Theosis (Deification): The True Purpose of Human Life

Martyr Timothy the Reader and his wife in Egypt

Martyr Timothy the Reader and his wife in Egypt

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!

THEOSIS (DEIFICATION): THE TRUE PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE
By Archimandrite George, Egoumenos (Abbot) of the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregorios on Mount Athos

The idea of Theosis (Deification) will be unfamiliar to the Western Christian mind, although it is not a new concept to Christianity. When Christ said, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (St. Matthew 4:17) this is a call to a life of Theosis (Deification).

Theosis personal communion with God "face to face" (cf. Genesis 32:30). To the Western Christian 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; (cf., Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Isaiah 53; Acts 1:16-36; 1 Peter 2:6-8). His mission to connect us with the Kingdom of God (St. Mark 1:15)-a Kingdom not of this world (Romans 14:17). When Jesus said, "You are gods," (St. John 10:34) "be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect," (St. Matthew 5:P48) or "the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father," (St. Matthew 13:43; cf., Exodus 34:29-35; St. Luke 9:28-36) 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; I 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. Saint John the Baptist echoing Isaiah says, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes upon Himself the sins of the world" (St. John 1:29). Saint 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," (Galatians 3:29) because "those who believe are children of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7-9). 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 Saint Paul, where he blesses the Church as "the Israel of God;" (Galatians 6:15-16, also cf., St. John 1:11-13; Romans 2:28-29; St. James 1:1) whilst elsewhere he wrestles with and is pained by his fellow Jews denial of their own Messiah, labeling them "Israel according to the flesh" (Romans 9:11; also cf., St. John 8:37-40; 10:32-38).

That is why, the Church - "God's very own People," (1 Peter 2:9; cf., of Colossians 2:11) - is also known as the "new Israel," the "spiritual Israel," striving to the Heavenly Kingdom. Those first Christians realized that the Kingdom of God was not simply equated with a Jewish state or a single people, but is intended for all of humanity (cf., St. Matthew 3:7-9; Acts 1:8; 11:1-18; 15:16-17; Galatians 3:14:28). Through repentance we are all called to the true exodus - to the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2-3) - 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" (St. Matthew 5:17).

The Orthodox Christian Church has retained this original message of Christ unchanged. It is for this reason that the Orthodox Christian Church is both the "Body of Christ" (Colossians 1:18, 24; Romans 12:5: 1st Corinthians 12:12-13) and the "faithful bride" (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 18:23) 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" (St. Matthew 28:20; cf., of St. John 17:20-22) 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 (Deification) 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 (Councils); notable among these being the Seven Ecumenical Synods, the Synod of Saint Photios of 867 A.D. and the Palamite Synods of the 14th century. Please note: the Church Synods (Councils) 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 Christian 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 of God acquired through academic study. Christianity is a living faith, founded on revelation born of the Holy Spirit, (St. John 16:13; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 13) giving those counted worthy intimate experience of the Triune God and of spiritual realities (cf., Acts 9:3-7). All attempts to understand Christ's Message from a purely rational standpoint will remain partial and incomplete (1 Corinthians 2:9).

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.

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 to this way see what Christ and the Way meant to the first Christians. Key Biblical words sush 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 italicize key words and concepts when they first appear and to provide a glossary to define them.

Theosis (Deification) is the Pearl of Great Price alluded to by Christ (St. Matthew 13:45-46). 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 (cf., St. Mark 9:1; St. John 4:14; 8:51; 11:25-26; Romans 5:21; 2 Timothy 1:10). Saint Paul alludes to this when he says, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Again, while being stoned to death, Saint Stephen the First Holy Martyr offered himself up to Christ and prayed to God for his persecutors to be forgiven (Acts 7:59-60). The Paschal hymn, "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.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George