EXPERIENCES OF DEIFICATION
Experiences of Theosis are proportional to the purity of man. The more someone is cleansed from the passions, the higher the experience he will receive from God; he sees God just as it was written: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Mt. 5:8).
When man starts to repent, to confess, and to cry for his sins, he receives the first experiences of God’s Grace. Such experiences are first of all tears of repentance, which bring inexpressible joy to the psyche, and then the deep peace which follows this. For this reason, this mourning for our sins is called “gladsome mourning”, as the Lord also said in His Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4).
Afterwards, we proceed to higher stages by divine illumination in which the nous is illumined and sees things, the world, and men with another grace.
Then the Christian loves God more, and new and different tears come, higher ones, which are tears of love for God, tears of divine eros. Then he no longer weeps for his sins, because he has the certainty that God has forgiven his sins. These new tears, which bring to the psyche a greater happiness, joy, and peace, are a higher experience of Theosis.
Afterwards, man acquires dispassion: a life without deceitful passions and sinful weaknesses. Then he is peaceful and undisturbed from every external assault, having been delivered from pride, hatred, spitefulness, and desires of the flesh.
This is the second stage of Theosis, called ‘theoria’, in the course of which man, having already been cleansed from the passions, is illumined by the Holy Spirit, is made luminous on the way to becoming deified. Theoria means viewing God (from the Greek Theows=God and Oro=view). To see God, he must be a deified man. Thus, theoria also means Theosis.
Of course, when he has been thoroughly cleansed and has offered himself entirely to God, then he also receives the greatest experience of divine Grace available to men, which, according to the holy Fathers, is the vision of the uncreated light of God. Those who are very advanced in Theosis see this light, very few in each generation. God's Saints see it and appear within it, and, incidentally, this is what the halos in the holy icons show us.
For example, in the life of St. Basil the Great, it is said that when St. Basil was praying in his cell, those who were able to see him saw that he himself, and even his cell, were shining within this uncreated light of God, the light of divine Grace. In the lives of many of the New-Martyrs of our Faith we read that, after horrible tortures, when the Turks hung their bodies in the squares of the town to intimidate other Christians, on many nights a light appeared around them. It shone so clearly and brightly that, because in this way the truth of our Faith was so brilliantly revealed, the conquerors ordered them taken down so that they would not be ashamed before the Christians, who saw how God glorified His holy Martyrs.
The Grace of Theosis preserves the bodies of the Saints incorruptible, and these are the holy relics which exude myrrh and work miracles. As St. Gregory Palamas says, the Grace of God, having first united with the psyches of the Saints, afterwards shrouds their holy bodies and fills these too with Grace: not only their bodies, but also their graves, their icons, and their Churches. Here is the reason why we venerate and kiss the icons, the holy relics, the graves, and the Churches of the Saints. Through Theosis, all these have something of the Grace of God which the Saint had in his psyche because of his union with God.
Therefore, in the Church, we enjoy the Grace of Theosis not only with our psyche, but also with our body, because as the temple of the Holy Spirit Who dwells in it, and shares its struggles with the psyche, the body is surely glorified.
The Grace springing from the holy Lord – the God-man Christ – is poured out into our Panaghia, into the Saints, and it also comes to those of us who are humble.
It is certainly worth noting that the experiences of the Christian are not always experiences of Theosis and so spiritual. Many people have been deluded by demonic or psychological experiences. In order that there is no danger of delusion and no demonic influence, all of this must be humbly mentioned to the Spiritual Father, who, illumined by God, will discern whether these experiences are genuine or not, and he will give appropriate direction to the psyche who is confessing. Generally, our obedience to the Spiritual Father is one of the most basic points of our spiritual path. Through it we acquire an ecclesiastical spirit of discipleship in Christ by which the legitimacy of our exertion is confirmed in order to guide us towards union with God.
Within the Church, a special domain of Theosis is monasticism, where the monks, having been sanctified, receive high experiences of union with God.
Many of the monks who experience Theosis and sanctification also help the whole Church, for, as we Christians believe following the age-long holy Tradition of the Church, the struggle of the monks has a positive effect on the life of every struggling faithful in the world. In our Orthodoxy, the people of God have great reverence for Monasticism because of this.
After all, in the Church we partake in the communion of the Saints, and experience the joy of union with Christ. By this we mean that within the Church we are not isolated members but a unity, a brotherhood, a fraternal community ... not only among ourselves, but also with the Saints of God, those who are living on earth today and those who have passed away. Not even at death are Christians divided. Death is unable to separate Christians because they are all united in the resurrected body of Christ.
Therefore, every Sunday and every time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we are all present in it together with all the Angels and all the Saints through all the ages. Even our departed relatives are present, if, of course, they are united with Christ. We are all there and communicate amongst ourselves mystically, not externally, but in Christ.
This is evident during the Prothesis, where the portions for the Panaghia, the Saints, and the living and departed Christians, are all placed on the Holy Paten around Christ the Lamb. After the sanctification of the Holy Oblation, all these portions are immersed in the Blood of Christ.
This is the great blessing of the Church, that we are her members and, as members of Christ’s body, can communicate not only with God but also between ourselves.
The head of this body is Christ Himself. Life comes from the head to the body. The body certainly has living members, but it also has members which do not have the same vitality; not all the members have perfect health. This applies to the majority of us. Life comes from Christ Himself and his living members; the healthy blood also comes to other less healthy members, so that slowly, slowly, they also become healthy and strong. This is why we must be in the Church … in order to receive health and life, because outside the body of the Church there is no possibility that we can recover and become enlivened.
All of this, of course, does not come about immediately. Throughout the whole of our life the Orthodox Christian must struggle, so that, slowly-slowly within the Church, with the Grace of God, with humility, repentance, prayer, and the holy Mysteries, he may be sanctified and deified.
This, however, is the purpose of our lives; the great aim. It is not so important exactly how far we progress. Our struggle itself, which God blesses abundantly, has value both in the present age and in the age to come.
Original English translation (2005), annotation and glossary by Photius Coutsoukis. A subsequent translation, with extensive footnotes, but containing errors, by Robin Amis, was published in book and pdf format: (2006). Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life (PDF) (4th ed.). Mount Athos, Greece: Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios. ISBN 960-7553-26-8.
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