The Key to Orthodox Christian Faith and Life

The key to Orthodox Christian faith and life is found in this ancient Christian quote: “God became human so humans could become God.”

In His Incarnation, Christ, by uniting Divine and human natures in his own person, lifted up human nature to Divinity.

Eastern Christianity remembers the ancient Christian teaching that although no creature can or will have contact with God’s Essence, humans might have contact with God’s Uncreated Divine Energies, the presence and activity of God in the creation. In fact, Orthodox Christianity’s call to human beings is to become “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4), the path from which our first parents strayed. We do this by attuning our will and actions to God’s, by His Graciousness made available in particular through the Orthodox Church, which is the Body of Christ, His Son.

The Church is not only the Body of Christ, it is His Bride, and He is our Bridegroom — imagery going straight back to the Old Testament. In a real marriage the spouses love each other and “submit to each other” (Ephesians 5:21). God submits to us, so to speak, in allowing us free will. We submit to God’s love by loving Him back and drawing close to Him in our will and actions. And as in a real marriage my spouse is most important to me, so in this one God is most important to me.

Through His Energies, God creates and sustains everything. In fact, as one provocative Orthodox writer recently put it, there are no created “laws of nature,” only God’s Uncreated Energies. [CLARIFICATION: See here.] Orthodox Saints, from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and since, have witnessed these Divine Energies as Light: “God is Light” (1 John 1:5). Hence the Transfiguration of the Lord (August 6) is a major feast of the Orthodox Church, and a major consolation is the account of a similar transfiguration of the (relatively recent) 18th-century Russian monk St. Seraphim of Sarov. (I commend the entire article, but the famous scene of the Divine Light is about two-thirds of the way down the page.)

As the St. Seraphim article points out, Orthodox experience this as “acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” We hope for this no later than the moment of our deaths. Heaven is experiencing God’s Energies (in the Spirit) as Light, and even progressing “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). However, if we’re not prepared (by God’s Graciousness) in how we live our life to see God’s Energies as Light, we will experience them as painful, eternally purifying fire.

The Divine Light is also referred to as God’s Glory, even in Hebrew shekinah. Thus, this is the experience of the Prophets and other Israelites before Christ’s Incarnation, as well as God’s People since. God withholds the vision of His Glory until we are (relatively) ready, lest we burn. We become ready by God’s Graciousness in the means He has provided, including the Mysteries (“sacraments”) of His Body the Orthodox Church, worship, prayer, self-discipline and active selfless love and virtue, resistance to sin, studying Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, etc.

You might notice this is a kind of unique approach to Christianity, even to religion in general. This is the shared heritage of all Christians, the gift to us of the Undivided Church, and of God Himself. We’re “orthodox” because we don’t mess around with this, it’s a proven track record! This is what we present to all the world. This, we confess, is the Gospel of God, “the faith that established the universe.”

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