemingly come back to some idol conduct that led to the
destruction of the First Temple. Who would ever have thought that Jews
would be drifted by passions like rape, incest, nonsense of murder,
women and teen abuse. We read about that everyday in the Israeli press.
It is beyond any kind of shame. Deposed President Katsav is very pious.
In comparison, let’s put it in a parallel way, we hear about the
unbelievable attitude of numerous Christian clergy people in different
parts of the world. Rav Druckmann, Head of the Gush Etzion community is
really a man of God and often utters the right words we need in the
country and the faithful Jews should accept because they are based on
the Tradition, the Oral and Written Laws and wisdom.
We need the same discourse from the Christian clergy
in the Holy Land in general. Before pretending to some “free love - אהבת
חינם “, it is true that our society is or looks “cold”, just the way
Jesus declares in the Gospel questioning whether upon his coming the Son
of Man will find faith on earth. We are going through times of great
turbulence and spiritually shaking interrogations.
4. Temple and Mikdash
On the other hand, in Jerusalem, there is a second
“Temple”, the Church of the resurrection or Anastasis, usualy called
“Holy Sepulcher” in the Western tradition. In the Anastasis, we
celebrate the whole of the time of redemption according to the Christian
faith: the mocking, crucifixion, sleeping into the death and
resurrection of Jesus whom we call Christ or Messiah. The Tomb is empty.
The destruction of Jesus on the Cross corresponds to his words that he
would be “rebuilt in three days” as compared to what happened to the
Mikdash - מקדש/Temple of Jerusalem.
The Christians cannot prove that Jesus resurrected
from the dead. It is given as a free gift in the Holy Spirit and to whom
the Heavenly Father wants to reveal such an eschatologic reality. .
In Jerusalem, we have two major places of redemption:
The Temple located on the Temple Mount and the Anastasis. Both places,
inhabited by the Divine Presence, face the mystery of “life and hope
beyond hope”. With regards to the Temple of Jerusalem, the Jews have
been praying over two thousand years with the certitude to see the
Temple raise from ashes. It means that both Judaism and Christianity
look ahead to Divine coming and full revelation. There is a sort of
“equality” that neither the Jews nor the Christians would agree upon;
“in the scope of “redemption”, fulfillment of plenitude, “pleroma” seems
to belong to one or another group by a system of intellectual and
Redemption came to maturity with God’s naming at mount
Sinai: “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh/אהיה אשר אהיה that seemingly should be
translated as “I am Who I am” (Exodus 3:14). These are the words or the
Name that God gave to Moses. True, the Name introduces to a move,
movement toward something and Someone Who is moving ahead and grow into a
For the rabbinic tradition, the verse and Name of God
should not be translated as a “stiff” phrase. Hebrew is thus in
un-achieved tense. It opens to the future. The Name of God calls to a
certain move, not to stay put. Indeed, the verse should be translated as
follows: “I am going to be Who I shall/will be going to be (on a
perpetual basis)”. In some specific way we should say that God, the
Divine Presence is “coming out, showing up and out into the world, this
and the other worlds”, constantly, permanently. The move never stops.
Jesus goes forth on the same line and path. His way is to be on a move
that includes constant changing in one’s life. It is quite significant
that the Greek deacon utters “Dynamis” before the reading of the
Scripture because it calls to this move that develops in the celebration
of the Eucharist.
Let’s have a look at the Gospel: Saint Mark’s account
(8:27-35), includes the faith expressed by Saint Peter at Caesarea, six
days before the occurrence of the Transfiguration. This definitely
corresponds to the Feast of the Tents (Mark 9:2 ss.; cf. Matthew 17:1-8;
Luke 9: 28-36).
In the text, Jesus firstly asks: “For the people, who
am I?”; we should consider that the question focuses on God and Divine
recognition. The question corresponds to interrogating the Presence or
existence of more than “human, humane”. The question is comparable to
the expression “Mi El kamocha = מי אל כמוכה - Who is a God like You”.
