By Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos Orthodox info
This is an important little book that so clearly and beautifully states the purpose of our lives. For those of you who are searching for the Orthodox Christian response to "What is the meaning of life?", this is the answer.
Please note that the English edition was completely re-translated in 2006. —Patrick Barnes
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The beauty of this book is its simplicity. In clear and simple terms it states the original purpose of the Christian life—namely Theosis.
The idea of Theosis will be unfamiliar to the Western mind, although it is not a new concept to Christianity. When Christ said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,”  this is a call to a life of Theosis.
Theosis is personal communion with God “face to face.”  To the Western mind, this idea may seem incomprehensible, even sacrilegious, but it derives unquestionably from Christ’s teachings. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the messianic dream of the Jewish race;  His mission to connect us with the Kingdom of God —a Kingdom not of this world.  When Jesus said, “You are gods,”  “be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect,”  or “the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father,”  this is to be taken literally. For those who are interested, further Biblical evidence for this can be found in Leviticus 11:44-45; 20:7-8; Deuteronomy 18:13; Psalms 82:1,6; Romans 6:22; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-4.
The whole sacrificial tradition of Israel beginning with the sacrificial offering of Isaac reaches fulfillment in Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist echoing Isaiah says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself the sins of the world.”  St. Paul has this in mind when he says, “If you are Christ’s, then you are descendants of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise,”  because “those who believe are children of Abraham.”  The name Israel, was given to Jacob by God as an expression of his fidelity. Later this name was inherited by his faithful descendants. This train of thought is expounded in the writings of St. Paul, where he blesses the Church as “the Israel of God;”  whilst elsewhere he wrestles with and is pained by his fellow Jews denial of their own Messiah, labeling them “Israel according to the flesh.” 
That is why, the Church —'God’s very own People,” —is also known as the “New Israel,” the “spiritual Israel,” striving to the Heavenly Kingdom. Those first Christians realised that the Kingdom of God was not simply equated with a Jewish state or a single people, but is intended for all humanity.  Through repentance we are all called to the true Exodus —to the New Jerusalem  —as Christ said, “Do not think that I am come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” 
The Orthodox Church has retained this original message of Christ unchanged. It is for this reason that the Orthodox Church is both the “body of Christ”  and the “faithful bride”  who has been true to her lover. It is this Sacred Tradition which guarantees our fidelity to Christ’s mission, and it is with this knowledge that He says “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Christ’s teachings could not be arrived at from the Holy Bible alone; we would simply project our modern concepts onto the early Church. Theosis stems from this tradition in which the early Church, Traditional Christianity, and Orthodoxy are identical. Traditional Christianity gave expression and definition to its Theology through the Church Synods; notable among these being the seven Oecumenical Synods, the Synod of St. Photios of 867 and the Palamite Synods of the fourteenth century. Please note: the Church Synods gave expression and definition to an existent Theology that was fully present within the Church from the day of Pentecost: the same Synods were also responsible for compiling and approving the various books which today are collectively known as the New Testament. The dual task of Orthodox Theology is to define and also to protect from human distortion the teachings of Jesus Christ. As can be seen, Theology is far more than knowledge about God acquired through academic study. Christianity is a living faith, founded on revelation born of the Holy Spirit,  giving those counted worthy intimate experience of the Triune God and of spiritual realities.  All attempts to understand Christ’s message from a purely rational standpoint will remain partial and incomplete. 
We now live in an age where Western civilization lives and acts contrary to its Christian heritage, yet it still believes that it knows about Christ and His Church. The West fails to appreciate that over one thousand years separate it from this tradition. As a result, the West’s perception and understanding of Christ and His Church has become clouded. Although no longer perceived as such, Christ’s crowning achievement was also humanity’s crowning achievement, and this forms a watershed in human history. Christ’s message was so profound and revolutionary, that it can be said that humanity failed to grasp both its magnitude and its simplicity. As this book was originally intended for an Orthodox Greek-speaking audience, there was much common ground between the book and its audience. This translation has attempted to keep the simplicity present in the original, while continuing to convey the central message as faithfully as possible. Little explanation has been added to adapt it to Western thought, as this might misrepresent the true content of the book.
In order to understand Christ’s central teaching, we will have to approach certain key words and concepts in a new way and not according to their current English usage. We will have to look at them with an open mind, as if seeing them for the first time. It will be necessary to go back to basics, and in this way see what Christ and the Way meant to the first Christians. Key biblical words such as “psyche,” “heart,” “repentance,” and “nous,” will have to be looked at as if we are seeing them for the first time. For this reason, it was decided to italicise key words and concepts when they first appear and to provide a glossary* to define them.
Theosis is the Pearl of Great Price alluded to by Christ.  It can become a present reality for those who are willing to tread the path, and so it is not exclusively an after-death experience. With Theosis death is transcended.  St. Paul alludes to this when he says, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  Again, while being stoned to death, St. Stephen the first martyr offered himself up to Christ and prayed to God for his persecutors to be forgiven.  The Easter chant, “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death, and bestowing life to those in the tombs” also bears witness to this.
Christianity is victory over death. So may this small book help us all to strive for that one thing needful, that One thing which cannot be taken from us.
* The glossary is linked here as a separate file, but is available in the book. See also this study of Orthodox terms, also by St. Gregorios Monastery.
- Matthew 4:17.
- Cf. Genesis 32:30.
- Cf. Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Isaiah 53; Acts 1:6; 2:16-36; 1 Peter 2:6-8.
- Mark 1:15.
- Romans 14:17.
- John 10:34.
- Matthew 5:48.
- Matthew 13:43; cf Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36.
- John 1:29.
- Galatians 3:29.
- Galatians 3:7-9.
- Galatians 6:15-16; also cf. John. 1:11-13; Romans 2:28-29; James 1:1.
- Romans 9-11; also cf. John. 8:37-40; 10:32-38.
- 1 Peter 2:9; cf Colossians 2:11.
- Cf. Matthew 3:7-9; Acts 1:8; 11:1-18; 15:16-17; Galatians 3:14;28.
- Revelation 21:2-3.
- Matthew 5:17.
- Colossians 1:18,24; Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.
- 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 18:23.
- Matthew 28:20; cf John. 17:20-22.
- John 16:13; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 2:10;13.
- Cf. Acts 9:3-7.
- 1 Corinthians 2:9.
- Matthew 13:45-46.
- Cf. Mark 9:1; John 4:14; 8:51; 11:25-26; Romans 5:21; 2 Timothy 1:10.
- Galatians 2:20.
- Acts 7:59-60.
It is very daring for someone to speak of deification (gr. theosis) while not having tasted it himself. But, by the mercy of our Almighty God and Saviour Jesus Christ, we have dared that which is beyond our power:
So as not to hide from our Orthodox Christian brethren the highest and final purpose of our life, that for which we were created.
So that it will become explicitly clear that the only Orthodox pastoral treaching is that of deification (gr. theosis), not, as with Western models, the moral perfection of man without God's Grace.
So that we will all desire the best, in order to struggle for the highest, and the only thing that can deeply quench our psyche's thirst for the Absolute, the Triune God.
So that we will overflow with gratitude towards our Maker and Creator for His great gift to us, our theosis by Grace.
So that we can understand the irreplaceable nature of our Holy Church as the only community of theosis on earth.
