Posts Tagged ‘Theosis’

This I haven’t seen or read, because it’s not out yet, but should be interesting.  I’ve heard of funder the Farah Foundation, and Fr. McGuckin, an Orthodox writer and church historian … but I don’t know a whole lot about either the Foundation or Father.  “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”: Is that like the old A&E’s Mysteries of the Bible ? 😉   Could we look for a cable series?

So, I guess at this point this is just an FYI.

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That’s the upshot of these words of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann (OCA).  (Link may break after this year; I don’t know if it’s tied to today’s date, as Clean Monday or Pure Monday, the first day of the Great Fast this year, or not.)

An important liturgical and devotional tradition of Byzantine Christianity during the first week of the Fast is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, a big Orthodox hymnwriter.  Here’s OrthodoxWiki’s briefer discussion, and at bottom of OrthodoxWiki’s article are links to the four portions of this great reflective hymn, sung in sequence Monday through Thursday nights during Great Compline, normally a Night Prayer service (links to service texts at bottom again).  There are also links to the Canon’s portions here.

No, I wasn’t one of those kids who enjoyed reading dictionaries (much) … but you may do well to pray the O Heavenly King before reading this essential, profound definition-list ‘in a nutshell’ from Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos, courtesy of this website:

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and filleth all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of Life, come and abide in us and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

Have you ever heard a couple million people cheer all at once?  Have you ever heard them continue cheering for three-quarters of an hour?  It was moving, but also a little creepy!

So there I am, IBS’ing under an open window (upper pane) a little after 11:30 ET tonight (Wednesday), out of reach of TV and radio.  The Phillies-Dodgers game was in its 6th inning when I had last seen or heard it.  All of a sudden I hear a dull roar outside – not from my neighborhood!  I don’t live in a very noisy part of Philadelphia, so this was definitely coming from some distance away.  It was like the sound from outside a stadium – but the stadium in question was about 3,000 miles away!  So basically this was the whole Delaware Valley cheering the Phils’ 5-1 win in Game 5 of the NLCS, clinching the National League pennant for the first time in 15 loooong years, punching their ticket to the World Series.  After a moment my own neighbors joined in with yelling and firecrackers.  But then it was quiet.  I think Philadelphia was getting into its cars, because about ten minutes later, the roar started up again, accompanied by more firecrackers and car horns.  And it went on like that for 45 minutes!

I’ve never heard anything quite like it in my life, not even for either of the Flyers’ Stanley Cups.*  I guess exasperation can unite a region when it finally breaks!

Does God pick winning or losing sports teams, athletes, plays?  Apparently it’s not uncommon or unusual in Orthodox countries to offer services for national sports teams.  Well, IIUC God’s Uncreated Energies, and Holy Spirit (One of the Trinity), are “everywhere present, filling all things.”  What I’m not clear on myself yet is where God’s Energies leave off and the created energies of non-human creatures / objects come into play, like wind, gravity, the weather, lighting, what umpires see, etc.  But human free will is definitely involved in athletes’ self-conditioning and practice, choices and performances, teamwork and precision, as well as how umps decide to rule, and coaches decide to call; that’s not God.  Though out of human decisions and created energies, God works to try to bring about good, in particular, people’s Salvation or Theosis, Godlikeness.  This is the ultimate object of all Orthodox prayers of petition, eg, “grant their saving petitions and eternal life,” “which conduce to salvation,” etc.

(*–I was in suburban New York when the Phillies last won the World Series, in 1980, so it wasn’t the same for me anyway!  In fact, I was attending a Catholic high school seminary, so we couldn’t even watch or listen to the whole game because of our schedule of study hall and lights-out.  The superior of the religious community was from Kansas City, so he and I were the two people there most invested in that Series.  After Mass early each morning we both ran for the newspaper to check it out.  [“For a Special Intention, let us pray to the Lord.” No, just kidding!]  I actually don’t remember that final morning in detail though….  In ’93 I was in Seattle.  The closest I came to sharing that experience was on a mental-health day-off, driving back to town from the Olympic Peninsula, tuning in via a Vancouver BC radio station … though the following summer I enrolled in Mennonite seminary with a classmate from southern Ontario who wore her Blue Jays victory T-shirt to Biblical Hebrew class!)

