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Chalice of Eternity: A Look at Orthodox Christian Theology of Time


In this article Dr Brandon Gallaher describes the major elements of an Orthodox theology of time, with particular reference to the theology of Fr Alexander Schmemann and St Gregory of Nyssa. Dr Gallaher asks what we mean by time in relation to creation and to God; what the nature of time is as experienced by us as fallen beings, as 'growth unto death'; and how time can be experienced as renewal, as 'growth unto life in Jesus Christ', referring in particular to the concept of the liturgical Eighth Day.

This morning during Matins I had a ‘jolt of happiness, of fullness of life, and at the same time the thought: I will have to die! But in such a fleeting breath of happiness, time usually ‘gathers’ itself. In an instant, not only are all such breaths of happiness remembered but they are present and alive—that Holy Saturday in Paris when I was a young man—and many such ‘breaks.’ It seems to me that eternity might be not the stopping of time, but precisely its resurrection and gathering. The fragmentation of time, its division, is the fall of eternity. Maybe the words of Christ are about time when He said: ‘…not to destroy anything but will raise it all on the last day.’ The thirst for solitude, peace, freedom, is thirst for the liberation of time from cumbersome dead bodies, from hustle; thirst for the transformation of time into what it should be—the receptacle, the chalice of eternity. Liturgy is the conversion of time, its filling with eternity. There are two irreconcilable types of spirituality: one that strives to liberate man from time (Buddhism, Hinduism, Nirvana, etc.); the other that strives to liberate time. In genuine eternity, all is alive. The limit and the fullness: the whole of time, the whole of life is in each moment. But there is also the perpetual problem: What about the evil moments? Evil time? The terrible fear before dying of the drowning man, of the man falling from the tenth floor about to be crushed on the pavement? What about the tears of an abused child?

(The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983, p.78)

***

Time cannot be understood as a part of the Doctrine of Creation, but only from within our recreation in the Body of the Living Christ, the Church. Christ came to recreate all things by His cross in the Church and time itself is the space within creation wherein this re-creation takes place. Systematic theology in the Eastern Orthodox tradition is very underdeveloped; indeed, the actual writing of Systematic Theologies has been something attained with little success until now except by Frs. Sergii Bulgakov and Dimitru Staniloae. If a tradition of systematics is to be developed in Eastern Orthodoxy, one that begins to speak from and for the whole Christian Church, and if it is to begin with the Doctrine of the Word of God, as arguably, after Karl Barth, has become a theological necessity, then one must first theologize the space within which the cross of Jesus Christ stands. This essay will attempt to give, in broad strokes, an Eastern Orthodox theology of time with particular emphasis on the thought of Fr. Alexander Schmemann and St. Gregory of Nyssa.

This study begins with a quotation from Schmemann, the rare Orthodox theologian who has developed a systematic theology of time. The quotation will be helpful to us in our attempt to understand time as the space of our creation and re-creation in Jesus Christ, for it brings together a number of themes central to our enterprise: (a) time as understood in its relation to the Church as a receptacle of the eternal Kingdom of God; (b) time as woundedness (what Schmemann calls “evil time”); (c) the relation of time to eternity as the spiritual mode of the created where time is not understood, like Plato, as a moving image of eternity, but eternity is understood through time as the co-presence and indwelling of distinct moments (past, present and future); (d) and memory in liturgical remembrance as the restoration of time to the wholeness of a temporally understood eternity. This essay attempts to elaborate the broad themes central to an Orthodox theology of time under three equally broad headings:

(I) Nature of Time: What is time? Do we only know time in knowing the things that are contained in time? What is its relation to God’s mode of being?

(II) Time as Decay: How do we primarily experience time? Do we experience it as change or, more precisely, mutability, that is, a growth unto death?

(III) Time as Renewal: If time is the change inherent in being created then can we experience our life as other than a growth unto death? Can we experience life as perhaps, a growth unto goodness in Christ in His Church?

(I) Nature of Time: What is time?

What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend
this even in thought so as to articulate the answer in words?
Yet what do we speak of, in our familiar everyday conversation, more than of time?
We surely know what we mean when we speak of it.
We also know what is meant when we hear someone else taking about it.
What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know.
If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know. (Confessions,11.14.17, p. 230)

Following these famous lines from Book XI of the Confessions St. Augustine goes on to meditate on the intricate connections between past, present and future in human consciousness. Unlike at least one tendency in Augustine, seen in Book XI of the Confessions, I think that it is a mistake to try to understand the nature of time abstractly, that is, I come to understand time by abstracting myself from the stream of life and thereby think of time as something ‘out there’ as the object of my intellect. This object of time is observed by the thinker as a neutral observer who steps back from himself and meditates upon the object thrown before his consciousness. However, Augustine also is concerned with the relation of time to creation and eventually concludes, as the quote indicates, that the thinker is always implicated by time since he is in time. In other words, time itself is meaningless unless it presupposes created things in time including the thinker. Indeed, Augustine’s meditation on time in the Confessions begins with the attempt to understand the relation of God to the world He created. Augustine attempts to respond to the question: ‘What was God doing before He created all things?’ To which Augustine responds: nothing as doing (sc. creating) implies time. Time came to be with God’s act of creation, for God is timeless or immutable and changeless unlike creation, which is temporal, mutable or changing.



