Anti-Semitism in Eastern and Western theology

David Robles put an important question in a comment, and I make an own post about it. He asks:

I have a question, please. In your book “Roots of Theological anti-Semitism”, do you approach the subject of anti-Semitism in the Orthodox Church, particularly in Russia and Greece? Is the charge of anti-semitism against such as Dr. Nikolai Velimirovich (who was a bishop in the Serbian Church), warranted? Were some of the Church Fathers anti-semitic?

Dear David,
the scope of my book Roots of theological anti-Semitism is only German Protestant theology and the Jews from 1738 to 1950. It was enough for one book, almost 700 pages … =/. The question you ask is certainly important, and I think our Russian, Serbian and Greek orthodox friends should look at it, since it takes the knowledge of those languages to investigate it.
As for whether it is anti-Semitic or not, I think terminology is a key question. I have only hesitantly used the term anti-Semitism, since it is ambiguous and and the same time loaded – a bad combination indeed… I define theological anti-Semitism as “where it is thought that the Jews are inferior in a permanent
and ineradicable way, and where this is used to dominate, exclude, or (legitimate people to) eliminate Jews because they are Jews,” building on Fredrickson’s definition of racism. However, anti-Judaism is often preparatory to anti-Semitism; I call it a præparatio antisemitica. We would definitely find a massive anti-Judaism if exploring Roman-Catholic and Orthodox tradition (the former is better researched than the latter).

As for whether the Church Fathers are anti-Semitic, the questions needs clarification. We can never look at the Church Fathers as a body, but as individual theologians and spiritual leaders. There are dreadful examples of what I would regard as anti-Semitic in some Fathers, and some of the people we build on – and should continue building on – have a blind spot here. I can recommend a great book that explains how the Apologetes got to create theology which disregarded Jews and Judaism, , R. Kendall Soulen. The God of Israel and Christian theology. Fortress Press, 1996.

I think a great research project would be to look at these diverse church traditions and the Jews 1750–1950 and beyond.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Anti-Semitism in Eastern and Western theology

  1. Dr. Gerdmar:
    Thank you for your response. I will certainly look for the book you recommend. I am an Orthodox Christian and I love the Fathers.I suspect that the ambiguity of terms can and often is misleading. Since the claim of the Orthodox Church is that She is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the pillar of the Truth, then by definition she will be opposed to any school of thought that is in conflict with her teaching, including Judaism. But what I do not like is when individuals take this simple affirmation that there is absolute truth, to another level, and try to justify unacceptable behaviour that negates the very essence of the Orthodox Faith. I think in this case, it is particular individuals who must be held accountable. And you know, even if there has been a deliverate effort in western and eastern theology to ignore Jewish writings, there are a lot of similarities between their schools of thought. The first time I picked up the book “Duties of the Heart” by R. Yehuda Ibn Tibbon Trans. by Daniel Haberman, 2 vols., Feldheim Publishers Jerusalem 1999, I was amazed by its similarities with Orthodox asceticism and hesychasm. Christianity is depriving itself of a wealth of knowledge in the rich oral and written tradition of Judaism.
    Thank you again. I will be reading your blog with great interest.

  2. David:
    how interesting to know that you are Orthodox. This is important, because I think it is much better that each of us work with these questions from the inside of our churches. Personally, I deeply respect the Church fathers, even though I am also aware of some very sad comments on the Jews made by some fathers. Orthodoxy should involve an attitude like Paul’s in Romans 9:1–5, a sense of being deeply related to the Jews, still holding to the confession. Therefore I find what you are writing about the similarities between Jewish spirituality and hesychasm beautiful! If any Christian church denies its roots in physical Israel, it rids itself of the sap, Rom 11:17–18 (Now suppose that some branches were broken off, and you are wild olive, grafted among the rest to share with the others the rich sap of the olive tree; then it is not for you to consider yourself superior to the other branches; and if you start feeling proud, think: it is not you that sustain the root, but the root that sustains you, NJB). See my new blog post on the translation of Rom 11:17.
    Personally I am from a very ecumenical family. For instance, the icon on the home page is painted by my brother, who is a professional icon painter (, a Roman Catholic, like my other brother – and we have a sister who is a Lutheran deaconess.

