God and Humanity (II)

‘The human being is an animal who has received the vocation to become God.’ (Words of Basil of Caesarea, quoted by Gregory Nazianzus…) (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 76)

This is the 3rd blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is God and Humanity (I).

Humans are the glory of God.  God delighted in creating a being in His own image with whom He could share His life and love.   Humanity was invited by God to share in the power of creative love in relating to the rest of the created universe.  Not only did God create a world in which His glory could abide, but God also brought into being a creature – the human – in whom His glory could dwell.   But God’s indwelling in the human was not even the whole story, for the Persons of the Holy Trinity created the human to be in union with Them.  Not only would God indwell in His human creation, more amazing and mysterious is that God created something with whom God could share the divine life in a living union.  God does not even withhold the divine life from us.   Humanity was created capable of union with divinity, with the potential to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  That is how glorious humans were in the plan of God for creation.   It was God’s intention all along to have humans living in the unity of the Trinity.    God never intended to withhold from us the divine life but wanted us to become everything that God is.  We were given that potential to perfect our humanity to become God by God’s own invitation and love.

“The human vocation is to fulfil one’s humanity by becoming God through grace, that is to say by living to the full.  It is to make of human nature a glorious temple. . . .  ‘Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God.’ (Origen…)”  (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 76)

Humanity was created with each person capable of bearing the divine life and sharing in the divine life.  Each human is capable of being a temple of God, but even more than a temple for God planned that humans would share in the divine glory – not to a remain a temple somehow separate from God, but rather to be united with God and to share the full glory of God.   More powerfully stated: each human is made capable of “becoming God through grace.”   God wanted to completely share His divine life with us.

“We human persons, created in the ‘image and likeness’ (Gen 1:27) of this same Trinitarian God, are called to grow in authentic relationship with God, with our own selves, with other person, and with the creation.  With this bold affirmation, we recognize that we are not meant to be autonomous and self-centered individuals.  To live in this manner is, ultimately, contrary to our basic human nature that is rooted in the reality of the Triune God.  We are meant to be persons in relationship. . . . This means that genuine human life must be lived in relationships that are loving, nurturing and healing.”  (Kyriaki FitzGerald, PERSONS IN COMMUNION, p 4)

God as Trinity always is a relational being: Three divine persons united in love for one another who share the one nature.   God created us in His image in order for  us likewise to participate in this divine life and to become by grace what God is by nature.   As Andrew Louth so wonderfully writes about the Trinitarian God:     “in the Trinity we see that neither one nor three are ultimate: at the very heart of reality, or the source of reality, there is both one and three, together.”  (Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1775)   It is this very Trinitarian divine life that God shares with us humans and makes possible for us to experience.

“The total human person is created to progress in union with God-Trinity by living fully.  We are not persons who have a body or who possess a soul or have a spirit.  Rather we are person who are ‘embodied beings’ and ‘ensouled beings’ and ‘enspirited’ being in vital interpersonal relationship on the various integrated levels of human existence with the indwelling Trinity.  The early Fathers conceived ‘nature’ as the total being, created as body and soul with the potential to respond through the Holy Spirit to become a spirited being in living consciously in the likeness of Christ.  All this is embraced by the one general word physis (nature).  Physis is a broader term than our term ‘nature.’ It embraces not only the nature of a human person as he or she comes from the hand of God, but it also looks toward its completion and is defined according to its fulfillment rather than the beginning stage.

Thus physis is everything that God puts into a human being, whether it is the beginning stage or the final one, and it also includes that which comes to a person after he or she is baptized and begins to lead a virtuous life.”  (George Maloney, GOLD, FRANKINCNESE AND MYRRH, p 40)

All of this language is heavily theological, but it reflects the depth and riches of what God wanted us humans to be.   Unfortunately, sometimes we practice a complete reductionism in our understanding of and vision of what it is to be human.  We so want to uphold the value of each person as an individual that we sacrifice the relational nature of humanity.  Individualism becomes alienation and autonomy, an isolation from all other human beings as well as from the rest of creation and from the Creator.   We lose sight of how important the love shared by the Three Persons of the Trinity is for our own ability to be fully human.  Individualism pushed to an extreme denies the value and power of love for others – the very way in which each human shares in the divine life.

