33 days after the Jewish Easter. The Jews are preparing to celebrate Lag BaOmer. The Ghriba Synagogue with its Blue Tiles on Djerba Island in Tunisia wears its festivals to welcome its faithful who come from all corners of the world to celebrate Lag BaOmer with the 1100 Jews of the island.
Jews, Christians and Muslims come to the synagogue to pray and light candles. Women sit on the floor to put their eggs there with their wishes written on them. According to the local tradition, the stone of the floor used to be in the Temple of Jerusalem. Outside of the synagogue, the musicians have not stopped playing, the dried figs of wine flow abundantly and all of them eat from a table full of fish and couscous.
The story of the Jewish community
According to the history, a large number of Jews fled to Tunisia after the first temple was destroyed by the Romans, around 500 BC. During this period the first synagogue was built. The Jews brought with them a door from the Temple as well as a stone from the altar of the Temple. Today, according to the residents of the area, both the door and the stone are placed into the “Ghriba” Synagogue.
However, the Sephardic Jews of Spain found shelter on the island of Tunisia after the persecutions suffered by King Ferdinand and Isabella. Until 1956, when Tunisia gained its independence from France, the Jews would count 100,000 of which most would live on Djerba Island in harmony with their Muslim brothers.
In Arabic, Ghriba means “mysterious”, “strange” and many wonder why this name was given to the synagogue. According to the myth that dominates the narratives, the place where the congregation was discovered at the beginning of the 19th century inhabited a young “mysterious” girl who never spoke to anyone on the island. The girl died in her cabin when it grabbed fire. Surprisingly, the Jewish residents found her body intact and, in honor of the “mysterious” girl, founded the “Ghriba” Synagogue in the Jewish village of Harah Seghira.
The Lag BaOmer feast and coexistence
The pilgrimage to Lag BaOmer attracts hundreds of Jews from all over the world. They visit the synagogue, pray and participate in the rites that take place in both days of the feast. The marches are in the form of a wedding ceremony and symbolize the secret union between the People of Israel and the Divine. Women leave eggs with the name of a single girl in the place where the girl’s body is supposed to be found. The festival includes both Jews and Muslims. Muslim neighbors help the Jews prepare the place to welcome all this crowd. They also pray in the Synagogue while Muslim women leave the same eggs with written wishes in Arabic so they can get married in the future.
Muhammad has been making mats for the congregation for 50 years. “The most important thing for us is to show that in Djerba Jews and Muslims can live together harmoniously.”
As many people leave for a nearby beach or casino, the local Jews stay in the Synagogue so they can continue their own local customs: the first haircut of a three-year-old boy or the preparation of a big and specific dinner where the whole community will sit together.
The revenue that comes from the Lag BaOmer feast is enough. All the money is for the Jewish nursing home of the village of Harah Seghira and for the maintenance of the twenty synagogues on the island.
Amal who works in Houmt’s market and goes every year to the Synagogue to worship, says “Everything is to be human. We sit here next to each other and we see no difference. “
Walking through the streets of Djerba you can not recognize the Jew by the Muslim. Only a few older Jews put a piece of black cloth at the bottom of their trousers. Mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Over the last three decades most visitors come from places outside Tunisia. By 2015, however, Israel issued a directive to Israeli citizens not to travel to Tunisia for the annual pilgrimage for safety reasons.
Earlier in the year, the country had suffered three terrorist attacks by extremist religious organizations. Almost all the attacks were in places an hour away from the island. That year, the security measures for the pilgrimage were draconian with checkpoints all over the island, special forces scattered all over, and military trucks full of guns.
On the first day of the feast, Abdelfattah Mourou, spokesman for the moderate Muslim party Islamic Enhanda, embraced rabbi Bittan outside the synagogue and told the crowd “Tunisia is protecting its Jews. What leads to the extremes is the existence of only one culture and one culture. The existence of many cultures leads us to accept one another normally. “
The Jews of today
Today, 1100 Jews live in Djerba. According to chief rabbi Haim Bittan each year only 30 new births are made to Jewish families. In recent years, Jews have begun to leave the place not because of persecution of a religious or racial nature but because of a financial crisis.
