Revd Roxana Tenea Teleman, assistant curate at Holy Trinity, Nice, with St Hugh, Vence (France), reflects on this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Luke 12.49-56, drawing also on the Epistle for this week, Hebrews 11.29-12.2.
Roxana and her family after her ordination to the diaconate by Bishop Robert Innes on 30 June 2019
My first ‘encounter’ with the Anglican Church, a turning point in my life, happened in Bucharest, just a few months after the fall of Communism in Romania (and in Eastern Europe) – a time of confusion, unrest, deep worries, even angst for some. Emotions ran high, society seemed ablaze, families were worryingly divided. We had been unprepared, the change had taken us by surprise, we had failed to interpret our time.
We could, perhaps, blame the decades of imposed ‘peace’, ‘unity’, uniformity, and one-track thinking that gave us a false sense of security, and lulled our (political) conscience into slumber, anaesthetised our capacity to discern, and nearly extinguished our fire of dreaming of freedom.
Thirty years later, divisiveness seems to have become a leitmotiv in Romania, in the whole of Europe, actually: social unrest, unprecedented political divisions, with feisty debates, with traditionally major parties being dealt strong blows, and unexpected election results, an unwillingness to negotiate or just to listen. We were still unprepared for these, and we are still puzzled. We were well equipped, though, with tools and research teams meant to probe beneath the surface of events, to recognise what is really going on, and what is likely to happen.
‘Why do you not know how to interpret the present time (καιρός, kairos)?’, Jesus Christ asks the crowds. Why do we fail, again and again, to read the signs of the times?
It is, perhaps, because we are so preoccupied with chronos, the continuous linear measurable time, which encapsulates our earthly lives, that we do not recognise the time (kairos) of our Visitation from God (Luke 19.44), when he is acting in our life, in the world?
Or, let us face it, we might be afraid to acknowledge the divine kairos: we are warned that God’s intervention in our human time is disruptive, that it can bring about division and lay bare our soul, with its abyss of fears, inconsistencies and contradictions, before our own eyes and “to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4.13).
More division? What an unsettling thought! We would so much prefer to avoid conflict and division at all costs, at least, in our families and our churches – these are, surely, the most painful instances of disharmony. Parents and church leaders have the experience and the wisdom that allows them to identify what might disrupt the good (and smooth) conduct of family or church life and peace, don’t they? Should they not build in a firewall to prevent division seeping in? Yet, this fear of disturbances, and of challenges, fear that the shallow peace of suppressed conflicts, questions and choices, of complacency might be disrupted, the ‘fear of fear’, might become the ‘fear of belonging to Another, […] to God’ (T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets), who is intent on leading us through mountains and valleys, when we would rather choose a flat landscape.
Christ, the ‘perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12.2), wants to kindle a fire of purification and refinement, the fire of God’s active presence in the world, that can effect changes by igniting our resistance, the fire of judgement that consumes all unrighteousness, idolatry and injustice.
The Church has been entrusted with Christ’s message of release and transformation, which is bound to be divisive – why do we try to ‘tame’ it? There is no mildness or promise of instant gratification and happiness in it (as ‘Good News’, which very often is used for ‘Gospel’ nowadays, may sound), but the announcement of powerful, life-changing events, of the ‘consuming fire”’ (Hebrews 12.29) of God’s Visitation.
In some Eastern Churches, before the Divine Liturgy begins, it is the deacon’s task to remind the priest that ‘It is time (kairos) for the Lord to act’ (Psalm 119.126). The liturgy, even if, etymologically, it means ‘the action of the people’, is, indeed, the place where God makes irruption into our churches, into our life, with the fire of his Word, that is ‘living and acting, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow’ (Hebrews 4.12), with the gift of His peace ‘which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4.7) and with the radical inclusiveness of the invitation to his table. With this renewed awareness of and opening to God’s presence with us, we could ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us’ (Hebrews 12.1).