What does the word sacrament signify? “It is the sacraments that constitute our life in Christ.” The sacraments are “windows into this unseen world.”
But though we live in a dark world, there are windows into it. Let us remember the Greek term for sacrament — mysterion, mystery. A mystery, in the true religious sense, is not simply an enigma, an unexplained problem. A mystery is something, which is revealed for our understanding, yet never totally revealed because it reaches into the infinity of God. The mystery of all mysteries is the incarnation of Christ; therefore all other sacraments of the church are founded upon that.
The second word in the title which we shall need to keep in mind is healing — Sacraments of Healing and the healing power of our Sacraments. Healing means wholeness. I am broken and fragmented. Healing means a recovery of unity. Let us each thinks that I cannot bring peace and unity to the world unless I am at peace and unity with myself. “Acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will find salvation.” If I don’t have the spirit of peace within myself, if I am inwardly divided, I shall spread that division around me to others. Great divisions in the world between nations and states spring from many divisions within the human heart of each one of us.
How I am to understand my unity as a person? What models do I have when I think of the healing of my total self? Human beings are a complex unity. My personhood is a single whole, but a whole that embraces many aspects. As humans we stand at the center and crossroads of the creation. Saint John Chrysostom thinks of the human person as bridge and bond. Each of us then, is a little universe, a microcosm; each of us is imago mundi — an icon of the world. Each reflects within her or him the manifold diversity of the created order.
Saint Gregory Nazianzen, the Theologian, distinguishes the two main levels of the created order. On one hand, there is the spiritual or invisible order, on the other there is the material or physical order. Angels belong only to the first order. They are bodiless, spiritual beings. In Saint Gregory’s view, animals belong to the second order — the material and physical. We, uniquely in God’s creation, exist on both levels at once. Anthropos, man, the human person alone, has a twofold nature, both material and spiritual. Saint Gregory goes on to speak of ourselves as earthly yet heavenly, temporal yet immortal, visible yet intelligible, midway between majesty and lowliness, one selfsame being yet both spirit and flesh. Wishing to form a single creature from two levels of creation from both visible and invisible nature, says Gregory, the Creator Logos fashioned the human person. Taking a body from matter that He has previously created and placing in it the breath of life that comes from himself, which scripture terms the intelligent soul and the image of God, He formed anthropos, the human person, as a second universe — a great universe in a little one.
Now, because we stand in this way on the crossroads of creation, because each of us is a laboratory or workshop that contains everything in a most comprehensive fashion, we have a special vocation, and that is to mediate and to unify. Standing at the crossroads, earthly yet heavenly, body yet soul, our human vocation is to reconcile and harmonize the differing levels of reality in which we participate. Our vocation is to spiritualize the material, without thereby dematerializing it. That is why reconciliation and peace are such a fundamental aspect of our personhood.
But having said that humans are a microcosmic image of the world, we have not yet said the most important thing. The most important thing about our personhood it is not that we are an image of the world but it is that we are created in the image of God. We are a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. Our true glory is that we are in God’s image, that we reflect the divine. We are called not only to unify the different levels of the created order, but we are also called to join earth and heaven and to unite the created and the uncreated.
We are not only imago mundi but also imago dei — image of God. These are our two vocations — not just to unify the creation, but also to offer creation back to God. As king and priest of creation formed to the image of God, the human person offers the world back to God and so transfigures it. The great universe is not the world around us, not the galaxy light years away from us. The great universe is the inner space of the heart. Incomparably greater than the outside universe is the depth within each human heart.
Our vocation is not just to unify but also, as image of God, it’s our task to render the world transparent — to make God’s presence shine through it. We cannot fulfill our vocation as bridge builders, as unifiers, as cosmic priests, unless we see our own selves as a single undivided whole. More specifically, we can act as bond and mediator within the creation, rendering the material spiritual only if we see our body as an essential part of our selves, only if we view our personhood as an integral unity of body and soul. Severing our links with the material environment, we cease to mediate.
Here at once we see the very grave spiritual implications of the present pollution of the environment, what we humans are doing toward the cosmic temple which God has given us to dwell in. The fact that we are degrading the world around us in a very alarming manner shows a terrifying failure to realize our vocation as mediators. So we need, if we are to be truly human, to come to terms with our own body — with its rhythm, its mysteries, its dreams — and through our body then to come to terms with the material world.
Let me express my sincere and deepest gratitude to Bishop Kallistos Ware, my supervisor and guru for his wonderful series of lectures from which I have managed to write and share the above topic.- Tenny Thomas