Butif Augustine does acknowledge the connection of time to creation, for him this meant our consciousness of creation, which led him to collapse time past and future into the eternity of the present moment. In the present moment, I am aware of myself as made in the image of God so that time, as the triune reality of past, present and future, becomes unreal next to the eternal image of the Trinity. This eternal image is in the mind as a present moment of self-consciousness. I don’t think this solution should be accepted because it essentially says that all change is unreal since whatever is real is wholly eternal and only God is wholly eternal and we share in Him through our unchanging meditation on him. In short, the past and future, according to one traditional theology of time, are unreal and only the present moment as an image of eternity is real.

It is arguable, however, that if God created all things very good and to be created is to be mutable or changeable then change as variation (past, present and future) must be good in itself. Thus the Platonic tendency to see time as a moving image of eternity should be avoided theologically insofar as it leads to ‘unreal creation’ being collapsed into ‘real eternity’ thereby ending creation’s variable createdness. This collapse of time into eternity is believed by some thinkers to be necessary because temporal creation is viewed as ‘metaphysically evil’ insofar as it is not eternal which is to be good, real and invariable. On the contrary, it is arguable that the division between past, present and future in time does not point to the unreality of physical creation as time bound, but instead, as Fr. Pavel Florensky argued, to real otherness, distinction and difference in God himself as the Holy Trinity. God's life as Trinity is "perichoretic" (i.e. indwelling, co-inherent) with each person being in the other person and all being in each and each existing in all and all subsisting in all and all being one in this division in the perfect unity of love. Therefore, in contrast to a certain tendency in Augustine and both Eastern and Western theologies, perfection, for the created, is not to be collapsed into the one presence of the Uncreated, insofar as God is one, present and invariable and so that time finds its true end in its negation. Rather, the created images the Uncreated’s perfection in creaturely otherness and movement towards goodness, that is, man reflects His Creator precisely in his temporality and mutability which are "very good."

Time is often connected to physical creation insofar as physical creation is characterized by change (mutability) and the ability to change—as the mode of being of creation—being often contrasted with God who is changeless, immutable and eternal. But I think this conceptual movement needs further clarification, for are there not angels and are they not said to be created but eternal and immortal too? But we know that Satan and those fallen angels who followed him made a choice to change from goodness to evil, from light to darkness, yet we still call them ‘eternal beings’ possessing 'immortality' albeit by grace and not of their own posession. We have then in the angel a sort of oxymoron: a changeable eternal being.

Therefore some Fathers, including Sts. Basil the Great and Maximus the Confessor, spoke of three modes of being (i.e. time (chronos), age or creaturely eternity (aion) and the everlasting or uncreated eternity (aidios, aidiotes and sometimes aioniosandoften evenproaionios or the pre-eternal which is ateleutetos or without an end)), not just the two of time and eternity. I will attempt to adapt these broad and rather slippery categories, in a contemporary context, based on the fundamental distinction between the Uncreated and the created.

First, everlastingness or everexistingness (aidiotes) that is the mode of being of God who is utterly beyond the distinction between time and creaturely eternity, being and non-being since He is the pre-eternal (proaionios) God who is "endless" in the sense of being beyond duration. Everlastingness is essentially a negative or apophatic category emphasizing God’s unknowableness. God’s unknowableness is best expressed by darkness —“He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water” (Ps. 18: 11)—since He is unlike all else that is in being Uncreated not created. That which is everlasting is eternity in its proper sense as it is the natural mode of God not creation. Thus Basil speaks of the everlasting, the ‘mode’ of God, as being “older in being to all time and eternity [or 'age': aionos]” in that He is the one who created the ages. Maximus likewise writes that “God is simply and indefinably beyond all beings, both what circumscribes and what is circumscribed and the nature of those [categories] without which none of these could be, I mean, time and eternity and space, by which the universe is enclosed, since He is completely unrelated to anything.” God is indefinable as the ho pro aionon Theos (Slavonic: prevechnyi Bog) which can be translated as ‘the pre-eternal God’ or ‘God before the ages.’ As the Kontakion of Christmas puts it:

Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being [ton huperousion], and the earth offers the cave to him whom no one can approach; Angels with Shepherds give glory, while Magi journey with a star, for to us there has been born a little child, God before the ages [ho pro aionon Theos].

