Holy Week Anti-Semitism?

In a thoughtful article published recently on Public Orthodoxy entitled, “It’s That Time of Year Again: in Tone Four, ‘The Murderers of God, the Lawless Nation of the Jews…’” Bogdan Bucur offered some reflections about the advisability of altering certain stichs from the Matins services sung on Holy Thursday and Holy Friday. He pointed out that some language could be found offensive to our Jewish neighbours and savoured of anti-Semitism. He did not advocate simply omitting the verses, and he cautioned about the dangers of re-writing or eliminating offending verses as itself problematic. He suggested though that perhaps a verse like “Today the Jews nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea” might become “Today is nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea”, since this rewrite would both preserve the Christological content and also avoid mention of the Jews. What follows should not be considered so much an answer or attempted refutation of Bucur’s article as a few thoughts inspired by this important discussion.

First of all it is important to recognize the nature of the authority of such hymnographic compositions. They are not inspired in the same way that Holy Scripture is inspired—and therefore they are not as inviolable as Holy Scripture, but are (in principle at least) capable of pious revision. In this way the words of the hymn-writers are comparable to the words of the Fathers: not every single hymn can be regarded as infallible, just as not every single patristic opinion can be accepted as infallible. It is the phronema, the mindset of the Fathers which should guide us, as well as the consensus patrum. The Fathers themselves confessed that Scripture was the superior authority, and so they endeavoured with all their might to conform to it. Not every single Father bats a thousand of course, and we are not bound by the minute details of every single hymn.

Take for example the wonderful hymns of Bridegroom Matins.   The hymns of Bridegroom Matins for Great and Holy Wednesday assume that the harlot who came to anoint Jesus’ feet (mentioned in Luke 7:36-50) was the same woman who anointed His feet in Bethany shortly before His Passion, (mentioned in Matthew 26:6-13 and identified in John 12:1-8 as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus). The identification makes for some poignant and beautiful poetry, contrasting the penitence of the harlot with the impenitence of Judas. But the identification of the two women cannot be sustained. Despite many details in common, no harmonization is really possible. In the account of the harlot’s anointing in Luke 7, the Pharisee wonders why Jesus would allow such a woman to touch Him, which would make no sense if she were one of the hosts offering Him hospitality. Also, Jesus tells the harlot to “go in peace”, which He would not say to Mary. Mary would not “go” from the house, for the very good reason that she lived there.

The point is that these stichs, lovely and precious as they are, do not guide our exegesis. We cannot say, “We must identify the two women, because the hymn-writer has identified them”. The authority of the stich does not reside in its exegesis, but in the devotional contrast between penitent fervour and impenitent coldness of heart. The hymns are not Scripture.

Secondly we should beware of the temptation to conform to all the current canons of political correctness. It is true that many if not most in the Jewish community find offensive the classic Christian assertion that “the Jews killed Christ”, and some have gone to the lengths of denying any Jewish responsibility at all and putting the entire responsibility for His death on the Romans. It is also true that the statement, “the Jews killed Christ” is so general as to be unhelpful. Not every single Jew in the world, or in Palestine, or even down south in Judea shared that responsibility. His disciples in Galilee did not, and presumably many Jews in the Diaspora hardly knew what was going on during Christ’s final days until it was all over. By “the Jews” one must therefore mean: the Sanhedrin as a group, the majority of Jerusalem’s Sadducees, and the majority of the Pharisees. The Jerusalem mob who cried for His death before Pilate saying, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25) share the responsibility. And arguably the Jews who continued to revile Jesus as a deceiving blasphemer and who drove out the apostles and hindered their work share some responsibility also. But that is a far cry from universalizing the responsibility so as to include all Jews, and even further from making the issue a racial one.

All that said, we cannot retreat from the teaching of the New Testament and say that there was no Jewish culpability at all for His death. Many Jews strenuously object to this, and to the Christian assertion that they should convert to Christianity, but the conversion of everyone, including Jews, remains a part of our mandate nonetheless. Of course no one likes to be told that they are wrong and that they should therefore change religions. But religions are not all the same, and so naturally a sincere practitioner of a religion will regard his as the right one and the others as wrong when they disagree. This is not triumphalism or fundamentalism, but simply consistency and honest common sense. I am not offended if a Muslim affirms that Jesus was not crucified or when tells me I should convert to Islam. I am not offended if a Jew tells me I am wrong to regard Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. Living in a liberal democracy involves trying to get along with each other even when we disagree about religion, and political correctness is evil if it insists that I cannot proclaim openly what I believe in case someone somewhere is offended. And let’s be clear—this is not a matter of me giving offense but of someone insisting on taking offense. The antidote to such political correctness is the simple exhortation, “Don’t be offended”. One has a choice about whether or not one takes offense at something with which one disagrees. To disagree is not necessarily to offend.

Part of the problem with omitting all references to Jewish responsibility in our hymns is that it erodes the historical element in favour of this political correctness. The hymns are meditations on the Scriptural narrative, and the narrative contains ample reference to Jewish culpability. The Jewish element in the stichs is also a part of its theological message, which highlights the ingratitude shown to Christ:  it was the very same people which He blessed by dividing the Red Sea and feeding in the wilderness which now repays Him by killing Him.  In this historical Jewish ingratitude we detect our own ingratitude also, for we too repay the Lord’s kindness by sinning against Him.  We ought not to sacrifice this important message simply because someone may take offense at it.  If some day an Italian Anti-defamation League decides to take offense at our assertion that the Romans were the ones under whom Christ was crucified, we must stand firm on this too. Historical facts are stubborn things. Our hymns should not be put through the filter of political correctness so as to eliminate historical facts now deemed offensive.

