Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Introduction Of The Ladder Of Divine Ascent

A note proposed our friend Rd. Michael Hann

In humbly presenting to you this introduction of "THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT" of Saint John Climacus, I am spiritually encouraging you to obtain the full text afterwards. This spiritually rewarding book can be obtained from: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 278 Warren Street, Brookline, Massachusetts 02146. Holy Transfiguration Monastery actually did this translation. At the same time, I would spiritually advise you to read this book not only during Holy Great Lent (the 40 day Fasting period in prepartion for our Lord's Glorious Resurrection), but all the time, and as frequent as you can, and finally keep this sacred and holy book as one of your many books in regards to the holy Orthodox Faith. The Church has a great deal of spiritual wealth, and an abundance of a rich spiritual treasury to offer us in struggling for our salvation, in which our loving God grants to us all -life everlasting and great mercy. This book, as well as both the "Old Testament" ("The Septuagint"), and the "New Testament", "The Philokalia", the books of "The Holy Fathers", "The Rudder", and "My Life in Christ" (by St. John of Kronstadt) has always been my most treasured spiritual books.

"For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet ye have not many fathers" I Cor. 4:15

In these days, beloved Christians, when because of unbelief and the abounding of sin the love of most has waxed cold, it is rare to find even instructors according to God, let alone fathers who are able to beget us spiritually. How needful, therefore, it is to hearken to the clear voice of a true instructor in Christ the Saviour. How necessary it is in these times of spiritual drought to find a wellspring of living water! Such an instructor and such a deep well filled with living water do we we have in our holy father John Climacus-and not only an instructor in things divine, but a father also who is able to beget. For as such do we address him in the kontakion for his holy feast, saying:

On the height of abstinence did the Lord establish thee as a true and unerring star, guiding the ends of the world by thy light, O John, our instructor and father.

And we do not address him thus lightly. For we hear our Master Christ crying and saying:

Be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, even Christ. Neither call ye and man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in the Heavens. Nor be ye called instructors, for one is your instructor even Christ (Matt. 23:8-10).

Thus, it is not to an ordinary teacher or father of the world here below which lieth in sin that we address ourselves, for that would be contradicting the word of our Saviour, but rather to one who is united to our Father and Teacher Who is in the Heavens, and is anointed and ordained by Him to be both a teacher and a father to us. For our Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, gifts us not only apostles, prophets, healers, etc. (cf. I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11), but teachers also and fathers in Christ our Saviour.

Our holy father, Saint John Climacus, loving God from his youth, took up the sweet yoke of the apostolic life, and the life of philosophy, that is, the monastic life (as it was called in the early centuries of Christianity), and through it came to divine vision and was deified. Being united, therefore, to the living God, he shares in His uncreated glory and energies, and is shown forth a teacher and father, not for his own time only, but for all centuries until the consummation of time. It is for this same reason that we hope in the prayers and protection of the saints, and by so doing do not contradict the Psalmic verse, "Trust ye not in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is not salvation" (Ps. 145:2). For these holy ones are no longer sons of men, but rather, in their love for God they were united to the Only-Begotten Son of God and became communicants of the Divine Nature. They no longer live, but rather Christ lives in them and they in Him. Thus they have become sons of God, and by trusting in their intercessions and help, we trust in Heaven itself, in the Living God.

This holy father, Saint John Climacus, lived and struggled for a whole lifetime on the God-trodden Mountain of Sinai, having entered the monastic struggles while but a youth in his teens. For forty years, he lived as a hermit at Thola, about five miles fom the moastery. Later he became the abbot of Sinai. At that time, the monastery erected by the Emperor Justinian, which stands intact to this day, was already in existence. It was built at the site of the Burning Bush and dedicated in those years to the Transfiguration of our Lord. Our holy Father John stood in prayer often below the great mosaic of the Holy Transfiguration which is the apse behind the Holy Table, and which can be seen to this day. He lived to the age of eighty, having reposed in the Lord in the year 603.

It was during the time that he was abbot that he wrote, among other things, the Klimax, theLadder, from which his name is derived. In this God-inspired book, he has written observations and teaching which are taken from his long experience as an ascetic and struggler against the passions. They are observations of a veteran of many wars, of a struggler in God and gictorious hoplite who himself mounted the ladder of Jacob, reached the summit, and entered into the cloud of unknowing, being propelled by the love of God. And for the love of his neighbour, he Icon of the Holy Prophet Elias left behind him this Ladder of Divine Ascent,as Elias of old his mantle. But whereas Elias did not leave us his chariot to mount to the heavens, this holy one left us the means whereby we also migh climb with labours, vigilance, and prayers, and reach the ineffable beauty of that Countenance and the unutterable gladness of those that keep festival in the marvellous tabernacle, the very house of our God (cf.Ps. 41:4).

This holy book inscribed by the Wisdom of God has been brought down to us from the height of Divine experience, as of old Moses The Holy Prophet Mosesbrought down from the summit of Sinai the God-inscribed tablets of the Law. But it differs from the tablets in as much as Grace differs fom the Law. The tablets contained rules and relgulations, statutes and prohibitions, but this heavenly book contains rather observations and insights concerning the goal of our calling as Christians and monastics. Each step deals with a certain virtue or passion, informing us from whence it springs and the different paths it takes in our experiences. Deep observations are made concerning our fallen nature and our captivity therein, and concerning the holy ones of God who with His help have fled the contranatural, have surpassed to natural, and have entered the supranatural. It is a book to awaken us, to call us to spiritual action - a book for strugglers in God and sojourners who have fled the Egypt of the passions and are struggling in the desert, in the hope of entering the Promised Land. But if one is looking in this holy book for the "how" this is to be accomplished, he shall not find it. For that is a whole "life hidden in God" (cf. Col. 3:3), as the holy Apostle says, and is accomplished in each believing and struggling Christian in "a sacred hidden manner." (In the Holy Spirit, every soul is quickened And through cleansing is exalted and made rediant By the Triple Unity, in a hidden sacred manner." (First Antiphon of the Hymns of Ascent of Fourth Tone). In short, this is the mystery of salvation which is worked in each of us.

This holy book, then, is a trumpet calling us to the spiritual life at the outset of the campaign and accompanies us on our journey through "arid and desolate places," pointing out to us dangers and pitfalls, refreshing us with cool water from living springs, and setting for us a "table in the desert." It instructs us, it encourages us, it speeds us on our way to God, but it does not offer us a formula or rule by which this is to be accomplished. In the Greek manuscripts, the thirty chapters fround in this book are not entitled steps, but logie - the first logos, the second logos, the third logos, - that is, they are presented as homilies, talks, in a word of instruction.

This is the nature of all the ascetical writings of the Church from the earliest times, for monasticism is seen as a consecration of one's life to God, using all these instructions and words of experience. There are not different monastic "rules" or "orders" in the Church. There is only one rule for all monastics: fasting, vigilance, and prayer, with vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. But in the West, especially after its separation from the Church, different competing orders arose with different rules set on different courses. The scholastic and rationalistic mentality, which wished everthing to be clearly defined, aided in this. And whereas of old, the Fathers expounded to us in what monasticism consisted, now the emphasis was on the how is a mystery accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit - it is a whole life of Grace. But for the scholastic mind, it bcame a systematized rule like a physical exercise, a sort of technique. Yoga and similar disciplines of the Far East are akin to this mentality. According to such an understanding, if one does this, the outcome must necessarily be that. Yet we know from experience that things in the spiritual life do not work thus, that techniques and rules do not make the monk. Only be keeping up pretence can one believe that he has thus become a monk. Externally he may appear to be some sort of monastic, but internally there is a void. And after a time, one abandons even the pretence, and then there is nothing.

