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They believed that this truth was to be found not in a set of philosophical propositions but in a Person, the person of Jesus. Jesus was seen not as a particularly wise man, a teacher, but as the Union of man and God. Fully God and fully (more fully than any of us!) man. As such He resolved in His person the problem posed by Greek philosophy which was precisely the separation of the divine and the human, the ambition to bring about that union through a process of logical reasoning.

Christ as a child teaching in the synagogue. Wall painting from the Boyana Church, Sofia, Bulgaria, c14th century.

What I'm going to say now about what was believed and practised in Constantinople may strike many of you as having a lot in common with mainstream Christianity in the West. I may in the course of this talk make some remarks about what differentiates Orthodox Christianity from other Christian tendencies but that is not my primary concern here.

In Christianity, the longed for union of the divine and the human is accessible to everyone and secured through participation in the Person of Christ. Hence the importance of understanding the divinity of Christ. All pre-Christian mythologies (I do not regard 'myth' as a pejorative term. A myth is a particular way of conveying something believed to be true) include stories of gods assuming human form. But these are limited gods representative of particular aspects of experienced reality seeking their own limited ends, often sexual. They might help particular individuals but not the whole of humanity. There is no comparison with the myth (I repeat. I don't regard 'myth' as a pejorative term) of an infinite God, Creator of the Universe, accepting a human death for the salvation of all humankind.

The full divinity of Christ was defined dogmatically at the first Council of Nicaea in 325. The key term of the definition was 'homoousion' - of one substance, or being, or essence. One of the alternative formulations of the relation between the God the Father and the 'Son of God' was homoiousion - of like substance. The difference in the Greek is the 'i', the iota, and we know that through Gibbon the expression 'not one iota of a difference' indicates a frivolous, nit-picking difference.

From a Christian point of view it is very far from being a frivolous difference. The identity of substance between the Son, who has assumed our nature, and the Father is a crucial, world-transforming fact. To quote both St Athanasius and St Irenaeus from the third and fourth centuries: 'God became man so that man might become God.' God. Not a god, or not a divine being who in some way resembles God.

Once we have begun to grasp the idea of the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in Christ - and this is not an easy thing to grasp - than we have to equally grasp the remarkable conclusion that flows from it, that the union of divinity and humanity occurred in the womb of Mary and that the human flesh assumed by God was her flesh. And it is difficult to see how such a notion, once fully grasped, could fail to arouse a feeling of awe, a desire to venerate 'the Mother of God.' To quote a hymn addressed to her that is used in the Orthodox 'Liturgy of St Basil' (though not written by St Basil):

'In you O full of Grace all creation rejoices, the assembly of angels and the race of man. O sanctified temple and spiritual paradise, the glory of virgins, from whom God was incarnate and became a little child, our God before the ages. He made your body into a throne and your womb more spacious than the Heavens. In you, O full of grace, all creation rejoices, Glory to you.' (My emphasis - PB)

'In you all creation rejoices ...' 15/16th century from the workshop of the icon painter Dionisiji, 146x110 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow