About the Calling of Man, Conversation in the London parish, June 6, 1991.
By Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
We are increasingly aware of the need to protect nature and prevent the destruction of the animal and plant world, which has now acquired very terrible proportions. In this regard, the word “crisis” is used.
Crisis is a Greek word that means ultimately judgment. The critical moment is when everything that has gone before is called into question. The concept of a crisis as judgment is very important; it may be God’s judgment upon us; it may be the judgment of nature upon us, the moment when nature indignantly, indignantly refuses to cooperate with us. This may also be a moment when we must judge ourselves and judge ourselves in many ways. The question of what we have done with our land in the last half century is raised by our conscience; its essence is not that it is beneficial for us that the earth be fertile and everything would happen on it as best as possible, but what is our moral responsibility to the world, God created for love and with love, the world that He called for communion with myself. Of course, each creature communicates with God in a different way, but there is no creature that cannot have some kind of communication with God; otherwise the concept of a miracle would be impossible. When Christ orders the waves to calm down, the wind to calm down, this does not mean that He has some kind of magical power over nature, but that the living word of God is somehow perceived by all of His creatures.
In addition to the concept of judgment, which is contained in the word crisis, there is another concept in it, which I heard recently. The same word that we pronounce as crisis, self-judgment, in Chinese means an opportunity, and this is very important. The concept of judgment speaks of the past; but when you have judged yourself, when you have judged the position you are in, when you have judged yourself, the next step is to move forward and not just look back. Therefore, indeed, at the moment of judgment, a person looks deep into his conscience, peers into what he has done – both personally and collectively as humanity; and then thinks where to go. And the moment we start thinking about the future, we talk about the possible. We have not yet reached the point where there is no return, no way forward. When there is no way either to the past or forward, the end of the world will come; we haven’t gotten there yet. But we are all responsible for something in this nature in which we live; we all poison the earth, poison the air, we all take some part in the destruction of what God has created. And therefore, it would be good for us to think about what is the connection between God, the world created by Him and man. This is where I want to draw your attention.
The first thing that is clear from Holy Scripture is that everything that exists was created by God. This means that He, by His sovereign word, called into being something that did not exist before. Moreover, he called to being in order to give bliss to everything, to bring everything to a state of holiness and perfection. So to speak, at the moment when God created man and other creatures, He created them out of love, created them in order to share with them the wealth that belongs to Himself; more than that: not only with the wealth that belongs to Him, but even, as it were, with Himself. We know from the Epistle of the Apostle Peter that our human calling (as it is reflected on the rest of the creature – we will think further) is not only to know God, not only to worship Him, not only to serve Him, not only to tremble before Him, not only to love Him, but ultimately to become partakers of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1, 4), that is, to partake of God in such a way that the Divine nature is instilled in us, we become like Christ in this respect. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons in one of his writings used a remarkable and perhaps even terrible, in any case majestic, expression. He says that at the end of time, when all creation reaches the fullness of its existence, when man reaches its fullness, all mankind, in union with the Only Begotten Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will become the only begotten son of God. This is our ultimate calling. But this does not mean that man is called to this, and the rest of the creature is not. And I want to draw your attention to a few points in the biblical account of creation.
We are reading a story about how God pronounces the word – and that which has never been before begins, that which has never been conceived, appears into being. And the light comes first. There is (albeit not biblical, but Eastern) legend that light is born from the word. And this is a wonderful picture: God pronounces a creative word – and suddenly a light appears, which is already the beginning of the existence of reality. Then we see how other creatures are formed by the command of God, as if improving step by step, and we reach the moment when man is created. It would seem that man is (and this is true both according to Holy Scripture, and even according to the simplest, earthly experience) the pinnacle of creation. But the story of the creation of man is very interesting. We are not told that God, having created the highest, developed animals, then takes the next step to create an even more perfect living being. We are told that when all creatures are created, God takes earthly clay and creates man from this clay. I do not want to say that this is a description of what happened, but it indicates that man was created from the basic, as it were, matter of the entire universe. Of course, other creatures are created from the same matter, but it is emphasized here that man is not isolated from other creatures, that he is, as it were, at the root of the existence of all creatures, that he was created from that elementary, basic from which all other creatures came. And this, as it were, makes us kindred not only – as an unbeliever would say – “to the highest forms of the animal world”, it makes us kindred to the lowest earthly creatures. We are made from the same material. And this is very important, because, being related to everything created, we have a direct relationship with it. And when St. Maximus the Confessor, speaking of the vocation of man, writes that man was created from the elements of the material world and from the elements of the spiritual world, that he belongs to both the spiritual world and the material world, he emphasizes that due to this, containing both the material and the spiritual, man can lead all created creatures to spirituality and lead them to God. This is the main vocation of man.
