September is already in the rear-view mirror; still, I wish to reflect on an event, announced in this column, which occurred in Springfield on Aug. 25. A large crowd gathered at Westminster Presbyterian Church to hear Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, speak about our need to understand better the intertwined yet distinct traditions of Judaism and Christianity.
At the risk of too concentrated a summary, I offer this observation about the substance of Dr. Levine’s presentation: Christians and Jews must guard against “selling” their respective religions as if each were a mere product in the marketplace. When we do this, we caricature one another and degrade our own tradition. Christianity finds its own teaching to be a tremendous treasure; needless to say, the adherents of Judaism likewise experience their faith in these terms. As Dr. Levine points out, everyone’s religious adherence is ultimately about love. For Jews and Christians, the language of “covenant” is central to our understanding of our relationship with God, who has entered an unbreakable bond with human beings. We have much to learn from one another’s experience of the God who pledges his presence in our midst.
The Springfield Jewish Federation and the Presbytery of Great Rivers are to be thanked for working together to provide this opportunity for greater mutual understanding. If you were not able to be present, you have much to gain from Dr. Levine’s numerous books. I have just read The Misunderstood Jew, which begins with Dr. Levine’s very early aspiration to be pope! In 1963 she saw television coverage of the funeral of John XXIII. It appeared to her that this man had the best job in the world; it seemed that everyone loved him. Her mother is to be commended for letting her down easy. She responded to her daughter’s desire by explaining that she could not be pope since she was not Italian.
I am grateful to James Comninellis of the ecumenical and interreligious office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis for information on an event coming up later this month. On Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m., Holy Virgin Mary and Shoghagat Armenian Church, 400 Huntwood Road, Swansea, Ill., will host a Catholic - Armenian prayer service for Christian unity, in celebration of the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia last June 24 - 26. Those planning to attend are to RSVP to (314.) 792-7177.
If Armenia seems to be outside our sphere of understanding and appreciation, let us remember the blessing of throats on Feb. 3, the memorial of St. Blase. He was an Armenian bishop who was martyred in what is now Turkey, early in the fourth century. It was precisely at this time that the nation of Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion.
The Armenian Church, an “Oriental Orthodox” church, has an organized presence of four dioceses in the United States. There also exists an Armenian Catholic Church in union with Rome; there is one diocese for the United States and Canada.