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SIDIC Periodical - 1967/3
Liturgy (Pages 15 - 16)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Jews in'Oriental Christian Liturgy
Marie Despina


All iental liturgies, even the Byzantine, originated before the end of the fifth century, in the countries lying between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, in the great centres of Antioch, Jerusalem, Cesarea, Damascus, Nisibus and Alexandria, They are rooted in the primitive Judeo-Christian church of Syria-Palestine, and consequently, are marked by synagogal worship.

As in Jewish liturgy, the prayers of the Oriental Churches were the means of conveying the teaching of the theologians, with their pastoral preoccupations. For the most part, there was no other catechesis than that transmitted through the liturgy, which,often enough, was a wonderful condensation of the doctrine of the Fathers of the Church. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that at the beginning of the Middle Ages, there were large Jewish communities in most Middle East towns, Relations between. Christians and. Jews were often cordial, but, because the Jews were usually better educated than the mass of Christians, these friendships aroused anxiety among Bishops for the faith of their people. This gave rise to preaching hostile to the Jews. From this, unfortunately, anti-Jewish polemics have passed into the very text of all oriental liturgies.

In the Byzantine liturgy (the only one whose complete texts are available in European languages), we found over thirty anti-Jewish passages, and it is possible that there are still more. It is not surprising that these anti-semitic texts occur (though not exclusively) in the Offices for the end of Lent and Holy Week, Here are two examples "Where lies the folly of the Hebrews? There lies their infidelity? How long will you wander? How long will you be bastards? You see this dead man (Lazarus) who leaps from the tomb at the voice of Christ, and you refuse to believe in Him? Truly you are all the sons of darkness".

(Third hymn of Compline; Saturday of Lazarus - Eve of Palm Sunday).

"The children of the Hebrews are not content with treason, 0 Christ, but they raise their heads to spit at you their mockeries and their venom. But, you, 0 Lord, repay them according to their works, because they did not understand your humility... Reward them as they deserve, Lord, because they contrive plans against you". (11th antiphon of Matins of Good Friday).

Being poor in religious poetry, it is a fact that primitive Roman liturgy often borrowed from the oriental. Thus, all the antiphons of Christmas are taken from Byzantine liturgy. This probably applies also to the Improperia of Good Friday, which bears marked similarities to the Byzantine antiphons for Good Friday, Matins and Lauds, for example: "0 my people, what have I done to thee?".

The Byzantine office is not only a memorial of the saving Pasch of Christ, it has also become an indictment of the People of the First Alliance. In Orthodox countries of central Europe, the liturgy has always been used for the religious education of the masses. The ceremonies being in the vernacular, the faithful flocked to them, especially during Holy Week. It is not, therefore, astonishing that the people, and most of the clergy, nourished by this liturgy (in other respects really beautiful and rich in doctrine) acquired thought habits of anti-semitism under the guise of religion.

Only part of the other oriental rites being available in the vernacular, it is difficult to form an idea of the frequence of anti-semitic texts over the liturgical year; but the few extant translations are sufficient to prove that they do exist in all these liturgies. The following is taken from the Good Friday Matins hymn in the Chaldean rite. (Principal characters from the Old Testament are invoked in turn, as witnesses against the Jewish people):

...Awake, singer David. Come today from the tomb. Take up your harp and sing a psalm with the words: 'The people who do not know mercy, pitilessly pierced the hands of the Son, who came down from heaven to save his people and all the nations. They divided his garments among themselves, and they drew lots.

Like dogs, they have surrounded him who keeps silence'..."

"Awake, noble Malachy. Make the wicked people ashamed, who crucified Christ, while declaring themselves innocent..."

"...Awake prophet Daniel. Look at Emmanuel whom Gabriel reveals to you, tortured by the children of Israel".

"Woe to the prevaricating people, whose blind hearts would not believe in the testimony of the eclipse of the sun and the moon..."

It is impossible to cite the whole of this long poem, or to give within the limits of this article, further anti-Jewish texts taken from oriental liturgy. In spite of the paucity of these translations, we have, however, discovered many more belonging to all the liturgies. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at, that the faithful, spiritually nourished by these texts, and, a fortiori, the clergy and monks who regulary celebrate these liturgies, should have anti-Jewish mentalities.

In view of the diversity of the Churches and rites among our Eastern brothers, it is difficult for them to eliminate anti-Jewish liturgical texts. It is far less easy for them than for us to distinguish what, in their wordingcf their prayers, is really essential to Christian faith as formulated by the great theologians of the past, and what is only a reflection of the polemics in which even the Fathers of the Church - or unknown monks of the Middle Ages - were involved.


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