Humanity as an Icon of God

‘The glory of God is man’, affirms the Talmud (Derech Eretz Zutta 10,5); and Irenaeus states the same: ‘The glory of God is a living man.’ The human person forms the centre and crown of God’s creation. Man’s unique position in the cosmos is indicated above all by the fact that he is made ‘in the image and likeness’ of God (Gen. 1:26). Man is a finite expression of God’s infinite self-expression. 

Sometimes the Greek Fathers associate the divine image or ‘ikon’ in man with the totality of his nature, considered as a trinity of spirit, soul and body. At other times they connect the image more specifically with the highest aspect of man, with his spirit or spiritual intellect, through which he attains knowledge of God and union with him. Fundamentally, the image of God in man denotes everything that distinguishes man from the animals, that makes him in the full and true sense a person – a moral agent capable of right and wrong, a spiritual subject endowed with inward freedom.

…To believe that man is made in God’s image is to believe that man is created for communion and union with God, and that if he rejects this communion he ceases to be properly human. There is no such thing as ‘natural man’ existing in separation from God: man cut off from God is in a highly unnatural state. The image doctrine means, therefore, that man has God as the inner-most centre of his being. The divine is the determining element in our humanity; losing our sense of the divine, we lose also our sense of the human.  (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pp. 64-65, 67)

Sunday: Remembering Creation and Redemption

“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; . . . And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.'”  (Revelation 21:1-2,5)

Did the Church in its history make Sunday into the Sabbath Day?  Not according to Matthew Gallatin, who makes it quite clear that the Christian keeping Sunday as a Holy Day had nothing to do with transferring the meaning of the Sabbath to Sunday.  Sunday was a special day to Christians for a very particular reason.  Sunday is the day of the resurrection and as such is the first day of the new creation promised by God.    Saturday remained in the Liturgical life of the Church as the Sabbath rest, and on Saturday, Christ rested in the tomb following His crucifixion.  When He arose from the dead, He gave new meaning to the first day of the week, which became the first day of the New Creation.

Gallatin writes:

“Here’s the truth, according to the early Church: Saturday is the Sabbath. The early Church recognized it as a holy day, in that it is the day that commemorates God’s resting after the creation of the world. Also, the Church revered it as the day on which Christ descended into hell, shattering its gates and freeing mankind forever from the bonds of death.

But the early Church also understood that the act the Sabbath commemorates–the creation of the world–has been infinitely surpassed in the continuing work of God, the new creation, which St. John describes: ‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’ (Revelation 21:1). When does this new universe begin? On the day of Christ’s glorious Resurrection. For on that day, God established the foundations of this new world, a world that includes eternal life for mankind. It was on the day of His Resurrection that Christ our God rose in the flesh, forever making possible our union with Him. By the power of His resurrection, man is blessed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and may live in oneness with the Father under the earnest of those new heavens, in that new earth.

Now, the old creation was commemorated on the day of its ending–on Saturday. But the new creation will never pass away. Thus, it must be commemorated on the day of its wondrous beginning. And that day, the day on which God chose to raise Christ and gloriously change the universe forever, is not Saturday, but Sunday. The ancient Church often referred to Sunday as the “eighth day,” the day that takes us beyond this awesome, but temporal and fading realm that the Sabbath remembers, into God’s eternal day.

The Church recognizes its first allegiance must belong to the new, everlasting Kingdom, not to the old. Thus, the faithful of Christ proclaimed Sunday as their day of highest worship. Saturday remained a day for spiritual meditation and reflection, a day to thoughtfully prepare for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection.”  (Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells, pp. 59-60)

The Effects of Addiction

Many have said that when the Church is being the organism in which we practice loving one another, it is a hospital for sinners.  It is the community in which we are able to acknowledge our spiritual wounds and failures in order to remove all the obstacles to spiritual healing.

