“The Great Sweep of History” is an event that occurs in the rear-view mirror, easily characterized in various fashions as we choose to label certain events as important and certain event as without significance. I believe that for the Christian there is no great sweep of history and that the temptation to view history in such a manner is Just that: a temptation. Thus it is a temptation to look at the great sweep of Byzantium and look for signs of its return. It is a tempation to look at the great sweep of Holy Russia and seek to restore its glories. It is a temptation to look at America and the great sweep of its history and attribute to it one thing or another. In the coming of Jesus Christ what academics refer to as “history” is radically changed and is not truly the subject of scientific study. Reality operates in a manner that is less than discernible.
There are several reasons I put forward this suggestion:
1. In every “great sweep analysis” we offer only a selective view of history – similar to that in the history books.
2. Such great sweeps tend to devalue the small obediences of “insignicant” people and think only of larger decisions. This leads towards a utilitarian view of history – one of the most evil analyses Christians have ever engaged in.
3. We’re not in charge of history – either what has already taken place, or what will take place. History, at the very least is the place of providence – not the machinations of men. We fought Hitler, but God defeated Him. Only an analysis that ignored the many miraculous turns of events would think we defeated one of the most agressive evils the world has ever seen.
Instead of “Great Sweeps,” Christ tells us: “Take no thought for tomorrow, but let tomorrow take thought for itself. There’s enough evil in one day.”
The commandments of Christ are the proper attention of each Christian. It sets us in a small place, we do not become swept up into apocalyptic visions in which we are “renewing the world” or any such thing. It is a favorite American past-time to speak in apocalyptic returns. Thus Orthodox in America are tempted to think of an “Orthodox moment,” as if we were poised to do some great thing. We are poised moment by moment to keep the commandments and pray. Christ is the only moment that matters and we’ll find Him in the least of human beings.
If History is to be swept, it will be swept by God’s own broom as He gathers all things together into one, even Christ Jesus. That’s enough sweep for us all.