What’s with the Kingdom of God?

Thy Kingdom Come

Blessed are You on the throne of the glory of Your Kingdom, seated upon the Cherubim; always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your kingdom which is to come.

Quoted above are three references to the Kingdom of God in St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy (there are a total of 48). The interesting thing about these three quotes is how they view the relationship of the Kingdom to time. The first statement, familiar from the Lord’s Prayer, seems to ask for something that is yet to happen: “Thy Kingdom Come.” The second, taken from the priest’s prayer of blessing just before the Trisagion sequence (“Holy God, Holy Mighty, etc.”), seems to refer to a present tense: God is seated on the throne of the glory of His Kingdom. The third, from the Anaphora prayer (the primary prayer in the consecration of the Bread and Wine), clearly references the Kingdom as something that has already been given. “Had endowed” (past tense) is paired, in a very jarring juxtaposition of tenses, with “the Kingdom which is to come” (future tense).

What’s with this strange treatment of time?

My childhood understanding of the Kingdom of God was that it was synonymous with heaven, or, at least, with the end of the world – the end of history – when God would wrap everything up and make everything right. It was very much “Thy Kingdom Come.” This future sense was the dominant thought that caused the German scholar, Albert Schweitzer, in his seminal work, The Search for the Historical Jesus, to conclude that Jesus had, in fact, been mistaken, as had the early Church. He interpreted Jesus’ statements regarding the Kingdom, particularly those in His apocalyptic teaching, to be evidence that Jesus thought His Kingdom would come about very soon. Schweitzer’s observation was that such a thing didn’t happen. Jesus was wrong and so were His disciples.

A major rebuttal of Schweitzer’s work came from the Anglican scholar, C.H. Dodd, who argued for what he termed “realized eschatology.” Jesus was right about what He said, for, in Christ, the Kingdom of God did come and is already at work among us. Or, in Jesus own words, “If I, by the Spirit of God, cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28, also Lk 11:20). And, in good Protestant fashion, the debate went on.

Dodd was correct to a large extent. The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is more than an event waiting to happen. We hear this in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

The Kingdom has already been prepared “from the foundation of the world.” The Kingdom already is, can be participated in now, and is yet to come. Is that confusing?

This is the strange world of eschatology (the study of “last things”). For some Christians, the word only refers to a series of events (vividly imagined) taking place at the end of the world. In the New Testament, and in the Fathers, the eschaton (end) is something far greater. Christ Himself is called both “Beginning” and “End” in the Book of Revelations. However, the “End” does not refer to a particular point in space and time (though at a particular point in space and time, its end and the “End” will coincide).

What is the Kingdom?

St. Maximus says it is the Holy Spirit. St. Paul affirms this: “The Kingdom of God does not consist of food or drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy and in the Holy Spirit” (Ro. 14:17). It is Christ’s great and Holy Pascha, existing from before all time and forever (Rev. 13:8 calls Jesus the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”). The Kingdom of God already is.

That which already is – is the very thing that is also coming into the world. It is not itself coming into existence, but when it enters the world it transforms the world towards the Kingdom. Every time Christ heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, cleanses a leper, raises the dead, casts out a demon, it is this “End,” this “Kingdom” that is being made manifest. Each such event dramatically illustrates Christ’s word, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

The Cup of the Eucharist is a participation in this End, in the Kingdom. We pray that our communion will be

for the vigilance of soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion of Your Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, for boldness towards You, but not for judgment or condemnation.

After communion the priest prays:

O Christ! Great and most holy Pascha! O Wisdom, Word, and Power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of You in the never-ending Day of Your Kingdom.

There is also a future aspect that we look towards. St. Paul describes it in this way:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” … When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24-28)

History and the Kingdom

If all of this is true, if the Kingdom of God is already complete and we are already able to participate in it and we await the day of its full manifestation, then what is the place of history and the events associated with our salvation that have occurred in space and time?

History and the Kingdom are intended to coincide. The focus of the Kingdom is precisely the union of the created world with God. There is a complete coinciding of creation and Kingdom in the death and resurrection of Christ. That which was, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), is also that which takes place in Jerusalem on that day. His death and resurrection are filled with such power that the creation was shaken, some of the ancients came out of their graves, the sky was darkened. These are signs that an utterly cosmic event was occurring.