(Photo by Rob Stothard/GettyImages)

Church communities, however, being made of sinners, fallen human beings, are also subject at times to all of the ills that impact humanity living in the fallen world.  Sometimes we fail to acknowledge our own fallibleness as well as our fallenness.  We all, including leadership, can fall into denial about our true state of affairs.   Fr. John and Lyn Breck write:

Just as addictive nuclear families are plagued with denial, so too is the church family. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism that allows people to go through life without considering how their thoughts and actions are at odds with the call to holiness. This leads to a moral dilemma. As A. W. Schaef and Diane Fassel write in The Addictive Organization, “Ethical deterioration is the inevitable outcome of immersion in the addictive system. It easy to understand how this happens. If your life is taken up by lying to yourself or others, attempting to control, perfectionism, denial, grabbing what you can for yourself, and refusing to let in information that would alter the addictive paradigm, then you are spiritually bankrupt.” (Stages on Life’s Way: Orthodox Thinking on Bioethics, p. 181).

Denial is not merely a psychological state – it leads to “ethical deterioration”.  Right thinking yields right behavior.  Unfortunately, distorted thinking, wrong thinking leads to wrong behavior.  Healing restores us not only to physical health or mental health, but also to spiritual health.

The Need for Christ

The Gospel of the Centurion with the sick servant in Matthew 8:5-13 presents us with a man who has a need or a problem which he cannot resolve by himself.  Even though he is a Roman centurion, a commanding officer in a Roman legion, he has come to recognize the limits of his powers – he cannot heal his servant nor command anyone, not even a doctor to heal his servant.  He doesn’t have that kind of power within his command.  He is in Israel as part of the conquering Roman army, an army that no doubt gave the impression of invincibility to many.  Yet, the Centurion who could do many things as a commanding officer and as part of the powerful Roman army, and who has all the power to order his men to do his bidding, still faced his own powerlessness when it came to bring health to his servant.  He apparently cared a great deal about this servant.  All the military might of the Roman Empire could not heal the servant, nor could all the gods of the polytheistic Empire.  So the Centurion was in need feeling helpless, and it was this need which caused him to pay attention to the claimed Messiah of the conquered and subjugated Jewish people.  He apparently had heard that Jesus did have the power to heal, and so in his own impotence, he came begging to Christ to make up the power which he was personally lacking.  He was feeling the limits of his power, but he understood command.

I believe it was Metropolitan Anthony Bloom who said, “God can save the sinner that you are, not the saint that you pretend to be.”

We approach Christ in our need, not in our strength.  The centurion was able to be honest about his limits and failures; he understood pretending could never create reality.

Metropolitan Anthony’s aphorism has to be thought of with what Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

It is only when we are completely honest about ourselves, and can admit to our faults and our sins that we come to see why we need Christ in our lives.  If we want to pretend that we aren’t really sinners, then of course we see no need for Christ to call us, let alone save us.

Like the Centurion we have to recognize our own powerlessness over certain aspects of our lives.  It is not possible for us to be sinless and perfectly holy on our own.  We can try to be or even pretend to be perfect in terms of following Tradition, or rubrics and rituals, or in morality or dogma.  We will still find ourselves in need of God’s mercies and love.  Without His love, our moral or ritual or dogmatic perfection are nothing, as St. Paul writes In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 –

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

If I realize I don’t have that love, I realize my need, just like the Centurion.  I need Christ in my life.  Alone, I don’t have even the resources of the Centurion, and I know I cannot accomplish all that I wish in life.

The singer William Bell has a song, “The Three of Me” which begins with these words:

Last night I had a dream
And there were three of me
There was the man I was the man I am
And the man I want to be

It is easy for us to imagine the song being a love song or a repentant lover.  He regrets things he said and did and wants his beloved to know that he is no longer that man who did those things.  But he also realizes he is not yet the man he could be or wants to be.  He is better than he was, he has changed, and yet he realizes he has a long way to go before he can become the man he wants to be.

