IN THE IMAGE OF THE CREATOR
By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
The prayers of the Divine Liturgy, formulated by St. John Chrysostom, are designed to teach us about all aspects of life. They teach us about our human nature as well as our spiritual nature. Not only does the Divine Liturgy teach us about ourselves, it directs us in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Every Sunday you hear the priest say a prayer that states that God created man and woman in His Image and likeness, and has adorned them with the gift of His Grace. What does this mean for us as human beings, and more importantly, as Christians? It defines us as creatures fashioned in the image of the Creator, of similar attributes, and more importantly, of a similar freedom of choice.
St. John of Kronstadt said in 1907 "Why did God allow the fall of man, His beloved creation and the crown of all the earthly creatures? To this question one must reply thus: If man is not to be allowed to fall, then he cannot be created in the image and likeness of God; he cannot be granted free will, which is an inseparable feature of the image of God; but he would have to be subject to the law of necessity, like the soulless creation - the sky, the sun, stars, the circle of the earth, and all the elements - or like the irrational animals. But then there would be no king over creatures of the earth, no rational hymn singer of Godís goodness, wisdom, creative almightiness and Providence. Then man would have had no way to show is faithfulness and devotion to the Creator, his self-sacrificing love. Then there would have been no exploits in battle, no merits and no incorruptible crowns for victory; there would have been no eternal blessedness, which is the reward for faithfulness and devotion to God, and no eternal repose after the labors and struggles of our earthly pilgrimage."
This quotation relays a great deal of wisdom to the reader, it tells us that mankind was truly created in the image of God, and as a result of this creation, we are reason endowed, and given the power over our own destiny. I have often been asked, why did God allow man to fall into sin? This quotation from St. John of Kronstadt answers that question eloquently. Human beings were not willed to fall by God, nor were they created specifically not to fall into sin, but, as a result of free will, and of course, bad judgment on their part, Adam and Eve fell into sin. You will notice that I referred to Adam and Eve, instead of just Adam. Some people refer to our sinful state as a result of the fall of Adam; however, it was both Adam and Eve who fell from grace by breaking the commandment of God, all human beings suffered from this fall from grace.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria said in the year 444: "Man, having received as his lot an exhausting fast and sorrows, was given over to illness, sufferings, and other bitter things of life, as if to a kind of bridle. Because he did not sensibly restrain himself in that life which was free of labors and sorrows (in Paradise), he is given over to misfortunes, so that by sufferings he might heal in himself the disease which came upon him in the midst of blessedness."
Sin, death, hell and the grave have already been conquered by Jesus Christ, so many ask, why does sin, death, hell, and the grave appear to march on proudly? We have to realize that we were created in Godís image, we have freedom of choice, we can choose to follow the teachings of Christ, or we can choose to reject them. We can choose to sin, or choose to not sin. For God to interfere with this process would render us not truly created in Godís image, and nullify our freedom of choice!
I am often quite grieved when people come up to me after a natural disaster such as an earthquake, or flood, or a violent storm, and ask me why God allowed such a thing to happen. I feel like shaking them and asking them, "Are you aware of what you are implying?" "Are you aware that you are accusing God of orchestrating devastation for His own pleasure, as if to be exacting revenge on mankind?"
Hear what the Orthodox tradition teaches us about evil and natural disasters: "Evil is often thought of as anything which causes misfortune or suffering. However, in a theological sense, evil is the name for any perversion of the moral order which proceeds from manís willful intent to violate Godís laws. Natural disasters (earthquakes, storms, etc.) Are of themselves neither good nor bad. While they may bring misfortune, they are not intrinsically evil. Evil and sin are caused directly by manís selfishness and pride. Sufferings are the result of sin and are allowed by God as a means of chastisement, enlightenment and hopefully repentance."
According to St. Basil the Great, "suffering and spiritual death cut off the growth of sin." Weíve become a society of blamers, we have to blame someone, or something for every bad thing that happens to us. Unfortunately, God is often made the scape goat for things that happen that cannot be attributed to a physical person or thing.
Take for example floods, and violent weather changes the earth is experiencing. We are having especially powerful storms, and floods are almost a weekly occurrence around the world. Some scientists believe that these weather problems could be related to global warming. If this is the case, who would responsible for global warming? Certainly not God! If you trace the global warming problem back to its source, you will find human beings at the root of the problem.
Our hearts go out to those who suffer as a result of natural disasters, we too, someday will most likely fall victim to a natural disaster of some kind; however, I hope that you will remember that placing blame is not the thing to do when you are involved in a natural disaster. Remember that you are created in Godís image, and that suffering tends to bring out the best in people. Suffering in common bonds people on a spiritual level, and again like St. Basil the Great said, "suffering cuts off the growth of sin!"
When you watch news coverage of natural disasters you often see people banding together building barriers to hold flood waters back, working together, as we should, to help others in a time of crisis. This is how God gets involved in natural disasters; the healing, the very best in each person that allows them to put aside selfish feelings and work for the common good of their neighbors.
Godís involvement is when you see an outpouring of food and clothing to victims of unfortunate disasters; given by loving caring people, who of their own free will, and good intentions, desire to help people who are suffering. This is where the image of our Creator shines most brightly within us.
As St. John Chrysostom said in the year 407, "If salvation is by grace, someone will say, ĎWhy is it that we are not all saved?í Because you did not will it! For grace, even though it be grace, saves only the willing, not those who are not willing and turn away from it and constantly fight against it and oppose themselves to it."
In other words, God condemns no one, condemnation comes as a result of a choice made by the individual. Many people have approached me and asked, "Why would God condemn a person to hell?" I always answer, "God does not condemn a person to hell. It is the persons actions and their own choice which condemns them to hell." God has already paved the way for you, He has given His Only-Begotten Son to us so that we may not be condemned to hell. Itís up to us, Godís reason-endowed creatures, created in His image and likeness to be masters of our own destiny.
A PRAYER TO OUR CREATOR
By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
Almighty God, Eternal Father, Creator of all, we come before You this day, unified in prayer, and joined together by Your Holy Love.
We, O Lord, are the work of Your Hands, being fashioned in Your Image and Likeness, and endowed with reason and freedom of choice, we offer ourselves willingly to You, our Creator.
We accept You as our Lord, God, and Savior. We place our lives into Your Holy hands, and with faith in You as our God, we flee unto You for protection and mercy.
Walk with us through this earthly life, torn with strife, woes, worries and hardships. Defend us with Your might and power, so that we may overturn the influence of the evil one in our souls.
Be there for us when we stumble and fall, help us through all tribulation and distress. Enable us to feel love and compassion for others who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Grant that Your Holy Image will shine brightly through us to illuminate our paths, and guide us to the salvation of our souls, through the grace of Your Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ! Amen.
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