OUR DAY HAS SEEN THE DEVELOPMENT of microchips implanted in the human body to provide medical information or security access. Retinal implants are being used to restore sight in certain cases and chips are being designed to replace whole organ transplants.
For 2000 years the Church has been proclaiming another kind of “implant” producing an organic unity between Christ and His Holy Spirit and the believer. Sometimes this unity is expressed as the believer being “in Christ” or “having put on Christ.” Elsewhere the scriptural imagery is reversed; thus it speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Similarly, St Paul affirms, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 Cor 6:19). Whether we say that we are in Christ or Christ is in us, the reality is the same: we are organically linked to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
This union is achieved in a tangible way through the holy mysteries, which graphically portray that the believer is in God and that He is in us. In Baptism we are immersed into the water and thus are plunged into Christ (Gal 3:27). We are buried with Him in the likeness of His death and we rise with Him in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom 6:3-4).
In Chrismation the reality of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is depicted when we are anointed with chrism and this sacred ointment infuses our bodies. As the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ is physical form after His baptism, so too the Spirit comes upon the believer through the physical sign of anointing. We are penetrated with the Spirit of God and the One who is “everywhere present and filling all things” abides in us in a distinctive way. As the Scripture says, we become adopted children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom 8:15-16). We are inseparably united to the Father through His incarnate Word and His life-creating Spirit.
Consequences in This Life
“You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,” says St Paul, “if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom 8:9). Incorporation into Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit takes us to a whole new dimension of reality. We are empowered to live in the Kingdom of God. While Adam and Eve walked “with God” in Paradise, it is given to us to walk “in Christ” through His Spirit dwelling in us.
God has created us as free beings, however, and so every act initiated by God in us bears fruit only when we cooperate with Him in fulfillment of His work in us. “By the baptism of rebirth grace confers two benefits on us, one of which infinitely surpasses the other. It gives the first immediately, for in the water itself it renews us and causes the image of God to shine in us. … As for the other – the likeness of God – it awaits our collaboration to produce it” (Diadochus of Photike, Gnostic Chapters, 89). Thus we can choose to live only on the earthly or “fleshly” plane, to use St. Paul’s word, or to live in Christ. “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).
In our Tradition living “according to the flesh” means to let the needs, desires and inclinations of the body determine the direction of our lives. It also includes following the tendencies of the mind which are based not on the indwelling presence of God in us but on the egotistical desires of our broken nature. These the Tradition calls “the passions.”
The Church’s ascetic practices are designed to “put to death the deeds of the body” in us: not only the obvious sins, but also the cravings or passions which may lead us to sin. These include physical practices such as fasting or prostrations but also mental disciplines such as following the direction of a spiritual guide rather than one’s own personal inclinations. Some feel that these observances are meant for monastics. St Paul was not writing for monks, however, but for all who would live their lives in Christ. As many have observed, life in the world – in the family itself – presents us with as many opportunities for curbing our self-will as any monastery may offer.
Consequences in the Age to Come
We are children of the Father, St Paul writes, and therefore His heirs, “joint-heirs with Christ” of the eternal Kingdom “if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together” (Rom 9:17). If we live the life in Christ in this world it is with the assurance that “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 9:11).
When St Paul and the Tradition after him tell us not to live according to the flesh, they are not despising the body, but looking ahead to its glorification. In this life we may experience “the first fruits of the Spirit” but their fulfillment will be “the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23) in glory. As St Justin the Philosopher wrote, “If the resurrection was to be only spiritual [Christ] would have to have shown at His own resurrection His body lying dead on one side and His soul on the other in its risen state. But He did nothing of the sort.” (Fragment 9)
The Church has seen the promise of the body’s glorification in the lives of many saints. Some, like St Seraphim of Sarov, have experienced bodily transformation during prayer. Others have reached out to touch people through their relics like St. Demetrios of Thessalonika, whose tomb has been exuding myrrh for centuries. Another sign of the body’s place in the Kingdom is the icon. Its style suggests the deification of the saint evident in the body.
Our full transformation in Christ will come at the end of the age. We await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come where our body will be transfigured in the image of Christ. “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2. See also 1 Cor 15:48-49).
It is not just those who are in Christ who will be transformed. All creation will be touched when Christ is revealed in glory. Again we turn to St Paul: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God… because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:19-22). The transfiguration of humanity in Christ will also transform all creation which will bask in His glory.
Subdue in us the cravings of our flesh so that – after putting off the old man – we put on the new and live for You, our Lord and Benefactor.