The Prayers of St. Parthenius

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, do not allow vanity, selfishness, sensuality, carelessness, or anger to have dominion over me and snatch me from Thy love.

O Lord, I pray Thee especially for those who in some way have wronged, offended, or saddened me, or have done me some evil. Do not punish them on my account, who am also a sinner, but pour upon them Thy goodness.

O Lord, I pray Thee for all whom I, sinful as I am, have grieved, offended or scandalized by word, deed or thought, consciously or unconsciously.

O Lord, forgive us our sins and mutual offences; expel from our hearts all indignation, scorn, anger, resentment, altercation, and all that can hinder charity and lessen brotherly love.

(St. Parthenius, What the Church Fathers Say About…Vol.2, p. 130-131)

When We See Jesus and Say, “Crucify him!”

When they saw Jesus, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  (John 19:6)

The very sight of Jesus seems to have enraged His enemies.  Just seeing Him standing up front – though in chains, a prisoner, beaten, mocked for His powerlessness – was enough to get the leaders to yell in anger, “Crucify him!”   We might think it was only those people at the time of Christ, His enemies, who would scream such a thing against Jesus.  Yet, there are times when we believers are really shouting those same words.

When we think about the Cross of Christ – the instrument of His execution, but of our salvation – we realize, Christ chose His path, the way of the Cross, for us.  He died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 3:18). He bore on Himself our offenses (1 Peter 2:24).

St. John Chrysostom says Jesus accepted and endured His suffering for a reason:

“He endured all these sufferings, namely, that we might walk in His footsteps…” (COMMENTARY ON ST JOHN THE APOSTLE, p 424)

That we might walk in His footsteps….”  Chrysostom puts before us an even more difficult point – Christ died on the cross for us, for which we are grateful and give thanks to God.  But that is not the end of it.  Christ died on the cross so that we might imitate Him, and die with Him, and walk in His footsteps.  We are to die to self and live with and in Christ.   The way of self-sacrificial love, of co-suffering love is to be our way of life as Christians.  Christ died for our sins, so we don’t have to pay the price for our sins.  However, He died to this world so that we might imitate Him and die to the world with Him.  He died to the world in order that we might imitate Him.  Just consider what the New Testament teaches us:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.   (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God.   (1 Peter 4:1-2)

We who have been baptized into Christ and who have chosen to follow Christ, agree to take up our cross and both have Christ live in us and to live the life of Christ.  We agree to lay aside our will, our desires, our passions and to instead live as Christ would have us live – to love as Christ loved us.

So when we fail to love others as Christ loves us, or refuse to forgive others their sins against us and debts to us, or fail to love neighbor or enemy, or decline to show mercy to Christ in the least of His brothers and sister, or won’t give up our grievances and grudges or desire for vengeance, when we allow jealousy and envy to control our emotions, we are in effect denying Christ, and yelling, “Crucify Him!”  Crucify the One who wants me to do these things which are so hard for me to do, which run counter to my passions and emotions and self-preservation.  Crucify the One who wants me to embrace love over self-love, to treat others as better than myself, to put the interest of others ahead of my own self-interest.

As it says in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

 they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.   (Hebrews 6:6)

When we refuse to do what Christ teaches us, we are like those people long ago who as soon as they saw Christ, screamed, “Crucify Him!”  For we are crucifying Him by denying Him and His commandments.   We should feel that pain, and like the Prodigal come to our senses and return to following Him who loves us and died for us.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”  (Matthew 21:28-31)

Dealing with Your Enemies  

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For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.   (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

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St. John Chrysostom comments:

You, therefore, when you have your enemy in your power, do not make it your concern how to avenge yourself and after subjecting him to countless outrages get rid of him, but how to look after him, how to bring him to mildness; do not stop short of doing and saying everything until by gentleness you overcome his ferocity. Nothing, after all, is more efficacious than mildness; someone suggested as much in the words, “A soft tongue will break bones:” what could be tougher than bones, and yet should anyone be as tough and unbending as that, the one employing mildness will easily prevail. And again, “A submissive answer turns away wrath.” Hence it is clear that you have more say than your enemy in his being upset and his being reconciled: it is up to us, not to the wrathful, both to snuff out their resentment and to kindle the flame to greater heat.

