An Orthodox response to the sin of anti-semitic persecution
Delivered in the Cathedral of Zhitomir on 20/04/1903
The joyous feast of reconciliation, the Resurrection of Christ, continues. We have completed the commemoration of the Thomas, who was the first to confess that the risen Jesus is our true God, and we are now singing of the deeds of the myrrh bearers. We commemorate those women who did not grow weak in their faithfulness to Christ even during the terrible days when He was betrayed and put to death, and who were accounted worthy to announce His resurrection to the apostles. The apostles would enlighten the world by proclaiming the resurrection, but these holy women had first enlightened the apostles with it.
In extolling their faith, the Church calls all of us to imitate this struggle and to participate in the preaching of the resurrection. We are called upon to become so penetrated by joy in Him that we not only forget about the evil done against us by enemies, but to forgive from our hearts their hatred toward us and not only forgive them, but even love our enemies. We must now strive to embrace with love all mankind, inviting them to share with us the spiritual ecstasy of that new life revealed so clearly to us, that everlasting life filled with blessed communion with God. Now is fulfilled that prophecy of Isaiah; "And everlasting joy ... illness, sorrow and sighing have, fled away" (Is 35:10).
The grace of Christ's resurrection shines brightly even in our corrupt age, and it shines not only on the pious but even on those who are unconcerned. During these sacred days, those who did not pray earlier now turn to prayer; even those whose hearts were hardened. We greet one another with the kiss of peace, and even the unmerciful and miserly find pleasure in showing love toward their neighbour. "Christ is risen and life springs forth" as the God-fearing voice of Chrysostom proclaims. But amidst such comforting circumstances in our Christian life, sorrowful, shameful news reaches us that in the city of Kishenev, on the very day of Christ's resurrection, on the day of forgiveness and reconciliation, there occurred the cruel inhuman massacre of unfortunate Jews.
At the very time when in the holy temples there was being sung, "Let us embrace one another and say 'brother' even to those who hate us..." yes at that very time, outside the church walls, a drunken, beastly mob broke into Jewish homes, robbing the peaceful inhabitants and tearing human beings into pieces. They threw their bodies from windows into the streets and looted Jewish stores. A second crazed, greed filled mob rushed in to steal the clothing and jewelry from the bloodied corpses, seizing everything they could lay hand on. Like Judas, these robbers enriched themselves with silver drenched in blood - the blood of these hapless human sacrifices!
O God! How did Thy goodness endure such an insult and offence to the day of Thy saving passion and glorious resurrection! Thou didst endure Thy terrible struggle so that we would be dead to sin and live in Thee (Rm.6:11), but here they cruelly and in a most beastly manner slaughtered those who are Thy relatives according to the flesh, who, though they did not recognise Thee are still dear to Thy heart as Thou Thyself didst say not long before Thou didst suffer in the flesh, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou who killest the prophets and stone those who are sent to thee; how often have I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers its chicks under its wing, and you desired it not" (Matt. 23:37).
O brethren, I wish to make you understand this so that you would comprehend that even today the Jewish tribe is dear to God's heart, and realise that God is angered by anyone who would offend that people. Lest anyone suppose that we are selecting words from the sacred scripture with partiality, let me cite for you the words of that man whom the Jews hated above all men. This is the man whom a company of the Jews vowed neither to eat nor drink until they had killed him (Acts 23:12) - Apostle Paul.
Hearken to the words of God's spirit speaking through him: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing my witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen" (Rm. 9:1-5).
Startling and frightening word! Did you truly write them, Paul, you who came to love Christ, who began to live in Christ as Christ lived in you? For whose sake did you consent to be separated from Christ? Was it not you, Paul, who wrote the lines preceding this verse "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rm.8:38-39). Even the angels could not have done that which you would voluntarily have done for the sake of the salvation of the Jews - those who were your enemies, your betrayers, they who beat you with whip, chained you in prison, exiled you and condemned you to death.