  3. Dr Gerdmar:
    I wanted to introduce my blog to you. It is; “Finding the Way to the Heart”, and it is located at . I wish to be transparent to you as to what is exactly that I believe. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to have this conversation with you. As an Orthodox Christian, my worldview, approach to scripture and understanding of what is the ultimate authority in the Church and my Christian life, is fundamentally different from any protestant or Catholic. I am bound by Holy Tradition, by what has been ‘lived, believed and practiced everywhere and throughout the ages by the Church’. The Latin Church separated herself from this Tradition in the 11th century. And Protestantism (or should I say protestantisms) is itself the final breaking away from a church already 5 centuries in schism.
    Therefore I am not entittled to pick and choose whatever it is I want to believe. I walk a well troden path. I am bound to be faithful to the ‘deposit’ that has been entrusted to my generation of Orthodox Christians.
    When I talk about anti-semitism in Orthodox countries (and I would like to know about the historical roots of this anomaly), I refer to a cultural or ethnic phenomenon that is not endorsed by the official teaching of the Church or of the Fathers. To be able to understand the Fathers it is required that we share their phronema( mindset or view) and their experience from within the Church.
    When the Tubingen theologians wrote to Patriarch Jeremiah II in Constantinople they included a Greek copy of the Augsburg Confession with the letters (the translation of the Confession of Augsburg into Greek was made by Melanchton and Orthodox Deacon Demetrios Mysos), and the exchange that followed was quite fascinating (the years 1555-1565). Fourteen years later in 1583 a book was published in Wittenberg under the tittle, “Acta et Scripta Theologorum Wirtembergensium, et Patriarchae Constantinopolitani D. Hieremiae” It consists of the correspondence between the Lutheran Theologians of the University of Tubingen and Patriarch Jeremiah II. The attempts to establish communion between Lutheranism and the Orthodox Church were eventually unsuccessful, to this day.
    Since the German theologians refused to abide under the authority of the Church, the Patrarch himself requested that the German scholars contact him no more. For a detail history of these events please refer to “Augsburg and Constantinople” by George Mastrantonis, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982.
    I would like to invite you to continue this conversation with me via e-mail at I realize your blog is not the appropiate forum for this.
    I would be honored if you would check my blog. I think the information contained in my blog could be a good background for our conversation.
    I converted to Orthodoxy from Calvinism, having being member of the Christian Reformed Church.
    I hope to find sources in your blog and elsewhere about the source of anti-semitism in Orthodox countries. I am from Jewish descent from my father’s side and possibly also my mother.

  4. I think David perhaps mixed up the now-Saint Nikolai Velimirovich with Fr Justin Popovich. The latter was known for some eyebrow raising statements relating to Jews. I can think of no instance of such that I’ve seen in St Nikolai’s writings, nor does he bear that reputation.

    I have been told of a very interesting kind of insider usage of words in the monastic culture of Mount Athos: “Jews” is used to refer to religious agitators against Eastern Orthodoxy, and “Masons” is used to refer to secular agitators. Very interesting! But this also adds another level of complication to researching such.

    By and large, Patristic writing is thoroughly anti-Jewish, in the sense that Church Fathers decry the handing over of Christ for execution and the perennial rejection of Christ. This is a ubiquitous feature of Orthodox Church liturgy and Patristic writing, and goes hand in hand, however, with denunciation of Gentile pagans. Likewise, historical instances of Jews siding with persecutors of Christians (the persecutions prior to Constantine, Julian the Apostate immediately before St John Chrysostom’s fiery sermons, and the Persians in 610-614) need to be remembered, in all fairness. This collaboration resulted in the deaths of many Christians in those times, and we should not be surprised at the more vivid animosity found in proximity to those periods. This history is responsible for the depiction of the Jews as “faithless” and “untrue”, as those who turn against their allies at the first chance. For historically, this is exactly what happened.