Second, we have creaturely eternity/age (aidiotes), which is the creaturely mode of being of the supra-cosmic or spiritual creation of God—angels. This mode of being is not one that excludes change but it is not bound by the distinctions of our present time’s version of change. The past is not utterly past but it is contained in the present as is the future and the future in the past and the past in the future so that eternity is a sort of perichoretic version of time. This, I would argue, is what Schmemann was getting at when he wrote that points in time can be gathered together and encountered simultaneously:



In an instant, not only are all such breaths of happiness remembered but they are present and alive—that Holy Saturday in Paris when I was a young man—and many such ‘breaks.’ It seems to me that eternity might be not the stopping of time, but precisely its resurrection and gathering.

Moreover, there is in the Kingdom of God, which is an eternal Kingdom not of this world, an enduring quality of being where one forever praises God from one moment to the next—a sort of sempiternal or eternal duration—without in any way being trapped in growing old or being trapped in the inexperience of youth. In such eternal duration, the goodness of God is always desired and always held in its fullness at the same time as that goodness continually increases our capacity and desire for it although we never possess this goodness in its fullness. The nature of eternity can be traced to the nature of spiritual or eternal being where the spiritual ‘body’ is both faster and lighter than the physical body and so is not constrained by the divisions of space or time at the same time as those divisions are never abolished. Thus I am arguing that creaturely eternity cannot be understood without temporal characteristics like the triune reality of past, present and future. Temporality comes in two forms: creaturely eternity or spiritual time and time proper which we humans now experience. Temporality is the mark of what is created whereas what is Uncreated­­—God alone—is everlasting being marked by uncreated eternity.

Thirdly, we have time (chronos) proper which is the mode of being of the sensible cosmos, that is, our present sensible creation that has man at its summit. Time in physical creation, as we now experience it under the weight of sin, is understood as a reality with a strict division between past, present and future where the person in time, who has turned his back on God’s grace in Jesus Christ, is prevented from being present to more than one division at once. Thus when I err under the weight of sin I cannot be present to here and there at once since I am bound to here.

To summarize, I am arguing that in an Orthodox theology of time we should speak of two (not three) modes of being based on the fundamental distinction between the created and the Uncreated: temporality in the dual form of time (sensible creation: chronos) and creaturely eternity/age (supersensible creation: aion) in contradistinction to the everlasting (aidiotes), uncreated divine eternity before every age (proaionios), as a negative or apophatic category emphasizing God’s unknowableness.

The admittedly rather laboured distinction I have made between temporality and the everlasting is a necessary prolegomenon to any systematic theology of time since we can then begin to understand who Jesus Christ is as the God-Man, created and Uncreated at once, insofar as His theandric energies are simultaneously temporal and everlasting. The cross, using our distinction, is an everlasting act of God that is love but it is such an act of love only in time. In contemplating the cross, as a theandric act, we come to understand that Christ is the one who in showing us the brokenness of time also reveals to us what time may become through its healing by the everlasting. Christ heals our time (chronos), and indeed the time of the invisible creation (aeon), by making it His time of opportunity for our salvation in Him (kairos). Time, as Christ’s time, becomes a means to our perfection in Him rather than the ultimate expression of our rejection of God’s grace. Through Him in His Body the Church we come to partake in the mode of being of the invisible creation, creaturely eternity, but this eternity or time of the invisible creation becomes wedded with our sensible time, remade for an embodied being like man, through participating in the everlasting life of God. Time is, therefore, remade and renewed in the Church as the Kingdom of God and we have a foretaste of this renewal in the liturgy. We shall return to this renewal of time in Christ below.

Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the source by which the temporal is defined and the everlasting is illumined. If creation’s mode of being is best seen in movement, in the interval between two points, then God’s mode of Being is best expressed by His enduring darkness since the mode by which ‘He is’ is unlike all else that is in being Uncreated not created. Following this line of argument, we can say that the best description of God’s mode of Being (outside of saying that He is Trinity) is to say that He is not created—Uncreated. Thus when God became man in Jesus Christ it was, as it were, a ‘movement of darkness.’ But how do we perceive this ‘movement of darkness’ that is the God-Man as the union of time and the everlasting? We can only understand Jesus Christ by contemplating God’s grace that is perfectly manifest in the weakness of the cross, “E’lo-i, E’lo-i, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?” (Mark 15:34), of God crying for man to God from the depths of hell: “I called to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice” (Jonah 2:2). We shall return to the key role Christ plays in the theology of time throughout this essay.

