Τετάρτη 30 Μαρτίου 2022


Neo K Neofitos 

They hacked a hole in the roof and as the crowd stood there with their mouths open, Jesus healed the man. As the man walked out, they all said, “We have never seen anything like this". We have never seen a Saviour who wants to reach out beyond his inner circle in order to save. We have never seen a Lord who takes delight in others wrecking a roof in order that people might get in to see him. We have never seen someone so determined to reach out beyond his friends and supporters in order to touch those who are lost. We have never seen a teacher who demands that his best students make way to let those with greater needs get to him. We have never seen someone with so much love for those who clearly don’t fit in. “We never saw anything like this!” (v. 12). 

Jesus has this amazing love for one and all for; those who are close to him, those who are seeking him and not quite sure how to go about it, and those who don’t know that they need Jesus. God grant that when people come to our churches, our homes our place of work and see the love of Jesus, may walk away feeling as if they had been coming here for years, that they too may say, “We never saw anything like this!”

Blessed Sunday!

In the Orthodox Vineyard of Africa


Κυριακή 20 Μαρτίου 2022

“To the heights! To the heights!”, Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica (2nd Sunday of Great Lent)


Orthodox Church in America

See also:

This Sunday was originally dedicated to Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23). After his glorification in 1368, a second commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas (November 14) was appointed for the Second Sunday of Great Lent as a second “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, was born in the year 1296 in Constantinople. Saint Gregory’s father became a prominent dignitiary at the court of Andronicus II Paleologos (1282-1328), but he soon died, and Andronicus himself took part in the raising and education of the fatherless boy. Endowed with fine abilities and great diligence, Gregory mastered all the subjects which then comprised the full course of medieval higher education. The emperor hoped that the youth would devote himself to government work. But Gregory, barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316 (other sources say 1318) and became a novice in the Vatopedi monastery under the guidance of the monastic Elder Saint Νikόdēmos of Vatopedi (July 11). There he was tonsured and began on the path of asceticism. A year later, the holy Evangelist John the Theologian appeared to him in a vision and promised him his spiritual protection. Gregory’s mother and sisters also became monastics.

After the demise of the Elder Νikόdēmos, Saint Gregory spent eight years of spiritual struggle under the guidance of the Elder Nikēphóros, and after the latter’s death, Gregory transferred to the Lavra of Saint Athanasius (July 5). Here he served in the trapeza, and then became a church singer. But after three years, he resettled in the small skete of Glossia, striving for a greater degree of spiritual perfection. The head of this monastery began to teach the young man the method of unceasing prayer and mental activity, which had been cultivated by monastics, beginning with the great desert ascetics of the fourth century: Evagrius Pontikos and Saint Macarius of Egypt (January 19).

Later on, in the eleventh century Saint Simeon the New Theologian (March 12) provided detailed instruction in mental activity for those praying in an outward manner, and the ascetics of Athos put it into practice. The experienced use of mental prayer (or prayer of the heart), requiring solitude and quiet, is called “Hesychasm” (from the Greek “hesychia” meaning calm, silence), and those practicing it were called “hesychasts.”

During his stay at Glossia the future hierarch Gregory became fully embued with the spirit of hesychasm and adopted it as an essential part of his life. In the year 1326, because of the threat of Turkish invasions, he and the brethren retreated to Thessalonica, where he was then ordained to the holy priesthood.


Saint Gregory combined his priestly duties with the life of a hermit. Five days of the week he spent in silence and prayer, and only on Saturday and Sunday did he come out to his people. He celebrated divine services and preached sermons. For those present in church, his teaching often evoked both tenderness and tears. Sometimes he visited theological gatherings of the city’s educated youth, headed by the future patriarch, Isidore. After he returned from a visit to Constantinople, he found a place suitable for solitary life near Thessalonica the region of Bereia. Soon he gathered here a small community of solitary monks and guided it for five years.

In 1331 the saint withdrew to Mt. Athos and lived in solitude at the skete of Saint Savva, near the Lavra of Saint Athanasius. In 1333 he was appointed Igumen of the Esphigmenou monastery in the northern part of the Holy Mountain. In 1336 the saint returned to the skete of Saint Savva, where he devoted himself to theological works, continuing with this until the end of his life.

In the 1330s events took place in the life of the Eastern Church which put Saint Gregory among the most significant universal apologists of Orthodoxy, and brought him great renown as a teacher of hesychasm.

