These past few weeks I have been talking about the healing necessary for all who may be involved, effected by even as spectators or those hearing, reading about or watching the news report made by the : Associated Press “Dozens of people led by an Orthodox priest smashed a menorah in Moldova’s capital, using hammers and iron bars to remove the candelabra during Hanukkah, officials said.” So this Healing series is entitled: A Healing Lesson for the Nativity: A Christian Understanding the Jewishness of Jesus. As I indicated previously whether the news report is true or false I do not know. But the fact it was made even if false bring a terrible wound on those affected and all need healing. Over the last couple episodes I have emphasized: … that we and here I mean myself right at the center must not judge individuals, we must take the beam out of our own eye .. but we can comment on the deeds that are done or not done that would not conform to Christ and hate them … we can heal ourselves and those around us by witnessing the truth .. and if necessary modifying our own lives. The first episode I pointed out “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and the commandment that follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Mat 22: 37-40). And we must also keep in mind the necessity of not giving scandal by our actions or lack of actions required of us as followers for Christ. Recall Jesus very strong warning: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! (Mt 18: 5-7). Part of this healing is to know that Jesus and His immediate followers were Jewish and cherished the true spirit of the Covenant made by His Father with His people. He was the fulfillment of this. The new life of Christ is built on the foundation of the first Covenant and it’s people and the beauty of the meaning of all the words of the ancient prophets can be understood in Christ.. Last week I also went over the Cognitive Distortions that we are susceptible to make because of the brokenness we have inherited from our ancestral parents, that arouse dysfunctional emotions such as anger that can fuel anti-Semitism. This week we continue exploring the New vs. the Old Law and the Christ is the apex, the height of all.
The Old Law versus the New Law
Jesus Himself said: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (Mt 5: 17-18). St. Luke (24:44-45) tells us of other words of Jesus: “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…”
Bishop Hierotheos Vlachos (1998) summarizes “[t]he Church in the Old Testament”. Adam and Eve in Paradise had communion illumination of the nous with God”. Bishop Hierotheos describes St. Gregory of Sinai’s view that Paradise “was the second period of the Church” as St. Gregory states: “because of the great wealth and holiness of the ever-abounding grace there”. Bishop Hierotheos goes on to say that in spite of the fall of our first parents, “the Church does not disappear completely. Man struggles to restore his communion with God…In the Old Testament there were righteous men, like the Judges, Prophets and saints, who were blessed with divine revelation and vision.”
The Church Fathers have consistently made reference to God revealing Himself to us, albeit in a veiled hidden manner in the Old Testament. St. Gregory of Nyssa (2006), for example described Moses as a prototype of Christ and a model for Christians seeking to interiorize Christ in their hearts. Bishop Hierotheos writes of St. John Chrysostom “referring to the righteous men of the Old Testament, [saying] they too belong to the Body of Christ, “because they too knew Christ.”” Bishop Hierotheos cites an significant understanding of St. John Chrysostom showing the continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament Church: “The faithful of the world everywhere, those who are, those who have been and those who will be. And again, those who were well pleasing to God before Christ’s appearance are one body.”
Bishop Hierotheos point out all the holy mysteries that are performed in the Orthodox Church “have reference to the Sacraments and rites of the Old Testament.” Scholars such as Canon Hugh Wybrew (1990) have pointed out the significant parallels between the liturgical services of the Eastern Church and the Temple worship of the Jews. As Fr. John Breck (2001) tells us the “key persons and events of the Old Covenant find their ultimate meaning in those of the New”. Based on all this can anyone who considers themselves a committed, faithful follower of Christ do anything but hold the Jewish Festivals, such as Hanukkah, that Christ Himself celebrated, in anything but high honor? The disconfirming answer is so obvious I will not say anything further.
Christ the apex of Salvation History
With all the above said the story of Salvation History is incomplete. It is only complete with Christ Himself. For example in reading of Jesus attendance at the Hanukkah Feast, the Festival of Lights, (Jn 10: 22-23), as described above, I can meditate on the beginning of the Gospel of St. John (1:4-5): “In [H]im [the Word, Christ] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness grasped it not”. I can be reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2Cor 4:6). I can also ponder St. Paul’s recounting his conversion experience: “…that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:23). As Paul Evdokimov (1998) so eloquently writes of Christ and His Resurrection: “This makes all the events of history essentially [C]hristological. Christ is risen as head of the human body, and now all religions and all people can and ought to seek their life in [H]im.”
To see Christ as the Light of the World and as in the example discussed in this essay, the Hanukkah menorah as the “Type” of this Light can be grasped by the acquisition of spiritual knowledge and conforming our minds to the “…mind of Christ”, (1 Cor 2:16) and the mind of His Orthodox Church. It should also be recognized as St Diadochos of Photiki tells us that: “Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment ….” Spiritual knowledge takes personal ascesis as well as just noted, being in total conformity to the “Mind of Christ and His Church”.
An important consideration: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required…” (Lk 12:48)
Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev (2002) writes: “The sacrament of priesthood is deeply significant, for the Church community receives its new pastor. Despite the Orthodox emphasis on the ‘royal priesthood’ of all believers, the Church also recognizes a difference between laypeople and ordained clergy, the latter being entrusted with the celebration of the Eucharist, and having the power of ‘binding and loosing’. Ordination into a hierarchical rank, be it of bishop, priest or deacon, is not only a change of status but a level to another level of existence.” Quoting Archimandrite Cyprian, Archbishop Hilarion goes on: “… a person who has been ordained ‘is no longer a simple layman, but a theourgos, an “initiator into mysteries” and a celebrant of the sacraments. He is not just Mister X, but Father X”. This great contemporary Orthodox theologian, Archbishop Hilarion, goes on to quote St. Silouan the Athonite: “[This] grace is so exceedingly great that were men able to see the glory of this grace, the whole world would wonder at it; but the Lord has veiled it that His servants should not be puffed up but find salvation in humility … Truly noble is a priest—- the minister at God’s altar.”
