Saint Sophronios and Independence

Yesterday, the Rum-Orthodox Church of Jerusalem celebrated the 40 martyrs of Sebaste. among them, there was a young man called Theophilos, the name chosen by Ilias Giannopoulos when entering the Holy Orders and who was elected as Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine, Syria, Arabia, beyond the Jordan River, Cana of Galilee, and Holy Zion in 2005. Thus he is the 141st Patriarch of Jerusalem, officially recognized as the successor of Saint Yaakov/Yakub/Yakovos “Brother of the God (Jesus) and protohierarch of Jerusalem”.

His title shows the extent of the “traditional territories” of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem that was created as the last of the five initial patriarchates (Pentarchia) along with the Roman Empire of the East and of the West. This explains why the patriarchate is called “Rum Orthodox” in Arabic (and in Hebrew too). “Hellenorthodox/Greek Orthodox” is a special title that evolved through centuries of dramatic historical and spiritual hardships. To begin with, the Rum Orthodox Church of Jerusalem expressed the “Hellenistic and Greek” linguistic and spiritual roots of the Christian faith as it has been conveyed throughout the then one Roman Empire. Profoundly rooted in the Semitic linguistic and cultural Jewish – both Scriptural and Talmudic – translation (the Septuagint made by the Sages of Greek-speaking Judaism at Aleksandria – that deeply impact, imprinted the Greek language of the New Testament, just the same way the Greek tongue has penetrated the Synagogal prayers and preaches in Greece and even Rome along with Latin.

The same influence was felt very early in the growing Church that was spreading from Jerusalem to the West and to the East and the Near- Middle-East. Though the Assyrian Divine Liturgies of Addai and Mari and Theodoros of Muepseste do show original Semitic and Aramaic if not Hebrew expressions, the Syrian Orthodox Syriac language used in the Church follows a sort of “word to word” style inherited from the Greek phrases of the Scriptures and the Services, Divine Liturgies.

This deep imprinting of the Greek expression of the monotheistic faith – not to be limited to the New Testament, then to the Writings of the Holy Fathers (whose versions exist in different tongues, e.g. Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, etc.) – has most strongly shaped the “Catholic = “open to the fulfillment/totality and Orthodox = authentic, correct, glorious Faith) when it got spread from Jerusalem to all continents over the two past millennia.

Scholars often underscore that Ireneus of Lyons used to preach in Greek and wrote in this language, not in Latin. As the Western and Eastern parts of the “collapsing Roman Empire” got apart and estranged linguistically, they also progressively to drift away from the common or usually accepted interpretation of the words of the Bible, the Gospel and the Epistles.

The Church, born from the Nativity, preaching and the rising of Jesus of Nazareth according to the teaching of the Disciples and Apostles that spread the Word of the Christian Revelation, slowly parted. There were problems raised by power, might. But there were mainly misunderstanding that rose from different translations of words. The words carried various significances and they brought to question the unity of the Church, the phrases and meaning of the “faith”. This led to break the unity with the ancient linguistic traditions as Coptic, Syriac/Aramaic, Armenian but also Georgian, Gheez (Church Ethiopian ancient language).

The Kerygma was announced in two ways with regards to the Mediterranean and “Pentarchial” tradition”: in Greek and Latin. For example, the translation made by Bishop Ulfila into Gothic (close to the Germanic tongues) is obviously marked by the impact of the Arian heresy. The few texts of his Gothic version of the Gospel are kept in Uppsala (Sweden). He was seemingly born in a half-Greek, half Goth family and he translated the New Testament for his flock that lived close to Bulgaria (cf. Cyrill and Methodios, Apostles of the Slavs).

While the Latin tradition of the Church strongly opposed the persistence of local Church rites (Celtic, Mozarabic, i.a.) the Hellenistic Church favored the translation of the Scriptures and the Liturgies into the local and native tongues, while maintaining the priority and leadership of the “original” Greek way of considering the Word of the Church.

Thus, we know from Egeria, the woman – probably a nun – who described her pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Palestine (384) in a vivid and realistic way that show that celebrations were conducted in Greek and still translated into Aramaic.

The expression of faith was “bred” from the Hellenistic style in the East and in Latin and a centralized way in the West. Nonetheless, the result is quite amazing at the present: while Latin structured a specific style of Christian and Western civilization, it only recently accepted translation into native and local tongues, on planetarian basis, since the end of the 19th and definitely after the Second Council of the Vatican.

The Greek civilization allowed the process of local and native translations; still, they strictly follow the Greek “pattern and linguistic phrasing style”. Consequently, most translations from the Greek Church texts openly show evidence that they consist in using “local and native tongues” but maintain the rhythm of the “leading and original phrase in Greek”.

Some scholars have shown that the concerned Greek tongue evolved throughout the ages and also got a strong Semitic (both Aramaic and Hebrew) imprinting due to the Septuagint and the roots of the liturgical texts. It is easy to monitor in the Four Gospel and the Epistles as they have been transmitted until now (cf. Nestlé-Aland Greek-Latin New Testament texts).

The Slavonic (Church Slavic language) created by the Apostles of the Slavs on the model of Ulfila’s style because they were Greeks from the Bulgarian border but working with the consent of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome, proves the same process. Until now, the liturgical texts and expressions follow the Greek pattern. Slavonic remains much “Greek”, also for the various non-liturgical texts. Things have only slightly changed with the Schism of the Old Believers.

It is very impressive when the Arab Orthodox claim that they like to get apart from the Greek “primacy”. Indeed, the Arabic texts that they correspond to a “word-o-word” translation or adaptation of the “original Greek texts” and do not part from this essential and basic style and linguistic tradition.

The launching of ZOTI or Greek Independence movement (Eleftheria) in 1821 constituted a major national and spiritual move that should be considered adequately, in particular at the present, due to the Greek economic development and the general attitude of Turkey as the heir of the fallen Ottoman Empire.

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem uses to celebrate the Sunday of Saint john Klimakos and again the prolonging of the Sunday of the Cross at the Jerusalem most ancient and venerable Monastery of the Cross that tracks back to the presence of the Georgian Church in the Holy City, then the cession of the monastery to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the 17th century. it is supposed that very few mosaic elements date from the 4th century when Georgia accessed the place after its conversion to Christianity.

The ZITO Independence Day of Greece uprising is usually celebrated on the 25th of March, corresponding with the feast of the annunciation for the spiritual liberation of the Greek nation from the Ottoman yoke. This year, it falls on a Sunday. This is why the Jerusalem Patriarchate transferred to Saturday 24th of March the Memorial Service of the ZOTI to a Doxology served at the Holy Sepulcher.

it should be noted that on this day of March 24/11, the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates Saint Sophronios, the Patriarch of Jerusalem who, in 636, could convince the Calife Omar Ibn al-Khattab to grant an Akhtinames/Decree that confirmed that the Authorities depending on the Spirit of the Prophet (Muhammad, 15th year of his rise) would not destroy the Holy Sepulcher. They did recognize the right of the Christians then living in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Holy Land to worship their creed with full freedom. This Decree has been kept in force along the ages, in particular by the Ottoman Empire with regards to the Holy Land. We do know that, from the very beginning, the Decree was disputed. In 637, the Church of Jerusalem was even sacked.

The Greek nation has journeyed through tragedies from the time of the first Turkish/Muslim rule after the fall of Constantinople (1453) until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

It means that, at a level that we often cannot imagine that, in the regions of traditional Aegean areas, some parts of Turkey, the Greek nation has been harshly persecuted because of their powerful faithfulness to the Christian Orthodox faith, the Greek language. Numerous martyrs died along the centuries and refused to convert to Islam, till the victims of the genocide in 1915 in the Euxine and the Black Sea zone.

Many priests who came to serve at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem are the descents of those families that were murdered for their fighting for maintaining and saving the Greek culture and more than that because they did witness to their living faith according the East Roman Empire Orthodox faith that had gone through constant denial from the West and from Islam.

Subsequently, there are several points that should really be taken into consideration at the present, both in terms of Religion and Politics and Economics.

From 1821 till 1829 and the final Treaty of Adrianople that confirmed the independence of Greece, the uprising was definitely supported by the Orthodox Church of Greece. They developed many and multi-faceted ways to fight the Ottoman rules, esp. the Cryphia Scholia (crypto-schools, hidden institutions) to safeguard the Greek cultural and spiritual identity. The impact of the Greek culture as a whole had also deeply influenced the world civilization.

It is very moving to see men and women crying openly on this day. There is a sort of instinctive certitude that the Theotokos/Holy Mary did spare the country and gave it back respect and national recognition after centuries of “low status”.

This is not evident for the rest of the European countries, nor for the Arab world or the Middle-Easterners. The European Community would hardly get to the core of the isolated situation of the Orthodox “mother of the European Churches” where the apostles Andrew, Bartholomaios, Peter, Paul, Barnabe, and so many other disciples brought faith in the One God and the Holy Trinity, the joy of the Resurrection.

Curiously, Greece had to be submitted as a Dhimmi country, even after independence. Things are still much embattled with Turkey.

In Jerusalem, the Decree/Akhtinames granted to Patriarch Sophronios of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Land and the East as head of all the Christian communities at that time (Copts, Abbysines, Armenians, Syrian/Jacobites, Nestorians) constitutes a “firman/rule” that is still recognized by the State of Israel after the British Mandate and is also a part of the State relations with the neighboring countries (Kingdom of Jordan, Syria, Arabia, and the Emirates).

True, Patriarch Theophilos III of the Jerusalem had been sent as the first exarch of a modern Christian Church, esp. the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to a Wahhabi oriented Muslim country of the Arabian Peninsula at Qatar (1997) for the spiritual benefit of the Israeli Arab ex-pat workers in the Emirate.

Thus, Saint Sophronios remains a major actor and Church protector at the present; it is not known and most of the tourists and pilgrims are not aware of the related problems. The Decree is a unique document. The original has been destroyed after having been brought to Constantinople but some copies are kept at the Saint Ekatherina Monastery of the Asa Bar-Sinai.

It governs the way the Greek inherited Church tradition and all the Churches may be capable to pave the way to full recognition of the Christian faith in the Middle-East and perhaps in other areas of the world. Vienna could be captured by the Muslims.

The liberation and survival of the Hellenistic civilization in the Oriental and all the Church considered in view to the concluding of the Decree in the early period of Islam must be appreciated accordingly. It holds for the ages a very large part of the Christian Heritage and Witnesses to the Resurrected Lord. It is built and continues, in a somehow “blurred” way, the roots of the Hellenistic Jewish heritage as connected with Hebrew Revelation of the One and Most High Creator.

This should not lead to fencing, framing. History has pushed the Greek nation to constant and persistent fighting for life. They also did it in such a wise that it saved the Message. This Message is universal and does not privilege one nation or any nation. On the other hand, it gives a historic responsibility toward the First Church of Jerusalem, till the end of the time of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24), the Second Coming of the Lord and the descent of the New Jerusalem of God that encompasses all in the oneness of God and mankind.

The long way of the Church faces new times that require to be rooted in history and feel the continuous capacity of the Church to conclude agreements for the benefit of the faithful.

Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

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