Archimandrite Peter, Abbot of Monastery of St John the Baptist, Essex UK
Time is something tragic in the life of man because every new year measures how near his life is to its end. Is finally time a friend or an enemy, a blessing or a curse? The way in which we measure time is necessary, but it is also relative, artificial. Yet, every beginning of the year is an opportunity for us to give an account for our spiritual life and make a new beginning. From the beginning of creation, Scripture speaks about time: ‘And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day’. Certainly, man was not created in order to be imprisoned in time, he was created for eternity. The angels were created in eternity, and for this reason the fall of Lucifer is irrevocable. For man, time makes manifest God’s lovingkindness because, in His good Providence, He fashioned him within time and space, so that he may make use of ‘the changeability of time’, about which the philosophers speak, and have the possibility to repent. It is impossible to take hold of the present moment: until we call it ‘present’, it has already become past. This changeability of time is however a blessing for man, because it gives him the opportunity to change in good and build a spiritual state within himself. Saint Paul exhorts us to redeem the time of our life because the days are evil.
The time of our life receives value and meaning not according to the number of our years, but according to the measure in which we make good use of it in depth. If you noticed, in the readings for the feast of holy Fathers, it is said that the truly honourable old age depends on whether man lives with integrity and has a pure life. ‘Being perfected in a short time, the righteous fulfilled long years’; this means that their life reached its fulness. Very often we hear people say, ‘how much time I have lost in my life!’ Unfortunately, we grow up with the patterns of this world and we do not know how to make good use of the great gift called time in our life. In the darkness of ignorance, people deal with time by turning with nostalgia to the past, which no longer belongs to them. Other times, the enemy leads them to despair, by reminding them all the failures of the past. Other people, again, transfer their mind to the future through imagination. It is tragic that man has the tendency to notice more easily the marks of time on the others than on himself. He wants continually to escape the corruption of time, to be immortal on earth. Yet, time and death came as an act of the utter love of God for man, so that he may not become immortal together with evil.
The greatest event under heaven is the moment when God Himself became man. Then God’s eternity entered time, intersecting the horizontal course of historical time. The Lord is called ‘the Christ’, that is, ‘the Anointed’ of God, and He Himself anoints time and the whole of created being with His divine energy. In the Old Testament, time reached its fulness when all the things God wanted to happen came to pass. The Fathers identify ‘the fulness of time’ with the Holy Virgin. Likewise, for us, together with the redemption of time, we also need fulness of life. The means we must use for our life to reach fulness and redeem eternity, is time itself. Saint Basil says that time is an interval which unfolds together with the creation of the world. It is an interval of time which has a beginning and an end; it began with the creation of the world and continues in parallel with the progress of the world. Saint Sophrony says that time is the place of our encounter with God; it is the time wherein God creates gods. Liturgically, the term ‘kairos’ is used when we say that the priests ‘take kairos’, that is, they prepare with a small service before they enter the altar to celebrate the Liturgy. In the same way, the time of our life is a ‘kairos’ during which we prepare ourselves for the life to come. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas says that life in Christ is sowed in this world but will bear fruit in all its fulness in the other.
One reason for which even we Christians waste our time, is that we do not have an attitude of obedience towards our spiritual fathers, nor to the tradition of the Church. Whoever does not know the mystery of obedience, wastes the time of his life, though humanly speaking he may have great and bright achievements. Outside obedience, he will not be able to gather but a few crumbs from the rich table of the tradition of our Fathers. In ‘The Ladder’ it is said that three young men went to see an Elder and ask for a word. To the third, the saint said: ‘Remember that, “in our patience we possess our souls”; find a strict Elder and be obedient to him in all things.’ Then the young man asked him: ‘And if that Elder does not live a spiritual life, should I still stay?’ The saint then answered him: ‘Even if you see that he is worse than all, do not judge him, but say to yourself the words that Christ said to Judas: “Friend, wherefore art thou come? To judge or be judged?” Be patient and then you will see that the grace of God will extinguish within you every pride and every other carnal desire.’ We see that those who surrender to obedience with simplicity, do not even notice temptations that can crush others. This is relevant for all the faithful, not only for monks. If we had true obedience to the institutions of the Church, God would grant us to also become bearers of her Tradition.
After Christ, we live in the year of the Lord. We say so often in the services, ‘Blessed is the Kingdom of God NOW and for ever and unto the ages of ages.’ This means that the purpose of the time of our life is that we gather within us at every instant the seals of the presence of Christ, so that we may enter His eternity. Christ remained that which He was, and assumed that which He was not, the human nature. The Church marks all these things in the services of the day. Which hour is more blessed than the 6th, when Christ nailed His Body to the Cross and crucified sin? Or than the 9th, when He said ‘It is finished,’ in order to reveal that God’s plan for man was accomplished? Which hour is more blessed than the night when Christ was born or the night when He was risen from the dead? As king Solomon said: ‘While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, Thine all-powerful word leaped from heaven, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of thy authentic command’, of His authentic will to save man.
Questions & Answers
Question: How is memory connected to time?
Archim. Peter: There is a spiritual memory, which is an act of prayer, and there is a psychological memory, which is a mere remembrance of past events. Through spiritual remembrance, we bring the things we remember before God with prayer and thanksgiving. We pray for the departed saying, ‘everlasting remembrance’, in the sense that those whom God remembers live truly, whereas God’s oblivion is eternal death. Similarly, prayerful remembrance is an act that sanctifies and even redeems our past, just as ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law’ through His own Blood and ‘gave Himself as a ransom for many’. There is no other way for us to redeem and sanctify either past, or present, or future, but only if we bring them before God in prayer.
Question: Why to some God gives few years to live, whereas others die in deep old age?
