At its 2023 annual meeting, the Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA) proposed to set up a working group to study and make recommendations on the issue of anti-Judaism in Orthodox Christian liturgical texts, a matter that gets occasional mention in academic papers but has rarely been given the theological and pastoral attention needed to address the concerns that have been raised.
In advance of Holy Week, a time when many of these anti-Jewish hymns are most prominent, the project was launched with an online seminar on Sunday 2 April 2023, in which our panelists introduced some of the main issues involved and suggested some practical advice that can be implemented in local parish usage.
Over 60 participants took part in the seminar chaired by Fr Geoffrey Ready, who in his preliminary remarks outlined the various theological and pastoral considerations of what is a long-overdue conversation. Dr George Demacopoulos then reprised his 2023 OTSA Conference talk, “Anti-Jewish Rhetoric in the Good Friday Hymns,” demonstrating that the core set of anti-Jewish Byzantine liturgical hymns arose in a particular historical context and did not reflect the theology of the earlier liturgical tradition. Fr Dcn Michael Azar followed up with a careful consideration of the central theological and prophetic elements of the Holy Week hymnography. Svetlana Panich offered the perspective of a Jewish Christian, focusing on the narrative division between “us” and “them” introduced by the problematic texts. A hearty discussion among the panelists and participants followed the presentations. The seminar culminated with some practical suggestions that might be undertaken at a local parish level.
The working group was launched with an online seminar on “Anti-Judaism in Orthodox Hymnography”
Initial reflection and consultation with potential working group participants made it clear that it would be futile simply to isolate anti-Jewish liturgical texts and make recommendations for removing or amending them. The renewal of liturgical texts used in worship requires deeper engagement with all aspects of the Orthodox Church’s teaching and preaching, including the theological and pastoral issues involved in its relationship with Judaism.
We are proposing, therefore, that the scope and goals for the working group should begin with producing a short (2-3 page) theological statement of key principles and then writing a longer (perhaps 80-100 page) document expanding on those principles and highlighting the key theological issues involved. Possible models for this work (both in terms of consultative process and form of the published end product) include several resources produced since the Second Vatican Council by the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s recent Preaching and Teaching “With Love and Respect for the Jewish People”, and the Church of England’s God’s Unfailing Word. We will also be drawing on years of experience and work on these issues by Orthodox Christian scholars throughout the world.
On the foundation of the short theological statement and longer document which the working group will prepare, a practical guide for liturgical renewal in local Orthodox churches and jurisdictions, including tackling specific textual issues, could then be offered.
This is without doubt a large, complex, and admittedly controversial project, but it is our conviction that it is vital for the Orthodox Church, in keeping with our ever-living tradition, always to reengage our theology and practice to ensure that our teaching, preaching, and worship are grounded in the fulness of God’s truth and love.
We welcome the involvement of Orthodox Christian teachers, pastors, and theologians — whether they be scholars of Scripture, Church history, patristics, liturgy theology, or experts in Christian-Jewish relations — as well as partners and consultants from other Christian churches and Jewish tradition.
If you are interested in being involved, please complete a short, three-question expression of interest form that will enable OCDJ’s steering committee members to organise the working group’s activities. Please get in touch if you have any questions or feedback, or if you can recommend other working group participants.
Thank you for your support for this project.
Rev Dr Geoffrey Ready, Trinity College, University of Toronto (Chair)
Rev Dr Michael Azar, University of Scranton
Rev Dr Bogdan Bucur, St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
Inga Leonova, Editor-in-Chief, The Wheel journal
Svetlana Panich, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
Rev Dr Alexandru Ioniță, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu