On Line Library of the Church of Greece
Partakers of God
Patriarch Athenagoras memorial lectures
From Glory to Glory
In the present discussion , it has been deduced that salvific action is not an event which occurred once and for all; it is a process which continues incessantly in the Church and is repeated within every man. Each man does not experience it passively , but realizes it to some degree in his life. The initial relationship , which , as we saw , exists between the creature and the Creator , contributes seriously to this , but much greater is the contribution of the integration which underlies the person of the God - man. Human nature , the image and part of God since its creation , is elevated to the realm of Being through its reception by the Son of God. This integration of the human with the Divine is extended to each man’s integration with the Divine , through which he becomes as much a real god as Christ became a real man.[i] All can now receive the Holy Spirit as a gift and become friends of God.[ii]
We observe a reverse movement here. «I must suffer the good reversal,» says Gregory the Theologian.[iii] After finishing the steps of a whole poetical strophe , the dancers of classical antiquity danced an antistrophe , that is a reverse strophe. For someone separated from God , however , a good reversal is not simply a return , but a reverse course to God. The Archetype was strangely adapted to the antitype as we saw , after the normal movement had not succeeded; the new change is realized with the antitype’s return to the Archetype.
In this state , man follows the course of the God - man. The first phase here consists in deliverance from the fetters of time and space , of unshaped nature. In the effort to develop a free personality , the power of both categories is in some way abolished , and man is released from the spatiotemporal complex of creatureliness. Christ broke and abolished this complex by introducing the eternal into the sphere of the world. Deliverance from the «world» is one of the most basic motives for spiritual life:
To break from the world and be united with God;
gaining the things above by means of the things below ,
and acquiring through goods which are unstable and
pass away , those that are stable and abide.[iv]
There is no doubt that , from one point of view , this step involves mortification. However , in this case , mortification has a positive character; for it is combined with life by being «united with God,»because renunciation is accomplished through communion with God. The Apostle Paul has presented this state with different words but with the same meaning: «It is no longer I who live , but Christ who lives in me.»[v] Paul means , in this classic statement , that he is dead to the world , but fulfilled with «Christ who lives in me.» He feels within himself the power and experience of a new life gained by his participation in the true life which does not end with death. Thus , this mortification is nothing more than a presupposition which opens the way to life.
As we have already seen , after the dissolution of Christ’s human components , the body and the soul , his divinity affected their reunion though his Resurrection. The reunion is now final , and Christ’s human nature keeps its components forever united. From now on , this event is repeated in each person; the separation of his personality is removed. Yet , as was stated in the second lecture , this removal of obstacles is a preliminary act. Frankly , the actual elements are too intensive and high for a simple liberation. One does not simply cease to be a sinner or a slave; one becomes Godlike , (Θεοειδής)[vi] as we will see later at some other point in this presentation.
I have already spoken about the struggle that transforms nature into person. The Christian spiritual life is personal , as is the life of the Holy Trinity. To use the impressive words of Maximos the Confessor , God and man are «examples of each other.»[vii] God seizes the mind of man and takes it to the unknown , so much as man manifests the invisible God through his virtues. God , out of his love for man , becomes so much incarnate as man , out of his love for God , becomes endivinized. The phrase «so much...as,» which appeared early in Gregory the Theologian ,[viii] became in Maximos a regular method of expression which shows the close parallel between the two courses.