Not only for those separated from the Church is this a danger, but for all of us. Thus it is necessary, if we are not to become sterile, to be continually returning to the clear sources of the monastic life, to be studying them and living them. One such great source is the Ladder. So greatly is this God-inspired book esteemed by the Church that its author, Saint John Climacus, is celebrated twice in the liturgical year: once on the day of his repose, which is the 30 of March, and a second time on the Forth Sunday of Great Lent. In all of the Church's monastic communities throughout the world, the Ladder is read during the duration of the Great Lent in the refectory during the common meal. This is a period of strict fasting, of prostrations, of compunctionate prayers, when only one meal is partaken of int he day, and this after the ninth hour (3:00 P.M.). After the twelfth hour (6:00 P.M.), even water is abstained from until the next meal of the next day, which is again after the ninth hour. Being read therefore during the meals in this period of fasting and struggles, it makes a profound impression on its hearers. And this is exactly how such texts should be read if they are to bear any fruit inus - not in spaciousness and comfort, not sitting in arm chairs, eating snacks an sipping soft drinks, but rather with prayers and fasting, with prostration and sighs. Then verily there is fulfilled the verse of our father, David: "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Ps. 80:9).

It is not enough, therefore, to read the Scriptures and the God-inspired books of the Church, but it is necessary to read them with reverence, fasting and prayer, and especially to put into practice those things which we read. We recall when the first edition of the Ladder in 1959, Thomas Merton, the great exponent of Western monasticism of the Roman communion, wrote a review of the book in Jubilee magazine. We have somehow misplaced it in our library and do not have it here presently before us, but if our memory does not fail us, he wrote somewhat enthusiastically about the book, praising it in many ways. This was the time in the Roman Catholic Church when icons and things Eastern were in vogue. But to one thing he took exception, and this was to the chapter concerning the Prison. What is here narrated is a little too excessive for an intelligent man of the West, it insults his rationality. Meton recognized in the description of the inmates of the Prison every recorded clinical mental disorder found in insane asylums. And truly, for the mind of the world, the wisdom of God and the way of the pious are untter follishness, insane, demented.

Yet, even more so in the wisdom of the world foolishness and madness for the children of the Church. Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Abba Isaac the Syrian say much concerning this. As for the pious, if there is a chapter in the Ladder which pierces one's heart, if there is any part of the book which really shakes us and brings the message home, it is precisely this chapter concerning those blessed and compunctionate and voluntary inmates of the prison. How many tears are shed and sighs heard when this chapter is read in the refectory. For truly these holy ones, crazed for Christ, described by Saint John, are a mirror for us, the sluggish and indolent, to look into and to behold how wanting we are in the realm of true heartfelt repentance. They were earnest and serious about their repentance; we are light and distracted concerning our salvation. Some are repelled by the Prison of the Ladder, while others are pierced and moved by the love for God and strength of soul of these stouthearted inmates, and mourn the lack of both in themselves.

Thomas Meton read the Ladder and even wrote a review of it. He read other books of the sayings of the Fathers and wrote many books himself. Yet what was the outcome? They did not fill the void within. As a Trappist, he had exterior hesychia to the full, but not having found interior hesychia he left his exterior one and travelled to the Far East, there to seek from the worshippers of demons (For all the gods of the heathen are demons, but the Lord made the heavens" Ps. 95:5) new insights and techniques for finding God. And it is there that this hapless man, instead of finding God, found only his own tragic death.

But why speak of Meton, who belonged to a tradition separated for centures and generations upon geneations from the Church and who, therefore, did not have the key, that is the living Tradition, to be able to experience the words of the Fathers and verify their strength, and not speak of our own Metons? How many are those who, though nurtured in Holy Tradition, and having laboured in translating and printing the texts of the Fathers, yet by not attending to those very admonitions and words of instruction which they have translated, have fallen away from the way of the Fathers and have joined in communion of prayer and the Mysteries with those separated from the Church, thereby disregarding the very warnings and injuctions of the Fathers? Have we not seen Orthodox priestmonks joining Hindu ashrams and pseudo Charismatics? Have we not heard from the lips of a supposed Orthodox bishop living in the very part of the world where the great fathes of the desert shone forth, that the mystical experiences of Islam, and religion of the false prophet and demon-deceived Mahomet, and other pagan religions, are genuine manifestations of the Holy Spirt?

This is the practical application of the contemporary hersy of Ecumenism. Could anyone in the days of Saints Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Basil and Saint Gregory and the other great fathers and confessors, have conceived of a council in which Arians and Nestorians, Manicheans and Macedonians, Monophysites and Monothelites, and those of the Church would all be organic members, praying together and sponsoring joing statements? Could anyone imagineAbbas Anthony and Pachhomius, Paiusius and Macarius the Great of Egypt, and the holy fathers Euthymius, Sabbas, and Theodoisius of Palestine, leaving their places of struggles and opening dialogue with the idolaters, seeking to learn from their religious experiences new approaches to God? Actually, these fathers would not even have had to travel abroad to do this - they would only have needed to seek out the idolaters in their own regions, since paganism was till flourishing in Egypt and Palestine at that time. Such a thing, of course, would have been absurd in the days of those holy Fathers. Yet, in our days, we hear of Christian Yoga, of Zen Buddhism and other pagan disciplines used as aids by so-called Christians in their spiritual quest. If you do not "walk in the councel of the ungodly" today, or "sit in the seat of the pestilent," you are told that you do not have humility, but rather pride and triumph in your faith. Thus, under the slogans of love and humility, the Cross of the Saviour is trodden underfood and the Nanme of the Lord is blasphemed among the nations. We have seen most asuredly where the love of the Apostles and Fathers has led them - straight into the open bosom of the Father of Lights - and we know well what we have received at the Pentecost in Jerusalem. But where this new love and humility of these new apostles and preachers leads them, and what the outcome of their new pentecost shall be, we shudder even to think. Saint John Climacus writes in Step 2:6 concerning those who practise "spurious and sham asceticism." One wonders how many of these new style abbas (or gurus if you prefer) and Charismatics would survive in the desert of true monasticism? And concerning true humility, Abba John discounts all pagans and heretics writing the very deep observation,

It is impossible for snow to burst into flame; still more difficult is it for humility to dwell in an un-Orthodox person. This is something which the pious and faithful achieve, and then only when they have been purified. (Step 25:32)

How necessary therefore that the Ladder, which has been out of print in English for some years now, should appear in a second, revised edition for the edification of the faithful. Saint John Chrysostom in a homily on the Foremost of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, says, "For who, commanding the word of instruction, has dared to expound anything without citing your teaching?" How true this is also of Saint John Climacus in the spiritual life. For who, wishing to instruct another in the monastic discipline, has ever done so without referring to Saint John? What spiritual father or abbot throughout the centrues has ever attempted to teach his flock without quoting the Ladder? Very quickly, this sacred book became a classic not only with monastics, but with "kings of the earth, and all peoples, princes and all the judges of the earth, young men and virgins, elders with the younger..." (Ps. 148:11-12). The wisdom of Saint John was quoted on fitting occasions from the palace down to the market place and stables.

In looking over the correspondence of Tsar Ivan the IV which has been published in several volumes in English, one observes that, after the Holy Scriptures, the second most quoted book is the Ladder. This renowed Tsar quoted We the Ladder to metropolitans and archbishops, to abbots and monastics, to boyars and minsiters of state, to generals and warriors, to merchants and to the subjects of his kingdom in all walks of life. It is interesting to observe the occasions which give rise to his quoting the Ladder, and how Tsar Ivan quoted the sayings of Saint John with wit and intelligence. A little earlier, another Orthodox ruler, the Serbian Despot George Brankovic commissioned a new translation of the Ladder, copied out by the monk David in 1434. In a colophon found in this manuscript there is written: "I, Despot George, the devout ruler of Serbia, feel a deep concern for this book called the Ladder and read it zealously, for it contains profitable and godly discourses."

Because of their depth and wisdom, some of the observations of Saint John have become proverbs among the Orthodox. And truly, who is not impressed by the altertness and insight of his mind? Upon reading or hearing them once, they make such a deep impression that on many occasions throughout one's life they come to mind, and one smiles remembering them. Behold a few of them:

"A horse when alone often imagines that it is galloping, but when it is with others it finds out how slow it is." (Step 25:21)

"In drawing water from a well sometimes, without noticing it, we bring up a frog with the water." (Step 26:58)

"I have seen men who were going to steal and were not afraid of God, but, hearing the barking of dogs, they at once turned back." (Step 1:15)

The popularity of the Ladder is attested by the many Greek and Slavonic manuscripts in existence ot this day. In a work by Dr. J. R. Martin printed by the Princeton University Press in 155 entitled The Illustration of the Heavenly Ladder of John Climacus, thirty-three illuminated Greek manuscripts alone are dealt with. How man must have been lost because of fires invasions, plunders and the ravages of time.

