Christian Zionism

During my time in the Jesus People as an Evangelical Charismatic Protestant, it was taken for granted that the modern State of Israel, established by the Great Powers in 1948, was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and a sign of the End Times.   How clever, Biblically-discerning, and prescient we were may be gauged by the fact that we also took it for granted that the Rapture would happen any day and that it would occur by 1988 at the latest. The oracular Hal Lindsey (of Late, Great Planet Earth fame) said so: Jesus must return no later than a generation after the establishment of the State of Israel, and “a Bible generation” was 40 years, so 1948 + 40 = 1988. We were “the terminal generation”. It was all in the Bible. Read it for yourself.

Hal’s predictions are now of course in the ashcan, and his books are (presumably) only read for their nostalgic value by the same sort of people who keep their Pet Rocks (remember those?) But despite the fact that the dated imminence of the Rapture has been proven wrong, some people still cling to elements of the original system, including its center-piece, the Biblical significance of the modern State of Israel.

There is a lot one could say about the modern State of Israel, much of it depressing. Anyone declaiming its excellencies and virtues is invited to read books like Palestine: a Personal History. But here my concern is not with the tortuous and complex politics of the Middle East, but with the more straight-forward theology of the Bible. Those who quickly and easily translate their understanding of Bible prophecy about the End Times into political loyalty and lobbying often go by the label “Christian Zionists”. They differ from normal Zionists in that normal Zionists usually confine themselves to saying that the establishment of the State of Israel was a good thing and that Israel has the right and duty to defend itself from internal enemies (i.e. the Palestinians).

Christian Zionists go further, and say that the establishment of the State of Israel was not simply a good thing, but the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy to regather Israel to the Promised Land, and that this was a necessary event presaging the imminent Second Coming of Christ. Christian Zionists also usually spend lots of time poring over the books of Daniel and Revelation, and believe that the Antichrist must make a covenant with Israel, and then break it and take over the Temple in Jerusalem before the Second Coming can occur. They therefore assert that the Temple will be rebuilt (on the space, no less, where the Dome of the Rock has stood for 1327 years), and some even spend money to make this happen. They expect a mass conversion of Jews to the Christian faith prior to the End, and offer enthusiastic and unambiguous support to the State of Israel in their struggle with the Palestinians. These latter are usually cast in the role of villains and terrorists, despite the fact (possibly unknown to Christian Zionists) that many of those Palestinians are fellow-Christians. One imagines that the Israelis look at the Christian Zionists with a kind of puzzled pleasure: they privately think them crazy, but are happy for the American support and the American dollars.

There is a lot wrong with the Biblical interpretations of the Christian Zionists. Since this is a blog and not a book, I will mention only three of them.

First, the Biblical prophecies about the gathering of Israel to the Promised Land were completely fulfilled in the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land after the Babylonian captivity. One needs to date the scattering of Israel properly to understand the regathering. The northern kingdom of Israel/Ephraim was scattered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and then later to the southern kingdom of Judah was scattered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. This being the case, the prophesied regathering was the one which occurred after the Babylonian captivity, under Cyrus the Persian after 538 B.C. The exiles returned to the Land (in small numbers) and formed a little community in the area around Jerusalem, led by such men as Nehemiah and Ezra. One can see these prophecies of regathering in oracles such as Ezekiel 37:15f, which makes the point that after the regathering the pre-exilic hostility between the northern and southern kingdoms will be overcome “and they shall no longer be two nations and no longer divided into two kingdoms” (v. 22). Obviously this dates prophetic fulfillment to the time immediately after the Babylonian captivity and not to a time after 1948, since prior to 1948 the distinction between the “two kingdoms” of Israel and Judah did not exist.

Secondly, our Lord’s prophecies about the post-exilic further scattering of Israel by the Romans in 70 A.D. contained no such hint of a subsequent divinely commanded regathering. In Matthew 24, He says that those days will be days of tribulation such as had never occurred before (v. 21). In Luke 21 we have a clearer version of the same prophecies (made clearer for a Gentile readership not familiar with such Jewish terms as “the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place”; Matthew 24:15). In this version Christ says, “Great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people, and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 23-24).   Every Jew knew that “the times of the Gentiles” were the times when the Gentiles ruled the earth, and that it would end when the Messiah established His kingdom over all and ended Gentile domination. Then Jerusalem would be free from threat, and all the Gentiles would acknowledge her sovereignty. In other words, Jesus was saying that Jerusalem would be trodden down until the Second Coming and the end of the world. The Book of Revelation refers to “the times of the Gentiles” by the term “the kingdom of the world” (Revelation 11:15). The apostles initially hoped that the time of the Gentiles would soon be over, and the Jerusalem would arise to rule the world (Acts 1:6). They were told to leave such things with God, and to preach the Gospel. The point here is that the prophecies concerning the devastation of the Jewish State in 70 A.D. and afterward contained no hint of divine restoration before the times of the Gentiles had run their course.

Thirdly, all the prophecies of the Old Testament about the blessing and restoration of Israel after the exile find their fulfillment in Christ and His Church. If you doubt this, try this simple experiment: go through the New Testament and find every Old Testament citation and note how the New Testament interprets the Old. You will find that the New Testament writers apply to Christ and His Church the prophecies where God promises to bless Israel in every single instance. It is not that the Church has replaced Israel. It is simpler than that: the Church is Israel. In Romans 11:1-12, Paul makes the point that in the days of Old Testament apostasy such as in the days of Elijah when most of Israel worshipped the Baals, the true Israel consisted of the small remnant who remained faithful to God. Paul says that it is same now in his day with Christ: now that most of Israel has apostasized and rejected Christ, the true Israel consists of the small remnant who remain true to God and Christ. That is why Paul refers to the Church as “the commonwealth of Israel” in Ephesians 2:12 and as “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16. The Jews who rejected Christ were not true Israel any more than the worshippers of Baal were. God’s promises to bless His people Israel were fulfilled in the blessing upon the Christians, whether they were Jew or Gentile.

What then about the modern State of Israel? By anyone’s figuring it is a source of tragedy. Even before the creation of the State of Israel, Capt. T.E. Lawrence (i.e. “Lawrence of Arabia”) who knew the situation intimately prophesied, “If a Jewish state is to be created in Palestine, it will have to be done by force of arms and maintained by force of arms amid an overwhelming hostile population”. The Jewish state was indeed created by force of arms, and is indeed maintained by force of arms (i.e. by a perpetual war against the Palestinians), and represents an insoluble problem and deadly conflict in the heart of the Middle East. It was created as a sop to western consciences after the sinful catastrophe that was the Holocaust. Some have said that whether or not the sop was worth it can only be judged by those who suffered in that catastrophe. Maybe and maybe not. What also cannot be known is how the modern State of Israel may be used by God to accomplish His purposes in the future. What can be known is the meaning of the Scriptures. And from the Scriptures it is clear that, whatever its use to God in the days to come, the State of Israel has nothing to do with the prophecies of the Bible. Christian Zionism therefore may take its place among the discredited detritus of history, alongside such classics as The Late, Great Planet Earth.