This is common and EXTREMELY IMPORTANT ADVICE for Orthodox, seemingly paradoxical considering all the talk about Uncreated Light, angels, theophanies, visions, etc.  “Even the devil can appear as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  We’re even supposed to avoid visualization-meditation of any kind, which he can make use of.  And if we do see some apparition, we’re not to trust it or obey it, but consult our spiritual parent or priest or bishop.  This is not the same as Western skepticism toward “private revelation” or needing to get “ecclesiastical approval.”  It’s checking your experience with someone who traditionally knew from his or her own confirmed experiences and Divine Gift how to “discern spirits.”  The reason for this is how easily we can delude ourselves regarding spiritual things, in severe form known by the Slavonic word prelest, in Greek plani.  And it’s dangerous because we can be spiritually mis-led and imperil our salvation.  Holy Tradition is full of stories of the greatest Saints and Fathers of the Church who were temporarily deceived or even deluded.

All we do, then, is struggle with life on the Orthodox Way, in The Orthodox Church if available, aided by God’s Energies and an Orthodox spiritual parent.  Purification, period.  Illumination and Glorification / Theosis are in God’s hands and Mercy and Love.

If that doesn’t sound like much, remember this(!), and the great Saint or Father who, as he lay dying in the Monastery, had his brethren around him.  They saw his lips moving, though they couldn’t hear what he was saying, so they asked him.  He said he was seeing an angel, and asking for more time to repent.  They were incredulous: ‘If anyone has purified himself of all his sins and readied himself for God’s Glory, it’s you.’  But he countered, “I’m not sure I have even begun to repent.”  This isn’t “poor self-image;” even my Latin novice-master told us, “The closer you get to the sun, the more cobwebs you see.”  Hence Orthodox prayer asks God ‘merely’ to help us “make a good start.”

From St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ’s Sake, courtesy of this blog:

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!

And a well-known story about advice from St. Macarius the Great about indifference to praise and insult, ‘Insult the Dead.’

Every time I made it to Divine Liturgy while he was with my parish, or just about,* the priest who Chrismated me, preceded Communion with a collective reminder about the o/Orthodox understanding of the Mysteries (sacraments) as special encounters with God’s Uncreated Energies.  I can’t remember it verbatim, but he said Communion is like a fire that risks consuming the unprepared, but purifies those who receive it with preparation, including prayer, fasting, repentance, Confession if necessary, reconciliation with others if necessary, reverence, etc.  I also remember either hearing or reading somewhere – not from him IIRC – a story about someone who once received Communion without preparation, and immediately fell down dead.  I’m reminded of St. Symeon Metaphrastes’ Prayer of Thanksgiving After Communion.  I’m also reminded of Fr. John Romanides’ words about how we will all see God’s Glory in the end, but for those who haven’t struggled for Purification, God’s Energies won’t be experienced as Uncreated Light, but purifying fire: IIUC this fire’s job of purifying is never completed because God is infinitely better than we are, whereas if you’ve at least tried to put yourself on the right trajectory in life, God may, as Orthodox constantly pray, “have mercy.”  And my own conclusion: Created light burns up close but lights at a distance, whereas Uncreated Light lights up close, but burns at a distance.

PS: Nobody’s “worthy” to receive.  The best we can do is prepare, and hope in God’s Mercy.

(*–My health usually prevents me, so I don’t know if he does this all the time.)

From Saint Symeon the New Theologian, one of the key Fathers of the Church (his feast is commemorated this Sunday 12 October, and two hymns of his feast are here):

Our holy fathers have renounced all other spiritual work and concentrated wholly on this one doing, that is, on guarding the heart,* convinced that, through this practice, they would easily attain every other virtue, whereas without it not a single virtue can be firmly established(Emphasis added.)

(*–NB: In the Author’s Prologue, in the second paragraph, I believe the phrase “it is not anthropocentric but the anthropocentric” should read “it is not anthropocentric but theanthropocentric,” ie, centered on the Theanthropos, the God-Man — Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, Theos and Anthropos, God and Human.  One might also say “Christocentric.”

NB2: The online text from Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS’ Orthodox Psychotherapy linked to is not the entire book, which you might wish to buy or borrow [or steal?! Just kidding.].

NB3: This work is not to be confused with this one of Russian provenance, which I have not yet read through.

NB4: Metr. Hierotheos may well be a living Father of the Church.  At least as of 1994 he was spiritual father to “a vast number” of people, especially in Greece, but also worldwide, even through “a treatment network” of “the more spiritually healthy” of his spiritual children.  Since ’95 he’s been an active Ruling Hierarch of a diocese in Greece northwest of Athens [on this page he’s spelled Ierotheos, without the H].  As you can see, they have quite a few dioceses over there … where they’re called Metropolises, as with most Greek / Hellenic jurisdictions.)

I know nothing about the recent controversy over this, referenced at the beginning of this article from St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania (anonymous), and was surprised to hear about it.  But this article seems to address it well, briefly, and Orthodoxly.  It also highlights the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Patristic writings that is possible unless one is steeped ever more deeply in Orthodoxy’s Patristic, Holy Tradition, ie, not just historic prooftexts (or even Scriptural for that matter), but the Tradition in its fullness, including the Liturgy and its hymns and prayers, the spiritual and ascetic struggle to receive God’s Gift, and even how Orthodoxy has and has not made use of non-canonical (“apocryphal”) scriptures and related writings.  For its taste of this, I highly recommend the article even if you already don’t question the sinlessness of the Theotokos.

(I would only add to the piece, to clarify it, that at no time did Mary lose her free will.  She was probably sorely tempted!)

More from Metr. Anthony Bloom:

…we must remember that ‘to glorify’ in Greek does not mean what we understand so often – to praise or applaud; it means that his splendour, his unutterable beauty is revealed….

So how do *we* glorify God?  Preliminarily by struggling to unite with His Uncreated Energies, His Glory, through all the means of Purification provided in Orthodoxy; and ultimately, if He wills, by literally shining His Glory as Uncreated Light through our bodies as well as our lives.

I just ran across local newspaper science columnist Faye Flam’s old article (PDF) about speculation around, let’s say marital relations, in the afterlife.  She does remind us that the Lord Himself reported that in Heaven the saved do not marry [and therefore do not have sexual relations], but live as the angels.  (In fact Orthodox Monasticism is often referred to as angelic life, or anticipation thereof, both in pious expressions and in hymns on monastic Saints’ feast days.)  Angels don’t “do it” because they lack a fundamental requirement: bodies!*  We even call them “the Bodiless Powers.”

Flam also reported a non-Christian insight more relevant than she realized: “Zoroastrians, he said, believed there was sex in heaven but people would wean themselves away from both food and sex as they got used to being dead.”  I point this out because the Orthodox Way includes not denial that we are embodied human beings, since we are not dualists like the Zoroastrians (ancient “gnostics” still around today), but seeking to repent of and purify ourselves of any sinfulness (including that related to sexuality and food, though not of sexuality or eating itself) and seeking healing of our domination by our passions (including the sexual and gluttonous).  Mainstream Orthodoxy never considered “intercourse for pleasure … ‘depravity'” as the Western Christian mainstream Flam discusses did.  In fact, the ancient Fathers of the Church recognized the unitive and agape-building, relationship-building qualities of marital relations so much that it is from them that Christianity has its tradition of allowing them (if grudgingly in the West medievally) during infertile times such as pregnancy and menopause, vs. the still-heard Western idea that reproduction is the overriding point of human, Christian sexuality, and anything else mere condescension to human drives.  Nevertheless, the Orthodox Way, especially Monasticism, is also sometimes referred to as “dying to the world,” not entirely unlike what the Zoroastrians say about ‘dying to sexuality and gluttony’ after death.

But fear not!  Since Orthodoxy retains the doctrine that Heaven isn’t merely some kind of ‘earthly life on steroids,’ but advancing ever deeper into the Glory of God as Uncreated Light (as well as glorious fellowship – communion, koinonia – with the other saints, such as those we commemorated this past Sunday, All Saints Day, both those recognized by the official Church and the overwhelming majority not) and God-like-ness, we won’t miss sex!  Although to get there we do need to collaborate (synergeia, synergy) with God purifying us of our exaggerated attachment to it in the first place, here on earth….  Fr. John Romanides was fond of castigating the West’s attachment to “happiness” as fundamentally opposed to Orthodox Glorification / Salvation.  What do I know?  But perhaps another way of seeing it is that we need to find our happiness in God today, or else we’ll really hate spending eternity with Him.**

What about the Orthodox Mystery (sacrament) of Holy Matrimony?  Theologically it isn’t a ‘license to screw’ if you’ll pardon the expression, but just like its counterpart, Monasticism, a form of discipling to use a popular Evangelical word.  IIUC, the Orthodox discipline (or as I like to think of it, disciplin’) of fasting Traditionally includes married couples abstaining from relations, ie, most Wednesdays and Fridays, during Lent, the Apostles’ Fast (going on right now), the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast (in August), the Nativity Fast, the couple other fast-days on the calendar, and also on days before receiving Communion.  (This may or may not be a complete list.)  IIUC, part of the idea is that Orthodox marriage partners help each other with this discipline / disciplin’, since theologically they marry to help each other get saved.  In Orthodox fellowship / communion / koinonia with each other, they’re not to struggle in individual isolation, but to share each other’s burdens and build up each other’s gifts.  (This may have something to do with the ancient preference that Orthodox only marry other Orthodox, not non-Christians or even Heterodox Christians, though today marrying Heterodox Christians of certain denominations is tolerated alot, and of course we were never required to separate from non-Orthodox spouses when ourselves converting to Orthodoxy, since the Holy Apostle Paul counseled that we might help save our spouse.)

