This is the 20th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Humans: Flesh and Body (I).
“To be sure, the body remains central because of Christianity’s insistence that the salvation process is worked by Christ’s physical incarnation and physical resurrection. In Syriac the same term is used to mean both ‘salvation’ and ‘life’ (hayye). We know our fallen condition through the corruptibility and mortality of the body; we will know salvation through its incorruptibility and immortality as revealed in original creation. The most prevalent image for salvation in early Syriac literature is that of healing. Christ is the Treasury of Healing and Medicine of Life, a title also commonly employed for the Eucharist. . . . For early Syriac writers, then, Christianity was located in the body because the body, in the most literal sense, was what God had fashioned in the beginning and where God had chosen to find us in our fallenness. This was why God acted through the incarnation. Ephrem declares, ‘Glory to You who clothed Yourself with the body of mortal Adam, and made it a fountain of life for all mortals!’ This, too, explains the ritual process of the liturgy, as one enacted in and with the body. Ephrem evokes the liturgy as that which teaches us not only how to experience with our bodies, but further, what to experience. . . . The healing of the sacraments restores our oneness of being and our appropriate sensory experience. Yet there is more to be done. In the body of Christ, the cosmic war between good and evil was fought in earnest. Our bodies are the battleground in which the struggle between God and Satan, good and evil, life and death continues.” (Susan Ashbrook Harvey, “Embodiment in Time and Eternity: A Syriac Perspective’, SVTQ Vol 43 No 2 1999, p 114-115)
The early Christian assertion, “God became human so that humans might become God”, became central to the Christian understanding of salvation. “God became human” is the incarnation of God the Word in Jesus Christ, the God-man. It is only because Jesus is both fully human and fully divine that salvation for all humanity occurs. His death on the cross alone is not sufficient for salvation. All of the later theories of substitutionary death and satisfaction coming through the crucifixion of Jesus, are in Orthodox theology meaningless without the truth of the incarnation of God in the flesh. We are saved in Christ because in Him God and humanity are united together again. We experience the salvation of Jesus Christ in our bodies in and through the sacraments. Our bodies are essential for our salvation! We find this also asserted in writings attributed to the 4th Century Saint Macarius of Egypt [Today most scholars believe these writings came from a monk in the 5th or 6th Century and were not written by St. Macarius the Great, and so often the writings are attributed to “Pseudo-Macarius”].
“And so God, who made your body, did not give it life from its very own nature nor from the body itself, nor from the food, drink, clothing, and footwear that he gave the body, but he arranged it that your body, created naked, should be able to live by means of such extrinsic things as food, drink, and clothing. (If the body were to attempt to exist only by its own constituted nature without accepting these exterior helps, it would deteriorate and perish.) In a similar way, it is so with the human soul. It does not have by nature the divine light, even though it has been created according to the image of God. For, indeed God ordered the soul in his economy of salvation according to his good pleasure that it would enjoy eternal life. It would not be because of the soul’s very own nature but because of his Divinity, of his very Spirit, of his light, that the soul should receive its spiritual meat and drink and heavenly clothing which are truly the life of the soul.
As therefore, the body, as was said above, does not have life in itself, but receives it from outside, that is, from the earth, and without such material things of the earth it cannot live, so also the soul, unless it be regenerated into that ‘land of the living’ (Ps 27:13) and there be fed spiritually and progress by growing spiritually unto the Lord and be adorned by the ineffable garments of heavenly beauty flowing out of the Godhead, without that food in joy and tranquility, the soul cannot clearly live.
For the divine nature has the bread of life who said: ‘I am the bread of life’ (Jn 6:35), and ‘the living water’ (Jn 4:10), and the ‘wine that gladdens the heart of man’ (Ps 104:15), and ‘the oil of gladness’ (Ps 45:8), and the whole array of food of the heavenly Spirit and the heavenly raiment of light coming from God. In these does the eternal life of the soul consist. Woe to the body if it were to rely solely on its own nature, because it would by nature disintegrate and die. Woe also to the soul if it find its whole being in its own nature and trusts solely in its own operations, refusing the participation of the Divine Spirit because it does not have the eternal and divine life as vital part of itself.” (PSEUDO-MACARIUS, p 43)
Neither the human body or soul by themselves can find the way to salvation. Each needs to be nourished by God and they need to be nourished together since a human is an ensouled body or embodied soul. There is no salvation apart from the human body as God in the incarnation shows the physical world is completely spiritual as well and capable of being united to divinity. The Holy Mysteries of the Church, the sacraments, nourish both soul and body together bringing them to salvation. This salvation is truly cosmic and involves the entire universe.
“The entire Cosmos thus participates by representation in the preparation of the matter used by the Church sacramentally and in other ways. And it in this fashion that the entire cosmos offers its praise. With specific reference to the Eucharist, the wheat and the grapes are the offering of the community that is the Cosmos, the offering of the dust clouds in space, the stars, the Earth and other planets, of bacteria and fungi, of plants and animals. This offering is transformed into bread and wine by human labor and skill, and it receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, an offering to God by man, the priest of the Cosmos. Man depends on the Cosmos for the matter that makes up his and her body and for the matter that is used sacramentally; reciprocally, the Cosmos depends on Man to complete its own offering. Thus the seventh-century saint Leontius of Cyprus wrote:
Through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone, through relics and church buildings, and the Cross, and angels and men—through all creation, visible and invisible, I offer veneration to the Creator and master and Maker of all things. For creation does not venerate the Maker directly and by itself, but it is through me that the heavens declare the glory of God; through me the moon worships God, through me the stars glorify him, through me the waters and showers of rain, the dew and all creation, venerate God and give him glory. In the Eucharist we offer, in this piece of bread and in this cup of wine, the entire Cosmos and every living creature including ourselves—everything from the tiniest particles of matter to the farthest reaches of space, as well as the fruits of human labor in all places and all times.4 We thus come to see that the Eucharist is central to the Cosmos. And it is the Eucharist that enables us to recognize more clearly that the Cosmos is transparent to Christ, who shines through all matter.” (G Theokritoff, Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, Kindle Loc. 2934-49)
It is in and through empirical creation that God reveals Himself to us and unites Himself to us bringing us from life in this world to life in the world to come. It is how in and through bread that Christ is revealed to us and how we can eat His body to gain eternal life. The Lord Jesus said,
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:51-56).