This is the 30th and final blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is God Became Human. Humanity begins from God, and according to the Orthodox understanding of salvation, our ultimate end is in God. Humans are created in God’s image, which makes it possible for the Word of God to become human (incarnation), which leads to humans being able to become divine (theosis). This is God’s narrative for humanity as recorded in the Scriptures and as taught by the Church.
“… those beautiful words of St Athanasius of Alexandria (+373): ‘God became “sacrophore”—bearer of our flesh—so that mankind might become “pneumatophore—bearer of the Holy Spirit.’” (Michael Quenot, THE ICON, p 55)
God created the universe, the beginning of space and time, which through science is detected as the Big Bang. Humans are brought into being in this already existing universe. Still, theologically speaking, human origins are in God. Christianity proclaims that the unfolding of history, as linear as it may be leads humanity back to God. The whole purpose of history is to move us to union with our Creator, to make it possible for us “to become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The Word calls humanity into existence and the Word becomes flesh to ensure that humanity shares in the divine life. This is our history, our narrative, our story.
“… for [St.] Irenaeus, the divine economy is directed towards the becoming truly human of both God and human beings, first realized ‘in the last times’ in Jesus Christ, and to be fully realized for the adopted sons of god in the eschaton. . . . It is a movement from animation to vivification: as Adam was animated by the breath of life, so the resurrected Christ is vivified by the life-creating Spirit.” (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 86)
Fr. Behr’s piquant phrase, “the becoming truly human of both God and human beings…”, is both delightful and challenging. Our understanding of Scripture and history is that God intended for humans to be fully united to divinity. We were created for this purpose. God’s plan for our salvation is God’s effort to make it possible for us to be united to divinity despite our falling away from holiness, the very hallmark of God’s being.
“Perhaps the most striking aspect of Irenaeus’s theology is the intimate link between theology proper and anthropology: the truth of man is revealed in the Incarnation, which at the same time is the primary, if not the sole, revelation of God. Adam was created as the type of the One to come, and the manifestations of God in the Old Testament were always prophetic revelations of the incarnate Son. Adam was animated by the breath of life, which prefigured the future vivification of the sons of God by the Spirit…” (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 209)
We humans were created not only so that the Persons of the Holy Trinity could share their love with us but so that God’s self-revelation could be possible. In Christ not only God’s plan but God Himself is revealed to us. To be fully and truly human is to reveal God!
Christmas, the feast of the incarnation is also a feast celebrating humanity. The Nativity of Christ is fully about what it is to be human.
“Furthermore, the Incarnation is considered as part of the original creative plan, and not simply as a response to the human fall. In this regard, it is perceived not only as a revelation of God to humanity but primarily as a revelation to us of the true nature of humanity and the world itself.” (John Chryssavgis, BEYOND THE SHATTERED IMAGE, p 55)
How completely intertwined is humanity with divinity! Our true existence is inseparable from God.
“’For the glory of God is a living man, and the life of man consists in beholding God: for if the manifestation of God affords life to all living upon earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word give life to those who see God.’ (Irenaeus)” (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 109)
In creating beings with whom the Persons of the Trinity could share their love and life, the triune God reveals truth about divinity. Christ says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6). The person of Christ, incarnate as a human being reveals the truth concerning God, God’s humility and God’s love.
“’The work of God is the fashioning of man’ …: this is the basic structure of Irenaeus’s thought. It determines his theology at all levels: God has revealed himself, uniquely, as man . . . to become truly human is to become that as which God has revealed himself.” (John Behr, ASCETICISM AND ANTHROPOLOGY IN IRENAEUS AND CLEMENT, p 116)
Humanity in itself, in the fact that we exist at all, is a revelation of God. We reveal God in our very being, not only in what we do.
“The only thing God requires of us is that we do not sin. But this is achieved, not by acting according to the law, but by carefully guarding the divine image in us and our supernal dignity. When we thus live in our natural state, wearing the resplendent robe of the Spirit, we dwell in God and God dwells in us. Then we are called gods by adoption and sons of God, sealed by the light of the knowledge of God (cf. Ps. 4:6. LXX).” (St Symeon the New Theologian, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 35314-18)
God became human, so that humans might become God. In this phrase is held the meaning of what it is to be human. To understand humanity we must understand the incarnate God.
“Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy through the God-man. And we Orthodox, by confessing the God-man, indirectly confess the Christ-image of man, the divine origin of man, the divine exaltation of man, and thus also the divine value and sacredness of the human personality.
In fact, the struggle for the God-man is the struggle for man. Not the humanists, but the people of the Orthodox faith and life of the God-man are struggling for true man, man in the image of God and the image of Christ.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, THE STRUGGLE FOR FAITH, p 102)
God created us humans to be the mediator between the rest of creation and divinity. God created us to be a microcosm of the entire universe. Humanity will never be fully understood if we reduce human beings to genetics, chemistry or physics. Even though each of these sciences offers us truth about being human, none can fully reveal the nature of humanity, created in God’s image and capable of full union with God.
“Of course, it is impossible for us, of ourselves, to contain in our heart the whole universe. But the Maker of all that exists Himself appeared in our form of being and effectively demonstrated that our nature was conceived not only with the ability to embrace the created cosmos but also to assume the plentitude of Divine Life. Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5) but with Him and in Him everything becomes attainable…” (Archimandrite Sophrony, ON PRAYER, p 76)