Archpriest Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel: “Who Is A God Like You”
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A new 2018-19 series of articles shared on the roots and the prospects that unite Eastern and OrientalOrthodox Traditions to the realm of Jewishness and Hassidism,
Compared semantics and exegetical “paysages” by archpriest Alexander A.Winogradsky Frenkel (Patriarchate of Jerusalem). Below the ninth article.

Feasts are mostly recurrent and cherished rendezvous celebrated throughout the year. As the Eastern rite Orthodox Churches entered the period of “expecting of the Second Coming of the Risen Lord”, Judaism has the feast of the re-dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem (this year December 2 thru 10, 2018). A few days ago, the Church of Jerusalem as all the Church commemorated the entry of the Most Holy Theotokos Mary into the Temple of Mount Zion. Her son, Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth, will also be introduced into the House of prayer for all the Nations, in due time, after his birth in compliance with the life-giving traditions of the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron (Galatians 4:4). It underscores that the living are brought forth to grow and multiply, be fruitful by Divine blessings in His Shelter and Dwelling Place.

Hanukkah\חנוכה or the “Feast of the Lights/ truly of the Dedication and somehow of the “teaching, education”” is a special moment. The festivities might have mentally begun for some people with Halloween. The Russians did introduce Santa Claus’ clone festival in some Ded Moroz\Дед Мороз (Granpa “Freeze”) mainly consisting of sweets, cakes, letters to get some gifts by the end of the civilian year. Well pumkins, carrots, Thanksgiving turkeys, chocolates…

There is also the Saint Nikolaos/Nicholas festive day of December 6th (Gregorian cal.) and 19th (Julian cal.), the Greek man of Asian backgrounds who arrived in Jerusalem, was ordained a priest at the Holy Sepulcher and mainly served in Beit Jala before he was called to become a bishop. A wonder-maker, a man who saved children, widows, the poor and the needy and whose name is so significant  “Nika tou laou/Νικα του λαου   – the Victory of the consecrated people”.He served in a small church dedicated to Saint George (Kader al Qudus), a renowned place of ancient Christianity where he is still remembered as a priest. Prayers to Saint Nicholas are sung in a well-known akathist every Thursday in the Eastern Byzantine tradition and he is revered as an “apostle”, which is not the case in the Western Christian Churches.

In Israeli society, there is a kind of secular “chres’mas” feast that is more secular in some parts of the country, showing unclear X-mas trees and Santa Claus intertwined with candles…

With regards to the eight days of Hanukkah, the Jews kindle the candles by using the first one, the shamash\שמש = server.

One thing is sure: light overcomes darkness and ” Nes Gadol Haya Po\נס גדול היה פה – a big miracle happened here (in Israel) or Sham\שם – there (as viewed from the diasporas)”. It is more luminous to interrogate your “dreyd’l\דריידל or savivon\סביבון” (little top) about your future than any soothsayer in town.

Hanukkah is the only Jewish feast that leaps over two months: it starts on Kislev 24 (12/02) and ends on Tevet 2 (12/10/2018). The shamash\שמש (server) used to light the candles is the source of flushing sun brightness (shemesh\שמש). Indeed, Hanukkah is more reminds how the Moon births each month, then disappears still constantly showing again as a sign of Divine Providence, Presence and care.

Miracles are God’s flickering winks. Even if God shows much confidence in us – quite unbelievable by the way! – what is more important to learn or experience this year through this feast? A victory? God’s constancy? Survival and humankind’s existence? Or God’s shining pardon when we hardly can stand or appreciate each other?

The feast is linked to the readings about how Joseph, Jacob’s preferred son, had received a splendid tunic. His competences and good look inflamed his brother’s jealousy. They sold him to an Ishmaelite. There is a point: it made more sense to them to sell him rather than killing him. In the original text, there is no moral or spiritual discussion. Joseph could be killed. The brothers were more afraid of their father Yaakov than of God. By selling him, they could at least think they could “capture” the price of the tunic. Human societies are such that humans can get mad with tunics and “clothes” and be so fascinated that they can murder those who should or could wear them.

Joseph kept the moral attitude. He steadfastly refused to step down and be seduced by Potiphar’s wife. She put him to jail. There, he started interpreting dreams with insights and finally was called to explain Pharaoh’s nightmares about some cows’ forms.

