Every so often it seems that a bunch of “events” – in this case news events, blog articles, and podcasts – all occur at about the same time and all have to do with the exact same thing. The piece that actually pulled it altogether was this one, in which the writer states, “Orthodox Christianity has much to give secularized America especially to the young who, as I said at the outset, are searching for authenticity and communion. What are they waiting for? In a word – anthropology.”
A couple of weeks ago, I had listened to a wonderful radio show on the Orthodox view of Scripture, featuring Prevytera Jeannie Constantinou, which then led me to start listening to her podcast called Searching the Scriptures. As she was progressing through Genesis, she spent a couple of episodes on what she feels (and I think rightfully so) may be the most important verse in scripture, regarding man being made in the image and likeness of God. Her sources were St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Basil. Although it was not practical to discuss all of the ways in which man is made in the image of God, she hit on some key aspects. In the interest of blogging only highlights, I’ll address even fewer. There were two aspects that are key to my discussion. The first is the concept that man is made in the image of God because he has been made ruler over creation – that is, he has dominion over it. St. Gregory of Nyssa declared that man is therefore royal (or royalty to use my term, and I’ll get back to this in a bit). This dominion, however, does not give man the right to do whatever he wishes with creation, in the interest of satisfying his passions. In fact, being in dominion over nature leads to other conclusions, one of which is that man must therefore be above nature. The Fathers added to the list the fact that man, unlike animals, does not need to operate on instinct. He does not have to do what his passions tell him. He has the free will to act in a morally correct manner. He is a moral agent. These are two key elements of Orthodox anthropology. Man is royalty, and he does not need to be a slave to his base instincts. He has the ability to act in a morally correct way. When he does so, he is then growing in the likeness of God (I’d recommend listening to the whole podcast to really explore this).
I was then listening to the next Ancient Faith Today episode, which was addressing the subject of human exceptionalism. I won’t go into this in much detail, but one of the key elements to this show was pointing out that they too addressed the idea that man is a moral agent, and does not need to behave according to his passions. Again, the core principle in play is an anthropological one. This key, then unlocks the door to a lot of questions about how we should act in certain situations and how we should treat our fellow man (a host of other issues are addressed with this key as well).
Shortly after reading Fr. Jacobse’s piece, someone had posted a piece regarding the rape case in Steubenville. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that, although I was peripherally aware of some issue regarding a football player raping a girl, I was largely unaware of the specifics. As it turns out, at least two, perhaps more, football players got a girl roaring drunk, raped her, and posted pictures of her on Facebook, then went on to brag about it in videos (or some such, I have to admit I’m still not up to speed completely on this, nor do I want to be). Now, we can ask all of the usual questions about where the parents were, why did the girl allow herself to get drunk, and the like, but we’d be avoiding the more fundamental question about what has gone wrong in our society, and what can we, as Orthodox Christians, do about it? Fr. Jacobse holds the key. We can provide the anthropology that this society so clearly needs. If the football players understood this girl to be royalty, would they have thought it appropriate to treat her as a mere object for their gratification? If they understood that they are moral agents, capable of not responding to their baser instincts, and that they even have a responsibility to act morally, would this event not have happened at all? If the girl in question understood herself to be royalty, to hold a special place in the created order, that she, too, could operate above her passions (the one that drove her to over-imbibe), would she simply not have even been in that place?
The remaining question is, how can we present this anthropology to this society? We can certainly write about it, speak about it, do things of that sort. However, I think the most important thing we can do, which is what the early Christians did, is to live it. You can tell from the writings of non-Christians from the days of the early Church, that they understood Christians to have a very different world view. The knew that from observing their behavior. As I related in an earlier post, the best way for us to present the Gospel is to actually live it. I’ll leave it to the reader to ponder what sorts of changes in their behavior would be necessary to better present Orthodox anthropology. I know I have my list.