This is a very important moment, because then another moment comes – the moment of the incarnation of the Word of God. God becomes man, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is born from the Virgin, He receives the fullness of His human nature from the Mother of God; He has the fullness of His divinity from God and the Father from time immemorial. The Word became flesh, as the Evangelist John says; all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily (Col. 2:9). He is fully God, He is fully man; He is a perfect man precisely because His humanity is united with the Divine inseparably and inseparably. But at the same time, both natures remain themselves: the Divine does not become matter, and the substance does not become Divine. Speaking of this, the same Maximus the Confessor gives such an image. If we take a sword – cold, gray, as if without shine – and put it in the brazier, after a while we take it out – and the whole sword burns with fire, everything shines. And so fire, heat penetrated, connected with iron, that now it is possible to cut with fire and burn with iron. Both natures united, permeated one another, remaining, however, themselves. Iron did not become fire, fire did not become iron, and at the same time they are inseparable and inseparable.
When we talk about the incarnation of the Son of God, we say that He became a perfect man. Perfect, and in the sense that I just indicated: He is perfect, because He has reached the fullness of all that a person can be, has become one with God. But at the same time He is perfect in that He is in the fullest sense a man; we clearly see that He became a descendant of Adam, that the corporeality that belongs to Him is our corporality. And this corporality, taken from the earth, makes Him akin, as well as us, with the entire material world. He is united by His corporeality with everything that is material. In this regard, it can be said (again, Maximus the Confessor writes about this) that Christ’s incarnation is a cosmic phenomenon, that is, it is a phenomenon that makes Him akin to the entire cosmos, to everything that has been created; because the moment energy or matter begins to be, it recognizes itself in Christ in the glory of union with the Divine. And when we think about the creature, about the earth on which we live, about the world that surrounds us, about the universe, a tiny part of which we are a particle, we must imagine and understand that in our corporeality we are akin to everything that material in the universe. And Christ, being a man in the full, perfect sense of the word, is akin to His corporeality of all creation: the smallest atom or the greatest galaxy in Him recognizes itself in glory. It is very important for us to remember this, and it seems to me that, apart from Orthodoxy, not a single confession in the West has accepted the cosmic nature of the incarnation and the glory that has been revealed to the entire universe through the incarnation of Christ. Too often we speak and think of incarnation as something that happened only for man, for humanity. We say that God became man in order to save us from sin, in order to conquer death, in order to abolish the separation between God and man. Of course, this is true, but beyond this there is everything else, which I have now tried to somehow mention and which I have tried, albeit clumsily, to point out.
If we imagine things this way, then we can perceive the sacraments of the Church in a different way, with much greater realism, depth, with horror and reverence. Because in the sacraments of the Church something absolutely amazing happens. Over a particle of bread, over a small amount of wine, over the waters of baptism, over oil, which is offered as a gift to God and is consecrated, something happens that already now joins this substance to the miracle of the incarnation of Christ. The waters of baptism are sanctified by the corporality of Christ and the grace of the All-Holy Spirit descending into them and performing this miracle. Bread and wine partake of both physicality and the Divinity of Christ through the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is already eternity, entered into time, this is eternity, that is, the future, which is now clearly in front of us, among us.
The same can be said about everything that is sanctified. There are wonderful prayers that we never hear because we don’t have the opportunity. For example, there is an amazing prayer for the consecration of a bell. In it we ask God to consecrate this bell so that when it sounds, it will convey to human souls something that will awaken them; we ask that, thanks to this sound, eternal life trembles in them. There is a poem (in my opinion, Koltsova, but I’m not sure), which I will now try to remember:
The late bell, sounding over the great plain, Thunder over the sleeping heart, over the stagnant soul. Ringing long, funeral, all-forgiving-farewell Thunder over the sleeping, carefree heart! Maybe it will wake up and shake off oblivion, And maybe it will shudder for a moment, for a moment ....
And when we consecrate the bell, we have this in mind. We ask this bell to give not only a musical sound (this, with skill, can be created from anything), but we ask: may God’s blessing fall on this bell so that its sound (simple, like all sounds; it will not sound otherwise, than another bell, created without prayer, without the purpose of renewing, reviving souls) sounded so that it would reach the human soul and that this soul would wake up. So, you see, it is not only about consecrating the substance: water, oil, bread, wine, and so on, but so that everything can be brought to God as a gift from us, accepted by God, and that God will pour, include in it is the substance of divine transforming power. It seems to me that this is very central in our understanding of both Christ and the cosmic, that is, the universal, all-embracing significance of Christ’s incarnation.
This also applies to the word; for not only does the bell sound and renew souls, but the word of man resounds and renews souls—or it kills the soul. If the word is dead, it kills; if it is alive, it can reach the human depths and awaken the possibility of eternal life there. You probably remember that place in the Gospel of John, when what Christ said confuses the people around Him, and people turn away from Him. The Savior turns to His disciples and says: “Do you also want to leave me?” And Peter answers for others: “Where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Here we are not talking about the fact that He knows eternal life in such a way that He describes it in such a way that the disciples are burning with the desire to enter into it. If we read the Gospel, we will see that Christ nowhere specifically speaks of eternal life, in the sense that He does not describe it, does not present us with a picture of eternity, or hell, or heaven. Not; The very words of Christ were such that when He spoke to people, His words reached that depth of a person where the possibility of eternal life rests, and, like a spark that fell on a dry tree, eternal life ignited in a person. It seems to me that this is very important to imagine.
