This week, we begin our Eastertide study of Fr. Stephen Freeman’s book Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. Please read Chapter 1 “The Shape of the Universe” and Chapter 2 “Sitting in a Cave in Mar Saba.”
Chapter 2 is about Fr. Freeman’s visit to the monastery of Mar Saba. The monastery is dug into the hillside of the Kidron Valley just outside of Jerusalem. It was founded in 483 and generally has been continuously occupied since that time. What Fr. Freeman found there, and what he wants us to find, is the living presence of the saints who have gone before us. He relates how a monk told him that “‘We never say a monk has died. We always say, in the words of Scripture, that they have ‘fallen asleep.’ But mostly we say this because we see them so often.’” The monk explains that the monks who have fallen asleep are not “ghosts” that haunt the monastery but are the living presence of the saints who still inhabit the same space. Mar Saba is not only populated by the 20 or so monks that live there today, but by all the monks that have lived there in the past 1500+ years. This understanding is the shape of a one-storey universe.
In our baptism (in the Apostles Creed) we confess that we believe in the “the holy catholic Church [and] the communion of saints.” 1979 BCP 304. The Church is One. It is not divided between a church down here on earth and a church up there in heaven. Hebrews tells us that “We are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses.” Heb. 12:1. These witnesses surround us in the here and now not only in the here-after.
The awareness of a one-storey universe with the communion of saints begins with the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, the temporal and the eternal are joined together in a common communion. God comes into our world and joins with our nature so that we can come into God’s world and join into God’s nature. See, 2 Pet. 1:4. The Incarnation is not something that simply occurred in one person in the past, but, through that one person, the promise and the reality are that it occurs in us as well. See, Gal. 3:26. If we share in the joining of the temporal and the eternal, then we are joined with all others, both in the past and in the future, who are also part of this communion for the same God is above all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:6. In the Incarnation, the multi-storey universe collapse into One.
For in the multitude of your saints you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses, that we might rejoice in their fellowship, and run with endurance the race that is set before us; and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that never fades away.Collect for All Saints 1979 BCP 380