Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Witness of the Orthodox Church

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Witness of the Orthodox Church

Article excerpt

Seizing the kairos

The end of the 20th century and the start of a new millennium is an apt occasion to remind ourselves that time is a gift of grace, a sacrament of the divine presence, and that our Saviour Jesus Christ is Lord of time, King of the ages, Ruler of history, holding all seasons, centuries and millennia in his own power, drawing them all to their final consummation in the age to come.

Shortly before the opening blessing in the divine liturgy, the deacon says to the celebrating priest "Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio" -- words from Psalm 118 [119]: 126, which may be best translated "It is time for the Lord to act". The Greek word used here for "time" is kairos, meaning time understood as personal, living and existential, time experienced as the decisive moment, the moment of crisis, the moment of opportunity. To liturgize is precisely to seize the kairos, the moment of life and action; it is to be gathered and concentrated in the "here" and "now" where eternity intersects with time.

On the threshold of a new millennium, how are we as Orthodox to understand the present moment, our immediate moment of opportunity? What is the kairos that we are being invited to seize? In what ways are we being called to repent and to "change our mind"? Using this same word kairos, St Paul writes: "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). How are we to interpret and to live out this grace-given "now", poised as we are at the end of one century and the start of another?

If we are to understand the immediate kairos, if we are to live creatively in the present moment, we must also look back to the past, for without an appreciation of the past our sense of the present lacks depth. What have been the crucial events in Orthodox history during the 20th century? What have been the outstanding features in our Orthodox witness over the past ten decades? What have we done, and what have we left undone? Where have we failed, and how can we do better? I shall centre my reflections on these questions on three key terms: martyria, diaspora, hesychia.


Martyria means "witness" or "testimony", but also "martyrdom"; more specifically "witness through martyrdom".

Looking back on the 20th century, we see at once that-the outward situation of the Orthodox church has been shaped by two events, separated by an interval of only five years: by the Russian revolution of 1917, and then in 1922-23 by the Greek defeat in Asia Minor and the compulsory "exchange of populations" between Greece and Turkey -- "ethnic cleansing", as we would call it today.

The atheist persecution of Russian Christians, following the 1917 communist revolution -- a persecution extended after the second world war to Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and the other countries of Eastern Europe -- has meant that, for the great majority of Orthodox believers during much of the 20th century, the call to follow Christ was in the most direct and literal sense a call to cross-bearing, to what the liturgy of St Basil calls "life-creating" death. "Behold, through the cross joy has come to all the world," we proclaim at Sunday matins; and the meaning of these words through the cross was experienced with an overwhelming intensity during the 20th century by the Orthodox Christians of Russia and Eastern Europe (as by many other Christians as well).

The events in Asia Minor during 1922 and 1923 were more limited in their impact. Yet at the time the sufferings of the two million Greek Orthodox in Turkey were indeed severe. We have no exact record of how many of them were massacred in Smyrna and elsewhere, of how many others died in transit before they could be resettled in Greece, but it must amount to hundreds of thousands. Moreover, the Greeks who in 1923 were allowed to remain in the city of Constantinople have more recently lived in ever-increasing fear: there were anti-Christian riots in Constantinople in 1955, a constant expulsion of Orthodox from the city during the 1960s and 1970s, the continuing attacks on the ecumenical patriarchate today. …

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