The Third Epoch
by Archimandrite Eugene Nicolau (Greek Orthodox)
I hope that you can hear me, because I like to have my hands free - I am not a slave to the microphone. But I was a slave to write something; but you are saved; I am saved; because the good Bishop from Spain spoke from the text and I determined I will not do that! (laughter).
I want to speak about a few things regarding what Vassula said earlier. Vassula was speaking about becoming gods, becoming deified. Yesterday in the Orthodox Church throughout the world we celebrated the Sunday of Orthodoxy (in Greek, "Kuriaki Orthodoxias"). It is a very special day; we reserve it for the first Sunday of Lent, because it is the day that the icons were restored to the churches. Some of you know the church history that from the 8th Century to the 10th Century, 700 - 900 AD there were 200 years of persecution: we could not have icons; it was not permitted. The Emperor of Byzantium had outlawed them but the people kept the icons, they venerated them and they prayed before them and there followed a great persecution because the icon was the symbol of Christ’s Incarnation. The icon for us is a living reality that the Divine Incarnation is a historical fact, that God became man so that man can be deified and return to God in a more perfect state. This is the cycle of our life. That God became man so that man may be restored to a deified state of existence.
To deny the icon is to deny the Incarnation and to deny the Incarnation is to deny the Messiah, the Redeemer, which is Jesus Christ. This is a very important holiday for Orthodox Christians because it indicates that our God has visited His people and has promised to come again. We know this living God in the person and message of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, for our Jewish and Moslem brethren who believe in the same God of Abraham they have not seen Him because they have not accepted the Incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos. We have accepted the Incarnation and our God is a living God whom we know, revere, and venerate. That same God, that same Jesus, is one God, just as Christ the Logos cannot be divided from the unity of the Holy Trinity, neither can His Church be divided.
The Church is not divided. The Church is Christ. The Church is not divided, but rather its pastors and shepherds are separated one from another. That’s the truth!
I refer to pastor meaning the priest and ministers of the Church and shepherd meaning the bishops. Any leader of the Church will tell you in honesty that his people are in union with other people in their common human quest to satisfy the souls hunger for job, peace and salvation. The Christian people of all confessions are united in divine love. They are united in simple faith. They are united in the spirit of believers’ soul searching. It’s unfortunate for some shepherds who are blinded and cannot see the unity which is already visible and vibrant among God’s people.
Vassula speaks about the second Pentecost and the hope in the second coming. If you recall the first Pentecost, the Apostles were in hiding within that Upper Room, where there was a whirlwind, a sound of rushing wind, a noise that was heard by all.
We here in Jerusalem hear that sound ever so clearly today. We feel the wind and its exhilarating turbulence. It is among us and stirring us now to open the windows and open the doors of our personal upper room and let the Holy Spirit enter our abode, and dwell within us.
We are called to become deified, to become God-like and return to that Divine source which is God. To Him, from whom we came, to whom we must return. Inevitably and indeed we are destined to stand before His Throne, where He shall separate the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the unfaithful. Even at that time there will be some who will try to resist. Before we come to that point we have to address the "kenwsiV" (kenosis) the "emptying out", the outpouring, the making of space within ourselves to enjoy that Theosis, ("QeosiV", i.e. becoming God-like), that communion with God. We are not asked to become new creatures, but rather to be renewed in the image of our Creator’s desire and Divine Will.
Vassula spoke earlier of becoming enslaved to Christ "Cristodouleia" (Christodoulia, the ultimate humility for Christ.) The Lord Himself did it in His "Akra TapeinwsiV" (Akra Tapinosi, extreme humility, in Greek). Christ, God, the Logos Incarnate accepts to be crucified. He accepts to be crucified! That indicated an unquestionable surrender in humility. The sinless one takes upon Himself the sins of the world. God is "tapeinoV" (tapinos, humble, in Greek) which means to diminish oneself, and we are called to do nothing less than to follow that unique Divine example. One can only do that by joyfully and voluntarily surrendering to God’s Will, and his Divine plan for human kind.
