Tradition: Revealing the Eschaton Not Seeking the Past

This is the 2nd and concluding blog in which I comment on Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis’  (Director of Volos Academy for Theological Studies)  article, “From the ‘Return to the Fathers’ to the Need for a Modern Orthodox Theology” in Volume 54, Number 1 2010, of the ST. VLADIMIR’S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY.   The first blog is   Modern Orthodox Theology:  Do What the Fathers Did, Not Just What They Said

Hagia Sophia

Kalaitzidis contends that Patristic Theology emerged by the Patristic theologians engaging their culture – Hellenism.  If we acknowledge that we now live in a different culture – post-patristic and post-hellenic – then is simply parroting the Fathers sufficient for engaging our culture?   If the purpose of theology is not “to preserve a certain era, a certain culture, a certain language” but rather “to serve the truth of the Gospel and the people of God in every time, in every space” then Orthodoxy must incarnate its theology today in response to the culture and time we live in.   This is a very active engagement with culture, not avoiding culture by satisfying ourselves with parroting Patristic writers.

“After all, God’s revelation has always taken place within creation and history, not in some un-historical, timeless universe unrelated to the world. As the late Greek theologian Panagiotis Nellas, founder of the well-known theological journal Synaxis, prophetically noted twenty-five years ago: ‘… it is not possible today to have a true Revelation of God without employing as the material for that revelation today’s social, cultural, scientific and other realities. It is impossible for God to motivate man unless He comes into contact with his particular, historical flesh; it is not possible for Him to save man, unless He transfigures his life.”

“Thus, the Church and its theology cannot move forward in the world while ignoring or devaluing the world that surrounds them, just because this world is not ‘Christian,’ or because it is not as they would like it or the sort of world that would suit them. Similarly, the Church and its theology cannot motivate the people of today, the people of modernity and late modernity, so long as the modern world continues to be scorned and disparaged by the Church, and ignored as revelatory material and flesh to be assumed.”

 “…today the wind of traditionalism and fundamentalism is once again blowing violently through the life and theology of the Church. Eschatology is an active and demanding expectation of the coming Kingdom of God, the new world which we await; as such, it feeds into a dynamic commitment to the present, an affirmation and openness toward the future of the Kingdom in which the fullness and identity of the Church is to be found. In other words, the Church does not derive its substance principally from what it is, but rather from what it will become in the future, in the eschatological time which, since the Resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, has already begun to illuminate and influence the present and history.”

“In the light of eschatology, even the tradition of the Church itself acquires a new meaning and a different dimension — an optimistic and hopeful perspective. In this perspective, Tradition is not identified with habits, customs, traditions or ideas or in general with historical inertia and stagnation, but with a person, Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory who is coming. As Saint Cyprian of Carthage reminds us, “The Lord said: I am the Truth. He did not say: I am the custom.” Tradition, in other words, does not refer chiefly to the past; or to put it differently, it is not bound by the patterns of the past, by events that have already happened. Strange as it may sound, in the authentic ecclesial perspective, tradition is orientated toward the future. It comes principally and primarily from the future Kingdom of God, from the One who is coming, from what has yet to be fully revealed and made manifest, from God’s love and the plan He is preparing for us, for the salvation of the world and man. So the eschatological understanding of tradition appears as the counterpart to the Pauline definition of faith: ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1. cf. Heb. ch. 11; Rom. 8:24), or as analogous to the eschatological or ‘future’ memory as this is  experienced in the Anaphora Prayer at the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom: ‘Remembering therefore this saving commandment and all that has been brought about for our sake: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the ascent into heaven, the sitting at the right hand and the glorious Second Coming.’ And this is because, according to the scholia on the Areopagitic writings attributed to St Maximus the Confessor (but whom scholarship now identifies as John of Scythopolis), the entire Divine Liturgy represents not some eternal heavenly archetypes or some reality in the realm of ideas, but the eschatological Kingdom which is to come, a reality of the future where the truth of things and symbols is located.”

Alpha - Omega

“Therefore, just as it is the last things that give being to the first things, and eschatology to protology, so it is the Kingdom of God —the fullness of life and of truth which will come to completion and be fully revealed at the eschaton— that defines and gives meaning to the tradition of the Church. The future is therefore the cause and not the effect of the past, since, according to Metropolitan John Zizioulas, the reason for which the world came into being is the eschatological Christ as the union of created and uncreated in the eschatological times.”

“Or, to recall the apt words of the late Greek theologian Nikos Nissiotis: so the Tradition of Orthodoxy […] is not history but witness; it is not the completed and fulfilled event of past centuries, but the summons to fulfil it in the future […] Tradition as it has been understood from the very Beginning is the ‘new’, that which erupts into the world in order to make all things new once and for all in Christ, and then continuously in the Holy Spirit through the Church.”

 “Looked at from this angle, then, Tradition is not the letter which kills, a nostalgic repetition or uncritical acceptance or continuation of the past, but a creative continuity in the Holy Spirit and an openness to the future, to the new world of the Kingdom of God which we await.”

 “The future is not merely something exacted or awaited – it is something created … And genuine historical synthesis lies not in interpreting the past, but in creatively fulfilling the future.” (Fr. George Florovosky)

 It is as I have previously written the case that Tradition is not to be the anchor of the church as the ship of salvation, holding us steadfast to the past, but rather its sail meant to catch the blowing of the Holy Spirit in the world today.