With this in mind, how horrific is the alleged deed by the leader of the mob, as reported by the Associated Press at the start of this article. How many will see this as an act of Christ, His icon, which instead of leading to theosis whereby we “…become partakers of the Divine Nature,” (2 Pt 1:4) will instead lead some into vilifying Christ and His Church. Such deeds especially if done by a priest, an icon of Christ, be subject to Christ’s warning: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…” (Lk 17: 2-3).
A lesson for us?
Is there a lesson for us to cherish and love the Jewish prayers and feasts as Jesus did? Absolutely! For Orthodox Christians we can understand that Christ Himself is the fulfillment of all these feasts and for that reason alone we should treasure them.
There is another lesson to add: that it is what is from the heart filled with the love of God and our neighbor that is the foundation of all and this is the fulfillment of the law. We can understand according to St. Paul about the law: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it…” (Rm 3: 21). We see for example that Abraham, was not righteous before God not because of his works, but because of his conviction that God was true and thus Abraham was loyal and obedient. We also know that this righteousness, for Abraham, his followers and all of us is a grace, that is to say, a free gift from God. As St. Paul told the Ephesians (2: 4,8-9): “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, …is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast.” We as Orthodox Christians are no longer held to the requirements of the Mosaic law “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Rm 3:20). We are held to the higher requirements of fulfilling fullness of the spirit of the law.
St. Paul tells the Galatians (5:22-25) what this means: “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Later in this epistle St. Paul further explains: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6: 1-2)
Jesus’ most firm critique were against was against those He called hypocrites: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Mt 23:23). In this teaching Christ to the Pharisees who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath law He Himself gave an example of distinguishing the letter versus the spirit of the law: “For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.” And he went on from there, and entered their synagogue. And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” (Mat 12: 8-12)
Pray, detach and listen
How can we walk “…according to the Spirit…” (Rm 1:4) and “… put on Christ.?” (Gal 3:27). Paul Evdokimov (1998) notes: “God became incarnate so that man may contemplate [H]is face through every face. Perfect prayer seeks the presence of Christ and recognizes it in every being.” St. Paul counsels us to “…pray constantly…” St Isaac the Syrian (Brock, 1997) tells us: It is in proportion to the honour which someone shows in his person to God during times of prayer … the door of assistance will be opened to him, leading to the purifying of the impulses and to illumination …” For this to happen St. Isaac in union with all the spiritual fathers of the Church tells us: The first virtue is detachment, that is, death in relation to every person or thing. This produces the desire for God….Then the fear of God will establish itself within us, and through this fear love will be make manifest.” (Philokalia I). Archbishop Hilarion (2000) quotes St. Isaac further understanding of the necessity of detachment and silence: “And this is the definition of stillness: silence to all things If in stillness you are found full of turbulence …your soul with cares…it is ridiculous … [rather we must] separate ourselves from every care.” As St. John of the Ladder tell us: “The lover of silence draws closer to God. He talks to Him in secret and God enlightens him.”
Union with Christ and His Church
Essential for all those who have been illumined by baptism, is to be in union with Christ and the Church He founded, the one, holy catholic, apostolic and Orthodox Church. As Evdokimov (1998) tells us the Church Fathers almost take literally: “… continuation of the human person in the Incarnation of the Word, perpetuated especially in the Eucharist.” This is why we are not to imitate but to interiorize Christ. The incarnation states Evdokimov reveals: “..the theomorphosis of man, our transformation in God.” St. Paul tells us: For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ “ (Gal 3:27). By uniting ourselves to Christ in His Incarnation and re-actualized in the Eucharist our nature can tend toward perfection and be truly Christ-like. Our spiritual life and actions will have a Christological structure. Thus our thoughts, words and deeds can reflect the dictum of Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain’s (Ageloglou, 1998): “Christians must be distinguished for their spiritual nobility.”
A wish for the committed Christians of Moldova and everywhere
Help the Jewish people to rebuild their Menorah. St James (2:17) makes it very clear: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” St. James (3: 12-13) continues: “ Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom”. Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Ageloglou, 1998) informs us of the lesson to be learned by the incident prompting this essay: to be counted among those people who focus on “the good side of things.” In this case the apex of the Menorah is the ‘light of Christ.’ What else and in who else around us can we see Christ?
The Church Fathers inform us of the futility of idle talking and by implication idle praying. Thus consider the words of St. Isaac of Syria: “Prayer that is not accompanied by a good way of life is an eagle whose wings have been plucked.” (Brock, 1997) Jesus told us this Himself: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35). St. Luke (14:35) tells us Jesus words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
“Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders
dispassion; and patience and dispassion engender hope in God .…”
St. Maximus the Confessor (Philokalia II),
A Monk of the Eastern Church. (1980) The year of grace of the Lord: A scriptural and liturgical commentary on the calendar of the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Evdokimov, P. (1998). Ages of the spiritual life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Morelli, G. (2006, July 29). Dealing With Brokenness in the World: Psychological Optimism and the Virtue of Hope. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliBrokenness.php
Spangler, A. & Tverberg, L. (2009). Sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.