“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)