Speaking Carefully About God

Posted: March 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Speaking Carefully About God

Last week Sarah Moon published an interesting blog post, Our Mother who art in heaven… I read the post and its comments and, as such things tend to do with me, it started percolating in the back of my head. At one point, I started to comment on the post, but then realized the things I had to say would work better as blog posts than as comments.

I want to begin by noting that I agree with the central theme — or at least what I understood to be the central theme — of Sarah’s post. There are far too many strands within Christianity that attempt to turn God not just into an exclusively male figure, but into a very narrow vision of what it means to be male. While some strands, such as that loudly (and often angrily) proclaimed by Mark Driscoll, are openly misogynistic and hateful, many are more subtle, but nonetheless deadly.

When we assign gender to God in any way we must always recognize apophatically that as much as an aspect of our experience of God might be like a certain gender, at the same time it is also not like that at all. For God transcends everything we can possibly say about him, every metaphor we could use, and every analogy we could possibly draw. God is deeply and thoroughly personal, though, not impersonal, so I think it’s even worse to use a neuter pronoun (such as it) instead. But when we use gendered pronouns to refer to God, we must always hold them loosely.

I have noted in the past, as Sarah does in her post, that our Holy Scriptures are clear that mankind is created in God’s image, both male and female. And while yes, we must say that God cannot thus be defined as some sort of super-powerful man, I think sometimes people miss what it says about humanity. Our gender is an inextricable aspect of each of us, but it does not define our humanity or our nature.

Jesus, the God-man, became fully human, taking on all that we are in order to defeat death and evil on our behalf and bind our nature to the divine nature. And while Jesus became a human man, his work was universal in nature. It is a continuing act of cosmic new creation. In and through Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah, mankind — male and female — is now not only in the image of God, but shares through the Resurrection the unending nature of God and is able to participate in the divine energies of God. Jesus did not merely rescue humanity; he took us where we otherwise had no ability to go. So we all have a common nature that goes beyond gender, otherwise as a male, Jesus’ humanity could have only freed and made new the nature of human males, not the universal human nature.

I also believe it’s important that in our struggles with certain almost or even overtly misogynistic strands that we not read that struggle into places where it didn’t or doesn’t exist.  I read another post last week, On letting Junia fly, that makes that point well. It’s true that some Western Protestants attempt to deny that St. Junia was a woman and an apostle. It’s true that they can try to construct systems that cage women.

But St. Junia was never and is not now caged as a result. St. Junia does not need to be released. She does not need us to let her fly. She flew. She worked tirelessly as an apostle and accomplished much for the one she knew and called Lord and for his Church. And she has been venerated as a saint for centuries as a result. St. Junia flew. Nevertheless, as with all the apostles, her flight called her to tireless service of others for her entire life rather than personal glory or power.

So we do need to speak carefully about God in every way. I’ll explore how to speak of God in my next post.


Leo the Great of Rome, Homily 21, On the Nativity

Posted: December 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Leo the Great of Rome, Homily 21, On the Nativity

It seemed appropriate to me to share one of the great Nativity homilies on this Christmas Eve. May all who read enter into the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. All share in the joy of Christmas

Our Savior, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, “no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth” (Job 19.4). Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result , she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honor that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin.

II. The mystery of the Incarnation is a fitting theme for joy both to angels and to men

Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who “in the beginning was with God,” through whom “all things were made” and “without” whom “was nothing made” (John 1.1-3), with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.

Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin’s purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honor. Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy, unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore the exulting angel’s song when the Lord was born is this, “Glory to God in the Highest,” and their message, “peace on earth to men of good will” (Luke 2.14). For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love how ought the humbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?

III. Christians then must live worthily of Christ their Head

Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit , Who “for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us,” has had pity on us: and “when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ” (Ephesians 2.4-5), that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recollect that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God’s light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from you by base acts, and subject yourself once more to the devil’s thralldom: because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.


