Saturday, June 28, 2008


The Eastern Orthodox Churches will celebrate this Sunday, on the third week after Pentecost, the feast of the "Local Saints - הצדיקים המקומים ". I had committed a submission in my Le Monde blog Abbaa two years ago about this festive day for every local Church (""). Time passes, circumstance evolve, in particular in the Holy Land, but also within the Orthodox (Ancient and Eastern) Churches. To begin with, it should be noted that the Oriental Churches are engaged in a wide process of planetarian new deployment, revision of their structures and organization. This happens after a normal period of 10 to 15 years after the fall of communism in most of the traditional Oriental byzantine and other Eastern countries. It is thus a normal standard historical process because changes always happen in time and are a sign of revival.

On the other hand, time shows how changes involve and somehow imply tensions, pressures exercized by different Churches that had rarely been free or capable to openly sketch out new patterns for their faithful at a local and international level. Again, the fundamental question of what a Church is, as a local or regional, linguistic or ethnical, shows up with much power. It obliges the heads of these Churches and of the other Churches to think with much insights and patience.

In the past two years, the Russian Church canonically united the two main bodies of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow with the Church Abroad and some part of the Church in Exile. The act has been signed. It has to be implemented by faith, trust, confidence and re-grafting of two entities that until the union on Ascension 2007 would not accept some principles of the other party. But this will be a long journey, an ongoing one that cannot be stopped, not even by the normal appearance of some fighting groups of "Resistance", mainly based in speciafic cultural areas such as North America and Canada.

The Romanian Church has a new patriarch, Daniel, a renowned theologian who was metropolitan in Iasi, also a strategic place considering the connection between Bukovina, the Ukraine, Bessarabia, Moldova. Interestingly, the problem of new eparchies in Europe or in the territory of the Moscow patriarchate is less important than the appointment of bishops in Australia and New Zealand.

The Church celebrates the "local Saints". It was firstly a feast in honor of the Holy monks of the Holy Mountain (Hagion Horos = Mount Athos). And from there it spread to venerate the memory of the saints whose lives and often blood have sowed the reality of the Resurrection and of the faith in the One God through Jesus Christ all through the world. Everything started - as concerns my humble person - just next door: I shall attach a photograph of the view I have over the coupole of the Holy Sepulcher from my cell door. It happened here. Not in any other part of the world. Not in any other town, even in the Middle-East. It happened outside of the walls of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. He was put to the stake and died. Faith alone, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, allows to say that he is risen from the dead. From this place and from the place of Mount Zion and all Jerusalem, the kingdom of God and constant hope, atonment, pardon, creativity, confidence trsut in God reached to the ends of the world over the past two thousand years.

This Sunday June 28th, 2008 is thus very significant for the Churches: in Rome, in the presence of Barholomaios Ist, Ecumenical Patriarch and other heads of Churches, Pope Benedict XVI will open the 2000th anniversairy of saint Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. The man was apparently a singleton, the model of the "converted if not penitent Jew" at a time when there was no Gentile Church all all the whole of the hierarchy was strongly Jewish and rooted in daily Judaism or the usual local Jerusalemite intermingling of blood and creeds. Saint Paul is a man of contradiction and a controversial character. His message crossed all unbelievable coups: "all abandoned me, the Lord assisted me" (2 Timothy 4:16).

At this point, it would be very interesting to consider, during this year dedicated to Paul of Tarsus' preaching, the point of convergence that do exist between strict Judaism that is also a preaching toward the pagans = Gentiles against idolatry and the attitude of a chassid like Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneerson of Lubavich, the last Lubavicher Rebbe who died on Tammuz 3, 5755/June 12, 1994; his yohrtsayt\יארצייט (passing away anniversary) will be celebrated within a few days. But after 2000 years of preaching throughout the world and dispersion in all parts of the world, Christians and Jews come in some situations as firstly reluctant partners of God's holiness in the world. Paul's ways were indeed much very likely to the Art und Weise developed by a man like the Lubavicher Rebbe. This would make shriek some Jews and Christian would call to a scandal. True, the One Living God calls to sanctifying His Presence in this world, to begin with Jerusalem. The Noahide laws, the realm of the Mitzvot, the transgression of the Mitzvot in specific cases or the strict compliance with their meaning(s) should allow to reconsider how mankind is definitely called to sanctify the kingdom and witness for holiness.