There are two persons here: Christ , who transmits grace , and man , who receives grace; and , conversely , there is man (indeed , every man) who transmits humanity to Christ , and Christ who receives humanity. By receiving human nature Christ enters creation and man , after his nature is united with the divine nature in Christ enters the uncreated. If the Logos has brought the mystical act of the Incarnation to a successful end by becoming like us , in all ways except sin , then he will also fulfill the mystical act of man’s theosis by making man like himself in all ways except the divine essence , Christ will raise him above the heavens. By imitating Christ , man will also become god through the mystery of grace:
So we , too , according to his example , will
The Powers of Transformation
Three factors underlie man’s transformation: God , nature and the world. If man’s nature , which lies between the other two factors , prevails upon his will , it makes him remain in his status , stagnant. The other factors attract man to their own side and challenge him to change - either one can make man become by status what it is by nature , namely , either god or an inanimate object. The transformation is not automatic; for on the one hand , these factors are only motives confronting man’s will , and on the other hand , divine grace is not forced upon the human will. Therefore , the faculty that plays the main role in the formation of man’s life is self-determination , which cost mankind so much the day the first man used it so unwisely. Yet , what was previously mentioned on this subject suffices.
There is a power within God , an eternal companion of the divine nature , which brings him to an opening , transmission , communion; which brings him to the world. It is the energy , which dogmatists call «goodness» and the mystics call «eros.» The corresponding power is man’s eros , which is directed to God. The two powers are closely connected to one another , although they belong to two different words; the Spirit unites them. As was seen at an earlier point in this discussion , Gregory Palamas , wishing to emphasize the particular energy of the Holy Spirit in the work of man’s perfection , characterized the Spirit as the eros of the divine mind directed to the Word (Reason) , as the eros of the Father directed to the Son.[x] He further stated that even man’s spirit is the eros of his mind directed to his word , his reason. The conveyor of God’s eros to man is the Holy Spirit , and the conveyor of man’s eros to God is the human spirit.
Eros is the mover of transmission and communion. It creates in both God and man «ekstasis» coming out of oneself , coming out of
the mystery and exclusiveness of God. The ecstasy of God leads to dialogue and union with man; the ecstasy of man leads to dialogue and union with God. Of course , the two movements are different; for , whereas God conde - scends , man a - scends.[xi]
According to Gregory of Nyssa , «blessed eros» is an impetus inserted within human nature and leading to the good blessings of divine love and divine counsel.[xii] This is the impetus which moves all men towards God and , particularly , those who are devoted to him. Symeon the New Theologian dedicated his inspiring Hymns of Divine Eros to the experience produced by that power. Divine eros is ecstatic , not limited to its bearers. It does not allow lovers to belong to themselves , but delivers them to their beloved ones.[xiii] Centuries earlier , Ignatios of Antioch , as a prisoner traveling to his martyrdom , expressed his longing for a speedy union with Christ , and described the inner insatiable love of the faithful with such unrivaled lyrical expressions as these:
I am writing while still alive ,
but I long for death.
My eros has been nailed to the cross ,
and there is no fire of material love within me;
but the Living Water is in me
and says within me , «Hasten to the Father.»[xiv]
Divine eros thrusts and leads to God as well as to one’s fellow man.
Moments of Divine Experience
The experience of divine is felt individually in various phases , but is not acquired exclusively in any individual context. The work of Christ has universal dimensions. All of creation (and especially man) participated in the manifestation of the mystery of the Incarnation and enjoyed its benefits. The new order is accomplished through the establishment of the community of Christ’s friends , the Church. Divine life is acquired within this order through communal and individual effort.
As a rule , life is offered through the sacraments , in which the whole process of the Incarnation (nativity , death , resurrection , and Christ’s entire life in general) is repeated symbolically and essentially. The sacraments , as the sphere par excellence of the work of the Holy Spirit , offer grace which transmit to man all that happened with the God - man. They offer grace in a mystical but effective way , bringing Christ to dwell in us and us to dwell in Christ.[xv]
Baptism brings about the death of the old mind and the birth of a new one. Since man possesses a body as well as a soul , he needs food for it. According to Gregory of Nyssa , [xvi]this food is provided by the Holy Eucharist , in which the food for the body obviously refers to the spiritualization of the body. This concept of the Holy Eucharist , which has its roots in Ignatios of Antioch’s [xvii]teaching on «the medicine of immortality,» gave the foundation for the final formation of the teaching on the transubstantiation of the elements. The other sacraments contribute to the sanctification of life according to the amount of grace they impart.
