Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mar Ya'akov's Day and renewal

We entered the month of (mar)Cheshvan\מר.חשון which is typically after-autumnal, sweeping old things and trash away from our environment and daily embarrassments of all sorts. The Gospel has it in the words of John the Baptist: "The ax lies now at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9; Matthew 3:10).

It is intriguing to ask if the world is dancing, packing, swirling, hoping, switching on and off North American. It sounds suspicious. On the one hand, the planet is hanging up with the tantamount impact of the results of the United States presidential elections. A turn in the historical move. We enter the third millennium's big epoch of changes. Industrial era: from coal to railways and airplanes; then shuttles, the Moon, Mars. We came from tuberculosis to flu, cholera, typhus and still cancer, AIDS and lose our brains and memories in Alzheimer and other genetic diseases.

The 20th century began with gas weapons, oil conquest and contests. Still, from 1815 (Vienna's Conference) till 1918, Europe has shown to seemingly be stable. Money value stability over one full century. Well, it developed through colonization, spiritual and mental, cultural and religious takeover activities. The 20th century has started with the ancestors of the concentration and extermination camps during the Boer war in South Africa. The 21st century is stumbling around in the so-called collapse of the American empire, the apparent death of communist ideologies and the revival of the whole creation through a long-term quench for authentic spiritual revival.

Religion is everywhere. At the present, atomic bombs have burnt the Japanese. Radiology and X-rays allow to cure and Nero does not only remind us that a savage Roman emperor flamed out Rome in songs. Today, it burns DVD's. In a few hours, the United States might wake up with a totally new look: a president that would mirror the enormous intermingling process of mixing cultures and races from black to white and white to colored and Asian yellow. The same process is at pains in South Africa with blankies/white are obliged to deal with nie-blankies/Black (non-whites) and kleurlings/coloureds... and apartheid is condemned. We are born to intermingle, against our will, combating for identity and feeling that we are the world "gathering a great multitude of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues" (Apocalypse 7:9). Intermingling, cultural melting-pot and mixing-up process has been and remains an ongoing socio-cultural tendency over two decades. It is a clear move in every hedonistic and self-wellness searching society. At this point, Hawaii is a typical and very producing laboratory - just as Silicon Valley. Israel has it but with more fearful pangs of birth and back and forth hesitating quakes.

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Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Zion the mother of all the Churches celebrates the Feast of Mar Ya'akov/Ya'akub\מר יעקב according to the Julian calendar; November 5th corresponds to Gregorian October 23rd (13 days ago). St. James is called Ya'kov hatzaddik\יעקב הצדיק - Jacob the Just. He was the first bishop of Jerusalem, i.e. the Early Church. He died in 62 or 63 AD, betrayed by a cousin of the high priest Kaiaphas who had condemned Jesus of Nazareth. He was himself known to be a high priest and was daily in the Temple, a strictly observant Jew. In Greek, he is called "adelphotheos - the brother of the Lord - αδελφοθεος " a title mentioned at the end of each Service or Liturgy in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Of course, it became the source of a lot of fancies and elaborations throughout the ages. Still, we have no CD, DVD, digital picture or video of the Holy Family of Jesus and Mary the Theotokos and Joseph. Archeology allowed to "crush" into their small house in Nazareth and Saint Peter's house in Capernaum.

The Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic disagree about who Mar Ya'akov truly was because three individuals are mentioned under this name in the Gospel. Who is James the Major and James the Lesser? Who wrote James' epistle? The Church of Jerusalem considers Jacob the Just as the first bishop of the Holy City of Jerusalem. He was a man of great piety and a true Jew, really respected by the Talmud and the Jewish tradition. He is the one who spoke as the head of the first synod of Jerusalem, sadly not included among the ecumenical councils of the Church. He declared the opening to the Gentiles and their adoption into the Covenant for those who believed in Jesus being the Messiah resurrected from the dead; thus not imposing the circumcision and the Mitzvot, safe four of the fundamental Noahide Laws. This is important to remind that such a decision was taken by the Jewish head of the early local Church (ch 15 of the Acts of the Apostles). He was known as being a man of justice, which is very pregnant in the epistle of James, the letter read for the Holy Sacrament of the Oil for the recovering of the sick in the Christian Orthodox tradition. Talmud Tractate Gittin reports favorably about the head of the first Church of Zion as also about John the Baptist and Forerunner. In his letter to the Galatians 2:9, Paul of Tarsus mentions him as the first among the disciples. St. Paul spent two weeks in Jerusalem, three years after his baptism and proclaiming of the Kingdom in Arabia, came to visit him.

The decision of the first synod to open the gates of adoption of the Gentiles into the Faith definitely copes with the whole of the authentic Jewish tradition (the spirit of Sukkot in the present). The decision cancels the circumcision and the observance of the Mitzvot for the Non-Jews. It was still decided in a strong Jewish context and when the Temple was extant. This should be taken into account.Judaism is not ethnic or national. There were 12 tribes and the call to the 70 nations is constant throughout the Scripture. This also relates to the Mishnah. It means that Judaism cannot be crippling or fencing down. Just have a real look at the Israeli society. It includes people of all kindreds, nations and tongues. "I will call heaven and earth to witness that whether it be Gentile or Israelite, man or woman, slave or handmaid, according to the deeds which he does, so will the Holy Spirit rest on him" (Tanna de-Be Elyahu, 48).

