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I understand that after the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 135 AD, that Jews (not even Christian Jews) were not allowed in Jerusalem, and that Christian bishops were forced to be gentiles. The last known bishop of Jewish descent was Judas of Jerusalem (135 AD). However, seemingly the Church has ample time to rectify this situation, especially since Constantine. But to this day, the Orthodox Church has not done so. The Patriarch of Jerusalem is still Greek.

I am considering converting to the Orthodox Church, but this bothers me tremendously. The evidence suggests to me that the earliest Jewish Christians were of Jewish descent as well as devout Christians. There is even evidence that there might have been another Gospel, the Gospel of the Hebrews, or at least that the original Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew/Aramaic. How can the Orthodox Church be the Church of Holy Tradition when we could possibly be missing a huge chunk of the most earliest tradition?

I am looking for answers from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Thanks!

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    You mean Greek as opposed to Palestinian? – guest37 Jan 8 '18 at 19:34
  • @guest37 - I guess I mean someone who is ethnically Jewish, and practices Judaism along with their Christianity. I believe there some of these folks still left in the middle east. – David P Jan 8 '18 at 19:52
  • There may be those such as those you suggest among so-called "Messainic Jews". I don't know how many there might be within the geographical bounds of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. But what you refer to is, in the Orthodox understanding, the heresy of "Judaizing". You can find it condemned in the writings of Ignatius, Barnabas and others. You can find a whole treatise on the subject by Justin Martyr, in his Dialog with Trypho, a Jew. The entire Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament is targeted at Jewish Christians who were being drawn back to Judaism. – guest37 Jan 8 '18 at 23:14
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    There are many ethnically Jewish Christians in Israel. Doesn't mean that they're Orthodox Christians. Doesn't mean that, of those who are, many personally desire to be ordained. Doesn't mean that of those who have been ordained, that they haven't been elected bishop somewhere other than Jerusalem. And the ethnicity of the Bishop of Jerusalem has absolutely nothing to do with textual criticism and the possible Hebrew source text of Matthew. This is less a question and more an uninformed rant. – curiousdannii Jan 8 '18 at 23:17
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    I mean someone who is ethnically Jewish, and practices Judaism along with their Christianity. I believe there some of these folks still left in the middle east I think that may be a core problem with this question, as I am of the understanding that practices Judaism along with their Christianity would get the person in trouble with both belief/faith communities. – KorvinStarmast Jan 10 '18 at 20:20
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+50

As you further explained your question in various comments, you seem to be asking why the Bishop (Patriarch) of Jerusalem is Greek, rather than "someone who is ethnically Jewish, and practices Judaism along with their Christianity."

I am not sure there is a clearer answer to why "someone who is ethnically Jewish" is not the Patriarch of Jerusalem, than the vast majority of Orthodox Christians living within the boundaries of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem are ethnically Arab (generally Palestinian) and not Jewish. Perhaps there are Jewish converts from time to time, but they seem to be very, very few. As you probably know, Judaism was virtually wiped out from the Roman Province of Judea by the Emperor Hadrian after the Bar Kokhba revolt in the early second century. The Jewish population of Palestine waxed and waned for centuries, but by the time the Ottoman Empire was dismembered after World War I there were no more than 10,000 Jews in the area.1 In the mid-19th century there were about 60,000 Arab Christians in Palestine, and about half that number of Jews.2 Today the percentages have more than inverted, with only about 2% of Israel being Christian, 14% Muslim, and 81% Jewish. Today only a single majority Christian village (Taybeh) is left in the territory of Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

The above doesn't explain why the Patriarch is ethnically Greek instead of Arab (as is the case with the Patriarchate of Antioch), but it does help explain why he is not ethnically Jewish.

As far as why the Patriarch of Jerusalem is not someone who "practices Judaism along with their Christianity" the answer is much clearer: because it has been expressly forbidden by the canons of the Church dating back at least 1,600 years. For example:

  • Canon LXIV of the Apostolic Canons (dating to sometime prior to the 4th or 5th centuries) reads: "If any clergyman or layman shall enter into a synagogue of Jews or heretics to pray, let the former be deposed and let the latter be excommunicated."

