Mikhail Gorelik

(The Dialogue of Denominations)

'The Jewish Voice Newspaper' 1993, № 1 (88)

Translated on English by Tanya Buchman
Christianity and the 'Jewish question'. Mikhail Gorelik.

  "We realize now that for many centuries we were blind and did not see the beauty of the people You have chosen, didn't recognize in them our brothers. We understand that the mark of Cain is on our foreheads. For centuries, our brother Abel prostrated in the blood that we shed, cried the tears that we caused forgetting Your love. Forgive us that we cursed the Jews. Forgive us that we crucified Thee a second time, in their face. We did not know what we were doing."   'The act of repentance' ,  Pope John XXIII, 1960.

These days, when frustration, mutual anger, distrust and fear has seemingly reached its peak in the Russian society (actually – there is yet a room for it to grow and flare), every attempt of a mutual understanding, calm and respectful discussion of national and interfaith issues is of high value. Such an attempt has been made recently by the
Society of Christian culture "Logos", which organized a round table "Christianity and the Jewish question."

The dialogue, in terms of inclusiveness and representativeness, is indeed deserving attention.

The following is a report (even though concise, but complete and accurate) about this event.

  Leading the round table,
renown historian of the Russian Orthodox Church Lev Regelson, who combines an Orthodox Christian and the 'Jewish question' within his own personality, in his opening remarks defined the discussion as an interfaith dialogue. This immediately establishes a certain duality of the round table, which was reflected in the statements.

Member of the International Association of Jewish Studies and Jewish Culture,
Michael Sivertsev,

named three major social trends that encourage the interfaith dialogue.

First, it’s deterioration and secularization of the religious consciousness in the modern world – a product of separatism and isolation. The Interfaith dialogue creates the preconditions for deepening religious experience impossible without the shared experience of other religious groups.

Secondly, in the traditional religious groups exists a tendency to split. Dialogue with other religions is an excellent opportunity for the conflicted and uncompromising representatives of the same group to meet, so to speak, at the interfaith table and discuss their own problems as well.

Third. The topic of a missionary service is no longer appealing, which became an essential precondition for the dialogue. Other denominations are no longer seen as the subject for conversion. Equal and respectful dialogue, in principle, exclude proselytizing.

At the heart of a contemporary inter-religious dialogue, according to Sivertsev, is not only the desire to find the common premises, but also emphasize the fundamental differences.

Yevgeny Ikhlov Vice-President of the Moscow liberal club – has formulated the following theses.

Anti-Semitism, brought to its logical limit, has revealed himself as something un-Christian,and European culture is completely wearied of it.

In Soviet Russia, traditional religious cultures – both Christian and Jewish, were completely destroyed. Now there is a process of religious revival, and the neophytes take naturally tough and uncompromising stance: Jews are repelled by what they see as a new anti-Semitism in their understanding of Christianity, the new Christian Orthodox – by what they perceived as ‘Judeo-Mason conspiracy’.

Ikhlov expressed regret that the Church authorities did not condemn anti-Semitism with determination, and called their silence very dangerous.

Ikhlov said that the Jews, who held the place of the enemy number one in the conservative national consciousness, now conceded this role to Caucasians.

The next speaker – the
employee of the Orthodox Protestant organization "Jews for Jesus" Alexander Gurevich – devoted his speech to the technologies of conversion of Jews to Christianity. It was not, strictly speaking, planned in response to the speech of Sivertsev, but in fact sounded like a polemical response:  in understanding of Gurevich, dialogue – is not a rejection of proselytism, but its effective weapon.

Among the means to encourage such a dialogue, Gurevich mentioned even financial assistance (sic) to the potential converts. He regretted that Christian Orthodoxy is far behind in the conversion of Jews comparing to Protestantism, and said that "this field needs more work."

Speaking then
Emilia Volkova teacher of the Russian Humanitarian University – formulated twofold approach to the dialogue: the unacceptability of proselytism, and the self-evident intention of it. Volkova has raised the question, launched earlier in the speech of Sivertsev, whether it is possible to accept both approaches as the equally legitimate?

Referring to Lev Gumilev, Volkova spoke of a particular tension, ‘the energy field’, which occurs between different ethnic groups. She spoke of the deep relationship between Russian and Jews, which, in a sense, akin to the conflicting emotions of the youth towards their desires, about the heightened self-conscious of ‘being different in nature’, in overcoming of which both people find their highest wholeness.

The values of the Jewis religious cosciousness, "the flame in search of God" – that what Jewis bring
as a gift to Russian Christianity, and Christianity is in dare need of it, in the opinion of Emilia Volkova.

Michael Weisskopf, a professor of the Institute of Humanistic Judaism (Jerusalem) believes that the existence of the Jews outside Israel – is not normal, as abnormal is the Judeo-Christianity.

