Partakers of God


Primordial Man

Theophilos , the apologist and bishop of Antioch at the end of the second century , presented primordial man in a state of childlike simplicity and innocence; an infant spiritually and morally , and incapable of clearly discerning good from evil[1]. Exactly two centuries later , Gregory of Nyssa , starting from an opposite point , presented man in a state of fullness and perfection[2]. Infancy and fullness are two extreme views of the human race’s original state , and they are not unrelated to the philosophical presuppositions of these two men. Between these two views there is a wide variety of terms with which other Church Fathers described primordial man. However , among all this variation a common line of thought can be discerned which traces man from the point of his creation and fall to his ascent towards the realm of the divine. Even the two Fathers mentioned earlier ultimately come to an unexpected agreement on the evaluation of the human being. The fact that Gregory considered man to be perfect , assimilated with God and «a Godlike thing ,» is well suited to his doctrine on man’s creation. The noteworthy fact is that even Theophilos gave him such dignity that he placed man together with the trinitarian persons in the famous passage where , for the first time , the term «Trinity» is found. The three days which preceded the creation of the luminaries were a typos of the Trinity. Man , who needs light , appears in the fourth position ; and , thus , there is «God , Logos , Wisdom , and Man»[3]

In light of what has been said , it is easy to perceive what dignity the Fathers generally ascribed to man. He is the crown of creation , the initiate of the rational world and the king of the visible one. He obviously not great before God , but neither is he small before the world. He is great within what is small.[4] He is the recapitulation of creation ; and , in this context , some Fathers did not hesitate to attribute to him the Stoic term «microcosm» which , in their thought , loses all trace of any pantheistic nuance.[5] Man is a microcosm in the sense that he forms the frontier which unites the visible and spiritual categories of existence and which , after the Fall , contributes to their reunion. Yet , he is something more than all this – he is the creature which possesses such powers that he can extend his substance beyond the categories of time and space , beyond beginning and end , and reach the throne of God.


The Image of God

The dignity of man is attested to directly by his frontier function between the material and spiritual worlds. The integration of two dissimilar elements resulted in the formation of a single composite being with admirable completeness and harmony. These elements are represented correspondingly in man by the soul and body. From time to time , some Fathers and theologians have distinguished three constituent elements; namely , soul , body and mind or spirit. Perhaps they were influenced by the teachings of Aristotle and the Stoics , or sharpened the Pauline teaching with a partial interpretation.[6] Contrary to what these philosophers believed , the mind is not a distinct element , according to the Fathers , but rather is sometimes identified with the soul and sometimes considered as the highest particle of the soul. From one point of view , we could say that the mind represents man’s formative faculty , that which makes him man ,[7] although it is a particle of the soul. Thus , finally the component parts of man remain as two , and the terms «soul» and «mind» may be used synonymously.

Harmony occurred with the shaping of the flesh into a suitable and well-matched vestment for the mind and with the positioning of the mind as the guide of the body. The flesh is a precious good , and the Son of God became man «to honor the flesh , even this mortal flesh.»[8] In this composite whole the activity of the soul is extended throughout the body in such a way that , permeating all points , it leads all its members into one accord and communion. But it is not only the power of the soul that pervades the flesh-the passion of the flesh also pervade the soul.[9] The body receives life from the soul , and the soul receives passions from the body. The presuppositions of this theory , which at first sight appear to be Aristotelian , were formulated gradually with the passing of time and by , the fourth century A.D. , were commonplace in all anthropologies. They have been described with impressive completeness by Nemesios of Emesa in his brilliant treatise , On the Nature of Man ,[10] as they had been transformed and adapted to the Christian frame of thought by the great Cappadocian Fathers.

This phenomenon of two so dissimilar entities (soul and body) being bound together with such harmony , is one of creation’s miracles. But this miracle is adequately understood only when it is perceived that the two composite elements are created and , from the standpoint of causality , belong to the same category of existence. There is also , however , another link , different and more noteworthy , which does not unite two created entities but , rather , unites the created with the uncreated-creation with the Creator. Gregory of Nyssa , in his unique dialectical , speculating way , distinguished between two pairs of substance , of which one element , the spirit , is common to both. Concerning the uncreated pair , there is God and spirit; concerning the created pair , spirit and matter.[11] It essentially involves three elements and not four , of which one is common to both pairs combined as much with God as with matter. It is certainly difficult to place this third element (that is , the spirit) in a theological structure based on the sharp distinction between the uncreated and the created. However , it becomes easier when the distinction between the essence and energy of God plays a decisive role in this structure. That which Gregory called «spirit» (and this is definitely not the Holy Spirit) is the uncreated energy of God which moves between him and man and transfers divinity from him to man and , in a way , transfers humanity from man to him. To follow the thought of the Cappadocians , by possessing intellect as well as flesh , man unites in himself the rational and irrational elements of creation. Yet , by also possessing spirit , he simultaneously unites creation with the Creator.

This entire process of an assorted integration of elements is closely related to the purpose which underlies the creation of rational beings. This purpose is none other than reaching the point where they will glorify God worthily and will partake of his blessings abundantly. The union of the rational soul with the body aims at making the soul sovereign over the physical body , not by abolishing it , but by drawing the body towards it in an ascending course until the soul spiritualizes it.[12] Then the whole man will be in a position to obtain glory and reach his destiny. This achievement can be realized only within the relationship which must exist between man and God.

This relationship is initially representative or iconic , as is indicated by the famous phrase «in the image» of God which from the beginning has constituted the cornerstone of Christian theology. The phrase «in the image» is a general faculty of man , and every attempt to locate a definite point where the image is seated is fruitless. Naturally , every image is a likeness of its archetype , and here the archetype is God; and since God is the fullness of all good , man constitutes his image precisely in this way – he is endowed with all blessings.[13] Therefore , image is the complex and integral faculty which man has been given so that he can be self-determining , sovereign and creative like God , but on another level. If God is free in his actions , man is also free. If God reigns above , man reigns below on earth. If God creates out of nothing , man creates out of existing matter.

Gregory Palamas proceeded much further in this direction , associating the image with the Trinity ,[14] and declared that man is created in the image not simply of God , but of the trinitarian God in his concrete hypostases. This definitely fits well in the context of the whole doctrine of this great hesychastic theologian in as much as , according to him , man has been created by the energy of the whole Trinity and , under certain circumstances , receives the divine light emitted by the whole Trinity. Man’s mind , word and spirit from an inseparable unity which corresponds to the unity of the persons of the Holy Trinity; that is , the Mind (the Father) , the Word and the Spirit. As with the Divine , the Mind begets the Word and the Spirit proceeds like love from the Mind towards the Word; the same also occurs with man. And , as the Holy Spirit vivifies the world , likewise the human spirit vivifies the body. With its rich , descriptive and symbolic significance , this position wants to emphasize the high degree of relationship between man and the Holy Trinity beyond the intensive personalistic life of the trinitarian hypostases.

Besides this iconic relationship , there exists an organic one. The theologians of Capadocia , as well as the other Fathers who followed their example , emphasized with great persistence the existence of a close relationship between man and God. This persistence was due to their conviction that this relationship alone offers the possibility of communion with God. The classic saying , «the like by the like,» was the main guide in their attempt to direct their anthropology correctly.[15] An eye can receive light because it has an illuminating capacity (an αυγή) rooted within it. Likewise , the possibility of man’s communion with God is secured through man’s inherent relationship with him in such a way that , through the appropriate element , an inclination is created towards what is akin , the Divine.[16]

This relationship has its roots in the «logos, » i.e. , the faculty of reason which is found within every creature.[17] The world was created according to an eternal plan that included the «substantive reason» of beings. And it is here that the key to the mystery of man is found. Since the will of God is completely uncreated , the reason of human beings is also uncreated. Gregory Palamas , generally adopting this concept , identified reason with the eternal , uncreated energies of God; reason is neither a part of his essence nor an independent entity , but it acquires its existence as enhypostasta from God’s personhood. Every created being has been made according to a corresponding reason which defines both its origin and essence. Consequently , it has had a connection with the uncreated ever since its creation. And if all beings partake of divinity in proportion to their creation , this is much more true of rational beings and , especially , of man , who is a part of God because of this: «Because of his reason , preexistence in God , man is called and is a part of God.»[18]

Nature and Person

On the basis of his reason , preexistence in God , the making of man constitutes the first foundation of his potentiality of being raised above his natural state and gives him a pledge of eternity ever since his genesis. However , the characteristic of being a part of God is not in and of itself a fulfilled state , nor is it a static gift granted once and for all and preserved forever , but is an impetus which leads to a struggle for the acquisition of a place next to God. Man is not a part of God under any circumstance; but , rather , he advances step by step towards that end which Irenaios described so well.

