Orthodox Thought for the Day


Friday, May 20, 2016

The disorienting shock of the empty tomb

Blessings for this week when we reflect on the Holy Myrrh-bearing women: 

Acts 6:1-7

Mark. 15:43-16:8

We all know what it is like to receive shocking news. Sometimes it is simply impossible to be prepared to hear an astounding message that we did not expect at all. Today we commemorate the people who received the most shocking news of all time from the angel: “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

These first witnesses to our salvation were all women who expected to find the dead body of Jesus Christ in the tomb. They saw Him die on the Cross and now went to anoint Him properly for burial. Like the disciples and everyone else, these women did not expect the resurrection. We can only imagine how sad, scared, and terribly disappointed they must have been as they rose very early on Sunday morning to take their sorrowful journey to His tomb. When they got there, these women–the Theotokos, Mary Magdalen, two other Mary’s, Johanna, Salome, Martha, Susanna and others whose names we do not know–were the first to receive the shocking news of the resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

We also remember today Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, prominent Jewish leaders who were also the Lord’s secret followers. Joseph “took courage” and risked his position and perhaps his life by asking Pilate for the Savior’s body. He took Him down from the Cross and, with Nicodemus’ help, wrapped Him in a linen shroud and put Him in a tomb.

Not only must the women and the men we remember today have been torn apart with grief at the death of Christ, they were surely afraid to be identified with One Who had been rejected, condemned, and publically executed as a blasphemer by the Jews and a traitor by the Romans. Nonetheless, they found the courage to do what devotion to their Lord required, regardless of their pain and fear. They served Christ in the only way still available to them by providing Him a decent burial.

There is a powerful realism about this story, for it certainly does not read like something made up after the fact. The Lord’s disciples are not even present in it, for they had run away in fear at His arrest. St. Peter, the chief disciple, had denied Him three times before His crucifixion. The first witnesses of the resurrection are all women, whose testimony had no authority in that time and place. Moreover, they went to the grave in order to anoint His dead body, not to find an empty tomb. Like them, Sts. Joseph and Nicodemus viewed Christ simply as one of the dead at that point. If someone were trying to make up a story to support the truth of the resurrection and to build up the credibility of the first Christians, this would not be the way to do it. It is, however, the perfect way to bear witness to the shocking truth of what no one expected, of what makes no sense according to our usual ways of thinking, and of what truly happened on that great and holy day when Life first dawned from the tomb.

As we continue to celebrate the glorious season of Christ’s Passover from death to life, we must not lose the sense of disorienting shock that the myrrh-bearing women received when they saw the stone that had been rolled away from the door of the tomb and heard the message from the angel of the Savior’s resurrection. What happened was so amazing that “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Too often, we take the good news of Christ’s victory over death for granted as part of a story that we know quite well. Even as we are accustomed to the intensified prayer, fasting, and repentance of Lent, we get used to the joyful celebration of the season of Pascha each year. A way to reopen the eyes of our souls to the unique and extraordinary nature of the Lord’s resurrection is for us to put ourselves in the place of the myrrh-bearers and of Sts. Joseph and Nicodemus by struggling to overcome anything that would hold us back from devoted service to Jesus Christ, even when it is not easy. Nothing that these holy women and men did in the aftermath of Christ’s death was fun, popular, or safe. We can be sure that they would have all strongly preferred to be doing something other than burying their friend and Lord. But they overcame those struggles and pressed on in serving Him in the only way available to them. If they were to love Him then, they had to give Him a proper burial.

Our situation is obviously different, for we live well after the Lord’s resurrection. Nonetheless, the spiritual challenge is the same. No generation gets to pick the circumstances that it faces. Human beings do not get to choose the illnesses, tragedies, or other problems that they encounter. It is not entirely up to us what temptations and weaknesses challenge us, our marriages, and our families spiritually, morally, or in any other way. Indeed, if we pretend that we get to pick how to serve our Lord in ways that suit us, we will likely ignore what He is actually calling us to do. Our challenge is to be faithful in responding to the situation that is before us, in discerning how to bear witness to Christ’s victory over death in the here and now, even if we would rather be doing something else.

The Church in Jerusalem faced a similar situation when there was strife over the daily distribution of bread to widows of different ethnic backgrounds. The apostles were too busy with their ministries to address that problem, so they ordained the first deacons to serve the practical needs of the community. And as a result, the Church flourished. We can be sure that the apostles would have preferred for such problems not to have arisen at all. But that is not what happened. When the problem arose, they had to find a way to address it. To have ignored it because they did not like it would have been to ignore God’s calling to them and to have refused to serve Christ in His Body, the Church.

We will grow in our participation in the Savior’s victory over sin and death by humbly accepting the opportunities for serving Him that our lives, and the lives of those around us, present. Most of us need look no further than our own families, our parish, and our friends and acquaintances in order to discern quite clearly what God is calling us to do. If we want a Lord Who fits our preconceived notions and calls us to serve Him only in ways that we find convenient, pleasing, or easy, then we will fall into the idolatry of worshiping our own self-centered delusions. Remember that our Lord’s empty tomb was an unexpected shock from which the women initially fled in fear. But what was at first so terrifying turned out to be a blessing beyond anyone’s expectations. Had the women not put themselves in the place of humble obedience and service, they would not have been the first witnesses of the resurrection. And our lives will not bear witness to the joy of Christ’s great victory unless we do the difficult work of serving Him in whatever circumstances we face, regardless of whether we especially like them or not.

Pascha was truly disorienting for all our Lord’s followers. It did not fit with any conventional expectations for religion in that time and place, and it still does not. In order to participate more fully in the life of our Risen Lord, we must follow the example of those blessed women and men who, in the midst of their fear and pain, did what needed to be done in order to love and serve Christ, even though they could not imagine what was to happen next. Theirs was not a self-centered, sentimental, or culturally accommodated spirituality, but a way of living that opened them to the new day of a Kingdom not of this world. The shock of the empty tomb was overwhelming, but that was necessary in order to open their eyes to news so good that nothing could have prepared them for it. This Paschal season, let us follow their holy example so that our eyes will also be opened to the brilliant light that continues to illumine even the darkest grave. As the angel said, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Fr. Philip LeMasters
Glory to God for All Things
18 / 05 / 2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On the Holy Myrrhbears Sunday


A homily by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov 


The Gospels have told us today[1] about the exploits of the holy women who followed the God-Man during His earthly wanderings. They witnessed His sufferings and were present at his burial. The burial took place on Friday evening. While the Jews’ wrath was pouring out like the fiery lava of Aetna not only upon the Lord, but upon all of those close to Him; while the Holy Apostles were forced to hide or observe the extraordinary events only from a distance; while only John, the beloved disciple who leaned upon the breast of the Lord, feared nothing and remained always near the Lord, the secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, who had always concealed his heart’s allegiance due to persecution from the Sanhedrin, suddenly disregards all the obstacles, hesitations, and anxiety that had bound and worried him until then, and he appears before cold, cruel Pilate to beg the body of the One who was shamefully executed. He receives the Lord’s body and buries it with reverence and honor.

