From the weblog Orthodox way of life / label Theosis
Can we really be deified? What does this mean? This is a central doctrine in the Orthodox faith and is called Theosis.
Fr. Dimitru Staniloae defines deification as "God's perfect and full penetration of man." It is something that never stops but continues to the infinite. It is an experience that only mankind is capable. It is the result of a growth of our receptive powers to receive and use the divine energies. It is through deification that we reach towards our potential to become like God, made in His image as we learn from the book of Genesis.
Fr. Dimitru says,
Man becomes more and more like God without identifying with Him. Man will continue to become like God forever, in an ever fuller union with Him, but never will he reach full identification with Him; he will be able to reflect God more and more, but he will not become what God is.The Holy Fathers emphasize that deification is by grace and not by man's own effort or nature. When deified man's nature remains the same. He does not become a source of divine energy, like God. He receives God's energies though grace. Man only reflects God's energies. He never assumes the role of the source.
We never receive the totality of God's energies. Through our efforts in preparation we make an ascent and as we grow spiritually God's energies descend on us granting us increased powers.
Fr. Dimitru concludes his book with the following thoughts:
The divine energies are nothing but the rays of the divine essence, shining from the three divine Persons. And from the time that the Word of Good too flesh, these rays have been shining through His human face.
It can also be said that the things of the world are images of the logoi of the divine Logos, which are at the same time energies. By creation God put a part of His infinite possibility of thought and of energy into existence, in the form specifically at the level of the understanding of human creatures. He did this to permit a dialog with God and towards union with Him.
The incarnation of the Word confirmed the value of man and of these images of reason and of energy measured by him. But it also gave man the possibility to see in the face of the man of the Logos, concentrated anew, all the logoi and divine energies. Thus final deification will consist of a contemplation and a living of all the divine values and energies conceived in and radiated from the face of Christ according to the supreme measure of man. But by this, in the face of each man, by the logoi and the energies gathered in him, the logoi and the energies of the Logos will be reflected luminously. Eternal bliss will be the contemplation of the face of Christ.
So all will be in God and we will see all things in Him, or God will be in all things and we will see Him in all things; and the unitary presence of God in all things will be real to the extent that all creatures gathered in Him remain real and unmingled in God
This is the eternal perspective of deification.
Some Protestant theologians see the Word as the only means of divine revelation. They say it was intended for our intellect. But this is a sign of a person distinct from us rather than one in union with us. This view explains their emphasis on Bible study and their denigration of the sacraments and all that is considered mystical. It is a denial of Orthodox spirituality. This view implies the Word does not have a spiritual task. But we all sense there is more than an intellectual understanding of God. We sense that there is something beyond an intellectual understanding. We seek and yet cannot completely know. The reality is that the Word of God impacts us in a dynamic way. It was intended for the soul and not just the intellect. The Word awakens faith in us. This demonstrates that there is a direct relationship involved between us and the Word. Our Church Fathers do not limit us to only an intellectual dimension of the mind but speak of the "feeling of the mind and our relationship with God."
Fr. Dimitru tells us,
"The Fathers of the Church when they speak of the "feeling of the mind," assert a direct contact of the mind with the spiritual reality of God, not a simple knowledge of Him from a distance. Its something like the "understanding" of a person with whom you are in contact.In seeking this spiritual union we do not imply that we will ever assume the divine substance of God. We are His creation, creatures.
Fr. Dimitru also says,
On the other hand, our creatureliness implies the sovereignty of God. It makes our transformation into a divine substance impossible, no matter how close we get to Him. Our approach to God, our uplifting to an understanding of Him, can only be realized if God Himself clothes us with the things proper to Him; but even if we are penetrated by His power, we can't shed our created nature. Our nature can't become uncreated: We become gods by grace, not by nature.We can conclude from this that our link to Him must be established on the basis of a personal relationship. This begins with a spiritual encounter with Him. He must reveal His nature to us.
We can use the analogy of knowing our neighbor. We cannot know the inner nature our neighbor by our own initiative. For us to truly know them, they must reveal themselves to us on their own initiative. Normally this is revealed in inverse proportion to the aggressive acts we take to know them. The more we demand they tell us, the less likely they will reveal their inner personhood to us. We must first show our own vulnerability and humility for a relationship to develop. This is how it is with God. We can't know Him unless He reveals himself to us. We should not have any fears about losing our identity in this process. Just like in our developing a relationship with our neighbor as we develop a relation sip with God and find union with Him, we do not lose our own identity. It is with humility and love that we allow Him to reveal Himself to us.
Fr. Dimitru says,
The spiritual Christian adopts this affirmation of supreme humility, but likewise of supreme daring:"I am man, but I live as God, by what God has givine me; I am man, but I an on God's level by the grace with which He has been pleased to cloth me..." This reflects the expression of Apostle Paul: "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20).As in a relationship between two people, it is love that is central to our union with God. We must not make the mistake of only trying to know God intellectually. We must cultivate a loving relationship.
