By Katherine G. Valone
The celebration of Christmas is rightly called The Birth of Christ the Savior according to the flesh, and it means Christ existed before his human birth as a part of the Holy Trinity.
St. Athanasios the Great of Alexandria (c 295-373), one of the pillars of the Orthodox Church, wrote in his magnificent masterpiece, The Incarnation, that “God became man that we might become God.” Holy Scripture is replete with allusions to this. This short article possibly cannot do justice to this important subject.
This truth has a special name: THEOSIS. Too many have not heard about this neglected teaching of Orthodoxy. Yet it is a basic teaching for receiving eternal life. It is an essential part of salvation. We hear few sermons on this doctrine which is based on Holy Scripture in many places: the Gospels and the Epistles; and though the word Theosis is not mentioned it is implied in the writings of St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John, St. James, and all the Apostles.
Yet, the vast majority may not be able to explain what the word means.
Attaining Theosis is an essential part of our life in Christ, of perfecting our way that God, the Father expects from us when God says to us who believe in Christ “Be holy, for I am holy” (Matthew 5:48).
St. Peter in his Epistle tells us that we may, can, and should become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ and reads thus: vs.2: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue [add] knowledge, to knowledge [add] self-control, to self-control [add] perseverance, [add] godliness, [add] brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness [add] love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren [ineffective] nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is short sighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed [baptized] from his old sins.
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” How can anyone resist reading the Scriptures?! For they tell it like it is. “Admittance to God’s Kingdom is conditional upon a faith which exhibits perseverance (patience) and holiness.” (From Orthodox Study Bible pg. 562).
Likewise St. Paul teaches us that the “way” is important. All faiths do not lead us to God. Only faith in, of and on the blood of Christ saves us and assures us of eternal life with Christ. St. John Chrysostom, another great Father of the Church (born in Antioch 344-407), called St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans “a spiritual trumpet” for it summarizes the entire gospel.
Sometimes the word deification is used in place of the word theosis. I prefer theosis because deification sounds like something we are given or done for us. Theosis is something we must work at all our Christian life to attain. Just as virtue is not a thing given to us, it must be a moral quality we must work to attain and perfect. The Orthodox Study Bible defines Theosis as the “grace of God through which believers grow to become like Him and enjoy intimate communion with the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Study Bible devotes an entire page to Deification that would profit us much in studying it.
In Second Corinthians 3:12 St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, writes: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of he Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Theosis is a life-long process; I fear many of us have not even begun the long journey. We ignore Christ Jesus’ words “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14: vs. 6)” That answers those who say there is no difference in religions and that Hindus, Islamists, Cultists, etc. are worshiping the “same” God. This is Satan’s strongest deception. We believe that the Orthodox Church founded at Pentecost by Christ and based on the holy apostles is supported by two pillars: Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition (e.g. Nicene Creed) as taught by the apostles. But why is it that the doctrine of Theosis is neglected? We take salvation for granted because we were baptized in the death and resurrection of Christ. But we must not take the Holy Spirit for granted.
St. Maximus the Confessor (c600AD), a profound mystic, calls us to seek what is the soul’s benefit. He writes “If the soul is better than the body and God incomparably better than the world which he created, the one who prefers the body to the soul and the world to the God who created it is no different from idolaters.” What does that say for us Orthodox who have become so engrossed by the secular, the ungodly, the false “gods” of fame, fortune, and other matters that alienate us from God? The Saints tell us to be as aliens in this world that has set its nets to capture us and make us slaves of what is ungodly. Christ Jesus tells us in the Holy Bible, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12).” St. John the Baptist is even more graphic: “And now the axe is laid into the root of the trees: every tree therefore which does not bring forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” This is serious. Unproductive Christians lack fruit.
We are called by Christ Jesus, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it“. Everywhere in Scripture we see the shadow of Theosis.
Christianity, clear headed Orthodoxy, is not easy. It is a life’s work. And at this great season in anticipation of Christ’s Incarnation let us celebrate it in the spirit of the seven gifts of the spirit and not the gifts of the flesh. Let us begin with the fear of God; piety, knowledge (which comes from Bible study), endurance, counsel, understanding, and wisdom. For example, we can’t understand the ways and words of God the Father if we do not read His Word which He has set in writing so that we would have a ready compass directing us in our journey towards Theosis or, becoming partakers of the Divine Nature of God. That’s what our great Father invites us to do because he loves us so much that He sent His Son to take on flesh and to shed His blood in propitiation (ilastirion) for our sins (Romans 3:25). And that’s what Christmas is all about. God bless us in our journey of, Theosis! KALA CHRISTOUGENNA!
Be a gift giver of books to your children, grandchildren, god children, and friends. Build an Orthodox, godly library in your home and in your church. I suggest this, also.
Father Anthony Coniaris of Light and Life Publishers has written a new book on Theosis just released lately called, How to Actualize the Image of God in You. Call (952) 925-3888 FREE or log on to www.light-n-life.com for a Fall 2008 catalog with new releases. I am sure Father Coniaris will explain Theosis much better than I. +TVOO