The beginning of the surrendering to God’s Will by the various Christian confessions began in the last 50 - 60 years, in what is called the great ecumenical movement exemplified by the World Council of Churches and National Councils of Churches. Here Christian bodies would come together as equals in fellowship, commitment and faith. That was a good beginning because we recognized the existence of a common profession of faith, hope and mission.
Now we have to come to the reality of a new millennium with fresh compelling direction. We cannot wait another millennium and continue to witness slow progress. The harbinger of this new beginning took root in March 1997, here in the Middle East, in Aleppo, Syria, where the Eastern and Western Church representatives met to see if they could resolve the great scandal of the separation of the Easter Celebration by the Eastern and Western Churches. This is an awesome step forward and upward.
The intention is to calculate the Easter date in a more precise manner so as not to betray the tradition of the East, nor the tradition of the West, and yet not set a fixed date which historically would be artificial. Rather, we seek to calculate the actual date of Easter according to the Apostolic tradition. It was determined that it will be on a Sunday, in the Spring, after the first full moon in the Spring and after the Hebrew Passover. However, that date will be calculated with precise modern astronomical determination from the distinct proper geographic location of Jerusalem, because this is the historical place where Jesus died, resurrected and ascended in Glory.
What a wondrous sight it will be when all the world, from Eastern and Western Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, all the world, on that particular Pascha night will triumphantly and proudly raise their lighted tapers exclaiming and declaring in a unison voice "Christ is Risen" ("Christos Anesti" in Greek, "CristoV Anesth") "Truly He is Risen" ("Alithos Anesti" in Greek, "AlhJwV Anesth".)
What has to be done of course on a local level is to continue dialoguing one with another - church to church - parish to parish - face to face. Though that is essential, beyond dialoguing we must also start praying together. Our joint and fervent prayer is absolutely vital. All our intentions go out of the window, unless we apply ourselves in active communal prayer to make real the words of our Lord that we should become one body in Christ resurrected.
The faithful in Christ of all confessions are united in the spirit of Christ’s promise of eternal Life. While observing different traditions, customs and rituals they see but one Lord resurrected, they focus on one Salvation for all God’s people. The Church is in constant flux, change, growth, and vitality, which is the moving of the Holy Spirit. We are living in this most vibrant time ecumenism, renewal, restoration, reconciliation and referral to Christian Unity.
As one could very well consider the Old Testament as that period of God the Father, as creator of the Cosmos; the New Testament epoch as that period of Jesus Christ manifesting His Ministry of Salvation and Redemption for humankind; we are now experiencing the third epoch, the keros ("kairoV" in Greek, i.e. time) as the time of the Holy Spirit "kairoV tou Agiou PneumatoV" (in Greek, "keros tou Agiou Pnevmatos ").
Let us not restrain the Holy Spirit, withholding the vibrancy of His work among us.
I simply bring you the good news that the time of the Holy Spirit is upon us, it is moving among us. We all are part of His plan. We are the yeast that will ferment the loaf that will become the Body of Christ. We don’t need much yeast, only a bit and that will suffice to do great things. Why did God pick you? Why did God pick Vassula? Why did God speak to me in these terms? I don’t question God’s motivation, but rather rally to His call. However, I am humbled and thrilled by this vocation. He has spoken to us, to you and to me, and we are compelled to heed the clarion of submission.
God prompted you to come to Jerusalem. God urged you, God pulled you here to learn and share. Now He is going to send you to return to your community, back to the flock you tend. Don’t keep secret this call of the Holy Spirit directing His priests and bishops to be heralds of Christian unity. Tell all of what you have experienced in Jerusalem. Tell them you saw "all sizes and shapes and colors of priests and bishops, with all colors of robes and crosses and jewels, each representing a great tradition, and that they came together and stood like babies, united in prayer to Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit."
We are on a threshold of exciting times of Christian unity, solidarity and apostleship. The portal has been widely opened, let us enter therein and rejoice in Christian fellowship on the common journey towards Theosis.