More on the “Eighth Day”

“In the biblical revelation the number seven stands for, is the symbol of, the worldof the world as created by God and thus perfect, achieved, “very good”; of the world as corrupted by man’s sin and having become “this world,” surrendered to evil and death; of the world, finally, as the “history of salvation,” as the scene and object of God’s saving work. Of all this the seventh day, the one which measures the time of the world and therefore “organizes” its life, is both the expression and the experience. As the day on which God rested from all His work and which He blessed, it is the day of man’s rejoicing in God and in creation as communion with God. As merely an interruption of work and not its real end, a rest made necessary by the work itself, it is the very expression of man’s enslavement to the world. And finally, because it reminds man of God yet reveals to him his alienation from God and his enslavement to the world, this day is the day of expectation, of man’s hope for redemption and liberation, for the day beyond “seven,” beyond the meaningless repetition of time whose only horizon is death and destruction.

This new day comes, is inaugurated with the Resurrection of Christ. Having fulfilled the history of salvation, having recreated in Himself man and the world, having rested on the blessed Sabbath, Christ rose again from the dead on the “first day after Sabbath.” On that day a new time began which – though externally it remains within the “old” time of this world and is still measured by the number seven – is known by the faithful truly to be new: open to eternity, transparent to the Kingdom of God, whose presence and power and joy it manifests in “this world.” In the early Church, in the writings of the Fathers and in the liturgical tradition, the symbol of that new time is the number eight. For, on the one hand, there is no such eighth day in the time of “this world,” in the old time still inescapably measured by the number seven. Yet, on the one hand, it really exists in the experience of the Church, is indeed the very “focus” of that experience. From the very beginning, it was on the first day of the week (i.e. on the day following the seventh day) that Christians gathered as “Church” to celebrate the Eucharist. Thus, in terms of “this world,” this was one of the seven days, fully belonging to the time of this world. Yet the whole meaning of that gathering, of that celebration, as we have already said, was that in it the Church experienced herself as ascending to heaven, and this means fulfilling herself beyond time, partaking at Christ’s table of His eternal Kingdom. She experienced the first day of the time of “this world” as the eighth day – the one beyond time, beyond seven, beyond “this world” – as her participation in the “day without evening” of the Kingdom. And it is this experience – primitive Christian Sunday, the day of the Church’s eucharistic ascension to heaven – that shaped the entire liturgical life of the Church and, unknown, alas, to an overwhelming majority of Christians, continues to shape it.”

Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1974), 122-23

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