Yisha Mamou, 24, who is a teacher at the Hebrew Kindergarten, says “I graduated economically at public high school but, like most in Tunisia, I did not have the opportunity to continue at the University. I want to leave because I have nothing to do. All I do is go back to work and work on the house. “
Until 2004, the Jewish community of Tunisia supported three elementary schools, two lyceums and a religious study school (yeshiva) as well as archbishop. A few years ago, the only Kosher restaurant was closed, and as the whole Jewish community shows, it will begin to shrink if both their own state and the community itself find ways to keep young people there.
No one owes anyone anything?
Amazing things keep happening in Ukraine: what we (and many others) had been writing and talking about for almost a year was suddenly confirmed by the most unusual and unexpected source.
According to the Orthodox Journalists Union website, citing Ukrainian radio program “ Persona Grata,” Filaret Denisenko not only rejects the status of “former Metropolitan of Kiev” that Constantinople gave him, but also says that he has never recognized the anathema placed upon him in 1997 by the Russian Orthodox Church, of which he was once a canonical hierarch.
“Well, if the Ecumenical Patriarch removed the anathema from me in 2018, does it mean that I had been under the anathema until 2018?” Filaret wondered. “If I was under anathema, it means that all these bishops are invalid. As to Epiphany, he is not a Metropolitan; he is not even a priest. If the Ecumenical Patriarch lifted the anathema from me in 2018, then the entire episcopate is invalid!” he added. Thus, by dismissing the Constantinople Patriarch’s meddling in Ukrainian church affairs, Filaret is actually implying that either everyone (including the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the UOC-KP) are schismatics and heretics, or no one owes anyone anything now. Then why are we talking about debts? Here is why.
On the surface of it, it might look as if the old intriguer and schismatic is right! The truth, however, lies with the Orthodox Church canons, not with what Filaret is saying. In our October article, titled “Legalizing the Schism – the Patriarchate of Constantinople crossed the red line”, we questioned the Ecumenical Patriarch’s decision to “lift” the anathema, both from Filaret himself and his structure and “clerics.” The article also wondered how come a schismatic under anathema could all of a sudden become “the former Metropolitan of Kiev,” and his associates “the former” metropolitans, bishops and priests. Our view was fully shared by the Russian Orthodox Church, and also by the Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose position on the issue has been extremely consistent and unswerving: “The Council regrets the canonically ill-advised decision by the Patriarchate of Constantinople to exonerate and officially recognize two leaders of splinter groups in Ukraine as bishops Filaret Denisenko and Makariy Maletich, along with their episcopate and clergy.”
Moreover, Filaret went even further in his statements and exposés.
“Do not call the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the canonical Church, do not state untruths,” declared Filaret, who suddenly started espousing the truth. “It is not recognized by other Churches as canonical, it is recognized only by the Ecumenical Patriarch. It has the Tomos [of autocephaly], but essentially it is not autocephalous. It is not recognized as canonical by 13 Local Churches. So why does it call itself canonical, when no one serves with Metropolitan Epiphany, except the Ecumenical Patriarch?”
According to Filaret Denisenko, “no church, be it the ROC, or those of Hellas, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland and Georgia, recognizes the so-called UOC, just like they didn’t the UOC-KP before. Therefore, we should not be bragging about having the Tomos of autocephaly. It has misled us,” Denisenko says, admitting the obvious fact that receiving the Tomos has not brought the Ukrainian schismatics anywhere closer to the single family of world Orthodoxy.
Obviously, the “honorable patriarch” has uttered nothing new and offered no maxims from the annals of canonic law. What conclusions can one make analyzing similar “revelations” being made by this Ukrainian heresyarch? Are they really signs of him suffering from senile dementia? Hardly so – although old and angry, Filaret is certainly not a fool and is just as perfectly versed in canonical matters as are the most diehard advocates of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
In a thinly veiled threat, “Metropolitan” Epiphany has already hinted that if Filaret and his supporters persist in their efforts to undermine the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (a clear reference to the Church Council scheduled by Filaret for June 20) they could expect “…all canonical and legal consequences.”