Finally we should be aware of what people hear when they hear the hymns. This is not a matter of kow-towing to political correctness but of simple communication. We need to ask the question, “Are we communicating what we mean to communicate?” If few people understand what we mean to say, we are not communicating very well and must try again.

No one today can be entirely sure of what the hymn-writers meant to communicate when they penned verses like, “O blood-guilty people, faithless Israel, the murderer Barabbas you set free, but delivered the Saviour to the cross” or “O blood-thirsty people, vengeful and envious, be convicted by the shroud and napkin, which bear witness to the rising of Christ”. But the fact that the very next stich says, “O evil disciple, murderer of God! Tell me what poison entered your heart to make you betray Christ” suggests that the author of the stichs was intending them to be read as meditations on the narrative contained in New Testament texts.

That is, the “blood-guilty people, faithless Israel”, the “blood-thirsty people, vengeful and envious” referred not to the Jews in general as a race, but was confined to the Jews actually responsible for His death. These statements were meant to be read historically, not as a blanket condemnation of all Jews everywhere. As such, they are no more anti-Semitic than the New Testament on which they were based. And (as Bucur points out) these New Testament texts were originally read as from “within first-century Judaism”, as “harsh intra-Jewish polemics”. That is, the New Testament cannot be anti-Semitic because it is Semitic. With the exception of Luke-Acts, it was entirely written by Jews. That is (regrettably) not to say that there was never any anti-Semitism present among Christians, or even to say that there was none in the heart of the hymn-writer. That latter knowledge is not given to any of us. But it is to say that (arguably) the hymn-writer’s intent was to pen historical meditations, not racial theory.

The problem however is that now these verses are—or at least can be—read as expressions of racial theory. After the Holocaust of the Second World War, these verses are inevitably received as part of an ongoing racial conversation about “the Jews”. Indeed, the very term “the Jews” now means not those Jews responsible for the death of Christ, but all Jews everywhere. This is, I submit, not what the hymns are actually saying—or anyway not what we now want to say. But if we sing these verses as they are we will be misunderstood by the world as saying what we do not intend to say. Worse yet, fringe anti-Semitic groups may take these verses as justification of their anti-Semitism. I suggest therefore that some of the verses be altered. For example, the stich which reads, “O blood-guilty people, faithless Israel, the murderer Barabbas you set free, but delivered the Saviour to the cross” could be altered to “O blood-guilty and faithless Sanhedrin, the murderer Barabbas you set free…” One need not approach such revision legalistically, taking care to alter every single hymn. Personally I would leave the hymn, “Today the Jews nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea” just as it is.  It is the hymnography in general that concerns us. By altering a few stichs to make clear that the Jewish responsibility for Christ’s death is not a generalized racial one, we make clear the intent of all the hymns. This is not a matter of political correctness, but of simply making ourselves clear.



  1. I am curious, Father, how the broad language of the prophets fits into this discussion. When I read Hosea, Jeremiah, and the others, they often condemn the community as a whole for various sins even though there were remnants of God’s faithful who abstained. Not saying these hymns are on the same level as Scripture, but could it be that they may be interpreted in the same manner?

    1. Bucur made the point that the prophets denounced Israel in the same way. I think the problem is that the prophetic denunciations are clearly intra-Jewish critiques, whereas the Church’s hymns are denunciations from without.

      1. What Bogdan Bucur is trying to popularize here is nothing new. The ecumenists within and without the Church have been pushing this nonsense for quite a while now.

        “Just recently, the Exarch of Patriarch Athenagoras in North and South America, Archbishop Iakovos, took part in a dialogue with Jews. He noted that as far as he knew, at no other time in history has such “a theological dialogue with Jews taken place under the sponsorship of the Greek Church.” Besides matters of a national character, “the group also agreed to examine liturgy, with Greek Orthodox scholars undertaking to review their liturgical texts in terms of improving references to Jews and Judaism where they are found to be negative and hostile” (Religious News Service, January 27, 1972, pp. 24-25). So it is that Patriarch Athenagoras and other ecumenists do not limit their plans for unia to Roman Catholics and Protestants; their plans are more ambitious.” – Metropolitan Philaret of the Russian Church Abroad, Second Sorrowful Epistle (1972)

  2. I would definitely remove “Today the Jews nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea” for the simple reason that it is factually inaccurate: crucifixion was a *Roman* form of execution, and the Jews had nothing to do with it (even if some of their leaders handed Jesus over to be executed). When the early Christians were killed by their fellow Jews *without* Roman help, the preferred method of execution was stoning (thus, Stephen in Acts 7, and James the Just in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1; see also the attempted killing of Paul in Acts 14). Though when Jewish *authorities* got involved, the preferred method of execution was sometimes beheading (thus, John the Baptist, who was executed by Herod Antipas in Mark 6 etc., and possibly James the son of Zebedee, who was “put to death with the sword” by Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12).

    I agree that the New Testament references to “the Jews” need to be read as statements made by Jewish writers. The problem is that these hymns were written many years *after* the New Testament, almost certainly by non-Jews, and thus they lack that sense of internal critique. And after centuries of pogroms and the like, I don’t think we can easily say that our fellow Orthodox were innocently unaware of the effect that this kind of rhetoric had on people; it shouldn’t have taken a Holocaust to make us repent of this sort of thing.