About the year 1330 the learned monk Barlaam had arrived in Constantinople from Calabria, in Italy. He was the author of treatises on logic and astronomy, a skilled and sharp-witted orator, and he received a university chair in the capital city and began to expound on the works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), whose “apophatic” (“negative”, in contrast to “kataphatic” or “positive”) theology was acclaimed in equal measure in both the Eastern and the Western Churches. Soon Barlaam journeyed to Mt. Athos, where he became acquainted with the spiritual life of the hesychasts. Saying that it was impossible to know the essence of God, he declared mental prayer a heretical error. Journeying from Mount Athos to Thessalonica, and from there to Constantinople, and later again to Thessalonica, Barlaam entered into disputes with the monks and attempted to demonstrate the created, material nature of the light of Tabor (i.e. at the Transfiguration). He ridiculed the teachings of the monks about the methods of prayer and about the uncreated light seen by the hesychasts.

Saint Gregory, at the request of the Athonite monks, replied with verbal admonitions at first. But seeing the futility of such efforts, he put his theological arguments in writing. Thus appeared the “Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts” (1338). Towards the year 1340 the Athonite ascetics, with the assistance of the saint, compiled a general response to the attacks of Barlaam, the so-called “Hagiorite Tome.” At the Constantinople Council of 1341 in the church of Hagia Sophia Saint Gregory Palamas debated with Barlaam, focusing upon the nature of the light of Mount Tabor. On May 27, 1341 the Council accepted the position of Saint Gregory Palamas, that God, unapproachable in His Essence, reveals Himself through His energies, which are directed towards the world and are able to be perceived, like the light of Tabor, but which are neither material nor created. The teachings of Barlaam were condemned as heresy, and he himself was anathemized and fled to Calabria.

But the dispute between the Palamites and the Barlaamites was far from over. To these latter belonged Barlaam’s disciple, the Bulgarian monk Akyndinos, and also Patriarch John XIV Kalekos (1341-1347); the emperor Andronicus III Paleologos (1328-1341) was also inclined toward their opinion. Akyndinos, whose name means “one who inflicts no harm,” actually caused great harm by his heretical teaching. Akyndinos wrote a series of tracts in which he declared Saint Gregory and the Athonite monks guilty of causing church disorders. The saint, in turn, wrote a detailed refutation of Akyndinos’ errors. The patriarch supported Akyndinos and called Saint Gregory the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church (1344) and had him locked up in prison for four years. In 1347, when John the XIV was replaced on the patriarchal throne by Isidore (1347-1349), Saint Gregory Palamas was set free and was made Archbishop of Thessalonica.

In 1351 the Council of Blachernae solemnly upheld the Orthodoxy of his teachings. But the people of Thessalonica did not immediately accept Saint Gregory, and he was compelled to live in various places. On one of his travels to Constantinople the Byzantine ship fell into the hands of the Turks. Even in captivity, Saint Gregory preached to Christian prisoners and even to his Moslem captors. The Hagarenes were astonished by the wisdom of his words. Some of the Moslems were unable to endure this, so they beat him and would have killed him if they had not expected to obtain a large ransom for him. A year later, Saint Gregory was ransomed and returned to Thessalonica.

Saint Gregory performed many miracles in the three years before his death, healing those afflicted with illness. On the eve of his repose, Saint John Chrysostom appeared to him in a vision. With the words “To the heights! To the heights!” Saint Gregory Palamas fell asleep in the Lord on November 14, 1359. In 1368 he was canonized at a Constantinople Council under Patriarch Philotheus (1354-1355, 1364-1376), who compiled the Life and Services to the saint. 

Troparion — Tone 8

O luminary of Orthodoxy, support and teacher of the Church, / ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians, / O wonderworker Gregory, boast of Thessalonika and herald of grace, / always intercede for all of us that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion — Tone 4

Now is the time for action! / Judgment is at the doors! / So let us rise and fast, / offering alms with tears of compunction and crying: / “Our sins are more numerous than the sands of the sea; / but forgive us, O Master of All, / so that we may receive the incorruptible crowns.”

Kontakion — Tone 8

(Podoben: “O Victorious Leader...”)
Holy and divine instrument of wisdom, / radiant and harmonious trumpet of theology, / we praise you in song, O divinely-speaking Gregory. / As a mind standing before the Primal Mind, guide our minds to Him, Father, / so that we may cry aloud to you: “Rejoice, herald of grace.”


Σάββατο 19 Μαρτίου 2022

A Decolonial Approach to Domestic Violence in Ethiopia

Adapting Gender and Development to Local Religious Contexts - A Decolonial Approach to Domestic Violence in Ethiopia

ISBN 9780367366087
Published October 2, 2020 by Routledge
280 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations

GBP £120.00

Prices & shipping based on shipping country

Book Description

This book provides a critical and decolonial analysis of gender and development theory and practice in religious societies through the presentation of a detailed ethnographic study of conjugal violence in Ethiopia.

