The Rev. Demetrios Tonias Represents the Metropolis at the Lord's Day Alliance Conference

On Thursday, October 27, 2016, the Rev. Dr. Demetrios Tonias, Dean of the Annunciation Cathedral, delivered a paper on "Reclaiming Sacred Time" at the Lord’s Day Alliance conference on “The Regenerative Sabbath.” The conference explored a series of questions including: "Who controls time?" "How do we spend time?" and "How does our society’s use of time reflect our faith." The event was organized in cooperation with Old South Church, The Massachusetts Council of Churches, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, UniteBoston, and additional local partners. The Lord’s Day Alliance of the United States (LDA) was founded in 1888 and exists to encourage Christians to reclaim the Sabbath–the Lord’s Day–as a day of spiritual and personal renewal, enabling them to impact their communities with the Gospel.

 

The Following article appeared in the Boston Globe on November 2, 106. It refers to an interfaith conference on Sabbath observance which was held at the Old South Church in Copley Square. Fr Demetrios Tonias, dean of the Annunciation Cathedral, represented our Metropolis and spoke at the conference.

And on the seventh day, many don’t rest at all

Thurifer Louis Verdelotti at Old South Church, site of a conference on Sabbath observance.

By Lisa Wangsness GLOBE STAFF  NOVEMBER 02, 2016

People over age 40 can remember a time when, because of blue laws — the Colonial-era prohibitions against commercial activities on Sundays — most stores were closed and very little aside from praying, newspaper-reading, and loafing around happened on Sunday mornings.

That changed as blue laws were repealed or went unenforced in the late 20th century and as many denominations relaxed their rules.

But now, some people are looking longingly at the religious structures that once forced even the nonreligious to take time to relax and enjoy life, and experimenting with ways to embrace something like the Sabbath to help authorize a day away from workaday concerns.

As the psychotherapist and minister Wayne Muller has written, in the Hebrew tradition, the Sabbath is not an option or a lifestyle suggestion, but “a commandment, right next to ‘Do not kill’ and ‘Do not steal’ and ‘Do not lie.’ ”

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“The idea that you celebrate being, but not doing, is so vital for everyone, no matter what tradition you are in,” said Rabbi Moshe Waldoks of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline.

Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said he has noticed over the last decade an increasing number of liberal Jews making a practice of turning off their cellphones on Friday evenings, when Shabbat begins. And in his interfaith work, Burton fields questions from his Christian and Muslim colleagues about what it’s like to disconnect from the digital world for 25 hours every week.

It’s profoundly restorative, he tells them; “a huge part of my own personal sanity.”

But for many Americans, trying to figure out how to wedge a quiet day — or even a few reflective hours — into 21st century life can be a tricky matter.

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The conference contemplated how people can rediscover sacred time and reconstruct a day of rest.

Certainly, there is little help from secular institutions, and little agreement on when it is acceptable to be unavailable or — imagine it — doing nothing at all.

In any case, in an era of increasing religious diversity, forced Sunday downtime sounds downright quaint: Muslims pray on Fridays; Jews observe Shabbat from Friday evening to Saturday evening; and most Christians worship on Sunday. At the same time, digital responsibilities — be they related to school, work, household, or social obligations — seem to seep into every crevice of waking life.

“That is the biggest dilemma,” said Nancy T. Ammerman, a Boston University professor of the sociology of religion. “Once we say to people, you know, it would be a really good thing to have some sacred time, you choose when it is . . . . It’s the kind of thing that sounds perfect, it’s so American, design your own Sabbath. But that kind of discipline and observance is extremely difficult, done individually, or even just as a family.”

Perhaps, she said, the best solution would be for communities of people to collectively make commitments to one another about the kinds of sacred time they want to observe, and to honor the diverse ways in which different communities try to do that.

For religious and secular alike, the rewards can be memorable.

By the end of his second semester at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2014, Christian Gonzalez Ho was exhausted. Like most first-year students, he was sleeping two to five hours a night, and pulling an all-nighter every few days.

Recalling a trip to Israel in which he’d marvelled at the country’s strict observance of prayer, rest, and family time on Shabbat, Gonzalez Ho and a friend planned an evening of communal respite two days before final reviews, a candlelit gathering with flowers, tea, toast, and music.

They weren’t sure anyone would come — at that time in the semester, he said, many students would hardly leave their desks, even to eat — but almost their whole class of 70 students showed up. And most stayed the entire two hours.

