This longing for Light shows that I am right,
It tells me about another world, my real Native Land .
Does it have any meaning for people today?”
( Albert Camus, The Summer )
us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking
for the city that is to come.
(Hebrews 13, 13’14 )
our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour
from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 3,20 )
« Nostalgia », said a philosopher of Antiquity, « offers man
lovely times and beautiful experiences ans memories which come
from the past and which reality and the present cannot provide
». So, antiquity shows us the meaning and the content of this
notion. But where does the term come from ?
Nostalgia (nostalgiva) is a Greek word ; we find it for the
first time in the works of Homer (in Odyssey : « nostimon émar
», « novstimon h\mar ») and then in the lyric poetry of the
poetess Sappho. We find it also in the other poets, in ancient
theatre and drama, and finally in the philosophical essays of
Philosophy as well as Philology defined the exact meaning of
“nostalgia” : to have or to feel nostalgia for someone or something,
and to feel nostalgic for someone or something. So today we
use this word — especially after the influence of Romanticism
— with the same meaning as in antiquity. In this way, nostalgia
is a slightly sad and very affectionate feeling you have “for
the past”, especially for a particular time ; eg. nostalgia
for the good old days..., many people “look back” with nostalgia
to feudal times..., he/she made me feel nostalgic..., and so
The English language, like the other languages of the world,
uses the qualitative adjective “nostalgic” with an evocative
meaning : “something that is nostalgic causes you to feel nostalgia”,
like the sentimental meaning “someone who is or feels nostalgic
is thinking affectionately about a happier time in the past”.
In other words, nostalgia turns our minds “to the past”, to
“look back”. That is the primitive philological or philosophical
content of the notion “nostalgia” which today dominates the
mentality of life.
But the etymological analysis, which gives the exact content
of the notion, is a little different from the philosophical
definition. The word came from the Greek verb “nost-algw`” (“nost-algo”)
: novsto" (=“nost-os”) and a[lgo" (=“algo-s”). “Nostos”
signifies “yearning, craving, longing, desire, anxiety or wish”.
“Algo-s”, verb and noun, signifies “suffer, feel pain, suffering,
pain”. “Nostalg-o” as such signifies “I have a yearning with
mental pain for someone or something”.
The languages which borrowed the term from the Greek adopted
only the noun and the adjective, but not the verb nostalgw`
(“nostalgo”), which expresses the first and the real notion
of the word, eg. : “nostalgo” to return one day to my home/country
— an action in the future which presupposes knowledge and experience
(Maybe it is possible in English “to nostalgize” : “to yearn
or long for someone or something” ! .)
From this analysis we can see that nostalgia concerns “perhaps”
something in the future, or it is a more neutral term : we can
use it for the future as well as for the past. But ancient philosophy
put an emphasis only on “the past” of life, which all philosophy
knows today in Europe and in the whole world. History and contemporary
Romanticism did much in this direction. So, our thoughts turn
“to the past” and “to the back”, while our way of life heads
for the future, looking ahead...
History contributes sometimes to the cultivation of nostalgia,
of historical nostalgia, but « the river does not flow back
» (Greek popular proverb) : this nostalgia is eonistic, a principal
parameter of Eonism. What has happened ?
It is true that this philosophical conception is very problematic,
because it depends on the conception of time. In antiquity,
the recycling of time was fundamental for philosophy. That is
why the philosophers put this element of “recycling” into nostalgia.
In fact, they charged it with a negative content with regard
But this notion changed radically in the 4th and 5th centuries
AD in the age of patristic Theology with the Cappadocian Fathers
and then with St Maximos the Confessor. From those centuries
until today, nostalgia concerns exclusively the future, the
growth of every day... of every century... of every millennium...
Nostalgia concerns something which comes from the future...
In other words, nostalgia concerns Someone Who comes from the
future... So, in the patristic perspective, “nost-algo” signifies
“to desire (nostos) with pain (algos) to see/meet someone” who
comes — who has already started to come — to me/us. (We are
going and he is coming...). As we can see, the patristic nostalgia
is not similar or different, but it is in the opposite direction,
because it is eschatological... By the way, eschatological nostalgia
acquires a special importance for life, and a dynamic content.
It is very strange that the contemporary philosophers have not
changed this content — as “lifestyle” (a way of living, a modus
vivendi) — of ancient nostalgia and disregarded the notion of
this evolution. (Did not they know ? Did not they want to ?...).
Now we have two nostalgias, the first characterized by escapism
from reality and the second by dynamism for the present and
principally for the future, waiting for action and decisiveness,
in expectation and suspense for someone or something. The first
relates to memory, the slightly sad, an unrealized desire, the
imagination, etc.. The new nostalgia — with a new content, ontological
content — does not like the escapism “to the past” and dislikes
the memory’s “going back”... It looks fixedly at life and has
eschatological content and perspective. Finally, the second
has the same positive content as the etymological one : it has
a direct and synonymous relation to “hope” and “expectation”.
This nostalgia is for everybody and for peoples and especially
for the young...
After this little essay, it is very clear that nostalgia concerns
life itself, mankind and especially the young, because it gives
to them an orientation and a direction in time, many perspectives
and posibilities for action, an expectation for the future...
Finally, this nostalgia can succeed in reviving the flat and
flagging visions of every human person and humanity. In other
words, eschatological nostalgia is proper for the existential
perspective of humanity...
Prof. Hdr. Archim. Grigorios D.
Dean of the St Platon Theological Seminar in Tallinn.