Responding to recent consensus that gender mainstreaming approaches have failed to produce their intended structural changes, Romina Istratii explains that gender and development analytical and theoretical frameworks are often constructed through western Euro-centric lenses ill-equipped to understand gender-related realities and human behaviour in non-western religious contexts and knowledge systems. Instead, Istratii argues for an approach to gender-sensitive research and practice which is embedded in insiders’ conceptual understandings as a basis to theorise about gender, assess the possible gendered underpinnings of local issues and design appropriate alleviation strategies. Drawing on a detailed study of conjugal abuse realities and attitudes in two villages and the city of Aksum in Northern Ethiopia, she demonstrates how religious knowledge can be engaged in the design and implementation of remedial interventions.

This book carefully evidences the importance of integrating religious traditions and spirituality in current discussions of sustainable development in Africa, and speaks to researchers and practitioners of gender, religion and development in Africa, scholars of non-western Christianities and Ethiopian studies, and domestic violence researchers and practitioners.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Metaphysics of Gender and Development

2. Linguistic and Cosmological Translation

3. Intimate Partner Violence, Gender and Faith in Ethiopia

4. The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahәdo Tradition and the Conjugal Relationship

5. Conjugal Abuse Conceptualisations and Attitudes

6. Marriage in the Local Normative Framework

7. Responses to Conjugal Abuse in the Local Institutional Framework

8. Faith, Culture and Social Norms

9. Faith, Marriage and Gendered Expressions

10. The Individual, Human Nature and Conjugal Abuse

Conclusion: Beyond Western Ways

Biography (photo from here)

Romina Istratii is currently Research Associate at the Department of Development Studies and the Centre of World Christianity, SOAS University of London, UK. She previously served as Senior Teaching Fellow in the School of History, Religions and Philosophies. She has been an active member of the Decolonising SOAS Working Group, initiating the Decolonising Research Initiative on behalf of the SOAS Research Directorate. She is co-founder of Decolonial Subversions. 

Founding Editor of ኦርቶዶክሳዊ ትምህርተ ዶግማ መድረክ 

Co-founder of Decolonial Subversions 

Principal Investigator of project "Bridging religious studies, gender & development and public health to address domestic violence: A novel approach for Ethiopia, Eritrea and the UK"


"Romina Istratii’s book is a refreshingly comprehensive exploration of the link between religious beliefs and practices and intimate partner violence. Her work is ambitious in scope, impressive in its breadth and depth, and an important contribution to any nuanced understanding of the impact of religion or abusive relationships in a local context. The myriad challenges she experiences in the execution of the research are thoughtfully discussed and her engagement with the relevant academic literature is noteworthy. As a result, her research will be useful to scholars in many fields." -- Nancy Nason-Clark, Professor Emerita, Department of Sociology, University of New Brunswick, Canada

"In this theoretically sophisticated and ethnographically grounded monograph – that focuses on Ethiopia - Romina Istratii questions ‘the idea of treating popular gender theories as globally relevant’ because they fail to view gender realities as ‘nuanced, complex and non-uniform’, as well as to consider how the ‘non-secular’ plays a role in shaping gender subjectivities and relations. This book is an important contribution to a growing field of studies that seeks to problematise the dominant secular Gender and Development paradigm, where it seeks to understand and transform gender relations, to eradicate social ills such as domestic violence, yet is underpinned by Euro-centric assumptions that are rarely addressed." -- Emma Tomalin, Professor in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, Leeds University, UK.

Κυριακή 13 Μαρτίου 2022

«The most important words: I forgive, I love, I give peace!», Theodoros, Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa (Great Lent 2022)

The Patriarch of Alexandria to the Ecclesiastical Community of the Saint Apostle Mark in Kinshasa

Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria & all Africa

On Sunday 9th March 2022, the Feast of the Holy 40 Martyrs, His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa went to the Ecclesiastical Community of the Saint Apostle Mark in Kinshasa, where in an devout and solemnity he served the Presanctified Divine Liturgy, in an area correctly transformed at the main door of the Church, so that all the faithful could participate.

In his homily, the Patriarch stressed that Lent is a wonderful spiritual journey of prayer, temperance and fasting, which leads us to the sheltered and peaceful harbor of Christ, to His Church, which is salvation. He also referred to the Holy Forty Martyrs whose memory was being celebrated, who did not shy away from the frozen lake because their hearts were warmed by the flame of Christ's love and who are an example of courage and confession for all of us Chritians who face various difficulties in our lives, to emulate. "My dear children, try to never extinguish this flame of love for Christ! "And you will achieve this in your life when you always say the most important words: I forgive, I love, I give peace!", concluded the Patriarch.

