Orthodox Christian life is filled with paradoxes, what the Holy Fathers referred to as antinomies: conflicts between two principles, laws or truths that seem equally valid. An example would be “bondage to sin” and “freedom in the Spirit,” both of which accurately describe the Christian person (Luther’s simul iustus et peccator). Another would be the affirmation, “Through the Cross, joy has come into the world!” Or the fact that at the anamnesis of the Divine Liturgy we “remember” Christ’s second and glorious Coming.
Each of these pairs, read through the lens of ordinary logic, seems irreconcilable. We cannot be both slave and free; joy cannot be the emotion accompanying a hideous execution; and we can hardly remember what has not yet happened. In the light of the Gospel, however, these make perfect sense.
We are bound by sin, unable to free ourselves from the corrupting influence of our passions. Yet we are freed from the consequences of sin, through the forgiving, reconciling work of Christ that becomes accessible to us in the Holy Spirit. In this life we continue in sin, bound by its power that leads only to death. Yet in Christ, that power is broken. Even though sin remains a reality in our everyday experience, Christ has set us free to walk in “newness of life,” sustained, guided and preserved by His Spirit. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).
Because of Christ’s crucifixion, voluntarily accepted for our sake, we have been released from ourselves and from demonic oppression. Through Christ’s sacrifice death has been overcome and we are given life, such that all people now have access in the Holy Spirit to God the Father (Eph 2:18). Through the Cross “death is swallowed up in victory” and we are given Life. This is Life beyond life, eternal communion in the boundless love that unites the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. And it is the source of the only real and lasting joy we can ever know. Authentic joy requires sacrifice, it comes most fully with tears. And therein lies another antinomy.
Finally, “to remember” in the Biblical sense is basically to reactualize a past event, to bring it from the past to the present, so that we experience it as an immediate reality. This is why we can proclaim at Pascha, “Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ. Today I arise with Thee in Thy resurrection!” Yet the act of remembering has the effect of telescoping both past and future into a present moment. Time and space are transcended in liturgical celebration, such that events of the (eschatological) future become “real,” “actual,” “present” for us today. Thus we remember not only the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, but also His “second and glorious Coming.”
“Life is full of contradictions,” they tell us. Most of these we dismiss as annoyances or take on as problems to be solved. Some of them, though—like the God-Man, the Virgin Mother, and the Tri-unity of God—are mysteries of life and faith before which we smile, open our hearts, and give thanks.