Thus, how can we consider the "Local Saints" in the Church of Jerusalem? Undoubtedly, we have to refer to the large listing of the men, women, youths and elderly people who testified, attested, witnessed that Jesus Christ died and resurrected from the dead. But this is not enough: without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, nobody cannot say "Abba" (Romans 8:15 - Galatians 4:6). It means that by itself the Resurrection must be visible in this world as the true evidence that God loves and calls any human being to be like Him to the full. This is why the Saints are so important in the Oriental Churches. There is no despair, no hatred, no forces that can affect or kill a believer. The saints were originally "haqedoshim\הקדושים ", those who lived in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The saints are those who continue to anticipate the revival of the dried bones in Ezekiel 37 because they are alive beyond any kind of possible hatred and despise.

The list of the saints of the Church of Jerusalem includes the First Testament holy prophets and persons and then all those who, in the Holy Land, found their real way to God and gave their lives as a testimony that God is reviving and life-giving, loving. Down the centuries characters of different origin, mainly from Greece, but also from the neighboring regions and contemporary countries sprinkled the divine light from Judeo-Christians of the Early Church to the Arab Christians. On Sunday, the Armenian Apostolic Church will commemorate saint Gregor Narekatsi (of Narek) who illuminated Armenia and wrote marvelous hymns and prayers.

But how could we update our understanding of the saints in Eretz Canaan, Eretz Israel, Palestina (the name is restricted till 135 CE then under the British mandate and today with the emergence of a possible Palestinian State).

Saints are beyond any ethnical origin because they assume to the fullest their human and divine essence of living. In this aspect, we really need to understand, beyond any folklore, the profundity of the saints' biographies. One of the very features of the Holy Land Saints is that they lived in a blessed area of divine revelation. Sadly, revelation often drifted to murders, bloodsheds, rejections, slander, gossip. The more we come ner to God's Presence, the more humankinds is driven by idolatry and desire to exterminate the neighbor, whoever concerned. The Bible shows Cain's murder of his brother: "the blood of your brother cries out to Me from the earth\ דמי אחיך צעקים אלי מן האדמה

"In blood we get alive\ בדמיך חיי " is not a sordid appeal to slaughter. It has often been understood as such through the ages by all monotheists. At the present, the saints are the model of humbleness and dialog, patience, tolerance in contexts of total instability and ignominous ethnical and financial corruption. There is more: Jerusalem changes. Church territories were often disputed. Today, the verse of the psalm: "ולציון יאמר איש ואיש יולד בה והוא יכוננה עליון \ Indeed, it shall be said of Zion, every man was born there. He, the Most High shall preserve it" (Psalm 87:5) is VERY ACTUAL.

What showed throughout the passed 7000 years? Lack of stability or consistency and God patience in revealing His Presence? Fixed borders and states or flexibility and unexpected events? Faithfulness or captures of alien properties? We need the local saints because they came here from the whole world at different ages of history. And they acted with love and wisdom.

The local saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem might some day be envisioned as parallel to the Jewish martyrdom, both local and in the dispersion. The quick development of the Yad VaShem "Righteous among the Nations" allows to dig deep the meaning for the local inhabitants of what holiness means as related to the Shekhinah\שכינה or Divine Presence and a real acceptance of Christianity as a pouring from the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, the Arab Church has overcome with much courage centuries of turbulences. It extended and still encompasses her borders from Mesopotamia to Egypt and the Gulf. Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza as also Iraq may have today seeds of sanctity from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile via the United States and Australia.

