by Rev. Deacon Nicholas Jannakos
What is time? We all live within it, our lives are
determined and regulated by it, but we don’t often use a bit of it to think
about what it is and what it really means. We take it for granted, and yet have
clocks and calendars all over the place to remind us of it.
Even so, we human beings still seem to be very perplexed
and paranoid about time, apparently without realizing it. We are always: running
short of time; out of time; trying to schedule our time, or to find some extra
time; looking to have a good time or just kill some time; afraid of wasting
time, or of not being on time; having too much of it, or not enough of it on our
hands; and frequently asking, ‘What time is it?’ and exclaiming ‘It’s
about time!’ Then when the aging process begins to set in, we also begin to
think: Where has the time gone? How time flies! Are we wasting our time? How
much of it do we have left, and what should we do with it? That is when we may
start to wonder about just what time is, and what it really means to us. And
that is the reason for this article.
As much as I can understand it, there seems to be two
different but simultaneous and interacting aspects of what is called natural
time. (The ancient Greeks called it chronos.) These two aspects have been
called cyclical time and linear time.
Cyclical time is a result of Gods command at the beginning
of creation. It is caused by our earth rotating around its own axis (once every
day, 24 hours), while at the same time rotating around the Sun (once every year,
approximately 52 weeks or 365 days). The time duration called the Week came into
being at the end of the seventh day of creation. Cyclical time is therefore
composed of the day, the week, and the year (and one might say, the four weather
seasons of our planet), constantly repeating themselves. Our wall and desk
calendars keep track of cyclical time for us.
Linear time seems to have begun with the expulsion of Adam
and Eve from the Garden of Eden. All living things on earth experience it as
birth, growth, aging, and death, (which might be thought of as the four seasons
of a lifetime). Linear time also includes the days, weeks, and years of cyclical
time, but instead of repeating themselves they accumulate as decades, centuries,
millennia, and finally as history. We human beings also experience linear time
in our minds as the past (memory), the present (an instant which immediately
dissolves into the past), and the future (a mirage of human hopes, plans,
imagination, fears, etc.). Our minds and all kinds of records keep track of
linear time for us.
The only direct experience we human beings can have of time
is what our physical senses tell us at any given moment. What they tell us
depends on the different phases of the day and season of the year that we are
living in at that moment. Past and future will be experienced in the same moment
by our minds reminding us not only of that which was, but also of that which we
may expect to come. But that moment is instantaneous, and it escapes our grasp
as it immediately dissolves into the past.
The only part of time that we have at our disposal is the
day, and more specifically, only today. With the past and the future available
to us by our minds informing us of what we must, should, and want to do today,
each day will include a continuation as well as a repetition of what we did
yesterday, and planning for what we are to do tomorrow and the foreseeable
future. But each day will also contain anything and everything else that may
come along, pop-up, or be initiated within it. Therefore, each new day, week,
and year will not only be a continuation and repetition of the past, but also
new and unique times.
We all live within these simultaneous and interacting
aspects of natural time. Indeed, our worldly lives, for better or worse, are
governed by all of them. But in the way we normally live it, natural time itself
still seems to be ambiguous and devoid of any real content and meaning for us,
and the knowledge about it completely superfluous to the important issues of our
lives. And that is probably why we don’t give it much deeper thought anyway.
Our Holy Orthodox Church has a different view, knowledge,
and experience of time. She knows and teaches that, through the saving acts of
our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ in human history, the meaning and purpose
of natural time has been revealed. She reveals that it is a gift, the earthly
duration of life given to each one of us personally to “work out our own
salvation with fear and trembling,” from the evil, ignorance and death of the
fallen world in which we live (Philippians 2:12). And She knows and
teaches that our own salvation is worked out in the sacramental and liturgical
life of our Church, while striving to think and act in accordance with
To one degree or another, Orthodox Christians are generally
knowledgeable of the sacramental life of the Church, the teachings of our Lord
while He was here on earth, and how one’s own salvation can be worked out
through them. But it is in the knowledge and meaning of the liturgical life of
our Church and our participation in it that most of us are terribly deficient
The liturgical life of our Church developed over the last
2000 years from that of the first apostles and their successors. Inspired and
guided by the Holy Spirit, it developed into daily, weekly, and yearly cycles of
worship blended into natural time. The saving works of our Lord, God and Savior
Jesus Christ, His Most Holy Mother, and the saints are remembered and praised in
poetry, verse, and song in each service of the Church’s cycles of worship. Our
liturgical life is fully celebrated only in our monastic communities. But they
do so not just for themselves, but for the whole Body of Christ!
A complete explanation of our liturgical life is far beyond
this author’s knowledge and ability. As I understand it, the daily cycle
begins in the evening (as in the Genesis account of the first days of creation)
and consists of Vespers at sundown, Compline, Midnight Office (Nocturnes),
Orthos at sunrise (Matins) with the First Hour (7 AM), and the Third (9 AM),
Sixth (noon), and Ninth (3 PM) hours of prayer.
The weekly cycle commemorates special persons and events
for each of the seven days of the week:
|Sunday, the resurrection of our Lord, and the first day of old and
|Monday, the Archangels and other Bodiless Powers (Holy Angels).|
|Tuesday, St. John the Baptist.|
|Wednesday, the betrayal and crucifixion of our Lord, and the Cross.|
|Thursday, the Holy Apostles and St. Nicholas|
|Friday, the death and burial of our Lord.|
|…and Saturday, the Holy Sabbath, the seventh day of natural time
when the Lord ‘rested’ from His works of creation, and also the day when
He ‘rested’ in the tomb from His works of our redemption. Saturday is
also dedicated to Mother of God, all saints, and the righteous departed.|
And the yearly cycle consists of the movable feasts
associated with Holy Pascha, the fixed feasts of the Lord, His Holy Mother the
Theotokos, the major saints associated with those feasts and of special
importance to the Church, and of saints of special importance to individual
In normal parish life, the daily and weekly cycles of
worship are not usually available. However, for Sundays and feast days, the
services of Vespers and Orthos with the First Hour are usually “joined” to
form a Vigil held on the preceding evening [in common Slav practice], and the
Third and Sixth Hours served together in the morning before the Divine Liturgy.
Where or when it is not possible to hold a Vigil [and in common Greek practice],
Great Vespers is served on the preceding evening, and/or Orthos with some
combination of the Hours before Divine Liturgy in the morning.
The late Paul Evdokimov, noted Orthodox theologian and
author, wrote in one of his books:
“The prayer of the Church was formed in [monasteries]. It provided an
admirable rhythm for the day and night of the monastic community. The people did
not participate in it except on Sundays and feast days; this imposed on the
laity an effort to interiorize it in order that they might find themselves in
the same prayerful rhythm through their hours of work and toil in the world.”
For those interested in finding ‘the same prayerful
rhythm through their hours of work and toil in the world,’ I have listed below
a few excellent References to start from, and assure that the spiritual beauty
of what they will discover in them will be a special reward for ‘taking the
time’ to read them.
The important question is: How can Orthodox Christians,
living and working in a fallen world organized, operating, and governed solely
by natural time, find for themselves the prayerful rhythm of the liturgical life
of the Holy Church? The first step is to gain a basic knowledge and
understanding of its daily, weekly, and yearly cycles of worship. After that,
all that is needed is the yearly Church wall calendar made available by each
parish — posted in many places at home and at an appropriate place at work,
carried in your school backpack or briefcase, and referred to it daily instead
of all the other calendars found everywhere. The Church calendar is a synthesis
of our liturgical life and natural time for each year, and so it helps us to
remember our Church’s truth about time, and by remembering, to make it
mentally present. And if one wants to be really diligent, personal clocks or
wristwatches can be marked to indicate the times for the daily Hours of prayer,
which will help recall to mind the meaning of that period of the day.
I worked in the industrial world for nearly 40 years before
retiring, and I learned that, by having my parish Church calendar posted where I
would see it often during the course of the day, I could tell at a glance where
I was in liturgical time, and so participate in it at least mentally, inwardly.
For me personally, this was the next best thing if I could not actually be in
Church for the occasion.
The degree to which we are truly Orthodox Christians
depends on the degree to which we are living the Holy Tradition of the Church.
And the Holy Tradition of the Church reveals that Orthodox Christianity has
never been nor can It ever be ‘a Sunday morning religion,’ and Orthodox
Christians have never been nor can ever be just ‘Sunday morning
church-goers.’ This means that the more we are participating in the liturgical
life of our Church, the more we are working out our own salvation and redeeming
the time of our lives.
It also may be well for us to realize that Orthodox
Christians do not ‘go to church.’ They assemble at the appointed times and
places to be the Church, and to enter into the presence of their Lord. Those who
attend for other reasons, or, are absent for less than ‘honorable reasons,’
suffer from an inadequate knowledge, understanding, or experience of the Faith,
or simply from unbelief. And then there are some who just prefer to follow their
own worldly desires anyway, rather than accept Christ’s gift of eternal life.
And that, of course, is nothing less than the repetition of the original sin of
Adam and Eve with the same disastrous consequences.
Let us not then ‘neglect so great a salvation.’ Let us
pray to the Lord to grant us His grace “both to will and to do,” and so
redeem the time of our personal lives, and all aspects of natural time, by
working out our own salvation through the liturgical as well as the sacramental
life of our Holy Orthodox Church, while striving to think and act in accordance
with the Gospel teachings of our all-good God who loves mankind. Then and only
then may we begin to feel some degree of security in reaching our goal of
eternal life in the kingdom of heaven — the only goal truly worthy of our
highest priority during our “time” here on earth.
Fr.Dcn. Nicholas Jannakos serves at St. Herman Orthodox Christian Church in Littleton, Colorado.
© 1999-2000 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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© 1999-2000 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).