Being and Becoming Human: An Excursus on the Holy Spirit 

This is the 5th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is God and Humanity (III).

paulpeterMy theological interest was piqued by Fr. Andrew Louth’s  intriguing description of the origins of our word for “symbol.”   In his Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology Louth writes:

“In origin a symbol was a token that had been broken in two and the parts given to two people who in some way belonged to each other, or were committed to some venture; when the two parts were brought together again this common purpose and their commitment to it was reaffirmed. From this a symbol came to mean something that points beyond itself, something the meaning of which is not exhausted by what it seems to be.”   (Kindle Loc. 1933-36)

There are several stories in legends and myth about such symbols and when the bearers of the pieces are brought together and the two pieces of the symbol rejoined something wonderfully mysterious happens.  The bringing together of the separated parts of the symbol becomes a key opening the way to some other, even greater truth.   The symbol points to something greater and beyond.

What was triggered in my mind from Fr. Louth’s portrayal of a “symbol” is that humans are exactly such a “symbol.”  First, in Genesis 1:27 humans are created by God as icons of God.  In some manner we are representative of God, in God’s own image.  Second, in Genesis 2:7 God forms the human from the dust of the earth and breathes His life-giving breath into the corporeal thing and the dust of the earth comes to life as the soul is formed.   The soul is the very interface point of God’s breath with the dust of the earth.  The human exists only as the union of God’s breath and the dust of the earth.  The “symbol” has been formed.  The Holy Prophet Isaiah paraphrases the Genesis 2 account of the creation of humans like this:  “… O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”   (Isaiah 64:80)  Formed from the dust of the earth, we indeed are a clay symbol with God’s breath being the other part of that symbol.  And as symbol, we point to the divine life beyond ourselves and yet attainable in a union between divinity and humanity.

The symbol of  humanity is indeed broken in two, but is broken they humans themselves.  For humanity rebels against God its Creator and sins bringing about death.  In Genesis 6:3,  the LORD says,

“My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.”

The ancestral sin and the Fall of humankind   breaks the unity of the symbol, and the two “pieces” of the symbol are separated.   Adam returns to the dust of the earth.

But as we know, the Biblical story does not end there, for in the Gospel of John we read this amazing story of undoing and reunion:

The next day he (John the Forerunner and Baptizer) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”   (John 1:29-34)

The Spirit which God said would not remain forever on the fallen humans, now. in Christ comes upon us again, and remains!  The human symbol broken in two parts by human sin becomes the background for the narrative of the Bible, the quest and venture to bring the separated pieces together again.  And in the incarnation when the Word of God becomes flesh, the  union of the pieces of the symbol are indeed brought together again the venture of the people of God is revealed to have been the history to reveal that great mystery hidden from all eternity (Colossians 1:26-27; Ephesians 3:4-12).  The Holy Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and remains, and the fruit which is born is God in the flesh.  As Fr. Louth puts it:

“The mystery of Christ in the Incarnation is intended to bring to perfection in man his role as a being who relates, who brings together – something that culminates in human kind’s bridging even the divide between the uncreated and the created in his deification. That was always the purpose of the mystery of Christ, but in the circumstances brought about by the Fall, that purpose is now to restore to human kind the cosmic role of bond of the cosmos that he was meant to exercise through being in the image of God…” (Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1964-68)

The human “symbol” is revealed in Jesus Christ: the human is not merely dust of the earth to which each human returns then they die.  Each human’s destiny is in heaven united with God.  The body of clay is only half of the real identity of the human.    Jesus Christ, and every icon (image) of Him, reveals the symbol which is human.  Humans created as icons of God are revealed in their fullness in Jesus Christ who is both fully God and human.

The two parts of the symbol: God’s breath/spirit and the physical dust of the earth are also revealed in another mystery:  the Eucharist.  Fr. Louth describes it this way:

“The wider context is made clear if we look at the prayer of invocation, or epiklesis, in the anaphora, or eucharistic prayer, of St John Chrysostom, the one most commonly used in the Orthodox Church. There the priest prays:

Also we offer you this spiritual worship without shedding of blood, and we ask, pray and implore you: send down your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here set forth, and make this bread the precious body of your Christ, and what is in this cup the precious blood of your Christ, changing them by your Holy Spirit.

