Basileia tou Theou, Empirical Dogmatics, Genuine Orthodoxy, George S. Gabriel, Hesychasm, Hieromonk Alexios (Trader), Hieromonk Alexios Karakallinos, Hieromonk Alexios of Mount Athos, Kingdom of God, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, St. Gregory Palamas, The Triodion, Uncreated Energy, Vasileia to Theou
In an earlier post concerning the importance of precise terminology, I noted the value of communicating with clarity especially in spiritual matters. This is manifestly evident in today’s post concerning the creedal statement: “His Reign shall have no end,” which is often poorly translated into English as His “Kingdom shall have no end.”
Although the term for kingdom (βασιλείο) appears in the Greek Old Testament that relates the vicissitudes of the Jewish nation, it does not appear even once in the original Greek of the New Testament. Instead, another related Greek word meaning reign or sovereign rule (βασιλεία) is employed 162 times in such passages as the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Reign come,” or the familiar “Repent, for the Reign of God is at hand.” Since it is also the word used at this point in the Creed, we need to properly understand it if we are to grasp what this article of faith seeks to convey.
Even on a linguistic level, the connotations of kingdom and reign differ in significant ways. On the one hand, the English term “kingdom” is a substantive word connoting a geographical locus or place. It may also be understood as a nation, a place of political authority or power. On the other hand, the term “rule” or “reign” describes an activity conveying a sense of dominion or sovereignty over a people or a nation. Father John Romanides correctly notes that translating vasileia as kingdom, instead of rule, makes the text of Scriptures opaque and along side the Scriptures, this article of the Creed as well. He writes, “Another example is the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ which makes it a creation of God instead of the uncreated ruling power of God. What is amazing is that the term ‘kingdom of God’ appears not once in the original Greek of the New Testament. Not knowing that the ‘rule’ or ‘reign of God’ is the correct translation of the Greek ‘Vasileia tou Theou,’… even many Orthodox today do not see that the promise of Christ to his apostles in Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27 and Mark 9:1, i.e. that they will see God’s ruling power, was fulfilled during the Transfiguration which immediately follows in the above three gospels. Here Peter, James, and John see Christ as the Lord of Glory, i.e. as the source of God’s uncreated ‘glory’ and ‘vasileia’ (i.e. uncreated ruling power), denoted by the uncreated cloud or glory which appeared and covered the three of them during the Lord of Glory’s Transfiguration. It was by means of His power or Glory that Christ as the pre-incarnate Lord (Yahweh) of Glory had delivered Israel from its Egyptian slavery and lead it to freedom and the land of promise. The Greek text does not speak about the ‘basileion (kingdom) of God,’ but about the ‘Basileia (rule or reign) of God,’ by means of His uncreated glory and power. At His Transfiguration Christ clearly revealed Himself to be the source of the uncreated Glory seen by Moses and Elijah during Old Testament times and who both are now present at the Transfiguration in order to testify to the three apostles that Christ is indeed the same Yahweh of Glory, now incarnate, Whom the two had seen in the historical past and had acted on behalf of Him.”
This linguistic clarification is not a merely academic distinction. It has salvific import for each and every Christian who confesses Christ as Lord and Savior. Christianity is not about us creating a utopia or holy kingdom in Christ’s name. It is not even about God creating one. Isn’t that the meaning of “Neither shall they say, ‘Lo here! or, lo there!’ for, behold, the ruling power of God is within you” (Luke 17:21)? No, the reign of God is about the Uncreated God ruling the hearts of the faithful, filling them with His Uncreated Light, and transfiguring them into His very likeness and image. God’s sovereign rule or reign is His uncreated divine grace and glory that Christ spoke of as “the glory I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5). The sovereign rule of God is what the Apostles experienced on Mount Thabor and caused the Apostle Peter to say “it is good to be here.” The sovereign rule of God is what the Apostles experienced at Pentecost that led to the baptism of three thousand souls after Saint Peter spoke to the multitudes. And this sovereign rule that transfigures, that glorifies, and that shapes anew will have no end.
When we hear or say the article of faith, “His reign will have no end,” all the references to this reign should come to mind. That the “reign of God is within you” means we need to look to our souls and inner life if we hope to experience God guiding us and ruling us. Seeking “first the reign of God and His righteousness” means that God respects our freedom and will not rule over our souls unless we seek it. The likening of “the reign of God” to a treasure hid in a field and to a pearl of great price indicates not only that there is nothing more precious than for God to rule our hearts, but also that we must give everything we have and offer up everything we are in order for our hearts to be open and prepared for the God of all to bestow on us and in us that rule, that glory, that divine life in God. And that the Gospel begins with “Repent, for the reign of heaven is at hand” shows us that repentance is the door that leads to God ruling our hearts. For God’s rule to come, we need to be purified of the passions, illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and deified in Christ.
This “reign” or “rule” of God is creative, redeeming, and sanctifying. It is also eternal, unchanging, and never ending. It is more than a gift that is offered, for the gift is the Giver Himself. It is “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:14) abiding in the heart. Being uncreated, being divine, the rule of God in the heart of man is ultimately beyond any description: “as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). It is the purpose, the goal, and the final destination of the entire Christian way of life and faith that begins with repentance and culminates in the revelation of God’s glory, God’s rule, and God’s love upon the Tabor of the human heart and in the upper room of the human soul. If “His Reign will have no end” becomes a core belief, keeping God’s commandments, repenting for our sins, and seeking to be united with Him in prayer will be the endless pursuit of our lives. It begins now and it has no end. Thanks be to God.
—Hieromonk Alexios of Mount Athos