Orthodox Judaism has consistently refused to participate in the dialogue. Weisskopf called it a "memory of the field," referring to the medieval debates that took place upon the initiative, and even more so – forced by the ruling Christian authorities. Such disputes often ended in persecution. Reformers who engaged in the dialogue with Christians, continue the lineage of Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank, and are ending the dialogue typically by converting into Christianity.

He also recalled the execution of Boroh Leybov and captain Voznitsyn whom he converted into Judaism in 18th century.

Two hundred year history of Jews in Russia comes to an end, and the question of the dialogue itself, in Weisskopf’s view, will be removed from the agenda.

However, in terms of Weisskopf, the dialogue makes sense to explore an intelligent and productive separation.

Alexander Zhuravskii Institute of Oriental Studies, an expert on Islamic-Christian dialogue. The purpose of the dialogue, in his opinion, is not proselytizing, and therefore not a syncretic convergence but a mutual clarification of positions. A necessary condition for the dialogue – the mutual recognition of ethnic equality, while the perception of the dogmatic equality is impossible. Dialogue should be conducted not on the basis of ethnicity, but on religious and cultural basis.

After Zhuravskii, the floor was given to the Rev. François Eve, the French Jesuit. Dialogue is not possible, said Fr. Francois, if our faith is nothing more than a system of dogmas. If we are faithful to the spirit of the Gospels, we must recognize that the goal of the dialogue is not to convert our opponents, but to better understand ourselves.

Voronezh historian and bogorlov, Alexander Bulgakov continued the theme raised by Ikhlov. Russian Patriarch, in August 1991 promptly excommunicated the members of the GKCHP (the communist coup), but did not show such a determination in relation to anti-Semites, who continue to openly declare their affiliation with the Church, while anti-Semitism is essentially – anti-Christianity.

In Voronezh, the Orthodox distribute the leaflets with the acronym Rex, which means "Kill the Jews as dogs." For many Orthodox, Jews are still the “people who crucified Christ”. This environment and attitudes toward Jews is absolutely impossible for evangelical Protestants who have always regarded Jews as brothers. Bulgakov accused the Russian Orthodox Church with hostility not only to Jews but to the millions of Russian Protestants, that can be fraught with tragic consequences, even no excluding the Civil War.

The next speaker,
Leonid Katsis, told about their experiences in the course of Russian-Jewish cultural dialogue in the Moscow Jewish University. Katsis noted a curious cultural phenomenon: the usual channel of obtaining the primary, and often odd information about Judaism and Christianity are not the Biblical texts, but Lion Feuchtwanger and Bulgakov novels. All this is bound to create the most eccentric views on religion. For the formation of religious consciousness and the formation of cultural attitudes, it is not irrelevant whether the Gospel are read before the "Master and Margarita”. Same, in his opinion, shall be said about the sequence of reading the Old and New Testament.

Georges Nivat, a French Protestant, Professor, University of Geneva, disputing with Emilia Volkova, said that dialogue has to be held in the realm of cultures, rather than between ethnic groups. He talked about how much has changed in the national consciousness of the Jews. If in the earlier times, quoting  Sartre, Jew determined himself as a Jew based on the surrounding enemies, now the Jewish self-identification is no longer a response to anti-Semitism, but based on the Jewish positive values.

The author of this report noted that the point of view that Jews are either the object of conversion, or the victims in need of protection eliminates the potential for the dialogue of equals, and therefore makes it essentially impossible. The author also emphasized the main differences between Judaism and Christianity, which should guide the further discussions from the historical and psychological realms to the theological one.

Next speech was the most passionate one.

Suzdal Diocese Ipodyakon of the Orthodox Church, Ft. Mikhail Makeyev, for whom Judaism is the worship of Satan, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and prayful expectation of the Antichrist, said that the enemy is Judaism, but not a Jew. The only meaning of dialogue with the Jews, in his opinion – proselytizing, as an expression of love for the Jewish people. 

The attitude of Ft. Michael to other denominations in general – an issue of an interest to many present – was also very harsh. The Jews, according to, Michael, lost his choosiness, and now the only chosen people are the Orthodox Christians. He stressed the absence in his definition of ethnic issues: the chosen people are not Russian, namely Orthodox Christians, regardless of nationality.

On this note, the round table was completed. Lev Regelson did not make a final statement, allowing everyone to draw conclusions for themselves. Neither I'm going to sum it up, for the same reason.

But to say that the round table ended would be not quite true. Round table took place two more times, with a weekly interval. Among the ensuing discussions, most informative was a historical review of Margarita Lobovsky, the author of the "Jewish newspaper." Surprising was a speech of a student of the Academy of World Civilizations, George Neustadt, who, as a practical implication, invited the audience to accept a Jewish-Orthodox appeal against the organization "Jews for Jesus", which, in his opinion, violates the  ethical principles not only against Jews, but also in respect to Orthodoxy. However, despite some interesting speeches, round-table discussions have no longer reached such a dramatic conclusions, such a bright representation of the contrasts and counterpoints, and such an impressive crescendo as at the curtain fall of the first round table, which, while being a spontaneous play, appeared as a fine crafted production of a skillful director!