This year’s conference offered courses on acquiring the proper tools to achieve our greatest potential as Christians: communion with God. Keynote speakers included Dan Christopulos and Dr. Kyriacos Markides. Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, from October 30 through November 2.
Ms. Carole Buleza: My name is Carole Buleza. I’m the Director of Christian Education for the Antiochian Archdiocese, and, again… Did they introduce Leslie? Leslie, come on down while I talk.
In your hand is a paper of my announcements, so that I don’t take time from our keynote speech. I made a handy-dandy miniature map of the conference center, to arrive only to find out that now they’ve named the rooms instead of just numbers. [Laughter] So you’ll find that there are rooms named after maplewood and pinewood and all kinds of things, but they still have numbers, and the numbers are found on the top threshold of the doors when you get to the meeting room area. But that’s my handy-dandy little map for you.
So this is Leslie Atherholt, and she’s the one who put the whole Orthodox Institute together this year, so she’s the point person if you have any questions.
Ms. Leslie Atherholt: But if you have problems, see her. [Laughter]
Ms. Buleza: And Rosemary Shumsky, I’d like to introduce. She’s been with us from the beginning, and she’s the administrative assistant for the Department of Christian Education. How many of you remember Elaine Atherholt from last year, those of you who were with us last year? This is Elaine’s mother. So we’re grateful to have Leslie with us, and Leslie promises to be with us for a few more years, so that’ll be good.
Next I need to introduce Tony Vrame, who’s going to introduce our keynote speaker. Tony is the Director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education, so Tony and I are…
Mr. Anton C. Vrame: Colleagues.
Ms. Buleza: Counterparts. Colleagues? is the word I was looking for.
Mr. Vrame: As long as we’re not adversaries.
Ms. Buleza: No, we’re not adversaries. And we are expecting Valerie Zahirsky, who is our counterpart for the Orthodox Church in America. So Tony is also the Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, so he wears two very important hats. I’m going to turn it over to Tony. There you go.
Mr. Vrame: Thank you, Carole. Good evening, everybody. Welcome. It’s good to be back with all of you. Some of you are familiar faces after we’ve been doing this together. Carole asked me to do… as part of being together, as a kind of sharing of resources: out by where you registered, there’s a small table with a fun little credit-card-like thing that people have been looking at, like: “What is that?” Well, you flip it over and you realize it’s a flash drive, and you open it up, and you pop this into your computer. And for those of you who really like to travel as light as you can, on this is the catalogue of my department—there’s a paper catalogue that’s right next to it that’s also there—a copy of Praxis magazine, so you don’t have to worry about that; and video clips from some DVDs that the department produces. And, Anesti, what else is there that I’ve forgotten?
Mr. Anestis Jordanoglou: It was the clip from our Easter DVD.
Mr. Vrame: Oh, yeah.
Mr. Jordanoglou: And the other was on Transfiguration, so you get little clips that you can use in your classroom.
Mr. Vrame: I don’t want to encourage you to do this until you’ve absolutely memorized everything that’s on here, but then you can delete what’s there and then you have a handy-dandy flash drive.
Mr. Jordanoglou: Five gigabytes of RAM.
Mr. Vrame: Five gigabytes. You can hold an awful lot on five gigabytes. So anyways, this is for all of you to take. And I know this fits in your luggage. It doesn’t add to your weight, or you can throw it in your purse. I know you’re going to take this home and nobody has to throw anything away. It’s a little more environmentally conscious as well. So, please, take one of those with you.
But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to introduce our speakers, and we’re going to do so in a little bit different [way] than we’re accustomed to, because we have a speaker with us and we have a speaker who will join us through the power of Skype.
This is the young version of Fr. Anthony Coniaris here. He is the son-in-law, so there is kind of genetics at work here and relationships at work. But our theme for this conference of theosis, some of us probably remember when that term first entered our vocabulary. I was a little younger, and it went into our vocabulary specifically about forty years ago, here in the United States. Our speaker tonight who will join us via Skype, Fr. Anthony Coniaris, I would credit as one of those people who brought that term to our attention, along with others as well, along with others from that time.
Fr. Anthony has written about his topic and explored it patristically, practically, through Light and Life Publishing Company, of which he is the founder and guiding light, and I don’t think we any of us could imagine doing our work as Christian educators without something from Light and Life Publishing all these years.
But to bring this idea of living in union with Christ to our consciousness. But, Fr. Anthony, he’s getting a bit up in years, so he doesn’t travel as much, and so what we’re doing tonight is we’re having Dan Christopulos, as I’ve said, his son-in-law, who also himself is theologically trained, and as you know he’s a graduate of Holy Cross School of Theology, a few years before I got there. For the last 14 years or so, he’s been the country rep for the United States with IOCC (International Orthodox Chrisitan Charities). Some of us remember him from when he played football for the University of Wyoming. Hey, you know.