But in that this historical event is also the primary eternal event, it has a presence that transcends that specific space and time. When we stand before the altar, we stand before Golgotha and the empty tomb. We do not merely remember them – they are there!

By the same token, the historical events that relate to our salvation, such as the Passover from Egypt, Joshua taking the Land of Canaan, Noah and the Flood, Abraham’s promise, and so forth, are themselves significant as historical events because they, too, participate in that same eternal act of redemption. There is only one redemption, and that is Christ. What we see in the Scriptures of the Old Testament are the hints or the “shadow” (in the words of St. Maximus and St. Ambrose) of that which is to come – that which was revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Our salvation is not a historical project. Rather, it is God’s eternal project of saving history (the created world) by uniting it to His own life through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. This is the reason (as I have written at other times) that we cannot “build the Kingdom.” You cannot build what is and always has been complete. The Kingdom is divine. Divine things only come in “complete.” If it is divine, it is whole and has its own fullness.

We could never say that the historical events that participate in this one act of eternal redemption are unimportant. They have the same role as the wood of the Cross and the nails that held Jesus there. They are, if you will, elements of the Cross scattered through history. By the same token, we also cannot say that they are a chain of cause-and-effect, an older historical event creating a later historical event, etc. The incarnation of Christ is the cause of all things, it is said in the Fathers. That which is seen is temporary, that which is unseen is eternal, according to St. Paul.

The nature of our salvation as it has been made known to us forces us to speak about space and time in a manner that breaks many of the accepted rules of our modern world. Our modern rules of cause and effect would say that something happening in the first century cannot possibly be the cause of everything that happened before it. But that is how we speak.

In the words of St. Maximus:

The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains in itself the meaning of all the symbols and all the enigmas of Scripture, as well as the hidden meaning of all sensible and intelligible creation. But he who knows the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb knows also the essential principle of all things. Finally, he who penetrates yet further and finds himself initiated into the mystery of the Resurrection apprehends the end for which God created all things from the beginning.

The resurrection of Christ shatters the bonds of space and time and makes manifest that which is eternal. We eat and drink eternity in the Cup of Christ.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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37 responses to “What’s with the Kingdom of God?”

  1. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thy Kingdom Come:

    “Blessed are You on the throne of the glory of Your Kingdom, seated upon the Cherubim; always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your kingdom which is to come.”

    So … the Kingdom of God is a present reality in heaven, a present reality in us, and a future reality yet to come that also breaks into space and time in powerful ways — like when the Eucharist is taken by the faithful or when Jesus performed miracles during his earthly ministry? Also … the Kingdom of God has always existed even before all time, thus there is no building of the kingdom?

  2. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    “And, in good Protestant fashion, the debate went on.”

    Oh … now this is funny! 🙂 (and true!)

    Also … I have heard both:

    Book of Revelation
    Book of Revelations

    Which is it?

  3. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    There is no “building of the Kingdom.” That is a 19th or early 20th century expression that crept into modern Protestant thought through the teaching of the Social Gospel movement (cf. Rauschenbusch). It was mildly Marxist – and a Trojan Horse for the Church as a political project. I personally believe it to be deeply flawed, possibly heretical – but so very attractive for many.

    But, the Kingdom of God is divine. If it is divine, it cannot be built. We do not even “help” the Kingdom – because it already is. People who want to “help” the Kingdom worry me. And the Kingdom says, “I’ve got this…don’t worry.”

  4. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Singular. It is the “Revelation to John the Divine (Theologian)” Often known as the “Apocalypse” among Orthodox theologians. It helps to remember that it’s not called “Apocalypses.”

  5. Penelope Cannon Avatar
    Penelope Cannon

    This is extremely helpful. Please email this to me, so that I may share with others. I don’t know how to get it into email format from FB format. My email is email hidden; JavaScript is required. Thank you!
    Penelope Cannon

  6. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    What about the idea of “bringing” the Kingdom? For example, when someone gives food to the hungry as a command of Christ, is this not also bringing to them a piece of reality from the Kingdom that is also going to come?