He thus predicted seven super-productive years followed by seven years of hunger. So get ready to spare and develop your economic system was Joseph final touch to Pharaoh who assigned him as his chief governor. Last but not least, in Genesis 38, the role game between Tamar and Judah, who cheated and abused her… or each other.

With regards to cows and economic collapse, all these kinds of problematics are very up-to-date. Everywhere in the world soothsayers will show to explain how the upcoming years will be full of hardships, under- and unemployment growing in the rich countries, more debts and poverty. We rarely feel responsible in such situations. Egoistic and self-centered reactions appear to be common rules of lawlessness.

We do not see prophets who could teach us the value of time, the wisdom of time and how we can “spend both time and values”. This is why the Book of Kohelet is wise: there are indeed times and instants, delays, periods. It makes man human and humane in such a way as to be able to “manage” in terms of righteousness and growth the time and measures that are entrusted to us.

This is totally on line with the feast of Hanukkah. It is evident that we can connect Hanukkah to the historical events that happened when the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus Epiphanes.  He decided to annihilate the Jews in 167 B.C. We always focus on the Maccabean revolt and fight. True.

But, to begin with, it is important to underscore the frightful passivity of the Jews at that time of history. They got engaged in pleasures, leisure and la-la land ways of living were more agreeable with some Greek tact than to make one’s existence a sacrifice for the traditional realm of the Mitzvot-מצות/ Commandments.

This is a constant test for the Jews.. and for those who were adopted in the Covenant of the One Creator of heaven and Earth, Master of the Universe. We can easily  get trapped in some pleasuring places and habits. The same as for Exodus from Egypt: once free in the desert, the ancestors regretted “the onions of Egypt”!

In that particular case, they were ready to lose their souls and brains. They wanted to go back to the place where they could get but their usual food + slavery = Paradise (absence of responsibility at the cost of work hardships).We are quite the same right now! The problem is that we are the world and Faith has spread all over the planet. “Exodus” would imply to get out from where we already went out of the land of slavery but it is far more difficult to figure out how we could manage such a “return into absence of freedom… with bed and food”.

Some areas and layers of society are so spoiled that they just cannot see that they are in the same situation as when decadence and sliding down morals were collapsing.

With regards to the Greek culture that had spread throughout ancient world, the prestige of the language, culture, refined lifestyles, ancient Greek salads or so as we do love them, the music that spaces us out, all these habits developed into a process of slowing down the observance of the Jewish traditions and the Temple services. It was seducing to discuss of philosophy, poetry, Greek arts and sophisticated educational systems that to focus on the Oral and Written Words of the One Living God.

At least, Greek culture focuses on beauty, absence of scars, hedonistic and philosophical positions. The Jews got re-operated – rejecting Judaism and the sign of circumcision – in order to participate, for example, in the Olympic games.

The same tendencies exist in the Christian and secularizing world. We are the witness of such serious and depraving behaviors in the Christian world when faith collapses because of a will to renounce the constraints of specific commandments of the Church that seemingly would lose sense or become obsolete, not up-to-date. We love to enter confusion when we choose to cede to pleasures, self-contentment, our own built-up systems of ethics.

Thus, the Maccabees acted as true fighters, but in a way that is rather similar to the despotism imposed by the then-hated polytheistic Greeks. They did not fight Hellenistic culture or morals as such, they fought idolatry.

The problem was that the Syrian-Greek emperor decided to destroy the Jewish way of living by imposing a ban on three major “Mitzvot” / Commandments of the Torah:

a) To cancel the sanctifying of the New Month (Rosh Chodesh\ראש חודש); b) To abolish the Brit-Milah\ברית מילה (circumcision) the sign of the Covenant with Abraham; and c) To suppress the celebration of the Shabbat\שבת, the day on which the Jewish Community recognizes that God is the Creator of the Universe and that He gave His Law (Torah\תורה) in order to comply with His Will.

The High Priest Matityahu ben Yohanan, from the town of Modi’in decided to fight Antiochus in order to preserve the values. Was it a “national – nationalistic” movement? Is it possible to speak of “ethnic/ethnicity” the way it is rather trendy, in particular in the New World Eastern Orthodox Churches?

The actions conducted by the High Priest and his family mainly preserved a conscience of God’s Presence and reality, His morals and Words.   They evicted the oppressors after three years of harsh struggle but the victory was mainly a spiritual miracle.  Strangely enough, we can even consider that they performed a theological act of resistance. They took over the Temple of Jerusalem. They had subsequently to purify and to re-dedicate it.  It is said that they found a single cruse of olive oil and could light the lamps of the menorah (candelabra, a “lamp” in Hebrew), which burnt for eight days in a row.

The miracle of the light showed, at that time, the importance of spiritual struggle and resistance, which are still very much an up-to-date challenge.  We might often give up our religious forces and abandon the commandments of God.

A community of faithful can be destroyed by using two different methods. This does not only concern the Jewish Community but also the Christians:

a) Physical annihilation as the Jews were exterminated during World War II at the time of the Shoah-שואה/ Churban\חורבן (reduction to nothing) (catastrophe) and previously mentioned in the Bible in the small scroll of Esther.  This is the Feast of Purim.

b) Cultural annihilation, which is often very subtle and not very clearly determined. The purifying of the Temple by the Hasmoneans shows this particular kind of spiritual behavior giving to God the right and first place.  In the Christian world this is very similar to the spiritual resistance of the saints and martyrs throughout history, especially over the 20th century. This is true so far we accept to consider the thorough-historic fight accepted by the Jewish people for faith and identity as born of the Master of the Universe.

The Makkabim/מכבים or Maccabees are still recognized and included in the saints of the Orthodox (and Catholic) Church(es). This is not a paradox. It is not possible to focus on a persistent spiritual and cultural conflict against the Greeks. Things are very complicated. Since the Christian Orthodox and Catholic Bible accepted the deutero-canonical Books written in Greek as the Books of the Maccabees, the Church commemorates on August 1st the sacrifice of a woman and her seven sons who refused to eat pork and to transgress the Jewish rules governing purity of food, the kashrut. Solomonia (Shmuni in the Syriac tradition) was assassinated according to 2 Maccabees 8, with other related accounts in the fourth Book of the Maccabees.

It means that the Greek attack against the Jews was an act of  idolatry viewing to destroy the Commandments of the Torah and non-eating pork as a sign of obedience to the Lord. One considers that the name of Maccabees means “Who is a God like You among the gods” in Hebrew (“Mi El kamocha b’elim/מי אך כמוך באלים”), focusing on the importance of the Oral and Written Laws, the Scripture.  The canonized (glorified) Maccabees did not accept to transgress the rule of kosher eating. It is not the same people as described for the feast of Hanukkah, but it ascertains that the Church does respect the offering of the Maccabees and the way they fought to preserve the life-giving Commandments ( Cf. Gittin 57b).It also shows that the fight against the Greeks did not rely upon a national fight only, but on a recurrent fight against idolatry that should be considered at the present with regards to the revelation of the Oneness of the Creator.

This obliges both Jewish and Christian traditions to consider how pre-Giving of the Oral and Written Laws at the Sinai also included some strong premonition of the existence of the Messiah and his revelation inside of the development of history inside of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

This aspect is often neglected by both parties for reasons of phyletism, nationalism, exclusion of one or many nations for twisted self-centered privileges. Phyletism can show up. Still, at one of the Meteora’s monasteries, there are nice icons of the Greek philosophers (Homer, Thucydides, Aristotle, Plato and Plutarch) because their writings could be considered as foreshadowing the coming of Jesus Christ. Provided that their books and ethics would not replace the Five Books of Moses, the Books of the Prophets and the Writings of the Scriptural tradition.

The first step of the struggle conducted by the Maccabees ended on 25 Kislev and this is one of the explanations given for the name of the Feast:  Hanukkah, i.e. “HaNUKH\הנוח” = “they rested [on the KH = 25\כ”ה]”.

In fact, the word is mentioned in the Second Book of the Maccabees since Hanukkah is “dedication, inauguration” (Talmud Tractate Shabbat 21b). This tiny lamp of oil was found unexpectedly. Would it be possible to compare this to the song we sing during Pessach: “Dayeinu\דינו” :”If God had only done such and such a miracle… that would have sufficed”?

Indeed, we are not strong in confessing (our) faith. At times, we might understand that what is imperiled, in ourselves as in our society, is precisely God’s Presence and steadfastness. It did suffice for God’s witnesses that one single oil lamp was ready to burn. They re-dedicated the Temple.

In this respect, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are interesting: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses it taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is not longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-17).  

Dear readers,

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About the Author

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev

Jivko Panev, maître de conférence en Droit canon et Histoire des Églises locales à l’Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint Serge à Paris, recteur de la paroisse Notre Dame Souveraine, à Chaville en banlieue parisienne.

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