Chalice of Eternity: An Orthodox Theology of Time (Part II)

Virginmartyr Anysia at Thessalonica

Virginmartyr Anysia at Thessalonica

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Second, we have creaturely eternity/age (aidiotes), which is the creaturely mode of being of the supra-cosmic or spiritual creation of God--Angels. The mode of being is not one that excludes change but it is not bound by the distinctions of our present time's version of change. The past is not utterly past but it is contained in the present as is the future and the future in the past and the past in the future so that eternity is a sort of perichoretic version of time. This, I would argue, is what Fr. Schmemann was getting at when he wrote the points in time can be gathered together and encountered simultaneously:

"In an instant, not only are all such breaths of happiness but they are present and alive--that Holy Saturday in Paris when I was a young man--and many such 'breaks.' It seems to me that eternity might be not the stopping of time, but precisely its resurrection and gathering."

Moreover, there is in the Kingdom of God, which is an eternal Kingdom not of this world, an enduring quality of being where one forever praises God from one moment to the next--a sort of semipaternal or eternal duration--without in any way being trapped in growing old or being trapped in the inexperience of youth. In such eternal duration, the goodness of God is always desired and always held in its fullness at the same time as the goodness continually increases our capacity and desire for it although we never possess this goodness in its fullness. The nature of eternity can be traced to the nature of spiritual or eternal being where the spiritual 'body' is both faster and lighter than the physical body and so is not constrained by the divisions of space or time at the same time as those divisions are never abolished. Thus I am arguing that creaturely eternity cannot be understood without temporal characteristics like the triune reality of past, present and future. Temporality comes in two forms: creaturely or spiritual time and time proper which we humans now experience. Temporality is the mark of what is created whereas what is uncreated--God alone--is everlasting being marked by uncreated eternity.

Thirdly, we have time (chromos) proper which is the mode of the sensible cosmos, that is, our present sensible creation that has man at its summit. Time in physical creation, as we now experience it under the weight of sin, is understood as a reality with a strict division between past, present and future where the person in time, who has turned his back on God's grace in Jesus Christ, is prevented from being present to more than one division at once. Thus when I err under the weight of sin I cannot be present to here and there at once since I am bound to here.

To summarize, I am arguing that in an Orthodox theology of time we should speak of two (not three) modes of being based on the fundamental distinction between the created and uncreated: temporarily in the dual form of time (sensible creation: chronos) and creaturely eternity/age (supersensible: creation: aion) in contradistinction to the everlasting (aidiotes), uncreated divine eternity before every age (proaionios), as a negative or apophatic category emphasizing God's unknowableness...

Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the source by which the temporal is defined and the everlasting is illumined. If creation's mode of being is best seen in movement, in the interval between two points, then God's mode of Being is best expressed by His enduring darkness since the mode by which 'He is' is unlike all else that is in being uncreated not created…

(II) Time as Decay: Growth Unto Death

"He [the passionate man] is like those who toil endlessly as they climb uphill in sand: Even though they take long steps, their footing in the sand always slips downhill, so that, although there is much motion, no progress results from it." (Saint Gregory of Nyssa)

The first stop in our theology of time is our fallen experience of time--time as found in the sensible world; not, that is, that sensoriness makes for fallenness. On the contrary, the demons are fallen but they are supersensible eternal beings that like us, experience, in eternity, temporality in a fallen mode. However, how exactly the fallen experience of eternal time of the demons differs from the eternal temporality of the unfallen Angels or the time bound fallen temporality of man or the temporality of the garden which Adam and Eve experienced is impossible to say. What we can express fairly exactly is how we presently experience temporality as fallen time or growth unto death, that is, our present time is as Shakespeare's "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time,/And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death. [...] it is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing."

First we experience fallen time as constant change or ceaseless movement in a cycle of death that can be seen cyclically on the seasons, which move in a circle like a snake swallowing its tail. Winter follows autumn and spring follows winter just as death follows old age and old age is not the end, for out of our death comes the birth of our descendants. Thus all of time is a perpetual repetition of death since the moment that things come into existence, changing from non-experience into being, they straightaway move back again from existence into non-being. This experience of fallen time is what Pozzo, in Waiting for God, expresses when he cries furiously at Vladimir.

"Have you not done tormenting me with you accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that enough for you? They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's right once more."

Second, we experience fallen time as unending desire. Once we desire something it lacerates our whole being until we possess it and our desire for that thing is then satiated until the thing possessed tempts us into some new perversion and the vicious circle begins all over again. Man's life, then, is like this vicious circle insofar as he is continually turning around while facing his own self like it was a household idol, as The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete puts it: "I am become my own idol, and have injured my soul with passions."

Third, we see time as decay in memory--Fr. Schmemann's 'evil time'. In evil time, we remember the past as perpetually lost like a ghost that must relive its own murder. Thus we remember continually and cannot change the death of our spouse, our mother, our child, or worse, a moment of humiliation by our spouse, our mother, by us of our own child. We cannot choose our past, for deliberation is a mark of future action in the present, the choice between what we would like to have happened and what actually happened remains only an undying craving for another world, as T.S. Eliot acknowledged "What might have been is an abstraction/Remaining a perpetual possibility/Only in a world of speculation." Perhaps this is what the ancient Greek poet Agathon meant when he wrote that "For one thing is denied even to God/To make what has been done undone again." Therefore, all in all, it seems that as the children of Adam the Transgressor we have buried the image of God under several feet of mud. What can we do, if anything, when the Judge of all comes at the end of time? The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete puts the aspect of time's and man in time's judgment in the following manner: "The mind is wounded, the body is feeble, the spirit is sick, the word has lost its power, life ebbing the end is at the doors. What then will you do, wretched soul, when the judge comes to try your case?" But what is the theological characteristic of these faces of fallen time? Each of these faces of fallen time points to our fundamental need, in time, for time's renewal in Jesus Christ.

(To be continued)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George