by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
I am going to speak about the human person as a whole, and I want to introduce my talk by making some important remarks. We have been using the phrase 'human person' because nowadays to say 'man' is offensive to the ears of many, and we do not have in English a word that would correspond to the Greek 'anthropos' or the Russian 'chelovek'. So we take it that in a given case the word 'person' means the human being considered as a whole, although there are a number of important distinctions to note.
Vladimir Lossky in particular, as well as other theologians, insists on the fact that there is an important difference between the words 'person' and 'individual' in theological usage. The individual, as the word indicates, is the last term of division. One can speak of mankind, one can speak of nations, one can speak of races, of families, and then what is left is a unit, because if one were to go on dividing it, it would no longer be a living person, but a corpse and a departed soul.
So the individual is the result of fragmentation. We are all individuals to the extent to which we are alienated one from another, separated from God, and broken up within ourselves. We are not a whole, either as humanity or as individual persons, and this we must take into account when we think of ourselves, as well as when we think of the Church and mankind in general. We cannot have an optimistic vision of the Church without remembering that the Church is also a fragmented body. In each of us the mind, the heart, the body, the passions, our elan to God, do not all concur to form one powerful stream of life and of spiritual life in particular.
One the other hand we speak of the person, and the word 'person' must be understood for what it is. The Greek word used originally — 'hypostasis'—- was translated into Latin, where it created a great problem, because the Greek word means 'firm foundation', something which is solidity, which is the substance of things. On the other hand, the word 'persona', in the time when the translation was made, had quite a different meaning. 'Persona' was the word used in the Latin-speaking world to indicate the mask of an actor, who could be seen and recognised because of this mask, and the word 'personare' itself means 'to resound through something'. But if you think of the person as an actor wearing a mask do you realise the double lie this implies? On the one hand, the mask is not the actor himself. On the other hand, the play is not reality, but is an invented thing. So to speak of the three Persons in the Trinity as three personae seems a monstrous blasphemy, a lie; because it is a lie in interpretation and a lie which concerns the essence of things.
The word must now be understood, as we use it normally, as the person, that is the whole human being considered as one total reality. Now this person, this reality, is something which is more complex than we may imagine. A person is not simply a unified human creature, someone in whom the conflicts have died out, or in whom the conflicts are sufficiently stabilised so as not to present us with a disorderly situation. The essence, the depths, of the notion of 'person' resides in the fact that to speak of a person means that we speak of one in his or her deepest essence. In the Book of Revelation we have an image, not of the use of the word 'person', but of what I am saying. In the second chapter there is a passage in which we are told that at the end of time to everyone will be revealed a name that no one knows but God and the person who receives it, a name which is the mark of the uniqueness of this person, of the unique, unrepeatable relationship that exists between this person and God, and, therefore, between this person and every other person.
And if you think in these terms, then you will realise how important it is for us to make the distinction between 'person' and 'individual'. Thinking not only of society, but let us speak of the Church, we are people who are divided within ourselves, divided between good and evil, between our intellectual perceptions and our experiential knowledge; we are divided among ourselves because to a very great extent we are alien one to another. We do not understand one another, we do not approve of one another, we do not like one another, we do not love one another. And the whole Church, however much it is a unity in God, the whole Church in its individuals is a fragmented body.
And yet, within this fragmented body every fragment has a mysterious core which is defined by the name, a name known only to God and the person who receives it, a name which is the uniqueness of this person. So that when Saint Paul says in one of his epistles that we carry things holy in broken vessels, it is a very clear image of the individual and the person within the Church and within the life of the world as a whole. We carry things holy. We are all possessed of this name which we do not know yet, because we are not yet sufficiently deeply related to God; we are not in God in the way that would allow us to recognise our name. We all have within ourselves the image of God imprinted in us, and yet we do not see it. We do not see it in ourselves because otherwise we would treat ourselves with a sense of veneration, of worship, as something which is holy and precious to God, and which is too holy to be desecrated. Saint Paul writes a great deal about this. And at the same time we are it, we possess it, it is in us. And so we must realise that when we speak of the person, we speak about something in each one of us that is unique, holy, precious. But how does a person relate to another person? We all know very well how we as individuals do or do not relate to one another, but how does a person relate to a person, if there is nothing which allows us to draw a contrast between one person and another?