Our relationship to Christ might be described in a similar way – it is about love.  We who have repented realize there is a person there, the man or woman we used to be and we desired to leave that place and no longer to be that person.  We present ourselves to Christ as the man or woman we now are, admitting our past errors and offering to Christ a changed person.  And we realize that despite the changes we have made, we still fall short, we are not yet that person we want to be.  We are called to strive for that holiness in our lives (Luke 13:24 – “Strive to enter by the narrow door…“).  That is what it means to be a Christian in this world.  We still have needs and are in need of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives to keep us on the path to holiness.

In the Liturgy today as always, in a short while I will say the words: “Holy things are for the holy ones.”

The Holy Things are the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ which are given as gift.  Who are the holy ones for whom these gifts are given?

You, all of you who are here at the Liturgy.

But what is the next line of the Liturgy which immediately follows the words,  “Holy things are for the holy ones”?

What is the next immediate thing we say?

“One is holy, one is lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.”

Our holiness does not come to us through our keeping ascetic practices, nor through observing rubics perfectly, nor through faultless moral living or correct dogma.  As important as those things may be, our holiness comes through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Holiness, being a Christian is not something we attain alone.  It can only be attained in relationship to Jesus Christ our Lord.  And through Him with His Body, the Church and all other Christians.

As the early Christians taught and believed: “One Christian is no Christian.” [see also my blog Me and Jesus Alone].

We cannot be a Christian alone.  We need Jesus Christ.  That is what the Centurion in today’s Gospel lesson realized.  It is what every sinner realizes when he or she comes to faith.

It is that relationship with Christ and with all those men, women and children who believe in Him that we must develop.  Seek Him.  Believe in Him.  Pray to Him.  Hope in Him.  Rejoice in Him.  It is our relationship to Him that brings us into relationship with the divine life, with eternity with the God our Father.  It is Christ that heals all that is lacking in ourselves.

Unity in Christ

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”  (John 17:20-23)

“But a common faith was not the sole mark of unity; mutual love was its other and perhaps even more crucial indicator. Cyprian quotes 1 Corinthians 13:8 (“Love never ends…”) and declares:

It will exist forever in the kingdom, it will endure forever in the union of the brethren among themselves. Disunion cannot attain to the kingdom of heaven, nor can one who has violated the love of Christ by wicked dissension win the reward of Christ, who said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” [John 15:12].”

Thus schism, the fracturing of ecclesial unity, is almost always characterized as a breach of love; and as love is the greatest of virtues, so schism is the worst of the vices. At the root of schism is that pride and self-righteousness that allowed some individuals to make extravagant claims to holiness for themselves. Where do schisms come from? Augustine asks–and then answers the question: “When people say, ‘We are righteous’; when they say, ‘We sanctify the unclean, we justify the impious, we make petition, we obtain [what we ask for].’

Ecclesial unity was not something to be cherished merely for its own sake, however. Its importance lay substantially in the fact that it mirrored the unity of the Godhead itself. “God is one,” writes Cyprian, “and Christ is one, and his Church is one, and there is one faith and one people joined together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.” Despite Cyprian’s emphasis on the idea of the Church as the reflection of God’s unity, the theme is even more evident in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, who preceded Cyprian by nearly a century and a half. The concord of its members, of its people and its ministers, images the unity of the Father and the Son.

‘Just as the Lord, then, being one with himself did nothing without the Father, either by himself or through the apostles, so neither must you do anything without the bishop and the presbyters. And you must not attempt to convince yourselves that anything you do on your own account is right, but there must be in common, one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope in love, in flawless joy, that is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better. Come together, all of you, as to one temple of God, as to one altar, to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father and yet remained with one and returned to one.'”

(Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers, pp.104-105)

All Saints of North America

Justification by Faith

“‘Justification’ (and related words like ‘righteousness,’ all of which come from the same Greek root) has often been understood as a legal (judicial, forensic) concept. It is associated with the image of God as a judge rendering a ‘not guilty’ verdict to the guilty. However, although there is certainly a judicial dimension to justification…, it is now generally understood as a much more relational and especially covenental concept than previously recognized (cf. Rom. 5:1-11, where it is paired with ‘reconciliation’). To be justified is to be restored to right covenantal relations now, with certain hope of acquittal on the future day of judgement (Rom. 5:9-10; Gal. 5:5).

