“WHAT HAS BEEN IS WHAT SHALL BE, and what has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10) – according to the third century BC author of Ecclesiastes. Modern observers of our society, on the other hand, point to the advances wrought by technology to show how much our world is changing. “The latest new thing is here!” proclaim the admen and consumers line up to be among the first to acquire it.
Advances in science and technology have contributed to what S.A. Rachinsky has called the “superstition of Progress:” a superstition (vain belief) because, while our external environment has indeed changed, human nature has not changed. We remain focused on satisfying our passions for wealth, power, and esteem – often with little or no interest in the concerns of others. Sooner or later, the environment, money, property, friends or family – everything will be used somehow to help us achieve our goals.
Many people are more than happy to spend their life seeking after the things of the world; for others this kind of life leaves a bitter taste and does not satisfy. Either way, life spent in the pursuit of material or emotional rewards still leads where it always has: to death. Our life ends in the oblivion of the tomb, whether our passions have been satisfied or not.
There Is Something New
God, however, created us for life – a life spent in communion with Him. From the beginning mankind has turned away from that life, seeking fulfillment apart from Him. Death and alienation from God are the result. But He has not allowed this to be the final answer.
God has provided us with something truly new in Jesus Christ. Completely one with us in His humanity, He nevertheless did not succumb to an illusory “pursuit of happiness.” He resisted the temptations to prefer material things (“bread”), wealth or spiritual showmanship to His relationship with His Father. While being truly part of our fallen world (“tested in every way as we are, yet without sin” – Hebrews 4:15), Christ was truly something new: “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) in our midst.
Putting on Christ
Union with Christ enables us to share in this newness. “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:16). We are no longer bound to perpetuate the image of fallen Adam; we can live in the newness of Christ.
According to St Paul, we “become new” by means of a two-fold dynamic. We put on Christ organically in baptism and consciously by putting off the old man in the way we live.
The rite of baptism emphasizes our organic union with Christ. A catechumen puts off his or her old clothes to be baptized into Christ and puts on the “robe of light,” once united to Him in His burial and resurrection. “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” we sing, echoing St Paul (cf. Galatians 3:27).
The direction we give to our life reflects the conscious putting-off of the old man and putting-on Christ. In his Epistle to the Colossians St Paul shows what ways of the old man we must renounce. He first lists those sinful acts which people without any knowledge of God may commit: “Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” He goes on to include things which many people, including Christians, assume to be of little import: “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another…” Then he gives the reason why such behavior is unacceptable: “…since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” We must, as later writers would insist, “be what you have become”: a new person in the image of Christ.
St Paul gave similar guidance to newly-converted Christians in the (pagan) Roman city of Ephesus:
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24).
New Eyes for the New Creation
Returning to the Epistle to the Colossians, we may be surprised at what follows. St Paul confronts a problem which plagues people on every level. The “old man” puts up a wide range of divisions and barriers between peoples – you are not like us because you are not from our family, clan, village, nation, social class, race, religion, etc. None of this has any part of the new creation “…where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” We must look at one another in new ways, not seeing what divides us but what unites us: the transforming presence of God in Christ.
In the new creation, we come to view all people as holy icons, seeing God and encountering Him in them. We affirm that God has created mankind in His image and that, despite our sins and weaknesses, there is always something of God in us. As St Clement of Alexandria taught, “When you see your brother, you see God.”
In fact, in Christ we look at everything with new eyes. We realize that God is “everywhere present and filling all things,” as we pray at the start of every divine service. Therefore we confess that all creation is of God and that all things are worthy of respect and reverence because they are of God. The material world is not one great consumer-good meant for our pleasure but our fellow-liturgist glorifying God with us, as we pray in the psalms, “Give praise to Him, sun and moon; give praise to Him, all you stars and light” (Psalms 148:2).
And so, when we put off the old man with his deeds, we find that the new man in us will be renewed in knowledge after the image of the One who created us. In this we rejoice.