The Eighth Year: Time to Clarify the Eighth Day

Afterfeast of the Transfiguration and Feast of the Holy Righteous Martyr Dometius

Resurrection_Square.jpgWITH PLEASANT surprise, I recently realized that Eighth Day Institute is in its eighth year of operations. On April 18, 2008, we were incorporated as St. John of Damascus Institute. Two years later, on September 10, 2010, Fr. Paul O’Callaghan (my parish priest and an original EDI board member) suggested we think about changing our name to Eighth Day Institute. With the blessing of Warren Farha (proprietor of Eighth Day Books), Fr. Paul’s idea became reality a couple months later on November 12, 2010. Just two months after this, we launched our first annual Eighth Day Symposium. Five successful symposia later, in our eighth year, we launched our first annual Eighth Day Inklings Festival. And we’ve got lots more cooking, beginning with a Liberal Arts Forum this fall and a Patristics Symposium next spring.

We’ve come a long way since the early years. It’s actually quite miraculous. In his 2015 summer appeal letter, our board president Tom Rhein wonders at the progress: “Would you believe that just one year ago we were supported by a mere 26 members and were seriously questioning the feasibility of keeping the Institute going?” Membership is now up to 133! Thank God!

As we continue to grow, I can’t help but continuously reflect on our mission and identity. I offered some initial thoughts about cultural renewal in our inaugural issue of Microsynaxis (read here). And I spelled out what we mean by ecumenism at our fifth annual Eighth Day Symposium (read here). I’d like to here take the opportunity to clarify our name, a question both Warren and I frequently encounter. And I’d like to do so by simply pointing to the posts on last week’s Daily Word. 

The week began with St Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395) commenting on the inscriptions to Psalms 6 and 11: “For the eighth.” According to St Gregory, those who diligently pursue virtue keep the future life in mind. And the beginning of the future life, he goes on, “is called ‘the eighth’ for it follows this perceptible time when the number seven is dissolved. Therefore,” Gregory concludes, “the inscription ‘For the eighth’ advises us not to set our minds on this present age, but to look to the eighth.” 

We next shifted our attention from one Cappadocian Father to another, as we turned to St Basil the Great (d. 379). In his famous work On the Holy Spirit, St Basil explains why we stand for prayer on Sunday (apart from the fact that the First Ecumenical Council decrees it!). It is in this explanation that we learn more about the Eighth Day. Listen to Basil: 

We stand for prayer on the day of the Resurrection to remind ourselves of the graces we have been given: not only because we have been raised with Christ and are obliged to seek the things that are above, but also because Sunday seems to be an image of the age to come. Notice that although Sunday is the beginning of days, Moses does not call it the first day, but one day: “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Gen. 1.5), since this day would recur many times. Therefore “one” and “eight” are the same, and the “one” day really refers both to itself and to the “eighth” day.

Basil goes on, like Gregory, to note that David “follows this usage in certain titles of the psalms.” He then concludes by encapsulating the Eighth Day as the day that “foreshadows the state which is to follow the present age: a day without sunset, nightfall, or successor, an age which does not grow old or come to an end.”

From the eastern Cappadocians, we then turned west to St Augustine of Hippo (d. 430). To clarify his reflection on the Sabbath, he suggests we count the ages as days. According to Augustine,

The first age, as the first day, extends from Adam to the deluge; the second from the deluge to Abraham . . . From Abraham to the advent of Christ there are, as the evangelist Matthew calculates, three periods, in each of which are fourteen generations—one period from Abraham to David, a second from David to the captivity, a third from the captivity to the birth of Christ in the flesh. There are thus five ages in all. The sixth is now passing, and cannot be measured by any number of generations, as it has been said, “It is not for you to know the times, which the Father hath put in His own power” (Acts 1.7). After this period God shall rest as on the seventh day, when He shall give us (who shall be the seventh day) rest in Himself.

Declaring lack of space to deal with these ages, Augustine concludes by turning to our subject in one of his more famous passages from The City of God: “the seventh [age] shall be our Sabbath, which shall be brought to a close, not by an evening, but by the Lord’s day, as an eighth and eternal day, consecrated by the resurrection of Christ, and prefiguring the eternal repose not only of the spirit, but also of the body. There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise.”

