Thursday 21 December 2017

President Trump and Jerusalem

The recent decision by the President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of the Israel resulted in the usual liberal media frenzy that accompanies almost any statement by the current President of the United States. Interestingly, on this occasion, other western political leaders, including the British Prime Minister Theresa May, criticized the President’s statement.

The political situation in the Middle East is far too complicated to discuss here, but the religious reasons behind President Trump’s decision are worth discussing considering that most Protestants we encounter believe in some form of ‘Christian Zionism’.

British soldiers rescuing the wounded after a Zionist terrorist
attack on the King David Hotel.
Zionism is the movement for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Zionists view the State of Israel as the Promised Land promised by God to Abraham in the Old Testament. Zionism is not a modern movement, but it came to prominence following World War Two due to the huge influx of Jews into Palestine, which led to violence between the British forces running Palestine at the time, the Jewish immigrants and the Palestinian inhabitants.

Many Christians are unaware that Zionists perpetrated many terrorist atrocities in their fight to establish a State of Israel. Palestinians were abducted and murdered; British soldiers were murdered in car bombings, shootings, and lynchings in order to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population and to force the British to leave Palestine. By the time the British withdrew, they had lost over three hundred men killed.[1] As well as Muslims, a significant number of native Palestinian Christians and Jews were killed in these terrorist attacks carried out, to a large extent, by recent immigrants to Palestine.

Despite this, most American Evangelicals believe that God has blessed the State of Israel. This belief that the State of Israel is synonymous with the Old Testament Israel blessed by God is what is called ‘Christian Zionism’. In a recent survey, 82% of white Evangelical Protestants stated that God gave Israel to the Jews.[2] Many Evangelicals not only support the State of Israel but also yearn after a return to Jewish worship:

Though it may surprise most Jews, evangelicals feel not only a strong sense of protectiveness toward the state of Israel but a deep cultural affinity with the Jewish people. It is not just that they are well versed in the Hebrew Scripture and its values. More importantly, as convinced Protestants, evangelicals tend to bypass the period of church history between the apostles and the Reformation—more than a thousand years of Christian corruption and paganism, as they see it—and look for inspiration not to Origen or Aquinas but to the heady days when all Christians were, in fact, Jews. In returning to the roots of their faith, they often feel closer to Jewish culture than to other branches of Christianity. Some go the extra mile to don a kippah, observe Passover, or celebrate a bar mitzvah.[3]

Evangelicals also believe that the prosperity and power of America is conditional on its support for Israel. Some of this support for Israel probably stems from a literal Protestant Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, which associates the Old Testament Israel with the State of Israel simply because of the use of the word ‘Israel’. This interpretation is overly simplistic and not traditionally Protestant. The Israel that God delivered from Pharaoh is not the same as the State of Israel established in 1948.

In the Orthodox Church we venerate the saints of the Old Testament because they struggled out of love for God by obeying the ordinances of the Law, but this law was merely a foreshadowing of grace. St. Paul teaches that ‘the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith’ (Gal. 3:24). Christ is the fulfilment of the law (cf. Matt. 6:7) and its end. We hear this summarized in the Dogmatic Theotokion of the Second Tone sung on Saturday evening:

The shadow of the law is passed away with the coming of grace; for as the bush was not consumed when it was burning, thus as a virgin didst thou give birth, and a virgin didst thou remain. In the stead of a pillar of fire, there hath arisen the Sun of Righteousness; in the stead of Moses, Christ, the Salvation of our souls.[4]

Most American Evangelicals are Christian Zionists, but only a minority believe in its most extreme forms. John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel is one such example. He claims that Hitler was sent by ‘god’ in order to cause Jews to move to Israel.[5]

It is quite understandable that religious Jews believe the State of Israel is their Promised Land although we would disagree. Although there are fanatical religious Zionists, most Israelis are cultural Zionists and do not exhibit the same levels of hatred for Palestinians as do extreme Christian Zionists:

