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  • Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh CHRIST, TRUE AND PERFECT MAN

    The Incarnation, the fact that God became Man, is a revelation both of God and of Man. In order to understand, therefore, how fully man is revealed through the Incarnation, one must rediscover how fully God is revealed. The gods of antiquity, of philosophical discourse, were always images of the greatness of man or of the greatness which man could perceive or imagine in a superhuman being. What no religion, no philosophy, ever dared present was a god who becomes man, suffers and empties himself of his splendour in order to become fully and completely accessible to us. In the Incarnation we discover that our God, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator of the world, the Beauty that surpasses all beauty, the Truth and the only Reality of the world, – that this God chooses, in an act of love, so to identify himself with the destinies of mankind, so to take upon himself total and ultimate responsibility for his creative act, that all the beauty of the world is called forth, while at the same time he gives the world the freedom that destroys and distorts this beauty. This God who chooses to become frail, vulnerable, defenceless and contemptible in the eyes of all those who believe only in strength, in power and in visible temporal victory – such a god a devout, believing man could not have invented. To conceive of a god in such terms would have been blasphemy. And yet. God reveals himself as such: vulnerable, defenceless, frail and contemptible. This is the folly of the Cross of which St Paul speaks. And the folly is not only ours; it is the folly of God as well. A certain number of mystics speak of divine Love as being folly, because to offer love to creatures like us, who may be incapable of responding, who may reject it and trample it underfoot as the swine trample the pearl of great price in the parable, is folly. But then, as St Paul says, the folly of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. If we are to speak of the revelation of man in all his splendour through Christ, we must realise that this can only be accomplished by a God who accepts to become defenceless. Angelus Silesius, the German mystic, says: ‘I am as great as God; he is as small as I’. We need to think about what this means. On the other hand, as I have said, the Incarnation is also a revelation of the greatness of man. It is a revelation of the fact that man was created by God in such a way that, not only in spirit, but also in soul and in body, he can be not only spirit-bearing, but God-bearing, He can not only see God face to face, be a friend to God, stand in the deepest possible relation of obedience and communion, but can also, in the daring and inspiring words of St Peter, become a partaker of the divine nature, can become, even while remaining man, what God is in his nature, just as God, being God by nature, becomes man by participation. The union is equally complete – and glorious – in both cases. The Incarnation is not only a revelation of man in his greatness, in his divine potential, it is also a revelation in new terms of the potential of the created physical world. For if the divinity of Christ could unite itself to the body of the Incarnation, it means that the material body of the Incarnation was capable of such unity with God himself – not with the Divine as a notion, not with the Divine as simply a grace of God bestowed upon us – that, with God, it can be truly divinised. If this is true for the body of Christ, then it is true for all the material reality of this world. It means that the words of St Paul, when he says that a day will come when God shall be ‘all in all,’ must be taken in the most realistic sense. God, the divine Presence, will pervade all things created – all humanity, and all the created world. The world will then become the glorious vesture of God, the body of God, the Incarnation of a God who will always be beyond his world, but who will become immanent to everything in this world, to all he has created. In the sacraments we already have a vision of this very act. When we say that this bread and this wine become the Body and Blood of Christ we see, in eschatological terms, what bread and wine, and all matter represented by them, are called to be: the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ. Thus the Incarnation gives us not only a historical image of a relationship between God the Saviour and us. It gives us a vast panorama, a vision of what the whole world is called to be in God: ‘I in them and thou in me. I in thee, Father, and they in me.’ Saint Paul says, our life is already ‘hid with Christ in God’. When we think of the Incarnation and of Christ the Man, we must be careful not to fall into the heresy of dividing the Godhead from humanity, of looking at them separately instead of seeing them in their oneness. This oneness was beautifully expressed by St Maximus the Confessor, who says that the union between the humanity and divinity of Christ is like the union of fire and iron that takes place when you plunge a sword of iron into a furnace until it glows with fire. ‘Fire and iron,’ he says, ‘are united now in an indistinguishable way. You can no longer separate the one from the other.’ This is the dogma of Chalcedon. Their unity is such that, to use St Maximus’ own words, ‘one can now burn with iron and cut with fire’. The image of fire and a created object leads us straight into the biblical imagery of God as fire, straight to the God who reveals himself in the burning bush. Father Lev Gillet writes that the fire of God burns only what is evil and does not feed itself on what it sets aflame. It transforms it into a flaming bush without reducing it to ashes. This is what happens in the Incarnation. God, the divine Fire, comes upon a human being, and it is this human entity which is made into a plenitude of Being, without any change in its nature. This takes place in exactly the same way as the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine becomes the Blood of Christ in the liturgy. They still remain themselves, because God does not annihilate his creature in the process in order to make it into something else, something essentially different. Incidentally, part of the temptation which the devil offered to Christ was just this. ‘You have created stones,’ he said, ‘now undo your act of creation and make them into bread. You have created bread and wine, undo your act of creation, annihilate their very reality to make them something different’. No. God makes things different by raising them to an eschatological state. In the first prayer of the Canon of the Liturgy we say: ‘Thou didst not cease to do all things, until thou hadst brought us up to heaven and bestowed on us thy Kingdom which is to come.’ Logically this is absurd. How can we participate now in something which is ahead of us? And yet, this is eschatological reality: things final and decisive are already here, because God has come into the world, and because the world is no longer a world that stands face to face with God. It is a world in which God is immanent, even while he remains the transcendent God. And this is the God in whom we believe. At the end of the ninth chapter of the Book of Job, in verse 33, Job describes his despairing conflict with God and says: ‘Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both’. There was indeed no one who could take a step that would bring him between the two conflicting parties, between God Almighty and man in his frailty – and simultaneously in his purity of intention and, therefore, in his righteousness. There was no one who could be the equal of both, who could step into the conflict, put his hand on the Lord’s shoulder and on man’s shoulder, not to divide them, but to bring together what was severed. This is achieved in the Incarnation. In the Incarnation this conflict between God and man becomes a confrontation within one Person, a Person who is simultaneously, and equally, both man and God. In that Person there is a unity which is God and man, the hypostasis of Christ, in which all that is human is confronted with all that is God’s so that the conflict is resolved from within by the inner tragedy and victory of the unity between these two. From within the perspective of the Incarnation one can see what the word intercession really signifies. The word intercede means ‘take a step’ that brings one to the heart of a conflict. That is what Christ does. But at the same time he unites, he brings all the conflict within himself and resolves it there. And this is why, having resolved it within himself, he can resolve it for the whole world, for men, for history and for the cosmos. This way of resolving the conflict involves both the two natures and the two wills. There can be no resolving of this conflict, if Christ is not truly God and truly man in all aspects except sin. But neither can this conflict be resolved unless Christ – the hypostasis – possesses two wills. If the will of God overpowers the will of man, harmony is not restored. If the will of man remains forever independent of the will of God and in a state of confrontation with it, there is again no harmony. It is only because there is in Christ all that is man, including the freedom of man, and all that is God, including the freedom of God, the greatness, the humility, the surrender and kenosis of God, that victory can be won. Two natures are united, and a new Adam is born. Why? When Adam was created he was not created as an individual, as part of an already existing multiplicity of human beings. He was in himself the total humanity of that moment. But at the moment he was not an individual, but a person. There was no dividedness, no fragmentation, no sin, no evil in him. He is completely whole, with the wholeness of innocence, and of saintliness. He knows God, and is known by God, in terms of communion, of knowledge ‘face to face’, of vision and contemplation. In the Incarnation, Christ is not simply an individual among other individuals. In the language of St John’s Gospel, he is born not of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of the will of God. He is a new creation, his humanity is part of the created world. He is new because though he has ancestry, his ancestry does not sum up the whole of his ascent towards existence. He possesses an ancestry which is given him. We see this in the genealogy of Christ, which moves step by step through the centuries of Hebrew history. But God is his Father. Christ has a dual ancestry that somehow sums up all of us. There is an openness into eternity, the absolute and the divine. He is unique because he is totally man, possessed of the human flesh he has received from the Virgin. But he is also the Son of God, as St Luke’s gospel teaches us: ‘The Holy Spirit shall overshadow thee, so that the Holy One who shall be born of thee shall be called and be – in reality – the Son of God.’ It is in this context that we must think with deep reverence of the Mother of God and of her virginity, her ascent to holiness, and the Incarnation. In the Incarnation she became the unwedded bride, the bride who has known no man, the bride of the Most High, the bride of God. She represents in her own virginal person – which means she is totally open to God, totally surrendered and given – the whole of creation in its striving and longing and groaning for unity. That striving falls short of realisation for all of us, but is fulfilled in her. As the bride of the Lamb she is Creation; in that sense, she is wedded to the living God. There can be no thought of a human marriage, because it would be a mystical adultery. She is the wife, the bride of God and she can be the wife, the bride, of no man. Having become the dwelling place of the incarnate God, it is unthinkable that she should afterwards turn away into the ordinariness of life. It is even more unthinkable that Joseph, knowing of the Incarnation, should be able to treat her otherwise than as the sacred vessel of the Incarnation, an object of reverence and veneration. In the Incarnation and at the Nativity we can see that God, in Christ, delivers himself to mankind in the total defencelessness of a child. He gives himself. We can do with him whatever we choose. These words were used in the Gospel with reference to St John the Baptist, but they also apply here. We see what divine Love, and, ultimately, what perfect human love must be: a total gift of self, defenceless, totally vulnerable, and calling forth a response. This is essential, because we will be measured in our human dignity, in our human ability to understand God and commune with him by the way in which we can relate to a vulnerable and defenceless God. Christ says at the Last Supper: ‘No one takes my life from me. I give it freely’. The Book of Revelation speaks of the Lamb of God slain before all ages. The sacrifice of the Son is intrinsic to the mystery of divine Love as addressed to the created world. The Son of God is the prototype of man. We are created in his image. Our ideal presence is already there in the Trinity. This image is projected into history and finds its place in history, when the time is ripe. The words of Christ at the Last Supper are important because they indicate that this is not a unilateral act by God, but the co-operation of God and man in the salvation of the world. There is a passage in the works of Charles Williams in which, speaking of the Incarnation, he says that it took place when a maiden of Israel proved capable of pronouncing the Holy Name with all her might, with all her heart, with all her will and all her flesh. Then the Word became flesh. This is co-operation between man and the created world on the one hand, and God on the other. In the child of Bethlehem, we see God delivering his Son into our hands. It is a moment when the Lamb of God is truly a defenceless and vulnerable lamb. It is a moment when we can see God sacrificing his Son for the salvation of the world. He sends him forth to death. We have an image of this in Abraham and Isaac. But in the case of Isaac, God provided a ram. In the case of his only-begotten Son, he did not provide a substitute. The Son had to die for the salvation of the world. There is a great deal one could say about the imagery of sacrifice and the innocent victim in the Old Testament. It is always the blameless, the most perfect victim which must be offered in sacrifice, – in order to prepare Israel for the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God. But this should also make us understand that evil, hatred, all evil human passions, always result in the death and suffering of the innocent. One person drinks and drives, and another is killed on the road. There is also a corollary to this in the moment when Christ is brought to the temple by his Mother and Joseph. We must realise that this is the next step in the fulfillment of the Law. In Exodus, after the flight from Egypt, the Lord says to Moses that the people of Israel must bring forth the first-born male child of every marriage as an offering to Him. This implies a blood-offering in ransom for the first-born of Egypt who had to die that Israel might be freed. As in the story of Abraham and Isaac, however, the Lord allows a substitute. But when the Lord Jesus Christ is brought by his Mother to the temple, God takes possession of him, waits until the right time and accepts him as the blood-offering, as the ultimate sacrifice. This is what we must remember when we bring children for churching. This is what ‘churching’ signifies; every child is brought into the temple on the very same terms as Christ: to become God’s own. By our will to be his, the child is surrendered unto life and unto death. Now I will turn to the significance, in this context, of the baptism of Christ. Earlier Bishop George spoke of the ‘gradual perfecting’ of the human nature of Christ. There is a certain ambiguity in this expression. What I believe he meant to say is not that there were originally stages of imperfection that were corrected afterwards, but that by the fact that Christ was born truly man, at every stage of his development in childhood and youth, he was adequate to that age and to that stage. And whenever a new faculty – whether of intelligence, of sensitivity, or of will – unfolded in him in the process of his maturing on the human level, this faculty was taken up by the Divinity and integrated into his total