Beyond morality


The iconostas of the chapel in the former communist prison in Pitesti.

Christianity is often misconstrued as a religion about the good and the bad, about the righteous and the unrighteous. Do this, and you will be saved. Do that, and you will be damned. Described in these terms, it remains a religion of separation. How is this consistent with the image of Christ, who opens His arms on the cross as the beginning of an embrace for all?

Of course, we have the Gospel of Judgment. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me’” (Matthew 25:34-36). And such texts may give us justification to judge, to divide the world into righteous and unrighteous. But perhaps even this reminds us that we may believe we live, while in fact we are dead, embracing no one else other than ourselves, oblivious to the wounds of the others.

I think you find the essence of Christianity if you behold the two main icons of an iconostas. They guard the royal door, the entrance in the altar. On the right side, it is Christ, the God-man by nature, who has become man so that man can become God (St. Athanasius). On the left side, it is Mary, the Mother of the Lord, the human being par excellence in Christianity. The human who has become god by grace, by taking upon herself giving birth to Christ.

The iconostas is the story of humanity: to love the God-man is to be a god-man, and to be a god-man is to give birth to God in you, so to decrease in order for Him to increase, to die in order to live.

Some believe that to be a supra-human you must will to become one with the God-head. Idolatry understood as faith. A Raskolnikov. But the god-man by excellence, Mary, says simply: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”

Christianity is not about being unrighteous or righteous. It is about being dead or alive.


Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World:

The ‘original’ sin is not primarily that man has ‘disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God. The sin was not that man neglected his religious duties. The sin was that he thought of God in terms of religion, i.e., opposing Him to life. The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world. The fall is not that he preferred world to God, distorted the balance between the spiritual and material, but that he made the world material, whereas he was to have transformed it into ‘life in God,’ filled with meaning and spirit.”