    1. It is true that it was the Romans who actually nailed Christ to the Cross, but it is also true that it at the behest of the Jews and therefore it is factually accurate to say that the Jews nailed Him to the Cross. That is why St. Paul could write, “the Jews killed the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess. 2:15). The hymn is poem describing the role of the Jews in the Passion of Christ as part of an extended meditation, not a journalistic piece narrating an event for a newspaper. According to the NT the Jews had everything to do with it.

    2. The Jewish establishment, the main leaders, at that time did indeed have everything to do with Jesus being killed. They worked to set him up, sought at every turn to take him out, and begged the authorities to do something. Pontius Pilate saw no issue, they had a choice between Christ and Barabbas and chose to release Barabbas. Pilate washed his hands of it. And the crowd that gathered shouting “Crucify Him!” said let his blood be upon us and our children. And there are some misguided Christians today who try to blame the Jews for having Jesus killed, who seem to forget that it was God’s plan to redeem mankind and creation in this manner, if not, we would not have salvation. Had it not happened, that avenue would be closed. The players involved at that time acted out predictably. God can see in a circular view outside of time, unlike us.

      Lord have mercy on us.

  3. Dear Father Lawrence,
    A very well thought out piece. Thank you.

    If I had to vote on whether to change the words to the hymn, I would vote “no”. My reasoning would be not as well formulated as yours, but rather more instinctual.
    Some thoughts:
    Where is the line drawn to satisfy those who take offense? Why stop at the Jews?

    We have already seen the results of certain women being offended by our tradition.

    We are here as witnesses to an ancient faith. The faith is presented to the world. Changing the words of ancient hymns because some people are offended, who do not know or understand the faith, whether it be words to a hymn, or anything seen or heard in our tradition, should not be a consideration. Better would be a welcome discussion in the form of defending the faith and an explanation, just as you have done here, of the nature of our worship.

    Is it the Jewish people that have risen up against this hymn or is it those who are mindful of being politically correct? If we have not heard a complaint from the Jewish people, then even more so I would vote no, because it would seem like a problem was being presented where none actually exists.

    Father, I have not read the article from Public Orthodoxy you provided, frankly, because I am not willing to consider making such changes. As I was reading your essay, point by point, paragraph after paragraph, I read it as one who would defend making no changes, assuming that was your bend. Yes, because of my presupposition I read it as such. That is why when I finally got way down to the last paragraph and read your recommendation to change the wording of the hymn, I was quite surprised. It didn’t seem like the logical conclusion of the whole essay up to that point.
    Nevertheless, from one who has much to learn about our faith, I truly respect your thoughts and am willing to at least consider alternate viewpoints.
    Thank you for your time and effort to keep us informed, Father.

  4. Whatever the thought behind the offending verses there is an age old Orthodox remedy in effect almost everywhere. Church choirs have deleted, chopped, ignored great swaths of services for centuries. Just because something is in one or another book is exactly no guarantee of its being sung or said. This certainly is the “practice” taught to or otherwise learned by clergy when the Anaphora disappears on Sundays in many parishes. It would surprise no one and create no comment if passages that are felt o be anti semitic quietly vanished by never being sung. Who notices the disappearance of the Psalms from our worship? What Psalms….? What proportion of the laity even have a book with the service in it or bother to follow the service? Generally a chanter stand with its 4-7 open books with 3-6 varying translations of a particular service are the only place in a church building with the actual service texts. Don’t worry. Ignorance is in abundance, no need to import more.

    1. Wow Bob, that is not the case in our parish. The whole service at our Antiochian parish is infused with Psalms, and we have the liturgy printed, including the silent prayers of the Priest. The special hymns are printed in the bulletin so people can follow. This is intentional for outreach and for continued training even for “cradle” Orthodox. Many carry their own service book (available at the Ancient Faith store). The parish consists of ethic Greek, Middle Eastern and Russian families as well as all others. We are pan-ethnic and pan-orthodox. We have people coming into the Orthodox Church all the time who have been looking for her all their lives, and new believers. This coming Holy Saturday we have 9 people being baptized and christmated into the Ancient Faith. Most already followers of Christ, a few new believers. Of those 5 are college-age students.

  5. I am a Jewish convert to Christianity (Anglo-Catholic), and I must say that while I understand and largely agree with Fr. Farley that we mustn’t alter Scriptural truths to suit current fads, I remain deeply disappointed with this article, because it glosses over the scandalous history of Christian anti-Semitism, and tries to put all the blame on the Holocaust, and the current craze for political correctness. The most important reason that Jews are offended by being blamed for the death of Jesus, is that for centuries, this accusation has been used as an excuse for violence against Jews in both the East and West. A good portion of this violence was promoted by the Church itself. When our Lord was on the Cross, He said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Surely that forgiveness was extended to the Jewish people and perhaps even to the Sanhedrin, but Christ’s mercy to His own people is not usually a subject of Christian interest. The best reason for reasonable alteration to be made to the liturgy (and I agree that Bucar sometimes goes too far) is because the Church itself should acknowledge its own role in spreading anti-Semitism, try to understand the depth of the offense that it has committed, and be careful not to continue the offense or create new injuries.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and charitable comments. I quite agree that an anti-Semitic streak can be found within all Christian churches and that this is sinful and needs to be addressed. The blog piece questioned whether radical revision/ excision of the Holy Thursday/ Holy Friday liturgical poetry was the way to address this. Since the poetry consists of extended meditations on the NT material, it could not deny Jewish historical culpability without being untrue to the NT material which formed its source. I agree that it is important to stress that the historical Jewish culpability detailed in the NT in no way justifies anti-Semitism, but radical revision of a meditation on Scripture seems unwarranted. And where to draw the line? Should the NT texts on which the poetry is based also be subject to censorship? This issue forms part of a larger discussion of to what degree should a religious tradition self-censor because another religious tradition might find elements in it objectionable.

