Where We Stand in Time

An aspect of travel through the ruins of earlier civilizations is a sense of walking through the past. Here in the South we have numerous Battlegrounds, preserved as reminders of our nation’s struggles in the 19th century (and some from the 18th as well). There is even a lively sub-culture of “re-enactors” who seek to have some sense of the experience of times past.

Christianity stands in a very different place with regard to time. Despite the fact that an Orthodox priest may be vested in robes whose origins go back to the Byzantine Court (and sometimes later), they are not engaged in an effort to re-enact something. Indeed, if the Divine Liturgy were an effort to re-enact, the costuming would be very different indeed. Christ was not vested as a Byzantine court official at the Last Supper.

The Divine Liturgy does not seek to re-enact the Last Supper. In some ways it makes very specific changes in that early meal. The bread is not the unleavened bread of an Old Testament Passover Meal. In Byzantine practice, it is, by canon law, always leavened bread (this difference with the Western Church carried far more argument in the 10th century than questions of the filioque.) Hot water is added to the wine – something which has meaning in Christian practice, but no place within Old Testament Passover liturgies. Though the Church refers to this meal as the Passover (Pascha in Greek) it means to stand somewhere else in time.

Rather I should say that it means to stand everywhere in time. The Divine Liturgy is understood as a fulfillment – not a prophecy. It is a participation in the Resurrected Lord, not a remembrance of how Jesus used to be. As much as He is “everywhere present and fills all things,” so His Body and Blood share in the same presence.

This is the paradox that marks the walk of a Christian through this world. We are here and now and yet have been Baptized into the everywhere and always. We have been made citizens of the Kingdom of God and thus transcend the kingdoms of this world. This is not to say that we are not here and now and they we do not live within the kingdoms of this world. But because we are everywhere and always there is nothing for which we cannot and should not pray. Because we are citizens of the Kingdom of God we do not simply pray for the kingdoms of this world as if one earthly kingdom should be triumphant over another earthly kingdom. We pray for the kingdoms of this world – ultimately because they will become the kingdoms of Our Lord and His Christ.

Living the paradox of the Christian life is living the Liturgy in the midst of the world. Everything is what it is, and yet everything is something more as well. We never consign creation to an existence without reference to God. There is nothing secular, only the abuse of the sacred.

This strange reality of paradox occasionally (or more than occasionally) shines forth from the lips of the Fathers. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing at the end of the 2nd century says this:

Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain.

Against the Heresies, 3.22.3

Sweet paradox.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





27 responses to “Where We Stand in Time”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: Enjoying the hospitality of His Beatitude, The Most Blessed THEOFILOS III,
    Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine, Syria, beyond the Jordan River,
    Cana of Galilee, and Holy Zion. I am the one without a hat.

  2. mic Avatar

    this may be a silly question, but i am a silly dude, so here it goes.

    is it only monastics and Bishops that wear the hats?

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    No. Different hats mean different things. Generall the hat with a veil (kamilavka) is for a priest-monk or a bishop. Greeks and Russians wear different styles of hats. The priest in the small hat (skufia) is wearing more or less a head-covering any priest or even lay monk could wear. He’s married. The priest with the Purple Hat is wearing a Russian-stlyle Purple Skufia, awarded to him by his Archbishop. I am entitled to wear a Purple Kamilavka, but chose not to travel with one. So, I was one of the few bear-headed priests I saw during the entire trip. It’s like me to show up in the wrong outfit. It’s not humility – just ignorance. But I am now internationally famous as “an ignorant man.” I also am gaining a reputation for answering silly questions. They come from the silly things I write. 🙂

  4. Bean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    You might think this a strange dilemma, but it’s just one example of something I think about a lot and have been wrestling with. I was raised Orthodox, but still feel like I come from a Protestant background since I didn’t start taking Orthodoxy seriously until this past year. So that leads me to ask a lot of questions about what’s important.

    I’ve come to a crossroads. It might sound silly or petty, but it’s kind of like a microcosm of my whole life. Here’s the thing – the Outing club pig roast is on Sunday. So we are planning to go out on Saturday to help out and then to camp out that night. All the outing club members will be helping turn the pig and do other cooking and setting up on Sunday morning. One of our professors will give a little church service that morning at the cabin. It sounds totally great, right? Yeah, I think it sounds pretty fun. But then I would miss Liturgy, and I really don’t want to miss it. It’s become so much more important to me. I mean, I don’t think that God will destroy me just for not going, but I begin to question why I would want to spend time roasting a pig when I could be worshiping God and celebrating the Eucharist. I have the opportunity to partake of the body and blood of Christ. Why would I miss out on that to celebrate some arbitrary thing like a pigroast? “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” This decision is way more important than it seems. But my mind keeps vacillating between two points of view.
    From the other side, I think to myself, isn’t God present everywhere? He is not just present in the Eucharist. He is present in us and in all of His creation, which we will be celebrating at the cabin in the woods.
    Yes, everything we do can be an act of worship. But is that our motivation in the pigroast? Is that my motivation? Is this even a big deal? Am I crazy?