Reflections on Resurrection 9 – Burial

Posted: November 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 9 – Burial

I have gradually come to understand that our funeral practices reveal a great deal about our actual beliefs. I grew up deeply aware of death and experienced a variety of approaches to death. Personally, I believed that cremation was best and, looking back, I can see the influences that led to that belief.

From a scientific, secular perspective cremation makes a great deal of sense. It’s economical. Modern cremation is sterile. It avoids the problem of crowded cemeteries. And whatever you think does or doesn’t happen after death, the remnant of a lifeless body has no value and nothing to offer.

Cremation is also the funeral practice of the Hinduism of my youth. (I understand that burial is a common practice in some strands of Hinduism.) The soul quickly proceeds on its karmic journey after death and the remains should be purified by fire to break any remaining ties and then scattered on a sacred river. (All rivers are sacred in Hinduism, I believe.) The real you, however that may be conceived, has moved on and the rites aid that journey.

I was Christian for many years before I even began to understand that burial is the normative Christian funeral practice. In large part that’s because the strands of Christianity within which I move have lost their connection to the historic faith and burial or cremation are largely seen as a matter of personal preference with no intrinsic significance or meaning. I eventually came to understand, though, that burial was the normative practice specifically because of our Christian belief in resurrection. The body is treated reverentially and not deliberately destroyed because it is not a discarded shell. Rather, that body is our beloved and it is that body which will be resurrected.

Of course, resurrection is not a zombie-like resuscitation of a corpse. It is intrinsically an act of new creation. However, this act of recreation uses up the matter of our bodies and is continuous with them. Two of the key features of Jesus’ resurrected body are that the tomb was empty and that, though strangely different, he was still recognizably the same person. We are our bodies, though we are not merely our bodies. It is ultimately this body which will be resurrected and it should be treated accordingly.

That does not mean that God’s power of resurrection is limited in any way by the treatment of our bodies. It was not uncommon for pagans in the ancient world to threaten saints with the complete destruction of their bodies because they thought that would shake their confidence in resurrection. God can and will raise us regardless. Nevertheless, the way we treat the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord speaks volumes about what we actually believe about resurrection.

Christians also confess that the bodies of those among us who have reposed have been the temple of the Holy Spirit. They have been the abode of God. As such, they are no less holy ground than the ground before the burning bush or the Holy of Holies of the ancient Temple. If we believe that is true, then we must treat the body as a holy object.

Funeral practices matter and I think much of the confusion in practice in modern Christianity flows from our confusion about God and about what it means to be a human being. As Christians, we have forgotten who we are.

I believe this post concludes my reflections on resurrection for now. I didn’t delve into the reasons a belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (which is the foundation for our own belief) is historically reasonable. For those interested in such things, N.T. Wright gave a lecture at Roanoke College summarizing his big book on the topic, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? I recommend it. It’s very well done.


Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

Posted: November 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 8 – Heaven

I can’t discuss the Christian narrative of resurrection and new creation in our modern context without discussing heaven. It seems that far too many people today perceive the goal, the telos, the reward if you will of Christian faith as going to heaven when you die. Within this perspective, the present world and our physical bodies become nothing more than something which is passing away and which one day will be cast aside — discarded as at best useless and at worst refuse. It is a future reward that is not much concerned with our present reality.

But that begs the question, what is heaven? I’ve heard it described variously, but I understand it best as the spiritual dimension of reality in which God’s will is already done. But this spiritual realm cannot be seen as in some way separated or at a distance from our material realm. No, as the stories throughout scripture illustrate, that spiritual dimension is all around us. It’s often a matter of perception. Heaven and earth are overlapping and interlocking. There is presently a veil between them (for our salvation), but heaven is not best described as a place that we go.

Most importantly, heaven is not the culmination of all things or the eschaton. Rather, the culmination of the Christian narrative is a renewed creation with no veil between it and heaven and our ultimate home is the renewed physical realm, not the spiritual realm. We are material, embodied beings and our charge is and has always been to care for the physical world and offer it back to God as our eucharist or thanksgiving.

