THE PLACE OF MAN'S DEIFICATION
Those who wish to unite with Christ, and, through Jesus Christ, with God the Father, recognise that this union is realized in the body of Christ, which is our Holy Orthodox Church. A union, Of course, 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 some 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 theologians have mistakenly written, not having looked deeply into the spirit of the Holy Church. In spite our unworthiness and sinfulness, Christ takes us Christians and incorporates us into His body. He makes us members of Himself. And so we become real members of the body of Christ, not just morally. As the Apostle Paul puts it, ‘We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones’ (Eph. 5:30).
Certainly, depending on the spiritual state of Christians, they are sometimes living members of Christ's body, and at other times dead. Yet, even as dead members, they do not cease to be members of Christ's body. For example, someone who is baptised has become a member of Christ's body. If he does not confess, does not take 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. He does not need to be re-baptised. Someone who has never been baptised, however, is not a member of Christ's body, even if he lives a life which is moral by human standards. He needs to be baptised in order to become a member of Christ's body, to become incorporated into Christ.
So, because we are members of Christ's body, Christ's life is offered to us and it becomes our life. And thus we are enlivened, saved, and deified. We could not be deified, had Christ not made us members of His Holy body.
We could not be saved if the Holy Mysteries of the Church did not exist, which make us one body with Christ, and by which, according to the Church Fathers, we share the same flesh and the same blood as Christ, in other words, to become one body and one blood with Christ.
What a great blessing that we partake of the immaculate Mysteries! Christ becomes ours; Christ's life becomes ours; His blood becomes our blood. This is why St. John Chrysostom says that God has nothing more to give man than what he gives him in Holy Communion. Neither can man ask for anything beyond what he receives from Christ in Holy Communion.
This way then, having been baptised, chrismated, and having confessed, 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, but His intimates.
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 deification (gr. theosis). The Holy Liturgy, the Mysteries, divine Worship, the Gospel sermon, the fasting; they all lead to this one thing. The Church is the sole place of deification.
The Church is not a social, cultural, or historical institution, and it does not resemble any other institution in the world. It is not like the different establishments of the world. Perhaps the world has fine establishments, fine organisations, fine institutions and other fine things. But our Orthodox Church is the inimitable, the sole place for the communication of God with man; of man's deification. Only within the Church can man become a god, and nowhere else. Neither in universities, nor in social service foundations, nor in any of the fine and good things that the world has. All these, however good they may be, they are not able to offer what the Church offers.
This is why, 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 even for scandals to happen in the bosom of the Church. All these 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 in greater peace and comfort?’
We, However, must prudently contradict this evil thought: ‘Yes, perhaps on the one hand 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 Supper of the Holy Liturgy. I will be cut off from my fellow brethren in Christ, together with whom we form Christ's body.’
So, nomatter what happens, we will not leave the Church, because only within it do we find the path to deification (gr. theosis).
Original English translation (2005), annotation and glossary by Photius Coutsoukis
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