“Let us make man ….”

Father John Behr, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, makes “a really interesting and often overlooked distinction” in a Lenten reflection:

… {T]he opening chapter of Genesis … begins, of course, with God issuing all sorts of commands:

“Let there be light.” There was light.

“Let there be a firmament. Let the waters under the heavens be gathered. Let the earth put forth vegetation. Let there be light in the firmament. Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures. Let the earth bring forth living creatures.

This is simply a divine fiat. “Let it be.” And this divine fiat is sufficient to bring all these things into existence. “Let it be. It was. It was good.”

Then having declared everything into existence by a word alone, God then announces His project. Not with an injunction – “Let it be” – but in the subjunctive – “Let us make a human being. Let us make a human being in our image, after our likeness.”

The express intention and the work of God Himself, therefore, is fashioning a human being in His image and likeness. This is the work of God. This is what He sets His mind to do. This is what He specifically deliberates about. This is the divine purpose and the divine resolve.

And this is the only thing which is not followed by the words “And it was so.”

In fact, only at the end – after Pilate unwittingly says “Behold the man,” or more literally, “Behold the human being” (… anthropos) – only then do we hear Christ say “It is finished.”

So the work of God, His intention from all eternity, is to make a human being. This is a project He announces at the very beginning, and this is what He completes in His Pascha.

When we come to the end of Great Lent, and our journey with Christ to Jerusalem, standing by the cross and burying His body, then we will hear at the Doxasticon for Vespers on Holy Saturday, we’ll hear a confirmation of exactly this point. We’ll sing “Moses the Great mystically prefigured this present day, saying “And God blessed the seventh day, for this is the blessed sabbath, this is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works. Through the economy of death,” it continues, “He kept the sabbath in the flesh, and returning again through the resurrection He granted us eternal life, for He alone is good and loves mankind,” or more literally, loves anthropos, loves the human being.

With the Passion of Christ, the work of God is complete, and the Lord of creation now rests from His works in the virgin tomb on the blessed sabbath, to be the firstborn of the virgin, the firstborn of the dead, whose bretheren we are called to become.

So the project – the work of God Himself – announced at the beginning, is completed at the end by one who is God and man. For every other aspect of creation, all that was needed was a simple divine fiat – “Let it be” – but for the human being to come into existence requires one amongst us who is able to say “Let it be.”

If this is the case, then we have yet to become human.  And as St. Ignatius testifies so resoundingly, we only and finally do so by following Christ to our own martyria, our own witness, and our confession of Him. Giving our own fiat. So only in the future then, are we finally created, being born into life as a human being.

I have formerly echoed Fr. Stephen Freeman in saying I despair of sainthood, but I’m working on becoming a real human being.  Maybe that’s not such a small thing after all. Maybe it’s even a distinction without a difference.