From October 10th to 12th, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios of Constantinople, primus inter pares of the Eastern Orthodox Church assembled the primates for a “Synaxis – Convention”. It was a time of special encounter in order to celebrate the two thousand year anniversary of the birth of Shaul-שאול/Paul of Tarsus, saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. His All Holiness underscored that the Roman Catholic Church had also launched a year of celebration for that meaningful event. The Orthodox Church has the task to consider this anniversary as bringing forth a source of reflection upon the unity and future of the One and Indivisible Body of Christ.
The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Primates of the Churches declared that: “Inspired by the teaching and the work of the Apostle Paul, we underscore first and foremost, the importance of the duty of Mission for the life of the Church, and in particular for the ministry of us all, in accordance with the final commandment of the Lord: “you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The evangelization of God’s people, but also of those who do not believe in Christ, constitutes the supreme duty of the Church. This duty must not be fulfilled in an aggressive manner, or by various forms of proselytism, but with love, humility and respect for the identity of each individual and the cultural particularity of each people. All Orthodox Churches must contribute to this missionary effort, respecting the canonical order”.
There are many historical points in the Synaxis that gathered in these days. The encounter culminated with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Phanar on this Sunday 12th of October/29th of September (Julian Calendar) for the commemoration of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Holy Fathers at Nicaea (787). This date tracks back to the last common council recognized by the Oriental and Western Churches before the tragic schism of 1054 AD. This does not to relate to the previous separation that affected the Church when the Oriental Orthodox Branches of the Church went astray after the first council of Ephesus (431). The Assyrian Church of the East had left after the Second Council of Constantinople (381).
Thus the Primates of the today’s Synaxis wrote that “for Saint Paul, Church unity is not merely an internal matter of the Church. If he insists so strongly on maintaining unity, it is because Church unity is inextricably linked with the unity of all humanity. The unity Church does not exist for itself but for all humankind and, still more broadly, for the whole of creation”.
This is a major declaration for the Christian “One, holy, Orthodox, Catholic, Conciliar and Apostolic” Church at a time when people do acknowledge that division may have prevailed in all the entities and structures that claim to confess their “faith and creed in Christ”.
Thus, the Churches were set up by the Apostle Paul. The leaders of the Orthodox Churches noted in their final document: “Inspired by the teaching and the work of the Apostle Paul, we underscore first and foremost, the importance of the duty of Mission for the life of the Church, and in particular for the ministry of us all, in accordance with the final commandment of the Lord: “you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The evangelization of God’s people, but also to those who do not believe in Christ, constitutes the supreme duty of the Church. This duty must not be fulfilled in an aggressive manner, or by various forms of proselytism, but with love, humility and respect for the identity of each individual and the cultural particularity of each people. All Orthodox Churches must contribute to this missionary effort, respecting the canonical order”.
It should be noted that the Orthodox Church insists on the importance of showing “respect for the identity of each individual and the cultural particularity of each people”. This sequence is most important for the full development of the Body of Christ as the Church in her totality or pleroma: “(He/the Lord) made him head over all things to the congregation/ekklesia / και αυτον εδδωκεν κεφαλην υπερ παντα τη εκκλησια] – which is the fullness of him who fills up all things in in all of one filling = /estin to soma avtou to pliroma tou – ta panta en pasin pliroumenou/ ητις εστιν το σωμα αυτου, το πληρωμα του τα παντα εν πασιν πληρουμενου” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
The great mystery of faith is to show evidence to the unity of the Church. All Christians are one as Jesus is the one Messiah/Christ. This is unique, one Body received and partaken in one unique creation given and shared in the food of life: the Eucharist embodying the Resurrection to the full. The Synaxis underlined that the apostle was anxious about this reality. Thus, “For Saint Paul, schism in the Church is as frightening and horrible as the division of Christ Himself. For, according to the great Apostle, the Church is “the body of Christ,” comprising Christ Himself. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” he writes to the Corinthians. (1 Cor. 12.27) We all know how St. Paul insists on characterizing the Church as “the body of Christ,[ υμεις δε εστε σωμα Χριστου και μελη εκ μερους]” an image he articulates extensively in the twelfth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians. This concept is not metaphorical, but ontological in content”, declared the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios at the beginning of the assembly. (The quotations in Greek have been added to the original document)
This implies that each creature potentially becomes a member as an individual created at the Image and Likeness of God and sealed the Resurrected Lord through the reinvigorating pouring of the Spirit to join the koinonia/Eucharistic unity of the brethren.
Indeed, Patriarch Bartholomaios noted: “Division in the Church renders the very body of Christ divided. In fact, division is so repulsive and horrible for St. John Chrysostom, according to his interpretation of Saint Paul’s letters, that he claims not even martyrdom can erase the sin of someone that causes division or insists on division“.
This point is essential at the present. It may not be heard or understood with much exactitude and precision. On the other hand, it makes sense for calling the believers to unity, beyond permanent contests, conflicting arguments and lack of obedience, i.e. “ob-audire – listening that gathers in”.
“Consequently, we could ask what St. Paul might say today if he were to encounter the indifference of so many of our contemporaries for the restoration of unity in the Church. Surely he would rebuke them harshly, as perhaps he might do with each of us in our tolerance or neglect before the numerous schisms and divisions invoking the name of Christ or even the name of Orthodoxy. One cannot properly honor Saint Paul if one does not simultaneously labor for the unity of the Church”.
The Synaxis also took into consideration a very intriguing aspect that must strengthen our theological views over and over again: “In his (St. Paul’s) attitude, we may discern the first seeds of Church practice, which later became known in the canon law of our Orthodox Church as “economy” (or dispensation, oikonomia)”.
