The Seventh Wednesday after Pascha. Persons in Communion: From Individual to Person (Part II)
The power of love has perhaps been best described by Gregory of Nyssa. He was undoubtedly forced to it by the Origenists, whose Christian belief, though profound, was still permeated with the cyclical outlook of the ancient world. According to the Origenists, souls were in the beginning filled with God and with one another, but were surfeited by the experience. Desiring a change, they then chose a state of separation, cold isolation and opposition. A great frost surrounds and penetrates us which is the fallenness of the world. Christ has come to restore everything to its original condition. But what is to stop the threat of surfeit recurring?
Gregory of Nyssa saw the necessity for a decisive break with the ancient cyclical tradition, and conceived instead the notion of a dynamic eternity, an eternity of communion, beginning here on earth. How can we ever have enough? The more God gives himself to me and fills me with his presence, and the more I find him to be new and inexhaustible, the more I am drawn towards him like the bride in the Song of Songs or like the flight of the dove in the never fading light. The more I come to know him, the more constantly he is to be sought. And in the knowing-unknowing of the neighbor we never come to the end, we can never have too much.
Eternity begins here and now, in our ability to do away with objectification, to see that in Christ the door of clever ignorance which is shut between me and my neighbour is forever broken down. In eternity our neighbour is no longer an impersonal object – ‘that one’ – classified, catalogued, forgotten, but comes to life as profoundly secret, unfathomable as God himself or as I am to myself. Then I am set on a destined path as if entering a land of childhood, knowing very well that, in the words of St Gregory, it will take me all eternity to go ‘from beginning to beginning, by way of beginnings without end’ (Commentary on the Song of Songs, PG,XLIV,941 A). Eternity is a first time, continually renewed.
The miracle of the first time: the first time you realized that this person would be your friend, the first time, in childhood, that you heard that heart-rending music, the first time that your child smiled at you, the first time… Then you become used to it. But eternity means becoming unused to it. The more I know God, and my neighbour in the light of God, the more God is revealed, and my neighbour also, as blessedly unknown.
‘Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ In Christ I lose my life and receive the Spirit, who is Life itself. In Christ I lose my life, Another receives me and I receive the other. And every other person whom I receive is a wound by which I lose my life, and by which I find it. Christianity is the religion of faces.
Christianity means that God, for us, has become a face and reveals the other as a face. Macarius the Great says that the spiritual person becomes all face, and his face all expression. What can a face that is all expression be but a saving breach in the constricting vastness of the world?
There is nothing more thrilling than interplanetary travel, soon perhaps intergalactic travel. We must explore our prison. But it is a prison without limits. For us the only way out is a face, and first of all, the one on our television screens, the face of the cosmonaut wrapped in empty space. The explorer is greater than what he explores, the expression on his face is all that saves us from nothingness. And if his expression should harden, if his face should close, we know that secretly there is an expression that is always welcoming, that the face of Christ is never closed.
~Olivier Clement, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology