THEOSIS* - DEIFICATION AS THE PURPOSE OF MAN'S LIFE
by Archimandrite George - Abbott of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios on Mount Athos
Chapter 7 - THE FAILURE OF MANY PEOPLE TO REACH DEIFICATION
So, while we have been called for this great purpose; to unite with God; to become Gods by Grace; and to enjoy this great blessing for which our Maker and Creator made us, but we often live as if this great and noble aim does not exist for us. Because of this, our life is filled with failure. Our holy God moulded us for Theosis, so if we are not deified, our whole life is a failure. Let us mention some of the reasons for this.
1) Attachment to the basic cares of life
We may do good and beautiful things; we may study, have a profession, raise a family, acquire property or perform charitable deeds. When we see and use the world eucharistically, as a gift from God, then everything joins with Him and becomes a path to union with God. If, even then, we do not unite with God, we have failed, and it has all been useless.
People usually fail because they are misled by the various secondary purposes of life. They do not place Theosis first and primary. They are absorbed by the beautiful things of the world and lose sight of the eternal. They give themselves completely to secondary purposes, and forget 'the one thing necessary' (cf. Lk. 10:42).
Particularly today, people are constantly occupied, and we neglect our salvation for the sake of these everyday activities. Perhaps this is a scheme of the devil to delude even the chosen ones. For example, we now spend time learning, studying, reading; we have no time to pray, to go to Church, or to confess and take Holy Communion. Tomorrow we will have meetings and councils, personal and social obligations; how will we find time for God? The day after tomorrow we will have weddings, family cares; it is impossible to engage in spiritual things. We, too, continually repeat to God: 'I cannot come … I ask you to have me excused' (cf. Lk. 14:19-20). So, all the beautiful and legitimate things lose their value.
All these things have real and substantial value when undertaken with the Grace of God, for example, when we try to do everything for the glory of God; but only when we do not stop yearning and continue to pursue what is beyond studies, beyond profession, beyond family, beyond all the good and holy responsibilities and activities; only when we continue to desire Theosis as well, then all these find their real meaning in an eternal perspective. It is then that they are of benefit to us.
The Lord said: 'seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you' (Mt. 6:33). The Kingdom of God is Theosis, it is when we receive the Grace of the All-Holy Spirit. When divine Grace comes and reigns within man, that man is ruled by God, and through these deified men, the Grace of God comes to other men and to society. But as the Fathers teach, in the Lord's Prayer, 'Thy Kingdom come' means 'the Grace of the Holy Spirit come'. When it arrives, it is this which deifies man.
Unfortunately, the spirit of moralism which we mentioned earlier, i.e., basing the Christian life on moral improvement, has adversely influenced the piety and spirituality of Christians to a significant degree even here in our land. We often cease to pursue Theosis because of Western influences on our theology.
Guidance that only aims for moral improvement is anthropocentric – it is centered on man, and in it, human effort dominates, and not the Grace of God. It then seems as if it is our own morality that saves us, and not the Grace of God. Life under these conditions does not give us genuine experiences of God, therefore the soul is not truly satisfied because its thirst remains unquenched. This method of guidance has been tried, and it failed because it does not represent the genuine spirit of Christ's Church. It is often responsible for atheism and for many people's indifference towards the spiritual life, especially among the young.
In our catechisms, sermons and everything said by parents, teachers, clergy and other workers of the Church, instead of talking about sterile improvements of mankind, let us educate Christians towards Theosis. This is the genuine spirit and experience of the Church. Otherwise, the virtues, regardless of how great they may be, do not, in fact, fulfill the purpose of the Christian life. They are simply ways and means which prepare us to accept Theosis, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, as St. Seraphim of Sarov taught so clearly.
3) Anthropocentric humanism
This self-sufficient humanism is a socio-philosophical system which is separated from and made independent of God. It leads contemporary man to a civilization based on selfishness, and this has brought modern humanity to an impasse. In the name of the development and liberation of humanity it wishes to estrange us from our Orthodox Christian Faith. But is there any greater development possible for man than Theosis?
* Theosis - The deification of man. According to the Orthodox Tradition, man's purpose in life is to achieve union with God, and to become god by grace. Acquisition of the Holy Spirit; self-realization.