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The previous authority suggested as much by a simple example saying, Just as you ignite the flame by blowing on a spark, but extinguish it by spitting on it, and you have the say in each case (his words are “Both come out of your mouth”), so too with hostility towards your neighbor: if you give vent to inflated and foolish words, you kindle his fire, you ignite the coals, but if peaceable and moderate words, you extinguish his rage completely before the fire takes on. So do  not say, I suffered this and this, I was told this and this: you have the say in it all; as with extinguishing and enkindling the fire, so with inflaming or repressing his resentment, it is likewise up to you.

(Old Testament Homilies, Vol 3,  p. 53-54)   

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God So Loved the World: Unlimited Love

No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:13-17)

Fr Lev Gillet writes:

Limitless Love forces open doors. Perhaps I had not achieved some sort of peaceful coexistence with God. Perhaps I had succeeded in believing that, as far as my soul was concerned, I was more or less “in good order,” and so had come to feel more or less at rest…And now all those presuppositions have been turned upside down by a divine intrusion. God asks something from me that I am quite unprepared for. It is like the news of an unwanted child..to listen to this demand, to take the costly decision, ah, but why?

Everything seemed to be going so well! Must I have new uncertainties and anxieties?…And now limitless Love wants to erupt into my life. It comes to upset everything in it. It comes to break up what seemed stable and to open new horizons to which I had never given a thought.

(in Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church, p. 94)

Be Mary, or at Least be Martha

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”   (Luke 10:38-42; the Gospel lesson for the Nativity of the Theotokos)

St Theophylact of Ochrid comments:

Understand that Martha represents active virtue, while Mary represents divine vision. Action entails distractions and disturbances, but divine vision, having become the ruler of the passions (for Maria means mistress, she who rules), devotes itself entirely to the contemplation of the divine words and judgements…therefore, whoever sits at the feet of Jesus, that is, whoever steadfastly follows and imitates Jesus, is established in all active virtue. Then such a man will also come to the listening of the divine words, that is, he will attain to divine vision. Mary first sat, and by doing this she was then able to listen to Jesus’ words.

Therefore you also, O reader, if you have the strength, ascend to the rank of Mary: become the mistress of your passions, and attain to divine vision.  But if you do not have the strength, be Martha, and devote yourself to active virtue, and by this means welcome Christ.

(Hillarion Alfeyev’s Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, p. 453)  

Can You Be Too Virtuous?

Is it possible to be excessively virtuous?  The question might seem ridiculous and yet one can find in the Church Fathers comments saying even in practicing virtue moderation is a virtue.

Humorously, the question reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon in which Dogbert asks Dilbert, “Do you think I have too much false humility?”   Which of course begs the question, can a person have too much false humility?  If it weren’t for false humility, Dogbert would have no humility at all.

St Gregory of Sinai did think there was a danger in exceeding the limits of virtue.  Virtues are lived out on a continuum or scale and one needs to know where the precise midpoint for that virtue is, for that is where the wise person will be.  He comments:

The cardinal virtues are four:

courage,

sound understanding,

self-restraint and

justice.

There are eight other moral qualities, that either go beyond or fall short of these virtues. These we regard as vices, and so we call them; but non-spiritual people regard them as virtues and that is what they call them.

Exceeding or falling short of courage are audacity and cowardice,

of sound understanding are cunning and ignorance;

of self-restraint are licentiousness and obtuseness;

of justice are excess and injustice, or taking less than one’s due.

In between, and superior to, what goes beyond or what falls short of them, lie not only the cardinal and natural virtues, but also the practical virtues. These are consolidated by resolution combined with probity of character; the others by perversion and self-conceit. That the virtues lie along the midpoint or axis of rectitude is testified to by the proverb, ‘You will attain every well- founded axis’ (Prov. 2:9. LXX).   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 41411-41423)

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It is a vice in St. Gregory’s teaching not only to fall short of a virtue but also to exceed what is the midpoint of the range of behaviors associated with the virtue.  An excessive amount of courage becomes the vice of audacity, an excessive amount of understanding becomes cunningness, an excessive amount of self-restraint becomes the vice of obtuseness, and even justice can be taken to an excess which becomes injustice.  Balance in the spiritual life is needed, moderation in all things is a good spiritual rule.  As. St. Gregory also says one can even read Psalms to an excess:

In my opinion, those who do not psalmodize much act rightly, for it means that they esteem moderation – and according to the sages moderation is best in all things [emphases not in the original text].  In this way they do not expend all the energy of their soul in ascetic labor, thus making the intellect negligent and slack where prayer is concerned. On the contrary, by devoting but little time to psalmodizing, they can give most of their time to prayer. On the other hand, when the intellect is exhausted by continuous noetic invocation and intense concentration, it can be given some rest by releasing it from the straitness of silent prayer and allowing it to relax in the amplitude of psalmody. This is an excellent rule, taught by the wisest men.   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 42480-42487)

Ilias the Presbyter also writing in THE PHILOKALIA confirms the same teaching:

Neither one who falls short of virtue because of negligence nor one who out of presumption oversteps it will reach the harbor of dispassion. Indeed, no one will enjoy the blessings of righteousness who tries to attain them by means of either deficiency or excess.”  (Kindle Loc. 25349-51)

Contentment

If we received good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not bear the bad? [Job 2.10].

Remind yourself of the good things from the past. Balance out the bad with the good. No person’s life is altogether blessed. Continual prosperity belongs to God alone. So if you are upset by these present circumstances, comfort yourself by remembering the past.

Now you weep, but you laughed in the past. Now you are poor, but you were rich in the past. You used to drink the limpid streams of life; be patient now as you drink these muddy waters. The waters of a river are not always pure. As you know, our life is a river, ever flowing and filled with waves one after the other. One has already flowed by, another is still passing, another has just emerged from its sources, another is about to do so, and all of us hasten to the common sea of death.

If we received good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not bear the bad? [Job 2.10].

Are we compelling the Judge to supply us forever with the same things? Are we teaching the Master how he should arrange our life? He holds the authority over his own decisions. He directs our affairs in whatever way he wishes. He is wise, and he measures out to the his servants only what will profit them. Do not engage in futile investigations of the Master’s judgement; only love the ways in which he has dispensed his wisdom. With pleasure receive whatever he gives to you. In painful situations show that you are worthy of that joy that used to be yours.

(St. Basil the Great , On Christian Doctrine and Practice, pp. 179-180)

Our Focus on and Love for God

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The Lord Jesus spoke this parable:  Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

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But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?   (Matthew 21:33-42)

This is yet another of the parables found in Matthew’s Gospel in which a king/ master/ landowner attempts to settle accounts with his workers.  In all of them the ‘master’ of the parable is looking to get what is his due.  The master is not portrayed as being unfair, overbearing or wrathful, but wants to receive what is rightfully his.  In the above parable, we see the landowner enters into an agreement with some workers who are leasing the land to gain some profit for the labor.  However, when the landowner attempts to get what is rightfully his, the workers abuse and kill the landowner’s servants.  Amazingly the landowner shows no sign of wrath for this rebellion.  First, he sends more servants who are also abused or murdered, then he sends his own son imagining that the workers who don’t respect his servants will respect his won.  Instead the workers murder the son as well under the total delusion that the inheritance will be theirs once the son is dead.  But note in the parable it is not Jesus who says the landowner will come in wrath to destroy the rebellious workers.  That is the statement of those listening to Jesus, and the Gospel lesson suggests it is the answer of those who oppose Jesus.   Jesus suggests to them that if you really think God is wrathful and will destroy those who disobey Him or kill His prophets, then why aren’t you following your own vision of God and repenting?  Instead Christ’s opponents are plotting to kill Him, even though they believe God is vengeful and wrathful towards those who disobey Him and maltreat His servants.  Jesus is challenging them – are you willing to deny that I am serving God?  It is a question they are loathsome to answer because they know the masses believe Jesus’ miracles and teachings are a sure sign that He is from God (Matthew 21:46).

We see a similar image of God being portrayed as patient and merciful in several other of the parables in Matthews Gospel:

In Matt 13:24-30, The parable of  the man who sowed good seed in his fields but then an  enemy came at night and sowed weeds in his fields.   Despite the stunning evil done to him,  the man does not want his servants to uproot the weeds immediately, lest in so-doing they damage the good plants.  The weeds will be destroyed later, but nothing more is said about the enemy who did the evil.

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In Matt 18:21-35, the parable of the unforgiving servant.  The master at the beginning seeks only what is rightfully his, but is unimaginably forgiving and merciful, canceling a ginormous debt.  He is no wrathful judge.  He only shows anger when the forgiven servant refuses himself to forgive.

In Matt 20:1-16, the parable of the laborers and the vineyard – the master generously pays even those hired at the 11th hour the same as those hired from the first hour.   The master never show any sign of wrath, but those hired first are very angry and  [perhaps ‘rightfully’] resent the master’s generosity to the late comers.

