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VI. The Church of Jerusalem

VI.(D) The Early Church Alive Today

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (http://www.jerusalempatriarchate.net; http://www.jp-newsgate.net/en; http://jerusalem-patriarchate.info/en/welcome.htm) is still the Church founded by the Apostles in an organizational sense. The Church chose each of its patriarchs in a line running back to the Apostles. It's true that after the Jewish-Roman War of 132-135 AD, the pagan emperor Hadrian expelled the Jews from Jerusalem. However, the Church in Caesarea then sent Jerusalem a non-Jewish bishop, and Caesarea's bishops ultimately came from the Apostles. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Crusaders expelled Jerusalem's Orthodox Patriarch when they conquered the city in 1099-1187. But afterwards, the Orthodox Church in Constantinople sent Jerusalem another Patriarch.

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem continues to hold many sites in the Holy Land from Byzantine times. Its most famous sites include Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre, which holds the relics of Jerusalem's Patriarchs. It also has a seminary on Mount Zion. In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church “owns much of the land from the Jaffa Gate down the street of the Greek Patriarchate, all the way to the Holy Sepulchre” (“Interview of His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III”, http://www.jp-newsgate.net/en/2010/08/01/910) The Church’s properties roughly corresponds with the location of Orthodox community, concentrated around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Galilee:

Map of the Orthodox Church’s properties in 1921, a high point for the Church’s growth (source: Itamar Katz & Ruth Kark, "The church and landed property", Middle Eastern Studies, 43:3, p.386,
http://geography.huji.ac.il/.upload/RuthPub/Num%20101.pdf The researchers write that the Church’s property has not significantly decreased since then.)

Further, the Orthodox Church's general method in studying theology is to understand the theology of early Christianity. The early theologians are a source of authority to understand Christianity, and the Church values its traditions. As St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:15: "I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.”

The Orthodox Church continues the art and musical styles of Christianity's first centuries, with mosaics, painted icons, chanting, and the Octoechos cycle of hymns. Church services are sometimes in Hebrew or Greek. On St James' Day, and on the first Sunday after Christmas, the Church uses the Liturgy of St James, developed in Jerusalem in the 1st-4th centuries. It is the oldest liturgy in continuous use, and reads aloud from the Old and New Testament scriptures.

Elements of ancient Judaic worship also match Orthodox Christian worship. For example, synagogues had a "seat of Moses", which Jesus referred to as a sign or source of authority for its occupants to teach in Matthew 23:1-3. Like the synagogues that had a Moses’ seat, Orthodox churches have a bishop's seat.

"In the early Church... The special authority of the bishop to preach the Gospel was expressed by the custom of the bishop preaching from his cathedra (Greek for "seat"), his seat of authority which was modeled on that of 'Moses' Cathedra' mentioned by Jesus… [In the synagogues,] Moses' Seat was to be occupied by someone with authority to safeguard the word of God, the Torah which had been given to Moses. Sitting on Moses' Seat symbolized the succession of authority, starting with Moses, to officially expound the Torah to the people of Israel... This seat was located in the center of the synagogue on a raised platform called a bema. Thus the practice of bishops preaching from their cathedras as a sign of their authority is derived from the Old Testament Church. In fact, the word 'cathedral' comes from this Greek word cathedral: the cathedral is the church where the bishop has his cathedra." (V. Rev. Michael Najim, T.L. Frazier, "Understanding the Orthodox Liturgy", http://www.stnicholasla.com/frmichel/liturgyvid.pdf)

Besides the Moses’ seat / bishop’s seat, synagogues and Orthodox churches share similar features of a 7-branch candle (Menorah), incense, and building layout. As the synagogues' furthest wall from the entrance had a model of the Ark of the Covenant behind a curtain, and the Temple had the Ark of the Covenant behind gates, Orthodox churches have a "holy table" behind an “Iconostasis”: a row of gates with a curtain. Although Jerusalem's Temple priests kept its gates and curtain remained closed, Orthodox churches open their gates and curtain, as Jesus Christ revealed salvation to the world.

The central Orthodox Church service, the "Divine Liturgy", follows the basic format of synagogue services: an opening litany of prayers, a confession of God's faithfulness and mankind's sinfulness, prayers requesting His intercession, Scripture readings, a sermon, and then a prayer of blessings. In the synagogue service, the Torah is carried around the synagogue in a ceremonial procession. Similarly, in the “Little Entrance” of the Orthodox Christian Divine Liturgy, before the Gospel is read, a deacon- with the priests behind him- carries the Gospel Book out through the northern side door of the Iconostasis'. From this side door the deacon carries the Gospel into the middle of the church and in front of the Iconostasis’ Holy Doors, where the priest prays.

