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Incarnation

… and He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.

The divine Son of God was born as a man from the Vir­gin Mary by the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it (Mt 1; Lk 1). The Church teach­es that the vir­gin birth is the ful­fill­ment of Old Tes­ta­ment prophe­cy (Isa 7:14), and that it is as well the ful­fill­ment of the long­ings of all men for sal­va­tion which are found in all reli­gions and philoso­phies in human his­to­ry. Only God can save the world. Man alone can­not do it because it is man him­self who must be saved. There­fore, accord­ing to Ortho­dox doc­trine, the vir­gin birth is nec­es­sary not at all because of a false idol­iza­tion of vir­gin­i­ty as such or because of a sin­ful repul­sion to nor­mal human sex­u­al­i­ty. Nor is it nec­es­sary as some would con­tend to give “added weight” to the moral teach­ings of Jesus. The vir­gin birth is under­stood as a neces­si­ty because the one who is born must not be mere­ly a man like all oth­ers need­ing sal­va­tion. The Sav­iour of the world can­not mere­ly be one of the race of Adam born of the flesh like all of the oth­ers. He must be “not of this world” in order to save the world.

Jesus is born from the Vir­gin Mary because he is the divine Son of God, the Sav­iour of the world. It is the for­mal teach­ing of the Ortho­dox Church that Jesus is not a “mere man” like all oth­er men. He is indeed a real man, a whole and per­fect­ly com­plete man with a human mind, soul and body. But he is the man which the Son and Word of God has become. Thus, the Church for­mal­ly con­fess­es that Mary should prop­er­ly be called Theotokos, which means lit­er­al­ly “the one who gives birth to God.” For the one born of Mary is, as the Ortho­dox Church sings at Christ­mas: “… he who from all eter­ni­ty is God.”

Today the Vir­gin gives birth to the Tran­scen­dent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unap­proach­able One! Angels, with shep­herds, glo­ri­fy Him! The wise men jour­ney with the star! Since for our sake the eter­nal God was born as a lit­tle child! (Kon­takion of the Nativity)

Jesus of Nazareth is God, or, more accu­rate­ly, the divine Son of God in human flesh. He is a true man in every way. He was born. He grew up in obe­di­ence to his par­ents. He increased in wis­dom and stature (Lk 2:51–52). He had a fam­i­ly life with “brethren” (Mk 2:31–34), who accord­ing to Ortho­dox doc­trine were not chil­dren born of Mar­ry who is con­fessed as “ever-vir­gin”, but were either cousins or chil­dren of Joseph.

As a man Jesus expe­ri­enced all nor­mal and nat­ur­al human expe­ri­ences such as growth and devel­op­ment, igno­rance and learn­ing, hunger, thirst, fatigue, sor­row, pain, and dis­ap­point­ment. He also knew human temp­ta­tion, suf­fer­ing, and death. He took these things upon him­self “for us men and for our salvation.”

Since, there­fore the chil­dren share in flesh and blood, he him­self like­wise par­took of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the pow­er of death, that is, the dev­il, and deliv­er all those who through fear of death were sub­ject to life­long bondage. For sure­ly it was not with angels that he is con­cerned but with the descen­dants of Abra­ham. There­fore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect… to make expi­a­tion for the sins of the peo­ple. For because he him­self has suf­fered and been tempt­ed, he is able to help those who are tempt­ed (Heb 2:9–18).

Christ has entered the world becom­ing like all men in all things except sin.

He com­mit­ted no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suf­fered, he did not threat­en; but he trust­ed to him [God the Father] who judges just­ly (1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15).

Jesus was tempt­ed, but he did not sin. He was per­fect in every way, absolute­ly obe­di­ent to God the Father; speak­ing His words, doing His works, and accom­plish­ing His will. As a man, Jesus ful­filled his role per­fect­ly as the Per­fect Man, the new and final Adam. He did all things that man fails to do, being in every­thing the most per­fect human response to the divine ini­tia­tive of God toward cre­ation. In this sense, the Son of God as man “reca­pit­u­lat­ed” the life of Adam, i.e., the entire human race, bring­ing man and his world back to God the Father and allow­ing for a new begin­ning of life free from the pow­er of sin, the dev­il, and death.