The invocation to the Holy Spirit is for him to descend on ‘us’ and the ‘gifts’. We pray that the Holy Spirit may change the gifts of bread and wine into the precious body and blood of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit, coming on us, may work a change in us who receive them, so that those who partake of them may obtain vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of your Holy Spirit, fulness of your kingdom, freedom to speak in your presence, not judgment or condemnation.  For the wider context of change is the change that Christ came to effect through his Incarnation – in which God paradoxically accepted change, remaining what he was, God, and assuming what he was not, humanity: the change of all human kind into the image and likeness of God in which and for which we were created. This is one of the fundamental reasons why we Orthodox talk about deification; for what is offered to us by the Incarnate Christ, through the Eucharist and through our being faithful in our discipleship, is a change that will reach to the roots of our being – not some change simply in how we are regarded, nor even a change in our behaviour (though that will certainly take place), but a fundamental change so that the roots from which our actions flow are transformed, deified, and what others experience at our hands is the cherishing love of God himself.”  (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 2125-41)

In this we come to understand the “symbolic” nature of the Eucharist for it brings together those parts of the human symbol broken by sin and restores them to their original state so that the human can be fully human, fully symbolic for the venture has been accomplished to restore humanity to its original state.  Every human is thus a symbol, and in this sense so is every Eucharist and every icon.  So too the Theotokos and the Church for in all of them God and humanity are reunited.

For further reflection on Jesus Christ as restoring to humanity what humans had lost through sin see also my blogs: Genesis 6:3 and John 1:32-34, God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:3, The Holy Spirit and Humanity: Loss and Restoration, The Feast of the Annunciation (2014)

Next:  God and Humanity (IV)

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God and Humanity (III)

“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”   (Isiah 64:80)

This is the 4th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is God and Humanity (II).

God is the original iconographer and Adam is the original icon of God.

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.”   (Genesis 1:26-28)

God made living icons, not ones painted on wood – icons that have eyes and see, ears that hear, lungs that breathe, minds that consciously think.  God blessed those icons and as we have seen even bestowed His glory on the humans created in God’s own image and likeness.  Additionally, by breathing His breath, the Holy Spirit, into the dust of the earth when God created humans, God created us to be temples of God’s Spirit – we are to be the very place where God dwells on earth.  We were created capable of bearing God within ourselves.  Even more, as we have seen, we were created capable of being in union with God and in participating in the divine nature.   Scripture offers us many ideas about what it is to be fully human.  All of those ideas have us in relationship with our Creator.  We cannot be human without God.  And when God became incarnate as a Human, God fully reveals what a human is, what humanity is capable of, what humans were created to be – the very interface point between God and creation, between divinity and the physical world.

God also bestows upon humanity an ability to be creative as God is creative.  Humans are able to procreate beings in their own image and likeness as well.   God bestows upon the first human the gift to continue being an iconographer:

“When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”  (Genesis 5:3)

Humans indeed  share in God’s image and can conform themselves to God’s likeness.  As we saw in the previous blog:

“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)

We are icons of God, and God’s original temple.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? … For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.”  (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

“But he [Jesus] spoke of the temple of his body.”  (John 2:21)

“The God of gods, and Lord of lords (compare Deuteronomy 10:17; Joshua 22:22) created our soul to be a dwelling place, a temple for Himself.  Let us, therefore, hold our soul in great respect, keeping it from becoming corrupted by inclining toward something lower than itself—meanwhile keeping our desires and hopes centered on this invisible presence of God with us.”    (Jack Sparks, VICTORY IN THE UNSEEN WARFARE, p 98)

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? …. So glorify God in your body.”   (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“You are accustomed to look upon your body as upon your own inalienable property, but that is quite wrong, because your body is God’s edifice.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 25)

God created us humans for a purpose – to be His dwelling place on earth, to be His temple and his priests, to unite earth to heaven, to transfigure and transform all of creation into a communion with the Creator.  Even more we were created to be in union with the Holy Trinity, and through us all creation was to be united to God.

 “For man can be truly man—that is, the king of creation, the priest and minster of God’s creativity and initiative—only when he does not posit himself as the ‘owner’ of creation and submits himself—in  obedience and love – to its nature as the bride of God, in response and acceptance.  And woman ceases to be just a ‘female’ when, totally and unconditionally accepting the life of the Other as her own life, giving herself totally to the Other, she becomes the very expression, the very fruit, the very joy, the very beauty, the very gift of our response to God, the one whom, in the words of the Song, the king will bring into his chambers, saying: “thou are all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee’ (Ct. 4:7)  (Alexander Schmemann, FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD,  p 85)

Next:  Being and Becoming Human: An Excursus on the Holy Spirit

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The Gospel Lesson of the Rich Young Man

In the Gospel of St. Matthew (19:16-26), we find this encounter between our Lord Jesus and a young man possessed by his many possessions.