“To speak of the sanctity or sacredness of human life is also to speak of ‘personhood.’  One is truly a person only insofar as one reflects the ‘being-in-communion’ of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  This is a much misunderstood concept in present-day America, where the ‘person’ has been confused with the ‘individual.’  Individual characteristics distinguish us from one another, whereas authentic personhood unites us in a bond of communion with each other and with God.  We can truly claim to be persons only insofar as we embody and communicate to others the beauty, truth and love that unite the three Persons—Father, Son and Spirit—in an eternal tri-unity.  The Trinitarian God is thus the model, as well as the source and ultimate end, of all that is authentically personal in human experience.”  (John Breck, THE SACRED GIFT OF LIFE, p 8)

God created us to be united to divinity, to share the divine life with the Persons of the Trinity, to in fact become God.  But when we make individualism the greatest good at the expense of denying our relational character, we lose our humanity.   We can never become God if we do not know how to be human as God created us to be.   As. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d.  202AD) writes:

“’How could you be God when you have not yet become human?”   (THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 87)

Becoming human is a spiritual pursuit.  It is recognizing the divine image in our selves and in our neighbors and then striving to realize the likeness of God through actively loving God and neighbor in our daily lives.  The image of God in us is not limited to our individual selves but is also found in our collective, relational human nature which all humanity shares.

Next:  God and Humanity (III)

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Disciplined Discipleship

“Doing the will of God is a discipline in the best sense of the word. It is also a test of our loyalty, of our fidelity to Christ. It is by doing in every detail, at every moment, to the utmost of our power, as perfectly as we can, with the greatest moral integrity, using our intelligence, our imagination, our will, our skill, our experience, that we can gradually learn to be strictly, earnestly obedient to God. Unless we do this our discipleship is an illusion and all our life of discipline, when it is a set of self-imposed rules in which we delight, which makes us proud and self-satisfied, leaves us nowhere, because the essential momentum of our discipleship is the ability to reject our self, to allow the Lord Christ to be our mind, our will and our heart. Unless we renounce ourselves and accept his life in place of our life, unless we aim at what St. Paul defines as ‘it is no longer I but Christ who lives in me’, we shall never be either disciplined or disciples.”    (Metropolitan Anthony, The Modern Spirituality Series: Arranged for Daily Reading, p 56)

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God and Humanity (I)

“For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.”   (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 6111)

“Rather than seeing human life as governed by an injunction to glorify God, for Irenaeus it is God who seeks to glorify man, bringing him to share ever more fully in his own glory.  It is this desire of God that prompted his initial creation of man…”    (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 56-57)

This is the 2nd blog in this series which began with the 1st blog Being and Becoming Human.

Perhaps the greatest of enduring mysteries is that God glorifies human beings and rejoices in humanity glorified.   God’s desire to share His glory with a being of His own creation is prompted by the very nature of God:  the Triune God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).  Love by nature is creative thus life-giving, and so the Father, Son and Holy Spirit pour forth their glory into a being whom they create in their image, to share their life and nature (2 Peter 1:4).

“We are to think of the Church as many embraced by oneness, and oneness expressed in the many: both poles – the one and the many – are important, irreducible. It is in this sense, I think, that the doctrine of the Trinity is relevant to our understanding of Christian community, or communion. Not that the Trinity is some kind of model that we should try to emulate – that would be to think in too anthropomorphic terms, though such an idea has been very popular in the last few decades, not least among Orthodox – but rather that in the Trinity we see that neither one nor three are ultimate: at the very heart of reality, or the source of reality, there is both one and three, together. So in human community, as it is meant to be, neither the one nor the many is ultimate; the many does not yield before the one, as if what mattered was the one community and the many has to be compressed into it (by some unitary authority, say), nor is the one simply to be thought of as some kind of harmony among the many, as if it were the individuals who were important and their harmony secondary. Another way of putting this is to say that we find our own identity as persons in the togetherness we share with others, and that unity is an expression of something that we genuinely hold in common.”  (Andrew Louth, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1770-79)

We humans are beings created in God’s image (= icon) and likeness (an idea we will explore more in future blogs in this series) and thus always have a natural connection to our Creator.  We are most human when we see the image of God in one another and when we look to that image to find the prototype of that image.  We are most human when we seek out God who is love and join in sharing the life and unity of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.  We thus find our true humanity in God but also in Christian community. In community we experience the fullness of humanity as being relational to other humans and to creation itself. Pursuing a spiritual life means to become more fully human: to live out our lives in love with others.

