When I saw notice of the publication of Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought and the Eastern Christian Tradition (Bloomsbury Continuum: London, 2021) by Rowan Williams, I could understand "Looking East" because of the sub-title but "In Winter" had me flummoxed. Was this something about unthawed relations between Eastern and Western Christianity? Why not "Spring" (perhaps there is a new season of life in Eastern Orthodoxy?) or "Summer" (perhaps there is a new sense of warmth in Eastern and Western relationships)? It's spring as I write here Down Under, hence the title of this post.
In fact, as Rowan Williams explains,
"The book's title picks up an image used by the great fifth-century writer Diadochos of Photike ...: looking east in winter we feel the warmh of the sun on our faces, while still sensing an icy chill at our backs. Our divided and distorted awareness of the world is not healed instantly. But we are not looking at this phenomenon from a distance: we do truly sense the sun on our face; and we have good reason to think that the climate and landscape of our humanity can indeed be warmed and transfigured. And, as Yannaras so stresses, this is the promise that the Church must embody if it is to be credible in what is at the moment a notably wintry world." (p.8)
Now, this is a marvellous book and I am loving its insights into something I know little about but am drawn to, Eastern Orthodox theology. Maybe in another post I'll say something about what generally excites me about Eastern Orthodoxy, a la Rowan Williams doing a wonderful "insights from massive survey of the literature" job for me. But here I want to focus on something he says which I find to be illuminating about the eucharist.
In the chapter entitled "Liturgical Humanism" Williams explores the matter of the relationship between liturgy and engagement with the world, and writes,
"But if what we most want and need to proclaim and to share with our world is the fleshly reality of the new community, the possibility of a transition into the new world that connects us with the depths of the familiar world, we need to keep liturgical action at the centre of our vision. As the Orthodox tradition represented by Clément and others insists, the question that we should be asking ourselves about liturgy in our churches is not whether it is instructive, even instantly intelligible, let alone entertaining, but whether it looks as though it is grounded in listening to the Word and event that has interrupted human solipsism;* whether it looks as though it is credibly changing the vision and the policies of those participating, so that they are awakened to the active realities of person, liberty, communion and - ultimately - resurrection."
*I assume Williams means by this the interruption of the world by the Incarnation.
I understand Williams to be saying (i.e. plausibly saying to Anglicans who read his book and delve into the mysteries of Eastern Orthodox theology) is this:
Critical to our witness to the world that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died and rose to inaugurate a new comunity (i.e. new kingdom, a new society) is that the world sees the reality of the new community here and now as a community living in this space and time and anticipating a new space and time (or timelessness).
And that new community is made by the eucharist for which we gather to both recall the death and resurrection of Jesus, look forward to his coming again and join our sacrifice of praise with the heavenly praise of God Father Son and Holy Spirit.
And for us Western Christians, who may get all that without Eastern theologians assistance, there is the possibility that what we may not get without their insights is that the eucharist should be a listening to Jesus as the Word of God who has broken into the world and disrupted the world in such a way that our experience of the Incarnation-via-eucharist transforms us and how we engage with the world so that the world sees us as fully alive (i.e. resurrection-people) and prototypically living out the new community of Jesus the Incarnate One.
Implicitly we are being challenged through such Eastern Orthodox theologians to be disatisfied with notions of the eucharist as "something we Anglicans do, but other Protestants don't value in quite the same way," or "I like going to Mass, it helps me to process the week I have had and to be ready for the week to come," or "It's so neat that Jesus meets me and tells me he loves me as I eat the bread and drink the wine," or "I like the eucharist because it reminds me that Jesus has forgiven all my sins." All such statements are perfectly fine as statements describing what happens in the eucharist/Mass but they are not the fullness of the theology of communion which Williams is advancing here.
What do you think?