Nativity and New Year greetings! I hope everyone had a restful holiday, if not a prayerful one (we failed on that front).
Apologies for my temporary disappearance due to holiday travel. I will do my best to keep up with the blog over the next couple of weeks as I prepare to give a short talk for a small group at my church on the subject of Jewish identity and important Jewish figures within the Orthodox Church today. If anyone has ideas on what – or who – might be interesting to include, please drop me a line or a comment!
In the meantime, I’ve been working my way through Deuteronomy. I was struck by the fact that, shortly after Moses tells Israel of their chosenness…
For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers… (Deut. 7:6-7)
…he also says the following:
Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the LORD destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the LORD your God. (Deut. 8:19-20)
The Jews should not simply expect a reward for obedience to God (which is detailed earlier in the chapter), but must remember that their very existence is rooted in this obedience: it is the foundation of their nature as a people, because it is the foundation of their chosenness.
This could be interpreted in a number of ways. Historically some Christians have argued that the persecution of the Jews is evidence of their perishing due to their rejection of Christ. Some religious Jews, to the contrary, believe that their continued existence as a nation, despite the persecution, is evidence of their fidelity to the God of Abraham against the temptation of Christianity.
There is probably a grain of truth, mixed with a large helping of hardness of heart, in both these contrary interpretations. Jews have indeed suffered for their rejection of Christ. Yet the supposedly Christian nations at whose hand they have suffered could learn a thing or two about worship of the true God from the Jews – as Christian leaders in the mold of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky have recognized (check out his full sermon in the link).
It occurs to me that, though it sheds little light on how to arbitrate this dispute, the second passage quoted above ought to serve as a meditation for Jewish Christians. What does it mean to be a Jew under the New Covenant; what are the things we should teach our Christian children about being Jewish? An acute, existential awareness of the foundation of Jewish identity – physical, ethnic identity, beyond even our spiritual identity as a Christian – in obedience to God, and the consequent danger to our very sense of self that stems from any betrayal of God, is one answer to this question.
It is worthwhile also to meditate in this light on the words of Father Alexander Men: “When a Jew betrays his dedication to God, he betrays himself and easily finds himself in the power of dark forces. Being chosen is a great and terrible responsibility.” (Vestnik RHD 117, 1976, p. 113)