So he is going to present to us Fr. Anthony’s latest work on theosis to get this conversation this weekend together for us and to kick off the conversation. Then, in about 45 minutes or so, Fr. Anthony will be joining us. So I want to turn it over to Dan, and welcome. Thank you for being here. [Applause]
Mr. Dan Christopulos: Thank you. It’s great to be back at the Village. I was here for the East Coast College Conference in December. There was a little bit of snow on the ground, so I’m trying to get out of here tomorrow before it snows. But could I ask one of the fathers to just open with a prayer? I don’t know who has seniority, but… Father, since I see you?
Father: In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Illumine our hearts, O Master who loves mankind, with the pure light of your divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of your Gospel teachings. Implant in us also the fear of your blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing those things that are well-pleasing to you, for you are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and to you we give glory, to the Father without beginning, and to your all-holy and life-giving Spirit. [Amen.]
Mr. Christopulos: Thank you, Father.
It’s great to be with you. I was telling Tony before he introduced me that I used to teach a sociology course for Claremont University at an Air Force base on Thursday nights from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. And I’m sure the doctor here can verify how difficult that is to keep people—Air Force personnel, base personnel—engaged for four hours once a week. So I want to turn the lights down so you can see the PowerPoint, but not too much, because after that fabulous dinner which I vowed I wasn’t going to eat, I’m afraid that we might put you to sleep, so I don’t want that to happen.
For tonight’s course, there’s about four things that I hope we would all get out of this. The first thing is, as Tony mentioned, this idea of theosis has been around, at least in the United States, for about forty years, but we’re to come out here with kind of a common understanding of what is meant when we say the word “theosis.” A second question, which Fr. Anthony talks about in his new book, is: Why do we need tools for theosis? So we’re going to talk a little bit about that tonight. And then particularly identify some of the tools that he identifies in his book. And then finally delve into how those tools can be used in our journey towards theosis.
It’s a little daunting to be here, as I look around at the clergy and the professors and just students of Orthodoxy, to be the one standing up here. I don’t claim to have any more knowledge than anybody. I’m on the same journey that you’re all on, but what I do have is a father-in-law who has written 82 books. [Laughter] And I’ve read them all, many of them before they came out. Father has already published twice on theosis, what is called Achieving Your Potential in Christ—and that is a book that I would highly recommend—and a little smaller version called How to Actualize the Image of God in You.
So these have already been done, and they’re great resources, but I was particularly pleased—and I’m always asking my father-in-law, “Father, what are you working on now?”—and we have two people from our home parish in Minneapolis, and one of them, I know—I don’t know, Sandra, if you do—but I know that Vangie goes to Bible studies every Saturday morning. That’s where the books always get their test run. He’ll bring on Saturday mornings a binder, as Vangie and Sandra can tell you, and he’s going through that, and he’s deciding what to put in a new book and what to take out. So I asked him, some months back, “What are you working on?” He says, “You know, tools for achieving theosis.” So that’s what we’re going to talk about tonight.
Most of the words that are out here that you’re going to see are not my words; they’re Fr. Anthony’s words or they’re holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church, both ancient and modern, who’ve spoken about this, or scriptural verses, because what Fr. Anthony is a master of is taking theologically difficult concepts and making them accessible to the average Orthodox layperson. I’ll be honest: I certainly have some biases, and I’ll own those, but I think that’s a tremendous service, because sometimes I really get fatigued when I sit and hear theological discussions that seem to have no purpose other than to try to impress one another with their erudition of theological concepts—when real Orthodox theology is about living out our faith, about orthopraxia and not just orthodoxia.
So these are some of the things that we’re going to be talking about tonight. As Tony mentioned, I’m going to take about an hour and fifteen minutes, an hour and ten minutes or so. At about eight o’clock we’re going to Skype Fr. Anthony in, just so he can kind of listen to where we’re at, and then we’ll take the last 30 minutes or so for Q&A, so that you can have a chance to ask him some specific questions.
I’d ask us at this point to just kind of calm our minds and our thought processes and watch this little video clip. [Acoustic guitar]
What I’d like you to do for a minute is just think about the word “theosis,” and on the piece of paper we just handed you—there’s a little kind of space there—just write down what might be your definition of theosis, or if it’s not a full definition, just some words that come to your mind about the word “theosis.” Just take a minute and do that, please.
Is there anyone willing to share what you wrote down, or at least what came to mind that you thought about theosis? Yes.
A1: Total communion with God, with the Son of God.
Mr. Christopulos: Communion with God. What else?
