Theosis, Light, and St. Paul

Today’s Liturgical Readings are included in my recommended selection of 2 Corinthians 2:14–4:6. This long passage illustrates the “experimental theology” Fr. John Romanides talks about. (Ignore the footnotes in your Bible.) From the “aroma” Paul talks about, which has been reported by numerous Orthodox Saints down the years, to the vision of Light, St. Paul defends his ministry not by human or Jewish philosophy but by the results which include not only Saintliness but also the experience of the Light of Christ in which He “enlightens all our senses as one.” This is where Paul’s teaching – and the Corinthians’ experience – differs from that of the Judaizing and Gnosticizing brethren against whom he writes, who have invaded the Corinthian Christian community. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the vision they have experienced as a result of his ministry, which the ‘false brethren’ have not. All the references to “light” and “glory” are to the same experience, akin to the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor, or the bright light of Paul’s own transformation on the road to Damascus. This passage is important to the understanding of Christianity in the mind of Fr. Romanides. St. Paul asks the Corinthians, in effect, Are you going to allow yourselves to be troubled by Judaizing legalists when you yourselves have seen the Glory of God and brought your lives into conformity with the Life of Christ?

Today, as we take our leave of the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, we commemorate our Father among the Saints, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, Gaul, native of Smyrna (Izmir), Asia Minor, disciple of the Holy Martyr Polycarp of Smyrna, disciple of St. John the Beloved Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian. Irenaeus, a great Father of both the East and the West, has said the Catholic Orthodox Church has been conscious of itself and its teachings from the very beginning, including the above teaching of St. Paul. Or as he has said,

The church, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying one house, having received…this faith in Jesus, carefully preserves it. She believes these points of doctrine just as if she had one soul and one heart, and she proclaims them, teaches them, and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth. For although the languages of the world differ, the significance of the faith is one and the same. For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those of Spain, nor those in {Gaul}, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world {presumably Greece and Italy}. But like the sun, that creature of God, which is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere and enlightens all who are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Neither will any of the leaders in the churches, however highly gifted they may be in eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master). Nor, on the other hand, will one who lacks power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith is always one and the same. One who is able to speak about it at great length does not add to it; neither does one who can only say a little diminish it.
(Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, p. 252, emphasis added.)

We’re not just talking about philosophy here, but the experience of the Apostolic and early post-Apostolic Church (and since!). Theoria, the vision of Uncreated Light, and theosis, becoming God-like by bringing our human energies and activities into accord with God’s Uncreated Energies and activities, is not the reward of navel-gazing, but of asceticism, of purification, of bringing our lives more in touch with the Life of God, of repentance, of submitting ourselves to the Truth, which is Christ Himself. Lord Have Mercy on us!

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