Based upon the tradition of Saint Matthew, Jesus
questions his disciples six (6) days before the feast of the Tents
(Booths, Tabernacles, Huts), which means that he interrogates Peter
(Shimon Kaipha) about himself AND God no the very Day of Atonement, i.e.
six days before the eschatological feast of Sukkot/Tents. The feast
refers to this constant move toward the full revelation of God and His
It should be noted that Jesus does not question the
disciple in Jerusalem, or inside of the Temple of Jerusalem. Nor does he
ask Peter on mount Garizim where he had spoken with the Samaritan
woman. The confession of Peter will be uttered on the day of Atonement
or Yom HaKippurim (יום הכפורים ) that mark a turning back to God, to our
fellow human people in order to open up a new year of life and
The scene takes place at Banyas (Panias, Banias, the
place of pagan god Pan who had goat feet and had been victorious over
the powers of evil, a bit like the slaughtering of the Baalim by Prophet
Elijah on the coast). We know the town as Caesarea Philippi, but Jesus
had stopped outside of the pagan location. It is possible to say that
there is one of the most ancient pagan site, a source that flows down
through Jordan River from the borders of the Golan.
Pan is the only Greek and pagan god to be submitted to
death; he supposedly died. There is some confusion between Pan and
Tamuz and he is a typical example of pagan eros.
Jesus, on that specific day of Atonement, is not
submitting himself to some odd poll. He is interrogated about his
identity. Thus, Peter’s response is unique and a part of the Kippur
questioning for life: Shimon Peter says: “You are the Messiah, the son
of the living God”. It means that God cannot die. God is not a puppet or
a statue or a Pan-like idol. Jesus is the “Son of Man = his complex
affiliation is related to messianic views, salvation, i.e. redemption
of the whole universe”.
The meaning of the text is very clear in the Gospel after Matthew 16:16:
“Jesus declared: but who do you say I am?” And Simon
Peter answered and said to him: “You are Christ, the Son of the Living
God.” Jesus answered and said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Yonah,
for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is
in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter (Kaypha) and on this
rock, I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail
against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and
whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you
loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
“Kaypha/כיפא” means “stone, rock” in Aramaic. In an
environment of death and judgement (Banias), paganism and death are
called to be destroyed. Peter make the confession of God to Jesus in
Banias and still Jesus tracks back to history and tradition. How come
that there was a first “Shimon Bar Yonah” in the Book of Baruch Ben
Sirach 50:1 : “It was Shimon Bar Onias (Yonah) the High Priest, who,
during his life, repaired the House (Temple, after the return from
Babylon) and during his days strengthened the Sanctuary” (Siracide
This is what had happened when the Jewish people came
back from deportation in Babel. Siracide 50:16-20 continues and
describes the scene: while the levites were singing, the people were
gathered to pray and supplicate to God. Then (Shimon bar Yonah) waved up
his hands over the whole assembly of the children of Israel in order to
give them the blessing and have the honor to pronounce His Name.” (cf.
Talmud Yoma 3,8). This is the order of pronouncing the Holy Name of God,
the Shem HaMeforash/שם המפורש that only could be uttered once a year on
the day of Atonement. In the afternoon of the Yom Kippur, the
cantor/hazan reads the account of this rite. It climaxes with the Name
and the forgiving action of the life-giving God.
The building pf the Church relies on a man, a mortal
one, Kaypha. It would be useless to discuss here the notion of “Church
creation and/or launching”. In Hebrew tradition, disciples follow a
spiritual guide; the creation of a separate new Body would be in
contradiction with the profound hope and longing of the Jewish call to
unite all the Universe, i.e. to assemble Jews and Non-Jews (Gentes,
Gentiles) into ONE SINGLE UNIQUE BODY.
We deal here with Eucharist and this is why we would
not any longer about the Church. But Israel remains and always has
remained the only Divine Assembly and One Jerusalem Church that spread
over the continents.
