The Human Person: Our Creation, Our Vocation, Our Failure


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


By His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

'You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.' Humans were made for fellowship with God: this is the first and primary affirmation in the Christian doctrine of the human person. But humans, made for fellowship with God, everywhere repudiate that fellowship: this is the second fact which all Christian anthropology takes into account. Humans were made for fellowship with God: in the language of the Church, God created Adam according to His image and likeness and set him in Paradise. Humans everywhere repudiate that fellowship in the language of the Church, Adam fell, and his fall - his 'original sin' ('ancestral sin') - has affected all humankind

The Creation of the Human Person. 'And God said, let Us make man according to our image and likeness' (Genesis 1:26). God speaks in the plural: 'Let Us make man'. The creation of the human person, so the Greek Fathers continually emphasized, was an act of all three persons in the Trinity, and therefore the image and likeness of God must always be thought of as a Trinitarian image and likeness. We shall find that this is a point of vital importance.

Image and Likeness. According to most of the Greek Fathers, the terms image and likeness do not mean exactly the same thing. The expression 'according to the image', wrote Saint John of Damascus, 'indicates rationality and freedom, while the expression 'according to the likeness', indicates assimilation to God through virtue.' The image, or to use the Greek term the icon, of God signifies our human free will, our reason, our sense of moral responsibility - everything, in short, which marks us out from the animal creation and makes each of us a person. But the image means more than that. It means that we are God's 'offspring' (Acts 17:28), His kin; it means that between us and Him there is a point of contact and similarity. The gulf between creature and Creator is not impassable, for because we are in God's image we can know God and have communion with Him. And if we make proper use of this faculty for communion with God, then we will become 'like' God, we will acquire the divine likeness; in the words of Saint John Damascene, we will be 'assimilated to God through virtue'. To acquire the likeness is to be deified (theosis), it is to become a 'second god', a 'god by grace'. 'I said, you are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High' (cf. St. John 10:34-35).

The image denotes the powers with which each one of us is endowed by God from the first moment of our existence; the likeness is not an endowment which we possess from the start, but a goal at which we must aim, something which we can only acquire by degrees. However sinful we may be, we never lose the image; but the likeness depends upon our moral choice, upon our 'virtue', and so it is destroyed by sin.

Humans at their first creation were therefore perfect, not so much in an actual as in a potential sense. Endowed with the image from the start, they were called to acquire the likeness by their own efforts (assisted of course by the grace of God). Adam began in a state of innocence and simplicity. 'He was a child, not yet having his understanding perfected', wrote Saint Irenaeus. 'It was necessary that he should grow and so come to his perfection.' God set Adam on the right path, but Adam had in front of him a long road to traverse in order to reach his final goal...

"...the human person is a single unified whole, the image of God embraces the entire person, body as well as soul. 'When God is said to have made the human person according to His image,' wrote Michael Choniates (died 1222), 'the word person means neither the soul by itself nor the body by itself, but the two together.' The fact that humans have a body, so Saint Gregory Palamas argued, makes them not lower but higher than the Angels. True, the Angels are 'pure' spirit, whereas human nature is 'mixed' - material as well as intellectual; but this means that our human nature is more complete than the Angelic and endowed with richer potentialities. The human person is a microcosm, a bridge, and point of meeting for the whole of God's creation.

Orthodox religious thought lays the utmost emphasis on the image of God in the human person.  Each of us is a 'living theology', and because we are God's icon, we can find God by looking within our own heart, by 'returning within ourselves': 'The Kingdom of God is within you' (St. Luke 17:21). 'Know yourselves,' said Saint Anthony of Egypt. '...He who knows himself, knows God.' 'If you are pure,' wrote Saint Isaac the Syrian (late seventh century), 'heaven is within you; within yourself, you will see the Angels and the Lord of the Angels.' And of Saint Pachomius it is recorded: 'In the purity of his heart he saw the invisible God as in a mirror.'

Because she or he is an icon of God, each member of the human race, even the most sinful, is infinitely precious in God's sight. 'When you see your brother or sister,' said Saint Clement of Alexandria, 'you see God.' And Evagrius taught: 'After God, we must count everyone as God Himself.' This respect for every human being is visibly expressed in Orthodox worship, when the priest censes not only the icons but the members of the congregation, saluting the image of God in each person. The best icon of God is the human person.' (Source: The Orthodox Church)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George