Just like the Law of Moses, the Sacred Canons must be respected; The Patriarch pointed out that the Sacred Canons of the Church (till the 7th Ecumenical Council with regards to the Indivisible Church) are to be honored and respected as the Law of Moses, which tracks back to Jesus’s statements: “Don’t think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came not to destroy but to to fulfill/ ουκ ηλθον καταλυσαι αλλα πληρωσαι – for I would say to you ooner would heaven and earth pass away than one iota (smallest letter) or one little horn of the letter to pass away from the Law [ ιωτα εν η μια κερεια ου μη παρελθη] till all things take place” (Matthew 5:17-18).
The bishop of Constantinople continued: “Nevertheless, they cannot also fail to take into consideration the human person, for which after all the Sabbath (namely, the Law) was made, in accordance with the familiar phrase of the Lord (cf. Mark 2.27). Echoing the spirit of our Lord, St. Paul insisted on his position and thereby pointed to the way of “oikonomia” in order not to disrupt Church unity by imposing unbearable burdens on the shoulders of the weak”.
It is a requisite and leading principle of the Church to state that “oikonomia-economy” appeared and came into force in the “ekklesia-congregation” as a consequence of the decision of the first Synod of Jerusalem (49-52 AD.). The opening to the Gentiles, proclaimed by bishop James/Yaakov of Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles 15:19-21). It is the basic and fundamental element of the annoucement of the Reign of God over the entire universe and creation for the Jews and the early Judeo-Christian part of the Church (Ecclesia ex Circumcisione). This canonical provision does exist in the Canons presently admitted by the Roman Catholic Church (Art. 2).
The Sabbath follows the possibility to exert economy upon the Gentiles following the meaningful statement made by the head of the early Church. James declared: “(the Gentiles) must be dispatched the word to abstain from things polluted by idols (episteilai avtois apechesthai ton alisgimaton ton eidolon/επιστειλαι αυτοις του απεχεσθαι των αλισγηματων των ειδολων) and from fornication (tis porneias/της πορνειας) and of strangled [things] (kai pniktou/και πνικτου) and of blood (kai tou aimatos/και του αιματος). For, from ancient times, Moses had had in city after city those who preach him (= till now) because he is read aloud in the synagogues every sabbath” (Acts 15:20-21).
These verses founded the opening to universal salvation. They also continue to track back to the Noahide laws in force in the Jewish community and reinvigorated after World War II and the creation of the State of Israel by many charismatic and chassidic groups, in particular the Chabad/Lubavitch movement). I often mentioned in previous articles that two essential Noahide laws are missing in the list written by bishop James to the Gentiles: a) Not to break the limb of a living animal, which would cause the beast to be injured and harmed; b) The absence of the fundamental existence of a “court of justice” in every city. This is a very important point in the Jewish tradition. The explanation that we – i.e. some theologians – discussed is that a) Jesus is the Lamb of God who bears and takes away sins – and none of his bones were broken. b) Judgment was and will be exercised on the second coming of the Messiah in Glory (compared with Sukkah 62a-b). This is a major prayer of the Eastern Orthodox Church: “A just “apology” upon the awesome tribunal (bema) of Christ, [we ask to the Lord] – καλην απολογιαν την επι του φοβερου βηματος του Χριστου [αιτησωμεθα]” (Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom).
Thus, it is a major element of theological reflection to define why Saint Paul became the primate of apostolic activities. For instance the epistles of other disciples (Sts. Peter, John, James, Jude) are rather short. They have been written in Greek. The other Apostles are not officially included in the New Testament and there are deutero-canonical accounts of their apostolic actions. Saint Paul’s main activity has been, until now, to link with the Jewish Tradition of the time when the Temple was still extant. His attitudes and decisions, harshly combatted by some other disciples, led the Church until our generation. He was a “servant of the unity of the One Body”.
In their final message, the members of the Synaxis clearly stated: “During these days, we have been strengthened by the truth of the gifts of Divine Providence received by the Apostle to the Nations, which rendered him a superb “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15) of God and a shining model of apostolic ministry for the body of the Church.
The entire Orthodox Church is honoring this Apostle during the current year of the Lord, promoting him as an example to its faithful for a contemporary witness of our faith to “those near and those afar” (Eph. 2:17)”.
It should be noted that the Synaxis took place at the Phanar on the eve of the Feast of Sukkot/the Feast of the Booths 5769. The feast does not exist in the Christian Churches. It focuses on the plenitude and fulfillment of history till the coming of the Mashiah ben David. It proclaims the reign of the One God and the uniqueness, oneness of all the creation. It also looks ahead to the opening of the Revelation and redemprtion to all creatures.
The main purpose and goal of Judaism and Christianity deals with the ingathering of all things. Strangely enough, Saint Paul should allow a better and authentic mutual understanding between Judaism and Christendom and give them the opportunity to launch a dialogue that remains distinct monologues. It will take a lot of time. The Synaxis undercored that dialogue is a true requirement to overcome all sorts of divisions.
The (rather late) morning prayer: “Modeh aniמודה אני, I gratefully thank you, o living and eternal king, for you have returned my soul within me with compassion and abundant trust” echoes the Divine Presence in the imposing Byzantine tradition that embodies the “Church”: “Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth, Omnipresent and accomplishing all things, come and dwell in us, cleanse us from all our sins and save, o Good, our souls”.
Souls are someway the signs of the congregation called to oneness, al ken be’urim kibdu HaShemעל כן באורים כבדו השם (that honor the Lord with lights/prophetic insights, Isaiah 24:15).
Av Aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]
October 13/1, 2008 – 14 deTishrei 5769 – י”ד דתשרי תשס”ט
Vigils of the “Protection of the Most-Holy Theotokos”, Saint Ananias day, Sukkot eve