Therefore, the feast of the "local Saints" of the Holy Land, incudes the regular list of the canonized saints. It is potentially immensely wider because Revelation and Redemption showed in this tiny pice of earthquaking land. The Church of Jerusalem is thus much wider and seemingly invisible because it deals with the plerome, the fulfillment of all plenitude.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In the Heat of the Day

Av_a Jerusalem Forward blog

Israeli society is at pain with a kind of uncertainty. Indeed, Israelis and Jews and related have the duty, mitzvah\מצוה to back the survival of Israel. But it is so confused and confusing to know how to do that with justice, righteousness and making sense. This is not a political statement. The interesting point is that we should ask ourselves whether we assist to a fact and participate right now in a phenomenon that affected the Hebrews after their liberation from Egypt: a sort of foggy dazzing confusion that made them err 40 years in the wilderness.

Thus, it is clear for whoever scans in-depths Israeli-born and assimilated members of the society (they are called "citizens in Hebrew in accordance with the TaNaCh - אזרחים - ezrachim even if they are not legally recognized as such) do show some sort of apathy, or tremendous enthusiasm, or soft cool way of living. Israelis are deeply convinced that Israel will not be destructed. No way, not in our generation, not in theirs. On the other hand, secular/religious, openness/fencing processes constantly attack a society that is economically expanding new and multi-faceted intercultural competences and skills over the world.

Abraham was a wandering Aramean (Deut. 26:5). He used to sit “b’chom hayom\בחום היום – in the very heat of the day”, under an open tent and to welcome those who were passing along the way (Gen. 18:1). This verse is definitely exceptional, great and true. It smells heat, a poor shelter, some water with nana/mint. Speech and silence, welcome and flexibility.

Yes, Abraham was peacefully giving hospitality to those who needed a rest when the heat was reaching its peak. On the other hand, Saul slaughtered the Ammonites till the heat of the day (1 Samuel 11:11; cf. 2 Sam. 4:5). Heat can also be a matter of remuneration as in Jesus’ parable to give one talent pay to all the workers, those who bore the burden of the day and those who came for on hour (Matthew 20:11; cf.Avodah Zarah 10b).

“Cham\חם = hot, hot-tempered, warm, boiling” is a basic Semitic and thus Hebrew word, rooted in “H-H-M\ח-מ-ם – hot, warm, to boil”, mainly referring, in the Talmud, to water and cleansing activities or to special colors (as “red”, the same as today some women would love to have red hair or, in between, some strawberry dye close to red). It may relate to rituals: “The bathers began to heat the water on the Shabbat (Shabbat 40a). Teaching: “Warm yourself by the fire of the scholars and try to associate with them (Avot 2,10). “Hammam = Turkish baths, the sort of sensual Oriental vaporous bath and massaging” that is upgraded in our SPA’s.

In terms of heating as healing processes, “chacham\חכם” turns to “chum\חום = heat and heal, excite” as also “to be hot, covet, carnally excited”. “I had a desire for his embrace” (Niddah 20b) and “He got so hot that he was (healed) by his pollution, though not once but again and again (Niddah 43b). On the other hand, “This is a land which all great men were anxious to possess (Tanhumah Mishpatim 17) connects carnal desires and hotline with a deeper feeling of anxiety and insecurity, which is quite frequent.

The word is very intriguing, indeed. “Chum” swindles from heat to departure. “Arouse the feeling of the people when delivering my funeral address for my soul (I) shall be present” (Shabbat 153a, about a righteous man because people were speaking warmly of his memory). “b’khol chumma’o\בכל חומאו = in his full heat = youth”. Curiously, this heat that is the sign of daytime and life dynamics, including confrontations, implies, in the Semitic realm, some need for limitation of space and accessibility.