We have included in this edition, beloved Christians, a sermon of Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory (+1985), preached on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, in the Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God of the Sign in New York in the year of our salvation, 1975. It demonstrates how the Orthodox are still inspired by the writings of our holy Father, Saint John Climacus some fourteen centures later, in the western hemisphee, which geographically is far removed from the beloved Sinai of the Saint. Yet, in the Holy Spirit, we are separated neither by time nor by place, for Sinai and Jerusalem and all the Holy Mountains of the Lord are where the Christians abide and pray. Where the Church celebrates the Holy Mysteries, there is the Kingdom in power. The sermon of our Metropolitan further demonstrates that which has been a characteristic of the Church from the beginning: asceticism. For the character of the Church has always been heroic, one of struggles and asceticism. "The Kingdom of the Heavens suffereth violence" (Matt. 11:12), it is constrained. Saint John said it most beautifully in the Ladder: "Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men" (Step 26:31). The whole expression and ethos of the Church, therefore, is monastic, not by chance or circumstance of events, as some modernists would have it - who ae preparing to have a council to shorten the fasts of the Church and to change her ascetical character - but by set purpose and intent, having been set by our Saviour Himself and His holy Apostles and the Fathers and Teachers and Hierarchs that followed, and is safeguarded and perpetuated by their successors that shepherd us till this day.

The foregoing was written in 1979 for the first printing of our revised edition of the Ladder. Though eleven years have passed since that time, now, on the occasion of the second printing of our translation, they still seem appropriate, and in many ways even more necessary.

In 1979 there appeared to be little interest in a new edition of the Ladder. Our translation has been employed in other studies and translations of patristic texts. We have been gratified to see this renewed interest among English readers.

Many have remarked on Saint John's terse and laconic style. As an experienced monastic writing for other monastics, much could be conveyed in few words. The very brevity of his style, however, has occasioned whole volumes of commentary on the Ladder, and many Greek editions and translations into other languages have incorporated a number of these explanations, either included within the text itself or as appendices. While we have given a few of these comments in our footnotes, we have felt that these explanations represent an entire body of literature best entrusted to separate volumes.

A careful review of the Greek has confirmed the accuracy of the many of our renderings. We have, however, taken the opportunity to improve our translation in a number of places.

The present edition was made possible by a gracious gift from the estate of the late Jesse DeWitt Stockton and Mary Ellen Stockton or Bakersfied, California, in their memory.

The icon of Christ the Life Giver, Saint Catherine and the Holy Prophet Elias are painted by John Snogren.

The icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent repoduced as the frontispiece of this volume has been included by kind permission of the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai.

The icons depicting the life of Saint John Climacus that have been added to this printing are details from an icon painted by Father Theodore Jurewicz and treasured at the Holy Nativity Convent, in Brookline Massachusetts.

In reading this book, O pious reader, let us remember the injunction of our holy Father, Saint John, who cries to us, saying:

Let us try to learn Divine truth more by toil and sweat than by mere word, for at the time of our departure its not words but deeds that have to shown. (Step 26:36)

Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Sunday of Saint John Climacus
Great Lent, 1991

(Source: THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT SAINT JOHN CLIMACUS., Revised Edition, Holy Transfiguration Monastery., Boston, Massachusetts, 1991.,xvill-xxvii)

Monday, March 30, 2009

A touch of perpetual commandments

We are a few days before erev Pesach/Passover eve on April 8th at night. In the meanwhile, the country will get through a normal cleaning of houses. Families and enterprises will paint and renew rooms and facilities; restaurants and coffee-shops will surely close for a week or clean the place right after the end of the Shabbat, normally on Sunday.

The day before Pesach eve, families are involved in the search for the chametzחמץ or sort of edible dough/ fermentation accelerator substance, which was forbidden in the burnt-sacrifices on the Temple altar (Shemot 12:15-18).There is another sort of leaven, the original se'or/dough which is not edible but may be present in other products. This is quite a funny occupation to collect some odd pieces of tiny chametz rests with feathers or lulav - לולב/palm branches that have been kept from the time of previous Sukkot, and spoons. Usually the mother would propose to "find" ten chametz-shtikelekh\חמץ שטיקעלעך (pieces) corresponding to the ten plagues. The burning of the chametz or its sale to non-Jews are the major activities that allow to enter the time of freedom. From Nissan 14 through 21st (April 8 to 15), it is forbidden to eat unleavened products in Jewish homes and quarters in Israel.

Italian, French, Japanese, Korean or Russian restaurants can hardly cope with the koshering rules that do not only exclude bread or leaven. According to a rule of the Supreme Court, leavened products can still be eaten in restaurants and sold in non-Jewish quarters. It is a whole spirit that will be felt in various ways during the Feast. Curiously, Israelis often do not like that much the Matzah or unleavened bread that can be very sophisticated. I doubt that the ancestors baked orange or lemon taste matzot. The fresh and flavored kneydlech\קניידלעך (matzo balls) of the East-European tradition served with mushroom or chicken soup is seemingly dressed up in some local falafel or other more kosher peas...

What do you plan to eat? In a society where people are noshing all the time and not only eating little bits of small sparrow dishes, it is a must to eat the Seder meal properly and to share it with the needy. Edibles can also be distributed to the many associations that are doing a huge work whatever hundreds of chickens or Seder meals that should include good portions. Harosset\הרוסת is a delight...

The reading portion Shabbat "Tzav\צו" is read from Leviticus/Vayikra 6:1-8:36: (The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:)Tzav - צו/Command Aaron and his sons. The better part of the reading deals with the institution of priesthood and the service of the Levites, the offerings that were presented on the altars inside of the Tent of the Meeting, later in the Temple. It is important to underline today the specific call and task linked to the quality of being a kohen\כהן or a levi\לוי within the Jewish community. At the present, it is much appreciated to add to a family name the word “haKohen\הכהן – the priest”. We are longing after our judges and counselors as mentioned in the Amidah\עמידה (prayer of the 18 Benedictions). It is quite possible that the intense and burden-like sacrifice of the Jewish community throughout the ages and in different contexts cause today, a quest for the renewal of an acting priesthood, with true sacrifices that may contradict the ethics of most wildlife and animal protection associations.

Still, this Pesach\פסח, rabbis a large quantity of rams and lambs will come close to the Temple Mount to achieve the commandment of the Feast. Many groups are getting together because they intend to climb up the Temple Mount and pray there. The move is increasing. This year, various groups are getting ready to this event and gather in a lot of supporters, more and more Jews considering that it is a positive commandment.

After 3000 years of personal sacrifices that cost the lives of hundreds and thousands of Jews, the Israelite soul, born at the Sinai in order to return to the Land of Canaan, profoundly feels the need for olot\עולות (sacrifices) and shelamim\שלמים (sacrifices that could partly be eaten). They were offered by the “priests – kohanim\כהנים”. The last daily act still performed by the kohanim (especially at the Kotel – Western Wall in Jerusalem) is the “birkat kohanim\ברכת כהנים”, the blessing they address to Israel and somehow to the whole world (Numbers/Bemidbar 6:22). This has been done everyday from the time of the wilderness to the two Batei-Mikdash\בתי מקדש (Temples) and their destruction until now, any time and everywhere! In some way, it corresponds to a zevach todah\זבח תודה, a non-bleeding thanksgiving sacrifice for peace. On the other hand, the last verse : “az ya’alu al-mizbachacha parim\אז יעלו על-מזבחך פרים – then bulls will be offered on your altar” (Tehillim 51:21) means that “parim – bulls” are the Jews that made a sacrifice of their existences to testify for God’s truth. The institution of priesthood may be tracked back in the Egyptian “hom-neter” (servant of the supreme divinity).

At the Sinai, God’s sacrifices and those offered to Him transcend the ancient and gregarious call to extirpate death by killing humans, animals, frankincense. The Prophets Isaiah 61:6 – Jeremiah 33:21-22- Ezekiel 40-44 showed that the heart of priesthood is to say yes to any divine project and intercede for life, loving-kindness. Israel constitutes a unique “mamlechet kohanim\ממלכת כהנים – kingdom of priests”(Ex. 19:6;1 Peter 2:9; cf. Apocalypse 1:6 always cited in the traditional Byzantine and Latin Church liturgies and others as referring to Christianity, suspiciously a way of “replacement theology” that always tried to replace the perpetual aspect of Jewish priesthood – cf. Romans 9:4).

