Sunday of Orthodoxy
Beloved of God, in celebrating this feast of the Sunday of Orthodoxy which is the restoration of the icons in the Church the first thought that usually comes to mind is defending the use of icons in our Church. Today, however, I would like to focus on something else, that is, our belief that man himself is in the image and likeness of God. In creating man this is precisely what God said in the book of Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26) Therefore we are all, each and every one of us, an icon of God. So let us ponder this.
I would like to refer to a recently published book by Archimandrite Peter, the current abbot of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, in Essex, England. It is entitled, “Theology as a Spiritual State, In the Life and Teaching of Saint Sophrony the Athonite”1. A subheading in one chapter is called, “In the image and likeness of God”. He has a number of very insightful reflections to share with us so let us consider some. He writes:
“Man was created ‘in the image’ of the one true Image of God the Father, which is Christ.” (pg. 76)
There is a footnote here referring us to Colossians 1:15 where the Apostle Paul declares that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God”. We are created in the image of God and the Son of God came into the world as both fully God and fully man, the God-man, the perfect man and thus the perfect image of God to which we aspire. Archimandrite Peter continues:
“Moreover, God ordained a most glorious purpose for His creature. He gave him the possibility to become incorruptible and eternal through communion with the Author of his life, and to attain the likeness of God.
“What constitutes, however, this image in man? In patristic literature, one can find various interpretations of the term ‘in the image of God’. In his classic book Saint Silouan the Athonite, Elder Sophrony mentions that ‘God’s image’ is discerned in man’s ‘mode of being’. He explains:
‘The created being [that is, man], by the gift of God’s good pleasure is made a partaker of uncreated, unoriginated life…so it seemed good in the sight of the Heavenly Father. Created in the image and likeness of God, man is endowed with the capacity to apprehend deification – to receive the divine form of being, to become a god by grace.’” (pp. 76-7)2
So if one, ‘apprehends deification’ his ‘mode of being’ is ‘the divine form of being, to become a god by grace’. Man becomes like God by grace, for it is not natural to him rather as a gift he becomes—as the Apostle Peter writes—a partaker of the divine nature. Fr. Peter continues:
“Many fathers of the Church saw the image as the initial deposit and gift of the grace of God, yet the ‘likeness’ as the possibility of the perfection of the image, which is the deification of man. Realisation of the likeness depends on the voluntary collaboration of man’s will with the pre-eternal will of God.
“The creation of man was a free act of God which reveals His thirst to impart all his being to man “’without identity of essence’.” (pp. 77-8)
Fr. Peter touches upon the immeasurable love of God for us when he speaks of God as thirsting to give His being or life to us. This is ‘without identity of essence’, here a footnote ascribes this expression to St. Maximus the Confessor which establishes the Orthodox teaching that we participate in God’s uncreated energy but not His essence which is beyond any created being. He then adds:
“Within this perspective we can understand Saint Sophrony’s observation that when God created man ‘in his image and after His likeness’, He repeated Himself on the created plane and in this sense becomes ‘our Father’.” (pg. 78)
This is an awesome reflection which gives us a sure and clear understanding that God is ‘our Father’. If we are a repeat of Him on the ‘created plane’ then we are indeed His offspring; He is truly ‘our Father’.
Let us think about this: God is our Father! The Apostle Paul writes: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ. (Eph. 1:3-5) So God is our Father! As St. John the Theologian exclaims: “Behold what manner of love the Father has given us that we should be called the sons of God and so we are” (IJohn 3:1). So God is our Father!
And again he tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God” (John 1:14,12). God is our Father! Therefore we are His children so let us strive to become a pure icon of our Lord Jesus Christ and appropriate the sonship open to us. Amen!
1. Available from the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England
2. This quote of St. Sophrony is found on page 174 in his book: Saint Silouan the Athonie