THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE THEOTOKOS TO MAN'S DEIFICATION
So, the Lord Jesus gives us this possibility, to unite with God, and return to the primal purpose, which God ordained for man. This is why He is described in Holy Scripture as the way, the door, the good shepherd, the life, the resurrection, the light. He is the new Adam, who rights the wrong of the first Adam. The first Adam separated us from God with his disobedience and his egotism. With His love, and His obedience to the Father, obedience unto death, to ‘death on the cross’, the second Adam, Christ, brings us back once more to God. He once again orients our freedom towards God, so that, by offering it to Him, we unite with Him.
But the work of the new Adam pre-supposes the work of the new Eve, the Panaghia who, as well, put right the wrong done by the old Eve. Eve drove Adam to disobedience. The new Eve, the Panaghia, contributes to the incarnation of the new Adam who will guide the human race towards obedience to God. For this reason, as the first human person who achieved theosis – in an exceptional and indeed unrepeatable, way – the Lady Theotokos played a role in our salvation, which was not only fundamental, but also necessary and irreplaceable.
According to the saintly Nicholas Cabasilas, the great 14th century theologian, had the Panaghia, in her obedience, not offered her freedom to God – had she not said ‘yes’ to God – God would not have been able to incarnate. Because God, who had given freedom to man, would not have been able to violate it. He would not have been able to incarnate had there not been such a pure, all-holy, immaculate psyche as the Theotokos, who would completely offer her freedom, her will, all of herself to God, so as to draw Him towards herself and towards us.
We owe much to the Panaghia. This is why our Church honours and venerates the Theotokos. This is why St. Gregory Palamas, summarizing Patristic theology, says that our Panaghia holds the second place after the Holy Trinity; that she is god after God; the borderline between the created and the uncreated. ‘She leads those being saved’, according to another fine expression by a theologian of our Church. And St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, the steadfast luminary and teacher of the Church, pointed out that the angelic ranks themselves are illumined by the light they receive from the Panaghia.
This is why she is praised by our Church as ‘more honourable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim’.
The incarnation of the Logos and the Theosis of man are the great mystery of our Faith and Theology.
Our Orthodox Church lives this every day with its Mysteries, its hymns, its icons, its whole life. Even the architecture of an Orthodox Church witnesses to this. The great dome of the churches, on which the Pantocrator is painted, symbolises the descent of Heaven to earth; it tells us that the Lord ‘bent down the Heavens and descended’. The Evangelist St. John writes that God became man ‘and dwelt among us’ (Jn. 1:14).
And because He became man through the Theotokos, we depict the Theotokos in the apse of the altar, to indicate that through her God comes to earth and to men. She is ‘the bridge by which God descended’, and again, ‘she who conducts those of earth to Heaven’, the apse of the heavens, the space of the uncontainable, who contained the uncontainable God within herself for our salvation.
To continue, our Church depicts deified men: those who became gods by Grace because God became man. This is why in our Orthodox churches we can depict not only the incarnate God, Christ, and His immaculate Mother, the Lady Theotokos, but also the saints around and below the Pantocrator. On all the walls of the Church we paint the results of God’s incarnation: the sainted and deified men.
Therefore, upon entering an Orthodox Church and seeing the beautiful icons of saints, we immediately receive and experience: we relize the work of God on man's behalf and the purpose of our life.
Everything in the Church speaks of the incarnation of God and the deification of man.
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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