NEWNESS AND THE IMAGE OF GOD

by Fr. Paul Tarazi

 

"Do not lie to one another; seeing that you have put off the old man with his practices, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all." (Col. 3:9-11)

 

Let us read in one sweep Genesis 1:26-28 together with Genesis 5:1-3: "Then God said, "Let us make ADAM in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created ADAM in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it ... When God created ADAM, He made him in the likeness of God. Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and named them ADAM when they were created. When ADAM had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth."

This text calls for some remarks. I shall start with the one that surely hit all of you: when hearing the above quotation the much expected sound MAN was missing. The reason is that in Hebrew we have the same word ADAM which is translated now Adam, now Man. Secondly, please notice the constant shift between singular and plural: him and them. Lastly, may I draw your attention to the very important verse Genesis 5:3 which tells us that Seth is after the image and likeness of Adam, exactly as the former is after the image and likeness of God. Thus the image of God was carried on throughout the human generations. HOWEVER, although the result is the same, the process is drastically different: between God and Adam it was Ktisis, creation; between Adam and the following generations it is genesis, procreation. In the latter instance the opposite of old is young, and in no way new. Only in the realm of creation we can speak of newness. "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "vanity of vanities! All is vanity" ... "A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises ... All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again ... what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, See, this is new"? It has been already in the ages before us," (Eccl. 1:2, 4-5, 7, 9-10).

Now, if the natural sequence of old and young is not only boring, but also dreadful, it is because of what has happened between Genesis 1 and 5, namely, the sin of ADAM in Genesis 3. It is sin that made the freshness and newness of God's creation not to be carried in human procreation which aborted into mere multiplication: the icon has become a photograph, the image an offset, the uniqueness a dull repetition, as for sex, a thorn in the flesh.

"And the Lord was sorry that He had made ADAM on the earth and it grieved Him to His heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out ADAM whom I have created from the face of the ground, ADAM and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them," (Gen. 6:6-7). But is that a solution? Is there any guarantee that another ADAM will behave otherwise than the first one? No, the only way out was a son of ADAM who would be not only young, but new; a son of ADAM, a son of Man who, though an integral part of the first creation, would also be a new ADAM, someone being directly an icon of God and thus the head of a new creation. That is Jesus Christ, and with Him we are left with a choice between two icons of God, two ADAMS — the first and the last — two creations — the old and the new.

Now, if we carry the former image, if we are the old creation, then the alternative is to carry the latter image, to become the new creation. This is what St. Paul meant by the imagery of clothing when he said that we had to put off the old man with his works an put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him, that is, after Jesus Christ Who is the image of the Creator as St. Paul states in Col. 1:15. The apostle adds that whereas the old man had different names (Adam, Eve, etc…..), or functions (Greek, Jew, slave, free ….), the new can have but one: Christ. Now this whole teaching occurs almost verbatim in Galatians 3:27-28, where we explicitly read that Christ is put on at baptism: "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ."

Beloved brothers and sisters:

That is the new creation, Jesus Christ, one name, one person, one face, "…the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for in him all things were created ... and hold together," (Col. 1:15-17).

As for us, in baptism we have put off and away our old constituency and put on Christ, thus becoming His body. But the fact is one, namely Christ's. That is why there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, male and female, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all and in all. In other words, in and beyond the baptismal waters there is neither man nor woman, neither business person, nor teacher, neither rich nor poor, neither John nor Mary. In more practical terms, whenever asked who or what we are, our only possible answer should be: I am Christian. Now if the enquirer is more curious, we might fill him in by saying: I am Christian, and I happen to be a man, perhaps to witness that all fatherhood derives from the one Father in heaven. I am Christian, and I happen to be a woman, perhaps to give the others more insight into the mystery of the Church as bride of Christ. I am Christian, and I happen to be a business person, perhaps to help me understand that personal talents are like money: unless invested, they suffer inflation, and that tomorrow might be too late. I am Christian, and I happen to be a teacher, perhaps to convey to others that unless oneself is a disciple, one cannot make out of others disciples of the one Master. I am Christian, and I happen to be rich, perhaps to witness how difficult indeed it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. I am Christian, and I happen to be poor, perhaps to realize better the meaning of the thirst and hunger for God's Word. I am Christian, and I happen to be nicknamed John or Mary, perhaps to be reminded that in the Body of Christ, I have a specific function which no one else can fulfill but I.

