Orthodox believe that our calling as Christians is to undertake a journey that leads to union with God, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, become partakers of the Divine nature. Sometimes this is referred to as “theosis” or “deification.” Let’s learn more about the path to union with God: the sacraments, prayer, and love.
Union with God
A study of 2 Peter 1:3-4 helps us to understand this:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
The passage goes on to say that we must make every effort to add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness... love.
The journey towards union with God involves our undergoing a transformation back to the original design He intended for us before sin entered the world. Our human natures were intended to reflect the divine nature. The potential for this has been compared to ‘“seed-like gifts” planted in us, which enable us to grow into His likeness, but only if we “cultivate” them. When sin entered the world this process became diminished. We could no longer be transparent reflections of God"s nature; the image of God became foggy.
Through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ a restoration of our ability to reflect God’s nature has occurred, but it is a gradual process, a slow journey. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transmits divine energy and a variety of graces to the soul of a believer. This recreative power of the Holy Spirit is called Divine Grace.
The Goal is the reception of Divine Grace
Our decisions for good are strengthened by divine grace, both working concurrently. Like yeast mixed with flour in bread making: the yeast contributes the energy for rising to occur but both yeast and flour act together. In our lives the grace of the Holy Spirit enables us to become more like Him as we co-operate with it.
Baptism is the beginning of our journey towards theosis. We acquire the potential to be free from the power of the devil but we are not passive participants in all this. We still have to fight the battle and struggle to live a life of selfless love.
Chrismation follows, and this is our Baptism with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit begins his work in us. The pilot light is — as it were — lit.
The Eucharist unites us in a mystical and spiritual manner with God continuing the work of Baptism. In John 6:53 “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” The faithful are mystically united with the Lord and are united among themselves. Our humanity comes into contact with the highest spiritual world. The devil concentrates all his powers on the task of division. Taking communion together is the best way to overcome demonic power.
Our part is to turn from evil passions (1 John 2:15-16):
Do not love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions, is not from the Father but is from the world.
Following Baptism and Chrismation we begin our Christian life, and we become orientated towards God and turn away from the world and its passions.
Repentance is also a power, which activates transformation. Tears of repentance prepare our hearts to become fertile ground for the fruits of the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control... And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Prayer is essential for union with God. St. John of the Ladder described prayer as “the conversation of the mind with God.” St. Dionysios sees prayer as being spiritually lifted up to God as opposed to God being brought down to us. He pictures a sailor pulling on a rope, which is tied to the dock, He does not bring the dock closer to himself, rather, he himself is drawn closer to the dock. I am reminded that in the Divine Liturgy the Priest says “let us lift up our hearts,” the people respond “we lift them to the Lord.”
Through prayer Christians are enlightened by the Holy Spirit and are led to Theosis. When we unburden ourselves before God we are more able to totally trust in His will. It is important to put from our minds strong feelings and passion filled reasonings otherwise we shall be hindered from harmonizing our will with God’s will. Repetition of the Jesus Prayer leads to the embracing of our souls by the Holy Spirit, there is power in the Holy name of Jesus.
Saint Nicodemos describes how after Baptism we fall into sin and the grace of the Holy Spirit is buried under our passions like embers under ashes in a fireplace. We need to use every effort to fan those embers into flame by using the Jesus prayer and by repentance. We also need to sweep away the ashes — i.e. the passions — and replace them with obedience to God’s commandments.
Finally, love is synonymous with God, when our souls are imprinted with the divine character of love a co-existence is formed of the human with the divine. The divine gift of love perfects our nature to be like God, this can only be acquired through the power of divine grace.
Beloved let us love one another for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
(1 John 4:7)