Father Gabriel (Bunge) continues the introduction to Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Traditionby pointing to Christ’s relationship to His Father as the foundation of Christian prayer, which He transmits to His disciples by teaching them the Our Father.
Even before there was a Creed to sum up the Christian faith, this simple text epitomized what it means to be a Christian, precisely in the form of a prayer – that is to say, that new relationship between God and man which the only begotten, incarnate Son of God established in his own person. This is surely no coincidence. (11-12)
Human beings are created in the image of God but are also destined to grow into the likeness of God. The most essential thing about our humanity is that it is relational, a relationship that is akin to that between an original image and its copy.
Yet this relation is not static, like the one between a seal and its impression, for instance, but rather living, dynamic, and fully realized only through becoming. (12)
Just as Christ is the “face” of God who is Person, and is turned towards humanity, so too we as created personal beings have a “face.”
The “face” is that “side” of the person that he turns toward another person when he enters into a personal relationship with the other. “Face” really means: being turned toward. Only a person can have, strictly speaking, a real “counterpart” to which he turns or from which he turns away. Being a person – and for man this always means becoming more and more a person – always comes about “face to face” with a counterpart. Therefore Paul contrasts our present, indirect knowledge of God, “in a mirror dimly [Greek: en ainígmati = enigmatically]”, with the perfect eschatological beatitude in knowing God “face to face”, whereby man “shall know as he is known”. (13)
This spiritual essence is reflected in our corporal nature.
To turn one’s face toward another or deliberately turn it away from him is not something indifferent, as everyone knows from daily experience, but rather a gesture of profound, symbolic meaning. Indeed, it indicates whether we want to enter into a personal relationship with another or want to deny him this.
The purest expression of this “being turned towards God” to be found here on earth is prayer, in which the creature does in fact “turn” towards his Creator, in those moments when the person at prayer “seeks the face of God” and asks that the Lord might “let his face shine” upon him. In these and similar phrases from the Book of Psalms, which are by no means merely poetic metaphors, the fundamental experience of biblical man is expressed, for whom God is not an abstract impersonal principle, after all, but rather is Person in the absolute sense. God turns towards man, calls him to himself, and wants man to turn to him also. And man does this quintessentially in prayer, in which he, with both soul and body, “places himself in God’s presence.” (13-14)