In 312 A.D. – 1700 Years ago

October 28th, 2012. On the same day, the Jews celebrate this year the passing away of Rachel Immenu/רחל אמנו or “Rachel, our Matriarch”, the beloved wife of Jakob-Israel. She died on Heshvan 11, 1553 years before C.E., i.e. 3.565 years ago according to the Jewish traditional comput. On the same day, the Jews also commemorate the death of Mathuselah that tracks back to 3.668 years ago, again after the Hebrew “calendar”.

In both cases, Judaism turns on this peculiar day to the most ancient and venerable ancestors. They seem to be “virtual”. Many would think they are symbolic or include the lives of different individuals that have lived along sequential followings of generations. Each personality is meaningful and modern Jews, as well as all the monotheists, can trace back till the remote times of the human call to faith and trsut in the Divine Presence, the One Most High Lord.

It maybe a sign that in this year the Muslims come today to the festive night of the Aid-al-Adha, the Sacrifice of the Lamb.

This implies that all mankind is significantly drawn into spiritual search and much powerful dates that mark history. There is a real desire or nostalgia that days are not passing away like dried bones or leaves. On the contrary, our years and ages are supposed to lead us to pertinence, coherence. They challenge the “mish-mash or tohu wabohu” by overcoming any presupposed idea our being out of “nowhere and no hope”.

On the other hand, historic memory can be very short-sighted. In the Sixties, surely as a consequence of the various dramas that affected Europe, the Catholic Church called the Second Council of the Vatican to gather in at Rome. The Second World War and the Iron Curtain that had fenced Europe and the world appealed to open up the barriers of stiff traditions and frames. By that time, the Orthodox Churches could not participate at the same level and with the same decisional right of some noticeable equilibrium.

Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI could meet in 1964 in Jerusalem with the assistance of Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem. The lifting of the anathema that took place there could pave the way to conclude the Council of Vatican II. At the present, things have changed because most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches were not free to ascertain any official positions on the different matters discussed at the planetarian and universal level of the “Ecclesia Universa”.

The Council of Vatican II could further convince the Roman Catholic Church that it is the first and sole “decider” in terms of Church regulation. It should be repeated that the article taken in Lumen Gentium 48 that “the Body of Christ is larger that the Catholic Church” is a part of the liturgical statement that the Church is wide, great, large, profound and broad (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians 3:18).

The Roman Canon Missæ summarizes this in a magnificent phrasing during the Eucharistic anaphora: “pacificare, custodire, adunare et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum: una cum famulo Papa nostro N. et Antistite nostro N. et omnibus orthodoxis, atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus/ to pacify, safeguard, unite and reign over all the earth; with our Pope N. and our Bishop N. and all those who practice the Orthodox and Catholic and Apostolic faith (put into practice the faith that is “upright, authentic, glorious” as also “open to the totality/ kath’olon” and the moving forward and bringing the good news of the Kingdom).

At the present, these definitions are distorted and split among several jurisdictions, obediences and Churches. They are embattled in showing their good right and true heritage.

A major event took place on October 28th, 312. We do move on and “survive” with this intuition that overcame Emperor Constantine who ruled over the Roman Empire. On this day, he had a special vision at the Milvian Bridge that a sign, described as the Chrisma or sign of the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth, would ensure his victory or rather lead him to conquer… freedom and tolerance in the name of the everlasting Light of Christ.

It took a long time before Emperor Constantine truly accepted Christianity to the full. He supposedly was readily a “closet” believer when he left Gaul. Born in Serbia, his father had died in York. His mother, Saint Helena, was a very strong-minded and convinced Christian “matriarch” who eagerly sought the history of the faith and wanted to fix the bases of True Faith in its authentic context.

She led Constantine to dedicate a large part of his life and thurst for conquest to ascertainingthe basis of the nascent Christian religion. It was evident, at that time, to be prfoundly “European and internationally minded”.

Other people have accounted that Constantine had a vision at Noon just before the battle at the Mulvian Bridge had begun. Eusebius wrote that Constantine told him personally about his vision in the sky: “Hoc signo vinces/ In this (sign), you will conquer, win, be victorious”. The Greek phrase is more coherent as ”  εν τούτῳ νίκα ” should have been accompanied by the specific sign of the Chrisma or (chi) and (rho)  ☧, i.e. the two letters that are part of the Greek name of “Christ = Χριστός“.

Constantine spent most of his life as an “unclear believer”. By the time of the battle, he got persuaded that the Sun who was venerated by the pagans had turned to be true in the Son of Man, the Messiah Jesus Christ proclaimed by the Early Church. For three centuries, the believers had to suffer mockery and persecution. Constantine had no tactical reason to accept the Christian faith: the elite, hierarchy, managers of the Roman Empire were mostly pagans.

