“I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Part I)
The Incarnation of the Word was an absolute manifestation of God. And above all it was a revelation of Life. Christ is the Word of Life, ho logos tês zôês (I John 1:1). The Incarnation itself was, in a sense, the quickening of man, as it were the resurrection of human nature. In the Incarnation human nature was not merely anointed with a superabundant overflowing of Grace, but was assumed into an intimate and “hypostatical” unity with Divinity itself.
In that lifting up of human nature into an everlasting communion with the Divine Life, the Fathers of the early Church unanimously saw the very essence of salvation. “That is saved which is united with God,” says St. Gregory of Nazianzus. And what was not so united could not be saved at all (Epist. 101, ad Cledonium). This was the fundamental motive in the whole of early theology, in St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, the Cappadocians, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus the Confessor.
Yet, the climax of the Incarnate Life was the Cross, the death of the Incarnate Lord. Life has been revealed in full through death. This is the paradoxical mystery of the Christian faith: life through death, life from the grave and out of the grave, the Mystery of the life-bearing grave. And Christians are born again to real and everlasting life only through their baptismal death and burial in Christ; they are regenerated with Christ in the baptismal font (cf. Rom. 6:3-5). Such is the invariable law of true life. “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die” (1 Cor. 15:36).
Salvation was completed on Golgotha, not on Tabor, and the Cross of Jesus was spoken of even on Tabor (cf. Luke 9:31). Christ had to die, in order to bestow an abundant life upon the whole of mankind. It was not the necessity of this world. This was, as it were, the necessity of Love Divine, a necessity of a Divine order. And we fail to comprehend the mystery.
Why had the true life to be revealed through the death of One, Who was Himself “the Resurrection and the Life”? The only answer is that Salvation had to be a victory over death and man’s mortality. The ultimate enemy of man was precisely death. Redemption was not just the forgiveness of sins, nor was it man’s reconciliation with God. It was the deliverance from sin and death. “Penitence does not deliver from the state of nature (into which man has relapsed through sin), it only discontinues the sin,” says St. Athanasius. For man not only sinned but “fell into corruption.” Now, the mercy of God could not permit “that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin and turn again to non-existence by the way of corruption.” Consequently the Word of God descended and became man, assumed our body, “that, whereas man turned towards corruption, He might turn them again towards incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of his body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like a strawfromthefire”(Deincarnatione, 6-8).
Thus, according to St. Athanasius, the Word became flesh in order to abolish “corruption” in human nature. However, death is vanquished, not by the appearance of Life in the mortal body, but rather by the voluntary death of the Incarnate Life. The Word became incarnate on account of death in flesh, St. Athanasius emphasizes, “In order to accept death He had a body” (c. 44). Or, to quote Tertullian, “forma moriendi causa nascendi est” (De carne Christi, 6).
Adapted from Archpriest Georges Florovsky (1893-1979), The “Immortality” of the Soul, taken from Chapter VI, “Dimensions of Redemption,” of the Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. III: Creation and Redemption