Moreover, we see the connection and definitely not a
disrupture between the naming of Simon Bar Yonah confessing the Messiah
in Jesus and the parallel situation in the Scripture when the Temple
services started again after the return from Babylon.
Jesus said to Peter that he would be given the keys to
tie or to loose, to bind or to release. This refers to the Day Of
Atonement as a joyous day of forgiveness and proclamation of God’s reign
over the whole of the creation. This implies that there cannot be any
split, breach, but constant moves and search for unity.
But there is another Kaypha at the time of Jesus’
trial: the High Priest who also made the statement in the form of a
question; the question is someway quite similar to the confession of
Peter. Jesus had asked his disciples about “who the people say about
him”. High Priest Kaypha asked Jesus: “Do you answer nothing? What is it
that these men testify against you? (that he could destroy and rise the
Temple in three days)”. Jesus kept silent. And Kaypha added: “I adjure
you by the living God that you tell us of Christ the Son of the living
God”. The High Priest “adjures” and reverses the confession made by the
Note that Peter is also “Kaypha”. it should be his
“usual first name” along with “Shimon”. Curiously, both
Kaypha-Peter-Shimon Bar Yonas the disciple of Jesus and Kaypha the High
Priest of the Jewish Community are at the same level, same stand and
equal. Both will reject Jesus as Messiah/Christ. Peter’s institution as
the first of the Apostles is to be found in the Gospel of Saint John
21:15-19. The chapter had been added quite lately to assure Peter’s
first “rank”. On the hand, it is important to take good note of the
value of names and Peter is fundamentally tracking back to the “rock”.
Jesus’ silence to High Priest Kaypha’s questioning or
the disciple Peter who confesses God in the Messiah testify for his full
“control” of history and redemption in the Name of his heavenly Father.
Redemption develops in accordance with a special pattern and schedule:
Judas’ corruption, but also Peter’s rejection and denial of his guide
The day of Atonement does not only relate to “sins and
pardon, trespasses and Divine forgiving”. What pardon? Why should we
reconcile and why God should grant His pardon to peoples who are so slow
and reluctant to really wiping out of any enmity. Let’s be honest and
consider the way we sketch out our faith in God: by mere exclusion and
suspicion. God never proposes redemption at such a low level. Disciple
Peter, Kaypha the “rock”, so similar to the high priest Shimon Bar Yonas
(Siracide 50) at the outcry of the cock/rooster who crowed three times!
It is the first morning blessing recited by the Jews; it was by the
time of Jesus and it is still the first prayer because the cock is
“automatically conscious” of “day-time”, while human beings prefer to
judge and not to agree or follow God’s proposals.It is amazing that the
blessing “Blessed are You, Lord, Lord of the Universe / Who gives
understanding to the cock to distinguish between day and night - ב’ א’
ה’ א’ מ’ ה’ הנותן לשכוי בינה להבחין בין יום ובין לילה .
Forgiveness makes sense if the entire universe is
granted salvation and redemption. When the rooster crows, the animal
systematically switches and clicks to day-time. There are no automatics
with faith in God. Divine Presence is of that nature: just as the French
Curé d’Ars (saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney) told that no priest or
faithful could survive if they would get to totally visualize God’s
resurrected Messiah in the Eucharist. Faith leads to full confidence and
inner feelings toward Divine Presence.
Each time the Eucharist is celebrated, the Church
proclaims pardon and resurrection, forgiveness and Divine Presence over
the whole of the universe. This is why Yom Kippur is essential for the
Christians. The Day refers to the propitiatory character of Jesus’
sacrifice, cf. God’s righteousness through faith in the Epistle to the
5. Prohibited or “on hold”
Subsequently, fasting and sexual abstinence are not
“pagan” or non-dogmatic ecclesiastic rules! I would suggest that things
should be reconsidered in accordance with the Jewish Kippur tradition.
Contrary to what has often been declared over
centuries about Latin celibacy or more exactly sexual abstinence, sexual
intercourse is involved in the Eucharist. The Roman Empire Catholic and
Orthodox traditions rule that the ordained priests must abstain from
sexual intercourse before celebrating the Sacrament of Eucharist.
This does not only concern the priests (bishops and
deacons, protodeacons,;;;) but all the clergy and the faithful lay
people. The rule can be strictly respected in many Orthodox
congregations. The Eastern Catholic or Orthodox priest can be married.
On the other hand, he will abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife
before celebrating the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist). This is a universal
rule of the Church.
Nonetheless, there is some difference: the Eastern
Catholic or Orthodox priest is not obliged to daily celebration of the
Divine Liturgy or Eucharist. Sexual abstinence is not required for daily
Morning and Evening prayers.
The Roman Latin rite priest is usually ordained in
view to celebrate the Eucharist on a daily basis. It makes a great
difference in the way the Sacrament of the Lord’s Presence is shared in
the Western Church, not in opposition but in a contrasted way to the
The Eastern Orthodox believers ought to stop their
sexual activities, not only the lay people but all the members of the
clergy before going to participate in the Divine Liturgy. There is no
difference of rank as it concerns all the members of the Church. It is
not restricted to sexual activity but it also includes fast and all the
regulations for fasting periods. It is a typical heritage that lines
with the principles governing the Day of Atonement.
Some rules of the Church often seem “obsolete”. Judaism does not
encourage any abstaining from sexual activities. On the other hand, the
Jewish tradition considers that sexual intercourse is healthy, vital,
The first biblical commandment and “mitzvah” is that “you shall grow,
multiply and fulfill/conquer the earth” (Genesis 1:23.28). The
commandment extends to “union = unity” in a special order: not the woman
shall leave her house, but it is said to man “you shall leave your
father and mother and clutch to your woman and you shall be “one flesh””
Man will “enter his wife”. Sexual realities are also
shown in how the Divine Liturgy bring forth the Divine Presence to the
faithful. Married (or non-married) priests have to leave their wives to
enter the very heart of the Church, i.e. the “altar”.
Most Christian denominations have maintained the
Jewish prayer of the psalm “Introibo ad altarem Dei = I enter to the
altar of God”, i.e. “Ego autem in multudine misericordiæ tuæ introibo in
domum tuam, adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum in timore tuo/ואני ברב חסדך
אבא ביתך. אשתחוה אל היכל קדשך ביראתך” that corresponds to the
introductory morning prayer that immedialtely follows Bilaam’s
confession “How good are your tents, Yaakov, your mansions, Israel/מה
טבו אהלך יעקב משכנתיך ישראל”.
It could be possible to add further reflection to the
way the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. I would focus on the Kippur
heritage and continuous reality for the Christian life. I often give
this example at the Holy Sepulcher, in particular in the Katholikon that
is the nave of the Rum-Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodox Churches could
and at times continue to ask women whether they are in their monthly
periods. The question deals with far too much intimacy. But it is a real
question also in Judaism.
Either the question is rude and negative toward women.
It makes no sense here. On the contrary, I try to underscore how
positive the Scripture and redemption consider women. This could lead to
strong denials by entire societies. Let’s keep to the Sacrament,
fasting, abstaining from sexual intercourse as meaningful with regards
to the Jewish roots and current tradition.
In the Eastern Churches, following different decisions
taken from the 11-12th centuries, the structure of a church is inspired
by the Bible, not the Jewish tradition directly. But still, Oriental
Churches usually celebrate in a space that corresponds to the Temple of
Jerusalem, with royal gates, the curtain (Kapporet/כפורת ), the altar.
Thus, the separation is meaningful. The clergy enter in order to proceed
to the Sacrifice. When the Oriental priest goes out with the Cup that
includes both the most holy Gifts of the “Body and Blood of the Risen
Lord”, he brings forth the Cup that is compared to the “womb of the
Mother of Jesus”.
