Saturday, June 14, 2008

Time Sanctifies Liturgy

Yes, as we saw in the previous essay where we looked at Augustine's theology of time, the heart flits from past (memory) to future (anticipation). Looking beyond the text of Augustine to my own experience, I realize that this flitting about is more often than not done in a passionate manner. Frequently, I look to the past with regret, guilt and shame, even as I look to the future with dread, anxiety and fear. My experience of the past and future are passionate precisely because I do not dwell in the present moment, that curiously timeless time that, or so Augustine implies, participate in Eternity:

Those two times, . . . , past and future, how are they, when even the past now is not; and the future is not as yet? But should the present be always present, and should it not pass into time past, time truly it could not be, but eternity. If, then, time present -- if it be time -- only comes into existence because it passes into time past, how do we say that even this is, whose cause of being is that it shall not be -- namely, so that we cannot truly say that time is, unless because it tends not to be?

Liturgy, I would suggest, is our return to the present moment—it is a dwelling, a resting, in the Eternal Now that is Itself the Source of time. Coming as it does from God, to use more classically Eastern language, time is an icon of Eternity. Liturgy, which remember has both a historical and an eschatological pole, is a reflection of time and as such, it too is an icon of Eternity. But, and this I think is the important part of Heschel's and Augustine's theologies of time, it is not liturgy that sanctifies time; it is time that sanctifies liturgy.

When we gather as the Church to pray, we have the opportunity to experience time as it is meant to be. As Fr Alexander Schmemann says in his own theological analysis of the sacraments: The Church worship reveals the nature of the creation; as baptism makes manifest the meaning of water, and the Eucharist of food and drink, so too taken as a whole the Church's worship reveals the sacral, indeed sacramental, nature of time.

To be continued…

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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