This cooperation of the psychic and physical elements , witnessed in the sacraments , becomes equally manifested in prayer too. Gregory Palamas , regarding even material things as God’s gifts , was not willing to accept the concept of the mind coming out of the body , as declared some philosophizing scholars of his time who followed Plato and the Neoplatonists. On the contrary , Palamas claimed that the mind entered the body. He called this entering a «concentration,» an «introversion.» Elevation is realized through an intensive mobilization of all man’s faculties , both spiritual and physical , as an integrated personality.[xviii]
The concentration of the mind in the innermost part of man and the absolute inner calm constitute the basic conditions for an effective sublime spiritual experience. Prayer contributes to the progress of the faithful in two ways: negatively , by strengthening them in their struggle against the demonic energy; and positively , by offering them spiritual brightness through communion with God. The tears which were shed abundantly by the ancient ascetics while they prayed were an expression , not only of the consciousness of their smallness , but also of the delight they experienced from their ability to participate in the divine brightness.
In the writings of Dionysios the Areopagite , we often find the term «ecstasy» or concern about ecstasy.[xix] God dwells on the highest summit , - on the silent and impenetrable cloud which is simultaneously dark and supremely radiant. The transcendent mysteries of divinity are incomprehensible and unattainable. God is beyond essence and knowledge. In order to reach him , one must be released from the senses and the intellect to experience an ecstasy that leads to the ray of the divine darkness. Here we find a kind of apophatic ecstasy , which is considerably different from the spiritual ecstasy that we find in Gregory of Nyssa , Maximos the Confessor , some other Fathers , and especially , Gregory Palamas:
Having come wholly out of himself and being wholly
delivered to God , he sees the glory of God and con-
templates the divine light which is not an object of
the senses as such , but a graceful and holy spectacle
of immaculate souls and intellects. Without this
spectacle , not even the mind can see , in spite of its
having a spiritual sense , when it is united with things
above itself , as the bodily eye cannot see without the
There is no separation here of the mind from the body , but a departure of the whole man from himself , that is , from his created state. Delivered to God as a whole in this way - as a personal whole in his psychosomatic composition -man beholds the glory of God and contemplates the divine light. This is not a tangible sight , but a graceful and holy sight of immaculate minds. Yet , it is also a real light , without which the mind cannot see , just as the bodily eye cannot see without sensible light. According to this view , ecstasy occurs through transcending the human faculties and proceeds parallel to the divine condescension. Ecstasy is not a passion , as in its worldly forms («opiomania» and «choromania,» for example) or an absorption of the human personality by the absolute Being , as claimed by pantheistic systems. It is an energy through which personhood is completely freed from the powers of created nature so it can penetrate the highest spiritual reality.
The instrument through which man perceives and experiences spiritual realities is his spiritual faculty , which we mentioned earlier. It is not identified with the pentamerious bodily senses , although both kinds will be united into one indivisible sense in the stage of perfection , as they were before the Fall. Tasting the good in a complete disposition within the psychosomatic integration and personality will then be possible.[xxi] This instrument also is not identified with the mind , even though it is connected with its movement. The expression of Diadochos of Photike «in every sense and assurance,» which frequently occurs in his Chapters[xxii] and is related to a similar expression of Apostle Paul , [xxiii]means something more than understanding and , also , being certain about the work of the Holy Spirit in man. The spiritual faculty is that with which man grasps divine grace (otherwise hidden) as it works within him and becomes his possession - the faculty with which man experiences the divine brightness. It is put in motion when the mind is transformed , elevated above creation. One might say along with Gregory Palamas that this faculty is light itself , because the mind , as it is seized by the divine light and enters it , becomes itself light. Therefore , in reality , the light is that which sees the light.[xxiv] Consequently , in the course of its ascension , the mind is transformed into a spiritual faculty , and this faculty is , in turn , transformed into divine light.