It was necessary that man should in the first instance be created and , having been created , should become mature and , having become mature , should abound and having abounded , should be strengthened and , having been strengthened , should be glorified and , having been glorified , should see his Lord.[19]

Man has this capacity , derived from his self-determination for this end. Perfection was not offered complete to him from the beginning which , in fact , would constitute coercion. But , rather , perfection was set before him as an objective to be attained. Coercion and necessity are conditions of slavery which shatter independence and obscure the divine image. How can a nature that is enslaved by necessity be an image of divine nature?[20] Man was , indeed , created as a part of God and remains a part of God as long as he moves and acts in harmony with the corresponding reason. Yet , if he moves contrary to it , he collapses , returning to nonbeing.

In Maximos the Confessor’s theological system two pairs of divine gifts , offered to rational beings , are discerned: on the one hand , there are being and everbeing; and , on the other hand , there are goodness and wisdom with the deepest meaning of these terms.[21] Being and everbeing , as gift to the essence of rational beings , have become its property by nature. And this is precisely the meaning of «in the image ,» namely that the created essence has received the property of being for its perpetual possession , provided only that perpetuity here means «endless, » but not «without beginning.» The other two gifts , goodness and wisdom , however are not natural because they have not been granted to man’s essence , but to his gnomic capability , his energy. Rational beings are not automatically endowed with these gifts at their creation , but acquire them through their will as free and self-determining beings. These are the fruits of virtue , and virtue springs from intention and intention is based on free will.[22]

These are the gifts which are acquired by all those who advance beyond the stage of the image and proceed towards that of likeness-beyond the stage of nature and towards that of person. The image does not possess everything perfectly , as we have seen , but has a propensity towards perfection; the defect is amended by the faculty of likeness. The image and likeness of God are intimately united , like two aspects of the same faculty , to such a degree that image may be characterized as potential likeness , and likeness as realized image. But , even so , there is a difference which exist between them.

«In the likeness» refers to the tendency of the self-determining faculty to acquire perfection by painfully struggling in an endless course of progress. This means that man is not something perfected but something which is formed with struggle. Man not only possesses , but also acquires; he not only is , but also becomes. Man is what he has received from God-a psychosomatic nature having the divine image within it; and he becomes what he himself achieves ,[23] a human personality or , contrarily , what he reduces himself to. Image belongs to the category of nature; likeness belongs to the category of person and seals the perfection of man. Person is formed throughout the course of a hard struggle which aims at the raising of nature or , rather , at its surpassing. The formation of a personality means the transformation of movement into energy , the natural will into the gnomic will , image into likeness. In other words , it means the raising of man to the realm of the divine and having a dialogue with God , face to face. And so the ultimate purpose of the creation of man is fulfilled-to glorify the Divine Being and to become a partaker of his glory and splendor.

The Fall

The power of self-determination , which is so difficult to describe has before it two possibilities , as we had seen earlier. It can lead to perfection (as much as this is possible for created beings) , but it can also lead to man’s fall; in other words , it can lead to the heights or the abyss. That is to say , man can choose to become a thing; and this is precisely the best indication of man’s freedom of self-determination -that man can reject his existence and become a thing instead of a person.[24]

The fall is a phenomenon which , in one form or another , is encountered in most religions of the Greco-Roman world , as well as in some philosophical systems with dualistic tendencies. The Gnostics placed it in the realm of the eternal spiritual world , following what Plato and Philo had taught earlier. The fall , for them , is a fall from the world of ideas to the world of matter. Christian theology places it firmly in the area of primeval man’s inner struggle between annihilation and perfection.

Created nature has an inherent tendency and possibility of change because its very existence derived from a radical change , the emergence of being out of non-being.[25] Primeval man lived freely and consciously for a period of unknown duration and walked on the road of spiritual development , strengthening his will and cultivating his spiritual faculties. He did not simply keep his nature intact , but constantly shaped it into an integral psychosomatic entity; and he did not allow himself to be dominated by the powers of irrational nature , the powers of time and space.

During this effort , there came a time when man went beyond the limits , went astray and found himself off the road to perfection. A new important change then took place which marked a significant turning point in the history of the human race , and had frightening consequences for man’s future. The devil was the first to experience perversion , because he rejected divine grace and , out of envy , also suggested the same course to man. But , of course , the source of the latter’s perversion lies elsewhere-within himself , in his self-determination.

Origen sought the cause of the fall in man’s Koros , that is , in the sense of over-satiety which derives from the continual and superabundant enjoyment of spiritual blessings. This plausible concept fits well in Origen’s teaching on the preexistence of the mind in a primordial state of perfection that brought about boredom and satiety. However , the same concept makes doubtful such a state of perfection , because it lends an element of imperfection to that state. Such a view , though , cannot be accepted by the Orthodox Fathers who put man on the course to perfection and not in a state of perfection. And , on such a course , no abundance of spiritual blessings which could cause satiety can be discerned , but rather a longing for more blessings.

Therefore , we could say that something other than satiety occurred here-greed , the longing for more blessings than needed and permitted. Primeval man , in the course of his life , received certain spiritual blessings always proportionate to the degree of his advancement. Yet , at some point in time he sought to acquire blessings which he was not entailed to , and he hastened to seize those blessings which did not belong to him and which were not intended for him , at least not at that stage of his course.[26] And the excessive which he sought was to become equal to God.

Yet if , according to the line of thought pervading the present exposition , man’s main pursuit and ultimate destiny is to become equal to God , why did this action have such consequences? Because the pursuit was manifested outside of the God-given order. The passion of greed brought forth in man the acquisition of premature desires for precious blessings which he did not personally encounter. Thus , man tried to reach the highest state all at once , while the normal course was to proceed steadily to higher levels of virtue through the constant cultivation of his faculties. So he was reduced to the point where he transgressed and ruined the laws that pervaded his natural and spiritual development. «The Tree of Knowledge,» as Gregory the Theologian observed , was the contemplation of God , whose summit a person can climb only if he is exercised and mature.[27]

The event of man’s fall has two aspects: the internal and the external or , in other words , the personal and the interpersonal. Of course , it is impossible to completely separate them , since the one bears the other and cannot be understood without the other.[28]

The interpersonal aspect is reduced in the relationship between man and God. The transgression of the God-given order resulted in the alienation of God , which is the most frightening of all evils. Yet the divine law was not only external , it was also inserted within man’s nature. Therefore , its transgression brought about man’s personal collapse , besides the dissolution of his interpersonal relationship with God; and this state , in its turn , brought about more upheaval. This was simultaneously a crime and punishment.