(*–With apologies to Fr. Andrew Greeley, who delights in the medieval Western speculation around what exactly the angels do have, for bodies!)

(**–I believe the latter clause comes from Fr. Anthony Coniaris in a basic intro to Orthodoxy of his, but I’m not certain.)

Says an Antiochian Orthodox bookstore owner in Wichita, Kansas,* in this 2002 Publishers Weekly roundup / preview of then-new Orthodox books entering the mainstream book market (in English in the United States).

(*–For the record, home of 5 Orthodox churches, visible at orthodoxyinamerica.org.)

NEOPHYTE OPINION ALERT

Numerous Orthodox hymns and prayers include the past tenses of the verb to shine, referring in one way or another to light, often God’s Uncreated Energies as Light, as frequently discussed in this blog, whether directly from a Person of the Trinity, or indirectly through a Saint, Angel, or the Theotokos (God-Deliverer).

Allow me to suggest that in English we prefer shined over shone.  Both are considered valid forms grammatically.  But since shone rhymes with shown, and often in Orthodox contexts the two could be easily confused aurally (e.g., “saints who have shone/shown forth in this land”), shined might be better for us.

In any event, we can remind ourselves when praying, worshiping, singing, etc.

I just found an intriguing ‘inside look’ in a public letter to his priests by then-Ruling Hierarch of the OCA’s Diocese of San Francisco and the West, Bishop TIKHON (Fitzgerald).  I can’t offer any more about it than His Grace does, though.

An Akathist (sometimes spelled Akafist or Acathistos, etc.) is a poetic or quasi-poetic devotional service dedicated to a Saint or God Himself, or themed around a Feast day, a need being prayed for, possibly other things.  It’s divided into stanzas, each of which is called an Ekos (Ikos, Oikos) or a Kontakion.  Several times during the year an Orthodox parish might serve the Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, including during the Great Fast as now.

  1. Ekos 7 of this Akathist reads, “The Creator showed us a new creation when He appeared to us who came from Him. For He sprang from a seedless womb, and kept it incorrupt as it was, that seeing the miracle we might sing to Her….”  This “new creation” echoes 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ – Behold! A new creation!”  Never have I associated St. Paul’s “new creation” with Christ’s own Incarnation as in this Akathist, but usually with Genesis and some relatively vague renewal of prelapsarian Creation.  But as o/Orthodox Christianity is about joining energetically with Christ, then linking us even with His miraculous Incarnation is totally appropriate and mind-blowing!  It’s even bigger than renewing Genesis!  Actually Quaker founder George Fox had an expression about a potentially two-stage perfectibility, first “to the state Adam was in before he fell,” and from there “to the state of Christ that never fell.”  Pretty wild.  (Not that God literally becomes incarnate in us of course; something like that is the heresy of Appolinarianism.)  It also underlines the importance of the Incarnation for Orthodoxy; it’s not merely a prelude to Calvary or even Pascha, but wholly part of Christ’s saving activity, uniting created nature to Uncreated in Himself, and human and Divine natures in Himself, in fact making salvation possible … and “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
  2. Kontakion 11 reads, “Every hymn is defeated that trieth to encompass the multitude of Thy many compassions; for if we offer to Thee, O Holy King, songs equal in number to the sand, nothing have we done worthy of that which Thou hast given us who shout to Thee: Alleluia!”  This is a poignant image of how far and different God is from created things including ourselves; how nothing we do can save us or raise us to godhood by ourselves, yet how hard we must work to collaborate with the only real God; perhaps even why encountering His Uncreated Energies without sufficient Purification in life will feel like a painful, purifying fire, which however will never lead to perfection, ie, the fires of “hell,” because of the infinite separation between us and Him.

Orthodox prayers are highly “theological,” not in the first place sentimental like Western prayers, because “we do not know how to pray as we ought.”  There’s feeling also, but it takes second place to theology – as it should in life.