      1. Father, I too am a convert (to the Orthodox Church) from a Jewish background, and share Barbara’s feeling that the focus on offending contemporary Jews is missing the point. Of course, the church shouldn’t revise its prayer for fear of offending others (particularly people not likely to be there) but they should revise the hymns in accord with the hymns’ own purpose, which is teaching the faithful. A post-Enlightenment person cannot hear terms like “the Jews” outside the lens of race, and to hear, over and over again, negative terms about “the Jews” is going to teach them to hate this group of people. That this has happened is inarguable. If we don’t want to teach Orthodox Christians to hate Jews, the prayers shouldn’t be teaching them to do that. Further, if the Church hopes to win Jews to Christ, it is asking a lot to expect Jewish people to come in and learn about the faith while being assaulted with such language.

        Thanks for bringing this up in a forum where we can discuss it.

        1. Thank you for your comments. I would ask (not rhetorically, but really): What would you advise liturgically? Should we excise all reference to Jews/Jewish culpability from the hymns–perhaps as Bucur suggested? And would that apply to all the Church’s hymns (e.g. Tone 1 tropar of the Resurrection, “When the stone had been sealed by the Jews”), or just to the hymns of Holy Week?

          1. I have seen it suggested that the word Judeans would work, as it adds specificity while having less of the blanket association that would apply to all the Jewish people everywhere. But mainly, what bothers me are the phrases like “blood-guilty,” “blood-thirsty” and “murderous.” I don’t think they are really correct, anyway. It makes the people who put Jesus to death sound like monsters, rather than human beings, driven by fear and shame and all kinds of the things that make all of us do terrible things. Attributing pure evil to them rather than human motives distances their actions from ours, and isn’t the point they everyone should recognize that they too would crucify Christ?

          2. There is a lot of debate about how to translate “ioudaios“. It can refer to a Judean (as opposed to a Galilean), but sometimes it means one who practices Judaism, regardless of geography. When Christ said, “Salvation is of “ton ioudaion” in Jn. 4:22 He meant of the Jews generally (as opposed to Samaritans), not simply Judean Jews. This is St. Paul’s usage also: he speaks of himself (not from Judea) as one who is “phusei ioudaioi” a Jew by nature or by birth (Gal. 2:15). The word ioudaios therefore should not simply be translated as “Judean”, but “Jew”–i.e. one who practices Judaism.

          3. I should have read down to Isidora’s further comments:

            ” It makes the people who put Jesus to death sound like monsters, rather than human beings, driven by fear and shame and all kinds of the things that make all of us do terrible things. Attributing pure evil to them rather than human motives distances their actions from ours, and isn’t the point they everyone should recognize that they too would crucify Christ?”

            On the one hand there is not a “hierarchy” of evil that I know of. Evil is evil and it is always “pure”. Yes, what the Jews of Jesus’ time and place did was “pure” evil, and Christianity does not reduce, excuse, or otherwise mitigate that evil in any way. This is why shame and fear are at the very core of who we are as fallen human beings – and God’s response to that (as the Devil fully informed us *before* we ate the apple) is to reveal to us the depth of our shame, fear, and ontological nothingness or “non-being” in death itself. The Christian story in no way hides any of this.

            On the other hand, the Christian story contains within the “solution” to pure evil, shame, fear, and death. Christ – God Himself – tramples down death by death! He radically (and not in some Enlightenment/post-Enlightenment metaphysical excusing of our “nature”) forgives us, for everything including “pure” evil. He does this by *suffering* us in every way and everything we are – by *being* us – (save sin).

            What the Enlightenment offers us instead is a humanity that is “just human”, and thus not really responsible for sin, evil, and death because it is created as it were out of these very things. Christianity offers us a humanity that is quite literally not of this world – “the things of Heaven belong to Heaven” St Gregory of Palamas said with his dying breath. We should not (indeed we can not) hide behind an Enlightenment reduction/reimaging of evil, sin, and death…

        2. Isadora says:

          “A post-Enlightenment person cannot hear terms like “the Jews” outside the lens of race, and to hear, over and over again, negative terms about “the Jews” is going to teach them to hate this group of people. That this has happened is inarguable.”

          At the risk of offending Isadora, I will argue this 🙂 Actually, what she asserts is very very serious, because if she is correct then Christ died in vain. Follow me here: One of the central assertions about reality and man (anthropos) Holy Scripture makes is that we are in this world but not “of it” (e.g. John 17:16, but really the whole Scripture itself). Isadora inverts this relationship, informing us that anthropos are indeed of the world – prisoners as it were of our particular time and place (in this case, our “post-Enlightenment” reality). There is not end to this logic. For example, a “post-Enlightenment” women can not but help but observe an all male hierarchy (“over and over again”) and not be offended and be taught that she is inferior. A “post-Enlightenment” person can not help but be taught to hate those with same sex attraction, or drunkards, or sinners of any sort by Christianity because Christianity is a *judgement* upon the world. Enlightenment anthropology commits one to the world because it commits one to the philosophy that we are created not in the Image of God but in the Image of His Creation. It is a fundamental inversion of Christianity yet it stands at the very center of modernism/secularism, the “post-Enlightenment” worldview.

