Kingdom was «removed» to the end of the world
In the works of
Fr. Alexander Schmemann
Current Christians «removed» the Kingdom to the end of the world: now — only the world;
then — only the kingdom.
The Kingdom of God was «removed» to the end of the world
THE DIVINE LITURGY BEGINS WITH THE SOLEMN DOXOLOGY: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” The Savior likewise began his ministry with the proclamation of the kingdom, the ringing announcement that it has
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying: 'The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand;
repent, and believe in the gospel'”
And it is with desire for the kingdom that the first and foremost of all Christian prayers begins: “Thy Kingdom come…”
Thus, the kingdom of God is the content of the Christian faith — the goal, the meaning and the content of the Christian life. According to the unanimous witness of all scripture and tradition, it is the knowledge of God, love for him, unity with him and life in him. The kingdom of God is
unity with God,
the source of all life, indeed life itself. It is life eternal: “And this is eternal life, that they know thee”
It is for this true and eternal life in the fulness of live, unity and knowledge that man was created. But man lost this in the fall, and by man's sin, evil, suffering and death triumphed in the world. The «prince of the world» began his reigh;
the world rejected its God and King. Yet God did not reject the world: as we pray in the anaphora of St John Chrysostom, “and when we had fallen away
didst nor cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven, and hadst endowed us with Thy kingdom which is to come.” The prophets of the Old Testament hungered for this kingdom, prayed for it, foretold it. It was the very goal and fulfilment of the entire sacred history of the Old Testament, a history holy not with human sanctity (for it was utterly filled with falls, betrayals and sins)
but with the holiness of its being God's preparation for the coming of his kingdom.
And now, “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand”
The only begotten Son of God became the Son of man, in order to proclaim and to give to man forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and new life. By his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead he has come into his kingdom: God “made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named … and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things”
Christ reigns, and everyone who believes in him and is born again of water and the Spirit belongs to his kingdom and has him within himself. “Christ is the Lord” — this is the most ancient Christian confession of faith, and for three centuries the world, in the form of the Roman empire, persecuted those who spoke these words for their refusal to recognize
on earth as lord except the one Lord and one King.
The kingdom of Christ is accepted by faith and is hidden «within us». The king himself came in the form of a servant and reigned only through the cross. There are not external sings of this kingdom on earth. It is the kingdom of «the world to come», and thus only in the glory of his second coming will all people recognize the true king of the world. But for those who have believed in it and accepted it, the kingdom is already here and now, more obvious than any of the «realities» surrounding us. “The Lord has come, the Lord is coming, the Lord will come again.” This triune meaning of the Aramaic expression
contains the whole of Christisnity's victorious faith, against which all persecutions have proven impotent.
At first glance all of this might sound like some sort of pious platitudes. But reread what has just been said and compare it with the faith and «experience» of the vast majority of Christians, and you cannot but be convinced that the is a deep abyss between what we have said and the modern «experience». One can say without any exaggeration that the kingdom of God — the central concept in evangelical preaching — has ceased to be the central content of and inner motivation of the Christian faith. Unlike the early Christians, those of later ages came, little by little, to lose the perception of the Kingdom of God as being «at hand». They came to understand it only as the Kingdom
— at the end and
the end, referring only to the «personal» death of individual believers. «This world» and «the kingdom», which in the gospels are set side by side and in tension and struggle with one another, have come to be thought of in terms of a chronological sequence: now — only the world;
then — only the kingdom. For the first Christians the all-encompassing joy, the truly startling novelty of their faith lay in the fact that the kingdom was
at hand. It
had appeared, and although it remained hidden and unseen for «this world», it was already present, its light has already shone, it was already at work in the world. Then,
as the kingdom was «removed» to the end of the world,
to the mysterious and unfathomable reaches of time, Christians gradually lost their awareness of it as something hoped for, as the desired and joyous fulfilment of all hopes, of all desires, of life itself, of all that the early Church implied in the words «Thy Kingdom come».
It is characteristic that our scholary tomes of dogmatic theology (which cannot, of course, pass over the early doctrine in silence)
speak of the kingdom in quite sparing, dull, and even boring terms. Here,
— the doctrine of the «final destiny of the world and man» — is virtually reduced to the doctrine of «God as the Judge and Avenger». As to piety, i.e., the personal experience of individual believers, the interest is narrowed to the question of one's personal fate «after death». At the same time, «this world», about which St Paul wrote that its form is “passing away,” and which for the early Christians was transparent to the kingdom, reacquired its own value and existence independent of the kingdom of God.