This applies not only to Christ, whose word, of course, came through more than any other: but also to those great teachers and preachers who, with their word, transformed the lives of other people. Both sound is real and light is real. Everything material and everything material (and so great that we cannot even imagine its size, and so small that we cannot catch it even with an instrument) precisely due to the fact that man was created from the earth, that is, belongs to his flesh substance, Everything is embraced by Christ, included in Christ. And therefore, when we are told that the calling of a person is to go into the depths of God, to become related to Him in such a way as to be one with God, and through this to transform one’s physicality, and during this process to transform the whole world around, these are not words, but reality. , this is our specific vocation, that which is given to us as a task.
But why are we so unsuccessful? It seems to me that it is worth looking into the Holy Scriptures and asking yourself: what happened? (Of course, I will speak in fragments, because I cannot develop the topic now just because of the time). When man was created, he was given the opportunity to enjoy all the fruits of paradise, but he did not depend on these fruits for his existence. As Christ said to the devil when he was tempted by him in the wilderness, man will not live by bread alone, but by every word of God (Luke 4:4). Man lived, of course, not by the words of God, but by the creative Word of God and his communion with God. At the moment of his falling away from God, this is what happened. First, there was a division between man and man. When Eve was created from Adam, they looked at each other and Adam said: this is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone (Genesis 2:23). That is, he saw himself in her, but no longer closed in himself, but in front of him, as it were, he saw in her not a reflection, but his own reality; and Eva too. And they were one. Sin not only separated them, but also broke the integrity of man’s relationship with the whole world around him. And now, when a person is torn away from God, has lost the ability to live only by God’s word, God gives him an opportunity and a task: the opportunity to exist by receiving a certain share of his life from the fruits of the earth, and the task of cultivating this land. Without it he will die, he can no longer live by God alone. A person is, as it were, rooted both in God, Whom he has not completely lost, and in the earth in which he has sunk his roots, which he should not have done, because his calling was to lead this earth to God, to be, as it were, a leader. We read in the Bible that man was told to possess the earth, and we constantly interpret this word in the sense: to have power over it, rule over it. Possession does not necessarily mean that. You probably remember again from the Gospel the place where Christ says: the rulers of the earth rule over their subjects; let it not be so with you—let the first of you be a servant to all (Mark 10:42-44). This was the vocation of man: to be a servant, not in some humiliating sense, but to be one who serves all creation in its ascent to God and its gradual rooting in God and in eternal life.
And then another moment comes. If you read carefully the story of the generations from the fall of Adam to the flood, you may notice that the number of years of life of the persons mentioned is decreasing. In another place of the Holy Scripture (I cannot quote exactly now) it is said that after the fall, death gradually settled in, that death gradually began to possess a person, or rather, humanity, more and more, because humanity moved further and further away from unity with God. and plunged deeper and deeper into creatureliness, which by itself cannot give eternal life and even long earthly life. There are two exceptions, however, in this series. One is Methuselah, who lived longer than all his ancestors and descendants; it is said of him that he was a friend of God and lived for so many years. Another is Enoch, who, because he was a friend of God, died, according to the biblical story, young: only three hundred and something years old… For us, of course, this is not youth, but compared to others, he was young. But the longevity of one and the early death of the other were due to the fact that both were more than anyone united with God. God needed one to live, and God needed the other to come to Him.
And then the flood comes, and there’s another place in the text to think about. People moved farther and farther away from God, until the moment when God, looking at them, said: these people became flesh (Gen. 6, 3). There was no spirituality left in them, and the flood came, death came upon them. And after the flood, the Lord says for the first time: now all living beings are provided for you to eat. They will serve you as food, and you will be their terror (Genesis 9:2-3).
It’s very scary. It is terrible to imagine that a person who was called to lead every creature along the path to transformation, to the fullness of life, has reached the point where he can no longer soar to God, and is forced to get his food by killing those whom he should have led to perfection. Here, as it were, the circle of tragedy closes. We are in this circle, we are still unable to live only eternal life and the word of God, although the saints to a large extent returned to the original plan of God about man. The saints show us that we need to pray, spiritual feat to gradually free ourselves from the need to eat the flesh of animals, switch only to vegetable food and, going into God more and more, need it less and less. There were saints who lived only by partaking of the Holy Mysteries once a week.
This is the world we live in, this is what we are called to, this was the given. Here is our Orthodox idea of what the world is like and how God is connected with this world: not only as the Creator, Who simply creates and remains a stranger to His creation. Even the artist does not remain a stranger to what he creates; anyone can recognize the artist’s hand or his stamp on his work. Here we are talking about something else. God does not just create and let the creature live, He remains connected with it and calls it to Himself so that it grows to the full extent of these possibilities: from innocence to holiness, from purity to transfiguration. This is the idea that we have in the Orthodox Church about the created world, about the relationship of God with man and with all creation without exception, and about the role of man. Then it becomes clear, from the point of view of the Orthodox Church, the question of our role in what we are now doing with the land. The question is not: “what we do with the earth will destroy us”, but: “what we do with the earth is a violation of our human calling”. We are destroying ourselves and we are blocking the way for other creatures to a transfigured life.