The Emptiness of Christ

St. Paul speaks of Christ “emptying” Himself in His voluntary sacrifice for us all (Philippians 2:5-11). It is the only place in the New Testament that speaks of this particular action of Christ – at least as an “emptying” (kenosis) but the concept has always played a large role in the Church’s understanding of Christ’s death on the Cross.

It is interesting to me that Father Sophrony, in his writings, takes this idea of kenosis and applies it as well to the “not-I-but-the-Father” sayings: “I live by the Father” (Jn. 6:57; cf 5:30, 7:18, 15:15).

Fr. Nicholas Sakharov says of Father Sophrony’s point:

Christ, though the incarnate God, avoids any “divine action” of his own, so much so that the Father’s hypostasis [Person] is manifest absolutely through the absolutely “transparent screen” of Christ’s self-emptied hypostasis. Through this kenosis it becomes the “express image of the Father” (Heb. 1:3).

This, it seems to me, says much to us about what it means to become “like Christ.” The moralist approach (which I was taught as a child) is fraught with constant attention to “what would Jesus do?” in a moral calculation that can never end in anything but failure or delusion.

When St. Paul speaks of conformity to the image of Christ it is always clear that this is not something we accomplish, but something that is accomplished within us by God. In particular he says:

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

Here is our own kenosis or emptying. “Not-I-but-Christ.” And thus we become transparent and finally transparent such that we are His image. This is not an effort of moralism, but a self-offering to God. And so St. Paul writes:

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

18 Responses to “The Emptiness of Christ”

  1. Petra Says:

    Father bless. I really appreciate the clarification between the moralist approach and the self-emptying approach…I have much to learn. Thank you!

  2. Carl Says:

    An interesting reflection on the power of an image: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/06/09/080609fa_fact_wolff

  3. chaqar Says:

    Could this be an example of our tendency to compartmentalize our lives? I mean, I know I do it. There’s work. Then leisure time. Prayer. Talking with friends. Family relationships. Romantic relationships. And it’s easy for me to feel so lost. But the way St. Paul describes it, knowledge of God’s will flows naturally out of our kenosis. There’s this fluidity where it almost seems like God/God’s will carries us rather than us figuring Him/it out. “Like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream.” But, “I don’t know anything about that.”🙂

  4. NeoChalcedonian Says:

    After reading this post three times, my mind brings to memory the words of that wise hermit you posted of a short while ago:

    “‘I don’t know anything about that.’”

  5. Zacharias Says:

    @NeoChalcedonian

    And since I’m a philosophy major I’ll add the words of Socrates: “All I know is that I don’t know anything!”

    Very thought provoking post, Father. This is something I had never really thought of before, but it’s easy enough at first glance to see very big implications of it.

    One of the things I’ve been struggling with is what we say in the prayer when we say “Lord, teach me your statues.” We are always praying that God will teach us to do His will, and for me, that always meant that I had to -do- something. I’m definatley going to need some time to think and pray about this, perhaps what it is I need to do is find a way to “empty” myself.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    I know the difference between kenosis and moralism, but knowledge of “emptying myself” is still largely beyond me on an existential level as well. But I don’t want to substitute something else for it – for all I will receive in return is something other than Christ.

  7. café de soirée Says:

    Not I, But Christ…

    Fr. Stephen, again in a wonderful post about what it means to live in the image of Christ, says this:

    The moralist approach [to being like Christ] (which I was taught as a child) is fraught with constant attention to ‘what would Jesus do?’ in …

  8. MichaelPatrick Says:

    This also says something perhaps unintended, that the cross –in and through Christ– reveals the Father. So many think the Father is not on that cross, but above it, judging His Son.

  9. Joseph Says:

    With no other way that I know of to contact you, here is the link to your Easter Christian Blog Awards banner:

    Please display it proudly!