All Orthodox believers participated with great reverence in the Eucharist and partook of the Lord’s Body and Blood.

After the Service, he visited the adjacent schools of the Parish, where the students of the Elementary and High School, under the guidance of their teachers, presented a short programme of recitations and chants. He spoke to the children with paternal love, expressing his joy that he was with them and, addressing the new Metropolitan Theodosius of Kinshasa, he said that he entrusted these happy faces, the future of the Congo and Orthodoxy, to his spiritual fatherhood.

The next morning, Thursday, March 10, the Primate of Alexandria paid a visit to the Ecclesiastical Community of the Holy Archangels outside the capital, where after the enthusiastic reception, a Doxology was sung at the Holy Church of the same name.

Following the Doxology, he consecrated as Confessor the Parish Priest, Fr. Theodoros.

The faithful, the students of the schools of the Parish, welcomed their Spiritual Father, presenting a festive program of local dances and songs.

In the afternoon, he went to the Parish of St. Mark Kinshasa, where a Community Youth Meeting was held, during which young people had the opportunity to discuss their concerns with the Patriarch, and immediately afterwards the Patriarch had a meeting with "Ladies’ Spiritual Movement" of the Parish, where he spoke to them about the significance of motherhood and their important contribution to the spread of the Gospel of Christ and the Orthodox faith.

See also

Αλεξανδρείας: “Η μεγάλη τεσσαρακοστή είναι ένα υπέροχο πνευματικό ταξίδι προσευχής, εγκράτειας και νηστείας”

From the Orhtodox Church of Zambia, ON THE REMEMBRANCE OF ADAM’S EXILE FROM / Our Journey to Pascha (Easter) 2021!... 

Sunday of the Orthodoxy (first Sunday of Great Lent): “Come and See” 

The Lenten Triodion, starting point for Easter - warnings against pride and hypocrisy!...

Forgiveness, the beginning of the Great Lent in the Orthodox Church


Τρίτη 8 Μαρτίου 2022

Θεωρώντας τον εαυτό του «Επίσκοπο των Φτωχών», προτρέπει τους πάντες & ζητά την βοήθεια όλων για την Ορθόδοξη Ιεραποστολή...

 Φίλοι π. Θεμιστοκλή & Ορθοδ. Ιεραποστολής Sierra Leone 

Έχει διατελέσει εν Χριστώ Αδελφός, Μοναχός, Αρχιμανδρίτης και πρόσφατα Επίσκοπος.
Έχει αφιερώσει τα τελευταία 40 χρόνια της ζωής του, ζητιανεύοντας εκ μέρους των φτωχών, των ασθενούντων, των αναπήρων και περιθωριοποιημένων….
Και μετά από όλα αυτά τα χρόνια αγώνα, συνεχίζει με το ίδιο σθένος σήμερα, να αναζητεί χρηματοδότες, ζητιανεύοντας για λίγα κέρματα κάθε μήνα και έστω κι αν αδιαφορεί το 99%, αυτός δεν απογοητεύεται....
Θεωρώντας τον εαυτό του ως «Επίσκοπο των Φτωχών», προτρέπει τους πάντες και ζητά την βοήθεια όλων για την Ορθόδοξη Ιεραποστολή αλλά και κάθε Ιεραποστολή που διακηρύττει Χριστόν Εσταυρωμένον και διδάσκει το Ευαγγέλιό Του και υπηρετεί τους φτωχούς, τις χήρες και τα ορφανά και όλους τους απροστάτευτους.
Κάνετε μια δωρεά ακολουθώντας τον παρακάτω σύνδεσμο:

Παρασκευή 4 Μαρτίου 2022

Formerly Muslims, now Christian Saints


This article is a sequel to a previous article 'Christian Miracles in Muslims' [in Greek here & here] and is a descriptive reference to the constant invitation by Jesus Christ to our well-intentioned and benevolent Muslims to approach and acquaint themselves with Him and hopefully become members of His universal and wondrous body - the Church.

The term 'Church' refers to the ancient, undivided Church of the first thousand years after Christ and Her historical continuation, the Orthodox Church. 

The saints listed below had been Muslims but were defied as Christian Saints through their willing martyrdom. Among them are an emir, two dervishes and two senior officers of the Turkish army.

During the period referred to as the Turkish Occupation [from around 1453, from the former Byzantine Empire (Romany) - and until 1912 in other surrounding territories], thousands of Christians had become Muslims, while there had also been a number of Muslims who had embraced Christianity.  It should be noted that Christians who had forsaken their Christian Faith and accepted Islam was because they were unable to live under the intolerable conditions of slavery.  However, Muslims who had accepted the Christian Faith had not only given up the absolute freedoms of a dominator and had even chosen to bear those intolerable conditions themselves; they too risked being arrested, convicted, tortured and put to death by the dominating forces - which is why almost all the saints presented here are also acknowledged as martyrs.

