The World as a Passageway to the Kingdom

The Elder Aimilianos writes:

“In general, the Fathers were concerned about the Kingdom of heaven, and in a certain manner theologized based on their personal, spiritual revelations and eschatological experiences.  That is, they saw the world as a figure, a prelude, a passageway to the kingdom of God.  This is why they always endeavored to raise the human person from earth to heaven.

The Church Fathers saw the Old Testament as a foreshadowing of the New.   The events of the Old Testament and even the words of the text were seen as both revealing Christ and hiding Christ.  The saints of the Old Testament saw Christ, but only at a distance or in shadow or in a prefiguring.  Only when the Word became flesh in Christ was the reality revealed.  According to the Elder Aimilianos, life now on earth is similarly a prelude to the reality of the Kingdom.  We must live this life on earth, yet it remains only the passageway to the reality for which we hope and desire.  As such, this world is viewed as temporary or transitional, or the path upon which we must trod to reach our destination.  The things of this world for the Fathers are to be viewed in this perspective – their import is not eternal or permanent but is passing away.  This spirituality caused the Fathers to see this world as of secondary importance to our eternal lives.  Thus through the centuries, the Orthodox spiritual writers did not focus very much on studying the world, but rather were far more interested in the world to come which they believed was the only true reality.  Or, as Galileo puts it, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”  This was indeed the interest of the Fathers.

The Elder continues:

The Fathers did not focus their theology on matters pertaining to this world.  This is why they did not produce a theology of marriage.  They certainly taught marriage, and taught things about marriage, but always with an emphasis on raising the human mind from marriage itself to what marriage represents and symbolizes.  St Paul does the same thing when he says that ‘marriage is a a great mystery concerning Christ and the Church.'”  (THE MYSTICAL MARRIAGE: Spiritual Life According to St Maximos the Confessor, p 120)

Thus for the Fathers, as the Elder notes, even marriage for them was not about living on earth, but a way to experience salvation, to experience a way to the Kingdom of God.  The Fathers didn’t produce a theology of marriage because they were not very interested in the physical life in the material world.  They were focused on raising people from this world to heaven.   Marriage was not an absolute for them for it really only belonged to the fallen world and they weren’t trying to figure our how to better enjoy this world.  Though Orthodox concerned about the culture wars proclaim Orthodoxy has a clear idea of marriage, Elder Aimilianos says, “not so.”   There still are plenty of things for the Church to discuss today.

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