The Old City of Jerusalem is partly surrounded by the “chomot\חומות – Walls (of the Old City)” that are much frequented from the different places where one can climb up and down along the Gates. We have a very poor historic and cultural memory; say, we prefer not to know. From the time of Abraham to Jericho, everything in this region was a matter of fortification, walls of protection. And each time, throughout history, the main issue is to know how to cool down the fever (chamah\חמה), quench excitement (chamad /chamda\חמד-ה) and reduce anger (chemah\חמה, cf. Daniel 3:13.19). “It is not possible to live without (moral) protection”, states Talmud Yevamot 62b (cf. Jeremiah 31:21). “Chomah\חומה = fortification” is currently used in Talmud Megillah (1:1- 5b) to designate walls or a “protecting lake” that serves as fortifications. This is something we do not accept easily and that is totally misunderstood abroad for various reasons. The essence of Judaism is to be in need of protection. Firstly, Jewishness requires to be protected by God or the Divine Presence, the Shechinah. Then, there is a permanent lack of comprehension. Pious Jews, the world of “Jews in prayers” cannot mix in any way with the non-Jewish or Gentile world, and somehow some part of secularized Judaism. This is even ridiculous to pretend that a “Non-Jew” can enter that world freely and deliberately. There is an immeasurable gap between pious Jewishness and any connection between this society segment and the Non-Jews. There is an earth-to-heaven line that cuts it as an invisible wall of fortification. Something we often see here in microclimates and rain: rain on your left, no rain on your right! But people often misunderstand that because they think in terms of framing and ghettos created by hatred against pious Jewries. Decades ago, Fr. Marcel Dubois, a Dominican, who was the first Christian to teach Christian Philosophy at the Hebrew University, wittingly answered that “many Catholic congregation were usually fenced in”, i.e. that those who are not members of that specific community are not allowed to enter the bigger part of the monastery, or very rarely. We never think in terms of “positive” separation and thus often consider situation with much framed points of view. He died a year ago.

“In the very heat of day”, Abraham was pretty much exposed to killings, alienation. His tent was open. In this region, we are still living on the pattern of this radical “cham/chum”. Are there some linguistic “reality words”? “Cham\חם = father-in-law” (from the same root) and “chamot\חמות = mother-in-law”. This is amusing because this parentage is supposedly very inquisitive and even nosy in their children’s lives. Some are delicious; and good that they exist because, their grandchildren’s parents often have to rely on them financially and in learning how to reach adulthood. There is a meaningful example of the presence of such a Semitism in the Gospel when Jesus started preaching and met with Shimon-Kaipha whose “mother-in-law was laying sick with a fever” (Aramaic “eshata\אשתא – fire” lines with Greek “puressousa –had a fire = fever”). In Hebrew, the specificity of the “chom/cham” is present twice, i.e. redundantly : chamuto = his mother-in law, “chom = fever”. And the “wall of sickness” is lifted up. (Mark 1:29).

There is a stimulating deutero-canonical (apocryphal) Book – not recognized by the Jewish and Protestant Bible, but accepted and rather widespread in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches: Tobit; a fragment of the book was found at Qumran. It deals with God’s Tovah/tobiyah, goodness. Tobit is a kohen (priest) who strangely spends his time collecting and burying the dead slain by Sennacherib in Nineveh. At the present, it seems bizarre because the kohanim are not allowed to be in contact with the dead. The point is that it had not always been like that in the Jewish tradition even if we must accept the present development. When the Temple was existent, the priests were offering the daily sacrifices. They had no properties and no tribe territory. They were given the charities of the sacrifices. And thus, they were indeed in contact with burnt-offerings, i.e. with dead animals slaughtered for the sanctification of the Name.They were making their living with dead animals.

Our messy situation in the Middle-East is going through fire, anger, fever and irrationality. It is marked by law infringements and lack of true respect for human beings and souls. Abraham’s hospitality in the very heat of the day at Mamre’s Oaks (Marc Chagall’s painting is the icon I chose for this blog) seems to be a real mitzvah as also to assist all the dead that multiply and loosen unclear fences that pull off at the moment.

June 26, 2007 – כג דסיון תשס"ח