THE "PARTIAL" AND THE "WHOLE" IN THE DIALECTIC OF THE DIVINE ECONOMY

by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia

 

In speaking about "the dialectic of the divine economy", we mean the "logic" which characterises and mystically directs the visible and invisible elements in the entire plan of the structure and operation of the world.

In this "plan" of God for the world, therefore, which involves not only the maintenance and governance of the world, but also its ultimate transfiguration, we are called to see what relationship the "partial" or "fractional" has with the "whole", which is the "fullness".

The partial and the whole may be a physical or temporal dimension. In other words, they may be one part of the material creation (from land, air or water) within the whole of creation, or a portion of time (year, month, week, hour or second) in contrast to the notion of time in general.

Created things are not all shown forth in the course of time (which creates "milestones" as units of time) together, nor do we apprehend them all simultaneously. We imagine them of course as an intelligible sum of visible and invisible entities, but in practice our senses comprehend one after the other, and never all together. In addition, even when we observe the one, we do so from a different viewpoint each time, a different position and angle.

Yet, this temporal and corporal fragmentation of God's creation is only valid for the human person, being only one part of the whole creation, although he recapitulates it. For God, who is the Creator beyond time and space, everything is constantly before His ever-vigilant glance, "exposed" in a permanently undivided present. This is why the Church teaches that God is "everywhere present and fills all things", and that He "is the same yesterday and today and unto all ages" (Heb 13:8).

Thus, we can see that God is never "absent", nor would it be possible for Him to be absent from the world, which He created. How could He be absent from a world which He did not create by chance or force, but rather according to His will and decision, precisely as He wanted it?

For this reason, we say that the world is evolving according to a "plan" of the providence of God.

However, given that God has pre-eternally "laid out" such an important plan for all His creation, all that are visible and invisible in God's world are interconnected and therefore in mutual solidarity: from the greatest composition in the heavenly galaxies, to the last particle of the earth's dust. This immense "brotherliness" and silent "relatedness" of all created things, which came through the same beneficial will from the same fatherly hand, was experienced and chanted in all tones of word or silence by mystics throughout centuries, no matter where they lived. This explains why they did not see enmity anywhere, or division anywhere, or absence or orphanhood anywhere.

It was precisely this great "optimism" in accordance with God, and in God, which St Paul sought to inspire in us when he wrote: "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). It is also very characteristic that St Paul cannot tolerate seeing these three spiritual "conditions" (joy, prayer, thanksgiving) reduced or reliant upon any conventions of this world. For the genuinely faithful person, joy cannot exist under conditions. Nor can prayer occur with intervals, according to the feeling of a particular moment. Nor can thanksgiving be confined only to that which gives us pleasure. The designations "always", "without ceasing" and "in everything" are the expected and appropriate human response to the presence of God everywhere. Moreover, to His infinite mercy; and to His grace which cannot be

Therefore, it is in the fullness of the gifts of divine providence, even within the fractionalised reality of material space and time, that there is a correlation of the fullness of an unreserved faith, which is expressed in the similarly fractionalised reality and perishable conditions of this world. In this way, the "partial" is balanced with the "whole" in the overall plan of the divine economy.

All of the above become even clearer and more easily understood when we examine a specific example. Let us look at the feast of Theophany, which we celebrated recently. The descent of the Holy Spirit during the Baptism of Christ, and the attestation of the Father from above concerning His only-begotten Son, were correctly considered to be the triumphant revelation of the Trinitarian God. This is why the Theophany is also called Epiphany, for we chant "You were revealed today to the universe, and Your Light, Lord, shone upon us ...".

In a specific place, then, (the Jordan River) and in a specific time (today), a certain act refers to the entire creation, since it is precisely this which is "renewed". The specific place and time is the "part", i.e. the "fraction". The renewal which relates to the entire creation is "the whole", i.e. the "fullness".

Further, in analysing the language, which we use to describe Theophany or Epiphany, we encounter the same bipolarity between the "part" and the "whole".

Firstly, the verb "to make to appear" (epiphainomai) suggests something momentary: something which a short while ago could not be seen suddenly changes from being "concealed" to "revealed". The impression is thereby given that there is a contrast between that which is "inside" and that which is "on the surface" (lit. epiphania). A second contrast is implied by the temporal designation "today", since it is silently contrasted with "yesterday", "tomorrow" and "always".

This inner interlacing and continuation between the part and the whole expresses the mystical and continually active law or rule with which God quietly accomplishes the transfiguration of the world.

According to this rule, a priority not only of time but also of value is given to the part; the person comes before the people, which is the whole. The "particular" is that part or person who is sanctified as a "chosen vessel"' (Isaiah 6: 5-7), and whose expenditure of effort makes them the whole. The very word "particular" (i.e. concrete) suggests that the part, which is directly before me, has already been evaluated in relation to other parts which are not "given". In other words it has been compared and combined with them, which is why we can say that the latter determine the value of the former. In this way, the Prophets, Judges and Apostles felt that they were "instruments" or "chosen vessels". The entire "people of Israel were the collective instrument of divine providence in preparation for the evangelisation of the world. This instrument was always expressed with eschatological power through the number 12, which signifies the full measure. There were twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Patriarchs, and twelve Apostles. And despite the collective nature of the instrument, they were only the "part", the "small flock" (c.f. Luke 12:32), the little leaven" which "leavens the whole lump" (c.f. 1 Cor 5:6).

Within such a spiritual "campaign" which God proclaims for the salvation of the world, "joining together" the particular with the general plan, those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will not remain untouched. On the contrary, they will recognise with both gratitude and compunction the "entire programme" in its entire development, already given by the genetic code of DNA, about which modern science speaks. Then there will be no room for "heresy" which is literally a fraction, schism and division. The only language that will have remained "sufficient" and reliable, in terms of expressing the transfigured creation, will have nothing to do with "words" and "thoughts". For that would involve "measuring". And miracles exist by definition beyond all measure, in the praise and doxology of the measureless mercy of God by all created beings, just as the "three youths in the furnace" had sung (c.f. the Service of Holy Saturday).

from Voice of Orthodoxy, vol 20/1-2, January-February 1999
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

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