          Why are so many Christians confusing the Enlightenment with Christianity? It is the cultural/educational soup in which we all swim, and most folks don’t have the proclivity to question the zeitgeist. Is not the Church supposed to properly catechise us so that we understand Christianity on the one hand, and recognize the times/world on the other? Well that is the ideal, but the world seeps in…

          1. I agree with Isadora that perhaps the larger problem is the use of words like “blood-thirsty” and “murderous” to describe the Jews. Rightly or wrongly, generations have taken this to mean that the Jews as a people are uniquely evil.

            It’s important to remember–and I don’t think the Gospel conveys this well to non-Jews—that while the Sanhedrin and Pharisees were arrogant, greedy and power hungry, they also truly believed that they were defending the Law which had been handed down with Moses, and held the Jewish people together for centuries. Without some knowledge of Jewish tradition, it must be impossible to appreciate how shocking Jesus was. Imagine someone who says that it’s fine for his disciples to eat hamburgers during Lent, and that the sale and distribution of icons is nothing but a source of corruption, and you will begin to understand the impact that Jesus had on the religious establishment of his day.

            The Crucifixion of Jesus was an evil act, but it does not follow that those who perpetrated it, (with the exception of Judas) , were themselves entirely evil people. And it certainly doesn’t follow that their descendants are also evil.

          2. Barbara,

            One more reply from me and you can have the last word:

            A good book I read recently (it would be even better if it had been edited a bit better) that puts frames Jesus into His properly Jewish context and the messianic expectations (plural) of his time is Daniel Fanous “The Person of the Christ”.

            As far as the history of racialism within Christendom and the place modern Orthodox liturgical reform in the goal of somehow fixing or influencing this history or the future, I do not believe it would do what you believe it will do. Indeed, just as you point out how the Gospel was such a radical and “shocking” reality to the religious establishment, I maintain that its witness to the truth of evil and sin is maintained in our liturgical tradition and it is just a different establishment today that is just as offended and shocked. This is the Enlightenment establishment, the one that finds “blood-thirsty” and “murderous” impossible to hear because man is in some way perfectable (or at least can be moved in that direction) by fixing things like racialism, bigotry, poverty, disease, etc. Yet, the evidence is everywhere to be seen that we are indeed capable (and often are) of being really truly blood-thirsty and murderous. No, it is better to let the Gospel be the Gospel, and not bend our liturgical tradition to the winds of history or the moral projects of this Secular Age, no matter how compelling this or that effort appears to be…

          3. Christopher, I am not offended by disagreement, but I do feel you misunderstand my point. I am not holding up the Enlightenment as an ideal or as Christian. I am merely stating what has happened: the idea of race came into being and many hearers of such hymns took them to mean that Jews as a race were all these terrible things. It is a fact that many vicious attacks on Jews throughout Europe and Russia took place on Holy Week and the week after Easter. The problem was likely exacerbated by the Enlightenment concept of race, though these attacks began earlier, in the Middle Ages.

          4. Christopher — I fully understand your objections, and certainly don’t think that the Gospels should be changed in any way. I have spent most of my Christian life in the Episcopal Church, going from one sound parish to another as the Neo-pagan hierarchy moved in. As much as I would welcome a small change to your liturgy, I do appreciate the possible dangers, and understand your reluctance.

            I do think you are mistaken, however, in regarding this as just another piece of political correctness. The idea that all Jews share directly in the guilt of those who crucified Christ goes back to St. Ambrose of Milan, if not earlier. The consequences of this teaching have not been “micro-agressions” or hurt feelings, but thousands of violent deaths.

  6. Cogent reply as usual Father.

    I wonder, in what sense are “the Jews” a race by the standards that are usually applied today? Granted, there appears to be a multiplicity of standards, some leaning toward a genetic description and others toward a social/culture definition. Judaism itself (in my limited understanding) does not have a definition, but rather several. On the one hand some Jews appeal to a “racial” definition of Judaism itself, but others to a convert friendly “religious” definition in that you are a Jew if you follow the Law. Race is so caught up in modern concerns of “identity” (which is really theological anthropology – just not Christian) and Justice and Equality, it is probably impossible to separate it from “political correctness” and similar concerns.

    Given the modern Academy’s concern for all things Race, Class, and Gender, which is the bright sun that all things revolve around over at Public Orthodoxy, is it a surprise that they are proposing yet-another liturgical reform? Since I don’t take this all encompassing concern for Race, Class, and Gender as normative, I have to admit to not being moved by their concern.

    Still, if it is source for a discussion of how “race” really functioned in Jesus’s time and place, and how race informs our theology then so be it…

    1. Very true! By “a race” I suppose I meant something like “a group”, however self-identified. From the (little) I understand about contemporary Jewish theology, the issue of to what degree Jews are a race is debated within Judaism as well, as you said. The problem with using the word “race” is that, whether we intend or not, the conversation could then devolve into one about racism, including in its orbit all the fringy crazy people like the White Supremacists. The historical question about race in the time of Jesus would be an interesting one. Presumably Judaism was not rigorously racial, since the Pharisees could cross land and sea to make a single proselyte from among the Gentiles, and the proselyte would then be a Jew.

