Lecturer of the Kiev Theological Academy Andrey Muzolf reflects.
For many people, the above two characteristics are incompatible. Not for the Orthodox, who in their concept of man are guided first of all by the Holy Scriptures and the sacred Tradition of the church. From its first pages the Bible tells us that man is the completion of God’s creation, its pinnacle, combining the visible, or material world and the invisible, spiritual world. In that context the Venerable Anastasios of Sinai notes: “God creates a living being in a form of a mixed world, akin to both worlds and consisting, on the one hand, of an incorporeal, immortal and incorruptible soul, and on the other, of a material and visible body.” That is why many holy fathers and theologians called man nothing more than a “ligament of worlds” or “an abridged outline of the Universe”, meaning by these words the precise alignment of man with both the material and spiritual worlds.
The Venerable Anthony the Great says wonderful words about the high destiny of man: “It is for man that God created the sky and decorated it with stars. It is for the same man that He created the earth.” At the same time, according to the holy fathers, a human is also created with a specific purpose. St Ignatius Bryanchaninov writes: “Just as God created heaven and earth for man to inhabit, so He created the human body and soul as His own dwelling.”
Foreseeing the coming fall of mankind even before its creation, God creates a man in a special way. In contrast with the creation of animals when God commands water or earth to produce a “living soul”, everything happens a little differently with the creation of man. The book of Genesis narrates: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2: 7). Commenting on this verse, many interpreters of the Holy Scriptures involuntarily asked this question: why is a person, destined to become the crown and ruler of all creation, created from no other than dust, and not from some, perhaps, more noble matter? St. Augustine in one of his works puts this question in the following words: “Why did God create man from dust? Didn’t He have any better heavenly matter, to create a fragile mortal being than earthly mud?”
The holy fathers, including St Augustine himself resolved his bewilderment almost unanimously: the creation of man from the dust of the earth proves the omnipotence of God, Who is capable of raising up his ultimate and most beautiful work even from such a lowly material as dust. On the other hand, the fact that we were created from the dust of the earth should serve us a constant reminder of our origin and become a kind of a “vaccine” against the sin of pride and indulging too much in our greatness. The Venerable John Damascene says that God created the flesh of man from dust to forestall pride.
As we can see, man has always been and will always remain a special creation in God’s eyes. Having made us after His own image, He ingrained a piece of Himself into us, along with our main goal, that is to achieve God-likeness.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds