Orthodox Christian Canons Concerning Jews (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article contains only a few of the numerous Orthodox Canons in The Rudder concerning the Jewish religion and peoples. The canon forbidding Christians to go to Jewish physicians is now considered to be anachronistic, according to various monastics at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries for two reasons: “they don’t use black magic in their remedies anymore” and, as one Geronda stated, “Most of the doctors today are Jews. If we followed that canon strictly, we’d never be able to get medical treatment for anything.” When the monastics receive various accusations of being anti-Semitic, they sometimes respond with an air of triumph, “Geronda Ephraim’s personal physician is Jewish.” 

The Jewish priest Athonios about to have his hand severed by an angel of God (Dormition icon detail)
The Jewish priest Athonios about to have his hand severed by an angel of God (Dormition icon detail)

APOSTOLIC CANON LXV (65)

If any Clergyman, or Layman, enter a synagogue of Jews or of heretics to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated.86 (Apostolic Canons VII, XLV, LXXI; Canon XI of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canon I of Antioch; Canons VI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXVII, XXXVIII of Laodicea.)

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INTERPRETATION

The present Canon considers it a great sin for a Christian to enter a synagogue of Jews or of heretics in order to pray. “For what does a believer share with an infidel?” (II Corinthians 6:15), according to the divine Apostle. For the Jews themselves violating the Law by going into their synagogues and offering sacrifices, in view of the fact that the offering of sacrifices anywhere outside of Jerusalem is forbidden, according to the Law. This is testified by divine St. Justin in his dialogue with Tryphon, and by Sozomenos in his Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 21, and by St. Chrysostom in his second discourse against the Jews. Then how much greater violation is that of the Christian who prays together with the crucifiers of Christ? But it also must be emphasized that any churches of heretics, or any of their meetings, should not to be given honor or attended, because they believe things contrary to the beliefs of the Orthodox, but rather ought to be rejected. Thus it is that the present Canon ordains that if any clergyman or layman enters the synagogue of the Jews or that of heretics offering gracious prayers, that clergyman shall be deposed and at the same time excommunicated because that he has committed a great sin; but as for the layman he is only to be excommunicated, since, because being a layman, he has sinned to a lesser degree than has the clergyman, and as a layman he is not liable to deposition and cannot be deposed. Or more correctly, as others interpret the matter, the clergyman that enters a synagogue of Jews or heretics to pray shall be deposed, while any layman that does the same thing shall be excommunicated. Read also the Interpretation of Apostolic Canon VII and that of Apostolic Canon XLV.

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APOSTOLIC CANON LXX (70)

If any Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, or anyone at all who is on the list of clergymen, fast together with Jews, or celebrates a holiday together with them, or accepts from them holiday gifts or favors, such as unleavened wafers, or anything of the like, let him be deposed. If a layman do likewise, however, let him be excommunicated. (Apostolic Canons VII, LXV, LXXI; Canon XI of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canons XXIX, XXXVII, XXXVIII of Laodicea; Canons LX, LXXXI, CXVII of Carthage)

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INTERPRETATION

In case anyone prays in company with excommunicated persons only, he is excommunicated; or if he does so with persons that have been deposed only, he is deposed: then how much more is it improper that any clergyman who fasts in company with the Christ-killing Jews or celebrates any festival with them ought to be deposed, or if any layman do the same, should he be excommunicated? Hence it is that the present Apostolic Canon ordains that if any bishop or priest or deacon, or anyone else at all that is on the clerical list fasts along with the Jews or celebrates Pascha along with them, or any other festivals or holidays, or accepts any strange gifts from them, such as unleavened wafers, 100 which they eat during their days of Passover; and on all their feasts and on the occasion of every sacrifice where they offer unleavened wafers, let him be deposed. If, on the other hand, any layman does the same, let him be excommunicated.

For even though those who accept such things and join in fasting or celebrating are not of the same mind as the Jews and do not entertain the same religious beliefs and views as the latter (for if they did, they ought not only to be deposed or excommunicated, as the case might be, but also to be consigned to anathema, according to Canon XXIX of Laodicea), yet, as a matter of fact, they do afford occasion for scandal and give rise to a suspicion that they are actually honoring the ceremonies of the Jews, a thing which is alien to Orthodoxy. I omit mention of the fact that such persons are also polluting themselves by associating with Christ-killers. To them God says: “My soul hates your fasting and your idleness and your festivals.See also the Interpretation of Apostolic Canon VII.

APOSTOLIC CANON LXXI (71)

If any Christian conveys oil to a temple of heathen, or to a synagogue of Jews, in their festivals, or lights lamps for them, let him be excommunicated. (Apostolic Canons VII, LXV, LXXI; Canon XI of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canons XXIX, XXXVII, XXXVIII of Laodicea; Canons LIX, LXXXII, CXXIII of Carthage.)