perfection, the divine-human harmony that is the incarnate Son of God. At every step he was perfect in the total and perfect union of his humanity and his Divinity. There was never a moment when he was less perfect, or imperfect, and then grew into perfection, though one can speak of a movement in which his humanity entered ever more fully the vocation which the God in him called him to fulfil. We find this in the Baptism of Christ. At that moment he comes to the Jordan, a man of thirty – and all the Fathers teach us that he had attained his full and perfect human maturity. At that moment, he, the man, Jesus Christ (cf. St Paul), with his free will, in the fullness of his humanity, chooses to fulfil his vocation. Here again there are the two wills, but at that moment the two wills are fulfilled in one harmony, which is the divine Will, to which the human will not only acquiesces, but with which the human will identifies gloriously, joyfully and sacrificially. At the moment when Christ came to the banks of Jordan, St John the Baptist did not know why he should baptise him. He saw in him the Lamb of God, the One who was pure, holy and without stain. What significance could baptism have? That every kind of sinner had come to the banks of Jordan, had immersed himself in its waters, had cleansed himself of evil and sin, and that these waters had become heavy with the sin of man, with the deadliness of sin, so that when the Lord Jesus Christ was plunged into them as wool is plunged into a dye, he came out with the sin of man imprinted on him. In the myth of Hercules and his combat with the centaur, the centaur is a being which is half-human and half-horse, that is, bestiality united to humanity. In a sense, this is our condition. We are all centaurs. We have all our glorious humanity in us, and yet we allow it to be defiled. In his combat with this monstrous being – and, in a sense, we are all monstrous, as contrasted with the surpassing beauty of Christ – Hercules wounds the centaur. In order to avenge himself, the centaur drenches his tunic in his own blood and sends it to Hercules, who puts it on. It clings to his flesh and burns him cruelly, yet he cannot take it off. Eventually he tears it away – with his flesh and with his life. This is an image which one could aptly use for what happens to Christ when he takes upon himself our humanity, our humanity which is like the centaur’s tunic, drenched with murderous, lethal blood. Then he comes up out of Jordan, ready for the victory, and upon his humanity there comes the Holy Spirit of God in the form of a dove, the Spirit that fills him with power, not only in his divinity, for his humanity also is now fulfilled to total perfection. This will be revealed to us later, at the Transfiguration, when it is not the divinity of God that shines through in spite of the humanity. At that moment we see his humanity transfigured with Divinity and shining in all its glory. But this situation, this vision is incommunicable. The Apostles could see it, but they could not take part in it. It is only in the Resurrection, when all separatedness will be overcome, that the victory of Christ, his risen and transfigured humanity, will be capable of becoming ours . In the context of the humanity of Christ all the temptations offer a double challenge. The first challenge is this: ‘You are filled with power. There is no limit to your power. The Spirit is not only upon .you, but within you. God is in you. Why can you not do anything you choose, if you are the Son of God?” In challenging Christ to prove that he is God the devil in effect says: ‘You have created a world. Make it different for your own convenience. This world belongs to me, I will give you everything, provided you become one of my subjects. You are God. You are all powerful. You are filled with the Spirit. Show it. Throw yourself down from the pinnacle, that everyone may see and recognise you’. This is the temptation to power which would undo totally the kenosis , the emptying of self, the very act of the Incarnation. It would make the incarnate Son of God into a fallen god, and nothing else. Later Christ was tempted again. Satan reappeared while he was on the way to Caesaria Philippi, after he was recognised as the Son of God by Peter. Christ then began to tell his disciples about his Passion, but Peter turned to Him and said: ‘Be merciful to yourself’. This was temptation to weakness. ‘You cannot do it. Are you not flesh and blood? Have pity on yourself’. And he said the same words to Peter as he had said to Satan: ‘Get thee behind me. Thou thinkest the things of the earth, and not the things of God’. So there are two temptations: power and weakness are equally tempting, and equally dangerous, for him and for us. We must strike the wonderful balance of faith that allows the power of God to be made manifest in weakness. As St Paul says: ‘All things are possible for me in the sustaining power of Christ.’ For me, ‘and yet it is Christ’s power, not mine’. At this point Christ becomes ‘The Man of the Seventh Day’. At the end of Creation, the Lord rested on the Sabbath, the seventh day. What happened? It is a moment when, having fulfilled all his creative work, he handed it over to man to bring to perfection. St Maximus the Confessor tells us that man was created in such a way that he was at one not only with all the material and psychic world, but also with the spiritual world of the angels and of God himself. Being at the very centre, capable of communing with the one and the other, man could unite both, and so lead the whole of creation unto that perfection which is expressed by St Paul as ‘God being all in all’. Man was put in charge of creation, but he betrayed it into the hands of Satan. So Christ becomes the New Adam, the One who takes upon himself to be the Leader, the head of the created world, to lead it to its vocation. This is why so many of the miracles of Christ are performed on the Sabbath. It is the Day of Man. It is the day when God rested from his works and said: ‘Now it is for man to bring to perfection what had been made perfect, and to restore to wholeness what has been fragmented and broken and destroyed.’ Christ did not perform miracles on the Sabbath in order to challenge the pharisees and the scribes. These miracles were acts by which he asserted himself as the New Adam who takes upon himself and fulfills the vocation of man. By accepting to be the New Adam he takes upon himself the complex destiny of being Perfect Man, and therefore has an absolute horror and revulsion against all sin, all evil, all impurity. And yet he accepts to be clothed in our fallen nature, with all its frailty, though without sin. He is crucified by the frailty of fallen man, because he is himself free. As St Maximus the Confessor says: ‘In the Incarnation Christ becomes immortal, because it is impossible to conceive of humanity united inseparably to Divinity, and remaining mortal. Yet he takes upon himself everything, including mortality’. And he also takes upon himself the very condition of mortality – the loss of God – in order to be totally at one with us. So as God he is Love crucified. As man, he is the Perfect Man, crucified by the imperfection of the world which he has accepted to bear in the form of his flesh. Thus he finds himself in history with a dual solidarity. He is totally, unreservedly and ultimately at one with God. But at the same time he is as ultimately and as absolutely, by choice and by the desire of love, at one with the fallen world. The result is that, while he is of both, he is rejected by both. Because he is God’s own, he is rejected by man; he must die ‘outside the walls’. He cannot even be killed in Jerusalem. He cannot be killed, like the prophets, in the temple or within the precincts of the temple. He must be rejected from the very city of men. Because he has made himself one with man and has accepted the final predicament of man, the loss of God in Adam, he has to die alone, without God. That is what Archimandrite Sophrony once called ‘a metaphysical swoon’, a moment when, in his humanity, in his dying, he lost the sense of being at one with the Father. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ This is not the recitation of a prophetic psalm. One does not recite psalms when one is dying on the Cross. One cries out, ‘Lord, have mercy’. One cries without words. But one does not recite a psalm for the edification of those standing around. The loss of God is a real event. Christ cannot die, otherwise than by losing God. This is the tragedy of the Cross. This is the inconceivable greatness of divine Love. He is not only vulnerable at that moment. He is undone. In his address Bishop George defined death as extinction. I do not believe this to be true. In the Old Testament, death is an atrocious, appalling moment when body and soul are severed from one another. The soul of each one of us who has lost God on earth, through the sin of our first parents and our own, descends into sheol; into the pit, the place where God is not. The body, which was the only way in which we could communicate with God – by our cry to him, by longing, by hope, by desire, is undone in corruption. It is the utter separatedness of the living human soul from God which is the tragedy of death and sheol in the Old Testament. This is what is signified by the icon of the Harrowing of Hell, or by the words ‘he descended into hell’ of the Apostles Creed. Soul and body are torn apart. But Divinity does not abandon either his body or his soul. The body of Christ lies incorruptible, because it is inseparably united with Divinity. The soul of Christ descends into hell, as the prayer says, in the splendour of his Godhead. And then the place where God was not, the place of his utter and radical absence, is filled with the divine Presence. This explains the words of the psalm: ‘Where shall I flee from before thy face? In heaven is thy dwelling,in hell thou art also’. This, then, is the victory. This is what happens on Good Friday when, at the end of Matins, we already sing of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not simply the resurrection of the body of Christ. It is victory over death, over sin, over Satan. Hell is emptied and laid waste. And Christ rests in the tomb, like God on the Seventh Day. The victory is won. Not only the victory of creation that opened the tragic history of mankind, but the ultimate victory. On Saturday we sing the Resurrection because body and soul are now united. Christ appears to us victorious. Separation is undone by the Cross and by the descent into hell. Separation can no longer hold Christ, either in the tomb or in hell. The Resurrection is the inevitable glorious result of this victory. Then comes the Ascension, when we see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Glory. We see where we ourselves belong; and we can say, with St Paul, that our life is ‘hid with Christ in God’. Sourozh. 1983. N.14. P. 1-13

    Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh