Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Night till dawn wrestling

[This short text was readily published in the Jerusalem Post last year. Still, it makes sense to compare it with the events that occur in the Church and our search for identity].

This Shabbat Vayishlach\וישלח [And (Jacob) sent (messengers)] is read in Bereishit 32:1-36:43. The haftarah – prophetic version is to be found in Prophet Hosea 11:7-12:12 (Ashkenazim) and Ovadyah 1:1-21 (Sefardim). On the one hand, Ya’akov wrestled a whole night till dawn with a man (ish immo) (Gen. 32:25-33). He fought alone, wrestling with himself and subsequently with God because this struggle was a combat for maturity. In such a situation, souls are compelled to fight against what is invisible, a sort of hidden punching-ball that injures till we reach our identity. We remain alone, as Jacob was that night when he became Israel. Thus, he is the fruit of Abraham’s blessing. Isaac remained alone and obediently accepted his life in full loneliness. Jacob faced a war, wounded his hip and the sinew for ever. In being alone they got the call to have lots of children, more numerous than the sand!

Still, Isaac met Rebecca through the shadchen-servant as he was coming from the outskirts, ba mibo (Gen. 24:63), from outside of what could be considered as the spiritual battlefield for prolonging the blessing, from the outskirts of his self. This loose attitude is en vogue at the moment. It is also a sort of lack of self-determination that shows a lot of sufferings, some hardships in clear and conscious acceptance of who we are. This is one aspect of Isaac’s personality because he mainly acted alone because he trusted God and Abraham. As shown by many rabbis, Abraham similarly treated Ishmael (sending him into exile) and Isaac (substituting him by the ram) in a kind of double Akeidah\עקידה or bond/binding that isolated them for the time of their lives and history. God’s reward to spiritual solitude is get large communities.

This is why Jacob’s petition: “Hagidah-na shemcha\הגידה-נא שמך – please tell me your name” (Gen. 32:30) is so intriguing and significant. This phrase is astonishingly close to gid hanasheh\גיד הנשה – the sinew of the hip/thigh that the Jews are not allowed to eat (Gen.32:33) as it caused injury to Jacob for ever, keeping him limping in the face of God. Why should you know my Name? the question corresponds to the very sinew that allows human beings to walk in discovering life and announce how difficult it may be to assume God’s election. We are rather reluctant to see the close connection that links our interrogating God about His Name with our physical shape that shows the Image and Likeness of God with much precision.

Interestingly, Jacob returns to Isaac’house and can bury him with Abraham at the cave of Machpelah.

The haftarah accounts: “In the womb, Jacob seized his brother’s heel, and with his strength he overcame (Sarah) (an angel of) God. He struggled with an angel and prevailed (Hosea 12:4-5). “sharah/sari”, playing on alternative “shin and sin” consonants, refers to loosening, overcoming of a place, to dwell, take lodging.

Jacob’s wrestling to reaching his “self” is a real face-to-face with God. “The exiled community of the children of Israel who are in Eretz Canaan\ארץ כנען, Tzarfat\צרפת, and the exile of Jerusalem in Sefarad will take possession of the cities. And saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau and then the Lord will have total dominion” (Ovadyah 20).

A disciple of Paul of Tarsus wrote an appealing verse about the strange path we often have to go through, seemingly as tortuous like Jacob’s fight: “In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding blood. You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges” (Proverbs 3:11-12; Deut. 8:5)” (To the Hebrews 12:5-6).

Podvig: Spiritual achievement

Geshem - dozhd' : дождь-גשם! Rain! Rainy day for the funerals of late Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All Rus/Russia's. He passed away on December 5th and was buried on Tuesday 9th of December - 26 November, 2008. The long wonderful chanting in Slavonic was accompanying the peaceful wailing of the Eastern Orthodox heads of the Church. All the Orthodox Churches were represented: Bartholomaios I of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch who quietly presided the ceremony, Patriarch Elia of Georgia, Patriarch Daniel of Romania, Archbishop Leo of Finland, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro/Cernagora in the name of the Serbian Patriarch Pavle, Metropolitan Hieronymos of Athens-Greece, Archbishop Anastaseos of Albania. Metropolitan Hesychios represented Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem along with the representatives of the local Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Cyprus, Czech Lands and Slovakia, Bulgaria. Metropolitan Demetrios from the United States was there as also the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad. Cardinals R. Etchegarray and W.Kaspers came in the name of Pope Benedict XVI.

