10 - A BIBLICAL IMAGE OF WOMAN, Nov 28, 2021

Ephesians 2.4-10

Luke 13.10-17

It says that He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. It’s not hard at all to see in this an ‘image’ of the LORD God in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest; or of the WORD of the LORD, now visible in the flesh, Himself teaching the people His WORD directly, as He had taught them before in the Old Covenant through Moses, the Psalmist and the Prophets.

A woman was there, who was afflicted with a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years. Its chief symptoms were that she was bent over, and she could not raise herself up at all. The LORD sees her and calls out to her and says to her: ‘Woman!’ Let’s stop right there. For as we are given to know from the writings of certain early Syriac Christian fathers, which takes us back to the theological vision of the primitive Jewish Christian Church, and as we are given to know also from liturgical hymns and prayers, much theology is hidden in the LORD’s address to her as, ‘Woman!’

‘Woman’ is what Adam called the ‘woman’ the LORD took from his rib to build a ‘help-mate’ suitable for him. For some time now, I have pondered what theology may be ‘hidden’ here. Drawing from the Orthodox theology of the visible—how it is the form of the invisible, as described, for example, in the early Syriac Christian work, The Book of Steps—might the female gender be the visible, bodily manifestation of the invisible ‘soul’ of man? That is, the woman reveals what it is to be ‘man’: it is to exist in the capacity to receive God. This, in fact, is the definition of the ‘image of God’ given by St Didymus the Blind of Alexandria in the early fourth century.

To understand ‘woman’ as the visible ‘embodiment’ of what it means for man to be created male and female in the image of God sings the same melody as the patristic doctrine of the ‘logoi’ or of the ‘inner essence’ of each created thing according to which God created each thing.

From this, we notice that Moses says in Gen 1 that God created each thing ‘according to its kind’—that is, according to its logos or inner essence; but of man, Moses says that God created man ‘male and female’ ‘according to the image and likeness of God’—that is, according to the inner essence of ‘man’.

This aligns with the patristic and biblical doctrine that man is the only creature whose potential for what he can become is God Himself. That is, the LORD God, as the Image in whose likeness man is made, is the ‘definition’ of man; and, as we see in the mystery of the Incarnation, man is created as the ‘definition’ of God. That is, man is created by God in the divinely appointed destiny to become God not by nature but by participation, as St Peter says: ‘that you may become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pt 1.4) This is the Orthodox doctrine of predestination.

This mutual ‘definition’ of God as man and man as God is realized, actualized, made concrete and ‘visible,’ again, in the Incarnation of the only-begotten God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the very radiance of the Father, in the Holy Spirit, in the Glory of the Father.

But how is this definition of man—as well as of God—to happen if God does not Himself first become man? How can man possibly raise himself body and soul to God in the uncreated, eternal Life of God if God, the Resurrection and the Life, is not in him body and soul? It does not happen except through the woman. Adam, therefore, was the first prophet created by God when he named the woman the LORD had built from his rib, ‘Eve:’ the ‘mother of all living.’ But how can woman be Eve, the Mother of Life, if she is not destined to be Theotokos, the Mother of God?

This is how woman is man’s ‘help-mate’. Through her, man can come to be in the likeness of the God who, through the woman, came to be in the likeness of man and filled the whole man, male and female, body and soul, with the very Glory He had with the Father before the world was, transfiguring man, as male and female, thereby into the Living Temple of God ‘suitable’ for God.

This is why the woman is the visible, bodily manifestation of the invisible, spiritual ‘inner essence’ or ‘logos’ of man. That is, it is the woman who embodies in her feminine biology the definition of man, who reveals what it is to be man; it is to become God by partaking of the divine nature. For it is the woman who, by the consent of her spirit, receives into her bodily womb—this is the true Holy of Holies of the Living Temple of God—the Seed of God, who knitting Himself with Her pure blood, becomes flesh and dwells among us as the Son of God become Son of Man, even to the point of becoming absolutely one with us in His death on the Cross and in His Burial in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest, in the tomb of the human heart. Built by God from Adam’s rib, the woman is bone of Adam’s bones, flesh of his flesh—a formula that corresponds to the ‘soul of the soul’ that we find in early philosophers (one of them a Jew, Philo of Alexandria, in the first or second century B.C.); and it is through the woman that God now becomes Himself bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh so that, through the God-Man born of the woman in the mysteries of Christmas and Holy Pascha, we can become bone of God’s bones, flesh of God’s flesh. And as the tabernacle newly built by Moses, and as the Temple newly built by Solomon was overshadowed by and filled with the Glory of God, so also each one of us, through the woman, through the Most Holy Virgin Mary, can be overshadowed by and filled with the Glory of God. And now the ‘woman’ as the Church, the Bride of God, through the mystery of the baptismal Font, makes man into a child of God—again, not by nature but by making him to become partaker of the divine nature in the dread and great mystery of the Church’s Holy Eucharist.

