MORE THAN SAVED AND MORE THAN CONQUERORS
In order for us to understand our true destiny we must begin at the beginning, the 1st Chapter of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament:
“26 And God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness….
For no other work of creation did the Lord God utter these words, but to mankind alone. These words tell us that we were created with a call to something greater than the physical creation. However, with the greatness of the call came a limitation in time but not in eventual fulfillment. In other words the true destiny of man was to be tested in the garden by setting a limitation, by not eating of one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the condition reserved for God himself. The call to Godmanhood was interrupted by the disobedience and lack of repentance on the part of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Their true destiny seemed to be destroyed, but, in fact, it was only postponed until the coming of the promised Savior. All this we studied in our section on Salvation, whereby in and through Christ we become saved and share in His conquering over sin and death. But now much more awaits us.
What is Theosis?
For those who were saved and for those being saved a much greater path is ours to follow. In Greek the term for this path is Theosis. What does that mean for us; what is the English equivalent? Deification. That word is drawn from the Latin, which roughly translated means: “ to be changed into a god or gods.” Most of us recoil from the very thought of the notion, seeing in it the sin of idolatry or some Mormon false doctrine. But then we read in the Psalms this passage:
I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High.” (Psalm 82:6)
Obviously this concept needs to be explained in such a way that we avoid pitfalls of understanding. Theosis or deification is the orthodox doctrine that human beings can have real union with God, and so become like God to such a degree that we participate in the divine nature.
” 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. “ 2 Peter 1: 3-4.
We must not understand this in the sense of being absorbed and therefore destroyed in our uniqueness or individuality, but rather we see the call to be like Christ. Perhaps we could coin another term- the call to Godmanhood,. the state of being most perfectly exemplified in the Person of Christ our Savior. Furthermore, we become united with God by grace in the Person of Christ, who is God come in the flesh. The means of becoming “like God” is through perfection in holiness, the continuous process of acquiring the Holy Spirit by grace through labor, devotion., and all our efforts united to the grace of God..
Take for example the notion of Light which frequently describes God in the Scriptures and in the writings of the Church Fathers. In many of the Orthodox Churches the paschal vigil begins with a Jerusalemite custom, based on the their service of the Holy Fire or the uncreated light, which takes place on Holy Saturday afternoon in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ. As the priest begins to kindle the darkened church with the new fire he chants aloud three times and the people respond in kind: Come receive ye the Light from the Light which is never overtaken by night, but come glorify Christ who is Risen from the dead. What is the Light being spoken of in this verse? Preeminently it refers to Christ who is the Light of the World, and our receiving of His Light is perhaps best explained as the call to Godmanhood. The Light makes us lights.
“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matt. 5:16
WHEN DOES GODMANHOOD BEGIN?
In the prime sense of this question we have to say that it began at the very moment of the creation of Adam and Eve. From the Genesis account we can observe that it was meant to be fulfilled at some time later. The process was interrupted with the sins of disobedience of our first parents and their refusal to repent and take ownership of their bad choice.
For us us it begins at the moment of our Baptism into Christ. It begins with right now, for right now is the “acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.” as St. Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians. From this we can see that salvation precedes our deification, but one flows into the other. Salvation is a free gift; Godmanhood has to be obtained by our efforts , fortified with the assistance of the Grace of God.
HOW IS GODMANHOOD ACHIEVED?
Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. With the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of the ever Virgin Mary, God has assumed and glorified our flesh and has consecrated and sanctified our humanity. He has also given us the Holy Spirit. As we acquire more of the Grace of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, we become more like Christ, and we have the opportunity of being granted, in this life, illumination or glorification. When we speak of acquiring more of the Holy Spirit, it is in the sense of appropriating to a greater degree what has actually been given to us already by God. We acquire more of what we are more able to receive.. God the Holy Spirit remains ever constant. The work now begins by developing a life of prayer and spiritual reading—. taking time to be with God who takes up His Abode in our souls. This is where we begin. Then the confession of our sins and imperfections on a very frequent basis clears the path to holiness. Participation in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood is the source and summit in our journey to Godmanhood, because the living God dwells within our souls and bodies, nourishing them with Himself in a very physical, tangible and most intimate manner. Participating in the other Sacraments of the Church along with the daily services help to enrich us in the acquiring of the Holy Spirit, which is the energy whereby we become deified. Fasting, alms-giving, works of mercy toward others who are in need helps to focus again on the Love and Mercy of God. Let us reflect on some passages from Scripture as we conclude this section.
Jesus answered: Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods? So the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected.—Jesus, John 10:34-35
And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.—St. Paul, I Cor. 15:28
Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it.—St. Paul, I Cor.12.27
But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to all who believe in the name of him who was born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh nor will of man but of God himself.— John, 1:12-13
And from one of the early Church Fathers: “the Word became flesh and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God”—St. Irenaeus, Adv Haer III 19,1
WHY IS THE CALL TO GODMANHOOD SO ESSENTIAL TO OUR DESTINY?
As members of the Orthodox 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.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8: 38
Therefore, every Sunday and every time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we are all present in the offering of the Divine Liturgy 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 among ourselves mystically, not externally, but in Christ.
This is evident during the Prothesis, where the portions for the Mother of God, the Saints, and the living and departed Christians, are all placed on the Holy Plate around Christ the Lamb. After the the reception of Communion from 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-ever so slowly within the Church, with the Grace of God, with humility, repentance, prayer, and the holy Mysteries, he may be sanctified and deified, thus arriving at the State of Godmanhood.
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.
May they all be one, Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me, and I am in you, so that the world may believe that it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory which you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me, and that I have loved them as much as you loved me. John 17:21-23
A MORE TECHNICAL EXPLANATION OF THEOSIS*
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).
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.
*Taken from an article entitled THEOSIS* – DEIFICATION AS THE PURPOSE OF MAN’S LIFE