Then we can look back to an image given centuries ago by an early Russian chronicler, Nestor, who speaks of nations, but this could apply also to persons, when he says that each nation (or person) possesses a unique quality which is not opposable to another one, which is so totally unique and unrepeatable that they can live side by side without clashing, without comparing themselves one with another. The relationship between persons would be that of voices singing in total harmony in a choir. Every voice is unique. Every voice has a quality which no other voice possesses — and I am not speaking of the difference between, say, a bass and a tenor — but within each individual category every voice has a special quality. Each of us as a person has a unique quality that together with the individual quality of every other person makes one unique cry of worship and gesture of mutual love.
When we speak, therefore, of the human person we must realise that we speak of the holiest thing there is within us, of something which God alone knows, of the image of God, not simply as an imprint, but as a living power within us that transforms, transfigures and makes us gradually, progressively, partakers of the divine nature. And yet we carry this holy thing in broken vessels, in what we are as individuals. It is important for us to remember this, because only then can we see its implications. We can see, for instance, that when we try to create relationships we cannot create them artificially without transcending the brokenness of the individual.
One speaks a great deal now about community life. But community life is intended for individuals. It is an attempt at making life possible for a multiplicity of beings who do not ultimately relate to one another in total harmony, in sacrificial love, in a gift of self to one another. A community is based on that. The same could be said about a democratic relationship among people of a country or part of a country. The will of the majority, the common mind of the people (which is not the same as the unanimity, the oneness of soul, which the Church aims at) is the condition of individuals who are trying to create a possible modus vivendi between themselves, who are trying to live together in spite of the tensions and divisions among them, who are trying to find a common language, a common interest, that could bind them together and make it possible for them to survive. That applies to nations who from time to time explode into wars, or to families who have to survive without the kind of clash in their relationships that leads to violence, to separation, to divorce.
We read in the Old Testament that in the beginning man (meaning human being) was created. Certain Fathers of the Church say that Adam, who was taken from the soil, made of the earth, the basic, the essential substance of the created world, contained within himself all the potential of a human being. He was neither male nor female, he was 'total man' and it is gradually, as he was developing to maturity, from innocence towards saintliness, from being a child into becoming an adult human being, that gradually there was within him a polarisation that required the separation of the two elements. And the moment came when God divided that unique human being into two beings, but two who were still totally one. In the Old Testament we find this moment when God divided in the primeval human, man from woman.
Neither the English nor the Church Slavonic translation is very satisfactory. We read of God taking a rib. A rabbi was once asked by one of his people, "Why did God take a rib and not a head, which would have been so useful, or the arms could have been so useful as well?" And the rabbi answered, "Because the rib is that part of man which is nearest to his heart". So, according to this terminology, woman was created from the part nearest to the heart of man — I do not think this is a very brilliant and unique explanation! Very often in ancient languages, certainly in Church Slavonic, 'rib' or 'ribcage' was used to denote the side, and God was perceived as dividing into two the original total being by dividing one side from another. Those who know French will appreciate that one can speak of cфte and cфtй, cфte meaning a rib, cфtй meaning a side. And when Adam saw Eve face to face, he exclaimed, "She is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh". And the English text says, "I am man, she shall be called woman", which is not very clear, but the Hebrew text uses a word which shows that the one is the masculine and the other the feminine of the same being - 'ish' and 'ishshah'. "I am ish, she is ishshah. She is the feminine of me, I am the masculine of her".
At that moment it is one undivided being in two persons, because the Fall has not yet divided mankind from God and one human being from another. And it is only after the Fall that Adam and Eve look at one another and see themselves divided and different one from another. There is a passage in the works of Saint Methodius of Patara which, in the Latin translation, sounds like this: Adam looks at Eve and says, "She is my alter ego, the other myself", indicating thereby total, radical otherness and yet the fact that she is himself at the same time. Speaking of the Fall and the dividedness of Adam and Eve, Methodius says that when they fell away from God they lost the binding power between the two: Adam looked at Eve and Eve looked at Adam and said, "I am ego, I; he is alter, he is the other." They have become a broken couple, and the notion of the individual is apparent. It will grow and become deeper. It will become more destructive with time, but at that moment it has already happened. They are no longer two persons being one unit that is a human being. They are two persons into which individuality has entered. It is the moment of tragedy, because the two will somehow have to be kept together, because if they are not kept together then they will be separated for ever. Dividedness always grows, dividedness does not alter spontaneously.
