“The greatest danger in the modern world is the attack on man as the image of God. That God became man in order to unite man to God is the only sure Divine underwriting of human worth. We have value because of the image we bear.”
– Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, 1923-2011
Archbishop Dmitri of blessed memory’s words are indeed prophetic. The idea of man as bearing the ineffable image of God is the quintessential idea of Christianity which separates our theology and view of the world from all other religions and faiths. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote sometime before his death in the year 202, “The Word of God, our Lord, through His transcendent love, became what we are that He might make us what He is Himself.” It is absolutely essential for Christians to hold belief in the doctrine of theosis or man’s divinization. Numerous Church Fathers from St. John Chrysostom (347-407) to St. John of Damascus (676-749) to St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) taught that this doctrine is inseparable from the rest of Christian teaching, and at the very heart of the Gospel.
In today’s world, as Archbishop Dmitri observed, the greatest threat to human dignity is the attack on or rejection of the fundamental belief that men and women bear the image of God. This is the source of all evil in the world, from selfishness and egotism to abuse, poverty, and genocide. So many of us continuing to follow the horrors inflicted by ISIS in Iraq and Syria are reminded of the banality of evil by this terrorist group’s very existence. According to a report recently released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, “At least 9,347 civilians had been killed and 17,386 wounded so far this year through September, well over half of them since the Islamist insurgents also known as ISIL and ISIS began seizing large parts of northern Iraq in early June…” Al Hussein stated in his report that “The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.”
What is the best solution to the dehumanizing horrors of ISIS’ darkness and evil? The answer may surprise you. As light and goodness are the opposites of darkness and evil, Christians everywhere should turn to that which is the more enlightening, nourishing, and holy thing on earth: the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior. St. John of Kronstadt, a beloved Russian saint who died in 1908, writes about the Eucharist that:
The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service upon earth, during which God Himself, in a particular, immediate, and most close manner, is present and dwells with men, being Himself the invisible Celebrant of the service, offering and being offered. There is nothing upon earth holier, higher, grander, more solemn, more life-giving than the Liturgy.
The temple, at this particular time, becomes an earthly heaven; those who officiate represent Christ Himself, the Angels, the Cherubim, Seraphim and Apostles. The Liturgy is the continually repeated solemnisation of God’s love to mankind, and of His all-powerful mediation for the salvation of the whole world, and of every member separately: the marriage of the Lamb—the marriage of the King’s Son, in which the bride of the Son of God is—every faithful soul; and the Giver of the bride—the Holy Spirit.
With what prepared, pure, elevated souls it is therefore necessary to assist at the Liturgy, in order not to be amongst the number of those who, having no wedding garment, but a garment defiled by passions, were bound hand and foot, and cast out from the marriage feast into utter darkness. . .
. . . When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai the Hebrew people were ordered to previously prepare and cleanse themselves. In the Divine service we have not a lesser event than God’s descent upon Mount Sinai, but a greater one: here before us is the very face of God the Lawgiver. . .
. . . Great is the Liturgy! In it remembrance is made, not of the life of any great man, but that of God Incarnate, Who suffered and died for us, Who rose again, ascended into heaven, and Who shall come again to judge the whole world!
St John’s words here are not merely the words of an Orthodox priest who happened to hold a great devotion to the Eucharistic Liturgy of his Church. In his words we read of how all mankind, indeed the very cosmos, heaven and earth, are united to God by the Liturgy, that holy oblation which stands outside of time itself. As that which joins the heavenly to the earthly, the transformation of ordinary bread and wine by God’s grace into Christ’s Body and Blood, the Eucharist is the solution par excellence to the fundamental problem Archbishop Dmitri identifies. Ultimately all the problems of this world have at their core root the same underlying problem: rejection or ignorance of the incarnational view of the human person.
If you do not believe in the Incarnation, then just as God has not come down and fully assumed our humanity, so He has not sanctified our humanity and raised it up to Himself, healing and restoring that in us which is fallen and broken by His grace and love. This is why Christianity offers the highest ontological message of what constitutes human personhood to mankind: Christianity alone views mankind through an incarnational lens, in which God Himself takes on our human nature for no other reason than His ineffable love for us. The mirror of the human person on earth is his timeless divine potential, and in this Christian ideal we have the vision and realization of that which, if truly lived, would offer the greatest answer to all the world’s evils. The incarnational worldview is the fundamental moral and ontological antidote to the monstrous worldview held by ISIS and other inhuman terrorist groups.
Ultimately, all the world’s present evils — from ISIS and Boko Haram’s atrocities to child abuse, from systemic poverty to cyclic, familial cycles of incarceration and substance abuse — have their antidote and solution in Christ. Just as the absence of an incarnational view of the human person is at the root of all these horrors, so is its adoption the best solution to them.