As I noted at the beginning of this blog series, what I am producing is a collection of quotes from books I’ve read over the past 30 years or so. I ‘tagged’ these particular quotes with the notation “being human” and have brought them together in this blog series. The question of what it is to be human and what it means to be human has intrigued me since I was in high school more than 40 years ago. These quotes are not brought together because they represent one point of view, but rather when I read them I marked them as worth further consideration. They informed my thinking about humanity. Their significance to me is how they inform the mystery of what it is to be human and deepen our understanding of being human.
St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908AD) states boldly that a human is far more important than all of the things that humans value and desire.
“We are – one body of love. Food, drink, money, dress, houses, all earthly attributes are – nothing, whilst man is everything; nothing is so precious as man. Man, by his soul, is immortal, whilst everything material is perishable and ephemeral; everything material is like dust. Everything is God’s, nothing is ours. Man! Esteem the dignity of man, as the image of God and in the time of his need, do not grudge him any material help.” (MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 256)
His point is that each and every human is valuable, even the poor or downtrodden. While he contrasts the human to all things humans’ value and desire, he makes it clear that those things, though “perishable and ephemeral”, are needed, and we should not deprive our fellow human beings of those things needed for life and survival. His thinking reminds me of a saying I heard many years ago as a criticism of our own culture and times: “It used to be that we loved people and used things, now it is the reverse – we love things and use people.”
As Jesus teaches us in Luke 12:15 – “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” One can gain the whole world and lose one’s soul (Mark 8:36).
The Russian Orthodox author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (d. 1881AD), deploring the atheistic materialism of his day, warned the goodness and beauty of humanity will be lost when the image and likeness of God in each human is no longer recognized.
“You who would deny God and Christ have not even considered that without Christ, everything in the world would be impure and corrupt. . . . By eliminating Christ, you remove from humanity the epitome of beauty and goodness, you make Him inaccessible. For Christ came precisely for this reason: that humanity might know and recognize that a true human spirit can appear in this heavenly condition, in the flesh and not merely in a dream or in theory—that is indeed both natural and possible. Christ’s disciples proclaimed his radiant flesh to be divine. Through the cruelest of tortures they confessed the blessing of bearing this flesh within themselves, of imitating His perfection, and of believing in Christ in the flesh.” (in Michael Quenot, THE RESURRECTION AND THE ICON, p 229)
Humanity is able to aspire to greatness, even to divinity. This, so Christians believe, will bring out the nobility in all human beings. Theosis is achieved in the body, not apart from it. We are not trying to escape the world or our bodies, but rather live to transfigure and transform our bodies and the world so that all can become a means of communion with the Holy Trinity.
Alexander Schmemann (d. 1983AD) writes:
“In essence, my body is my relationship to the world, to others; it is my life as communion and as mutual relationship. Without exception, everything in the body, in the human organism, is created for this relationship, for this communion, for this coming out of oneself. It is not an accident, of course, that love, the highest form of communion, finds its incarnation in the body; the body is that which sees, hears, feels, and thereby leads me out of the isolation of my I . . . [T]he body is not the darkness of the soul, but rather the body is its freedom, for the body is the soul as love, the soul as communion, the soul as life, the soul as movement. And this is why, when the soul loses the body, when it is separated from the body, it loses life; it dies, even if this dying of the soul is not a complete annihilation, but a dormition, or sleep.” (O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING?, pp 42-43).
Death is by definition the separation of the soul from the body. Salvation is the restoration of all things including our souls with our bodies. Salvation is spiritual because our bodies are capable of being spiritual.
“”It is only in and through the flesh that the soul can accomplish its salvation, because it is only in and through the flesh that the soul becomes linked to God by means of the grace mediated through the flesh’s participation in both sacraments and sacramental. So while it is true that the flesh is the servant and handmaid of the soul in its role as mediator of grace to the soul, the flesh is nonetheless its spouse and, with it, heir to the resurrection.” (Benedict Guevin, “Liturgical Ethics”, SVTQ V51 N2-3 2007, p 281)