So God establishes between them a mutual attraction. They are attracted to one another both psychologically and physically. They long for one another, because deep down in themselves they know that they are one and belong together, although experientially they know that something has happened to separate them. One of the spiritual writers says that the world could not have subsisted without a sacrament, a sacrament being a binding power that links beings with God and beings with one another. So, from the very beginning of the world God established marriage: not marriage as we know it now as an ecclesiastical, liturgical celebration, but as an event which brings two beings, otherwise separated, into oneness, into a degree of oneness accessible to both of them. It may be total, it may be partial, it may be full of crisis, it may be a glorious growth into oneness. But marriage is the only sacrament which subsisted in the world of the Bible and in the pagan world, preventing individuals from breaking away from one another and the human race from being finally destroyed.
Between persons there may be perfect love, which is not a love of possessiveness, which is not greed, but which is love as Christ describes it. No one loves truly who is not prepared to give his life for the other. Giving one's life does not mean dying, giving one's life means pouring out oneself totally, unreservedly. We have notions of love which are very ambiguous. In C. S. Lewis' "Screwtape Letters" the old devil writes about love to his young nephew who under his guidance is just learning to be a proper devil. He says, "I can't understand why the Enemy [the Enemy being God] says that He loves us [He loves mankind]; because He leaves you free. You can do what you want. You can accept Him or renounce Him. You can follow Him or turn away from Him. When I say that I love you, what I mean is that I want to possess you so that nothing of you is outside my power. When I think of loving you perfectly, I think of devouring and digesting you in such a way that nothing is left of you outside me".
Such is the devil's 'love'. But to a greater or smaller extent, it is also what we find in human relationships. Do you really think of yourselves, of me, of anyone except the great saints, as people who have looked at another person and said, "She or he is my other myself, my alter ego. I exist only in relation to this person. I exist only as an elan, a motion towards this person. I exist only with, for this person. Apart from this person I do not exist"? Because that is love. In the beginning of Saint John's Gospel we are told; "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God...." The Greek text does not say 'with God'. It uses the words 'pros ton Theon' which means towards, not with God. It speaks of the Word of God in a rush towards the Father. He is moving Fatherwards because in Himself, separated from the Father, He has no raison d'кtre, no meaning, no presence, no existence.
This is what love should be between human beings, and not only the love that unites married people one to another. I am speaking of love as the way in which humans could relate to one another if the person predominated over the individual in them, if it was not the individual who was to the fore in the person, and if the individual was not something which is like a screen, like a fog, to be pierced through, seen through, pushed aside, so that the relationship should be that of two persons, not of two beasts of prey, or parasites, but of people who exist for each other and see no reason to exist otherwise.
This is what Saint Paul felt concerning Christ. This is what he felt in God, in Christ, in his relationship with every other being. This is what we could have in the Church, or what we have more or less in the Church, not the Church as an ecclesiastical body, but the Church in its essence, the Church as the household of God. Belonging to the Church means being in God's own house. We have a Father. We have a brother who is called Jesus Christ, the living and only Son of God. The same spirit breathes in us, the Holy Spirit of God. We have only one mind, which is the mind of Christ (and these are scriptural terms). The Church is God's house in which we live with all the rights of the children of our Father. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon says that the time will come when, united totally with Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will cease to be adopted children of God, but in the only-begotten Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will become the only-begotten Son of God, the whole of humanity, and God will be "all in all", in the words of Saint Paul. This is our call as persons.
These individuals which we are, are possessed of a body, of a soul, and of a spirit; and each of these elements has its place and its role, an essential role, in becoming persons and in overcoming imprisonment in our individuality, in our denial of the other.
I would like to make a remark in passing here. In our Diocese we insist on the use of ‘Thou' in addressing God because we want to understand and to underline the fact that in terms of 'I' and Thou' we affirm that very thing of which I have been speaking. We say 'thou' to the closest and dearest person , but by saying 'thou' we assert the total, ultimate otherness of that person, the alterity of the person, and at the same time the infinite closeness of this person to us, and our closeness to this other person. In the Church we are, we should be, 'thou' to each other in the same sense in which God is 'Thou' to us and we are 'thou' to Him, because He knows the secret, mysterious name which is us, and we have no name for Him, because we do not know Him yet as we are called to know Him. As Saint Paul says, a time will come when we will know Him as He knows us. But for the moment. God has a name, which is Jesus, which is God become Man. In Him we have a revelation of all that man can be, because in Him we have the true and perfect man, in His body, in His soul, in His spirit. He is Man and we can learn from Him what it means to be a human being.