The Gospels imply that Joseph’s deed was big-hearted and courageous. That is truly what it was. In the presence of the Sanhedrin which had committed deicide, in the very Jerusalem that had participated in that deicide, a member of the Sanhedrin takes the body of the God-man killed by men down from the tree and carries it to the garden located near the city gates and walls. There, in quiet and solitude, under shady trees, he places the body by which the bodies and souls of all mankind are redeemed in a new tomb hewn from a solid rock, with an abundance of fragrances and oils, and wraps it like a precious treasure in fine, clean linen. Another member of the Sanhedrin also took part in the Lord’s burial. This was Nicodemos, who came to the Lord by night and acknowledged that the Lord was sent from God. Having rolled a great stone to the door of the grave—doors which Gospels call a low opening to the cave—Joseph has satisfactorily finished his service and so he departs. The Sanhedrin followed Joseph’s movements. Seeing him gone, it took care to set a guard at the grave and place a seal on the stone which covered the entrance. The Lord’s burial was witnessed by both His friends and His enemies. Although some members of the Sanhedrin in their frenzy and rage committed a great evil, they unconsciously brought a great sacrifice (cf. Acts 17:18): through the slaughter of the all-pure Sacrifice they redeemed the whole human race, ended the fruitless number of transformative sacrifices, and made these sacrifices and their very institution superfluous. Other members of the Sanhedrin, representatives of all the righteous people of the Old Testament, served with a God-pleasing intention and disposition of soul in the burial of the Redeemer of mankind, and by this action ended and placed a seal upon the pious works of the sons of the Old Testament. From this point begins the exceptional service of those of the New Testament.

The holy women show no less courage than the selfless Joseph. Present at the burial on Friday, they did not deem it permissible on the Sabbath—the day of rest—to disrupt that peace in which the body of Christ rested in sacred darkness and reclusion within the sepulchral cave. The women were intent upon pouring out their zeal for the Lord by pouring myrrh upon His body. When they returned from the burial on Friday, they immediately bought a goodly amount of aromatic substances and waited for the break of the day which follows the Sabbath, then called the “week,” now Sunday. On that day, as soon as the sun shone forth, the pious women went to the grave. On the way they remembered that a large stone had been rolled to the grave. This worried them, and the women began to say amongst themselves, Who shall roll the stone from the tomb for us? (Mk. 16:2). The stone was very great. Having arrived at the tomb, they saw to their amazement the stone rolled away. A light-bearing mighty angel had rolled it away: at the Lord’s resurrection, he had descended from heaven to the grave which encompassed Him whom the heavens cannot encompass, stunned the guards with terror, broke the seal, and rolled away the stone. He sat on the stone, waiting for the women’s arrival. When they came, he announced the Lord’s resurrection to them, telling them to inform the Apostles. For their zeal for the God-man, for their resolve to render honor to the all pure body that was guarded by the military guard, after which the Sanhedrin in their hatred sharply watched, the holy women were the first among humans to receive exact and sure testimony of Christ’s resurrection; they were made the first strong preachers of the resurrection, as ones who heard about it from the lips of the angel. The all-perfect God is impartial: for Him all people are equal. And those people who strive toward Him with great self-denial are are made worthy of a special abundance of Divine gifts and spiritual elegance.

Who shall roll the stone from the tomb for us? These words of the holy women have their own mysterious meaning. They are so edifying that love of neighbor and a desire for his spiritual benefit will not allow us to be silent about it.

The tomb is our heart. The heart was once a temple, but it became a tomb. Christ enters it by means of the sacrament of Baptism, in order to dwell in us and work in us. Then the heart is consecrated as a temple to God. We steal from Christ the possibility to work in us and enliven our “old man”, which ever follows its attraction to our fallen will, our reason poisoned by falsehood. Brought in by Baptism, Christ continues to abide in us, but He is as if wounded and mortified by our behavior. The temple of God not made by hands is turned into a cramped, dark tomb. A very great stone is rolled over its entrance. The enemies of God set a guard over the tomb, and seal its entrance blocked by the stone. They seal the stone to the cave so that in addition to the stone’s great weight, this famous seal forbids anyone to even touch the stone. The enemies of God themselves watch over the preservation of this deadness! They have thought through and set up all these obstacles in order to forestall the resurrection, to prevent it, and make it impossible.

The stone is the soul’s illness by which all the other spiritual illnesses are guarded incurably and which the holy fathers call insensibility.[2] Many will say, what sort of sin is this? We have never heard of it. According to the fathers, insensibility is the deadening of spiritual feelings, the unseen death of the human soul with respect to spiritual things in a life that is flourishing with respect to material things. From a long-term physical sickness all strength can become exhausted and the body’s abilities withered; then the illness cannot find any more food, and ceases to torment the body’s constitution. It leaves the sick man alone and wasted, as if dead and incapable of movement due to the debilitating suffering, the terrible, dumb morbidity that is not expressed by any particular suffering. The same thing happens to the human soul. Long-term slackness of life amidst continuous distractions, constant voluntary sins, forgetfulness of God and eternity, inattention or only superficial attention to the Gospel teachings removes from our spirit any inclination toward spiritual things, and deadens it to them. Although they continue to exist, they cease to exist for our spirit because its life has ended for them—all its strength is directed toward the material, the temporal, the vain, and the sinful.

Everyone who wants to dispassionately and seriously investigate the state of his soul will see the illness of insensibility in it; he will see its broad significance, its gravity and consequence, and will have to admit that it is the manifestation and witness of his deadness of soul. When we want to study the Word of God, what boredom hits us! Everything we read seems hard to understand, not worthy of attention, and strange. How quickly we want to be free of that reading! Why is this? Because we feel no affinity for the Word of God.

