Orthodox Christmas will be celebrated Tuesday night, January 7. As many other Christians, I am getting a Christmas gift of my own: Israel's decision to bar Yasser Arafat from Bethlehem. A murderer of Jewish children does not belong in a temple built to honor the nativity of a Jewish child. If this modern-day Herod sets his foot inside that place, I'm afraid that the spirit of holiness will flee Bethlehem, just like the Holy Family did 2,003 years ago.
And once again, Israel will be condemned for this by another no smaller segment of the Christian world, including the top church clergy in Russia. But is it just anti-Semitism or Israel's inability to work with Christians?
A considerable part of Christendom, Orthodox Christians of the former USSR, is completely ignored by Israel's hasbara. However, as a Russian-born Orthodox priest, I can witness that this group has a colossal potential of becoming friends of Israel.
Recently, the Michael Cherney Foundation to Aid Terror Victims published (in Russian) Babylon and Jerusalem: the Biblical View of the Middle East Conflict, a collection of works by Christian theologians that prove that not only cannot a true Christian be an anti-Semite, but he cannot oppose Zionism either, since the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is, among other things, a realization of Christian prophecies. I contributed to the collection with memories of having served in Orthodox churches in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and of the desperate situation of Christian Arabs who fall prey to terror and Islamization.
I also attended the book's official presentation in Moscow, which revealed the situation within the Russian Orthodox Church that is complicated, but encouraging for Israel. Although its top officials tread carefully, afraid to disturb their solid including financial relationship with the Arab world, the Russian Christian intelligentsia senses that this official stand is a lie. Babylon represents totalitarianism Communism, Fascism, and, as of recently, radical Islam, including Arafat's regime while Jerusalem represents the frontline for our world's moral values. And one cannot be on the good side of Babylon and Jerusalem at the same time.
Many of those in attendance voiced an opinion that the alliance of Israel and Russia must be based on mutual love, on the mission of Judaism and Christianity, rather than on hatred of the common enemy. They also noted that Israel now is the Stalingrad of our civilization, and that Russia must back Israel with all its resources.
IT WAS a revelation for many Russian Christian intellectuals to read in the book that Arafat, "a great friend of the Soviet people," had slaughtered Maronite Christians, and that the numbers of Christian Arabs in the Holy Land are falling drastically under his regime.
Russian Christians responded with a great deal of sympathy to my testimony that Christians living under the PA are the first victims of Arafat's regime and are secretly hoping to be liberated by Israel; that Christian Arabs living in Israel are also hoping that Russia will reassume the role it once played in the Middle East prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, and once again will become a source of spiritual and material support for the Christian Arab community; and that the Jerusalem Patriarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church is a de-facto hostage of Arafat's and cannot openly criticize his despotic, terrorist, anti-Christian regime.
If Israel became serious about the situation of Christian Arabs, a community that is culturally and spiritually the closest to Israel within the Arab world, I'm sure Russia would lend its support.
For example, Moscow showed interest in Avigdor Lieberman's plan to create a Christian enclave in Bethlehem, which would protect Christian holy places from terrorist takeover and become a safe haven for all the discriminated Christians of the region.
Yet such projects are few and far between. Israel does precious little to win the hearts of Eastern Christians. As a result, the image of the protector of the Churches and the Christians of the Holy Land has been usurped by Arafat.
I believe the problem lies with the erroneous theology that is still alive in the minds of even some non-religious Israelis. Misunderstanding the concept of the Holy Trinity, they think of Christians as dubious monotheists. Also, while the Muslims are presumed to go after Jewish lives, the Christians are seen to be out to get Jewish souls. This absurdly makes the Jews more friendly with Muslims than they are with Christians. An Israeli politician cannot even utter aloud the name of Jesus Christ, resorting to a euphemism like "the founder of Christianity," to say nothing of visiting a church on a Christian holiday.
Arafat doesn't have this problem: He will go in and light a candle, and the entire world will pronounce him a better friend of Christianity than the Jews are.
The Jews are still waiting for the Christians to come to them and atone for anti-Semitism. The Protestants have already done so, having engendered a mass movement of Christian Zionists. The pope visited the Western Wall, thus paving the way for Catholics' atonement. I am sure that Eastern Orthodox Christians will come to Israel, too, and acknowledge the Jews' spiritual fatherhood. But, as in the story of the Prodigal Son, the Jews too must go outside and embrace the Christians as their beloved children. I believe that this is the true path shown by the Star of Bethlehem.
The writer is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church in Athens. For the last 10 years, he has served in Israel and in the PA. Before that he served as a priest in Russia.