Jumping forward a couple centuries, we come next to St Maximus the Confessor (d. 662). Maximus’ contribution is found in a form of monastic writing called “chapters,” a collection of short paragraphs—frequently only a sentence or two—arranged in groups of one hundred (hence, commonly called a century). In his Two Centuries on Theology and the Economy in the Flesh of the Son of God, Maximus offers several short “chapters” on the Eighth Day. I’ll let him speak for himself with three examples:

According to Scripture, the sixth day brings in the completion of being subject to nature. The seventh limits the movement of temporal distinctiveness. The eighth indicates the manner of existence above nature and time.

The one who has become worthy of the eighth day is risen from the dead, that is, from what is less than God: sensible and intelligible things, words, and thoughts; and he lives the blessed life of God, who alone is said to be and is in very truth the Life, in such a way that he becomes himself God by deification.

The sixth day reveals the principle of being of things, the seventh indicates the manner of the well-being of things, the eighth communicates the ineffable mystery of the eternal well-being of things.

Moving further along in history, we next leaped forward to the fourteenth-century Athonite monk St Gregory Palamas (d. 1359). St Gregory’s homiletic reflections on the mystery of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day leads him directly into commentary on the Eighth Day. “Whatever is said in praise of the seventh day,” he says, “applies even more to the eighth, for the latter fulfills the former.” He then explains by turning to the Old Testament, for “it was Moses who unwittingly first ascribed honor to the eighth day, the Lord’s Day.” Obedient to God’s command, Moses instituted the Jubilee year (Lev. 25.8ff), which was an eighth year after seven seven-year periods (i.e., the fiftieth year). In a hidden way, then, Palamas tells us Moses the lawgiver introduced “the dignity of this eighth day . . . because it is dedicated to the Lord’s resurrection. . . . Moses esteemed the seventh day because it led into the truly honorable eighth day. Just as the law given through him is honorable in so far as it leads to Christ (cf. Gal. 3.24), so the seventh day is honorable because it leads into the eighth day on which the Lord’s resurrection took place.” But, as we’ve already seen, the Eighth Day is not just honorable because it is the Lord’s Day of the Resurrection; it is also, according to Gregory, “the prelude of the one day without evening of the age to come.” 

Coming full circle, our final patristic passage came again from St Gregory of Nyssa, this time from his homily On the Sixth Psalm, Concerning the Eighth Day. Like Palamas, Gregory of Nyssa turns to the Old Testament to reflect on the Eighth Day. He begins by critiquing those who “reduce the magnificence of the mystery of the Eighth Day to being concerned with the unseemly parts of our bodies” by focusing on the law of circumcision, which is to take place on the eighth day after birth (cf. Lev. 12.3). Gregory continues:

Since we are taught by the great Paul that “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7.14), then even if this number is contained in the laws I have mentioned, . . . we do not reject the law or receive it in a lowly way; for we know that the true circumcision, brought to realization through the stone knife (cf. Josh. 5.2), genuinely does take place on the Eighth Day. For surely, through the rock that cuts away what is unclean, you recognize that “rock which is itself Christ” (1 Cor. 10.4)—namely, the word of truth.”

Gregory then ends his reflection on the relationship between the law and the Eighth Day with a glorious passage with which I’ll also conclude:

This, then, is the way in which we interpret the biblical law about the Eighth Day, the law of purification and circumcision: namely, that when the time that is measured in weeks comes to an end, an Eighth Day will come into being after the seventh—called “eighth” because it exists after the seventh, not because it is any longer capable of numerical succession. It will remain one day continually, never to be divided by the darkness of night. Another sun will bring it into being, radiating the true light; when once it “shines out” (Eph. 5.14) on us, as the apostle says, it will never be hidden by sunset, but, embracing all things in its luminous power, it will produce light continually for the worthy, without any succession of days, and will make those who share in that light into other suns. As the gospel saying puts it, “Then the just will shine like the sun” (Matt. 13.43).

Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.

*The final quote has been in the bookstore’s catalogues and bookmarks since I first discovered it in a translation of this homily by Fr. Brian Daley in his essay “Training in ‘the Good Ascent’: Gregory of Nyssa’s Homily on the Sixth Psalm.” It can be found in the Festschrift to Robert Louis Wilken titled In Dominico Eloquio—In Lordly Eloquence. Although it is out of print, Eighth Day Books has three copies in stock. See an Eighth Day View of the book here.

**See also Jean Danielou’s book The Bible and the Liturgy, which contains a fine exposition of the patristic view of the Eighth Day in chapter sixteen: “The Eighth Day.” See an Eighth Day View of the book here.

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