‘Faith’ is likewise a covenantal term that implies not merely intellectual assent, but faithfulness–a total commitment of the self from the heart that is more akin to loyalty, obedience, and devotion (as in ‘love of God’) than to ‘belief’ or even ‘trust’ (though each of these must still be understood to be part of faith). A growing number of scholars–approaching a consensus–believe Galatians 2:15-21, like Romans 3:21-26 and Philippians 3:2-11, speaks not only of our faith but of Christ’s faith, understood in this covenantal way as his faithfulness. Space does not permit an argument for this interpretation, but it is recognized in the NRSV margin and will be adopted as the basis for the commentary below. Specifically, it affects two verses…. The NRSV marginal translation (our interpretation) means that Paul understands Christ’s death as his faithfulness to God in giving himself on the cross “for me” (us–Paul speaks representatively), and that it, rather than our performance of the works of the Law, is the basis of our right relationship with God.” (Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, p. 201).

The Church According to St. Paul

“The second reality that Paul engages is the assembly (Greek ekklesia) of the Greco-Roman city (Greek polis). The ekklesia was something like the city council, a group of male elders who met to deliberate about local issues and to ensure that the polis was faithful to its heritage and values. The ekklessia had the additional duty–especially if the polis happened to be a Roman colony and/or home to the imperial cult (e.g., Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus)–of dutifully and creatively expressing its loyalty to Rome and to its lord and savior, the reigning emperor.

Paul uses the term ekklesia for “the church” as a term of both continuity and discontinuity. On the one hand, it designates the assembly of believers who affirm Jesus as Lord and constitute the renewed “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). On the other hand, this assembly exists as an alternative ekklesia and even an alternative polis, since it incorporates not just a few leaders but an entire believing community. It exists as a counterculture to embody the values of its true savior and lord, Jesus the crucified and resurrected Messiah.

The church, therefore, is a visible, even a “political” reality rather than just a group with invisible “spiritual” bonds, whose mission it is to be a living commentary on the gospel it professes, the story of the Lord (Jesus) in whom the church exists and who lives within the assembly. (See especially Phil 2:1-15.)   As such, the church reflects the character of the God revealed in Christ. This countercultural community is not produced by human effort, nor does it occur to perfection overnight; it is a process of divine activity and communal and personal transformation (e.g., Rom 12:1-2; I Thess 3:11-13; 5:23-28). To be holy is to be different, different from those outside the church and different from the way we used to be, changed from what was “then” to what is “now” (Gal 4:8-9; I Cor 6:9-11; Eph 2:1-6; Col 3:1-7).” (Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul, pp. 133-134)

Salvation and Slavery

St. Nicholas Cabasilas  writing in the 14th Century turns to the imagery of slavery to explain what it is to become a Christian.   Building upon the images and metaphors of St. Paul’s epistles, St. Nicholas explains both how becoming a Christian is like becoming a slave, and simultaneously how this activity is totally different than the idea of slave and master which was known in the world.

“The blessed Paul makes all things clear in a brief saying, ‘you are not your own, you were bought with a price’ ( 1 Cor 6:19-20).  He who has been purchased does not regard himself but Him who has purchased him, and lives according to His will.

A slave is purchased by a master to accomplish the master’s will.  The slave’s purpose for existence is to serve the will, and even the whims of the master.  Slaves are property, chattel, not human beings.

In the case of men, the slave is bound to the wish of the his master, but only in body; in his mind and reason he is free and can use them as he pleases.   But in the case of him whom Christ has bought it is impossible for him to be  his own.  Since no man has ever bought a complete man, and there is no price for which it is possible to purchase a human soul, so no one has ever set a man free or enslaved him save with respect to his body.