  7. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    If one lives in the Kingdom of God, then this is a gift of the Holy Spirit brought to the heart.

    Also, Matthew 6:3-4: the words of Christ about how to give. We are not bringing so much as carrying forward what we have received and yet still this is the grace of our Lord, not something we create per say. Humility is such a fundamental way of being. That, I believe, must come first to receive such a grace. And there is no way to “do” such grace. It isn’t something we do but what the Lord does (usually despite our wayward intentions).

  8. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Dee wrote:
    Humility is such a fundamental way of being. Amen, Dee.

    Re the Kingdom:
    It always comes to mind, with regard to Matthew’s questions, that Jesus taught the apostles to say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” Plus, people who refused to receive them sort of had a boomerang effect on the peace extended by the apostles; it didn’t rest where it wasn’t welcome.

    At the same time, we understand that when we are worshiping, the angels in heaven are worshiping with us on the altar. That eternal song of Isaiah is the angels also worshiping together with us.

    Oddly enough, modern physics (what little tiny bit I have learned from others as I am not at all a physics student) accepts such differences in types of time. The Kingdom is eternal and we are temporal, and yet the Kingdom can live within us and be borne in the world within us (St Paul says we are temples of God). Even Stephen Hawking (and who knows where his ideas actually come from) talks about the kind of time that we live eventually collapsing and intersecting with a greater overarching “eternal” time. I once was watching a television program in which a theoretical physicist was being interviewed, and he said (I paraphrase from memory), “Science says that there are four dimensions, but there are probably really 7 or 8. And they are within us.” Well, I said, “Aha!” to that one.

    It seems to me that, at least theoretically, the understanding that the lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (and it was standing, and slain at the same time, we note), is made more accessible to us by the theoretical scientists, at least insofar as it has become “scientific” to accept that, as far as the nature of time is concerned, all of these things can be true at once.

    If I’m remembering a text correctly from years ago, I think it was St. Gregory of Nyssa who wrote that anything that is in a state of motion (in flux) needs time; hence we need time for repentance, “change of mind.” That is, we need our sort of linear experience of time as we know it within the dimensions in which we live. Or perhaps it was the other way around, that whatever is in time as we understand it is always in motion, a state of change. What is eternal has a completely different nature. But both can exist at once.

    Sorry for rambling!

  9. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thank you so much Dee and Janine! Janine … did you learn these things about time only from one TV show?

  10. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Hi Matthew … you ask if I learned these things from one TV show. No, not just one. I have relatives and friends who know about these things, and I have just read here and there.

    By the way, there is a relatively recent book titled “Dominion” by Tom Holland. I do not think his perspective is about “building” the Kingdom here; it is rather about the longterm effects of Christ’s gospel on the world over the past two millennia. Quite interesting.
    https://www.amazon.com/Dominion-Christian-Revolution-Remade-World/dp/0465093507

  11. Eric N Dunn Avatar
    Eric N Dunn

    More light shed on my inaccurate understanding of the Kingdom.
    Better late than never. Thanks again for the words of wisdom.

    And, in good Protestant fashion, the debate went on.” (Oh sigh)

  12. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Read it Janine. Enjoyed it.

  13. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Beginning in the 19th century, there has been a lot of very “sloppy” speech about the Kingdom of God (again, it is rooted in the Social Gospel movement, and things such as Fabian Socialism). It became a synonymn for a version of social justice (whose justice?). But, any notion that the Kingdom somehow belongs to us, that it is ours to give or to share, is just incorrect.

    St. Paul describes the Kingdom as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Those are not emotional states. They are concrete, spiritual realities – the actual presence of God Himself (the Divine Energies, we would say in Orthodox-speak). If someone said, “Give me the Holy Spirit…” what could I do?

    The most we can do is pray. Even in the sacraments, it is God who gives – not us. We pray. The priest does not consecrate anything – he only prays.

    The Kingdom is God’s gift. And it is new at every moment. We cannot store it up, save it, share it, etc. It’s presence is also the presence of the Age to Come. It is our own misunderstanding and lack of humility that have clouded our understanding of the term.

    The great danger in this misunderstanding is what we already have now: the politicization of Christianity. That is the stuff that serves an antichrist – not God. It has already deceived many. In its name they’ll commit murder and torture people, etc. Imagine torture in the name of righteousness, peace, and joy!

