Saturday, September 6, 2008
Stones, children and ethics
Judaism is built upon strong foundations, large, big, enormous as the basic "avanim levanot\אבנים לבנות/ white stones" that can seen at the Western Wall. True, the visible stones are not the foundations: these can be slightly seen under the tunnel on the side for men and they are planted deep beneath the earth on the place. Heavy blocks were weighing up the Temple Mount. Weighty blocks of stone brought as living pieces to support and protect the Divine Presence.
"Even\אבן - stone" is curious in Hebrew. English comes from Old Norse "Steinr", cf. Germ. "Stein", Du. "Steen" used to describe rocks. The root is comparable with Sanskrit "Styayate - hard pieces of standing material that thicken, curdle", Gr. "Stear - fat". Lat. "Petrus - stone = Gr. Petros, Syriac Kaifa = head) refer to weight and strength. The same with Gr."Lithos" that generated "Lithium", used for energetic power. It is the name of a specific medicine used for curing depressive moods. Slavic "Kamen'/камень" is linked to "hammer" and corresponds to these energizing capacities. On the other hand, Slavic “Stena/стена” means “wall”, not necessarily made of stones.
Hebrew supposedly comes from the same concept of "power, strength”: "even\אבן” from “avar\אבר” (with an alef) : to be bent, thick, pressed" as: "throwing a (heavy) stones into a leather bottle has no effect because it is indigestible" (Pessahim 12b). Evarim/n\אברין = meat or "three meats as edible parts of an animal limb" (Shekalim 8, 3); "ever\אבר - male genital member" and tower of protection in a city (Hullin 101b, Sanhedrin 107a), just as in English Slang ("testicles")."The corpse was put on a closing immovable stone" (Niddah 69b) which is found in the Gospel with Lazarus' resurrection (John 11:39) and the removal of the stone of Jesus' tomb (John 20:1).
The Holy Ark was located on "Even shtiyah\אבו שתיה - foundation stone" in the Second Temple (Yoma 5, 3). This refers to a place of birth, for feeding newborn babes (the faithful) as "oven [linked to beyn\בין = between and banah\בנה = to construct]" which means "the passage or vagina through which the embryo goes out" as in "the place here the child comes to light" (Sota 11b; cf. Ex. Rabba 1). But “even\אבן” may also be compared to “holid ben/banim\הוליד בן-בנים – to birth sons” as in the psalm: “Im HaShem lo yivneh vayit\אם ה. לא יבנה בית – unless the Lord builds the house, those whose build it labor in vain” (Tehillim 127, 1).
John the Baptist has a very clear saying: “I tell you, God is able from these stones (avanim\אבנים), can raise children (banim\בנים) to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8).
Most memorials were made of stones, from the gigantic human form monolithic statues Easter of Island/Rapa Nui to the Stonehenge (Stone gallows) mystical circles in Great-Britain. They are similar to the Celtic “men/maen hir – long (high stone)” that point to the sky in Brittany or Wales. The “Dolmens” are rather flat large stones under which people were buried and also a place for banquets as most cemeteries and burial places are in most civilizations. Strangely enough, Mother Earth seems to eat up human limbs deposed in stone graves. In the wonderful Danish film "Babettes gæstebud - Babette's banquet", the French female chef cook delicious "quails in sarcophagus" ("Sarcophagus = flesh eater").
On the one hand, stones symbolize hospitality and conviviality. Interestingly, till the end of the Roman architectural style, churches were built with “flat” roofs, just like synagogues or mosques. Then, Gothic belfries showed the human pretence to reaching out to heaven. A kind of remake of the “Babel-like” dream to attain God.
"We are strong". Everywhere we go, we hear that we are strong, as Israeli society composed of many nations and various people coming from the whole world. The Jews are strong, the Muslims are strong. The Christians are strong. Our strength is exactly like these mythical soap series that nurture our TV screens.
In fact, we are segmented, fragmented, split and this contradicts the traditional Jewish and Christian patterns of faith vs secular life. On the one hand, we want to be fit, firm, slim, nice and credible, as those above stones, rock building and monuments. On the other hand, we are overfed and often fed up, chubby and meaty, full of oil and fat. Still we have the nerve to pretend that we can ascend to heaven by our own forces.
This is indeed a paradox: we would accept to belong to various Jewish streams as long as they don’t bother our own micro-stream. At this point, if a huge Passover Seder would be organized throughout the country, a unique Pesach Seder, very few of us would accept to share the account of the Aggadah, the order of the memorial Seder (cf. Y. Leibowicz). We would split about the way meals were cooked… and the spiritual meaning of such an event. We would exclude some non-Halachic Jews, all sorts of Christians. Thus, where would the Muslims and Baha’is find there place? Curiously, it seems that Judaism would face and overcome such a situation. The Christian Churches and sects are far too split and it is a challenging situation to be a true Christian believer in the Holy Land at the present. It has been a challenge from the very beginning of the Church.
It is a challenge to believe in God. On September 9th, we will commemorate the assassination of Fr. Aleksandr V. Men' [o. Александр В. Мень], one of the greatest spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was killed 18 years ago as he was on the way to serve the Divine Liturgy in the morning in his church of Novaya Derevnia/Новая Деревнья.
He was killed by a man who slayed his back with an ax. He was born into a Jewish family and had been baptized in the Orthodox Church. Jews and Catholic "heretics" were slaughtered that way in times of crisis. Fr. Aleksandr Men had a huge influence on the renewal of the the Russian Orthodox Church. This cannot be ignored or kept in some underground stand, in particular in Russia. The recent death of the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us, this year, of the powerful combat and sacrifice performed by some personalities.
Fr. Men's books are known everywhere in the world and he influenced theological reflection and training. His famous book "the Son of Man - Сын человеческий" underscored the power of faith and incarnation. It insists also on the importance of holiness and humanity. The Eastern Orthodox Church has developed a long tradition of honoring the Saints, those who modelled their lives on the Way of the Son of Man. The Russian and Ukrainian, Romanian, Georgian and other Orthodox Churches have canonized thousands of "new martyrs". They sanctified the whole of the 20th century marked by mass murders and extermination. Each day is consacred to the commemoration of the saints.
It will be a long way to get to freedom for all Oriental Churches. Fr. Aleksandr Men has a lot of "spiritual sons and daughters scattered throughout the former Soviet Union, in all countries and also in Israel. They show that loving-kindness and praying with love and prophetic insights can breach stones and birth new children of God. His heritage slowly grows beyond all power or might.
Photographs: Icon of late Fr. Alexandr Men. Many faithful hope that he will be canonized and recognized as a saint who offered his life for the Church and the Unity of the Church.
The Novaya Derevnya church, drawing by N.R.