THE UNIVERSE - Orthodox Catechism

THE UNIVERSE

According to the Old Testament, the visible world was created in six days. It is difficult to imagine that reference is being made to a conventional six-day period. The biblical six days of creation are not six ordinary days but rather six consecutive stages which unfold gradually to form the epic picture of the great Artist.

The biblical account of creation opens with the words, ‘In the beginning’ (Gen 1:1), a phrase also used by St. John the Theologian to describe the eternal existence of the Word of God (John 1:1). This ‘beginning’ therefore refers to what had existed before time began. It is not yet finite time: it is infinite eternity, from which time is to be born. The ‘beginning’ is that first reality which links time with eternity, since from the moment when time is set into motion the universe must subject itself to its laws. According to the laws of time, the past is already over, the future is yet to come, and the present exists as an elusive and forever fleeting second which ends once it has hardly begun. And although time appears simultaneously with the universe, that timeless ‘beginning’ when the universe was poised to begin but not yet began, is a pledge of the fact that creation has been allied with eternity and that upon the completion of its history will once again become part of eternity.

Eternity is the absence of time; outside of time there is no temporal being, but an eternal being, a supra-being. The universe, which has been called out of non-being into temporal being through the creative word of God, will not disappear at the end of time, it will not slide away into non-being, but will become part of the supra-being; it will become eternal. Biblical revelation, however, puts the universe in the perspective of both time and eternity, so that even when time disintegrates the universe will remain. Time is an icon of eternity and time will be sublimated into eternity, while the universe will be transformed into the kingdom of the age to come.

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters’ (Gen 1:1-2). Other ancient translations of the Old Testament present the earth as ‘empty and nothing’ (Theodotion), or ‘idle and indistinguishable’ (Simmachus); that is, as a formless pre-matter out of which the world was to be created. The ‘earth’ of the first day is, to use St. Philaret of Moscow’s expression, an ‘astonishing emptiness’, a chaotic primary substance containing the pledge of future beauty and cosmic harmony. The ‘darkness’ and the ‘deep’ underscore the disorganization and formlessness of matter, while the water denotes its plasticity. It is said that the Holy Spirit was ‘moving’, fluttering over the water. Elsewhere in the Bible this same verb is used to signify the hovering of birds over the nest of their young: ‘The eagle stirs up its nest and flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, and bearing them on its pinions’ (Deut 32:11). The Holy Spirit, as a loving mother, protects and animates the material world, ‘fluttering’ over it and breathing into it the ‘spirit of life’.