Jesus declared to the pharisees, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). This enigmatic saying challenges what Father Stephen Freemancalls “two-storey Christianity ,” which views the Creator as radically separated from His creation. Two-storey Christianity is responsible for the fixation on “getting to heaven,” so commonplace among modern western believers.
In contradistinction, the Gospel presents a sacramental cosmos, where the Holy is not simply “overall all” but “through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6). Yes, the Eternal One is transcendent, but He is also immanent, especially by virtue of the Incarnation of the Word. Neither the Scripture nor the Creed speak extensively about heaven. Instead, they focus on communion with the Mystery in this world and in the “world to come,” the new creation of the resurrection. Indeed, an inordinate longing for celestial bliss is more pagan than Christian, more Platonic than biblical, for it suggests the subordination of matter to spirit.
Saint Paul asks, with a hint of exasperation, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you” (I Corinthians 3:16). We are called to communion with the Trinity here and now, and the transfiguration from natural man to spiritual man begins the moment one emerges from the watery tomb of baptism.
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann believes that Christianity, properly understood, is not a religion at all. The point of religion, he says, is to bridge the chasm between God and man. Yet we possess this awesome bridge in the Person of Jesus Christ. Through the Incarnation, the Eternal is brought down to the temporal; through the Ascension, the finite is raised up to the Infinite: “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:19, 20).
As Christians, we enjoy ineffable intimacy with the Light, for we are “sons of the Light” (I Thessalonians 5:5). The Gospel frequently proclaims the “fellowship” we share with the Living God. This word, koinonia, is better translated “communion.” While fellowship implies mere association, communion implies something much deeper: indwelling and interpenetration. Saint Paul is keenly aware of this profound bond: “For as many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. . . . For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26, 28).
It is therefore fitting that the Scripture pictures godly existence in nuptial terms: “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, ad the two shall become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:30, 31). This imagery is most wonderfully expressed in the Song of Songs, which the Church has long read as the wedding hymn of Christ and His people. Thus we rejoice, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His” (2:16); and the Lord calls back, “Set Me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm” (7:6).
This earthly life is not merely a testing ground or trial run. It is a gift to be cherished. It is an opportunity to know the Lord and savor the start of the eternal banquet which exceeds our wildest dreams. The experience of the saints confirms the potential for real transfiguration in the present: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17).
How do we effect this transfiguration from nature to grace? By loving the Lord with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, all one’s strength, and loving others as one’s self (cf. Luke 10:25-28). This ascent up spiritual Mount Sinai is a ceaseless struggle of repentance and dying to the self. Thus the Lord says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6).
Our faith is one of rebirth into Christ, Who “is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). As new creatures, we are privileged to be “co-workers with Him,” celebrating the day of salvation which is . . . now (II Corinthians 6:1).