And the Glory of Thy People Israel: Theophany and the Bond of Perfection


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The “people Israel” at this closing of the Nunc Dimitis prayer of St. Symeon of the Seventy consist of those of that other portion of all people than the Gentiles before whom has been set our Lord’s salvation: those of the Temple, which at the time of the presentation were the Jews and henceforth consists of the Orthodox Faithful. Israel the name means one who sees God. It is also used throughout the Divine Services of the Church to refer to the Orthodox Faithful. The New Jerusalem/Israel, to be exact. This further specification refers, then, to all who are “in the Church.,” as it were, i.e., all who will ascend via a life of repentance, prayer, and fasting, to purification, illumination, and deification/theosis.

Perhaps we may take Israel as used in Orthodox hymnography, services, and prayers to heart as a theophanic state of living in Truth after the way of Christ our Lord, as theophany means God Who appears unto us. In short, to allow one’s life to be ordered in constant striving after God’s Holy Will, and thus to accept nothing but a pure conscience for oneself, constitutes the predisposition to see God.

St. Paul writes to the Colossians (3:1):

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.

We are therefore not to concern ourselves, primarily, with quandaries of and between virtues — and thus into yet more godless humanism (with its peace- and rights-mongering) as an ultimate means to various ends (viz. arête (ἀρετή)), chastising one another in the name of an equalizing peace, integrating others into a tidy place of safety (safe place?) according to the forced conceptions inferred at once from without. But “above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection (3:14),” which, as the scholar George Leo Haydock aptly writes of this verse, “is the end of all virtues, which unites the hearts of all to God.”

While virtue and character-molding – and what mushy, if beastly passion-bartering passes for ‘love’ today – are one thing, love as God intended is quite another. It is the source of unquenchable joy; it is beyond anything of this world yet more intimate with oneself than our fallenness allows us to know; it is given fully in what aspect one can endure, yet transcendent and wholly immutable. It is how we really only needfully strive after one thing and one thing only: the Lord God Himself. It is God; God is Divine Love.

Love and faithfulness to our experiencing such constitutes our continual turning to Him, in thought, in prayer, in speech, in expression, in every looking, glancing, every interaction, our entire comportment to the world. If we transcend the natural creature with rational soul — i.e. if we may be deemed circumspectly a person — we must twist out of the bonds of sin.

Divesting ourselves after the kenotic example of our Lord, we may freely choose otherwise than satiating the passions. Only then can we begin to see beyond them, inasmuch as we first see our sins as such rather than justifying them. Only then can we let the image of God after Whom we are created shine through. So also only in and through the rays of God’s love can faith be appropriated. Only in Christ’s highest act of sacrificial love and His bright and glorious Resurrection on the third day shall we also find life beyond this world unto our own resurrection. Yet how are we most properly to receive this most glorious of mysteries?

In his introductory text Orthodox Theology, Vladimir Lossky writes (102):

Yet before Christ’s kenosis ends with His Resurrection, two theophanies were produced through His humanity: one at the Baptism, the other at the Transfiguration. Every time Christ manifested Himself not in His ‘form of slave’ but in his ‘form of God,’ He let His divine nature, that is, His unity with the Father and the Spirit, shine through His deified humanity.

Thus, His deified humanity — that is, his fully human and so fully corruptible form — His divinized weakness, His immortal mortality, His inseparable yet unconfused union of God and man, and as St. Maximos says, cited here by Lossky to amplify, “His economically corruptible humanity was naturally incorruptible“ (102). Being fully human, then, with the exception of our sinful pride in freely choosing by the passions, Christ takes on the fullness of our experience, our suffering, and the consequences of the Fall, of our fallenness, and is voluntarily crucified. This natural incorruptibility elsewhere St. Maximos uses to posit our Lord’s absence of a gnomic or deliberative will. It is thus not part of God’s omniscient nature to affect something such that He would subsequently need to negate it. Yet God the Son as the Theanthropos (God-man) always affirmatively yields to the Will of God the Father. In taking on our weakness fully, He aligns humanity with Divinity, condescending to our ascension by the Holy Spirit, such that we may become reunited with Him in the Bright and Glorious Resurrection around which His Body is centered in the Church. We thusly must willfully lay open our hearts to God in the Church, Whose terrible mercy and inscrutable love always already lays open the Gates of Paradise for those who endure to the end, making themselves ready to be deified.