So, what was the big secret which had inspired them to make this bold decision?  Perhaps an overview of their lives, albeit a brief one, may help our Muslim friends to discover it.

You can see the article here: Formerly Muslim, now Christian Saints

You can see also: From Islam to Christianity: Saints in the Way to the Lihgt

The Penalties for Apostasy in Islam 

Quelques Saints ex-musulmans


Τρίτη 1 Μαρτίου 2022

Restoration of the Human Icon: Divine Compassion and Human Trafficking

Incommunion - Website for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship

His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos Ware originally delivered this essay as a talk in June 2015 at a conference on Divine Compassion and Human Trafficking hosted by St. Catherine’s Vision. St. Catherine’s Vision launched an initiative on trafficking that year. You may listen to the full lecture at https://youtu.be/_ku0QvdSOtU, or read more about the efforts of SCV on this topic on their website: http://www.saintcatherinesvision.org/

The phrase “Divine compassion” can be understood in two ways: vertically and horizontally. In the vertical sense, we think of the compassion of God coming down from heaven to us; in the
horizontal sense, we reflect on the way in which, empowered by God’s compassion, we are to show compassion towards one another. This article shall concentrate on the horizontal dimension, particularly through the theme of Divine compassion and the restoration of the human icon.

We begin with a passage from a 7th century writer, St. Isaac, the Syrian [icon]:

An elder was once asked, “What is a compassionate heart?” He replied, “It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation—for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for the demons, and for all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them, such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart. As a result of his deep mercy, his heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear about or look on any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation. This is why he constantly offers up prayer full of tears, even for the irrational animals and for the enemies of truth, even for those who harm him, so that they may be protected and obtain mercy. He even prays for the reptiles as a result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure after the likeness of God in his heart.

Notice how the compassion of which St. Isaac speaks is inclusive—all-embracing—and includes within its scope the whole of creation. First, it is a compassion for humanity in its entirety. Isaac is not selective; but he does not limit his vision only to human beings. Compassion extends to all of living creation; and, again, it is not selective. Yes, we are to love the attractive animals—the birds, the squirrels; but we are also to feel compassion for the less attractive animals—the reptiles, the scorpions, the mosquitoes. In the desert where St. Isaac was living, the reptiles were particularly offensive and venomous. “Even,” he says, “we are to feel compassion for the demons.” This is a rather surprising claim, and I would recommend, unless you are of the same spiritual stature as St. Isaac, that you not concern yourself too closely with the demonic world. It could be dangerous.

Notice also that St. Isaac says that the compassion that wells up within our thoughts is after the likeness of God. Human compassion is a direct reflection of what it is to be a person made in the image and likeness of God. Without compassion, I am not truly human; I am subhuman. Without compassion, I am not a man; but, to use a phrase employed by C.S. Lewis in his novel, Perelandra, I am an unman.

This raises the question: what is the connection between the human person in the icon of God and the quality of compassion? And to answer this, we need first to ask, “What do we mean by the image and likeness of God in this context?” Exploring this subject, at the outset, let us bear in mind we humans are a mystery to ourselves. Who am I? What am I? The answer is not at all obvious. The limits of human personhood are extremely wide-ranging: they reach out of space into infinity, out of time into eternity. As God is beyond our understanding, so also the human person in God’s image is beyond understanding. We Orthodox like to speak of apophatic theology, negative theology. But we need to counterbalance it by an apophatic anthropology.

Sometimes people ask me what is meant by these words, apophatic and the corresponding word, cataphatic. Well, apophatic is really just a rather grand word for negative; and cataphatic is a rather grand word for positive, or affirmative. I like to illustrate this from a little booklet I have at home called “Signs of the Times,” which was the result of a competition fostered some years ago by the Times newspaper of London. People were invited to send in photographs of enigmatic or paradoxical notices.
Two examples from that little book illustrate the meaning of apophatic and cataphatic. First, an apophatic notice from Australia: “This road does not lead either to Cairns or to Townville.” But it doesn’t say where it does lead. And here is a cataphatic notice: You have a railway line and there’s a box beside the railway line with a bell inside it. And the notice says, “If the bell is ringing, stop, look and listen; and do not cross the line. If the bell is not ringing, still stop, look, and listen, in case the bell is not working.” So there you have all possibilities allowed for you.

