“If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him. And when you have attained this knowledge, with what joy do you think you will be filled? Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. The Epistle to Diognetus, Part 10.
Here in the epistle to Diognetus our anonymous author is beginning to wrap up his account to his hearer. He has elaborated as to what the Christian message entails, what its hearers are called to and the salvation offered by God. Now he turns to those who, upon hearing all this, wish themselves to pursue the Christian calling.
For those who desire this faith, they should receive first the knowledge of The Father Who has sent His Only-Begotten Son into the world. Mathetes then goes on to explain that This is the Father Who is defined only by His love of humanity. This same Father is the one who gave reason and understanding to the human, who oriented the human being (as opposed to 4-footed animals) as heaving his head always looking heavenwards, and most of all, the one Who has first loved humanity.
However, for the one who wishes to know The Father, they cannot simply ‘know’ The Father as though He were another academic subject in school such as math or chemistry. To ‘know’ The Father is to enter into relationship and intimate love with The Father, through His Son. In the Scripture we see the term “to know” someone pointing to an intimate relationship generally denoting marriage.
Then we come to the question of how it is we can come to ‘know’ God, to enter into a relationship of love with Him? If we love Him we will become an imitator of His kindness. Our author even states, again against the cultural norm of the time, the imitation of God is not by ruling over others or showing our superior strength or intellect or wealth but rather in our bending down and stooping to help our brothers and sisters. In taking upon ourselves the burden of our neighbour and helping those around us, we become a god to them. Let us note that this is not because they ‘owe us one’ or because we are superior and they are weaker. No, we ‘become a god’ to those we help because this is the very character and defining feature of the Godhead.
Thus the defining feature of God is His self-giving love, His love freely offered to those who are weaker and in need. God is not defined by His ‘justice’ or His ‘power’ or that He does not die or need sleep. Rather, God is defined by His Infinite, self-giving love to all humanity. God had no need of the human being but the human being has need of God for our existence. And yet, God bends down in love to create and care for the human being (in the liturgy of St. Gregory the Theologian according to the rite of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, “You had no need of my servitude but rather I had need of your Lordship”). St. Gregory of Nyssa says clearly,
“God is in His own nature all that which our mind can conceive of good;—rather, transcending all good that we can conceive or comprehend. He creates man for no other reason than that He is good; and being such, and having this as His reason for entering upon the creation of our nature, He would not exhibit the power of His goodness in an imperfect form, giving our nature some one of the things at His disposal, and grudging it a share in another: but the perfect form of goodness is here to be seen by His both bringing man into being from nothing, and fully supplying him with all good gifts: but since the list of individual good gifts is a long one, it is out of the question to apprehend it numerically. The language of Scripture therefore expresses it concisely by a comprehensive phrase, in saying that man was made “in the image of God”: for this is the same as to say that He made human nature participant in all good; for if the Deity is the fulness of good, and this is His image, then the image finds its resemblance to the Archetype in being filled with all good.” St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of the Human Being, Chapter 16, Tract 10.
Thus, God is, by definition, selfless and loving (philanthropos – the lover of the human being as called by the Midnight praises of the Alexandrian rite). In order to emulate Him, we too must take up self-emptying love for our neighbours to serve them. To become as god, we must humble ourselves and serve the other, the one in front of us in order that we might emulate the Divine love.