The Hebrew spirituality has given a special character to their priests. Nobody can choose to be a kohen. A man receives this at it birth and through the quality of his mother’s entrails. He must have peculiar skin and soul specificities, cannot marry a divorcee or be a convert. When the Temple was existent, the kohanim had no properties, no land, were permanently expecting their food and subsistence from the brother tribes.

Curiously, the same is described in the epistle to the Hebrews as concerns the Church priests. It was possible to destitute unworthy priests(Avodah Zara 3b) who often did not show as models of virtue. Still, the mutual dependence of the Jews and their priests created a spiritual thirst for more blessings. The Tehillim have a special verse: “Nishba HaShem\נשבע ה' -God has sworn/ velo yinachem\ולא ינחם – and He will not repent/ atah kohen le’olam\אתה כהן לעולם-you are priest forever/ al divrati malki-tzedek\על דברתי מלכי צדק- after the manner of Melkitzedek, the right decree – after the words pronounced by Melkisedek (Ps. 110:4). The Jewish tradition (Rashi) tried to oppose the Greek version that allowed the Christian to focus on the priesthood of Melkisedek as the model for Jesus as the high priest. Thus “al divrati\על דברתי = after the manner = kata ten taksin = after the order, state (of Melkisedek)”. The rabbinic tradition, on the contrary, interpreted “al divrati” as “after the words, statement of Melkisedek” who welcomed Abraham after the battle against the Amalekites (Gen. 14:1-16).

Instead of giving thanks to God first, the priest of Salem blessed Abraham, committing a sin through which Abraham received his everlasting priesthood. God did promise that Abraham’s descent will have the priestly privilege of being a sign of blessing. A few hours before Pesach 5769, as it seems that a large part of Jews are either scared by “other people, foreigners living in this country”, we should be aware that many people would develop a high level of xenophobia that rarely showed to such an extent. We should remember that we are called to serve and that “in Abraham all the nations shall call upon each other his blessing received from God”(Bereishit 18:18; 22:17).

Thus, as many contemporary thinkers and Orthodox Jews have pointed out, there is a basic link and solidarity between the Jews and the Nations and this connection is deeply rooted in the creation of man in the image and likeness of the Ony One. Michael Wyschogrod even thought that this is "perhaps the single most powerful statement of the Bible". In the TaNaKh, it precedes the election of Abraham and of Israel and therefore is placed at the peak of all mitzvot and human life and social networks.

Nonetheless, priesthood with faith and the Pharisaic position of belief in the resurrection of the dead is shared with the Christian Creed. The option of the Sadducees often showed in the Jewish history. They did not believe in the resurrection and. Although they had no hope except in this life, they offered the sacrifices. Priesthood implies to believe “be’emunah shlemah\באמונה שלמה- with perfect faith” that humankind can reach out to holiness, “qedusha\קדושה – sanctity”. Depravity, corruption, misconducts can be and are repaired by God as spiritual disabilities. Prophet Isaiah’s word “Qadosh, Qadosh Qadosh, HaShem Tzevaot\קדוש קדוש קדוש יי צבאות – Holy, holy, holy the Lord of the Hosts /male ha’aretz kvodo\ מלא כל הארץ כבודו – all the earth is full of His glory” is constantly repeated during the prayer of the 18 Benedictions (Amidah; known as “Qedusha\קדושה”).

This is also this week the Shabbat Hagadol\שבת הגדול that precedes the Feast of Passover. A great Shabbat, maybe also the great Shabbat par excellence. We saw, in the past weeks, how essential and significant the Shabbat is in the Jewish destiny. It is not a day-off. It is resting in the sense that God took a rest, had a break. It is the holiest time that shows every seventh day. The Shabbat is unique as the day One of the creation. It celebrates a fulfillment that continues to be developed “asher bara Eloh’im la’assot\אשר ברא אלהים לעשות – as God did it realizing it” (Gen. 2:3). On the 10th of Nissan, a Shabbat (Ex. 12:1-3), the Israelites took the lambs they ate for the Feast. Rams, lambs and ewes belonged to the animal deities of the Egyptians who started to quarrel among themselves (midrash Tehillim Rabba 136:6) and did not attack the Jews. There is more: in offering the lamb as a mitzvah commanded by God, the Israelites delivered themselves as the Egyptians from the pagan cult. It often happened and still occurs that the Jews would have to act or use pagan objects in order to change their heathen nature into a divine observance.

As a rule, Christian Easter is celebrated after the Jewish chag Pesach - חג פסח/Feast of Passover. In the Churches, this Saturday and Sunday will be Palm Day commemorating the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and his acclamation by the people waving the Palms (lulav\לולב). This has raised a lot of interrogations as to know if the evangelist John’s schedule was not mistaken so that it would coincide with the Feast of Sukkot - סוכות/Tabernacles. There is no evidence that the palms which were waved to acclaiming Jesus might anyhow be connected with the few lulav branches kept for the bedikat chametz (search for the leaven), which would make sense as Jesus will say he is “the lamb who takes and removes the sin” (John 1:29). This line has not been explored that much at the present. The Oriental entrance starts on the Mount of Olives, at Beth-Phage (as the way of the Cross – derech HaIssurim\דרך העסורים in Hebrew on Good Friday), but closer to Jerusalem for the Western Churches. Traditions often intermingle here. Psalm 118:25 “Baruch haba beShem HaShem\ברוך הבא בשם ה' – blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord” has been since the time of the early Church in most liturgies, added to the Qedusha called Trisagion/Trisvyatoe/Sanctus in Greek, Slavonic and Latin. And it is followed by the verse of that psalm.

A new Pesach/Passover? A new Passcha/Easter? It is always new. What remains new, incredibly new, constantly new, urgently new and “forward” is that God continues to call us pass from “avdut lecherut\עמעבדות לחרות – slavery to freedom”.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

March 30/17, 2009 – 5 deNissan 5769 - ה' דניסן תשס"ט

Summer Timing

This was the first "blog" I was incited if not "pushed" to write in the Jerusalem Post. It was three years ago and I did not know exactly what I could write about. The point that was clear for "the new scant" that Shira felt I could bring was to write about something about "being one and many". Tonight, Israel switched to "shaon kaytz - Summer time and clocks"! Other countries will soon follow the move. We are supposed to spare money. There is also this "Earth Hour": switch off electricity for one hour. Depends! On the one hand we lose one hour time with Summer light and then we sit in the dark for another hour, so what is best?

I suddenly felt hungry. Not falalels, glatt kosher new Chinese, French steak entrecote and wines or my usual East-European kneidlach\קניידלעך (matzo balls) and Russian blintzes. These are the natural ingredients of my Jewish identity. No, I felt a voracity for words. A blog is made of words. It sounds so beautiful in Hebrew : “Davar” means : “word\דבר” – “object” and “midbar\מדבר” is not an empty place but where we received the Words. I used to be fed back (news, breaking news, briefings), now talk back (answers, responding systems, “parrot back”)… So I want to blog, but still with much respect to words and ideas and as accomplishing some sort of mitzvah . A blog that would make sense, if any. By the time I could contemplate the possibility to start blogging up, the first note was a bit obsolete.

Israel is fascinating by the way it apprehends time. We might think that we are only 61 years old; but the IDF counts, as concerns the victims, from 1860 when the Jews left the Old City of Jerusalem. Oh, that year was 5620 for the Jewish tradition. On Nisan 4, 5769 (Jewish month), we shall live together according to various calendars: March 29th for the civilian international schedule or Gregorian date; March 16th and though not late for the Julian Eastern Orthodox Christians that are numerous in the country, then, Rabia'-Thani 1st, 1430 for the Muslims.

We love to update, upgrade, but it is so catching and gorgeous to live in this time-fragmented society: it obligess to ride a permanent steeple-chase, ride horses or drive cars, socialize in buses. My day is, comprised of constant intercultural jumping, a persistent jumping over calendars and time building.

