This is the 6th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Being and Becoming Human: An Excursus on the Holy Spirit.
In Orthodoxy we know to be human is to have a relationship with God. No human being brings himself/herself into existence, but each is a creation of the eternal God. Not only are we each part of God’s on-going, creative work, but we each are brought into being through the creative and procreative work of those humans who proceed us. As the genealogy in St. Luke which traces the origins of Christ says,
“ the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” (Luke 3:38)
We believe everyone ultimately shares this ancestry. Every person is a gift from someone who came before. Adam is God’s gift, and each of us are also gifts of our parents as well as all of our ancestors, not to mention God the Creator of us all. (Note: each of us is a gift but also a stewardship, each generation shares a responsibility for the next generation. No one theological metaphor is ever all encompassing in itself). We do not bring ourselves into being, but are conceived by our ancestors. We are a product of human synergy with God as well as humans fulfilling their God given vocation to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).
“In other words, our consciousness is not the source of itself. We come into being through dialogue with an ‘other.’ It is this encounter which always accompanies what seems like consciousness of ‘myself.’ The truth is ‘I AM only when THOU ART.’” (Stephen Muse, BEING BREAD, p 119)
An infant learns there is a world outside of himself or herself, an existence beyond the self that we are somehow related to and dependent on and yet distinct from. We learn about self, about “me” about “I” as we learn the contrast between myself and all else around me whether it pre-dates me or not. We learn that there are those greater and lesser than “myself.” I am not from the beginning of my existence equal to my parents, but am dependent on them. They are older, wiser and more knowledgeable than I am. I will learn the meaning of love from them and others who care for “me.” True Love is always other directed and not focused on the self. I experience in the world that some love me. In this context, I experience God. As is sung in the Akathist: “Glory to God for All Things”:
“I was born a weak, defenseless child,
but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me.
From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path,
and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity.
From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence
have been marvelously showered upon me.
I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You…”
We encounter in every act of love, the God who is love, and we realize that the God who is love is always oriented toward us. We are ourselves to learn to love others through this experience of being loved. Sadly, in the broken world of the Fall, we do not all or always experience such love. Sometimes we are raised by narcissistic parents who may only occasional give us true love. They see the world distortedly and imagine their children are there to serve their dysfunctional self-loving orientation and their destructive egocentrism. Nevertheless, the ideal is that parents will love their children, and the Church endeavors to teach that morality to all. Jesus is the self-emptying God who calls us to a life of self-denial and co-suffering love so that we can become God-like.
“When Job asks, ‘What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him?’ (Job 7:17), Holy Scripture characteristically gives the answer straight away: man is the target of God… The man whose heart has been targeted by God will come to stand before God and converse with Him on ‘equal’ terms as he intercedes for the salvation of the whole world, for God has given him this honour. God desires this equality of communication with man; He does not see him as a thing which He has simply ‘brought into being’, but as His ‘image’, His equal, with whom He can communicate.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, REMEMBER THY FIRST LOVE, p 23)
The God who is love created us to love one another. When we approach God through the love we give to neighbor and to others, we fulfill the very purpose for which God created us. We approach God in love for our neighbor when we intercede in prayer for our neighbor. We pray for the other, this is love – being oriented not toward ourselves but toward the other and the good of the other. This ability to love, is an honor God bestowed upon us humans. God has created us to be like Him, to be creatures of love (other oriented and caring for others rather than being narcissistic and self-centered and selfish).
“Through faith and love, through the prayer of faith and love, I can include both God and men in my heart. How deep and vast is the human heart! How great is man!” (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 9)
“A conclusion, therefore, is that the soul is united in will with whatever it is joined and bound to as its master. Either it has, therefore, the light of God in it and lives in that light with all of his powers, abounding with a restful light, or it is permeated by the darkness of sin, becoming a sharer in condemnation.” (PSEUDO-MACARIUS, p 41)
God honored His human creatures with His great glory. He made us capable of love. God placed the greatest trust in humans to carry out His will and plan of salvation. He empowered us to love as God loves. This is why Orthodox Christianity has an anthropology which exalts humanity for we know humans are capable of doing the things God does and also wills for us. When Christ performed healing miracles, he was not doing something beyond the capacity of humanity, but was doing exactly what humans were created by God to do. When Christ performs these signs of the kingdom, He is simultaneously showing us what it means to be human: fully united to God! Our anthropology is positive and not pessimistic about humanity despite the Fall and the power of sin. Regardless of the news and world events, we believe the incarnation occurred because humanity is capable of being united to God, loving like God, and fulfilling God’s will at all times. God wishes the salvation of every human and the damnation of none.
“Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
The Christian faith holds to this hopeful and merciful view of God and of humanity.
“Atheism obliges Christians to correct the flagrant faults of the past and to recognize man and God at the same time, to show in God a human epiphany. Abraham’s faith made him confess that with God all things are possible. The Christian’s faith implies that with man also all things are possible.” (Paul Evdokimov, AGES OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE, p 46)
Humans can cooperate with God and do the things of God. We do not encounter God only in the world to come, in heaven, in the future. God’s life is offered to us now in this world.
“We can only meet God in the present moment. This is an area where God chooses to place limits on His own power. We choose whether or not to live in the present moment. Because we can encounter only in that present moment, whenever we live in the past or in the future, we place ourselves beyond His reach.
We can only make decisions in the present moment. We can only enjoy sights and sounds in the present moment. We can only love or hate in the present moment. The present moment is the interface between ourselves and the rest of the universe, and, more importantly, it is the only point of contact between the individual and God. Of all the possible points of time, only the present moment is available for repentance. The past cannot be taken back and remade. The future remains forever outside our reach.” (Meletios Webber, IN COMMUNION Pentecost 2009 Issue 53, p 1)
The present moment, now is given to us as the time to encounter God and become united to Him.
“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)