The Christian, and therefore the monastic, has a peculiar relationship to time. The coming (parousia) of Jesus Christ has established two poles which radically alter the Christian’s relationship to this age in which we presently live. Though not removed from this age, we might say that this age is removed from us – we are free from the “weak and beggarly elements of this world [or age]” (Gal. 4, 9). How is this so?
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Galatians 4, 4.
Fr. Gabriel notes that this coming (parousia) of Jesus Christ in the fullness of time brings a fundamental change in the character of time. The ever continuing flow of the river of time receives a a definite end: the second coming (parousia) of Jesus Christ. It is toward this second parousia of Jesus Christ (in glory, Matt. 16, 26) that the Christian (and therefore the monastic also) looks forward. The life of a Christian is oriented toward that end (goal) and cannot be oriented toward (and therefore subject to) the “weak and beggarly elements” of this present age. The monastic is not to be conformed to this world (age) St. Paul reminds us (Rom. 12, 2). The things of the present age are always decaying, subject to time, becoming outdated and obsolete. They are ever replaced by the next generation. The things of this world inevitably “sink into the bottomless abyss of forgetfulness (Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 16).” Not so for the Christian:
The monk is named a monk because he converses with God by day and by night and is entirely attentive to the things of God and does not possess anything earthly.
Fr. Gabriel Bunge, citing St. Macarius the Great in Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 16.
The time between the first and second parousia of Jesus Christ is therefore always to be viewed as subject to the absolute end of time and history. This should not be understood as to denude the present time of its significance, after all, today has eternal significance (Hebr. 3, 13-15) !
But there is more to be said about the Christian and his relation to time. We must also consider the relationship between the Christian and the new beginning because the Christian is in fact a new creature (Col. 4, 5) which is made possible by the first coming of Jesus Christ. The first and second coming of Jesus Christ are, obviously, not mere temporal facts. Jesus Christ having once come and now returning is today present in the Holy Spirit, the Other Comforter. It is this Spirit which empowered the Apostles at Pentecost and effects our salvation in Jesus Christ by the Sacraments of the Church.
The Christian always reaches back to That which was from the beginning (1 John 1, 1) because this beginning is not a mere chronological fact. Rather this beginning is an absolute, existence enabling new beginning.
Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 16.
This new beginning prevents the sliding away into the time of the present age and it establishes and renews the koinonia with those that were eye witnesses from the beginning (1 John, 1, 3). These eye-witnesses are the only authentic witness to this beginning and only they make possible that we gave access to the beginning at all. Just as Christian life so likewise is the monastic life rooted in this reaching back to That which was from the beginning.
St. Anthony the Great did not intend to create a new, never seen before, experiment of Christian life when he decided to retire to the desert. Far from it. His was an attempt to fulfill what was commanded of him in the Gospel and to entirely live up to the standard of the apostolic Christian community. Fr. Bunge notes that even St. Anthony’s rule of life is a deliberate attempt to practice the apostolic commandments to eat from his own labour (2 Thess 3, 10), to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5, 17), and the attentive reading of the Holy Scriptures (1 Tim. 4, 13) as recorded by St. Athanasius the Great in his The Life of St. Anthony (3, 6).
This is not to say that it is easy to find the right balance in living a life between the beginning which the first coming of Christ established and the end which his second coming will inaugurate. The temptation to be conformed to this age is always present to the Christian and to monastics as well. Fr. Gabriel reveals that the purpose of his book Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter is to provide the contemporary monastic with some criteria by which he will be able to live a monastic life in this present age without conforming to this age . To enable him to be monastic in the sense that St. Macarius viewed the monastic life. The Rule of Saint Benedict provides, so assures Fr. Gabriel his readers, an excellent starting point because though it is ancient it has not lost any of its relevance as a guide to begin living a true monastic life.
Fr. Gregory Wassen