With regards to the symbolic elements of the
life-giving celebration of the Eucharist or Divine Liturgy, this implies
that the Gifts as given as the seeds, the fruit of the Woman. Each
woman is thus “sanctified” by being in herself a “living calendar” and
menstrual periods. There are specific “life-lines” that are specific to
The Oriental priest follows at each Divine Liturgy,
just the same way all the faithful, male or female do, the order of the
rules governing the celebration of the Day of Atonement, “in ransom for
the multitude”. The clergy enter the “altar space of the Eastern
Orthodox tradition” because it is evident that only a man can enter a
woman and not a woman enter another woman. It may sound a bit raw! But
Jesus as the whole of the Commandments do take into account our raw
human being existence.
The Kippur tradition allows to go much deeper into the “traditional precepts or rules” governing sex and fast realities.
The Eucharist introduces all human beings of whatever
faith or religion into another spiritual scope. The Divine Liturgy is in
no way the possession of any clerical, ecclesiastical or religious
group or community, Church. It belongs to God as thus to all living
We may not cope with the rules. We may not understand
and turn living commandments or customs into stiff social decrees. It
has often been the case throughout history. The Sacrament covers time,
space, all human parameters and rules.
Religious rules do not rely upon “prohibition” or
canceling of freedom to give life in all possible ways. Faith induces
that life is always stronger, bigger, richer than any regulation.
It should be noted that the high priests who served in
the Temple quit their families for a time and returned to them, just as
some of the Oriental clergy.
All Eastern Orthodox faithful are normally submitted
to sexual abstinence and fasting in view to communicate during the
Divine Liturgy. This does not interfere with monasticism that
corresponds to another way to consider personal dedication to God for
the spiritual benefit of the whole Church.
At this point, the Church only re-discovers the
richness and significance of Yom HaKippurim, the day of atonement for
the redemption of all living beings.
It is rather significant to review this aspect of
abstinence/fasting and Communication to the Holy Gifts on the Feast of
the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Church considers the historic
background of the festive context.
The scene relates to the Feast of the Tents/Booths
(Sukkot/סוכות ). We do not know with exactitude where it took place.
According to the Gospel, it happened on a high mountain and the
tradition considers Mount Thabor as the place although the first Father
to connect the scene to Thavor is Origen... in the third century. Many
^theologians suggested it could be Mount Hermon or even Jerusalem.
Indeed, the scene of Transfiguration is special: it
concerns a flash, a radiating light or vision of Jesus in full “whiter
than white”. Just before this vision, he met, as accounted in the
Synoptic Gospel, with Moses and the Prophet Elijah, i.e. the two major
actors in the history of redemption.
This account is thus directly connected to the
celebration of the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur introduces to the time
of a pilgrimage that looks ahead of the achievement of history and final
revelation of God. But this relates to the history of the whole of the
universe. This is why Transfiguration is so impressive and has a great
impact on our way to believe in God.
Our understanding of God’s Presence should be linked
to this “flashing vision”. The two Kaypha’s betrayed Jesus and denied
him. By the time of Transfiguration, the disciples sleep while a flash
allowed our Earth to get a touch of God’s fulfillment. The same is given
to all in the Eucharist, during the Divine Liturgy.
This article consists in the development of the
reflection I have been conducting on the "Sacraments and their
connection with the Jewish and Rabbinc Talmudic Traditions; in
particular in view with Yom HaKippurim (the Day of Atonement). Thus, the
reader who reads French can get more of the initial reflection given in
the annual teaching I had at the Faculté Notre-Dame (Paris) and
included in the book "Les Portes Royales, Le Sacrement de l'Ordre et le
Judaïsme" (Ed. Nouvelle Cité, 1989). The connection between the
confession of Peter, the High Priest Kaypha and the name of the disciple
and Yom Kippur was firstly published by the Fathers van Cangh and van
Esbroeck (cf. "La primauté de Pierre in "Revue théologique de Louvain,
Louvain La Neuve 1980, Fascicule 3).
I will continue this reflection till my last day as a
part of the great mystery of redemption that concerns each and all human