The faculty progresses until enjoying the presence of God. One of the stages of this pleasure is tasting God , of which an essential symbol and real pledge is tasting the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist.[xxv] That which the soul tastes is the goodness , consolation and sweetness of God , as described by Diadochos: «In the beginning of a prayer , the Holy Spirit offers the soul a taste of God in every sense and assurance.»[xxvi] And that which is offered in the beginning continues to be offered forever; for the spiritual faculty is never satiated. Spiritual pleasure in God is something which is simultaneously possessed and always sought for.
If tasting God is already communion and association with him , then seeing him is another intensive stage of enjoying him. As we have already noted , «like sees like.» Therefore , if a person wants to see something , he must be or become like it or he must have within him the capability for resemblance. Possessed by an insatiable thirst and inflamed by the divine eros , Moses entered the divine cloud. One day he received from God the command to stand on a rock to see , and he saw. However , what he saw was not God , but the «backside of God,» and Moses wished to see him better; because the vision of God has this characteristic - it never satisfies the desire of the person who gazes at him above.[xxvii] As a rule , the Christian sees God better than Moses did , because the Christian possesses the gift of the Holy Spirit in greater abundance and , as he continues to advance , sees him better each time. Even Moses himself beheld the divine light better when he was in Christ and became a partaker of the Transfiguration.
The divine light is the energy through which God is manifested in fascinating and magnificent brilliance. The one who gazes at it for the first time will become dizzy , just like the three leading disciples on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration of our Savior , and just like Paul on the road to Damascus.[xxviii] During the Transfiguration , Petter was so fascinated and overwhelmed by such bliss , that he wished to enjoy it forever. «Lord , it is good that we are here,» Peter cried.[xxix] The greatest feast of Orthodoxy is called by the Greek Orthodox , «Bright Feast’» (Λαμπρή) and on that day everything is radiant and bright. The hymnologist of the feast of the Resurrection chanted:
Now all things have been filled with light ,
heaven and earth and the underworld.[xxx]
Upon ascending the ladder of spiritual perfection , the one who beholds the light not only experiences the divine light , but also becomes like it , he himself becomes light. What we saw earlier , where Gregory Palamas pointed to the transformation of the spiritual faculty into light , was well expressed many centuries earlier by Diadochos of Photike:
When the mind begins to be operated by the divine
light , it becomes completely resplendent , so that it sees
its own light plentifully.[xxxi]
The energy of the divine light makes the mind resplendent and transparent so that the mind can see its own light. Through the vision of God , man enters the realm of the uncreated light; he acquires the light within himself , he acquires God himself.[xxxii]
Partaking of God
For those who understand ethics in its scholastic form as a system of regulations divided into chapters , perhaps the impression has been made that an important element for spiritual perfection , virtue , is missing from this discussion. Mystical theology , however , does not know any distinction between word and ethos. When Ignatios of Antioch spoke about «homoetheia to God,»[xxxiii] he was referring to that state in which the faithful person possesses , simultaneously , both the ethos and grace of God , virtue and light , which cannot be separated in God. All of man’s efforts , which begin with his self - determination and proceed (with the gift of the Spirit) to reach the highest spiritual experiences , are inextricably connected with virtue. And virtue is bound to the Godlike brilliance - it is one and the same as the acquisition of divinity. «The acquisition of both perfect virtue and divinity are one thing,» as Gregory of Nyssa declared.[xxxiv]
The ultimate destiny of man is theosis. Immortality and incorruption , the substructure upon which this good is built , is a preliminary state. Even the linguistic form of these words ,α-θανασία , α-φθαρσία , formed with the privative alpha , reveals their neutral meaning which is better understood when it is considered that demons are also immortal. Consequently , the change to immortality doesn’t necessarily lead to a better state of existence and is not the good par excellence to be pursued , although it is certainly a good. It is a means to communion with the divine nature , as stated by the Apostle Peter: «...that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion , and become partakers of the divine nature.»[xxxv]