Temporality, then, as the fallen time of the physical world and temporality as the eternal mode of co-presence of past, presence and future are both understood by their contents, but if we talk about a ‘content’ in time or eternity then we are thinking of time and eternity in terms of space. A content can be measured and that which can be measured can be placed so that if that which is temporal exists insofar as to be is to be measurable then the temporal has being insofar as it takes up a place in the hierarchy of being in which God has created the world. So a man has a natural place in God’s cosmos just as does an angel whereas God is outside this hierarchy as completely beyond it as its, to borrow a phrase from Maximus, “unoriginate origin.” All of us seek our true place in this hierarchy through our inner desire or love for God implanted by the same Uncreated God who created us. Therefore, time, as Basil defined it, is “the extension [diastema] coextensive with the existence of the cosmos”, that is, all created being (sensible and supersensible) is characterized as temporal which is to be in an extension of createdness reaching towards the end of the love of God.

(II) Time as Decay: Growth unto Death

He [the passionate man] is like those who toil endlessly as they climb uphill in sand:
Even though they take long steps, their footing in the sand always slips downhill,
so that, although there is much motion, no progress results from it. (Gregory of Nyssa, Vita Moysis, §244, p.117)

The first stop in our theology of time is our fallen experience of time—time as found in the sensible world; not, that is, that sensoriness makes for fallenness. On the contrary, the demons are fallen but they are supersensible eternal beings that, like us, experience, in eternity, temporality in a fallen mode. However, how exactly the fallen experience of eternal time of the demons differs from the eternal temporality of the unfallen angels or the time bound fallen temporality of man or the temporality of the garden which Adam and Eve experienced is impossible to say. What we can express fairly exactly is how we presently experience temporality as fallen time or growth unto death, that is, our present fallen time is as Shakespeare’s “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/ To the last syllable of recorded time,/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death. […] it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”

First we experience fallen time as constant change or ceaseless movement in a cycle of death that can be seen cyclically in the seasons, which move in a circle like a snake swallowing its tail. Winter follows Autumn and Spring follows Winter just as death follows old age and old age is not the end, for out of our death comes the birth of our descendants. Thus all of time is a perpetual repetition of death since the moment that things come into existence, changing from non-existence into being, they straightway move back again from existence into non-being. This experience of fallen time is what Pozzo, in Waiting For Godot, expresses when he cries furiously at Vladimir:

Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that enough for you? [Calmer] They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

Second, we experience fallen time as unending desire. Once we desire something it lacerates our whole being until we possess it and our desire for that thing is then satiated until the thing possessed tempts us into some new perversion and the vicious circle begins all over again. Man’s life, then, is like this vicious circle insofar as he is continually turning around while facing his own self like it was a household idol, as The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete puts it: “I am become my own idol, and have injured my soul with passions.” Luther expressed this fallen circularity of time well when he says that homo in se incurvatus or man is turned in on himself.

St. Gregory of Nyssa writes of negative change as what characterizes our fallen time. It is characterized by biological duration or, in physical terms, negative ‘motion’ which Gregory in a nice figure, borrowed from Eph. 4:14, describes as the character of being “tossed about.” With negative motion one never meets one’s object, but one is always in a process of slipping away from that object even as one thinks that one possesses it. In terms of bodily desires (good in the unfallen condition) this means that one is caught in a seemingly endless cycle of temptation and satiation where one desire merges into another as soon as it is satisfied (if it is ever truly satisfied). Gregory has a nice image, with which we opened this section, to convey this hopeless cyclical perpetuum mobile.It is of a man fruitlessly attempting to climb uphill in sand and never making any progress. It is the spiritual life where one’s house is built not on the rock of Christ but on the sand of spiritual illusions:

He [the passionate man] is like those who toil endlessly as they climb uphill in sand: Even though they take long steps, their footing in the sand always slips downhill, so that, although there is much motion, no progress results from it.

Third, we see time as decay in memory—Schmemann’s “evil time.” In evil time, we remember the past as perpetually lost like a ghost that must relive its own murder. Thus we remember continually and cannot change the death of our spouse, our mother, our child, or worse, a moment of humiliation by our spouse, our mother, by us of our own child. We cannot choose our past, for deliberation is a mark of future action in the present, the choice between what we would like to have happened and what actually happened remains only an undying craving for another world, as T. S. Eliot acknowledged: “What might have been is an abstraction/ Remaining a perpetual possibility/ Only in a world of speculation.” Perhaps this is what the ancient Greek poet Agathon meant when he wrote that “For one thing is denied even to God/ To make what has been done undone again.” Therefore, all in all, it seems that as the children of Adam the Transgressor we have buried the image of God under several feet of mud. What can we do, if anything, when the judge of all comes at the end of time? The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete puts this aspect of time’s and man in time’s judgement in the following manner: “The mind is wounded, the body is feeble, the spirit is sick, the word has lost its power, life is ebbing, the end is at the doors. What then will you do, wretched soul, when the Judge comes to try your case?” But what is the theological characteristic of all these faces of fallen time? Each of these faces of fallen time points to our fundamental need, in time, for time’s renewal in Jesus Christ.