    These days, however, we live in an entirely different world, without (I hope) that kind of zero-sum mentality. We can be fully in support of our own traditions and even critical of others, just as we should expect of anyone who takes something seriously. There are certainly limits, and the dehumanizing of others is unacceptable.

  5. I have to say my question has to do with St Nikolai’s writings, not St Justin (he also has been glorified, I believe)
    In the letter no. 45 of the ‘Prayers by the Lake’ p.79, Great Lakes Graphics Inc. Skokie, IL, The Serbian Orthodox Metropolinate Of New Gracanica, Grayslake, IL 1999;
    St Nikolai says” I descend into my mind and I find within it the Jews, who prevent You from entering, my Light-bearing King, and who have filled the whole world with stories about their flight from the kingdom of Pharaoh, a kingdom which has not fled from them”
    The way I read this is as an allegory. St Nikolai declares that the state of unbelief in his own heart is like the state of the Jews who did not recognized the Truth in the Person of Jesus Christ.
    But then, I find the following in the Wikipedia (not the best source I recognize) and my first reaction is unbelief, then disappointment. I do not have access to the documents below, so I am not in position to affirm or discredit the anti-Semitic charge against St Nikolai. In another place he is even called ‘the prophet of anti-Semitism in the 20th century’. Of course if the quotes below are correct, this raises my eyebrows to say the least. Maybe Kevin can help us here.
    Another factor we need to consider is at what stage of his spiritual growth was Bishop Nikolai when he made these statements. Also was he under torture by the Nazis? He was a captive in Dachau.
    I read the following in the WIKIPEDIA at (for the footnotes, go to the Wikipedia post, AG)
    [Some of Velimirovićs writings are viewed as anti-semitic.[7][8] He has been criticized for his writings in the book “Through the Prison Window”, written while he was a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp:
    “[Europe] is presently the main battlefield of the Jew and his father, the devil, against the heavenly Father and his only begotten Son. […] [Jews] first need to become legally equal with Christians in order to repress Christianity next, turn Christians into faithless, and step on their necks. All the modern European slogans have been made up by Jews, the crucifiers of Christ: democracy, strikes, socialism, atheism, tolerance of all faiths, pacifism, universal revolution, capitalism and communism… All of these are invention of the Jews and their father , the Devil.[9]
    Similar, although less violent remarks can be found in New Speeches under the Mountain[10], The Ohrid Prologue[11] or Indian Letters[12].[13]
    In his “Through the Prison Window”, he was puzzled why the Europeans showed so much tolerance to the Jews and could not see through their “ploys”. He also criticized European scientific achievements in the field of particle physics for being anti-Christian and possibly introduced by Jews. Further, he criticized the “mania for cleanliness” as being introduced by the Jews.[14]
    Despite the Anti-Semitism accusations, it is recorded that he protected and helped escape from Nazi-occupied Serbia one Jewish family. Ela Trifunovic, born Neuheus, wrote to the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2001, claiming that she had spent 18 months hiding in Ljubostinja monastery where she was smuggled by Velimirovic, guarded and later helped move on with false papers.[15]
    Adolf Hitler decorated Nikolaj Velimirovic in 1935 for his contributions to the restoration of German military cemetery in Bitola in 1926.[16] Contrary to some claims that the order was returned in protest at German aggression in 1941,[17] some of Velimirovic’s supporters mentioned it as a way of pacifying Germans after Velimirovic’s arrest.
    In a treatise on Saint Sava in 1935, he supported Hitler’s treatment of German national church[18] and is quoted as saying:
    However, a due respect is to be to the current German Leader, who being a simple craftsman and a man from the people, realized that nationalism without faith is an anomaly, a cold and insecure mechanism. And so, in the XX century, he came to the idea of Saint Sava, and as a layman undertook among his people that most important work, befitting a saint, a genius and a hero. And for us that work has been accomplished by Saint Sava, the first among the saints, the first among the geniuses and the first among the heroes in our history. He accomplished it perfectly, he accomplished it without fight and without blood, and he accomplished it not yesterday or the day before, but 700 years ago. [19]

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