When we rise for prayer, what dryness and coldness we feel! How we rush to finish our cursory, completely distracted prayer! Why? Because we are estranged from God: we believe in God’s existence with a dead faith; He does not exist to our sensibility. Why have we forgotten eternity? Are we excluded from the number of those who must enter into its boundless realm? Doesn’t death stand before us face to face, as it does to all humans? Why is this? It is because we do not want to think about eternity; we have lost the precious foretaste of it, and acquired a false perception of our earthly sojourn. This false perception imagines that our earthly life is endless. We are so deceived and distracted by this false perception that we conform all our actions to them, bringing all the potential of our soul and body as a sacrifice to corruption, not caring at all about what awaits us in the other world. After all, we must inevitably become permanent inhabitants of that world.

Why does idle talk, snide laughter, judgment of our neighbors and derision of them beat forth from us as from a wellspring? Why do we spend so many unburdened hours in empty amusements, cannot get enough of them, are always leaping from one vain pastime to another, but we do not want to dedicate even the tiniest bit of time to reviewing our own sins and lamenting over them? Because we have acquired an affinity for sin, for everything vain, for everything that brings sin into a person, and by which sin is preserved within a person. Because we have lost our affinity for all exercise that brings God-beloved virtues into us; that multiplies and preserves them. Insensibility is rooted in the soul by the world which is at enmity with God, and by the fallen angels at war with God, with the aid of our own free will. It grows and gathers strength through a life according to the principles of this world; it grows and gathers strength when we follow our fallen reason and will, when we abandon service to God, and because we serve Him carelessly. When insensibility stagnates in the soul and becomes a property of it, then the world and its rulers place a seal on the stone. This seal consists in the concourse of the human soul with fallen spirits, in the spirit’s assimilation of human impressions wrought upon him by fallen spirits, and in its subjection to the aggressive influence and domination by these outcast spirits.

Who shall roll the stone from the tomb for us? This is a question filled with anguish, sadness, and perplexity. Those souls feel this anguish, sadness, and perplexity that have directed themselves toward the Lord, leaving behind service to the world and sin. Before their gaze is revealed the sickness of insensibility in all its horrifying enormity and gravity. They desire and pray with contrition, exercise themselves in the reading of the Word of God beyond all other reading, and abide in constant awareness of their sinfulness, in constant mourning over it. In a word, they desire to become part of God and to belong to Him. They meet an unexpected resistance in their own selves that is unknown to those who serve this world: insensibility of heart. The heart stricken by its former careless life as by a mortal wound does not discover any signs of life. In vain does the mind gather thoughts about death, about God’s judgment, about the multitude of its sins, about the torments of hell, about the sweetness of paradise; in vain does the mind strive to beat upon the heart with these reflections—the heart remains devoid of feeling for them, as if hell, paradise, God’s judgment, sinfulness, and the state of fallenness and demise have no relation whatsoever to the heart. It is asleep in a deep sleep, the sleep of death; it is asleep, drunken with sinful poison. Who shall roll the stone from the tomb for us? This stone is very great.

According to the teachings of the holy fathers, in order to conquer insensibility a person must have constant, patient, uninterrupted action against that insensibility; he must have a constant, pious, and attentive life. Such a life beleaguers the life of insensibility; however this death of the human spirit cannot be put to death through human efforts alone—insensibility is destroyed by the action of divine grace. An angel of God, at God’s command, comes down to help the laboring and troubled soul, rolls away the stone of hardness from the heart, fills the heart with compunction, announces to the soul the resurrection, which is the usual result of continual compunction.[3] Compunction is the first sign of a heart revived toward God and eternity. What is compunction? Compunction is a person’s feeling of mercy and compassion toward himself, toward his grave state, his fallen state, a state of eternal death. Holy Scripture writes of the people of Jerusalem who were brought to this state by the preaching of the Apostle Peter and were inclined to accept Christianity that they were pricked in their heart (Acts. 2:37).[4]

The Lord’s body had no need of the myrrh-bearers’ fragrant myrrh. Any anointing with myrrh was forestalled by the resurrection. But by their timely purchase of myrrh, their early arrival at the first rays of the sun to the life-giving tomb, their disdain of any fear brought on by the Sanhedrin’s wrath and the militant soldiers guarding the tomb and the One interred there, the holy women showed and proved by experience their heartfelt dedication to the Lord. Their gift turned out to be unnecessary. It was rewarded a hundredfold by the appearance of the angel, up to then invisible to them, and by the announcement that could not be anything but bountifully true—that the God-Man has risen and resurrected mankind with Himself.

Our dedication of our life and all our strength and abilities to the service of God are not needed by God for Himself—they are needed by us. We bring them like myrrh to the Lord’s tomb. We shall timely buy myrrh—our good intentions. We shall renounce from our youth up all sacrifices to sin; and with the price of this we shall buy myrrh—our good intentions. It is not possible to unite service of sin to service of God: the former is destroyed by the latter. We shall not allow sin to deaden in our spirit affinity toward God and all things divine! We shall not allow sin to mark us with its impressions, or to forcibly prevail over us.

Whoever enters into service of God from the very days of an unspoiled youth and remains in this service with constancy submits himself to the endless influence of the Holy Spirit, marks himself with the all-holy grace-filled impressions that emanate from the Spirit, acquires in good time an active knowledge of Christ’s Resurrection, comes alive in spirit in Christ, and becomes chosen by God to be a preacher of the resurrection to his brothers and sisters. Whoever has become a slave to sin through his ignorance or inclination, who has entered into concourse with fallen spirits, has become one of their number, who has lost in his spirit the connection to God and to the dwellers of heaven—let him heal himself with repentance. Let us not put off our healing from day to day, so that death might not creep upon us unawares and take us suddenly, so that we would not be proved incapable of entering the habitations of unending rest and festival, so that we would not be cast down as useless chaff into the fires of hell that burn eternally but do not consume. The healing of old illnesses does not happen so quickly and conveniently as ignorance might imagine. There is a reason why God’s mercy grants us time for repentance; there is a reason why all the saints begged God to give them time for repentance. Time is needed to erase the sinful impressions; time is needed for us to be marked by the impressions of the Holy Spirit; time is needed to cleanse us from defilement; time is needed to clothe ourselves in the garments of virtue, to adorn ourselves in the God-beloved qualities that adorn all those who dwell in heaven.

Christ is resurrected in the person who is prepared for it, and the tomb—the heart—again becomes a temple of God. Arise, O Lord, save, O my God (Ps. 3:7); in Thy mysterious and yet essential Resurrection is my salvation. Amen.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

29 / 04 / 2012

[1] Mk. 15:43–16:8.

