It was not things non-existent that needed salvation, for which a bare creative word might have sufficed, but man – man already in existence and already in process of corruption and ruin. It was natural and right, therefore, for the Word to use a human instrument and by that means unfold Himself to all.
You must know, moreover, that the corruption which had set in was not external to the body but established within it. The need, therefore, was that life should cleave to it in corruption’s place, so that, just as death was brought into being in the body, life also might be engendered in it. If death had been exterior to the body, life might fittingly have been the same. But if death was within the body, woven into its very substance and dominating it as though completely one with it, the need was for Life to be woven into it instead, so that the body by thus enduing itself with life might cast corruption off. Suppose the Word had come outside the body instead of in it, He would, of course, have defeated death, because death is powerless against Life. But the corruption inherent in the body would have remained in it none the less. Naturally, therefore, the Saviour assumed a body for Himself, in order that the body, being interwoven as it were with life, should no longer remain a mortal thing, in thrall to death, but as endued with immortality and risen from death, should thenceforth remain immortal. For once having put on corruption, it could not rise, unless it put on life instead; and besides this, death of its very nature could not appear otherwise than in a body. Therefore he put on a body, so that in the body He might find death and blot it out. And, indeed, how could the Lord have been proved to be the Life at all, had He not endued with life that which was subject to death?
Saint Athanasius the Great, The Incarnation of the Word of God, 44.
Since, then, there was needed a lifting up from death for the whole of our nature, He stretches forth a hand as it were to prostrate humanity, and stooping down to our dead corpse He came so far within the grasp of death as to touch a state of deadness, and then in His own body to bestow on our nature the principle of the resurrection, raising as He did by His power along with Himself the whole human being. For since from no other source than from the concrete lump of our nature had come that flesh, which was the receptacle of the Godhead and in the resurrection was raised up together with that Godhead, therefore just in the same way as, in the instance of this body of ours, the operation of one of the organs of sense is felt at once by the whole system, as one with that member, so also the resurrection principle of this Member, as though the whole of humankind was a single living being, passes through the entire race, being imparted from the Member to the whole by virtue of the continuity and oneness of the nature. What, then, is there beyond the bounds of probability in what this Revelation teaches us; viz. that He Who stands upright stoops to one who has fallen, in order to lift him up from his prostrate condition?
Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism, 32.
Today hell groans and cries aloud: ‘It had been better for me, had I not accepted Mary’s Son, for He has come to me and destroyed my power; He has shattered the gates of brass, and as God He has raised up the souls that once I held.’ Glory to Thy Cross, O Lord, and to Thy Resurrection.
Today hell groans and cries aloud: ‘My power has been destroyed. I accepted a mortal man as one of the dead; yet I cannot keep Him prisoner and with Him I shall lose all those over whom I ruled. I held in my power the dead from all the ages; but see, He is raising them all.’ Glory to Thy Cross, O Lord, and to Thy Resurrection.
Today hell groans and cries aloud: ‘My dominion has been swallowed up; the Shepherd has been crucified and He has raised Adam. I am deprived of those whom I once ruled; in my strength I devoured them, but now I have cast them forth. He who was crucified has emptied the tombs; the power of death has no more strength.’ Glory to Thy Cross, O Lord, and to Thy Resurrection.
Holy Saturday Vespers, The Lenten Triodion , 655-656.
Since posting on my reaction to evangelicals and the substitutionary atonement theory, I have been reflecting on how very fundamental the Incarnation of Christ is to an Orthodox understanding of salvation. As a friend said to me recently, while western Christians may well believe in the Incarnation, the liturgical texts of the Church tend to rub our noses in it the whole time! I think that it was Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) who wrote somewhere (I can’t remember where) that whereas the West, and certainly evangelicals, tend to see salvation as Christ doing something for us, the East tends to see it as Him doing something in us. In conquering death, the Cross of Christ renews our human nature, restoring the Image of God within us. Or, as the texts for Small Compline on Palm Sunday put it, “He who suffers for us heals our passions by His Passion; for willingly He undergoes in our human nature His life-giving sufferings, that we may be saved.”