The unique aspect of Christianity is that it is Christ centered. Jesus Christ is the Way and the goal. Through the Church we become united with Christ retaining our individuality. Christianity teaches that any other union with God is an illusion if it is not achieved through Christ. Christ was given to mankind as the ladder to heaven, to Him. It is through Him that we have access to the Father and Spirit. It is Christ who sends the Spirit. Jesus Christ is like a bridge between human nature and the divine. It is in Christ that both are united. There is no other Way.
To those who see other good people of other faiths often question this. But the Incarnation of the Son of God is a reality that cannot be denied. God sent His son as the Way to His kingdom for our benefit. Fr Staniloae says, Jesus Christ He came for us as “a voice” of love, ringing out with all the affection of a human being, so familiar to us. But this means that man himself was made capable of becoming the medium by which the Son of God is communicated to us…”
When we ascend to God we are “with Him and in Him.” Our ascent is not based on our individual efforts. It is only through Him that we are able to ascend. In the beginning our soul is “sensitized by the Holy Spirit.” From this we are able to realize that there is a relationship with Jesus who is the one guiding and helping us along the Way. He is like a good friend, who is more advanced in wisdom and whom we trust, guiding us with love and understanding.
In the beginning Jesus is not visible to us but is hidden in His commandments. We see from the Gospel that He is a model of perfection. As Saint Maximus the Confessor writes, “To beginners he appears in the form of a servant.”
As we advance along the Way our vision of Him changes. Initially His true glory is hidden but then it is revealed more and more like the disciples experienced at the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor. His glory is initially hidden in His commandments and as we strive to carry them out and begin to develop the virtues, the presence of Christ becomes clearer. By our cooperation with Him, our faith and commitment to carry out His commandments, we are given greater and greater power of the Spirit to carry them out. In the process the image of Jesus become clearer and clearer. As we make this ascent to higher levels of perfection we are aided by our ascetic efforts and we gain in our mystical contemplation of Christ.We find that Christ is a most intimate participant in every aspect of our life. He imprints “Himself spiritually in us.”
He is there to help us in all our struggles of life in this world. He is there when we are tempted and when we sin. He is always at our side helping us along the Way leading us to our true nature. Because He became Man in His divinity we know that He knows our condition. And because of His love for us that He has shown in His Crucifixion and Resurrection we have great faith in His help.
The Mysteries of the Church are essential in our ascent. They are how Christ penetrates our inner being. This includes the purification of Baptism, anointing of Holy Chrism, and our partaking of Him in Holy Communion. Nicholas Cabasilas tells us that it is by the medium of the holy mysteries that “Christ comes to us and dwells in us; He is united to us and grows into one with us. He stifles sin in us and infuses into us His own life and merit…”
Our ascent to virtue that comes from faith and results in love is based on our acceptance of a hierarchy in the Church. Those who became saints have been helped by the angels. The church from the lay person, to the priests, bishops and then angles form a ecclesiastical hierarchy whose purpose is to help us grow in virtue and our closeness to God. This hierarchy is realized in degrees as we progress. Fr Staniloae says, “The work of the hierarchy for the salvation of the faithful is essentially exercised through the holy mysteries, especially through Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist.” Even those at the high levels of holiness gain from the holy mysteries and will have a greater vision of their content and profit even more by them.
While we are here on earth the Church is essential for us to make progress. We must accept the hierarchical and sacramental structure of the Church. if we do we will progress toward the heavenly hierarchy of the angels and saint in heaven. The Church is the body of Christ and is the ladder by which we climb. It is the only ladder God has provided for us.