In my last posting I discussed the incarnational dimension of the Divine Liturgy – indeed, of any of the sacramental mysteries. That in these mysteries we are ushered by the Spirit into the realm of God’s acting. That He really does “show up” and answer our prayers. That He really, in His Spirit, is with us, and we with Him. That His ascension is fulfilled: we are taken into God, and God comes to us. Both/and, as we like to say.
This is related to another aspect or dimension, I’d like to briefly address, and that is that of “time.” An overt feature of Eastern Orthodox liturgy is that we enter into God’s time, or the time of God’s acting. If the Scripture uses the word “chronos” to refer to regular, linear time, which we count with hours and watches, then it uses the word “kairos” to refer to time in a more abstract, less bound way.
A good first stopping point is Psalm 95 (94 LXX), which is quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Today if you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” The Apostle explains that this “today” is not limited to a 24-hour period in the distant past. It is a “today” for all who have “ears to hear” and respond. This “today” is now, this age of redemption, this age that precedes the Age to Come, as we say at the end of the Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world [age, actually] to come.”
The “age to come” is that of the new creation and the life of the “day without evening.” Meanwhile, we live in this age but which has been in-broken by the Kingdom of God, which has come, is coming, and is still to come. The work of God is not bound by our minutes and hours and days. It is “today.” “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One.” “Today [the Lord] has shone forth in our world.” “Today the temple of curtain is torn in two.” Today He rises as he said He would. Today He is coming back to judge the world that He made.
This is the eternal Now of the Kingdom.
When the Church gathers to celebrate God’s saving acts in Baptism, the Eucharist, on a feast day, we enter into the kairos of His salvation. As my priest says, “There and then becomes here and now.” Time – old man chronos – is collapsed, and the realm of God breaks in. We “enter into the joy of the Lord.” One of the prayers for preparing for Holy Communion calls the Eucharist “an earnest of the life and kingdom which is to come.” This is what the deacon means when he quotes Psalm 119 (118 LXX) at the beginning of the Liturgy: “It is time for the Lord to act.”
We’re as good as there.
This is not escapism. We are here and now. But God’s acting is not confined to the very real historical events of the past. They are eternal. They are now. We don’t escape into the past. We are just not confined to the present. And the past isn’t confined. There is a real communion of persons and events and realities.