Orthodox chapel nestled in the mountains.

The Image and Likeness of God in Man

By St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Excerpt­ed from The Refuge: Anchor­ing the Soul in God (The Col­lect­ed Works of St. Ignatius (Bri­an­chani­nov), Vol. 3. Trans­lat­ed by Nicholas Kotar — Paper­back — 448 pages — 978–088465-429–2.  Avail­able direct­ly from the pub­lish­er, or from any good book­store or online bookseller.

And once again the great­ness of God’s image appears! It is revealed even in the very Fall, in the way that man was res­cued from this fall.

God, by One of His Per­sons, took His image upon Him­self. He became man. By His own Self He res­cued him from the Fall and restored him to his for­mer glo­ry, rais­ing him up to an even greater height than was giv­en to him at the creation.

Here also we see how man is exactly God’s image. The Son takes human­ity on Himself and through Him God the Trinity enters into communion with mankind. 

The Lord is just in His mer­cy. By His redemp­tion, He mag­ni­fied His image even more than at the first cre­ation. Man him­self did not invent the Fall, as did the fall­en angel. Man was enticed to the Fall by envy; he was delud­ed by evil that hid behind a mask of goodness.

All the Per­sons of God the Trin­i­ty took part in the work of  Incar­na­tion, even hypo­sta­t­i­cal­ly. The Father abides as the beget­ter; the Son is begot­ten, and the Holy Spir­it acts.

Here also we see how man is exact­ly God’s image. The Son takes human­ity on Him­self and through Him God the Trin­i­ty enters into com­mu­nion with mankind. Our own thought, in order to com­mu­ni­cate with oth­er peo­ple, is incar­nat­ed into sounds. The imma­te­r­i­al is joined with mat­ter; through it, the spir­it and the mind enter this com­mu­ni­ca­tion as well.

The Son, God the Word, the Divine Truth—He was incar­nate. Our own thought was cor­rect­ed and puri­fied by Truth, and our own spir­it became capa­ble of com­mu­nion with the Holy Spir­it. The Holy Spir­it then reviv­i­fied our spir­it, which was mor­ti­fied by eter­nal death. Then our mind could enter into the knowl­edge and vision of the Father.

Man the trin­i­ty is healed by God the Trin­i­ty. The Word heals the thought and leads it from the domin­ion of false­hood, from the domin­ion of self-delu­sion, into the domin­ion of truth. The Holy Spir­it viv­i­fies the spir­it and leads it from car­nal and sen­su­al emo­tions to spir­i­tu­al ones. The Father appears to the mind, and the mind becomes the mind of God. “We have the mind of Christ,” said St Paul (1 Cor 2:16).

The beauty of the likeness was restored by the Spirit, just as the image was in baptism. It develops and perfects itself by the keeping of the command­ments of the Gospel.

Before the com­ing of the Holy Spir­it, man, as one with a dead spir­it, begged, “Lord, show us the Father” (John 14:8). After accept­ing the Spir­it of adop­tion, hav­ing sensed his son­ship to God, reviv­ing in spir­it for God and sal­va­tion by the action of the Holy Spir­it, man now refers to the Father as an inti­mate, as to a Father, cry­ing “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15).

In the font of bap­tism, our fall­en image is restored, and man is born into eter­nal life by water and the Spir­it. From this moment, the Spir­it, who had come away from man at his fall, begins to accom­pa­ny him dur­ing his earth­ly life, heal­ing the dam­age inflict­ed by sin after bap­tism through repen­tance. Thus, He makes it pos­si­ble for him to be saved through repen­tance, even to the last breath.