Christianity does not say a lot about what happens immediately after death. We know that to die is to be with Christ, which is far better. In John 14, Jesus talks about preparing temporary dwelling places for us. We know that we remain conscious and active and praying. We see in the stories of the saints up to the present day that they are able to manifest and are actively involved with us, but we also see in their relics that their material body has not yet been used up in resurrection as Jesus’ body in the tomb was.

I’m also not sure that speculation on such topics is ultimately useful. Our goal and our salvation is union with Christ. If we are able to remain focused on that — which is certainly a tall order — I have the sense that everything else will work itself out. I do still like Bishop Tom’s phrase, though. Christianity has little to say about life after death. It has a great deal to say about life after life after death.


Reflections on Resurrection 7 – Creation and Matter

Posted: November 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Resurrection | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections on Resurrection 7 – Creation and Matter

In order to grasp the Christian narrative of resurrection, I think it’s necessary to understand the larger narrative of creation and the nature of reality within which it’s embedded. While that’s a lengthy and complex topic in its own right, I’m going to explore a few facets in this post which I think are particularly important.

Matter is not eternal and creation was not something God accomplished by shaping or forming already existing material. Nor is reality marked by an eternal cycle as it is in some religions. In the Jewish and Christian narrative, God is said to have created ex nihilo, which is to say out of nothing. However, that idea itself has to be unpacked to be understood. As Christians, we begin by saying the only eternal is the uncreated God. The Father, the Son — begotten, not made, and the Holy Spirit proceeding eternally from the Father have always existed in a self-sufficient, perfect communion of love. God did not create because he lacked anything or needed anything. Creation, rather, is an overflow of love.

I began to understand that truth, when I heard someone (possibly Fr. Thomas Hopko) say that describing creation as ex nihilo is an incomplete statement. When we say that, we then have to ask: Where did the nothing come from? Think about that question for a minute. Let it fill you with its wonder. While it’s true that God fills and sustains everything, from the Christian perspective we would not say that God is everything. No, out of his overflow of love, God has made room — made space for nothing and time to order it — within which a creation that is truly other can be spoken and can grow. This is a great mystery, but creation is not merely an extension of God, but rather is free even as it is wholly filled and lovingly sustained moment by moment by God. While the Christian understanding is often described as panentheist (not to be confused with pantheist), I remember hearing N.T. Wright once say that a better term might be the-en-panist (God in all).

The only other perspective I know which can be described as panentheist is that of Brahman within Hinduism. But that’s a very different sort of perspective. I can’t possible summarize it in a paragraph, but it does hold that all that can be said to exist is Brahman, even as Brahman is also transcendent, or more than the sum of all that exists. It’s also a cyclical view of reality in marked contrast to the Christian view. Moreover, there is not the demarcation between the created and the uncreated which exists within Christianity. It’s a fundamentally different narrative.

When you perceive reality as the free overflow of love of a Creator God, the Christian story begins to come into focus and make sense. Of course, the God who loves it would see this creation as fundamentally good and the ones who were created according to the image of Christ in order to be formed into his likeness are seen by God as very good. While they are no less awe-inspiring, the lengths to which this God will go to rescue his creation make sense. They fit. And we also see that the Word would have always had to become flesh for us to ultimately be united with God. We did not have that capacity. If creation had not turned from God, Jesus would not have had to die to defeat death. But he always had to become one with us so that we might be one with God. Salvation is nothing less than union with Christ.

So then we see resurrection for what it is. It is God’s act of new creation for the human being. Death has been defeated and God makes us new. But Christ’s act of new creation does not stop with us. “Behold, I make all things new.” All creation has been rescued and the image we see is one of a new or renewed humanity serving truly as priests within a renewed creation. Unless you glimpse that whole picture, I’m not sure the individual bits and pieces make much sense.