Change is essentially achieved through progressive assimilation to the Archetype which is completed in the partaking of divine life. The fundamental difference in the search for spiritual life between East and West is that the former seeks participation in the divine , the latter contemplation of the divine. In the East , taste and vision of God are a type of participation which is the beginning of theosis; for the participant is transformed into that which it partakes of: «the participant is transformed into the nature of that which it participates in.» Here , too , then , the participant (man) becomes what God is - he becomes «that which he is.»[xxxvi]
Of course , what they partake of cannot be the essence of God - but his energies. Gregory Palamas never ceased to emphasize this point. However , these energies (i.e.,divinity , goodness , grace , light , and others) are not simply divine , but also uncreated. Moreover , they are not merely attributes , but essential properties. Consequently their partakers are brought into the sphere of the uncreated and can be considered and even called «gods.»[xxxvii]
All those who have shaped their personhood to the point of perfection and are united with God’s uncreated energies have escaped the limitations of creatureliness. Their energy , when it reaches the highest point of creativity , meets and becomes like the divine energy. They are then released from the worldly limitations of time and space. They attain eternity , becoming eternal like God , according to the teaching of Maximos the Confessor.[xxxviii] Beginning and end are conditions of the world and created things. Therefore , all those who transcend the limitations of creatureliness are beyond these conditions; for they have entered the realm of infinity.
The translation to eternity is an occurrence independent of the eschatological event , because it belongs to the realm of spiritual energy which is manifested independent of time and timeless conditions. It is not essentially physical death which lies beyond the present life , but the release from death - freedom from corruption - and partaking of the divine. These blessings will not be man’s possession in the hereafter if he does not acquire them in his present life. Therefore , time and space can be abolished at any moment of man’s life , and even on earth , if they are transcended through virtue and spirit. A person can transcend the chasm between him and God even when he is in the world of change and corruption , that is , within his flesh , provided that he transcends the flesh and the world by his self - determination.[xxxix]
However , this life par excellence certainly belongs to the future state of existence. «The life in Christ is rooted in time , but is perfected in the future,» stated Nicholas Kabasilas.[xl] And the experience of this life is naturally greater in the future after the third birth is realized , the birth of the general resurrection. All things that have occurred contribute to the ultimate goal that all men be translated to heaven and become heirs of the kingdom and the life to come. Nothing is as delightful as being likened to the spectacle revealed during the majestic delivery of the inheritance: a chorus of blissful persons , a multitude of joyous people , Christ descending to earth radiant , the earth raising other suns towards the Sun of Righteousness - all are filled with light.[xli]
Participation in the divine energies , which
lead man to theosis , effects man’s
perfection. Perfection , however , is not a
static state; for , on the one hand ,
God’s infinity cannot be completely
grasped and , on the other hand , man
continuously runs to seize more blessings
on a course which is endless.[xlii]
John Sinaites exhorted:
Ascend , ascend eagerly ,
undertake more ascensions.[xliii]
Gregory of Nyssa had earlier indicated that he recognized only one limitation in perfection , that it has no limit.[xliv] When we climb the ladder of spiritual progress , we will never be able to stop ascending; for there is always a step above the step we occupy and there is no summit. We will march towards the infinite forever.[xlv] Man continuously becomes more spiritual and his spiritual food continuously increased , without his growth ever ending. Participation in the divine goodness is such that he who enjoys it becomes stronger and more receptive:
Such are the wonders that the participation in the
divine blessings works: it makes him , into whom
they come , larger and more receptive; from his
capacity it gets for the receiver an actual increase
in bulk as well , and he never stops growing.[xlvi]
The divine road is bright , but endless , and the fountain of blessings is exhaustible.
[i] Gregory the Theologian Λόγος 29.19; PG 36.100.
[ii] Nikolaos kavasilas , Περί της εν Χριστώ Ζωής 2. 19 : «Το Άγιον Πνεύμα φίλοις ήδη καταστάσι δώρον εγένετο» Φιλοκαλία 22,p. 328.