The parable in Matt 22:1-14, the King’s wedding banquet, starts off in a similar way to the above parables.  The king’s servants are abused and killed though they are out inviting people to a wedding banquet!  The people’s reaction is totally outrageous, yet the king sends more servants to invite the guests, but only when the second round of servants are murdered and abused does the King become angry at how his servants are treated and he destroys the rebels, but then brings in all kinds of ‘undesirables’ to join his feast.

Even in Matt 25:31-46, the parable of the last judgment, the Son of man does not display unwarranted wrath toward those who are deemed fit for hell.  He actually speaks with them and answers their question, and states that though hell wasn’t intended for them, since they refused to show mercy and compassion toward Him, they would now received their just reward.  As they gave (or failed to give!), so they got what was their due.   Judgment is not based on their sins but only on their failure to be merciful.

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Still overall, the parables if they are portraying God to us do not give us the image of sinners in the hands of an angry God.  They do not portray a God of wrath who treats His subjects as He wishes because He has power over them.    God is plenty merciful and patient, giving everyone plenty of opportunities to show themselves merciful, forgiving, generous, grateful and willing to do His will.

In the writings of the Church Fathers, we encounter a clear idea that the difference between Christians and unbelievers is we Christians are to focus on God in our daily lives and demonstrate our love for God.  We keep God before us at all times and aim to please God.  When we take our eyes off God to look at the world or what others are doing, then we behave like unbelievers.

The  4th Century (?) monastic and patristic author now called Pseudo-Macarius   (‘Pseudo’ because for a long time the writings were credited to St Macarius of Egypt, but it is clear in the writings that the author is from Syria, not Egypt.  So now most people believe they are attributed to the wrong person) uses clear imagery about what he thinks non-believers are like.  He said those who do not focus on God and who are not concerned with pleasing God are like flour put on a big sieve and shaken and tossed all about.  He says when we don’t have God as a focus we become easily shaken by whatever is happening in the world.   Just think about all the people who are forever checking their cell phones, computers, and cable news to hear the latest political scandal sound bite from their political enemies.  They can’t wait to hear what trash is being dug up, and get totally upset by what they hear.  And since they get riled up by every bit of news, they are exactly being shaken and tossed about by the news and the world.  Pseudo-Macarius says that is how Satan works.  He constantly wants to rile us up and get us distracted and upset by what is going on so that we never pay attention to God.

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We believers see the same world as everyone else – including the non-believers.  The difference should be that we Christians are permeated by the peace of Christ and by the love of the Holy Spirit.  We should live as if we have already passed from death to life (John 5:24) and so aren’t distracted by every little bit of news.  We should not be tossed about like flour in a sieve, unable to focus on God because we allow ourselves to be distracted by everything around us.

St. Paul says as much in his epistle to the Corinthians:

Brothers and sisters, Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.  (1 Corinthians 16:13)

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We are to be vigilant, with our eyes on God.  That will allow us to stand firm in the faith and not be tossed about by every distraction.   Then we have to be courageous and strong to do God’s will, rather than allow ourselves to be moved by every distraction which captures our attention or upsets us.  “Play the man” is what Paul tells us all.  Man up.  And he combines that thought with the words, “let all you do be done with love.”  We don’t always associate courage with love.   It takes courage to hold to one’s moral values, when the world opposes those values.   It takes courage and strength to love God and to love neighbor despite all we hear on the news.   It takes courage and strength to stand against what the world (and our own mind!) says and to do what Christ tells us – love your enemies.  It takes courage and strength in today’s world to do what Christ tells us at the Last Judgment –  feed the hungry, welcome the homeless and shelter them, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison.

Obeying the Gospel When Life is Complex

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.

(Proverbs 3:27-28)

There was a certain brother who lived a life of very strict seclusion, and the devils wishing to lead him astray appeared to him when he was sleeping at night in the form of angels.  They woke him up to sing the Psalms and pray and they would show him a light.  So, he went to an elder and said unto him, “Father, the devils come to me with a light to wake me up to sing and pray.”   The elder said unto him, “Don’t listen to them, my son, for they are devils – if they come to wake you up, say to them, “When I wish to rise up I will do so, but I will not listen to you.” And when they came to wake him he said to them what the old man had told him, and they immediately said to him, “That wicked old man is a liar, and he has led you astray. For a certain brother came to him and wished to borrow some money promising to pay it back, and although he had the money to lend, he lied and said, “I have none”, and he gave him nothing. Learn from this that you can’t trust his word.  Then the brother rose up early in the morning and went to the elder and related unto him everything which he had heard.  The old man said to him, “This is what happened. I did have some money, and a brother came and asked to borrow money from me.   I would not give him any because I saw that if I did so we would both lose our souls. So I made up my mind that I would treat with contempt one of the commandments, rather than the Ten.  Thus, we came to enmity with each other.  However,  don’t believe the devils who wish only to lead you astray.”  When he had been greatly confirmed by the old man, that monk departed to his cell.

