Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel

Nikolaos: The people are victorious

Ukrainian icon of Mar Nikolaos
Ukrainian icon of Mar Nikolaos (photo: Alexander Winogradsky-Frenkel)

According to the Julian calendar, Aug 11/Jul 29, 2023 is the commemoration of Mor Nikolaos, Saint Nicholas of Myra of Lycia, a man who wrought and continues to work miracles. A life intertwined with “legends, accounts”, but a Saint who is a major character in the Eastern traditions of the Churches.

The photo was taken some years ago during the Divine Liturgy that I served at the Saint Nikolaos Monastery of Jerusalem. It is in the small, tiny side chapel on the right dedicated to Mor Antonios the Great. My numerous Ukrainian faithful came to participate in the Liturgy and brought me as a gift this embroidered icon of Saint Nicholas that they were given in order to bring it to me and to the place.

This is the altar, (the sanctuary). And there is in the middle of the picture the “basic” Gospel in Greek, then upon it on the left, the Gospel in Hebrew and Aramaic, and on the right the Gospel in Slavonic-Russian and Ukrainian in one volume. In front of the Gifts (the place is really narrow), the text of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostomos in Hebrew and Slavonic as a copy of the original kept at the Hebrew University and which had been given to me by the first refuseniks before 1980.

It is quite strange how people act about getting to pray in Hebrew when they hardly can read or understand what the words of Eucharist compel them to understand, i.e. dig deep into the very in-depth meaning, the significance of the words, mainly extracted from the Semitic roots but not only, definitely not, just as the Hebrew tradition is a mixture of different tongues and texts and declarations, oral backgrounds.

There are the Ukrainians to come, indeed, but also a lot of visitors. The place is known in Jerusalem but is rather closed, not often open. It is quite intriguing how Hebrew was more than accepted. An Arab priest who was an old and renowned man in the Arab clergy, used to come and ask me to communicate him. He could take the Eucharist, but strangely enough, he wanted to receive It from the serving priest.

The chanting was heard far into the street, i.e. Hebrew, Slavonic, Russian, Ukrainian… but there were never remarks or bad comments, definitely not. at times some “whistle-blowers” would come along and then report what I said during the homily to the staff of the Patriarchate which is next door.

Just the way the Greek hierarchs used some years ago to sit down at the Kishleh Police station at Jaffa Gate and speak, speak, speak at length on what is going inside of the Church in their special Mediterranean English tongue. Quite funny.

For more than ten years, the higumen(s) of the Mar Nikolaos Monastery would come to the Divine Liturgy and ascertain the upper staff that my prayers were definitely canonically Orthodox, not heretic, not “Jewish” (lol!) – Pt Bartholomaios of Constantinople had told me that I could, of course, mention the patriarchs and the heads of the Orthodox Churches, and I got the blessing in Jerusalem confirmed.

But the “Russian speakers” could not understand that there is a Patriarch in Jerusalem who is not in Moscow! Amazing and quite normal: the Church was just born again in the former Soviet Empire. During the second intifada, I was serving at the St Haralambos church, located in a really “Arab” quarter. The faithful used to come to pray each Wednesday and Saturday and in the silence of a sort of very special atmosphere (war, conflict) we did chant in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavonic along with some Arabic too. I always prayed for each country in the Middle East, the Israeli Prime Minister, the Jordanian King, the Palestinian Chairman, etc.

Some true “Believers” reported that I was praying for anti-Christian and atheistic rulers, godless authorities (!), good gracious! The faithful and I always got full assistance from the Israeli religious authorities when things were too “hot” – it immediately cooled down. As a rule, the traditional Church jurisdictions are scared when they see that officials are involved. When I married an Israeli soldier of Georgian background to a young soldier, their אלוף/aluf-first leader in command, who appreciated them was present accompanied by all sorts of ranking soldiers of TsaHaL.

But there we often had terrible “pogroms”, real ones. I was not allowed to have the key to the church. So someone had to come and open. It happened several times that we had to serve outside the church, on the “deck”. People were faithful to come and participate in these Liturgies. It is just a weirdo. It is Jerusalem too. Things are bizarre, but you really feel that there are some “devilish” pulsions. At times, the Romanian nuns would come and shout to get out because Jews are heretics, and Hebrew is a sign of Satan. Well, somehow the idea is present among modern Orthodox theologians. Then there are the superseders who are convinced that non-Jews better master the Hebrew tongue.

Replacement, they call that and some Nations are eager to replace the other nations or destroy them. I never stepped down nor do I step at present. At times, it was funny, really! The pogrom was taking place as a rabbinical friend or an Israeli representative had decided to join us on that day! Sudden apologies, sudden help for the Service, sudden what? We call that chutzpah – cowardice. I never stood up against those who are my brothers and sisters, the monk who is a Yike-eater, or the Romanian nun who just always has to curb down and is mocked. Or the very poor Moldovans paid 300 Eur a month without medical and social care. And they used to send the bigger part of this amount to their families in Moldova – they do it today. But the work is very dangerous: it often consisted in climbing up and down the roof of the Holy Sepulcher because it always needs repair.

Who needs a repair? Of course, one would say that it was nonsense for me to accept such a Service in the Mother Church. The nonsense is that this meshuge (shmegege in the US) context is at the measure of what the Churches are. And because the whole thing deals with the Eucharist (Divine Presence) we ought to shut up and try to be human. At the Hebrew University, a renowned professor used to say that there where I also pray(ed) in Yiddish, this was the act of a “voyle neshume/ וווילע נשמה =a good (if not blessed) soul(s)” I would put it in the plural.

Now, Nikolaos is the man of God who showed how the “people can be victorious”, Someway, it corresponds to our trendy “democratic” adjective, in particular in faith. It is very difficult to achieve this target, but this is the goal of unity, respect and oneness.

About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.
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