“We are synergoi”: Kallistos Ware on Human Freedom & the Theotokos

A beautiful sermon given by Kallistos Ware, an Eastern Orthodox bishop in England, An Icon of Human Freedom. Every paragraph is a gem.

“It is freedom of choice, more than anything else, that constitutes the image of God within us. As God is free, so the human person in God’s image is free. We are, so St Athanasius affirms (On the decrees of Nicaea xi, 1-2), creators after the image and likeness of God the Creator – ‘sub-creators’, to use the phrase of J.R.R. Tolkien – and if we renounce that creative freedom we deny our own humanity. As St Paul insists (1 Cor. 3:9), we are synergoi, ‘fellow-workers together with God’, ‘co-operators with God’ (this is perhaps the best translation of the Greek); and it is above all the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Nazareth that indicates what such ‘co-operation with God’ involves.”

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1450 (Convento di San Marco, Florence)

‘God persuades, he does not compel’: the statement in the Epistle to Diognetus applies exactly to the event of the Annunciation. God knocks at the door, but does not break it down: Mary is chosen, but she herself also makes an act of choice. She is not merely receptive, not merely ‘non-willing, non­achieving, non-creative’, but she responds with dynamic liberty….

All this is summed up in Mary’s reply to the angel: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38). This reply was not a foregone conclusion; she could have refused. Violence is foreign to the divine nature, and so God did not become human without first seeking the willing agreement of the one whom he wished to be his mother…

It is a striking fact – on which we can never reflect too much – that, whereas the creation of the world was brought about solely by the exercise of the divine will, the re-creation of the world was set in motion through the co-operation of a young village woman engaged to a carpenter.

Orazio Gentileschi, Annunciation, 1623 (Galleria Sabauda, Turin)

10 responses to ““We are synergoi”: Kallistos Ware on Human Freedom & the Theotokos

  1. Woah, what he says about the recreation happening through participation with humanituy, versus the singular divine will in creation, is really profound. Also, that second painting is gorgeous.

    • I know right! You almost feel its inappropriate but hey, that’s just how God works. Overflowing with love and wanting nothing more than to draw us more deeply into myself. 🙂

      And there are so many stunning paintings of the annunciation. It was so hard to chose. But I’d never seen that one before and I just loved it!

      I think when it comes to what were talking about, the divine taking flesh etc, the medium IS the message. I’m pretty sure the paintings are a 100 times more effective than I am in trying to spell it out. 🙂

    • Thank you! I love finding new paintings and giving them their proper due. I’d make them bigger if my template would allow me! They’re so beautiful. 🙂

      And thanks for commenting and following too! 🙂

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