To finish this series of talks on doctrine, we have now to envisage what man is and I will in the course of to-day’s talk take up a certain number of points which refer to the nature and to the vocation of man leaving aside or just hinting at those things which we have had to discuss either during the English Wednesdays or on occasion of something else. The first thing that we must remember is that man is a created being, but that not only man is one and not only man is in this particular relationship with God. Man is only part of the whole created world and he is a part which has got his own vocation but the rest of the world has also a vocation.
Created means called out of non-being into being by an act of God. This act of God is a one-sided decision of God. Man does not participate in it, not any more than the rest of the creation; it is an act of God which is completely free, man is not a necessity of God’s plenitude, not any more than the rest of the creation and therefore because it is superfluous in a sense, because it is not of necessity, the created world together with man in it has got a certain autonomy acquired from the moment of its creation. It is free to act either according to the will and to the call of God or against it. Man in this created world stands on the threshold of two realities, on the one hand he belongs to the earth, on the other hand he is a spiritual being and in addition to this he has got a vocation and a situation with regard to God Himself, he belongs to this earthly cosmos of ours, his body is derived from the earth; in other words, he belongs to it completely, he is made out of the material of this created earthly material world. He is akin to it completely, there is no rift, there is no gap between him and the rest. On the other hand he is a spiritual being, he possesses a soul and he is akin to the invisible world of the angels, and according to the teaching of St. Maxim the Confessor this makes his situation so peculiar and so unique; he stands at the threshold of two worlds: he belongs completely to the world of matter and he belongs completely to the world of the spirits. At that point I think it is right to remind you that the word Spirit has got a manifold meaning and that it is not in the same sense that we use it when we speak of God and when we speak of the created beings which are bodiless and do not partake to the heavy materiality of the visible world. He stands at the threshold of these two worlds and in him he can bring them together or not; he can bring them together only on one condition that he is himself, finds himself in a harmonious, unshaken relationship with God. Man was not created statically, he was not made first of all a creature and then afterwards, endowed with possibilities of a supernatural life; man, in his becoming a man, man in the fact of its emerging out of naught, is already in a dynamic relationship to the naught out of which he has come, to all the rest of the created world to which he belongs and to God who calls him. In the words of Philaret of Moscow man stands between two gulfs, on the one hand under him looms the gulf, the abyss of non-being out of which he is called and to which he can never return, on the other hand looms equally above him another abyss, the abyss of God’s life into which he is called and he cannot remain static, he is created in motion as it were in the words of St Athanasius of Alexandria. He is created in motion out of naught somewhere, somewhere according to God’s will, means in the depth of communion to life divine but it also may be away from this communion; but as Lossky has put it in one of his writings, even if he rejects God, man as well as the fallen angels, can strive towards the bottom of the bottomless, but he can never attain it, he cannot return into naught; he can attain death, he cannot attain non-being; he can attain damnation, he cannot attain self-noughting (?) and this is one of the aspects of the creaturely tragedy as long as this tragedy has not been resolved for the creature; and so the vocation of man is as defined by St Peter in his first Epistle general, to become partaker of divine nature and only in becoming divine can man fulfil his vocation, in other words become completely and perfectly human; the type and the goal of man is to achieve its likeness with Christ as Christ is our prototype, God by nature, man by participation, Christ sets before us our goal and vocation, to be man by nature and become God by participation. Now this participation is very important for us to understand, we are not only called to receive from God divine Grace that will give us a supernatural life which remains however different from and alien to the life of God Himself. Grace, as I have tried to explain before, is God Himself communicating his life to us. To receive Grace, to live the life of Grace means to participate in the divine life itself and so our becoming Gods (gods (?) does not mean reaching a standard on a level of creaturely being which is far beyond anything we experience or we can imagine but which still remains alien to a real communion with God; we are called to more than this, but we are called to more than this, apart from the fall. In the fall our