Archim. Peter: The only thing we can say is, ‘Let us commend ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.’ Christ has in His hands times and seasons, we must only surrender to Him and strive daily the best we can to gather eternity within ourselves through prayer, the word of God, the sacraments of the Church, the fulfilment of the commandments. His judgments are unfathomable, and the only sure and absolute thing that we know is that whatever He does is out of His goodness, and that He has the whole of eternity to make up for every injustice on the historical level.
Question: Saint John of the Ladder says that the time of our life is not sufficient for us to have both friendships and tears; we must choose either the one or the other. How can we do that?
Archim. Peter: To be precise, he says an even harder word: the day in which we have shed no tears is lost for eternity. Certainly, we will have other opportunities to weep, but we shall never find again that day, which, since it was deprived of the seal of God brought by tears, remains unredeemed. Although we have the false impression that we will live eternally on earth, our time is very short and insufficient for both friendships and tears. It does not mean that we should not be friendly with those around us, but that our heart must not attach itself to people and things of this world. Our God is a jealous God, and He wants our whole heart. However, here is a mystery: if we give our whole heart to God, then His will becomes our own, and our heart is enlarged to embrace all the others without passion, through Christ and not through ourselves. When we make friendships with ourselves at the centre, such friendships are a platform for satisfying our passions and vainglory. The saints redeemed not only the time of their own life but also the time of the lives of their fellows.
Question: On Sundays and great feasts, the Church exhorts us to remain in stillness. Is this as if time stops for us for a while?
Archim. Peter: You know, people often tell us that, ‘Nowadays the rhythm of life is too quick and there is no time for prayer.’ Someone can spend three hours on the Internet without even realising the passing of time. But if that person goes to church, he feels that ‘the services in the Orthodox Church are too long.’ He who spends four hours on the Internet will accumulate in the best case some knowledge that is not even accurate. In the worst case, however, he remains empty, and his heart becomes dry. Whereas he who will dedicate four hours for prayer every day, will receive a completely different state. Scripture does not say, ‘Run and know that I am God,’ but ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Let us not deceive ourselves that if we watch television praying with our rosary at the same time it means that we have fulfilled our rule of prayer. ‘Be still’ means that we should leave all things and think, ‘Now for five minutes or half an hour, as much as we can, there is only the Lord and me on this earth.’ This is how true stillness should be if the grace of prayer is to take root in us. Otherwise, we will only gain a few grains of sand from the whole seashore.
Question: What does it mean that time becomes ‘kairos’ in the Church?
Archim. Peter: ‘Kairos’ means the time that we dedicate to our standing in the presence of God, and the blessing of this ‘kairos’ is that it prepares us, it changes our state. When we sin, if we live time with repentance, it becomes for us ‘the time for the Lord to act’, time which is referred to God. The apostle says that ‘every creature of God is sanctified by the word of God and prayer’. Thus, the time of our life also becomes ‘kairos’ when we make it an opportunity to be visited and overshadowed by the grace of God. Nowadays, especially the young people focus on time a great deal, even through narcotics, and the more they want to live it, the more it slips through their fingers. Man runs and hunts for a shadow, but this shadow which is called time cannot be caught. Yet, when it becomes ‘kairos’, the prophet David says, ‘My prayer unto Thee, O Lord, is a time of good pleasure’.
Question: In front of every new year we feel that we are fixed in a point in time between the year that passed and the year that comes. Does that not occur at every instant in time?
Archim. Peter: The benefit comes from the now, from what we do at this moment, and knowing this, the enemy takes our mind from the now and attempts to turn it either to the past filling us with guilt and despair, or to the future, filling us with anxiety. We even call this anxiety ‘eschatology’. However, true eschatology is to strive daily to find contact with the last Adam, in Whose image the first Adam was created. He that shall come again at the end is the prototype of the first Adam. To live in the presence of the last Adam, with His word, in His grace, does not mean to live in anguish and fear for the future.
Question: How can we understand that time is the gift of God’s goodness?
Archim. Peter: When time is overshadowed by the grace of God, man can say paradoxical words such as, ‘upon whom the ends of the world are come’, or that he becomes contemporary of eternal events. Yet, we also say at the same time, ‘Lord, have mercy.’ Both are true, because for as long as there is time, even when we are filled with the delight of His presence, there is still danger. You remember that holy Elder, who said in the last days before dying when someone was praising him: ‘Be careful, I still have time to spoil everything.’
Question: Is the time of the Liturgy the same with the time of eternity?
Archim. Peter: The liturgical time is the ‘eternal today’, the historical human time which is overshadowed by the uncreated divine energy that leads us into His eternity. Saint Sophrony says that time is relative, but not in the sense of Einstein, who says that when mass surpasses a certain speed, it can be transformed into energy. Spiritually, this happens in the souls of the saints, who in their uprush towards God, forget the world and it is as if they escape the gravity of this world, they become all light, all energy. When they return to the world, they become a door to heaven, and their life reflects the virtues of God so that we can imitate them, as Saint Peter says: ‘Ye should shew forth the virtues of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light’. There is no new year, as Saint Porphyrius said, there is only the time that has passed. But the time that God gives us is the ‘kairos’ that we must transform into an opportunity for God to enter into our life.
 Gen. 1:5.
 Eph. 5:16-17.
 Wis. 4:13.
 Gal. 4:4.
 Luke 21:19.
 Matt. 26:50.
 Luke 4:17.
 Wis. 18:14-16.
 Gal. 3:13.
 Mark 10:45.
 Ps. 46:9.
 1 Tim. 4:4-5.
 Ps. 68,14 LXX.
 1 Cor. 10:11.
 1 Pet. 2:9 – see Greek text.