As the Sav­iour-Mes­si­ah, Christ ful­filled as well all of the prophe­cies and expec­ta­tions of the Old Tes­ta­ment, ful­fill­ing and crown­ing in final and absolute per­fec­tion all that was begun in Israel for human and cos­mic sal­va­tion. Thus, Christ is the ful­fill­ment of the promise to Abra­ham, the com­ple­tion of the Law of Moses, the ful­fill­ment of the prophets and Him­self the Final Prophet, the King and the Teacher, the one Great High Priest of Sal­va­tion and the Per­fect Sac­ri­fi­cial Vic­tim, the New Passover and the Bestow­er of the Holy Spir­it upon all creation.

It is in this role as Mes­si­ah-King of Israel and Sav­iour of the world that Christ insist­ed upon His iden­ti­ty with God the Father and called Him­self the Way, the Truth, and the Life: the Res­ur­rec­tion and the Life, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Door to the Sheep­fold, the Good Shep­herd, the Heav­en­ly Son of Man, the Son of God, and God Him­self, the I AM (Gospel of St. John).


Defense of the Doctrine of Incarnation

In the Ortho­dox Church the cen­tral fact of the Chris­t­ian faith, that the Son of God has appeared on earth as a real man, born of the Vir­gin Mary in order to die and rise again to give life to the world, has been expressed and defend­ed in many dif­fer­ent ways. The first preach­ing and the first defense of the faith con­sist­ed in main­tain­ing that Jesus of Nazareth is in truth the Mes­si­ah of Israel, and that the Mes­si­ah Himself—the Christ—is indeed tru­ly Lord and God in human form. The first Chris­tians, begin­ning with the apos­tles, had to insist on the fact that not only is Jesus tru­ly the Christ and the Son of God, but that He has tru­ly lived and died and risen from the dead in the flesh, as a true human being.

By this you know the Spir­it of God: every spir­it which con­fess­es that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spir­it which does not con­fess Jesus is not of God (1 Jn 4:2).

For many deceivers have gone into the world, men who will not acknowl­edge the com­ing of Jesus Christ in the flesh… (2 Jn 7).

In the ear­ly years of the Chris­t­ian faith, the defend­ers of the faith—the apol­o­gists and martyrs—had as their cen­tral wit­ness and task the defense of the doc­trine that Jesus, being the Son of God in human flesh, has lived on earth, has died, has been raised by the Father, and has been glo­ri­fied as the only King and Lord and God of the world.


The Ecumenical Councils

In the third and fourth cen­turies attempts were made to teach that although Jesus is tru­ly the incar­nate Son and Word of God, that the Son and Word Him­self is not ful­ly and total­ly divine, but a creature—even the most exalt­ed creature—but a crea­ture made by God like every­thing else that was made. This was the teach­ing of the Ari­ans. Against this teach­ing, the fathers, such as Athana­sius of Alexan­dria, Basil the Great, his broth­er, Gre­go­ry of Nys­sa, and Gre­go­ry the The­olo­gian of Nazianzus defend­ed the def­i­n­i­tion of faith of the first and sec­ond ecu­meni­cal coun­cils which held that the Son and Word of God—incarnate in human form as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah—Christ of Israel—is not a crea­ture, but is tru­ly divine with the same divin­i­ty as God the Father and the Holy Spir­it. This was the defense of the doc­trine of the Holy Trin­i­ty which pre­served for the Church of all ages the faith that Jesus is indeed the divine Son of God, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spir­it, one of the Holy Trinity.