So that the magnificence and truth of our Orthodox Faith will be revealed, as the one which alone teaches and provides theosis to its members.
So that our souls (gr. psyche) should be consoled, for regardless of how much they have been poisoned and darkened by sin, they yearn for the light of Christ's face.
Merciful Lord, in Thy infinite love, be pleased to make us worthy to enter the path of theosis before we depart from the present, impermanent world.
Merciful Lord, guide our Orthodox brethren towards the quest for theosis, as they do not rejoice because they are unaware of the magnificence of their vocation as ‘called to be gods’.
Merciful Lord, also guide the steps of heterodox Christians towards awareness of Thy Truth, so that they are not left outside Thy Bridechamber, deprived of the Grace of theosis.
Merciful Lord, have mercy on us and on Thy world! Amen.
The Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St Gregoriou at Agion Oros
† Archimandrite George
This text constitutes an elaboration of talks, which I gave at different times in various cities in Greece, at the request of the local Most Reverend Metropolitans.
Thus, the style of the work can be recognized as containing taped excerpts of the talks.
It is worth noting that I developed this subject wherever I delivered a talk for the first time, as I considered this to be the most fundamental one for spiritual life.
DEIFICATION AS THE PURPOSE OF MAN'S LIFE
The issue of the destiny of our lives is very serious, because it concerns the most important question for man: the purpose for which we are placed on earth. If man takes a correct stance on this subject, if he finds his actual destiny, he can then take also a correct stance regarding particular questions, and those that arise in his daily life, such as his relationships with other people, his studies, profession, marriage and the bearing and upbringing of children. However, if he does not take the correct stance on this basic issue, then he will also fail in his particular goals. Because what meaning can particular goals have, if human life as a whole has no meaning?
The purpose of our life is declared already by the first chapter of the Holy Bible, when the holy author tells us that God created man ‘in His image and likeness’. We thus ascertain the great love that the Triune God has for man: He does not wish him simply to be a being with certain gifts, certain qualities, a certain superiority over the rest of creation, but He wishes him to be a god by Grace.
Externally, man seems to be just a biological being, like other living beings, the animals. Of course, he is an animal, but ‘an animal ... which can be deified through its inclination towards God’, as St. Gregory the Theologian characteristically says (Homily on the Epiphany MPG 36, 324, 13). He is the only being that stands apart from all creation; the only one which can become a god.
‘In His image’ refers to the gifts which God gave only to man, alone among all His creatures, so that he constitutes an image of God. These gifts are: a rational mind (gr. nous), conscience, and self-authority, in other words freedom, creativity, eros, and the yearning for the absolute and for God, personal self-awareness, and anything else which puts man above all other living beings in creation, and makes him a man and a personality. In other words, everything that makes man a person. These are the gifts of the ‘in His image’.
Having been formed ‘in His image’, man is called upon to be acquire the ‘in His likeness’, in other words, deification (gr. theosis). The Creator, God by nature, calls man to become a god by Grace.
The gifts of ‘in His image’ were given to man by God so that that he may ascend very high; so that through them he may attain a likeness to his God and Creator; so that he may have not an external, moral relationship, but a personal union with his Creator.
Perhaps it is very daring for us even to say or think that our purpose in life is to become gods by Grace. However, neither the Holy Bible nor the Church Fathers have hidden this from us.
Unfortunately, there exists ignorance in people outside the Church, but also in many within the Church, because they assume that the purpose of our life is, at best, simply moral improvement, to become better men, whereas this is not what is given to us by the Gospel, by the Tradition of the Church, and by the holy Fathers: that man should only improve, become more moral, more just, more self-controlled, more mindful. All these must be done, but they are not the great purpose, the final purpose for which our Maker and Creator formed man. What is this purpose? Deification (gr. theosis) – for man to be united with God, not in an external or a sentimental way, but ontologically, really.
This is how high Orthodox anthropology places humanity. If we compare the anthropologies of all the philosophies, social and psychological systems with Orthodox anthropology, we will ascertain very easily how poor these are; how they fail to respond to man’s great yearning for something very great and true in his life.
Since man is ‘called to be a god’, i.e. he was created to become a god, as long as he does not find himself on the path of deification (gr. theosis) he feels an emptiness within himself; that something is not going right; he feels no joy, even when he is trying to cover the emptiness with other activities. He may numb himself, create a fancy world, but at the same time poor, small and limited, and cage and imprison himself inside it. He may organise his life in such a way that he is never quiet, alone with himself. He can try, through noises, tension, television, radio, continuous information about this and that, as if with drugs, to forget, to not think, not worry, not remember that he is not on the right path, that he has strayed from his purpose.
In the end, however, the wretched, contemporary man finds no rest until he finds that ‘something else’, the greatest thing that actually exists in his life, the truly beautiful and creative.
Can man unite with God? Can he commune with Him? Can he become a god by Grace?
THE INCARNATION OF GOD: THE CAUSE OF MAN'S DEIFICATION
The Church Fathers say that God became man in order to make man a god. Man would not be able to attain deification (gr. theosis) if God had not become incarnate.
Descent to Hades (from here)
In the years before Christ, many wise and virtuous people had appeared. For example, the ancient Greeks had reached quite high standards of philosophy about the good and about God. Their philosophy, in fact, contained seeds of the truth, the so-called ‘spermaticos logos’. They were very religious people, after all; they were not at all atheist, as some of our contemporaries are trying to present them, who do not know the facts well. But of course they did not know the true God; they were idolaters, yet very pious and god-fearing people. For this reason, by attempting to remove its faith in God from the psyche of our devout people, even without their consent, educators, teachers, politicians and civil governors act in a way inconsistent to the memory of the Greek nation, and so they commit "hubris" (gr. hybris) in the ancient meaning of the word. In essence, they attempt its de-hellenization, because the Tradition of the Greeks, throughout our ancient, recent and modern history, is a Tradition of piety and respect for God, on which all the worldwide cultural contribution of Hellenism was and is based.
Philosophers of the ancient Greeks with prophets
in Bachkovo Monastery, Bulgaria (from here)
In the philosophy of the ancient Greeks we discern a certain yearning for the unknown God; a yearning for the experience of God. They were faithful and pious, but they did not have the correct and completed knowledge of God; Communion with God was lacking. Deification (gr. theosis) was not possible for them.
In the Old Testament, we also find just and virtuous people. But the full union with God, Theosis, becomes possible, is attained, with the incarnation of the Divine Logos.
This is the purpose of the incarnation of God. If the purpose of man's life was simply to become morally better, there would be no need for Christ to come into the world, for all these events of divine Providence to take place; for the incarnation of God; the cross, the death and resurrection of the Lord; all that we Christians believe (gr. pistis) to have happened by Christ. The human race could have been taught to become morally better by the prophets, the philosophers, the righteous men and teachers, just as well.
Adam, the First Man, in the Light of Christ
We know that Adam and Eve were beguiled by the devil and wanted to become gods, but not in collaboration with God; not through humility, obedience, or love; but relying on their own power, their own will, egotistically and autonomously. That is to say that the essence of the fall is egotism. Thus, by adopting egotism and self-reliance, they separated themselves from God, and instead of attaining deification (gr. theosis), they attained exactly the opposite: spiritual death.