So , the personal aspect basically consists in the splitting of the personality; for the violation of life’s natural rhythm resulted in the upheaval of the psychosomatic relations within man. His components , soul and body , harmoniously cooperating until then , were separated and became antagonistic to each other. Up to that point , the body , following its cohabitant soul , was moving towards passionlessness and incorruption , whereas now the body began to move towards corruption and death , dragging down even the soul.[29] A split personality naturally has fragmented faculties. The splitting of the two components , which were connected in a unified combination , is followed by a series of other splitting. Sense , until then a uniform and integrated faculty , is split into the physical and the spiritual; and the physical , now pentamerous , refers to the passionate part of man , while the spiritual refers to the rational part.[30] Moreover , even the intellect is split «into a duality of knowledge.»[31] It has acquired two distinct types of knowledge-secular and spiritual. Finally , the will is split into two opposite parts , the fleshy and the spiritual , whose tragic antagonism is so lucidly described by Paul:

For those who live according to the flesh , set their minds on the things of the flesh ; but those who live according to the Spirit , set their minds on the things of the Spirit . To set the mind on the flesh is death , but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law , indeed it cannot.[32]

What will man choose? Two choices are available to man: that which pleases the soul and that which pleases the body. In any contest the strongest wins , and it is a well-known fact that in all conditions of upheaval the power of corruption is shown to be the strongest :

What a wretched man I am !

Who can save me from this doomed body ?[33]

The withdrawal of man from perfection is a withdrawal from the good – and this is precisely what evil is. Evil is identified with the absence of good which man inflicts upon himself through the Fall. Consequently , evil does not have an ontological existence or , in other words , according to the ingenious definition of Gregory of Nyssa , «it has existence in its nonexistence.»[34] As sight is a natural faculty and blindness is not a faculty at all , but simply the absence of that faculty so is evil in relation to good – it is the absence of good. This concept of the ontological nonexistence of evil forms the foundation of Othodox anthropology and soteriology. Evil , as the product of rational beings , cannot prevent them from advancing on the road to perfection.

On the other hand , there definitely exists that which we characterize as a «physical evil,» independent of human volition. If , according to all that was said earlier ,moral evil has its roots in man’s freedom , physical evil has its roots in the createdness of beings. Imperfection is inherent in the creature. Beings come from nonbeing , and in their irrational state they tend to return to nonbeing. This tendency is the cause of physical evil. Yet within the limits of destiny , which has been placed upon creation by God , even physical evil does not prevent creation from advancing towards its perfection.

Although it is neither an essence nor a being , moral evil has become an essential condition , an essential reality in the history of the human race in general , and in the personal life of every human being in particular. It is certainly a condition in the sense that the Fall has produced consequences which consume man and cause pain and ruin. A creation of man and , more generally , of all rational beings , evil has become man’s constant companion in passion , pain and death because man’s collapse also produced death , which is the result of his separation from God , according to Irenaios:

To as many as continue in their love towards God , does he grant communion with him. Now , communion with God is life and light and the enjoyment of all the benefits which he has in store. But on as many as depart from God , he inflicts separation from himself which they have chosen of their own accord. Now , separation from God is death and separate from light is darkness; and separation from God results in the loss of all the benefits which he has in store. Now , as good things are [35] eternal and without end with God , so the loss of these is also eternal and never – ending.

Physical death , which is the conventional dissolution of the union between body and soul , is an event of very little significance when compared to spiritual death; for physical death takes place only within the framework of the spatiotemporal interval. The incurable calamity is spiritual death , which is not given or planted and comes by itself (as evil also does) when man’s communion with God is interrupted. It is a manifestation and result of alienation from God and the rejection of his presence.

The truth is that even physical death is not given or imposed , but comes by itself normally and inevitably. Since harmony between the two components is ruptured , the dissolution of man is entirely natural. God simply permitted the incursion of death to come , but , at the same time , transformed its character and , to a degree , made it beneficent , even if it retains the appearance of evil. Just as a cracked vessel must be melted down to be restored , man also needs to be dissolved to submit to the process of regeneration , to die , to be restored , receiving his final form. Otherwise , his sinful existence would be perpetuated.[36] It is a concept which has its roots in the teaching of the Apostle Paul:

So is it with the resurrection of the dead.

What is sown is perishable ,

What is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor ,

it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness , it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body , it is raised a spiritual body.[37]

So death is allowed to execute its work on man and , strange as it may seem , on man’s behalf; that is , death is allowed to terminate this graceless life so that man’s sickness may not become eternal and so that , in due time , man’s restoration may be achieved.[38] Death is not a punishment for guilt , but the fruit of man’s behavior and , in the last analysis , is a benefit.

The descendants of Adam inherit him in his entirety , including his nature and his weakness. They did not inherit Adam’s guilt , as Saint Augustine taught in the West; for , according to the view of the Greek Fathers , sin is a personal problem.[39] Adam and Eve on one side , and their descendants on the other , interpenetrate each other in such a way that every man bears by birth that nature which Adam and Eve corrupted. There lurks within each of us an Eve who fills us up with the things of her venomous knowledge , as it is characteristically described in the verses of the Great Canon:[40]

In the place of the visible Eve , my passionate fleshy mind has become and invisible Eve; she shows me delightful goods and forever satiates me with venomous food.

In this way , humankind has fallen from the road to life onto the road to death , from incorruption to corruption , from eternity into the fetters of time and space which he vainly struggles to shake off and which , on the contrary , become heavier. Yet that which characterizes fallen man’s life is the disorder to which his personality is subjected and from which the fetters are fogged. Consequently , that which man needs more than anything else is a reorganization which can be obtained only through a re-creation. But , inasmuch as disorder has become more of a natural state in man , it is reasonable to say that however much he may labor to bring his shattered faculties into harmony and to recognize his life , he will fail. Fallen man did much , by proscribing all his weaknesses and passions , to comfort himself with the illusion that what he committed was not something evil , since supposedly , even divinity is a partaker of sin and , therefore , sin is something which is also appropriate in the divine.[41] Idol worship of every kind , which continues to exist even today , is man’s futile attempt to restore matters in an inverse order: since man did not reach the uncreated , he now tries to bring the divine into the realm of the created. With the fall of man , irrational creation is dragged down to total corruption , and the word becomes inhospitable and springs forth thorns and thistles. It is now more natural to feel like a stranger in the world , to live homeless. This sense of homelessness is a price man pays for his alienation from God. He perceives the world as a prison because he subjected himself to the slavery of the physical forces. He feels that his citizenship lies elsewhere heaven.

The New Creation

Gregory the Theologian viewed the history of the human race , after the Fall , in periods divided by «earthquakes» – by God’s marvelous interventions- which were of enormous significance:

Since the beginning of time , there have been two conspicuous changes in the life of mankind , which are also called testaments and earthquakes for the notorious importance of the thing: the one from the idols to the Law , the other from the Law to the Gospel.[i]

Of course , the Fall was also an earthquake (which began the period of apostasy) ; the second period , that of the Law and the preparation of economy , was inaugurated by the earthquake of the Lawgiving. The third period , that of the Gospel and renewal , was inaugurated by the earthquake of the Incarnation , particularly of the Cross. The last period , that of eternity , will be inaugurated by the last earthquake of the Last Judgment.

The Redeemer

The problem of the Redeemer’s identity occupies a central place in all of Christian theology and , especially , in its patristic formulation. Indeed , the faith of Christianity stands or falls with the Redeemer. If , for example , the executor of redemption were an ordinary man , then this redemption would be false because a brother cannot save a brother when both are in the same imperfect state of existence.[ii] Again , if the Redeemer were a being higher than man but still a creature , then how could he lead man before God?

Therefore , the destiny of created beings is entirely entrusted to the hands of God , who created them and re-creates them; and God’s will keeps place with his philanthropy.[iii]

It is true that even in the theology of the Gnostics the Redeemer is a god , though not the highest god , but one of the lower eons (who is also frequently met in the mystery religions). And because Gnostic dualism does not permit either an integration of the divine with the worldly or an incarnation of the divine in material bodies , this god descends from the divine pleroma pure , but as an apparition , as an illusory presence. Therefore , he descends pure but , nonetheless , inferior and not real and , consequently , is inadequate.

