Spiritual care in times of hardships

While sending breaking news to my blogs and site on the situation as it mainly (not solely) happens, affects Israeli society and “Jewishness”, some people may not see the connection with the Christian world, the local Churches in the Holy Land, in particular the Church of Jerusalem. We all ought to pray for them. At different levels.

To begin with, my “faithful” basically and essentially refer to Israeli society; they are Israeli citizens or “affiliated”. Many are serving in the Army and relate to “unclear” backgrounds: they serve as “without denomination”, though they would define themselves as Christian Orthodox. This aspect would be “hidden” while serving in the army.  Many would think their “faith, creed, religion” is unknown to TZaHaL. It is usually wrong, just because they cannot hide such appertainance, just for cultural reasons and by the way they behave.
They are not only “Russian, former Soviet”, but also of Romanian, Serbian, Polish, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Georgian, Central Asian, Uyghur, as well as Ethiopian or whatsoever nationality in the army.
Then, there are the Jews who for some family or societal reasons are in contact with the Christians, esp. the Eastern Orthodox. Silence is a general rule as recently shown by the debate on how and why the Christian Israelis should serve; in most of modern countries, the Christian faithful have to accomplish their military service. This is a general rule and commandment also mentioned by Saint Paul (Romans 13,1 – 1 Tim. 2,2, inter alia in compliance with the tradition of the Jews). They subsequently have to be submitted to the national authorities. On the other hand, this means that many would prefer to be “released from serving”, just as many, too many, do not volunteer, e.g. in the Magen David Adom. Some would search not to be considered as Christian inside the Army or to get a special certificate from their own Church of reference to be released (mainly women) from serving, in particular in war times.
In such a very special societal context and with regards to the specific possible backgrounds, I consider that each individual should feel free and not be judged.
While serving in the Israeli Army, each soldier (male or female) does show a real and required solidarity with the Jewish spirit and identity. This can be rejected by most of the Churches, but it is a simple matter of fact.It is a reality and also a question for the State as how it relates to the local Churches and their believers.

This explains that, by now, TzaHaL has not officially recognized any Christian denominational “chaplains”. It does not mean they do not exist. Indeed, spiritual assistance or prayer in such a context requires to be most flexible, it is new for the Churches and interrogates as how to respond accordingly to the questions of young men and women involved in a common situation of quest. It is definitely not sufficient, as some clergy often do, to simply prohibit any involvement in the Israeli Army. This does not provide any spiritual assistance. Once the faithful are in the Army, they need prayers, real intercession, not because they may die or kill: they serve and have to do it with decency under the wings of Divine Providence.

It is absolutely not normal to go to war. know They may be called to kill or to be killed. They also have to keep silent and not reveal the actions they are doing. At all levels, all ages concerned, they are humans who have to be and feel humane. And most of all, because they are Israeli citizens, they have to “be one with the Jewish Israeli soldiers”, even if there are a lot of secular, doubtful, all sort of believers (Buddhist and all other possible creeds, a lot of Messianics i.a.). At this point, this has nothing to do with politics. It is profoundly cultural, generational and societal.

The Churches are not prepared to exercize this spiritual assistance although they do exercize it in the  so-called “Christian-traditional” States and regions. They are also “estranged” in Israeli society. This should be taken into account and analyzed adequately, not in any sort of negative way. I would not give any examples, but do pray for some and do know that, for some guys and girls, such war crisis can help them to mature, feel as “growing up”. Instead, it may deeply affect them, at times for the rest of their life in a very negative way. This is why all need assistance without any competition among the “spiritual guides”, if any. It is a must, a positive commandment, to pray for the soldiers.
I am a Hebrew Christian priest inside of the Israeli society and thus have to be ready to answer, in all possible ways that are offered by modernity, to the need of those who serve in the Army of Israel. It is evident that I do pray for the “other side” (this is sometimes not easy to define what the “other side” is), Israeli Arabs who are definitely not in a secure and normal situation. They do exist. I do not discuss whether they have to serve or not to serve in times of war. They do exist and we cannot pass over the question in some “unconcerned” silence.
I have a lot of friends whose children are serving. They are Jews and have to feel they are understood and be comforted. It may sound bizarre: this is also a very peculiar call to the representatives of all religions to face reality. As men dedicated to God, they have to show their sense of moral, spiritual and theological responsibility.
Along with this, there is another concern about how the local members of the Churches feel. To be frank, they feel “low gear”. They go through times of hardship. These are more than difficult because of the “low gear” position of the Churches, all of them. They do not feel as “part of the combatting society”. Many would show some preference to one side. Nonetheless, a lot of “believers” do know that they are not fully accepted by either side as long as they refer to institutions that, at this point, “duly exist though only tolerated”.

This has been the case in the Holy Land since the time very early times of Christianity, when the Achtiname granted in 638 AD. by Omar Ibn-al-Khattab to Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem. This edict, published each year in the calendar/ephemeride of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem (in Greek, Arabic, Russian) reminds that, since the 15th year of the Spirit (Muslim Hegire), all the Christian denominations in the (Arab) Muslim-ruled countries are placed under the control and authority of the Islamic rules and regulations. It is still in force (Jordan and Palestinian Authority).

At this stage, as Chief Rabbi David Lau explained to Pope Francis, Israel does ensure the full equality of rights to all religions. Provided that, in the military service, things go about serving for the sake of the State of Israel. This is brand new for all the Church locally in presence.
This underscores that many “Church or religious representatives” behave as “foreigners” or, at least, as being “estranged” to the present society and Israeli structures. Most of them do know how to connect with the Jordanian and neighboring State authorities. Their position is often not evident. Still, there got some know-how over the ages.

Indeed, it maybe interesting to compare the situation with regards to Israeli Army with the endangered position of the religious representatives in the neighboring Middle-Eastern countries (Syria, Iraq) and to the unclear functions conceded to Christian military people at the moment.
All things being equal, there is a real spiritual and mostly human duty to face this problem as we know that the Gates of Prayer are open to all the humans.

Protopresbyter av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

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