God became man, so that man could become God.
...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 8:48 AM [+]
Image and Likeness and the Icon
Anyone remotely familiar with ancient Patristic writings has heard the phrase which I have used to title this little post...which comes even more off the cuff than my normally off the cuff posts. I believe (someone correct me if I am wrong) that it is first clearly seen in this exact form in the writings of my family's patron, Saint Irenaios of Lyon - though I am willing to grant that St. Justin Martyr may have written it before him. Regardless, the term is widely used and thus is no doubt an integral part of the living Tradition (Paradosis) of the Church. I'd never heard of it while I was a protestant and would have likely thought it to be something of Mormon innovation.
But these words concisely and beautifully express the whole economy of salvation, albeit a little hard for us to grasp being generally outside of the overall context of Holy Tradition. I am learning more and more everyday what this phrase means. Iconography helps alot.
The iconoclasts argued that it was impossible to display both natures of Christ, and that ultimately you would be showing only his humanity. But, the Orthodox argued that the iconoclasts were being conciliarly (cool word I may have invented) forgetfull, because the Icon does not attempt to show the natures of Christ, but rather the person of Christ. In whom the divine and human natures are united in that single person without mixture of confusion (Chalcedon). Both divinity and humanity are present, because of who the person is being represented. In my mind it hearkens back to the debate over whether Mary should be called "Theotokos" or "Christotokos"...the latter does not fully proclaim the fullness of the Incarnation and thus was rejected. In other words: Is that person born of the Virgin Mary (or portrayed on the Icon) God or not?
Salvation is so dependent on the Incarnation...and NOT because God needed a spotless lamb to kill. Rather we (please notice the key difference here) needed someone to pull us out of the pit and direct our path. As that ancient phrase implies: as He is, we are to become - the Second Adam! For the first time in my life, that term makes sense to me.
It is no coincidence that some of the earliest iconography (on catacomb walls) show the Theotokos along with Christ. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that at the front of every Orthodox Church you will see two main icons centered on the Iconostasis: Christ on the right, and the Theotokos on the left of the main doors. It is no coincidence because we really believe that "God became man so that man (or woman as THIS case is) could become God." And thus it makes sense that these two images would take a certain precedence in ancient days as well as today. Surely you see the beauty of the circular connection between these two icons?
Mary, our Mother, gives flesh to Christ...and in turn He gives divinity to her. (Oh man, I know many of my protestant friends must be livid at this thought, but try and understand what we mean by this: We do not by nature become God, but rather we become partakers of the divine nature.) Image and likeness, image and likeness, image and likenss.
In the Icon we see the realization and fulfillment of our Image and Likeness. It is truly a window into the Kingdom of God. Like the Icon of Christ, in which we portray a person (wholly human and wholly divine), so the Icons of the saints portray a deified human: a fullfilled human, a whole human, a transfigured human....a saved human, a human wholly impregnated with the Spirit of God, a human as a human was intended to be.
This is salvation, and this is why we Orthodox never use the term in the past tense.