NEW DAYS 1 – ימים חדשים א’

  • NEW DAYS 1 – ימים חדשים א’

«Недаром помнит вся Россия про день Бородина! Not in vain does All Russia remember the day of Borodino»
, a word to word translation that is so significant this year. All Russia celebrated with much emotion and sensitivity the great victory at Borodino when Napoleon was kicked out and speedily had to leave the Slavic Tzarist Empire of Holy Russia of the True Orthodox Faith, the “Third Rome” that could resist and face Europe.

The event was not considered with much emotion in the Western world. Some historians did recall it in Israel, but just because there are many Slavs in the new State of the Jews. Russia has a great sense of history on the long-term basis. “Wait and see” sounds European, “Patience and tolerance/wisdom” was pretty much Albert Einstein when he made the statement in 1938 about the creation of a Hebrew State. Doubts and hesitations. “Geduld und Weisheit” in German. Archbishop Aristarchos’ constant motto to me in our discussions over the past fifteen years at the Greek/Rum-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. We speak German and he might some day even get to some Yiddish. At least, I spoke a few words in Yiddish with Pope Benedict XVI when he visited us. At hte moment, the archbishop is getting to Russian.


In a very short paragraph, numerous identities and backgrounds are mentioned on a world that changes; no way to stop the move. An elderly pope, a very kind archbishop that is the pnevmatikos/duchovnik – spiritual guide and the hierarch who has the official blessing to hear the confession and release the members of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, eventually in many tongues. In 2001, he became the General Secretary of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. For years he had read the Gospel in Hebrew on Easter Sunday. He did understand and accept me to take his place. As other clergy of the Patriarchate, he had studied Hebrew at the University of Jerusalem. There is a small group of Greek hierarchs who still meet and speak Hebrew, which makes a difference. They are likely to open up to the “new State and human reality of the Israeli society”.


Indeed, Metropolitan Christodoulos (the Dragoman – in charge of the respect of the rules of the Patriarchate) and Archbishop Aristarchos studied at the University of Jerusalem, just the way the Melkite Hierarch Elias Chacour did. New generation and new prospects. The Greek clergy was not born in the country: they arrived in Jordan. They are “headquartering”  today under the Israeli law, i.e. an administration that brought the Jews to exercise the control over the holiest places of Christianity in Jerusalem. The Christians were used to the Ottoman administration, the British, the Jordanians. They had never thought of any Hebrews.


The Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem – as all Christian denominations – still depend on the Jordanian King in Jordan and would never dare dispute the right of the Hashemite dynasty, son of King Hussein who was saved by the Greek Orthodox monks on the Temple Mount when his father King Abdullah was murdered on July 21, 1951. The King of Jordan is a Muslim; on the hall of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem there is a photograph of King Hussein as also a copy of the Achtiname, the Decree signed in 637 A.D. given by Caliph Omar Ibn al Omar to Patriarch Sophronios, the then-representative of all the Christians that lived in Jerusalem. The nascent Islamic rule accepted to spare the Christians and the Jews and the law is still meaningful and in force at the present.


Archbishop Aristarchos was appointed as Secretary General of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem by the now deposed Monk and former Patriarch Irenaios of Jerusalem who was elected in 2001. He replaced Metropolitan Timotheos of Vostra who had been in charge of the Secretary General of Jerusalem over 20 years and was assigned to the office by late Patriach Diodoros who elected in 1981 by the Holy Synod of Jerusalem. He passed away on December 20, 2000. Metropolitan Kornelios was then chosen as locum tenens (managing patriarch) until the election of Patriarch Irenaios. Metropolitan Timotheos was the second candidate to challenge Metropolitan Irenaios in the “race” to take the place of Patriarch Diodoros.


Metropolitan Timotheos of Vostra – as other members of the Greek Orthodox members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher – had spent many years in the former Soviet Union. he studied at the Theological Academy of Leningrad and became a spiritual son of late Metropolitan Nikodim who incidentally died in the arms of late Pope John Paul I of Rome.


Metropolitan Irenaios – who had spent many years as  the Exarch-Representative of the Holy Sepulcher in Athens – was chosen to the See of Jerusalem and intended to change different things. This was quite difficult for diffierent internal and external reasons. The Israeli government did not recognize him till late 2004. In between, huge internal re-structuring was considered to be conveyed and Archbishop Aristarchos had the task to pave the way to renew the Patriarchate in his quality of Secretary General.


In 2005, Archbishop Aristarchos appealed to many members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. They decided to require the remoting of the then-acting Patriarch Irenaios. On May 24, 2005, a special pan-Orthodox Synod convened under the authority of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios of Constantinople and confirmed the deposition, calling to the election of a new patriarch of Jerusalem.