[2] The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Homily 18.

[3] The Ladder, Homily 1.

[4] The Church Slavonic scripture uses the phrase umilashesya serdtsem, which means they became contrite in heart.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

How will God judge us?

We will be judged according to the Gospel commandments at the judgment established by God for us Orthodox Christians … we will be judged according to the Gospel, that carelessness in fulfilling the Gospel commandments is an active rejection of the Lord Himself. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Christ is Risen (slideshow)


Go to first photo and click on it.  Then you should be able to progress easily, slide by slide, by clicking arrow on the right side. 
Enjoy the beautiful faces & scenes celebrating the brightest feast of the Church year—Holy Pascha!

Sunday, May 1, 2016



What a better way to start this Bright Week than with this heartwarming and uplifting Serbian folk music presentation:


This is a spiritual song not meant to be sung at liturgy. Rather, it’s something that people sing outside of church. Therefore, it isn’t bound by the canons forbidding the use of musical instruments. The words for this song are from a poem by the 20th century confessor, St Nikolaj Velimirović. He suffered for Christ’s sake in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, and lived the last ten years of his life in St Tikhon Monastery in South Canaan PA, where he was an inspiration to all the students at the seminary there. The music is played by the Serbian folk band Stupovi and it is sung by various Serbian singers and celebrities.
People rejoice, all nations listen:
Christ is Risen!  Let us rejoice!
Dance all ye stars and sing all ye mountains:
Christ is risen!  Let us rejoice!
Whisper ye woods and blow all ye winds:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
O seas proclaim and roar all ye beasts:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
Buzz all ye bees and sing all ye birds:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
O little lambs rejoice and be merry:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
Nightingales joyous, lending your song:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
Ring, O ye bells, let everyone hear:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
All angels join us, singing this song:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
Come down ye heavens, draw near the earth:
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!
Glory to Thee, God Almighty!
Christ is risen! Let us rejoice!

And yet another video:

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The recurring miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem

This may yet be one of the most unrecognized/unknown recurring Christian miracles in the world.  If you are not familiar with the miracle of the Holy Fire which occurs every year in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, learn about it here: 


Today’s coverage of the reception of the Holy Fire in the Church of Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 2016 (reported in the Greek language):

Glory to You, O God, Glory to You!

What Christ accomplished on the Cross

A talk delivered  by Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen) at the Annual Lenten Clergy Confession of the New Gracanica Metropolitanate and the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Jackson, California, March 4/17, 2004.


The topic of today’s talk—what Christ accomplished on the Cross—is of course a prime subject of contemplation during the Lenten season, as we prepare to prayerfully commemorate Christ’s passion, death, and the inevitable consequence of His death: His holy Resurrection. As we call to mind and repent of our sins during the Holy Fast, we also call to mind that which has saved us from the eternal consequences of sin. We call to mind Christ’s life-creating death on the Cross, which He underwent for the salvation of each one of us.

The Orthodox dogma of our redemption—which includes the doctrines concerning Christ’s incarnation, death and Resurrection—is the chief dogma of our Faith, together with the dogma of the Holy Trinity. I have been especially contemplating and reading Patristic writings on this subject for a few years now. It is a vast subject. In this lecture I will try to outline its main points in a linear and chronological fashion. I will speak about the state of man before the Fall and after the Fall, and then speak about how Christ saved us from the consequences of the Fall through His incarnation, death and Resurrection. Finally, I will summarize all the present and future accomplishments of Christ’s redemptive work.

1. The Primordial State

Let us begin by discussing the state of man and the world before the Fall. A right understanding of this pre-Fall state is actually essential to a right understanding of the meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross. We have to understand what Adam fell from in order to understand what Christ restores us to.

According to the Patristic interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, before the Fall man’s body was not subject to death and corruption. He was made potentially immortal, that is, if he had not sinned he could have lived forever in an incorrupt body, partaking of the Tree of Life in the Garden. Before the Fall, man knew no pain, no sickness. He was not subject to old age. He was not subject to the elements; he could not be physically hurt. He knew no decay. His body, while still material and sensual, was more spiritual than the body we inhabit now. It was not grossly material, like the body we now have. [1]

At his creation from the dust of the ground, man was created in Grace. The Holy Fathers (such as St. John Damascene) say that Adam’s body and soul were created at the same time, and that when God breathed a living soul into him, He breathed also into him the Grace of the Holy Spirit. [2] Before the Fall, the first man and the first woman had the Holy Spirit abiding within them.

The first man was not deified at the time of his creation, but he was created for deification, for union with God. [3] By drawing ever closer to God in love, by seeking spiritual pleasure in God rather than physical pleasure through His senses, man was to become ever more holy and spiritual, ever more in the likeness of God, ever more transformed and deified by the Grace of God. Since God is limitless and unfathomable, the path of union with God was never to end. Man was created a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5, Heb. 2:7), but he eventually was to become higher than the angels, higher even than the highest ranks of the angels: “more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.”

Moreover, as man became more spiritual and divinized by drawing closer to God, he was to make all of creation more spiritual and divinized as well, drawing everything closer to God. Many Holy Fathers—such as St. Macarius the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Sinai and St. Maximos the Confessor—teach that the entire creation was incorrupt before the Fall just as man was incorrupt: for the entire creation had been made for man. [4] St. Symeon the New Theologian states explicitly that not only Paradise was incorrupt before the Fall: everything, the whole creation, was without death and corruption. [5] Because he possessed both body and soul, man was the link between this incorrupt material world and the noetic world of the angels. As such, he was to unite the material world with the noetic world through his own ascent to God. [6]

2. The Consequences of the Fall

Such was the lofty original state of man and the creation, and such was man’s lofty original calling. But as we all know and experience every day, the first man, Adam, fell from this state and brought himself and all of creation into a state of corruption and death.

The whole story of the Fall and why it occurred lies outside the scope of this lecture. What concerns us here, as we contemplate the theology of redemption, is the consequences of the Fall. Just as we must understand what we fell from in order to understand what Christ restores us to, so also we must understand what we fell into in order to understand what Christ delivers us out of.

To put it another way: through His death on the Cross and through His Resurrection, Christ gives us life. In order to understand what it means to be given life, we must understand the death into which we have been born.

