Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed
Part Twenty Four
The first stage: The Baptizing Christ.
The stage of purification and
The beginning of the process of spiritual renewal for man
4- New life and the spiritual Struggle (part 4)
D- The Imitation of Christ:
Some people question the thought of imitating Christ, which has spread in the West, as alien to the Orthodox church, and it is often said that the thought of imitation of Christ is a product of the medieval period in the West and does not belong to the Orthodox thought. The truth is that this is a superficial thinking and is not true. St. Basil (bishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia in the fourth century) laid strong emphasis on following the example of Christ, and not only in a general sense (as in Philippians 2:5,20: “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”, see also 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1), but in the sense of a reproduction of the deeds and words of the Savior by ourselves. Also, St. Basil writes: “This imitation confers on us an admirable manner of life.” And again: “ Every action and every word of our Lord is a rule.” 1
St. Gregory Nazianzen adopted the same idea. We must, according to him, discover the actual and present aspect of each of Christ’s gestures: the episodes of His life – e.g. the episodes connected with the Magi, the money-changers in the Temple, the Canaanite woman, and raising Lazarus – must become episodes of our own life. Jesus Christ slept in order to bless our sleep, He was tired in order to bless our toils, and He wept in order to bless our tears.
5- Our incorporation into Christ
Our conformation to Jesus our Lord, as the pattern of restored human nature, does not exhaust the fullness of the baptismal grace. We are saved not only by Christ, and with Christ, but “in Christ”. Christian life is more than Christocentrism: it is Christification. This “in Christ” aspect (which comes over and over again in St. Paul’s epistles) is sacramentally represented by baptismal immersion. The Orthodox Church, still follows the Fathers and the apostles in the early century, by plunging the new Christian into the water. The immersion means death with Christ; the emergence means risen life with Him. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4) And: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)
Our membership in the body of Christ must be understood realistically. In the phrase, the “mystical” body of Christ, “mystical” doesn’t mean symbolic or metaphysical and is not opposed to “physical”. It means secret and invisible (It is derived from the Greek mysterion). We invisibly share in our Lord’s nature (physis, therefore it is a “physical” Body, though not material, as ours are). This real membership of Christ was as much emphasized by the Eastern Fathers as it was in the West by St. Augustine.
“What has not been assumed has not been healed” says St. Gregory Nazianzen. 2 He means that if Christ did not possess all of the elements of human nature, then the missing element is not saved. So if the Word of God, in His incarnation, did not assume a reasoning soul, then the human soul is not saved. “He that is assumed becomes it,” writes St. Gregory of Nyssa. 3 Consider the boldness of these words: we become Christ (but without becoming God). John Chrysostom insists: the baptized Christian is not only born of God, but has put on Christ; and this not only morally, through charity, but in reality. The incarnation has rendered our incorporation into Christ and our divinization (theosis) possible. St. Methodious of Olympus (3rd. century) writes: “every one of us must confess not only that His coming into the flesh, which He has taken from the pure virgin, is holy, but also a similar coming into the mind of each of us. 4 Long before this St. Irenaeus, developing the epistle to the Ephesians, had already formulated his grand conception of the “recapitulation” of all men in Christ (anakephalaiosis, see Eph. 1:10).
Also, the ascetics and men of God in the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches speak similarly. St. Macarius the Great says: “The infinite God, who is above all imagination, in His goodness and mercy, has put down himself (emptied himself), and put on members of the flesh, putting away His unapproachable glory … and since He became flesh, He draws to Himself the honest souls, and becomes with them one spirit, a soul in soul, and an essence in essence, so that the soul can live in union, and taste the eternal life and be partaker of the glory that does not perish(sermon 4:10). St. Symeon the New Theologian (Abbot of monastery in Constantinople in 11th century) writes 5: “We become Christ’s limbs or members … Unworthy though I be, my hands and foot are Christ. I move my hand, and my hand is wholly Christ, for God’s divinity is united inseparably to me. I move my foot, and lo! it glows like God Himself …”
The same St. Symeon, speaking of his own particular father, Symeon the Venerable or the Studite, says that this holy monk “was not ashamed of the limbs or members of any man, neither was he afraid of seeing men naked, nor to be seen without clothes himself. For he possessed Christ wholly and was himself wholly Christ; and he always contemplated his own limbs or members and those of any other human beings as Christ’s.” The Pauline doctrine “Now you are the Body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor. 12:27) must not, of course, be understood as identity of essence between the Uncreated and the created, but as an “accidental “union granted by grace. This doctrine throws a new light on certain modes of speech of Paul. The apostle doesn’t say “Christ gives life”, but “To me to live is Christ (Phil. 1:21) … life eternal in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:23) … When Christ our Life appears (Col.3:4).” He does not say: “Christ gives us wisdom and righteousness, Christ sanctifies and redeems us,” but: “Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Thus, Christ is the essence and foundation of our spiritual life, even He is our life itself and He is everything for us, just as the church says in the litany of the Gospel, “For You are the life of us all, the healing of us all, the salvation of us all, and the resurrection of us all…”.
(To be continued)
And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His
maidservant; For behold, henceforth all
generations will call me blessed. For He who
is mighty has done great things for me, And
holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear
Him from generation to generation.