The holy Fathers certainly say that within the Church we can attain deification (gr. theosis). Yet deification is a gift from God. It is not something that we can attain on our own. Naturally, we must want, struggle, and prepare ourselves so that we are worthy, capable, and receptive enough to accept and guard this great gift from God, since God does not wish to do anything to us without our freedom. Never the less, Theosis is a gift of God. For this reason, the holy Fathers say, on the one hand, that we “suffer” deification (gr. theosis), and on the other hand, that God actuates Theosis.
We also discern certain necessary qualifications on the path of man to deification:
According to the holy Fathers, the first necessary qualification is humility. Without blessed humility, man cannot be put on the right course for Theosis, cannot accept the divine Grace and so unite with God. Simply to acknowledge that Theosis is the purpose of our life demands humility, because without humility, how will you acknowledge that the purpose of your life is outside yourself; that it is in God?
So long as man lives egocentrically, anthropocentrically, autonomously, he places himself at the centre and purpose of his own life. He believes that he can be perfected by his own efforts; defined by his own efforts; deified by his own efforts. This is the spirit of contemporary civilisation, contemporary philosophy, contemporary politics: to create an even better world, even more just, but to do this autonomously, by oneself; to create a world which will have man at its centre with no reference to God; with no acknowledgement that God is the source of all good. This is the fault that Adam committed, believing that, with only his own powers, he could become God, could complete himself. The fault of Adam is one that all humanistic creeds make throughout all the ages. They do not consider that communion with God is indispensable for the completion of man.
Everything Orthodox is theanthropically centred; its centre is the God-man Christ. Everything that is not Orthodox has this common denominator: its centre is man, whether it is Protestantism, Papism, Freemasonry, Millenarianism, atheism, or whatever else is outside Orthodoxy. For us, the centre is the God-man Christ. This means it is easy for someone to become a heretic, a Millenarianist, a Mason or whatever else, but it is difficult to become an Orthodox Christian. To become an Orthodox Christian, you must first accept that the centre of the world is not yourself but Christ.
Thus, the beginning of the path towards Theosis is humility, i.e. that we acknowledge that the purpose of our life is outside us; is with our Father, our Maker and Creator.
Humility is needed to see that we are sick, that we are bigoted, that we are full of weaknesses and passions.
Again, to persist on this path, someone who begins the path of Theosis must have constant humility, for if he accepts the thought that he manages perfectly well just by using his own powers, then pride enters him; he loses what he has gained and must start again from the beginning; to become humble, to see his weakness, his human sickness, and learn not to rely on himself. In order to find himself continuously on the path of Theosis, he needs to depend on the Grace of God.
Therefore, in the lives of the saints, their great humility impresses us. While they were near God, they shone within the light of God; they were miracle-workers; they gave off myrrh; yet at the same time they believed about themselves that they were very lowly, very far from God, that they were the worst of men. It was this humility of theirs that made them gods by Grace.
The holy Fathers also tell us that Theosis has stages. It begins from the lowest and progresses to the highest. Once we have humility, in order to become cleansed from the passions we start our asceticism by applying the holy commandments of Christ, beginning our daily struggle in Christ with repentance and much patience. The holy Fathers say that within His commandments God himself lies hidden. When a Christian observes them out of love and faith in Christ, then he unites with Him.
According to the holy Fathers, this first stage of Theosis is also called ‘praxis’. This is practical guidance given at the start of the path towards Theosis.
Naturally, this is not at all easy, because the struggle to uproot the passions from within us is great. Much effort is required, so that gradually our inner wasteland is cleansed from the thorns and stones of the passions so that it can be cultivated spiritually, and so that the seed of God’s logos may fall and bear fruit. Great and continuous effort towards ourselves is necessary for all this. Therefore the Lord said that ‘the Kingdom of God suffers violence, so the violent seize it’ (Matthew. 11:12). And again, the holy Fathers teach us: ‘give blood and receive Spirit’, i.e. you cannot receive the holy Spirit if you do not give the blood of your heart to the struggle to cleanse yourself from the passions, in order to repent really and in depth, and in order to acquire the virtues.