As you will recall, in the book of Genesis God told Adam: Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:17). Now, we know that Adam did not die on the day he ate from the tree: according to the Scriptures he lived to be 930 years old. But according to St. Gregory Palamas and other Fathers, God’s words were true: Adam did die on the day he ate the fruit. He died spiritually. He lost the Divine Grace in which he had been created. [7] He no longer had the Holy Spirit abiding within him. Because his nature had become corrupted, deifying Grace was now foreign to it. Before, God Himself abode within him through His Uncreated Energy. Now man became empty, devoid of Grace. He was separated from God. And, according to St. Gregory Palamas, this spiritual death made Adam subject to physical death, which in his case occurred after 930 years. [8]

At the Fall, man’s nature was changed. He still had the image of God in him, but now he had become corrupted. His spiritual corruption made his body more grossly material, subject to physical corruption or decay after death. Also, his spiritual corruption made his soul unable to partake of eternal union with God after death. Paradise had been barred to Adam during his earthly life, and both Paradise and heaven remained barred to him after death. After their death, Adam, Eve, and all their posterity went down into hades: a place of waiting, of separation from God. [9]

Also, at the Fall, all of creation fell into corruption along with man: decay and death were introduced into the creation. In Romans 5:12 St. Paul says that By one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, and a little later, in Romans 8:20-21, he says that the creation entered into corruption because of man’s sin.

We are all the inheritors of the death and corruption that entered into man’s nature at the Fall. St. Gregory Palamas says that, through Adam’s one spiritual death, both spiritual and physical death were passed onto all men. [10] This is because human nature is one: we are all of the family of Adam.

Orthodoxy does not accept the idea that we are guilty of Adam’s sin. No, Adam alone was guilty of his sin. However, we do share the consequences of his sin. We are born into corruption, and with an inherited tendency or inclination toward sin. All of us sin, and so we deserve the consequences of sin: spiritual and physical death, and eternal separation from God in hades.

Between the time of Adam’s fall and the coming of Christ, there were many righteous men and women, whom we read about in the Old Testament. But they, even through their godly lives, were unable to reverse the consequences of the Fall. Grace could act on them from the outside, as it did on the Prophet Moses, so much so that he had to cover his radiant face as he descended from Mount Sinai. However, this was only a temporary radiance, as the Holy Scriptures and Fathers say. [11] He and all the Old Testament prophets did not have the Grace of the Holy Spirit abiding within them, as their personal strength and power. [12] And after death, everyone, even the most righteous, went down into hades, being cut off from Paradise and heaven.

During the Old Testament period, God gave laws to the Hebrews to help them live righteous lives. He instituted animal sacrifices, which the Hebrews were to make as offerings for sin. These sacrifices were a prefiguration of Christ’s sacrifice, to prepare the people of God to understand and accept the meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross. But neither the sacrifices nor the laws were able to restore mankind to the state he had lost at the Fall.

A perfect, blameless sacrifice was needed—a man who was without sin—in order to destroy the consequences of sin. That was why Christ came. The first Adam fell from his original designation, bringing everything into ruin. Therefore Christ, Who is called the Second Adam or the New Adam, came into the world to fulfill man’s original designation and restore what was lost. But Christ did even more than that. He not only restored man to what Adam was before the Fall: He gave man the possibility to become that which Adam was supposed to become, what Adam could have become had he not fallen.

3. The Means of Redemption

Now, having looked at the pre-Fall state and the consequences of the Fall, let us look more closely at how Christ restores man to the pre-Fall state and in fact beyond and above this state.

The how of the redemption, like the nature of God the Holy Trinity, is ultimately a mystery. And yet the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers help us to approach this mystery. They enable us to understand and believe in our redemption by Jesus Christ in such a way that, believing, we can receive the gift of salvation.

Our redemption by Jesus Christ began with His incarnation. When He took flesh, He became like us in everything except sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). In assuming human nature, He deified it. Since human nature is one, this gave us the potential of being deified as well: not deified by nature and Sonship, as Christ was, but deified by Grace and adoption.

But with Christ’s incarnation, man was still not able to actualize the potential for deification. Because of his spiritual corruption, man was an impure vessel. Because of the barrier of sin, man could not receive and keep the Grace of the Holy Spirit within himself. So Christ, having overcome the barrier of nature at His incarnation, now had to break down the barrier of sin. He would do this through his death. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, Christ broke down the three barriers that separated man from God: the barrier of nature by His incarnation, the barrier of sin by His death, and the barrier of death by His Resurrection. [13]

As God, Christ knew He had come to earth to die for man, and in dying to rise from the grave. On the day before His crucifixion, He said: Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour (John 12:27).

Remember the statement of St. Gregory Palamas which I mentioned earlier: Through his single spiritual death (at the Fall), Adam brought a twofold death into the world—spiritual death and bodily death. St. Gregory goes on to say, “The good Lord healed this twofold death of ours through His single bodily death, and through the one Resurrection of His body He gave us a twofold resurrection. By means of His bodily death He destroyed him who had the power over our souls and bodies in death, and rescued us from his tyranny over both.” [14]

This, again, is because human nature is one. St. Paul writes: If by one man’s offence death reigned by one [that is, Adam], much more they which receive abundance of Grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign by one, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).

Following the words of Christ and St. Paul in the Scriptures, the Holy Fathers use a juridical or legal model to explain how Christ broke down the barrier of sin separating man from God.

The juridical explanation can be expressed in basic terms as follows: At the Fall, death was the sentence for sin. When He died on the Cross, Christ took upon Himself that sentence, but since He was without sin and thus undeserving of the sentence, the sentence was abolished for all mankind, and mankind was freed from the consequences of the primal transgression.

The word “redemption,” of course, comes from this juridical explanation. As Vladimir Lossky points out: “The very idea of redemption assumes a plainly legal aspect: it is the atonement of a slave, the debt paid for those who remained in prison because they could not discharge it. [15] By His death Christ ransomed man out of servitude to sin, and redeemed man from the eternal consequences of sin which had been incurred at the Fall. Christ Himself spoke of this. He said of Himself: The Son of Man came ... to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: Christ is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15). And in the book of Apocalypse: Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy Blood (Apoc. 5:9).