On the contrary , in all of Orthodox theology salvation is effected by God in his wholeness , though not in his pure divinity. He acts in union with man , that is , as God-man; and this is the most characteristic feature of Christianity. This point was followed by the principle which the Cappadocians advanced , «the like by the like,»borrowed from Hellenistic philosophy , as was noted above. If the Redeemer were simply celestial , how could he have healed the earthly?[iv] Consequently , on the one hand , the Redeemer had to be homogeneous (though not just that , because as such he would have been imperfect) and; on the other hand , he had to be heterogeneous (though not just that , because as such he would have imposed a compulsory salvation , thereby abolishing self-determination).[v] These are the presuppositions which explain the paradoxical integration of God and man.

Summarizing Christian soteriology in one sentence , John Damascene pointed out that «we do not consider Christ to be a man deified , but to be God humanized.»[vi] And Basil the Great exclaimed: «God on earth , God amidst men , God in the flesh.»[vii] God now truly came in the flesh and not in an apparitional or symbolic way. He came not with preliminary and occasional events , as with the prophets , but permanently and constantly in full union with mankind , which he brought close to himself through the power of the new relationship that was contracted in this way. The result of the divine activity is expressed in Athanasios the Great’s characteristic maxim , which derived from the period before the rise of the Arian heresy and has become the central concept and emblem of Greek Christian theology ever since: «He became man so that we might become gods.»[viii]

The theological structure of divine economy , that is , of God’s salvific energy for the restoration of the human race , was not based on any kind of philosophical babbling , but was constructed as a response to an existential demand and as the fruit of a deep religious experience which derived from participation in the resurrection of Christ. Thus , just as we can correctly comprehend the Trinitarian theology of the Fathers only when we carefully study their soteriological presuppositions , likewise we can correctly comprehend their soteriology only when we carefully interpret their Trinitarian and Christological dogmas.

The Incarnation

The Incarnation is a paradox and , in a way , an antinomian process which transfers the Creator to the position of the creature.[ix] The Incarnation creates , according to human data and standards , an unexpected adaptation of the archetype to the antitype. This is a reversal of the regular course of affairs , but is a necessity because of the antitype’s inability to adapt to the archetype , as demanded by his destiny. By an inconceivable process , this movement transfers the eternal to the sphere of time and eliminates the temporal , that is , it really abolishes the restrictions of time and space. And this is the greatest mystery – the greatest miracle in the history of the world. The fact that God created the world is within the boundaries of the comprehensible. The fact that fire goes upward is within the boundaries of the natural , but if it went downward , like the heavy bodies , this would be unnatural and incomprehensible. Therefore , the fact that the divine presence directs itself downward , deigning to become like that which lives there (without being transposed , of course) , is the most incomprehensible event and , also , the greatest manifestation of power. How can that which is sublime be manifested within that which is lowly without losing its grandeur? Gregory of Nyssa asked:

How is the sublime seen in the lowly and , yet , does not descend from its height? How can the Deity , entwined as it is with the nature of man , become this and still be that?[x]

Yet this is incomprehensible and strange only to human standards , but not in God’s eyes.

The union of God and man in Christ is the great and hidden mystery , the happy telos , for which all things were made. According to Maximos the Confessor , it is the preconceived telos:

This is the great and hidden mystery. This is the blessed telos for which all things have been made. This is the telos preconceived before the beginning of things for whose sake all things exist , while it does not exist for the sake of anything else. Looking towards this telos , God produced the reasons of beings.[xi]

This passage and especially its last phrase , which appears to indicate that the object of creation is the Incarnation , may seem strange. Yet from a general survey of Orthodox theology , this concept is correct because it agrees with the purpose of the creation of man. Theophilos of Antioch taught that the reason God decided to create man is so that he could be known by him , [xii]to be revealed to him and to make him a partaker of his glory. All of patristic theology agrees on this point. Inasmuch as the summit of revelation is the Incarnation , we could say that this is truly the purpose of creation , but such an interpretation sounds farfetched. The passage undoubtedly has this meaning when placed within the context of Maximos’ whole theological system – the purpose of the creation of man is his union with God , whose first fruit was the hypostatic union of the divine and human in Christ. This remarkable concept was later repeated by the brilliant theologian , Nicholas Kavasilas , who stated that man was made precisely for the sake of the new man , Christ.[xiii]

The first question that is raised as soon as the problem of the Incarnation is put forth is this: What did the Son of God assume in order to become Jesus Christ , the God – man? If he assumed an abstract wholeness of humanity or an idea of man , then all individual men automatically , immediately and compulsorily would be led to salvation as partakers of the idea. The Fathers of the Church never supported such a concept because they did not accept the existence of such wholeness. Gregory of Nyssa , to whom some modern scholars ascribe it , did not even support this theory.[xiv] The Word of God became a concrete man , and even a whole concrete man. The passage of John , «and the Word became flesh,»[xv] has always incited interpreters to mutilate the human element of the God – man thinking that the Word assumed only the flesh of man and not his soul or mind , whose place was occupied by the Word himself. The Cappadocians steadily fought against this concept (in its final formulation by Apollinarios) , and the Second Ecumenical Synod condemned it. What sense would there be in receiving only the flesh when it was not this component alone that sinned , but the whole man? And , in any case , did not the mind sin more than the body since it made the first move towards sin? The good shepherd raises the whole lost sheep onto his shoulders and not just its hide.[xvi] This was the constant reply to Apollinarios who presented the humanity of Christ mutilated in that way: «What was not assumed remains unhealed , while what was united is saved.»[xvii]

The Fathers of Chalcedon decided to give an official dogmatic formulation on the person of Christ:

We teach with one voice that the Son of God and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same person , that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood , true God and true man …consubstantial with us as touching his manhood , made in all things like us , sin only excepted… This one and the same Christ , son , Lord , only – begotten Son must be confessed to be in two natures , unconfusedly , indivisibly , inseparably , without the distinction of natures being taken away by such a union , but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one person and subsistence , not separated or divided in two persons , but one and the same Son and only – begotten God , the Word , Lord Jesus Christ.[xviii]

The Divine Word assumed the whole man. The only qualification concerning the fullness of the assumed nature was that the total man , who was assumed by the Word , did not have a passionate sinful disposition[xix] (which had blinded the human will and had been transmitted from the first man to his descendants , for they completely inherited and received Adam and completely transmitted him to their descendants). Christ’s human acquisition did not inherit the old Adam because that was what constituted the new Adam (i.e.,Christ) together with the Word. This absence is better understood in light of the enhypostatic concept which Leontios developed. There were certainly two hypostases , the divine and the human , which were united in Christ to form one person. However the human hypostasis was never really an independent entity (which naturally , would also contain the element of sinfulness) , but was united with the divine nature as enhypostaton from the beginning.[xx] This is the reason theologians avoided speaking about a human hypostasis in Christ , this nature was united with the divine Word before its development was completed and before it even started. Therefore , it is neither a person nor a hypostasis , but an enhypostaton , that is , a hypostatic component which has never had any existence outside of the God – man. The word «nature» definitely does not have the same meaning regarding the divine Word , because in him nature possesses the energy eternally and is a person eternally.

The union of the two natures is so complete and inseparable that , although we can characterize the hypostatic components that Christ has as «one thing and another,» we cannot characterize Christ as «one person and another person,»that is , as being composed of two persons; for through their integration the two hypostatic components became one with the result that God was incarnate and man was undivided.[xxi] A unique person came forth out of this integration , and this person is «ομοούσιον ημίν,»[xxii] of the same essence as us because he possesses the whole human essence.

