Archive for October 3rd, 2008

Where We Stand in Time

October 3, 2008

An aspect of travel through the ruins of earlier civilizations is a sense of walking through the past. Here in the South we have numerous Battlegrounds, preserved as reminders of our nation’s struggles in the 19th century (and some from the 18th as well). There is even a lively sub-culture of “re-enactors” who seek to have some sense of the experience of times past.

Christianity stands in a very different place with regard to time. Despite the fact that an Orthodox priest may be vested in robes whose origins go back to the Byzantine Court (and sometimes later), they are not engaged in an effort to re-enact something. Indeed, if the Divine Liturgy were an effort to re-enact, the costuming would be very different indeed. Christ was not vested as a Byzantine court official at the Last Supper.

The Divine Liturgy does not seek to re-enact the Last Supper. In some ways it makes very specific changes in that early meal. The bread is not the unleavened bread of an Old Testament Passover Meal. In Byzantine practice, it is, by canon law, always leavened bread (this difference with the Western Church carried far more argument in the 10th century than questions of the filioque.) Hot water is added to the wine – something which has meaning in Christian practice, but no place within Old Testament Passover liturgies. Though the Church refers to this meal as the Passover (Pascha in Greek) it means to stand somewhere else in time.

Rather I should say that it means to stand everywhere in time. The Divine Liturgy is understood as a fulfillment – not a prophecy. It is a participation in the Resurrected Lord, not a remembrance of how Jesus used to be. As much as He is “everywhere present and fills all things,” so His Body and Blood share in the same presence.

This is the paradox that marks the walk of a Christian through this world. We are here and now and yet have been Baptized into the everywhere and always. We have been made citizens of the Kingdom of God and thus transcend the kingdoms of this world. This is not to say that we are not here and now and they we do not live within the kingdoms of this world. But because we are everywhere and always there is nothing for which we cannot and should not pray. Because we are citizens of the Kingdom of God we do not simply pray for the kingdoms of this world as if one earthly kingdom should be triumphant over another earthly kingdom. We pray for the kingdoms of this world – ultimately because they will become the kingdoms of Our Lord and His Christ.

Living the paradox of the Christian life is living the Liturgy in the midst of the world. Everything is what it is, and yet everything is something more as well. We never consign creation to an existence without reference to God. There is nothing secular, only the abuse of the sacred.

This strange reality of paradox occasionally (or more than occasionally) shines forth from the lips of the Fathers. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing at the end of the 2nd century says this:

Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain.

Against the Heresies, 3.22.3

Sweet paradox.