    2. There does seem to be a genetic connection among nearly all Jews, though I don’t know that it’s enough to call Jews a separate race. For example, Askenazi (Eastern European) Jews all have a unique mixture of European and Middle Eastern blood. There is an extensive article at Wikipedia-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_studies_on_Jews

      1. In reality there are those who can be seen as “ethnic Jews” and those who are Jews by faith. It is fascinating.

  7. Fr. Apostolos Hill of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Phoenix, has the Rain in the Desert podcast here on Ancient Faith. He delivered a homily on Palm Sunday that can put some of this topic into perspective both historically and personally. I highly recommend it.

    Rain in the Desert
    Finding our Place in the Crowd
    April 2, 2018
    …Apostolos Hill delivers a homily on finding our place in the crowd that greeted Jesus in His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.


  8. Dear father and all

    I have followed the flow of this blog-piece with interest for various reasons. One of them being outreach – that is: How do we communicate the Faith to others, including ourselves – the Orthodox.

    I for one wouldn’t change so much as a comma in the texts in question, mainly because I come from a protestant background, and have witnessed first hand how liturgical changes of all sorts have actually altered the faith in many protestant denominations. And since Orthodoxy is closely connected to what we do, altering what we do in the way suggested should be a no-go.

    I would suggest another way forward, namely a pastoral route: That would include guidance by our pastors; remembering how we Orthodox should read the Bible, namely as pertaining to our own lives here and now; remembering that our liturgical services are not memorial services, they are expressions of a present reality.

    When the Crucifixion takes place, WE stand at the cross with Mary, John et al. When Christ is condemned by the mob in Pilates’ court yard you and I are standing there … and so on. I think it is most important not to view the biblical narrative as describing something that once took place, but rather to remind ourselves that a whole new reality has opened up – encompassing past, present and future – that we are in NOW. If we do that, the only jews coming to mind would be the ones actually present 2.000 years ago … in the company of me, who claim to be a Christian and yet I betray the Lord and my Faith countless times every day.

    Letting whether or not some people take offence with what the Church does define what we do, seems like folly to me. Christ was crucified for offending a specific group of people because he told the Truth. We should be willing to be too! And the fact that someone feels hurt, does not mean that this someone is correct. Emotions play far to big a part in discussions like these, I think. It is certainly correct, that christians have persecuted jews, but that is not because of liturgical texts. That is because we are sinners.

    A blessed Lent to all.

    1. Robert,

      I am interested in your master’s thesis. Have you translated it into english? Do you deal with the philosophical roots of western civilization in relation to a theology of the body (i.e. nominalism, methodological materialism, the Cartesian Self, etc.)?

      Here in North America, Orthodox bioethics as an academic exercise (as a pragmatic pastoral matter it is NOW no doubt) is a rather small (my sense of it – could be wrong) and boy, there is some really bad/compromising thought out there…

      Christopher Encapera

      1. Hello Christopher

        Perhaps we should get in touch outside of this forum … if you go to this website: https://ortodoks.dk/gudstjenester/jylland – you can find my e-mail address to the right.

        But, briefly: No, my thesis is not translated into english, and I am VERY surprised that you have even heard of it!

        I do indeed deal with the philosophical roots of our civilisations perception of the body along the lines you describe and some more.

        It’s true, that there might not be large amounts of Orthodox scholars writing on bioethics, but there are some notable exceptions, who have written very good things with a keen eye on the connection between ethics and moral value systems at large. And there are some non-Orthodox of a solid sacramental ilk, that have written wildly interesting things. I’d love to share my humble findings with you, but perhaps this isn’t the place?

  9. It is telling that this discussion quickly turned into a racial issue. It is a figment of modernism that Christopher so aptly described. Going deeper to the root, it is an indication of our fallenness and the need to heal. This is the reason people offend and take offence. Our hearts are darkened, our minds are clouded. We do not acknowledge that it is our own sins that contribute to our disunity. Rather, in protecting the “self” from shame, guilt and fear, we blame others, or other things. How can we ever overcome but through dying to self and to unite in Christ? This is exactly the Church, His Body. He came to heal and transform and bring us and all the universe back to Him. Let us stop blaming and pointing fingers. That does not address the problem, but only inflames it.
    It is now Holy Week. We celebrate Christs’ Passion and Resurrection. Let us take the cue…. it is through Love, the love of the other and not the “self”, that Christ set aside His divinity and became one of us. In Love, Christ emptied Himself and took on the form of man. In Love, He suffered for our sins. Let us consider these sins personally, rather than impersonally lumped together. You and I each are responsible. The sins we commit today are represented on His Cross. He takes them upon Himself, sanctifies them, separates them from its evil root, and blesses them. Yes, blesses them. In suffering, He embraces the sin and through suffering shows us the way, the very means to heal our darkened heart. Through suffering, which is admitting our sins, facing the shame, confessing them, and turning away from our self preservation, our pride. Instead we claim a false suffering, “another” suffering. We weep and wail that we are being offended. Our minds are so clouded that we “hear” something in the words people speak that isn’t even there. When there is real offense we do not quickly forgive. Then starts the finger pointing, blame, hatred, division. Surely this is the work of the devil. We fight not against flesh and blood.
    Love can not exist without suffering. We forgive, we bear our and our brothers’ burden, It is the emptying of ourselves. Love is not an emotional thrill. It is an act.

    Holy Week. It is Holy Week. Let us, all of us, empty ourselves. Let us look squarely in the face our anger, frustration, hatred even. Let us pray fervently for God to reveal to our darkened hearts, our true condition. That should make us weep greatly.
    Then we can suffer rightfully. And Christ through the Spirit will transform us, will heal us. This is our duty until our last breath here on earth. This is the gift of eternal life the Church freely offers. Let us not squander it in vain squabbles.

