Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Call for Papers: “The Byzantine Liturgy & the Jews”

(NAPS) - The Institute for Ecumenical Research, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, is convening an international conference on the Byzantine Liturgy and the Jews, 9-11 July 2019. Presentation abstracts of no more than 200 words should be sent to cces@ecum.ro by 1 July 2018.

Anti-Jewish elements have persisted in the Byzantine liturgy for over a thousand years in areas under the influence of the Eastern Christian Empire. These elements have spread through translation from Byzantium to all countries and cultures which worship today according to the Byzantine rite. Despite the profound theological and liturgical changes that have taken place in the second half of the 20th century in Western Christianity, hymns that were composed in the polemical context of the 8th -9th centuries are still used today in Eastern countries and in the Christian Orthodox Communities of the diaspora.

The conference with the topic Byzantine liturgy and the Jews addresses the issue of liturgical anti-Judaism from various perspectives, in order to provide the necessary tools so that we can better understand this reality:

Historical-criticism – which hymns fall within this discussion? When were these texts included in the liturgy and what were the overall social and political contexts in which they were written? What differences can one identify between original versions and translated ones and what are the aspects that have led to innovation in translating these texts? And how do texts with Byzantine anti-Jewish elements differ from analogous texts from the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Georgian traditions?

Patristic and liturgical approach – which is the role of hymns within the liturgical structure? What is the relationship between hymnography and homilies and other patristic writings? To what extent can one identify a patristic origin of certain anti-Jewish topoi and how did this very fact assure their transmission in worship? And what can be said about the image of the Jews in Byzantine iconography and their possible relation with hymnographic texts?

Theological approach – what kind of relationship is there between biblical statements regarding Israel and anti- Jewish hymnography? What is truly anti-Jewish in the Byzantine rite? Which are the criteria that would guide us today in evaluating liturgical texts from this perspective?

Socio-cultural impact – to what extent can one follow how these hymns reflect, consolidate and modify the mentalities of given religious communities?

Presentation abstracts of no more than 200 words should be sent to: cces@ecum.ro. Deadline: July 1, 2018. Papers may be presented in English and German. Conference proceedings will be published in the Peter Lang’s Edition Israelogie series. Financial support may be available upon consultation with the organisers.


  1. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

    ...The lex credendi grows out of the lex orandi, and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services. Thus, if there are divergences in the understanding of a dogma between a certain theological authority and liturgical texts, I would be inclined to give preference to the latter. And if a textbook of dogmatic theology contains views different from those found in liturgical texts, it is the textbook, not the liturgical texts, that need correction.

    Even more inadmissible, from my point of view, is the correction of liturgical texts in line with contemporary norms. Relatively recently the Roman Catholic Church decided to remove the so-called “antisemitic” texts from the service of Holy Friday. Several members of the Orthodox Church have begun to propagate the idea of revising Orthodox services in order to bring them closer to contemporary standards of political correctness. For example, the late Archpriest Serge Hackel from England, an active participant in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, proposed the removal of all texts from the Holy Week services that speak of the guilt of the Jews in the death of Christ (cf. his article “How Western Theology after Auschwitz Corresponds to the Consciousness and Services of the Russian Orthodox Church,” in Theology after Auschwitz and its Relation to Theology after the Gulag: Consequences and Conclusions, Saint-Petersburg, 1999, in Russian). He also maintains that only a ‘superficial and selective’ reading of the New Testament brings the reader to the conclusion that the Jews crucified Christ. In reality, he argues, it was Pontius Pilate and the Roman administration who are chiefly responsible for Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion.

    This is just one of innumerable examples of how a distortion of the lex credendi inevitably leads to “corrections” in the lex orandi, and vice versa. This is not only a question of revising liturgical tradition, but also a re-examination of Christian history and doctrine. The main theme of all four Gospels is the conflict between Christ and the Jews, who in the end demanded the death penalty for Jesus. There was no conflict between Christ and the Roman administration, the latter being involved only because the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death penalty. It seems that all of this is so obvious that it does not need any explanation. This is exactly how the ancient Church understood the Gospel story, and this is the understanding that is reflected in liturgical texts. However, contemporary rules of “political correctness” demand another interpretation in order to bring not only the Church’s services, but also the Christian faith itself in line with modern trends. (Theological education in the 21st century. Excerpt from a lecture of Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto)

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  3. Hackel and Hilarion are both wrong. We killed Christ. We are the Jews, we are the Romans, we are the disciples who fled. That story is about us, not them.

