I'm a man, but I can change, if I have to... I guess
The Red Green Show, the source of the title - a show whose long run ended only recently, had a number of things to say about human nature - in a dry, Canadian humor sort of way. The most common theme (appearing in a myriad of situations) seemed to be that "to err is human." Most of us have probably made the excuse at some point that we're only human. Having lived around Boston for almost three years, I saw the local and national media repeatedly say "Manny is just being Manny" whenever Boston's arguably best player would lose interest in a game, or even outright refuse to play. On the other hand, the term "humane" is often used to describe things done with kindness, thoughtfulness, and love.
So what does it mean to be human? What does our faith have to say about it? Any answer to this question has to begin with the story of creation in the book of Genesis. There, man is created in the "image and likeness" of God (Genesis 1:26). The Fathers of the Church understood this to mean that there is planted within us a seed (the image) which we need to grow in order to become holy as God is holy (the likeness).
Shortly after creation, there is the well-known story of the fall: the serpent tempts Eve, who in turn tempts Adam, and they both are driven out of the garden. The consequences of the fall are things we see around us every day: suffering, illness, death.
A number of the early Fathers, notably St. Irenaeus of Lyons, have said that the state of man before the fall was not one of perfection. Rather, then as now, it was a state of potential perfection. Even before the fall, man had the need to cultivate the image that had been placed within him. Adam and Eve had been placed within the garden for that specific purpose: to grow from their child-like beginnings into godlike persons whose humanity would have reached its fullness in communion with God. In this regard, human nature has not changed; its lofty goal of godliness remains in place.
What has changed, however, is the relationship between us and God. First, the aforementioned fall meant that the image of God within us was distorted/darkened and it became more difficult for us to know what it means to be godlike. Second, it became more difficult for man to be in close communion with God. The image of the angel standing guard at the tree of life (Gen 3:24) illustrates this difficulty. Still, the Old Testament is replete with images of people who drew near to God: Isaiah, Deborah, Elijah, Ruth, and Elisha are only a few examples of those who strove to fulfill the calling to holiness.
The last major change in the human condition occurred with the Incarnation, when God Himself obliterated the gulf that had appeared between man and God, allowing us to behold the second person of the Trinity become man, to commune with Him in the Holy Eucharist. This did not undo the original fall. Rather, it created a new reality, the God-man (theanthropos) Christ. The significance of the Incarnation was underlined by St. Athanasios: "[f]or therefore did He assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, He might deify it in Himself, and thus might introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness. (Second Oration against the Arians)." We had lost the garden of Eden; we are now invited into the kingdom of heaven.
This, then, is our condition. Fallen, but receiving help to rise; darkened but having the great Light. It is easy, because of our fallen condition, to forget that we carry the divine image within us and that we are called to become the likeness of God. If we look at only the fallen part of humanity and if we allow ourselves to use our fallenness as an excuse, it is easy to see the negative conotations of the word "human." We are, however, members of the Church. We believe in the Incarnation; we have the witness of the saints; we are invited by God to become one with Him and one another at every Divine Liturgy. For us, as Orthodox Christians, human beings are defined more by our potential to become saints than by our current level of sinfulness (regardless of low or high that may be).
However, all that we know about God and about ourselves amounts to very little if we do no put our knowledge to proper use in order to fulfill our potential (see James 2:19). We know from the Bible that we are called to be lights in the world, drawing our light from the One who is Light. We do this by cultivating the virtues, beginning with St. Paul's three (faith, hope, and love) and extending through our daily lives with patience, forgiveness, alms-giving, forbearance, meekness, temperance, chastity, diligence. In these, and in communion with God, we believe that human nature attains its fullness. It is our responsibility, by virtue of being members of God's holy Church, to be (and continue to become) examples of this fullness of humanity.
Christianity has never denied the difficulty of the path which we are called to travel. We say that the path is narrow (Matthew 7:14) knowing that busy lives, less-than-virtuous people, worries, and our own egos are only some of the obstacles we find on our way. It is because of this difficulty that St. Paul compares the Christian with an athlete and a soldier. He knows well the difficulties, but he also knows the rewards: both the final reward of the kingdom of heaven, but also the rewards in this life, the strength and peace that come upon those who draw near to God.
Thus we understand human nature. The fallenness exists; it is something that we cannot deny. However our focus as Orthodox Christians is on our high calling to become godlike and live with God in His everlasting kingdom. God has already invited us in - let us do everything in our power to answer that invitation, so that we can say, inspired by St. Peter's admonition (1 Peter 1:15-16) "to be holy is human."