Heaven & Earth (& Hell) 6 – Resurrection

Posted: June 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Hell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Now that I’ve discussed death and the abode of the death, it seems appropriate to interject the Christian belief in resurrection, certainly one of the most central tenets of our faith. (If you missed my post on Rob Bell’s Resurrection video, now’s a good time to pause and check it out.) Resurrection means and has always meant a physical, earthly life with a body that is in some sense continuous with our present body. There seems to be a lot of confusion on that point today. As far as I can tell, prior to Christ’s resurrection, the idea of any sort of resurrection was unique to the Jewish people. And their belief was far from universal even among themselves and markedly different in a number of key ways from what became the Christian confession in light of Jesus’ resurrection.

I’ve practiced a number of non-Christian religions and explored many more than I’ve actually practiced. I’ve also studied a bit of ancient history. I’m not aware of any religion outside Judaism and Christianity whose beliefs include resurrection. Resurrection is certainly a central part of the view of reality that drew me deeper into Christian faith and which keeps me in it. There are a few facets of the Christian confession which I know with certainty if I ceased to believe they were true, I would abandon this faith and move on to something else instead. Resurrection is one of those key facets. I’m frankly shocked that Resurrection seems more like an afterthought or something peripheral to many Christians today. It’s not. It’s right at the very center of our faith. Without resurrection nothing about Christianity is appealing or even makes sense.

In Christ’s Resurrection, which is the first fruit of our own future resurrection, death was destroyed. Humanity was in bondage to death and God had to rescue us from the vice of its relentless grip. Moreover, death was the ultimate tool that Satan and the Powers used to enslave us. And in and through that dark power, sin swirled around and within us. One of the many images used by the Christian Fathers was the image of a baited trap. Death thought it had swallowed a man in Jesus of  Nazareth and discovered too late that it had swallowed God. Sheol/Hades was burst open from the inside and death was destroyed. The icon of the harrowing of Hades speaks louder than words. The abode of the dead now stands empty with its gates burst asunder.

It was only a part of the story and purpose of the Incarnation, but in his death and resurrection Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, healed the wound of death in the nature of mankind. It is no longer our nature to die! We see that in the language of the Church. In the NT, those who have died are said to have fallen asleep in the Lord. God has accomplished all that he needed to accomplish in order to rescue us. Jesus has joined our nature with God’s and flowing from him are rivers of healing water. We are no longer subject to death and we live within the reality of the forgiveness of sins.

But God will not force himself on us. Jesus has truly done it all and offers us the power of grace, which is to say himself, in and through the Spirit for our healing. It’s in and through the mystery of the Incarnation that God can join himself with each of us. But in order to be healed, we must cooperate and participate with the Great Physician. We have to want God. Or at the least, we have to want to want God. (Sometimes that’s the best we are able to do. Not to worry, God came to us in the Incarnation and he will keep coming to us wherever we stand.) And thus we live in this interim period where the fullness of the work of Christ remains veiled.

Christianity has relatively little to say about what happens to us when we die or our “life after death.” Off-hand, I can think of only three places where it’s mentioned in the NT with virtually no detail offered. Our faith, however, has a great deal to say about resurrection, new creation, and re-creation. I like Bishop N.T. Wright’s phrase “life after life after death.” The Christian story is that we do not die. God sustains us somehow until that time when all humanity is resurrected as Christ is resurrected.

In light of that reality, perhaps it’s clear why I chose to place the post on Resurrection at this spot in the series. Sheol/Hades are no more. So where “hell” in Scripture is used to translate either of those words, it must in some sense be understood as referring to an aspect of reality that ended with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The enormity of just that one piece of Christ’s work is overwhelming to me.

Truly we can now shout, “Death, where is thy sting?


For the Life of the World 34

Posted: February 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 34

This post focuses on sections 1-3 of Worship in a Secular Age, the first appendix of For the Life of the World.

Dn. Michael Hyatt’s podcast series does not continue into the appendices, but I’m going to continue to blog through the two essays in it. I’ve found them as compelling and fascinating as I have the rest of this book.

Fr. Schmemann begins by pointing out his belief that we don’t have a clear understanding in this day and age what either worship or secular age mean, and without addressing that confusion, the subject can’t really be discussed. It seems to me that we are at least as confused today as we were in 1971 when the paper was presented. Most likely, we are more confused now than ever. That’s why I found this paper, even though it is almost forty years old relevant today. Fr. Schmemann begins by considering secularism.