    I understand that NT Wright is among those who speak in the modern way about the Kingdom – it was quite typical and popular among Anglicans when I was there, so I’m not surprised. But there is not even the slightest hint of this in the New Testament, much less in St. Paul. It cannot be found in the Fathers, and is not evidenced in any Orthodoxy hymnody that I can recall.

    It is – the language of those who imagine themselves to be managers of God’s kingdom – that is – it is thoroughly modern.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Personally, the declarations by St. John the Baptist and our Lord Himself recorded by St. Matthew to “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand encompass much of what is said in the article above.
    The Kingdom is revealed and seems to me to be, in part, to be about our intra relationship with Jesus (fully man and fully God) in the center of our heart and in the Church in communion with Him and one another.

    Only my own sin keeps me from Him. It is folded into the nature of both my immediate self and my eternal soul through His Mercy.

    May the Mercy and the Joy of our Savior God be with all of us.

  15. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dear Father,

    I read Wright very deeply and listened to many of his audio and video presentations between 2000 and when I was received into the Church in 2009. Interestingly, after that I didn’t seem to “need” him anymore (and I could also see a couple of large holes in his thought), but the way he set the historical scene in C1 Judea was so helpful for me in disengaging my mind from Protestant ways of understanding what was going on in that time and place. (I had no knowledge then of the work at Maqom.) The more I read, the more I was eventually able to see that I already believed what Orthodoxy is, and to consider, with both trepidation and joy, that God was leading me to Orthodoxy. I thank God for how his work led me to the fullness of Christ and the Church.

    I just want to reassure you that Wright has emphatically said that we cannot build the Kingdom – those are his very words. He does talk about “building for” the kingdom, meaning that, in our opportunities to do good in our spheres, as Christians we can show forth the reality that the Kingdom – which is also yet to come – has already come – the “righteousness, peace and joy and in the Holy Spirit” that is manifest in our lives and through our actions, publicly as well as privately – calling attention to the aspect of it that can be participated in now, especially what we as Christians can do as a matter of doing good for the people in front of us.

    [He talks about “inaugurated eschatology”, but I’m not sure it’s the same thing as Dodd’s “realized eschatology”. Even if it is, it’s a great leap beyond what most American Protestants, in my experience, have understood. But of course the whole big picture, the whole cloth, is most truly found in Orthodoxy.]

    It was in one of those talks that I heard him mention physicists believing that what we call the different aspects of time – past, present, future – sort of fold over on themselves, giving me a helpful way to think about the reality of being “at the same time” at Golgotha and in the Liturgy in Santa Rosa.

    Anyhow, thank you for this article and previous one on the Language of Prayer – a blessing for me, as always.

    Dana

  16. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dana,
    I am reassured by your reading of NT (Wright). I had a sort of disturbing email exchange with someone a while back on this topic, and they seemed to champion NT’s work. I met NT (Tom) some years back, and even edited an article of his that was included in a book I did for an Anglican publisher. He was a very important voice of reason, and made belief in the resurrection “respectable” for many Anglicans who had been dashed by some bad scholarship. I’ll stand corrected (gladly).

  17. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much for that explanation Dana. If what you explain about Wright´s thoughts on the Kingdom of God are correct (and I sense that they are as I have read Wright pretty extensively), I can safely say that I share his view as well. I in no way support Social Gospel, Fr. Stephen, and I thank you for your cautionary advice. A friend who is Protestant shared with me that his church leadership team is discussing how to integrate climate change stuff into the Sunday sermon talks. I shared with him that I would be against such even though I do not deny climate change nor do I think it is O.K. to abuse the environment. I just don`t think the church should be in the business of discussing climate change on Sunday morning (if at all).

    I find it interesting, Dana, that you too were into Wright´s work for a season on your journey to Orthodoxy. I can share that I too was a big Wright fan, especially as I was exiting biblical fundamentalism but still wanting to hold onto the very important aspects of the faith … like the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I also found his work on justification to be very interesting. He has a take that I simply had not heard before that sounded much less penal substitutionary than I was used to. It was a delight to think someone who was pretty conservative theologically speaking could also think a bit differently than the teachers I had been subject to for so many years. Interestingly, though, I think at the end of the day while I respect Wright for his work on the Resurrection as well as his less fundamentalist mindset, it all shows me that all Protestants (are Anglicans also Protestants??) really do is debate theology. This one says this. Another counters with that … and so the story continues. It is exhausting really.

