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[The Creation of the Chicken]

An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Mazel Tov

...drinking an IPA and reading Fr.Schmemann, so bear with me.

I’ll never forget when I announced to my boss (the head of UW Virology) that my fourth child had recently been born and he gave me a hardy: "Mazel Tov!" to which I stumbled through a response, which almost might have been "Indeed He is Risen" or "He is and ever shall be" but instead came out as "Oh yes, thank you!" while in my mind I wondered what is the traditional Jewish response to that phrase!! Looking it up later I came to realize that my response was kosher enough. To add to the overall setting of this rather comical event, it took place in the men’s restroom.

Anyway...back to Fr. Schmemann. Presently I am reading The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy and I am just getting through a section in which he talks about the early church in Jerusalem. No great revelations to be found there, but further confirmed in my mind the fact that if one is looking for Messianic Judaism, it’s always been around in the form of Eastern Orthodoxy.

I really do not know when, but at some point in recent history (perhaps in this last half century or so when rapture and Israel-based eschatology has become so vogue), many Christians have developed an affinity for Jewish faith practices. "Messianic Jewish" churches and denominations began to pop up all over the place, many Christian groups participate in a traditional "Seder" meal, and inviting preachers from "Jews for Jesus" is always sure to rake in the people.

I kinda look at it as lost children looking for their lineage or their heritage. Asking questions like: Where did we come from? Why are we the way that we are? To what extent was the early Church ‘Jewish’? And also from a less personal, but more theological perspective: What did they believe back then? How did they worship back then? And I am sure there are others.

Truthfully though…one need not look any further than the Orthodox Church to see the ancient connection between Christianity and Judaism. I’ll let Fr. Schmemann (Memory Eternal) speak:

...the first community in Jerusalem not only did not separate itself from Judaism, but even preserved Jewish religious forms intact in its own life…the Temple at Jerusalem remained for Christians a place of prayer, instruction, and preaching. Even when the initial link with it was broken [Fr. Schmemann makes it a point to say that this happens much earlier than some historians imagine] and Christian worship began to develop independently, that worship retained – and always will retain – the stamp of its Jewish origins. The fundamental principals of Orthodox worship were determined almost entirely by the Temple and the synagogue…[And here is the portion I enjoyed most, because it spoke so clearly as to why we Orthodox have so many ancient traditions (Paradosis)]...we must understand that for the Christians of Jerusalem the preservation of the Jewish religious tradition and mode of life was not a mere survival of the past from which they were released as they grew in understanding of their own faith. On the contrary, they observed the tradition because for them it all bore witness to the truth of their faith. Christ Himself had declared His work to be the fulfillment of the Scriptures…the old accustomed words and ancient rites were now radiant with new light...

So don’t be surprised if next year I add “Mazel Tov” to my Paschal greeting. Mazel Tov to us all, for Christ has trampled down death by death.

...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 9:02 PM [+]



By Blogger Laura, at 4:21 AM  


forgive me... I started to write... then rambled, and made it a post instead of a comment.

By Blogger Huw Raphael, at 7:29 AM  


so good to see you writing specifically about orthodoxy again! great comments. will be curious about your thoughts on schmemann's writing re: the schism...

)( seraphim

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:12 AM  


Reading the same thing write now...i love how smoothly and clearly the book reads. Of Blessed memory indeed.

By Blogger Aaron, at 10:49 AM  


Also check out Dom Gregory Dix's book "Jew And Greek"
for how that early tension was handled. As much fun to read as Fr. Alexander. --- Bob K.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:47 AM  


Hi James,

I know you didn't explicitly say this, but surely it's a leap from that to suggesting that this is the only way to do it?

When facing someone from an African culture with a myriad of traditions, many involving a redeemer-myth, why re-invent the wheel? What not do in Africa what the Jerusalem church did in Jerusalem?

Oh, you need to update your Organic Church link to www.organicchurch.net. How come you are so slow to change it? Oh, wait - I forgot! ;o)

By Blogger Graham Old, at 4:01 PM  


Graham is right, I did not explicitly say that it is the ONLY way to do it...but I will now, here's why:

Let me answer with a question: Is there something siginifanct/different about the Jewish traditions rather than say the African Redeemer-Myth traditions? To some extent, we do not know because so little is known about the traditions of the mystery religions that existed in the time of the early Church...which might speak volumes about what the early church thought about such things.

I can think of three major differences: truth, historicity, and this one is key - revelation. (many, if not ALL of Jewish practices were revealed by God Himself.)

