It is time for Ortho­dox churches to con­fess on an­tisemitism

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY DAVID GUREVICH

V EV­ERY YEAR on Novem­ber 29, a spe­cial ser­vice takes places in a packed Ja­cob’s Well Ortho­dox church in the West Bank.

The Greek Ortho­dox Pa­tri­arch of Jerusalem leads the cer­e­mony which marks the saint’s day of a New Mar­tyr — Saint Philoumeno­s of Ja­cob’s Well.

Pil­grims who gather in the church would tell you that the mar­tyr, who was a monk in the monastery, was bru­tally tor­tured to death in a “rit­u­al­is­tic” man­ner by lo­cal Jews. Brochures at the church tell the same story.

In the last 40 years, ac­counts of the rit­ual mur­der of the Cypriot monk Philoumeno­s Has­apis have spread world­wide. In 2009, af­ter the Pa­tri­arch glo­ri­fied the monk as a saint and his relics were moved to the newly ren­o­vated church, they be­came the sub­ject of in­ter­na­tional pil­grim­age.

Philoumeno­s was killed in 1979 by a ruth­less lone se­rial killer who had mur­dered Jews and non-Jews across Is­rael. He suf­fered from pow­er­ful hal­lu­ci­na­tions which he de­scribed in his po­lice in­ter­ro­ga­tion. A psy­chi­atric ex­am­i­na­tion led to his forced hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion. Vi­tally, re­cently pub­lished re­search, which I co-au­thored, showed that there is no fac­tual ba­sis for al­legedly “rit­u­al­is­tic” mo­tifs.

But the myth of a con­tem­po­rary rit­ual mur­der spread rapidly and found fer­tile soil in the minds of pas­sion­ate be­liev­ers, who from a young age were ex­posed to con­spir­a­cies about Jews con­sum­ing Chris­tian blood for Passover. The be­liev­ers are stim­u­lated by cer­tain clergy in­ter­ested in pro­mot­ing the nar­ra­tive of Philoumeno­s’s rit­ual mur­der, or at least not ob­ject­ing to its spread.

“One who wants to find the truth knows where to find it,” a high­rank­ing of­fi­cial in the Holy Land’s Ortho­dox Church said af­ter he was pre­sented the im­pact of this myth. How­ever, the phe­nom­e­non is not

The well is a pil­grim­age site for mur­der victim Philoumeno­s Has­apis who was de­clared a saint in 2009

Ja­cob’s Well is housed in­side the Greek Ortho­dox monastery of Bir Ya’qub

con­fined to the Holy Land. Ortho­dox lead­ers around the globe preach about this “rit­ual mur­der”. The Cypriot Met­ro­pol­i­tan of Mor­phou even de­scribed it as a step by Zion­ists in their so-said task to take over the world with the an­tichrist.

Church re­la­tions with the Jewish peo­ple have long been a sen­si­tive topic. Jews were ac­cused of killing Je­sus and Re­place­ment The­ol­ogy taught that the Church re­placed Jews as the peo­ple of God, thus Ju­daism is fated to dis­ap­pear.

The Catholic Church was be­hind the cru­ellest atroc­i­ties: Cru­saders mas­sa­cred Jews in Europe, the first blood li­bels emerged in Catholic realms in the 12th cen­tury, and the ter­ri­ble chap­ters con­tin­ued with the ex­pul­sion of Jews from Catholic Spain and its no­to­ri­ous In­qui­si­tion.

But, in 1965, the Se­cond Vat­i­can Coun­cil adopted a doc­u­ment which sur­prised the Chris­tian world — the Nos­tra Ae­tate. The Vat­i­can re­solved that “what hap­pened in His pas­sion

[Je­sus’ cru­ci­fix­ion] can­not be charged against all the Jews, with­out dis­tinc­tion, then alive, nor against the Jews of to­day”.

Re­place­ment The­ol­ogy was de­nounced. The Catholic Church de­clared that the peo­ple of the Old Tes­ta­ment are “the root of that well­cul­ti­vated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gen­tiles” of the present church. Since then, the Catholic Church, as a world­wide re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion, ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tives amongst its be­liev­ers. While the past can­not be changed, Nos­tra Ae­tate paved the way to chang­ing the fu­ture.

In con­trast, noth­ing sim­i­lar has oc­curred in the Ortho­dox churches. The blood li­bel ac­cu­sa­tions emerged later in the East, but have con­tin­ued into mod­ern times. Cults of past mar­tyr-saints, al­legedly vic­tims of Jewish rit­ual murders, have never been sup­pressed.

In the post-com­mu­nist era, such cults have been re­vived. Pa­tri­arch Kirill of Rus­sia wor­shipped the relics of a child saint, Gabriel of Bi­a­lystok, in front of huge gath­er­ing in 2012. In 2017, the Rus­sian church es­tab­lished a com­mit­tee of in­quiry into the ques­tion of whether the last Tsar was a victim of a rit­ual mur­der. The ven­er­a­tion of Philoumeno­s con­sti­tutes an­other ex­am­ple.

In De­cem­ber 2017, an in­ter­re­li­gious di­a­logue be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ju­daism and Ortho­dox Chris­tian­ity, took place in Jerusalem. The myth of Saint Philoumeno­s was dis­cussed, but no prac­ti­cal mea­sures were taken.

It is true that dur­ing the Holo­caust there were Ortho­dox Church in­sti­tu­tions which con­trib­uted to res­cu­ing Jews, such as in Bul­garia). Nev­er­the­less, no com­pa­ra­ble move to the Catholic Nos­tra Ae­tate has been adopted by any of the Ortho­dox churches, nor by the Great PanOrtho­dox Coun­cil of 2016.

In May 2019, the Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­arch Bartholome­w par­tic­i­pated in the March of the Liv­ing. He said at the ruins of Auschwitz-Birke­nau: “The fu­ture can be no bet­ter than the past, if peo­ple from all cul­tures, re­li­gions and po­lit­i­cal thought do not learn well the les­sons of the Shoah”.

But the Ortho­dox Church must re­call more than the Holo­caust. Look­ing on the re­vival of me­dieval­style ac­cu­sa­tions, the world must de­mand the Ortho­dox churches pub­licly con­demn an­tisemitism in all shapes, in­clud­ing “at home”.

It is time. Per­haps the first step can be taken at Ja­cob’s Well Ortho­dox Church on Novem­ber 29.

The Rus­sian church asked if the Tsar was a victim of rit­ual mur­der

Dr David Gurevich is a post-doc­toral scholar at the Depart­ment of Gen­eral His­tory in Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­sity. His full es­say is avail­able on fath­omjour­

The sun sets over the Bir Ya’qub monastery near Nablus, in the West Bank

(pic­tured right in the 1970s),

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