    I bet if we collected stories of how Protestants come to Orthodoxy, there would be similarities and overlaps between stories for sure!

  18. David Avatar
    David

    I think the grammar of “Thy Kingdom Come” itself speaks to this reality. Note the lack of modals, to be verbs, prepositions, or conjugation of “come.” This might be a stuffy English teacher’s reading of it, but it was an interesting point that struck me.

  19. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    What reality does it speak to David?

  20. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “St. Paul describes the Kingdom as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Those are not emotional states. They are concrete, spiritual realities – the actual presence of God Himself (the Divine Energies, we would say in Orthodox-speak).”

    Can they not also be, at times, a form of emotion(s)? When I “feel” peace for instance?

  21. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Of course, there can be emotional states. What I’m saying is that St. Paul is describing very concrete realities – ontological in nature. I should add that it would be normal (it seems to me), that encountering those realities, we should have proper, healthy emotional responses. But, I would also add that the Kingdom itself heals us, and works at restoring our emotions, etc. It is nothing less than resurrection.

    “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.” (2Cor. 2:11-12)

  22. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Hi David,
    I am guessing that what you mean by that very interesting comment is that it is a verb that’s always active. It’s an action meant to be always happening. It’s also interesting that it’s imperative (and we’re addressing Our Father!).

    There is an interesting note on Revelation 21:5 in the Orthodox Study Bible. “Behold, I make all things new” is the same active form — might be better understood as “I am always making all things new”

    But I leave it to you to further illuminate your very interesting comment.

  23. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Janine,
    I think you’re hitting on something important, viz. the Kingdom of God. “Always making all things new.” When St. John Chrysostom references the things God has done for us, he says:

    …and when we had fallen away raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and endowed us with Your Kingdom which is to come.

    It is not just “endowed us with the Kingdom…” but the “Kingdom-which-is-to-come.” To receive the Kingdom is to have one foot already in the Age to Come. And so, our “life is hid with Christ in God…” and so forth.

  24. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “Of course, there can be emotional states. What I’m saying is that St. Paul is describing very concrete realities – ontological in nature. I should add that it would be normal (it seems to me), that encountering those realities, we should have proper, healthy emotional responses. But, I would also add that the Kingdom itself heals us, and works at restoring our emotions, etc. It is nothing less than resurrection.”

    This is powerful stuff Fr. Stephen. It is bringing my thoughts back to my charismatic evangelical days. In those times when I thought I was encountering any of those concrete spiritual realities, an experience of sorts would sometimes follow. It would normally be emotional in nature, but I also thought it was definetly of the Holy Spirit. Now I am thinking that my emotional response, then, may not have been proper, healthy, or even really from the Holy Spirit.

    Based on what you have said above, it might stand to reason that if even emotions and emotional responses also need to be restored, redeemed, even resurrected, then in a broken state (we are not 100% healed yet) one might have experiences that are not really of the Holy Spirit. Maybe we need to be more cautious?

  25. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    That’s quite perceptive: “Maybe we need to be more cautious?”

    I think one of the first things I saw about Orthodox spirituality was its caution (this was as I was coming out of the charismatic movement myself). It was obvious to me at the time that there was a lot of “delusion” within that movement (not entirely). But it creates a lot of confusion and can lead to all kinds of problems. It was leading me to unbelief – which would have be tragic.

    It’s interesting. Orthodoxy doesn’t nurture skepticism (though that would be an easy substitute). What it nurtures is the freedom from the passions – a true asceticism in which our emotions are healthy and not in the position of mastery. My writing on shame (which is a key to humility) came after years – and is still a daily inner work for me. But – it’s about dealing with the passions (they enslave us).

    So, “sobriety” is a good way to describe where we should live. “Nepsis” is the Greek. The Philokalia is actually entitled, “The Philokalia of the Holy Neptic Fathers.” This is true “hesychia” – the inner stillness in which we can dwell in peace and discernment.