The "Zaupokoinaia Bozhestvennaia Liturgiya -заупокойная Божественная Литургия - The Divine Liturgy for the repose of the soul of the late Patriarch" was conducted by the locum tenens, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, a huge number of clergy, monastic and lay people. Some parts were read in different languages; English, Finnish. Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk read the "epitimia - praying letter of remittance of all sins" and put the document in the hands of the late patriarch. President Medvedev and PM Putin joined all the people for the "tselovanye\целование - last kiss". The open coffin was carried to a car and brought to the place of burial at St. Aleksii church at Yelokov.

It was raining as the cars and small buses drove slowly to the place, with green and white wreaths of roses thrown in the church and along the way. The "slowly chanted Trishagion - Trisviatoe\трисвятое" accompanied the patriarch and crowds were standing under the rain. There is something that inhabits the Russian Orthodox Church: "teshena\тишина - quietness". During Vespers, one chants the ancient Jerusalemite verses of the hymn: "phos hilaron - joyous light in Greek - Quiet/peaceful Light - tikhiy Svet\тихий Свет" in Slavonic. The same atmosphere was to be felt during the funerals - tears and emotions, a lot of self-control. Maybe some sort of general surprise to be there and celebrate openly and freely the burial of the first patriarch who headed the Russian Orthodox Church in full freedom.

On December 10th, The Holy Synod had a meeting and decided that the process of the election of the new patriarch will be held from January 25 and 26 in a first preparatory encounter of the representatives (bishops, clergy, monks and lay people in accordance with the rules in force in the Russian Orthodox Church). Then the election will take place on January 27-29, declared today Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad who headed the first meeting at St. Daniel's Monastery in view to open the process of electing the 16th patriarch. The locum tenens responded to the journalists. The Israeli press has barely accounted the event of the passing away and funerals of the late patriarch. The country is embattled in the coming elections of Knesset 18 and a lot of other problems. "Novosti" - the Russian site in Israel connected with Interfax gave all the details of the procedure.

Interestingly, they also put on line an interview of Archbishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria who is the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate in Central Europe and at the European Communities. As readily exposed in other notes, he is a young and very talented theologian, clergyman, linguist and a brilliant musician. He had recently been contacted by some members of the O.C.A. [Orthodox Church of America] in view to possibly become the head of the local North America Church that had been granted autocephaly by in 1970, under the strong influence of Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad [St. Petersburg], a man of great prestige and openness. Metropolitan Nikodim had previously headed the Moscow Patriarchate Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem in 1968. He was known for his ecumenical views and interfaith openness. It definitely impressed some of the Greek clergy who studied at the Leningrad theological Academy while he was metropolitan there.

Many of the the Russian newcomers to Israel - and most of the Soviet educated Russian Orthodox believers would have presumed that one of the major Greek Orthodox Patriarchate metropolitan who somehow and seemingly had been under strong influence of metropolitan Nikodim would have been elected as patriarch of Jerusalem when late Patriarch Diodoros passed away. This is a typical Russian and Soviet "vue de l'esprit" - it was not totally imaginary if the idiom needs to be translated into English. It was not real for many reasons. This why the election of the new head of the Moscow Church is so meaningful.

Patriarch Aleksii was not a careerist. His father was a priest and had spent some time in jail. Patriarch Aleksii was also a married man who divorced his wife and became a monk at a time of dire communistic dictatorship. In his interview on June 10, 1991 published in Izvestia, the then-newly elected patriarch declared that it was" incumbent upon him to take over the responsibility of all that had happened in the life of his Church: not only the good part, but also the dark and sorrowful pages". He had added: "I ask all those who suffered from concessions, silences, forced passivity and these declaration of loyalty (the declaration of late Patriarch Sergei under communist rule) for forgiveness, understanding and to pray for me... When [our] society is split by ethnic and political contradictions, the Church should be the place where the most different people should be able to understand each other and live in unity..." (idem). These elements called to him an immense activity of maintaining constant balance among all the tendencies that showed and continue to show up at a time of "restoration".

