We can sympathise with St Augustine when he said, ‘I know what time is until someone asks me to explain what it is, and then I don’t know what it is’ (Confessions, XI.14.17).
We presumably wish to concern ourselves with time in relation to our Orthodox faith. Therefore, we should not (even if we could) focus on the science and philosophy of time. In any case, the philosophers cannot agree what time is. That said, we should consider views of time in so far as these bear on our concern. The ancient Greek philosophers (so I have read) did not generally consider that time was linear; they thought that time was circular, without beginning or end (though Plato talked about time being created as a moving image of eternity: see his Timmaeus
). Aristotle agreed though with Plato (see Physics
). For the Christian, the circular view of time could not be correct because it does not admit eschatology, nor does it match the assertion that God created everything, including time.
The Old Testament has a radically different view of time which is essentially linear. The Children of Israel moved from Egypt to the Promised Land, a figure for all humanity and for the spiritual life of each individual. Instead of events being determined by time, time was determined by events; events were the constituents of time. (Such is still the view in African societies).
The coming of Christ into the world caused a radical amendment to the Old Testament view of time. This is closely linked with our view of Theophany and the other epiphanic events such as the Transfiguration. Eschatology is not only of the future but is ever-present: the kingdom of God has come and is here now within us (if we admit it). St Basil the Great linked time and space and considered there to be not only past present and future but also a degree of circularity. But this circularity is repetition along linear time (see On the Holy Spirit
). This is physical time, what we may term chronos
. But there is also eternity which we may say has a sense of kairos
. This is the spiritual dimension to time. Pre-eminently, it allows us to know that the Eucharist is not repeated afresh but is the one, bloodless sacrifice made present whenever and wherever the Divine Liturgy is served. The lack of this aspect of time in Protestant thinking is a hindrance to Protestants who cannot accept that Christ gave His Body and Blood to His disciples before the Crucifixion and Resurrection so that the Eucharist cannot be really the Body and Blood of the Lord. The Divine Liturgy takes place both in chronos
or eternity. How else could we account for the presence of angels and saints at the Divine Liturgy? It is in this spiritual time that we can talk of Sunday as both the first and the eighth day (St Basil). It also is why we can say at the feasts, such as Theophany, ‘Today Christ has come to be baptized in Jordan; today John touches the head of the Master’ (Feast of Theophany, Matins). It is why we can feel affinity with saints of greatly different times. It is also why in icons, for instance in the usual Deisis icon, we see Christ is with His Mother, the Archangels, St John the Baptist, and, say, St Nicholas and St Sergius of Radonezh. It is noteworthy that the offices of the days and weeks are not determined by dates but by the diurnal cycle. They refer to time in this way, not by clock time. The Divine Liturgy, however, does not mention this cycle of time since it is of eternal as well as physical time.
There is also the concept of the everlasting. Physical time and eternity are created. But everlasting is uncreated, and of it we can know nothing (St Basil). Thus we can only say that the Son of God was ‘begotten of the Father before all ages’ without knowing what that means. God is beyond time and eternity.
Edited by Andreas Moran, 19 January 2009 - 04:15 PM.