At the same time, in the fourth cen­tu­ry, it was also nec­es­sary for the Church to reject the teach­ing of a cer­tain Appoli­nar­ius, who claimed that although Jesus was indeed the incar­nate Son and Word of God, the incar­na­tion con­sist­ed in the Word mere­ly tak­ing a human body and not the full­ness of human nature. This was the doc­trine that Jesus had no real human soul, no human mind, no human spir­it, but that the divine Son of God, who exists eter­nal­ly with the Father and the Spir­it, mere­ly dwelt in a human body, in human flesh, as in a tem­ple. It is for this rea­son that every offi­cial doc­tri­nal state­ment in the Ortho­dox Church, includ­ing all of the state­ments of the ecu­meni­cal coun­cils, always insists that the Son of God became man of the Vir­gin Mary with a ratio­nal soul and body; in oth­er words, that the Son of God real­ly became human in the full mean­ing of the word and that Jesus Christ was and is a real human being, hav­ing and being every­thing that every human being has and is. This is noth­ing oth­er than the teach­ing of the Gospels and the New Tes­ta­ment scrip­tures generally.

Since there­fore the chil­dren share in flesh and blood, He Him­self like­wise par­took of the same nature… (being) made like His brethren in every respect… (Heb 2:14–17)


The Nestorian Controversy

In the fifth cen­tu­ry a long and dif­fi­cult con­tro­ver­sy devel­oped over the true under­stand­ing of the per­son and nature of Jesus Christ. The third ecu­meni­cal coun­cil in Eph­esus in 431, fol­low­ing the teach­ing of St. Cyril of Alexan­dria, was most con­cerned to defend the fact that the One who was born of the Vir­gin Mary was no one oth­er than the divine Son of God in human flesh. It was nec­es­sary to defend this fact most explic­it­ly because some in the Church, fol­low­ing Nesto­rius, the bish­op of Con­stan­tino­ple, were teach­ing that the Vir­gin Mary should not be called Theotokos—a term already used in the Church’s theology—because it was claimed that the Vir­gin gave birth to the man Jesus whom the Son of God had become in the incar­na­tion, and not to the Son Him­self. In this view it was held that there is a divi­sion between the Son of God born in eter­ni­ty from God the Father and the Son of Man born from the Vir­gin in Beth­le­hem; and that although there is cer­tain­ly a real “con­nec­tion” between them, Mary mere­ly gave birth to the man. As such, it was held, Mary could be called Theotokos only by some sort of sym­bol­ic and over­ly-pious stretch­ing of the word, but that it is rather dog­mat­i­cal­ly accu­rate to call her Chris­to­tokos (the one who gave birth to the Mes­si­ah) or Anthro­po­tokos (the one who gave birth to the Man that the Son of God has become in the incarnation).

St. Cyril of Alexan­dria and the fathers of the coun­cil in Eph­esus reject­ed the Nesto­ri­an doc­trine and claimed that the term Theotokos for the Vir­gin Mary is com­plete­ly and total­ly accu­rate and must be retained if the Chris­t­ian faith is to be prop­er­ly con­fessed and the Chris­t­ian life prop­er­ly lived. The term must be defend­ed because there can be no divi­sion of any sort between the eter­nal Son and Word of God, begot­ten of the Father before all ages, and Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary. Mary’s child is the eter­nal and divine Son of God. He—and no one else—was born of her as a child. He—and no one else—was incar­nate in human flesh from her. He—and no one else—became man in the manger in Beth­le­hem. There can be no “con­nec­tion” or “con­junc­tion” between God’s Son and Mary’s Son because they are in fact one and the same per­son. God’s Son was born of Mary. God’s Son is divine; He is God. There­fore, Mary gave birth to God in the flesh, to God as a man. There­fore, Mary is tru­ly Theotokos. The bat­tle cry of St. Cyril and the Coun­cil in Eph­esus was just this: The Son of God and the Son of Man—one Son!