(III) Time as Renewal: Growth unto Goodness in Christ

Therefore, let not a person be grieved by the fact that his nature is mutable; rather,
by always being changed to what is better and by being transformed from glory to glory
(2 Cor 3.18), let him so be changed: by daily growth he always becomes better
and is always being perfected yet never attains perfection’s goal.
For perfection truly consists in never stopping our increase towards
the better nor to limit perfection with any boundary. (Gregory of Nyssa, On Perfection, p.379)

Decay unto death can be renewed as a growth unto life in Jesus Christ. It was argued above that memory for man can be the awareness that he cannot change the past. In other words, in the fallen experience of time man is impotent in the face of the seemingly invincible movement of time so that Agathon could claim that even God could not change the past. However, as a Christian I believe otherwise in confessing Jesus Christ. Indeed, Christian faith rests upon the belief that Agathon was and is wrong. Time, as a fallen reality crushing the being of man, seen perhaps most clearly in the tragedy of lost time, can be redeemed, saved and liberated. Our time is renewed in the living, real memory of Jesus Christ in whose death and new life in His living Body, the Church, we are baptized. Put otherwise, in baptism, our fallen memory is ‘justified, illumined, sanctified and washed in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of God.’ Our everlasting God has come down into the broken temporality of time and renewed our memory in the saving event of Jesus Christ, God as Man and Man for God.

Memory needs to be healed not destroyed. Often the greatest difficulties in our lives are the result of being plagued by evil memories, which wound and lacerate us as persons. Indeed, we pray at Great Vespers that God will protect us “from vain thoughts and from evil memories.” An image exists for this ‘weight of memory’ at the end of the Purgatorio when Dante, after confessing to Beatrice, first drinks of the river of Lethe forgetting all the evil and sin of his past life then drinking of the river of Eunöe (‘good remembrance’ or ‘good mind’) and remembering everything but from the perspective of the grace and love of God. Forgiveness, then, is a process of progressive confession and absolution where we gradually let go of the past (are freed from its chains) by confronting the past and then giving it up in forgiveness (forgetting it without repression) so that we can regain it back from Jesus Christ through His remembrance in love. This healed or forgiven memory is paradise regained, that is, “radical innocence” as Yeats termed the state of learned childlikeness after our dreaming innocence has gone through the fire of experience.

We are given this renewal of our memory, this reality of memory shining forth with the light of the new age of the coming Kingdom of God fulfilled once for all time on the cross (‘It is finished!’/’Behold I make all things new’), in the perpetual rebirth—perpetual Pentecost—of the Church in its praise of God. In praising God, the Church is given the gift of the eternal Memory of the Spirit whereby we remember the life of Christ as our very own thus redeeming all memory under the sign of His cross. Such ‘eternal remembrance’ renews the face of the earth and makes of it, as Schmemann put it, a “liturgical paradise.” Schmemann’s theology of time is in many ways a theology of memory. For Schmemann, memory, in the Church, becomes an ingathering of the past and future in the present worship of the Church so that we can presently sing of Christ’s salvation on the cross and His triumph over history in His second and glorious coming again as “the ultimate and all-embracing today of Christ”, that is, “Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us” or “This is the day of resurrection” or yet again “On Mount Tabor, O Lord, Thou hast shown today the glory of Thy divine form unto Thy chosen disciples” or finally, with Ephrem the Syrian, on Christ’s passion as our salvation now:

 Open your heart,
                        learn in detail
                        his sufferings
                        and say to yourself:
                        God who is without sin
                        today was given up,
                        today was mocked,
                        today was abused,
                        today was struck,
                        today was scourged,
                        today wore
                        a crown of thorns,
                        today was crucified,
                        he, the heavenly Lamb.