  10. “Today the Jews nailed to the Cross the Lord who divided the sea with a rod and led them through the wilderness. Today they pierced with a lance the side of Him who for their sake smote Egypt with plagues. They gave Him gall to drink, who rained down manna on them for food.” In some cases, it might be helpful to switch to the passive voice; in others, to change the addressee from “Jews” to “believers” or “brothers,” without, however, changing the Old Testament reference. Replacing, as has been done by many of our separated brethren, the concrete references to God’s presence in the Old Testament (Passover, the Sinai revelation, the manna, the water from the rock) is simply unacceptable because it dilutes the Christological proclamation of the hymns—namely that Christ himself is the LORD (Kyrios) in the Exodus narrative.

  11. I am coming to this thoughtful discussion a little late, but would like to add my thoughts. I appreciate Father Farley’s reply to Bogdan Bucur’s article about anti-Semitism in our hymns and texts. I can sense his sympathy and unease with some of the language of our texts. But I am not entirely won over by his arguments. Political correctness has nothing to do with my feelings about the passages we have read this past Holy Week — for example, “for thirty pieces of silver, and a deceitful kiss, the Jews sought to slay You, Lord,” “With your betrayal, O Christ, the Hebrew race was not content, but wagged their heads, sneering and mocking,” “And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’,” “So they [soldiers] took the money, and did as they were instructed [lie that the disciples had come during the night and stolen Jesus’s body]; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

    And on and on.

    What I feel is a sort of repulsion. Can any thinking and feeling Christian not feel that way, when you read these ugly, unfounded assertions against an entire nation of fellow human beings?

    Furthermore, these passages make Christ’s story difficult to comprehend. When blame is assigned specifically to “the Jews” as a nation, are we not being urged to wash our hands of our own complicity, to find a scapegoat? How can we then make sense of Christ’s suffering?

    I’m not sure how pastoral guidance is enough to clarify these texts. I don’t think the texts themselves can be left as they are. But primarily, I think we need leadership and direction here from Father Farley and other clergy. How can we respectfully move from a discussion to action, to get our church leaders to address this anti-Semitism? How can we get our church to study the issue, and make recommendations (whether they be textual or pastoral)? What steps do we need to take?

  12. The premise of this article is not only a shame disgrace to Orthodox Christianity, but reveals a mindset more common to Jew worshiping Protestants, or a crypto Jew.

    Even today, the Jews mock Christians, and Christ above all.

    It is shocking to think someone posing as Christian would disregard the entire New Testament, let alone the church fathers and history itself, to defend those who in their holy book–the Talmud–describe Christ our God as boiling in excrement and semen for eternity, and describe the Most Holy Theotokos as a harlot. It sickens me to even write those words, but that is what the Jews believe. They also believe that non-Jews have the souls of demons and have human form only to serve as slaves of the Jews. why are you not concerned with defending Christ, but rather the “sensibilities” of those who massacred over 100 million Christians in the 20th century alone?

    I fear for you at the judgement seat of Christ. Try to explain your nonsense to Him and leave real Orthodox Christians alone.

    1. Just a quick word of reply to your extraordinary and rude comment. Most Jews do not in fact subscribe to the view of Jesus contained in the Talmud and are even unaware of such a view. Nor do they believe that non-Jews have the souls of demons. Your attitude to Judaism is part of the problem that this discussion is trying to grapple with. Rather than trying to remove the mote from my eye, perhaps you mighty more profitably see what is in your own.

    2. Laskarina’s comment about “real Orthodox” Christianity is a perfect case for why revisions are necessary.

  13. You are right to warn against painting all Jews with a wide brush. Doing so is unchristian and feeds into a dynamic that actually further erodes any possibility of meaningful discussion concerning various issues. Ironically, this is what is at the root, mystically speaking, of the injunction for male Judaics to get drunk during Purim: when one becomes inebriated, he cannot tell the different between Haman and Mordecai. This underscores the esoteric doctrine that both Haman and Mordecai serve the interests of Israel.

    At this point, it would be helpful to mention Sanhedrin 43a in the article above. As Peter Schafer, Perlman Professor of Jewish Studies and Religion at Princeton University, discusses in his book, “Jesus in the Talmud,” the Rabbis happily took credit for putting Jesus to death, as recorded in the uncensored Babylonian Talmud. Why? And why do they place Jesus in a vat of boiling excrement in hell? Prof. Schafer discusses the rabbinic traditions and the reasons they provide but, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a call for these passages in the uncensored Babylonian Talmud to be removed. The Toledot Yeshu is another matter altogether. In light of what the Talmud Bavli itself says and the traditions that surround it, it is curious that they (or anyone else) would call for liturgical texts to be revised. Additionally, the little known practice among haredi of refraining from Torah study and making toilet paper on Christmas Eve is also something that seems to garner little attention. Known as Nittel Nacht, it is a time the rabbis teach evil inclinations are “in full force.”


    While most Jews may or may not be aware of the Talmudic and Kabbalistic traditions that surround Christianity and non-Jews (the teaching about non-Jewish souls is perhaps most evident in the Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, a key figure for Chabad), these traditions have been what has formed and shaped Judaism throughout the centuries. The animus towards Christ is evident in the comedy of Sarah Silverman and Larry Davis and on display in Hollywood as well. So, while most Jews may not agree with these traditions — whether or not they know about them — the rabbis are. In a more important theological sense, when Christ was rejected by thePharisees, they rejected Logos. To my knowledge, not very many Eastern Orthodox writers — if any — have explored what that means or what Judaism believes. There are books on Islam, books on Protestantism and Catholicism; but on Judaism there is next to nothing.

    1. Thank you for these fascinating comment and for the link. It looks as if this is indeed a literary void that needs to be filled.

      1. Some important books to start reading on these topics are – “The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and its Impact on World History” by E Michael Jones, and “Judaism Discovered” by Michael Hoffman – both of whom are Catholics.

    2. One difference–the Talmud is not a liturgical text, recited by the entire congregation. The passages that you refer to would only be familiar to rabbis and other learned Jews. As the author of the Slate article makes clear, the “Nittel Nacht” customs he writes of have been dying for generations and are nearly gone. It is not surprising that in earlier times, Jews and Christians would have hostile feelings towards each other. For Christians, Jews are the people of God who rejected their own heritage in rejecting Christ as Messiah. For Jews, Christianity is a great blasphemy, accepting an ordinary man as the God whose nature and shape we cannot know. The years of persecution–first Jews against Christians, and then, for much longer, Christians against Jews, has only aggravated the situation. As for the Jewish comedians you mention (and whose work I am not familiar with)–for many assimilated Jews, leftism and ‘social justice” have taken the place of religion. Some have gone so far to the left that they denounce Israel –Bernie Sanders is a good example. Their Jewishness is more of an ethnic than religious identity, and their open hostility to Christianity is part of their leftist identity.

      1. Hi Barbara. Indeed, many Jews do believe the great offense of Christianity is casting “man as god.” Yet, the seeds of Christology are deeply rooted in rabbinic texts. The deeper understanding of justification through the law, which emerged in the 1st century merkavah literature (based on Ezekiel) was that 1) every word of scripture from genesis to the prophets and writings was “the law”, and 2) that in fulfilling the law one became a living Torah scroll and vehicle for God in this world. In other words, theosis – you were to become the embodiment of the Word. The kabbalah is so filled with parallel mystical theology that the Yemenite Dor Dorim, when reconnecting with the Jewish people after the emergence of the State of Israel, initially forbade learning it. Their reason was that they believed it “leads to Christianity.” And the Tanya, which Patrick mentions above? It says that the soul of a Jew is a “portion of the Holy One, blessed be he, and we know there can be no division in the godhead….” The Tanya also answers the question of how one attains Torah (the word) and comes to know God: through their teacher. There is an ugly debate in some Chabad circles about whether gentiles have souls at all, but that unfortunate position is not at all supported by the prophets and the much vaster consensus of rabbinic writing. Two wit, in the Talmud it asks “who is Israel?” and answers “those who pursue God.” It also asks, “who is not Israel?” and answers “those who do not pursue God.” The commentators overwhelmingly clarify this is true irrespective of whether you are born Jewish or not. If you put all that together you can see how the harder and more definitive Christology of the church is in fact, very Jewish in its roots.. I guess my point is, despite the regrettable history of harsh interfaith polemics and mutual communal resentments, the real points of disagreement, while profound and irreconcilable, are quite narrow.

    3. Respectfully, and humbly, you are presenting a straw man. I was raised Lutheran, but converted to orthodox Judaism as a young man, and spent 17 years in the Hassidic world in the united states and Israel. Of those seventeen years, I spent two years in a full time seminary for single men, and eight years in an evening seminary for married men. During those years, before ultimately returning to the Christian fold with the Greek Orthodox Church, I studied both Talmud’s cover to cover, the Hebrew scriptures with rabbinic commentaries multiple times, as well as Hassidic and Halachic discourses. The reasons that drove my spiritual journey are complex and too involved for a comment on here. However, the Talmud and Kabbalistic texts are highly complicated and sophisticated literary bodies that few Jews are ever become fully conversant in. Few “parishoners” are scholars and even the dedicated ones may not be deeply familiar with more than a tractate or two. More importantly: those texts are not liturgical. They are not read by the congregation in the synagogue and, as a result, are not public or pedagogical professions of faith for the masses to make. They are far more akin to the writings of the patristic fathers or, if you prefer, the “rabbinic fathers.” Just as not every statement by every church father must be accepted, not every statement or story in the talmuds must be accepted as the basis of doctrine. Some orthodox Jews delight in them and some find them repellent. As deeply ugly and offensive as these statements are they are not definitive. More so,, and back to your point, they are not included in the prayer service. Its not the same thing.

      1. I realize that you are replying to Patrick and not to me, but I would still like to thank you for your contribution to this important topic.

  14. I was born into a secular Jewish family. I am 74 years old and became Orthodox in 2003. Prior to becoming Orthodox I had zero experiences of antisemitism but after I became Orthodox I had several coming from Orthodox Church members. There is no doubt that Orthodox culture leads to antisemitism among some Church members. Two Orthodox priests with whom I became close freely admitted that the Church is antisemitic and one went so far as to assert that it is the most antisemitic Church in the world. In my opinion it is irresponsible not to change the liturgy. If the liturgy remains the same the culture which encourages antisemitism will not change. If priests regularly condemned antisemitism and explained that the assertions about “The Jews” do not mean what they sounds like, that would be one thing, but not once have I heard a sermon coming from an Orthodox priest condemning antisemitism or expressing uneasiness about the parts of the liturgy which sound antisemitic.

    1. I take your point. For my part, I regularly speak of the evils of antisemitism and of the necessity of thinking like a Jew/ Second Temple Judaism if one would understand our Lord and the NT.

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