Moses receiving the Ten Commandments

At that time someone came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.

St. Peter of Damaskos reflecting on this Gospel lesson is quite critical of the rich, young man.

10commadments“It is with reference to this incident that St. Basil the Great observes that the young man lied when he said that he had kept the commandments; for if he had kept them, he would not have acquired many possessions, since the first commandment in the Law is, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul’ (Duet. 6:5). The word ‘all’ forbids him who loves God to love anything else to such an extent that it would make him sad were it to be taken away. After this the Law says, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18), that is, ‘you shall love every man’. But how can he have kept this commandment if, when many other men lacked daily nourishment, he had many possessions and was passionately attached to them? If, like Abraham, Job and other righteous men, he had regarded those possessions as the property of God, he would not have gone away sorrowing. St. John Chrysostom says the same thing: the young man believed that what was said to him by the Lord was true, and this was why he went away full of sorrow, for he had not the strength to carry it into effect. For there are many who believe the sayings of the Scriptures, but have not the strength to fulfil what is written.” (The Philokalia: Vol. 3, p 184)

I suppose all of us fall into the young man’s temptation of selectively reading Scripture, and literally interpreting only those teachings with which we agree, and seeing those teachings that we actually do as more important than those we are not willing to fulfill.

Christ’s teachings do challenge us on what it means to own anything – do we really own things, or are they given to us by God as a stewardship for the short time we have them on earth?  As some saints noted, property and possession are not really ours and the proof of this comes at our death when we leave them all behind, no matter how much we valued them or how hard we had worked to earn them.  “You can’t take it with you,” is a truism that each of us experiences at death.

St. John Chrysostom reminds us:

“Some people see the houses in which they live as their kingdom; and although in their minds they know that death will one day force them to leave, in their hearts they feel they will stay forever. They take pride in the size of their houses and the fine materials with which they are built. They take pleasure in decorating their houses with bright colors, and in obtaining the best and most solid furniture to fill the rooms. They imagine that they can find peace and security by owning a house whose walls and roof will last for many generations. We, by contrast, know that we are only temporary guests on earth. We recognize that the houses in which we live serve only as hostels on the road to eternal life. We do not seek peace or security from the material walls around us or the roof above our heads. Rather, we want to surround ourselves with a wall of divine grace; and we look upward to heaven as our roof. And the furniture of our lives should be good works, performed in a spirit of love.” (On Living Simply, p 11)

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Tradition: Catching the Wind of the Holy Spirit

In a previous blog, Tradition: The Ship of Salvation’s Sail Not Its Anchor, I noted that while some see Tradition as an anchor holding the Church in place, it really is more appropriately to be considered the sail of the ship which catches the blowing of the Holy Spirit which takes the Church on its great sojourn to the Kingdom of heaven.  Here is another very similar thought from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:

“I was particularly impressed by the manner in which Orthodox thinkers, when speaking of their Church as the Church of Holy Tradition, insist at the same time that Tradition is not static but dynamic, not defensive but exploratory, not closed and backward-facing but open to the future. Tradition, I learnt from the authors whom I studied, is not merely a formal repetition of what was stated in the past, but it is an active re-experiencing of the Christian message in the present. The only true Tradition is living and creative, formed from the union of human freedom with the grace of the Spirit. This vital dynamism was summed up for me in Vladimir Lossky’s lapidary phrase: ‘Tradition…is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.’ Emphasizing the point, he adds: ‘One can say that “Tradition” represents the critical spirit of the Church.’ We do not simply remain within the Tradition by inertia.” (The Inner Kingdom, p 9)

Tradition is not about orienting us to the past, for that is the wrong direction for the Church.  We are not anchored in the past like some maritime museum.  Rather, the Church is living and breathing the breath of the Holy Spirit, that wind which blows where it will (John 3:8).  We are always to be moving toward the eschaton, toward God’s Heavenly kingdom.  If we remain mired in the past we will never make that great voyage to the Kingdom.  As St. Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 -

Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Tradition is not supposed to anchor us to the past.  What is supposed to be unchanging is the ship of salvation, not the location of the ship!

 

I will also add that the ship of salvation is not supposed to stay anchored in some calm haven, but is more like Noah’s ark which is a place of salvation amidst the surging storm of life.  In the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things,”  we praise God for His Church:

“Glory to You, building your church, haven of peace in a tortured world.”

The world is awash in sin, sighing, sorrow and suffering.  The Church is to be that haven in the midst of all of this.  But that is only one thing the Church is to be, for it also must be a light to the world and the salt of earth, the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

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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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