[iii] Λόγος 38.4; PG 36.316.
[iv] Idem , Λόγος 43.13; PG 36.512.
[v] Galatians 2.20.
[vi] Gregory the Theologian , Λόγος 40.8; PG 36.368.
[vii] Περί αποριών 10; PG 36.368.
[viii] [Gregory the Theologian] Λόγος 29.29; PG36.100.
[ix] Maximos the Confessor Περί αποριών; PG 90.320. 10 Chapter 28.
[x] Chapter 28.
[xi] Gregory Palamas , Υπέρ Ησυχαζόντων 1.3.4; P. Chrestou , 1,p. 458.
[xii] Gregory of NyssaΠερί του κατά Θεόν σκοπού , W. Jaeger 8.1.40.
[xiii] Dionysios the Aeropagite , Περί Θείων ονομάτων 4.13.
[xiv] Προς Ρωμαίους 7.3.
[xv] Nikolaos Kavasilas , Περί της εν Χριστώ ζωής 4.50.
[xvi] Κατηχητικός Μέγας 37; PG 45.93.
[xvii] Προς Εφεσίους 20.2.
[xviii] Υπέρ Ησυχαζόντων 1.2.2; Chrestou , 1, p. 394.
[xix] Περί μυστικής Θεολογίας 1.1; Περί θείων ονομάτων 4.13; cf. Also Gregory of Nyssa , Περί του κατά Θεόν σκοπού,W. Jaeger 8.1.40.
[xx] Υπέρ Ησυχαζόντων 1.3.4; Chrestou , 1. P. 453.
[xxi] Diadochos Photikes , Κεφάλαια Γνωστικά 29.
[xxii] Cf. 34.40 and others.
[xxiii] Philipians 1.9.
[xxiv] Υπέρ Ησυχαζόντων 1.2.4; Chrestou , 1,p.458.
[xxv] Basil the Great ,Εις 33 Ψαλμόν 6; PG 29.364.
[xxvi] Diadochos of Photikes , Κεφάλαια Γνωστικά 90.
[xxvii] Gregory of Nyssa , Εις τον βίον Μωυσέως PG 44.404.
[xxviii] Matthew 17.1-13; Mark 9.2-3; Luke 9.28-30; Acts 9.3f.
[xxix] Matthew 17.4.
[xxx] Κανών Αναστάσεως ode 3.
[xxxi] Κεφάλαια Γνωστικά 40.
[xxxii] Gregory Palamas ,Υπέρ Ησυχαζόντων 1.3.42 ; Chrestou , 1,p. 453: p.453: «Θεόν δ’ εν εαυτώ κτήσασθαι και Θεώ καθαρώς συγγενέσθαι και τω ακραιφνεστάτω φωτί κραθήναι.»
[xxxiii] Προς Μαγνησιείς 6.
[xxxiv] Εις τα Άσματα 9; Jaeger , 6.285.
[xxxv] 2. Peter 1.4.
[xxxvi] Gregory of Nyssa ,Εις τον Εκκλησιαστήν 8; Jaeger 5.423.
[xxxvii] Gregory Palamas ,Θεοφάνης 16; Chrestou 2.PG241.
[xxxviii] P. Chrestou , «Άνθρωπος άναρχος και ατελεύτητος κατά τον Μάξιμον» Κληρονομία 12.(1980).
[xxxix] Maximos the Confessor , Περί αποριών 10;PG 91. 1172.
[xl] Περί της εν Χριστώ ζωής , 1.1.
[xli] Ibid. 6.16.
[xlii] Gregory Palamas Υπέρ Ησυχαζόντων 2.3.35; Chrestou , 1, PG. 569.
[xliii] Κλίμαξ , epilogue ; PG 88.1160.
[xliv] Εις τον βίον Μωυσέως PG. 44.300.
[xlv] Ibid. 401.
[xlvi] Gregory of Nyssa , Περί ψυχής και αναστάσεως PG. 46.105.