 

 

58 comments:

  1. Bravo, Father! It is about time some one wrote this article. Sadly, I do not have this ability, but am thankful that you do. I’ve been to Palestine twice and seen firsthand the suffering of the Palestinians there, of whom, as you point out, many are Christian. Peace and joy!

  2. About 20 years ago, I was introduced to Messianic Judaism. I’d been curious about the Jewish roots of Christianity and thought I’d found a system that finally integrated the Old and New Testament properly. Looking back, I’d say it was more of a circumcised charismatic Protestantism. I never knew that Orthodoxy had been integrating the Old and New Testaments for 2,000 years. I heard a priest say that the religion of the Old Testament wasn’t Judaism, but the Old Testament version of Orthodox Christianity. Mind blown. Made perfect sense, though. Messianic Judaism is going back to the New Testament era via the path of Rabbinical Judaism, which follows the wrong line of fathers. The sages of the Talmud have a different spirit than the Fathers of the Church. It’s like using English units when the plans call for metric.

    1. Well said! From my reading and my (single) visit to a Messianic Jewish service, it was clear that Messianic Judaism is simply another Evangelical denomination. As you say, after the loss of the Temple, 1st-century Judaism morphed tremendously. The resultant morph should not be read back anachronistically into the OT.

  3. Like Kevin, many years ago I was introduced to Christian Zionism. Actually it wasn’t a formal introduction, but more like being born into a worldview. If you belonged to such churches, and if you put your trust in them, you quickly “knew” that Israel was set apart, in God’s eyes, forever, from the rest of the world. We were unfamiliar with the term “Christian Zionism”. I suspect if the pastor had used the term, some people would have researched and found the whole movement problematic. You would have risked being labeled anti-semetic at the least; at the most, you would be shunned, in hope that you may finally leave. The strength of this belief was not only in words, but visually as well. In the front of the church, in one corner was the American flag, and in the other corner the Israeli flag (and I mean the large ones on a pole). And yes indeed, we had many bible studies on prophesy, using the book of Daniel and Revelation, in addition to numerous other passages that were read through the lens of Zionism.
    It wasn’t until my disenchantment with these churches reached a peak that I learned the details of this Christian Zionism. And it wasn’t until I became Orthodox that I learned in full, the true teachings of the Church regarding Israel, which Father Lawrence touched upon in this post. But I guarantee you, there will be no convincing otherwise, those who believe in the special place and high regard of Israel. They are not only not cognizant of the Christians in Palestine. Many of them do not even recognize them as Christians at all. I was told point blank that I am in a false religion. Fr. Michael E Averyt says it’s about time this article was written. I would agree, as it serves to explain Zionism to those not familiar with it. Correct me if I’m wrong Fr. Lawrence, but I do not think you write these articles solely as an attempt to convert Christian Zionists, although it would be nice if they would. (Father, would it be correct to describe these articles as polemic? I want to be clear on how this word is used. I don’t think it is meant to have negative connotations.) Rather I think Father is simply speaking the truth, as we are told to do. We’re told to simply just speak the truth about all things, always, and let God take care of the rest (we discussed this in Father’s post about “debate”). I say all this because I was a staunch Christian Zionist. I would have not taken kindly to any suggestion that I was wrong. That was then. Since coming to Orthodoxy I have learned not to be so pig-headed (sorry, so blunt!). I am getting to know the conciliar way of life and thought. At the same time how to not compromise the truth and openly accept differences, including outright hostility . What I am saying is I’m familiar with how deeply embedded Zionism is in their faith. Most, I’m afraid, will react defensively and some even strongly, like the Weslyan-Armenian fellow in the previous post. The chances of convincing them of their error would be as slim as trying to convince me that I am in a false religion. Never in a million years would that happen.
    I think it is beneficial, especially in this day and age of multiple faiths and demand of tolerance that we know exactly what the Church teaches and thus confidently speak the truth. This is why I appreciate Fr. Lawrence’s no nonsense, straightforward style of writing. His books are the same way.
    Thank you Father!

    1. Thank you, Paula, for your kind words. I was converted by a charismatic couple, Merv and Merla Watson, who soon after became heavily involved (I would say enmeshed) in Christian Zionism. I am doubtful that there is anything I could write that would have much effect upon them or those like them. I don’t mind the description of this article as “polemic” if by that one means that I am trying to offer truth as an antidote for error.

    2. Remember that Christian Zionism is part of an integrated system for understanding the Bible–Dispensationalism. If you believe that the Old Covenant is merely “paused” until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled and will be resumed at some future point when the Church is not present on the earth, then you have to see Jews returning to Israel as eschatologically critical. They must have a temple to have a working covenant. What Christians who want to help this process along don’t quite get is that they forget that Christ is of a new priesthood after Melchizedek and that the Aaronic priesthood is superseded. It would be blasphemous to suggest that God will go back to the imperfect priesthood of Aaron and it would be blasphemous to assist the process. Now, the reconstitution of earthly Israel may be important, but it’s not our job to interfere in that. I don’t think Jerusalem has ever been such a “burdensome stone” as it is now.

      1. Kevin,
        Exactly. Dispensationalism is the method through which Christian Zionism is taught. I believe its official introduction was by Scofield and the bible he rewrote.
        Yes, I often think about the crisis in Jerusalem and the Middle East. I wonder why it is that the very place where God chose to reveal Himself to mankind, a tiny spot upon the world stage, to a small group of semetic people, has been in conflict virtually since His appearance. Christian Zionists would have a very simple answer…it is the place where biblical history began and it is the place where it will end. Pretty much everything in the book of Revelation is interpreted literally. The New Jerusalem is simply a replacement of the old Jerusalem. And it’ll stay that way for 1000 years.
        Anyway, I hesitate to say the Middle East is the center of world conflict, if you consider ‘the center’ relatively. I believe our perception is greatly skewed through media accounts. Yes, there has always been conflict there. It is terribly grievous, the people who suffer. But someone living in a war torn area in a place far removed from the Middle East would consider their place as ‘center’. We think globally these days, and forget the violence and oppression of those souls who are not worthy enough to make the news.
        Scripture and Tradition tells us that it is not ‘the other’ who is responsible for hatred, war, death and destruction, but each and every one of us. Man, woman, Jew, Greek, slave, free. We know that Christ suffered so all mankind might be saved. Ultimately there is no ‘center’…none except for Him. He is going to judge all nations, all peoples. This focus on nation against nation is exactly what Christ said would happen. Christian Zionism perpetuates this violence. They are taken by money, power, and political motives.
        I don’t know what to think about the biblical significance (if there is any) of the wars in the Middle East. To me the people in the Middle East represent all of us, in need of salvation.

    3. There is a distinct difference between intuitive sensibilities, concrete conclusions pertaining to cultural loyalty/geopolitical hegemony, and rationale, that is, the explanatory route whereby one links intuitive sensibility and concrete loyalty. When tensions or disagreements arise, they can occur any or all of these levels.

      Concerning the question at hand, namely Anglo-American Christian Zionism inherited from British Christian Zionism as we shifted from the Pax Brittanica to the Pax Americana, one does well to identify the narrative of Hal Lindsay as the rationale, antipathy toward the explicitly Christ-resisting (rather than simply Christ-ignoring) Islamic world and Communist Russia as concrete conclusions; and the honour of Jesus Christ, the belief that God works in history, and the belief that he himself is one of God’s people some, though not all, of the intuitive sensibilities.

