The Orthodox Church proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the
Greek language, the word for Gospel is Evangelion which means
literally "the good news." The good news of Orthodox Christianity is a
proclamation of God's unbounded and sacrificial love for man kind, as
well as the revelation of the true destiny of the human person.
Reflecting on the joyous message of the Gospel, Saint Gregory of Nyssa
wrote in the fourth century: The good news is that man is no longer an
outcast nor expelled from God's Kingdom; but that he is again a son,
again God's subject.
Orthodoxy believes that the supreme treasure which God wishes to
share with us is His own life. Our faith begins with the affirmation
that God has acted in history to permit us to participate in His love
and His goodness, to be citizens of His Kingdom. This conviction is
expressed so beautifully in the prayer of the Liturgy which says: "You
have not ceased to do all things until You brought us to heaven and
granted us the Kingdom to come."
The initiation of love of God the Father is perfectly expressed and
embodied in the Person and Ministry of Jesus Christ. The whole purpose
of the Incarnation of the Son of God was to restore humanity to
fellowship with God. The great teachers and Fathers of the Orthodox
Church constantly reaffirmed this conviction by proclaiming that God had
become what we are in order that we could become what He is.
Christ is exalted as our Light and our Life. In His Person there is a
unity of humanity and divinity which each of us is called to share. In
His way of life. there is the model of authentic human life which we are
invited to follow. In His victorious Resurrection, there is liberation
for us from all powers which can keep us from the Kingdom. Through
Christ, then, God the Father has repossessed us and has called us to be
His sons and daughters.
The fundamental vocation and goal of each and
every person is to share in the life of God. We have been created by God
to live in fellowship with Him. The descent of God in the Person of
Jesus Christ has made possible the human ascent to the Father through
the work of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that each Christian is
involved in a movement toward God which is known as theosis or
Theosis describes the spiritual pilgrimage in
which each person becomes ever more perfect, ever more holy, ever more
united with God. It is not a static relationship, nor does it take place
only after death. On the contrary, theosis is a movement of love toward
God which begins for each Christian with the rites of Baptism and which
continues throughout this life, as well as the life which is to come.
Salvation means liberation from sin, death, and evil. Redemption means
our repossession by God. In Orthodoxy, both salvation and redemption are
within the context of theosis. This rich vision of Christian life was
expressed well by Saint Peter when he wrote in the early pages of his
second Epistle that we are called "to become partakers of the Divine
nature." It was also affirmed by Saint Basil the Great when he described
man as the creature who has received the order to become a god.
These are certainly bold affirmations which must
be properly understood. The Orthodox Church understands theosis as a
union with the energies of God and not with the essence of God which
always remains hidden and unknown. However, the experience of the Church
testifies that this is a true union with God. It is also one which is
not pantheistic, because in this union the divine and the human retain
their unique characteristics. In this sense, Orthodoxy believes that
human life reaches its fulfillment only when it becomes divine.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
The ever-deepening union of each Christian with
God is not a magical or automatic process. While Christ has destroyed
the powers of sin, death, and evil once and for all, this victory must
be appropriated by each person in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Each
person is called to join with the lifegiving and liberating Spirit" in
realizing the fulness of human life in communion with the Father. The
Holy Spirit is the agent of deification whose task it is to incorporate
us into the life of the Holy Trinity. However, the Spirit always
recognizes our human freedom and invites our active cooperation in
perfecting the "image and likeness of God" with which each of us is
Our participation in the life of the Holy
Trinity, which we know as theosis, takes place within the Church. For
the Orthodox, the Church is the meeting place between God and His
people. The Holy Spirit and the Church are organically linked. In the
second century, Saint Irenaeus reminded us of this by saying: "Where the
Church is there is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is there is the
Church." The Holy Spirit moves through the life of the Church to reveal
our common humanity in Christ and to unite us with the Father. We
acquire the Holy Spirit through our celebration of the Eucharist and the
reception of Holy Communion, through our participation in the
Sacraments, through our discipline of daily prayer, and through the
practice of fasting, all of which result in a Christ-like life.
The Holy Spirit, Who is honored as the Lord and
Giver of life, is manifest in the life of the Church in order to bring
our lives to perfection, and to make us responsible and loving human
beings. The fruit of Worship is the gifts of the Spirit. In his letter
to the Galatians, Saint Paul identified these as: "love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control."
Certainly, these are the virtues of a Christ-like life. They testify to
the fact that the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable.
THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE CHURCH
The reality of theosis not only bears witness to
the love of God who wishes to share Him self with us but also expresses
a very positive view of the human person. Orthodoxy believes that each
person has an intrinsic value and importance in virtue of his or her
unique relationship to God. The human person is never seen as being
totally depraved. The "image of God" which can be distorted by sin, can
never be eradicated. Through the life of the Church, there is always the
opportunity for fulfillment. When the Sacraments are administered, they
are always offered to the individual by name. This action not only
reminds us of the dignity of each person but also emphasizes the
responsibility each person has for his or her relationship to God.
While Orthodoxy recognizes the value of the
person, it does not believe that we are meant to be isolated or
self-sufficient. Each person is called to be an important member of the
Church. Orthodoxy believes that one cannot be a Christian without being
a part of the Church. The process of theosis takes place with the
context of a believing community.
To be united with God within the midst of the
Church does not mean that our unique personalities are destroyed. We are
not engulfed by an impersonal force or power. As with all love which is
true and valuable, God's love for each of us respects our personhood.
His love is not one which destroys. God's love is one which reveals,
elevates, and perfects our true selves. By entering into the life of
God, we become the persons we are meant to be.
Source: Department of Religious Education, Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald