Jerusalem Week of prayer for Christian unity 2013

 

Day One of the Week

Theophany is a special day for the Church of Jerusalem and for the whole of the faithful in the world. For instance, in all Orthodox churches throughout the world, baptism is performed with some drops from the Jordan River where Jesus came and was “baptized” by John th Forerunner and also sanctified the living creation as a whole. The Divine Liturgy at the Edicule or Tomb in the Holy Sepulcher, then meeting at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and at the end of the day the Apodeipnon/Compline Service sung by the students of the Patriarchate led by Archbishop Aristarchos who welcomed the believers of different denominations at the Golgotha.

 

Day Second of the Week

2nd Day at the Anglican/Episcopalian Church in Jerusalem, Saint George – the happy few… of course let’s say it is Sunday… still, good weather. Demonstrations at Mea Shearim? the Christian world does n’t know about these “troubles” that are more childlike and circumstancial as the elections in Israel are on Tuesday. Again, yes, there were 80% of Christians in the Holy Land some 30 years ago and only 1% right now… But unity is always good when we are cosy at home and expect the others to visit us and not us to cancel a service bec. “getting to be one” we could meet adequately. Today, the participants were mostly “tourists, pilgrims”. It sounded highly difficult to answer in Arabic and this was not the case 5 years ago. Volunteers, expats, whereabouts cannot replace the reality of the local Christians who work very hard in Israel and often flee from the Palestinian Territories but would never admit such a tragedy. The Anglican Church had a prestigious past in the region, due to colonial history. Today, the real colony is mental and remains to pass from virtuality to reality with regards to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the “remove” of the British.
The Greek Catholic archimandrite read the Gospel in Arabic. The Latins were obviously absent… once one takes the lead, then the lead passes to others and in between things are not easy. Three years ago the Latins (Latin Patriarchate and the Franciscans) were very present – then Unity celebrations were segmented and in the end all the “minority bishops or heads” of Catholicism used to come for a while. At the moment, the Coptic monk quietly remained unnoticed behind a pillar at the entrance and the Ethiopians, Armenians, Syrian-Orthodox were absent. In 1840, Queen Victoria made a scoop by appointing a Russian Jew from Prussia who was an Anglican United Kingdom of Great-Britain priest in Jerusalem (Solomon Alexander Pollack). He caused the immediate return of all the heads of all the Churches of Jerusalem then based abroad: already a sort of competition. Today prayers and a sort of “blazé” all-smiley-like prayer – mostly with those that are glad to meet again and again among themselves show that times are a bit chilly; and this new rule that Pascha/Easter date will be the Orthodox date for all … so chilly… it will take more than 50 years after Council of Vatican II to get to the point of the real turn for the Church to walk on her way to authentic changes. We are still together.

 

Day Third of the Week

The second official day of the Week of Prayer for the Unity of the Christians at the Armenian Patriarchate. Changes: Patriarch Torkom died recently and his successor will be elected within two days. A new atmosphere could really be felt: a spirit of freedom, youth, young priest and choir and the elder monks felt joyous, both “spontaneous” and traditional, but not framed. New times are showing up and it is nice. There is a renewal as in all the Churches of the world, but here in Jerusalem, it is more than important for the Armenian tradition that is so venerable and prestigious. It maybe a sign of revival for a local most ancient Church while the participants to the Week are basically journeying as every year among themselves: the Ethiopians were absent for the second day, although their Church is very dynamic in Israel and the Holy Land; the Catholic Church a bit restrained and seems to forget that Latin is still the universal language of the Roman Church, expressing its internationality. The new Propst of the Lutheran Church while other Protestants were absent.

 

Day Fourth of the Week

Two events, one is national and even “international” wrt Israel and the other one is also international and relates to the Churches and the unity of all Christian denominations. Today, the prayer took place at the Erlöserkirche/Redeemer’s Church – the Lutheran place located close to the Holy Sepulcher and the Metochion of the Russian Church Abroad Alexander Nevsky compound.
A day-off atmosphere for the Israelis (of all tendencies and backgrounds), all citizens called to vote and since the day was off, they visited the Old City extensively as often on Shabbat or festivals.
At the Lutheran Church, the atmosphere was rather “Germanic”; German is usual as also English/american but the prayers were said in Arabic, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish and in the “Deaf&mute sign language” as every year. The new Propst (Rev. Wolfgang Schmidt) spoke of the theme of the year on Hindu/Indian “outcasts”. Slips also showed and one German pastor compared the meeting for the prayer to the fact that the ones considered themselves as “elected and chosen” while the faithful had to join the One Chosen… Good enough, usual stuff and so what… Latin is not heard anymore. The faithful were more local than the day before, more Arabic-speaking though not that numerous and when Bishop Younan read the Gospel in Arabic, the response could hardly be heard in the language. German, Scandinavian participants and the week mainly relies upon the “visitors”, French monastics, some Europeans. Interestingly, no Messianics. Some 10 years ago, the Protestant movement had helped the Romanians, Moldavians. In Eastern European countries, Protestantism is quite significant and and did participate in the liberation from communism. It means that the big crowds that flock at the present from Romania, Russia, Ukraine do refer to Orthodoxy and would not get to any “week for unity”, nor the workers such as Philippinos and the Indians, African people.
While after the first polls (elections), the speeches stress on the unity of Israel or at least the move or dream or reality toward such a unity, the different Church denominations do prove they are segmented, definitely not “uniting” even if, at the Redeemer’s Church, some clerics would pretend that theological differences among the Christians are not that important so far we are gathered together”.
Both “societal groups” are blind to each other and the gap will grow. It does not mean that the Christians are endangered in the State of Israel. The Christians endanger themselves and this is the terrible temptation. On the other hand, Israel will try to correct some defects, will respect the laws in force; but the final attitude will depend on how the Christians will eventually be able to show they feel love for each other. It may not suffice.
70 years ago, the Warsaw Ghetto came to fight and stand against death at the heart of a very Christian nation and European continent. The response cannot be based on revenge, it is based on revolving events that at times are highly difficult to accept.
Day Fifth of the Week
“Lingua latina fuit lingua universalis… usque ad diem illum (the Latin language has been universal/international… till today or so, let’s have a smile)… The Custos of the Franciscan Order, Fra Pierbattista Pizzaballa welcomed the faithful by saying that they chose to only use English this year… as all speak and use the language in their connections, a sort of Lingua France since French collapsed in the region as also in the Churches somehow and Esperanto is not really en vogue… A Volapük situation for the Arabs and all those who in Jerusalem make use of so many and diverse langauges. The Custos did mention the richness and diversity of cultural backgrounds, speeches that exist in the country.Latin seems “hidden or mute” in the Catholic Church although it is the official tongue. Several years in a row, the Arab clergy only pray in Arabic. Latin progressively disappears. A sort of ethonic, “national” requirement: indeed people throughout the world ignore or do not want to know that there are indeed Arabic-speaking Christians who are rooted in the Arab world and culture, on the verge and still aside from the Muslim loca ltradition. They would ignore the Jewish Arab heritage that en masse arrived in Israel after 1948 and is so pregnant at the moment.
Two Nuncios, one Greek Melkite archbishop, the abbot of the Dormition, the bishop emeritus of Jerusalem of the Latin Patriarchate, the new German Propst/rector, the Ethiopian, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox representatives, two Anglican priests and your servant; it sounded special to hear various traditions uttering their supplications and the readings in English, good Gracious. Maybe a sign that it is also possible to make it short, compacted.
The Franciscans have been present in the Holy Land (from Cyprus, Turkey down to Egypt) since the 13th century… not in English or Old English either. The choir led by a woman sang Hallelujah – but how Italians, sons of the Poverello (they are not that “poveretti” and know how to develop projects to help the Christian inhabitants) whose mother speech was Franco-Provençal, suddenly drifted to some unusual “Anglo-saxonism” removing the natural sweetness of the Latin language; quite something on this year of the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan that had more to do with the Greek and Mediterranean cultural identity.
