From Image to Likeness (Part I)
Since we are in the image of God we are therefore in the image of Christ, and it is only in Christ that we discover the truth about ourselves. He alone is the one to whom the Beatitudes fully apply; the poor man who receives himself unceasingly at the hands of the Father and whose royal gentleness transforms the earth into a Eucharist, the ‘pure heart’ like a still lake in which each discerns his true face; the witness of justice towards God and the brother against all the conformisms of power and pride; the crucified peacemaker who gives his life for his friends and restores his enemies to life.
It is in the risen Lord that we discover the meaning of the world, the purpose of creation. The face of Christ is inseparably the face of God in man, the only face which is never closed because it is infinitely transparent, the only gaze which never petrifies but sets free. The face of faces, the key to all faces.
Everything was created by the Word with a view to his deifying incarnation. The Apostle says, ‘In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all things were created through him and for him’ (Col.1.16). In Christ the ‘mystery hidden for ages and generations’ (Col.1.26) is revealed, on which St Maximus comments, ‘It was to this end, that is, the union in Christ of divinity and humanity, that God made all beings’ (PG.XC.621 A).
And [St Gregory] Palamas is specific: ‘Of humanity, created in his own image, God made Christ, so that humanity could not be separated from his pattern’ (7th Homily for the feast of Lights).
At the very heart of the Trinity, we see the Son as humankind’s eternal archetype, the heavenly man of whom the Old Testament prophets spoke, seeing in him the Pattern of humanity, the definitive Adam. For ‘God has created human nature for no other purpose than to receive from it the mother whom he needed in order to be born’ (Nicholas Cabasilas, Marian Homily). God’s creation of the human race is to be seen from this divine-human perspective. The whole destiny of humanity is Christological.
Incorporated in Christ by baptism we become again the image of God. But it is up to each of us to turn this image into the full likeness as we work out, under the breath and the fire of the Spirit, a personal, and therefore unique, way of being in Christ. ‘God became the bearer of flesh so that humanity could become the bearer of the Spirit,’ says Athanasius of Alexandria (PG.XXVI.996).
Our freedom vies with the Spirit in love until finally they are united. Only then shall we be able to perfect the image and become the likeness, to give our own face also to the body of Christ. Little by little the Spirit and freedom are together assembling a mighty communion of all the transfigured, through which the universal transfiguration, already secretly realized in Christ, will manifest itself in glory.
In Christ God opened to humanity the new and living way. Now he awaits humanity’s free response, the ‘newness of the Spirit’ of which the Apostle speaks and which is present wherever persons live freely and creatively in communion. In the prayer and active love of those who ‘breathe the Spirit’ we see already springing up in anticipation the final victory over death, the final transformation of history and the universe which will be accomplished in the Kingdom.
~Adapted from Olivier Clement, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology