"Christianity brings together three fundamental truths. First of all, the Bible and the Church both proclaim the truth of, what I would call, "the experience of Creation." Oh, I am not speaking now about how creation was revealed through seven days, through proteins, or exactly how old Adam was when he was created, things like that. Those things are absolutely not important. What is important — when we say "Creation," is revealed every evening when we sing Psalm 104, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name..." This is the affirmation of the essential goodness of the world — the Divine Image in it. "The heavens proclaim Thy glory!" Maybe the authors of Bible had no traumatic experiences? Maybe they had never gone through psychological nervous breakdowns? Of course people in this world have always suffered. How then did that Book appear, which is one endless hymn of Doxology, of glorification?
This is the first affirmation: Everything is good. The Greek fathers say, "Don’t you ever dare to say the devil is bad. He is bad by behavior, but he is good by nature." Or else, you go back to the dualism of the extreme "good god/bad god." The devil is the most perfect creation of God. That is why he became so powerful and so bad, ontologically speaking.
Now, the second affirmation: This world is fallen. Not because of one little transgression — that famous apple. (Why apple? I don’t know who decided that the forbidden fruit was an apple. I have tried to find out, but I never could.) The world has rejected goodness, has rejected first of all, God, who is goodness. And, therefore, the whole world is fallen — not just some things in the world. Not, for instance, extramarital love as opposed to marital love, or cognac as opposed to tomato juice: the whole world is fallen. Marriage is fallen. And tomato juice is fallen, not only bourbon. Everything has become fallen. The best religion is first among the most fallen things of all! Because religion replaces joy about God with calculations: how many candles, how many dollars, how many rules, how many commandments, how many Fathers, how many sacraments, how many?... — "Numerical theology." So, everything is fallen. Everything has become darkened. And here the Orthodox Christian would immediately say: "Yes, the world is sick, mutilated, fundamentally mutilated by sin. But, it still sings the divine glory! It is still capable of God!"
And finally, the third affirmation: The world is redeemed. But it is redeemed not in order to guarantee success, even of the excellent fiscal policy of Dr. Stockman. It is redeemed not in order to assure that we will have "tomorrows that sing." The redemption occurs now, right now. This is Christian eschatology. It is not only an eschatology of the future. Yes, every day, many times a day, we say: "Thy Kingdom come." And it comes now. That famous French formula, Metro, boulot, dodo, is exactly what is being redeemed. Redemption does not mean the replacement of all those inevitable mundane things with meaningful jobs. What job is meaningful, by the way? Every job, which has had three Mondays in its history, already becomes meaningless, or at least to some extent oppressive. Redemption means exactly that of which St. John writes in his epistle: "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the eternal life which was made manifest to us." And this is the paradox, the antinomy, the message, which Christians could not endure because it was too much for them. It is much easier to have a little religion of the past, present and future, of commandments and prescriptions. Of saying that God did not love the world; He loved the good things in the world. He loved people who did go to church. He loved people who contributed (although it is tax-deductible, but still it is good that they contribute), and so on and so forth. Redemption means that the Kingdom which is to come has already come, it is in the midst of us.
The great drama of redemption takes place all the time. And this point of view, this eschatology, this doctrine, this faith in the ultimate is what the early church held together. The church was persecuted. She was denied. The Roman Empire said to Christians: "You cannot exist." But read the early Christian prayers, and you will see that they are cosmic, they are historic. Nero! My goodness, what a horrible guy he was! And at that time Paul writes to Timothy and says, "Pray first of all . . . for kings and for all that are in authority." (1 Tim. 2:2) He does not say, "Picket!" He does not say, "Go to—!" He says, "Pray for them." Why? Because the church is not a little forum for social reforms. It introduces, it reiterates the single fact that the history of the world’s redemption, for which we are responsible, takes place in our hearts, and that Kingdom, that light, which comes to us, is the only power left with us — the realized, inaugurated eschatology of the Kingdom and, at the same time, the real knowledge of the Kingdom. The knowledge that nothing is solved by recipes and therapies, but, when a man decides to know the truth of all things, he, like Saint Anthony of the Desert, the great father of monasticism, turns to God. Anthony went to the desert and asked God for the ability to see the devil always. Because the devil always takes the form of an angel of light. The devil is always one who says something sentimental, nice, good. And finally God gave Anthony the ability to see the devil. And then, while still within the dimensions of human existence, for the saint this world became the Kingdom.
This ultimate experience of the Kingdom holds together that, which I call the "triune intuition"— created, fallen, redeemed. Created: it means good. It means that the foundation of everything, which we question in our utopianism and our escapism, is good. However, everything can also be bad. Systems? Metro, boulot, dodo? But perhaps all systems are merely caricatures of that which truly is the fate of man? Someone would come to me and say: "I can’t take a meaningless life. The subways, the beds, the breakfasts, the venison, and so on and so forth..." And I would reply: Christ couldn’t take it either. He died on the cross. And Paul said: "Whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31) The other day, I was preaching in Montreal, and one man came up to me and said: "Thank you for teaching me that I can read even the Wall Street Journal to the glory of God." Yes, of course you can. The glory of God is not only in Mr. Ralph Nader's office, believe me. It is wherever a man wants it to be.
There is this intuition of the created, and then — of the fallen world. Let’s be realistic. Let us not subscribe to the idea that just one more institute, one more think tank, one more discovery, one more therapy and finally evil will be taken care of. Evil is here, all around us. But, we don’t have to panic. We do not have to immediately go overboard and escape, no! I recall that little 16-year-old French boy who was playing ball, and some Jesuit came up and said: "You are playing ball! Suppose Christ were to come back today. What would you do?" And the boy answered: "Play ball." He did not think there was anything wrong with playing ball.
Sometimes, I feel like I joined a kind of metaphysical Peace Corps made out of Christianity. Very often in Geneva, when I used to go to ecumenical meetings, I heard the expression "churches, synagogues, and other agencies." I was not baptized into an agency. And I think that everyone is free not to be part of an agency. Keep me out of it.
And so, there is this vision of the created, fallen, and redeemed world. Until this triune vision broke apart, there was no way for our culture, which is rooted in the Gospel, to either go all the way into utopianism or all the way into escapism. And today, the real intellectual and spiritual work that we, Christians, face is not simply to choose either Utopia or Escape. It is not to sell religion as a little Valium, a holy Valium pill. Our real challenge is to recover that, which I call the fundamental Christian eschatology. Whatever the Other World is (and we know nothing about it) this Other World is first of all revealed to us here and now. Nowhere else, but here. If we do not know it today, we will never discover it. If we cannot find the Kingdom of God, I repeat again, in Chicago, Wilmington, Times square, and so on, we will never find it anywhere else. If you think we can find it somewhere in Transvaal, and you are rich enough, go there. And you will find that it is no different there from what it is here.
When my friend, the sociologist Peter Berger, recently criticized the modern idea that Paradise is always somewhere very far from Manhattan, from factories, but somehow it is always found in a commune in northern Vermont, where we bake our own bread and have children in common, — he said: "Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, when God speaks of the symbol for His Kingdom, that Kingdom is a city, not a little farm in Vermont." And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, descending from heaven. (Rev.21:2) And Jerusalem is of course a city.
The fundamental Christian eschatology has been destroyed by either the optimism leading to the Utopia, or by the pessimism leading to the Escape. If there are two heretical words in the Christian vocabulary, they would be "optimism" and "pessimism." These two things are utterly anti-biblical and anti-Christian.
It is for us, Christians, to reconstruct this unique faith, in which there are no illusions, no illusions at all, about the evil. We simply cannot afford a cheap faith that just requires from us to give up smoking and drinking, a small religion that promises that you just quit drinking coffee and tomorrow will start singing. Our faith is not based on anything except on these two fundamental revelations: God so loved the world, and: The fallen world has been secretly, mysteriously redeemed.
We are people of a certain tradition, of a certain culture. I do not speak about a specific religious heritage of our culture, the cathedrals of Chartres, of Notre Dame, or about great religious poetry. I am speaking about the unique culture, about the reality, and about the faith that produced people like Dante and Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, the faith in which all that I am trying to say is perfectly expressed: there is real evil, and there is real good. There is the world, which is loveable, and there is the world, which is hateful. There are vertical and horizontal dimensions of human life. Nothing is betrayed. Nothing is mutilated. When there is joy, that joy is full. When there is sadness, that sadness if full. Life cannot be reduced to those psychological gravies and all kinds of similar things. I really feel that the only true kind of religion is the religion, which is cosmic, religion, which does not deny the Fall. Religion, which bears witness to not only the belief in, but also the experience of the redemption that takes place here and now. And this belief and experience will condemn, as two heresies, both utopianism and escapism.
"When the Son of Man comes back, will He find faith on earth?"(Lk. 18:
Maybe we are headed for a catastrophe. It is not for the Christian church to guarantee that everything will be bigger and better. This is utopianism. On the other hand, we have to also exclude escapism as a betrayal of God, who so loved the world. These two realities — the fallen world that was created good — must be kept together, antinomically. This is the conditio sine qua non, which the Christians always were able to find in the very acts by which the Church was defined. One was the proclamation of the Good News — evangelion. And the other one was the Sacrament of Thanksgiving. That great eucharistia, thanksgiving, which teaches us: You want to understand what something is? Of course, you can buy a dictionary, or you can buy an encyclopedia. You want to know what the human body is? Buy, of course, a book of anatomy, etc. But if you really want to know what anything in this world is, start by thanking God for it. Then you will not fall into the heresy of reducing: man — to economy and to sex, nature — to determinism. Then you will know that man became man, not because he invented the wheel, — important as it may have been. Not because he is the Homo Sapiens, or because he discovered the logic of Aristotle. But, he became man when he became Homo Adoratus, the man who gives thanks. The man who is not saying to God, I am entitled to it, it is my constitutional right to always have this or that. It is the man who, by thanking God, all of a sudden, exclaims: "Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory." If only we will return — from our lapse, from our confession, from our morbidity, or from our cheap optimism — to the spiritual oxygen of that cosmical thanksgiving, which provides for us the terms of reference, the context of our existence, which transforms that famous Metro, boulot, dodo! If only we could recover that — and, my goodness, no resources are missing, — we would be not passive followers of that growing polarization: either Utopia or Escape (and by "we" I mean believers, for whom God is still a Reality). We would be active participants in the constant process of saving the world, the world, which God has created, the world, which has fallen, the world, which is being redeemed — by those who believe in redemption."
Protopresbyter Fr. Alexander Schmemann, "Between Utopia and Escape"