The Orthodox Way- Part 4a

The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware (SVS 1979)


Chapter Four: God as Man, p.88

   On Holy Saturday, the day before Great and Holy Pascha, we commemorate the Prophet Daniel and the Three Holy Youths from the Old Testament. From their story we learn that King Nebechadenezzar of Babylon, after hearing that they will not worship him or his graven images, casts the three youths into a fiery furnace. As the King watches, he says, ?Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Yet I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not injured; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God? (Daniel 3:24-25).

   This is a typology, a kind of prophecy, of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ incarnate as our Savior. He is the one who walks beside us when our strength is nearly expended, who is with us in the furnace of fire. We ended the last chapter speaking of man?s alienation and exile. We saw how sin, original and personal, has set a gulf between God and man that mankind cannot bridge with our own efforts. Cut off from our Creator, separated from our fellow human beings and inwardly fragmented, we lack the power to heal ourselves.

   Since we could not come to God, God came to us, identifying Himself with us in the most direct way. The eternal Logos and Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became true man, one of us. He healed and restored our humanity by taking the whole of it into Himself. This is what we confess in the Creed, ?Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary and became man.?

Lord Jesus, Have Mercy, p.90

   Earlier we explored the Trinitarian meaning of the Jesus Prayer, ?Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.? Let us consider what it tells about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. There are two poles or extreme points in the prayer. It begins with adoration and ends with penitence. Who can reconcile these two extremes? When we say ?Jesus?, we remember that it means ?He who saves.? It was the name given by the angel to Joseph, ?You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins? (Mt.1:21). When we say ?Christ? it is the equivalent of the Hebrew ?Messiah? meaning ?Anointed One.? Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit of God to be a deliverer and King to His people.

   When we say ?mercy? the term signifies ?love in action?, love working to bring about forgiveness, liberation and wholeness. To have mercy is to acquit the other of the guilt which by his own efforts he cannot wipe away, to release him from the debts he himself cannot pay, to make him whole from the sickness for which he cannot find a cure. Furthermore, mercy is conferred as a free gift. The one who asks has no claims upon the other.

   The Jesus Prayer indicates both man?s problem and God?s solution. It is the affirmation of faith in the ?God-man?, who saves us from our sins precisely because He is God and man at once. Man could not come to God, so God has come to man?by making Himself human. This is done through His outgoing or ?ecstatic? love. Jesus our Savior bridges the abyss between God and man because He is both at once. St. Isaac the Syrian says that God?s Incarnation is not only an act of restoration in response to man?s sin, but also and more fundamentally as an act of love, an expression of God?s own nature.

   When God becomes man, this marks the beginning of an essentially new stage in the history of man, and not just a return to the past. The Incarnation raises man to a new level; the last state being higher than the first. The true image and likeness of God is Christ Himself. Thus, from the very first moment of man?s creation in the image of God, the Incarnation of Christ was in some way already implied.

Twofold Yet One, p.94

   There are three assertions of our faith in Christ. 1) He is fully and completely God, 2) He is fully and completely man, 3) He is not two persons but one. These are all spelled out in great detail by the seven Ecumenical Councils. The first two councils (Nicaea 325 and Constantinople 381) were concerned with the doctrine of the Trinity. The last five were concerned with the doctrine of the Incarnation.

   The Third Council in Ephesus 431AD stated that the Virgin Mary is ?Theotokos? or ?God-bearer? or ?Mother of God.? The Fourth Council in Chalcedon 451AD proclaimed that there are in Jesus Christ two natures, the one divine and the other human. According to His divine nature Christ is ?one in essence? (homoousios) with God the Father; according to His human nature He is homoousios with human beings. The Fifth Council in Constantinople 553AD asserted that ?One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh?. Just as it is legitimate to say that God was born, so we are entitled to assert that God died. The Sixth Council in Constantinople 681AD affirmed that just as Christ has two natures, He also has two wills, both human and divine. Yet, these two wills are not contrary and opposed to each other, for the human will is at all times freely obedient to the divine. The Seventh Council in Nicaea 787AD proclaimed that since Christ became a true man it is legitimate to depict Him in images or icons as one person uniting the two natures, divine and human.

   Underlying the conciliar definitions about Christ as God and man there are two basic principles concerning our salvation. First, only God can save us. A mere prophet or teacher cannot be redeemer of the world. Thus, Christ Himself is fully and completely God. Secondly, salvation must reach the point of human need. Only if Christ is fully and completely human as we are, can we share in what He has done for us. The Arians during the First Council regarded Christ as a demi-god situated in a shadowy intermediate region between humanity and divinity. Christ is not 50-50 or half-in-half God and man. Jesus Christ is our window into the divine realm, showing us what God is. ?No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known to us? (John 1:18).

Salvation as Sharing, p.97

   The Christian message of salvation can best be summed up in terms of sharing. ?You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich? (2Cor.8:9). Christ?s riches are His eternal glory; Christ?s poverty is His complete self-identification with our fallen human condition. Christ shares in our death, and we share in His life; He ?empties Himself? and we are ?exalted? (Phil.2:5-9). God?s descent makes possible man?s ascent.

   As Christ said at the Last Supper: ?The glory which You have given to Me I have given to them, that they may be one, as We are one. I in them and You in Me, may they be perfectly united into one? (John 17:22-23). Christ enables us to share in the Father?s divine glory. He is the bond and meeting point between us and God. The notion of salvation implies: 1) Christ took no only a human body like ours, but also a human spirit, mind and soul like ours. The Second Council dealt with Apollinarius, who advanced the theory that the incarnate Christ to only a human body but not a human intellect or rational soul. However, as St. Gregory the Theologian said, ?The unassumed is unhealed.?

   It also implies: 2) Christ assumed not just unfallen but also fallen human nature. ?We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with feeling of our infirmities; but He was in all points tempted exactly as we are, yet without sinning? (Heb.4:15). Christ lives out His life on earth under the conditions of the Fall. He is not Himself a sinful person, but in His solidarity with fallen man He accepts to the full the consequences of Adam?s sin. He accepts to the full not only the physical consequences, such as weariness, bodily pain and eventually the separation of body and soul in death. He accepts also the moral consequences, the loneliness, the alienation, the inward conflict. ?God has made Him who knew no sin to be sin for our sake? (2Cor.5:21).