Now, you’ll notice from these examples that a negative statement may, in fact, convey a positive message. If you know the geography of the district, the statement that the road doesn’t lead to Cairns or Townsville may, in fact, give you some idea where it does lead. And that is exactly the nature of apophatic theology in our Orthodox tradition. Through our negations about God, we obtain a certain insight, a vision, of who God is beyond words, beyond language, beyond our imagination. Now, this mysterious apophatic quality of human personhood extends more particularly to our understanding of what is meant by “image and likeness.” One of the fathers, St. Epiphanius of Salamis, in the early 5th century wrote, “It cannot be denied that all humans are in the image of God, but we do not inquire too curiously how they are in the image.” And elsewhere he says tradition holds that every human is in the image of God, but it does not define precisely in what this image is to be located.

There is a story told about the great Victorian, Thomas Carlyle, who, on returning from church one Sunday morning, said to his mother, “I cannot think why they preach such long sermons! If I were a minister, I would go up into the pulpit and say no more than this: “Good people, you know what you should do; now, go and do it!” “Aye, Thomas,” said his mother, “And would you tell them how?” Exactly. Epiphanius would not have satisfied Carlyle’s mother because Epiphanius does not tell us how we are in God’s image. Can you and I do better?

I want to explore two senses of being in the image of God. It may mean, first, in the image of Christ. Secondly, it may mean in the image of the Trinity. Let’s look at those two senses. Yes, first, the image of God may mean Christ, the Son of God, the Logos, the Reason of God. As Christ is Logos, so we humans in God’s image are logikoi, endowed with reason, self-awareness, the power of organized thinking and of coherent speech. We reflect, we make decisions, we have a conscience, a sense of right and wrong; all of this is included in the Divine image.

I would like to note four particular implications of all this. First, the image of God denotes kingship. It says in the Genesis story of creation, Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” The word here for humankind is Adam, which means not man in the sense of male, but human being. Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over the wild animals, and over all the earth.” To be in the image of God is to exercise dominion. But dominion here most certainly does not signify domination. It does not mean arbitrary tyranny. It does not mean ruthless exploitation. The dominion which we humans have is to be according to the image and likeness of God. In our treatment of the environment, we are to express the love, the compassion, the gentleness of God, Himself. The human being, then, living icon of the living God, is king of creation after the likeness of the Divine King of the Universe. Let us never forget this royal dignity that we humans possess.

There is a word in Martin Buber’s book, The Tales of the Hassidim, which often comes to mind. Rabbi Shalemo asked, “What is the worst thing that the evil one can achieve?” And he answered, “To make someone forget that he is the child of a king.” That is what the evil one is to bring to pass! To make us forget our dignity, our meaning, our value, as being in the image of God the King. This is illustrated in the ceremony of censing, the offering of incense, in our Orthodox worship. The celebrant censes first of all the holy table and the icons in the iconostasis. But then he censes the members of the congregation. And as he censes, he bows to us, and we bow back to him. In this ceremony of censing accompanied by the mutual inclination of respect, we are acknowledging that we are each in the image of God. The celebrant censes us and bows to us because he sees in us the image of God the Creator. So then, first we are kings and queens entrusted with dominion, with responsibility, for the world around us.
Second, the image signifies freedom. As God is free, so the human person in God’s image is free. God’s freedom is absolute and unrestricted; human freedom is relative, and limited by heredity, upbringing, and by outward circumstances. Yet, there is a genuine analogy between the two levels of freedom. In the words of St. Maximos the Confessor, “If the human being is created in the image of the loving and supra-essential Godhead, then since the Godhead is liberty, this signifies that the human being as God’s image is also liberty. Equally it is said in the Macarian homilies, “Heaven, sun, moon, and earth have no free will, but you are in the image and likeness of God. Because just as God is his own master and does whatever He wishes, so you, also, are your own master; and if you so choose, you can destroy yourself.” Reflecting on the Divine image, let us call to mind the words of Soren Kierkegaard. “The most tremendous thing granted to human beings is choice, freedom.”

If we want some examples of freedom according to the Divine image, we may look in the Old Testament at the figure of Abraham, an explorer, setting off from his home to the Promised Land going out into the unknown with no idea of what his final destination will be. Abraham is an example of courageous free choice! In the New Testament, we may think of the mother of God at the annunciation. God did not wish to become incarnate without the voluntary consent of the one who was chosen to be His mother. This was particularly emphasized by the 14th century Byzantine writer St. Nicholas Cabasilas. The angel at the annunciation waits for Mary’s freely given response. He waits for her to say, “Here am I. Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Be it unto me as you have said!” She could have said no. And if she had said no, then the history of the world would have been different. The Holy Virgin at the annunciation is not a passive instrument; she is called to play an active part. She is a creative participant in the event of the incarnation. As St. Irenaeus insists, Mary cooperates with the economy.