“People were just in shock,” he said. “They were so rejuvenated.”

The Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, noted that many are not in an economic position to take a whole day off.

“I want to be really careful about shaming people’s overworked lives and instead invite a conversation that reminds people of the delight of rest,” she said. “Not just stopping work, but resting in a sense of God’s provision.”

The Lord’s Day Alliance, founded by six major Protestant denominations in 1888, spent a century fighting to force industrialists to give workers time to attend religious services and, later, to protect the Blue Laws. But little by little, drinking, sporting, and shopping became permissible on Sundays; in the last 20 or so years, the group has shifted to advocating for an internal recognition of the Sabbath.

“The point is, where can a stressed-out society find regeneration and renewal?” said the Rev. Rodney L. Petersen, executive director of the group, which drew dozens of people to an interfaith conference on Sabbath observance last week at Old South Church in Copley Square.

The Rev. Mariama White-Hammond of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain said she tries to observe a day of silence each month “to really challenge myself to be a listener.”

The Rev. Debora Jackson, executive director of the Ministers Council of the American Baptist Churches USA, said unplugging isn’t necessarily required.

“What I really want to encourage is to be connected to one another,” she said. “It’s not about the how, it’s that we take advantage of the opportunity to be together, whatever that looks like, we can reclaim that and be the Sabbath.”

The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos, or measurable, sequential time, and kairos, a more abstract period of time in which something significant happens.

“Over the last few decades, we have slowly and steadily lost our concept of sacred time,” the Rev. Demetrios Tonias, dean of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England. “The temporal creeps in and cuts us off from the eternal.”

Tonias, who has four children, is all too familiar with how difficult it can be to move a modern family from chronos to kairos on Sunday mornings, with school and sports activities competing for attention. Sometimes, his wife stays in the suburbs with the kids and attends a local church so she can shuttle a child to an activity. Altar boys sometimes rush in from early morning football practice, shedding shoulder pads and wiping off eye black before pulling on their robes.

“God bless them,” he said with a rueful chuckle. “That’s dedication.”

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Beneficia lucis chanted during the conference.

 

“This is the Day the Lord has made:” Reclaiming Sacred Time

Rev. Demetrios E. Tonias, Ph.D.

Dean, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England

 

In Orthodox Christian worship, there is an auspicious moment at the end of Matins and just before the onset of the Divine Liturgy. The deacon kneels to the right of the celebrant and, echoing the words of the Psalmist, declares, “Καιρὸς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ” – “It is time for the Lord to act.”  (Psalm 119:126). The liturgy then commences with the invocation, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.”

In a compressed period of chronological time the liturgy makes reference to an abstract, indeed an infinite, expanse of time. The distinction is often lost in English where time is simply time. In the original Greek of the Eucharistic rite, however, there are two preeminent words for time: “χρόνος” (chronos) and “καιρὸς” (kairos)—and there is a profound difference between the two. The former refers to sequential time whereas the latter describes an abstract period of time in which something of significance occurs. The liturgy takes place in a time of καιρὸς—God’s time—in which the world’s time of χρόνος has no meaning. In the church, when the sacred services begin, the wristwatch stops. There is no beginning or end. There is no 3:00 pm or two in the morning. These concepts are irrelevant for a world which exists in καιρὸς—a world that exists to the ages of ages.

Time is also related to space. Within the walls of the church, where chronological time dissolves into eternal time the faithful enter into the Blessed Kingdom. It is heaven on earth which evokes the vision that Jacob beheld when he placed his head upon the stone at Bethel—a ladder going up to heaven upon which angels ascend and descend. It is only in the time of καιρὸς that we are able to fully appreciate eternal time and are thus able to bear witness to the eternal Kingdom. It is an experience of time into which the emissaries of Prince Vladimir entered when, after witnessing the Divine Liturgy at the church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, they reported back to their sovereign that, “we did not know where we were, on heaven or on earth; and do not know how to tell about this. All we know is that God lives there with people.”

