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When We Ignore the Image and Forget the Likeness

August 23, 2012

According to the Holy Scriptures, we were created in the image and likeness of God. For the Church Fathers, this means that there is an unbreakable relationship between God and humanity inherent in man’s very being, that humanity and God are for ever distinct as creature and Creator, and that a dynamic movement towards perfection, a movement from the image to the likeness, is an inherent part of the spiritually healthy life.  The Fall, like an ontological sickness, weakened man’s relationship with God and derailed the upward movement from the image to the likeness. This derailment, which meant erratic movements in every other direction except that of our ultimate goal, would affect the entirety of human life.

Remaining unreceptive to the Divine Energies that should guide thought and action, forsaking the innate human drive of the image towards divine perfection in the likeness, man relies solely on the fruit of the tree of knowledge, meaning a static knowledge of created reality apart from God, apart from life, which ultimately causes man to misjudge reality. In other words, when we are ignorant of the meaning of the image of God in us, when we fail to base our thoughts and actions on it, and when we fail to strive to move towards the likeness, which comprises the infinite perfections of God in His goodness, simplicity, holiness, purity, blessedness, and other qualities, we are left to our own devices and predilections, we make catastrophic errors in judgment.  We mistake falsehood for truth, vice for virtue, and pride for humility.

This is the state in which we find ourselves after the Fall.  That is why we have to rely upon the Fathers, the holy ascetics who have shone forth before us to illumine the way. From their own struggle to uncover the darkened image and to ascend to the very likeness of God, we can learn to walk along the only path that leads to true spiritual and psychological health. Relying upon our own judgment, we can hardly avoid prelest (self-deception).

Fortunately, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can instead cheerfully submit our own judgment, thoughts, and feelings to the guidance of those holy ones who have passed from death to life. It is a great gift that we can make the choice to submit ourselves to the perennial wisdom of the fathers and rise above the ephemeral judgments of the present age concerning what feels good, what looks good, what sounds good.  If we remember that we are but God’s creatures, if we keep our attention turned towards our relationship with God, and if we strive towards God’s perfections, we recover both our pristine source and our eternal destiny. We understand what is meant to be created according to God’s image and likeness. The Holy Father’s can help us immensely in this. Let us listen to their counsel, for through them, we become cognizant of our eternal destiny and can soar in spirit above whatever afflictions curse us in life.

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