In his Georgics, Vergil’s laments for the inevitability of the passing of time: “Time flees, unable to be restored.” How poignant this quote seems to us; life hurtles by in a flash, blink once and a week passes, blink again and it is a new school year. Our life seems to move in a steady line forward, from the moment we are born to the moment we die. The human preoccupation with the passage of time and its inevitable ending in death leads, for example, to the anthropomorphic figure of father time, who, with his hourglass and scythe, reminds of what the passage of time brings.
Time, and its inevitable outcome, is an object of fascination and horror to our society. While we abhor the idea of dying, we still seem fascinated by it, picking at this idea that horrifies us like at a scab. Now, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, it has even become possible to create a type of digital immortality. In a fascinating article, Engadget writer James Trew discusses the current abilities of Artificial Intelligence and their application in grieving: “For just $10,000 dollars and a few hours in a studio, you can create an avatar of yourself that your family can visit (an additional cost) at an offsite facility.” This service is still limited, only able to replicate the deceased person in a superficial way: “By all accounts, the pre-trained chatbots provide convincing answers in their owners’ voices — until the illusion is unceremoniously broken when it robotically responds ‘Sorry, I didn’t understand that. You can try asking another way, or move onto another topic’ to any query it doesn’t have an answer for.” Nevertheless, as this type of technology is in its infancy, the ability for family members to ignore their own mortality by using Artificial Intelligence to create an artificial immortality is only likely to improve.
The Church of the Resurrection
It is, perhaps, a natural thing for humans to long for immortality, to abhor the end of their lives; this longing is by no means a modern attitude. St. Gregory of Nyssa witnesses to this when he says, in his treatise On the Soul and Resurrection: “There is such an instinctive and deep-seated abhorrence of death in all! Those who look on a death-bed can hardly bear the sight; and those whom death approaches recoil from him all they can. Why, even the law that controls us puts death highest on the list of crimes, and highest on the list of punishments.” In this treatise, he is reprimanded by his sister for his undue mourning for his brother, St. Basil the Great. He exclaims: “By what device, then, can we bring ourselves to regard as nothing a departure from life even in the case of a stranger, not to mention that of relations…” As if directly answering this question, Patriarch John X said, in an address to the Antiochian Archdiocese Convention in July of 2023: “…in the midst of all these present difficulties, we still endeavor to show the world that Orthodoxy is the church of beauty and joy, the Church of the Resurrection and victory over death.” The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Resurrection; in living the Resurrection we leave time behind and participate in eternity. We do this in particular by our participation in the Divine Liturgy. It is for this reason that we celebrate the Divine Liturgy primarily on the Lord’s Day, on Sunday, as this is the Day of Resurrection. Not only is this the “first day of the week,” it is also the eighth day of the old week, and so transcends the limits of time, an eschatological day. It is no coincidence that St. John received the vision of the Revelation while he was “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). St. John is “in the spirit,” i.e. he is worshipping, he is participating in the Divine Liturgy, and so receives a revelation of eternal things while in eternity. In the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, after all, the priest remembers “all that has been done for our sake: the Cross, the tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand, and the second and glorious coming again.” In the Resurrection, there is no distinction between what would seem to us to have taken place already and that which has not taken place yet, since we are outside of time. So, we understand eschatology in a sense as “already, but not yet;” we live in the eternity of the kingdom now, the fulfillment of which will be in the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.