September 1 marks the beginning of the Church’s new year. More often than not it is a day that usually goes unnoticed.
That a new year begins points not only to a means by which time is measured but also to the importance of time as the context in which we live and die. We are in time, we are of time, we are surrounded by and bear the effects of time. From a chronological perspective we have a beginning and an end. Usually we recognize the importance of time when recalling events or persons either of the present or the past. We celebrate events of the past and present as we contemplate and often hope and dream about the future. Time provides the context in which we acquire our identity as persons through the struggles and sufferings we endure in forging relationships with those around us and with God. Time is part of creation. It is created by God and therefore it is good.
Time is created but its origin, as is the case with all creation, is supratemporal, rendering it more than a linear construct of the mind. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1). We are reminded by St. Basil the Great that the term beginning refers to what is” indivisible and instantaneous.” Using the examples of a road and a house St. Basil stresses that the “beginning of the road is not yet the road, and that of the house is not yet the house; so the beginning of time is not yet time and not even the least particle of it” (The Hexaemeron I, 6). There is a timeless link between the beginning of creation and all that follows within the sequence of time.
He who is not bound by spatial and temporal parameters creates within time; “And God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day” (Gen. 1:31). Though different in nature, time and timelessness have been joined by God into an inextricable union. Because of this union without confusion what can be delineated and measured, that is human life within creation, was not destined to be held prisoner to a one dimensional and therefore temporal existence divorced from its pre-eternal or timeless origin.
Time was intended, from the beginning, to co-exist or, perhaps it is better to say, to co-inhere within the realm of timelessness. Created by God, time is sanctified. It is not only “very good” but it is holy. The integrity of time is dependent upon its relationship with the supra-temporal. The schism between temporal and supra-temporal was the result of sin. In paradise sin and hence death originated. Adam’s sin led to the death of creation. Adam’s sin severed time from timelessness. Consequently, time became the path leading from birth to death. Yet, despite the breach between temporal and supra-temporal, time continued to be the context in which God and the human person interacted.
The collapse of time did not destroy God’s relationship with humanity. Time, now bound to death, continued to be filled with God’s presence. Time’s fall from timelessness did not prevent the human person from exercising freedom even though that freedom became weakened and abused by the delusion of self- apotheosis. Corrupted by sin, time did not lose or forfeit its purpose to receive in the flesh the One foretold by the prophets. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal.4:4).
Time is not driven by a self governing élan that ultimately usurps human freedom. The unfolding of time offers at every moment the possibility to bear witness to the beauty and glory of human freedom emerging from the internal struggle to choose Life over death. From this ascetic ordeal human freedom, which originates in Life and is sustained by Life, reveals in time the creativity which enables the mind and heart to peer into the supra-temporal.
Time is a mystery into which we are born. It is a mystery which God and man – the uncreated and the created, the supra-temporal and temporal – commune with each other. Time is a mystery that reveals the divine pre-eternal love of God. What was divinely pre-destined before creation is realized in time and space; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph.1:34). Indeed, we have been predestined in love to abide in divine love. Yet, divine love must not be understood as a disguise for divine tyranny. Even in God’s predetermined love and humanity’s pre-determined place within divine life freedom abides. Human freedom cannot be swallowed up by divine love. Paradoxically, however, human freedom is able to grow and expand only when seeking, wrestling and ultimately capitulating to divine love. Without this interaction human freedom atrophies. In the divine human dynamic human creativity yearns to ascend and penetrate beyond the parameters of time and space. Within this divine human symbiosis comes an emerging epiphany and experience of transfigured creation within time: “Behold I make all things new” (Rev.21:5).
Time is a fundamental component of our worship culminating with the celebration of the Eucharist. The command to “do this in remembrance of me” directs us not only to the saving acts of God which occurred in the past but also to the saving acts of God in the present as well as the future. In the present – within the celebration of the Eucharist – we become membered or joined to the acts of salvation leading to the Lord’s passion and resurrection, to his ascension and to the descent of the Holy Spirit. In these saving acts of the past we are also membered to the saving acts that are yet to come and which have already been inaugurated. Within our Eucharistic celebration time is healed. Past, present and future are no longer divided or broken segments on the linear plane of history. They are joined together into the one moment when we encounter God while anticipating the fulfillment of creations renewal and transfiguration: “Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand and the second and glorious coming…” (Anaphora, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).
The healing of time – the sanctification of time – restores its relationship to the supra-temporal. Therefore the end of time is not its abolition. The end of time is the termination of temporality’s union with death. All the events to which we are joined in the celebration of the Eucharist continue to heal time until the Lord’s coming again. Then all that is old and bound to fear, sadness and corruption will pass away. Time will no longer hold us and the creation captive; “and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev.21:3-4).
Copyright © 2004 by Father Robert M. Arida