  10. A Mind Awake » What’s Happening Around the Blog World Says:

    […] Stephen Freeman on The Emptiness of Christ – Paul speaks of Christ “emptying” Himself in His voluntary sacrifice for us […]

  11. Jen Says:

    I appreciate this clarification of the moralist approach. I told one of my twin grandsons the other day to share with his brother so they both would have an equal number of toys. But I went even further and asked him what Jesus would do. He, being very young, didn’t know, and so I told him., Jesus might give all the toys to his brother. Dylan thought for a moment, then handed all the toys over. It was a sweet act, but I enjoyed the fact that it was a completely new concept to him. We’ve always asked the boys to share, but to give it all away? I was also a little dismayed, this act was really not anything I expected nor asked for. But how do you tell a four year old to “empty himself? You do it by teaching him to think of others first, I guess.
    As I was reading all the blogs, the only way that I could conceive of “emptying oneself,” is to give everything of yourself – your family, your children, your fears, your attachments, your whole self, warts an all, to God, utterly and completely.

  12. Mark Downham Says:

    If you see the LORD Jesus Christ in every eye who sees you, then you have understood His kenosis.

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    It’s possible that this is true, but I suspect that to know the fullness of Christ’s kenosis is even deeper.

  14. Mark Downham Says:

    Yes. I like this reflection. The descent to the lowest point is always a bloodline descending – even Hell has been nailed to the Cross, so if you stand beneath the Empty Cross you are standing at the lowest point – the fullness of His emptiness in us.

  15. Steve Says:

    MichaelPatrick,

    The point you make here turns everything on it’s head – you are of course absolutely right.

    Thank you.

  16. zoe Says:

    A simple way I can apply “kenosis’ or self emptying is to continue to peel off or attempt to peel off the “dragon skin” ( concept from “Chronicles Of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis), that keeps growing back on me in the process of Salvation: This dragon skin consists of some residue of still Protestant way of thinking that I realize in reading and re-reading this blogs and comments, are still present even in the way that I respond to this blog and in sorting out the issues being discussed. I understand that with Christ’s help I will be able to understand, even a little of “the fullness of Christ’s Kenosis” that Fr. Stephen mentions in this blog. Rom. 12: 1-2 that Fr. Stephen cited applies to what I’m trying to say. I must let the mercy of God renew my mind and remove all “former delusions” so that I may “prove what is the will of God, what is good acceptable and perfect.

    Thank you again, Fr. Stephen for this blog. The topics that you provide are very challenging and causes me to reflect constantly on my Faith in Jesus Christ and the Orthodox Church and I ask everyone’s forgiveness if by responding to the blog I misquote or misrepresent Orthodox teachings. I’m in the process of learning and please correct me if I’m in error. I will never cease to thank God for leading us to the Orthodox Church and its teachings.

    Father Bless.

  17. Mark Downham Says:

    “Christ, though the incarnate God, avoids any “divine action” of his own, so much so that the Father’s hypostasis [Person] is manifest absolutely through the absolutely “transparent screen” of Christ’s self-emptied hypostasis. Through this kenosis it becomes the “express image of the Father” (Heb. 1:3).”

    Nikolai, surely it was a “Divine Action” of the Son to choose this – there is Trinitarian intention, purpose and volition involved in choosing the Incarnation and the necessity of Kenosis as a Soteriological action – although I agree that in this the Father proceeds through and from the Son.

  18. Mark Downham Says:

    “This also says something perhaps unintended, that the cross –in and through Christ– reveals the Father. So many think the Father is not on that cross, but above it, judging His Son” – MichaelPatrick

    I like this treament. This has some interesting implications for Platonic Causality [Single Point Emanation and Progression] and it supports Athanasius in dealing with Arius and the Arians at the Council of Nicea in in his contention that the Son is ‘one in Being with the Father’ [same Essence/Substance] – Nicene Creed: “Being of one substance with the Father” [in response to the suggestion from Arius that the Son logically must be a created being within the framework of Platonic Causality – which reveals the Limitations of Greek Philosophy and the Intuitive Brilliance of Athanaius].

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