“Whatever knowledge we may gain about ourselves through the scientific examination of the untold wonders of our minds and bodies and of the unfathomable depths of our psyche, it will not explain sufficiently or exhaust fully the mystery of who we are as nature and as person because we are more than the sum of our knowledge.  We have been made for something greater than the precarious existence of this world; for something more than conventional morality; and for something beyond the dread finality of death.   We long deeply for an encounter with the holy, for an experience of the eternal, for personal union with our Creator.  The grandeur of the human being lies not in one’s magnificent physical and intellectual powers but in the conscious longing for and pursuit of an intimate personal relationship with the living God.  Our hearts, as St. Augustine observed, remain restless until they rest in the presence of God.  . . .  The grandeur of man, therefore, lies in his God-given desire to exceed, to transcend the limitations of his creatureliness, and to acquire absolute freedom – not simply for himself but for the benefit of all creation – in his communion with the eternal God who made him in his image and likeness.”    (Alkiviadis Calivas, ASPECTS OF ORTHODOX WORSHIP, pp 23-24, 25)

God imprints on each person the divine image which makes it possible for us through creatures to aspire to something beyond creation, to divinity.   We approach our Creator with awe for God has made His invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable and ineffable eternal nature accessible to us creatures who exist in space and time and who rely upon our sight, hearing, touch and smell to know all that exists.  Worship becomes that forum in which the physical world AND our physical senses are transformed; the physical world being the way in which we can know God and communicate with Him and our senses become capable of leading us to an experience of the divine.

“For this is the glory of man, to continue and remain permanently in God’s service.” (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 5722-23)

God has made it possible for us to know and love Him through the service of the Liturgy.

“Communion with God and neighbor begins with our willingness to see and accept the truth that an authentic human being is above all a worshipping being who feels the irresistible urge to converse with the Author of life, who has love him first.”  (Alkiviadis Calivas, ASPECTS OF ORTHODOX WORSHIP, p 4)

Liturgical worship – worshipping in community – is the way in which we can be fully human and live that life of glory which God has bestowed upon us.

“… our first duty as human beings is to honor and venerate the one true God, and that without the worship of God, society disintegrates into an amoral aggregate of competing, self-centered interests destructive of the commonweal.”   (Robert Wilken,  REMEMBERING THE CHRISTIAN PAST,  p 51)

Liturgy is where we begin to experience the divine life as love in relationship with God, with neighbor, with the entirety of creation.  And what we begin to experience in liturgy is to become the very way we live in the world and approach the rest of the created order and our fellow human beings.

“A person’s glory is orthodox faith, zeal as God wishes, love, gentleness, simplicity, devotion in prayer, generosity in almsgiving, chastity, modesty and all the other aspects of virtue.”    (St. John Chrysostom, OLD TESTAMENT HOMILIES  Vol 3, pp 107)

Next:  God and Humanity (II)

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The Parish: When Two or Three Gather In His Name

“Tell me, what do we have to fear?…I mock the threat of this world; I disdain its favors. I do not fear poverty, I do not desire wealth; I am not afraid of death; I wish to live only for your benefit…Do you now understand this word of the Lord: ‘When two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there, in the midst of them?’ And where so many people are united by the bonds of love, will the Lord not be present with them? I have His word; should I trust in my own strength? I have His word; He is my support, my safety, my haven of peace. Should the world know total upheaval, I nevertheless have this on Word: I can read it; it is my protection, my safety. Which text? ‘I am with you always until the end of the age.’ Christ is with me: what then shall I fear?”     (St. John Chrysostom in The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, p 246)

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Thankfully Recovering

For the second time in the past two years I underwent a spinal fusion surgery to correct a degenerative lumbar spinal problem. I am grateful for all those who have prayed for my health and recovery.

The convalescence is a long and slow process but thankfully the surgery went well, and time will tell whether the debilitating problems will be corrected, even temporarily.  I’ll let these few photos serve as symbols of the recovery from surgery.

 

These last two photos, well, they are the actual hardware that was in my vertebrae from the first fusion.  They were removed during this current surgery and new and additional pieces were put in.  Spoiler alert:  don’t look if thinking about things medical bothers you.

Gives a sense of the size of the hardware used in the fusion.  Those are inches.  Hard to imagine that is drilled into your vertebrae, but it apparently works.  They don’t call it big back surgery for nothing.

 

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Being and Becoming Human

As I have mentioned in a couple of previous Blog Series ( What Does It Mean to be Human?   And   A Quest to Know What it Means to be Human) I have had an interest for all of my adult life in questions about what it is to be human and what it means to be human.   For one thing, we humans have consciousness and can reflect on these issues.  What is it about us that makes this possible?  And does this ability make us different from all other living creatures on earth?  Other animals have brains, some seem to have emotions, show signs of being able to learn, have communication skills, and can act with intention.

We share similar genetic and anatomical structures with other animals.  We have shared a long history on earth together with other creatures, adapting to a changing world environment.  Yet, we seem to be unique in a conscious awareness of our environment which we can share in words, symbols, images and philosophical speculation.   We can imagine a God – an invisible being, with supernatural powers who lives totally outside and beyond space and time and who miraculously has an ability to communicate with us and even abide in and with us,  and us with and in Him.   We are able to communicate with one another about this God who we believe created us, rather than our creating God.

