With Apologies to Stephen Hawking for the borrowed phrase, we now dive into what the Divine Liturgy is about, starting at the very beginning.
The first declaration is the Priest’s intonation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
We’ll stop here because this statement is hugely important, if not revolutionary. First of all, it is saying that in fact, God’s Kingdom exists. Just as the legendary King of Salem, Melchisedek, had no beginning and no end (Heb. 7:1-3), so our God Who is referred to in the Faith as He Who exists, has no beginning or end, is therefore eternal, and likewise His Kingdom is eternal. In a very real sense, in God’s Kingdom, there is no past or future, but only the eternal “now”, to which St. Paul alludes when he declares that “…Now is the acceptable time; today is the day of salvation…” (II Cor. 6:2).
In the Church we are always praying that we will live a life of peace and repentance. It is an ongoing process. When do we need to repent? Now. It is an ongoing practice — a lifestyle.
This consideration really opens up the question of time: What is time, anyway? There are two Greek words which are translated into “Time”. They are chronos and kairos.
Chronos is the linear, “fourth-dimension” concept of placing one event “before” or “after” another event, hence, “chronology”. In the West, we may tend to fixate on this construct as if it is God himself, or at least a kind of rule that God Himself is forced to follow. The opening of Robert Zemekis’ excellent film, Cast Away, shows Tom Hanks’ character vehemently describing the importance of observing schedules, using a stopwatch as a cudgel of the master of life — Time (chronos).
But, there is another kind of time: kairos. (As in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.”). This is often referred to as “God’s time”. It hearkens back to the above discussion of “the continuing now”. Things are different in God’s time. We’re not in Kansas anymore.
For example, the days of the week are amended to fit this new paradigm. The early Church started to refer to Sundays as “the Eighth Day”, signifying the fulfillment of the ages as represented by the ecclesia, The Church gathered for worship.
Even this brief consideration of Church History reveals the mystical nature of our Faith, which naturally flies in the face of “modernity”, with its scholasticism — the emphasis on data and of linear, discursive descriptions of reality. Consequently, this tends to reduce one’s faith a mental exercise.
To make a finer point and returning to our overall topic, when we enter the church to participate in the Divine Liturgy, we are really exiting the realm of chronos and entering that of kairos, where God’s Kingdom is eternal, ever-present, and always being revealed. Herein is the eschatological nature of the Orthodox Christian Faith, whereby that Kingdom which is to come is indeed the Kingdom already present. More on this down the road.
And so from this beginning, the Divine Liturgy flows. It is most helpful to have a mindset prepared with this revolutionary idea of time so that we can more fully understand the entire Liturgy.
Hopefully, we will discover more next time as we continue from the beginning declaration to the opening prayer, the Great Litany or ektenia.
To read Part I of Roger Hunt’s series on the Divine Liturgy, click here.
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