The Orthodox Church continues to revere the patriarchs and prophets of Israel and Judah. Just as the Church assigns “feast days” to Christian saints (called saints’ days), it also assigns feast days to the ancient patriarchs and prophets. For example, the holidays for some of the famous prophets we have discussed are:

Julian "Old" CalendarGregorian "New" CalendarProphet
Sunday after ChristmasSunday after ChristmasHoly Righteous King David (ruled c.1000 B.C.)
May 22May 9Prophet Isaiah (8th century BC)
May 14May 1Prophet Jeremiah (650 BC)
Dec. 30Dec. 17Holy Prophet Daniel (600 BC)
Aug. 3July 21Prophet Ezekiel (6th century BC)
Feb. 21Feb. 8Prophet Zechariah (520 BC)

Besides reverence for the Old Testament righteous, another similarity between Judaism and Christianity is the concept of the sacrificial system. In Christianity, the sacrificial Passover lamb corresponds to the "lamb of God" Jesus Christ, and the Israelites' Exodus from Egyptian slavery to freedom corresponds to Christians' resurrection from the prison of death to eternal life. The "Feast of Firstfruits" was celebrated the day after the Sabbath during the Passover holiday, when the priest would wave the first fruits of the harvest before the Lord's presence in the Temple. (Leviticus 23:9-15). Similarly, Christianity considers Jesus Christ the resurrected "first fruit" of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Central to Christianity is the concept that the ancient high priest's entrance into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, or "Yom Kippur", corresponds to Jesus' sacrificial entrance into God's dwelling place. It also corresponds to the Christian Divine Liturgy's Great Entrance and the offering for Communion. On Yom Kippur, the high priest completely wore pure linen, killed "the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself," and entered the Holy of Holies with the bullock's blood. Leviticus 16:14-16(JPT) records the instructions:

"And he shall take some of the bull's blood and sprinkle [it] with his index finger on top of the ark cover on the eastern side; and before the ark cover, he shall sprinkle seven times from the blood, with his index finger. He shall then slaughter the he goat of the people's sin offering and bring its blood within the dividing curtain, and he shall do with its blood as he had done with the bull's blood, and he shall sprinkle it upon the ark cover and before the ark cover. And he shall effect atonement upon the Holy from the defilements of the children of Israel and from their rebellions and all their unintentional sins."

After the high priest sprinkled the cover of the Ark, which held the Law, and effected atonement, he came out of the temple. The deuterocanonical Old Testament book Sirach 50:1-13 (King James Version) describes the momentary "coming out" of "Simon the high priest, the son of Onias" in godlike terms:

"How was he honoured in the midst of the people in his coming out of the sanctuary! He was as the morning star in the midst of a cloud, and as the moon at the full: As the sun shining upon the temple of the most High, and as the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds: And as the flower of roses in the spring of the year, as lilies by the rivers of waters, and as the branches of the frankincense tree in the time of summer: As fire and incense in the censer, and as a vessel of beaten gold set with all manner of precious stones: And as a fair olive tree budding forth fruit, and as a cypress tree which groweth up to the clouds... So were all the sons of Aaron in their glory, and the oblations of the Lord in their hands, before all the congregation of Israel." 

The Epistle to the Hebrews 9:7-28 connects the High Priest's offering for Atonement to Jesus Christ's offering for Atonement, commenting that:

"into the [inner tabernacle] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 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 Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us... So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."

In the Great Entrance, the Christian priest carries bread and wine mixed with water(Psalm 22:14; John 19:34) and stands in front of the gates and curtain of the church's holy place. Jesus Christ's sacrifice was "once," so the Church doesn't make new sacrifices. Instead, the gates and curtain open, and the priest enters and places the Communion offering on the holy table. The priest prays that the Lord will make the offering Christ's body and blood. (The changed nature of the elements is a mystery). Then the priest comes out with the Eucharist and announces: "With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near", and the choir sings: "Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. The Lord is God and has appeared to us." (Psalm 117:27 ; Liturgy of John Chrysostom, 5th century). Thus in the 3rd millennium, the Church of Jerusalem faithfully continues to celebrate the Eucharist in remembrance of Christ (Luke 22:14-20).


6th century map of Jerusalem from St George's Orthodox Church, Madaba, Jordan



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