"God became man so that man may become god" St Athanasius
This beautiful quote, used time and time again by the Fathers of the Church sums up the purpose of Christ coming into the world and expresses the love that God has for all humankind. For we humans are the ‘crown of God’s creation’, indeed when God created us, He said “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, …” (Gen 1:26).
Although God is mystery and is unknown to us in His essence, He is uniquely close to us and we humans can experience Him through His energies, as He is ‘present everywhere and filling all things’. But we can go even further; we can have a personal relationship with the Almighty. This is because God revealed Himself to us, through the Person of Jesus Christ, the Second Person in the Trinity, who became man and lived amongst us some 2000 years ago.
While Christ’s Incarnation was necessary to fulfil the promise of redemption, He inaugurated the new covenant, the old Israel is superseded by the New Israel, the Body of Christ (the Church) for the entire human race. Christ revealed the ‘coming of the Kingdom’ and with this new covenant all humans are placed in a right relationship to God through Christ (Heb 8:6 -13). It was for this reason that Christ established His Church, the visible means for all humans to have a relationship with God, for as the Fathers teach, that which was visible in the Redeemer, has now ‘passed into the sacraments’. So, we can see that Orthodoxy is a way of life; it is a way of life through the Sacraments, as our Holy Church becomes the ‘Ark of Salvation’.
But first we must have faith, as our eminent Primate, Archbishop Stylianos said, “Faith is the key to understanding every relationship between God and mankind” . The Patristic tradition sees faith as the beginning and foundation of our salvation and "that without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). Faith must be lived and it expresses itself through love, as St Paul teaches in his treatise on love, "if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (1Cor. 13:2). The result of faith in God forms a relationship between God and man and from that relationship we begin to understand true love, which Paul alludes to when he says, "faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1Cor. 13:13).
The Incarnation is an act of God’s philanthropia, revealing His loving kindness towards mankind, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). But for Orthodoxy, this philanthropy is not just to correct our mistakes, rather it is to uplift humans to deification, that is, He came not just as a ransom for our freedom but to transfigure us into Theosis (Qevwsi~as St Peter says, “we must become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) or as St Athanasius and the Fathers put it, “God became man so that man could become god”.
Thus Orthodox theology sees redemption in positive terms in the uplifting of our human nature into the everlasting communion with the divine life, which was realised by Christ's redeeming work. The whole destiny and history of humankind was completed in the Incarnation. Orthodoxy sees the Incarnation as the union of the divine majesty with human frailty and therefore the ultimate redemptive act of God. Accordingly, an Orthodox Christian approaches God in a mystical way, embarking on a life long spiritual journey aimed to have a mystical union with God (Theosis), which ultimately leads to eternal life. Jesus challenges us to, “Take up your cross and follow me”. So we need to accept Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Saviour and become followers and we can do that by living our life in His Holy Orthodox Church.
We often hear of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, but we should never neglect the importance of the ‘living spiritual tradition’. St John Climacus wrote the ‘Ladder of Divine Ascent’ whereby each step on the Ladder describes a virtue, and together they describe the progress of a person’s spiritual struggle, which leads to perfection (Theosis). Many of the Saints reach a depth of spirituality whereby they see visions of God. These visions serve as a guiding light to the rest of the world, which is a source of inspiration and guidance to Christians of all ages. These holy people, who are often referred to as ‘earthly angels and Heavenly people’, are not restricted to the long past, for in more recent times St Silouan lived on Mt Athos only some 70 years ago. His vision serves to show us that even in this modern age, humans have the capacity to rise to visions.
What does all this mean for us? It means that we need to grow spiritually to pursue our Theosis. Even if we knew the Gospels backwards but have no spirituality then our knowledge is meaningless. To grow spiritually our Church has Spiritual Fathers to whom we should go to for confession and guidance. We also need to pray, as St Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” and for this we can meditate with the Jesus Prayer used by the spiritual elders and monks; "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
So we can see how Orthodoxy is a way of life and how we can have a personal relationship with God. By first accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and living our life in the Church through the Sacraments, we can then continue to grow in our faith spiritually by having a Spiritual Father so that we can fulfil our Relationship with God, which ultimately leads us to our Theosis.
Angelo Karantonis [Back to top]
Graduate of St. Andrew’s Theological College