Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Herayion: a time of birthing

In the night from 24th to 25th of December 2006, the Western Churches, i.e. the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican (Episcopalian in Israel - more Lutheran in the Palestinian Territories) most Christian congregations will celebrate the "Nativity of Jesus": Christ... who took flesh and became a man (Nicaene Creed). The Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem historically assures the spiritual assistance to all Christian Orthodox believers living in present-day Israel, Territories under Palestinian Authority, Jordan), the Russian, Serbian, Georgian and Romanian Orthodox Churches together with the ancient Orthodox Syrian-Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian Churches will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity on January 6th to 7th, 2007. For various reasons, the ancient Apostolic Armenian Church is the only denomination to honor the feast on January 18-19, celebrating both the Nativity and the Baptism of Jesus (on January 16th in Armenia). The Greek-Catholics who follow the same rites as the Eastern-Orthodox but recognize the Pope of Rome - as also the Maronites (originally from Lebanon), Chaldeans (from Iraq), Syrian and Armenian Catholics will mark Christmas with the Roman Catholic Church.

Except in some specific areas as the Old City of Jerusalem, some parts of Galilee and the Palestinian Territories, the Israeli citizens, Jews and others, but also the tourists, are less and less accustomed to see any Christian clergy. It is a real question: both the Jews and all the Christians refer to the verses: "The Lord, the Lord, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin... (Exodus/Shmot 34:6-7) which constitute the 13 Divine Middot (Attributes) or AHaVaH as fulfillment of Love and Justice. After 2000 years, from the time of the early Christian Community, the Church developed and spread over the world, along with the dispersion of the Jewish communities. There are 13 official Churches recognized by the State of Israel as the heritage of the Ottoman rule, to begin with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, then the Roman Catholics - the Franciscans ensure the Custody (the guardians) of the Holy Places in a wide region from Cyprus and Turkey through the Near East.

The Armenians have a prestigious patriarchate, a famous library, wonderful voices and chants. With the exception of one verse: "The community of the believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possession was his own but they had everything in common" (Acts of the Apostles 4:32), the Christian faith developed in spite of internal clashes among the apostles (Paul of Tarsus and Barnabas, Peter) and as time passed the numerous sects that existed or showed. Thus, we do face at present the same wise statement made by Gamaliel II (famous rabbi whose Paul was a disciple), member of the Sanhedrin: "Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men (Jesus believers)... Let them go. For if this endeavor or activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts of the Apostles 5:34-39).

The substrate of the Jewish newcomers and Israeli society has shown conflicting and troubled relationships with Christianity, which is a real question. Why hatred and estrangement has prevailed over the basic Commandments and Attributes of Love? In a country where all the nations of world have come for some reason, Christianity offers a kaleidoscope of colorful diversity that hides the tragic history of the local Christians, often murdered. They are trapped in the splits that affected, from abroad, the unity of the Church along the centuries.

On the other hand, more and more Israelis - at all levels of the society - want to understand, get closer to what happened with the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth two millennia ago. Whatever attitude, acceptance or rejection, Christianity is present everywhere in this country. It is evident that Christian believers have been living and here and all over the Middle-East over 2000 years, developing churches, monasteries, religious arts, along with the synagogues, later Islam. Scientific and theological books are now published in Hebrew paving the way for some kind of dialogue beyond suspicion. Each Church and their monasteries have huge intellectual instruments stored throughout history (libraries, research institutes and printing houses in most languages used by comparative theology). It should be a wonderful prospect to try to match competences...

"Nativity" implies that a child is born. In the case of Jesus, there is no certainty about his exact date of birth. His place of birth has also being questioned: Nazareth (Natzor = the consecrated / Nazarene one, Nestar = hidden) or Beyt Lechem (Bethlehem = the house of Bread [Hebrew: "lechem"] or Flesh [Arabic: "lacham/lachma"])? This directly connects the taking flesh of Jesus to food and satisfaction, healing and salvation (Yehoshu'a = "God saved, saves and will save" - the name is declined as most Semitic overtime tenses). This lines with "veachalta vesava'ta - you will eat and be satisfied" (Deuteronomy 8:1) and, in general, with the Birkat HaMazon (Blessing after Meals) as defined in Tractate Berachot 33-48 about nourishment as "bessorot tovot - good tidings" (HaRahman). In Hebrew, "bassar" means : "flesh, meat, rejoicing, announcing". Jesus said - and this is still a pending inquiry: - "I am the bread that came from heaven". They said: "Is this not the son of Joseph?" Jesus said: "I am the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" - "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" - Then many of his disciples said: "This is too hard. How can we accept it?" (John 6:34-59). Whoever we are, beside any historical tragedies, Jesus constantly requires facing a supernatural, meta-historical, beyond all possibilities challenge of creed, faith or acceptance. This is what Moshe Mendelssohn, translator of the Bible into German, spoke of the “extreme challenge of Christianity” which is a part of every believer's path.

Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a young woman (Heb.: "almah" - Gk. "parthenos", virgin (Isaiah 7:14), betrothed to Joseph who did not reject her and is cited in the two Gospels, that speak of his birth (Matthew and Luke). Interestingly, the Nativity was considered as a minor Feast almost until the middle of the 5th century, thus after the Councils that asserted that Jesus was truly God and Man ("k'Aloha wa k'bar Adam", in Assyrian sequences).

With regards to his day of birth, it is possible to cope with the general link of December 25th that corresponds to January 6th in the Julian calendar. Paul of Tarsus recalls that Jesus was born "under the Law" (Galatians 4:4). "Babe Jesus" was firstly exposed in Saint Francis of Assisi's crèche (there is a wonderful Ethiopian icon showing Mary breastfeeding her child). At least, the baby indeed looked like anyone of us. The Prophet said: “How welcome on the mountain are the footsteps of the herald (mevasser) announcing good (tov) announcing salvation/victory (yeshu'ah), telling Zion: Your God is King!”(Isaiah 52:7). Gospel means "Good news, tidings, from O. Norse "Gudsspjall": Good or rather God's good upgrading in time. Gk. "evangelion" (Good messenger/herald; cf. "angel"), Lat. "ad-nuntiatio" (announcing) and allows to consider the conception of the child on March 25 (Annunciation) and his birth nine months later, i.e. on December 25.

Still it would be relevant to consider Jesus’ birth according to a Jewish time-schedule. True, he never stepped down, during his life, from the Jewish Law and its Commandments (Matthew 5:18) as they were in force at his time. On January 1st (01/14, Julian calendar), the Greek Church of Jerusalem, as all the Christian Orthodox - celebrate the "brit" - circumcision (hagia peritomia) of Jesus, showing a regular breach with paganism that wanted to abolish this basic commandment.

It should be noted that one feast, Sukkot (Feast of the Booths), disappeared when the specific Church cycles were created. The Eastern Church celebrates X-Mas (Mass of X - Christ, i.e. Nativity) at the end of the 30-31st week after Pentecost, thus focusing on the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Western Churches proclaim a time of "Ad-ventus" or "advent - coming". The joy of the hallowed night (Germ. Weihnachten) often veils that the point is to expect the second coming of Messiah Jesus in glory. The move toward future beyond recurring feast is an essential feature of Christian and Jewish Feasts.

We might have some encrypted date of birth in various sequences of the Gospel. "In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah" (Luke 1:5). We know that this means he served in August as provided for his priestly division. Considering the time of birth of John the Baptist - six months earlier than Jesus (Luke 1:21.26.56), we must add ca. 15 months from that service in August to eventually determine Jesus' birth by the eschatological or end of time feast of Sukkot.

The fascinating aspect is the consider that "rooted in and grounded in love, we may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth... and be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:18-19).

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