I think that the Orthodox Church teaches a variety of Supersessionism- that the New Covenant "supersedes" the Old Covenant. I would like to better understand the Church's position on this topic.
The word "supersede" in Latin means literally to "sit on top of" something. The word came into use in Scotland in the 17th century as a legal term, whereby one law supersedes another. As result, "supersede" can have more than one meaning: (1) to replace a separate thing completely and make it irrelevant, or (2) to continue something and only replace it in a limited sense.
For example, if I "sit on top" of a chair, my body is separate from the chair. But if I "sit on top of my ankles, my body is still connected to my ankles. To give another example, a new law can abolish and replace an old one, or it can just partly amend it, while continuing it. I think that the fact the term can mean different things has added to the confusion, and some theologians say the Church does not follow Supersessionism, because they only think of one meaning of the term.
In general, Orthodox theologians do not use the term "Supersessionism," because the concept was developed in 19th century western academics. Rev. Peter Gillquist, former Chairman of the Antiochian Archdiocese's Evangelism Department, wrote at length on the subject in his booklet The Nation of Israel in Prophecy. The booklet is available in many Orthodox Churches, but it does not mention the term.
Some sources portray Orthodoxy as Supersessionist. Fr. Yves Dubois, a Greek Orthodox priest, is quoted as saying that "there are few signs that" supersessionism will be removed from Orthodoxy.1Fr. Georgy Belodurov explained on Deacon Kuraev's forum that: "'Replacement Theology' is a term that the enemies of Orthodoxy call the Doctrine of the Church. The Orthodox Church teaches that the Church is the Body of Christ, the New Israel." "Replacement Theology" is another term used for Supersessionism, although I doubt that "supersede" and "replace" necessarily mean the same thing.
Supersessionism is the traditional Christian belief that Christianity is the fulfillment of Biblical Judaism... Supersessionism, in its more radical form, maintains that the Jews are no longer considered to be God's Chosen people in any sense. This understanding is generally termed "replacement theology." The traditional form of supersessionism does not theorize a replacement; instead it argues that Israel has been superseded only in the sense that the Church has been entrusted with the fulfillment of the promises of which Jewish Israel is the trustee.
Richard Lux, who is not Orthodox, writes in The Jewish People, The Holy Land:
Most notably, Eastern Orthodoxy has been reluctant to change its supersessionist view. Father George Makhlour of St George's Greek Orthodox Church in Ramallah has said: ‘The church has inherited the promises of Israel. The Church is actually the New Israel. What Abraham was promised, Christians now possess because they are Abraham's true spiritual children just as the New Testament teaches.’ (pp. 61-62)
However, one must note two things about Lux's quote here. First, Fr. Makhlour himself is not quoted as using the term Supercessionism, so this could just be Lux's interpretation. Second, Robert Lux paints a very negative picture of Supersessionism, claiming that it excludes God's promises from the Jewish people. The problem with this portrayal of Supersessionism is that it incorrectly suggests God's blessings go to some nationalities instead of others. But in fact Orthodoxy says people receive God's blessings regardless of their nationality.
On the other hand, other sources portray Orthodoxy as rejecting Supersessionism. In his inspiring interview on Ancient Faith Radio, Fr. James Bernstein was asked about "Replacement Theology." He answered:
What of Old Israel: Are the Jews Still Chosen of God & the Mystery of Israel’s Blindness.
The scriptures do say: “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, but is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Romans 2). So Paul here speaks of the gentile as well as the Jew. On the other hand, St Paul in three chapters in particular (Romans 9,10,11) makes perfectly clear that there is a future destiny for the Jewish people. He assumes their continued existence as a people. So St Paul asks in Chapter 11:
“Has God cast away his people? Certainly not but through their fall to provoke them to jealousy, salvation is come to the gentiles. For I do not desire brethren (speaking to the gentile Romans), that ye should be ignorant of this mystery lest you should be wise in your own opinions that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the gentiles come in.”
After quoting Romans 11, Fr. Bernstein correctly concludes how this relates to Orthodox thinking:
So there is a hope for Old Israel. And also so we have in the same chapter it speaks of Old Israel being a natural olive tree into which wild gentile branches have been grafted. And then St Paul says: “Do not boast. Remember that you gentile Christians do not support the root, but the root supports you.”
So to answer the question, I do not believe the Old Jewish olive tree was cut down and replaced with the brand new olive tree. There is only one olive tree into which the gentile Christians have been grafted.
Fr. Bernstein is right that Orthodoxy does not teach that there are two separate olive trees and that one was cut down and "replaced." If that is what Replacement Theology or Supersessionism mean, then they are not Orthodox concepts. However, it seems to me that Supersessionism can also allow for another understanding that matches what Fr. Bernstein has described: some branches have been "replaced", even though the tree has not been. And this does not prevent those branches from being put back in. Likewise, the new status of the tree with new branches that have found the root "supersedes" the old status of the tree, even though they are the same tree.
Eugene Pentiuc, professor of Old Testament at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, rejected "Supersessionism" as a teaching of the Church in a section he wrote for the Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. He wrote:
The first of [the foundational attitudes that tended to fuel anti-Judaism] was the position of theological supersessionism attested
in some of the New Testament and patristic writings, especially those using the typological imagery of the movement from Old to New as being the passage from shadow to reality. (p.356)
It makes sense to me that the Old Testament was more than a mere shadow. So I can see that if Supersessionism is defined this way,
Orthodoxy is not Supersessionist. Next, the Encyclopedia says, in another chapter written by Professor Pentiuc:
Another early danger, supersessionism, discernible in the indictment of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mt. 21.33-46) and supported by Paul's teaching that the coming of Christ put an end to the custodian role of the Law (Gal. 3.24-5; Rom. 10.4; cf. Heb. 8.13), led to a premature devaluation of the Old Testament among some Christian commentators. The idea that the church and its new Scripture superseded the old Israel and its Hebrew Scripture is attested in many early Christian writings. Even so, the church as a whole has been able to keep the two Testaments in a dialectical unity, in the main avoiding factual reductionism and supersessionism as dangers. (p.421)
However, if "Supersessionism" might be defined different ways, perhaps Prof. Pentiuc is referring to certain un-Orthodox varieties of Supersessionism among early Christians. Perhaps the term "Supersessionism" could be broad enough that it could include other
ideas that remain "Orthodox" (like St Paul's image of the olive tree in Romans). After all, Prof. Pentiuc wrote that Supersessionism can be found in St Paul's idea of the coming of Christ and it's relationship to the Law.
Finally, in online discussions, Orthodox had different opinions on the topic, but generally considered their views "Supersessionist":
1. For the quote by Fr. Yves Dubois, see Geoffrey Wigoder's article "Jewish-Christian Relations in the Light of the Holocaust".