Christ paid the debt of sin that man himself could never pay. The Apostle John writes in his first Epistle: He [Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). And the Apostle Paul tells us: Ye are bought with a price (I Cor. 6:20, 7:23). St. Paul even says that Christ was made to be sin for us and made a curse for us (II Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13). Being totally without sin, He bore the penalty of sin on our behalf, so that we would be forgiven and purified of sin and freed from its curse. St. Gregory Palamas says: “Since Christ gave His Blood, which was sinless and therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave our sins, tore up the record of them on the Cross and delivered us from the devil’s tyranny. [16]

Out of His infinite love for us, Christ died in place of us, so that we could be given life. St. Paul says: ... That He [Christ] by the Grace of God should taste death for every man (Heb. 2:9); and elsewhere he says, God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). St. Athanasius the Great explains this as follows: “Taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to corruption and death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished. [17]

Together with the juridical model of explaining how we are redeemed by Christ’s death, the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers use the model of sacrifice. As mentioned earlier, the Old Testament sacrifices were a prefiguration, a “type” of the one true Sacrifice that would be offered for the whole world: Christ, Who was sacrificed on the Cross. In the first Epistle of St. Peter we hear Christ described as a spotless sacrificial lamb: Ye were redeemed with the precious Blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot, Who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:19-20). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: Now once at the end of the world Christ hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26).

Many of the Holy Fathers wrote on this theme of Christ as sacrifice. Origen (who is not a Holy Father) and, following him, St. Gregory of Nyssa, posited that the sacrifice was offered to the devil. But St. Gregory the Theologian and all the Fathers after him rejected this idea. They often spoke of the sacrifice as being offered to God the Father, and sometimes they spoke of it as being offered to the Holy Trinity, since the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are One God. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: “God, Who is incomparably higher than the visible and invisible creation, accepted human nature, which is higher than the whole visible creation, and offered it as a sacrifice to His God and Father.... Honoring the sacrifice, the Father could not leave it in the hands of death. Therefore, He annihilated His sentence. [18]

Why did the Son have to offer Himself in sacrifice to the Father? Why did God sacrifice Himself to God? Here we get at the crux of the mystery of Redemption. St. Gregory the Theologian urges us not to try to conform this mystery to human logic, not apply to it human conceptions that are unworthy of God. He says: “The Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or felt any need of it, but on account of economy,” [19] that is, to fulfill the Divine plan of our salvation in accordance with the Divine ordering of creation.

St. Gregory Palamas sheds more light on this question. He says that God could have found other ways of saving man from sin, mortality and servitude to the devil. But He saved man in the way He did—by coming to earth, dying and resurrecting—because this was according to justice and righteousness. [20] As the Psalmist says: God is righteous and loveth righteousness ... and there is no unrighteousness in Him (Ps. 11:7, 92:15). Death was the just penalty for sin, and Christ paid that penalty. But because He was sinless, His death was unjust. Therefore, He justly destroyed death. This was God’s economy, completely in accordance with His righteousness.

The devil thought He could destroy Christ by inciting people to put Him to death. But Christ’s death proved to be the devil’s undoing because, unlike every other person who had ever lived, Christ did not deserve death. St. John Chrysostom offers us a vivid image to highlight this teaching: “It is as if, at a session of a court of justice, the devil should be addressed as follows: ‘Granted that you destroyed all men because you found them guilty of sin; but why did you destroy Christ? Is it not very evident that you did so unjustly? Well then, through Him the whole world will be vindicated.” [21]

Christ saved us in the way He did not only to manifest His justice and righteousness, but also to manifest His love. St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “God the Lord surrendered His own Son to death on the Cross for the fervent love of creation. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to death for our sake (cf. John 3:16). This was not, however, because He could not have redeemed us in another way, but so that His surpassing love, manifested hereby, might be a teacher unto us. And by the death of His only begotten Son He made us near to Himself. Yea, if He had had anything more precious, He would have given it to us, so that by it our race might be His own.” [22]


4. The Consequences of Christ’s Redemptive Work

Now, having looked at how Christ redeemed us through His death on the Cross, let us turn to the saving fruits of Christ’s death. What does it mean for mankind to be ransomed from guilt, to be forgiven of sins? It means, in the words of St. John Damascene, that “the road back to the former blessedness [i.e., before the Fall] has been made smooth, and the gates of Paradise opened.” [23] Through Christ’s death, we can be forgiven and cleansed of sin so as to receive what we would otherwise not be worthy of receiving: the Grace of the Holy Spirit within ourselves, as Adam had it before the Fall. Moreover, we can go where we would not otherwise be worthy to go: Paradise and heaven. The first to receive this gift was one who was clearly unworthy, but who nevertheless believed in Christ and thus was redeemed through His death. This was the repentant thief on the Cross, to whom Christ said, Today you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).

The saving fruits of Christ’s death were made available not only to those who lived after Him, but also to those who lived before Him; for during His three-day burial Jesus Christ harrowed hell and brought to Paradise those righteous ones who had lain in hades throughout the ages. “Christ’s death,” writes St. Symeon the New Theologian, “was an indispensable sacrifice also for the pious ones who died before His coming in the flesh.” [24]

At His death, Christ broke down the barrier of sin. But there was one barrier left: death itself. This Christ broke down at His Resurrection. As in Adam all die, writes St. Paul, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man according to his order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming (I Cor. 15:22-23). Through Christ’s Resurrection, all mankind has been made subject to future resurrection: physical, bodily resurrection. Those who receive Christ’s gift of salvation are resurrected unto eternal life, as He says; while those who reject it are resurrected unto damnation (cf. John 5:29). Once again, this is because human nature is one. St. Paul affirms: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:21).

Christ’s death and burial can never be separated from His Resurrection. His Resurrection was an inevitable consequence of His death, since, as it is said in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, “it was not possible for the Author of Life to be a victim of corruption.” [25] With Christ’s death and His Resurrection, all the consequences of the Fall are overcome: both spiritual death (the loss of the Grace of God) and physical death. What we sing in the Paschal hymn we mean quite literally: “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.”

In Christ alone there is true life. He offers us eternal life: first of all true spiritual life by having His life-giving Grace abiding within us; secondly, eternal spiritual life in His Heavenly Kingdom; and thirdly, eternal physical life in our resurrected bodies.

Let us look at these three in order. First of all, what does it mean to receive the life-giving Grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ’s redeeming death? St. Symeon answers this with a remarkable statement—that it is like receiving a new soul. He writes: “The souls of those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in His great and fearful Sacrifice [on the Cross] are resurrected by God in this present life; and a sign of this resurrection is the Grace of the Holy Spirit which He gives to the soul of every Christian, as if giving a new soul.” [26]

In the Gospels, especially the Gospel of St. John, Christ makes several statements which reveal how His followers would be able to receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit by means of His death. In the temple Christ preached: He that believeth on Me ... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. After quoting these words of Christ, the Apostle John explains: But this spake He of the Spirit, which they who believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:38-39).