Dear faithful, this says, for one thing, that to become an ‘Orthodox’ Christian is to become a partaker of the divine nature not just in our heads but in our bodies and souls as well so that our whole being becomes a Living Temple of God, filled with the Glory of God. To become a catechumen of the Orthodox Church, then, is to become a student preparing to receive the Faith of the Church and to be received into the Church; and the time of the catechumenate is a time of preparing oneself to become a ‘receiver’ of God as was the Holy Virgin, in accordance with the ‘definition’ or ‘logos’ of man created, male and female, in the image and likeness of God, and so to become flesh of God’s flesh and bone of God’s bones and so to make real, to make concrete and actual the mystery of our having been made in the image and likeness of God. It means that to become a catechumen is to learn how to become a temple of God, how to realize the inner essence, the ‘logos’ that defines us as Man made in the image and likeness of God. And that means learning how to become like our Mother, the Holy Virgin Theotokos; how to become ourselves ‘virginal’ in order to prepare ourselves to receive into our souls and bodies, as the Holy Virgin received into Her body and soul, the Seed, the Spirit, the Glory of God, and to enter into the loving intimacy of the Bridal Chamber, our own heart, and to become a ‘partaker of the divine nature.’

I spend time on this point this morning because our culture, partaking of the spirit of the antichrist and not of the divine nature, as revealed in St John’s Apocalypse, seeks to destroy the woman. For if the woman is destroyed, the family is destroyed. And if the family is destroyed, mankind is destroyed. As a result, women don’t know what it means to be ‘woman,’ and are trying to be men; men don’t know what it is to be ‘man’ and are trying to be women; and so the family is no more a haven of salvation but a den of confusion, and children are being afflicted with the antichrist’s spirit of infirmity, bent over and unable to straighten up to see and praise God, unable to raise boys and girls into men and women made in the image and likeness of God.

It says that the LORD called the woman to Himself and stretched out His Hand to touch her. Is this not exactly what we see in the Icon of the Holy Resurrection: the LORD God, Jesus Christ, born of the ‘woman’, stretching out His hands to raise Adam and Eve from the grave. And immediately, it says, the woman stood up. The verb is, ano-ortho-the, and she glorified God, e-doxa-sen.  She became ‘Orthodox’!

The LORD heals the woman’s visible and bodily infirmity. Salvation is more than aligning our minds with a set of ideas.  Align all you want; believe whatever you want to believe as intensely as you can; you’re still dead! The woman’s body is a visible image of our invisible soul, which St Paul calls ‘this body of death.’ As she could not straighten up in her body, so also, we cannot straighten up in our souls. Our souls have been shaped, bent over in this ‘body of death’ from all the choices we and our ancestors have made, from the habits and behaviors we and they have practiced. We can no more make our soul straighten up than this woman could make her body straighten up. If, then, we are to be saved body and soul, if we are to become ‘Orthodox’, we must surround our ‘inner man’ with the Spirit of the same LORD who spoke to Moses and the prophets, like this woman in the synagogue, and through mindful prayer, receive into our eyes and ears not the vacuous images of the world but the true Image of God, that we may receive His Holy Spirit in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest; that is, in the mystery of His Holy Pascha, which we receive as our very food and drink in the Holy Mysteries of the Church, the Bride of God. For the food and drink we receive is the very Body and Blood of the God-Man, with which He is building our inner man into a Heavenly Temple, a house not made with hands, as He built the Temple of His Body not made with hands in the womb of the ‘woman’. This is how we become ‘Orthodox’; true men and women standing straight and glorifying God as partakers of the divine nature in the image and likeness of God. Amen!