And so, as I read, and have been an avid reader for most of my life, I am always looking for thoughts about what a human is and what it means for us to be human.  Through the years I “tagged” various passages from the books I was reading with the moniker “being human.”   I recorded the page numbers from the various books in which I logged these tags and with the advent of computers and word processing, I am able now to assemble those quotes together.  They are the basis of this Blog Series.   So this series is not ‘research’ in a traditional sense of the word.  As I was reading I would mark a passage as relating to “being human” however I defined that tag in the moment I recorded it.  Through time, my understanding of that tag changed.   So all of the quotes were not gathered to prove anything, but are rather a collection of quotes that struck me through a life time of reading.   Now I intend to assemble them and share them over the next many weeks in through the format of a Blog Series, which will eventually be gathered together in a PDF.

The quotes are mostly from Orthodox Christian sources, but not all since I read other things along the way and sometimes noted an idea that caught my attention from these other sources.   My goal in this really is to share what I have encountered as the richness and depth  of the answers to the questions:

What is it to be human?

What does it mean to be human?

What makes us human?

How do we become human?

Fetus6monthsI assume there is meaning in life.  I assume humans are unique among the animals on earth in their abilities of self-conscious awareness, creatitivity, imagination, and rational expression.  I assume that being human is a process of becoming: though a human fetus is human, he/she still is potential and if allowed to live becomes more than a fetus.  There is a process of maturation and growth and development, all of which are part of being human and which help us to become human.    Thus the title of the Blog Series, “Being and Becoming Human.”  We are human and are always in the process of becoming human.   But as we look around, we can see it is possible to dehumanize others and to behave inhumanly in our relationship to others.   That of course assumes there is some ideal or idea of what a human is.  And it assumes that we can fall from that idea or ideal, and have in fact fallen from it.

Ideas of a human are presented to us in the creation narratives found in Genesis 1 and 2.   The two accounts of Creation are quite different in detail, but both have humans being created by God.  In Genesis 1:26-28 we read:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

We find in this version of the creation of humans several themes which we will frequently encounter in Orthodox writers:

Humans are created in God’s image and likeness.  The image of God in each human is indelible, though it can be covered over and become invisible through human actions, specifically through sin.

The image of God has something to do with God’s Trinitarian nature.  The image of God is related to many aspects of our being human but certainly is not limited to any physical visible aspect of ourselves.

Humans are given a special relationship to all other animals.  That relationship is hierarchical, and the humans are ‘over’ these other animals.

Humans are not merely animal but are special creatures and have among all the creatures on earth a special role with God the Creator.

Humans have a special role to play in creation as well.

In the second account of God’s creating humans in Genesis 2:7, we read:

“…then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

We find several themes in this version of the creation narrative which are emphasized a great deal in Orthodox writings:

God creates us using the already existing, inanimate dirt of the earth.  We have a physical nature.

God breathes His breath into our physical body, and thus we each have the breath/spirit of God in us naturally.  We have a relationship with God which is related to our breathing, related to our being alive.  We cannot live without also having this relationship to God.

We become “a living being” – namely, a soul.  The soul is the very place where God interacts with the human – it is the interface point between God’s spirit and the physical world.   Humanity from the moment of creation is capable of bearing God and relating to God and having God dwell within us.

Biblical authors frequently reflected on the unusual character of humans and marveled at God’s creativity and love for us.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

What is man that You are mindful of him,

And the son of man that You visit him?

For You have made him a little lower than the angels,

And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet,  

(Psalm 8:3-6, quoted in Hebrews 2:6)

 There are many objects in the universe larger than humans, seemingly more glorious and mysterious and even more powerful than us.  Yet God who forms humans with His own fingers (a touching image indeed!) is most concerned with His human creatures.   The imagery shows a tenderness in God delicately shaping us with His fingers, and a fragility in us that we must be handled with such precise, dexterous skill and care.

In the rest of this Blog series we will be exploring some of the themes about humans introduced to us in Genesis 1 and 2.   And for us, we start our discussion about humans with God.

Next:   God and Humanity (I)

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Creation Worships God Through Us

“Through heaven and earth and sea,

through wood and stone,

 

through relics and Church buildings and the Cross,

through angels and people,

through all creation visible and invisible,

I offer veneration and honor to the Creator and Master and Maker of all things, and to him alone.

For the creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God,

through me the moon worships God, through me the stars glorify him,

through me the waters and showers of rain,

the dew and all creation, venerate God and give him glory.”

(Leontius of Cyprus – d. 1947,  in Beyond the Shattered Image: Insights into an Orthodox Christian Ecological Worldview, p 126)

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