Deification is an enhypostatic* and direct illumination which has no beginning but appears in those worthy as something exceeding their comprehension. It is indeed a mystical union with God, beyond mind and reason in the age when creatures will no longer know corruption. - Saint Maximus the ConfessorDeification is most often expressed as involving the "Uncreated Light."
Fr. Sophrony says,
This Light penetrates us with the power of God, we we become 'without beginning'––not through our origin but by the gift of Grace: life without beginning is communicated to us. And there is no limit to the outpouring of the Father's love: man becomes identical with God––the same by content, no by primordial Self-Being. God will eternally be GOD for the reasonable being." (We Shall See Him as He Is, p172.)It is though our participation in this uncreated light that we become deified, become like Christ. We do not become a god in essence but by Grace and adoption. We are taught that we can never behold, or know the Divine Essence, but when we are filled with this Divine Light we experience His Uncreated Energies. This is a personal communion with God, face to face. Our identity is not assumed into the Divine Essence. And, it is much more than an experience of Light.
Here is how Saint Symeon the New Theologian expresses it in one of his hymns,
He Himself is discovered within me, resplendent inside my wretched heart, enlightening me from all sides with His immortal splendor, shining on all of my members with His rays. Entirely intertwined with me, He embraces me entirely. He gives Himself totally to me, the unworthy one, and I am filled with His love and beauty. I am sated with pleasure and Divine tenderness. I share in the Light. I participate also in the glory. My face shines like that of my beloved and all my members become bearers of Light.
* Fr. John Meyendorff explains the meaning of enhypostatic:
"This divine light cannot be contemplated as a hypostasis, that is, as an independent reality, since strictly speaking it has no essence. It can be contemplated only in a hypostasis, i'e', in a personal locus. Here Palamas has in mind the deified saints who by grace show forth in their whole persons the light that transforms them. But the energies are also "enhypostatic" in respect of the Person (hypostasis) of Christ. The light of tabor does not reveal the divine essence, but the second person of the Trinity.
As well as meaning "what exists in another hypostasis", enhypostatic can also mean "what really exists"' that which is genuine or authentic, e.g. of our real adoption as sons by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The first sense of the word goes back to the christology of Leontius of Byzantium, the second to Mark the Monk.
Saint Theophan describes this state as follows: God dwells in man in a special manner. He visibly fills him, unites Himself to him and communes with him. This is the goal man strives to achieve through all the ascetic struggles and labors, all the economy of salvation from God Himself, and all that happens to each person in the present life from birth to grave. St. Macarius writes that the work of grace after long trials finally sows itself fully, and the soul acquires full sonship of the Spirit. God Himself proves the heart, and man is made worthy to become one spirit with the Lord. (Path To Salvation, p198)
According to St. Diadochos, "If a man while still alive, can undergo death through his labors, then in his entirety he becomes the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit... Grace illumines his whole being with a deeper awareness, warming him with great love of God. (Philokalia, vol 1 no 82, 85, p 284, 285) This action reveals itself or is accompanied by different manifestations with different people.
A spiritual description by St. Macarius, The soul that is is deemed to be judged worthy to participate in the light of the Holy Spirit by becoming his throne and habitation, and is covered with the beauty of ineffable glory of the spirit, becomes all light, all face, all eye. There is no part of the soul that is not full of the spiritual eyes of light. That is to say, there is no part of the soul that is covered with darkness but is totally covered with spiritual eyes of light. FOr the sou l had no imperfect part but is in every part on all sides facing forward and covered with the beauty of the ineffable glory of the light of Christ, who mounts and rides upon the soul." (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 1.2, p 37)
When this happened to me I felt betrayed, after all, I had accomplished a great thing through my spiritual efforts. Yes, I was proud. If it had stayed with me, this pride would only have grown and I would have remained complacent. But when it left, what did I do? I sought help and was guided to work hard to uncover my deep hidden sinfulness. This involved things everyone else knew about me, but were hidden from my own self-awareness. I gave up my old ways of seeking an spiritual experience through the eastern meditation practice I had long practiced. I started anew in my spiritual path becoming obedient to my spiritual father. Glory be to God for this!
This is why this withdrawal happens. Initially we are encouraged by the experience of His grace, but we still have great pride and need to be humbled. After this initial encouragement, this withdrawal leeds us to further growth through a processes of purifying our heart.
Saint Diadochos tells that grace is working in us without our knowledge, At the start of the spiritual way, the soul usually has the conscious experience of being illumined with its own light through the action of grace. But as it advances further in its struggle to attain theology (knowledge of God through direct experience), grace works its mysteries within the soul for the most part without its knowledge.