The other Catholic representatives (bishops of the Middle-East as the Syrian-Catholic, Armenian Delegate, Maronite bishop) were absent contrary to the past years. Also special because there was a specific Synod for the Middle-Eastern Churches at Rome and Pope Benedict XVI did visit Lebanon in order to recall the role of all the Churches in the region.
The Custos is a man of modernity, of real theological background. The nuntii – old and new – showed the presence. Now, in the meanwhile, the Armenians were getting to elect their new patriarch (normally a new one should be chosen on Jan. 24). A chilly atmosphere.
So special. Do we remember, just to make a comparison that the United States decided to adopt English versus German by only one voice… and today they will speak Spanish that is in use at the Franciscans.
The Eastern Churches are unadequately represented although they constitute the humus of the Body of Christ in the area and nothing can be changed in this.
The Custos spoke of the hardships to live, but that each time we meet and just live together in Jerusalem, we must be aware of this challenge for unity as he underscored Micah’s reading on “throwing all the sins into the depth of the sea”… interestingly the words recited by the Jews on the second day of Rosh HaShanah,but he could not mention this.
Day Sixth of the Week
There is always a nice and friendly atmosphere at the Syrian-Orthodox Church of St. Mark St. in Jerusalem; according to the tradition of this Church, this was te house of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ and the place of the Upper Room… The Ramsho (Vesper Service) took place before the encounter in Aramaic. I must say this is a very profound prayer and it makes sense in this quarter so close to the Jewish yeshivot where Aramaic is also in use, though sadly there are no direct connections between the two communities.
The Coptic monks also came to play music and sing hymns in Coptic: the pre-Chalcedonians are close and show – esp. at the moment – a certain connection that is stronger right now. Some representatives of the traditional ecumenical circles were missing. It is sad somehow; it also shows this “drifting aside”, but indeed, Archbishop Swarios spoke of the terrible situation of Christianity in neighboring Syria, Jordan, precarity, he als ocalled for real solidarity. The fact that he preached in Arabic made it maybe a bit difficult for the participants. He drew the attention to the reality of his Church that has been combatting and surviving by some sort of miracle and true faith along from Iraq to the whole of the Middle-East.
Day Seventh of the Week
A great day for the Church in Jerusalem: the Armenian Brotherhood elected the new patriarch, and chose Archbishop Nuhran I (Manoogian) who, until now, was the Grand Sacristain of Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In a moving celebration the newly-elected head of the Church was conducted to the tomb of the first Patriarch Abraham of the Armenians. On the way to the Upper Room (Coenaculum) for the prayer at 4 pm. for the unity of the Christians, I attended the Vesper service at the Armenian convent in a sign of friendship and brotherly love, in particular in this week… before I came to the Coenaculum with a pilgrim from Saskachewan.
Times are a bit special indeed. The Irish abbot of the Dormitio is thus in charge of the Upper Room in the name of the German Benedictines. He firstly came in 2007, then left to teach at Rome and in other places. He came back two years ago and is endeavoring to manage the place and has a well-known Studium with students that arrive from all German-speaking areas. Both Catholic and Lutheran or some Reformed (not that much).The scene was also significant of the present development: I witness to the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, am only a silent (mute) praying man – a clergyman good enough, but we are many…! – but keep silent. Over the years, it became a “habit” that I delivered a short speech because I represent the “Orthodox Mother Church” and Eastern traditions in Jerusalem. it started mainly because the week pained at accepting to launch the week at the Golgotha – I even came one year with choclates and then started to explain that we are all together…
This year, it was good that the abbot let me know – not directly – that the service was “fertig = done”. Indeed, it would be odd and no good to intervene. Why?
The whole of the “ecumenical service” was carried out in English – our Lingua Franca (maybe Volapük in memoriam of Msgr. schleyer, the German prelate who had created the first international language), some German and intercessions in different tongues, without Arabic or participation of the faithful present at the Coenaculum.
The Abbot delivered a normal sermon, rather scholastic and traditional, pounded and weighed, not in connection with the theme of the Week of unity this year. But it was calm, quiet. Not that sure that things were that quiet in fact: who were theer? to begin with, only Catholic clergy, the two nuncios (previous and present), one bishop who came for an ordination tomorrow at the Dormition Abbey, an Arab bishop, three Franciscans; then the German Propst and bishop Younan arrived and next to me was an Anglican deacon. A bit surprised that no Easterner was present this year at the Coenaculum, although it is the most significant place for Christianity as viewed in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The Syrian-Orthodox, for instance, consider that the Upper Room is located in their deyro/monastery in Saint Markus Rd…. But,
no Catholic Eastern Rite clergy or bishop though there are a Maronite, Syrian-Catholic, Greek Melkite bishops an Armenian representative and even a Chaldean one (now emeritus). Last year they were present at all services.
The point is that in between Rome gathered a special Synod on the Middle-East and that the Pope travelled to Lebanon, enphasizing the role of the Eastern Churches. This year, the Coenaculum was latin, western-style… please! but it also means something. Usually, the Melkite nuns attend the service, there are no real Easterners. Sadly, the Romanian head of the Mission cannot participate for the moment. He did about 8 years ago. The Abbot spoke and could rell be proud of the way his students were singing; at the same time he was taking good care of the local and Vatican hierarchs. No Cotpic, no Ethiopian, the Syrian-Orthodox priest came lately, after the service. And we left without ascending to the place where, according to the tradition, the Holy Spirit was poured over the disciples…
Es klappt nicht total richtig… something doesn’t sound well: this year, the Eastern patriarchates were renewed: new Ethiopian, Coptic, Greek Orthodox (Antioch), Bulgaria and these patriarchates are most ancient and really local, not “imported”. Then, this day, the Armenians got a new patriarch. No word on this general renewal of the Mid-Eastern Churches in a most difficult context (Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Jordan and the refugees, Egypt) and simply no word or the great dynamic move that shows in the region, at least hope for these Churches.
Then, the 50th anniversary of the Second Council of the Vatican: it is a good way to show that it has strongly been influenced by the Eastern tradition. The Council Fathers reintroduced the invocation to the Holy Spirit for the cosecration of the Gifts during the Holy Mass; the local Conferences of the Bishops are parallel to the Orthodox ancient tradition of the the “local Church”. True, Jerusalem is at the present a real exception among the Churches since there is only one Orthodox Patriarch and Bishop. This can be discussed, but it is a matter of fact while it fits with the original law of the Church. Then, the icons, the role of the pay people, deacons all these things that were strongly influenced and suggested by the Oriental Churches, in particular the Byzantine one. No mention throughout the week of prayer for UNITY of the 1500th anniversary of the Edict of tolerance at Milan!!! At that time there was no excommunication and all were in the framework of the one Church as present in the realm of the Roman Empire. At the moment, we are segmented, often afraid of each other, of ourselves, quite in fear of what the future can be.
But let’s think it over! The Churches of the Holy Land have decided to celerbate Easter/Pascha according to the Orthodox calendar as it is also the case in Ukraine…It is also a fruit of the the Second Vatican Council even if it raises interrogations… there are things that cannot be imposed because the yare “evident” when we turn to what is truly extant.
The Prayer this year has been conceived by the Indians: there at lots of Indians in Israel who came to work. They would not come at 4 pm. but also other Philippinos, Chinese (many Christians among them)… not to speak of the numerous Russian, Romanian pilgrims that Jaffa Gate at the same hour as we were gathered.
Chilly.
And maybe one thing: yes, the Armenians will have to manage, but they crossed the ages with the courage and facing this constant opposition between East and West raised from the split inside of the Roman Empire that extended right now till the ends of the continents. They were the first Christian State, the Syrian-Orthodox were there, the Coptic faithful too and the Ethiopians as shown in the Decree given to Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem by Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khittab. Thjey are the local Church and they develop – not in a way that seems to be known to the Westerners. And what about the visit of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia…? it only starts and maybe we keep on hold. There is then a duty to show that we are born of Divine goodness and Providence to be together and not outcasts to each other.One more thing: according to the Jewish calendar, this was the 68th anniversary of the the liberation of Auschwitz – from outcasts to free people… (the UN day is on Jan. 27).
And we are on the wake of full moon (Shvat 5773) for the New Year of the Trees (TU biShvatטו בשבט)…