Behold, brethren and marvel: these words of Apostle Paul are spoken concerning the Jews, even though they were opposed to Christ's faith. Lest your perplexity continue, that same apostle and martyr explaining in the following chapter, the reason for his love of the house of Israel! "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (10:1-2)
The words are confirmed in our own day by the life of the Jews. Observe for yourselves their dedication to their law, their preservation of the Sabbath, their faithfulness to their spouses, their love of work and their love toward their children, whom they encourage toward obedience. There was a time not so long ago when Christians excelled them in all these things, but in our present corrupt and degenerate age, we must look with regret upon all these qualities of the way of life of pious Jews. In our cities, the majority of Christians no longer distinguish between the ordinary day, feastdays and fasts, but have fallen into negligence and a loose life.
It is true that there are also some like this among the Jews, but from whom did they learn such a disorderly path? Alas, from those whose forefathers confess Christ, from European and Russian nihilists who, like toads, swarm over our land, whose books and newspapers poison the air around us like the plague and cholera.
The Karaim and Talmud Jews must be respected, but woe to both those nihilists from among the Jews and from among us, who are corrupting both family and society, who sow the seed of their contagion among Russian and Polish youth, and who are the main cause of the hatred toward the descendants of the holy forefathers and prophets beloved by the Lord. I am not speaking about respect for these nihilists among the Jews.
Listen as the blessed apostle further explains the reason for his warm, self-denying love toward this people; hear how he explains their unbelief and obduracy toward Christ "I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy" (11:11). If the Jews had all accepted Christ's faith, then the heathens who despised the Jews would have rejected it. If the Jews had all believed, then we, brethren, would not have become Christians, but would still be worshipping Jupiter and Venus or Perun and Volass as our pagan ancestors did. Be cautious, therefore, about slandering the unbelief of the Jews; rather grieve over it and pray that the Lord may be revealed to them. Do not be at enmity with them, but respect the apostolic word about the Israelite root and the branches that broke from it "Because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. " (11:20-21)
O Christians, fear to offend the sacred, even though rejected, tribe. God's recompense will fall upon those evil people who have shed blood which is of the same race as the Theanthropos, his most pure mother, apostles and prophets. Do not suppose that this blood was sacred only in the past, but understand that even in the future reconciliation to the divine nature awaits them (2Pt.1:4), as Christ's chosen vessel further testifies, "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written. There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (11:25-27).
Let the savage know that they have slain future Christians who were yet in the loins of the present day Jews; let them know that they have shown themselves to be bankrupt opponents of God's providence, persecutors of a people beloved by God, even after its rejection (11:28).
How sinful is enmity against Jews, based on an ignorance of God's law, and how shall it be forgiven when it arises from abominable and disgraceful impulses. The robbers of the Jews did not do so as revenge for opposition to Christianity, rather they lusted for the property and possessions of others. Under the thin guise of zeal for the faith, they served the demon of covetousness. They resembled Judas who betrayed Christ with a kiss while blinded with the sickness of greed, but these murderers, hiding themselves behind Christ's name, killed His kinsmen according to the flesh in order to rob them.
When have we beheld such fanaticism? In Western Europe during the middle ages, heretics and Jews were shamefully executed, but not by mobs intent on robbing them.*
How can one begin to teach people who stifle their own conscience and mercy, who snuff out all fear of God and, departing from the holy temple even on the bright day of Christ's Resurrection, a day dedicated to forgiveness and love, but which they i rededicate to robbery and murder?
O believers in God and His Christ! Fear the Lord's judgment in behalf of His people. Fear to offend the inheritors of the promise, even though they have been renounced. We are not empowered to judge them for their unbelief; the Lord and not we will judge. We, looking upon their zeal even though it is "not according to knowledge" (Rm.10:2) would do better to contemplate their fathers: the righteous Abraham, Isaak, Jakob, Joseph and Moses, David and Samuel and Elijah, who rose to heaven still in the flesh. Look upon Isaiah who accepted voluntary death for the faith, Daniel who stopped the mouths of beasts in a lions' den, and the Maccabbee martyrs who died with joy for the hope of resurrections. Let us not beat, slay and rob people, but soften their hardness toward Christ and Christians by means of our own fulfilment of the law of God. Let us multiply our prayer, love, fasting and alms and our concern for those who are suffering, let us be zealous about the true essence of the faith; let our light so shine before people that they may glorify our heavenly father and Christ. Let us overcome unbelief and impiousness among Christians first, and then concern ourselves with the Jews, "And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:20-21).