(adapted from The Paradise of the Holy Fathers Vol 2,    Kindle Loc 1150-61)

The above story from the desert fathers shows just how complex the spiritual life can be.  Even a monk who strictly keeps the ascetical life can be bothered by demonic thoughts.  This monk, though having committed himself to living alone, knows enough to talk to an elder when the demons are bothering him.  He does not rely on his own mind to solve his problem, but humbles himself and turns to his brother for help.  The elder gives him sound advice, but then the demons tell the monk that the elder himself has been involved in scandal and failed to be honest and do the right thing (as according to the Proverbs quotes at the beginning of this post).  The demons endeavor to plant mistrust between the brother monks by pointing out that the elder has faults and is not himself perfect.  Still, the story shows it is better to trust a fellow Christian with known faults than ever to listen to demons or demonic thoughts.  The elder admits the truth of the accusation against him but also has an explanation for why he chose to do what he did.  He admits he had to choose between evils, and had to ignore what he believes to be a godly commandment.  He felt to give the money would produce even worse spiritual results than to withhold the money.  Nevertheless, his decision ended badly as he and the other part parted in enmity.  Even when we do what we believe to be the best thing in a difficult situation, there can be some negative consequences.

Still, he tells his younger brother in Christ, no matter how you judge me for what I did, never listen to demons.   The monk agrees with that wisdom.  We are to rely on one another for wisdom, but that doesn’t mean that our brothers and sisters in Christ will be without fault in some matters.  And because someone may have done something wrong in one thing, doesn’t mean they are wrong about everything else.  We always have to practice discernment as Christians.  But discernment also requires us to make difficult judgments – we might not know the whole story, we have to consider the motives of those who tell us the faults of others, we might have to choose between the lesser of evils, we might have to make a choice even without having all the information we need to know.   Remaining faithful to Christ and His teachings are what we always need to do, but sometimes life is complex and we have to discern as best we can what we need to do to fulfill the Gospel.

If You Want to Be Perfect

In the Gospel lesson of Matthew 19:16-26, a man comes to Jesus and asks Him:

 “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

Jesus replies by telling the man to keep the commandments, but then adds this:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Not only does this man walk away from Christ, but even His disciples are astounded and ask:

 “Who then can be saved?”

St. Basil the Great comments:

“‘Become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5.48]. Do you see how the Lord restores to us that which is according to the likeness? If you become a hater of evil, free of rancor, not remembering yesterday’s enmity; if you become brother-loving and compassionate, you are like God. If you forgive your enemy from your heart, you are like God. If as God is toward you, the sinner, you become the same toward the brother who has wronged you, by your good will from your heart toward your neighbor, you are like God.’

Note:  In Basil’s theology the ascetical practice of both outwardly displaying virtue and inwardly cultivating a disposition of a godly attitude, from which right action springs, reforms the likeness. Modeling ourselves after the gratuitous precepts of Christ reorders and rejoins the likeness to the image. Thus, he exhorts the reader “to put on Christ,” because “drawing near to him is drawing near to God. Thus the creation story is an education in human life. “Let us make the human being in our image.” Let him have by his creation that which is according to the image, let him also come to be according to the likeness. For this God gave the power.”    (On the Human Condition, p. 44)

According to Genesis 1:26,  “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .’”  Because the Church Fathers thought every word of Scripture was significant, they believed that the image and likeness were two different things.  Each human is made in the image of God – each of us in a mysterious way is an icon of God.   But, we were not made as perfect beings – we co-create ourselves with God – we have to choose to be in God’s likeness, and we have to work on that.  That is the point of asceticism and self denial, that we make ourselves conform to the likeness of God – to become more Christlike.  We become more perfectly human when we deny our self, our passions, and become more like Christ – loving, merciful, forgiving.

If we live just according to what we often think of as our human nature, we live just according to the nature we inherited from Adam.  But this is not perfect human nature.  We have to strive to be perfect as God is perfect.  That is why Jesus concluded today’s Gospel lesson with the words:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

St. Paul teaches us this same lesson with his words:

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.   (1 Corinthians 15:45-50)