This teach­ing about Jesus Christ, the incar­nate Son of God, was fur­ther elab­o­rat­ed and explained by the def­i­n­i­tion of the fourth ecu­meni­cal coun­cil in Chal­cedon in 451. This was nec­es­sary because there was a ten­den­cy to stress the divine nature of Christ to such an extent that His true human nature was under­played to the point almost of being reject­ed. At the fourth coun­cil the well-known for­mu­la­tion was made which says that Jesus Christ, the incar­nate Son and Word of God is one per­son (or hyposta­sis) hav­ing two full and com­plete natures: human and divine. Inspired par­tic­u­lar­ly by the let­ter of Saint Leo, the Pope of Rome, the fourth coun­cil insist­ed that Jesus is exact­ly what God the Father is in rela­tion to His divin­i­ty. This was a direct ref­er­ence to the Nicene Creed which claims that the Son of God is “of one essence with the Father,” which sim­ply means that what God the Father is, the Son is also: Light from Light, True God from True God. And the coun­cil insist­ed as well that in the incar­na­tion the Son of God became exact­ly what all human beings are, con­fess­ing that Jesus Christ is also “of one essence” with all human beings in respect to His human­i­ty. This doc­trine was and is defend­ed as teach­ing noth­ing oth­er than the apos­tolic faith as record­ed in the Gospels and the New Tes­ta­ment writ­ings, for exam­ple, those of the Apos­tle Paul:

… though He was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equal­i­ty with God a thing to be clung to, but emp­tied Him­self, tak­ing on the form of a ser­vant, being found in the like­ness of men. And being found in human form He hum­bled Him­self and became obe­di­ent unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6–8; See also Heb 1–2, Jn 1).

The crit­i­cal words in the def­i­n­i­tion of faith of the Coun­cil of Chal­cedon are the following:

Fol­low­ing the holy fathers we teach with one voice that the Son of God and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be con­fessed as one and the same [Per­son], and He is per­fect in Divin­i­ty and per­fect in Human­i­ty, true God and true Man, of a ratio­nal soul and [human] body con­sist­ing, of one essence with the Father as touch­ing His Divin­i­ty and of one essence with us as touch­ing His Human­i­ty; made in all things like unto us, with the excep­tion of sin only; begot­ten of His Father before all ages accord­ing to His Divin­i­ty: but in these last days, for us men and for our sal­va­tion, born [into the world] of the Vir­gin Mary, Theotokos, accord­ing to His Human­i­ty. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begot­ten Son [of God] must be con­fessed to be in two natures, with­out mix­ture and with­out change, with­out sep­a­ra­tion and with­out divi­sion [i.e., with­out fus­ing togeth­er Divin­i­ty and Human­i­ty so that the prop­er char­ac­ter­is­tics of each are changed or lost; and also with­out sep­a­rat­ing them in such a way that there might be con­sid­ered to be two Sons and not One Son only] and that with­out the dis­tinc­tion of natures being removed by such union, but rather that the pecu­liar prop­er­ty of each nature being pre­served and being unit­ed in one Per­son and Hyposta­sis, not sep­a­rat­ed or divid­ed into two per­sons, but one and the same Son and only begot­ten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old have spo­ken con­cern­ing Him [e.g., the Immanuel of Isa 7:14], and as Jesus Christ has taught us, and as the Creed of the fathers has deliv­ered to us.

A num­ber of Chris­tians did not accept the Coun­cil of Chal­cedon and broke com­mu­nion with those who did accept it. They did so because they thought that the coun­cil had in fact res­ur­rect­ed the wrong doc­trine of Nesto­rius by insist­ing on the “two natures” after the incar­na­tion, how­ev­er strong­ly and firm­ly the “union” of the two natures was insist­ed upon. These Chris­tians were called the mono­physites (from the term mean­ing “one nature” after the incar­na­tion), and they con­tin­ue until today in sep­a­ra­tion from the Chal­cedon­ian Ortho­dox in the Cop­tic, Ethiopi­an and Armen­ian church­es. Hope­ful­ly, one day, by God’s grace, this dis­pute will be resolved and those who adhere to Chal­cedon the East­ern Ortho­dox Chris­tians, as well as the tra­di­tion­al Roman Catholics and Protestants—will come to a uni­ty of faith with those who reject Chal­cedon in regard to its expli­ca­tion of the union of the divine and the human in the one per­son of Christ our Lord. What­ev­er the future may hold by God’s grace, how­ev­er, it is still the firm teach­ing of the Ortho­dox Church that the Coun­cil of Chal­cedon is in strict adher­ence with the anti-Nesto­ri­an doc­trines of Saint Cyril and the third ecu­meni­cal coun­cil in Eph­esus. The virtue of the fourth coun­cil, in the Ortho­dox view, is that it defines very clear­ly the fact that when the Son of God was born as a man from the Vir­gin Mary, Theotokos, He did not cease to be God or change in His Divin­i­ty, while becom­ing a com­plete and per­fect man in His incar­nate Human­i­ty. For sal­va­tion itself requires the per­fect union of Divin­i­ty and Human­i­ty in the one Per­son of Jesus Christ; 21 union where God is God and Man is Man, and yet where the two become one in per­fect uni­ty: with­out fusion or change, and with­out divi­sion or separation.


Emperor Justinian and the 5th Ecumenical Council

In the sixth cen­tu­ry, the Byzan­tine Emper­or Jus­tin­ian want­ed to reaf­firm the fact that the fol­low­ers of the coun­cil of Chal­cedon real­ly believed that Jesus Christ is the incar­nate Son and Word of God, one of the Holy Trin­i­ty. He want­ed to do this pri­mar­i­ly to con­vince those who did not accept the fourth coun­cil that its def­i­n­i­tion did not rein­tro­duce the error of Nesto­rius. To do this, the Emper­or called the coun­cil now known as the fifth ecu­meni­cal coun­cil in Con­stan­tino­ple in 553 which fur­ther served to clar­i­fy the Ortho­dox posi­tion in regard to the per­son and action of Christ. The fol­low­ing are some of the key texts of this council:

If any­one under­stands the expres­sion “one Per­son only of our Lord Jesus Christ“ in this sense, that it is the union of many hypostases (or per­sons), and if he thus attempts to intro­duce into the mys­tery of Christ two hypostases or two per­sons, and after hav­ing intro­duced two per­sons speaks of one Per­son only in the sense of dig­ni­ty, hon­or or wor­ship … (and) shall calum­ni­ate the holy coun­cil of Chal­cedon, pre­tend­ing that it used this expres­sion (one hyposta­sis and per­son) in this impi­ous sense … let him be anathema.

If any­one shall not call in a true accep­ta­tion … the holy, glo­ri­ous and ever-vir­gin Mary, the Theotokos … believ­ing that she bare only a sim­ple man and that God the Word was not incar­nate of her … (and) shall calum­ni­ate the holy syn­od of Chal­cedon as though it has assert­ed the Vir­gin to be Theotokos accord­ing to the impi­ous sense … let him be anathema.

If any­one using the expres­sion “in two natures” does not con­fess that our one Lord Jesus Christ has been revealed in the divin­i­ty and in the human­i­ty, so as to des­ig­nate by that expres­sion a dif­fer­ence of the natures of which an inef­fa­ble union is made with­out con­fu­sion, in which nei­ther the nature of the Word was changed into that of the flesh, nor that of the flesh into that of the Word, for each remained what it was by nature, the union being hypo­sta­t­ic (i.e., in the one Per­son); but shall take the expres­sion to divide the par­ties … let him be anathema.

If any­one does not con­fess that our Lord Jesus Christ who was cru­ci­fied in the flesh is true Gad and the Lord of Glo­ry and one of the Holy Trin­i­ty, let him be anathema.

To fur­ther empha­size the point that the Chal­cedon­ian Coun­cil was tru­ly ortho­dox, the Emper­or Jus­tin­ian wrote a doc­tri­nal hymn which is still sung in the Ortho­dox Church at every divine litur­gy. It con­fess­es the Lord Jesus Christ as per­fect God and per­fect man.

