Fr. Matthew Baker of blessed memory was a priest of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston and a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology at Fordham University.
THE SIXTH DAY OF CREATION: THE FASHIONING OF MAN
Wednesday, Lent Week I
Presanctified Liturgy: Gen. 1:24-2:3; Prov. 2:1-22
1. On the first Wednesday of Lent, we rehearse the sixth day of creation. We catch a glimpse of our beginning, and discern a sign of that path we must follow, if we are to arrive at that glorious end for which we were created.
God created us according to His own image. And from the very beginning, this humanity according to the image was to exist as male and female (Gen. 1:26; Mt. 19:4). There is an essential difference between man and woman, woven by God into the fabric of creation – stitched even into the pattern of our being according to His image – and this difference is something “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
God willed that this difference take the form, not of division, but profound union (Mt. 19:5-6). As Apostle Paul writes, “In the Lord …woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Cor. 11:11-12).
This is a “great mystery,” Paul tells us, pointing us to the union of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:32). In the book of Proverbs, we read:
Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden (Prov. 30:18-19).
There is a kind of prophecy – an allegory, a typology – written into our fashioning as male and female. But if it is prophecy, then we ought not to look either to Adam and Eve or to ourselves for its fulfillment. In our very being, we are all fundamentally incomplete. Our very creation as male and female is a mystery, a sign, pointing beyond.
2. “The work of God is the fashioning of the human being,” says St. Irenaeus of Lyons (Adv. Haer. 5:15:2). Creation is God’s project to raise up a fully-formed, mature human being: that “living man” who, as Irenaeus proclaims, will be “the glory of God,” whose life is the vision of God (Adv. Haer. 4: 20:7); that man in whom the image of God is fully actual.
The first man and woman short-circuited this process (Gen. 3). Later, Adam fathered a son after his own image and likeness, and then died (Gen. 5:3-4). Today’s reading from Proverbs shows us the results of this situation: a picture of fallen man and woman, man and woman standing in the tension between good and evil, wisdom and depravity (Prov. 2:1-22).
Now we heard in Genesis that after creating man and woman on the sixth day, God rested from all His works (Gen. 2:2). It was for this reason that the Israelites rested on the Sabbath. Yet according to the Apostle John, when the Jews sought to attack our Lord for healing on the Sabbath, He said to them: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn. 5:17).
The true Sabbath – the seventh day of creation – had not yet arrived. The first Adam was but a type, a pre-figuration of the one to come (Rom. 5:14). The work of the sixth day was not yet finished. In the life and ministry of Christ, God was still at work, fashioning the human being.
3. Turn to the Lord, and the veil that lies over the minds of the Jews whenever they read the book of Moses is removed (2 Cor. 3:15-16). God created man in the year 33, on a hill in Palestine called Golgotha.
On the sixth day of the week, on Holy Friday, the true man, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15), is heralded by Pontius Pilate, as he brings forth the thorny-crowned, purple-robed Jesus and announces to the crowd, “Behold the man!” (Jn. 19:5; cf. Zech. 6:12).
As St. Nicholas Cabasilas tells us, “The Savior first and alone showed us the true human being” (Vita in Christo 6.12). In the man on the Cross, at the limit-point of death, we see our own humanity in that state of relationship intended from the beginning: a complete offering of our life to the Father, in a love that gathers into its embrace the entire world.
From the Cross also is revealed the “Woman,” the New Eve, “the Mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20; cf. 3:15; Rev. 12:1-17), the first-fruit and sign of the Church, distinguished by her co-suffering love for man (Lk. 2:35):
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ (Jn. 19:2)
This is the sixth day of creation, the “lifting up” of Jesus (Jn. 12:32), the fulfillment of the Father’s plan to raise up a fully formed “man.”
This is the day on which the Lord concludes His work, with a word spoken from the Wood, saying, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).
This is the sixth day, on which Adam sleeps, and a Bride is fashioned for him out of his side, in blood and water (Jn.19: 34).
On the seventh day, God rests from all His work (Gen. 2:2): in the tomb, on Holy Saturday, the great Sabbath of the Lord. And after this: the mystery of the age to come.
4. In the present season, we enter anew upon the path that will lead us to that sixth day of creation: the passion and death of Christ. This is the reason for the fasting, the abstinence, the services, and the spiritual readings the Church enjoins upon us: we renew our commitment to the task of becoming authentic human beings.
The world in which we live is a marketplace of idols, where a multitude of false gods seek to rule over men. As the Psalmist tells us, those who make idols and trust in them become like unto them (Ps. 115:1-8; Ps. 135:15-18). Humanity itself is monstrously disfigured when it is conformed to the idols of money, strife, power, and lust.
By fasting from our passions, we are set free from these false images of man. We renounce that pseudo-humanity which we have fashioned by sin, in order that we might become true men and women, created according to the image of Christ – “the whole Christ, head and body” (Augustine). Glorifying God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20) on the way of the Cross, slowly, by the work of the Spirit, we are being “conformed to the image of the Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).
This Lent, may we make our own these words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, written to his fellow Christians on his way towards martyrdom for refusing the idolatry of pagan Rome:
It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth… The pains of birth are upon me. Allow me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to be stillborn… Allow me to imitate the passion of my God …when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being (Epist. ad Rom., 6).
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