Standing in Two Worlds
St. Paul instructs us in several of his Epistles to: “redeem the time.”
There are many different meanings of this phrase, but one meaning is that in Orthodox Divine Services we can experience what we might call “redeemed time.”
Two Kinds of Time
In English, we are somewhat restricted in talking and thinking about time, partly due to the general lack of adequate words to express transcendent experience, and partly because we have just one word for ‘time’ — which generally refers to chronological, calendar time as measured by a clock. However, in the Greek language, with its inherent thought-patterns, the language in which the New Testament was written and the Eastern Fathers thought and wrote, there are two words for time.
“Chronos” (as in ‘chronological’) is the Greek word for the earthly, temporal, measurable, clock time where we live our everyday lives. “Chronos” time and space are chief characteristics of God’s created world and therefore are not bad in themselves, but are to be redeemed, along with everything else in the fallen world.
However, Greek (and some other languages) has a second word, (and therefore a second category of thought) for time — “kairos.” This refers to what we might describe as “Eternal” or “Divine time,” or “Transfigured time,” or “Redeemed time”— a realm wherein we step outside of and transcend the “clock” time of our everyday lives in the world. “Kairos” time is the realm of artistic creativity, wherein one “stands outside oneself,” and is caught up into another realm or level of existence. “Kairos” time is the present now time:
“Today Christ is born! Today Christ is Risen! Today Christ is Baptized! This is the day of salvation!”
“Kairos” time is also the “fullness of time,” when the Eternal breaks into and penetrates our fallen earthly existence, transfiguring it and us, wherein we are granted the gift to temporarily catch a glimpse of standing in the Presence of God. This is the realm of what might be called “religious experience”—or having a “personal experience” of God; it is the present moment of repentance and conversion. We have stepped into “Kairos” time when we are “caught up” and don’t even notice the passage of “chronos” time.
“Kairos” is the transcendent time into which we are invited to enter and to experience in Orthodox Divine worship—the Divine time of this other world, this other realm. This is the “redeemed time” into which we are invited to enter when we step into an authentic Orthodox Church temple. This is the “redeemed time” that we can experience in authentic Orthodox icons. This is the “redeemed time” in which we can participate during authentically-rendered Orthodox Divine Services.
The degree to which the architecture, icons and liturgy can enable us to temporarily transcend this fallen temporal world and have a foretaste of heavenly worship in God’s Presence can vary enormously, but the extent to which the earthly worship reflects the heavenly worship is the most important. When the Divine Services are sung and chanted and prayed in a way that reflects heavenly worship, then even a mediocre physical church building, with mediocre icons, (or even when served in a hospital, nursing home, prison, home, or other setting outside a church building), can be transformed temporarily into the eternal Kingdom and where those present are invited to participate in the continuous worship of heaven. This is a totally awesome gift that we are offered!
Sometimes people can intuitively experience this sense of transcendence of time, space and place—the transcending of the temporal, everyday life of the ‘world’— without knowing just how to express in words the experience of standing with one foot in heaven and one foot on the earth. But on the other hand, sometimes the opposite might occur, for it is also very easy—and an enormous temptation that must be rigorously resisted—to bring the experiences of our daily, temporal life in the fallen world into the life of the Church and its Divine Services. We also can be tempted to bring with us the experience of both secular and heterodox music. Usually we do this without even being aware of what we are doing, because it is an unconscious expression of how we have been socialized in our lives in the culture around us. Let us reflect a bit about what this means in practice, to help us recognize it when it occurs.
Orthodox Worship Transports us into the Eternal Realm
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*** The picture of the Church above is the future Holy Myrrhbearers Orthodox Church outside of Harrisonburg, VA. If you, after prayer, wish to help us build His Church, please go to our Web Site: https://holymyrrh.org/ and click on the donate button. Thank you for your prayers.