This union , however , is not a natural one. The union was formed neither by fusing and confusing the two natures , nor , even more so , by absorbing the human nature into the divine nature. The natures remained intact , and only the hypostases – obviously the human hypostasis in the way defined above – were fused into one person. The properties of the two natures remained unchanged , though their energies became common because of their combination and union. The God – man is not assimilated by man not only because he did not assume man’s sinful disposition , but also because he preserved the whole of divinity. Kenosis simply means the descent of the Divine to man , which is not a diminutive act , but is , on the contrary , a fruit of the infinite power of God , who can even enter incomplete beings , and a sign of his infinite love for mankind. With this doctrine the Orthodox position on the Christological problem was defined in relation to the Nestorian doctrine of two persons and the Monophysitic doctrine of one nature.

A charming Nativity hymn (perhaps composed by Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople) , which is sung at the vespers of Christmas , [xxiii]portrays without rival all of creation’s participation in the great event of the divine Logos’ Incarnation through its offering:

What shall we offer you , Christ; for you were seen on earth as a man for us? Every creature made by you offers you thanks: The angels a hymn , the heavens a star , the Magi their gifts , the shepherds their amazement , the earth a cave , the wilderness a manger , and as for us men a virgin mother.

The world and man had a definite destiny as God’s creations , namely , to partake of the goodness and glory of God , which is possible only through communion with him. After the suspension of the course leading to the fulfillment of that destiny , all of creation , as well as mankind , groans as it awaits its restoration. All groan because of their separation from one another , which is due to their detachment from God. Five divisions prevent the fulfillment of their destiny , according to Maximos the Confessor.[xxiv] Man was the agent who had the obligation and ability to bridge the divided elements so that the greatest union might be achieved – the union of the created and the Uncreated. Since , however he did not accomplish this , the Son of God came to realize it. He received human nature which all of creation offered to him (because it is part of creation). According to the hymn above , all divisions are abolished by the Incarnation – male and female no longer exist in the Nativity , the world is identified with paradise before the Newborn , heaven and earth participate harmoniously in the event , the tangible and the intelligible cooperate , and the incarnate God embraces within himself the Uncreated and the created.

The Work of Christ

On earth Christ did whatever is appropriate to God. The preservation of beings is God’s work. The providing of food and drink for people , action for those in need , the restoration of man’s nature to its normal rhythm are God’s work ; and these deeds are precisely those which Christ did on earth.[xxv]

In the writings of the Church Fathers , there is found a great variety of characteristic terms for Christ’s work. These terms also have a bearing on the evaluation of his person. He is called the Illuminator of the human race , the Victor over the powers of evil , the Offerer of himself as a ransom for our sins , and the Giver of incorruption. If we focus on these four designations , we can come to distinguish four separate concepts of redemption. Usually , however they are combined together or have an identical meaning.

According to Gregory Palamas , the most prominent event in history the incomparable event , is Jesus Christ’s Incarnation and , especially , its last episodes – his salvific death and resurrection.[xxvi] This last remark with the phrase «and especially» indicates that we should not limit the saving work to Christ’s death alone. The Orthodox perspective , with its characteristic breadth , includes the whole work of economy. Salvation is not a product of Christ’s offering at the moment of his death , as some scholastic systems and dogmatic manuals try to teach. It is a state which is created by God’s movement toward man in all its stages and , particularly , in the last one , the Incarnation. Inasmuch as our life moves between two extreme points , beginning and end , birth and death , the one who was to reconstruct it upon a new basis had to pass through all the phases between these two points (and even through the two points)[xxvii] to recapitulate in himself all of man’s life and , also , mankind’s entire life from the creation of the race to the last times.[xxviii] The life of Christ is the life of every man and the life of the entire human race.

Of course , death is the summit of the work of economy because it marks the extreme point of the Incarnation. In this course , the death of the God – man (not an ordinary death , but a death on the cross which is the most miserable death for man) is the lowest point of God’s kenosis and is , consequently , the ultimate point of the Incarnation. It is precisely at this point that «economy was fulfilled» or in other words , that the salvific work done on man’s behalf was accomplished.[xxix] This was the moment in which the bond between soul and body was broken in Christ’s humanity , without , of course , any damage to his divinity which worked for the reunion of the two components. This event also had a decisive influence upon the definite reunion of the two components in man. It becomes obvious , though , that Christ’s death has no significance without the resurrection; for death , as the inheritance of human corruption , was swallowed up by his divinity , and this happened at the resurrection. Therefore , according to this exposition , economy is the history of the whole work of man’s recreation , which culminated in death and resurrection , but proceeds still further to the Ascension which is the last phase of the Incarnation and prepares man’s ascension – theosis.

Salvation and Recreation

Within this context , the term «salvation» seems rather narrow to include all the content of the work of economy; for it presents Christ’s work in a negative way , as a mere liberation from a dreadful state , from imprisonment , captivity , and slavery. The majority of the Greek Fathers would have been ready to abandon the term if they had not acknowledged how beloved it was to the Apostle Paul , who , in describing the feelings of the first Christians by their intensive participation in the death and resurrection of Christ , characterized their experience as a deliverance from a nightmare , as a redemption. However , Paul does not appear to be absolutely satisfied with this negative concept and gives equal weight to the positive aspect of Christ’s work , which he termed as the granting of a new life to the faithful.

Athanasios the Great expressed this twofold aspect of the Incarnation’s effect concisely:

The Savior granted both benefits by the Incarnation: on the one hand , he abolished death from our midst and , on the other hand , he renewed us.[xxx]

Basil the Great likewise presented both the death of the Adamic nature and the genesis of a new mankind as Christ’s work.[xxxi] The negative aspect is a purging of ruins and obstacles; the positive is a new construction. This is why , other than some expressions about deliverance from the devil and death (which for the Fathers is of limited significance) , the Fathers of the Church use a wide variety of other expressions to show as much as possible all the wealth of Christ’s contribution to the recreation of mankind:

revocation , return –

restoration , restitution –

modification , transubstantiation , reconstruction –

refeathering , remaking , reformation , renewal-

new creation , recreation , recapitulation –

regeneration , new life , true life ,

and others like them. With these terms , the work is presented as it really is; for , besides redemption , there is also a new creation , which is described by the terms listed above. The first creation was out of nothing; the second creation was out of the annihilated.

God is the beginning and telos of all things; for , as both the creative and final cause , he has given existence and purpose to all things.[xxxii] Beginning and telos are not foreign to each other , because the two converge in God. Besides , the recapitulation of creation is realized according to God’s eternal plan. The Incarnation , particularly , was «the preconceived telos from the beginning,» agreeing with all that was said earlier. It was defined from the beginning as the purpose of man’s creation. Because man’s destiny was the communion of divine blessings , which he initially was unwilling to achieve himself (as much as he could possibly achieve on his own) , and because after the Fall he was unable to achieve it by his own means , God’s descent to man became necessary.

According to patristic thought , the Incarnation of the Divine Word granted theosis to mankind. Thus , the Incarnation is something broader than the process of the redemption of the human race; for theosis is that which is higher and more precious than the redemption of fallen man. We obviously cannot contend that sin and the Fall are events which created a new intent in God and , consequently , caused a change in the plan of creation. God’s intent and will are unchanging , and the plan is eternal. Sin and the Fall simply added a detail to the plan – and this is only from man’s point of view.

In this context , a question is immediately raised: Perhaps theosis is something other than what was set from the beginning as man’s goal? I noted earlier that the purpose of man’s creation was to glorify God and partake of his glory and brightness. Does this goal coincide with theosis? If we take into consideration that God’s glory is an uncreated energy and that participation in it gives a divine character , then they coincide. However , the fact cannot be disputed that the Fathers , as a rule , state that the goal of man’s original destiny was to glorify God and to participate in his glory , whereas the result of the Incarnation was theosis. The two states approach each other , yet they differ in some ways. The state of man after the work of the God – man lies on a higher level than the one which could have been reached by the first man. It is evident , then , that man’s goal was twofold: human and divine. Man should have persevered in glorifying God to attain participation in his glory; but he failed. The other goal depended upon God , and this was the theosis of man. Therefore , it was not God’s plan which failed with man’s Fall , but man’s effort. The foundations of the Incarnation are eternal.

