Sunday, June 15, 2008

ציון - Zion, Mother of all Churches

Av_a Jerusalem blog

Within a few hours and during three days, Jerusalem will turn to the ancient and Oriental, then Eastern Orthodox, Byzantine celebrations of the Feast of the Giving of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Jewish feast of Shavuot/Pentekoste.

It should firstly be noted that this wonderful solemn celebration remains at the heart of Christianity, as a constant renewal of the Divine Presence/Spirit flying like an eagle over the waters: "ורוח אלהים מרחפת על-פני המים (Bereishit 1:1). The vision is grandiose as the word "nesher - נשר - eagle" shows God's sweeping along the space of Israel and the whole universe, renewing our days when we grow old (Psalm 103:5).

We do know how to endless teach about Jesus "new commandments". The real challenge is to feel the newness and to live of that and not of stiff comfortable convictions. This obliges us to study the tradition and make it our breathing-in and, at the same time, to feel how individuals are called to be new, i.e. younger and younger in the face of time. A true Christian is indeed an acrobat who would even, as Chesterton described saint Francis of Assisi, walk on a rope from below! The Church of Zion, Mother of all the Churches of God is to be in such a situation. On Pentekoste day, the Greek Orthodox clergy will make the procession to mount Zion where they have a school, a church and a famous cemetery. Greeks, Arabs, but also Romanians, Russians, Georgians or Asian Orthodox are buried there; a narrow path runs along the Armenian church court yard, on the other side, it goes down to the Protestant and Catholic walled pieces of land. The belfry of the (German) Benedictine Church of the Dormitio (Dormition/dormi-zion, insleeping of the Mary, Theotokos seemingly shows the face of the late Kaiser Wilhelm II who thus rules over time and regimes.

The Upper Room and the place where the disciples were gathered on that day is traditionally located on the first floor of a yeshivah. A bit further, there is supposedly David's tomb and right before the liturgical time of Mincha\מנחה he clergy will enter the synagogue sininging "Kyrie eleison" and some litanies in Greek for a short while of encounter beyond the first Greek-speaking community and the Hebrew (Jewish, not Hebrew/Aramaic-speaking faithful as at the apostolic times. But it is a very moving time to reckon Spirit and early times and present days in view to the Second Coming of the Messiah.

Paul of Tarsus states: “So you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones (cf. the inhabitants of Jerusalem) and the members of the household of God (cf. Bney Israel\בני ישראל)” (Ephesians 2:17-19). Talmud Sukka 28a says “that in Vayikra\ויקרא/Leviticus 23:42 “ezrach\אזרח” means every native, male or female”. The verse of Leviticus is: “(you shall all live in booths), all citizens in Israel (“kol ha’ezrach beIsrael\כל האזרח בישראל”)). “Ezrachut\אזרחות” means to be a full member of the citizenship of heaven, also in that context, as we had seen in a previous article. It is the mark, imprint and document, eventually a Identity Card/Passport or any paper proving the validity of whom a person claims to be.

As a spiritual caretaker, I have always been very careful to require proofs and evidences, documents. People can be very reluctant to show them and would say that this question only concerns their own person (never conscience!) and God in Persona. In Israel, one must ask such documents only with much respect and without suspicion because of the tragic lifepaths of most newcomers. Many had to change or hide some or part or the whole of their identity and this must be handled with compassion and esteem.The problem is that we live in very difficult upside down times. How many Jews can definitely produce the required documents stating that they are duly belonging to the Jewish people according to the Halachah? This can be a tremendous problem for a whole community, especially those whose archives have been destroyed in Europe, totally in Eastern Europe, but also some Middle-Eastern countries.

Shavuotשבועות (Yid.: Shvi’es, Feast of the Weeks, Pentecost) is a major Feast of Judaism. It celebrates the Giving of the Written and Oral Torah at Mount Sinai that, thereafter, was transmitted, without discontinuity, until our generation. It is a feast that underscores the fulfillment of all God’s living Paroles, Commandments and Mitzvot. It is the day of closure and plenitude of Pesach/Passover. It could be called a “ra’ava dera’avin\רעבא דרעבין”(as the “seudah shlishit\סעודה שלישית”, third Shabbat meal instituted by Jacob), a time of highly abounding divine gifts.

Some maybe baked in the shape of triangular burekas-like cheese cakes because cheese is a solid aliment, also made of the primary milk. The Christian tradition considers that the Holy Spirit was spread over the people present in Jerusalem on the day of Shavuot: “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were amazed, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretan and Arabs, speaking in their own tongues the mighty acts of God” (Acts of Apostles 2:1-11).

It should be noted who are these citizens of God in the Gospel. Anyway, triangular cheese cakes can refer to the achievement of the TaNaKh as the Books of the Law, the Prophets and the Ketuvim/Historical Accounts. Or, it may recall that it is a kingdom of priests (Kohanim\כהנים) (Ex. 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9), of Leviim\לויים and Children of Israel. We may live in Israel in a confusing situation of permanent suspicion and misunderstanding: God’s Gifts are definitely not properties with sealed ownership certificates.

The Israeli society is in fact very flexible. Any person who would, to some extent, try to show a link with Judaism would be allowed to become a full citizen of the country. The secularization of the Jewish communities do not allow to ban or judge anybody. Newness also invites us to discover how Jesus Christ was not judgmental. We do proclaim this all through the Great Lent with the prayer of Saint Ephrem: "Give me not to judge my brother". The Jewish reading of the week underlines this terrible temptation that can turn to a murder: say bad things, evil, gossip and this can kill, The tongues of flames that came and overshadowed the disciples in Jerusalem strengthened them in their way to spread love and resurrection in the name of the Lord.

It is important today to discover the richness of cross-ways and trust in the mighty deeds of God. There is a famous Chassid Ummot HaOlam / Righteous among the Nations, whom I knew as a child. Mr. “l’Abbe Glasberg” was a Ukrainian Jew who converted to Christianity before arriving to Europe. Firstly, he was accepted as a seminary student without any proof of who he was! In his case, there was more: being a Jew, a Ukrainian, how would be possibly be a Christian and then belonging to which Church. When World War II was over he welcomed and helped the rescued from the concentration camps and then brought to Israel the better part of the Iraqi Jews. Still, he is considered as a non-Jew by the Israeli authorities in accordance with the Halachah governing the Jews who become Christians. His journey through the Christian world would show he was on a borderline for the sake of being totally humane and witness for God’s citizenship.

Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytzkyi of Lviv of the Greek-Catholics in Ukraine was definitely considered as a member of the Polish nobility, thus first of Ukrainian descent. He became alien to the Poles when he adopted the Byzantine Ukrainian rite and returned to the Ukraine. He then questioned the Soviets while seemingly accepting the presence of the Nazis that he fought and was considered as a general enemy of all when he systematically saved the Jews during the Shoah. Documents do show that he was the only hierarch who dared directly protest to Hitler and Himmler against the deportation and extermination of the Jews, which remains a unique action. His universality is often reduced to his own nationality, which, in a way, allows rejecting the bigger part of his actions.

This is the challenge of Shavuot: we can be citizens of heaven, at least real mentchen\מענטשען humane and human beings, and eventually share cheese cake, milk and barley times.

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