Thus, Archbishop Hilarion added today that, in his opinion, the new patriarch should chosen among the members of the Holy Synod. He pointed out that all the members knew late Patriarch Aleksii for years and always accompanied him. Thus, it would be good to choose of them in order to prolong the actions of HH. Aleksii II. Metropolitan Kyrill underscored that the vote will be secret at that each eparchy [diocese] will be granted full freedom to send the delegates of their choice, provided that the final voting quorum will be composed of 29 members.

Is it too early to detect who might be elected to head the Patriarchate of Moscow? It is a bit too early for different reasons. There is a general tendency in the life of the Churches at the present to try to assign "heirs" or very close co-workers as successors at the head of important sees. Whatever tradition concerned, it is evident that Pope Benedict XVI had accompanied and worked together with late Pope John Paul II over 20 years. In a period of a foreseeable chaotic international situation, the Holy Spirit did choose a man of strong competence and wide experience that can implement some decisions that he might have initiated together with John Paul II.

Interestingly, Patriarch Aleksii II had visited Paris a year ago, which was an unprecedented for a Russian patriarch; he attended some services at the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris together with Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris who today is heading the French Bishop conference. This was unheard for a Russian Patriarch to enter a Catholic Church and participate in the veneration of the Thorn Crown relics kept in the French cathedral. Following the steps of late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger who visited the Soviet Union twenty years ago, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois paid a visit to late Patriarch Aleksii in Moscow just a month a go. He traveled to the Solovski island monastery that was a huge concentration and labor camp under the communist regime. A lot of clergy and faithful died there as martyrs. He also went to Fr. Alexander Men's church of Novaia Derevnia where Cardinal Lustiger and the murdered priest had met for a short while.

Indeed, Cardinal A. Vingt-Trois was assigned archbishop of Paris when Cardinal Lustiger retired. They had been working together for more than 20 years. "Duration" and struggling for faith may explain this trend that also shows in other parts of the world. It is relevant and makes sense as compared with the present situation of the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad has accompanied and worked with Patriarch Aleksii over a very long and faithful period of time. At this point, he is the locum tenens and a relevant candidate with a wide range of rich experience and contacts in the Church. The Russian Church showed up again with much power and has to define its action and position toward the eparchies/dioceses inside and outside of the former Soviet republics. Some became independent States. The situation is special showing a large scope of liberal to very strict and traditional attitudes. Time is very significant for the Slavs and the Russian soul.

Curiously enough, there may also be some young candidates, if any. Archbishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria was about to be called to head the "Orthodox Church in America". It is special to hear his voice today. He is not an exception, though engaged in a very peculiar international and theological ministry. The members of the Synod of the Church Abroad is also getting new. Basically, it should be too early to elect a "young patriarch" in a Church and cultural environment that does trust the elders. Many things are not known to the other Churches and show unexpectedly.

Patriarch Aleksii II had visited Israel from March 27th to April 1st, 1991. He has then met late Patriarch Diodoros I [Journal of the Patriarchate of Moscow, 1991, Nr 6]. This was a traditional journey and visit to the Holy Land and the Holy site of the Mother of All the Churches. Patriarchs Aleksii I and Pimen had visited Jerusalem in 1946 and 1972. Patriarch Aleksii III participated in many of the Services of the Holy Week. He had to postpone his pilgrimage till March because of the problem in the Gulf. This point should be noted: it shows some similarities with the situation at the present, though with new parameters that will be discussed by the new patriarch, in particular with regards to the State of Israel.

On Sunday 31st of March, 1991, [Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem - Palm Sunday, Orthodox date], Patriarchs Aleksii and Diodoros had celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Anastasis/Holy Sepulcher Church. At that time, Patriarch Aleksii also led some Divine Liturgies at the Russian ecclesiastical mission near Safra Square, the Eyn Karem monastery [Gornenskii monastir] located in West Jerusalem.

Patriarch Aleksii met at that time with Haim Herzog, the President of the State of Israel and Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir on March 28, 1991. This meeting allowed strengthening the re-establishment of the relationships between Soviet Union and Israel and was noted as a positive point.