Indeed, Christianity brought new features, unknown to those who worshipped idols and false gods. For example, it was quite difficult for a woman to get a proper answer from a goddess like Aphrodite. The deity was supposed to give pre-determined responses. When women started to address Mary, the Mother of Jesus, it substantially changed the relationship of the individuals and the community to a person that linked life, death and resurrection, silence, confidence and everlasting life, i.e. atonement.

Over the past 1700 years, the history of the Church showed a rich and apparently expanding competence to conquer, settle and, quite often, submit numerous nations. To begin with, Christianity as we share it at the present was born out of the Battle at Milvian Bridge. It appears like a sort of “encounter beyond time and space, diachronic and synchronic layers” that the Church commemorates on October 28/15, 2012.

The event is not much present to Church agenda. Most Churches are involved in open or silent, underground conflicts of interests. This deals with the new order of modern societies after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (“finalized” in 1922), the end of World War II (1945-7) and the emergence of new States in the Mashrek and the Maghreb, with the new  official State of Israel. The fall of the Communist regime in many countries of Eastern Europe and thus the split of the Union of the Socialist Soviet Republics allowed the Eastern rite Churches to rise up anew. Each Church and all the Church jurisdictions try to re-define their policy, territory and authority.

Most councils did work at some “ecumenical” level that can be denied by one or more jurisdictions, in particular by some local Orthodox Churches (Patriarchate of Moscow and most Orthodox patriarchates and recognized autocephalous Orthodox Churches mentioned in the diptychs). Today, different conferences and encounters celebrate the decisions taken, inter alia, during the Second Council of the Vatican (1965). By the same time, other international meetings continue to envision the possibility of a pan-Orthodox Council.

Objectively speaking, things are somehow special. Ecumenical councils went broken down from the time of the first Ecumenical Council at Ephesus (325) when the Assyrians/Nestorians left the Common Church. Still, a real ecumenical council should track back to 787 AD. and reconnect with the Eastern Orthodox Churches that emerged from the catacombs after the fall of the Communist power, thus only 20 years ago.

A real Ecumenical Council would pre-suppose that all Churches being totally equal and considered as at the same level of authority and rules of Canon Laws could gather together and revive, revise and bounce the dynamic forces of the living Body of the One Who is proclaimed as the Son of Man.

This is not the case at the moment. We are indeed in a time of “identification” of al the Churches.

The vision that enlightened Constantine at the Battle of the Mulvian Bridge had other acumens, insightful intuitions and perceptions. They progressively became more chromatic, not symphonic, but quite segmented. Some scholars would consider that the Christian world is totally split. We have this view in Jerusalem. Heretics remain heretics and feuds; many New World believers may arrive at Jerusalem and pretend that one father and his father have opened a new Church duly recognized by the legal system of their local State and admitted within the Union.

We would this call a “balagan-disorder”, maybe the bipolar social schizophrenia linked to constant will of power, might and managing of the souls with the pretence to release them from all constraints and possible yokes?

Years ago, I was invited to participate in the “revision of the first Jerusalem Synod-Council” decision that took place in Jerusalem in 49-52 AD. The event aimed at gathering Catholics and Messianic Jews and at “re-considering the balance” between Jews and Gentiles” whereas to repair the progressive rejection of the Jews from the Holy, Orthodox and Catholic and Apostolic Church. How is it possible for an official Catholic entity to dare suggest that the Messianics should join the Church in totality? How comes that being gathered all together, the faithful could make a repair and claim that there are “true Jews” among them and, subsequently, they could rebuild and heal the tragic ecclesiastical mishaps?

It was so amazing to see “Gentile faithful” bowing into some praying extasy before the Jewish (or so, not that clear) members of the group!? Psychedylic?! They were dear friends. There were among them very talented and respectful theologians.

But how can they even come to the idea that no Church would ever accept that OK. Let’s track back to the first beginnings and make the whole scene anew…! It is sad if not pathetic. Pathetic because we are not the masters of history. We can only manage not capture what we inherit from old, especially with regards to what concerns love, hate, wrongdoings, total confusion of sentiments and long-distance relationships. We are not allowed to play with this.

This is why the victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 should allow to considering the long journey that we have gone through the illusions of centuries. Over the ages, Christianity has spread and it continues to sway over the world. It appears and disappears. it means that the Church moves ahead of history with the Words of an everlasting call. It glimpses, goes back and forth. In 312, i.e. only 1700 years ago it called the heathens/pagans to act with tolerance toward Faith.

1700 years have passed, nearly two mellenia, two thousand years. This paves the way to more diversity. Faith does not depends on us only, it also depends on how God looks at us. This, we can’t know. it only belongs to Him and how He wants to entrust us and the future generations.

Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

 

 

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