      Now it is possible that the concrete antipathies and intuitive sensibilities can be shared between the Anglospheric Orthodox and the Anglospheric Evangelicals who disagree on rationale, or the theological route by which they arrive at their present identities. For, on the one hand, a shared antipathy for explicitly Christ-resisting Communism and Islam are what made this matter of the State of Israel an historical-theological question in the first place; and, on the other hand, the intuitive sensibilities mentioned above about Zionism are as true for the Russian Orthodox or the Greek Byzantines as they are for the Anglospheric Evangelicals. For the Hellenospheric Christian Zion used to be Constantinople, and Jerusalem was always an especially sacred place for the Orthodox when the Orthodox has Zionistic control of it. Did they not build both Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The building of any great shrine is the function of a king or emperor even if holy buildings of worship are associated with the priesthood; and any notion of Christian kingship or of a Christian emperor is inherently Zionistic. It follows, then, that any fully Judea-Christian worldview is Zionistic on one level or another: the term should hardly be one of disparagement.

      This article by Fr Lawrence Farley does appear to focus on the second of these factors, rationale, as he picks apart the biblical basis for the narrative told by Dr Lindsay. Sadly, the tendency of people is to presume nefarious intuitive sensibilities on account of divergent geopolitical loyalty/cultural sympathy pertaining to preferred concrete persons, and then clash mightily in the realm of rationale. The threesome of intuitive sensibilities, concrete conclusions, and rationale may indeed be so intertwined as to be fully worthy of rejection; but, it does seem to me that there are worthy sentiments, and possibly concrete conclusions, sharable between so-called Anglospheric Christian Zionists and Anglospheric Orthodox.

      In any narrative, the hearer intuitively identifies with one or the other agent even to the point that he or she can only hear the story in one way. Why, for example, should we identify with Bambi rather than the hunter, or with Bambi rather than Feline? After all, the hunter’s small child needs feeding too, and the playful female’s perspective is as real as that of the bashful male. The question is whether or not the view of the film feels victimised by other actors in society, or by nature and hunger as he lives tries to eke out a living in the forest; or whether or not, the viewer is a male or a female, playful or bashful.

      Now it is true that Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy within the Anglosphere do indeed face a profound cognitive dissonance on the matter of the State of Israel. For, on the level of intuitive sensibility, the Anglosphere has always had a self-understanding that is Zionistic, without reference to Semites or to the State of Israel founded in 1948; and on the matter of concrete conclusion, a faithful Christian of particularly Anglosphere stock could hardly wish for a Pax Russica, Pax Saracenica, Pax Turcica, or even a Pax Saeculohumanica to appear in Palestine regardless of how the Pax Americana plays into his theological explanation or rationale concerning any eschatological role for the Jews. For this outcome is to entrust the fate of the world to alien forces that could become an existential or a material threat. For a Pax Russica appears premature to wish for, given how recent the re-ascendancy of Orthodoxy is in Russia and given its new laws decriminalising the physical correction of wives by husbands.

      To put the matter on Anglospheric self-understanding into perspective, consider that Calvin’s Geneva was a type of Zion, as was the Puritans’ New England, South Africa under the Afrikaaners, Utah under the Mormons, and quite possibly, Australia and New Zealand as well. Moreover, what is also not so clear to many is that the same was also true of the England of the Venerable Bede who wrote “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” in AD 731. For his pagan Anglian people crossed the Red Sea (English Channel) to found the Promised Land (Britain) but not before pushing back the Canaanites (the already Christianised Brittons). Could it not be that the Zionistic sentiment among inheritors of the English cultural patrimony merely becomes fully manifest, and most truly sincere, in the strong pull felt among American Evangelicals toward Messianic Judaism. As their own Christian culture devolves around their ears, the quest for an ancient root of identity (at least for some of them) is in their institution of the Christian Passover seder. Indeed, the blowing of the ram’s horn even takes its place — psychologically — alongside the sound of the bagpipe as a call to arms in defence of the actual and spiritual homeland.

      Could we not recognise that, in the Anglo-American worldview of the twentieth century, those very geopolitical agents who have posed the greatest existential threat to the Pax Americana, the Communist Russians and the Islamic Arabs, were also the agents who have most thoroughly resisted Christ and his Church, whether this Church is understood to be Orthodoxy or Catholicism or Messianic Judaism or some Protestant notion of the Universal Church as the aggregate of the faithful in its many denominations. Curiously, Gog-And-Magog in the North and the Islamic world as the Kings of the South did fit nicely into the Anglospheric Christian Zionist rationale, their explanation of sensibilities and concrete loyalties.

      While Anglospheric Orthodox are rightly concerned about their Arab Christian brothers and sisters, and while they might even prefer a Pax Russica or Pax Orthoarabica to appear in the homeland of Jesus, it seems to me that a stridently critical sentiment toward Anglospheric Christian Zionism specifically pertaining to the Jews and to the State of Israel is misguided.

      Forgive me, Fr Lawrence Farley, yet I must confess that this distinctly oriental/levantine and stridently critical sentiment of the Anglospheric Christian Zionism, when pinned concretely to and against the Jews and the State of Israel, was one of the most stubbornly lingering obstacle to my chrismation. For it has the feeling of sour grapes over the loss of Byzantium and Jerusalem to the Christ-resisting forces of Islam only to lose it again to Western Christians and then to the Jews themselves; and this sentiment seems oddly rich in light of the unrepentant history of pogroms among modern people of Eastern Europe and virulent attitude toward the Jews among the Eastern church fathers (compare St Jerome to St John Chrysostom). Finally, explicit resistance to the Pax Americana associated with the State of Israel seems odd also in light of the other possibilities listed above that could arise in real time (Pax Turcica in place before WWI, Pax Saracenica demanded by Hamas, Pax Saeculohumanica of the EU) which would do much greater harm to the cause of Christ in the world. Taken together, this resistance smacks of the Constantinopolitan sentiment (and Alexandrian before that), “Better the turban of the Turk than the tiara of the Pope”; which sentiment contributed to the loss of Palestine to hostile forces in the first place.

      1. Thank you for your lengthy comment. Just a quick request for any future comments. Please do give your actual name, and try using less syllables.

        1. So Father…could you please translate? (of course, if you care to). I think he thinks we’re anti-semitic. Other than that I have no clue.

          1. I’m not sure I have a clue either. Hence my request for fewer syllables and more clarity.

          2. Perhaps this way of putting things is clearer to more people:

            There is a distinct difference between a) what someone believes and feels in the deepest part of his or her being (intuitive sensibilities, b) who such a person wishes were in control of things and what practices a person believes should be considered preferable (political and cultural conclusions desired), and c) the explanation a person gives for the way things have been until now, are in fact, and will be one day (articulated theology or philosophy). When tensions or disagreements arise, they can occur any or all of these levels.

