Q&A: About Orthodox Theosis
See also: Achieving Your Potential in Christ: Theosis - By Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris
(and the Bible verses at the end of this message)
When I read Clark Carlton's The Faith: An Orthodox Catechism and also the OCA's online catechism pamphlets one of the ideas that made me a little uncomfortable was the idea of theosis.
"According to Orthodox theology, to bear the image of God is to be like Christ, the uncreated image of God, and to share in all the spiritual attributes of divinity. It is, in the words of the holy fathers, to become by divine grace all that God is by nature" (This is from the OCA online pamphlets "The Orthodox Faith" by the very Reverend Thomas Hopko)
But... but......God is omnipotant, all-knowing, all-holy, made everything there is from scratch! And there is only one God! Who is like God? There is no one like God.
Very likely I am not even beginning to understand this correctly. If the point is for each of us to develop into gods isn't that Neoplatonism? (or maybe it is called syncretism, that popular religion around the 1st C. AD where people performed rituals to draw down the grace of the gods and rose up through seven spheres, eventually becoming gods) Or does it mean we are eventually joined to God, loosing our individual natures? Was this idea influenced by Jewish mysticism? By mystical experiences of the early Fathers?
I know that in the Orthodox view not everything can be found in scriptures, but I wonder why such an important thing would have been left out. Where does this idea first come out in the teachings of the Fathers?
I don't mean to express any hostility here, or to start an argument or debate, it is a sincere question.
You're right -- it is not possible for us to become God, in the sense that we are all-powerful, omnipotent, and all of the other attributes. Believe me, nobody wants to see yours truely as God. (see also: http://www.geocities.com/verseoftheday/theosis_man_does_not_become_a_god.html )
But that is not what we mean by theosis. At the risk of getting a little dense, let me start by stepping back a bit, and coming at it from a different angle.
The Orthodox distinguish between the essence and the energies of God. It is certainly impossible for us to share in the essence of God, which is unknowable, and far beyond our comprehension. But, it is possible to share in the energies of the Godhead, which can transform us into glory.
Here's an analogy. Lets say I spend all day outside in the sun, and manage to become sunburned. I have not become the sun, but I have absorbed the energy of the sun, and it has changed me, in a painful way.
Theosis also contemplates a change, from being in the energies of God. Remember the Biblical story about Moses, and how after he visited with God on top of Mt. Sinai, his face was so bright that no one could look at him, and he had to veil his face? Orthodoxy is rife with that kind of thing. There are many stories about my own name saint, St. Seraphim, and how he would become so bright and luminous that no one could look him in the face. Similarly, the bodies of many saints are incorrupt -- that is, they don't decay after death, but remain soft and pliable, just as in life.
These changes come from basking, as it were, in the energies of God. Those energies change our souls as surely as the bright sun changes our bodies. So think of theosis not as becoming God in the Mormon, neo-platonic sense. Think of it as becoming like unto God, by passing from glory to glory.
Hope that helps,
II Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
I John 3:1-3 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.