THE REALITY OF THE INCARNATION IN OUR LIFE
Our Primate, Metropolitan PHILIP, wrote once, and I quote, "As we review the account of the creation in Genesis, we cannot help but see the dynamic relationship between man and his Creator. God created man like nothing else in the creation, for only man is found to be in the image and likeness of God Himself."
History revolves around great people. Church history does too.
As an example let's look at Vladimir and the conversion of Rus in 988 A.D. Vladimir, a Grand Duke of Russia, a pagan in belief, was dissatisfied in the darkness of paganism, because it lacked the dynamic relationship between man and his Creator.
Before making a final decision, Vladimir sent a commission of nobles to visit the countries of those faiths which were trying to entice him and convert him and Russia to their respective faiths. These advisors reported back to Vladimir about one gathering where God was surely present. It was difficult to adequately describe the emotions during the solemn Divine Liturgy in the Great Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople. The walls were covered with mosaic Icons, incense poured forth from censers about the sanctuary, and the music and the chanting lifted them up to a heavenly presence and experience. The nobles claimed that they did not know where they were. There was nothing like it on earth. There in truth, they related, God, the Eternal, had His dwelling place with men, and men with their God; a living relationship.
We believe in, and we depict a God Who has entered our life, our world, and our body. What we have seen, what we have heard, what we have touched — the Incarnation — we can now portray and emphasize as to our salvation. The Word was made flesh. God has appeared in flesh. We can now make an Icon of God, for we do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter. Without the Incarnation there would be no salvation for me or for you.
The theme of this article, "The Meaning of the Reality of the Incarnation in our Life," is that we are the living image, the living Icon of God, but it must not stop there. You and I may be the only Icon of Christ that others may ever see.
At the censing in the liturgical life of our Church, not only are the Icons, the material, censed, but you, the Temple of the Living God, are censed, underlying the fact that you are the best Icon of Christ. Even at death your bodies are censed during the Trisagion Prayers of Mercy and the burial prayers reveal that you are still in the Image of God. Was it not St. John of Damascus who wrote in the funeral rite, "I am an IMAGE of Thy glory ineffable even though I bear the brands of transgressions …
There is a divine purpose to the reality of the Incarnation in all our lives.
We come to the Place of Worship to meet with God; we go out to the home, to the world, to our businesses to meet with man. We come to the Church to learn the Word; we go out to the world to live the Word. We come to the House of God to grasp spiritual concepts; we go out into the world to grapple with social concerns. The Christian who has no experience of the gathering of the two or three, and with the Church Triumphant, has no answer for the world. Whether we interpret the Temple in terms of a Cathedral, a Chapel, a Church, a clearing in the jungle of life, it is THE place where God's people meet for worship, for participation in the Sacraments, for preaching, for fellowship, for discipline and for benediction, yet out of all this must march men and women of God whose hearts and souls have been touched, and whose lives will affect every sphere and strata of society. We ascend to God through prayer and worship to be transfigured with Christ and then we are to descend into the valley of life to transfigure it with His grace and His love. There is great beauty in our tradition of worship, our ritual, our iconography, literally, in everything that we do, but the salt of the earth can be bottled up, and the light of the world can be blotted out by a religious establishment which has no relevance to its time.
There are so many subtle ways of "fencing" Christ in and not incarnating Him into our lives or into the world. We find Christ and His teachings and revelation in our worship and in our ethnic bounds, and we leave Him there. We do not take Him out into the world and introduce Him about. In Church we follow the code of Christ; once we leave the Church we follow our own code as if we live in two different worlds, as if we were split personalities.
What we are proclaiming in the reality of the Incarnation is God's act, God's doing, God's revelation through us. He "took our nature upon Him." We should not think of Orthodox Christianity as a religion, but rather as a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Perfect Icon, and to men, the imperfect icons. We seek to confront all people as we have been confronted by God Whom we have not devised or deified in life, but Who has come to us through His Son and Who has entered into our life. The Incarnation, our Gospel, our sacramentality, is not an urging of men to achieve a new life; it is an invitation for them to receive the new life which is already theirs and accomplished in Christ. God Himself identifies Himself with our humanity, bears it, suffers it and lifts it to Himself He makes us one with Him in Christ.
St. John Chrysostom has written: "Christ left us on earth in order that we should become like beacons of light and teachers unto others; that we might act like leaven, move among men like angels, be like men unto children, and like spiritual men unto animal men, in order to win them over, and that we may be like seed, and bear abundant fruit. There would be no need for sermons, if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words, if we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no pagan, if we were true Christians."
Imagine, just suppose for a moment that an angel of the Lord was sent by God to paint an Icon of YOU! This Icon is to reveal the person you really are, as seen through the eyes of God. Would the Lord allow that image of you to be hung in the Sanctuary of Heaven? Or would the paint run together and leave a messy canvas? Would your Icon be destroyed and spoiled by un-Christian responses to Holy Scripture, our Lord's teachings, and our Church's tenets? Would the angel paint the Image of a clean and healthy soul or one sick and decaying with pride, hatred, insensitivity and unforgiveness? Would the Icon depict righteous hands uplifted in prayer, or hands covered with sinfulness and unworthwhile activities?
God made us in His Image so that we may have the potential and the capacity to reveal Him to others. God needs us to shine as candles for Him in this darkened world.
Fr. Theodore Ziton is pastor of St. George Church in Canton, Ohio.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America