    Does God want me to feel like this?
    He wants me to sacrifice, to take up my cross and follow Him. To quote Paul, “I am a slave to Christ.” But we also have freedom in Christ. What does that mean exactly?

    What do you think?
    Thanks. God bless you!

  5. Bean Avatar

    P.S. I do not understand the quote you cited from St. Irenaeus. What does that mean? Does he mean that God needed to create the world?

  6. Robert Avatar

    Participation and synergy are the keywords describing my experience as an Orthodox Christian. This is quite a contrast to reenactment or a symbolic remembrance. Synergy requires change and movement of our will, remembrance mere abstract mental concentration and observation from a distance. This is what separates the pilgrim from the tourist. The tourist is primarily a consumer, observing safely from a distance and without a commitment to what he observes; the Chistian pilgrim seeks to get closer to what he observes so that he may be consumed by it.

  7. fatherstephen Avatar


    All of the clergy pictured are “full-time”, if you mean we are not employed in any work outside the Church. I have always been a “Full time priest” even when I made a living doing something else (which I had to do for 2 and a half years). I am never not a priest. I do not think I understand the point of your question, nor the use of all caps (which normally means shouting in internet usage). THEOPHILOS is all caps by the tradition of how the names of Bishops are printed.


    Normatively, we should all be in the Liturgy on Sunday, for reasons you state well. We are Orthodox Christians. We’re not under law, but why would we want to be somewhere else? Listen to your heart.

    St. Irenaeus does not mean to introduce necessity here – but he does introduce the idea of Christ’s Pascha occurring even before creation.

  8. logismon Avatar

    Are full-time presbyters (clergy0 supposed to cut their hair/beards ?

  9. logismon Avatar

    God forgive us all …. Pater +…where is the original post/comment showing all “CAPS” ?

  10. fatherstephen Avatar


    For the record you wrote:

    Who is a FULL-TIME clergy man in that picture, besides Theofilos ?

    I deleted the original post lest anyone misunderstand the all caps as shouting (in internet etiquette that is its usual meaning) and I endeavor to keep discussion civil on this site. I did not interpret it as being uncivil, but did not want it misunderstood.

    The traditionalist site, orthodoxinfo, is quite conservative in its application of canons, etc., and does not conform to much that is widely practiced in Orthodoxy across the world. Of course, by citing canons, it is possible to be “more Orthodox” than others. I write with the blessing of my Archbishop, who is a canonical Orthodox bishop in communion with the Orthodox Sees throughout the world.

    In America, particularly, you’ll see many priests with or without beards, with long or short hair. The same is true in England, Russia, and many other places, contrary to what the article says. There is some small debate about this in Orthodoxy, but what you find stated on orthodoxinfo is more what I would refer to as “internet Orthodoxy” rather than what you will find published by most sites of the official Church.

    Monastics, to my knowledge, adhere strictly to the canons on beards, etc. But the practice varies, even among bishops.

    There are other canons that are not strictly adhered to for various reasons, mostly historical change of circumstance. I might add that the long explanation given on orthodoxinfo says much more than the canon does and offers an explanation that probably says far too much.

    The icon of St. Paul pictures him with short hair, as does that of St. Peter.

    Please forgive me if anything I have said gives offense or causes confusion. I’m trying to be as honest as I can on these matters. It is interesting that I stood before the Patriarch of Jerusalem and was blessed by him to serve anywhere in his patriarchate while I was there on pilgrimage. I do not know what his rule is in his patriarchate viz. hair and beards – but after presenting my letter to him from my Archbishop stating that I was an Orthodox priest in good and proper canonical standing, he asked no questions nor did he make further comment. He has been to America and is familiar with American practice, I assume.

    Canons are tricky matters. If read incorrectly they can do great damage. They should not be read like law, or interpreted as if they were the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament law. They exist to guide the Church through the centuries in matters of importance. Some are more central and important than others. Arguments arise about their interpretation. Sometimes these arguments become serious enough to require action by a Synod or Synods of Bishops. But they do not exist for individual priests to guide the rest of the Church, or to direct a priest to disobey His Bishop or despise His bishop’s judgment if that judgment is in accordance with the judgment of his Orthodox brother Bishops.

    Differences on the canons concerning hair do not rise to the significance of the questions of heresy or the like. Some Orthodox use them that way and do harm to many of the faithful, particularly those who are young or new in the faith.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Again, Forgive me, brother.

  12. shevaberakhot Avatar


    Thank you for your comments on the Divine Liturgy and the Last Supper.


  13. Rev. Milovan Katanic Avatar

    I think what we as clergy are supposed to do and not supposed to do depends upon on bishops.

    For instance, in the diocese that I am from in Serbia all priests must wear head coverings all the time, they are also required to wear their cassock and under-cassock (don’t know if that’s how it’s referred to in English), it is *preferable* for them to have long hair and long beards. In our diocese the bishop doesn’t demand this from therefore you’ll see some who are, as Fr. Stephen says, “more Orthodox”.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    Fr. Milovan,

    Christ is in our midst!