Gregory the Theologian’s image of the period of mankind’s religious history was discussed beforehand. The change which occurs in the third period , that of the Gospel , beginning with the Incarnation , should not be perceived as automatically sweeping everything away. A massive change for the recovery of the human race is contrary to the principle of self – determination. The new creation is a work which is accomplished by Christ , firstly , in himself (that is , in his own human acquisition); and secondly , in the entire human race. But , as for the latter , this state is only potential and can be fulfilled only through a common venture by God and man. Through the Incarnation man was restored to the level of true personhood , not to the level of individuality.[xxxiii]

The human acquisition , through its integration with the Word , was transformed and deified as the first fruit of the race. Thus a new root was created , capable of imparting life even to its offshoots. The transformation of Christ’s human acquisition is natural , on the level of the hypostasis , and the change which was effected in man by the renewal is also natural. Yet , man’s connection to that root is not natural , as was the connection to the old root of Adam; it is gnomic. The connection to the new root is secured by each person’s voluntary participation in the renewal , as Gregory Palamas declared.[xxxiv] And this is what I earlier characterized as a common venture by God and man.

This , though , is not due to a lack of power or will in God; it is simply due to the nature of things. The Augustinian conception concerning a compulsory salvation or corruption of manking is something inconceivable to Greek patristic thought and is even something worse – an insult to God. This is so because it ignores self – determination , which is the divine gift to man , and always is intact even though it remains inactive after the distortion and weakening of the divine image in man. Renewal is impossible if the spiritual being who needs it does not participate and join in the struggle. Until regeneration becomes the individual concern and labor of each human being , it cannot become man’s possession even if , from a general viewpoint , it constitutes reality.

The participation of inanimate nature in the blessings of the renewal is certain. According to the Apostle Paul , all things have now become new , [xxxv]while , according to the Apostle Peter , the new heavens and new earth will appear in due time.[xxxvi] However , its participation must be considered as indirect and dependent upon man. Inanimate nature will be renewed when man has been renewed.


From Glory to Glory

In the present discussion , it has been deduced that salvific action is not an event which occurred once and for all; it is a process which continues incessantly in the Church and is repeated within every man. Each man does not experience it passively , but realizes it to some degree in his life. The initial relationship , which , as we saw , exists between the creature and the Creator , contributes seriously to this , but much greater is the contribution of the integration which underlies the person of the God – man. Human nature , the image and part of God since its creation , is elevated to the realm of Being through its reception by the Son of God. This integration of the human with the Divine is extended to each man’s integration with the Divine , through which he becomes as much a real god as Christ became a real man.[i] All can now receive the Holy Spirit as a gift and become friends of God.[ii]

The Good Reversal

We observe a reverse movement here. «I must suffer the good reversal,» says Gregory the Theologian.[iii] After finishing the steps of a whole poetical strophe , the dancers of classical antiquity danced an antistrophe , that is a reverse strophe. For someone separated from God , however , a good reversal is not simply a return , but a reverse course to God. The Archetype was strangely adapted to the antitype as we saw , after the normal movement had not succeeded; the new change is realized with the antitype’s return to the Archetype.

In this state , man follows the course of the God – man. The first phase here consists in deliverance from the fetters of time and space , of unshaped nature. In the effort to develop a free personality , the power of both categories is in some way abolished , and man is released from the spatiotemporal complex of creatureliness. Christ broke and abolished this complex by introducing the eternal into the sphere of the world. Deliverance from the «world» is one of the most basic motives for spiritual life:

To break from the world and be united with God;

gaining the things above by means of the things below ,

and acquiring through goods which are unstable and

pass away , those that are stable and abide.[iv]

There is no doubt that , from one point of view , this step involves mortification. However , in this case , mortification has a positive character; for it is combined with life by being «united with God,»because renunciation is accomplished through communion with God. The Apostle Paul has presented this state with different words but with the same meaning: «It is no longer I who live , but Christ who lives in me.»[v] Paul means , in this classic statement , that he is dead to the world , but fulfilled with «Christ who lives in me.» He feels within himself the power and experience of a new life gained by his participation in the true life which does not end with death. Thus , this mortification is nothing more than a presupposition which opens the way to life.

As we have already seen , after the dissolution of Christ’s human components , the body and the soul , his divinity affected their reunion though his Resurrection. The reunion is now final , and Christ’s human nature keeps its components forever united. From now on , this event is repeated in each person; the separation of his personality is removed. Yet , as was stated in the second lecture , this removal of obstacles is a preliminary act. Frankly , the actual elements are too intensive and high for a simple liberation. One does not simply cease to be a sinner or a slave; one becomes Godlike , (Θεοειδής)[vi] as we will see later at some other point in this presentation.

I have already spoken about the struggle that transforms nature into person. The Christian spiritual life is personal , as is the life of the Holy Trinity. To use the impressive words of Maximos the Confessor , God and man are «examples of each other.»[vii] God seizes the mind of man and takes it to the unknown , so much as man manifests the invisible God through his virtues. God , out of his love for man , becomes so much incarnate as man , out of his love for God , becomes endivinized. The phrase «so much…as,» which appeared early in Gregory the Theologian ,[viii] became in Maximos a regular method of expression which shows the close parallel between the two courses.

There are two persons here: Christ , who transmits grace , and man , who receives grace; and , conversely , there is man (indeed , every man) who transmits humanity to Christ , and Christ who receives humanity. By receiving human nature Christ enters creation and man , after his nature is united with the divine nature in Christ enters the uncreated. If the Logos has brought the mystical act of the Incarnation to a successful end by becoming like us , in all ways except sin , then he will also fulfill the mystical act of man’s theosis by making man like himself in all ways except the divine essence , Christ will raise him above the heavens. By imitating Christ , man will also become god through the mystery of grace:

So we , too , according to his example , will ascend and

become gods through him , by the mystery of grace.[ix]

The Powers of Transformation

Three factors underlie man’s transformation: God , nature and the world. If man’s nature , which lies between the other two factors , prevails upon his will , it makes him remain in his status , stagnant. The other factors attract man to their own side and challenge him to change – either one can make man become by status what it is by nature , namely , either god or an inanimate object. The transformation is not automatic; for on the one hand , these factors are only motives confronting man’s will , and on the other hand , divine grace is not forced upon the human will. Therefore , the faculty that plays the main role in the formation of man’s life is self-determination , which cost mankind so much the day the first man used it so unwisely. Yet , what was previously mentioned on this subject suffices.

There is a power within God , an eternal companion of the divine nature , which brings him to an opening , transmission , communion; which brings him to the world. It is the energy , which dogmatists call «goodness» and the mystics call «eros.» The corresponding power is man’s eros , which is directed to God. The two powers are closely connected to one another , although they belong to two different words; the Spirit unites them. As was seen at an earlier point in this discussion , Gregory Palamas , wishing to emphasize the particular energy of the Holy Spirit in the work of man’s perfection , characterized the Spirit as the eros of the divine mind directed to the Word (Reason) , as the eros of the Father directed to the Son.[x] He further stated that even man’s spirit is the eros of his mind directed to his word , his reason. The conveyor of God’s eros to man is the Holy Spirit , and the conveyor of man’s eros to God is the human spirit.

Eros is the mover of transmission and communion. It creates in both God and man «ekstasis» coming out of oneself , coming out of

the mystery and exclusiveness of God. The ecstasy of God leads to dialogue and union with man; the ecstasy of man leads to dialogue and union with God. Of course , the two movements are different; for , whereas God conde – scends , man a – scends.[xi]

According to Gregory of Nyssa , «blessed eros» is an impetus inserted within human nature and leading to the good blessings of divine love and divine counsel.[xii] This is the impetus which moves all men towards God and , particularly , those who are devoted to him. Symeon the New Theologian dedicated his inspiring Hymns of Divine Eros to the experience produced by that power. Divine eros is ecstatic , not limited to its bearers. It does not allow lovers to belong to themselves , but delivers them to their beloved ones.[xiii] Centuries earlier , Ignatios of Antioch , as a prisoner traveling to his martyrdom , expressed his longing for a speedy union with Christ , and described the inner insatiable love of the faithful with such unrivaled lyrical expressions as these:

I am writing while still alive ,

but I long for death.

