|27 - On the Iconology of Human Sexuality & Gender, Mar 5, 2017|
Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2
This first Sunday of Lent commemorates the triumph of Orthodoxy over iconoclasm at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 and then the Council in 843. The Orthodox icon proclaims the saving Truth of the Christian Faith: God the Word became flesh (Jn 1:14) that man might become a partaker of God (II Pt 1:4).
Christ is the Icon of the invisible God. The theology of the Icon, then, is the true Christology. Man is made in the icon of God. The theology of the icon, then, is the true anthropology, the true doctrine of human nature and destiny. The triumph of Orthodoxy is therefore the triumph of the Truth over the Lie, of beauty and goodness and eternal life over death. This morning, permit me to share with you what I see in the biblical iconology of human sexuality and gender, the latest battlefront of the Lie’s mad efforts to destroy the divine image in man.
“And God said: ‘Let us make man in our Image (Icon) and Likeness.’ Let him have dominion over all creation. So, God created man. Male and female He created them.” We see that the divine image is made concretely real, it becomes flesh and blood in male and female. Gender is sacred because it is in the image of God. A man and a woman find their meaning, their gender identity not in themselves, most certainly not in the wisdom of the Lie that seeks to destroy the sanctity of gender by making it an accident of nature, but in the image of God and in the Orthodox theology of the icon.
The biblical text itself seems to tell us that the image of God is in man’s dominion over creation and the power given him to subdue it. So, what are we to make of the fact that the male is the head and the source of the woman? It would seem that this dominion is exercised not just outwardly but inwardly, within the relationship of male and female.
The wisdom of the Lie would have us believe that dominion means power and forced submission. So, politically and religiously, the wisdom of the Lie has given power to the man over the woman; or, to the woman over the man; and, in recent times it has sought to resolve the consequent inequities by getting rid of the distinctiveness of gender altogether, which has brought in its train a whole ‘nother set of traumas.
Let’s read more closely. This dominion given to man as male and female takes its essential character from the divine image in which man is made. What is that essential character? God is love, says St John; and God’s love becomes concrete, it becomes flesh and blood in His self-emptying and His birth from the Most Blessed Panagia in obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross for the life of the world. The essential character of the divine image, then, is the extreme humility of divine love. The essential character of the dominion by which man is to subdue the earth is the life-creating death of the Cross; and the dominion that defines the relationships of male and female is the extreme humility of the Cross.
In the dominion of the divine image or of the Cross, man is blessed to be fruitful and to fill the earth; clearly, to fill it with the humility and love of God. Human sexuality, too, then is sacred. In the sacrament of marriage, it gives expression to the divine image in which man is made as male and female. In the extreme humility of the divine image, the dominion of the Cross comes to its perfected expression in the faithful love of man and wife; at the same time, measured by this theology of the icon, man and wife may begin to see how profoundly they each one are shaped inwardly not by the dominion of the Cross but by the dominion of the Lie. In this is given the work they must do to gain their wedding crowns by submitting each one to the other under the dominion of the Cross.
The LORD said: “It is not good for Adam to be alone. Let us make a suitable help for him” (Gn 2:18). It then says that God made from the earth all the beasts and birds. Yet, though fashioned from the same earth that Adam was, none of them was the suitable helper God was looking for.
So, it says, God threw an ekstasis over Adam. For some time now, I have been very much caught by this phrase. He threw an ekstasis over Adam, as though this ekstasis were a garment. Ekstasis means literally a “standing away from” oneself. Its image is that of Jeremiah’s description of the heart: “beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX). Now, it says that the myrrh-bearing women fled in fear from the tomb of the risen LORD because trembling and ekstasis had laid hold of them (Mk 16:8) – as though, at the tomb of the risen LORD, they were standing “away from” creation in that ekstatic place “beyond all things” where man was created in the image and likeness of God. But here at the LORD’s Tomb, it is God who is in ekstasis, who is “beyond Himself”, having emptied Himself to become perfectly one with us in the tomb of both our body and our heart. In this place of the divine ekstasis, it is Christ the New Adam being fashioned from the “midst of the earth”, and it is the New Eve, the Church, being fashioned from the blood and water that flowed from His Rib on the Cross. Might this ekstasis of the LORD’s Cross, His Tomb and His three day burial be the mystery of God hidden from the ages in which Adam was fashioned from the earth and the woman was fashioned from one of Adam’s ribs? Is this ekstasis of the LORD God in the Sabbath Rest of the Tomb the principle that is in the world but not of it, that comprehends and defines man made in the divine image as male and female?
In this Paschal image, we see Adam robed in the ekstatic garment that takes him “away from” himself into that ekstatic point where he is beyond all things, to that point at which he bursts into being in the image and likeness of God. Can we say that when God “threw an ekstasis upon” Adam, He clothed Adam in the mystery of Christ’s life-creating Cross and so in the dominion of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, and that this ekstasis of Christ’s Holy Pascha is the mystery of God hidden from the ages in which He first fashioned Adam from the ground and then woman from one of his ribs?
Note, then, that the woman is not fashioned from the earth as were the beasts and the birds, but from within Adam, from within the absolute intimacy of his heart, his personal center where he is “beyond all things”, where the he stands “away from” himself at that point where he opens beyond himself onto Christ, the Image of God in whom he came to be.
Adam says when he sees the woman: “This is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” This sounds so very much like the “soul of my soul” of certain ancient philosophers, which is how they tried to bring into view their “discovery” of what we today would call the “self”. But, what’s different in the biblical account of woman’s formation from Adam is that the woman is another person. Adam, therefore, finds himself not in himself but in the woman. The woman comes to be in the absolute intimacy of Adam’s love for her and of her love for Adam even as Christ becomes flesh in the absolute intimacy of His Mother’s love for her Son and of the Son for His Mother.
Contemplate how qualitatively different is a dominion whose essential power is the extreme humility inherent in the intimacy of love according to the divine image, and the dominion of the Lie whose essential power is anger, self-love and forced submission. The one heals and gives life. The other destroys. The dominion of the divine image is what makes human sexuality human and therefore divine. In the divine image, man and woman don’t create just biological life. They create persons who come to be from within the intimate, tender love of the divine image. Might this speak to the Christian ethics of test-tube babies, cloning of humans, surrogate motherhood and the like? How are these in the image of God when they are products of an impersonal human technology, where there is no personal intimacy, where human life is reduced to a product of technological manufacturing? Most certainly this speaks to so-called same-sex marriage. There is no marriage here, for there is no possibility to create life. There is no image of God here, for there is no male and female.
Made in the image of God, each man and woman exists as the beloved of God; for, in the sacred mystery of His Incarnation as the New Adam, He can look at each one of us and say: “You are bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” In your baptism, you came forth from the font as Adam came forth from the earth, as Eve came forth from Adam, as the Church came forth from Christ. I.e., in your baptism, you were brought out of the bondage of death and the impersonal drought of the Lie into the Paschal mystery of the divine ekstasis under the life-creating dominion, the extreme humility and ineffable compassion of the LORD’s Cross. Submit to that dominion. Strive to make it the shape of your life within and without, and behold the wonder, experience the inexpressible joy of becoming a son and daughter of God, a lover of the divine Bridegroom who first loved us! Amen.