A2: God became man, that man might become god.
Mr. Christopulos: God became man, so that man might become god. Good. Other things. Yes?
A3: Becoming like God.
Mr. Christopulos: Becoming like God. Anybody else? Yes.
A4: Allowing God’s love and power to live inside us in such a way that we become like him.
Mr. Christopulos: Wow. You got a lot out of a short answer. Allowing God’s love and power to live inside us so we become like him. Yes?
Mr. Christopulos: Perfection. Excellent. Anything else?
Mr. Christopulos: Synergy. Great. Yes?
A7: True awareness of God.
Mr. Christopulos: True awareness of God.
Mr. Christopulos: Transformation.
Mr. Christopulos: Process. Great.
A10: Conforming our will to God’s will.
Mr. Christopulos: Conforming our will to God’s will.
A11: Becoming by grace what God is by nature.
Mr. Christopulos: Becoming by grace what God is by nature. Yes?
A12: I quoted Father, who always says, “God says to us, ‘I gave you my image; now show me your likeness.’ ”
Mr. Christopulos: That’s a great Fr. A. quote. And one thing, if you have the chance, or if you’ve ever heard Father—he’s big on one-liners, right? So he says, God’s going to say to us at the second coming: “I gave you my grace, my image; now show me likeness.” Excellent.
So theosis is not something that has one definition, but you’ve hit on some of the most important parts of it, and we’re going to explore for the next two minutes what the Bible says about it. It’s not a word that was ever used in the Bible, anywhere, Old or New Testament, but there are certainly some biblical passages that give us a clue and an understanding that we can extrapolate from to learn about theosis. One of them is the famous Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image and our likeness.” Now in Greek it’s: “kat’ eikona, kai kath’ omoiōsin.” “Kat’ eikona”: eikona is a static thing, the image of God; “omoiōsin” is a potentiality. So that’s important, that likeness is growth, that we grow into the likeness of God, but every human being is stamped with the image of God. So Genesis 1:26.
Here’s another possible one that alludes to theosis [Ephesians 4:13]: “Until we all attain unto eternal manhood, to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ”—so that idea of the fullness of Christ, that that’s what it means to be a man—and when I say “man,” I mean an anthrōpos, a human being, not a male—to be human means that we have the fullness of Christ, in his energy, not in his nature.
Of course, the famous one from St. Paul: Galatians 2:20. “It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” As she mentioned, that Christ being inside of us. Here’s another one that we sing at the baptism service: “Osoi eis Christon... For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [Galatians 3:27]. So the idea of theosis is a putting on of Christ. And then the whole chapter of John 17, the whole chapter 17 of St. John, where he’s talking about “I and the Father are one.” That whole chapter alludes to let us become one with him. Romans [6:8], that if we died with Christ, we also believe that we will live with him.
So theosis is growth and life, and continuous life. It doesn’t end. Some of the Fathers talk about theosis continuing even in heaven. It’s not something that’s static.
And then the last one that Fr. Anthony pulls out for us is 2 Peter 4:1: “Becoming partakers of divine nature.” Now again, we understand that not that we join with his essence, his ousia, his nature, but that we join with his energies.
Out of some of these biblical passages, the two that are most quoted when talking about theosis are the first one, from Genesis 1:26, and the last one from 2 Peter, because they really get at the heart of the idea that we are given something, we are given the image, in order to grow to be like God: “kat’ eikona, kai kath’ omoiōsin.” And then the culmination of that is to become partakers of his divine nature.
What are some other things that we think of when we think of theosis? Potential, like that video clip. You have this caterpillar, right? And look at what it becomes. And that’s each one of us. As I said, potential.
The renewing and restoration of God’s likeness in us. When I was in Houston, Texas, when I graduated from seminary in ‘83, for two years I spent in Houston, Texas, and we have an iconographer down there called Diamantis Cassis, Dan Cassis. And he did a beautiful line drawing of an icon of Christ. And we took it and we cut it up, into almost like a puzzle. And the theme of the retreat for the GOYA, the youth, was restoring the image of Christ. It was a three-day retreat, and we had specific things we talked about, and each one of the kids had a piece of the icon. After each session, we’d have four or five kids come up and start putting the icon back together. So by the end of the retreat we had the icon fully restored.
To become like God in Christ. The lifting up of humanity through Christ. And then I love this quote by Jean-Claude Larget: “Man was created to be united with God. The faculty of desire was placed in his nature so that he could desire God.” And, again, that means all human beings: not just the Orthodox or not just the Christians—every human being has that yearning for God. Yearn for him and be raised and united to him. This is what’s so beautiful about our Orthodox faith: it’s such a positive approach, filled with potential. It’s not just that Christ came and died for our sins. It’s not that juridical. It’s not just expiation of sin. That’s the first part of it, but for what reason, to what end? To lift us up. As a quote of St. Athanasius [says]: “God became man so that man could become god.” What an audacious statement! Thinks about that. And yet, that’s exactly what we believe in Orthodox Christianity.