No, this is not a joke, unless you consider martyrdom a joke. The early Christians took so seriously the baptismal waters that when they emerged and were clothed with white garments, it was impossible for a distant spectator to recognize man, woman, youngster, business person, teacher, rich, poor, John or Mary. All what the eye could see was a host of white garments, ghosts, holy ghosts, filled with the Spirit of Christ. Some time later the same host was hurled into the arena to be the prey of wild beasts. There also, all what the distant spectators could perceive was hundreds of anonymous faces. They were not able to understand how all those people were going to their death with hymns of joy, and much less were they able to comprehend the brightness on their faces. Neither these spectators nor the former one realized that the show was identical: the same Christ victor over death, there in the baptismal waters, here in the lions' arena. And mind you, beloved, it is the first victory that made possible the second. The latter was a remote possibility, the former was the real one.

The reality of the new creation is neither in the world nor in us, it is in the baptismal waters where we are buried with Christ Jesus. To be buried means to die for the world and the world for us; and when this happens, then remains Christ Victor, the new creation. Now, our dilemma is that in real life we cannot stay immersed in the baptismal waters: we will simply choke and drown. Nor can we be at the same time on both sides of the waters. In real life, we have to choose between being on this side of the baptismal font where we and the world vegetate: old creation, and being on the other side where the risen Christ stands victorious over death: new creation. On this side, the world is real, what our eyes and ears perceive is real, and Christ is just a fantasy. Beyond the waters, Christ is real: the old things have passed away, behold, the new have come, (2 Cor. 5:17). For the baptized, we are false, the world is false, sin is false since we have been washed, death is false since the tomb is empty! For the baptized, only Christ is the new reality, and we and the world in Him since He is all and in all!

It is high time that we stopped using as a scapegoat for our lack of guts the world which "God so loved that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life," (John 3:16). We are the ones who do not believe that we can move mountains, free the captives, heal the sick, raise the dead, sanctify the sinner and transfigure the creation. We are the ones who do not have the guts to tell the liar, the cheater, the greedy, the lustful, the envious and the lazy: "Look friends, sin is no more, you are being duped by the beaten Devil who is trying to make you imagine that you are still under his grasp. He is playing on your imagination. He is nothing. He is done with for good. Behold, there is Christ filling everything." We are the ones who do not have the guts to repeat this statement ad nauseam, until they throw up the germ and are cleansed. We are the ones who do not have the guts to acknowledge and confess that the risen Christ is more real than the world around us, than our eyes and ears, than our emotions and feelings, than our flesh and bones, than the air we breathe. We are the ones who have not the guts to shake the world up, letting it collapse before our own eyes, and yet have the gall to use it as a scapegoat for our lack of faith in Christ. What a joke, what a big joke! One does not know whether to laugh or to shed bitter tears! The Lord chose the latter out of love, and also because the devil sarcastically opted for the former.

Beloved in Christ,

Do not listen to what the liar, the cheater, the greedy, the lustful, the envious, and the lazy tell about the greatness of being what they are. If you do, you will be just hearing the tape of sin which the devil has implanted in their mouths. Listen rather to the beat of their heart, the heart of the afflicted, suppressed and chained of God's creation ... a heart so suffocated that it can only whisper its begging prayer which sounds like the thundering voice of the Awesome Judge of All. A begging whisper that is thundering judgment! Is this a riddle or what? Let me leave you with the wording and you decide for yourselves. The heartbeat of God's creation is actually emitting the following sounds to each of us:

Hast thou renounced Satan?

Hast thou renounced Satan?

Hast thou renounced Satan?

Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?

Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?

Hast thou united thyself unto Christ?

 

Father Paul is Associate Professor of Old Testament at St. Vladimir Seminary and serves St. John the Baptist Church in Uniondale, New York.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
January 1985
pp. 6-7

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