The beau­ty of the like­ness was restored by the Spir­it, just as the image was in bap­tism. It devel­ops and per­fects itself by the keep­ing of the command­ments of the Gospel.  The mod­el for this beau­ty, the full­ness of this beau­ty is the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Imi­tate me, just as I also imi­tate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), exhorts the apos­tle, call­ing the faith­ful to restore and per­fect the divine like­ness in them­selves, indicat­ing to them the Holy Arche­type of per­fec­tion for the new man who was recre­at­ed and renewed by the Redemp­tion. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14).  God the Trin­i­ty, when He redeemed His image (man), gave him such an oppor­tu­ni­ty to suc­ceed in the per­fec­tion of the like­ness, that the true like­ness becomes a union of the image with the Arche­type, the union of impov­er­ished cre­ation with its all-per­fect Creator.

Won­drous, mirac­u­lous is the image of God, that image through which God Him­self shines and acts. Peter’s very shad­ow could heal the sick! The man who lied to his face imme­di­ate­ly fell down dead, as though he had lied direct­ly to God. Paul’s ker­chiefs and head-cov­er­ings per­formed mir­a­cles. Elisha’s bones raised a dead man, when the care­less under­tak­ers acci­den­tal­ly touched his body to the bones of the long-dead spirit-bearer.

The clos­est like­ness and union is effect­ed and pre­served by the con­stant abid­ing in the com­mand­ments of the Gospel. The Sav­ior com­mand­ed His dis­ci­ples, “Abide in Me, and I in you.… I am the vine, you are the branch­es. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:4–5).

The most blessed of states is when the Chris­t­ian, with a con­science puri­fied by the aban­don­ment of all sin and the exact ful­fill­ment of the com­mand­ments of the Gospel, com­mu­ni­cates of the all-holy Body and Blood of Christ, and togeth­er with them he unites with God. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56).

O rea­son­ing image of God! Look care­ful­ly at the glo­ry, the per­fec­tion, the majesty that you are called to, that you are pre­des­tined for by God!  The unat­tain­able wis­dom of the Cre­ator has pro­vid­ed for you to make of your­self what you will.

O rea­son­ing image of God! Is it pos­si­ble that you do not want to remain a wor­thy image of God? Is it pos­si­ble that you want to per­vert your­self, to destroy the like­ness, to assume the image of the dev­il and to descend to the lev­el of the dumb beasts?

Has God poured forth His ben­e­fits in vain? Has His won­drous cre­ation been for naught? Has He con­sid­ered His coun­sel before the cre­ation of His own image to be point­less? Did He redeem man from the Fall with­out expect­ing rec­om­pense? No, He will expect an account from all who received gifts from Him. He will judge how His gen­eros­i­ty was used, how His incar­na­tion was appre­ci­at­ed, how His blood was val­ued, the blood that was poured to redeem us from the Fall.

Woe, woe to any crea­tures who dis­dain the ben­e­fits of God, the Cre­ator and Redeemer!  Eter­nal fire, the pit of inex­tin­guish­able fire, lit a long time ago, pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels—this is what awaits the per­vert­ed images of God who have become worth­less. They will burn eter­nal­ly but will not be con­sumed for eternity!

Broth­ers! While we wan­der this earth, while we are on the thresh­old of eter­ni­ty (this vis­i­ble life) let us try to cor­rect the out­lines of the image of God with­in our­selves, as God has drawn on our souls. Let us add shad­ing and col­or to fill out the beau­ty, vivid­ness, and fresh­ness of the like­ness; and God, at the ter­ri­ble judg­ment, will judge us wor­thy of enter­ing His eter­nal, blessed bridal cham­ber on His eter­nal day, His eter­nal feast and triumph.

About the Author

St Ignatius (Bri­an­chani­nov) (1807–1867) was a pro­lif­ic author of Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian asceti­cal works. Pub­lished toward the end of his life, his writ­ings con­tin­ued to grow in pop­u­lar­i­ty long after his death. Along with his con­tem­po­rary, St Theo­phan the Recluse, St Ignatius is now con­sid­ered a fore­most author­i­ty on Ortho­dox spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. He was can­on­ized by the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Abroad in 1988. His writ­ings have pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in Eng­lish as The Are­na, The Field and On the Prayer of Jesus. His feast day is cel­e­brat­ed on April 30th/May 13th.