Upon creating the world, God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The image of God in man is expressed in his reasoning abilities, his dominion over nature, in his power, in his ability to create. The likeness of God consists of his moral perfection, spiritual strivings, in the possibility of attaining holiness.
The image and likeness of God, according to which our prime ancestors were created, were fully reflected in them until the Fall. Sin violated both one and the other, though they were not entirely lost in mankind.
Man has retained reason and everything else that is in the image of God, but in order to develop them, one must exert great efforts, which will only produce to a limited degree that which our ancestors received. Remaining in mankind is some degree of striving to be “like” God, though it falters beyond recognition at times.
In order to return to mankind his original proximity to God, the Son of God descended to earth and became Incarnate. He accepted upon Himself all of man’s nature, he took the image of man, without, however, mankind’s sin. He came to recreate in the image of God the beauty created in us. But if in the beginning, God created man in His image and likeness, which had not existed before, in whose creation man himself did not participate, then for the recreation of the original image, man himself must participate. Man must strive towards perfection in order to receive it through the grace and assistance of God. The Lord, through His teachings, showed the path to perfection, demonstrated it through His example. This path is one of moral perfection, self-denial and the readiness to shed all sinfulness from oneself.
Sin settled deeply within man’s nature, almost melding with it. Every person is born with the seed of sin, and emancipation from it requires struggle within oneself. That is why this struggle is tortuous yet necessary in order to approach God. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The cross that one must take up is the battle with one’s failings, faults and sins. Gradually freeing ourselves from them, man approaches God, in Whose image he was created. Man himself does not have enough strength for this, but the grace of God comes to his aid, granted by God through the Church established by His Son. For this reason, He assumed human flesh, in order to raise up once again His image in us. On Mt Tabor, Christ displayed the beauty and glory of His Divinity, so that the apostles—and through them, the world—would know in Whose image man exists and towards which he must strive through spiritual ascent. It is according to the measure of purification of man from sin and his approach towards God that the glory of God is made more and more manifest. That is why saints are called, in Russian, prepodobniye [“those having a great likeness” (to God)]. Like a mirror, the glory of God is reflected in their soul, filling it with light. When the earthly struggle comes to an end, the level of saintliness the person achieved is then sealed. Upon the onset of the eternal Kingdom, all of mankind with be resurrected, their souls reuniting with their bodies, and “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43), as Christ Himself spoke with His own mouth.
St John (Maximovich)