Clearly, since we Orthodox still see the indeleble mark of Judaism in our worship and way of life, we can discern that such things were deemed important to more than just the community at Jerusalem. In fact, when troublesome questions came (i.e. gentile converts and circumcision) we see the council AT Jerusalem handing down a decision on the matter.

Obviously not ALL Jewish traditions were passed along - or they were altered. The Didache mentions a good example of when they Church switched to Wednesday and Friday fasting. And, of course, the switch to Sunday worship...though even in Orthodoxy the Sabbath is still technically observed.

And while we can certainly baptize other cultural traditions, I think we must beware of negating or even forgetting the Jewish heritage of Christianity. You cannot cut the roots off a plant and expect it to be healthy. Who Jesus Christ is, and what the Church is, is founded upon Israel and the Old Testament.

The Ethiopian Eunuch was reading the Septuagint...and indeed these were the Scriptures that came with the Church - as opposed to any redeemer-myth texts.

We might also note the unanimity of the Chruches in their practices. While indeed there were minor differences...they cannot be portrayed as radical. There was (and this is decisively so in the 3-4th century Church) an intentional effort to have a foundational unity of practice. The councils (including Jerusalem), the advent of the NT, the use of the Septuagint, etc all seem to bear witness to this.

I guess what I am saying is this: while we certainly can and should use the cloudy vision of the redeemer-myths, we must be VERY cautious. Can the person of Christ be properly understood outside of His Jewish heritage?

Some of the gnostic sects had trouble with this - Marcion in particular completely rejected the Jewish heritage of Christianity and thus Jesus lost His body. Other sects even went so far as to change Jesus' name - inserting various mystery religion characters as being the one crucified outside Jerusalem in 33AD.

So you see, we cannot be see as reinventing the wheel...because we believe we are running with the wheel that God invented and set in motion. Okay I've babbled enough.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:53 AM  


"And while we can certainly baptize other cultural traditions, I think we must beware of negating or even forgetting the Jewish heritage of Christianity."

Great quote. But I think you have this bit backwards:

You cannot cut the roots off a plant and expect it to be healthy. Who Jesus Christ is, and what the Church is, is founded upon Israel and the Old Testament."

By Blogger Graham Old, at 11:50 AM  


Nope, sorry, Graham -- you are the one who has got it backwards.

Christ and His Church are not rooted in Israel and the Old Covenant; rather, Israel and the Old Covenant are rooted in Christ. Israel and the Old Covenant prepared the way for the coming of Christ; being, perhaps, the stalk and branches bearing the blossoms that burst forth in full flower with His Passion and Resurrection. Now, having flowered, the Church is the fruit.

Our heritage as Orthodox Christians, the New Israel, contains and completes and fulfills all that was contained in the Israel of the Old Covenant. (Here, you can read "people of God" where the text says, "Israel.") Thus, I would agree with James: We ingnore or discount our Jewish heritage at our peril.

By Blogger Fr. John McCuen, at 12:26 PM  


Actually, I think Fr. John and Graham are agreeing...because this was my quote:

"You cannot cut the roots off a plant and expect it to be healthy. Who Jesus Christ is, and what the Church is, is founded upon Israel and the Old Testament."

Yes, I did not form this thought/analogy well - it is backwards, literally interpretted. Let me try and rephrase the thought: If we ask, who was/is Jesus I believe that framed within that understanding must be the experience and traditions of Israel. Or more accurately: to understand what Christianity is, we must also understand Judaism.

Poorly phrased on my part, sorry.

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 2:12 PM  


Does the Blessed Fr.Schmemann's book deal with the strangeness of 12 bishops presding in Jerusalem from A.D. 111 to A.D. 134? Does he indicate if it was one after another or if their service was simultaneous?

You can take a look at this site to see what I am talking about:


By Blogger Matt, at 10:19 PM  


Yeah, sorry for the confusion. That was a quote from James. My "backwards" remark should have been followed by a colon and then James' quote.

By Blogger Graham Old, at 1:00 AM  


Hey Matt...

All my attempts at getting the synapse that recalls reading about this to fire have failed thus far. Shooting from the hip though, there could be two very likely explanations:

1 - martyrdom (i.e. they all served and were killed in one year)

2 - the chaos in the years following the destruction of Jerusalem may have resulted in scattering of the Jerusalem Church and thus their may have been multiple Bishops.

Fr. Schmemann does not address this question, but I know I've read about it...perhaps in Pelikan?

By Blogger JamesoftheNorthwest, at 7:44 AM  


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