St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on this Gospel, explains further. When the Apostle John said Jesus was not yet glorified, he meant that Jesus had not yet been crucified. Christ was glorified in His sacrifice on the Cross, and through this He made man open to receive the Holy Spirit in his soul, in his inward being, so that the Grace would flow out of him like rivers of living water. [27]

Later, in His last talk to His disciples before His passion and death, Christ tells them: I will pray the Father and He will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16).

According to St. John Chrysostom, “Christ said this to show the time of the coming of the Spirit. For when He had purified them by His sacrifice, then the Holy Spirit would descend upon them. Yet why did He not come upon them while Jesus was still with them? Because the Sacrifice had not yet been offered up [that is, Christ had not yet died on the Cross]. But, when at length sin had been destroyed, and they themselves were being sent into danger and were preparing for the contests, it was necessary for the Comforter to come.” [28]

A little later Christ says to His disciples in order to comfort them before His crucifixion and burial: It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you (John 16:7).

“But why did He not come before Christ had departed?” St. John Chrysostom asks rhetorically. “Because He could not come, since the curse had not yet been lifted, sin had not yet been forgiven, but all men were still subject to the penalty for it. ‘Therefore,’ He said, ‘that enmity must be destroyed and you must be reconciled to God, and then you will receive the gift.’” [29]

When Christ first appeared among His Apostles after His death and Resurrection, His first act was to breathe upon them and to say: Receive ye the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). He could say and do this at that point because He had purified them by His sacrifice on the Cross; He had loosed them from sin. And then, after He had ascended to heaven and seated our human nature on the right hand of the Father, Christ sent down the Holy Spirit on His Apostles at Pentecost, as He had promised.

Since that time, those who have been baptized in Christ’s Church have received the Grace of God within themselves. We receive Christ’s gift of redemption and eternal life through His Church, which is His Body. It is in the Church that Christ bestows on us the saving fruits of His death and Resurrection. St. Symeon the New Theologian explains this beautifully:

“One Person of the Holy Trinity, namely the Son and Word of God, having become incarnate, offered Himself in the flesh as a sacrifice to the Divinity of the Father, and of the Son Himself, and of the Holy Spirit, in order that the first transgression of Adam might be benevolently forgiven for the sake of this great and fearful work, that is, for the sake of this sacrifice of Christ, and in order that by its power there might be performed another new birth and re-creation of man in Holy Baptism, in which we also are cleansed by water mingled with the Holy Spirit. From that time people are baptized in water, are immersed in it and taken out from it three times, in the image of the three-day burial of the Lord, and after they die in it to this whole evil world, in the third bringing out from it they are already alive, as if resurrected from the dead, that is, their souls are brought to life and again receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit as Adam had it before the transgression. Then they are anointed with Holy Myrrh, and by means of it are anointed with Jesus Christ, and are fragrant in a way above nature. Having become in this way worthy of being associates of God, they taste His Flesh and drink His Blood, and by means of the sanctified bread and wine become of one Body and Blood with God Who was incarnate and offered Himself as a sacrifice.” [30]

The aim of the Christian life, says St. Seraphim of Sarov, is to acquire the Grace of the Holy Spirit. [31] We receive the seed of that Grace within us at Baptism. And then, through our sacramental life in the Church, through a life of prayer and virtue, practicing the commandments of Christ, we are to cultivate and nurture this seed of inward baptismal Grace so as to acquire a greater measure of Grace. In being ever more filled with God’s Grace or Energy, we grow ever more in the likeness of Christ. Then, after our death, Christ will recognize us as His own and will receive us into His Kingdom.

At the beginning of this talk I mentioned that Christians are given the potential of attaining to a state even higher than Adam’s state before the Fall. Through Christ’s incarnation, death and Resurrection, man can not only be restored to what Adam lost; now he can attain to what Adam was meant to attain. Man can be filled with God’s Energy to such an extent as to be deified by Grace. Vladimir Lossky writes that “In breaking the tyranny of sin [through His work of redemption], our Savior opens to us anew the way of deification, which is the final end of man.” [32]

St. Symeon the New Theologian, who experienced the Grace of deification, speaks of this as participation in the life of God Himself. “He Himself is discovered within me,” writes St. Symeon, “resplendent inside my wretched heart, enlightening me from all sides with His immortal splendor, shining on all of my members with His rays. Entirely intertwined with me, He embraces me entirely. He gives Himself totally to me, the unworthy one, and I am filled with His love and beauty. I am sated with pleasure and Divine tenderness. I share in the Light. I participate also in the glory. My face shines like that of my Beloved and all my members become bearers of the Light.” [33]

What St. Symeon describes, as marvelous as it is, is only a foretaste of the future life in heaven that is promised to Christ’s true followers. It is only the beginning of a progress that will never end. “Indeed,” says St. Symeon, “over the ages the progress will be endless, for a cessation of this growing toward the end without ending would be nothing but a grasping at the ungraspable. The One on Whom no one can be sated would then become an object of satiety. By contrast, to be filled with Him and to be glorified in His Light will cause unfathomable progress.” [34]

Furthermore, the glory that now exists among the saints and angels in heaven is only a foretaste of the glory that will be revealed at the General Resurrection, when all the saving fruits of Christ’s incarnation, death and Resurrection are to be fully revealed. Adam, it will be remembered, was supposed to raise the first-created world closer to God, to make it more spiritual through his own spiritual ascent to God. Adam failed in his purpose, so the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, came to fulfill it. His redemptive work was already accomplished with His death and Resurrection. But the fruits of that work unfold over time. As Christians we have already tasted some of those fruits, but we are to know them in their fullness after the General Resurrection. For through Christ’s Resurrection, not only will man be resurrected in a renewed, spiritual body: the entire creation will be renewed and become spiritual. As the book of the Apocalypse says, there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth (cf. Apoc. 21:1).

The Body of the resurrected Christ was incomparably more spiritual than the incorrupt body of Adam before the Fall. Christ’s resurrected, spiritual Body was like the spiritual body that Adam was supposed to attain by ascending to God in Paradise. Likewise, the New Heaven and the New Earth will be incomparably more spiritual than the incorrupt creation before the Fall. Through Christ the New Adam, the renewed creation will be what it would have been if the first Adam had raised it to God.

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul writes of the future age of the renewed creation which will come into being after the General Resurrection:

I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God [that is, us]. For the creation was made subject to futility, not willingly, but because of him [Adam] who subjected it [to futility] in hope [that is, in hope of the General Resurrection]. Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only the creation, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-23).