All the virtues are aspects of the one great virtue, the virtue of love. When a Christian acquires love, he has all the virtues. It is love that expels the prime cause of all the evils and all the passions from the psyche of man. This cause, according to the holy Fathers, is selfishness. All the evils within us spring from selfishness, which is a diseased love for one’s own self. This is the reason why our Church has asceticism. Without asceticism, there is no spiritual life, no struggle, and no progress. We obey, fast, keep vigil, labour with prostrations, and stand upright, all so that we may be cleansed of our passions. If the Orthodox Church ceases to be ascetical, it ceases to be Orthodox, because then it ceases to help man rid himself of his passions in order to become gods by Grace.
The Church Fathers developed a great and profound anthropological teaching on the psyche and the passions of man. According to them, in the psyche you can distinguish intelligent and passible parts. The passible, again, comprises passionate and desiring parts. The intelligent part contains the reasoning powers of the psyche; the thoughts and cognitive powers. The passionate parts are the positive and negative emotions; love and hate. The desiring part contains the good desires of the virtues and the bad desires for pleasure; for enjoyment, avarice, gluttony, the worship of the flesh and the carnal passions. Unless these three parts of the psyche, the intelligent, the passionate, and the desiring, are cleansed, man cannot receive the Grace of God within himself, and cannot be deified. The intelligent part is cleansed by watchfulness, which is the continuous guarding of the nous from thoughts, keeping the good thoughts and rejecting the bad. The passionate part, again, is cleansed by love. Finally, the desiring part is cleansed by self-control. All these parts are both cleansed and sanctified by prayer.
3) The Holy Mysteries and Prayer
Christ installs Himself in the heart of man through the Holy Mysteries: Holy Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Confession and the Divine Eucharist. Those Orthodox Christians who are in communion with Christ have God and His Grace within them, in their hearts, because they have been baptised, chrismated, have confessed and have received Holy Communion.
The passions cover Divine Grace as ashes bury a spark. Through asceticism and prayer, the heart is cleansed of the passions, the spark of Divine Grace is rekindled, and the faithful Christian feels Christ in his heart; the centre of his existence.
Every prayer of the Church helps to cleanse the heart, but the so-called prayer of a single-phrase, also known as noetic prayer or prayer of the heart, is particularly helpful: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’. This prayer, which has always been handed down on the Holy Mountain, has the following advantage: because it is only one sentence it helps us to concentrate our nous more easily. Concentrating our nous, we immerse it in our heart, and then pay attention to make sure it is not busy there with other things and ideas, good or bad; that it is busy only with God.
The practice in this prayer of the heart, which with God’s Grace may in time become continuous, is a whole science, a holy art which the Saints of our Faith describe in detail in their holy writings, and also in a large collection of Patristic texts called the ‘Philokalia’.
This prayer helps and gladdens man, and when the Christian progresses in this prayer and at the same time his life follows the holy commandments of Christ and His Church, then he is worthy to receive the experience of Divine Grace. He starts to taste the sweetness of communion with God, to know from experience ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34:8 ???). For us Orthodox, God is not an idea, something that we think about, that we discuss or read about, but a Person with Whom we come into living and personal communion, It is something we live, and somebody from Whom we receive experience.
Then we see what a great, unspeakable and inexpressible joy it is to have Christ within us and to be Orthodox Christians.
Within their different concerns and every day occupations, it helps Christians who are in the world so much to find at least a few minutes silence to exercise themselves in this prayer.
Certainly, when fulfilled with humility and love, all labours and obligations directed to God sanctify us, but prayer is also required.
In a quiet room (perhaps after some spiritual reading, or after lighting a small oil lamp in front of the icons and burning incense), as far as possible away from noise and activity, and after other considerations and thoughts have fallen quiet, they should sink their nous into the heart by saying the prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner’. How much peace and strength the psyches draw from the silence of God! How much this strengthens them during the day so that they can keep themselves peaceful without nervous tension and anxiety, but have all their forces united in harmony!
Some people in other places seek silence of the psyche by using artificial means that are deluded and demonic, as in the so-called Oriental religions. They try to find a certain silence by using external exercises, meditation etc., to achieve a certain balance of psyche and body. The fault in all these is that properly speaking, even when man tries to forget the various considerations of the material world he does not have a dialogue with God, but only a monologue with himself, so that once again he ends up in anthropocentrism, and in this way he fails.