Only-begot­ten Son and Word of God,

Who for our sal­va­tion willed to be incar­nate of

the holy Theotokos and ever-vir­gin Mary,

Who with­out change became man and was crucified,

Who is one of the Holy Trin­i­ty, glo­ri­fied with

the Father and the Holy Spirit,

O Christ our God, tram­pling down death by

death,

Save us!


The Monothelite Controversy

In the sev­enth cen­tu­ry the ques­tion ofhow to under­stand, define and con­fess the per­son and action of Jesus Christ con­tin­ued to cause divi­sions among the believ­ers. Some now said that after the Son of God became man, He had just one activ­i­ty and will—the the­an­dric activ­i­ty and will of the Word-made—flesh. These peo­ple, called monothe­lites, insist­ed that the One Per­son of Christ, in unit­ing the natures of God and Man in His One Per­son, fused togeth­er the human and divine will and activ­i­ty in such a way that they no longer could be distinguished.

The sixth ecu­meni­cal coun­cil met in Con­stan­tino­ple in 680–681. Fol­low­ing the teach­ings of St. Max­imus the Con­fes­sor who was impris­oned and tor­tured for his doc­trines, it decreed that just as Christ is real­ly ful­ly divine and ful­ly human, the per­fect union of Divin­i­ty and Human­i­ty in one Per­son, so also He must have both a real human activ­i­ty and will and a real divine activ­i­ty and will accord­ing to each of His natures and that these two wills and activ­i­ties, like the natures them­selves, should not be under­stood to be fused or min­gled togeth­er into one so as to lose their prop­er nat­ur­al char­ac­ter­is­tics and prop­er­ties. This deci­sion was based on the fact that since the Son of God remained ful­ly divine in the incar­na­tion, He must con­tin­ue to have His prop­er divine activ­i­ty and will; and that since He became ful­ly human in the incar­na­tion He must also have a com­plete and per­fect human activ­i­ty and will; and that the sal­va­tion of mankind requires that the dis­tinc­tion but not the divi­sion or sep­a­ra­tion of each of these respec­tive activ­i­ties and wills remain in the incar­nate Sav­iour. The fol­low­ing is part of the def­i­n­i­tion of faith of the sixth council:

… in Him are two nat­ur­al wills and two nat­ur­al oper­a­tions with­out divi­sion, with­out fusion, with­out change and with­out sep­a­ra­tion accord­ing to the teach­ing of the holy fathers. And these two nat­ur­al wills are not con­trary to one anoth­er (God for­bid!) … but His human will fol­lows, and not as resist­ing and reluc­tant, but rather as sub­ject to His divine and omnipo­tent will … [ … ] For as His most holy and immac­u­late ani­mat­ed flesh was not destroyed because it was dei­fied but con­tin­ued in its own state and nature, so also His human will, although dei­fied, was not sup­pressed, but was rather pre­served … We glo­ri­fy two nat­ur­al oper­a­tions … in the same Lord Jesus Christ our true God, that is to say a divine oper­a­tion [or action] and a human oper­a­tion [or action] … For we will not admit one nat­ur­al oper­a­tion in God and in the crea­ture. [ … ] … believ­ing our Lord Jesus Christ to be one of the Trin­i­ty, and after the incar­na­tion our true God we say that His two natures shone forth in His one hyposta­sis [or per­son] in which He both per­formed the mir­a­cles and endured the suf­fer­ings … [ … ] Where­fore we con­fess two wills and two oper­a­tions con­cur­ring most fit­ly in Him for the sal­va­tion of the human race.


lconoclastic Controversy

In the eighth and ninth cen­turies the ques­tion of the per­son and nature of Christ con­tin­ued in the con­tro­ver­sy over the ven­er­a­tion of the holy icons in the Church. At this time many were found, includ­ing emper­ors and sec­u­lar rulers, who claimed that the ven­er­a­tion of icons is wrong because it is the sin of idol­a­try. They claimed that as God is invis­i­ble and has com­mand­ed in the Old Tes­ta­ment law that men are not to make “graven images,” so it is wrong to depict and to hon­or images of Christ and the saints.

