Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)


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THE NAZRANI
“The Truth will make you free”

Vol. 16, No. 2                                  New Delhi                       February-March, 2006 

The Mystery of the Kingdom               

Dr. Varghese Pathikulangara, cmi

Once we stress the ecclesiological importance of the Eucharist, we have to take into consideration its eschatological aspect as well. If assembly as the Church is the beginning of the Eucharist, its first and fundamental condition, then its end and completion is the Church’s entrance into heaven, her fulfilment at the table of Christ in his Kingdom. Today, we need to emphasise this eschatological aspect of the Eucharist in a special way because of the middle age’s scholastic influence on the way of understanding the sacraments.

According to the scholastic exposition of the sacraments, the ‘consecratory formula’ is the most important part of them. So naturally the people began to push aside the other parts to the ‘secondary’. In the case of the Eucharist, the transubstantiation became its most important factor and hence all other aspects were gradually ignored. Similarly, in the course of history there was also the influence of humanism, secularism, modernism, and so on in the practice of celebrating the Eucharist. Thus the aspect of eschatology became the least considered element in the celebration. A very good example for this is the fascination for celebration facing the people. Facing the east for all celebrations was the tradition of the Church both in the East and the West for centuries.

The early Church both in the East and the West was fully aware and deeply conscious of the importance of the East. The eschatological note of the early Church was highly remarkable, and the Church at all ages has to rely on it, in order to lead an authentic Christian life. The fact that the Nativity of Jesus, the first appearance of God in the world, was announced by a star in the East (Mt 2:2) might have induced the first Christians to think of a sign in the East, announcing also His second coming, namely, the eschatological fulfilment of Christian existence. Mt 24:27, Lk 1:78, etc., are sure proofs to substantiate this orientation in worship of the early Christian communities.

The authentic Christian existence, whose fundamental dimension is the "already and not-yet", demands that all the faithful fix their eyes always on the "not-yet" when they are in the "already". Hence, it is only natural to a Christian, whether he is in the East or in the West, that he celebrates his Christian existence, i.e., the Divine Liturgy, fixing his eyes on eschatological fulfilment, namely, on the second coming of the Lord. Turning to the East during liturgical celebrations is only a proclamation of one’s faith in all the above said salvific realities.

In the course of time, as at least a few western scholars themselves have remarked, Western Christianity began to be tempted and distracted by this world, its desires and attractions. Consequently they turned their attention away from the "not-yet" and fixed it on the "already". Thus today’s mode of liturgical celebrations in the Western Church, the celebrant facing the people all through. Some of the Eastern Churches are also very much attracted to it, imitating the Western Church.

Every sacrament, and so naturally the Eucharist, is both cosmic and eschatological. It refers at the same time to God’s world as He first created it and to its fulfilment in the Kingdom of God. This world by its own nature has to come to an end. Those who believe in Christ and accept Him as "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6) live in hope of the age to come. "Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come" (Heb 13:14). But the speciality of Christian faith is that this approaching Kingdom of God is abiding with us in signs and symbols. The Church here on earth is the manifestation of the heavenly Kingdom. She herself is a sacrament both cosmic and eschatological.

"She is a sacrament in the cosmic sense because she manifests in "this world" the genuine world of God, as He first created it, as the beginning, and only in the light of and in reference to this beginning can we know the full heights of our lofty calling – and also the depths of our falling away from God. She is a sacrament in eschatological dimension because the original world of God’s creation, revealed by the Church, has already been saved by Christ. And in liturgical experience and the life of prayer it is never severed from that end for the sake of which it was created and saved, that "God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28){A. Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 35}

The Church creates, manifests and fulfils herself in and through the sacraments, above all ‘the Sacrament of sacraments’, the Eucharist, and comes to her fulfilment in the messianic banquet of Christ, in His Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is the content of Christian faith – the goal, the meaning and the content of Christian life. According to the unanimous witness of all Scripture and tradition, it is the knowledge of God, love for Him, unity with Him and life in Him. It is the eternal life. It is for this eternal life that man is created. But he, due to his fall, lost it. The prince of this world began to reign. This world rejected its God and King. But God did not reject this world. He sent His Beloved Son to proclaim the Kingdom of God: "the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand"(Mk 1:15). He won victory over sin and death, and solemnly entered the Kingdom. God "made Him sit at His right hand … and has made Him the head over all things" (Eph 1:20-22). Now, Christ reigns and all His believers belong to His Kingdom.

It is a Kingdom of the world to come. But for those who have believed in Jesus and have accepted Him wholeheartedly, the Kingdom is already here and now. "The Lord has come, the Lord is coming, the Lord will come again" – Maran-tha! or more precisely, Tha Marya Isoh, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:21)

In course of time, Christianity has lost sight of this nearness or "at hand" nature of the Kingdom and began to push it to the end of time or of the world. It became something hoped for, the joyous fulfilment of all hopes and desires or of life itself.
The Christian worship was born and took shape as a symbol of the Kingdom, as the Church’s ascent to the heavenly Kingdom, as her fulfilment as the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. "The whole newness, the uniqueness of the Christian leitourgia was in its eschatological nature as the presence here and now of the future parousia, as the epiphany of that which is to come, as communion with the ‘world to come’"(A. Schemann, p.43)

The supreme ex-pression and experience of the Kingdom was the Eucharist, the mystery of the coming of the risen Lord, of our meeting and communion with Him at His table, in His Kingdom. It was, in fact, a unique and incomparable experience for the early Church. This original, ‘at hand’ eschatological perception of the Eucharist is to be fully revived today according to the desire expressed by the Pope both in his encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia of April 17, 2003 and his Apostolic letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine of October 7, 2004, inaugurating the Eucharistic year.

The Kingdom of God is beautifully expressed and experienced in the temple or the church building. The very construction of it must be conducive to produce this heavenly experience. Standing in the temple we must feel like standing in heaven. Temple is the symbol of both heaven and earth, one manifested in the other, one made a reality in the other. The temple or church in East Syriac tradition is the symbol of cosmos, where heaven (sanctuary) and earth (nave) are projected as inter-related. The centre of the sanctuary is altar, which is the throne of God. The sanctuary veil is the medium through which the earthly choir is given a heavenly experience and the heavenly choir is called to mingle with the earthly choir. One who enters the church, enters heaven and all that it gives.

"All he knows is that he has left his everyday life and has come to a place where everything is different and yet so essential, so desirable, so vital that it illumines and gives meaning to his entire life. Likewise he knows, even if he cannot express it in words, that this other reality makes life itself worth living, for everything proceeds to it, everything is referred to it, everything is to be judged by it – by the Kingdom of God it manifests. And, finally, he knows that even if individual words or rites are unclear to him, the Kingdom of God has been given to him in the church: in that common action, common standing before God, in the ‘assembly’, in the ‘ascent’, in unity and love"(A. Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 47)