In Christ, as the Lord of Time, is realized the ingathering of all moments in one moment of what we might call an 'eternal temporality' and which Schmemann calls temps immobile, that is, the co-inherence or co-presence of each part of time to each other in the present happens in Jesus Christ. Christ is Himself the Lord of Chronos or time proper because He is the Kyrios Kairou, Lord of the appointed time of our salvation. In Him, our broken mode of temporality, chronos, is renewed and sanctified, ascending with Him to the Father and becoming a spiritual mode of time through its marriage with creaturely eternity (aeon). But when He returns to us in His Body and Blood in the liturgy, which is both our ascent to God and His descent to us, we see that our new mode of time, eternal temporality, is something radically new to creation, sensible and spiritual at once, as it has partaken of the very mode of God Himself as everlasting Trinity (aidiotes), God before the ages. Therefore, the central locus of this ingathering of time is our Lord’s anamnesis or His recollection of His own saving actions in the liturgy in which His living memory becomes life everlasting by renewing all time in the new age of His Kingdom. This Kingdom of Jesus Christ is the very same life we will receive at the resurrection on the last day. It has been variously described as the ‘eighth day’ or ‘liturgy without end’ and it is granted as a gracious foretaste to us. It is a sort of liturgical in-breaking of the life to come in our crooked and wounded time.

It should be noted that when, in Scripture, Christ remembers His own Body and Blood broken and shed for the life of the world, it is prior to the actual sacrifice. In other words, in Christ’s remembrance, memory is not merely retrospective, in that it looks back at a life of sacrifice, but it is also simultaneously prospective in actuating prophetically the sacrifice of the cross before it happens. Likewise, our Lord as our Great High Priest remembers us and all time before the Father in heaven when at the Anaphora on the Lord’s Day the priest says both retrospectively and prospectively at once: “Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Sitting down at the right hand, and the second and glorious Coming.” Christ's memory is eschatological, a remembering of the future life to come. Thus the Christian life is one of memory eternal where we live in the liturgical ingathering of all moments by remembering, with Christ, the saving acts that have accomplished our salvation now and to come. In the Christian life lived as anamnesis, past and future converge in one another in the present moment of our loving memory where we taste of the new age given in our midst. Eternal memory is not the destruction of the past as past and the future as future but their clarification and illumination in encountering each other in our present consciousness of Jesus Christ who gives us eternal life. To borrow a phrase from Berdyaev, “Immortality is memory made clear and serene.”

Christ, then, as our renewed memory effecting salvation has, as Schmemann put it, “power over time” because He makes time His own as its Lord and does not destroy it but burns away, with healing fire, its wounds, making it itself through contact with Himself insofar as “Eternity is not the negation of time, but time’s absolute wholeness, gathering and restoration.” But if the Pascha of the Lord is the fulness of all saving events in Christ’s Kingdom not of this world and these events are manifested in the Church’s worship, preeminently at the passing over from death to life of the Lord at Easter, then we must say that each year we return to Pascha, Pascha does not return to us. Furthermore, the cycle of the services in which we remember our Lord, punctuated by the liturgy at any time, for the liturgy is not a part of any of the cycles and may be celebrated at any time, is the restoration of cyclical time to an eternal temporality which renews the seasons as no longer movement unto death but movement unto life and eternal growth in Christ through the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father.

Time need not lacerate our life now that it is renewed in Christ because as an eternal temporality, in the liturgical seasons, it sanctifies and ever renews the temporality of creation in the liturgy. The liturgy is, to cite Schmemann once again, “the chalice of eternity” where we become receptacles of Christ’s coming again by holding in our thankfulness the new paradise gifted to us at Golgotha. Golgotha has become a garden in the memory of God and this garden is the Church. Gregory of Nyssa, therefore, argues that the Church is the world recreated and this new world is paradise regained: “Now the resurrection promises us nothing else than the restoration of the fallen to their ancient state; for the grace we look for is a certain return to the first life, bringing back again to Paradise him who was cast out from it.” Yet the recreation of the world must be received in contrition, in conversion of our minds to the form of the mind of Christ, if Christ’s cry to “Return again to Paradise!” is to be effective for us. Yet, and here we wish to go a little further with these ideas, we should not view our return to paradise as simply a reversion to an idyll of the simplicity and innocence of Adam that denies our previous experience as if God wiped out of all the events in the past. Rather, our new mode of being is a "radical innocence" (in Yeats' phrase) that takes into consideration our fall and redemption but now sees all of the past wounded life from God's unending grace as necessary paradoxically to become something new in the cosmos. This "newness" is the life of eternal temporality to which we are called in the Church, a synthesis of the sensible and the spiritual, chronosand aeonin a living interanimated tension, where they are united and differentiated through their mutual and total dependence on God's everlasting mode of Being.



But how does this renewal of time take place? A renewal, as we have described it, where memory is an ingathering of all time and the Church, in its services, is a glorious non-tyrannical cycle of joy that shows us what the seasons of the earth were meant to be. We can trace this conception of the renewal of time by turning once again to the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory sees time as the growth into goodness in Jesus Christ manifested each Lord’s Day that is the eighth day of Pascha ‘foretasted’ to us in the liturgy. Gregory’s retrieval of time depends on his positive understanding of change.

