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Saturday, June 14, 2014

"The Apocalypse is now."


And not what you think it is. An excellent reflection from Fr. Stephen Freeman:
America was founded by religious people – their imagination became a nation. Among their most powerful ideas was an apocalyptic hunger: they believed God was doing something new in the world and that they were its harbingers. One visionary described his colony as “a city set on a hill.” It’s a heady thing to invent a nation.

Nothing is more “modern” than the belief in “something new” coming. Progress is the unceasing movement towards the better. On the level of technology this belief is mildly entertaining, and even beneficial. But this fails to capture the deeper currents of the apocalyptic hopes (and fears) of the American heart.

In its most extreme form, the American apocalyptic mind is deeply fearful. The dark images in the Book of Revelations and Daniel provide a wealth of material that feed our anxieties of things to come. A large proportion of the population fully believes that the present world will end in disaster. American foreign policy in the Middle East for the past half-century has drawn on a well-spring of popular support that is rooted in specific beliefs regarding the nation of Israel’s role in an apocalyptic future (as well as the belief that we are already entering that future). There is now an entire subculture in America known as “Preppers” who are making practical plans and stockpiles of materials in order to survive a coming apocalypse. Americans are also quite vulnerable to political promises: the New Deal; the Great Frontier; the War on Poverty; the City on a Hill, etc.

A downside to this popular Apocalypse is the deafness it creates to the true Apocalypse within the Scriptures. What is it that is to come?

The word “apocalypse” simply means “to reveal.” It is to take something out of hiding and show it to others. Thus we have in the Scriptures (and a number of other books) accounts of “hidden things” being shown to certain individuals: Enoch, Ezekiel, Daniel, St. John.
***
As Fr. Alexander Schmemann used to say, sacraments do not make things to be what they are not – it reveals them to be what they truly are. This is true of the Christian faith: it reveals the truth of all things.

That truth is made known to us by the only one who could open the “sealed” mystery: the “Lamb who was slain.” It is Christ crucified, at the very heart of St. Paul’s gospel, that is the revelation of the eternal purpose of God. The crucified Christ is not a salvage operation on God’s part, launched in order to rescue a world gone wrong. The Lamb was slain, “From the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

The mystery of Christ’s crucifixion reveals that God purposed through the humility of the Cross to reconcile all things to Himself – to unite all things, “things in heaven and things on the earth.”

It is this same hidden mystery that is revealed in the Holy Eucharist – in which we “proclaim [καταγγέλλετε] the Lord’s death ‘til He comes.” This “proclamation” is only rightly understood in the context of that which was hidden. It is the revealing of the Lamb of God, the present manifestation of the eternal Son of God, crucified in time and yet already slain before the foundation of the world. Those who reduce the Liturgy to historical remembrance destroy the true apocalyptic character of the Christian faith. It is little wonder that they have created a time-bound expectation of future events. They watch the newspapers for the coming of Christ and dismiss his true parousia even as the religious leaders of Israel two-thousand years ago failed to understand the mystery that was present in their midst.

The apocalypse is now.
This was the sense I felt upon conversion to the true faith: a revelation of the world behind the world, where saints and angels intercede in ways we do not know and the prayers of monks hold back chaos. Not a gnostic election into hoarded secrets, but a revealing of the world as it truly is. So too, the original Christian missionaries were able to show the pagans the truths hinted at in their cycle of solstices and feasts. The modern pseudo-pagan's bowdlerized "As above, so below" is actually a pretty good way to put it.

We all err by losing that present-centeredness Fr. Stephen is talking about. The Protestants gaze distractedly to the far eschatological future; the Orthodox and Catholics cling to their vanished Imperial past.

2 comments:

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I think the author is actually Fr. Stephen Freeman.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Corrected. Thanks John.