We can experience the redemption of our souls even now. But what exactly will the redemption of our body mean—that redemption which was made possible through Christ’s Resurrection? We can find no better description of this than in the words of St. Symeon, who undoubtedly beheld something of this future age in prophetic Divine vision. St. Symeon writes:

“You should know likewise what is to be the glory and the brightly shining state of the creation in the future age. For when it will be renewed, it will not again be the same as it was when it was created in the beginning. But it will be such as, according to the word of the divine Paul, our body will also be. Concerning our body the Apostle says: It is sown in a natural body, but is raised a spiritual body (I Cor. 15:44) and unchanging, such as was the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, after the Resurrection. In the same way also the whole creation, according to the commandment of God, is to be, after the General Resurrection, not such as it was created, material and sensuous, but it is to be re-created and to become a certain immaterial and spiritual dwelling, surpassing every sense, as the Apostle says of us, We shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (I Cor. 15:51). Thus also the whole creation, after it shall burn up in the Divine fire, is to be changed.

“The heaven will become incomparably more brilliant and bright than it appears now; it will become completely new. The earth will receive a new, unutterable beauty, being clothed in many-formed, unfading flowers, bright and spiritual. The whole world will become more perfect than any word can describe. Having become spiritual and divine, it will become united with the noetic world; it will become a certain mental Paradise, a heavenly Jerusalem, the inalienable inheritance of the sons of God. Such an earth has not been inherited as yet by a single man; we are all strangers and foreigners. But when the earthly will be united with the heavenly, then also the righteous will inherit that already renewed earth whose inheritors are to be those meek ones who are blessed by the Lord.” [35]

All this, the glory of the future age, has been made possible by Christ’s death and Resurrection. Christ, being both God and man, already dwells in this glory, being in heaven in His glorified, resurrected body. But we have another who already partakes of the glory that is to come after the General Resurrection. This is the Most Holy Mother of God. In her we see all the fruits of Christ’s work of redemption, for not only has she been deified in soul, she has been resurrected by Christ in a spiritual body like His own. She has already been fully glorified by God, with the glory that the saints will know only after the General Resurrection. Vladimir Lossky writes that the Mother of God “is the perfection of the Church already realized in a human person fully united to God, beyond the Resurrection and the Judgment. Like her Son, she was raised from the dead and borne up to heaven—the first human hypostasis in whom was fulfilled the final end for which the world was created.” [36] She has already become that which the first-created man and woman were supposed to become. She has been raised higher than the angels, and become “more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.” She is the crown of creation, the testament of the glory of the future age which will come into being through Christ’s redemptive work. Again Vladimir Lossky writes: “In the two perfect persons—the Divine person of Christ and the human person of the Mother of God—is contained the mystery of the Church.” [37]

This, then, is the whole of what Christ accomplished through His incarnation, death and Resurrection. In the words of St. Gregory the Theologian: “We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him, that we might be cleansed; we rose again with Him, because we were put to death with Him; we were glorified with Him, because we rose again with Him.” [38]

Through the totality of Christ’s work of redemption, man is spiritually united with God and deified, and man’s body and the entire creation are to be renewed as a spiritual and divine dwelling place. Truly, as we see affirmed over and over again in the writings of the Fathers: “God became man so that man might become god.” [39]

From The Orthodox Word (No. 235, March-April, 2004), pp. 57-77.

29 / 04 / 2016

1 Cf. Fr. Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation and Early Man (Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2000), pp. 156-57, 443-45.

2 Cf. St. John Damascene, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 37 (1958), pp. 232-35; Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), p. 118; and Fr. Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation and Early Man, pp. 171, 436-40.

3 Cf. St. John Damascene, Exact Exposition, p. 235; and Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 126.

4 Cf. Fr. Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation and Early Man, pp. 157, 208-12, 351, 413-14, 421, 591-92.

5 Cf. St. Symeon the New Theologian, The First-Created Man (Platina, Calif.: St, Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), pp. 90, 102-103.

6 Cf. St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 41, in Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 156-60; and Lossky, pp. 109-111.

7 Cf. St. John Damascene, Exact Exposition, p. 267: “Man was stripped of Grace and deprived of that familiarity which he had enjoyed with God.”

8 Cf. St. Gregory Palamas, “To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia,” in The Philokalia, vol. 4 (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), p. 296.

9 Cf. St. John Damascene, Exact Exposition, p. 267.

10 Cf. The Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, vol. 1 (South Canaan, Penn., 2002), pp. 180, 184, 196-97.

11 Cf. I Cor. 3:7-13; and The Philokalia, vol. 3 (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), pp. 347-48.

12 Cf. Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 133.

13 Cf. St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ (Crestwood, N. Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), pp. 105-106.

14 Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, p. 197.

15 Cf. Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction (Crestwood, N. Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), p. 111.

16 Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, pp. 200-201.

17 St. Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993), p. 34 (emphasis added).

18 St. Symeon the New Theologian, First-Created Man, pp. 47-48.

19 St. Gregory the Theologian, “The Second Oration on Holy Pascha” (Oration 45:22) (emphasis added). In Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 36 (Paris, 1865), p. 653. Quoted in Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 153.

20 Cf. Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas, pp. 179-80.

21 St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Homilies 48-88, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 41 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1959), p. 232.

22 The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1984), pp. 345-46.

23 St. John Damascene, Exact Exposition, p. 350.

24 St. Symeon the New Theologian, First-Created Man, p. 73.

25 Priest’s prayer before the words of institution during the Anaphora. Translation by St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, Penn., 1984.

26 St. Symeon the New Theologian, First-Created Man, p. 48.

27 Cf. St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on St. John, Homilies 48-88, p. 38.

28 Ibid., p. 302.

29 Ibid., p. 345.

30 St. Symeon the New Theologian, First-Created Man, pp. 46-47.

31 Cf. Little Russian Philokalia, vol. 1: St. Seraphim of Sarov (Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996), p. 79.

32 Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 134.

33 St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Divine Hymns (Hymn 16:23-33). Quoted in Archbishop Basil Krivocheine, In the Light of Christ (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986), p. 365.

34 Ibid. (Hymn 1:180-84). Quoted in Krivocheine, p. 386.

35 St. Symeon the New Theologian, First-Created Man, pp. 103-105.

36 Lossky, Mystical Theology, pp. 193-94.

37 Ibid., p. 195.

38 St. Gregory the Theologian, “The Second Oration on Holy Pascha.” In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), p. 433.

39 St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Athanasius the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, etc. Cf. Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 134.