‘Positive change’ is what the Apostle described as “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). The operative word in this passage for Gregory is epekteinomenos or straining forward to which is related to epektasis (an important concept for Gregory) which is usually translated as ‘stretching out of towards’, but might be translated much more literally as ‘at out of extension.’ It combines two seemingly opposite conceptions: rest (to be at) and movement (to be out of extension). ‘Rest’, in epektasis, refers to the fact that in Jesus Christ one is at or towards or facing the Son of God. In being in Christ in the Church, we become like Adam who, had he obeyed, could have walked in the garden in the cool of the day with God as it were with a true friend thereby moving in an unfallen way integrating his experience into his innocence. ‘Movement’, in epektasis, refers to our moving towards what lies ahead as renewed beings and what lies ahead is the endless mercies of the goodness of Jesus Christ who is “the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb. 13: 8). Thus to be changing in its positive sense is to be always making progress into the goodness of Jesus Christ of whom one partakes of personally—indeed each of us is communed by our baptismal name—rather than as an alien reality battering one’s being. As Gregory puts it: “For the perfection of human nature consists perhaps in its very growth in goodness.” And Christ Himself, for Gregory and the Fathers, is Goodness itself. When in Christ we strain forward to what lies ahead our desire is no tyrant which returns to lacerate our being to only leave us as soon as its power is momentarily vanquished. Rather desire, in Jesus Christ, always impels one to draw closer in love to the end of one’s being which is the infinite life of love of the Holy Trinity we are gifted with by our adoption as sons in Christ. Desire, then, in the positive movement towards Christ, does not vitiate the human person but ever reintegrates it into the everlasting life of its Lord God Creator and Redeemer—Jesus Christ. Innocence is regained but experience is integrated into it and not jettisoned as we are living as spiritual-physical beings who ever change for the good as we move towards the everlasting God.

Change as change per se, for Gregory, is, “in a sense, always coming to birth”, but in the new age of Christ’s resurrection this birth is not into an endless cycle of passion, but rather it is to face God as new radically innocent beings, having tasted of experience but returning as children to God, remade in His Son, that is, positive movement is to be “constantly being recreated, ever changing for the better by its growth in perfection.” The positive motion or change of this new age combines rest and movement in returning to God. Maximus the Confessor describes this movement as “an ever-moving stability and a stable and changeless form of movement generated eternally round that which is one, unique and always the same,” namely, the love of God, that is, the Holy Spirit of our agathos kai philanthropos Theos who is forever given to each of us personally at the chalice. Furthermore, the love of God’s Spirit in Christ is recreative of our nature and this recreation, being of God, is everlasting, which, in creaturely terms, means that growth into Christ is infinite in dimension, as Gregory says of Moses:

He still thirsts for that with which he constantly filled himself to capacity, and he asks to attain as if he had never partaken, beseeching God to appear to him, not according to his capacity to partake, but according to God’s true being [...] the true sight of God consists in this, that the one who looks up to God never ceases in that desire”.

In being created by God out of nothing creation moved from non-existence into being, but this movement very soon turned into a growth unto death where creation slipped back from existence into the very nothingness from which God drew it. In the gracious growth unto life in Christ things are similar but different, for like initial fallen creation there is a movement from non-existence into being, but, differently, with this gracious perfection, creation never stops moving from non-being to being, as God fills one up continually ever recreating and enlarging one’s capacity for goodness in Jesus Christ. Moreover, although in growth unto goodness one forgets what has gone before, insofar as dwelling on sin impedes one’s continued growth, this does not, as we have been repeatedly saying, negate the stages that have gone before. Rather what went before is a necessary foundation for what comes to be in spiritual growth. Thus sensible life is taken up into interanimation with supersensible existence, to adapt the Chalcedonian definition to a different purpose, ‘without confusion, without change, without division, without separation’ as a necessary foundation to the gains achieved in our growth into God. Gregory writes accordingly in De Hominis Opificio: “The intelligent being cannot be incorporated in any other way than by intermingling itself with sensoriness” and “Sensation does not exist without matter, nor does spiritual action exist without sensory activity.”

Epektasis or positive movement is the unfallen time of eternal becoming that Paradise was made to be in its creatureliness but fell from the possibility of becoming and which is now reclaimed in the life of the Church given in our common worship in the liturgy. In Vita Moysis, Gregory characterizes this state of stretching out towards as a dynamic stasis or rest where the everlastingness of God is married to the temporality of eternity. In facing God on the solid rock of goodness, which is, to mix metaphors, the cross of Jesus Christ, Moses can ascend eternally the scala paradisi from glory to glory:

In another Scriptural passage the progress is a standing still, for it says, You must stand on the rock.This is the most marvelous thing of all: how the same thing is both a standing still and a moving. For he who ascends certainly does not stand still, and he who stands still does not move upwards. But here the ascent takes place by means of the standing. I mean by this that the firmer and more immovable one remains in the Good, the more he progresses in the course of virtue […] if someone, as the Psalmist says, should pull his feet up from the mud of the pit and plant them upon the rock (the rock is Christ who is absolute virtue), then the more steadfast and unmovable (according to the advice of Paul) he becomes in the Good the faster he completes his course. It is like using the standing still as if it were a wing while the heart flies upward through its stability in the good.