Freedom is a precious gift from God, but it also demands sacrifice; and it can even prove tragic. In the words of the Russian philosopher, Nicholas Berdyaev, “I always knew that freedom gives birth to suffering, while the refusal to be free diminishes suffering.” Freedom is not easy, as its enemies and slanderers allege. Freedom is hard; it is a heavy burden. People often renounce freedom to ease their lot. This is illustrated in the parable that Dostoyevsky includes in his masterwork, The Brothers Karamazov, the story of the Grand Inquisitor. In that story, Christ returns to earth in 16th century Spain, and He begins to do exactly what He did in 1st century Palestine. He preaches the Good News to the people; He heals the sick; He blesses the children. The Grand Inquisitor watches with disapproval, and he sends out his guards to arrest Christ and put Him in prison. That evening, the Grand Inquisitor comes to see Christ, and he says, “Why have You returned? You came to make people free, but this freedom was too difficult for them—too painful—and we have taken away that freedom so that they may live their lives quietly without anxiety, without pressure. We have,” says the Grand Inquisitor, “corrected Your work.” But Christ doesn’t answer the lengthy accusations of the Grand Inquisitor. The story ends with the Grand Inquisitor’s breaking down because he can’t endure Christ’s silence any more, and he says to Him, “Go!” He opens the door of the prison, “Go! And don’t come back!” And all Christ does is to kiss him, and go on His way. The point of that story is clearly that freedom is difficult. And if you take freedom away from people, they may, in fact, live their lives with greater ease and less anxiety.

Freedom is, indeed, a heavy burden. But as soon as we renounce our freedom, as soon as we refuse the cross of choice and conflict, we reject the Divine image within us. We become less than human. We become unmen. Likewise, if we deny others their freedom, we dehumanize them. We cease to regard them as living persons in the image of God. It is precisely here that we discern the wickedness, the grievous and shocking sinfulness of all human trafficking, of all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. We are treating human beings in such cases not as subjects endowed with freedom, but as commodities to be manipulated as we wish. We are treating them not as persons in the image of God, but as objects. We lose all reverence in this way for the Divine image, and so we lose all sense of relationship with the other. That is why human trafficking is so disgraceful! It is a denial of the value, the freedom, of the person—a denial of the image.

A third aspect of the image of God, the Logos, is creativity. “The human person,” says Athanasius, “is a creator after the image of God, the Creator.” We are, in the phrase of J.R.R. Tolkien, sub-creators. More specifically, the human animal is an animal that uses tools. We do not simply live in the world; but by virtue of our identity in the Divine image and likeness, we re-shape and alter the world. We endow it with new meaning. We give creation a voice; we render it articulate in praise of God. I reflected on this on one occasion when I was returning from France, and I suddenly recalled that I hadn’t bought a gift to give to my mother on my returning home. So I rushed into a village shop, and there I saw a bottle with a squirrel on the outside. And as I like squirrels, I thought I would buy this bottle. It was, in fact, a liqueur made from nuts. And I reflected, squirrels can do many things: they can plan for the future. They will assemble nuts, hide them away in special places for a winter supply. They will forget where they put their nuts, and they’ll quarrel with other squirrels about whose hoard of nuts this is. These are all very human qualities. But I reflected on one thing squirrels don’t do: they don’t make liqueurs of nuts!
That illustrates an important aspect of the Divine image. Being in the image of God, we are endowed with creative powers: we can transfigure creation to a new level. But also, because of our human powers, we can disfigure creation as well as transfigure it. We can poison the waters and pollute the air in a way that the animals don’t do. Yes, it’s true that the animals do, to a limited degree, change the world around them. Beavers build dams, bees construct honeycombs; but they don’t transform the environment to the extent and with the depth that we humans do by virtue of the Divine image. And this creativity in the Divine image is exercised on many levels: in scientific inquiry, in music, poetry, art; in, for example, the painting of icons. As St. Theodore the Studite says, “Because the human person is formed in the image and likeness of God there is something divine about the act of painting an icon.”

Metropolitan Kallistos with members of SCV

So far our reflections on the image of the Logos in the human person have explored kingship, freedom, and creativity. The fourth and final quality is even more important than these other three. Formed according to the image of God, endowed with self-awareness, endowed with God-awareness, consciously and by deliberate choice, we human beings are capable of offering the world back to God. The fourth quality is our ability to offer the world back to God in praise, doxology, and thanksgiving. In this thanksgiving, we become ourselves. The animals cannot do this. Curlews, cicadas, and frogs praise God in their own way, but not with conscious God-awareness.

As the living icon of the living God, the human being is priest of creation. Grateful offering is an essential characteristic of personhood. Here I’d like to quote from Dostoyevsky’s novel Notes from Underground. “Gentlemen, let us assume that man is not stupid. But if he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful, all the same. He is phenomenally ungrateful. I often think that the best definition of man is a creature that has two legs and no sense of gratitude.” The antihero in the Notes from Underground goes on to say “Man alone can utter curses. It is his privilege, and the thing that chiefly distinguishes him from the other animals.” Now, all of this is very true—true of fallen human beings, of human beings turned away from God. But in the case of human beings in the way that God originally intended them to be—of the human person redeemed in Christ—we are to reverse all that Dostoevsky’s character says. The best description of man, of the human being—his chief characteristic, that which makes him to be himself—is gratitude, thanksgiving. What distinguishes the human from the other animals, what constitutes his privilege as priest of creation, is the ability to bless God, to invoke God’s blessing on other persons and things. This grateful offering we express, above all, in the supreme act of human worship, the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy.

The human animal, it has been said, is an animal that laughs and weeps; that has a sense of humor and a sense of tragedy. Very true. But we need to go further. The human animal, it is said, is a logical, or political, animal. Yes, but go further, still. The human animal is a eucharistic animal—an animal that fulfills herself or himself in the act of free and grateful offering of the creation back to God. Note that in the Divine Liturgy, we offer to God not grains of wheat, but bread; not bunches of grapes, but wine. We offer back to God the fruits of the earth, but we do not offer them back in their natural state; we offer them back transformed by human hands. In our liturgical offering, we express our iconic nature as sub-creators: we express our creativity.

Thus far we have examined what it means to be a human being in the image of Christ, the Logos. Now, somewhat more briefly, let’s consider what it means to be a human being in the image of the Holy Trinity. And this will bring us back more specifically to the theme of compassion. The basic and primary meaning of our faith in the Trinitarian God is this: we Christians are not just monotheists, as are the Jewish people of the Old Testament; as are the followers of the prophet Mohammed, the Muslims; nor yet are we polytheists; but we discern in God both essential unity and true personal diversity. Our Christian God is not only personal, but inter-personal; not only a unity, but a union. God is love—not self-love, the love of one turned inward, exclusive; but the love of three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—loving one another, each turning towards the other, each dwelling in and for the other in a love that is not exclusive, but inclusive.

As the greatest living Orthodox theologian—Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamum—has said, “The being of God is relational being.” And he continues, “Without the concept of communion, it is scarcely possible to speak about God at all.” There is, within God, to use Martin Buber’s terminology, a threefold relationship of I and Thou: from all eternity, the Father, the first Person of the Trinity, says to the second, “Thou art My beloved Son.” From all eternity, the second Person replies to the first, “Abba, Father; Abba, Father.” And from all eternity, the third Person seals this loving interchange.

Being created in the Divine Trinitarian image, we humans are called to reproduce on earth this Divine interpersonal love. All that is affirmed of God as Trinity is to be affirmed, also, on another level of the human being in God’s Trinitarian image. God is love—not self-love, but mutual and shared love; so also is the human person. The being of God is relational being; so, also, is our human being. There is no true person unless there are at least two persons in communication with one another. Our human Trinitarian personhood is not egocentric, but exocentric. Our human nature is social, or it is nothing. This is the fundamental meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity for our human nature. I need others in order to be myself.

All of this makes clear the central value of compassion for any understanding of the human icon. Made in the image of God the Holy Trinity, in the image of love, it is only through compassion—through our ability to suffer with and for others in loving and generous companionship—that we become truly human. All of this is expressed visually in the icon of the Holy Trinity by St. Andrew Rublev. There, the Trinity is shown symbolically as the three angels who came to see Abraham under the oak of Mamre. And in the icon, the three angels are not sitting in a row gazing out into space; they are turned towards one another. And in their mutual interface, we, too, are somehow included. The three are engaged in dialogue. And what is the subject of their conversation? They are saying to each other, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” They are speaking of the act of self-emptying, of compassionate love, whereby Christ Jesus died in sacrifice upon the cross. Rublev’s Trinity, then, is supremely an icon of Divine compassion.

Plato once said, “The beginning of truth is to feel a sense of wonder.” Today, renew your sense of wonder before the beauty of our human personhood—our personhood that is created in the image of the Trinitarian God; our human personhood that is called to attain His Divine likeness through the exercise of compassion—compassion that is both costly and luminous; sacrificial, and yet intensely joyful.

St. Andrei Rublev’s Trinity