situation becomes new and different, the fall makes us sub human; we are no longer man, we are perhaps what in other terms one could called ‘the missing link’, we are not bridging the gap between animality and humanity and yet we come a great down so that we can no longer call ourselves (?) human. The only human beings of which history has experience are the Lord Jesus Christ and the Mother of God; and so the whole process of our destiny begins lower than the first level which was assigned to us. The whole problem of salvation — and of this we have spoken enough in the past — consists in first of all bringing us to the level from which we can start making us man and this making of us real man is achieved by making us a new race, a new kind of man within mankind, by making us in our very humanity what the Lord Christ is in his humanity. When we speak of the Church there are in it two aspects, the divine and the human yet when we consider the human aspect we would be mistaken if we imagined that the Church is human in us and only in us; in us the Church could not be an object of faith it would be an object of empirical investigation, it could not be called holly because it would be obviously sinful; and it is not enough to overcome this problem to say that it is the divine side of the Church that makes it an object of faith and an object of holiness; our humanity is only one of the aspects of the Church’s humanity, there is another aspect of humanity present in it, Christ is the head of the Church, Christ is the first member of the Church, Christ is the real, the true man already present in the created world by the miracle of the Incarnation, and it is by participation in the humanity of Christ that we become human in order to grow farther into the state to which we are called. The image which we are given can be taken from both St. Paul and the Gospel of St John. St. John’s Gospel gives us the image of the vine and the branches. The branches cannot live and they cannot bear fruit unless they are in the vine. But we are not in the vine originally, what happens to us? Here we find the image of St. Paul: wild olive branch which is to be grafted on the healthy olive tree. To begin with we grow on barren, on poor ground, we live a life of wildness and we bear poor fruit if (?) we bear any fruit at all. Something happens to us, a divine initiative which takes place either in a direct way in almost an intrusion of God, a direct attack launched on us by the Grace and power of God or else through man; we are torn away from our roots which gave us this precarian (?) transitory life, we are wounded and cut of and we are transferred unto a wound cut into the life-giving tree, into the life giving vine; wound to wound we are knit together, the wound of sin to the wound of charity; wound to wound we are grafted into the vine and then begins a whole process, a process of gradual conquest by the sap of the vine of all that is this withering little wild branch, gradually the sap finds its way into the vessels of the branch it moves along them, it reaches every part of the branch, it enters further and further into its texture, it surrounds every cell, gradually it penetrates it displacing the life of wildness by a new life and gradually the whole branch is assimilated that is identified with the life-giving vine; in this process the life is a new life, a plenitude of life it is health and healing, it is life a newness and yet the identity of the little branch is not affected or inhard (?), it is there, but it is no longer the withering, the weakling little branch, it has come to the fullness of life and fruition; this is what St. Paul calls “it is not me, it is Christ who lives in me”. And the process which I have just described of our assimilation to Christ is the process of the divine calling of the divine tearing away, cutting of, of the grafting into Christ which is baptism, the mystery of our integration to Christ and then the whole process of being alive in Christ which may be expressed perhaps best of all in terms of iterative communion but which is the totality of the Church’s life, the totality of the life of Christ pouring into us, conquering us, being given; but in this process we become as the Fathers used to say consubstantial to Christ, we become a new humanity we are of his blood and of his bone, the humanity of Christ a humanity recaptured by an act divine, true humanity, real humanity but this real humanity of Christ is inseparable from his real and true divinity, very man but very God also and in this process of becoming very man ourselves we participate also in the life of the Risen Christ in the life of the Incarnate Son of God. In this process we do not seem to become man, we become man in the way in which Christ is man inseparably united to the Grace to the reality divine. This gift of Grace and of divine reality is received by us from Christ because then we are reintegrated into a total humanity, we are no longer broken pieces, individuals set side by side, we become one mankind united to its head, this is what St Irenaeus of Lyon calls the ‘Recapitulation of mankind in Christ’. Mankind acquires a head and becomes a body. Now in this process we are also related to the gift of