Indeed, Jews are those who were divinely bone&flesh-woven in the womb of a Jewish mother. I call that in my teaching and book an "in utero call". It is not connected to race or DNA. It is linked to incarnation and passing from non-time to time till death call a Jew to the world-to-come. In between, the Spirit does overshadow every soul and living being. This is the "shlichut\שליחות - task, mission [apostolic work] of Judaism.

This is why the "Church" or "churching of the nations of the world" should take into account the first schism [proto-schism] that drifted Jews away from the Gentile Church and the Gentile Church from Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple. In his recent biography and theological work "Surprised by Christ", Fr. James Bernstein (Conciliar Press) noted with much insightful simplicity that the first "Christian" believers did not read the Gospel, but the Covenant of the Bible (TaNaKh), then the epistles of some apostles and the "accounts" of Jesus of Nazareth as truly man and divine, resurrected from the dead. This is history and this is just real. History sowed to be very cruel in Jerusalem: the Judeo-Christian group which existed with James the Just at Mount Zion was separated rom the Gentile Church for a long period after the destruction of the Temple, till the 4th-5th century. The Jewish bishops of Jerusalem were killed or persecuted till 135 AD. This proto-schism was due to quarrels among the disciples and got encouraged by the fencing of pagan rulers.

The real challenge for the Church is to reconnect with the reality of oneness as set up by the Most High on the first and seventh day of the creation. Christianity drifted away from the House of Israel by a repeatedly series of intriguing process of rejections. It was often very difficult to confirm these breaches. Mar Ya'akov did not break anything. He wrote about the decision of the early synod of Jerusalem. It was an inclusive, definitely not an exclusive move.

It is far too early for the Eastern Churches newly freed from communism and underscoring the ethnical aspect of their Christian faith to recognize to the full such martyrs as Christians and Jews or of Jewish descent. Still, there is one more problem. The “Church” corresponds to the “Qahal\קהל רב - מקרא קודש – the Great Assembly” as a one and unique body. Is this so visible and can we feel, taste that as the fulfillment of the commandment of love, in the mutual relationships of Jews and Gentiles? There might be a problem… The epistle of Paul of Tarsus to the Ephesians 2:14-21 firmly states that “from the two = Israel and the Nations, there is one body”. The whole of history has consisted in showing mutual drifting-away, estrangement, replacement attitudes based on so-called theology. It consistently excludes, rejects, denies, erases, wipes out the process of “oneness” and unity of humankind in the face of God and His likeness.

It is thus a spellbinding and mesmerizing challenge to study how Europe is at pains in trying to define in its legal Constitution the Christian roots of its existence. These fundamentals are not based on any power. The roots are like the trees, transplanted into various contexts that have nowhere been ethnically pure, clean, “DNA or blood test born again in the spirit”. The magnetism, exercised by this process of an ancient spiritual European Christian essential core, proceeds from faith, their capacities to say “amen” to God. Somehow, this corresponds to the “emunah shlemah\אמונה שלמה – perfect faith” in Judaism. If we consider the individual and collective spiritual changes, Christianity took different aspects in Europe that is widely broken down into small denominations in the New World, weakening the essential meaning of “oneness”.

With regards to the Jews in the Churches, they mirror this estranging broken-down process of divergences, disunion and often abrupt ruptures. These breaches do exist in Judaism. Many current discussions about how to respect the Mitzvot are rooted in the difficulty for a lot of Jews to resolve their own temptation of idolatry. This occurs in cultural contexts that do not refer to any principle of faith. Indeed, many Jews became members of historically separated Churches. This is an overwhelming cultural phenomenon. It also constitutes a paradox for the authentic unity of the Church.

The emergence of Israel does not allow multiplying the multi-faceted reasons that would allow some Christian denominations to back or reject Jewishness for whatever tactical reasons of convenience. Let's say that political options are wrong and deceitful on both sides. The heart of the problem is to be found in an efficient and trustworthy knowledge of how to combat idolatry. Curiously, idolatry shows both in the progressive decrease of faith. I also appears in the constant tendencies to ritual stiffness. This wrongly allows to avoid too much updating.

This induces that we are on the move, en route to God and that true, respectful love, esteem and recognition will one day become a possible reality between Jews and the Christian Church. At the present, this remains a great and fundamental task to carry on and develop overt the coming decades. This has shown to be close to an “impossible challenge”. Israeli Jews of all tendencies as well as the heads of Israeli cities and regions must understand that every single piece of soil in the country tracks back to Christian history. This cannot be denied. On the other hand, the Jewish organizations cannot bring forth their sole explanations about the presence of all Christian denominations. It will take time, but the local Churches have to share their own points of views. In return, the Churches should respectfully connect with the Jewish traditions. This is more difficult because of their historical denial of the positive existence of the Jews and presence in the State of Israel. The recent Synods at the Phanar and in Rome pave the way for more authentic contacts. Trust remains highly problematic.

Zelun bishlomo\ܨܠܘܢ ܒܫܠܡܐ! זלון בשלמא - tsetchem beshalom - צאתכם בשלום - с миром изидем - ΕΝ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ ΠΡΟΕΛΘΩΜΕΝ! Go out in peace!

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

November 5th/October 23rd, 2008 - 7 de chshvan 5769 - ז' דחשון תשס"ט

Oh, oy or hey Jerusalem?

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