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Author Topic: Gavriil of Belostok and blood libel  (Read 4172 times) Average Rating: 0
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LucasG
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« on: June 28, 2012, 10:14:12 PM »

Hello everyone.

I'm new. I've been drawn towards Orthodoxy for the past few months. I find it beautiful and convincing in many ways.

However, I have grown concerned about some anti-semitic comments and tendencies that I have noticed in my research. Many of my relatives are conservative jews, and so any language or pull in an anti-Jew direction raises red flags for me.

The story of the CANONIZED SAINT Gavriil of Belostok has been a particular worry to me. Do Orthodox Christians believe that stories like this are accurate? i mean blood libel was used by the nazis to justify the holocaust....

I can certainly understand that in the course of history mistakes are made, or misinformation is gathered up. I guess I was just hoping to to get an Orthodox perspective on this, as well as on the broader issue of anti-semitism in eastern orthodoxy and how it is dealt with.

Thanks!
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« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2012, 10:29:59 PM »

There are no proofs that St. Gabriel's murder had a ritual character. Such things are not mentioned in the liturgical text any longer (they used to).
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2012, 11:04:38 PM »

Welcome to the forum Smiley So as not to cause confusion, I should say that I used to be Orthodox, and right now I'm ... um.. sort of on the fringe looking in. Anyway...

I can certainly understand that in the course of history mistakes are made, or misinformation is gathered up. I guess I was just hoping to to get an Orthodox perspective on this, as well as on the broader issue of anti-semitism in eastern orthodoxy and how it is dealt with.

I can't speak to what most Orthodox think of this, though fwiw I can say what I thought of when I struggled with this kind of stuff (especially the seeming antisemitic remarks of prominent saints) I guess the first thing was, I always approached the issue assuming that stereotyping a particular people wasn't really a good thing, though sometimes the shoe fit a group. For example, if at a certain point in history someone made negative remarks about the "warlike Mongols," well maybe not all Mongols were warlike, but it's understandable why someone might say that. Understandable in a "let's keep this in mind" type of way, not in a "oh, well that's perfectly fine" type of way. The larger problem, it seems to me, is that people make negative remarks about opponents (political, military, and otherwise) even when their remarks aren't even close to being accurate, and when people shouldn't be having such issues (e.g. during times of peace, or when peace is possible). I don't know the history of the Jewish people, but only bits and pieces here and there, but it seems to me that they generally attacked (verbally anyway) Christians as a people and religion, and Christians did vice versa.

Of course, once Christians came to wield more power, this went from two religions arguing to a potentially dangerous situation. I don't know to what extent it was in fact dangerous, only that there was probably a climate in which taking certain liberties could be easily rationalized. (And on this point, at least as far as the early Church goes, I can remember reading about examples of paganism being suppressed, but I don't recall off hand Jewish temples being destroyed, or Jewish people being persecuted... but again, there may be examples of this that I don't know about).

As for more recent times, and in the west, I know mostly what I've witnessed on blogs/sites/forums, with a stray news story here and there. There are some people who are, let's say, quick to pull the trigger when speaking negatively of Jewish people (or blaming them for something, or conspiracy theories, or whatever). However, I would guess that such people make up less than 1-2% of active forum members here. Such people generally aren't taken seriously, at least when speaking on Jewish/Judaism matters. That is not to say that Judaism is treated with deference on this forum, or seen as something very respectable and held in high regard, as it is among some other Christian groups. (for example, I remember being at a Promise Keepers meeting one time, and people were oohing and aahing and really enamored with Jewish traditions that some Jewish people were sharing... yet many of the people from my church who were having such a reaction would have vehemently attacked a Catholic or Orthodox if they had tried to share their "man made traditions").