            Concerning the question at hand, namely Anglo-American Christian Zionism inherited from British Christian Zionism as we shifted from the Age of British Dominion to the Age of American Dominion, one does well to recognise that what Hal Lindsay’s deepest sympathies, political conclusions and theological rationale are. His deepest belief and feeling is that Christ should be honoured in all things. Therefore, he felt great antipathy in the 1970s toward actors that explicitly rejected and resisted Christ, in particular, the Islamic world and Communist Russia. Therefore, he concluded that these two agents are also true political enemies of Christians as individuals and Christianised cultures, such as the English-Speaking World. His deepest beliefs and feelings were that Jesus Christ should be honoured, that God works in history, and that he himself as a Christian is one of God’s people, and that his English-speaking people have done — on balance — greater good for the world and for God’s purposes in the world.

            Now it is possible that, even with different theologies on important matters, English-Speaking Orthodox in the English-Speaking World and English-Speaking Evangelicals in the English-Speaking World might share similar beliefs and feelings at a deep level: that God works in the world, that Jesus Christ should be honoured, that believing and practicing Christians are God’s people. For it is common knowledge that the atheistic Communism of the Soviets and ardent Islam are equally the enemies of all Christians, Orthodox and Evangelical alike, by the declaration of the Soviets and the Muslims. For both Communism and Islam took over lands that were formerly Christian, including the Holy Land in the case of Islam. The very fact that the holiest lands of one’s faith are in hostile hands makes the matter a historical-theological question by definition (for all sides including the enemies of Christ). It should also be noted that Russian Orthodox and Greek Byzantines are just as Zionistic as English-Speaking Evangelicals. For Zion in the Age of Greek Christian Dominion was Constantinople, and Jerusalem (the original Zion) was always an especially sacred place when the Orthodox had Zionistic control of it. Did the Byzantines not build both Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? The building of any great shrine is the function of a king or emperor even if holy buildings of worship are associated with the priesthood; and any notion of Christian kingship or of a Christian emperor is inherently Christian Zionism. For Zionism is the notion that there is such an office as Christian Emperor, Christian King like King David and King Jesus in the line of King David. It follows, then, that any fully Judeo-Christian worldview is Zionistic on one level or another. Otherwise, Christians would have to repudiate the idea of Christ the King and/or the idea that God appoints human vicar to fulfil aspects of the role of Christ, such a priest. With this in mind, the term ‘Zionist’ should hardly be one of disparagement among Christians. Rather it is an entirely negative term only in Islam (because Muslims demand control of Jerusalem and Palestine) or in Secular Humanism or Atheism (on the belief that the Secular [agnostic/atheistic] West serves as a body within the world like the Federation does in Star Trek, with humans-and-enlightened-members-of-other-species sorting out the hassles between in-group-focused nations of the Klingons, the Ferengi, the Vulcans etc.).

            This article by Fr Lawrence Farley does appear to focus on the second of the factors listed at the head of this essay, rationale. For he picks apart the biblical basis for the narrative told by Dr Lindsay by posing a counter narrative that eliminates the role of the State of Israel as the Jews take their place as but one nation among many nations in the Church, which is the New Israel. Sadly, the tendency of people is to presume that those who disagree on theological explanation (in this case, English Speaking Evangelicals with their view that Israel still holds a special place in the plan of God) hold nefarious beliefs and feelings at the deepest level because their political conclusions differ. For it is true that the threesome of one’s deepest feelings/beliefs, one’s concrete conclusions about which parties should have power and what practices they should embrace, and one’s theological explanation may indeed be so intertwined as to be fully worthy of rejection; but, it does seem to me that there are worthy sentiments, and reasonable political preferences that English-Speaking Evangelicals and English-Speaking Orthodox might share, even though they must differ on theological explanation.

            In any narrative, the hearer intuitively identifies with one or the other agent even to the point that he or she can only hear the story in one way. Why, for example, should we identify with Bambi rather than the hunter, or with Bambi rather than Feline? After all, the hunter’s small child needs feeding too, and the playful female’s perspective is as real as that of the bashful male. The question is whether or not the view of the film feels victimised by other actors in society, or by nature and hunger as he lives tries to eke out a living in the forest; or whether or not, the viewer is a male or a female, playful or bashful.

            Now it is true that English-Speaking Evangelicals who convert to Orthodoxy in English-Speaking countries do indeed face a conflict within themselves on the matter of the State of Israel. For the English-Speaking world has always had a self-understanding that is Zionistic, even without reference to actual Jews or to the State of Israel founded in 1948; and on the matter of political preference, a faithful Christian of particularly English stock could hardly wish for an Age of Russian Dominion, an Age of Arab Muslim Dominion, an Age of Turkish Dominion, or even and Age of Atheist Dominion to appear in Palestine regardless of how the current Age of American Dominion plays into his theological explanation or rationale concerning any end-times role for the Jews. For this outcome is to entrust the fate of the world to alien forces that could become an existential or a material threat to the English Speaking world. For an Age of Russian Dominion appears premature to wish for, given how recent the re-ascendancy of Orthodoxy is in Russia and given its new laws decriminalising the physical correction of wives by husbands.

            To put the Zionistic self-understanding of the English-Speaking world into perspective, consider that Calvin’s Geneva was a type of Zion, as was the Puritans’ New England, South Africa under the Afrikaaners, Utah under the Mormons, and quite possibly, Australia and New Zealand as well. Moreover, what is also not so clear to many is that the same was also true of the England of the Venerable Bede who wrote “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” in AD 731. For his pagan Anglian people crossed the Red Sea (English Channel) from what is now Denmark to found the Promised Land (Britain) but not before pushing back the Canaanites (the already Christianised Brittons).

            Could it not be that the Zionistic sentiment (that the King of Israel should rule) among inheritors of the English cultural patrimony merely becomes fully manifest in modern times, and most truly sincere as well, in the strong pull felt among American Evangelicals toward Messianic Judaism? As their own Christian culture devolves around their ears, the quest for an ancient root of identity (at least for some of them) is in their own (re-)institution of the Christian Passover seder. Indeed, the blowing of the ram’s horn even takes its place — psychologically — alongside the sound of the bagpipe as a call to arms in defence of the actual and spiritual homeland.

            Could we not recognise that, in the Anglo-American worldview of the twentieth century, those very geopolitical agents who have posed the greatest existential threat to the Age of American (Christian) Dominion, the Communist Russians and the Islamic Arabs, were also the agents who have most thoroughly resisted Christ and his Church, whether this Church is understood to be Orthodoxy or Catholicism or Messianic Judaism or some Protestant notion of the Universal Church as the aggregate of the faithful in its many denominations. Curiously, Gog-And-Magog in the North and the Islamic world as the Kings of the South did fit nicely into worldview of the English-Speaking Evangelical on every level: deepest feeling/sympathy, concluding political-cultural loyalties, and theological explanation.

            While the English-Speaking Orthodox are rightly concerned about their Arab Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, and while they might even prefer an Age of Russian Dominion or Age of Orthodox Arab Dominion to appear in the homeland of Jesus, it seems to me that a stridently critical sentiment of English-Speaking Evangelical Christian Zionism specifically pertaining to the Jews and to the State of Israel is misguided.