As the Church Fathers say, God is life. So, whoever is separated from God is separated from life. Therefore, death and spiritual mortification are the outcome of the disobedience of the first-created.
We all know the consequences of the fall. Separation from God cast man into a carnal, bestial and demonic life. The brilliant creation of God fell seriously ill, almost to death. What had been made ‘in His image’ was sullied. Since the fall, man no longer has the preconditions for proceeding to deification (gr. theosis), as he had before he sinned. In this situation of grave illness, almost dead, he can no longer re-orient himself towards God. Thus there is a need for a new root for humanity; a need for a new man, who will be healthy and able to redirect the freedom of man towards God.
This new root, the new man, is the God-man, Jesus Christ, the Son and Logos of God, who incarnates to become the new root, the new beginning, the new leaven of humanity.
As St. Gregory Nazianzen, the Theologian, says in his theological writings, with the incarnation of the Logos a second communion between God and humanity is realised. The first such communion was in Paradise. This, however, was broken. Man was separated from God. The all-good God then provided for another, a second communion, which can no longer be severed, that is, a union of God and men. Because this, the second communion of God and men happens in the person of Christ.
The God-man Christ, the Son and Logos of God the Father, has two perfect natures: divine and human. These two perfect natures are joined ‘without change, without confusion, without separation, and without division’ in the one person of Christ, according to the famous definition of the Fourth Holy Œcumenical Council at Chalcedon, which, in summary, constitutes the theological armor of our Orthodox Church, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, against Christological heresies of all kinds throughout all ages. Thus, we have one Christ with two natures, divine and human.
Now then, by means of the union of the two natures in the person of Christ, human nature is irrevocably united with devine nature. Because Christ is the eternal God-man. As the God-man, He ascended to heaven. As the God-man, He sits on the right hand of the Father. As the God-man, He will come to judge the world at the Second Coming. Threfore, human nature is now enthroned in the bosom of the Holy Trinity. No longer can anything cut off human nature from God. So, now, after the incarnation of the Lord – no matter how much we as men sin, no matter how much we detach ourselves from God – if, through repentance, we wish to unite again with God, we can succeed. We can unite with Him and so become gods by Grace.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE THEOTOKOS TO MAN'S DEIFICATION
|Theotokos with Saints (from here)|
But the work of the new Adam pre-supposes the work of the new Eve, the Panaghia who, as well, put right the wrong done by the old Eve. Eve drove Adam to disobedience. The new Eve, the Panaghia, contributes to the incarnation of the new Adam who will guide the human race towards obedience to God. For this reason, as the first human person who achieved theosis – in an exceptional and indeed unrepeatable, way – the Lady Theotokos played a role in our salvation, which was not only fundamental, but also necessary and irreplaceable.
According to the saintly Nicholas Cabasilas, the great 14th century theologian, had the Panaghia, in her obedience, not offered her freedom to God – had she not said ‘yes’ to God – God would not have been able to incarnate. Because God, who had given freedom to man, would not have been able to violate it. He would not have been able to incarnate had there not been such a pure, all-holy, immaculate psyche as the Theotokos, who would completely offer her freedom, her will, all of herself to God, so as to draw Him towards herself and towards us.
We owe much to the Panaghia. This is why our Church honours and venerates the Theotokos. This is why St. Gregory Palamas, summarizing Patristic theology, says that our Panaghia holds the second place after the Holy Trinity; that she is god after God; the borderline between the created and the uncreated. ‘She leads those being saved’, according to another fine expression by a theologian of our Church. And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, the steadfast luminary and teacher of the Church, pointed out that the angelic ranks themselves are illumined by the light they receive from the Panaghia.
This is why she is praised by our Church as ‘more honourable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim’.
The incarnation of the Logos and the Theosis of man are the great mystery of our Faith and Theology.
Our Orthodox Church lives this every day with its Mysteries, its hymns, its icons, its whole life. Even the architecture of an Orthodox Church witnesses to this. The great dome of the churches, on which the Pantocrator is painted, symbolises the descent of Heaven to earth; it tells us that the Lord ‘bent down the Heavens and descended’. The Evangelist St. John writes that God became man ‘and dwelt among us’ (Jn. 1:14).
And because He became man through the Theotokos, we depict the Theotokos in the apse of the altar, to indicate that through her God comes to earth and to men. She is ‘the bridge by which God descended’, and again, ‘she who conducts those of earth to Heaven’, the apse of the heavens, the space of the uncontainable, who contained the uncontainable God within herself for our salvation.
To continue, our Church depicts deified men: those who became gods by Grace because God became man. This is why in our Orthodox churches we can depict not only the incarnate God, Christ, and His immaculate Mother, the Lady Theotokos, but also the saints around and below the Pantocrator. On all the walls of the Church we paint the results of God’s incarnation: the sainted and deified men.
Therefore, upon entering an Orthodox Church and seeing the beautiful icons of saints, we immediately receive and experience: we relize the work of God on man's behalf and the purpose of our life.
Everything in the Church speaks of the incarnation of God and the deification of man.
THE PLACE OF MAN'S DEIFICATION
Those who wish to unite with Christ, and, through Jesus Christ, with God the Father, recognise that this union is realized in the body of Christ, which is our Holy Orthodox Church. A union, Of course, not with the Divine essence, but with the deified human nature of Christ. But this union with Christ is not external, nor is it simply moral.
We are not followers of Christ in the way that some perhaps follow a philosopher or a teacher. We are members of Christ's body, the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, the real body, not a moral one, as some theologians have mistakenly written, not having looked deeply into the spirit of the Holy Church. In spite our unworthiness and sinfulness, Christ takes us Christians and incorporates us into His body. He makes us members of Himself. And so we become real members of the body of Christ, not just morally. As the Apostle Paul puts it, ‘We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones’ (Eph. 5:30).
Certainly, depending on the spiritual state of Christians, they are sometimes living members of Christ's body, and at other times dead. Yet, even as dead members, they do not cease to be members of Christ's body. For example, someone who is baptised has become a member of Christ's body. If he does not confess, does not take Communion, does not live a spiritual life, he is a dead member of Christ's body. But when he repents, he immediately receives divine life. This permeates him and he becomes a living member of Christ's body. He does not need to be re-baptised. Someone who has never been baptised, however, is not a member of Christ's body, even if he lives a life which is moral by human standards. He needs to be baptised in order to become a member of Christ's body, to become incorporated into Christ.
So, because we are members of Christ's body, Christ's life is offered to us and it becomes our life. And thus we are enlivened, saved, and deified. We could not be deified, had Christ not made us members of His Holy body.
We could not be saved if the Holy Mysteries of the Church did not exist, which make us one body with Christ, and by which, according to the Church Fathers, we share the same flesh and the same blood as Christ, in other words, to become one body and one blood with Christ.
What a great blessing that we partake of the immaculate Mysteries! Christ becomes ours; Christ's life becomes ours; His blood becomes our blood. This is why St. John Chrysostom says that God has nothing more to give man than what he gives him in Holy Communion. Neither can man ask for anything beyond what he receives from Christ in Holy Communion.
This way then, having been baptised, chrismated, and having confessed, we commune through the Body and Blood of the Lord, and we too become gods by Grace; we unite with God; we are no longer strangers, but His intimates.
