Eastern Orthodoxy and Judaism

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Relations between Eastern Orthodoxy and Judaism, like relations between Judaism and other Christian bodies, have been difficult at times.[1] However, they have also been marked by an irenic spirit consistent with the teaching of the Church.[2]

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Historical Relations

16th Century Patriarchal Statement

Orthodox Christianity has a long history of religious tolerance that has evolved towards some degree of religious pluralism. Advocation of justice and peace towards members of other faiths is seen in a 16th century encyclical written by Ecumenical Patriarch Metrophanes III (1520-1580) to the Greek Orthodox in Crete (1568) following reports that Jews were being mistreated. The Patriarch states:

"Injustice ... regardless to whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice. The unjust person is never relieved of the responsibility of these acts under the pretext that the injustice is done against a heterodox and not to a believer. As our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels said do not oppress or accuse anyone falsely; do not make any distinction or give room to the believers to injure those of another belief."

World War II

In 1943 the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews of Athens failed thanks to the combined efforts of Archbishop Damaskinos (Papandreou) of Athens, Greek resistance groups and the Greek people.

In 1998 the State of Israel posthumously recognized Metropolitan Joachim (Alexopoulos) of Demetrias for saving the lives of 700 people during WWII who were hidden by the residents of the villages of Mount Pelion. Metropolitan Joachim had his name inscribed in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and entered on the Righteous Honor Wall at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Martyrdom of Archimandrite Philoumenos (Hasapis)

on November 16/29, 1979 Archimandrite Philoumenos (Hasapis), the Igumen of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Jacob's Well near the city of Samaria, now called Nablus (Neapolis), in the West Bank, experienced a martyric death at the hands of extremist Jewish Zionists who massacred him with an ax in the evening, while he was performing Vespers at the Well of Jacob where he lived as a loyal guardian of the Holy Places and centuries-old way of life.

Views on Salvation and Pluralism

The traditional Jewish view is that non-Jews may receive God's saving grace.

This view is reciprocated in Orthodox Christianity. Writing for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Rev. Protopresbyter George C. Papademetriou has written a summary of classical Christian and Greek Orthodox Christian views on the subject of the salvation of non-Christians. In his paper An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions Papademetriou writes:

"In our times. Professor John N. Karmiris, University of Athens, based on his studies of the Church Fathers, concludes that the salvation of non-Christians, non-Orthodox and heretics depends on the all-good, allwise and all-powerful God, who acts in the Church but also through other "ways." God's saving grace is also channeled outside the Church. It cannot be assumed that salvation is denied non-Christians living in true piety and according to natural law by the God who "is love" (1 John 4:8), In his justice and mercy God will judge them worthy even though they are outside the true Church. This position is shared by many Orthodox who agree that God's salvation extends to all who live according to His "image" and "participate in the Logos." The Holy Spirit acted through the prophets of the Old Testament and in the nations. Salvation is also open outside the Church."

Some compare the Church to Noah's Ark. It is not impossible for someone to "survive the flood" of sin by clinging to whatever driftwood is around or by trying to cobble together a raft from bits and pieces of whatever floats, but the Ark is a far safer choice to make. Likewise, the heterodox and even non-Christians might be saved simply through God's own choice, made for His own reasons, but it is far safer for any individual person to turn to the Orthodox Church. Thus, it behooves Orthodox Christians to exhort others to take this safer path. Likewise, the Orthodox remember that Christ mentions one, and only one thing that unfailingly leads to perdition—blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. No other path is explicitly and universally excluded by Christ's words.

As is common in many other faiths, the question of salvation for those outside of Orthodox Christianity is understandably secondary to what the Church expects of its own adherents. As St. Theophan the Recluse put the matter:

"You ask, will the heterodox be saved... Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins... I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a different faith, you will lose your soul forever."

Recent Interreligious Consultations

Fifth Academic Meeting

The Fifth Academic Meeting between Judaism And Orthodox Christianity was held in Thessaloniki, Greece, on May 27-29, 2003. The meeting was organized by Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of France, who heads the Office of International and Intercultural Affairs to the Liaison Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the European Union, Brussels, in cooperation with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, New York, Co-Chaired by Rabbi Israel Singer who is also Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, and Rabbi Joel Meyers who is also the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly. In his opening remarks, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I denounced religious fanaticism and rejected attempts by any faith to denigrate others. The following principles were adopted at the meeting:

  • Judaism and Christianity while hearkening to common sources inviolably maintain their internal individuality and particularity.
  • The purpose of our dialogue is to remove prejudice and to promote a spirit of mutual understanding and constructive cooperation in order to confront common problems.
  • Specific proposals will be developed to educate the faithful of both religions to promote healthy relationships based on mutual respect and understanding to confront bigotry and fanaticism.
  • Being conscious of the crises of ethical and spiritual values in the contemporary world, we will endeavor to identify historical models of peaceful coexistence, which can be applied to minority Jewish and Orthodox communities in the Diaspora.
  • We will draw from our spiritual sources to develop programs to promote and enhance our common values such as peace, social justice and human rights, specifically addressing the concerns of religious minorities.