This is why I wear two watches: I decided this is the most adequate way to participate in the events that happen on such a kaleidoscopic tiny planet as our's. At this point, on my left wrist, a regular watch showing in Hebrew the date, sunrise, sunset and when to "daven 5Yid. Davenen = דווענען" (pray) and/or don the tefillin in the morning. At the end of the day, it rings; the day is over and, according to the Jewish tradition it switches to the next day. It is a living connection to the biblical "There was evening, there was morning", but I get it at dusk... in advance just to be ready in time the next day.

Then the other watch shows the civilian Gregorian i.e. western style calendar - the universal business one. Jerusalem time, date in English. But time changes in Summer. A kind of amazing brain-reviving aerobic training. We changed to Shaon Kayetz/שעון קיץ (Summer time) before Passover - so new time is on the left wrist.

On my right wrist, the watch reflects more Middle-Eastern cultures: Orthodox Jews do not change for Summer time. Now it is useful to explain that Orthodox Christians never change as well. Thus, time is more Arab, Jordanian, Oriental...

The funny thing is when people ask: “What time is it?” This may be the most usual, basic and connecting phrase we share many times throughout the a day! True, we don’t need to wear a watch: cell phones do show time; still, it is so nice to ask. Often, some people stare and see I have two watches. Then I ask them: “Time? Okay, in which culture?” We burst into laughter and begin to talk.

We go through hard times and hours, one of the best ways to start a discussion in Israel is to ask "what time is it?" People are so easy-going that they don't wear watches and anyway they know that time is shown on mobile phones. Let's get connected for the best of life.

March 29/16, 2009 - 4 deNisan 5769 - ד' דניסן תשס"ט

drops of time
old-new time in Prague

Min/man hu? : whose, what?, sex...

I had written this note for my Jerusalem Post blog three years ago. The question was raised at that time by former President Katzav, but also some other State personalities, many cases of lawsuits and legal accusation against moral people (clerics of all beliefs, soldiers, high ranking characters). When I came back to Israel some 12 years ago in order to exercise my service, I had been deeply affected by the fact that some four high-ranking heads of yeshivot had been put to jail. It sounded totally weird and unthinkable in a Jewish society. As for many other actions, Israel has a sort of "virginal and pure, untouched look" and such real sins were "impossible, at least at first glance.

In a sort of real and unconditional opposition to Christianity (I would not deal with Islam which seemingly can be much closer to Judaism), Judaism has a natural, evident link, connectedness and concern with "carnal" matters. Flesh is definitely obvious, sine qua non; flesh exists for good and bad, but it is positive. A young theologian who recently intervened in a national Great Lent Conference in Europe had to quote that Fr. Georgyi Florovsky - as the Church Fathers - had stated in the 20th century that "a soul has be be "lodged, sheltered" in a body. Otherwise it would only be kind of a "ghost". This is a simple statement for any Jew since the first beginnings of the Written and Oral Laws. It directly defies the Western Christian faithful as recently shown Fr. Job (Getcha), former dean of the St. Sergius Theological Institute, during the Great Lent Conference in Paris.

We must be careful and avoid making spontaneous confusion between "flesh" and "spirit". This separation is a breach, a split that does show up from time to time in Jewish prudery and perversion. It is strangely intermingling in healthy interpretations, though the Talmud can be very prudish, terribly restricting in terms of physical morals and ethics. But Jews would never drift away to think they are ghosts, vampires, gods and goddesses, angels or spiritual creatures.

On the other hand, Jews may often consider bodies, limbs, carnality, limbs and members as submitted to bizarre tests of human capacities. It is so frequent for rabbis, politicians, public personalities to be accused of "normal physical excess" or, on the contrary to be totally depraved. This basic instinct is rooted in a strong spiritual search and a real in-depth interrogation about life true goals and challenges.

Still, Judaism maybe fascinated by some sort of "koyshkayt\קוישקייט" (Yiddish cf. Germ. "Keuschheit"), full "taharah/t'hure-s\טהרה.ת".
Just as "ilui\עלוי" are "Wunderkinder" ([child] prodigies) and bring forth full "purity", Jews will not profoundly mock "virginity", a word used for women and also prophet Elijah.

I met a famous rabbi who had been invited to explain to Catholic monks the meaning of Eucharist (!) and Easter in connection with the Order of Pesach/Passover. He was terribly surprised and did not know what to say. He had to speak in a "foreign" cultural world. He simply started to say that the Jews would take a lamb, cut the lamb that has been roasted and they all shared the pieces! The monks were in shock because they only could basically relate to Eucharist as sharing "consecrated bread and wine". We have the same with the "sherayim" distributed by the tzadik at a farbrengen (meeting and sharing the third Shabbat meal".

Finally, there is also more. As I mentioned in many notes, adultery is the typical example for "idolatry". This runs throughout the Scriptures. "Lo tin'af\לא תנאף = do not commit any adultery" sounds curious in Hebrew. It has been pointed out that it can be understood as "do not give way to your nose = anger". God is supposed to sneeze or even to cry on His heavenly altar (Gittin 110a) when married men and women divorced or deceive each other by committing adultery. It is so banal at the present, that any reason seems to be "normative and a standardized law" to break the nuptial bonds. This is a terrible spiritual disease and discomfort or source of misleading tests that hang on the internet and all networks. It is more cruel than in the pre-monotheist period. There is no way to make "everything possible" just for the sake of life-long sufferings or hedonistic societal attitudes. Loving-kindness and pardon do not aim to admit but to explain the realm of the Mitzvot, provided that e.g. Canon Law considers that sins do not exist so far the concerned people get not aware of the related problem. This is a major point at the moment.

The web also proposes open gates to all sorts of "groups, individuals" that advertise all kinds of methods to approach "flesh and soul" in and via physical intercourse. This is also very trendy in many Kabbalistic groups; Rav Shmuley Boteach is also "en vogue" for his recent book "Kasher Sutra". At least, he tries to explain with humor and a lot of spirit what marital and physical relationships mean and plan to cure, care and heal in human existence. With regard to Judaism, "flesh" cannot be denied or rejected for the interpretation of the Tradition and the texts. This also concerns Christianity.

Nonetheless, there is a profound misunderstand of what "soul and flesh, identity and origin" means in the Semitic and rabbinical traditions. This is why the following article is proposed as a reflection en route to Pesach and Easter.

* * * * * * * *

Times of war have always terribly matched with sex and carnal basic appetites. Sex is THE overall matter, the best mirroring concern, interest of the past 100 years, imaging more mechanics and mental, virtual skills or activities than showing profound loving-kindness.

This is not true: sex has driven our ancestors, here, from Mamre's Oaks but earlier everywhere since the creation of human beings. Not only humans but the entire creation - whether animals or vegetation - are involved in some central activity : copulation. And what do you think? It even concerns, burgeons in Eretz Israel, the Holy Land and - though there is no reason to walk on eggshells about that - it keeps the State and the major State bodies very busy. To begin with it sounds unbelievable: top political, Army leaders and executives, Rabbis and Church people - all over the map - are meshed in weird, sharp, rowdy and easy-going sexual intercourse. And not the kosher sort of normal relationships, but a kind of news-reporting vicious pervert debauchery? Wow!!!

Now, how can a theologian examining Israeli society depict the situation in other words? Does theology cope with "all-over-the-map" sex affairs? Definitely yes! Rabbi Yossi responded to a wealthy and decisive woman landowner, who thought she was able to marry her servants, that only God can do it it. Matching is supposed to be God's main activity. And it is a very good and sound activity: "male and female are called to be one body and soul", says Talmud Menachot 93a.

Thus, "copulation" is a major positive activity, in particular for people with brains. They are supposedly responsible for their acts and feelings. We have had, within the framework of the general development of the State of Israel a certain total of individuals trapped or intercepted as they were chasing, overtaking, retaining partners, mainly women but not exclusively as shows at the present, whom they would have abused sexually, i.e. without their consent. This affected high-ranking politicians, governmental, military and ordinary people. Again, rabbis and all levels of all sorts of Church actors are posted as carnal breaking news-reels on a regular basis. This raises legal, ethical and moral-spiritual issues. Just track back the biographies, it looks like we are in some Noah's Ark after-flood horny zoo.

Landing or what? Thus, there is nothing new in terms of perversion. No need to accuse or judge anybody. It does not help and it is dull if not ignoble. How can we repair, make a tiqun? Can we really correct a situation and turn back to the good taste and respect of intimacy?