Morever, in the presence of Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, they discussed the problems of real estate and properties of the Russian ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem . The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Palestine had been established in 1847 by the then- Moscow Synod. Until 1917, it mainly took care of the thousands pilgrims from the Russian Empire. It has been a very ancient tradition of the Russian Orthodox believers to come to the Holy Sites in the Holy Land. By 1947 - i.e. one century after the foundation of the Mission - Israel decided to return the real estate and properties located in West Jerusalem to the Patriarchate of Moscow. three other monasteries were under the control of the Church Abroad (Eleona, Gethsemane, Mamre). Other sites were disputed in the Palestinian Territories until and after the Six Day war. At the present, there is still a problem about the building located at Safra Square. Let's say that real estate and property problems are still pending.

Patriarch Aleksii inaugurated his ministry with this very prophetic visit of the head of the Moscow Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Since 1991, times and circumstances have intensively changed. He had visited Yad VaShem, the Deportation and Shoah memorial place that evolved into a whole Institute of research and Studies. He had declared: "The Russian Orthodox Church will definitely fight anti-Semitism in Soviet Union". When he was metropolitan of Leningrad, Aleksii had also spoken, in 1989, by the time of the perestroika and after the celebration of the millennium of the baptism of the Rus', against all forms of intolerance. They sadly affect some sectors of the post-communist society.
"Zlobost'\злобость - wickedness" is a strong sociological and cultural tendency that attacks the souls everywhere.

True, spiritual connections and challenges can also be positive.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December 10/November 27, 2008 - 14 deKislev 5769 - י"ד דכסלו תשס"ט

church of fr. Aleksandr Men'.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Voice of the Church [Part 4 - Hebrew in the Church]

Is there any connection between the destiny of St. Sergius and St Vladimir Institutes of Orthodox Theology and, eventually the actual development of the Church in Israeli society? It is well-known that many Arabs from various Middle-Eastern countries were educated at St. Sergius and St. Vladimir and graduated, at times in both Institutes. Indeed, clergy and lay people of all origins study in the two educational theological establishments. I focus on Israeli society only with rejecting the Arabs. The Arab Christian Churches are very important and numerous priests were trained in France and in the United States.

In fact, St. Sergius and St Vladimir's Institutes are somehow connected with the renewal or new possible to challenge the creation of "Hebrew in the Church" within Israeli society. To begin with, this is due to the reality that many theologians who taught or studied at the two institutes were of Jewish descent, converted Jews or married to people of Jewish origin. Many settled for a while in Israel and left the country for various reasons.

Firstly, in the middle of the 19th century, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem did bless Fr.Levinson to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and the other Eastern Orthodox Service in Hebrew. The translation was given the blessing of the Moscow Synod in 1851 and I was given a photocopy of the text in 1980. It is sheltered at the present on a microfilm at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is in Slavonic and Hebrew. The Slavonic part includes prayers for the then-reigning members of the Czar. The Hebrew version is very rabbinical, which is quite overwhelming in the present. By the time the translation was officially allowed, the Russian Synod was somehow aware that the Hebrew language - as Arabic with regards to Qu'ran Arabic - must correspond with the native tradition of the speakers: Jewish and Muslim people. This corresponds with the Aleutian language used for the translation of the Divine Service in the Eastern Orthodox church by the time St. Tikhon was a bishop in Alaska and decided to allow the Services in the vernacular Aleutian language.

This confirms that - at that time - the decision was very forward and insightful. It was also correct and respectful of the meaning of the words. This is not the case at the present for the Hebrew text in use in the Roman Latin Rite translation of the Mass and the other prayers. So, it means that the Russian Church intervened in the process of Hebrew in the Eastern Orthodox Church of the then Holy Land. In 1851, Hebrew was slowly reviving. This is why Eliezer Ben Yehudah did find some speakers from Jaffa to Jerusalem. There is more: The Eastern Orthodox anaphora's and Services have phrases that show very close to the Jewish roots of the prayers, in particular, those used in the Machzor\מחזור [festive prayer-books] linked to Yom HaKippurim\יום הכיפורים, the Day of Atonement.

It will certainly be possible in the near future to survey the existing connections in a similar way that has been used by the Western theologians and proved that Judaism and Christianity rely upon the same founding basements. It may take some time for the Oriental Churches and the present Jews because of the profound and real estrangement that separates Jewishness and Eastern Christianity. It should be interesting not to scan this connection with any missionary spirit. Many students of St. Vladimir's Seminary do experience a unique possibility to be in a sort of "regular" soft encounter with the Orthodox Jews of New York. This would not be thinkable in any other place. Still, it is also the heritage of a close relationship that existed in the East-European countries and Jewish settlements and villages.

By the same time, the Church of England decided to assign Bishop Solomon Alexander Pollack who was the first Anglican (now Episcopalian) bishop in Jerusalem. He translated the "Book of Common Prayers" into Hebrew, also in accordance the the rabbinic roots. Fr. Kurt Hruby, whom I replaced at St. Sergius Institute for the "Journées Liturgiques de Saint Serge", had given me a copy of the original book in 1978. The bishop is barely reminded in St. George Cathedral in Jerusalem. The Anglican-Episcopalian Services in Hebrew ceased in 1947. The Messianic movement took over the heritage of the movement that survived after World War II in Bessarabia and Siberia. I made a full "euchology" prayerbook [thanksgiving prayerbook] "Zevach todah\זבח תודה - Thanksgiving Sacrifice, fruit of the words of our tongues" published at Peeters in the Orientalia, 1989. It is a proposal for a "native Hebrew prayer" on line with the Oriental fundamental traditions. it was used by some scattered groups of various origins.

On the other hand, it should be noted that shortly before the time of the perestroika and the fall of the communist regime in the Soviet Union and the satellite countries, some Russian and Romanian arrived in Israel and were willing to pray in Hebrew within the framework of the local Church that is under the omophoron of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. By that time, the two Russian Ecclesiastical Missions (Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad) were not reunified as at the present. The Russian archives had no file with regards to the use of Hebrew in the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in the19th and 20th centuries.

After the perestroika, some pious Orthodox believers arrived, in particular after 1988 and the big "rush" with numerous Orthodox newcomers. The goal of this part of the note is to show the involvement of the two Institutes. Thus, the local Patriarchate of Jerusalem accepted the presence of some priests and allowed them to celebrate in Hebrew. Interestingly, this has been possible 20 years ago though they had to face a lot of hardships.

The Church process is still intriguing and appealing. Archbishop Georges (Wagner) of Evdokia was born into a German Lutheran family in Berlin. He came to Paris and was ordained a deacon and a priest in 1955 by Metropolitan Nikolai of the Moscow Patriarchate in Paris. He was a specialist in Liturgics and Canon Law that he taught for years at the St. Sergius Institute. Indeed, he was in touch with Fr. Alexander Schmemann and the Board of Professors in the United States. He was tonsured a monk in 1971 and elected assistant bishop of Archbishop. Georges (Tarassoff) of Syracuse, head of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Russian Orthodox Exarchate. in Western Europe. He was consecrated as bishop in Paris on October 3, 1971. In May 1981, he was elected to be the successor of Abp. Georges (Tarassoff), a capacity in which he served until his death in Paris on April 6, 1993.

He ordained two priests so that they could serve in Israeli society. This was a meaningful decision. I do not discuss the context and circumstances. His follower, late Archbishop Sergei of Evkarpia, also took the decision to ordain me in the same move. I was sent to Jerusalem upon the personal recommendation of Patriarch Bartholomaios Ist, with the spiritual support of late Metropolitan Emilianos of Silyvria and several other theologians of various jurisdictions.

"Hebrew in the Church" will be one of the existing challenges that the future patriarch of Moscow and All Russia will have to meet with insights and adequacy. Late Patriarch Aleksii II was against Anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. In fact, the two words refer to two separate matters.

It may be a bit provoking, but the Russian Church enjoys, for the time being, the opportunity to expand and bring forth the real value of the Slavic and native Eastern Orthodox tradition as shown by the Slavonic heritage. This heritage has too often been barred and denied by force. Church Slavonic is basically a word-to-word translation from Church Greek into a pan-Slavic sort of Esperanto. Greek has to face the same problems and would need some "revamping updating". Indeed, the Eastern Churches cannot avoid Greek. They implement something that has been carried by this special Mediterranean tongue, full of Semitic vernacular phrases.

