More of the beauty of Orthodox Spirituality – Theosis


Does it need repeating again? Theosis is not the changing of our human essence into the divine essence. No creature can become essentially divine. There can never be any addition to the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity. Our God, who remains beyond all knowing in essence, reveals himself to us by his uncreated energies. As the heart of the Sun is inaccessible to us, all consuming in its fiery glory, nevertheless we receive the light and warmth of the Sun as a healing and life-giving reality. In an analogous manner, God is himself inaccessible to all in his essence but he make himself known in love and life, calling forth the Creation to manifest this love and life by his divine energies, which are as the heat and warmth of the Sun.

What should we think about Theosis? It is not a special practice or ambition reserved for the most advanced monks and hermits. It is the description of the normal Christian life. It is not a matter of unique and extraordinary experiences, but of growing in unity with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is the purpose and substance of the Christian life, and it is a sadness that so many people brought up in Orthodox communities are not always aware that this is the goal and the aim of all of our spiritual endeavour.

We do not attend Church regularly, participate in activities, try to pray and fast, and avoid many of the things our friends and colleagues are doing just so that we can please God. To have such an understanding of Christianity is to make it a religion. It makes Christianity a matter of trade. It is as if we were saying, “I will do these things, and I expect to be rewarded by God, now and in the future“. Or else it is as if we were saying, “I must do all these things because I need to please my parents, and my priest, and God himself, because all of these will be angry with me if I do not“.

But God does not need to be convinced to love us. Even when the world was at its most distant from God, sunk in rebellion and corruption, we read…

For God loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it but to save it through Him“.

What does this say to us? It reminds us that the initiative is all on God’s part. It encourages us in that God’s purpose is not to condemn, but to save. It says that He acts in such a loving manner to give eternal life. The Greek word translated as save and used here also has a sense of healing and making well. We have too easily adopted models of thought from other non-Orthodox movements. We do not encounter an angry and condemnatory God in the Church and in the world. These are, after all, divine and salutary words inspired by the Holy Spirit. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to bring healing of our spiritual sickness, and the gift of life when we were bound in death and darkness.

He gives eternal life to those who have faith and trust in him. This is a faith in Christ. It is a trust in Christ. It is not simply believing things about him, but coming to know him as a person, and giving ourselves over to Him in confidence. Many of us grow up believing things about Christ and God, but never experiencing a personal encounter with him. It is only this personal encounter which can heal us, which can save us. Within the Orthodox spiritual tradition we are not always hoping that when we pass away we will be able to get into Heaven. This is a religious way of thinking. On the contrary, we are asked to consider if we have met the one who heals and have begun to experience the new life he gives already.

This eternal life is not simply life without end, that might begin, we hope, at some future date. It is the life of eternity experienced in part while we live this life. It is the beginning of a transformation and transfiguration. It is the guarantee by our own experience that we will enjoy the fulness in the age to come of that which is already though partially known now.

It was Christ Himself who said..

I have come that they might have life, and have it more than abundantly.

This life of eternity is the gift of grace. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, the fountain welling up within us to eternal life. The Lord speaks of this many times, and especially when he says…

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

This is the essence of what theosis represents. It is not special and miraculous gift to one or two. But it is the outpouring of the life of eternity, the gift of the divine life in the Holy Spirit, which is offered to all, though not all experience it as God wills. Is there a spiritual thirst in your heart? This thirst can be quenched by the increasing presence of the Holy Spirit who is the life and breath of God given to us as grace and gift. This gift of divine life, because this is who the Holy Spirit is, may become a source of divine life within us. Not changing us into the divine essence, but allowing us to find refreshment in the divine presence.

The question we should ask is not, “Is Theosis, of the experience of the divine life in my heart, something for an ordinary person like me?” Rather we should be asking those who are guides and fathers and mothers in our ancient Orthodox spiritual Tradition, “How can I experience the divine presence as the gift of ever-renewing divine life within my own heart?

This is the purpose and goal of the Orthodox Christian life, with all of the effort that is required, with all of the self-sacrifice, with all of the discipline. It is not to please an angry God, much less an angry priest! It is to experience ourselves, each one of us, the union with God which is brought about by the divine presence of the Holy Spirit as a fountain of divine life within the heart.

How much God loves each one of us. How much he is grieved that this gift of divine life by the Holy Spirit is rejected because it is neither understood nor experienced. Yet it is the normal Christian life that we are all called to participate in. I believe by my own experience that this life, this divine life of the Holy Spirit, who unites us with God in Christ, is fully and abundantly available to those who follow the Orthodox Christian way, the Apostolic spiritual Tradition of our Fathers. He offers himself to all who are thirsty, and in the quenching of our thirst we discover God is present with us and in us by the Holy Spirit, and that in his light we see light. This is the goal and the end of the Christian life, and the life of eternity, the heavenly life, may begin for us all even now.

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