The linguists presuppose that "sex" comes from Latin "secare": to cut, separate" - "to belong to a gender, either male or female" and that "sexuality" allows to "match" males and females. "Sexus" appears lately in the West, in the 11th century, i.e. curiously the separation of the Western Latin and the Eastern Churches (The Great Schism in 1054 A.D.), as the rabbis had completed the Talmud tractates in their actual standards. In Greek "hexis" corresponds to some "lifestyle". The word extended in all European culture during the 20th century and was used to describe the various ways to be satisfied carnally, mentally, psychologically. Firstly connected with intercourse in 1929 ( D.H. Lawrence(!) and appeared only recently, just as "genitals" in 1929 - "sex appeal, to sex up" (1942) . Sigmund Freud and the psychanalytic movements allowed to get into the realm of what has always been existing though with much ignorance or unawareness of the significance of the fleshy relationships.

There is a problem: "sex" does not exist in Hebrew! In Modern Hebrew, there is "MiN\מין" and we all think it is "sex". No! Well, it is up-to-date. But we know that "min" means "species" and "love making" is not only "species making"? Then, "min" is a very interesting root: "MiN\מין" = "out of" but the question far more fascinating. In Aramaic and the Old Semitic tongues "MiN" = "who" is to be compared with "MaN\מן" = what". One vowel difference: our existence is defined as a whole and a permanent question about origins/ identity and substance/materiality. "MaN hu?\מן הוא" = "what's that?" is the name of the "manna" in the wilderness. It makes sense to refer to the seder of Pessah: "Ha lachma de'anya\הא לחמא דעניא" = this is the bread of poverty (the matzah) that was in fact some kind of tamarisk tree substance (Exodus/Shmot 16:15). But the people had never experience such a food and they questioned "what is that?" that turned to "manna" in Aramaic and Greek. At the present, in American slang "whatchamacallit" basically corresponds to the same questioning about things or sex desires.

Now, "MiN\מין" is linked to the same root but does not depict a "thing, object". It defines "persons, identity, individuals" and simultaneously inquires their "outfit, origin". In Hebrew "min\מין" (out of) dropped, at times, the final "N", and "mi/mah - מי\מה" replaced "min/man - מן\מן". And this double questioning is often neutralized in our speech: "mah hu/hi?\מה הואהיא" = who is he/she?" (as in Talmud Avodah Zarah 18a and Targum Bereshit 24:23) but men and women; living beings cannot be treated as objects! The same neutralization occurs in daily speech in English ("that" instead of "who"), in Yiddish "vus\וואס" (pronoun) and Afrikaans "wat". Hebrew is not frankly unisex.

In the course of a discussion about words and spirituality, a young Russian newcomer's wife laughed when I said that "basar\בשר" = "good news (as in the blessing after meals, Birkat HaMazon\ברכת המזון); "full joy" and not some carnal flesh or a piece a meat sold at the butcher's. She was right: "basar\בשר" means "meat" in Modern Hebrew, but because flesh and carnality bring joys and pleasure of intimate relationships.

We still have another problem: marriage is essentially "qiddushin\קידושין = acts of holiness, sacredness", moderate, arousing and satisfying, reviving bones and flesh ("basar vedam\בשר ודם = human being"), showing what real real love means in the Jewish tradition. In Hebrew, carnal intercourse cannot be compared with mechanical techniques or systematic loss of control of thirsty quenchless bodies. There is a spiritual link between our desire to enjoy sexual pleasures and our quest about who we are. Then, how come that we are alive and can also birth (or not). Intimacy is a positive commandment that substantiates the "oneg shabbat\עונג שבת - honey of the Shabbat".

We have the parental task to explain how genitalia or emotional intimacy are growing throughout a life-long educational experience. It seems that numerous people are indeed irresistibly spell-bound by intimacy turned into a series of sophisticated perversions; as if the humans feel compelled to shift from love and freedom of pleasures to slavery and whip up the nicest life realities whipped with cruelty and slander, pains and tortures. Right, we socialize in crude movie and soap series speech. We may be drifted by virtual connections, blunt and harsh slang and sexual crimes. Indeed, we have more and more incestuous, masochistic crimes.

"Maqom\מקום" means "place" but and "Holy of Holies". It is one of God's Names (El Maqom\אל מקום); it also relates to the female genitals as to the passing over from dependence to freedom.

Slang has always been colored with all the chromatic flavor of sexual terms. Now, there is a slight final problem: there are no real sexual slang words in traditional Hebrew! Along the years, the youths create expressions. But sexual slang words only come from Aramaic ("nafka\נפקא =prostitute), Yiddish ("shmuk\שמוק", today in Russian/Ukrainian "shmok/смок" to be compared with "chmok/чмок = kiss) and any other tongue, as if we would prevent from some Evil Eye in these affairs. But we can feel the strong influence of the numerous underworld tribes, the misfits that need raw speech and eccentric manners.

Christianity is seemingly not at ease with sexual intercourse. It depends of times and cultures. In the Vatican and Rome, Le Caravage's paintings are extremely fleshy. The Christians confess the "incarnation" of Jesus in the womb (Maqom - beten/מקום - בטן) of a virgin young woman, Mary. Say: she bore Jesus without having intimacy with Joseph. It is a problem of faith whether to believe or not in these creed and there is no Christian consent, though the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics do acknowledge these miracles. Then, Jesus, during the celebration of the Last Supper which apparently was a Passover seder, took the bread and the cup of wine and said ot his disciples "to take and eat; take and drink saying: "this is my body - this is my blood", i.e. a reference to "basar/בשר" (flesh, body) "vadam" and blood/ודם" = a mortal human being, in order to gather into the "Body = guf/\גוף which is accomplished in the image of the "gafen [vineyard]\גפן ".

In these very few examples - shortly presented - incarnation and birth, death and Eucharist (Sacrament) are related to this "Min-Man" questioning and are definitely linked to human gender and sex.

Akavya ben Mahalel said: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where (me'ayin) you came, and to where (u-le'an/ולאן) you are going, and before whom (lifnei mi\לפני מי) you are destined to give account to be judged? The answer moves from "tipa srukhah\טיפה סרוחה" (decayed drop of semen) to enter life and grow to meet the King of kings, the Holy One Blessed be He" (Saying of the Fathers 3:1). It means that "decayed"-considered sources of life do "come up" till God. The kind of repair that makes the Jewish traditions positively sensual. And intimacy is good.

I would hope we will be able as a youth-minded, modern society to correct or repair our sex appeals and appease our helluva wild and off-the-wall picnics.

"MiN/MaN - מין\מן" may allow another deep root: "le'He'min\להמין" = to believe", thus trust in God. This also deals with sex. Faith is linked to faithfulness. Rav Israel Meir Lau said that we should ask ourselves "le'an?\לאן" - where we are going to?". It seems that this includes to know who, what and from where we are on the move.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified - המנחות המקדשות

The exact name of the service is: Gr."E Liturgia ton proisgiasmenon"; Slavonic: "Liturgia Prezhdeosviaschennyx darov - Литургия Преждеосвященных Даров" - in Hebrew: שרת המנחות המקדשות.It means that the Holy Gifts of the Bread and Wine have been consecrated, blessed and sanctified in advance as the "Body and Blood" of Jesus risen from the dead.This is a very old tradition of the Church, to begin with the very Church of Zion and Jerusalem. "Bread", "water" and "wine" have always been the essential food and beverage that, from the very commencement played specific roles in the symbols and spiritual realities shared by the Semitic people and noticeably the Hebrew Scripture.

"Beyt-Lehem - בית לחם" is both the city of David's origin and of Jesus' birth. This maybe understood by the root "lechem לחם = bread vs "lachma לחמא" (Aramaic/Arabic) = "meat, flesh". In the region, people eat and share bread as a meal composed of various sorts of breads or meats. It is a vital element of feeding. On the one hand one blesses and shares pieces of bread in the Jewish tradition with some salt (melach מלח- note the same consonant as for "bread"). The Hassidic tradition insists on the fact that, after the "side - סעודה" (Yiddish for "spiritual meal, the third of the Shabbat), the tzaddik will distribute pieces of meat "sherarim שררי\ם= releasing (pieces of flesh)".