St. Nicholas says slavery is about enslaving the body, for no one can enslave the soul – the person’s inner self and thoughts.  The slave may not be free to express those inner thoughts, but the master can never completely control them.  Christ pays a price for others that includes their souls.   Those for whom Christ pays the price are owned body and soul by Christ, for Christ is not interested only in getting bodily work from someone. Christ in love wishes to share His wealth, His life with those He buys.  And the price Christ pays is not a finite sum of money, but rather He pays with His own blood, He spends His entire being in order to take possession of those who would be His slaves.

The Savior, however, has bought the whole of man.  While men merely spend money to buy a slave, He spent Himself.  For our freedom He surrendered body and soul by causing the one to die and by depriving the other of its own body.

Not only does Christ the Master, pay in His own blood, He dies to give freedom to His slaves – freedom from sin and death.  Christ liberates those held captive by Satan and Death.  He does this by His own sacrificial death.  He gives His entire being to purchase His slaves in order to set them free!

His body suffered pains by being wounded; His soul was troubled, and that not merely when the body was slain, but even before it was wounded, as He said, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death’ (Mt 28:38).  . . .  Because of the fact that it was our will which He was seeking, He did not violence to it nor took it captive, but He bought it.

Christ does not forcibly impose His slavery on us.  He pays the full price for our redemption, in order to allow us the freedom to accept or reject the salvation He offers.   He dies to liberate us from death, but makes it an offering, that we are free to accept or reject.  We have to use our wills to chose to embrace what Christ offers for us and to us.

 . . . He who spent money for a slave did not spend it with the aim of conferring benefits on him who he has bought, but rather that he himself might derive benefit by exploiting his labors.  The slave is, as it were, being spent for the profit of those who have acquired him and through whom he suffers misery, and gathers pleasures for them while he himself is subject to constant sorrows.

Slavery in the world is not done for the benefit of the slaves, but purely for the benefit of the masters.  The slave himself or herself is then spent, exhausted for the good of the master.  The slave benefits nothing and is tasked with always benefiting the master who owns him or her.  Not so with the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the case of the slaves of Christ the opposite is true, for everything has been accomplished for their benefit.  He paid the ransom, not in order to enjoy  anything from those who have been ransomed, but in order that what is His might belong to them, and that the Master and His labors might profit the slaves, and that he who has been purchased might himself wholly possess Him who has purchased him.

Slavery to Christ means possessing Christ!  Christ pays the price of our redemption with His own blood in order that we might possess Him!   After paying for us with His own blood, He then gives us His Kingdom.  He holds nothing back from us but gives us everything, even eternal possession of His Kingdom.

 . . . Among men the law makes the masters lords over their slaves and possessions unless they renounce their domination or release them from servitude.  In this case, however, the slaves possess their own Master and inherit that which is His when they love His yoke and regard themselves as bound by His act of purchase.  This is why Paul commanded, ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ (Phil 4:4), meaning by ‘the Lord’ Him who has purchased them.”  (THE LIFE IN CHRIST, pp 220-222)

Heavenly Delight

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4)

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.”  (Luke 6:21)

“God does not demand or desire that someone should mourn out of sorrow of heart; He wants him to rejoice in love for him with the laughter of the soul. Take away sin and then the sorrowful tears that flow from the eyes will be superfluous. Why look for a bandage when you are not cut? Adam did not weep before the fall, and there will be no tears after the resurrection when sin will be abolished, when pain, sorrow, and lamentations will have taken flight.”  (St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 7.49, 50, from Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life, p. 227)

Appearance is Deceiving

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

“Furthermore, we have given ourselves a very serious problem our ancient ancestors did not have. In our own time, in which we jog and diet and generally believe that there must be an intimate connection between virtue, physical beauty, health and a person’s worth, we make outcasts of those among us who do not measure up: the old, the fat, the young but unattractive, the handicapped. That we have discovered that there is no real physical basis for believing in a ‘body-soul dualism’ provides us with a reason to value people in terms of what they look like and what they are able to do physically. Our churches are as guilty of this amazing confusion as any other group. This is a theology of ‘wholeness’ that benefits the strong and ignores the weak. It certainly stands in opposition to the Christian way of life … (Roberta C. Bondi, To Love as God Loves, p. 65)

St. John the Forerunner