The Fullness of the Age to Come

dsc_3274I am fascinated by what the Holy Tradition does with the idea of “fullness” or “fulfillment.” The Church is described as the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). And it is not unusual for Orthodox Christians to express the meaning of Orthodoxy under the rubric of “fullness”: Orthodoxy is the “fullness of the Church.”

The Scriptures do much with the concept – speaking of the “fullness of time,” or the “times being fulfilled.” It says far more than something being merely large (full) – but of a completeness in which nothing is lacking, or of a completion in which that which was anticipated is now here.

I believe that the word or concept of fullness is very expressive of what we look for in the Resurrection – not a destruction of the Person nor of the replacement of a Person, but of a Person who is finally existing in his fulness. The Miltary may once have advertised “be all that you can be,” but such is only possible in Christ and in the fullness of time. A uniform will not fulfill you.

I use the example of a tree. I have not seen a tree in the fullness of what a tree should be. I know that in some sense all trees have been changed by the One Tree which is now the “invincible weapon of peace.” In that sense trees have seen their fullness in the Cross which was transformed from instrument of torture into instrument of life. Just as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil once became the instrument of our death – so now the Tree of Life has become the instrument of our life. The Cross itself, and how we see it, is an excellent example. Before Christ the Cross could only be seen as an instrument of execution. After Christ we have to be reminded of its original use. After the Cross, all trees must be seen with at least a hint of their fullness.

There is a peculiar Appalachian folktale which posits the Dogwood tree as the substance of the Cross (Holy Tradition is much more elaborate, with a tree that was a composite of three different evergreens – a biological impossibility but irresistable to medieval writers). The Appalachian folktake goes on to say that the Dogwood is now a short, twisted tree as a curse, so that it could never again be used as a cross. But, of course, this runs so terribly contrary to what the Church understands of the Cross. Christ’s death on the “tree” was not an event to occasion new curses, but an event to lift all curses. Were the Dogwood the tree of the Cross, it would be the most honored tree in the forest. As things stand – we must instead give the honor to all trees and include the Dogwood (and the evergreens) among them.

After Christ, we must look at human beings differently as well. In Christ we have seen the fullness of the human. What it means to be “fully man” is revealed only in the God/Man.

All things will have their fullness – though very few yield up to us clear hints of what that fullness will be. We cannot know the fullness of a man until we see him in the fullness of Christ. Reading the lives of saints occasionally carries revelations of such images. That which seems to escape the ability of our language to describe is often a fullness for which language is inadequate.

The Mother of God comes to mind in particular. I am certain that what many Protestants find troubling about the place of the Theotokos in the Church is the problem of someone who has been made known to us in her fullness. She is “full of grace,” and we stagger before such a revelation. She is not mere mother, but Mother of God. We are accused of saying things about her, or offering a devotion which is inappropriate, but none of this is true if we are understood to be standing before someone who stands in her fullness.

Everything around us has a fullness – which also says that we do not yet see the Truth of the things that surround us. How carefully and joyfully we would move through the world if we knew or could see that fullness already – but this is the mind and the eyes of Christ. Such eyes could see a fisherman who seemed more talk than action and call him a “rock” while seeing in him that which would be the foundation of the Church.

The same eyes could see a Publican and yet see a saint. The same eyes saw Jerusalem and wept for that great mother of all cities that has yet to see her fullness though her name is married and synonymous with the Fulness that is to come.

And so we sing with the angels, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!” We do not yet see such a fullness. But as St. Paul reminded us – that which we do not see we await in hope. I hope to see us all in that fullness as well as the whole world. Glory to God.

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7 Responses to “The Fullness of the Age to Come”

  1. yeamlak fitur Says:

    Father said…..”Everything around us has a fullness – which also says that we do not yet see the Truth of the things that surround us. How carefully and joyfully we would move through the world if we knew or could see that fullness already – but this is the mind and the eyes of Christ. Such eyes could see a fisherman who seemed more talk than action and call him a “rock” while seeing in him that which would be the foundation of the Church.”

    Wow! I started to think and look around me, my environment, the sky, plants, babies, friends, co-wokers, family, how things are the way they are, and not just from the outside all creatures have fullness in them.

    Thank you for this. I will try and think that fullness and try to see the Truth of my surrounding things. It shows God’s Love for us and his creatures in the fullest.

  2. Margaret Says:

    Thank you for this Fr. Stephen! I especially was blessed by the quote also restated by yeamlak fitur in the comments above, as well as by your last sentence here:

    But as St. Paul reminded us – that which we do not see we await in hope. I hope to see us all in that fullness as well as the whole world. Glory to God.

    Indeed, Glory to God for all things!

  3. Henry Says:

    OK, so how do we learn to see with the eyes of God?

    I remember a skinny hippie who found Jesus while tripping acid. In our little Charismatic Church of long ago and far away, he was in course of time, placed in the office of elder by word of prophecy. In our youthful zeal we made a lot of well intentioned mistakes, but that time we got it right. He started acting like an elder (probably before all the drugs were out of his system). In course of time he proved to be an excellent husband and father, a successful businessman, and, yes, a outstanding lay leader in his church.

    All too often we are most impressed by the tall good looking articulate Sauls in our midst.

  4. Darlene Says:

    “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” I John 3:2

    This verse points to the hiddenness of our lives from others. We ourselves do not even know fully what we will be like in Glory. Yet, we can have an inkling when we read about Jesus as He appeared to the disciples after His resurrection. He could walk through walls and yet He could be felt and touched. He could even eat! Now, I wonder, why will I have need to eat when I am in Heaven? Of course, we will be at the Great Wedding Supper of the Lamb, but I think a lot more than physical eating will go on there.

    And now I can’t resist singing that great pentecostal hymn, “When we all get to Heaven what a Day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus we’ll sing and SHOUT in victory.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Good hymn.🙂

  6. Robert Says:

    “the problem of someone who has been made known to us in her fullness”

    The problem. This is profound! It is indeed a problem, for it exposes the darkness in us.

    What was done to the Prophets of old? Like a mirror they showed us our true selves. Instead of seeing the darkness in us, we persecuted and killed them.

    This same problem in us is manifested in the Gospels. What did we do to the Son of God? We falsely accused, tortured and murdered Him. He was a threat.

    So it is with the Saints I believe. They pose a problem, as beacons of Light are a threat to darkness. The fullness is a measure of Light. O that we may see, embrace and become Light, like the Saints and like God.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Robert,

    A very good point. It is no wonder that so many wish to diminish the Mother of God. She is not a problem except in the truth of who she is.

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