St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Joy of the Kingdom

by Father Alexander Schmemann

We cannot answer the world's problems by adopting towards them an attitude either of surrender or of escape. We can answer the world's problems only by changing those problems, by understanding them in a different perspective. What is required is a return on our part to that source of energy, in the deepest sense of the word, which the Church possessed when it was conquering the world. What the Church brought into the world was not certain ideas applicable simply to human needs, but first of all the truth, the righteousness, the joy of the Kingdom of God.

The joy of the Kingdom: it always worries me that, in the multi-volume systems of dogmatic theology that we have inherited, almost every term is explained and discussed except the one word with which the Christian Gospel opens and closes. "For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy" (Luke 2:10) - so the Gospel begins, with the message of the angels. "And they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52) - so the Gospel ends. There is in fact no theological definition of joy. For we cannot define that sense of joy which no one can take away from us, and at this point all definitions are silent. Yet only if this experience of the joy of the Kingdom in all its fullness is again placed at the centre of theology, does it become possible for theology to deal once more with creation in its true cosmic dimensions, with the historic reality of the fight between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the prince of this world, and finally with redemption as the plenitude, the victory and the presence of God, who becomes all in all things.

What is needed is not more liturgical piety. On the contrary, one of the greatest enemies of the Liturgy is liturgical piety. The Liturgy is not to be treated as an aesthetic experience or a therapeutic exercise. Its unique function is to reveal to us the Kingdom of God. This is what we commemorate eternally. The remembrance, that anamnesis of the Kingdom, is the source of everything else in the Church. It is this that theology strives to bring to the world. And it comes even to a "post-Christian" world as the gift of healing, of redemption and of joy.

An excerpt from Father Alexander Schmemann's
lecture "Liturgy and Eschatology,"
delivered at Oxford on May 25, 1982.