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by Bogdan G. Bucur  |  ру́сский

This essay was initially revealed throughout Holy Week 2017.

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Disturbing Words, Disturbed Emotions

The phrases in the title are from one of the stichera at the Beatitudes chanted on Holy Thursday night (Triodion, 589). Similar references to “arrogant Israel, people guilty of blood,”  “bloodthirsty people, jealous and vengeful,” and “the perverse and crooked people of the Hebrews” happen in the unabbreviated English translation of the Lamentations service printed in the Lenten Triodion.

It is true that this type of language seems much less strident when thought of inside the context of Byzantine rhetoric; additionally it is true that the sample is about by the prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Micah 6:1-5; Amos 2:9-12); and it’s, but once more, true that we should additionally consider the bigger context of the Church’s development from a charismatic, egalitarian, theologically progressive, and administratively schismatic group inside first-century Judaism into the more and more Gentile actuality of the second century. Indeed, throughout the early many years of the Christian motion, the context for the vitriolic anti-Judaism present in the Hebrew Bible, in some apocalyptic writings of the Second Temple period, and in the New Testament (e.g., “brood of vipers,” “synagogue of Satan,” “enemies of God,” “sons of the devil”) shifted progressively from harsh intra-Jewish polemics to polemics between the overwhelmingly Gentile Church and “the Jews.” All good and true—however at this time these invectives are deeply disturbing, and we all know that rhetoric of this type has at occasions been half of the explosive combine that led to violence in opposition to Jews.

The Heart of Our Theological Tradition

And but … Should we actually be scandalized by the Antiphons intoned with nice pathos on Holy Thursday night? Here is a variety from Antiphons 15, 6, and 12 (Triodion, 587, 583, 577, 584):

Today, He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross.
He who’s King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who in the Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear …

O My folks, what have I achieved to you, and the way have you ever repaid Me? Instead of manna, you may have given me gall, as an alternative of water, vinegar . . .  

Today the Jews nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea with a rod and led them by way of the wilderness. Today they pierced with a lance the facet of Him who for his or her sake smote Egypt with plagues. They gave Him gall to drink, who rained down manna on them for meals.

Be not be deceived, O Jews: for that is He who saved you in the sea and fed you in the wilderness.

The actual fact that the Lord’s reproaches to Israel (e.g., Micah 6:1-5; Amos 2:9-12) are positioned on the lips of Christ factors to the primarily Christological, not polemical, intention of the hymns. The level right here appears to be that it’s Christ who rained manna in the desert; it’s Christ who divided the Red Sea; it’s Christ who smote Egypt with plagues; it’s Christ who fed Israel in the desert—in brief, it’s Christ who’s the “Lord” of the Exodus account. One may say, certainly, that the theological program of Holy Week is exactly the daring identification of the Lord Jesus with the “Lord” (kyrios/ YHWH), He-Who-Is, the God of our fathers, the thrice-holy Lord of the seraphim (Isaiah 6), the Glory enthroned upon the cherubim (Ps 18:10 / LXX 17:11; Ezekiel 1; 10), the king of Israel (Isa 44:6).

This Christological interpretation of Old Testament theophanies, which lies at the coronary heart of a lot Holy Week hymnography, constitutes one of the most potent, enduring, and versatile “ingredients” concerned in the gradual crystallization of a definite exegesis, doctrine, liturgy, and spirituality from the earliest levels of apostolic Christianity and all through the first millennium of the frequent period. This is just not merely one strand of custom amongst others, however the very coronary heart of Christian custom!

It goes with out saying, then, that at this time’s Orthodox Christians are to deal with the religious treasure handed over to them with care and devotion; however, like the Sabbath, worship was made for man, not the different means round. 

Liturgical Reform with Faith and Love

Most non-Orthodox church buildings have sought to deal with the drawback of anti-Jewish rhetoric in liturgical texts by means of liturgical reform. But rewriting or eliminating the problematic phrasing of some hymns can itself be deeply problematic. Replacing, as has been achieved by many of our separated brethren, the concrete references to God’s presence in the Old Testament (Passover, the Sinai revelation, the manna, the water from the rock) is solely unacceptable as a result of it dilutes the Christological proclamation of the hymns—specifically that Christ himself is the LORD (Kyrios) in the Exodus narrative.

Secondly, coping with the offending verses is meaningless when achieved kind of secretly, by hierarchical decree, with out taking up, overtly, the underlying drawback of anti-Jewish animus in our companies. I believe it preferable to have interaction in a theologically sound and pastorally accountable Church-wide dialogue of the Orthodox Christian engagement with the Judaism of the Synagogue. Whatever can and have to be stated about the theological reasonably than socio-political significance of a line resembling “the Hebrew race (genos Ebraiōn) was destroyed” (Great Friday Matins, Sticheron at the Praises [Triodion, 597]), our proclamation at this time have to be guided by pastoral sensitivity to the sufferings inflicted, not so way back, upon thousands and thousands of folks merely for belonging to the “Hebrew race.”

By the similar token, we will need to have the crucial sensitivity for Orthodox Christians whose relationship with Jews and Judaism is formed by the expertise of being marginalized and oppressed inside the State of Israel. The pastoral setting of some parishes in the Antiochian Archdiocese is especially delicate: new immigrants from Syria and Palestine—individuals who equate the fashionable state of Israel with navy occupation, police harassment, injustice, and humiliation—typically worship facet by facet with Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy, many of whom retain the robust pro-Israeli convictions of their earlier (pre-Orthodox) Christian formation.

Liturgical reform may proceed in accordance with the criterion of sustaining the Christological message of the hymns (that Christ is the Lord of the patriarchs and prophets, the Lawgiver on Sinai, the enthroned Glory) whereas excising any anti-Jewish “flourishes.” It is noteworthy on this respect that one encounters the Christological interpretation of theophanies in festal hymns for Baptism, Palm Sunday, Nativity, Presentation, and so on, the place the anti-Jewish polemic is basically absent! In my opinion, this demonstrates (if it ever was crucial) that the anti-Jewish overtones aren’t important to the theological message of the hymns.

In some circumstances, it is perhaps useful to change to the passive voice; in others, to alter the addressee from “Jews” to “believers” or “brothers,” with out, nevertheless, altering the Old Testament reference. For occasion, “Today the Jews nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea … they pierced with a lance the side of Him who for their sake smote Egypt with plagues …” can turn out to be “Today is nailed to the Cross … the Lord who divided the sea … Today is nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea … Today is pierced with a lance the side of Him who for their sake smote Egypt with plagues …” Or, equally, “Do not be deceived, Jews: for this is He who saved you in the sea and fed you in the wilderness” could possibly be modified to “Let us open well our hearts, O brethren: for this is He who saved Israel in the sea and fed then in the wilderness.” And what can be misplaced if, reasonably than chanting “when You were lifted up today, the Hebrew nation was destroyed,” the Church would as an alternative deal with the undeniable fact that with the Lord lifted up on the Cross, dying is destroyed and all mankind is summoned to inherit immortality?

The time has come for the Orthodox Church to exorcise the anti-Jewish animus lurking at the door, intent on defiling our worship and devouring our souls (Gen four:7).


*An extended model of this essay was revealed in The Word, the month-to-month publication of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Interested readers are invited to seek the advice of that essay right here.


Bogdan G. Bucur is Associate Professor of Theology at Duquesne University and the pastor of Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Church in Butler, PA.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to advertise dialog by offering a discussion board for numerous views on up to date points associated to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed on this essay are solely the creator’s and don’t essentially characterize the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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