When Pope John Paul II arrived to Israel in the year 2000, for the Millenium, we still lived in a rather peaceful and cheerful atmosphere in the Old City. There were a lot of clergy compared to our situation in the present. We could greet each other without suspicion and openly, heartfully. We always have and had and will have in this region people who would kiss each other one day, then ignore each other, look at others with disdain or try to approach their long-time friend that turned enemies and vice versa. Tonight, we are the 17th of Iyyar according to the Jewish calendar, “full moon” happen to be on Iyyar 14, i.e. three days ago and it is usually a day when most people look at themselves and the others in a bizarre way. It is of course judgmental they way they act, but it could not be different; they can not. Let’s say this is the “emotional, passionate” Eastern way to behave. It does appear in the Byzantine rite of confession: “the sins I committed by speech, action, thoughts and all my feelings”. It is also present in the “Ma’avor Yaboqמעבור יבוק – the prayer of the departing souls” in the Jewish tradition and of course in the daily “Vidui – ” or “confession of sins” that is a masterpiece of soul-searching and introspection.
The late pope arrived in March 2000 and the second intifada started on Rosh Hashanah 5761/September 2001. Tons and tons and crowds and crowds, flows and rushes of pilgrims came to the Holy LAnd, visited Israel and toured inside of the Old City of Jerusalem. At that time, I used to spend some time per day in the Holy Sepulcher/the Church of the Anastasis. I had been living at the Greek Orthodox great monastery of the patriarchate that is above the Anastasis for quite a certain time. I needed to pray a lot. I still do. But I had been just saved unexpectedly from death and, once again in my life, deeply felt I was a multi-survivor. I gives a huge sense of gratitude toward God and those who helped. I am not a Greek and shall soon write about this subject. But I always felt and feel at home in the monastery. By the time, Patriarch Diodoros was sick but he was alive. The patriarchal managmeent was totally different. I had a pending blessing to sit in the Holy Sepulcher and, eventually, meet with the pilgrims of any origins and backgrounds, nationalities, tongues, citizenship or beliefs. I only had decided that I would never accept a farthing, donation or any money for any kind of spiritual service. This is the “chinam – gratis/ total free” aspect of my life that I never could correct nor never intended to change. I do know what the price of freedom means. I often relate that to Paul of Tarsus’ experience. On the one hand, things are terribly difficult, on the other hand, God provides in many unexpected ways.
I used to sit on the bench next to the Armenian part of the compound. It is located in front of the Armenian Church secretary and information office. The place and choice were meaningful. From the bench, I have a view at the Armenian representation of the Church at Etchmiazin (Armenia); it is the place of the “Three Mary’s” (the Mother of Jesus, Maria Cleophas and Maria Magdalene) – they were present at the putting at the stake of Jesus – the place is located on the Golgotha that faces the Etchmiazin reproduction. There Jesus was crucified according to the Scriptures and the Tradition. Just beneath there is the chapel of Adam. So I used to pray and reflect about life and weeping of the three women and the death of Jesus and then, on the left side, there is the Tomb (Taphos), the edicule with the chapel of the Angel, inside the Greek Orthodox part of the Sepulcher where we celebrate the Divine Liturgy quite often. The other part is managed by the Coptic Church.
The bench allows a reflection mixing: humanity, death and burial and then resurrection, afterlife, life beyond hope. It faces the East and indeed if prolonging the way we arrive to the Wall of the Temple. The Armenian office was run by an old Armenian bishop who used to smile and laugh: the Greeks never succeeded to remove him (humbly me) from the place! He could joke about that at times. I must say that some members of the Greek brotherhood did understand why I was loving to pray there and being in contact with people from all over the world. When the second intifida started, the Anastasis has no visitors, rare. Patriarch Diodoros passed away. The Patriarchate entered a period of “introspection” to put things that way. Years later, when Theophilos III became the representative of the patriarchate to the Holy Sepulcher, even before he was ordained a bishop, I paid him a visit. it was very nice because he was doing the same I always have done in the Church of the Resurrection. It is a simple statement: it depends at some moments of our lives how we perceive peoples and short encounters in such a central place for the whole of mankind. People of all faiths (Jews, Christians, Muslims and all possible creeds) enter the place. English is cute: we may “cross our ways” and these are great soul and heart events at times. I met then the present patriarch in a special and very nice context.
I go once or twice a week and sit for two hours or so in the Katholikon, the main nave of the Greek Orthodox par of the Anastasis. A very large and open place; I like to attend to the Vespers that are celebrated earlier than at the patriarchate. It is humble, simple. “Katholikon” means “open to every-one/thing – to the fulfillment, plenitude, plerome” and is evidently linked to “ortho-dox = authentic, true, upright faith”. I can help but always refer with insistence on the importance of the Latin version of the Roman Canon of the Mass or First Eucharistic Liturgy in use in the Latin Roman Catholic Church. It is said: “Let’s pray “omnibus orthodoxae atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus = for all those who practice the faith that is orthodox, catholic and apostolic = announced throughout the world”. In this place inside of the Church of the Resurrection and of the Empty Tomb of Jesus, the whole world comes around. They come and rarely met. They would photograph, take picture or video’s; they can be terribly arrogant and make photos of any person in any situation.
Here come Israeli soldiers to visit the place and get information and education; Muslim children, grownups and many women who go to the Virgin on the Golgotha. There is on point: it showed two years ago. There are a lot, crowds of Russian pilgrims, some are very pious, others would be upto-the-minute and half naked. This is the move and the move shall develop. They come into the Katholikon and state. There are also numerous local Israeli tourists, visitors, fans or pilgrims, both Arabs and Former Soviets, Ethiopians. Many priests in full dress because it is en vogue in Russia. Many disabled persons and children. Today I blessed many disabled children and some of them had been saved at Hadassah via international assistance.
Some people will never greet. I often can say a word to priests or nuns who do not greet. Who are we? In this period of the year, the usual greeting for the Orthodox (and many Catholics) is “Christ is risen, Truly He is risen”. We say the phrase in different tongues and ways. The words are always uttered at the end of every prayer or Liturgy in the Holy Land. It sounds like a “sin” not be be able to greet the humans we se and pretend that we believe in God Whom we do not see”. People are in fact very shy, timid; we dare not or think we may offend. It is a joy when people can only share a smile, a word, a real blessing.
In the Old City, there are a lot of journalists. Italian, Polish, Russian, German, English-speaking, French, each group has a look. The Brew-speaking cameramen and journalist assistants interview the people in the streets and on the squares. Indeed, most o the Western reporters come and go with their ready-to-be-printed/read/commented appraisal of the situation. They can be funny or “pathetic” – depends how you put that – and describe a situation that is not real, pending.
In Amman, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the role of the women. It was the Mother Day in many places in the world. It is also true that in Jordan, women are very trendy, do a lot of essential actions, develop activities and are caring while men would be a bit “back-laid or old-fashioned, traditional”. It is correct that the Arab world is not stiff and that the Jordanian women – just as many Palestinian Arab and Israeli Arab women are very forward and work for the benefit of their society and of their congregations. In the Katholikon, women are those who know how ask the right question; just as the Israeli soldier girls write pages and pages of data in their copy-books while male soldiers put on and off their sunglasses…
Women can also be in the region some “Mutter Courage – Mother Courage” for Joseph Ratzinger who also had to face the despairing “hope” of Bertolt Brecht. The Katholikon and the Empty Tomb, the place of the Resurrection was, to begin with, a garden and there the Resurrected called Mary (Magdalene) to be the first among the apostles. She is mentioned as such every Saturday, at Matins.
The Church is a Body, the Body of the Resurrected, the Body that encompasses, in the hope of the redemption, the whole of our humanity. The words of Paul of Tarsus in Ephesians 5, about moral rules at home, the attitude that compels husbands to present their wives as holy and washed in cleansing waters (v.25-27) is a comparison with the relation that Christ and God, in the presence of the Spirit can that revives the Church.
Thus, in Hebrew “sharetשרת = to serve – shirutשירות = service and shirutimשירותים is the place where we can wash ourselves and be clean and pure to enter holy places and Mysteries. We do have the task to bring forth cleansing, whatever price, costs, expenses. Jesus gave his life in ransom for the multitudes.
av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]
May 11/April 28, 2009 – 17 deIyyar 5769 – 32 le’Omer – י”ז דאייר תשס”ט – ל”ב לעומר