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress: — not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Secularism is not the same thing as atheism, and it strikes me that a lot of Christians make that mistake today.  Secularism, however, is the negation of the sort of worship we particularly find in Christianity, the offering of creation back to God — a God who is everywhere present and filling all things — in thanksgiving. It’s also intriguing the way he defines secularism as a Christian heresy about man rather God. I had never thought of it that way, but it really does have a lot to do with how mankind fits in the schema of all that is.

To prove that my definition of secularism (“negation of worship”) is correct, I must prove two points. One concerning worship: it must be proven that the very notion of worship implies a certain idea of man’s relationship not only to God, but also to the world. And one concerning secularism: it must be proven that it is precisely this idea of worship that secularism explicitly or implicitly rejects.

When Fr. Schmemann considers the point above about worship, he primarily finds his evidence not from modern theologians, but from the scientific study of the history and phenomenology of religions that theologians have ignored as those theologians have focused on reducing sacraments to intellectual categories.

There can be no doubt however, that if, in the light this by now methodologically mature phenomenology of religion, we consider worship in general and the Christian leitourgia in particular, we are bound to admit that the very principle on which they are built, and which determined and shaped their development, is that of the sacramental character of the world and of man’s place in the world.

Christian worship depends on perceiving and interacting with the world as an “epiphany” of God and thus the world itself is “sacrament.”

And indeed, do I have to remind you of those realities, so humble, so “taken for granted” that they are hardly even mentioned in our highly sophisticated theological epistemologies and totally ignore in discussions about “hermeneutics,” and on which nevertheless simply depends our very existence as Church, as new creation, as people of God and temple of the Holy Spirit? We need water and oil, bread and wine in order to be in communion with God and to know Him. … There is no worship without the participation of the body, without words and silence, light and darkness, movement and stillness — yet it is in and through worship that all these essential expressions of man in his relation to the world are given their ultimate “term” of reference, revealed in their highest and deepest meaning.

We need the matter of creation and we need our bodies to worship. Worship is not an inner matter. Worship is not something sacred and purely spiritual divorced from the secular, profane or ordinary matter of creation.

Being the epiphany of God, worship is thus the epiphany of the world; being communion with God, it is the only true communion with the world; being knowledge of God, it is the ultimate fulfillment of all human knowledge.


For the Life of the World 14

Posted: November 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 14

This post continues with my thoughts on section 3 of the third chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast on chapter three if you’ve not already listened to it.

From the beginning Christians had their own day, and it is in its peculiar nature that we fine the key to the Christian experience of time.

The day is a basic unit of our experience of time. I get up. I go to work. Kids go to school. We have meals. We engage in activities. All these things are contained by days and often by a cycle of days. So it’s not surprising that in order to understand the Christian experience we start at the day. As I noted earlier, the Christian day is not the Sabbath, but it is also not divorced from the Jewish experience of Sabbath, something that can be lost if you simply understand it as “doing no work.”

In the Jewish religious experience Sabbath, the seventh day, has a tremendous importance: it is the participation by man in, and his affirmation of, the goodness of God’s creation. … The seventh day is thus the joyful acceptance of the world created by God as good. The rest prescribed on that day, and which was somehow obscured later by legalistic and petty prescriptions and taboos, is not at all our modern “relaxation,” an absence of work. It is the active participation in the “Sabbath delight,” in the sacredness and fullness of divine peace as the fruit of all work, as the crowning of all time.

No, I have nothing against Sabbath, but even Sabbath properly understood has a problem.

Yet this “good” world, which the Jew blesses on the seventh day, is at the same time the world of sin and revolt against God, and its time is the time of man’s exile and alienation from God. … In the late Jewish apocalyptic writings there emerges the idea of a new day which is both the eighth — because it is beyond the frustrations and limitations of “seven,” the time of this world — and the first, because with it begins the new time, that of the Kingdom. It is from this idea that grew the Christian Sunday.

Seven represent completeness in Jewish (and for that matter Christian) thought. That’s what makes the structure of John’s telling of new creation in his gospel so significant. On the sixth day, Pilate says, “Behold the man!” and Jesus is crucified. On the seventh he rests in the tomb. And then, rather than being the end of John’s narrative of new creation, John 20 opens amazingly, “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” There is a second first day in John’s narrative which is also the eighth.

Christ rose from the dead on the first day after Sabbath. The life that shone forth from the grave was beyond the inescapable limitations of “seven,” of time that leads to death. It was thus the beginning of a new life and of a new time.

From the moment Christ rose from the tomb, the time of the Kingdom began. As Christians, we already live within that time, rather than the old time bounded by sevens. We live in the unbounded eighth day of creation.

A “fixed day.” … If Christianity were a purely “spiritual” and eschatological faith there would have been no need for a “fixed day,” because mysticism has no interest in time. To save one’s soul one needs, indeed, no “calendar.” And if Christianity were but a new “religion,” it would have established its calendar, with the usual opposition between the “holy days” and the “profane days” — those to be “kept” and “observed” and those religiously insignificant. Both understandings did in fact appear later. But this was not at all the original meaning of the “fixed day.” It was not meant to be a “holy day” opposed to profane ones, a commemoration in time of a past event. Its true meaning was in the transformation of time, not of calendar. For, on the one hand, Sunday remained one of the days (for more than three centuries it was not even a day of rest), the first of the week, fully belonging to this world. Yet on the other hand, on that day, through the eucharistic ascension, the Day of the Lord was revealed and manifested in all its glory and transforming power as the end of this world, as the beginning of the world to come.  … The week was no longer a sequence of “profane” days, with rest on the “sacred” day at their end. … Every day, every hour acquired now an importance, a gravity it could not have had before: each day was now to be a step in this movement, a moment of decision and witness, a time of ultimate meaning. Sunday therefore was not a “sacred” day to be “observed” apart from all other days and opposed to them. … By remaining one of the ordinary days, and yet be revealing itself through the Eucharist as the eighth and first day, it gave all days their true meaning. It made the time of this world a time of the end, and it made it also the time of the beginning.

The above is dense and you may need to read it a few times. But it captures something that is important and that we have almost completely lost in our modern world. If we cannot recover it, we will not live within a Christian sense of time and our ability to shape and sanctify the time in which we live will continue to be severely muted. Sunday is not first and foremost about a day we remember and keep holy. It is a day set apart. It’s not that somehow every day is now Sunday in a way that renders no day special. But Sunday, representing all “ordinary” days is set apart so that in and through our recognition of the Resurrection of Jesus on the first day, we make all days now holy. There are no days, just as there are no places, in a Christian perspective of reality, that are not holy. The first day and the eighth day are one.


For the Life of the World 7

Posted: October 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: For the Life of the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on For the Life of the World 7

This post ponders sections 10-12 of the second chapter of For the Life of the World. If you haven’t listened to it yet, here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast over sections 9-16.

When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be.

We talk about new creation, but I’m not sure we adequately wrap our minds around it. In and through Christ we are not simply individually made new. Rather, humanity is restored in Christ, our Eucharist, to what our nature was created to be. Yet not only mankind, but all creation is made new. “Behold! I have made all things new!” Very often, our gospel is too small. I like how Fr. Schmemann next describes some of the things faith is not.

“It is fitting and right to give thanks,” answers the congregation, expressing in these words that “unconditional surrender” with which true “religion” begins. For faith is not the fruit of intellectual search, or of Pascal’s “betting.” It is not a reasonable solution to the frustrations and anxieties of life. It does not arise out of a “lack” of something, but ultimately it comes out of fullness, love and joy. “It is meet and right” expresses all this. It is the only possible response to the divine invitation to live and to receive abundant life.

The beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer is called the “Preface”. However, it is not something to simply skip over. In his podcast, Deacon Michael comments that if you read the preface or the introduction of a book, you’re a bit strange. Most people jump right to chapter one. (As the head of a publishing company, I assume it’s his business to know such things.) I got a chuckle out of that part of the podcast. As I’m sure will surprise no-one who knows me, I almost always read prefaces, introductions, author’s notes, and all the rest of any book I read. I guess I’m statistically odd. He reads the whole prayer in the podcast. I’m going to include one translation of it here as well, for it is beautiful and makes a profound statement.

It is meet and right to hymn thee, to bless thee, to praise thee, to give thanks unto thee, and to worship thee in every place of thy dominion: for thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same, thou and thine Only-begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit. Thou it was who didst bring us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until thou hadst brought us back to heaven, and hadst endowed us with thy kingdom which is to come. For all these things we give thanks unto thee, and to thine Only-begotten Son, and thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know, and of which we know not, and for all the benefits bestowed upon us, both manifest and unseen. And we give thanks unto thee also for this ministry which thou dost vouchsafe to receive at our hands, even though there stand beside thee thousands of Archangels and ten thousands of Angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, soaring aloft, borne on their wings, singing, shouting, proclaiming and saying the Triumphal Hymn:

As Fr. Schmemann says, it’s the preface of the world to come.

This future has been given to us in the past  that it may constitute the very present, the life itself, now, of the Church.

The Sanctus, the adoration of God, the thanksgiving of creation, taken from the words of the Seraphim, is the only possible response to the divine love. It’s also beautiful, so I include it here as well. Say these prayers aloud. Don’t merely read them silently.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.

The next part of the great Eucharistic Prayer is called the Remembrance. But this is not simply an interior intellectual reflection. In a manner not unlike the Jewish Passover, we are making the past present. As we enter the Eschaton (the future), we bring forward Christ’s work, and our past and future collide in the present moment.

Holy and most holy art Thou in Thy glorious majesty,
Who has so loved the world
That thou gavest Thine only-begotten Son,
That whosoever believeth on Him
Should not perish but have everlasting life,
Who, when He had come
And had performed all that was appointed for our sakes,
In the night on which he was given up, or
In which, rather, He did give Himself
For the life of the world,
Took bread in His holy and pure and sinless hands
And when He had given thanks, and blessed it, and sanctified it,
He gave it to His holy disciples, saying:
Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you
For the remission of sins.
And in like manner, after supper
He took the cup, saying:
Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood of the New Testament,
Which is shed for you, and for many
For the remission of sins.

Remembering this commandment of salvation,
And all those things which for our sakes were brought to pass,
The Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day,
The Ascension into Heaven, the Sitting on the right hand,
The Second and glorious Advent --
Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee,
In behalf of all and for all.

We praise thee,
We bless thee,
We give thanks unto thee,
O Lord,
And we pray unto thee,
O our God.

Amen and amen.


On the Incarnation of the Word 7 – Repentance Is Not Enough

Posted: August 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

This phrase leaps out at me every time I read this section of Athanasius’ writing.

nor, secondly, does repentance call men back from what is their nature—it merely stays them from acts of sin.

God can and does call man to repentance. Nobody argues that point. However, I have some sense that repentance may often be seen as the whole point. And it’s not. All it can do is restrain us from further acts of sin and that very imperfectly. That is an important step, to be sure, but it does nothing to heal our nature.

But if, when transgression had once gained a start, men became involved in that corruption which was their nature, and were deprived of the grace which they had, being in the image of God, what further step was needed? or what was required for such grace and such recall, but the Word of God, which had also at the beginning made everything out of nought? For His it was once more both to bring the corruptible to incorruption, and to maintain intact the just claim of the Father upon all. For being Word of the Father, and above all, He alone of natural fitness was both able to recreate everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all with the Father.

The Word alone was able to recreate everything. We do not fundamentally need forgiveness, though forgiveness abounds in Christ for those who turn to him. No, we need freedom from death, a nature not enslaved to the corruption of death. That was and remains an act of such magnitude that only the language of creation, new creation, and recreation can begin to encompass and describe it.

God didn’t become man so that we could be forgiven. God became man so we could be made new.