Archimandrite Theophilos was firstly assigned as the archdeacon of Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem who still has a great prestige in the Church. The great hierarch had allowed the encounter of Pope Paul VI with Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964 in Jerusalem. and was consacrated to episcopacy by Patriarch Irenaios in February 2005. The new archbishop of Tabor and the Holy Sepulcher (a new position that did not exist previously) studied in Athens, at the University of Jerusalem and also – this should be noted – at Durham, the Anglican place that is the See of the newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby.


It meant that, in accordance with a general ruling that had been in power for centuries, the head of the traditional local Church of Jerusalem is a Greek. This can lead to numerous interrogations and troubles, denials, rejections or whatsoever. This has been and still will be for long a heritage that tracks back to more than any tradition. the price is quite special for the Church as a whole, the Body of Christ “in totality”. It is a requirement to fight phyletism and the members of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem are indeed aware of the fact. This is another question whether to know how to open up the local Church to the reality of “universality”. The Church of Jerusalem has discovered and must face the fundamentals of a full “holy, Catholic and orthodox and apostolic” substantial “embodiement of the fulfillment of all promises in the resurrected Lord. The Greek are astoundedly more “neutral” in the present context”, avoid all sorts of local nationalism bording on true “phyletism” and they trace back to Byzantinism as it has been from old in the Middle-East. Greek culture is also connecting the local Christians to the “wide world”, the close-by Greek society and the language created most European languages and some Semitic tongues (Talmudic Aramaic).


One thing needs to be said and this is not correctly understood by many commentators. The Patriarchate of Moscow is head managed by senior Church members who have a long experience of terrible troubles, persecutions. The Russian Church has also to show that it is reviving, strong-minded and quite powerful. This will be confirmed or denied in the coming decades. At the moment, the Russian orthodox Church could gather together all the different tendencies that exist in the Russian Church, avoiding real and significant split.


With regards to Jerusalem, all things being considered, the traditional position of the Patriarchate of Moscow is to respect and thus to comply with the decisions taken by official Orthodox synods. This is why Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and the leaders of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem would hardly be denied and there would be no “coup” to remove the “governing team”. On the other hand, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem will have to recognize that the Church came to a turn some twenty years ago with the “perestroika/перестройка”. it means that in the course of the forthcoming decades, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem will have to evolve whereas to become some “international place of delegation and representation” for all the Orthodox of the world. This will take time and the Rum Orthodox (Roman Orthodox) move is on the way. it maybe not so evident for the faithful and the different nations of the world.


Patriarch Kirill of Moscow wisely declared upon his arrival at Ben Gurion that some fifty years ago only 2 (two) people could visit the Holy Land and come to Jerusalem. The Soviet Union management never cancelled the relationships between the two patriarchates. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has a metochion in Moscow. Archimandrite Theophilos spent two years as the Exarch of the Holy Sepulcher there. Archbishop Theophilaktos of Bethlehem studied in Moscow and remained the exarch of the Holy Sepulcher (Patriarchate of Jerusalem) till he was called back to Jerusalem after the election of Irenaios…


The arrival of Soviet newcomers buzzed with excitation all the local Churches in the Holy Land. They did not migrated to the Holy Land. They came back to Israel as having a birthright following the “Law of Return” that allowed Jews and their non-Jewish family – if any – to return to Zion and Jerusalem.


There are no “Russians or Ukrainians or Latvians or..” in the State of Israel. Indeed, they came from the Slavic cultural area. As President Shimon Peres declared at Moscow, the whole of Israel as a modern state has profoundly been shaped upon the arrival of immgrants from the Eastern Europe, Tzarist Empire, Bolshevik Revolution and Soviet Union of different republics under Russian influence. In Israel, they are “Israelis”. This is new and rarely perceived adequately.


The State of Israel questions the Churches. It does interrogate the Patriarchate of Moscow on the mood this reviving structure can accept and recognize to the full the existence of the Hebrew society that is definitely relevant.


The State of Israel will never hinder the Christians to visiting the Holy Land sites. Indeed, there is a change: decades ago, the people in charge of the religious affairs were far more educated about Christianity in Israel. On the other hand, the Hebrew State has a lot of specialists, university researchers, ordinary people that are interested in the parallel develop of Christianity and Judaism on this soil of Canaan that was given to the full to Abraham and his descents as a promise of benediction beyond generations, all through the ages.


It maybe significant that Patriarch Kirill landed at Lydda-Lod on the eve of Shabbat Chaye Sarah/שבת חי שרה (Genesis 23: 1 – 25: 18), how Abraham could manage to get a pice of land to bury his wife Sarah. “Not a iota, not a “tag” of the Law/Torah will pass that all will be accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).

Archpriest Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel


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