  4. 123,

    You’re right that every sinner killed Christ in some sense. However, Christ Himself said this to Pilate:

    “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin."John‬ ‭19:11‬

    St. Paul also put it this way: “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!” 1 Thes‬ ‭2:14-16‬

    Christ was sent to the children of the house of Israel and as those entrusted with the oracles of God, they bore a unique culpability. Nevertheless they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers and the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. (Rom 11:28-29) May Christ reveal Himself to them!

    1. Yes, but Orthodox Christian hermeneutics state everything in the Bible is about us, too. So, the surface level is about who did what. The real meaning of the texts are that we killed Christ, we are the Jews, we are the Romans, we are the disciples who fled. That Bible is about us, not "them".

      Making sure we lay accurate blame on the right parties - as if the Jews of today are responsible - is un-Christian and simply proves true the too-often-too-strenuously-protested allegation that Orthodox are anti-Semitic. Orthodoxy makes a distinction between the founder of a heresy and those who may have been born into that false faith later, but we are sadly reticent to extend that courtesy to the Jews. Forgiveness for us and those like us! Condemnation for those easily scapegoated!

  5. The Bible is about us AND them. That generation was uniquely culpable: “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah... Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.” Lk. 11:50-51‬

    I simply don’t interpret the Metropolitan or our liturgical texts to be going easy on us and hard on the Jews. The Metropolitan’s main point is that Orthodox liturgical texts are the guide to how we interpret Scripture. That’s our Orthodox hermeneutic.

    1. Yes, and it seems to be a tradition to purposefully ignore the deeper, spiritual meaning of the Bible in favor of the surface, "historical" meanings of a text, despite our much vaunted preference for the former. Yes, the liturgical texts guide us in our interpretation of Scripture, but if we take the surface image and metaphor literally (not literally, which is the way , then we are really just approaching Scripture the way any fundamentalist Protestant would. We simply add on "the Fathers say", too.

  6. 123,

    I just don’t see anyone advocating for giving the Jews a hard time or ignoring the anagogical interpretation of Scripture. I’m certainly not.

    In the Brothers Karamozv Dostoyevsky wrote:

    “There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men's sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things.”

    Amen! I can also give the amen to Met. Hilarion because it’s not an either/or, “us/not them” issue for me. The Judeans of Christ’s time said “let His blood be on us and our children”. May God grant that the blood of His Son be on them and their children to wash away their sins and save them. God save us all.

    1. Yeah, the “let His blood be on us and our children” has been used for centuries to excuse or incite hatred of the Jews, all Jews. The fact we so easily go to it so quickly and (seemingly?) purposefully ignore how it has been used is the problem. Yes, it was only true of the people who actually said, not all Jews. Maybe it was just the chief priests and elders of the Jews who said it. And yes, the Gospel writers were themselves Jews or members of a Church then that was heavily populated and led by Jews, and it was only in John that we start seeing the division between Christians (the New Jews) and "the [old] Jews" who did not accept Jesus as Christ. But these discussions always settle on "the Jews" as a contemporary whole, and that's because it's where it starts, unfortunately.

      The only silver lining is the fact this ingrained, almost accidental anti-Semitism is really just a species of the "original sin" of Orthodoxy: ethnocentric nationalism and its cousin, racism. It's not really about who killed Christ anymore than the Old Believer schism - and their subsequent apocalypticism and their persecution - was about how many fingers to use when making the cross.

    2. 123,

      Honestly, I think your problem lies with Holy Scripture and the liturgical texts. St. Paul wrote some of his epistles prior to St. John; he definitely saw a division between Jews who believed in their Messiah and those who didn’t. So did Christ. And so did the Forefathers and Prophets of the OT according to Christ Himself. I won’t bother to quote those verses because you’ll suspect me of being an antisemite.

      I’m certainly not out to condemn Jews. I’m a Black man so I’ve experienced racism in Orthodoxy firsthand. IMO, Orthodox are no more racist than anyone else, as a matter of fact I find them to be less racist than Westerners experientially and according to my reading of history. I do notice that you condemn the Orthodox quite easily, have you ever read Jewish rabbinical texts re: the Minim and Goyim??

      Perhaps you’ve experienced antisemitism in the circles you run in but that doesn’t give you the right to project it onto the entire Church. May God grant us all salvation.

      peace to you friend.

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