The Russian Church reflects something of a widely open and broad-minded universal spirit that is unique. This is why it would be so important for the upcoming generations to overcome spiritual, theological, ethnic, cultural and linguistic prejudices against Jewishness. Many metropolitans, bishops and priests of Jewish descent have been ordained in the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, in the Church Abroad and various Russian jurisdictions over the past century till the perestroika and the fall of communism.

Interestingly, Hebrew disappeared in the two Ecclesiastical bodies that had viewed with favor the use of Hebrew in the 19th century in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Strangely, it took place at the dawn of the revival of Hebrew as a living tongue. Pioneering Church bodies like the Russian Moscow Mission and the Church of England (and Ireland, sic!) progressively and intentionally got astray from Hebrew way of living.

In the reports and articles that I wrote over the decade, I had the opportunity to describe with much precision the negative attitudes of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, in particular the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Russian Ecclesiastical Missions. I did it with the care to understand a process and definitely not to adopt any judgmental views or to convey any kinds of gossiping. I was told that "I got what I had been looking for" as said a very high-ranking Orthodox leader in the West.

Indeed, "Hebrew" is not the real question faced by the Russian Orthodox Church. There is a very serious theological interrogation about how to define present day Judaism with regards to positive existence of the State of the Jews (Judenstaat). The Russian Federation considers at the present that Israel would be the "second Russian country in the world", as stated by Vladimir Putin some time ago.

During the time of the communists, a lot of Jews found their way in serving in the Church at all the levels of the Russian hierarchy. This is still the case until now for the elder ones, in particular for some important bishops who would never speak of that openly. It has been a serious matter for the positive survival of the Russian Orthodox Church in many areas. The same phenomenon is known for Poland and Romania. Many "pnevmatiki - duchovniki - spiritual fathers" were and are still of Jewish descent and showed their heritage in the way they developed their ministry among the faithful. Late Fr. Elijah Shmain who was ordained by Archbishop Georgyi Wagner, served in Israel for years before he returned to Moscow via Paris was much aware of being a Jew... and an Israeli Eastern Orthodox priest. Nonetheless, he has spent many years in a camp. Still, he experienced the rejection of the Russian hierarchy, though was always supported by the Russians in the West. Before the perestroika was implemented, Fr. Alexander Men became a symbol of this hideous and uncontrolled hatred towards Jews and "aliens" in the Soviet society. The ax that killed him reminds both the pogroms and the murders of so-called "uniates". I am totally baffled to meet with numerous clergy educated in the Soviet society that are systematically denied any ministry in the Church "at the present". It is a period of transition.

The issue does not deal with individuals. The real question is to know how Judaism and the constant parallel development of the most important spiritual Chassidic movements inside of a profoundly Eastern Orthodox context can positively allow a mutual recognition between Israel and the Church.

This is why Fr. Alexander Schmemann's 25th anniversary also makes sense in this view. It may appear that it is not a fundamental aspect of his theology. It is indeed. Fr. Alexander Schmemann - as the school that showed up in the West by the time of the "émigration" and the creation of St. Sergius Institute widely opened the scopes of the Russian Orthodox Church to universal and local, native and planetary envisioning of the plerome of redemption, the Ecclesia universa.

The approach of the "native" Churches as reflected in the West and North America should allow some in-depth reconsidering of the relevant value of Jewishness and Israelity today for the future of the Eastern Orthodox Church, in particular the Slavonic-speaking communities. There are numerous significant factors that should open the gates for overcoming hostility and estrangement.

