Sunday, July 1, 2012

"... the aroma of Christ to God..."

Earlier this month, over on his magnificent blog, Mystagogy, John Sanidopoulos wrote about the conversion of Rabbi Paul Fotiou in 1952. Up until his conversion to Orthodoxy, Fotiou was the rabbi of Arta, Greece. According both to his own testimony and that of others, like Archimandrite Nektarios Ziompolas, who Sanidopoulos quotes, Fotiou was a mystic of sorts, at least from the events leading to his conversion and beyond.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject, I have been a little reluctant to post about this. But anyone who reads these pages knows that, if anything, I lean on the side of being philo-Semitic and abhor anti-Semitism of any kind. I also think that we have to approach the "new" covenant, instituted by Jesus and institutionalized by Him in the Eucharist, not as superceding the "old" covenant, but as the fulfillment of the one initiated by God with humanity beginning His promise to Abraham.

For his post, Sanidopoulos' translated a portion of a booklet, written by Fotiou in Greek, entitled My Conversion to Christ. In the excerpt of the booklet you can read on Mystagogy, Fotiou tells of three separate and distinct encounters he had with our Risen Lord that led to his conversion to Christ. Of most interest to me is Fotiou's "Epistle" to the "Rabbis and Leaders of Israel." It is interesting because reading it makes me uncomfortable. It is the kind of thing that can only be written by a Jew to fellow Jews. For example, he lays the Nazi slaughter of European Jews at the feet of those, who at the time of Christ's crucifixion said, "His blood upon us and upon our children" (Matt. 27:25).

Even before invoking those words from St. Matthew, which have such a troublesome history, as the epigraph to his epistle, Fotiou invokes Leviticus: "And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me..." (26:39-40- ESV). In addition to urging his fellow Jews to study the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus, he also urges them to study the fourth chapter of Malachi, urging them to "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel" (Mal. 4:4 ESV), lest they be destroyed.

Of Paul Fotiou the aforementioned Nektarios Ziompolas wrote: "He intensely lived the sacramental life of the Church. His face and his character breathed respect, 'smelling' like incense." This brought to my mind a passage from St. Paul, another well-known Jew who was dramatically converted to Christ by an immediate encounter with Him: "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16 ESV)

Of course, it is in the next chapter of 2 Corinthians that the apostle wrote:
"Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:12-18- ESV)

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