            Forgive me, Fr Lawrence Farley, yet I must confess that this stridently critical sentiment common among Eastern Mediterranean peoples of English-Speaking Evangelical Christian Zionism (which they share with Islamists and Atheists), especially when outright hostile to the Jews and the State of Israel, was one of the most stubbornly lingering obstacle to my chrismation. For it has the feeling of being sore losers concerning the matter of world power. For not only did the Greek Byzantines lose control over the Eastern Mediterranean and Jerusalem to the Christ-resisting forces of Islam, but they also lost it again to Western Christians, and then to the Jews themselves. This sentiment seems oddly over-the-top in light of the unrepentant history of pogroms among modern people of Eastern Europe and virulent attitude toward the Jews among the Eastern church fathers (compare St Jerome who studied Hebrew in Bethlehem to St John Chrysostom who preached stridently against the Jews). Finally, explicit resistance to the Age of American Dominion associated with the State of Israel seems odd also in light of the other possibilities listed above that could arise in real time (Age of Turkish Dominion in place before WWI, Age of Muslim Arab Dominion demanded by Hamas, Age of Atheistic Dominion of the EU) which would do much greater harm to the cause of Christ in the world. Taken together, this resistance smacks of the Constantinopolitan sentiment (and Alexandrian before that), “Better the turban of the Turk than the tiara of the Pope”; which sentiment contributed to the loss of Palestine to forces hostile to Christ in the first place.

            The bottom line: English-Speaking Evangelicals are friends and allies of English-Speaking Orthodox despite differences of viewpoint on the theological significance of the State of Israel. They share the same English-Speaking Judeo-Christian heritage [rather than the Atheo-Islamic ideal of Leftists] and love of Christ. Presumably both should be happier that Israel exists than that the Islamists and Secularists should be gratified with just a little less of the world under the influence of Judeo-Christian influence, whether that influences is more Judeo- or Christian.

            Consider this: anti-Christian forces in the West (that is, anti-Orthodox and anti-Evangelical forces) would rather submit to and accommodate Islam in their own midst than make peace with the Christian and Jewish moral and cultural heritage of the West! Let us remember who are friends are, and who wishes our faith harm (physically or politically or psychologically), even as we clarify the particulars of theological explanation of things.

          3. I am allowing your comment as an act of editorial kindness, even though it is considerably longer than the piece upon which it comments and although you have ignored my request to in future give your actual name. The bottom line: please in future give your actual name and strive to be concise if you expect your comment to be published.

      2. minimus,

        You should find a way to say what you have to say in language that is more readily understood. Your point about the trifecta of intuition, cultural (really just neighborly ) loyalty, and concrete rational or position on Zionism deserves wider understanding. Your point about the Church, the Great Commission, and its historical Zionistic character and manifestations among the Saints (both canonized and St. Paul’s “saints”) also deserved more attention.

        Concerning your last paragraph, I hear ya. I was in an Antiochian parish during the build up to the second gulf war. Met. Kallistos (then bishop), Jim Forest, and the like had penned a Wendell Berry-esque open letter to the president, lamenting original sin and the murder of this world but also espousing a theological pacifism which was published in Touchstone magazine. I have a big mouth and I know how to use it, so I penned a letter to the editor retort. Touchstone actually published it. Not only did I feel a bit of wary tension from some (not all) in the parish after that, one of them even sent my wife and I anonymous mail (coward) confessing our sin of “hate” and asking us to leave the parish!

        In hindsight, that gulf war was a mistake, but not for any of the reasons the Orthodox pacifists proffered.

        Sometimes, thankfully not most of the time, the haphazard mashup that is Orthodoxy in America (and all of western civ really) hardly seems worth it, or even capable of lasting more than a few generations past its immigrant roots…

        Christopher Encapera

  4. I greatly respect you for speaking up about this issue, Fr. Lawrence. It is time people start speaking up about these issues in an honest manner, and not running away from them because of memories of the sorrows of yesteryear.

  5. Seriously, Fr. Lawrence? You are denying Israel’s right to exist? You are denying the Jews’ right to live in their homeland? You are blaming Jews for the war? You are denying that Hamas is a terrorist organization?

    1. If you read the piece carefully you will see that I nowhere denied the right of the State of Israel to exist or blamed the Jews for the second world war. I did say that its existence is a source of conflict in the Middle East and that Capt. T. Lawrence was proven right in his predictions about its existence being sustained by constant use of arms. And I did not mention Hamas at all. I think you are reading rather a lot into a piece which was primarily not about Zionism, but about the theological errors of Christian Zionism.

      1. Firstly, you called the modern state of Israel “an isoluble problem” “created as a sop.” This does not sound to me like a recognition of Israel’s right to exist. And you know something? The state Israel is not a source of tragedy by the reckoning of those who live there, or by reckoning of its friends. It was also created by Jews first and foremost, rather than “Western consciences.”
        Secondly, I’m clearly not talking about WW II, but about the war you mention: the Arabs’ war against Israel – a war started and supported by Arabs.
        Thirdly, you claim that Palestinian Arabs “are cast in the role of villains and terrorists,” so I mention Hamas to remind you that many of them actually ARE terrorists, and most of them support terrorists. And as for your mention of fellow Christians among the Palestinian Arabs – this is just disingenuous. Surely you are aware that Christian Arabs are not involved in terrorism; only Muslims are.
        Your piece is not primarily about Zionism, but it is clearly biased against Israelis.

        1. By “an insoluble problem” I meant that the conflict there is proving intractable with no solution in sight. It was created as a sop by the western powers, not by Jews, since the land was not yet in Jewish hands but in western hands under the British Mandate. I well believe that the State of Israel is not considered a source of tragedy by the Israelis, but it is by the displaced Palestinians and even by such westerners as Jimmy Carter. My point about the Palestinians is that Christian Zionists tend to demonize all Palestinians as villainous terrorists when not all of them are terrorists–such as the Christian Palestinians. Most Christian Zionists seem not to be aware that many Palestinians are not Muslims but Christians. I quite agree that Hamas should be considered as terrorist, but the piece was not an analysis of the make-up of Palestinian population in Israel but about the facile perceptions of Christian Zionists. Regarding the State of Israel, I recommend The Two State Delusion by Padraig O’Malley which reveals how both Israelis and Palestinians are victimized in the current situation.

          1. Don’t you know history, Fr. Lawrence? The World Zionist Organization dates from 1897, and the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917. The re-creation of the Jewish state became inevitable long before WW II, and the Jews most certainly had much to do with it.
            As for the “displaced” Arabs – how can they possibly be “displaced” three generations after the event? And I don’t need any books to see how the Arabs are victimized in the current situation: they are victimized by their own hatred.

          2. The history I do know says that the land that became the State of Israel was under British control. If it was not, the Balfour Declaration would have been meaningless.

          3. If the World Zionist Organization was founded in 1897, then it was founded about 60 years after John Nelson Darby began popularizing premillennial dispensationalism. You could almost say that there were Christian Zionists before there were Jewish Zionists.