It will take time. The passing away of late Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All Rus, eternal memory, is a founding moment. I pointed out that there is some glimpse from Above. He was the patriarch who headed the Russian Orthodox Church from the time of communism over perestroika till the fall of communism. He maintained and enlarged the integrity and redeployment of the Russian Church inside of the former Soviet Union. He gained the return of the Church Abroad. Those who remained out of the Communion of the Russian Orthodox Church (Church of the Resistance, Fighting or Alternative Church, Church in Exile) still position themselves as somehow "linked from afar at the moment" from the Moscow Patriarchate. This means that he led a tantamount work that can show frail or dubious. His time was made of "incredible events and changes that only launched a tremendous process. Hopefully, the Russian Church will get astray from wrong-doers of all sorts that will give them the opportunity, for the first time after the atheistic period of apostasy, to meet with the Jewish and new Israeli body as survivors rescued by God's Providence.

The Israeli Church reality is a basic notion that also relates to other Churches: the Romanian, Polish, Slovak, Serbian, and even Albanian new-released autocephalous or self-ruled or indefinite ecclesiastical Bodies. This also concerns, for instance, the Macedonian community as I experienced in the past two years. At this point, this is coping with the discussions and research conducted by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff. I am convinced the Russian Church will show its "breadth, length, depth, profundity" provided she will not be denied or put aside by the others.

This will require more than patience. It will require a lot of quiet and peaceful spirit of pardoning actions. The Jews are the natives of the Church and they do remain according to Paul of Tarsus (Romans 9-4). We hardly can understand with exactitude what the apostle meant or how we can update it for the time being. The matter is new for the Russian Orthodox Church. And it will take time before they will accept that the former Soviets visiting Israel or birthing Palestine as pilgrims, or sick hosted in Israeli hospitals or tourists are not Russian anymore. It will pass rather quickly. Still, Jews and Russians are intertwined to bear witness of Divine Providence and loving-kindness.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December/ 9/November 26, 2009 - 12 deKislev 5769 - י"ב דכסלו תשס"ט

Russian monk [photo - a FB friend]
נזיר רוסי

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nikolaos: Victory of the people

I am serving in the St. Nikolaos church located near the St. Benediktos clinic that is a part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem where I have been living for 11 years now. I always served according to the Julian old calendar, i.e. on December19th, as this is the rule of the Church of Jerusalem. The Greek Church changed and adopted the common Gregorian new style date of December 6th. This is a special day throughout Christianity. I would not track back to the historical or "fairy tale" reports about the life and the deeds of Saint Nicholas, Sint Niklaas in Dutch, Sv. Nikolai - Nikola in most Slavic tongues and Mykolai in Ukrainian.

The name of the Saint has always been present in my life for different reasons: Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Rebbe of Lubavitch was born in the Ukrainian town of Nikolayev/Mykolayiv-Николаев\Миколаiв at the same time as my parents, same year and same city. It is situated 125 versty [miles] from Odessa, the famous international and very ancient city of merchants that was created long before Christian ear and inhabited by the Jews, Greeks, Scythes and many other nations. There is another Nikolaiev 36 km from L'viv. The name of the Saint and his personality as a wonder-maker and a great man of faith is very prestigious in all Slavic countries and traditions, also in Greece and on the Italian-Sicilian line that never really disrupted the connections between the Western and Eastern parts of the Roman Empire Church. The Great Schism is a bit softer there.

St. Nikolaos was very compassionate toward the needy. He shared all his money and saved many poor. In a time of dire economic and cruel social attitudes, in particular towards women and young women, his providing dowries to three daughters of a humble man who could fall into prostitution is an example of caring love ans real charity. The problems are quite the same at the present. Nikolaos woh became the bishop of Myra was always ready to give assistance. He used to do that in all sorts of miracles that show the significance of Christian faith.

The bishop of Myra spent many years in Beit Jala, now in the West Bank, close to the Mar Sabbas Monastery and Beit Sachur. It is the local custom for the Patriarch of Jerusalem to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Beit Jala every year, remembering the life and pastoral activities of the holy man in the famous city. Many of the inhabitants spread over the century to South America, Buenos Aires, remaining faithfully too the home city blessed by the presence of the Saint.

There is more: St. Nikolaos Day - starting with December 6th - climaxes on December 19th in the Middle East and in Russia. This year, the Italian government solemnly returned the Russian St. Nikolaos church at Bari to the Patriarchate of Moscow. The point is that St. Nikolaos Day marks the beginning of the Feast of the Nativity in the Middle East. The Holy Land does not focus on the Nativity of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem. It is a major historical and theological event. Nonetheless, Jerusalem and the Holy Land in general is a place of Tombs that recalls us the importance of hope and resurrection. And the personality of St. Nikolaos as well as the miracles that he performed are more onl ine with the faith in resurrection. This shows some similarities with prophet Elijah ubiquity and eschatological importance in the Jewish communities.

