Human beings can have two kinds of faith. The first kind of faith, which has its seat in the mind, is the reasonable faith of acceptance. In this case, a person rationally accepts something and believes in what he has accepted, but this faith does not justify him. When Holy Scripture says, “man is saved by faith alone” (Ephesians 2:8), it does not mean that he is saved merely by the faith of acceptance. There is, however, another kind of faith, the faith of the heart. It is referred to in this way because this kind of faith is not found in the human reason or intellect, but in the region of the heart. This faith of the heart is a gift of God that you will not receive unless God decides to grant it. It is also called ‘inner faith,’ which is the kind of faith that the father of the young lunatic in the Gospel asked Christ to give him when he said, “Lord, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Naturally, the father already believed with his reason, but he did not have the deep inner faith that is a gift of God.
Inner faith is rooted in an experience of grace. And since it is an experience of grace, what would this make inner faith as far as an Orthodox Christian is concerned? Inner faith is noetic prayer. When someone has noetic prayer in his heart, which means the prayer of the Holy Spirit in his heart, then he has inner faith. Through this kind of faith and by means of prayer, he beholds things that are invisible. When someone has this kind of vision, it is called theoria. Theoria, in fact, means vision.
As a rule, there are two ways for vision to take place. When a person has not yet attained to theosis, it is still possible for him to see by means of the prayer that the Holy Spirit is saying within his heart. After attaining to theosis, however, he can see by means of theosis, in which both this inner faith (i.e., prayer of the heart) and hope are set aside, and only love for God remains (as a gift of God). This is what St. Paul means when he says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (I Corinthians 13:10 and 13:13; since faith and hope have fulfilled their purpose and man has reached the point of seeing God, the source of his faith and hope, he now simply knows and loves the One Who is Love). When the perfect is come, faith and hope are done away, and only love remains. And this love is theosis. In theosis, knowledge comes to an end; prophecy is set aside; tongues, which are noetic prayer, cease; and only love remains. St. Paul says this in passages of great clarity and beauty. The Church Fathers in turn offer interpretations of these subjects that are indisputably correct (the entire Philokalia is concerned with these issues).
What is the Core of Orthodox Tradition?
We happen to be entrusted with a treasure – the theology of Orthodox Tradition. Orthodox theology is the culmination and product of centuries of experience that have been repeated, renewed, and recorded by those who have experienced theosis at different times. We have the experience of the patriarchs and the prophets as well as the later experience of the Apostles. We call all of these experiences ‘glorification.’ To say the prophet was glorified means that the prophet saw the glory of God. To say the Apostle was glorified means that the Apostle saw the glory of Christ. Seeing the glory of Christ, the Apostle ascertained by his own experience that the glory of Christ in the New Testament is the glory of God in the Old Testament. Hence, Christ is the Yahweh and the Elohim of the Old Testament.
Although it is not clear in the Old Testament Who the Holy Spirit is, the Apostles discovered Who He is by experience. Their experience repeats the experience of the prophets, but there is a difference because the Apostles were glorified after the Incarnation: Yahweh of the Old Testament now has the human nature of Christ. Although three of the Apostles were partially glorified during the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, all of the Apostles were fully glorified at Pentecost, during which they reached the highest state of glorification that any human being can ever reach in this life.
After the experience of the Apostles come the experiences of the glorified who include the Church Fathers and those saints who reached theosis. And so the experience of theosis continues to appear in each generation up to the present. This experience of theosis is the core of the Orthodox tradition, the foundation of the local and ecumenical councils, and the basis for the Church’s canon law and liturgical life today.
If the contemporary Orthodox theologian is to acquire objectivity, he must rely on the experience of theosis. In other words, we can positively state that a student of Patristic tradition has acquired objectivity in his theological method only when he has personally undergone purification and illumination, and reached theosis. Only in this way will the researcher not only understand the Patristic tradition, but also verify for himself the truth of this tradition through the Holy Spirit.
by Protopresbyter John S.Romanides