Thursday, December 1, 2011

Exploring the Incarnation II - Salvation as Sharing

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

I am sure that many of you have read – and perhaps reread - Archbishop Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way. Since its original publication in 1979, this book has gone through a revision any many reprintings. In just a relatively short time, this book has become a “classic” of contemporary Orthodox theology and spirituality. I believe that The Orthodox Way is one of those “top ten” books that belong in the library of every literate, interested and engaged Orthodox Christian (with the intention that it will eventually be read!).

Be that as it may, to continue our series of passages that open up the Incarnation for us to deeper levels of understanding, I would like to draw from this wonderful book. Those who have already read these passages will have their memories refreshed; and those reading these passages for the first time will experience the joy of encountering a living response to the age-old mystery of the Incarnation and some of its profound implications for our understanding of Christ and of our own lives in Christ. There will undoubtedly be some new insights here that may strike you for the first time. In the chapter entitled “God as Man,” there is a sub-section further that bears the heading “Salvation as Sharing.” The first part of this section develops this theme in the following manner:

The Christian message of salvation can best be summed up in terms of sharing, of solidarity and identification. The notion of sharing is a key alike to the doctrine of God in Trinity and to the doctrine of God made man. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that, just as man is authentically personal only when he shares with others, so God is not a single person dwelling alone, but three persons who share each other’s life in perfect love. The Incarnation equally is a doctrine of sharing or participation. Christ shares to the full in what we are, and so he makes it possible for us to share in what he is, in his divine life and glory. He became what we are, so as to make us what he is.

St. Paul expresses this metaphorically in terms of wealth and poverty: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich” (II COR. 8:9). Christ’s riches are his eternal glory; Christ’s poverty is his complete self-identification with our fallen human condition . In the words of an Orthodox Christmas hymn, “Sharing wholly in our poverty, thou hast made divine our earthly nature through thy union with it and participation in it.” Christ shares in our death, and we share in his life; he “empties himself” and we are “exalted” (PHIL. 2:5-9). God’s descent makes possible man’s ascent. St. Maximus the Confessor writes: “Ineffably the infinite limits itself, while the finite is expanded to the measure of the infinite.”

As Christ said at the Last Supper: “The glory which thou hast given to me I have given to them, that they may be one, as we are one: I in them and thou in me, may they be perfectly united in one” (JN. 17:22-23). Christ enables us to share in the Father’s divine glory. He is the bond and meeting-point: because he is man, he is one with us; because he is God, he is one with the Father. So, through and in him we are one with God, and the Father’s glory becomes our glory. God’s Incarnation opens the way to man’s deification. To be deified is, more specifically, to be “christified”: the divine likeness that we are called to attain is the likeness of Christ. It is through Jesus the God-man that we men are “ingodded,” “divinized,” made “sharers of the divine nature” (II PET. 1:4). By assuming our humanity, Christ who is Son of God by nature has made us sons of God by grace. In him we are “adopted” by God the Father, becoming sons-in-the-Son.

The Orthodox Way, p. 73-74

To be continued …

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