Inside the Church in which we unite with God, we live this new reality which Christ brought to the world: the new creation. This is the life of the Church, of Christ, which becomes ours as a gift from the Holy Spirit.
Everything in the Church leads to deification (gr. theosis). The Holy Liturgy, the Mysteries, divine Worship, the Gospel sermon, the fasting; they all lead to this one thing. The Church is the sole place of deification.
The Church is not a social, cultural, or historical institution, and it does not resemble any other institution in the world. It is not like the different establishments of the world. Perhaps the world has fine establishments, fine organisations, fine institutions and other fine things. But our Orthodox Church is the inimitable, the sole place for the communication of God with man; of man's deification. Only within the Church can man become a god, and nowhere else. Neither in universities, nor in social service foundations, nor in any of the fine and good things that the world has. All these, however good they may be, they are not able to offer what the Church offers.
This is why, no matter how much worldly institutions and systems progress, they can never replace the Church.
It is possible that we weak and sinful men go through crises and difficulties from time to time within the Church. It is possible even for scandals to happen in the bosom of the Church. All these happen in the Church because we are as yet on the way to Theosis, and it is very natural that human weaknesses still exist. We are becoming gods, but not yet. So, no matter how often these things occur, we will not leave the Church, because within the Church we have the only possibility to unite with God.
For example, when we go to Church to attend the service, we may meet people there who do not pay attention to the holy service; who hold conversations and distract our attention. Then along comes a seemingly reasonable thought which says: ‘What do you gain by coming to Church? Might it not be better to sit at home in greater peace and comfort?’
St. Cyril of Alexandria (Egypt)
We, However, must prudently contradict this evil thought: ‘Yes, perhaps on the one hand I will have more outward peace at home, but I will not have God’s Grace to deify and sanctify me. I will not have Christ, Who is present in His Church. I will not have His Holy Body and His precious Blood, which are on the holy Altar in His holy Church. I will not partake in the Mystical Supper of the Holy Liturgy. I will be cut off from my fellow brethren in Christ, together with whom we form Christ's body.’
So, nomatter what happens, we will not leave the Church, because only within it do we find the path to deification (gr. theosis).
DEIFICATION IS POSSIBLE THROUGH THE UNCREATED ENERGIES OF GOD
In the Orthodox Church of Christ man can achieve daification because, according to the teachings of the Holy Bible and the Fathers of the Church, the Grace of God is uncreated. God is not only essence, as the West thinks; He is also energy. If God was only essence, we could not unite with Him, could not commune with Him, because the essence of God is awesome and unapproachable for man, in accordance with: ‘Never will man see My face and live’ (Exod. 33:20).
Let us mention a somwhat relevant example from things human. If we grasp a bare electric wire, we will die. However, if we connect a lamp to that wire, we are illuminated. We see, enjoy, and are assisted by the energy of electric current, but we are not able to grasp its essence. Let us say that something similar happens with the uncreated energy of God.
If we were able to unite with the essence of God, we too would become gods in essence. In other words everything would become a god, and there would be confusion so that, nothing would be essentially a god. In a few words, this is what they believe in the Oriental religions, e.g. in Hinduism, where the god is not a personal existence but an indistinct power dispersed through all the world, in men, in animals, and in objects (Pantheism).
Again, if God had only the divine essence – of which we cannot partake – and did not have His energies, He would remain a self-sufficient god, closed within himself and unable to commune with his creatures.
God, according to the Orthodox theological view, is One in a Trinity and a Trinity in One. As St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Dionysius the Areopagite, and other holy Fathers repeatedly say, God is filled with a divine love, a divine eros for His creatures. Because of this infinite and ecstatic love of His, He comes out of Himself and seeks to unite with them. This is expressed and realised by means of His energy or, better, His energies.
St. Maximus the Confessor. Icon from here.
With these, His uncreated energies, God created the world and continues to preserve it. He gives essence and substance to our world through His essence-creating energies. He is present in nature and preserves the universe with His preserving energies; He illuminates man with His illuminating energies; He sanctifies him with His sanctifying energies. Finally, He deifies him with His deifying energies. Thus, through his uncreated energies, holy God enters nature, the world, history, and men's lives.
The energies of God are divine energies. They too are God, but without being His essence. They are God, and therefore they can deify man. If the energies of God were not divine and uncreated, they would not be God and so they would not be able to deify us, to unite us with God. There would be an unbridgeable distance between God and men. But by virtue of God having divine energies, and by uniting with us by these energies, we are able to commune with Him and to unite with His Grace without becoming identical with God, as would happen if we united with His essence.
So, we unite with God through His uncreated energies, and not through His essence. This is the mystery of our Orthodox faith and life.
Western heretics cannot accept this. Being rationalist, they do not discern between the essence and the energy of God, so, they say that God is only essence. And for this reason they cannot speak about man's deification (gr. theosis). Because, according to them, how could man be deified when they do not accept that the divine energies are uncreated, but regard them as created? And how could something created, i.e., something outside God, deify created man?
In order not to fall into pantheism, they do not speak at all about deification (gr. theosis). What then, according to them, remains as the purpose of man's life? Simply moral improvement. In other words, since man cannot be deified by means of divine Grace, the divine energies, what purpose does his life have? Only that he becomes morally better. But moral perfection is not enough for man. It is not enough for us simply to become better than before, to perform moral deeds. We have as our final aim to unite with holy God Himself. This is the purpose of the creation of the universe. This is what we desire. This is our joy, our happiness, and our fulfillment.
The psyche of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God, yearns for God and desires union with Him. No matter how moral, how good man may be, no matter how many good deeds he may perform, if he does not find God, if he does not unite with Him, he finds no rest. Because holy God Himself placed within him this holy thirst, the divine eros, the desire for union with Him, for deification (gr. theosis). He has in himself the erotic power, which he receives from his Creator, in order to love truly, strongly, selflessly, just as his holy Creator falls in love with His world, with His creatures. This is so that with this holy erotic impetus and loving power, he falls in love with God. If man did not have the image of God in himself, he would not be able to seek its prototype. Each of us is an image of God, and God is our prototype. The image seeks the prototype, and only when it finds it does it find rest.
In the fourteenth century, there was a great upheaval in the Church which was provoked by a Western monk, Barlaam. He heard that Athonite monks talked about deification (gr. theosis). He was informed that, after much struggle, cleansing of the passions, and much prayer, they became worthy to unite with God, to have experience of God, to see God. He heard that they saw the uncreated light which the holy Apostles had seen during the Transfiguration of our Saviour Christ on Mount Tabor.
But, having the Western, heretical, rationalistic spirit, Barlaam was unable to perceive the authenticity of these divine experiences of the humble monks, and so, he began to accuse the Athonite monks as though it was they who were deluded, heretical, and idolatrous. In other words he was saying that it was impossible for someone to see the Grace of God, because he knew nothing about the distinction between the essence and the uncreated energy of God.
Then, God's Grace brought out a great and enlightened teacher of our Church, the Athonite St. Gregory Palamas (icon), Archbishop of Thessaloniki. With much wisdom and enlightenment from God, but also from his personal experience, he said and wrote much which taught, in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Church, that the light of God's Grace is uncreated; that it is a divine energy. That, in fact, deified men see this light as the ultimate, the highest experience of deification (gr. theosis), and that they are seen within this light of God. This is the glory of God, His splendour, the light of Mount Tabor, the light of Christ's Resurrection and of Pentecost, and the bright cloud of the Old Testament. It is the real uncreated light of God, and not symbolic as Barlaam, and others like him, believed in their delusion.
