Glory to God for All Things

The Fullness of All Things

I am fascinated by what the Holy Tradition does with the idea of “fullness” or “fulfillment.” The Church is described as the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). And it is not unusual for Orthodox Christians to express the meaning of Orthodoxy under the rubric of “fullness”: Orthodoxy is the “fullness of the Church.”

The Scriptures do much with the concept – speaking of the “fullness of time,” or the “times being fulfilled.” It says far more than something being merely large (full) – but of a completeness in which nothing is lacking, or of a completion in which that which was anticipated is now here.

I believe that the word or concept of fullness is very expressive of what we look for in the Resurrection – not a destruction of the Person nor of the replacement of a Person, but of a Person who is finally existing in his fullness. The American Miltary may once have advertised “be all that you can be,” but such is only possible in Christ and in the fullness of time. A uniform will not fulfill you.

I use the example of a tree. I have not seen a tree in the fullness of what a tree should be. I know that in some sense all trees have been changed by the One Tree which is now the “invincible weapon of peace.” In that sense trees have seen their fullness in the Cross which was transformed from instrument of torture into instrument of life. Just as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil once became the instrument of our death – so now the Tree of Life has become the instrument of our life. The Cross itself, and how we see it, is an excellent example. Before Christ the Cross could only be seen as an instrument of execution. After Christ we have to be reminded of its original use. After the Cross, all trees must be seen with at least a hint of their fullness.

There is a peculiar Appalachian folktale which posits the Dogwood tree as the substance of the Cross (Holy Tradition is much more elaborate, with a tree that was a composite of three different evergreens – a biological impossibility but irresistable to medieval writers). The Appalachian folktake goes on to say that the Dogwood is now a short, twisted tree as a curse, so that it could never again be used as a cross. But, of course, this runs so terribly contrary to what the Church understands of the Cross. Christ’s death on the “tree” was not an event to occasion new curses, but an event to lift all curses. Were the Dogwood the tree of the Cross, it would be the most honored tree in the forest. As things stand – we must instead give the honor to all trees and include the Dogwood (and the evergreens) among them.

After Christ, we must look at human beings differently as well. In Christ we have seen the fullness of the human. What it means to be “fully man” is revealed only in the God/Man.

All things will have their fullness – though very few yield up to us clear hints of what that fullness will be. We cannot know the fullness of a man until we see him in the fullness of Christ. Reading the lives of saints occasionally carries revelations of such images. That which seems to escape the ability of our language to describe is often a fullness for which language is inadequate.

The Mother of God comes to mind in particular. I am certain that what many Protestants find troubling about the place of the Theotokos in the Church is the problem of someone who has been made known to us in her fullness. She is “full of grace,” and we stagger before such a revelation. She is not mere mother, but Mother of God. We are accused of saying things about her, or offering a devotion which is inappropriate, but none of this is true if we are understood to be standing before someone who stands in her fullness.

Everything around us has a fullness – which also says that we do not yet see the Truth of the things that surround us. How carefully and joyfully we would move through the world if we knew or could see that fullness already – but this is the mind and the eyes of Christ. Such eyes could see a fisherman who seemed more talk than action and call him a “rock” while seeing in him a character and possibility that were years away from their fulfillment.

The same eyes could see a Publican and yet see a saint. The same eyes saw Jerusalem and wept for that great mother of all cities that has yet to see her fullness though her name is married and synonymous with the Fulness that is to come.

And so we sing with the angels, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!” We do not yet see such a fullness. But as St. Paul reminded us – that which we do not see we await in hope. I hope to see us all in that fullness as well as the whole world.

6 Responses to “The Fullness of All Things”

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  1. (another) Elizabeth says:

    The expression “He’s so full of himself” comes to mind. Combining that with Fr. Stephen’s wise words, the idea emerges: We humans are vessels, made to be filled. But the question is with what, or with whom, are we filled?

    Filled with our own sense of self-importance, self-love, self-delusion? As long as we remain full of ourselves, there’s no room for God. To make room for God, we must voluntarily die to self to empty ourselves.

    As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Is that our life-long purpose, to continually empty our own will, having faith that God will fill the emptiness with his wholeness?

    Is this how it works? And if so, practically speaking, in terms of everyday life in the world of family, work, social, and church, what does it “look like” to empty ourselves?

  2. Elizabeth,
    Good question. I think St. John put it correctly (in order) Christ increases and we decrease. Trying to empty ourselves oddly keeps our focus on ourselves. On a daily practical basis, it means loving others, laying down our lives for them. It’s what parents do for children (when we do it well). It’s what spouses do for one another (when we do it well). It’s what kindness, gentleness, and meekness does for others. In Church, it’s remembering that it’s not about “my spiritual life,” but about Christ (who must increase). It’s forgiving others, refusing to gossip. And some other things…

  3. jhe says:

    Thank you, Father Stephen, and your pictures are a blessing, too.

  4. michaelcook says:

    Dear Father Stephen,

    Each day I am thankful to grow in orthodox faith because of what I learn from your writings. Please know that the wisdom you present shapes my Orthodox worldview, as together we celebrate the Holy Tradition that unites us all.

    Sub-Deacon Michael Ignatius

  5. Timothy says:

    This post reminds me of the following passage from St. Macarius …

    Christians who have been deemed worthy in this life to possess the heavenly raiment carry that raiment dwelling within their souls. And when it will be preordained by God to dissolve this creation and for heaven and earth to pass away, then the heavenly raiment that clothed and glorified their soul in this present life and which they possessed in their heart, that raiment also will adorn their naked bodies which will rise from the tombs, the bodies that will awake in that day. This invisible and heavenly gift and raiment even in this life Christians receive.
    Homily 21, p. 197 of Maloney’s translation

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