Postcard of 1905 Odessa Pogrom
Postcard of 1905 Odessa Pogrom

INTERPRETATION

This Canon too, like the one above, excommunicates any Christian who should offer oil to a temple of heathen or of idolaters, or to a synagogue of Jews, when they are having their festivals, or should light their lamps. For in doing this he appears to believe that their false ceremonies and rites are true, and that their tainted mysteries are genuine. Read also the Interpretation of Apostolic Canon VII.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III (2015)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III (2015)

CANON XI OF THE 6TH ECUMENICAL COUNCIL

Let no one enrolled in the clerical list, or any layman, eat the unleavened wafers manufactured by the Jews, or in any way become familiar with the Jews or call them in case of sickness, or take any medicines from them, or even bathe with them in public bathing beaches or bathhouses. If anyone should attempt to do this, if he is a, clergyman, let hint be deposed, or if he is a layman, let him, be excommunicated.

INTERPRETATION

The present Canon commands that no person in Holy Orders and no layman may eat any unleavened wafers sent him by Jews, nor indeed be at all friendly with Jews nor when he finds himself ill may he call them and take their remedies18 or even bathe with them in baths and bathing places. In case anyone should do this, or any of these things, if he is a clergyman, let him be deposed; but if he is a layman, let him be excommunicated. Read also Apostolic Canon Canons VII and LXX.

  1. NO TREATMENT BY JEWISH PHYSICIANS AND WHY

That is why St. Chrysostom says in agreement herewith for no one to go to Jewish physicians to be treated (page 360 of Volume VI).

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow with the Chief Rabbi of Israel (2012).
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow with the Chief Rabbi of Israel (2012).

NOTE: The above Canon is interesting considering the Wisdom of Sirach instructs Christians to honor doctors and physicians.

“Honour a physician with the honour due unto him for the uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him. For of the Most High cometh healing, and he shall receive honour of the king. The skill of the physician shall lift up his head: and in the sight of great men he shall be in admiration. The Lord hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor them. Was not the water made sweet with wood, that the virtue thereof might be known? And he hath given men skill, that he might be honoured in his marvellous works. With such doth he heal men, and taketh away their pains. Of such doth the apothecary make a confection; and of his works there is no end; and from him is peace over all the earth, My son, in thy sickness be not negligent: but pray unto the Lord, and he will make thee whole. Leave off from sin, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thy heart from all wickedness.  Give a sweet savour, and a memorial of fine flour; and make a fat offering, as not being. Then give place to the physician, for the Lord hath created him: let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time when in their hands there is good success. For they shall also pray unto the Lord, that he would prosper that, which they give for ease and remedy to prolong life. He that sinneth before his Maker, let him fall into the hand of the physician. My son, let tears fall down over the dead, and begin to lament, as if thou hadst suffered great harm thyself; and then cover his body according to the custom, and neglect not his burial. Weep bitterly, and make great moan, and use lamentation, as he is worthy, and that a day or two, lest thou be evil spoken of: and then comfort thyself for thy heaviness. For of heaviness cometh death, and the heaviness of the heart breaketh strength. In affliction also sorrow remaineth: and the life of the poor is the curse of the heart. Take no heaviness to heart: drive it away, and member the last end. Forget it not, for there is no turning again: thou shalt not do him good, but hurt thyself. Remember my judgment: for thine also shall be so; yesterday for me, and today for thee. When the dead is at rest, let his remembrance rest; and be comforted for him, when his Spirit is departed from him. The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure: and he that hath little business shall become wise. How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their labours, and whose talk is of bullocks? He giveth his mind to make furrows; and is diligent to give the kine fodder. So every carpenter and workmaster, that laboureth night and day: and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit imagery, and watch to finish a work: The smith also sitting by the anvil, and considering the iron work, the vapour of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he fighteth with the heat of the furnace: the noise of the hammer and the anvil is ever in his ears, and his eyes look still upon the pattern of the thing that he maketh; he setteth his mind to finish his work, and watcheth to polish it perfectly: So doth the potter sitting at his work, and turning the wheel about with his feet, who is alway carefully set at his work, and maketh all his work by number;  He fashioneth the clay with his arm, and boweth down his strength before his feet; he applieth himself to lead it over; and he is diligent to make clean the furnace: All these trust to their hands: and everyone is wise in his work. Without these cannot a city be inhabited: and they shall not dwell where they will, nor go up and down: They shall not be sought for in publick counsel, nor sit high in the congregation: they shall not sit on the judges’ seat, nor understand the sentence of judgment: they cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken. But they will maintain the state of the world, and all their desire is in the work of their craft.” (Wisdom of Sirach, 38:1-34)

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