Jerusalem is i.a. the Christian Jerusalem, the local Church that is called to be one beyond all sorts of schisms, separations, splits, mutual exclusion, often crossing roads and spiritual paths between or above denominations and beliefs.
We shall celebrate the Nativity of Jesus of Bethlehem. In the weeks that followed the coming of the Israeli Army into Jerusalem in 1967, the mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Sahur and Beit Jala came to visit late Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. They wanted to discuss the “incorporation or inclusion” of their towns into the new and then quite unknown administrative and “City of Jerusalem”. Forty-four years ago things were not clear for anybody. Things are not clearer today, but there is one aspect: the real development and growth of Jerusalem as the “center of all Jewish and Israeli life”.
We usually speak of the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The city is located in the “Galilee of the Nations”. Bethlehem is the city of King David who is also given the quality of “messiah” in the Jewish tradition. For the moment, the Jews do not track back that much to the origin of the young shepherd, David, who was forgotten by his kin people and the prophet got to him by some accident. The city is the “house for feeding, nurturing, calling to meals and banquets, sharing bread or meat”.
2012 and still December 25th, 2011 for the local Eastern or ancient Orthodox Churches, with separate calendars and agendas. I shall be back in Jerusalem on upcoming January 17, at dawn.
Is there anything to expect that may come out of Jerusalem at the present? The Judean desert towns did not match with the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem expands in all directions, beside and beyond ally rules and regulations that are considered in force. Bethlehem had still a real Christian population when I first came to the city.
At the present, the guest-houses and hotels that were built for the 2000 and the Millennium of the birth of Jesus host a lot of Russian pilgrims and other visitors who come from all over the world. It is much cheaper than in Jerusalem and the area. It also reinvigorates the departure of the many local Christians. Many of them did not leave the region but settled in the center of Israel. Numerous Arab Christians live in Israeli areas but the matter does not show up in the current discussions. It maybe better. The future will allow historians and scholars to depict the evolution in the upcoming decades.
On the other hand, the traditional Church borders seem to change. They had been stable for centuries, well more or less so. It is at times very difficult to consider history as a real dynamizing process that obliges all human structures and bodies to be on a move.
The Churches in the Middle-East were seemingly “on hold” for eternity. It is a reality of the Oriental spirituality. The Western tradition is more on the move, always changing, always on a conquest and running through the world. The East did survive in embattled circumstances that continue to affect the “dancing and twisting connections”.
Twenty years ago, the collapse of the communist regimes led to a full renewal of the perspectives. As such, no Church was then able to face the new structure that undoubtedly would raise from freedom and revolving movements. We are still at the dawn of the process. It only starts. It is rather not sure whereto it can change.
At the moment, the Chinese and Asian faithful start to come. There are also a lot of African and Indian peoples. All rites and traditions come up to Jerusalem – short encounters, brief moments for some pilgrims. Others try to settle for some time, work legally or illegally.
We are a land of transition, passing, crossing around and along, going through and walk further. It is often a question of “egotic” search for some sort of awareness, wellness, hedonistic self-scanning.
There are those who in-depth discover that the “ego”, the only One is God. Others will also track the ruins or the living stones of the places where Jesus of Bethlehem journeyed with God, himself and his disciples till he came to Jerusalem. Hidden and speechless conception and early life, then a trip to the outspoken revelation and resurrection.
In the end, he was left alone and asked the disciples if they also wanted to quit him. The answer “To whom would we go?” does not cancel the full abandonment as when he was tried. All betrayed him.
In Nativity, there is some sign of “dreams given by God” that come true and protected his Mother and Joseph. No security for a child born in a “no-land”, saved in Egypt and for whom the infants of Bethlehem and the vicinity were to die because of human jealousy.
We have to pray for each other. We cannot reach out to overcome the mental and historic borders of the Ottoman Empire that cannot die out…
Thus there are more and more Christians in the whole of the Middle-East: Israel and the Palestinian Territories under Palestinian Authority are born to work together for the immense in-gathering of the faithful coming from all parts of the world. We have so many workers. They are a part of the “living body”. It means that time will change the human landscape and reality: there are and will be babies, intermingling traditional believers. This does not only affect the Christians, but also the Beduins and the Jews in different ways. and matching, mixing-up new tribes whilst others would focus on the departure of traditional groups.
In the course of thirty years I saw the weakening of the Arab Judean Christian areas, the decline of the Romanian and Moldavian, Ukrainian Greek Orthodox and Catholic presence. In the meanwhile, crowds of Africans, Ethiopians, Indians and now Chinese and Philippinos have arrived and settled with their families. They question the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. They also drastically interrogate the local Churches while the traditional ones are on the fall.
We just have to substantially go through the reality of Mary’s prayer called “Magnificat”. Intriguingly, the Churches could not fathom in advance – nor do they right now – the growth of the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole. It will take much more time.
Since the turn of the Millenium in 2000, the Churches got “revamped”. The venerable Georgian, Romanian, Serbian Churches of the Orthodox traditions seem “on stand-by”. The Indian and Semitic Churches of the East have to redefine their presence and identity within the historic “scroll” of Jerusalem. Ten, twenty and even forty years are not much at all.
Traditional links appear anew. The Russian Church had always supported the Arab Christians, in particular the Arabic-speaking Orthodox communities. Things are definitely not simple. Jerusalem is the “Mother of all the Church of the God”. It was the last patriarchate to be created. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is the Rum Orthodox body of Christ in Al Quds/the Holy City of Jerusalem. It witnesses to the Roman Empire one Church that broke after the subsequent splits that broke the political and spiritual culture of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Patriarchate is Greek and still is proves the Hellenistic roots and current cultural mood used in all the Eastern Churches. There is a right to exist within the Church as “specific nations”, but God saved all the Nations, from Jerusalem till the ends of the world.
The traditions do exist in all Churches. In the West they are deeply marked by Latin, even in the way the correct translations have been conducted. In the East, it is not possible to quit the Greek structure that is so pregnant in all tongues among the Orthodox or Eastern Churches. With the exception of the Assyrian Liturgy that retained a very profound Semitic background, the Syrian Christian Liturgies “verbalize” the faith from Aramaic to Arabic and Slavonic in a sort of intriguing and appealing cut-and-paste copy of the Greek original phrases.
Let’s take the example of the Antiochian tradition that re-expands throughout the world and in different languages. The main language is Arabic; many clerics would do all efforts to maintain a specific pronunciation of the Arabic language in order not to quit the Arabic tongue of Islam. But in the Church, the Arabic language allows the praying and education in accordance of the Greek and Hellenistic way of thinking that was chosen to mainly proclaim the Gospel of the Messiah born in Bethlehem.
The Hellenistic phrasing of the Scriptures in the Septuagint and the Gospel of the Lord is hardly understood at first glance as a “defective” language with regards to the authentic Greek original language. The Hebrew Bible in Greek was realized by teh Jews who thought like Jews and followed the mental patterns of the Mishnah too! This will take centuries to be accepted adequately.
There was a time when at the Great Monastery of Jerusalem, different Church groups lived and shared together faith and the task to welcome the pilgrims of so many different backgrounds. There were Georgians and Serbs and also others. At the moment, things seem to be a bit “tied up”.
There is one point that is rather unknown. The huge spiritual experience that the Greek Church did develop along the centuries. It is more than amazing and makes no or little sense for those who could come and kiss the hand of the patriach and then do what they want. Others would twist. Because we are in a region where it is so difficult to keep the straight line and go upright.
I often say that the Rum Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem could be a wonderful example of an international place for welcoming all men and women, children and elderly, pilgrims and visitors, workers and the major Churches could have their delegates to work together in this place located above the Church of the Resurrection. It may come true some day, in a long future.
Our Communion relies upon the intimate conviction that we share a “living Memorial”, that of the Eucharist; it means that we do not live upon past events, but the sharing is make “actual, present and future” and introduces into the true development of the Presence in the world.
In this sense, we are only at the dawn of Christianity. It does not exclude, remove or cancel what has been granted and shared. It means that every single soul is dear, precious, exceptional. These are not words. We know in the Church how to utter sounds like the parrots do.
We also have to be good. As goodness crowned the work of creation.
av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)