The notion of constant change unto goodness can be seen in the concept of Sunday as the eschatological day of the new age given in the liturgy—time renewed as the eighth day without end. Christ comes both to fulfill the old things making them new and to end the old things in orderto make them new. The Church very quickly understood that Sunday as the Lord’s Day on which He rose as the first day of the Jewish week following the Sabbath was not just a restatement of the Jewish feast of God’s rest from creating the old creation of the old age, but the recreation of this age in the new age of the Kingdom. Thus the early Christians spoke of Sunday as the eighth Paschal day without end. As Orthodox Christians, we sing of this eternal day at Pascha: “This is the chosen and holy day, first of Sabbaths, king and lord of days, the feast of feasts, holy day of holy days. On this day we bless Christ forevermore.” More explicitly, we see this (sans mention of the term ‘eighth day’ but clearly alluding to it) in the liturgy: “O Christ! Great and Holy Pascha! O Wisdom, Word and Power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee in the never-ending Day of Thy Kingdom.” Indeed, Bright Week itself is meant to be a living symbol of this one eighth day of the Kingdom that will not end—the time of eternal temporality.

Christians decided early on to not worship on the Sabbath as the day of creation but on Sunday as the day of the fruit of God’s rest after having made the world. This fruit is the end of the world, as we know it and the new day of the Resurrection when all things are and will be made new, as the author of the Epistle of Barnabas puts it:

He further says to them: Your new moons and Sabbaths I disdain [Isa. 1:13].Consider what He means: Not the Sabbaths of the present era are acceptable to me, but that which I have appointed to mark the end of the world and to usher in the eighth day, that is, the dawn of another world. This, by the way, is the reason why we joyfully celebrate the eighth day—the same day on which Jesus rose from the dead; after which He manifested Himself and went up to heaven.

Time, then, is shown as renewed in the temporality of eternity given in Christ crucified and risen and incarnated in His living Body, the Church. This reality is gifted to us in the Eucharist each Lord’s Day. The seventh day of God’s rest from creating the world as a temporal reality is recreated in the resurrection as the dynamic reposing in God of His saints in the Kingdom of Christ not of this world, as Augustine put it:

            The Lord’s day was made known, not to the Jews, but to Christians, by the resurrection of
            the Lord, and from then it began to have its own celebration. The souls of all the saints
            are, of course, at rest before the resurrection of the body, but they do not have that
            activity which enlivens the bodies they received. Such action is, of course, signified by
            the eighth day, which is also the first, for it does not take away that rest, but glorifies it.

Thus positive movement, epektasis, is the time of the octave or eighth day of the Lord where spiritual growth is an infinite unextended extension of the spiritual rest of the Sabbath, in other words, in positive movement in Christ, stability and growth coincide in our Sunday worship of the Father through the Spirit in Christ. This ceaselessly renewed growth of Sunday is the fruit of creation’s resting in God on the day of His creation, the Sabbath. The physical is spiritualized without loss of its created character, which is, as we argued earlier, to be temporal and to be temporal is to be in the extension or space of createdness reaching towards the end of the everlasting love of God in Jesus Christ.

Sunday as the eighth eternal day (an instance of eternal temporality) is a radical beginning but it is one which never negates what came before as worthless insofar as it is the basis of the new life we have in Christ. Thus whether fallen or in utero in Paradise the cosmic week of seven days in which we live and work the liturgy is a good gift which God gave to man to become transformed into the likeness of His glory in that same liturgical work of the eighth day. In partaking each week on a fixed day of the Kingdom in the precious Body and Blood of the King we are the very dynamic image of God’s intention in His rest, and, indeed, act in that rest, of dwelling in His creation as His home. He did this in making the womb of the Theotokos ‘more spacious than the heavens.’ Resurrection is the indelible stamp of this fundamental act of condescension. This condescension of God in Jesus Christ is our rebirth into beauty. It is a drinking of the ‘chalice of eternity’ in the Kingdom not of this world in this world each Sunday that we meet to share in the mysteries, for God has wed Himself to our temporality and now we are no longer in chains but one with Him in Jesus Christ crucified, ever being perfected as age meets age, glory meets glory and as God becomes all in all.


Source: http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2668945.html


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