Subsequently, in three great Synods at Constantinople, the whole Church justified St. Gregory Palamas, declaring that life in Christ is not simply the moral edification of man, but deification (gr. theosis), and that this means participation in God’s glory, a vision of God, of His Grace and His uncreated light.
We owe great gratitude to Saint Gregory Palamas, because, with the illumination he received from God, with his experience and his theology, he bequethed to us the teaching and eternal experience of the Church concerning the deification (gr. theosis) of man. A Christian is not a Christian simply because he is able to talk about God. He is a Christian because he is able to have experience of God. And just as, when you really love someone and converse with him, you feel his presence, and you enjoy his presence, so it happens in man's communion with God: there exists not a simply external relationship, but a mystical union of God and man in the Holy Spirit.
Even now, Westerners consider the divine Grace, or the energy of God, as something created. Unfortunately, this also is one of the many differences which must be seriously taken into consideration in theological dialogue with the Roman Catholics. It is not only the filioque, the primacy of authority, and the ‘infallibility’ of the Pope which are basic differences between the Orthodox Church and the Papists. It is also the above. If the Roman Catholics do not accept that the Grace of God is uncreated, we cannot unite with them even if they accept all the other points. For who is able to effect deification (gr. theosis), if divine Grace is a creation and not an uncreated energy of the All-Holy Spirit?
QUALIFICATIONS FOR DEIFICATION
The holy Fathers certainly say that within the Church we can attain deification (gr. theosis). Yet deification is a gift from God. It is not something that we can attain on our own. Naturally, we must want, struggle, and prepare ourselves so that we are worthy, capable, and receptive enough to accept and guard this great gift from God, since God does not wish to do anything to us without our freedom. Never the less, Theosis is a gift of God. For this reason, the holy Fathers say, on the one hand, that we "suffer" deification (gr. theosis), and on the other hand, that God actuates Theosis.
We also discern certain necessary qualifications on the path of man to deification:
According to the holy Fathers, the first necessary qualification is humility. Without blessed humility, man cannot be put on the right course for Theosis, cannot accept the divine Grace and so unite with God. Simply to acknowledge that Theosis is the purpose of our life demands humility, because without humility, how will you acknowledge that the purpose of your life is outside yourself; that it is in God?
So long as man lives egocentrically, anthropocentrically, autonomously, he places himself at the centre and purpose of his own life. He believes that he can be perfected by his own efforts; defined by his own efforts; deified by his own efforts. This is the spirit of contemporary civilisation, contemporary philosophy, contemporary politics: to create an even better world, even more just, but to do this autonomously, by oneself; to create a world which will have man at its centre with no reference to God; with no acknowledgement that God is the source of all good. This is the fault that Adam committed, believing that, with only his own powers, he could become God, could complete himself. The fault of Adam is one that all humanistic creeds make throughout all the ages. They do not consider that communion with God is indispensable for the completion of man.
Everything Orthodox is theanthropically centred; its centre is the God-man Christ. Everything that is not Orthodox has this common denominator: its centre is man, whether it is Protestantism, Papism, Freemasonry, Millenarianism, atheism, or whatever else is outside Orthodoxy. For us, the centre is the God-man Christ. This means it is easy for someone to become a heretic, a Millenarianist, a Mason or whatever else, but it is difficult to become an Orthodox Christian. To become an Orthodox Christian, you must first accept that the centre of the world is not yourself but Christ.
Thus, the beginning of the path towards Theosis is humility, i.e. that we acknowledge that the purpose of our life is outside us; is with our Father, our Maker and Creator.
Humility is needed to see that we are sick, that we are bigoted, that we are full of weaknesses and passions.
Again, to persist on this path, someone who begins the path of Theosis must have constant humility, for if he accepts the thought that he manages perfectly well just by using his own powers, then pride enters him; he loses what he has gained and must start again from the beginning; to become humble, to see his weakness, his human sickness, and learn not to rely on himself. In order to find himself continuously on the path of Theosis, he needs to depend on the Grace of God.
Therefore, in the lives of the saints, their great humility impresses us. While they were near God, they shone within the light of God; they were miracle-workers; they gave off myrrh; yet at the same time they believed about themselves that they were very lowly, very far from God, that they were the worst of men. It was this humility of theirs that made them gods by Grace.
The holy Fathers also tell us that Theosis has stages. It begins from the lowest and progresses to the highest. Once we have humility, in order to become cleansed from the passions we start our asceticism by applying the holy commandments of Christ, beginning our daily struggle in Christ with repentance and much patience. The holy Fathers say that within His commandments God himself lies hidden. When a Christian observes them out of love and faith in Christ, then he unites with Him.
|St Moses the Ethiopian (here)|
According to the holy Fathers, this first stage of Theosis is also called ‘praxis’. This is practical guidance given at the start of the path towards Theosis.
Naturally, this is not at all easy, because the struggle to uproot the passions from within us is great. Much effort is required, so that gradually our inner wasteland is cleansed from the thorns and stones of the passions so that it can be cultivated spiritually, and so that the seed of God’s logos may fall and bear fruit. Great and continuous effort towards ourselves is necessary for all this. Therefore the Lord said that ‘the Kingdom of God suffers violence, so the violent seize it’ (Matthew. 11:12). And again, the holy Fathers teach us: ‘give blood and receive Spirit’, i.e. you cannot receive the holy Spirit if you do not give the blood of your heart to the struggle to cleanse yourself from the passions, in order to repent really and in depth, and in order to acquire the virtues.
All the virtues are aspects of the one great virtue, the virtue of love. When a Christian acquires love, he has all the virtues. It is love that expels the prime cause of all the evils and all the passions from the psyche of man. This cause, according to the holy Fathers, is selfishness. All the evils within us spring from selfishness, which is a diseased love for one's own self. This is the reason why our Church has asceticism. Without asceticism, there is no spiritual life, no struggle, and no progress. We obey, fast, keep vigil, labour with prostrations, and stand upright, all so that we may be cleansed of our passions. If the Orthodox Church ceases to be ascetical, it ceases to be Orthodox, because then it ceases to help man rid himself of his passions in order to become gods by Grace.
The Church Fathers developed a great and profound anthropological teaching on the psyche and the passions of man. According to them, in the psyche you can distinguish intelligent and passible parts. The passible, again, comprises passionate and desiring parts. The intelligent part contains the reasoning powers of the psyche; the thoughts and cognitive powers. The passionate parts are the positive and negative emotions; love and hate. The desiring part contains the good desires of the virtues and the bad desires for pleasure; for enjoyment, avarice, gluttony, the worship of the flesh and the carnal passions. Unless these three parts of the psyche, the intelligent, the passionate, and the desiring, are cleansed, man cannot receive the Grace of God within himself, and cannot be deified. The intelligent part is cleansed by watchfulness, which is the continuous guarding of the nous from thoughts, keeping the good thoughts and rejecting the bad. The passionate part, again, is cleansed by love. Finally, the desiring part is cleansed by self-control. All these parts are both cleansed and sanctified by prayer.
3) The Holy Mysteries and Prayer
"Drink from this, all". Icon from here
Christ installs Himself in the heart of man through the Holy Mysteries: Holy Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Confession and the Divine Eucharist. Those Orthodox Christians who are in communion with Christ have God and His Grace within them, in their hearts, because they have been baptised, chrismated, have confessed and have received Holy Communion.
The passions cover Divine Grace as ashes bury a spark. Through asceticism and prayer, the heart is cleansed of the passions, the spark of Divine Grace is rekindled, and the faithful Christian feels Christ in his heart; the centre of his existence.
Every prayer of the Church helps to cleanse the heart, but the so-called prayer of a single-phrase, also known as noetic prayer or prayer of the heart, is particularly helpful: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’. This prayer, which has always been handed down on the Holy Mountain, has the following advantage: because it is only one sentence it helps us to concentrate our nous more easily. Concentrating our nous, we immerse it in our heart, and then pay attention to make sure it is not busy there with other things and ideas, good or bad; that it is busy only with God.
The practice in this prayer of the heart, which with God’s Grace may in time become continuous, is a whole science, a holy art which the Saints of our Faith describe in detail in their holy writings, and also in a large collection of Patristic texts called the ‘Philokalia’.
This prayer helps and gladdens man, and when the Christian progresses in this prayer and at the same time his life follows the holy commandments of Christ and His Church, then he is worthy to receive the experience of Divine Grace. He starts to taste the sweetness of communion with God, to know from experience ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34:8 ???). For us Orthodox, God is not an idea, something that we think about, that we discuss or read about, but a Person with Whom we come into living and personal communion, It is something we live, and somebody from Whom we receive experience.
Then we see what a great, unspeakable and inexpressible joy it is to have Christ within us and to be Orthodox Christians.
Within their different concerns and every day occupations, it helps Christians who are in the world so much to find at least a few minutes silence to exercise themselves in this prayer.
Certainly, when fulfilled with humility and love, all labours and obligations directed to God sanctify us, but prayer is also required.
In a quiet room (perhaps after some spiritual reading, or after lighting a small oil lamp in front of the icons and burning incense), as far as possible away from noise and activity, and after other considerations and thoughts have fallen quiet, they should sink their nous into the heart by saying the prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’. How much peace and strength the psyches draw from the silence of God! How much this strengthens them during the day so that they can keep themselves peaceful without nervous tension and anxiety, but have all their forces united in harmony!
Some people in other places seek silence of the psyche by using artificial means that are deluded and demonic, as in the so-called Oriental religions. They try to find a certain silence by using external exercises, meditation etc., to achieve a certain balance of psyche and body. The fault in all these is that properly speaking, even when man tries to forget the various considerations of the material world he does not have a dialogue with God, but only a monologue with himself, so that once again he ends up in anthropocentrism, and in this way he fails.
EXPERIENCES OF DEIFICATION
Experiences of Theosis are proportional to the purity of man. The more someone is cleansed from the passions, the higher the experience he will receive from God; he sees God just as it was written: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Mt. 5:8).
|St Symeon the New Theologian|
When man starts to repent, to confess, and to cry for his sins, he receives the first experiences of God’s Grace. Such experiences are first of all tears of repentance, which bring inexpressible joy to the psyche, and then the deep peace which follows this. For this reason, this mourning for our sins is called “gladsome mourning”, as the Lord also said in His Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4).
Afterwards, we proceed to higher stages by divine illumination in which the nous is illumined and sees things, the world, and men with another grace.
Then the Christian loves God more, and new and different tears come, higher ones, which are tears of love for God, tears of divine eros. Then he no longer weeps for his sins, because he has the certainty that God has forgiven his sins. These new tears, which bring to the psyche a greater happiness, joy, and peace, are a higher experience of Theosis.
Afterwards, man acquires dispassion: a life without deceitful passions and sinful weaknesses. Then he is peaceful and undisturbed from every external assault, having been delivered from pride, hatred, spitefulness, and desires of the flesh.
This is the second stage of Theosis, called ‘theoria’, in the course of which man, having already been cleansed from the passions, is illumined by the Holy Spirit, is made luminous on the way to becoming deified. Theoria means view. Theoria of God means a view of God. To see God, he must be a deified man. Thus, theoria of God also means Theosis.
Of course, when he has been thoroughly cleansed and has offered himself entirely to God, then he also receives the greatest experience of divine Grace available to men, which, according to the holy Fathers, is the vision of the uncreated light of God. Those who are very advanced in Theosis see this light, very few in each generation. God's Saints see it and appear within it, and, incidentally, this is what the halos in the holy icons show us.
For example, in the life of St. Basil the Great, it is said that when St. Basil was praying in his cell, those who were able to see him saw that he himself, and even his cell, were shining within this uncreated light of God, the light of divine Grace. In the lives of many of the New-Martyrs of our Faith we read that, after horrible tortures, when the Turks hung their bodies in the squares of the town to intimidate other Christians, on many nights a light appeared around them. It shone so clearly and brightly that, because in this way the truth of our Faith was so brilliantly revealed, the conquerors ordered them taken down so that they would not be ashamed before the Christians, who saw how God glorified His holy Martyrs.
The Grace of Theosis preserves the bodies of the Saints incorruptible, and these are the holy relics which exude myrrh and work miracles. As St. Gregory Palamas says, the Grace of God, having first united with the psyches of the Saints, afterwards shrouds their holy bodies and fills these too with Grace: not only their bodies, but also their graves, their icons, and their Churches. Here is the reason why we venerate and kiss the icons, the holy relics, the graves, and the Churches of the Saints. Through Theosis, all these have something of the Grace of God which the Saint had in his psyche because of his union with God.
Therefore, in the Church, we enjoy the Grace of Theosis not only with our psyche, but also with our body, because as the temple of the Holy Spirit Who dwells in it, and shares its struggles with the psyche, the body is surely glorified.
The Grace springing from the holy Lord – the God-man Christ – is poured out into our Panaghia, into the Saints, and it also comes to those of us who are humble.
It is certainly worth noting that the experiences of the Christian are not always experiences of Theosis and so spiritual. Many people have been deluded by demonic or psychological experiences. In order that there is no danger of delusion and no demonic influence, all of this must be humbly mentioned to the Spiritual Father, who, illumined by God, will discern whether these experiences are genuine or not, and he will give appropriate direction to the psyche who is confessing. Generally, our obedience to the Spiritual Father is one of the most basic points of our spiritual path. Through it we acquire an ecclesiastical spirit of discipleship in Christ by which the legitimacy of our exertion is confirmed in order to guide us towards union with God.
Within the Church, a special domain of Theosis is monasticism, where the monks, having been sanctified, receive high experiences of union with God.
Many of the monks who experience Theosis and sanctification also help the whole Church, for, as we Christians believe following the age-long holy Tradition of the Church, the struggle of the monks has a positive effect on the life of every struggling faithful in the world. In our Orthodoxy, the people of God have great reverence for Monasticism because of this.
After all, in the Church we partake in the communion of the Saints, and experience the joy of union with Christ. By this we mean that within the Church we are not isolated members but a unity, a brotherhood, a fraternal community ... not only among ourselves, but also with the Saints of God, those who are living on earth today and those who have passed away. Not even at death are Christians divided. Death is unable to separate Christians because they are all united in the resurrected body of Christ.
