In the fragments of the pre-socratic philosopher Heraclitus (d. cir. 484 B.C.) we read, “All things change and nothing remains.” These words bear an innate sadness and dread that spring from the impermanence of all existence. Yet, for the Christian, the insight of Heraclitus is only half-true. Indeed, all things change, but it is change which ensures the permanence and security of all things.
In Christ we are all called to change. The Gospel of the Lord begins with the call to repentance (metanoia) – a call to change the mind and therefore the orientation of our lives. In the dynamic of change both the Christian and the Church remain secure. This security and permanence is maintained by an ongoing and ever changing communion with the crucified and risen Lord. In Christ we dwell. In Christ we change and ascend from glory to glory. (2Cor.3:18) The necessity of remaining and growing in Christ depends on the necessity of change.
Permanence/immutability and change are woven into every facet of reality. The incarnation of the pre-eternal Son and Word of God stands as the pivot of personal and cosmic change. One of the pre-festal hymns for the Lord’s nativity boldly proclaims that by becoming incarnate the Son of God assumed what he had not in the beginning i.e. human nature. Within the Triune and Tri-personal human nature is introduced. And yet the divine sovereignty and love of the Trinity are in no way compromised by this change. On the contrary, this mysterious change extends to all of creation the divine overture of love. It is this change that opens to the creation the never changing love and care (economy) of the Holy Trinity.
Change and permanence are fundamental to the mission of the Church. If the Church is to proclaim Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever then it must be open to change. Too often the Orthodox Church is labeled as the “ancient and unchanging” Church. Though there is no direct corollary regarding antiquity and immutability, we need to remember that we confess the Church to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Neither antiquity nor permanence guarantees the fullness of ecclesial life and dogmatic truth. Christian antiquity was rife with heresy and schism. A rigid understanding of immutability would not allow for the broad diversity that has emerged in liturgical practice, iconography, hymnody and doctrinal vocabulary formulated by various Church councils.
The immutability of Christ’s proclamation to the world demands that it engage the world. But this engagement cannot be static. It requires the Church and therefore the Christian to not only speak to the world and proclaim to the world the Gospel of Christ but to also listen to the world. The Church must listen and respond to the world’s suffering and misery. It must listen and respond to the advances of science and technology. It must be willing to undergo whatever change or metanoia is necessary so as not to compromise the immutable message of the Christ’s Gospel. For unless the Church is willing to change it will cease to carry on the missionary work of the Lord to heal, save and transfigure everyone and everything.
Change enables the Church to bring the Gospel into an often-hostile environment. It also allows the Church to dialog with the world including those who do not believe in or know Jesus as the Christ.
Change for the sake of maintaining and growing into the unchanging truth who is Jesus Christ requires tremendous humility from which comes courage and trust in the Holy Spirit. For it is inevitable that as the Church sojourns in history it will continue to encounter new and unforeseen problems and challenges. This was prophetically expressed by Bishop Cassian Bezobrazov, former professor of Scripture and Dean of St. Sergius Institute in Paris. In an address dated around 1950, marking the 25th anniversary of the Institute, Bishop Cassian stressed the need for theologians - and by extension all those seeking communion with God – to leave behind anything that might hinder a proper response to the new and unexpected. “Facing new problems, enriched by new knowledge we are led to formulate responses which our forefathers had not the least idea, nor we ourselves had not wars and revolutions changed the face of the world and had not our points of view been overthrown.”
Ongoing repentance fortifies the Church and each Christian to live in the present. It enables the Church to act in the present as it draws from the unchanging truth of its rich past and moves into the future when Christ” will be all, and in all.” (Col 3:11)
Father Robert M. Arida