My eros has been nailed to the cross ,

and there is no fire of material love within me;

but the Living Water is in me

and says within me , «Hasten to the Father.»[xiv]

Divine eros thrusts and leads to God as well as to one’s fellow man.

Moments of Divine Experience

The experience of divine is felt individually in various phases , but is not acquired exclusively in any individual context. The work of Christ has universal dimensions. All of creation (and especially man) participated in the manifestation of the mystery of the Incarnation and enjoyed its benefits. The new order is accomplished through the establishment of the community of Christ’s friends , the Church. Divine life is acquired within this order through communal and individual effort.

As a rule , life is offered through the sacraments , in which the whole process of the Incarnation (nativity , death , resurrection , and Christ’s entire life in general) is repeated symbolically and essentially. The sacraments , as the sphere par excellence of the work of the Holy Spirit , offer grace which transmit to man all that happened with the God – man. They offer grace in a mystical but effective way , bringing Christ to dwell in us and us to dwell in Christ.[xv]

Baptism brings about the death of the old mind and the birth of a new one. Since man possesses a body as well as a soul , he needs food for it. According to Gregory of Nyssa , [xvi]this food is provided by the Holy Eucharist , in which the food for the body obviously refers to the spiritualization of the body. This concept of the Holy Eucharist , which has its roots in Ignatios of Antioch’s [xvii]teaching on «the medicine of immortality,» gave the foundation for the final formation of the teaching on the transubstantiation of the elements. The other sacraments contribute to the sanctification of life according to the amount of grace they impart.

This cooperation of the psychic and physical elements , witnessed in the sacraments , becomes equally manifested in prayer too. Gregory Palamas , regarding even material things as God’s gifts , was not willing to accept the concept of the mind coming out of the body , as declared some philosophizing scholars of his time who followed Plato and the Neoplatonists. On the contrary , Palamas claimed that the mind entered the body. He called this entering a «concentration,» an «introversion.» Elevation is realized through an intensive mobilization of all man’s faculties , both spiritual and physical , as an integrated personality.[xviii]

The concentration of the mind in the innermost part of man and the absolute inner calm constitute the basic conditions for an effective sublime spiritual experience. Prayer contributes to the progress of the faithful in two ways: negatively , by strengthening them in their struggle against the demonic energy; and positively , by offering them spiritual brightness through communion with God. The tears which were shed abundantly by the ancient ascetics while they prayed were an expression , not only of the consciousness of their smallness , but also of the delight they experienced from their ability to participate in the divine brightness.

In the writings of Dionysios the Areopagite , we often find the term «ecstasy» or concern about ecstasy.[xix] God dwells on the highest summit , – on the silent and impenetrable cloud which is simultaneously dark and supremely radiant. The transcendent mysteries of divinity are incomprehensible and unattainable. God is beyond essence and knowledge. In order to reach him , one must be released from the senses and the intellect to experience an ecstasy that leads to the ray of the divine darkness. Here we find a kind of apophatic ecstasy , which is considerably different from the spiritual ecstasy that we find in Gregory of Nyssa , Maximos the Confessor , some other Fathers , and especially , Gregory Palamas:

Having come wholly out of himself and being wholly

delivered to God , he sees the glory of God and con-

templates the divine light which is not an object of

the senses as such , but a graceful and holy spectacle

of immaculate souls and intellects. Without this

spectacle , not even the mind can see , in spite of its

having a spiritual sense , when it is united with things

above itself , as the bodily eye cannot see without the

perceptible light.[xx]

There is no separation here of the mind from the body , but a departure of the whole man from himself , that is , from his created state. Delivered to God as a whole in this way – as a personal whole in his psychosomatic composition -man beholds the glory of God and contemplates the divine light. This is not a tangible sight , but a graceful and holy sight of immaculate minds. Yet , it is also a real light , without which the mind cannot see , just as the bodily eye cannot see without sensible light. According to this view , ecstasy occurs through transcending the human faculties and proceeds parallel to the divine condescension. Ecstasy is not a passion , as in its worldly forms («opiomania» and «choromania,» for example) or an absorption of the human personality by the absolute Being , as claimed by pantheistic systems. It is an energy through which personhood is completely freed from the powers of created nature so it can penetrate the highest spiritual reality.

The instrument through which man perceives and experiences spiritual realities is his spiritual faculty , which we mentioned earlier. It is not identified with the pentamerious bodily senses , although both kinds will be united into one indivisible sense in the stage of perfection , as they were before the Fall. Tasting the good in a complete disposition within the psychosomatic integration and personality will then be possible.[xxi] This instrument also is not identified with the mind , even though it is connected with its movement. The expression of Diadochos of Photike «in every sense and assurance,» which frequently occurs in his Chapters[xxii] and is related to a similar expression of Apostle Paul , [xxiii]means something more than understanding and , also , being certain about the work of the Holy Spirit in man. The spiritual faculty is that with which man grasps divine grace (otherwise hidden) as it works within him and becomes his possession – the faculty with which man experiences the divine brightness. It is put in motion when the mind is transformed , elevated above creation. One might say along with Gregory Palamas that this faculty is light itself , because the mind , as it is seized by the divine light and enters it , becomes itself light. Therefore , in reality , the light is that which sees the light.[xxiv] Consequently , in the course of its ascension , the mind is transformed into a spiritual faculty , and this faculty is , in turn , transformed into divine light.

The faculty progresses until enjoying the presence of God. One of the stages of this pleasure is tasting God , of which an essential symbol and real pledge is tasting the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist.[xxv] That which the soul tastes is the goodness , consolation and sweetness of God , as described by Diadochos: «In the beginning of a prayer , the Holy Spirit offers the soul a taste of God in every sense and assurance.»[xxvi] And that which is offered in the beginning continues to be offered forever; for the spiritual faculty is never satiated. Spiritual pleasure in God is something which is simultaneously possessed and always sought for.

If tasting God is already communion and association with him , then seeing him is another intensive stage of enjoying him. As we have already noted , «like sees like.» Therefore , if a person wants to see something , he must be or become like it or he must have within him the capability for resemblance. Possessed by an insatiable thirst and inflamed by the divine eros , Moses entered the divine cloud. One day he received from God the command to stand on a rock to see , and he saw. However , what he saw was not God , but the «backside of God,» and Moses wished to see him better; because the vision of God has this characteristic – it never satisfies the desire of the person who gazes at him above.[xxvii] As a rule , the Christian sees God better than Moses did , because the Christian possesses the gift of the Holy Spirit in greater abundance and , as he continues to advance , sees him better each time. Even Moses himself beheld the divine light better when he was in Christ and became a partaker of the Transfiguration.