Assuming that Epiphany is careful not to openly challenge his former benefactor, Filaret realizes that the only canonical backlash he may face will come from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. To Denisenko all this looks very logical, reasonable and legitimate (something he is trying to get across to those who listen): Epiphany and others like him are duly recognized by Patriarch Bartholomew, and since they were all ordained by Filaret, it means that there was no anathema then, therefore Bartholomew never lifted it and so no one owes anyone anything!
Just how the current bickering by these clowns will end we’ll see very soon. And with a great deal of pleasure too since all this squabbling when schismatics keep dragging beards over autocephaly, accusing each other of being pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian, this gives the canonical Church of Ukraine a much-needed breather. May God extend Filaret’s days, so that he comes up with something good or says something interesting…
From our partner International Affairs
Pressure on the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro
The Montenegrin Government adopted a draft law on May 16 that included a register of all religious objects, for which they claim that they were formerly owned by the independent kingdom of Montenegro before it become part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918. The new law states that religious communities may only retain ownership of their property if they have clear evidence of ownership, triggering accusations from Serbian Orthodox Church that the Government plans to dispute the Church’s property.
”If there is no such evidence, it is a matter of property created and acquired by the state of Montenegro and represents the cultural heritage of all its citizens,” the draft says. Such property will be listed as a cultural treasure, that is, as state property of Montenegro.
On June 8 at the election conference of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in Niksic, Party President Milo Djukanovic said that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is trying to protect the “big Serbia infrastructure“. Djukanovic also accused the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose members constitute the overwhelming majority of Christians in Montenegro, of hindering the European ambitions of society, and of trying to keep the religious monopoly in the country. Previously, Djukanovic had declared that like Ukraine, Montenego will ask for the autocephaly of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which is not recognized.
According to him, in the Balkans, as well as in Montenegro, there is still a difficult struggle between the two policies – one that the DPS and Montenegro lead, which is the Europeanization of this area, and the other that tries to conserve the state of the lagging behind of the Balkans. Although, as he pointed out, they did a lot on the building of Montenegrin identity, there was another important step, which is to “correct the serious injustice” done at the beginning of the 20th century and the abolition of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. He suggested that he would work devotedly to the reconstruction of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, whether somebody like it or not, as well as to guarantee a real but not formal freedom of religion.
„We will not formally ensure that people can pray to God but only in those churches that will be monopolized by them, in this case, the Serbian Orthodox Church. No, it’s not the freedom of religion. We will fight for the freedom of religion and the separation of the church from the state. We will not allow contemporary Montenegro to live under the dictation of a religious organization that represents the relic of the past and which can hardly understand that it has long since passed and that Montenegro, like Serbia and all the societies in the Western Balkans, have the right to its own consistent European future, “said Montenegrin president.
Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral (Serbian Orthodox Church) was shocked by the statement of the Montenegrin president.
“I was stunned by what I heard from the President of Montenegro, the man who is the successor of the communist Government and who publicly declare himself as an atheist. On the other hand, he complains that the church should not interfere in politics, and he tries to be the head of the church, to create its own church. This is the first time in history that an atheist creates a church”.
In a previous interview with the news agency TASS, Metropolitan Amfilohije recalled that the project of the so-called “Montenegrin Church” emanated from the communist rule, already in the years 1970-1980. The Metropolitan mentioned that “the Montenegrin Church” is not recognized by anyone, except by the Ukrainian schismatics: “The only one who has recognized this “Church of Montenegro” is [Filaret] Denisenko. Now, they hope that Constantinople will recognize them, but this is absolutely impossible because Dedeic, who is at the head of the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church, was a priest of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Rome, and was laicized because of his crimes. So there can be no such recognition”.
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej warned Montenegrin President Djukanovic that his actions might lead to a formal curse, or anathema, being declared.
“Let God give him the mind to think what he is doing, and not deserve the anathema of the whole Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church,” Patriarch Irinej told a Church TV station Hram(Temple).