Participants agreed to establish a permanent coordinating committee to maintain and foster continuing relationships. The Committee would jointly monitor principles enunciated at the meeting and would further enhance the dialogue and foster understanding between the respective religious communities.

Sixth Academic Meeting

The Sixth Academic Meeting between Judaism and Orthodox Christianity on “Religious Liberty and the Relationship Between Freedom and Religion” took place from March 14-15, 2007, in the Jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and held at the Van Leer Institute. The meeting was also made possible with the generous support of the Sapir Center for Jewish Education and Culture and of the Archons of the Order of St. Andrew, Ecumenical Patriarchate. The meeting was co-chaired by Chief Rabbi David Rosen, President of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations and His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of France, who heads the office of Interreligious and Intercultural Affairs to the Liaison Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the European Union, Brussels.

The opening of the meeting began with the reading of a message from His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and the meeting was honored by the presence of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Rabbi Yonah Metzger. Patriarch Theophilos III also presented his message at the opening session and hosted a reception at the Patriarchate.

Greek government officials who sent their greetings to the participants included Her Excellency Mrs. Dora Bakogiannis, Minister of Foreign Affairs and His Excellency Mr. Thodoris Roussopoulos, Minister of State and Government Spokesman. Greetings were also delivered by Mr. Andrew Athens, Honorary President of the World Council of Hellenes and Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Chief Rabbi Rosen opened with welcoming remarks followed by the introductory address of Metropolitan Emmanuel of France.

Forty delegates were present at the meeting representing Judaism and Orthodoxy. Among the observers were representatives from the Vatican as well as the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel.

The subject of the first session was “Religious Freedom and Law in our Sources.” Presentations were made by Chief Rabbi Mordechai Piron, Chairman of the Sapir Center for Jewish Education and Culture in Jerusalem and Professor Vlassios Phidas of the University of Athens, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The presentations of the second session, on “Faithfulness to a Religious Identity in the Modern World,” were delivered by Rabbi Dr. Richard Hirsch, President of the World Union of Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem and Reverend Professor Thomas Fitzgerald, Dean of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Papers for the third session on “Addressing the Challenges from Concrete Contexts,” were presented by Rabbi Dr. Richard Marker of New York and Reverend Dr. Sergey Hovorun of the Department for External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The following principles were affirmed by the consultation:

  • The principle of religious freedom is a fundamental right that flows from our mutual biblical affirmation that all human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Freedom is a divine gift and religious value and as such must be respected and protected.
  • Because freedom enables us to choose between good and evil, the gift of freedom requires the exercise of responsibility. The manner in which we express our responsibility, profoundly affects human dignity and wider contexts in which the person lives: family, community, nation and humanity. We are, therefore, endowed with an ethical responsibility to pursue righteousness, and to confront evil wherever we find it. Personal freedom, morality and responsibility are all interconnected.
  • Freedom of religion, freedom of conscience for all individuals and freedom to exercise one’s worship and practices at the national, regional and international levels must be guaranteed. Otherwise, societies fail to respect the inviolable rights of persons of diverse religions as well as of those of no religion at all.
  • Religious communities are entitled to defend their own authentic religious identities against attempts to undermine them.
  • The preeminent value of the human person obliges us to respect all forms of religious and secular expression, as long as they do not infringe upon or threaten the security and religious freedom of individuals, communities and societies. Conversely, where militant secularism and religious extremism pose such a threat, they must be repudiated and combated.

"Following on from the above principles, we call upon governments to recognize the important role of religion within their states and broader society, and to implement the above-listed principles in all state legislation impacting religious practice and expression."

See also


  1. For examples of problematic relations, see Seraphim (Mentzelopoulos) of Piraeus, and the Wikipedia articles on Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire, and the History of the Jews in Russia
  2. This article currently deals exclusively with positive relations consistent with church teaching and with official statements and interreligious activities.

Sources and Further Reading

Perspective of Orthodox Christianity

Perspective of Judaism

  • Walter Kaufman (Transl.). Judaism and Christianity: Essays of Leo Baeck. The Jewish Publication Society of America. 1st Ed. Philadelphia, 1958.

Academic Meetings

External Links