While this notion of sacred time exists at every Eucharistic celebration, there is an even more profound realization that occurs at the Sunday celebration of the liturgy. For every Sunday in the Orthodox Church is Pascha—every Sunday is an encounter with the Resurrection. Herein we see the concept of ἀνάμνησις (anamnesis), which can be translated as “remembrance” but means much more than that within the time of καιρὸς. An ἀνάμνησις is a “lived memory.” It is a memory that is called up within ourselves and in which we are spiritually located at a specific time. Thus, in the liturgical services of Holy Week, we are placed at the mystical supper in the upper room, with the crowd before Pilate, and at the Cross with the thieves. Pascha, and every Lord’s Day that follows, places us at the empty tomb with the myrrh-bearers. In καιρὸς we are afforded the opportunity to reject and accept Christ, to declare His Resurrection or doubt that it ever happened. In such an experience of time we are not only able to step back 2,000 years but to the dawn of time; for when the καιρὸς of our worship takes place on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the Day of Resurrection, the Eighth Day of New Creation, we are able to see both Paradise Lost with the flaming sword guarding the gate to Eden and also witness Paradise found with Adam and Eve, lifted from the tombs by the hand of the Risen Lord.

Kαιρὸς. Χρόνος. Ἀνάμνησις. These are concepts of time that are more Einsteinian than Newtonian in nature. They express what the Kievan prince’s emissaries witnessed—the Kingdom of God—Heaven on Earth. In the awesome majesty of the Eucharistic liturgical rite, one can be forgiven if one assumes that the concept of sacred time is confined within the four walls of the church for a few hours every Sunday. It is not. Indeed, if this were the case, then the time wouldn’t be καιρὸς in the first place. If this were the case, there would be no ἀνάμνησις.

We enter sacred time to lead us to the Kingdom. Thus, the church acts as a portal through which we enter into that Kingdom. This occurs within the sacramental life of the Church in general and most profoundly in the sacrament of sacraments which is the Holy Eucharist. As we said, at the onset of the Liturgy, the Deacon declares “Καιρὸς τοῦ ποιῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ” – “It is time for the Lord to act.” The Lord acts so that the Christian can, in turn, act. We enter sacred time not as a personal, spiritual exercise. We enter into the time of καιρὸς, not to receive individual benefit. We enter into the Kingdom not to claim that Kingdom for ourselves. We enter into this time and space so we can bring that time and that space out into the world.

The logic is clear in this instance. If καιρὸς and ἀνάμνησις allow us to partake of the Eucharist with the Apostles at the Mystical Supper, then we are also asked to join those same disciples of Christ in their journey out into the world to care for the least of the brethren. John Chrysostom famously declared that the poor were an altar upon which Christians were called to offer their philanthropic sacrifice of mercy. Therefore, it is the Eucharist after the Eucharist that takes on special significance.

The Orthodox concept of time also enables us to commune with the entire Body of Christ—with every Christian at this present time partaking of the same Eucharistic chalice and with all those who have departed this world. Our understanding of sacred time is such that the entire family of believers is brought together around one table, around one chalice, around one Lord.

These are indeed cosmic categories and it might seem as if they exist only to support some abstract theological system of thought. We see, however, all around us, images of this reality. All around us there are events which take place that give us a glimpse as to the manner in which this understanding of sacred time works in our everyday lives.

In a few short weeks we will gather together in our homes for Thanksgiving. The sights and sounds of this uniquely American holiday are familiar to us all. The preparation of the meal, the stories that grandparents tell their grandchildren, and the company of family and friends are all staples of the day. Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to time with family and those closest to us when we set aside the cares of life and focus on the people who mean the most to us. Thanksgiving is one day when work email comes to a standstill. Thanksgiving is one day when interacting with family takes precedence over rush hour commutes. It is also a time of philanthropy in which there is a heightened concern for those individuals without a table at which to sit, nor a meal from which they can partake. “Thanksgiving Food Drives” are organized. Meals are prepared. People are fed. This is a day when (hopefully) work is set aside and focus is given to those closest to us as well as those whose names we don’t even know. This is a day when we engage in our own ἀνάμνεσις and relive memories from Thanksgivings past—memories that are so similar and yet have their own unique character. We relive them because they are memories worth reliving.

The day progresses without much concern for time other than when the Turkey will come out of the oven. There could be no better day to express the meaning of καιρὸς and ἀνάμνησις. There could be no better day to express the inner meaning of the Eucharist which takes place in this sacred time—the Eucharist, the name of which is derived from the Greek Εὐχαριστία which means Thanksgiving.

Let us take the similarity a little further. Many of us look forward to Thanksgiving as a time to escape from the rigors of life—the day to day swarm of activities and responsibilities. Those of us old enough to remember, however, recall a time when we did not have to wait for a Thursday in November to have such an experience. One time, not too long ago, Sunday was a day dedicated to family, friends, fellowship, and, above all, God. Sunday was a day when we would go to church, rest from our labors, enjoy a Sunday drive, and spend time with our families, friends, and neighbors. It was like a Mini-Thanksgiving meal every week. So we can see, the Orthodox Christian concept of time is not so foreign to us after all. We can see that the concepts of καιρὸς and ἀνάμνησις are part of our consciousness even if we do not recognize them as such.