Serbian Orthodox Church is the largest denomination in multi-ethnic Montenegro, but its relations with the pro-Western Government have always been poor. The Government considers Serbian Orthodox Church hostile to the independence of the country, and generally as too pro-Serbian and pro-Russian. The story of the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church lasts for almost three decades and has had several development phases. In the first phase, at least officially, its initiators in the first half of the 90s of the 20th century were some separatist political parties and quasi-cultural and scientific organizations. However, when Djukanovic strengthened power in 1997, with the support of the West, it began with the change of the historical identity of Montenegro. Then, in the old capital of Cetinje, the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church were attacked. The Serbian Orthodox Church easy overcame that first extreme blow in the late 1990s and early 2000s, because, apart from the old capital of Cetinje, the Serbian Orthodox Church was the most important institution in all other cities in Montenegro. The same situation is today.
In line with that Montenegrin regime now started with another tactic. They realized that in spite of strong pressure, the people in Montenegro did not accept the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. That is why the Montenegrin Government decided to take away the temples from the Serbian Orthodox Church and register them as a state property. After that, Montenegrin Government will make appointments for service in the temples for Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox Church. And then the ruling party will force their party membership to go to the service, when it serves Montenegrin Orthodox Church.
Western centers of power supported Milo Djukanovic in 1997 and 1999 against Slobodan Milosevic. He was allowed to win the presidential election with various non-democratic methods, and finally in 2006 to make a referendum for separation from Serbia. The referendum was held in a totally irregular atmosphere. Djukanovic is the wildcard of the West who has agreed, to keep Milo Djukanovic in power to change the traditional Serbian/Slavic – Orthodox identity into Montenegrin, Roman Catholic and Western identity. Serbian identity of Montenegro, has already been broken through decades of Yugoslav communist rule which made a strong promotion of Montenegrin nation. As a result, state with a completely new and artificial identity was created.
The only missing link is the Montenegrin church. This is where the global conflict of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is happening. The so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church openly expresses sympathy for the Catholic Church. If the project of the Government of Montenegro and the West were to pass, Serbian Orthodoxy would be pushed from the Adriatic. That would be the strongest blow to Serbia and Republic of Srpska. It is not pretentious to say that the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church, the historical nation and institution of Montenegro came to the red line of survival of their identity, beyond which there is no further withdrawal.
From our partner International Affairs
Only Patriarch Filaret will protect Ukrainian faithful in diaspora
There are about 20 million Ukrainians who live outside Ukraine; most of them are Orthodox Christians. However, according to the Tomos of autocephaly, these people don’t belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church anymore.
We are told that our transition into the jurisdiction of Constantinople will not change anything in the life of our parishes. We were promised that we would be governed by our Ukrainian hierarchs and that Ukrainian priests would be appointed for us or kept in their positions. But all this is a lie. The UOC of Canada and the UOC of the USA are completely dependent on Constantinople. On any issue, including the approval of their own statutory documents, their hierarchs apply to Istanbul and rush to blame each other before Patriarch Bartholomew whenever conflicts erupt.
So far, the Church of Constantinople has tolerated the existence of its subordinate Ukrainian Churches and doesn’t mind increasing their number. However, the distant future of these Churches is the same as of the recently abolished Paris Archdiocese or the Orthodox Church of Finland which reportedly may face reformatting and liquidation in several years. Even such a large and self-sufficient entity as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is completely dependent on Istanbul, as confirmed by the resignation of Archbishop Demetrios and the appointment of Metropolitan Elpidophoros in his place.
The general policy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is that all “parallel” and “autonomous” structures in the Orthodox Diaspora will be gradually eliminated, and their communities will be transferred to a single center. Archbishop Elpidophoros will take a lead on this in the USA, Archbishop Makarios will do this in Australia, and other hierarchs in Europe. When the situation in the Diaspora is brought in line with the Canon law (one city, one bishop, one Church), there will be simply no positions for Ukrainian bishops.
Finally, as to the parish life – what rectors will bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate appoint for Ukrainian parishes in diaspora? We already have an example – St. Nicholas Church in Valencia, Spain. At first, an unknown man in civilian clothes began to appear among the believers, then he called himself a priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and was allowed to minister, and then he was appointed rector. At that, no documents confirming his priestly rank dignity has been shown to the community members! And of course there was nothing Ukrainian in him at all. Valencia parishioners have got neither his support, nor merely participation in their cultural initiatives and traditions, which are, in fact, the very expression of the national identity of any community.
