Theology of the Body


The body is the only sign of who we are. That is why in canonical iconography God the Father is not depicted (because he cannot be imagined, which is to say imaged), and why the Son can (because he is the only image we can have of God’s relationship to us). In the halo above Jesus’ head in Orthodox icons we see the Greek words that mean “the existing one,” showing that he is at once the Lord who said to Moses, when asked his name, “I Am,” and the particular human being so haloed, a Jew who was with us for a few decades.

This is why the dignity we must bring to every human encounter matters, why we are formal in first meetings. Whether we are Christians or not, this sense of the holiness of encountering another living body is built into us, and every culture honors it with varying degrees of gracefulness, from the most formal bow to the high-five. Only robots would begin an encounter with no acknowledgement of the other as other, without a sign of respect for that otherness.

A lot of the Christian sense of embodiment has been taken up with questions of sexuality and the moral questions that sex leads us to. But the simple fact of being embodied-of being, because of our embodied character, both alike and radically unalike, the same and individual-has been less a matter of concern. We should have the sense, meeting any person, of one new world encountering another.

That sense of otherness and...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.