Saturday, March 26, 2011

The hour cometh and now is . . . (Fr Lev Gillet)

Thinking about today’s Gospel reading, I recalled - and then found! - some famous words of Fr Lev Gillet (1893 - 1980), who usually wrote as “A Monk of the Eastern Church”). In many ways he was a prophetic figure who simultaneously struggled with and luxuriated in the diversity of Christian witness in the world today. His first and greatest work, “The Jesus Prayer”, has inspired me since my youth. It remains a must for Christians of East and West who desire to grow in God. Of course, he was a man of the Tradition, and of the Sacraments. But there is certainly a dimension in what he says here that we do well to remember - and embrace - as we live alongside and share with Christians of other traditions.

Where Jesus is, there is the Church. Whoever is in Jesus is in the Church. If the invocation of the Holy Name is a means of union with Our Lord, it is, also a means of union with that Church which is in Him and which no human sin can touch.

This does not mean that we are closing our eyes to the problems of the Church on earth, to the imperfections and disunity of Christians.

But we only deal here with this eternal, and spiritual, and "unspotted" side of the Church which is implied in the Name of Jesus. The Church thus considered transcends all earthly reality. No schism can rend her. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: "Believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4 .1, 23).

There is an apparent contradiction in the words of Our Lord: how could the hour be still coming and yet already be?

This paradox finds its explanation in the fact that the Samaritan woman was then standing before Christ. On the one hand the historical opposition between Jerusalem and Garizim still existed, and Jesus, far from treating it as a trifling circumstance, emphasized the higher claims of Jerusalem: 'Ye worship ye know not what. We know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews" (John 4.22). In that sense the hour was not yet, but was still coming. On the other hand the hour already was, because the woman had before her Him who is greater than Jerusalem or Garizim, Him who "will tell us all things" (John 4.25) and in Whom alone we can fully "worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4.24).

The same situation arises when, invoking the Name of Jesus, we cling to His Person. Assuredly we do not believe that all the conflicting interpretations of the Gospel which we hear on earth are equally true nor that the divided Christian groups have the same measure of light. But, fully pronouncing the Name of Jesus, entirely surrendered to His Person and His claims, we implicitly share in the wholeness of the Church, and so we experience her essential unity, deeper than all our human separations.

- Fr Lev Gillet, The Jesus Prayer, Part 2, Section 8 (I have broken up this long paragraph for the ease of modern readers.)


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