    This is a very helpful note. Things vary, and perhaps more than they should, but laity should not have the idea that there is only one way these things are practiced. Your example was excellent. My experience is that these things are more “traditional” in Europe than America, at least in some places, and for various reasons. The priests on the Patriarch of Antioch in America generally are not allowed to wear long hair, which is another story.

    Many Americans, under the direction of St. Tikhon (then Bishop) in America, “Americanized”, with not wearing cassock and beard and this was thought better for missionary work. In time, this approach has not been seen to be without problems. Many of us, myself included, usually wear at least the under-cassock in public, not to be confused with Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Many priests, more than in the last generation, are wearing longer beards and hair, but this varies. Two generations ago in America long hair and beards would have been hard to find, but this is because of local circumstance and not a despising of canons. If I despised canons I would never have become Orthodox. Your example is very good, showing that it is the bishop who interprets canons, and there is some variation in how he may apply them. This is true Orthodoxy!

  15. logismon Avatar

    Fr. Stephan, are you saying there is an “American” Orthodoxy, and an “European” Orthodoxy ? Evlogeite!

  16. fatherstephen Avatar


    Thank you for your comments. Indeed, many modern Christians think they are doing something good when they use clay pottery for the liturgy (which no Jew would have done for the Passover) and sort of “first century” everything. It misses the point. We are not re-enacters – but dwellers outside of time, who serve the timeless Lord, who became flesh and dwelt among us.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar


    No. Only one Orthodoxy. Europe has much variation in certain things, as does America. Fr. Milovan’s note should be a good example of European Orthodoxy, where practice does vary somewhat. True Orthodoxy is not legalistic, but true. And there is a difference. One priest should never judge another. It is a sin. I wear traditional dress for reasons that I understand to be obedience. I do not judge another, for I am not his bishop and do not know his soul. Neither should someone else judge what God is doing with one of his servants, or leap to conclusions.

    I love to wear my cassock and find it a great blessing. Mostly, it is a blessing because I know it is the preference of my Bishop (unless a priest has been blessed otherwise).

    In general the enemy can attack from every direction. There is only one way to defeat him – humilty in the name of Christ.

  18. Diakrisis Logismōn Avatar

    Be well Pater Stafan +

  19. […] October 4, 2008 · No Comments Father Stephen has another great post on the nature of time and liturgy. […]

  20. shevaberakhot Avatar

    That He did, and still does…thank you Father!

  21. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Father bless! Thank you for your balanced perspective regarding questions of a Priest’s attire. On my journey to Orthodoxy, I read a lot at Orthodoxinfo and found much was helpful (though at times difficult to absorb). However, some articles sidelined me, and the article about Priestly dress, hair, & beard, etc., was one that confused me about where the visible expression of the Church was really to be found and tempted me to depend upon something other than the word God was speaking to my own heart about the full meaning and implications of His mercy in my own life and experience. It seems to me when it comes to matters of this nature, only what is done in submission to one’s Bishop and to the Spirit of the gospel is important. We can trust God to work through such obedience, regardless of the form it takes.

  22. Inquiring Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    the post in which you made this comment:

    “Differences on the canons concerning hair do not rise to the significance of the questions of heresy or the like. Some Orthodox use them that way and do harm to many of the faithful, particularly those who are young or new in the faith.”

    was helpful to me– also your mention of “Internet Orthodoxy.” I am an Evangelical Protestant who is slowly beginning to research Orthodoxy. I have read and listened to words from Bishop Kallistos Ware which have literally made my heart sing for joy. I also love most of what I listen to on Ancient Faith Radio and the Orthodox Christian Network. However, when I read some of the articles on Orthodoxinfo.com and the websites of the various “True Orthodox” churches, I can become quite discouraged. I am left asking, “What is Orthodoxy?” I know that Christ said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” I try to keep this in mind, although it is a struggle. I enjoy your blog and find it a blessing.

  23. mic Avatar

    ok, a few days later, and several comments down the line, thank you Fr. for your answer.


  24. Robert Avatar

    “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.” Matt. 22:15

  25. shevaberakhot Avatar

    On why the Orthodox Church uses leavened bread:

    “Actually, leavened bread has always been used in the Eastern Church. In fact, at one point in time, a great controversy raged over the fact that in the Eastern Church leavened bread was used, while in the Christian West unleavened bread was the norm.

    In the Christian East there is no concern for using the exact type of bread used at the Last Supper — known in the Orthodox Church as the “Mystical Supper.” Christ “leavens” our lives, so to speak, and the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration is not to “recreate” or “reproduce” a past event but, rather, to participate in an event that is beyond time and space and which, in fact, continues to happen each time the Eucharist is celebrated in fulfillment of Our Lord’s command.”

    — The Orthodox Church in America.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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