The defend­ers of the ven­er­a­tion of the holy icons, led by Saints John Dzi­ma­scene and Theodore Stu­dion, claimed that the cen­tral point of the Chris­t­ian faith is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and that “we have beheld His glo­ry.” (John 1:14) Refer­ring to the holy scrip­tures they insist­ed that belief in the incar­na­tion of the Son of God calls for the ven­er­a­tion of icons since Jesus Christ is a real man with a real human soul and body, and as such can be depict­ed. They said that those who were against the holy icons reduced the incar­na­tion to a “fan­ta­sy” and denied the true human­i­ty of the Son of God in His com­ing to man. Thus they made ref­er­ence to the words of Jesus Him­self in His dia­logue with Philip:

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long. and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?”’ (John 14:8–9)

The defend­ers of the pro­pri­ety of icon ven­er­a­tion also referred to the apos­tolic writ­ings of Saint John and Saint Paul:

That which was from the begin­ning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands con­cern­ing the Word of Life the Life was made man­i­fest, and we saw it … (1 John 1:1–2)

… the god of this world has blind­ed the minds of the unbe­liev­ers to keep them from see­ing the light of the gospel of the glo­ry of Christ, who is the like­ness [in Greek: eikonl of God. (2 Corinthi­ans 4:4)

He is the image [in Greek: eik0n] of the invis­i­ble God, the first born of all cre­ation; for in Him all things were cre­at­ed, in heav­en and on earth … all things were cre­at­ed through Him and for Him … for in Him all the full­ness of God was pleased to dwell … (Colos­sians 1:15–20)

In many and var­i­ous ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spo­ken to us by a Son, whom He appoint­ed the heir of all things, through whom also He cre­at­ed the world. He is the reflec­tion of the glo­ry of God and the express image of His per­son, uphold­ing the uni­verse by the word of His pow­er … (Hebrews 1:1–3)

The sev­enth ecu­meni­cal coun­cil in Nicea in 787 offi­cial­ly declared that the Chris­t­ian faith is to be pro­claimed “in words and images.” And while mak­ing clear the teach­ing that holy icons may be made; that they are not to be wor­shipped — for only God Him­self is wor­thy of wor­ship — but are to be ven­er­at­ed and hon­ored; the sev­enth coun­cil also made the fol­low­ing state­ment about Christ in ref­er­ence to the ven­er­a­tion of icons:

… we keep unchanged all the eccle­si­as­ti­cal tra­di­tions hand­ed down to us, whether in writ­ing or ver­bal­ly, one of which is the mak­ing of pic­to­r­i­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions, agree­able to the his­to­ry of the preach­ing of the Gospel, a tra­di­tion use­ful in many respects, but espe­cial­ly in this, that so the incar­na­tion of the Word of God is shone forth in real and not mere­ly in phan­ta­sy, for these have mutu­al indi­ca­tions and with­out doubt have also mutu­al significations.

In lat­er times the doc­trines of the real divin­i­ty and real human­i­ty of Jesus Christ was wit­nessed and defend­ed by such saints as Sime­on the New The­olo­gian (d. 1022) and Gre­go­ry Pala­mas, the Arch­bish­op of Thes­sa­loni­ka (d. 1359) in their teach­ings about the real sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion and deifi­ca­tion of man through liv­ing com­mu­nion with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spir­it in the Church. In and through Christ, the Word incar­nate, human per­sons can be filled with the Spir­it of God and can be in gen­uine com­mu­nion with God the Father, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the uncre­at­ed being, life and light of the Most Blessed Trin­i­ty. If Jesus Christ were not true God and true Man, this would be impos­si­ble. But it is not impos­si­ble. It is man’s expe­ri­ence of sal­va­tion and redemp­tion in the life of the Church of Christ.