Orthodox Christianity: Encounter The True, The Eternal, The Beautiful


The Life

In the Gospel of Saint John, Chapter 14, we find this dialogue between the Apostle Thomas and Jesus:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In what sense is Jesus “the Life?” What is “the Christian Life?”

This is where a little Greek (which your Greek Orthodox friends have practiced for more than 2,000 years!) is useful. There are two words in Greek for life. One is “bios” as in biology. It is biological life, the life that ends when the body dies. Call it natural life. And then there is “zoe” (as in zoology) which is actually life in the fuller sense. Here is the drama of human life. It is not that we have an immortal soul trapped in a perishable and fallen body: that is a pagan, utterly non-Christian and non-Biblical idea. The drama is that Saint Paul once exclaimed:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)

It is true that a human person is a unity of body, soul and spirit, but the biological body with which we are born is not a body of freedom. In the famous (and often misunderstood) dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus found in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John, the Lord explains:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:3-7)

What does it mean? That we had no say in being born in this body! It is passing away, and we need to be transplanted to a body that has the power of a life beyond destruction. The body of Life what we need to set us free from sin and decay is spiritual and beyond the power of death because it is the Lord’s body. This is why Christians are baptized (symbolically buried) to died to this body and to rise again to a spiritual life of freedom. As Saint Paul explains:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

When Jesus speaks about his body (the one that we are joined to), when he says “this is my body,” what is he talking about. He is talking about the Eucharist (“take, eat, this is my body”) as well as about the Church which is called the Body of Christ.

“The Life” is the risen spiritual life in the body of Christ, set free from sin, decay and destruction by “the Lord, the Spirit!” This mystery takes place in the Church’s Eucharist, which the Apostle calls “the pillar and foundation of Truth” (1 Timothy 3:16).

Orthodox Church in America