We are all possessed of a body, of a soul and of a spirit. The body and the spirit are two very essential factors that unite us to God and to the created world. Adam was created out of the dust of the earth. He was not the result of a final leap of animality into humanity. He is not the last term of an evolutionary progression. God has not made him by turning the most perfect and attractive ape into a man. God has taken the dust of the earth so that man has everything in common with everything that God has created. We are of the same substance as every atom and every galaxy. In us every atom and every galaxy, and all that exists between them, can recognise itself in our bodies. Yet not one does because we have fallen away from God, because our bodies are no longer the vector of the divine presence and our growth in God.
After the Fall God says to Noah, "Now all living creatures are delivered into your hands. They will be your food and you will be their terror". That is the relationship that has grown, and this is why our bodies are so alien to one another and to all the rest of the created world. Unless we are redeemed, re-created, renewed, by the power and grace of God, we remain alien, beasts of prey, in a world which we were called to lead into the plenitude of communion with God. Because we are one, because our flesh is the same as everything that exists, the whole world could follow us if we only followed God. But we cease to follow God or we do it so haltingly, so hesitatingly, so unfaithfully. It is very important for us to realise this unity there is between us and the created world, and the importance, for the created world and for us, of the fact that we are one, forever inseparable.
At the other extreme there is our spirit. When Adam was created God breathed His life into him. It is the breath of God which is within us and makes us akin to God, that allows us to grow from empirical humanity into beings filled with divinity, who from innocence grow into maturity. From sinlessness in Adam, through the fall of man, through repentance, through the redeeming work of Christ, through our union with Him, we grow into oneness with God and become partakers of the divine nature.
Between body and spirit there is the soul of man. The soul is our intellect, our emotions, all the forms of awareness that exist in us. This is the danger-spot in our lives, because this is the point of impact of all temptations. The devil cannot tempt our flesh. One of the Fathers of the Church said that when we speak of the sins of the flesh, we are not speaking of the flesh being sinful, but of the sins which our soul commits against the flesh. I am hungry because my body cries out for food, but I am greedy because my soul makes a choice between what is alluring and what is not. My father would say to me when I was young, "Never keep at home anything delectable, anything which you like to eat. Keep only the things which you dislike because then you will eat only because you are hungry and not when you greedy". In each of its functions our body is pure and natural. It becomes unnatural and impure by what our soul projects into it, whether it be greed, lust, or anything else. This is the point of impact of the devil, because the devil can tell us, "Why should you eat bread when you can eat cake? Why couldn't you enjoy this and that which is not quite illicit but could rather be left alone? Because it would be nice for you". Then it is forced into our body which becomes gradually corrupted by the soul.
The ancient writers spoke of the soul of man as that part of man which both the devil and God can touch. God calls us to Himself, to perfect love, and He has proved to us that He can love us truly, to the point of giving His only-begotten Son unto death that we may live. And the devil, at the same time, says to us, "Don't believe Him. That will come one day, it's a promise. But what I offer you is something nice. Take it now". The devil beguiles us: God calls us. The devil makes promises which he never fulfils: God says, "Come, I love you. You will see what love can do. Look at Christ. Look at My love. Look at the babe of Bethlehem, who gives Himself, who is God giving Himself, helpless, defenceless, trusting Himself to you". And the destiny of mankind depends on what man will choose within the limits of the functions of his soul. Shall I accept the beguilement of the one or the call of love of the other? And we can then see everything coming into fulfillment in the person of Christ. Christ becomes a man. He becomes partaker of all the materiality of the created world in His own body. The whole of creation can look at Him and say, "This is what I am called to be. This is what God created me for. This is I, as I long to become, as I would have become if man had not betrayed me".
Saint Theodore of Studion says, "The world is like a wonderful horse ridden by a drunken rider". That is how the world sees itself. The world is the wonderful creature of God, and we, who were called to lead it into perfection, have failed and are failing day after day. But Christ has not failed. He has become one with it, and in the purity of His body, in the perfection of His body, He can be a vision for all things created. In His soul He has remained free of stain. There is a passage in Isaiah which says that a Child will be born to Israel and before He can discern the difference between good and evil He will have chosen the good, not because He is miraculously protected, but because there is no evil in Him; and therefore it is only sickness that directs us to evil. There is no sickness in Him and therefore He chooses the good in His soul, in His human soul. He is the incarnate Son of God and He reveals to us what man can be and what he is called to be, filled with the divine presence, with the grace of God, perfect and united with God.
* To Be What We Are: The Orthodox Understanding of the Person : A Conference of the Diocese of Sourozh: Headington, 1996. P. 5-14. Published by the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh, 1997.