This is why St. Nikolaos Day marks the beginning of the time of Nativity, Baptism and Theophany of the Lord at the Jordan River, going through the period of Nativity Lent for the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Churches at the moment, till Nativity Day. It is a long sequence that shall end on January 19th, 2009 with the Baptism of Jesus Christ, the blessings of the Waters inside of the Holy Sepulcher/Anastasis Church and a final touch with the Armenian Nativity-Baptism-Theophany Feast usually celebrated in the Holy Land on January 18th [Astvadz-a-Haytnutyun = Revelation of God].

There is no way to connect the feast of the Saint with the Feast of Hanukkah, the feast renewal of new dedication of the Temple and the miracle of the oil lamp. In other areas, the feast of the Lights tends to develop in various manners outside the Jewish world. From Halloween to the two Canadian and American Thanksgiving days, new paganism often try to secularize and merchandise the memorial of very strong and unique man of loving-kindness. The common point is certainly the flickering of permanent hope beyond any hope. Everything is possible, not only some odd gifts, sweets and coins for the children.

On the other hand, since the year 2000, the name is given to a lot of Israeli baby girls, mostly in its female form, maybe influenced by French "Nicole" [Nikol, Nikola - ניקול-ניקולה ]. The Hebrew "translation" has never really been adopted: "נצחיה - Natzchiyah".

Still the name is meaningful! "Nikolaos = victorious, victory of the [consecrated] people = Νικα του λαου". Let's say that it sounds very "democratic". But it does not relate to "demos = demo(cratic) people". "Laos" in Greek = the "Chosen, elected" people with regards to the Jewish interpretation and to the Christian tradition of Baptism/Chrism anointing -Communion (Slavic custom to give the three Sacraments in the course of one celebration). Greek clearly follows the Jewish tradition of distinguishing "laos - λαος (chosen, elected, consecrated) people" and "ethnos - εθνος (Gentile, pagan) nation".

The name may also sound also very "comrade-like" or "communist-proletarian fashioned" relevant... Take it easy. A bit kidding... Still, I experienced that at times: a kind of unexpected protection given by Nikolaos. Harshly attacked in a church placed under his patronage, the Hebrew-Jewish tongues and Slavic-speaking communities, which I am heading, were granted exceptional and miraculous assistance by the civilian and religious authorities. We all felt like a joyous intervention of this holy man whose name is so typical for any former communist group... It happens from time to time, but it seems that Nikolaos has some very modern anti-defamation bobsleigh league with some compassionate and caring brigade... Lol))).

Nikolaos is working wonders. We live in a part of the world where miracles happened during winter time while it is summertime in the south hemisphere. Niklaas shows with De Zwarte Piet, the Black Pieter in the Netherlands, Flemish tradition that also spread to South Africa. I dream of a possible encounter that would allow Israeli society as a whole to carry out the same peaceful and reconciliation process as it happened in South Africa with much respect toward the inter-racial and interfaith national move. The etymology of the saint's name makes sense everywhere. Rejection is much more powerful each time any group denies the rights and existence of other groups anywhere.

Patriarch Aleksii II passed away the day after the feast of Presentation of the Lady to the Temple of Jerusalem, at the eve of St. Nicholas day in the new style calendar. Like Prophet Elijah, St. Nikolaos is always forward and on the move. May he protect the immense Russian territories and inhabitants. Patriarch Aleksii was the man of the tremendous changes after the times of apostasy of the atheist regime. This was also a huge achievement for a inter-Soviet clergyman, born to a German former Lutheran noblesse of the Baltic countries. Strange how it is so close to Fr. Schmemann's destiny, also born in Estonia. Eternal memory!

Nikolaos changes us into instruments of peace.

Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December 7/November 24, 2008 - 10 Kislev 5769 - י' דכסלו תשס"ט

Photograph: Hagios Nikolaos in my church in Jerusalem