As for what to do about those sincere individuals who speak ill of Jews (or Americans, or Italians, or whoever), or worse, well everyone is fallible I guess. Approving of someone's good conduct, even their sanctity in some cases, doesn't mean that everything they did is approved of. I think people are generally doing the best they can, and sometimes we just get things very wrong. Or, people make mistakes, and everyone could do a better job than they actually end up doing. This is not to excuse needlessly divisive--or even in some cases downright hateful and dangerous--language. We should confront such language and actions in various ways, which seems best for the situation: ridicule them, refute them, physically stand in their way, etc. But at the end of the day, at least in the west, there is free speech, and people are generally going to be allowed to say things we won't like. We have to respond in a way that minimizes harm from them, but doesn't require us to do as much harm ourselves.

Generally this is the kind of thing I wouldn't let bother me, though I understand you are in a different situation. If worst came to worst, I'd just say "Well they're wrong if they really thought/did such-and-such". The Church does not condone racism or antisemitism as a body (of Christ), though I'll admit that I'm not sure if racism was part of what was condemned when nationalism was condemned in an 1872 council in Constantinople.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2012, 11:05:43 PM by Asteriktos » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2012, 04:18:03 AM »

Hi, Lucas.

Saint Gavriil was once a huge issue for me as well. Here's why it doesn't really bother me anymore though:

Assuming the story is completely accurate, I think the fact that little Garvriil is a Saint is actually something very positive for Jewish-Orthodox relations. He was a poor little kid who's life was taking and an most likely innocent man was blamed for in an expression of the sad tensions that existed in the culture at the time. It makes the fact that his young life was stolen from him all the more tragic. Now that, as Michal points out, the blood libel accusation is no longer part of the Liturgy (which is the most important source for ascertaining the Church's view on individual Saints) Saint Gavriil is in a one sense a very powerful repudiation of the anti-Semitic past.

In a sense, the people martyred this guileless, believing little boy twice. They sacrificed his memory to the powers of darkness when the killed that innocent man out of blind hatred. The story of Saint Gavriil and his continued celebration can serve as a symbol of the Church's repudiation of blood libels and why they are so evil and out of place in a Christian context. May Saint Gavriil intercede for all who today are lost in a darkness of racism and antisemitism and may he pray for their victims.

I hope that makes some sense. It's just how I've made piece with it, personally.
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LucasG
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« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2012, 04:57:14 AM »

Thanks for the welcome. It's nice to get such quick and considerate responses.

In a sense, the people martyred this guileless, believing little boy twice. They sacrificed his memory to the powers of darkness when the killed that innocent man out of blind hatred. The story of Saint Gavriil and his continued celebration can serve as a symbol of the Church's repudiation of blood libels and why they are so evil and out of place in a Christian context. May Saint Gavriil intercede for all who today are lost in a darkness of racism and antisemitism and may he pray for their victims.

Beautiful way of working through this issue. It certainly brings some peace to the story, if not exactly closure. This brings up a related issue though. I guess the fact the church has altered the liturgy here suggests that there is not an attitude of infallibility in the church when it comes to the traditional accounts of the Saints. But would it be considered unorthodox to question their existence in shaky instances? I come from a rigid calvinist background so I've been trying to get a sense of the parameters of enquiry in Orthodoxy. I know they consider themselves the one true church, but what exactly that means and how it figures into fallibility has remained foggy to me.

As for more recent times, and in the west, I know mostly what I've witnessed on blogs/sites/forums, with a stray news story here and there. There are some people who are, let's say, quick to pull the trigger when speaking negatively of Jewish people (or blaming them for something, or conspiracy theories, or whatever). However, I would guess that such people make up less than 1-2% of active forum members here. Such people generally aren't taken seriously, at least when speaking on Jewish/Judaism matters. That is not to say that Judaism is treated with deference on this forum, or seen as something very respectable and held in high regard, as it is among some other Christian groups. (for example, I remember being at a Promise Keepers meeting one time, and people were oohing and aahing and really enamored with Jewish traditions that some Jewish people were sharing... yet many of the people from my church who were having such a reaction would have vehemently attacked a Catholic or Orthodox if they had tried to share their "man made traditions").