            (I quote from ‘Christian Zionism and the Balfour Declaration’, an article that appeared in The Jerusalem Post on October 21, 2017: “The Christian Zionist movement is today overshadowed by the Jewish efforts – rooted in the Bible but expressed in a modern movement – to build a Jewish state in Israel. In fact, as early as the 17th century, predating modern Zionism by more than a hundred years, Christians advocated and imagined a Jewish return to the Land of Israel. In his groundbreaking study of Christian Zionism, Prof. Shalom Goldman . . . writes that, ‘Until the late nineteenth century, most plans for a Jewish entity in Palestine were Christian. . . .’ “)

            I grew up in a subculture that looked at the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 as a miraculous fulfillment of prophecy (and yes, like the people to whom Fr Lawrence refers, I expected the Rapture to happen by 1988 — which meant, in my case, that I didn’t expect to live beyond my teens). It was only in my early 20s, after the 1980s had come and gone, that I learned that Christian dispensationalists had played an active role in creating the state of Israel, precisely because they wanted to fulfill their version of biblical prophecy. Suddenly the creation of the state of Israel seemed… less miraculous.

  6. “Many of those Palestinians are fellow-Christians.”

    Orthodox Christianity in the West Bank has declined severely due to demographic factors, something that probably would have happened even if Israel had never been founded . However, Orthodox Christianity within Israel has risen due to the arrival of a large amount of Russians who do not actually follow Judaism, but who were able to emigrate in search of better economic prospects . Spend time in Israel in communities popular with Russians, and you’ll notice plenty of icons in people’s homes, celebration of Orthodox holidays, etc. Their faith is merely somewhat dormant since there are not enough parishes trying to serve them. The Orthodox Church could do wonders for Christianity in the region if it gently tried to reactive these immigrants’ observance, but you aren’t going to do that by saying anything bad about Israel, since these immigrants do identify it as their country (and are often rather hawkish).

  7. Father,

    My problem with this article is the following sentence: “The Jews who rejected Christ were not true Israel any more than the worshippers of Baal were.” This seems rather harsh. Today’s Orthodox Jews who are devout are not worshiping idols. They pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they have the Old Testament. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that such a tiny group of people have been disproportionately persecuted, yet they have continued to survive for thousands of years. There seems to be something there, that God isn’t done with them, and that they’re “not just another religion,” to use the Vatican’s words.

    I come from a Messianic background and have been looking into Orthodoxy for some time. I’m starting to believe that the Orthodox Church may in fact be the new Temple with the new sacrifice – a true fulfillment of the OT. But I still struggle with this issue, as it seems that to be Orthodox you have to believe that the Jewish non-believing branches were completely broken off.

    1. Concerning the Jews who rejected Christ, the Lord said that “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44); John referred to their gatherings as a “synagogue of Satan” and said that “they say they are Jews and are not but lie (Rev. 3:9). When I was in Jerusalem recently they spit at the cross I was wearing. At the very least they are not true Israel. I may add that I am here speaking of the Jewish opposition to Christ in the first century, and not of all Jews generally.

    2. In Romans, Paul says that his Jewish brethren were broken off so that Gentiles could be grafted in, but he also says that those unbelieving Jews can be grafted back in through faith. By nature, they belong in the cultivated olive tree. As Gentiles, we are “unnatural” additions, but this was always God’s plan. There are Gentiles grafted into the lineage of Christ. Many who called themselves “Israel” didn’t see the bigger picture and they generally seemed to be from “political” Judaism. A lot of the priesthood actually got it. You never saw Jesus being challenged by priests. It was pretty much always the “Party men” who gave Jesus trouble. How and when Jews will be grafted back in is a mystery. The existence of a physical state of Israel may or may not be relevant to that. If the Orthodox temple is a fulfillment of the earthly temple and if the Church is the heavenly Jerusalem, then “Israel” exists wherever Jews find it and come to faith. God got out of the real estate business around 30 AD. Israel could fill the whole world if the Church could reach it. Some nuts have been a bit tough to crack, though.

      As to Orthodox Jewish worship, they do worship an idol in a sense. It may not be a statue, but it is a false mental construction of God. It is kind of like acknowledging your father as Father, but denying that he is married to your mother even with the evidence of a marriage license and family pictures to prove it. That’s dysfunctional.

  8. I remember when Palestine was under British Mandate .
    After the First World War British and French took over Middle Eastern Territories of the Turkish Empire. Turkey had been in the war alongside Germany and Hungary,

    Palestine was relatively quiet until after the Second World War . Then there was the horror of the Stern Gang attacks by Jewish terrorists on British targets and the King David Hotel was blown up. I was a young school girl in London but I could read the newspapers . Here were the Jews who everyone sympathised with behaving like the I R A. ( Irish Republican Army) I have been in two minds about Israel since. The few Israelis I have met have been pleasant and normal, though. As to rebuilding the temple . The area was in the Christian Byzantine Empire and churches were built on specifically Christian sites . They were superceding the Jewish Temple and other sites. The Kingdom of Jerusalem
    continued after the Muslim Invasion of the Empire, as an enclave . Pilgrims could visit the Holy Places, being guarded by knights on their way across Muslim lands. Muslims also found the site of the temple and went on pilgrimages there.
    Then they built a large Mosque as it is associated with Mohammed’s final quitting the earth. Jerusalem is a holy city for pilgrims of three faiths. It is not surprising that there should be conflict as that is human nature and Israelis are very human.

  9. ” I don’t mind the description of this article as “polemic” if by that one means that I am trying to offer truth as an antidote for error.” (@ June 6, 2018 at 4:21 pm)

    Father,
    Pavel is clearly rejecting your offer. And in a condescending, rude manner.

    Pavel…could you express yourself without insulting Father’s intelligence?
    You accuse Father of a bias against Israel. In actuality, he is speaking out against the error of Christian Zionism….a special “favoring” of the State of Israel while overlooking their violence towards innocent people…the people whom you have labeled hateful Muslims. Who is the one who is biased here?

    Father…how terrible to have the Cross you were wearing spit upon. Such hatred toward Our Lord is appalling. Very sad.

    1. I suspect the Orthodox Jews spitting at my cross (a father and his young son) were motivated by an unthinking antipathy against Christians, and that this was rooted in a tribal reaction to the pogroms of the past rather than in any personal animosity toward me. Such Orthodox Jewish animosity to Christian strangers is not uncommon in Jerusalem. To be fair, such behaviour was denounced by the Israeli press as being very unJewish.

      1. Yes, Father. I would suspect the same thing. I am glad the press denounced such behavior. Of course not all Jewish people behave like that.
        The point though is the violence and oppression goes both ways. There are no winners. Both share in the suffering. It is most definitely a “human problem”. God help us.

  10. It seems to me that Christian Zionism (and the Dispensationalism that underlies it) are largely due to poor ecclesiology. When I left the evangelical world for Orthodoxy (admittedly I am still only a catechumen), it became abundantly clear that I had been taught error in that it is up to individual Christians to interpret the Bible–it was not to individuals but to the Church that scripture entrusted to and written for. The elevation of personal interpretations with the conjunction of congregationalist ecclesiology has lead to great confusion, lack of uniformity, and error (such as Christian Zionism).

    Thank you for the article Ft. Lawrence.

