As a companion to the recent post on the Death of Christ – the Life of Man – I offer this reprint of a short article on “the Great Crisis.” The Great Crisis, if I can coin a term, is the threat of non-existence, or relative non-existence. Classical Orthodoxy, following St. Athanasius, does not see humanity threatened with pure non-existence, but with a dynamic movement towards a “relative” non-existence, which some have described as a “meontic” existence (to get a little technical).
[If you want more on the word, just enter meontic in the search box on the blog and it will take you to more articles that involve this topic, as well as some good discussions.]
This same Great Crisis is the absolute epitome of what the Orthodox faith understands to be sin, or the root of sin. Sin and death are deeply intertwined. As stated in my recent article: Christ died because we are dead.
The Great Crisis is therefore not at all the same thing as an impending punishment from an angry God. This is not our fate. Rather it is the continued living in increasing modes of non-existence as we refuse to live in communion with the Only True God Who is the Lord and Giver of Life. It is this increasing mode of non-existence that is the “wrath of God,” though it is something we do to ourselves.
It is for this same reason that everything within the Orthodox Christian life is understood as a means to living more fully in communion with the One, True God. Every action of the Christian life exists for that purpose.
Because this is true, every work of our salvation begins in communion with God, continues in communion with God, and is fulfilled in communion with God. Thus our lives can never be defined extrinsically (from the outside), but only mystically and existentially. The mystery of our communion with God is not always manifested outwardly, but it will be, inevitably, because it becomes the true source and character of our existence. Thus we look towards the resurrection of the dead, and find nothing odd about the miraculous things associated with the bodies and relics of saints who have “fallen asleep” in the Lord. Nor are we surprised that God uses the material world as a means of communion with us, for all things are being gathered together in one, into Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:10).
And, of course, I only use the term “Orthodox” in describing these things, to note that there is and has always been a living, continual witness to this fullness of life in Christ, in full historical continuity with the Apostolic Church, proclaiming and living the same, one, true Life. This is the Orthodox Church.
The Great Crisis is answered in Pascha (the fullness of Christ’s resurrection) and has never been answered in any other manner. All things that seek to make themselves alien to Pascha, unite themselves to the Great Crisis.
The Great Crisis is not a problem peculiar to the modern world, nor any other period, but has always been present since the moment of man’s rebellion. It is manifest in many ways throughout human life and history, but is always the same – an abandonment of communion with the true and living God.
May God bring us all into the fullness of His Life.
Photo: entering the tomb of St. Lazarus in Bethany.
Great stuff!! Now I wonder if you could contrast this with what you have called “the sickness of religion”? And could you say more on this line?
Without any ability to understand it, it seems that this “fullness” of life relates to our prayers asking God to remember us and our loved ones in His kingdom. Somewhere I heard or read that we live because God remembers us and, that, if He forgot us, we could no longer exist. Logically that makes a bit of sense, but what fascinates me is how often this entreaty is uttered in Orthodox prayers. Asking God to remember us and our loved ones is apparently a prayer for life, and not just for spending, but life in the kingdom. “Remember us in your kingdom.”
God willing, I’ll have a chance to this week. It’s probably the right starting place.
Indeed it is common – echoing the words of the thief on the cross. And, of course, for the departed we pray, “May their memory be eternal,” Vechnaya Pamyat.
Is there any place other than On the Incarnation where St. Athanasius discusses this? I have been reading that piece lately, and although I haven’t found a really suitable name for what he was describing, I’m not sure I would call it ‘relative’ either.