Yes, the other day when I was trying to find more information on this issue I got creeped out by some orthodox posts claiming that "Talmudism" was the most satanic religion in the world, that the Rothchilds were behind the holocaust, all that fanatic garbage that pushed me out of my religious convictions during college. I assumed that these were fringe voices (like Westboro or the kool-aiders of the protestants) but they are still worrying to read. I know corruption and stupidity exists everywhere but I'd like to think that the "one true church" has an upper hand in keeping these voices to a minimum. Anyway thanks for your thoughts. I've actually been struck by the similarity of orthodox liturgies to the traditions in my cousins' synagogue. I have a deep respect for Jewish tradition and their history, so I would hope that Orthodoxy, when followed correctly, corroborates and synthesizes rather than denigrates the beliefs of the Jewish people.
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« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2012, 05:33:21 AM »

I can only speak for my own personal experience and anecdotes don't necessarily prove much but I've never found Orthodoxy anti-Semitic. Quite the opposite in fact. I know that there have been those who historically have been Orthodox (at least nominally) and and anti-Semites (the fascists in WW2 Romania for instance) but I've seen such in just about every church, so I don't believe that's anything peculiar to Orthodoxy. What I've seen in Romania (my wife's home town had a huge Jewish population up until WWII) has been that Orthodox people have a great deal of respect for the Jews and, now that there are very few left in the town, they tend the graveyards and it was the Orthodox who defied the communists and forced Ceausescu's new road to go around rather than through the medieval Jewish cemetary. I've never seen anything to suggest that anti-Semitism was anything other than an aberration.

James
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« Reply #6 on: June 29, 2012, 07:16:58 AM »

I'm still surprised how do you all know about this Saint. I thought he isn't very popular outside Poland.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2012, 07:17:14 AM by Michał Kalina » Logged
Justin Kissel
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« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2012, 07:31:09 AM »

I'm still surprised how do you all know about this Saint. I thought he isn't very popular outside Poland.

I'd never heard of him before this thread. I probably should have been clearer, but when I spoke of "prominent saints" in my post above I meant those words to indicate that I was not talking about the particular saint mentioned in the OP, but was thinking of another.
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« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2012, 07:54:04 AM »

I'm still surprised how do you all know about this Saint. I thought he isn't very popular outside Poland.
I think I was scouring wikipedia for blood libel stuff. When I like something, the first thing I do is scour the net for dirt on it. I'm paranoid, I guess.
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« Reply #9 on: June 29, 2012, 08:01:36 AM »


Beautiful way of working through this issue. It certainly brings some peace to the story, if not exactly closure. This brings up a related issue though. I guess the fact the church has altered the liturgy here suggests that there is not an attitude of infallibility in the church when it comes to the traditional accounts of the Saints. But would it be considered unorthodox to question their existence in shaky instances? I come from a rigid calvinist background so I've been trying to get a sense of the parameters of enquiry in Orthodoxy. I know they consider themselves the one true church, but what exactly that means and how it figures into fallibility has remained foggy to me.
As I understand it, the infallibility is kind of in the broad strokes, like what's in the Creed and what every other Church Father talks about. Smaller scale things are allowed to evolve some. It's kind of fuzzy and I don't completely understand it myself, but that's the general tone of Orthodox thought for everything.

Someone else will correct me if I'm wrong.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2012, 08:02:51 AM by Volnutt » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: June 29, 2012, 11:36:49 AM »

I'm still surprised how do you all know about this Saint. I thought he isn't very popular outside Poland.
And I guess the reason he is unknown to most of us is because of the problems with "blood libel".  Other saints have more in their life stories to be of spiritual benefit to us as Orthodox Christians.
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NicholasMyra
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« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2012, 04:32:50 PM »

there is not an attitude of infallibility in the church when it comes to the traditional accounts of the Saints.
Notions of infallibility are for those who "think as a child". But those who have moved on from childish things should pay them no mind.
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« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2012, 04:33:30 PM »

I'm still surprised how do you all know about this Saint.
Internet.
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« Reply #13 on: July 01, 2012, 12:35:04 AM »

Here is an article on the question of the Jews and Orthodoxy written by a Jewish convert to Orthodox Christianity. It may prove useful in resolving some of your questions:

http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/jewish_1.html
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