This is how the congregation can receive from Constantinople a “super-canonical” (perhaps, even having Moscovian background!) Ukrainian-speaking clergyman, but lose the Ukrainian spirit, originated from centuries-old customs as well as from the memory of the Holodomor, the Heavenly Hundred killed during the Euromaidan Revolution, the heroes of the war in Donbass.
Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and all Ukraine left the parishes of the Kyivan Patriarchate in the Diaspora to their own devices, so that they would become subordinate to the local bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He also agreed with the appointment of new rectors by the Phanar. Now, when the congregational peace is broken, and the very community in Valencia asks to replace the priest, he told Metropolitan Hilarion to deal with the. “Is it not too late for an attempt to solve the problems of the community which he turned his back to? Then whose parish are we?” – the believers wonder. – “The Ecumenical Patriarchate or the OCU?”
Another example of ambivalence in the actions of the OCU Hierarchs is their attitude towards the Orthodox churches of Montenegro and Macedonia that have not yet been recognized by Constantinople. In the Kyivan Patriarchate, we always were in communion with them and concelebrated with the representatives of their clergy. And this was a considered, fully reasoned decision by His Holiness Patriarch Filaret. These Churches are the same as our Church has always been. Indeed, they haven’t been recognized yet, but there is no reason to consider their sacraments invalid. If their sacraments are null and void, were then ours too? And if their sacraments are valid, why can not we concelebrate with them? Sooner or later, time will sort things out, the Orthodox world will recognize them as it recognized us.
What do we have with Epiphanius at the helm? On the one hand, in the Australian city of Newcastle, the OCU parish does not allow clerics of the Macedonian Orthodox Church to serve in the temple. They say, we are now recognized, and they are not. On the other hand, though secretly from the Metropolitan Emmanuel, clergyman of the similar “unrecognized” Montenegrin Orthodox Church Archimandrite Bojan Bojović was admitted to concelebrate Liturgy in the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery on May 26. But what is the difference between him and the priest of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Newcastle? It’s hard to answer, especially taking into account that the Phanar has already taken the appeal of the Macedonian Church to consideration and its recognition seems to be not far off.
Patriarch Filaret never taught to juggle the Holy Canons for the sake of political gains; on the contrary, he is the one who sticks to them more than others. And he is completely independent and never betrays the truth. The Kyivan Patriarchate existed and developed successfully without any recognition, as did the fraternal Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches.
While Metropolitan Epiphanius is bound by some obligations to the Greeks, afraid of something or simply does not know what to do, Patriarch Filaret has a necesssary vision, status and determination to fight for the future of the Orthodox Ukrainians in the diaspora and to protect their interests. That is why foes seek to prevent him from governing the Church, the spiritual leader and founder of which he is.
At the request of the Greeks, Poroshenko forced Patriarch Filaret to write a refusal from his candidacy before the election of the OCU’s Primate. For the sake of independence and recognition of the new Ukrainian Church, Patriarch Filaret gave the “Greek party” a chance. But the promises given to the Patriarch have been broken. The Kyivan Patriarchate has lost its status and independence, and no recognition by the Local Churches but for the Phanar has been received. Instead of this, a permanent exarch of the Phanar was placed in Ukraine, the “pearl” of Kyiv – St. Andrew’s Church was given to him, and the first bishop ordained in the OCU was a citizen of Greece and ethnic Greek but not Ukrainian.
However, even after the election of Metropolitan Epiphanius, 15.5% of the population of Ukraine (that is more than the amount of those 14.2% Ukrainians who support UOC MP having 12 thousand parishes in Ukraine!) would like Patriarch Filaret to be the Primate of the OCU, despite his age. And a large part of the communities left the jurisdiction of Moscow to join the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP), which, according to Patriarch Bartholomew, “has never existed”.
Given that the young bishops have sold their souls to the Phanar for their ambitions, Patriarch Filaret is almost the only leader in the Ukrainian Church who still believes that it must be independent and serve interests of Ukraine. If Ukrainians in diaspora refuse to support him, they will betray their patriarch and their own country. In return, they will receive Greek bishops and the only freedom to pay contributions to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. And taking into account the needs and appetites of the Phanar, the contribution rates will be sky-high.
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