He continues to clarify the two ways that grace works in us - with and without our knowledge: Grace acts in these two ways so that it may first set us rejoicing on the path of contemplation, calling us from ignorance to spiritual knowledge, and so that in the midst of our struggle it may then keep this knowledge free from arrogance. On the one hand, we need to be somewhat saddened by feeling ourselves abandoned, so that we become more humble and submit to the glory of the Lord; on the other hand, we need to be gladdened at the right time though being lifted up by hope... (Philokalia, vol 1, no 69, p 276)
Through this awareness of a direct experience and then its withdrawal, God is nurturing us to complete the course. He wants us to have holy love and for it to become habitual. If He allowed grace to remain ever present to our awareness, we would become satisfied, stuck in our pride and hidden sinfulness, and not continue on our path to perfection.
Saint Diadochos says,
When God recedes in order to educate us, this brings great sadness, humility and even some measure of despair to the soul. the purpose of this is to humble the soul's tendency to vanity and self-glory, for the heart is at once filled with fear of God, tears of thankfulness, and great longing for the beauty of silence.
(Philokalia, vol 1, no 87, p 286)
Saint Diadochus continues, highlighting the way God works for our benefit. As the soul advances, divine grace more and more reveals itself of the intellect. During the process, however , the Lord allows the soul to be pestered increasingly by demons. This is to teach it to discriminate correctly between good an devil, and to make it more humble through the deep shame it feels during its purification because of the way in which it is defiled by demonic thoughts. (Philokalia, vol 1, no 77, p 279-80)
Saint Marcarius of Egypt also advises us about how God's grace works within us. The spiritual influence of God's grace within the soul works with great patience, wisdom, and mysterious management of the mind, while the man for long times and seasons contends in much endurance; and then the work of grace is proved to be perfect in him. (Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 9.1 p 83)
Knowing God in a way where we experience Him continually and are able to carry out His will is a process. As we gain the ability to do God's will, we again experience his grace, but when we fall back, engage in judging others or become proud of our spiritual advancement for example, this feeling is withdrawn. Not as a punishment but to spur us on to greater and greater growth until we have purified our heart and join in union wtih Him continually. Knowing God is not an event but a lifelong process.
Father Maximos perceived the Scriptures as foretelling man's purpose, since it was God Who said, "Let us make man according to our image and likeness....And God made man, according to the image of God He made him, male and female He made them. And God blessed them...And God saw all the things that he had made, and, behold, they were very good (Gen 1:26, 27, 28, 31)."
"In his commentary on the Lord's Prayer, Our Father, he writes that "we are also taught to speak to ourselves of the the grace of adoption, since we are by grace worthy to call Father the One Who is our Creator by nature. Thus by respecting the designation of our Begetter in grace, we are eager to set on our life the features of the One Who gave us life. We sanctify His name on earth in taking after Him as Father, in showing ourselves by our actions to be His children....
"Now His divine power has 'freely given to us all the things for life and piety, through the full knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which he has freely given to us the very great and precious promises, that through these ye might become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3,4).' God made us so that we might become 'partakers of the divine nature' and sharers in His eternity, and so that we might come to be like Him (1John 3:2) through divinization by grace." ( The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church - January, Holy Apostles Convent, pp 826-827)
The path that he taught was the way of love. "and do not say that "mere faith in our Lord Jesus christ can save me." For this is impossible unless you acquire love for him through works.,,,,The work of love is the deliberate doing of good to one's neighbor as well as long-suffering and patience and the use of all things in the proper way."( Four Centuries of Love, 1:39)
He also taught that this is impossible without ascetic labors. Afflict your flesh with fasting and vigils. devote yourself diligently to psalmody and prayer, and holiness in chastity will come upon you and bring love. (Four Centuries of Love, 1:45)
Orthodox women from Ghana, Tema New Town (here)
With faith, zeal, experience of God's grace, and a realization of our sinfulness we now move toward the goal of all Orthodox Christians ––"A Living Unity with God."
Saint Theophan makes his point with several Scripture references.
"Seek ye the Lord and be strengthened; seek ye His face at all times. (Ps 104:4)
Paul reminds us,
For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “ I will dwell in them... (2 Cor 6:16)
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (Jn 14:23)
If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev 3:20)
I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (Jn 14:20)
Saint Theophan says this living unity with God is enlivening and God's goal for us,
God's indwelling is not merely mental... but is a living, enlivening thing, to which contemplation should only be considered a means. Mental and heartfelt longing for God, that has come by God's good will, prepares a person to truly receive God. It is a kind of unity in which, without eradicating human strrength and personality, God manifests Himself as one that worketh in him both to will and to do (Phil 2:23); and the person, according to the Apostle, does not live but Christ lives in him (cf. Gal 2:20). This is not only the person's goal, but also the goal of God Himself.
The Orthodox Way of life is about attaining this living unity with God. It is something we must continually work at. Its much more than a conversion experience. Such experiences are only the beginning of an Orthodox Christian life. This is when the real work begins. Knowing this indwelling God is a process of purifying our heart, purging our actions of all sinfulness. All this prepares us to receive His grace to align our will with His. This is our aim. This is the path to a truly virtuous life.
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Travelers on the Way to the Light
“Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future”