Therefore, every Sunday and every time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we are all present in it together with all the Angels and all the Saints through all the ages. Even our departed relatives are present, if, of course, they are united with Christ. We are all there and communicate amongst ourselves mystically, not externally, but in Christ.
This is evident during the Prothesis, where the portions for the Panaghia, the Saints, and the living and departed Christians, are all placed on the Holy Paten around Christ the Lamb. After the sanctification of the Holy Oblation, all these portions are immersed in the Blood of Christ.
This is the great blessing of the Church, that we are her members and, as members of Christ’s body, can communicate not only with God but also between ourselves.
The head of this body is Christ Himself. Life comes from the head to the body. The body certainly has living members, but it also has members which do not have the same vitality; not all the members have perfect health. This applies to the majority of us. Life comes from Christ Himself and his living members; the healthy blood also comes to other less healthy members, so that slowly, slowly, they also become healthy and strong. This is why we must be in the Church … in order to receive health and life, because outside the body of the Church there is no possibility that we can recover and become enlivened.
All of this, of course, does not come about immediately. Throughout the whole of our life the Orthodox Christian must struggle, so that, slowly-slowly within the Church, with the Grace of God, with humility, repentance, prayer, and the holy Mysteries, he may be sanctified and deified.
This, however, is the purpose of our lives; the great aim. It is not so important exactly how far we progress. Our struggle itself, which God blesses abundantly, has value both in the present age and in the age to come.
THE FAILURE OF MANY PEOPLE TO REACH DEIFICATION
So, while we have been called for this great purpose; to unite with God; to become Gods by Grace; and to enjoy this great blessing for which our Maker and Creator made us, but we often live as if this great and noble aim does not exist for us. Because of this, our life is filled with failure.
Our holy God moulded us for Theosis, so if we are not deified, our whole life is a failure.
Let us mention some of the reasons for this.
1) Attachment to the basic cares of life
We may do good and beautiful things; we may study, have a profession, raise a family, acquire property or perform charitable deeds. When we see and use the world eucharistically, as a gift from God, then everything joins with Him and becomes a path to union with God. If, even then, we do not unite with God, we have failed, and it has all been useless.
People usually fail because they are misled by the various secondary purposes of life. They do not place Theosis first and primary. They are absorbed by the beautiful things of the world and lose sight of the eternal. They give themselves completely to secondary purposes, and forget ‘the one thing necessary’ (cf. Lk. 10:42).
Particularly today, people are constantly occupied, and we neglect our salvation for the sake of these everyday activities. Perhaps this is a scheme of the devil to delude even the chosen ones. For example, we now spend time learning, studying, reading; we have no time to pray, to go to Church, or to confess and take Holy Communion. Tomorrow we will have meetings and councils, personal and social obligations; how will we find time for God? The day after tomorrow we will have weddings, family cares; it is impossible to engage in spiritual things. We, too, continually repeat to God: ‘I cannot come … I ask you to have me excused’ (cf. Lk. 14:19-20).
So, all the beautiful and legitimate things lose their value.
All these things have real and substantial value when undertaken with the Grace of God, for example, when we try to do everything for the glory of God; but only when we do not stop yearning and continue to pursue what is beyond studies, beyond profession, beyond family, beyond all the good and holy responsibilities and activities; only when we continue to desire Theosis as well, then all these find their real meaning in an eternal perspective. It is then that they are of benefit to us.
The Lord said: ‘seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you’ (Mt. 6:33). The Kingdom of God is Theosis, it is when we receive the Grace of the All-Holy Spirit. When divine Grace comes and reigns within man, that man is ruled by God, and through these deified men, the Grace of God comes to other men and to society. But as the Fathers teach, in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come’ means ‘the Grace of the Holy Spirit come’. When it arrives, it is this which deifies man.
Unfortunately, the spirit of moralism which we mentioned earlier, i.e., basing the Christian life on moral improvement, has adversely influenced the piety and spirituality of Christians to a significant degree even here in our land. We often cease to pursue Theosis because of Western influences on our theology.
Guidance that only aims for moral improvement is anthropocentric – it is centred on man, and in it, human effort dominates, and not the Grace of God. It then seems as if it is our own morality that saves us, and not the Grace of God. Life under these conditions does not give us genuine experiences of God, therefore the soul is not truly satisfied because its thirst remains unquenched. This method of guidance has been tried, and it failed because it does not represent the genuine spirit of Christ’s Church. It is often responsible for atheism and for many people’s indifference towards the spiritual life, especially among the young.
In our catechisms, sermons and everything said by parents, teachers, clergy and other workers of the Church, instead of talking about sterile improvements of mankind, let us educate Christians towards Theosis. This is the genuine spirit and experience of the Church. Otherwise, the virtues, regardless of how great they may be, do not, in fact, fulfill the purpose of the Christian life. They are simply ways and means which prepare us to accept Theosis, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, as St. Seraphim of Sarov taught so clearly.
3) Anthropocentric humanism
This self-sufficient humanism is a socio-philosophical system which is separated from and made independent of God. It leads contemporary man to a civilization based on selfishness, and this has brought modern humanity to an impasse. In the name of the development and liberation of humanity it wishes to estrange us from our Orthodox Christian Faith.
But is there any greater development possible for man than Theosis?
CONSEQUENCES OF GUIDANCE FOR DEIFICATION
The guidance that our Orthodox Church offers, with the Holy Services, Patristic theology, Monasticism, is theanthropocentric guidance. Its centre is the God-man Christ, and it leads to Theosis.
This brings great joy into our life when we know what a great destiny we have, and what blessedness awaits us.
To set our sights on Theosis sweetens the pain in every trial and all the worries of life.
When we are struggling towards the aim of Theosis, that is to say, when we see one another as prospective gods, our attitude towards our fellow men changes for the better. How much deeper and more substantial will be the guidance which we will then give our children! In what a God-pleasing way a father and mother will then love and respect their children, feeling the responsibility and holy charge which they have towards them; how much will they then help them, by the Grace of God, to attain Theosis, the purpose for which they brought them into the world! And how will they naturally help them, if they themselves are not oriented towards that purpose, towards Theosis? How much more respect will we have for ourselves when we feel that we have been moulded for this great purpose; when we are without the egotism and pride which opposes God!
Certainly, the Holy Fathers and great theologians of the church say that it is in this way, by overcoming our self-love and the anthropocentric philosophy of egotism; that we become real people, true men. Then we will meet God with reverence and love, but also meet our fellow man with respect and true dignity not seeing him as a tool of pleasure and exploitation, but as an icon of God destined for Theosis.
As long as we are closed within ourselves - within our ego – we are individuals but not persons. Once we exit from our closed individual existence and begin, in agreement with this guidance based on Theosis, with the Grace of God, but also with our own cooperation – to love, to offer ourselves all the more to Him and to our neighbour, we become true persons. This is to say that when our "I" encounters the "Thou" of God, and the "you" of our brother, then we begin to find our lost self. For within the communion in Theosis for which we were moulded, we are able to open up, to communicate, to really enjoy one another … and not only in a selfish way.
This is the ethos of the Divine Liturgy, in which we learn to overcome the narrow, atomistic interest to which the devil, our sins, and our passions compel us, and instead learn to open up to a communion of sacrifice and love in Christ.
An awareness of this great calling of his, i.e. of Theosis, comforts and really completes man.
The Orthodox humanism of our Church is based on this great calling of man, and therefore it develops all his powers to the extreme.
What other form of humanism, however progressive and liberal it may appear, is as revolutionary as that of the Church which is able to make man a god? Only the humanism of the Church reaches so high.
Today especially, when so many attempt to deceive the people, and in particular the young, by projecting false humanisms which in effect maim man and do not complete him, the emphasis given in this guidance of the Church has great importance.
CONSEQUENCES OF GUIDANCE THAT DOES NOT LEAD TO DEIFICATION
Today, young people seek experiences. They are not content with a materialistic life; nor with the rationalistic society that we their elders hand down to them. Our children, being icons of God, ‘called to be gods’, seek something beyond the logical forms of the materialistic philosophy and atheistic education we offer to them. They seek experiences of true life. And, certainly, it is not sufficient for them to be told about God. They desire experience of Him, of His light, of His Grace. Many of them search in vain, resorting to many cheap substitutes to find something outside or beyond logic because they do not know that the Church has both the ability to comfort them and the experience they thirst for.
Others are led to Oriental mysticisms such as yoga; yet others to occultism or gnosticism, and finally, unfortunately, even to outright satanism.
Even in morality they do not know any boundary, for morality, once severed from its essence and deprived of its purpose, which is to unite them with holy God, ends up by having absolutely no meaning.
Then tragic phenomena such as anarchy and terrorism become commonplace, so that many young people give themselves to every type of extremism and violence against their fellow men; deep down they wish to satisfy a dynamism which they have within themselves. This deep yearning of theirs is not fulfilled simply because they did not chance upon this guidance of Theosis.
The majority of young people, and not only the young, squander the precious time of their lives, as well as the powers which God gave them for achievement of the purpose of Theosis, in hunting for pleasure and carnal worship. Unfortunately, it is often with the tolerance of the state that these become their contemporary idols, their contemporary ‘gods’, thus causing great corrosion to their bodies and psyches.
Living without any ideals whatsoever, others waste away in various purposeless, vapid, and harmful occupations; some feel pleasure in driving cars at excessive speeds on the roads – often with tragic results of injury and death – and others, again, after many explorations, surrender unconditionally to a demonic dependence on drugs, the new plague of our age.
Finally, enough people, after a relatively short life full of failure and disappointment, consciously or unconsciously seek an end to the torment of their vain quest, unfortunately resorting to the extreme form of desperation, suicide.
Not all the young people who resort to these irrational and tragic things are hooligans. They are young people, children of God, our children too, who, disappointed by the materialistic, self-seeking society which we bequeath to them, do not find that for which they were moulded; the true, the eternal. We did not give it to them, and so they do not know it. They do not know the great purpose of man's life, Theosis. Then, not finding peace in anything else, they resort in desperation to the forms which we have mentioned.
Today, out of selfless love, many Shepherds of our holy Church; bishops, priests, spiritual fathers, and lay brothers, devote themselves daily to the guidance to our youth towards the aim of Theosis. We are grateful to them for their sacrifice and offering: for this God-pleasing work of theirs, with which, by the Grace of God, psyches for whom Christ died are saved and sanctified.
Humbly, the Holy Mountain helps and assists in this great distress of the Church. The Garden of our Panaghia, being a special place of sanctity and silence dedicated to God, savours the blessing of Theosis, lives communion with God, and has intense and vivid experience of His Grace and His Light, so that many of our fellow men, the majority of them young, benefit from and are strengthened and reborn in Christ by a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, or by maintaining more specific connections with it. In this way, people enjoy God in their life, and begin to understand what Orthodoxy is, what Christian life is, what spiritual struggle is, and what joy and great meaning these things give to their existence. This is to say, they taste something of this great gift of God to man, Theosis.
Let all of us, Shepherds of the Church; theologians; catechists; not forget about guidance for Theosis, by which the young people, but also all we the humble, with the Grace of God and within our daily struggle, the struggle of repentance and observance of His holy commandments, acquire the possibility of enjoying this blessing of God, this union with Him, to enjoy it very strongly in this life, but also to gain eternal happiness and blessedness.
Let us continually thank the holy Lord for the gift of Theosis, which is a gift of His love. Let us reciprocate His love with our own love. The Lord wants and desires us to be deified. After all, for this purpose He became man and died upon the Cross so that He shines as the Sun amidst suns, and God amidst gods.
The effort or spiritual training waged by Christians to keep the commandments, to purify the heart from passions and to practice the virtues, together with prayer and related activities, so as to bring harmony between the body, soul and God.
The prohibition of women in Agion Oros. A mandated aspect of its autonomous status, which is enshrined in the constitution of Greece.
Diakonia, diakonima, diakonimata (pl.):
Service or ministration, in other words the assigned work tasks of a monk.
A collection of texts, primarily short stanzas and anecdotes from monastic life, illustrating the struggles and rewards of monastic life.
Gerontas, gerontes (pl.):
Also called Elder, or Staretz, an honorific appellation of a spiritually developed monk or a senior monk in a monastery, such as the abbot.
Hesychia, hesychast, hesychastic:
Silence, stillness. Stilling of the thoughts, but not emptiness, whereby the nous may descend into the heart through the Jesus prayer. It is the inner attentiveness in prayer which brings the remembrance of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Kelli, kellia (pl.):
A monk’s cell in a monastery. Also, in Agion Oros, a dwelling, something like a farmhouse with a small chapel, where the monks pray and work out their salvation.
A monastery where all monks follow the same rules.
Nepsis is vigilance of the nous and watchfulness at the gates of the heart, so that every thought that moves in it can be controlled. Neptic is an adjective pertaining to the method used for nepsis.
Often translated as mind. The highest faculty of man, through which, upon purification, he can contemplate God, and the inner essences of created things, by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Noetic understanding is not intellectual, but it comes from immediate spiritual experience.
Lit. gr. "all holy". Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Theotokos.
Faith. The modern idea of faith, based on Aquinas's differentiation of knowledge from blind belief, is not what is meant in traditional Christianity. Although it can be a component of what the fathers of the Church, such as Saint Maximos the Confessor, referred to as "preliminary faith", it can only be considered an initial stage in our ascent towards knowledge and the Word, which is true faith based on experience, a gift of God. At a higher stage, faith (Gr. pistis) leads to noetic knowledge (Gr. gnosis) that is founded on experience and completed by inspiration and, therefore, cannot be overthrown by reasoned argument. It changes the heart, it causes substantial changes in being, it can move mountains, and it leads to salvation.
Typically similar in appearance to a small village, where kellia are built around a central Church. Each kelli performs its daily prayers independently except on Sundays and on feastdays, where theygather together in the main Church to worship.
Pertaining to theanthropos, man-god.
The deification of man. According to the Orthodox Tradition, man’s purpose in life is to achieve union with God, and to become god by grace. Acquisition of the Holy Spirit; self-realization.
The Mother of God (from gr. Theos = God, teko = to give birth). The Virgin Mary. More here.
Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony
Faith And Science In Orthodox Gnosiology and Methodology
The Way - An introduction to the Orthodox Faith
BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING – An Orthodox Handbook, by Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos.
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