The first Christian used to gather in houses and to share a meal and then to receive the "Body/Flesh and Blood" (of the Lord Jesus), which explains the strict use of red wine in all the Oriental Churches. The "soma = Body" is the full Body of the risen Savior. In Aramaic, the celebrant says "Hanau fagri הנאו פגרי= this is my flesh/body" - "Hanau demi הנאו דמי= this is my blood". The word "fagr - פגר", also present in Hebrew, refers to a "mortal human" (bassar vadam - בשר ודם). It should be noted that "bessurot tovot - בשורות טובות" found in the Grace after meals correspond to the "Good tidings, good news or "evangelion" that flesh does not perish but nourishes and revives.It is very striking in the Birkat HaMazon as a sign of "feeding introducing nourishment and thus "carnation"). The whole of the Christian kerygma is to be found in "taking flesh, substance, flesh and bones/blood spacing-in that starts with "Annunciation" and goes through death and rising-up from death in the shape of a Human being.

For security reasons, the Gifts were consecrated on Sunday, i.e. "the first day in the new Shabbat week" and allowed to communicate the faithful. These believers used to take a reserve for the rest of the week in order to communicate themselves at home during their times of prayers every day. In the Oriental Churches, in particular the Byzantine tradition, this explains why the faithful come to the priest at the end of the Divine Liturgy and take some "antidoron - антидор - פת לחם הפנים" in order to "memorize" the works of God at home. Today, lay people never take the Holy Gifts at home nor keep them in their houses; at least this is totally absent in the Eastern Orthodox Church, some Latin Catholic believers can be given specific blessings by the clergy to do so.

We do not know with precision how the Churches decided to celebrate the Liturgy of the Presanctified during the time of Great Lent.The celebration is wrongly attributed to Saint Gregorios Dialogios, the Roman pope and author of the spiritual "Dialogues". The Presanctified Liturgy was also in use in the Western tradition, and, both in the East and the West, it was not limited to Great Lent. At the present, the Roman Catholic Church has only one similar service consisting of a long prayer and the Communion of the faithful on Good Friday.

In the Byzantine Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Great Lent is like going through the desert. It is a time of meditation and conversion. Still, God nourishes His flock in the wilderness. Thus, The Liturgy of the Presanctified is celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the Forty Day Fast. These are the two main catechization days and a long litany is recited during the service. The Presanctified are also celebrated on the three initial days of the Holy Week.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts corresponds to an evening service (Esperinos, Vespers, Vechernya/вечерня - ערבית\מעריב\בין הערביים) and is comparable to the supper that the disciples took at Emmaus. Many Churches insist to continue to celebrate the service early in the morning in order to strictly maintain the rule governing the Eucharistic fast. Many theologians pointed out at the present that the believers used to communicate during a meal at night or sunset and that the whole service describes a vesperal and not a dawn time.

The bread is a leavened one (cf. the challah - חלה) as a sign of resurrection. On the preceding Sunday, the priest will prepare each "amnos = lamb, agnets/агнецъ. Aramaic "imreh אימרא = lamb - word - sacrifice; cf. Memra/Mamre". They are are consecrated as one unique bread = Body of Jesus Christ. Before the Communion, the priest adds some drop of Holy Blood that shall penetrate the Sanctified Bread.

The readings allow to hear the Book of Bereishit/Genesis and Mishaley/Proverbs. Saint Ephrem the Syrian's prayer insists, throughout Great Lent, on avoiding and erasing all form of judgment of others because "God is good for ever and ever".

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

Revised: March 24/11, 2009 - 28 deAdar 5769 - כ"ח דאדר תשס"ט
Royal gates - church of Hagios Nikolaos
(The "curtain/kapporet" is hidden but shows Jesus as a child going out of the cup)

VAYIKRa: Humbling is divine

It is strange how we rather seem to flounder this year in the mud than in real snow as we approach Pesach 5769 (April 8th at night) and Easter (Western Churches on April 12th and for the Eastern Churches on April 19). In Russian "griaz/гряз" = the healthy mud" produced with love at the Dead Sea.

Mud is natural. “Griaz” means "dirt" in Russian. So we can get painted into mud, covered with brown, green, dark black and get better. We are very Hindu this year. Not Tibetan, Strange, the Dalai Lama did not show for quite a while... The Chabad Pesach Seder will be overbooked this year in Kathmandu, but also for sure in Mumbai in the living memory of the victims who were killed recently, in particular the young an very peaceful Rabbi, his wife; they truly gave the example of "non-violence" and authentic service to the others.

Nothing to do with Turkey much appreciated by Israelis diving along the coast of Izmir and exploring the ancient caves of Cappadocia. This year , the hagadot shel Pesach\הגדות של פסח - Passover Seder prayers and texts are either artzi\ארצי (a bit folk's country earthy pollen-gathering style, earthbound) and each guru-rabbi or pundit-rabbi has published or reprinted the culturally correct and adapted haggadah. Curiously, the Israelis has discovered some years ago that the Indians would never have shown any sort of anti-Semitism.... At the moment, suspicion is rampant everywhere. The problem is to know how far people can be suspicious, why and who suspects whom? It is irrelevant for the Jews to claim that Non-Jews and especially the Christians should not read the Haggadah shel Pesach. It is quite understandable that Jews can feel against such a reading by "foreigners, aliens, strangers" who have persecuted and harassed Judaism for ages. It is a really problem when some so-called Christian sects or groups "seize or spoil, plunder" the Jewish heritage without the blessings of the first concerned communities. This has happened throughout centuries of superseding process. Does it mean that we copy each other without any respect? How would it be possible for the Christians today to refuse to understand that most of the Christian liturgical prayers are not only rooted but were founded on the basis of the Jewish prayer. If there is no way for Christianity to get to that, the non-Jewish world will be restricted to remain different and in the stand of an enemy's estrangement toward Judaism. It is not true historically, even it theology is constantly biased by human and political fights.

India is a continent with as much nations and languages as “hundreds” of Israel - though not the same size, pathetically poor and the dead (= daily corpses) are collected in the streets at dawn in overcrowded quarters.

We are also getting very poor, too drug-addicted. In India, you can be anything, do anything, as long as you are still alive, be happy and non-violent like their Gandhi: “Peace / Prad”. It sounds greater than "shalom" for some people here at present. At least, this year, in India, Jews would enjoy a real peace-peaceful “HaLailah hazeh\הלילה הזה – this Pesach night”, not brain-nuking the neighboring area. Because we have one major simple and unique problem: the world hates us. We rarely mirror who we are as individuals and Israeli society, except that we think the others are like us, full of contradictions.

From Pesach 5766 to Passover 5769, our Israeli society has been profoundly hurt and deceived by the moral, economical, ethical, political, military, religious hypocrisy, imposture combined with corruption and pretense of the establishment. It faced a war in Lebanon that is denounced in many aspects. It is facing a rampant war in Gaza and the South, violence in the Territories and threats in the North. Still, we focus everyday on nuking coming from Iran and check all the time who is for or against us.

We have super-sophisticated instrument of progress in the sectors of medicine, health, agriculture, productivity; we are on a top-level baby-booming activity that competes "the others". There is no competition in the Face of God and this is the real and terrible challenge. It often happens that people are so much in need of love that they could hate those they cannot seize and just do not accept the opacity of the simple fact: "being alive". On the other hand, those who would constantly act and preach in the name of some "unconditional and divinely-given love" could harass souls and flesh in view to conquer the faithful. It is definitely impossible to conquer any soul. We just miss the in-depth meaning of true freedom. This freedom has constraints: we discover that everywhere that huge sections and portions of our civilization are dying off. Israeli society has to face a tremendous contradiction: how to keep the good line and still respect and comply with the realm of the Mitzvot? The Christian counter-point maybe unexpected: getting aware of the full tragedy of the past, "do not judge your brother" as said in the Oral and Written Law and in the daily Great Lenten prayer of Saint Ephrem.

Fraud and stratagems constitute our daily two/multi-faceted dish of speciousness. The heads of the different sectors of responsibility are of the same generation as Moses, Aaron, the leaders of the Israelites who were brought from jail to freedom. They lost a generation of idolaters in the wilderness. Morally speaking, there is seemingly little difference between that generation of the golden calf and the Tent of the Ark and our Israeli and/or leaders and gurus at the moment. Maybe worse in one aspect: Israel appears to be at pain with the spiritual combat for accepting the Mitzvot/Commandments led by the generation of the desert.

Teachings and education are the real challenge of a true Jewish and Israeli way of living. Thus, we are responsible for each other in good as in evil. Indeed, we are in Eretz Israel but still act, in many ways, as if the Law could switch to lawlessness and be considered as definitely acquired. We still say “Hainu avadim be’ara’ deMitzraim\היינו עבדים בארעא דמצריים = we are slaves in the Land of Egypt” and “Ha lachma de’aniya\לחמא דעניא = this is the bread of poverty”.

God has confidence in the Israelites, He trusts beyond rationality. The “first return to the Land of Canaan (Israel=Jacob)” is never marked or celebrated as such by a feast of any kind in the Jewish tradition or calendar. “Leshanah habaah be-ara’ deIsrael\לשנה הבאאה בארעא דישראל (in Aramaic after “Ha lachma\הא לחמא” = leshanah habaah bney chorin\לשנה הבאאה בני חורין – next year we shall be in Israel and free). Pesach\פסח is the bridge from prison to delivery, Shavuot\שבועות (Pentecost) is the last day of Passover, i.e. the 49th-50th day of the Weeks (Shavuot) showing a maturing process with the Giving of the Law. No essential, fundamental spiritual feast comparable to Rosh Hashanah\ראש השנה (autumnal New Year), Yom Kippurim\יום הכיפורים (Day of Atonement), Sukkot\סוכות (Feast of the Booths). Pesach\פסח is the call to substantiate the very nature of freedom, from galut\גלות (dispersion) to ge’ulah\גאולה (redemption). It is the feast of redemption that releases from elementary bondage and that targets all the nations. This is why, before Pesach, Moses alone is called from under the Tent. God gives him the Book of priesthood and holiness. This is done before any “return” to the Land of Canaan, left 400 years before by a handful of people and mostly Jacob’s family.

The reading portion of the week is “VAYIKRa\ויקרא = “And (God) called (Moses)” (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1-5:26). The verb states God’s call to Moses and is the Hebrew name of the third Book of the Chumash\חומש (Five Books of Moses). In Greek, the Book is called “Ton Levitikon – Biblion ton Leviton, Lat.: Leviticus = the Book of the Levites”. The Book explains to the Israelites how to be a nation of priests and reach the realm of holiness. This week, the portion mainly refers to the sacrifices offered for the sins of the people and of the nasi\נשיא (head, leader).

The Book begins as follows: “Vayikra el Moshe\ויקרא אל משה – and calling to Moses / vayidaber HaShem alavוידבר ה' אליו – and spoke the Lord to him / me’ohel mo’ed le’mor\מאוהל מועד לאמור = from the Tent of Meeting saying.” The verbs “daber\דבר (speak) and l’emor\לאמור (say) are used in a way rather close to the giving of the Ten Paroles. It starts in a special way: “Vayikra\ויקרא” = “And (God) called”. The translation is not exact. “Kara / keri-קרי” means “to call, name, invite. “From the day that the Lord created the world, there was no man that called the Holy One Blessed be He Lord, until Abraham called Him Lord” (Gen. 15:19) (Berachot 7b). Then: “A child does not know to call his parents “abba-imma- אבא\אמא/dad-mom” before it has tasted grain food” (Sanhedrin 70b – which makes sense in connection with Passover and Pentecost). It also means “to read, recite”: “He called to read from the Book of the Torah must read no less than three verses” (Megillah 4, 74b). The root also means “to join, meet, to call with a loud voice”. “Mikra = reading, visible congregation”. It can be a very basic cry: “Uvshem HaShem ekra-ובשם ה' אקרא / I shall call (cry, scream, invoke) to the Lord” (Tehillim 117:4). There is another word which resembles to this “cry-call”: “HaShem yeshu’ati\ה' ישועתי – Lord, my deliverance / yom-tza’akti\יום צעקתי = I cry out during the day” (Psalm 88:2).

We have seen since the time the Israelites were packing up and fleeing from Egypt, how God called them, convoked them. The birth cry of an infant that hardly can utter any sound. At birth, an essential moment is the first voice cry that opens and develops the lungs, allows breathing, life. God called the people several times in order to prepare them to be opened out to their new freedom. Here, only Moses heard this “vayikra\ויקרא – call (from God)”, again covering all guilt and sin (the golden calf, lack of patience of the priest Aaron, the people). God entrusts Moses with the most sacred Book about the Jewish call to be a “kingdom of priests” and “to be holy”. All the sacrifices (except that of thanksgiving/ zevach todah\זבח תודה) are on suspended, but, they are at the soul and heart of the Jewish Service of God. It might be possible to say that God called Moses as to serve Him as a newborn child. The “V = vav\וו = “and” = a new connection”, the “y/yod-י” is the smallest letter but designates the 10 of the normal quorum of people for the prayer. The final “alef-א” is usually printed as a small letter because this service of priesthood and holiness requires a lot of humility.

Thus it starts with the guidelines detailing the sacrifices to perform “im-אם/if” (Lev. 4:2) the people will commit certain sins. The problem is then a sort of evaluation of the guilt and, subsequently, what sacrifice should be offered by the priest adequately. It should be noted that sin is “conditional”. Guilt is never evident and this is a real intriguing spiritual question. Would it suggest, as Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote as a sort of rather blasé apikoros\אפיקורוס, that Jews may go through sin and be rescued “untouched by guilt”? This is rather a long-term overtime statement that the priestly call of the Jews has often preserved them from being affected by sin? Still, a pagan who believes in God is higher than a high priest (Avodah Zarah 4b).

On the other hand, there is a second aspect in the reading portion: it is obvious that the people have to ask the high priest to offer the chatat\חטאת, offering for the expiation of their sins, if (im) they are aware of having committed some. Punishment may affect them, according to God’s will. But intriguingly, the nasi\נשיא (head, governor, ruler) is treated otherwise. “Asher\אשר – as, as a consequence of his sin, the nasi/ruler” is totally responsible for his sins (Lev. 4:22). Many contemporary thinkers consider that this weekly portion is essential in the situation of our Israeli society. “im\אם – if, in the event” the people or even the priests come to commit sins, there is an apparent provision that softens the burden of any punishment. This is not the case for the leaders, rulers, managerial staff who get corrupt and stubbornly try to walk ahead in their muddy sins. The statement is realistic and so divinely human: a leader is called to get corrupt. Thus, he is under the direct responsibility – not only checking – of the nation because Israel is called to holiness.

On this third Sunday of the Great Lent, the Christian Orthodox Church celebrates the Cross and the "Life-giving tree of life". It is the special of the Oriental traditions to express that the cross is not only an instrument of torture as it was used by the Romans when they put Jesus to the stake. Israeli society has evolved in different ways. Decades ago, it would have been totally impossible to show with crosses among the Jewish society. It is still the case and we should understand that. It is not a reminiscence, but a "living contradiction of a sign supposedly bearing witness to life and resurrection". It is still the case in the present. There are special ways to explain what is meant through this sign. To begin with, the ancient Hebrew alphabet had a "tau, tax = + " (the last letter of the alphabet). Intriguingly, it marks the end and also a "new start". It means "screw, nail, clutch". It makes sense in the Talmudic tradition, but the problem is that spiritual and human experience reached such an estrangement that the sign is meaningless. We do forget that Paul of Tarsus stated that "it was a sign of weirdness and scandal for the Greeks - nations - and the Jews".

Today, in particular in the Old City, breast-crosses can be either considered as "accessories" or objects of scandal. In the Church of the Resurrection, down the Holy Sepulcher, it is a very moving moment, as by the time of the feast of the Cross in Autumn (14/27 September), the faithful led by the Patriarch of Jerusalem will bow down to the earth and raise again chanting 40 times "Kyrie eleison - Lord, have mercy". The move is to humble and then to get up again with the grace of God.

It is a school of humility that faces a constant combat against pride and power, just as written in the Book of spiritual service VaYiKRa. The Divine Principle lowers an humbles Himself to call to authentic trust and faith.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

March 22/9, 2009 – 26 deAdar 5769 - כ"ו דאדר תשס"ט