the Holy Spirit in the way in which we know from the Gospel of St. John and from the second book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is present in the totality of the Church, in its oneness and togetherness as also in each of us in the miracle of Pentecost; each of us is fulfilled, not in the organic way only in which we become the total man together with Christ or if you prefer, because there is no other man but Christ, the total Christ, but also in a unique relatedness to God in a way which is unrepeatable, unique, and we are, we become fulfilled by the action of the Holy Spirit; this Spirit who makes us by his power and action members of this body which fills us with the life divine but who also reminds us of all that Christ has spoken, takes from Christ to give us and who, being the Spirit of the Son as well as the Spirit of the Father, in a sense that does not imply a double procession teaches us from the depths of our heart, from the core of our being to call Godward, Abba, Father. Now this relationship there is between us and the Father is something profoundly different from just a relationship. We do not call God our Father because He behaves to us as a father behaves to his children, not because we originate in Him in His creative Word, not for any reason which would be at the same time an analogy a metaphoric expression; we are his children we are the sons of God and the daughters of God in the Lord Jesus Christ in the same way in which the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We are his body, we are his humanity, we participate also to the miracle of the union in Him of God and Man and St Iraeneus verily said that we are in Christ and together with Christ not only the total Christ (which is an expression of St Ignatius, developed by Clement of Alexandria) but we are the only begotten Son of God because when we are grafted to Christ, when we become all that He is, we become the sons of God together with Him in Him and this vocation of ours is a form of theosis, of deification which is far beyond even what we see scandalises so often western thought, we are not only to become in a sort of participant way, divine, we are called in Christ and in the Spirit to outgrow the very boundaries of any thing which our imagination can offer, and in this process we are called also to fulfil our vocation with regard to the rest of the created world.
Well, I think these are the main things which I wanted to add to the many things which I have already said concerning man. This is the picture which I would like to leave with you of our human vocation which must be understood and must be accepted by us, we have no right to be shy of a vocation which God imposes on us.
I think that the catastrophe (?) of the broken relationship between man and God (the Fall) is a catastrophe (?) that involves every single thing not only because man was the consciousness of the created world with regard to God, but also because it is within this created world that this relationship between God and man existed or did not exist and the whole world has become different because God has walked out of it .
“Miserable is the earth because of thee”, it can no longer subsist because nothing can subsist apart from being in God, and the moment one of the creature has broken through, as long as the totality is no longer in God, nothing is really in God. What you find in the case of man, probably you can find in the case of the rest. Man was created to live by the creative Word of God; he could live because he was related to God in a completely free flow of life. Then after the fall, something has gone completely wrong in the total creation because the total creation is completely related to one another. Man belongs completely to the earthly cosmos.
Christ says: “Salvation is impossible for man, but all things are possible to God”. Not in the sense that then whatever you do is irrelevant, but that salvation cannot be achieved simply by growing like this, until you have reached Heaven — that was the Tower of Babylon, and it did not work — What must happen is a sort of meeting between openness on our part and gift on God’s part. Righteousness and mercy have met. Righteousness in the sense that all we can do on our part has met with the mercy which is God’s Truth and Mercy (Ps.8510) has embraced one another, has interwoven with one another. Salvation is the meeting of Heaven and earth; it is not a brilliant achievement of the earth which graduates and get crowned. That is the point; you get in the troparions of a certain number of saints the words: ‘Thou hast become open to God’. God knows very well what He can pour. You just put your hand like that (open) instead of like that (shut, returned) and it is really not much more than we need, except a consistent having folding our hands like this and not putting them out and having a good look to see if they are already full (which we do constantly) and then we are surprised that the plenitude of Grace is not yet in our hand. I have just made the sign of the Cross and I expect already to be in a trance of contemplative prayer! The way of Salvation consists in reaching out for as long as we live and growing wiser and wiser and more and more open.