In my last article, I reflected on the hiddenness of our identity, including the meaning of being male or female. Our true life is hid with Christ in God. There is more to be said on this hiddenness and its relationship to the image according to which we were created.
In the Genesis account, when God created man and woman, He created them “in His image.” Most people fail to ask what that image is. We are told in the New Testament that Christ Himself is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). We are created in the image of Christ, the pre-eternal Word of God.
We can go further (and should). We are told very little about the pre-eternal Word of the Father, but what we are told holds a key for understanding the truth of our existence. In Rev. 13:8, Christ is described as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (τοῦ ἀρνίου τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου). The image according to which we were and are created is the Crucified Christ. Christ on the Cross is not only the offering for our sins, He is also, in that place, revealing the truth of our being. It is in the context of the suffering Christ that Pontius Pilate speaks the truth (though he did not know it) when he said: “Behold the Man.” It is the Crucified Christ who is able to say from the Cross, “It is finished.” What is finished or completed is the fullness of man in the image of God.
The divine irony of Christ Crucified is a major theme in St. Paul’s writings. He says, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1Co 2:2) He also declares, “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1Co 1:23-24)
For St. Paul (and for us), Christ Crucified is the Wisdom and Power of God. In the same manner, it is Christ Crucified who constitutes the image according to which we were created and towards which we are being conformed. This is underlined in the famous passage from Philippians:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He emptied Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him (Phi 2:5-9)
The Elder Sophrony describes this self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ on the Cross as also descriptive of the relations within the Holy Trinity.
Divine love is selfless; it is a fundamental characteristic of the divine life of the three Hypostases, in which ‘each Hypostasis is totally open to the others’ and thus manifests the oneness of the Holy Trinity in an absolutely perfect manner. This mutual self-emptying love is expressed theologically by the term ‘perichoresis’. (from Christ, Our Way and Our Life, 2013).
And so we must understand that when we speak of male and female, the energies of our incarnate nature, we must understand them as self-emptying male and self-emptying female. There are two primary images given to us for this. The first, as we have noted, is Christ Crucified. But the second is a reflection: the Mother of God in her union with her crucified Son. Again, a quote from the Elder Sophrony:
The All-Holy Virgin said to the Archangel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” (Luke 1:38). These words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” are an acceptance of the Cross. The All-Holy Virgin participated all through her life in the Cross of her Son (quoted in I knew A Man in Christ, 2015).
Mary was told by the elder Simeon, when she presented the child Christ in the temple:
“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luk 2:34-35)
The union of Mother and Child is such that His crucifixion is her sword. Mary cannot be rightly understood as anything other than self-emptying, in imitation of the Crucified Christ.
Both images do much to clarify what it means to be male and female. What we see in this world is, in virtually every instance, a distortion of that self-emptying mode of existence. In all discussions of our gendered existence, Christians must remember that male and female are eschatological images – they are images towards which we are moving, not givens according to which automatically live. The male who is not self-emptyingly male, is not yet what he shall be nor what he should be. The female who is not self-emptyingly female, is not yet what she shall be nor what she should be. And, of course, our situation is still more tragic and broken. For some, the experience of the energies of our nature is changed – whether through the brokenness of genetics or nurture. They are not yet what they shall be nor what they should be. We share a tragedy that is common to all humanity.
The sacrament of marriage must be seen in this same eschatological manner. Sacraments do not simply bless things as they are, but transform them in a dynamic manner towards what they should be. In the case of the Eucharist, this transformation is complete. But in those sacraments that involve the freedom of persons, the transformation can only be seen as a dynamic. Man and woman are blessed towards what they should be.
The heart of marriage is self-emptying love towards the purpose of union and the procreation of children. It does not exist for the self-fulfillment of our tragic existence – (“legalized sex” or “companionship”) – but towards an end that is only just now being made present. And like every other form of Christian living, the self-emptying state of marriage is marked by ascesis and thanksgiving. The passions are as much a part of the struggle of marriage as they are for the single state.
The proper Christian position before all of this should be humility. The world is not divided into good guys and bad guys. The world shares a common struggle towards the truth of our existence. That truth is revealed to us in the gospel of Christ and the fullness of its story. I have written elsewhere that “kenosis is theosis.” We are only transformed in the image of Christ (theosis) as we live in accordance with the self-emptying Crucified Christ (kenosis). The failure of Christians to proclaim the kenotic character of our lives distorts the gospel, and gives a false sense of normalcy to the status quo of the world. The Cross is the lens of truth.