Stepping Outside of Time

Dear Friends in Christ,

We’ve entered Fall, a time when things should be starting to unwind. We’ve heard about the lazy days of Summer, but how many of us actually had a time to relax? All the things we end up doing make the time fly by. Soon, we will begin the Holiday Season, with a string of parties and events to attend and participate in. So given this period between Summer and the Holidays, we should all be breathing a sigh of relief, ready to kick back and enjoy the leaves changing color and the cool breezes. Yet I keep hearing about people being busy. I must confess, I have claimed this myself!

Busyness is one of those vague concepts that everyone talks about without really examining. We have tightly-packed schedules and transit to and fro, in ways that our ancestors might have never imagined. However, for many of us, we seem to be always busy! Busyness is a chronic symptom of our times, which affects us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It just seems that in the modern world, you have to be busy. But do we?

I often wonder if people in the ancient world felt busy the way we do. In some ways, their lives were moderated by the seasons and the cycle of day and night, the cycle of planting and harvesting. People often were tied to their communities, whether it be in a village or through their associations in a city, for instance by immigrants of a certain type living in a certain quarter. Cycles of time and community provided a good stabilizing agent for people then. In our time, we’ve gotten around such things by technology; we can have lights on 24 hours a day, and we can avoid human contact if we wish by using the Internet for almost anything. Maybe natural forces prevented people from being busy back then.

However, a closer look at the evidence would suggest that while people may not have been busy in the way we are, they still were. Managing a farm or engaging in fishing involved considerable back-breaking work. Many people lived in cities even then, and maintained shops and eating establishments. Armies sometimes had to march under cover of night, and race to get to a far-away place. So busyness probably existed then, too. Maybe the problem is not so much having a full schedule, but how we relate to it. The Church has a cycle of services that sanctify the time. We have morning and evening prayers at home, and on the weekend we have Vespers in the evening and Matins in the morning followed by Liturgy (these services occur daily in monasteries). The cycle of fasts reminds us of what period of time we are in. Time is thus marked and segmented for us, which makes it easier to manage. Instead of approaching our lives as an eternal day, the prayers we engage in help us to stay in sync.

The Divine Liturgy has a special place in all of this, as it occurs during a specific time (the morning), but it is itself outside of time. The liturgy is eschatological, which means it looks forward to the culmination of the world. We stand and face East, awaiting the Resurrection, which is conveniently symbolized by the rising Sun in the morning. But we participate in the Holy Eucharist, which takes us outside of time by re-presenting the Sacrifice of the Cross by Christ. His death on the Cross occurred once in time, but it is made present to us each time the Eucharistic prayers are read. When we participate in this mystery, we come outside of our limits; our flesh is united to Christ’s, which is sitting at the right hand of the Father.

Busyness has no place in the Liturgy. The priest prays, “Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, always now and ever, and unto the ages of ages,” invoking the eternal reign of Christ. The congregation responds “Amen,” which means “may it be so,” thus engaging this blessing. The priest continues, “in peace let us pray to the Lord.” We must begin our prayer in peace. Several times during the liturgy, the priest blesses the people: “Peace be unto you all.” And before the beginning of the Eucharistic prayers, at the Great Entrance, we pray:

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthy cares. That we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

The thrice-holy hymn refers to the passage from Isaiah:

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:1-3).

These passages encourage us to lift up our minds from our earthly cares to heavenly ones, and to set aside the mindset of busyness. Life will never slow down, but we can choose to set aside these cares at regular intervals in order to pray and engage with God, which over time will help us reorder our priorities and give us peace in the midst of the struggles of the present. I invite you to set aside some time and join with us in prayer.

In Christ,
Fr Anastasios