What follows is the text of a class from an introductory series of classes on Christology. This class was taught at Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in McComb, MS on January 17, 2006.

We have five weeks between now and the time that Great Lent will begin, and in that time I would like for us to look at Christology (which is what the Church/Tradition/ Saints/Liturgical texts teach us about Who Christ is). We’ll have four classes, I’ll be out of town one week between now and Lent. This first class will be an introduction and a look at why man needs Christ. And then in the three remaining classes we’ll look briefly at various false teachings, or heresies, about Christ that have come up over the course of the last 2 millennia. And I think we’ll see that all the bad stuff we see around today about Christ has been taught by somebody else many hundreds of years ago.

Is this study really relevant? Is it important to understand what the Church teaches about Christ? Obviously, my answer is yes. For the Orthodox Church, what you believe = how you pray = how you live. What we believe about Christ directly impacts how we live the Christian life. Which means there are consequences for man’s salvation.

In the Orthodox Church, we tend toward accepting and experiencing the mystery that is God. We don’t try to explain the mysteries of the Church, of Christian life, or death, or man’s salvation. There is so much we can’t understand. So when we get into the business of trying to explain and “figure out”, we run a real risk of error, using our own brains to try and figure out things way beyond us.

So how do have all these teachings and doctrines about the person of Jesus Christ that we call Christology? These doctrines about Christ were expressed out of the Father’s concern for man’s salvation. False teachings arose, so the Saint’s [the friends of God, those who saw Him face to face, those with true knowledge of God] of the Church had to step up and counter the false teachings by expressing the Truth about Christ [Truth expressed in the Scriptures, Tradition, in the life of the Church]. The doctrines of the Church were expressed solely from a “soteriological motive.” To preserve the proper teaching for man’s salvation. If people were led astray by false prophets, as Christ said, then they would be led away from salvation. So the doctrines that the Church proclaims are actually very few, and they were expressed in opposition to heresy to preserve Christian Salvation.

Many of the heresies about Christ (and other false teachings) arose because people couldn’t understand what the Church taught [remember people left Christ because they couldn’t bear His teaching on the Eucharist]—they insisted that they must be able to make sense of things in a way they could see and accept, or because they were swayed by the philosophical environment of the day. The Saints always tried to share the Gospel in the language of the times, but some were confused by that language and began to teach doctrines that were not in accord with the Life of Christ.

In this light, it’s incredibly important for us to have at least a basic understanding of Orthodox Christology. #1—So we can believe and therefore live rightly, according to the Word of Truth. #2—So that we can recognize false teachings around us when we hear them. And the more we learn and know the Truth about Christ, and especially in our personal experience of Christ in our daily walk in the Christian life, we’ll also understand why false teachings are false and what’s so important about the specific Truth that any false teaching violates.

So the next 3 classes we’ll look at several specific heresies in each class, and talk about several angles—why the teachings are wrong, what the proper teaching is, why this is important for our salvation, and where we see this false teaching recurring today.

But for the rest of today’s class, we’ll talk a little about anthropology. We’ll talk about what the Church says about humanity. We have to know who we are, why we’re created, why we need Christ, or the whole of the Christian life has no meaning for us. It becomes not who we are in Christ, but simply a moral life, or a philosophy for living, or our personal expression of religion.

The Scriptures teach that we’re created in the image and likeness of God. We’re created in the image of God—we share in many of the Divine Attributes, characteristics that animals don’t have. What this image is is actually part of the mystery of what it means to be human. God is a mystery that we can’t comprehend, and humanity is the same way. We don’t even completely understand who we are. We can see the image of the God in man in the Divine Attributes we share with God—freedom, creativity, hypostasis (personal existence and awareness, as a very simple and inadequate definition), rationality, love, unknowability. And we can list some these things, but what the image of God in man is is not something that we can just define. We’re created in a way that mirrors God.

And we’re created in the likeness of God. We have the possibility of becoming like God. We created with the potential for theosis, salvation. The Father’s say the image of God in man is our potential, attaining to the likeness of God is the fulfillment of that potential. A completion that sin gets in the way of.

The only perfect human is Christ. We can only understand what humanity is meant to be in the person of Jesus Christ. In the seminary you don’t just study anthropology (mankind), and you don’t just study Christology (Christ), you study them together. It’s only through anthropology that we can understand Christ, and it’s only through Christology that we can understand humanity. We created in the image of God, and the Father’s explain that we’re images of the image. We’re created in the image of Christ, Who the Scriptures call “the express image of the Father.” We’re icons of Christ (which is an understanding vital to a proper understanding of iconography in the Orthodox Church). We’re all created to be like, and share in the life of, Christ. Bp. Kallistos Ware says that not only did God become man to make man god (to give us salvation as sharing in the Divine Life), but God becomes man to make man truly human. Sin makes us less than human, less that animals, even (animals live as they were created to live—we don’t!).

We’re created by God out of love, so that we could share in His life. Sin takes that possibility away. Sin is a movement away from God, away from life. Christ comes, and by taking on human nature He heals that nature. One person causes the Fall of nature, and one Person (Christ) offers the healing of nature. Our salvation is in uniting ourself to Christ. It’s what we pray, it’s what we sing, it’s what the Scriptures teach. Man’s salvation is in unity with the Godman. In participation with healed and deified human nature. Christ lifts mankind even higher that Adam in the Garden. Now we’re called to be sons and daughters of God, children of God, as St. Paul says–partakers in the Divine nature. We offered to share in the life of God.

True human nature is ever growing to be more and more like God. Christ restores this possibility. And by uniting ourselves to Christ we not only become like God, we’re offered to share in what He is.

So, man is created by God. But in our rejection of God, we enslave ourselves to passions and sin and death. Christ comes to free us from our slavery, and to offer us again the chance to live life with God. Over the next several weeks, as we look specifically at Christ, we’ll talk some about how human nature is healed in Christ, how we participate in the life of Christ, how we’re saved, basically. And preserving and knowing this is important even for our own salvation. When the Counsels of the Church met and dogmas and doctrines were expressed, these teachings were posted and proclaimed in the Churches. It’s important not only that a few bishops and priests know the Truth—it’s important that every Christian know the Truth, so that we can life the life that the Gospel call us to live. So that we can participate in the salvation that God has offered to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ.

For further reading in Christology, I highly recommend a book by Archbishop DMITRI (Royster) of the OCA’s Diocese of Dallas and the South–The Doctrine of Christ: A Layman’s Handbook. It is a very accessible book which is thorough, and simply a marvelous presentation of the Christology of the Tradition of the ancient Church.