In stark contrast to cultural Zionists who deem ethnic cleansings as a defensible cruelty, Christian Zionists defend ethnic cleansing as a divine command. From Darby in the past to LaHaye in the present, they militantly forward the notion that God has covenanted to give Eretz Israel – from the river of Egypt to the River Euphrates ­– exclusively to the Jews. “The Lord will purify His land of all the wicked,’ wrote Darby, ‘from the Nile to the Euphrates.’ John Hagee is equally explicit. ‘God has given Jerusalem’, he says, ‘only to the Jews’. Supporting the displacement of Arabs in order to make room for Jews is rationalised as fulfilment of the purposes of God. [6]

Not only is Christian Zionism completely un-Orthodox, it is not even traditionally Protestant. The sixteenth century Protestant Reformer John Calvin strongly condemned the theory of chialism (millennialism) that is closely associated with Christian Zionism.

Different forms of millennialism exist, but most American Evangelicals believe in the idea that, at some point the future, Christ will return secretly and take Christians into heaven (the Rapture) thereby ushering in a period of tribulation before Christ comes again openly to institute a thousand year reign on earth. This type of millennialism (pre-dispensational millennialism is part of a relatively new belief system called dispensationalism invented in the 19th century by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Darby divided the Bible into seven historical periods or dispensations. We are now, apparently, living in the sixth dispensation. This millennium (the seventh dispensation) will be Jewish in origin, with the Temple, animal sacrifices and Old Testament priesthood being re-established. Only after this millennium will the Last Judgment occur.

The idea of re-establishing the Old Testament priesthood and animal sacrifices is unique to dispensationalism; it is a modern heresy unknown to both the Early Church and the Protestant Reformers.

Christian Zionists and Evangelicals who believe in a reintroduction of Temple worship cannot be called Christians because they deny the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. We are Christians because we have been redeemed by the ‘precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1. Pet 1:19).  If we reject this sacrifice and yearn after the sacrifices of the Old Testament we are not Christians.

Christ is our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed for ‘our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). Christ, by offering Himself as a sacrifice, redeemed us from the curse of the law so that the blessing of Abraham might come upon us and that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (cf. Gal. 3:13-14). Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross abolished the sacrifices of the Law as St. Paul makes clear:

Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By that will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:8-10).

The Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers clearly show that Christ is not only the sacrifice offered, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29), but also the High Priest who offers the sacrifice. We hear this High Priestly prayer of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on Great Thursday evening (it is the first of the twelve Gospel readings (John 13:31- 18:1)).

In other words, re-establishing the Old Testament priesthood would be rejecting Christ the High Priest’s sacrifice for us. We would be going back to the time when animal sacrifices were used to propitiate God, thereby rejecting the New Covenant of Christ. Saint Paul explains this further:

Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause He is the mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they who are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9 11-15).

By Christ’s redeeming sacrifice we have become a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). It is for this reason that the Church is often referred to as the New Israel. St. Paul is clear in his Epistle to the Romans that a remnant of the Old Israel, that is the Jews, will be saved, but this salvation will come through grace and not through the a re-institution of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.  

Far from believing that Christ’s sacrifice instituted a new, royal priesthood, dispensationalists believe that the Christian faith is actually a result of a failure of Christ. According to this heretical theory, Christ became incarnate to establish an earthly millennial kingdom, but He failed to do this because the Jews rejected him as their leader. As a result, the ‘church’ came into being and God now has two separate plans or ‘dispensations’: one for the church and one for Israel. Members of the church look forward to eternal life in heaven and members of Israel look forward to an earthly Kingdom – the re-establishment of the Old Testament Israel including Temple worship and animal sacrifice.

It should apparent by now that dispensationalism and Christian Zionism are not Orthodox in the slightest. We do not look for a kingdom on earth, with human priests subject to death, because we have Christ as High Priest as St. Paul teaches:

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; Who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever (Heb. 7: 26-28).

Dispensationalism has penetrated so deeply into American Protestantism that most Protestants would fail to recognize the word dispensationalism – for these people, believing in a thousand year earthly kingdom, the rapture and the re-establishment of Jewish Temple worship is part of being ‘Protestant’; this is despite Calvin’s condemnation of millennialism! There is little doubt that President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel was influenced by the powerful American Christian Zionist movement.

Christian Zionists believe that because Jerusalem is the place where the end of the world will occur, the State of Israel needs to be supported; the formation of the State of Israel, according to them, is the first stage of the second coming of Christ and is part of biblical prophecy.

Extreme Christian Zionists have even tried to hasten the second coming of Christ by various means. According to the dispensationalist interpretation of Numbers 19:2, even today everyone that has come into contact into contact with a human corpse, bone, or grave is unclean until cleansed with water containing the ashes of a red heifer. This heifer must be completely red with no hairs of any other colour. The ashes of the last pure red heifer ran out in about 70 A.D. leaving, by now, all Jews impure and incapable of building a new Temple.

In the 1990’s Clyde Lott, a born again Christian and cattle breeder, decided to take matters into his own hands and take care of what God had obviously not provided by breeding fifty thousand Red Angus cattle and shipping them to Israel in the hope that one cow might give birth to a pure, red heifer.

In 1996, a red heifer named Melody was born on a farm near Haifa and was visited by a hundred Protestant pastors from Texas and even featured on the front cover of the Endtime magazine.[7] At eighteenth months of age Melody, probably much to her relief, sprouted white hairs which saved her from imminent death and cremation. Although Melody was not the result of Lott’s breeding programme, other American cattle breeders are still trying to raise an unblemished red heifer. The following story was reported in January 2014:

In January a red heifer, or ‘Parah Adumah’, was born to a cow herding family in an undisclosed location in the US, who wish to see the animal used for the purity service during the preparations for the rebuilding of the Third Temple. The family has reportedly not marred or maimed the animal in any way, nor will they be using the animal for work or feeding it any growth hormones. All this to comply with Jewish law of keeping the animal as nature created it. Update: Unfortunately, several months later, the cow was found to have more than one colored hair that is not red. [8]

The site of the proposed new Jewish Temple is Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This site is currently occupied by the Muslim Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque. Melody’s appearance sent some Christian Zionists into such fervour that Israeli security forces even considered the possibility that these ‘christians’ might try to blow up these Muslim holy sites in order to clear the ground for the new Temple.[9]

Many American Evangelical Protestants are not concerned about damaging the Middle-East peace process by their interference because, in their opinion, the bloodshed that would result would be a price worth paying for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.  Let’s not forget that these people believe that they will be spared from the tribulation of the end-times by being taken into heaven (the Rapture) at their imagined secret coming of Christ.

The  Rapture is unknown to the Early Church and to traditional Protestantism. It is something forced on to one particular biblical text in order to make Scripture fit the teachings of dispensationalism. Christ Himself explains that His Second Coming will not be secret, but clearly evident to all: 

Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.  For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24: 26, 27, 29, 30).

The Second Coming of Christ will also be demonstrated by the resurrection of the dead, and the dead in Christ will be raised first as Saint Paul teaches:

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess. 4:15,16)

Although many British Evangelicals believe in the Rapture, their beliefs concerning the State of Israel are more moderate than their American co-religionists. Perhaps this is because, until recently, the Middle-East conflict has not featured very much in UK political campaigns. Unfortunately, the infiltration of the Labour Party by both hard-left and Islamic agitators has led to an alarming rise in anti-Semitism in the U.K. Often, this is disguised under the banner of ‘anti-Zionism’ – in fact, in many cases, it is plain anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism has also plagued Orthodox countries for centuries. The Russian pogroms of the nineteenth century in which Jewish villages were burned to the ground are one shameful example. Although the Orthodox Church condemned these acts in the strongest possible terms, widespread suspicion of the Jews in general persisted. This suspicion is manifested today in the form of conspiracy theories detailing Jewish plots to control financial markets and international politics.

