In 1989, I published two books in French. The first one is “Les Portes Royales – Le Sacrement de L’Ordre et le Judaïsme” (The Royal Gates – Reflection on the Sacrament of Ordination and Judaism, Nouvelle Cité Publishers, Paris 1989). Within the framework of the MEMRA Association that I had set up, I had been reflecting upon the meaning of “sacramental laying of the hands in view to ordain men to serve the Lord in Christian Eastern and Western traditions”. I was also then a professor in Judeo-Christian connections (roots and prospects for the future – future is much more appealing) at the diocesan training an educational Faculty ECOLE NOTRE-DAME created by Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. In 1987, with the blessing to serve in three Eastern rites (Byzantine, Syrian and Chaldean) he had gotten for me from Pope John Paul II and the Congregation for Oriental Rites, he had ordained me a deacon. I rapidly joined the then “Russian Catholic Parish of Byzantine Russian rite” that was a link with the tradition linked to Vladimir Soloviev. Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytsky was much concerned by this reality. Vladimir Soloviev, whose personality exercises a major influence on “open fulfillment of the Church in totality” (he was assisted by an Orthodox priest when he passed away and then recited the “Sh’ma Israel in Hebrew).
I became an Orthodox priest as I had been lecturing for quite certain years at the Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Serge. Cardinal Lustiger had promised to ordain me and send my family to Israel as we wanted to live there where we had decided to marry on the Kinneret, 31 years ago in 2011. Things turned to be different but more than that, I decided that serving mainly in Orienta lrites and with the project to live in Israel, it was a hug mistake to be a Roman Catholic there of Eastern rite. Most of the faithful or converted Jews or mixed couples belonged to the Orthodox Churches (Russian, Moldavian, Romanian, Georgian, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, Ukrainian, or some other Eastern traditions such as the Armenian and Assyrian Churches).
I thought that it would be a sort of a spiritual “rape” not to directly face and acculturate the faithful in Israel; being an Orthodox priest within the Rum Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, I had to serve in the very country where all the history of Redemption had taken place and certainly continues to develop. But I did not decide to break anything because breaches never help. A Jew of the very Jewish tradition, Yiddishist and Talmudist, I could follow the path of late Fr. Kurt Hruby whom I replaced at the Saint Sergius Institute. Being a priest in Jerusalem compels to envision Oneness of the Church, in particular of those that are the descent of the Roman Eastern and Western Empire. Interestingly, the Catholic Church of Jerusalem has no Byzantine rite priest for the Hebrew-speaking and Israeli faithful. Since our Patriarch of Jerusalem covers and receives under his omophoron all the Christian faithful in the Holy Land, Jerusalem Israel i.a., we could develop a special very open and and widely hospitable sense of Israel as the in-gathering of the exiled.
In 1982, the then Father Jean-Marie Lustiger had asked me to help him to create specific prayer groups for faithful of Jewish descent. From then onward, I wrote each month a prayer, mainly in French with much Hebrew prayers. We started at the house of a lady involved in Judeo-Christian relationships and research. It means that there is a large corpus of prayers. In 1989, the Belgian Publisher Peeters, based at Leuven/Louvain, accepted to publish the full euchologe that we had been using for years. From the very beginning, I had chosen to adopt the Assyrian (Chaldean) rite admitted by both the Catholic and Ancient Orthodox/Oriental Churches. I was not that aware, to begin with, of the terrible secularization of the Jews and especially of the converted Jews in France, Belgium, Switzerland where the group had “members” who came for the monthly prayer. This showed to be the same in Israel. For some emotional, very sensitive reasons, Hebrew Christians can be stubbornly and definitely split when it comes to their roots. As if if is possible and normal to pretend to be Jewish, of Jewish descent or claim Israeli identity and even get social and citizenship advantages. But Israel can be a shelter; whatever, Jewish identity implies and obliges each soul to firstly get to Judaism before considering they reach some kind of “plenitude, achievement” in Churches. The whole thing should lead to unity and not to fencing among different and often opposed Churches. More than that, Messianic Jews are not “Jews”. Only Jews and Jewish authorities are entitled to declare and confirm who is a Jew. To be a Jew implies to cope with a certain traditional threefold tradition : Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Oriental/Mizrachi that draw specific paysages and cultural vocation for the concerned souls.
I had chosen the Assyrian rite as the basic reference to which I added Byzantine, Oriental and Western prayers because it is evident that the rite is closest to the Hebrew tradition. Aramaic is the basic language for each Jewish child. These are the standards. Fr. Bernard Dupuy, Dominican and head of the Istina Center, in charge of their Journal of theology and then representatives of the French Bishops’ Conference in relationships to Judaism wrote a very nice and insightful introduction to the booklet.
Pope Pius XII had received in Rome in 1952, four Catholic priests living in Israel and who wanted to get the blessing to pray in Hebrew. The Pope has asked with much wisdom whether Hebrew is a Christian language. Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, who I had met for several times by some curious Providence before being Christian, had immediately retorted to the Pope by a question: “In which languages was it written on the Cross that Jesus is the King of the Jews?”. The pope said “Hebrew, Latin and Greek” and thus he blessed their project. He only required that they should use the Assyrian Chaldean rite because it is so close to Hebrew backgrounds. Some non-Jewish priests claimed that the Liturgy is indeed very close, but the tradition rathre “anti-Judaic”. Still, I consider we have to face a possible “Einsames Gespäch/solitary dialogue” as stated Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Nobody is alien, foreign as regards Redemption, nobody, not a soul. “Church, ekklesia, ecclesia, Церковь” strictly correspond to the “(Great) Assembly”. It does not exclude anybody, any kind of sinner, whatever sin concerned, any kind of righteous, whatever just they can witness to. In Israel, and more than that in Jerusalem we have to get to a spiritual exploit, act of courage and faith: it deals with the challenge of Oneness and unity in true Love. It is quite a hope, more than that, the reality expected from faith.
Sadly enough, the prayer-book “Le Sacrifice de Louange/The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving – זבח תודה ” was typed, according to the standards of Peeters, by Flemish young workers who did not know the languages they had to type, any Oriental or foreign tongue to them. It caused that the book was published with “awful error” in Hebrew nikud (vowels). PLEASE DO NOT TAKE THAT TOO MUCH INTO CONSIDERATION AND NOT IN A JUDGMENTAL WAY. I think that the text, legible for the French speakers, can provide some instrument for a Hebrew Church prayer. It does not intend at all to replace the existing traditional of all Churches, in particular of the Church of Jerusalem, the Russian Church and all the other jurisdictions. NOTE THAT, USUALLY, THE CONSONANTS ARE NOT THAT MISTAKEN!!!
Beside the Morning, Afternoon-Evening and Night prayers and whatever mistyping failures, there are explanations about the meaning of each service and the related sources.
May the Lord receive the prayer and cries of our lips, amen!
av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]