    One of my own observations is that sobriety is sorely lacking – particularly in present-day Orthodoxy. There are too many who mistake emotions like zeal and such as devotion. The winds of shame blow strong, to say the least. The internet is the “Wild West,” some have observed – this is particularly true if we think of the passions as the winds that make things wild.

    The culture in which we live is a passion-driven culture – mostly just sex, fear, shame, and greed – the stuff of fundamental consumerism. Orthodoxy is not a product to be consumed, nor a tribe in which we wrap ourselves to gain a false identity. I see it in Orthodox tatoos (and the like). We lack patience and the steady hand that would direct us towards repentance.

    So – on the one hand – we need to know that we are safe. The Father has brought us home and welcomed us into His house (we don’t have to prove ourselves). And we need to be patient – He has brought us in in order to heal us, to make us whole, and to transform us into His image (from the inside out).

    A great test (fearful in its truth): We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies.

    Just some thoughts on caution.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The guard I have found (beneath the noise and vacuity) is the blessing of Joy. Joy is a gift. It is not a passion or an emotion but a gift of basic repentance–a
    recognition of God’s life in one’s heart and His Mercy. “…for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” Mt 4:17

    Most other states are emotive in nature and partake of our passions.

  27. Hélène d. Avatar
    Hélène d.

    Vladimir Maximov, in “The Seven Days of Creation” writes : “Miraculously… it was as if I saw the forest for the first time ; a fir tree was not only a fir tree, but also something else , much larger. The dew on the grass was not dew in general, each drop existed in itself, singularly; we could have given a name to each puddle on the road.” And Olivier Clément comments on this passage : “Thus the man of prayer, the man for whom knowledge is identified with life, and life with immortality, becomes capable of “feeling everything in God”, of feeling on everything, in everything, the blessing of God, thereby himself capable of blessing everything, of seeing in everything a miracle of God, without looking for it, of making the miracle arise…”
    Isn’t it not also the union of the created world with God, a transformation of the world towards the Kingdom ? Blessed prayer…

  28. David Avatar
    David

    Janine, Matthew

    Thank you for the comments! Janine got it. On re-writing it, the language changes, reducing the Kingdom to a linear construct.

    Your Kingdom is coming.
    Your Kingdom came.
    Your Kingdom will come.
    Your Kingdom has come.

    You could also add “eternally, always, forever, etc…” I think “Thy Kingdom Come” concisely communicates what Father Stephen is talking about.

    “Your Kingdom Come” is a concise way to communicate this reality, I think.

  29. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    David,
    Thank you for your elaboration. I find such helps to bring out important meanings.

  30. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    It seems to me that humility and sobriety go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.

    And it also seems to me that an acid test for humility is authentic love for one’s enemies. Do you agree? I’m not sure I can say that I love my enemies. And I grieve for this because I know what it implies regarding my relationship with God.

  31. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much everyone.

    So … I have been hanging around here regularly for about 6 months now. I have learned so much. I feel like I am growing!

    Three words come to mind when I think about some of my main “takeaways”:

    shame, repentance, humilty

    These words seem to come up a lot around here, though I am still not sure what they really mean in an Orthodox context, or even how they work together. I know, Fr. Stephen, I need to read your book about shame. It is on my “to read” list! 🙂

  32. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    And, it’s good to remember that this is just a website, written by a single priest. There will be emphases that might well be somewhat singular (though I try to avoid that sort of thing). You’re doing the right thing – attended liturgies, asking questions.

    I wonder what my own approach to Orthodoxy would have been like had there been today’s internet. First – there’s too much information out there and not enough filtering or rating of reliability (one of the reasons why I only write in submission and approval of my bishop). When I first began exploring Orthodoxy, the available books (from SVS Press) wouldn’t fill a single shelf – i.e. there wasn’t much, but what there was – was solid.

    As I got closer…several things happened: I became aware of jurisdictional problems (this was particularly the case in my area of the country at the time). These issues were not “Orthodoxy” in and of itself – but gave me pause in that they affected what life was going to be like on the actual ground. Another was that I began to hear the rumblings of debates about unimportant things (thank God there was no internet to magnify them). Lastly, I think I became aware of the “messiness” of Orthodoxy on certain levels. It’s 2,000 years of history and it has complexities, wrinkles, etc.