    1. Don’t feel so bad. I just learned this morning while reading about the saints of the day that I had a heretical view of Melchizedek as being a pre-Incarnate appearance of Christ. Whoops… Where did I get that? Every Protestant denomination I’ve ever been in considered that to be a plausible interpretation of Abraham’s encounter with him. Granted, the language about him in Hebrews is odd. “Without father or mother,” and “without birth or death.” It’s certainly easy to interpret that to mean something more supernatural. I had no idea that this issue had been settled like…1600 years ago.

      1. Indeed. It is therefore odd to find it offered as a possibility in the Orthodox Study Bible, p. 1661: “He maybe [sic] a theophany–a preincarnate appearance of Christ”. It is quite clear that by “without father, without mother” the author means “without a listed father or mother”.

      2. Can you tell me which Orthodox saint or commentary talks about this? I’m confused now, because a priest on AFR said that he was the pre-incarnate Christ.

        1. I would suggest that common-sense in exegesis should not require a patristic citation to avoid the error, and I know of no reputable scholar who holds this. But nonetheless St. Epiphanius writes, “Some who are members of the Church make various assertions about this Melchizedek. Some suppose that he is the actual Son of God and that he appeared to Abraham then in the form of a man. But they too have left the path; no one will ever ‘resemble’ himself. As the sacred Scripture says, ‘resembling the Son of God, he continues a priest forever. This man who has not their genealogy received tithes from Abraham, for since his descent is not counted from the Israelites themselves, it is counted from other people”. It seems that a number of people did fall into this error of literalism. Epiphanius is concerned to correct them.

          1. So we understand the phrase “continues a priest forever” to mean that Melchizedek is a priest forever in the sense that Jesus fulfilled his priesthood and carries it on forever?

          2. Yes. The author of Hebrews means that because Melchizedek’s death is not recorded, he is a fit type of the immortal Son of God whom he thus resembles. Jesus continues as an immortal priest and Melchizedek foreshadowed this in that neither his birth nor death were recorded in the Genesis record.

          3. Fr Lawrence,

            Just to be clear, these “pre-incarnate” appearances would be a kind of…modalism, I suppose?

            It is the Holy Spirit who “spake by the prophets”

          4. I would suggest that they were appearances of the Father who manifested Himself through the Son. Given the tri-hypostatic unity, it was still the Holy Spirit who spake through the prophets.

  11. I am a new convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, and so I recognize I am in a period of seeing things in a different light than my Protestant roots. Still, I have one quarrel with saying essentially that, because a prophesy has been fulfilled once, it is done. There is the concept of multiple prophetic fulfillment horizons. Toward this end, Isaiah 7 is often cited. Clearly, the promise/prophesy given to Ahaz was non-responsive to his immediate concern of an enemy attack, if we say, as Matthew 1:23 clearly indicates, that it was related to the coming birth of the Messiah.

    But, did God really not respond to Ahaz? Some would say that He did by saying “she will call His name Emmanuel”, meaning “God is with us”. It is more likely this was intended for Ahaz’s consumption because Jesus was never known by the name “Emmanuel”, from what we can gather after its one time use in Matthew 1:23. This was a message to Ahaz that God would be with him. Next, if you say that this prophesy had only one fulfillment with the birth of Christ, then how does one explain verse 16?

    16 “For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.

    Clearly, the kings whom Ahaz dreaded were dead LONG before Jesus reached an age to know good and evil. It instead means that, since it takes a few short years for a child to grow to this point of knowing good and evil, so too would King Ahaz’s enemies be gone in a few short years. So, Ahaz was told two things in this prophesy – even though clearly he wouldn’t understand the full import: a) God is with you, and b) your enemies will be gone in a few short years.

    However, the full prophesy could only be understood centuries later. So, if one accepts the above as valid, then clearly prophesies may often have multiple fulfillment horizons.

    1. This kind of interpretation would make nonsense of any exegesis, for it is entirely subjective and ignores context as constitutive for determining meaning. It also subverts the Christian approach to prophecy, which sees all prophesied blessing as fulfilled when one is in Christ. The oft-heard refrain of Christian Zionists “God is blessing the Jews through bringing them back to the Land” assumes that prophesied divine blessing can be separated from faith in Christ, which is not so. That is why Christ did not speak in His Olivet Discourse of a future regathering of faithless Israel after they had been scattered. The Fathers are emphatic that rejection of Christ places one outside the realm of divine blessing.

      1. “This kind of interpretation would make nonsense of any exegesis, for it is entirely subjective and ignores context as constitutive for determining meaning.”

        On the contrary. I am exactly taking context into account the interpretation of Isaiah 7, unlike those who ignore that Isaiah was speaking to Ahaz and purport the prophecy finds its entire fulfillment many centuries later. They fail to ask themselves, “How did Isaiah’s response deliver anything meaningful to Ahaz?”

        Again, while you answer was non-responsive to my view on verse 16, it only makes sense if that particular line is for Ahaz. Otherwise, stating ” the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.” is meaningless. If it has to do with the birth of the Messiah, Isaiah might as well have said “before the boy is born” since the land of the two kings was forsaken centuries much prior. In fact, we know that within about 10 years (the approximate age by which a person knows good from evil) from the date of this prophecy, the kings that Ahaz was worried about were gone. If verse 16 finds fulfillment at the time of the Messiah, please enlighten me how so. But, if my interpretation is right, then multiple fulfillment horizons is a valid concept and worthy of consideration.

        And that is all I was trying to say. It was not whether you are correct/incorrect that the post Babylonian gathering fulfilled the prophecies you mention. I was merely stating that a prophecy fulfilled once does not mean there can’t be multiple fulfillment horizons. I state this as a general principle. You included verse Ezekiel 37:22 as support for your position, but verse 23 and beyond would seem to suggest there’s more to it, since they did indeed defile themselves; otherwise there would be no need for the destruction that occurred in 70AD.

        23 “They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

        Does that really describe to you the way Israel lived from the time of its post Babylonian gathering until the 1st CE? I would say Ezekiel 37 is indeed another example of multiple fulfillment horizons.

        I appreciate your openness to honest debate. Thanks for letting me express my views.

        1. Just a brief comment in response. One must distinguish between historical fulfillment of prophecy (the 8th century BC fulfillment of Isaiah 7) and further and deeper typological fulfillment (the Virgin Birth of Christ). Finding a deeper typological fulfillment is one thing, but positing numerous historical fulfillments is another. The typological fulfillment of Is. 7 in Christ avoids accusation of complete subjectivity, because Matthew refers to it; a multiple fulfillment of an historical regathering cannot avoid such an accusation.

