Entries with tag greek orthodox .

Reflections from Yad Vashem: Israel’s Official Holocaust Memorial

The United Nations is remembering the Holocaust this week through a series of programs and activities related to the theme of “educating for a better future.”

 

Coincidentally, I was in Israel just three weeks ago and found myself at Yad Vashem, the country’s official memorial to the victims of that catastrophe. One of its primary aims is education.

 

For those wondering, the name “Yad Vashem” in Biblical Hebrew comes from the book of Isaiah:

 

Even to them I will give in My house

And within My walls a place and a name

Better than that of sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

That shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:5)

 

The name “Yad Vashem” conveys the memorial’s purpose as a place where the names of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims can be enshrined forever, even those who have no one to carry their names after death.

 

I admit, it came as somewhat of a personal surprise that this visit to Yad Vashem was one of the most moving moments of my life, as the complex’s museum and various monuments present an exceptionally robust and sensitive encapsulation of the Holocaust’s pain, endurance and hope all in one place—on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

 

Yad Vashem is an emotionally weighty site for Jews for obvious reasons; for non-Jews, it is not only an abiding reminder of our shared humanity, but of how a festering prejudice can beguile the public firmament and bring about the worst and most destructive tendencies in all of us.

 

The museum—easily one of the best I have ever visited—begins with a snapshot of the many early 20th century Jewish communities in Europe before pivoting to Adolf Hitler’s rise and the genesis of German anti-Semitism.

 

The museum was careful to illustrate that despite Hitler’s and his ministers’ fanaticism, the bulk of the Holocaust’s many atrocities were committed by very regular people who were deceived and poisoned by decades of propagated fear.

 

Of course, an event like the Holocaust attracts the most sadistic and antisocial individuals in a society; but it’s the horrible crimes otherwise good people committed against fellow human beings—many of them their own neighbors—that should strike a nerve in all of us.

 

The act of murder being so unnatural, young German soldiers often had to get drunk before they could make themselves shoot an innocent Jewish man, woman or child for the first time. But many of them later recounted that it got easier the more times they did it, and that it eventually became easy.

 

In fact, it is important to note that no German soldier was ever punished for refusing to kill a Jew—contrary to popular belief, those duties were entirely optional.

 

This prompted our tour guide to ask: When the humiliation, torture and murder of innocent people becomes easy, who really loses their humanity? The victims or the perpetrators?

 

If those German soldiers occupy one end of Yad Vashem’s portrait of humanity, the opposite can be found in its Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Along with thousands of trees, the garden contains walls inscribed with the 26,120 individuals who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

 

The title “Righteous Among the Nations” is, in fact, the highest honor bestowed by the State of Israel to non-Jews, and entitles the recipient to a medal and a certificate, along with Israeli citizenship with a pension and free healthcare for life should he or she choose to resettle.

 

The distinction is given without regard to the social status of the person—queens and princesses to the most humble individuals have all been recognized. People who fit somewhere in the middle, like the famous Oskar and Emilie Schindler, have their names engraved on the walls as well.

 

Yad Vashem works tirelessly to ensure that visitors remain in the present. Its museum, for example, does not formally end; enormous glass doors lead out of the building to the edge of the mountain and a stunning view of the hills surrounding Jerusalem—meant to symbolize that the history and the memory of the Holocaust itself do not actually end.

 

In a literal sense, they do not end because victims continue to be identified and Righteous continue to be honored. In a symbolic sense, they cannot end because the risk of a similar catastrophe always remains.

 

Hitler, our guide reminded us, did not take power in a violent revolution. He was peacefully elected by a willing public.

 

As the U.N. commemorates the Holocaust this week, we know that its painful memory does not belong only to Jews. It belongs to all of us—to every human being who has a voice in this world.

 

The memory of those 6 million victims charges each and every one of us to recall and revoke the depravity of their untimely and violent deaths, and insists with fervent conviction that such a catastrophe must never happen again. The normalization and institutionalization of bigotry must never happen again.

 

We must educate, like Yad Vashem and like the U.N. this week do, both ourselves and those we know.

 

And then we must ask ourselves: Are we the deceived, or are we the righteous?

 

Andrew Romanov is a Fellow at the U.N. for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org).


The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). It has been actively working at the United Nations for 30 years.

Podcast Monday - Secular Worries

To say that our country is deeply divided in a number of ways would surprise no one. Social issues such as abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and gay marriage have created groups of “social tribes” in our nation, with each vying for dedication to its own personal philosophies.

It is very easy for us as members of the Church, knowing the fullness of Truth in our Faith, to become embroiled in these debates. To an extent, it is even understandable. These issues are oftentimes a part of our everyday lives.

But are our positions on these matters what make us Orthodox Christians?

The Church, as Christ’s body, is the bridge from Earth to Heaven. The beauty of the Church—a trait it possesses that no other institution does—is its “other-worldliness.” In allowing the Church to become simply another place for debate, we, in a sense, tarnish its ultimate value. We subconsciously convince ourselves that we are good Christians because we know all of the good talking points, even if our relationship with Christ—the one thing that matters—is lacking.

Check out Fr. Seraphim Aldea’s podcast “Secular Worries,” found here, on Ancient Faith Radio, where he discusses this topic and brings to light what our true priorities ought to be as Orthodox Christians.

 

As you listen, consider:

  1. What is the true message of the Church? Do we preach a system, or a Person?
  2. How ought the Church (that is, us, as individuals) go about spreading its message to the society around us?
  3. What do you think of when you imagine a typical Christian? What traits do you imagine the average non-Christian would use to describe a typical Christian?
  4. How might debates over these social issues actually harm the mission each of us is called to? In what ways might these debates cause us to depersonalize others?

 

 

Not Just *Greek* Orthodox

I’ve always considered myself a little spoiled when it comes to religion.

 

I was born into an Orthodox family, baptized as a baby, and grew up in the Church.  On the one hand, this gave me an incredible support system for my beliefs, and a strong foundation.  Orthodoxy has been an important part of my life from before I can remember.  Truth isn’t something I ever had to work for, or seek out.  It’s always just been a part of the landscape of my life, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

 

On the other hand, being spoiled has limited my understanding of Orthodoxy.  Having the Faith as a given in my life has often led me to take it for granted.  Yet the more I learn and explore, the more I’m able to move beyond the assumptions that have limited my experience of the Church.  

 

That’s one of many reasons I consider myself blessed to be in New York City.

 

As I mentioned last week http://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/finding-the-right-parish, I’m trying to find a new parish.  That initially seemed like a serious (and terrifying) undertaking, but I’ve come to realize it’s really a fun new adventure--not to mention a great opportunity.  So in an attempt to embrace this exploration I’ve been accepting advice in any and all forms: from my family and friends, my spiritual father, and of course (like a true Millennial) from Google.

 

And it’s leading me into uncharted territory.

 

I’ve been surprised to learn that the overwhelming consensus seems to be that maybe, just maybe, my new Orthodox parish doesn’t necessarily need to be Greek.

 

This is very new for me.

 

I have always loved my heritage (we Greeks are a proud people, after all).  I love hearing the language spoken, I love learning my Grandmother’s recipes, and I love our rich history.  

 

I also love my Church, and my Greek identity was always a big part of that.  It often felt like you couldn’t be Greek without being Orthodox, or Orthodox without also being Greek.  That was a natural conclusion when so many of our community activities revolved around a combination of religion and culture.  

 

Though this connection between faith and ethnicity is beautiful, and helped shape my experience of the Faith for so long, I’ve come to realize that it’s also left me a little limited.

 

And I never really considered how limited my own view of Orthodoxy actually was until I came to a place with so many parishes, and so many different kinds of parishes.  I grew up Greek Orthodox, and never knew about the rich Orthodox tradition in places like Russia and the Middle East.  I never realized that Greek is a qualifier for Orthodoxy, not a synonym.  

 

So, as an adult, I initially assumed that a Greek parish would become my home away from home.  After all, that’s all I’ve ever known.   

 

Now I realize that the same Faith has taken root in a variety of cultures and traditions, and that’s helping me become a better Orthodox Christian.  

 

While I’ve always loved that my religion and my heritage are so much a part of one another, I also love how universal Orthodoxy is.  It’s amazing that I can expand and deepened my own view of the Church through a lens that isn’t Greek.

 

It’s really cool that I can walk into an Orthodox Church anywhere and understand the service on some level, even if it’s not exactly what I’m used to.  Hearing the Liturgy in a new language or seeing it celebrated in an unfamiliar way challenges me to pay closer attention to what’s happening.

 

This in particular has been really helpful for me, since I often struggle to actively participate in the services I attend, as many of us do.  Experiencing the familiar in an unfamiliar way has helped make Church more than a routine, something I actively engage with rather than passively sit through.

 

It’s been a pleasant surprise.

 

A few months ago, the decision to explore beyond Greek Orthodoxy would have been overwhelming and well outside my comfort zone.  Yet now I see, how blessed I am that I can participate in the Church in so many different ways, in so many languages, and with such diversity of peoples and cultures.  

 

It’s incredible to realize how vast Orthodoxy truly is, that it fits just as well in a Greek village as it does here in New York, or anywhere in the world.  

 

I’m always going to feel more at home in my dad’s parish in Utah.  But the realization that there is so much more to Orthodoxy than what I’m used to, that it reaches so many more people than I had considered, makes me remember that I’m part of something so much greater than myself.  

 

I’m part of more than an ethnic club.  I’m a member of the Church, the very Body of Christ.  

 

And I’m working hard to make sure I don’t take it for granted anymore.

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.

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For more on exploring Orthodoxy, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

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