    All in all, this was actually helpful. As I was leaving Anglicanism, which was in an increasing state of apostasy (moral issues, doctrine, practice, etc.), it was a reminder that Orthodoxy is not an ideology – not a set of abstract ideas practiced by a group of ideal persons, etc. It’s like getting married – you never find the “perfect” spouse – that would not be marriage. It would just be some sort of neurosis.

    I’ve never had regrets about becoming Orthodox. In many ways I think of it as being fundamental – it’s as much about becoming truly human as anything else. It is a return to the fullness of historic Christianity – and it comes with all of that history. Everything is here for my salvation – and even the messiness is God’s own providence.

    I very much appreciate your questions and hold you in my prayers.

  33. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    Given some of your own comments about the negative effects of certain Protestant theology you have experienced, I would consider putting Father’s book on shame high in the list to read. Also, if you listen to audiobooks, it’s out in that format too. I think the American Protestant ethos is not very conducive to well being. Once inculcated in it, it’s hard to take a perspective not from within it, particularly so if one is still in it.

    Of the three words you mentioned, I suspect repentance is something that you’ve heard before. It’s the word used in Protestant sermons to have people come ‘ to be born again’.. Sometimes the most difficult words to understand are the ones we’ve heard used in nearly the seemingly the same context but have very different meanings that point to very different realities.

    I’ve described my struggles to love enemies. It is important to recognize that one struggles against the adversary, and the person who has antagonized is only one of an infinite possible way that the adversary uses to undermine one’s relationship with God.

    For my part, I find Father’s suggestion that St Paul’s words about the Kingdom of God were not about emotion, to be very helpful. Sometimes I forget that love is an action rather than a feeling. Last night I prayed for the person vexing me , asking the Lord to bless them in sincerity, such a prayer came to my heart from the grace of the Lord after substantial struggled. But when the prayer came, in sober silence of my mind, my heart was relieved of its weight. I pray that I receive the grace of the Lord to continue to repent.

  34. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    “The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains in itself the meaning of all the symbols and all the enigmas of Scripture, as well as the hidden meaning of all sensible and intelligible creation.”

    For some, quotes like this one can lead to eyes glazing over and mental checkouts. How can one man – even the God Man – be called the Word? And how can He replace all other words? There are so many!!

    But one thing I’ve come to realize is that the mind speaks in a language that is faster and fuller than any human language. We translate our thoughts into human languages for the purpose of communication and relationships in this broken life, but the mind itself has no need of them.

    Given this, it makes sense that a picture is worth a thousand words. And one human-language word can evoke a million thoughts. So then it starts to become possible to understand how Jesus Christ is our everything. It’s common for people to talk about all the questions they’ll have for God when they arrive in Heaven. But actually I believe meeting Him and receiving Him as the Word will answer all our real questions.

  35. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen. I so appreciate all the help and all the prayers.

    Dee said:

    “I think the American Protestant ethos is not very conducive to well being. Once inculcated in it, it’s hard to take a perspective not from within it, particularly so if one is still in it.”

    Wow. Strong words. I think they apply well, though, to my situation. As I said in an earlier post, this stuff is etched into my spiritual DNA. I´ve experienced almost 30 years of evangelical Protestant (of varying brands and streams) teaching. Much of what I am learning now I still, almost subconsciously, run through that particular grid. On the train today I thought to myself … Matthew … you simply need to let go. You need to carry on and walk forward trusting God. I don´t have to forget my introduction to Christ in that summer of 1996, but I do need to move on into something fuller. I am trying to do just that. I will keep going to Divine Liturgy. I will keep asking questions. I will keep praying. I will keep walking.

  36. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    I don’t remember where I heard it (might have been here), but it was something to the effect of: “We don’t build the Kingdom of God, we bear witness to it”. I think the underlying idea is that God’s kingdom is a reality that we encounter as Christians and that, as we are changed and healed within it, we inevitably bear witness to it by our daily lives. Thoughts on this?

  37. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Shawn,
    You have said it quite well.

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