The Image of God in Man

St. Cyril the Archbishop of Jerusalem

St. Cyril the Archbishop of Jerusalem

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"And God said: Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness...So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them" (Genesis 1:26-27)

As we proceed with progress in Holy and Great Lent, we Orthodox Christians, need not lose our way or the purpose of it. We need to remember that we were all created "in His image and likeness..."

In what does the image of God in us consist? The Church's teaching tells us only that in general man was created "in the image," but precisely what part of our nature manifests this image is not indicated. The Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church have answered this question in various ways: some see it (the image) in reason, others in free will, still others in immortality. If one brings together their ideas, one obtains a complete conception of what the image of God in man is, according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers.

First of all, the image of God may be seen only in the soul, not in the body. According to His nature, God is Most Pure Spirit, not clothed in any kind of body and not a partaker of any kind of materiality. Therefore the image of God can refer only to the immaterial soul--many Holy Fathers of the Church have considered it necessary to give this warning.

Man bears the image of God in the higher qualities of the soul, especially in the soul's immortality, in its freedom of will, reason, and in its capability for pure love without thought of gain.

  1. The Eternal God gave immortality of soul to man, even though the soul is immortal not by nature but only by the goodness of God.
  2. God is completely free in His actions, and He gave to man free will and the ability to act freely within certain boundaries.
  3. God is Most Wise, and He has given man a reason which is capable of being not limited only to earthly, animal needs and to the visible side of things, but is capable of penetrating to their depths, of recognizing and explaining their inward meaning. Man's reason is able to rise to the level of that which is invisible and of striving in thought towards the very Source of all that exists--God. Man's reason makes his will conscious and authentically free, because it can choose that which corresponds to man's highest dignity rather than that to which his lower nature inclines him.
  4. God created man in His Goodness and He has never left him nor ever will leave him without His love. Man, having received his soul from the breathing of God, strives towards his first Principle, God, as towards something akin to himself, seeking and thirsting for union with Him. This is specifically shown in the straight and upright posture of his body, and his gaze, which turns up towards heaven. Thus, this striving towards and love for God expresses the image of God in man.

In summary, one may say that all of the good and noble qualities and capabilities of the soul are an expression of the image of God in man.

Is there a distinction between the "image" and the "likeness" of God? The majority of the Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church reply that there is. They see the image of God in the very nature of the soul, and the likeness in the moral perfecting of man in virtue and sanctity, in the acquirement of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, we receive the image of God from God together with existence, but the likeness we must acquire ourselves, having received the possibility of doing this from God.

To become "in the likeness" depends upon our will; it is acquired in accordance with our own activity. Therefore, concerning the "counsel" of God it is said: "Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26), but with regard to the very act of creation it is said: "God created man in His own image" (Genesis 1:27). About this Saint Gregory of Nyssa reasons: By God's "counsel," we were given the potential to be "in His likeness." (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazanky)

As Orthodox Christians we must remain faithful to God's plan for us. "We cannot, should not and need not try to change our physical image to make it more Godlike. We can, however, change and improve the way we live our lives to show more grace and love and establish communion with His creation around us, making our "image and likeness" more and more like God. This is the true purpose of Holy and Great Lent, the true purpose and goal of life. This is what Christ clearly demonstrated in His life and ministry. He cared for the needy. Not just at arm's length, such as charitable donations, but face-to-face, hands-on helping. He gave sight to the blind man, rather than just paying his medical expenses. He cured the leper, rather than protest the lack of leprosariums. The acts of face to face love in His life abound. His ministry to help the least among us was in person and personal. On so many occasions, He touched those whom He was helping, and He indeed helped the least of us...We are called to love all, not just family and friends. Christ repeatedly charges us to love our enemies. Pretty strong stuff, but "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endure all things." Grace, Love, Communion.

This image and likeness calls us to be in communion with His creation around us. We must love and respect our neighbor. We should not isolate ourselves from those around us. Harboring anger and animosity breaks our communion with our fellow man. Gossiping and spreading untruths are not acts of communion. Just as there are no divisions within the Holy Trinity, there should be no divisions amongst us, who share His image and likeness. When someone offends us, we must work to forgive, as he or she is as much a child of God as we...God granted us free will. It is our choice as to how we live our lives. We can simply settle for just our very imperfect physical sharing of His image and likeness, or we can strive to take on the image and likeness of His Grace, Love and Communion as well. This cannot be done solely through worship, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. To take on this divine image and likeness, we must love in person, and in a personal way, seeing God in the face of everyone we encounter. We must exhibit the Grace of God, with which we have been blessed, to all of those around us, not just our Orthodox brothers and sisters. And we must be in communion with God, our neighbor and all of His creation, gracefully loving all as we love ourselves. This is the very heart of the Orthodox belief of theosis--becoming more and more like God. Grace, Love, Communion.

It takes a bit of work to exhibit the real and full "image and likeness of God." But He has given us everything we need to meet the task, especially the living example of Christ. All we need to do is decide to do it and then apply ourselves to the task. But perfecting that "image and likeness of God" within ourselves is truly a worthwhile endeavor! And those around us, as well as all of creation, will be blessed by the love and actions of the better Christians we have become. They will share in our Grace, Love and Communion. (Source: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America).



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George