In this season of short days and long nights, the Greeks like their Palestinian Orthodox Christian brothers turn their thoughts – not to neutral ‘shopping season’, like Americans, not to Lapland, like the West Europeans, but to a small town of Bethlehem in Palestine, where the most profound miracle took place and Eternal Logos was born as the Son of Man; where the great Church of Nativity still stands, and the Greek and Palestinian priests sing their beautiful akathists to Our Lady Theotokos and to Her Blessed Son, for Greece is forever united with the Holy Land. The Hellenes and the Palestinians together formed the first Mother Church, they were among the first apostles, and while Our Lady was a Palestinian, the words of Gospel were written in immortal Greek. For two thousand years the Greeks and the Palestinians belonged to one state, whether it was called the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium or the Ottoman Empire. Blood of Greeks still flows in the veins of Palestinians together with blood of Jews and Arabs, and we are united by the common faith.
I write to you as a member of your Sister Church, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, for though born a Jew, by Grace of Christ I was baptised in its wonderful ancient cathedral of Mar Yakoub, the old see of St James, the brother of Lord and the first Bishop of Jerusalem. It is adjacent to the Golgotha and to the great Church of Resurrection, and it is the home church of local Arab-speaking Palestinian Orthodox community. I was baptized in the old deep octagonal Byzantine font so many saints and bishops of the Holy City were baptized in. My skin still feels the touch of olive oil and myrrh, soft, supple, fragrant, though it was more than a year ago. Since then, I celebrate with you and with all Orthodox Christians our marvellous feasts; Epiphany on the shores of Jordan River, Annunciation in Nazareth, Easter in the Holy Sepulchre, Ascension on the Mount of Olives, Transfiguration on Mt Thabor, Dormition in Kedron Valley, and Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Holy Land is still Christian – in the Judean Desert, the Great Laura of St Sabas guards the steep ravine of Wadi al-Nar, the Valley of Fire. Not far away, in St Theodosius Monastery, the tomb of the great Greek Palestinian writer and monk John Moschos, creator of The Spiritual Meadow, is still venerated. Greek monks worship in St George Laura built at the cave where Joachim fasted forty days and Elijah was fed by ravens. Memory of Origen and Eusebius still lingers in Caesarea.
Despite all hardship, worshippers do not desert the churches of the Holy Land. Bethlehem and Nazareth, Taybeh and Rami, Kana of Galilee, Jaffa and Lydda, Jifna and Bir Zeit, many other villages and towns remain staunchly Christian. They withstand the relentless pressure of the Jewish State, the sieges, persecutions and discrimination. Native Palestinian Christians, sons of Apostles, are the backbone of the community, and recently they were joined by thousands of Russians who immigrated into the Holy Land and now flock into churches.
However, not everything is fine in the Orthodox Church: while the Catholics have a Palestinian bishop (“Patriarch”) and a new bishop for the converts from Jews, in the Greek Orthodox Church there is but one Palestinian out of twenty members of Synod. While the laity is Palestinian, clergy is solidly Greek. While there is no Palestinian neither Hellene in Christ, such situation is not healthy and not realistic. Indeed, in 19th century all Palestinian Christians were Orthodox, but since then the numbers of Catholics and Protestants grew at the expense of the Orthodox Church. The Palestinian Christians feel that they have no chance for ministry in their Mother-Church. Even worse, the Orthodox clergy feels its vulnerability and hardly participates in joint actions with other churches on behalf of the besieged Palestinians. These actions are often led by Catholics and smaller churches, while the deserved place of the largest Christian denomination, the Orthodox one, remains vacant.
The Orthodox Church does not try to serve the growing Christian Hebrew-speaking community, either. Many Israeli Jews experience abundant Grace of Christ in His Land and turn to Church while rejecting the Synagogue. They go to the Catholics, or even to plentiful Evangelical churches, for they do not know of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is a source of great regret, for a few reasons. The Jews are forever fighting Christ and the Church; there is no chance for peace in the Holy Land unless the position of the Synagogue is undermined and the Jews saved by the Church.
The Orthodox Church is the only Church that still keeps fire of Apostles; thanks to labours of St Basil, St Gregory and St John Chrysostom, she possesses theology able to undo the Jewish paradigm as no one else. Other churches, even the Catholic Church after the Vatican II, accepted unacceptable demands of the Jews and agreed to the conditions once rejected by St Paul. They agreed to the idea of Two Covenants, as if the Old Covenant is not the same as the New Covenant. Thus they came to the weird idea of Two Chosen Peoples – Israel of flesh and the Church. The Orthodox Church is still safe from this dangerous heresy. Only the Orthodox Church can offer true salvation to the Jews escaping their supremacist creed. And now, when thousands of Jews try to come to Christ, the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem does not make a sufficient effort to bring them in.
The Laws of the Jewish state forbid evangelising, but so did the laws of Tiberius, Nero and Domician, and it did not stop the first messengers of the Good News. There should be an effort to help the Israeli Jews to reach salvation. It can’t be separated from the question of Palestinian clergy, for the Palestinian clergy can show the Israelis that the way of the Church is also the true path to peace.
The Greek leadership probably will be needed for a time in the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Land, but if we want this most important church to survive it should promote the Native Palestinian Christians to high positions. Otherwise, sooner or later a schism in this Church is inevitable; and it can end like it did in Antioch, where the Greek clergy was summarily expelled. In order to sustain very important and needed positions of the Greek scholars and divines, they must be induced to share. Whoever wants to have everything, will have nothing; one who shares will see his share growing.
It is not a theoretical question. Father Theodosius Attalla Hanna, the dean of St James Cathedral in Jerusalem, is a much venerated Palestinian Orthodox priest, man of great learning and eloquence, a native of Rami in Galilee. He enjoys great love and support of the Orthodox Palestinians. He should be elevated a Bishop and a member of Synod, if we want the Church to flourish. There is an urgent need for seminary for native Palestinian Christians, as well as for Russian and Israeli Orthodox communities.
The war in the Holy Land has a theological dimension, and it reaches the ends of the world. Indeed, the dangerous and evil creed of ‘Christian Zionism’ is a Judaising tendency and a result of theological ignorance. The Hellenes can’t wash off their hands: you must make a consistent effort to correct the faults of the Greek Church in the Holy Land.
I write it with great love to you, our Greek brothers and sisters. Please let this neophyte remind you that the Orthodox faith is not a small parochial creed but the main road of Christendom. It is now embraced by millions of Russians; thousands of Catholics in France and in the US, disappointed by Judaising heresy of Vatican II, also look up to the Orthodox Church. While Judaisers support the New World Order, the Orthodox Church remains steadfast in following the creed of Apostles with its promise to the poor and downtrodden. In Russia, the strongest voices against American hegemony are those of the Orthodox philosophers Alexander Dugin and Alexander Panarin. For new flourishing of the Church, we have to attend to its Palestinian roots, for a church without worshippers is just an empty building.
The Greeks have an important mission in the Holy Land, and it can be fulfilled by providing place for the native Christians in its hierarchy. Let it happen in the AD 2004!