However, we desperately need to recover this concept of time. Over the past few decades, we have slowly and steadily lost our understanding of sacred time. There is no one reason for this loss. While the reasons are many, the source is singular—temporal concerns. Financial interests, fleeting entertainment, false expectations, concerns about the perceptions of others are all forms of temporal concerns that drag us out of eternal time into the death of finite, limited existence. Put another way, the temporal creeps in and cuts us off from the eternal.

Within the Orthodox liturgy there is an awareness of this danger. Just before the Great Entrance, when the Holy Gifts are processed, the choir chants the Cherubic Hymn—the Hymn of the Angels who surround the throne of God in perpetual praise. This hymn calls upon the faithful to “set aside all worldly cares so that we may receive the King of All, invisibly escorted by the Angelic hosts.” The worldly cares slowly work themselves into our lives and prevent us from finding the peace that exists in God’s time and space.

Years ago, the change to our Sunday sacred time was almost imperceptible. Stores stayed open a little longer. Practices for athletics started a little earlier. Baby showers were scheduled. And, of course, the workers who supported these activities were called in from their homes to work the necessary shifts required to meet this new found demand. Before long, the temporal time of nine to five replaced the eternal time of “unto the ages of ages.”

There were (and I emphasize “were”) a few sacred times left. Thanksgiving was one of them. Christmas was the other. The worldly cares, however, are omnipresent—for the finite always resists the infinite. In the case of Thanksgiving, shopping commences when the meal has barely been cleared from the table and on Christmas, gifts are returned in the afternoon on the day they were first opened.

When we allow the temporal to enter into our lives we lose our connection to sacred time and thus lose our relationship with the infinite. We become disconnected from God and each other. The forces that intrude upon the καιρὸς of our lives are often outside our immediate control. We can influence them individually and collectively but if the change took place over decades it is unreasonable to assume change will occur in moments.

There are, however, actions we can take that are within our sphere of influence. I believe that the Early Christian notion of time can be fruitful in establishing a healthy understanding of our place in the temporal world and in the world that transcends space and time. The example of Thanksgiving and the historic observance of Sunday in the United States bear witness to the ways in which καιρὸς and ἀνάμνησις can play a role in this understanding.

In our own private lives there is the possibility to carve out sacred time and sacred space—to introduce our own experience of καιρὸς. Toward this end, the model of the Orthodox liturgical rite may prove useful. When a priest celebrates the liturgy, he does not simply enter the sanctuary, don his vestments, and begin to worship. Rather, there is the service quite appropriately called “καιρὸς” in which the priest prepares himself to enter into the sacred time of the liturgy—before he vests. A series of prayers are offered before the Holy Altar, the icons of Christ, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and that of the local church. Similarly, when vesting, each vestment is blessed with a scriptural verse. The priest has thus oriented himself within sacred time.

When we reflect on the former character of Sunday, we understand that there was a similar type of orientation that occurred. Families prepared themselves to enter the day when they donned their “Sunday best,” traveled to church, and worshipped with people with whom they were close and those they did not know. This created a sense of time that permeated the entire day. There was a unique tenor to this sense of time that made the day, somehow, different. When this particular rhythm was lost, for whatever reason, then the experience of sacred time—of καιρὸς—was also lost. Once that experience vanished, the worldly system of time—of χρόνος—filled the void. Work related tasks, school activities, meetings, and events all filled the vacuum which the loss of sacred time created. Sunday became just another day barely indistinguishable from any other day of the week.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Individuals have the capacity to enter into sacred time whenever they wish—but they must choose to do so. They must choose, as the Cherubic Hymn declares, to set aside the cares of worldly life. They must choose the infinite over the finite. It is indeed, time for the Lord to act. This, however, is only part of the equation. It is also time for us to act. We must act if we truly desire to leave the office, if but for a day. We must act if we wish to escape the barrage of electronic messages that ceaselessly intrude into our live. We must act if we wish to enter into profound, personal relationships rather than fleeting, virtual interactions. We must act if we wish to recover the peace and happiness that flows from the Kingdom of God. It is a peace and happiness that is perpetual and one that, in the broad expanse of καιρὸς, lasts unto the ages of ages.