  • Canon VII of the 3rd Ecumenical Council at Ephesus (431) reads "those who shall dare to compose a different faith, or to introduce or offer it to persons desiring to turn to the acknowledgment of the truth, whether from Heathenism or from Judaism, or from any heresy whatsoever, shall be deposed, if they be bishops or clergymen; bishops from the episcopate and clergymen from the clergy; and if they be laymen, they shall be anathematized."

  • Canon XI of the Quinisext Council at Trullo (692) reads: "Let no one in the priestly order nor any layman eat the unleavened bread of the Jews, nor have any familiar intercourse with them, nor summon them in illness, nor receive medicines from them, nor bathe with them; but if anyone shall take in hand to do so, if he is a cleric, let him be deposed, but if a layman let him be cut off."

  • Canon VII of the 7th Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (787) reads: "Since certain, erring in the superstitions of the Hebrews, have thought to mock at Christ our God, and feigning to be converted to the religion of Christ do deny him, and in private and secretly keep the Sabbath and observe other Jewish customs, we decree that such persons be not received to communion, nor to prayers, nor into the Church."


1. see, e.g., F. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Volume II: The Words and Will of God, p.287
2. C. Rubenberg, Israel and the American National Interest: A Critical Examination, p.26

  • I like the specific references to the canons. Puts a pause on my continuing the road towards Orthodoxy, just because I know the original Jewish Christians did practice their Judaism alongside their Christianity. They believed Christ was the messiah and the fulfillment, but that didn't necessitate cutting all ties to Judaism. Contrary to Canon LXIV, Paul prayed and preached in many synagogues. - Anyhow - thanks for the info! – David P Jan 16 '18 at 15:15
  • The ties were cut by the end of Acts. Hebrews is an extended dissertation on how Christianity replaced Judaism. By the end of the first century, Judaism would be condemned as apostasy and heresy (see, e.g., Revelation 2:8-11). This is also seen in the writings of the early Church Fathers. See Justin Martyr's Dialog with Trypho, A Jew, written in the early 2nd century. – guest37 Jan 16 '18 at 15:46
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    If you are truly interested in finding out about Orthodoxy, I would recommend going to a service and meeting with a priest. You will learn much more there than here. The theology is much, much deeper than adhering to religious practices - whether they be Judaic or even Orthodox. – guest37 Jan 16 '18 at 15:49
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Unlike Catholics who view the Pope as head on earth, the Orthodox view Councils as authority. So to there are some likely answers to ponder.

Canon VIII of Second Nice Council says this:

That Hebrews ought not to be received unless they have been converted in sincerity of heart.

Since certain, erring in the superstitions of the Hebrews, have thought to mock at Christ our God, and feigning to be converted to the religion of Christ do deny him, and in private and secretly keep the Sabbath and observe other Jewish customs, we decree that such persons be not received to communion, nor to prayers, nor into the Church; but let them be openly Hebrews according to their religion, and let them not bring their children to baptism, nor purchase or possess a slave. But if any of them, out of a sincere heart and in faith, is converted and makes profession with his whole heart, setting at naught their customs and observances, and so that others may be convinced and converted, such an one is to be received and baptized, and his children likewise; and let them be taught to take care to hold aloof from the ordinances of the Hebrews. But if they will not do this, let them in no wise be received.

That (complete repudiation of Jewishness) is probably a large hurdle for a Hebrew Christian.

At the same time, the Orthodox are organized in 15 self-headed jurisdictions called autocephaly. This is by region dating back to the four ancient patriarchs (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople). Rome is not listed because they believe it to be in schism.

In addition to the aforementioned Council, the Orthodox convened another one in 1872 called Council at Constantinople. Here they condemned phyletism. This is the idea that the local patriarch should NOT be aligned along ecclesiastical lines, but rather should be aligned along ethnic lines in the same geographic region. This then circles back to the aforementioned VIII Canon.

So, there may not be any clear reason why a converted Hebrew could become Patriarch of Jerusalem, but that would not be the reason.

PS. One could become Anglican. Their first bishop of Jerusalem Michael Alexander was a converted Jew.

  • Re the 1872 council. I think you mean Constantinople, not Constantine – guest37 Jan 16 '18 at 2:04

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