Orthodox Christians should leave conspiracy theories well alone. We are not called to reform the world’s banking system, we are called to repent and follow the teachings of the Gospel. Saint Seraphim of Sarov teaches: ‘acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved’. We cannot change the whole world, but we can change our lives by repentance and, as a result, change that part of the world in which we live by showing love for God and our neighbour.

Genuine Orthodox Christians demonstrate true Christianity by showing love for their neighbours regardless of their religion. We can see this in the following two examples from World War Two. We ourselves have heard similar accounts from our parishioners, and no doubt there are many, many more.

In September 1943, The Chief Rabbi was ordered by the Nazis to provide the names and addresses of the Jews living in Athens. The Rabbi contacted Archbishop Damaskinos who suggested that the Jews flee rather than identifying themselves to the Nazis. At the same time, the Archbishop, together with the chief of police, began an operation to save as many Jewish lives as possible. He publicly condemned Hitler’s plans and the priests in his diocese condemned the deportation of Jews in their sermons.

As a consequence over six hundred Orthodox priests were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Orthodox clergy issued false baptismal certificates to Jewish families in order to save them from deportation. Over two hundred and fifty Jewish children were saved by being hidden in the homes of Orthodox clergy, and many thousands more were hidden by monasteries and laypeople.

Archbishop Damaskinos, in a final attempt to prevent the deportation, signed a letter appealing to the German commander for clemency. The letter concludes: ‘Our holy religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: “There is neither Jew nor Greek” and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences.’ Outraged, the German commander threatened the Archbishop with being taken outside and shot. The Archbishop’s reply was simple and courageous: ‘Greek religious leaders are not shot they are hanged. I request that you respect this custom.’

The reply so astounded the German that the Archbishop’s life was spared. It is interesting to note how a Jewish Foundation views the contents of this letter: ‘The appeal of the Archbishop and his fellow Greeks is unique; there is no similar document of protest of the Nazis during World War II that has come to light in any other European country.’[10]

In 1944, the Germans invaded the Greek island of Zakynthos and ordered the mayor to hand over a list of the Jewish inhabitants. By this stage in the war it was evident that Jews handed over to the Germans would be murdered. The mayor enlisted the help of Metropolitan Chrysostomos who presented the mayor’s list to the Germans. The list contained only two names: Metropolitan Chrysostomos and Louka Karrer, the mayor. The Metropolitan bravely told the German commander: ‘Here are your Jews. If you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos, you must also take me, and I will share their fate.’ Whilst the Metropolitan was stalling the Germans, the Orthodox Christian inhabitants of Zakynthos hid their Jewish neighbours.

It is also thought likely that Metropolitan Chrysostomos wrote to Hitler interceding for the Jews living within his diocese. Unfortunately, due to the loss of the island’s archives in the devastating 1953 earthquake, copies of this letter no longer exist. We do know that all Zaknythos’ two hundred and seventy-five Jews survived, and no further attempt was made by the Germans to deport them. Indeed, the first boat to arrive with aid to the victims of the 1953 earthquake was from Israel, adorned with a banner that read: ‘The Jews of Zakynthos have never forgotten their mayor or their beloved bishop and what they did for us.’[11]

It is clear that Christian Zionism is incompatible with Orthodoxy and not even vaguely Christian. However, in rejecting these heretical ideas, we must not allow ourselves to be numbered with the anti-Semites whose stock-in-trade is hatred and division and who are recognized by their fruits (cf. Matt. 7:20). Let us instead follow the example of those Orthodox Christians who were willing to lay down their lives during the Holocaust and recall the words of Christ: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).

[4] Holy Transfiguration Monastery (trans.) The Pentecostarion (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1990) p.108
[6]  H. Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) p.167
[7] S. Spector, Evangelicals and Israel: The story of Christian Zionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) p.204
[9] Evangelicals and Israel: The story of Christian Zionism p.205

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