One of the wonderful things about the Church is the various ways it teaches us about what it means to be a human being. The word in the Bible that is used for humanity is “aner” or “anthropos.” This word is used for both females and males and it does not distinguish between the two based on our masculine of feminine characteristics. Rather, it gives us a universal picture for how God views human beings and what it means to be created in God’s image. The word describes a human being as one who can look up. It distinguishes us from the animal world or even creation in the sense that we are able to aspire and lift up our existence beyond what we currently are to something higher, the heavens. It is not a mistake that in the parable of the Prodigal Son the man’s return to his loving father begins with him standing up and getting out of the muck the pigs he was caring for live in day in and day out.
It is wonderful then to learn the view of the Church, and therefore of God, towards our anthropology. We come to see that God’s view of human beings is that we are good, very good. However, a closer look at what the Church says about human beings provides us with an even greater appreciation for who we are and how we are to live. Not only are we good, and not only is the view of humanity in the Church positive, but we are called and through Christ even capable of moving past the confines of mere human existence. The Church teaches that it is in how we live that we learn by degree and grace to become like God.
Another way that we express this deep and profound truth is in our iconography. One of the most famous icons of the Church is that of the Trinity. In it the Church provides a description of humanity that is essential. We see depicted the mutual and self-sacrificial love of the Trinity. The “perichorisis” or movement of love that is shown in the icon attempts to describe the love between the three distinct Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This icon gives the Faithful another view of the basis of our existence, The Divine Community of the Holy Trinity.
In other words, if we are made in God’s image then we are made to resemble a community of persons, and as human beings what best describes us is our relationships. Yet we have not said enough, we can’t simply say we are supposed to live in relationships with one another. Rather we teach in the Church that the quality of these relationships is directly related to the type of love that connects us to one another. If it is a self-serving love then our relationships with one another cannot reach their full potential. What is terrifying is that when we love without sacrifice we not only limit ourselves but we limit those around us.
Moving forward in life and thus in Christ is tied to adopting and perfecting this view of ourselves and one another. Without question it is hard to perfect the image of God in us but at the same time it is an adventure that is its own reward. In becoming truly human we become like God and this icon of human existence is something we share with the whole of creation.
This month the journey of Great Lent begins and with it our annual pilgrimage of repentance. It is our opportunity to turn from whatever modes of existence are self-limiting and destructive towards true life and relationships. May God grant to each of us a Blessed and peaceful return to right relationships.