The divine light is the energy through which God is manifested in fascinating and magnificent brilliance. The one who gazes at it for the first time will become dizzy , just like the three leading disciples on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration of our Savior , and just like Paul on the road to Damascus.[xxviii] During the Transfiguration , Petter was so fascinated and overwhelmed by such bliss , that he wished to enjoy it forever. «Lord , it is good that we are here,» Peter cried.[xxix] The greatest feast of Orthodoxy is called by the Greek Orthodox , «Bright Feast’» (Λαμπρή) and on that day everything is radiant and bright. The hymnologist of the feast of the Resurrection chanted:

Now all things have been filled with light ,

heaven and earth and the underworld.[xxx]

Upon ascending the ladder of spiritual perfection , the one who beholds the light not only experiences the divine light , but also becomes like it , he himself becomes light. What we saw earlier , where Gregory Palamas pointed to the transformation of the spiritual faculty into light , was well expressed many centuries earlier by Diadochos of Photike:

When the mind begins to be operated by the divine

light , it becomes completely resplendent , so that it sees

its own light plentifully.[xxxi]

The energy of the divine light makes the mind resplendent and transparent so that the mind can see its own light. Through the vision of God , man enters the realm of the uncreated light; he acquires the light within himself , he acquires God himself.[xxxii]

Partaking of God

For those who understand ethics in its scholastic form as a system of regulations divided into chapters , perhaps the impression has been made that an important element for spiritual perfection , virtue , is missing from this discussion. Mystical theology , however , does not know any distinction between word and ethos. When Ignatios of Antioch spoke about «homoetheia to God,»[xxxiii] he was referring to that state in which the faithful person possesses , simultaneously , both the ethos and grace of God , virtue and light , which cannot be separated in God. All of man’s efforts , which begin with his self – determination and proceed (with the gift of the Spirit) to reach the highest spiritual experiences , are inextricably connected with virtue. And virtue is bound to the Godlike brilliance – it is one and the same as the acquisition of divinity. «The acquisition of both perfect virtue and divinity are one thing,» as Gregory of Nyssa declared.[xxxiv]

The ultimate destiny of man is theosis. Immortality and incorruption , the substructure upon which this good is built , is a preliminary state. Even the linguistic form of these words ,α-θανασία , α-φθαρσία , formed with the privative alpha , reveals their neutral meaning which is better understood when it is considered that demons are also immortal. Consequently , the change to immortality doesn’t necessarily lead to a better state of existence and is not the good par excellence to be pursued , although it is certainly a good. It is a means to communion with the divine nature , as stated by the Apostle Peter: «…that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion , and become partakers of the divine nature.»[xxxv]

Change is essentially achieved through progressive assimilation to the Archetype which is completed in the partaking of divine life. The fundamental difference in the search for spiritual life between East and West is that the former seeks participation in the divine , the latter contemplation of the divine. In the East , taste and vision of God are a type of participation which is the beginning of theosis; for the participant is transformed into that which it partakes of: «the participant is transformed into the nature of that which it participates in.» Here , too , then , the participant (man) becomes what God is – he becomes «that which he is.»[xxxvi]

Of course , what they partake of cannot be the essence of God – but his energies. Gregory Palamas never ceased to emphasize this point. However , these energies (i.e.,divinity , goodness , grace , light , and others) are not simply divine , but also uncreated. Moreover , they are not merely attributes , but essential properties. Consequently their partakers are brought into the sphere of the uncreated and can be considered and even called «gods.»[xxxvii]

All those who have shaped their personhood to the point of perfection and are united with God’s uncreated energies have escaped the limitations of creatureliness. Their energy , when it reaches the highest point of creativity , meets and becomes like the divine energy. They are then released from the worldly limitations of time and space. They attain eternity , becoming eternal like God , according to the teaching of Maximos the Confessor.[xxxviii] Beginning and end are conditions of the world and created things. Therefore , all those who transcend the limitations of creatureliness are beyond these conditions; for they have entered the realm of infinity.

Infinite Progress

The translation to eternity is an occurrence independent of the eschatological event , because it belongs to the realm of spiritual energy which is manifested independent of time and timeless conditions. It is not essentially physical death which lies beyond the present life , but the release from death – freedom from corruption – and partaking of the divine. These blessings will not be man’s possession in the hereafter if he does not acquire them in his present life. Therefore , time and space can be abolished at any moment of man’s life , and even on earth , if they are transcended through virtue and spirit. A person can transcend the chasm between him and God even when he is in the world of change and corruption , that is , within his flesh , provided that he transcends the flesh and the world by his self – determination.[xxxix]

However , this life par excellence certainly belongs to the future state of existence. «The life in Christ is rooted in time , but is perfected in the future,» stated Nicholas Kabasilas.[xl] And the experience of this life is naturally greater in the future after the third birth is realized , the birth of the general resurrection. All things that have occurred contribute to the ultimate goal that all men be translated to heaven and become heirs of the kingdom and the life to come. Nothing is as delightful as being likened to the spectacle revealed during the majestic delivery of the inheritance: a chorus of blissful persons , a multitude of joyous people , Christ descending to earth radiant , the earth raising other suns towards the Sun of Righteousness – all are filled with light.[xli]

Participation in the divine energies , which lead man to theosis , effects man’s perfection. Perfection , however , is not a static state; for , on the one hand , God’s infinity cannot be completely grasped and , on the other hand , man continuously runs to seize more blessings on a course which is endless.[xlii] John Sinaites exhorted:

Ascend , ascend eagerly ,

undertake more ascensions.[xliii]

Gregory of Nyssa had earlier indicated that he recognized only one limitation in perfection , that it has no limit.[xliv] When we climb the ladder of spiritual progress , we will never be able to stop ascending; for there is always a step above the step we occupy and there is no summit. We will march towards the infinite forever.[xlv] Man continuously becomes more spiritual and his spiritual food continuously increased , without his growth ever ending. Participation in the divine goodness is such that he who enjoys it becomes stronger and more receptive:

Such are the wonders that the participation in the

divine blessings works: it makes him , into whom

they come , larger and more receptive; from his

capacity it gets for the receiver an actual increase

in bulk as well , and he never stops growing.[xlvi]

The divine road is bright , but endless , and the fountain of blessings is exhaustible.



All these experiences cannot be understood outside of the Church, which forms the framework for Christian life and activity. The Church does not cut Christians off from the world because , in a way , the Church is the soul of the world. According to a magnificent expression of an ancient apologetic text , the Church is in the world as the soul is in the body. The Church is the world’s breath and life.[i] Μoreover , it is the Church that prays for the sanctification of nature and sings:

He pours forth , through the Holy Spirit , the streams

of grace watering all the creation for its vivification.[ii]

And the Church also brings the faithful to a plane higher than the world. The Church is the society of Christ’s friends , of God’s friends , [iii]united into one whole through the love of the Father , the grace of Jesus Christ , and the communion of the Holy Spirit.[iv]

As an organized society , the Church is an ecumenical community both geographically and temporally – geographically , because she extends throughout the entire world; temporally , because she possesses the apostolic tradition which binds all times , past , present and future , tightly together. In the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom , the Holy Eucharist , the heart of the Church , is the rememberance of all the events of Christ’s life that took place for our sake: the cross , the tomb , the resurrection on the third day , the ascent to heaven , the sitting at the right hand of the Father , and the second and glorious parousia.[v] Hence , the Liturgy also renders the Church’s nontemporal significance. Furthermore , the Church is ecumenical from the aspect of her influence in human life; for the Church influences all forms of social life and all cultural and technological expressions of mankind. Within the Church , everything fits in well and is sanctified because everything is offered for sanctification.

The entire Orthodox Christian community lives in each of its part.It exists even more within the assemblies of the house of the Lord. It is no accident that the Greek language , with all its richness , reserved the same word , εκκλησία , for the institution as well as the place of worship. The hymn of the service of Consecration presents both of these meanings (i.e. , the Church and the church building) so descriptively:

The Church has become a brilliantly lit heaven;

She illuminates all the faithful.

Standing within it , we cry:

«Lord , strengthen this house.»[vi]

The entire community lives within this building , be it large or small. There God the Pantokrator is present. He gazes upon all so imposingly and blesses them with much love. There are the saints and the leader of their choir , the Panagia , who is already with the life-giving King forever. And if we do not have the courage to look at them , they look at us and reassure us. There is concord and harmony , the union of love , and the prayers of the priests. No one feels alone in this community.

The spiritual experience which I have described is lived only with this community.

by Panayiotis Christou

(Full text. From: P. Christou, Partakers of God, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline Mass 1984.)

icons by fr.Stamatis Skliris