Metzger, Cyprus archbishop pledge to deepen ties

Joint declaration affirms illegitimacy of doctrine of collective Jewish guilt for death of Jesus, highlights commitment to good relations.

Metzger 311 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Metzger 311
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger signed a historic declaration on Tuesday in Nicosia, Cyprus, with Archbishop Chrysostomos, primate of the Church of Cyprus, in which the two men promised to deepen relations between the Church and the Jewish people.
The declaration affirms the illegitimacy of the doctrine of collective Jewish guilt for the deicide of Jesus.
This is the first time an Orthodox church has explicitly repudiated this doctrine, which was one of the most important factors in the development of religious anti-Semitism in Europe.
“We, the chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, and the Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos, give thanks to God for the blessed increase of this mutual respect and affirm our commitment to advancing excellent relations between Cyprus and Israel,” the declaration says.
The Orthodox Church of Cyprus is one of the 14 autocephalous, or independent, churches of the Eastern Orthodox Communion.
Adherents of the Orthodox churches number some 300 million people, 700,000 of whom belong to the Church of Cyprus.
The declaration explicitly states, however, that the Church of Cyprus was never party to accusations of collective guilt or to the “systematic negation” of Jewry.
“We accordingly affirm the repudiation of such prejudice as incompatible with the teaching of the Holy Scriptures,” reads the declaration.
The Roman Catholic Church repudiated the notion of the collective guilt of the Jewish people for Jesus’s death in 1965 with the promulgation of the Nostra Aetate, passed by the Second Vatican Council, which states that although some Jewish authorities called for Jesus’s death, blame cannot be apportioned to all Jews from that time, nor can Jews today be held accountable.
The other major provision of Tuesday’s pronouncement declares that proselytizing among the respective communities “undermines the religious identity of the other” and is “incompatible with mutual respect.”
“We have signed today a historic declaration about the Jewish relationship with the Orthodox Church,” Metzger told The Jerusalem Post.
“Until now, the Orthodox churches have been reluctant to take this kind of step, but the Church of Cyprus has taken on this responsibility with today’s brave declaration.
“We hope that now, step by step, we will be able to enter into similar relationships with the other major Orthodox churches, such as the Greek and the Russian churches,” he said.
Metzger emphasized the political importance of the declaration, pointing to the strong influence of the churches in Cyprus and the other countries with predominantly Christian Orthodox populations.
“Many people in these countries look to the approach of their religious leaders for guidance and take their political views from the stance of the Church,” Metzger said.
“This kind of declaration gives legitimacy to the State of Israel in the eyes of these people and has a significant political impact.”
Metzger also referred to the strengthening of ties between Cyprus and Israel following the decline in Israel-Turkey relations in recent years.
“People in Cyprus feel much stronger because they are closer to Israel,” he said.
“You cannot walk around this country without meeting citizens who will talk of the pain they feel that Turkey stole half their island and occupied it.”
With an eye on the recent diplomatic strife with Turkey as well as general conflict with other parts of the Islamic world, Metzger called the rapprochement between Judaism and the Orthodox Church a “revolutionary” change, years in the making, which is important in light of a new common “enemy.”
The declaration also affirmed the teachings of both Judaism and Christianity regarding the sanctity of life and stated that “accordingly, we condemn all acts that desecrate this sanctity, in particular violence and terror against innocents and especially when this involves the abuse of the name of God and religion.”
Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee and honorary adviser to the Chief Rabbinate on interfaith matters, welcomed the declaration, but said that it was only the beginning of the process.
“It is significant in that the head of the Church of Cyprus is making this declaration,” he said. “But the main importance is the potential to expand the content of this declaration to the greater part of the Orthodox world.”