Day Eighth of the Week
The celebration at the Ethiopian Church is always special, there is a specific atmosphere, sort of natural and praying “reggae-like” move and tune. Archbishop Mateos has introduced some rules and the service is now developing in a natural way. I like to be in the quarter a bit before as I lived some time in Mea Shearim some 35 years ago. Today, no offence, no insults. Three Jewish hareidi teens came to me and looked like at a champanzee; they saw I was surfing on my mobile a few minutes before the end of the Shabbat… they said in Yiddish “tu’es/טועת ” that corresponds to Hebrew “ta’ut = error” and means “”heretic” in the context. As I answered in Yiddish why it was such a mistake, they looked, not afraid and started to speak and we had a short talk. At the entrance to the way that leads to the Ethiopian church in Mea Shearim, Ethiopians were coming and going with food, material, white eggs… Religious Jews and some Asian people.
On the whole, the service is not that formal at the Ethiopians, it is unique in the week. The audience was not that numerous. There is evidently a drop. The representatives of the Churches are eithe the same over the years or we miss a sort of great spontaneity. Slow-slow, the gates of the denominations are closing, maybe only for a while and of course it may change in the future, but we miss the great ecumenical movement and desire for real connection and respect, mutual understanding and not only meeting with ours’… the pagans do the same Jesus said.
We shall face the challenge of true encounter. As a cleric told me he wondered who was coming and who had said that they should come. I had to explain that of course I would never give any blessing if I were not allowed by my Church: we are not “self-appointed”, but in Jerusalem this is rarely evident and it is a part of the present drama of the local Christians. The true local ones could not come because they had to go to work for many of them, at the end of the Shabbat. The week of unity should also be redynamized in order to be more inculturated in the reality of the spiritual needs and requirements of the local faithful.
Day Ninth of the Week
Somehow, I fee lat home at the cathedral of the Annunciation of the Greek Melkites: there si a special local spirit, the singers were not the same as last years, fewer, the teens were absent and did not serve. It is a bit sad, but the general atmosphere remains touching. One reaction: definitely, even when we claim to pray for each other and for the different Churches, there is little knowledge about the rites and customs and this is als sad, esp. after years of repeated services. Esperinos/Vespers or Evensong is simple; it is not that difficult to know when to sit and when to stand. There are simple gestures that are not evident and this is not sound after so many years of annual frequentation.
This should be corrected and it could be by a simple explanation planned all through the year for those who would be ready to cope with the celebration. Wrt the clergy if not hierachs it is strange, bec. the Church is vast and the rite is the Byzantine one with some specificities, but then how do we really share a “spirit of connection”?
During the prayer, good gracious, why in the world to ask to stop the occupation and wrongdoings of those who act against the Christians in the Holy Land? Who are these wrongdoers? And it would be time, just for the Churches to update and understand that Holy Land does not exist as such and that the Biblical and Gospel name of the country is Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel. It is difficult. Nonetheless, there are positive signs, nice people. Indeed, this year the prayer at the Golgotha and the welcoming of Abp. Aristarchos – secretary General of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate – was much appreciated. it had a positive impact on all and many spoke of that.
There is a breach among the the segments of the society: not to speak of the psot-TU BiShvat (New Year of the Trees) for the Jews, January 27th is the International Shoah Remembrance day. Total absence of any mentioning. but in belongs to the fact that the Christian is “aside” and pains at connecting with the Jewish society. The Arab “civilization” feels also “estranged” and not concerned by an event that is still recalled with strong words by the Pope of Rome.
I was looking at many people I have been seeing over the past fifteen years at this event of week of unity, more than 8 years as in the name of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It is so astounding to feel the frailty of our human beings and destinies. Bishop Batish of the Latin Patriarchate: we had met 35 years ago in ver yinteresting circumstances and it was positive. He is retired, he belonged to the Ecumenical generation. We feel that things have changed since then. The Arab Melkite nuns are moving, as maybe overwhelmed by the development of the Churches and the hardships that have to be faced at the present. The week is far too “Latin” and Catholic. I mean, no problem, but the Middle-East is basically Oriental, Orthodox and first evolves from these roots. The election of the new Armenian Patriarch caused the absence of the regular representatives over the week; the armenian Catholic representative has been present everyday. There is no real concern and he is quite in the the same tradition, but something is not “correct” with regards to the goals of the the Week.
In the meanwhile, the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Ist went to the Romanian monastery at Jericho, welcomed by Archimandrite Ieronim (appointed Bishop but not ordained by his Romanian Patriarchate); for years he had participated in the Week of unity. The whole thing means our dis/connections and preferences for the moment.
The Church has a long way to go and this is the way to redemption for all. a nice week anyway.

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