          1. Thank you, Fr. Farley, for your kind response.

            In defense of my claim that a prophecy can have multiple fulfillment horizons, I would refer to Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios’ book Revelation (Vol 1, pages 3-4), where he provides an exegesis of Rev 12:4-6, giving the “woman” a dual role, and thus a dual meaning, and thus a dual fulfillment horizon:

            “The woman swept away in the torrent, about to be devoured, signifies the Theotokos, or the Church. The person of the woman here has two dimensions or two applications: the Theotokos, and the Church. One application is certainly the Church because the Church is the Body of Christ, the body Christ received from the Theotokos, the Panagia. Consequently, the Theotokos and the Church are the same thing, with two different aspects of characteristics. The Church is persecuted, but the child is snatched up to heaven. In other words, here we have the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ. The devil can no longer do anything to the child. Since the devil cannot go to heaven, he pursues the woman in the desert. He works against the Church, day in and day out, and we can see in this scene alone the cross section of the mystery of God’s holy economy. ”

            This is not actually a prophecy, as you know. The birth of Christ and the Church fleeing into the ἔρημον (“desolate place”) during the years of tribulation under Titus were both historical events, relative to John’s authoring Revelation. Since this symbolism represents two entities and two distinct events separated by decades of time, would you also call this interpretation as rendering it so as to make “nonsense of any exegesis, for it is entirely subjective and ignores context as constitutive for determining meaning.”?

            Given the status of Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios as “the New Chrysostom”, I feel this “multiple fulfillment horizon” postulate can hardly be considered something outside of Orthodox thought.

            Again, thanks for a stimulating debate.

          2. I suggest that your example proves my point, for the apocalyptic genre is very different than that found in the prophecies. In the apocalyptic genre symbols often have multiple meanings, but not in prophecy. For example, in Isaiah 8:5-8 we have a prophecy that the king of Assyria will invade Palestine. Context and history show that this was fulfilled in the Assyrian invasion of the 8th century BC. It would be erroneous to posit another fulfillment of this prophecy and say on the strength of it that modern Assyria–i.e. a coalition of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria–will invade Palestine. Historical context alone determines the meaning; any other exegesis is pure subjectivism. Christian Zionists only insist on this double fulfillment in the teeth of sound exegesis because they desire to shore up Zionist claims with supposed Biblical warrant.

  12. Fr. Lawrence, Bless!
    What are we to do with verses such as These?
    “Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭11:28-29‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

    Wouldn’t this apply to God’s promises to Abraham to bless his descendants and to the land he was promised? I know we are also heirs to the promise by faith, but it seems Paul believes God isn’t quite done with his own people “according to the flesh”.

    1. God bless you! Quite so; St. Paul teaches that “all Israel” will be saved before the end, so the Jews as a group still remain a special people. This does not mean that blessing comes to them apart from Christ–indeed, Paul’s line about “enemies” teaches the opposite. They are “beloved” in that God will still save them in the end.

      1. Fr. Lawrence,
        Thank you for your reply and your blessing! What do you think of the OT promises made by God to Israel? Would we say that these promises do not apply to “ethnic” Israel but to True Israel, the Church? Is that why you would say Israel existing as a Jewish nation once more is not fulfillment of prophecy? Sorry for the multitude of questions, this is a difficult issue to grasp. If this is so, what does that mean in relation to God’s perpetual promise of the land of Israel to Abraham? Is this “replacement theology”?

        1. Yes, it is clear from the NT that the OT promises to bless Israel find fulfillment in Christ–i.e. in the Church, not in ethnic Israel or any political nation. That is exactly why I say that the State of Israel cannot be the fulfilment of the OT promises to bless Israel, for that secular State is not a part of Christ. I’m not sure I would call it “replacement theology”–remnant theology might be a better term, or better yet, just Orthodoxy. Regarding the fulfillment of God’s promise of Abraham inheriting the Land, I would suggest that the Promised Land is now not Palestine, but the heaven/ the world to come. The Letter to the Hebrews deals with this typology in chapter 4. And in Romans 4:13 Paul speaks of God’s promise to Abraham as inheriting the world, not simply Palestine. We inherit the world in the age to come (Mt. 5:5).

      2. This seems reassuring but also a bit confusing. How can they be part of “all Israel” and yet not be true Israel? Is this the standard Orthodox interpretation of this verse? Would the Church Fathers have seen it this way? Do you mean that all devout Jews of the past 2,000 years will be saved, or a portion during the end times? Thanks.

        1. I would refer you to the entire argument of Romans 9-11. It begins with St. Paul distinguishing between merely ethnic Israel and true Israel: “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (9:6)–i.e. being a part of racial Israel does not make a Jew part of true blessable Israel, as Paul goes on the argue in the verses that follow. God’s blessing always only fell to the remnant of the faithful, even in the days of Elijah. In Romans 11:25f he makes the further point that at the end of the age, after the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, all Israel (i.e. all racial Israel) will be saved. But salvation still only comes through Christ, and a devout Jew in the past 2000 years who hated Christ will not be saved. The Pharisees were devout and a part of racial Israel, but Christ still called them children of the devil (John 8:44). If one likes proof-texts, St. Cyril of Alexandria said that “Although it was rejected, Israel will also be saved eventually, a hope which Paul confirms”.

  13. I commend you, Fr. Lawrence, for speaking up about Zionism, in its Jewish and in its American forms. As some comments above demonstrate, this subject is like a third rail.

    I myself came to embrace the typical views about Israel from Christian Zionists, ignorant of the false theology bring it. That is, until I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and witnessed firsthand the plight of Palestinian Christians under the Zionist rule. From what I saw and heard, i concluded that the state of Israel is but a secular tyranny that hijacked religious history and its name for evil.

  14. “Today, there is just one country in the Middle East where Christians live in peace and security. In Israel, they have freedom of speech and religion, they can exercise their faith freely, and they have democratic rights.”
    – Fr. Gabriel Naddaf, a Palestinian Israeli and a Greek Orthodox Priest in Nazareth

    I recently travelled to Israel and witnessed many Palestinian Israelis living peacefully alongside Jewish Israelis. In the parks of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Palestinian families were having picnics right next to their Jewish neighbors. In Galilee, we passed through majority Arab cities, like Cana and Nazareth. I am not denying the violent and tragic history of the conflict between Palestinians and Israel, but I do find the statement unfair that Israel is maintained “by a perpetual war against the Palestinians”. A perpetual vigilance against terrorism and invasion certainly seems more accurate based on the nation’s history and the observable present-day situation.

    Also, to refer to the establishment of Israel as a “sop” from western powers is to dismiss the accomplishments of generations of hardworking men and women. The cities, industry, and booming agriculture of these settlers were well in place before 1948 or there wouldn’t have been anything to make a state of. It was Israelis, not guilt-ridden westerners, who defended their families in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Six Day war, the Yom Kippur war, etc., in all of which Israel was the defender against invasion.

    I realize the point of the article was to point out theological errors in a branch of US Christianity and not necessarily to cast judgement on the modern State of Israel. And yet, oddly, one of the arguments against Christian Zionism appearing in the article (and more frequently in the comments) is that Israel is bad. I simply want to point out that Israel is not so bad, as far as states go, and it could be argued that they are closer to good than many.

    1. Thank you for your comments. A full-scale response would take us well beyond the content of the original post. But as one looks at the pre-1948 history one should not ignore the presence of anti-British Jewish terrorism such as the Stern Gang as well. Their violence seems to me perpetuated in the recent Israeli attacks upon Gaza, violence which has been condemned by the UN. This does not mean “Israel is bad” but that the circumstances of the creation of the State in 1948 made the ongoing violence inevitable.

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