A group of 12 Orthodox priests have called on their Church to review its longstanding theological positions toward Jews and the State of Israel, and to excise anti-Semitic passages from its liturgy.
The dissident priests made their demands in a 12-point declaration adopted during a weeklong visit to Israel that is meant to spur debate in the Orthodox Christian world and to challenge centuries-old anti-Semitic views.
"Sadly, there are some Orthodox Christians who propagate disgusting anti-Semitism under the banner of Orthodoxy, which is incompatible with Christianity," said Rev. Innokenty Pavlov, professor of theology at Moscow's Biblical Theological Institute.
"We have to raise our voices and call on Orthodox laity and the Church leadership to formulate an official position of the Orthodox Church toward our relations with Judaism, as it was formulated a few decades ago by the Catholic Church," he added, referring to the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965.
The 10-page declaration issued Thursday calls for the renunciation of replacement theology and the removal of anti-Semitic passages from Church liturgy - particularly Easter services - and endorses the eternal connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. The passages appear in the standard Orthodox liturgy all over the world.
The dozen Orthodox priests who signed the declaration - some in open defiance of directives from church leadership - represent five different Orthodox churches, including the Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, Georgian and Ecumenical Orthodox Churches.
"We came to the firm belief that it is high time for the Orthodox Church to correct its attitude toward Jews and Judaism," the declaration states.
Unlike the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Orthodox Church has never removed anti-Semitic passages from its liturgy, which still refers to Jews as Christ killers, said Dr. Dmitry Radyehsvky, director of the Jerusalem Summit, a conservative Israeli think tank that co-sponsored the visit.
He said the anti-Semitic passages were most conspicuous during Easter services, and included statements such as "the Jewish tribe which condemned you to crucifixion, repay them, Oh Lord," which is repeated half a dozen times, and "Christ has risen but the Jewish seed has perished," as well as references to Jews as "God-killers."
"Orthodox Christianity lives up to its name: it's extremely conservative - even more than Catholicism," Radyehsvky said.
"For them to even pose the question about the need to throw out Judophobic passages from the liturgy, which were there for 1,500 years, is a revolution," he said.
Radyshevsky said that while some of the best Orthodox Christian philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries, like Vladimir Soloviev and Sergiy Bulgakov, were philosemites, it never filtered down to the masses.
Now, however, some Orthodox Christian intellectuals feel their church needs revival and that this has to start with their roots: reconciliation with the Jews.
"It is high time to start the dialogue between Orthodox Christianity and Judaism," said Rev. Ioann Sviridov, editor-in-chief of the Russian Christian radio-station Sophia.
"In light of rising anti-Semitism and other manifestations of nationalism in Russia, our church has to respond to this ugly phenomena and review some of the aspects of its relations with Jews and Judaism," he said.