Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Time: Chronos vs. Kairos

This is part of a book that I had been working on. Perhaps one day I will complete it, but perhaps not. While it was intended to be partly autobiographical, it was also intended to convey some of my theological thought. I didn't do much in this regard except lay a bit of groundwork.

The book was to be in the context of love letters to my wife with a symbolic system of dates. These dates have a number of meanings, but this is not apparent unless seen in the full context.


The Twenty-Second of December in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and One

Für meine liebste Elise,

Sorry again, my love. Over a week has passed once more without me writing. I don’t feel like writing about myself, but feel like teaching a little instead. In fact, I might do that for the rest of this month.

Before I begin to explain predestination to you, you have to begin to think the way God thinks. Unless you think this way, you will never understand what I am about to explain to you. In truth, I will be attempting to explain a number of things to you throughout these letters, and unless you truly understand how God thinks, you will never understand what I am trying to explain to you.

The first thing you must understand about the way that God thinks is that you will never be able to understand the way God thinks, and I do not limit the way I use the word never to this world of time. Perhaps you think I’m making a joke, but I’m deadly serious. This is not to say that it’s not humorous. We must be able to laugh at ourselves in taking such an impossibility so seriously, but it is, and must be taken as, serious. We may be able to draw close a very good grasp on these ideas and concepts, and almost seem to apprehend them, but if we ever convince ourselves that we have a definitive understanding of them, we are guaranteed to be wrong. If anyone definitively explains these things to you, don’t listen to him. There will be no doubt that he is a heretic, or at least on the verge of heresy.

Ideas and concepts are things of the mind. We use words to label these things, but words can mean different things to different people. Nonetheless, that is what we use, and as I’m just writing a letter to you, words are all that I have to use. English is a rather impoverished language in many ways, but as much of it has roots in Latin and Greek, it allows us to refer to these earlier languages more freely.

I want to teach you two Greek words for now: χρόνος (chronos) and καιρός (kairos). The first may seem slightly familiar to you, for it is from chronos that we have the word chronological. Chronos is the word the Greeks used to label the concept of time that is familiar and natural to us. Not only do we measure it with calendars and clocks, but it pervades our way of thinking, which is evident with such words as beginning, now, later, then, before, after, and so on until the end. There is no other way for us to really think in this world of time, because this is a world of chronological time. As long as we are in this world, this is the only way we can think.

During the year I was most absorbed with the Beatles, I came across this quote from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “Time is a concept by which we measure eternity.” John Lennon used this quote to come up with, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” Both quotes are greatly uninspired by true wisdom, but I will focus on the one from the Maharishi. It may be possible to say that this is true if you use the word time differently, but the word measure in this quote can only indicate that the word time here is limited to chronological time, or chronos. As stated above, only chronos can be measured, whereas eternity cannot. It is understandable that the Maharishi thought of eternity in terms of chronos since that is the only concept of time natural to this world, but there is a concept of time that is unnatural to this world. Perhaps the language and culture of India would limit the Maharishi from understanding this. I do not know whether this is true or not, but I do know that the Greeks were not so limited.

The Greek word καιρός (kairos) is another word for time, but it is unlike χρόνος (chronos) in that it describes a point or period in time without emphasis on precise chronology. While this can be used within this world of chronological time, it can be applied to the world outside or beyond chronological time. However, please note that the words outside and beyond are inadequate to actually describe this as it cannot truly be described. The word καιρός (kairos) is used throughout the New Testament and other writings of the Greek Church Fathers, but it is its use during the Liturgy of Preparation in the the Byzantine Divine Liturgy that has most captured my imagination. Close to the end, the deacon says to the priest, “Καιρός του ποιήσαι τω Κυρίω.” (Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio.) Or in English, “It is time [kairos] to act for the Lord.” I have contemplated this use of the word kairos for many years, particular the implications due to the priest acting in persona Christi and the implication of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is also from this use in the Divine Liturgy that I began to understand the perfect work of redemption by Our Lord in the Conception of Saint Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos.

St. Paul uses the phrase “in persona Christi” in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians to explain how he, as an ordained minister of the Church, can forgive sins in the person of Christ. Thus, it is not St. Paul, or any other ordained minister, that forgives and absolves the sinner after hearing his confession, but Christ Himself. This is the same concerning the consecration of the Eucharist. In both cases, Christ, who has always been in kairos (i.e. eternity), acts in chronos (i.e. chronological time) through the person of the ordained minister. In truth, it is not the ordained minister who is acting at that time, but Christ Himself.

This is of particular importance in understanding the Eucharist since the Eucharist is not in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), but “is My [Christ’s] Body” and “is My [Christ’s] Blood.” Thus, the Eucharist, as the very presence of Christ Himself, is both in kairos (i.e. eternity) and in chronos (i.e. chronological time). Perhaps one might even venture to say that Christ, as God, is Kairos because He is everything, but I better not introduce too many ideas at once.

This explains something that some are very confused about concerning the one Eucharistic Sacrifice (i.e. the sacrifice of the Mass or Divine Liturgy). Although Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, entered chronos (i.e. chronological time) with the Incarnation, he has always been in kairos (i.e. eternity). Hence, the sacrifice at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the sacrifice on Calvary on Good Friday, and every sacrifice at Mass or Divine Liturgy ever since is one and the same sacrifice. We cannot understand it because chronos is the only time that is natural to us, but God is not limited to chronos as He is also in kairos.

Without this understanding of something we cannot actually understand, it is easy to see why some make the mistake of thinking that Catholics and Orthodox believe they re-sacrifice Christ on the altar. If one only thinks in terms of chronos, which is the only natural way for us to think, it would be only logical to conclude that we are attempting to re-sacrifice Christ on the altar. But this is how men think and not how God thinks. One must understand the mind of God to understand this, which is impossible for us, but our limitations do not limit God.

In the same way, some have used the idea of time-travel or a time-warp to explain how God does this. Again, this is trying to explain God in a way that is natural to man (i.e chronos), and is entirely wrong. The church building or chapel is not a time machine; although, with the presence of the Eucharist and icons, a church, particularly an Eastern church, does place one in the presence of heaven and, therefore, kairos. But now I’m leading to another topic that I should not touch on just yet.

I think I’ve given you enough to think about for now, my love. If you think you understand what I’ve been trying to explain to you, let me assure you that you do not. The only thing that we can hope for is to barely grasp the ungraspable. This is why heaven will never be boring. We will be in kairos, and never fully understand it as we spend eternity in awe of it. In truth, we are already in kairos, both in the Eucharist, and in the Church, which is also the Body of Christ.

I’m sorry. I’m starting to get carried away now. This is all that I live for: the mystérium Fídei (the mystery of Faith). Be assured, my love, you are a very important part of this mystery. Thus, I live for you.

In Liebe,

Dein Russell Jonah

P.S. Ich liebe Dich.

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