Theosis, the True Purpose of Human Life (Part IV)

 Venerable Ambrose of Optina

Venerable Ambrose of Optina

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

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THEOSIS, THE TRUE PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE (Part IV)
By Archimandrite George, Abbot (Egoumenos) of the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregorios - Mount Athos

The Church: The Place of Man's Theosis

Those who wish to unite with Jesus Christ, and, through Christ, with God the Father, recognize that this union is realized in the Body of Christ, which is our Holy Orthodox Church. Of course, this union is 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 one might 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 mistaken theologians have written, not having looked deeply enough into the spirit of the Holy Church. Despite our unworthiness and sinfulness, Christ takes us Christians and incorporates us into His body. He makes us members of Himself. We become real members of Christ, not just followers of a code of morality. As the holy Apostle Paul puts it, "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30).

Certainly, depending on the spiritual state of Christians, they are sometimes living members of Christ's body, at other times they are dead. Even as dead members, we still do not cease to be members of Christ's body. For example, someone who is baptized has become a member of Christ's body. If he does not confess, does not take Holy 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. Someone like this does not need to be re-baptized, however, is not a member of Christ's body even if he lives a moral life according to human standards. In order to become a member of Christ's body, in order to be incorporated into Christ, he needs to be baptized.

Since we are members of Christ's body, Christ's life is offered to us and becomes our life. So we are enlivened, saved, and deified, yet we could not be deified if Christ did not make us members of His body; we could not be saved if the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church did not exist. These make us one body with Christ, and as, according to the holy Church Fathers, we share the same body and the same blood as Christ...we are in fact one body and one blood with Christ.

Theosis and the Church

What a great blessing that we commune through the immaculate Mysteries (Sacraments)! Christ becomes ours; the life of Christ becomes ours; His blood becomes our blood. Saint John Chrysostom says that God has nothing more to give man than what He gives him Holy Communion. Man cannot ask anything more of God than what he receives from Christ in Holy Communion.

So, being baptized, chrismated, confessing, 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, for we have become familiar with God.

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 Theosis (Deification); the Holy Liturgy, the Mysteries (Sacraments), Divine Worship, the Gospel sermon, the fasting; all of these lead to this one thing. The Church alone is the place of Theosis.

The Church is not a social, cultural, or historical organization, and does not resemble other organizations in the world. It is not like the different establishments of the world. The world has fine institutions, fine organizations, fine establishments and other fine things, but our Orthodox Church is the unrepeatable, the sole place for the communion with God with man, for the Theosis of man. Only within the Church can man become god, and nowhere else: not in universities; not in social services; not in any of the fine and good things that the world has. None of these are able to offer what the Church offers, however good they may be.

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 for scandals to 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 and pray in greater peace and comfort?"

However, we must contradict this evil thought with discretion: "Yes, perhaps 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 (Last) Supper of the Divine Liturgy. I will be cut off from my fellow brethren in Christ, together with whom we form Christ's body."

So, whatever may happen, we will not leave the Church, because only within it do we find the path to Theosis.

(To be continued)

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

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George