Editor's note: This chapter of Compassionate Eschatology, edited by Ted Grimsrud and Michael Hardin, is used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Orthodox Eschatology and
St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis:
Transfiguration, Cosmic Unity, and Compassion
Andrew P. Klager
THE PURPOSE OF THE present volume is to introduce readers to a compassionate eschatology from the vantage point of various theological attitudes and traditions. What follows, then, is an outline of the eschatological themes that comprise an Orthodox Christian perspective.
As we navigate through an Orthodox conception of the hope endowed to all creation when Christ “trampled down death by death,” and which is assimilated by the Church through ascetic struggle, participation in the liturgical theodrama, and veneration of icons that depict and embody the Eschaton, the sentiment that “compassion” is a worthy foil through which to apprehend an Orthodox eschatology is justified.
With the conviction that a dialogue on the validity of a compassionate eschatology should depend not only on the outcome of theological conjecture and syllogism, but must also include a historical precedent, especially from the Church fathers, to circumscribe and frame this dialogue, the present essay will also appeal frequently to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s celebrated philosophical and ascetic treatise, De vita Moysis,1 as a highly apposite patristic voice to guide our investigation.
It has become whimsically aphoristic for Orthodox Christians to answer theological inquiries, and especially the more difficult ones, with, “It is ultimately a mystery!” But, this is true of its eschatology perhaps more than for any other theological issue. While the ecclesial schisms that have characterized much of Christianity’s history over matters of Christology, Triadology, and the like are at least comprehensible on a primal level, it is utterly unfathomable the many more recent schisms that have compounded as a result of squabbles over events that have not yet even occurred!2 An Orthodox articulation of eschatology is therefore unique in its reticence, refusing to speculate beyond the creedal affirmation that Christ “is coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end,” which motivates his Bride to “look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
1. For all English references, I will be using Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, translated by Ferguson and Mahlerbe (hereafter simply Vit. Moys.). Since this essay is appearing in a book whose audience is concerned more with Christian eschatology than with Gregory of Nyssa himself, all references to the original Greek will not be to the usual Gregorii Nysseni Opera, on which the English translation is based, but will instead be to the much more accessible: Migne, Patrologiae Graeca (hereafter PG).
2. See Ware, Orthodox Way, 133f.