The Restoration of Human Nature in Christ*
“We Shall Bear the Image of the Heavenly”1
OUR HOLY TRIUNE GOD created man out of His exceeding goodness, so that he might be in a communion of love with Him and so that man, as a unified psychosomatic entity—as a person—might participate in the Holiness and Glory of God; that is to say, that he might be in a state of union with God, as one called to Deification (Theosis).
The Biblical phrase, “And God said, Let Us make man according to Our image and likeness,”2 encapsulates the very profound mystery of humanity: God created us wholly noble and good, in order that we might become perfect; we were given by nature “that which is according to the image,” so that we might attain by choice to “that which is according to the likeness.”
In the primordial state of blessedness in the “Paradise of delight,”3 the first-fashioned human beings existed in a state of illumination, “cultivating” and “keeping”4 the gift of Grace. That is, obeying the commandment that they had been given, they functioned according to nature, “in a natural way,”5 being elevated to that which is above nature; their hearts (nous) were in a state of noetic prayer, of continuous and unceasing remembrance of God through the energy of the Holy Spirit, and they were in the process of being raised up to a state of theoria (spiritual grandeur), that is, of Deification (Theosis).
But man, having free will, as a creature endowed with freedom of choice, was also susceptible to the passions, “that his free will might be put to the test,”6 on account of which, moreover, he was given the commandment not to eat “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”7
Man’s upward journey towards perfection, towards “that which is according to the likeness” was interrupted—by way of the envy and deceit of the Devil—through disobedience. This most tragic happening was a precursor to death—namely, the termination of the relationship of love and communion between man and God—and man’s departure from Paradise.
This departure was the consummation of a primordial drama, because it introduced man into the “world,” that is, into the realm of the cultivation of the passions and of sin. “‘World’ is an inclusive term,” “and when we want to name all of the passions in general, we call them ‘the world.’”8
Disobedience transformed man’s senses into “what is contrary to nature,”9 and thus man could not remain in a state of glory; his senses were now distorted. His mind, deprived of Divine Light, now lusted after depravity and impurity. He became jealous and envious and lied against others; haughty and arrogant, he became angry and came to hate his neighbor.
The passions were aroused and kindled. There was a rupture and dislocation between the internal or spiritual and the external or physical. Man became a slave of corruption, sin, and death. His struggle and toil appeared to be “in vain”; he came to be nourished physically and spiritually on the “bread of sorrow.”10
The Son and Word of God, “the second Man, the Lord from Heaven,”11 “was made flesh,”12 that is, made perfect Man in every respect “save sin.”13 He took pity on man and restored him to Paradise, bestowing the glory of His Kingdom upon all who follow in His foot-steps and keep His commandments. Our Lord healed human nature, which He assumed and united to His Divine Nature in his Divine Person, freeing it from corruption, sin, the Devil, and death.
He accomplished this “through His holy Body,”14 Which was filled with the Holy Spirit; a Body which was, after His saving Pas- sion and glorious Resurrection, a “Heavenly” Body,15 in which He clothes His “earthly” servants, restoring them and transforming them from “natural” men to “spiritual” men.16 The “natural” man is he who lives a merely biological existence; the “spiritual” man participates in the Grace of the Holy Spirit, Which he receives as a gift in the Church of Christ, through the holy virtues and the holy Mysteries.
To this end, our Lord appointed “holy worship” and a “pure law”17 for us in His new Paradise, the Holy Church. Man returns to his first, natural state and unifies his disrupted and dissipated senses; and, in worshipping God “in spirit and in truth”18 and in “cultivating and keeping” the holy law of the Divine commandments, he is nourished by the Life-giving Bread “unto the remission of sins and life eternal” and is illumined by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
This is achieved with great toil and struggle and constitutes precisely the self-denial which is required of a man if he is to take up his cross and be freed from the slavery of sin and the wickedness of the Devil. He who has a deep and living faith, and who believes with exactitude and consistency, can, according to our Holy Fathers, attain to union with God. This sacred, salvific path is beautifully summarized by St. Maximos the Confessor in the following words:
He who believes fears, he who fears is humbled, and he who is humbled becomes meek, acquiring the habit of rendering inert those movements of insentience and desire which are contrary to nature; the meek man keeps the commandments, he who keeps the commandments is purified, he who is purified is illumined, and he who is illumined is vouchsafed to consort with the Bridegroom-Logos in the inner chamber of the mysteries.19
Transcending mind and understanding, this passionless union, with the Bridegroom-Logos in the present life, in the “inner chamber of the mysteries,” in a heart made contrite by tears of repentance, wounded by Divine love, and exhausted by crying out unceasingly for mercy day and night, signifies man’s birth “from above,”20 the advent of the Kingdom within him,21 and his union with the Holy Trinity.22
This ineffable union constitutes the unerring pledge of future glory and the assurance that, after the general Resurrection, we will bear the image—indeed, the likeness—of the “Heavenly,” that is, the incorruption and immortality of God; for, “there shall be no more death”!23
1. I Corinthians 15:49. 2. Genesis 1:26.
3. Genesis 2:15.
4. See note 3.
5. Abba Isaiah the Anchorite, Discourse 2: “Concerning Natural Law,” §2.
6. Abba Isaac the Syrian, “Homily 41,” p. 171. 7. Genesis 2:16-17.
8. Abba Isaac, “Homily 30,” p. 131.
9. See note 5.
10. Psalm 126:2, Septuaginta. 11. I Corinthians 15:47.
12. St. John 1:14.
13. Hebrews 4:15.
14. See note 5.
15. I Corinthians 15:48.
16. I Corinthians 2:14-15; St. Jude 19.
17. See note 5.
18. St. John 4:23.
19. Chapters on Theology, First Century, §16. 20. St. John 3:3, 7.
21. St. Luke 17:21.
22. St. John 14:23.
23. Revelation 21:4.