Word Magazine May 1985 Page 5-6
SELECTIONS FROM THE WRITINGS OF THE MOST BLESSED IGNATIUS IV PATRIARCH OF ANTIOCH AND ALL THE EAST
“BEHOLD, I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW”
It is a remarkable fact that the phrase, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5), is the only one in the Book of Revelation that is pronounced by “him who sits upon the throne.” All the other revelations in this book are transmitted to Saint John by an angel, “a fellow servant with you” (Rev. 22:8-9), or are proclaimed by the Lord Jesus (Rev.1:11ff. and 22:16). If we look in the New Testament for other “moments” when the Father Himself speaks, we find only three:
1.) The “moment” of Jesus’ Baptism: “Lo, a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).
2.) The “moment” of the Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35; cf. II Peter 1:17-18).
3.) The supreme “moment,” or rather “the hour,” when all things were renewed — Pascha: “Then a voice came from Heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’” (John 12:28-30), and Jesus makes it clear, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine” (John 12:30).
It was for us also that Jesus “sent his angel with this testimony for the churches” (Rev. 22:16), this revelation which is the source of all the things, “Behold, I make all things new.” This proclamation gives us life, movement and being. It is the creative Word itself. It is not something for tomorrow, something that will happen at the End; it is creatively at work today; it has been at work “since the beginning.”
Today the Prince of Life confronts the prince of this world. In Christ death has been vanquished; but in the descendent of woman death has still to be overcome (Rev. 12:17). Thus the structure of this world is not only that of a dialogue animated by the gift of the Logos; it is also demonological, traversed by the devil. In other words, the advent of “the new thing” in history “appears” as a combat against death. This “new thing” can only be a Paschal drama.
The “new thing” is accomplished once and for all time in the death and resurrection of the incarnate Logos. From that time on the structure of history is Paschal, in the proper theological sense of “passage” from this world to a new creation.
From a biblical perspective of history it is obvious that the new creative thing is not explained by the past but by the future. It is obvious that the action of the Living God is bound to be creative, but the wonderful thing about the God who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is that His creative act comes from the future. It is prophetic. This God “comes” into the world as if to meet it. He goes before the world calling it, telling it to move along, He makes it larger and freer. Any other god is a false god, an idol, a dead god, and it is high time that we buried him. This god in many forms inhabits the “old” consciousness of man, is in fact behind man as a cause; he commands, he organizes, he pulls man back and alienates man from his true nature. There is nothing prophetic about this old god; on the contrary, he always comes afterwards as a reason for what is inexplicable, or as a last resort for men who are irresponsible. This false god is as old as death, he is an idol made by human hands, and man is jealous of him (Gen. 3); he is the product of diabolic falsehood, not the expression of the true Logos. This old god is dead, in actual fact; but he will not be dead in history, until all things are new. There is no theology of that god. No, the New Creation enters the world with the world. It does not invent itself, nor prove its own existence; it reveals itself. One may either welcome it or reject it, but it comes as an event. That is why the last words of the Bible were bound to be apocalyptic, a “revelation.” The main theme of the Book of Revelation, the key to history, the meaning of what is truly new and creative is “He is and He is coming.”
The Church as a Confessing Community in the Middle East
When I speak of the Church over which I preside, I do not set it in a country but in a region — the Middle East. We are a minority in that region; this fact has psychological as well as ecclesiastical, or rather ecclesial, repercussions.
The Church in our region is face to face with other religions, and by religion I do not mean only Islam but also the political religions. One sometimes forgets that these religions are over against ours. And it is necessary to take some sort of position vis-a-vis them, but not against them.
It seems that everyone has the right to speak out openly against the Church, and against Christ and Holy Scripture, but the Church and Scriptures do not have the same right to express themselves in face of, or over against, the others. Many seem to find this normal, but we do not; we in our region would like to be able to speak out because we believe that our long history shows that we are truly rooted there, that we are authentically there, an integral part of it and at home there by the will of God and not by some historical accident. We are called to witness, therefore, in a certain way.
We have the great hope that God is not just behind us in history but also ahead of us. He is the object of our hope. We believe deeply that the future belongs to God. For us, witness is carried on in the community and through the community, by grace, modestly, and in humility. We sow and then leave to God the time of harvest.
The Church belongs to the very heart of God’s intentions. Every Orthodox believes that the Church is an expression of God’s will on earth. That is why we take it very seriously and do not regard it as a kind of committee, an office, an administration, or a rigid body. That which is understood by the word “Church” is exactly that which is understood by the word “community.” Whenever an Orthodox speaks of community he is ipso facto speaking of the Church and if the Church is not that, it has no raison d’etre at all. It could be replaced by other agencies established to fulfill certain practical purposes. For me, what we call the confessing community, the Church, is made up of three components.
The first component is the family. For us the concept of the family is absolutely essential for the life of the Church. Why? Because above all, life in a community is existential; it is not something rational and conceptual. What is it in family life which foreshadows for us the full life of the Church? Foremost is love. This love gives rise to a faith and trust in others; it gives rise to hope in the total family life and manifests itself in both sacrifice and joy.
The second is the religious community, which is a model of the community-at-large. We are often self-centered, concerned about only our own interests. But in the religious community personal interests, when they exist, take second place, with the interests of the other having first place. In the religious community one admits that “My sin is the cause of all this in the world.” Then the question of purification becomes very important. This purification can only take place by our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. In the religious life we refuse to recognize any other saviour than the Lord, any other spirit than the Holy Spirit, and any other god than the Father.
The third component is more serene. It does not have the tensions that exist between the reality of this world and the reality that is asked by God and the Scriptures; it is the community of the saints. The saints are heroes; they are fools. In their spiritual life for God they are people who are ready to be called crazy. The saints who contemplate God do not have the kind of split personality that many of us have. One of our biggest problems is that we are split apart, so disoriented that we no longer see the relationship and the unity between the many diverse elements that we try to hold together. A very important element in the community of saints is unity. They are one in the Lord; they are one around the Lord. They prefigure the Kingdom for which we hope and pray.
This element of unity, so necessary in the life of both the family and the religious community, is the unity of the community of the saints. This unity is an expression of love. Where there is disunity there is a failure of love. Those who love each other do not find that their differences lead to schism, to division, to separation, to antagonism.
Here, it seems to me, are the components of the life of the confessing community; together they show us the confessing community at its most dynamic and in its truest form.