Baptizing language and redeeming the time.
It is customary at Festal Liturgies for Orthodox Christians to greet one another with the words “happy feast” or “blessed feast.”
Last Saturday after the Divine Liturgy commemorating Saint Katherine – who is the patron Saint of our parish, I said Chronia Polla (Happy Feast) to my friend Mary from Kalamata, Greece. She replied to me “και του χρόνου” which directly translated means “and time” or “with time” but really says may we be here to celebrate it next year too. Recently, I learned that on Mount Athos monks say this to one another with the Paschal greeting.
It struck me deeply that this is a gentle language of repentance and of remembering the Lord – it’s a way of saying that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Monastics often encourage us to “remember our death” (to american ears that may not seem like such an encouragement because we spend much time and effort to avoid it, yet it is an encouragement – it is the absolute best encouragement we can receive!).
Remembrance of death is actually remembrance of God. It is a reminder that we are not guaranteed tomorrow – a holy reality check – which actually serves to bring us to the present moment, for the present moment is a most blessed space and time in which to be.
The present moment with its joys, wounds, blessings, anguish, celebrations, remorse and sometimes even tears is where we live the Gospel commandments. It is also where we fall short of them. The present, most fully found in the Divine Liturgy and services of the Church, is where we also find and live our repentance and where we learn to redeem or sanctify the time while sharing in Eternity.
We give alms, pray, Confess and receive the Mysteries of the Church in the present. One could just easily leave every Confession with the words “και του χρόνου” because truly no one of us knows whether this Confession will be our last, whether this Eucharist will be our last, whether this Liturgy will be our last.
I am not a native speaker of Greek, in fact I really don’t speak Greek at all – save for the words in the Liturgy, but the more I listen in recent years the more I see how the Greek language in particular, has been baptized over 2,000 years and molded and shaped by the Faith. These are not mere words, because the heart always follows. Rather than a rote response it always grounds and orients our hearts to the Lord.
Although we are heading now toward the Nativity my friend’s response brought Pentecost to my heart. And we should fervently pray, that one day – our land will have been Orthodox long enough that the English language will encompass the heart of the Faith too such that words of life flow effortlessly from our hearts to our lips too.
και του χρόνου and may God grant us all many years…
Side note :
In 2012, my family made a trip to France and visited Normandy. The pictures above are from a village called Mont Saint Michel, which actually began as a small Church and grew into a monastic community that flourished in medieval times. The abbey village appears to float on the water, because it is surrounded by water, in fact the tides rise and fall by as much as 15 meters each day transforming the beautiful surrounding landscape. One of the most striking sights in the village for our family is this cemetery, because it is surrounded by windows of homes and that is what struck us so deeply about it.