So what do some of the Fathers say? Some of you already heard them. Somebody read St. Basil’s. Just yell it out. Let’s go.
R1: “The summit of what is desirable is to become God.”
Mr. Christopulos: Great. How about Dionysios the Areopagite? Somebody else.
R2: “To be deified is to enable God to be born in ourselves.”
Mr. Christopulos: And then the next one we already heard: “God became man so that man may become god.” How about St. Nicholas Cabasilas? Somebody from this side, go ahead.
R3: “The soul’s desire so as to soar up towards Christ.”
Mr. Christopulos: The soul’s desire. Well, the Fathers talk about theion eros. In Western society, eros is a negative thing, right? “Erotic.” You sit there and you’re “oh, my goodness.” But the Fathers talk about theion eros, that divine passion, for God, for Christ. And I love this one by St. Gregory Nazianus: “Zōon theoumenon: zōon, an animal, theoumenon, an animal in the process of being deified, because that “theoumenon” is… I don’t know the English, I don’t know the terminology, but it’s not a static, it’s not a noun. Zōon theomenon.
Listen to what some of the other Fathers say. “Man is a creature who has received a command to become god.” And what I did in your handouts, just so you know, is I picked a few of these just so you’d have… because I didn’t want to have time for you to scribble them down. So I picked some of my favorites so you’d have them on your sheets. Also, you will be receiving the PowerPoint afterwards. So don’t feel like you have to… On a disk. But I at least wanted you to have something you could take away. If you want to add your own notes… I know I didn’t leave you a lot of room.
Look at what St. Augustine, or Blessed Augustine, says: “He was made a sharer in our mortality; he made us sharers in his divinity.” Then St. Ignatius of Antioch uses two beautiful Greek words: Theophoroi—comes from theos of phoros: phoro means “to bear,” so theophoroi are people who bear God, who hold God, who contain God, God-bearers—and theogemitoi. That means people filled with God, people who are full of God. Now, we know people who are full of a lot of stuff [Laughter], but our goal is to be a people who are full of God.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes. Can somebody read this for us, from St. [Gregory of Nyssa]? Katie? Go ahead.
Katie: “ ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness.’ We possess [the] one by creation; we acquire the other by will. In the first structure it is given to us to be born in the image of God; being in the likeness of God is formed in us the will. Our nature possesses potentially what belongs to the will, but we procure this for ourselves through action.”
Mr. Christopulos: You’ve got to love Chrysostom and Basil, because they don’t… They say a lot, but those words have big meaning; those are weighty words. I don’t know. I’m sure I’m not the only one in here, but aren’t you always blown away on Pascha at the Resurrection service? Here’s Chrysostom, who had volumes of sermons, and his Paschal homily, that we still say to this day in every Orthodox church anywhere in the world, is one of his shortest sermons ever.
I spent three years as a missionary in Africa, and I taught at the seminary in Nairobi with Archbishop Anastasios, who’s now in Albania. He used to say, “Mr. Dan, you can tell how important the bishop is by the shortness of his pheme.” Do you know what a pheme is? It’s those little hymns that we sing to the bishops, and the reason is—and God forgive me, but—the patriarchate of Alexandria has the longest pheme. He’s the thirteenth of the apostles, he’s the judge of the oikumenoi—on and on and on it goes. And the patriarchate of Alexandria has a few thousand people. And he says, “Look at the Ecumenical Patriarch.” It’s got this short pheme.
Look at this statement of [Gregory]‘s. “Let us make man in our image and likeness”—Genesis, right? “We possess one by creation.” Again, the given. We have that stamp, that eikona tou Theou; that icon of God is in each and every human being. “We acquire the other by will.” Somebody threw out the word “synergy”: hugely important in Orthodox theology. We are not passive. God does not save us in spite of ourselves. We have to participate in our salvation; we have to make it our own. We’re not just this passive vessel. That’s how much God loves us. He allows us to participate, and that’s the divine will. Being in the likeness of God is in the divine will.
“Our nature possesses potentially what belongs to the will, but we procure this through actions.” When Dad asked me to come do this, I might as well do it. That’s what we have to be careful about as Orthodox. A lot of times we can get caught up in the correctness of our faith, in the truth of Orthodoxy. I was with Patriarch Ignatius of blessed memory in Collegeville, Minnesota, at St. John’s University. He was there to receive an award, and he gave a talk. He made a statement that I will never forget. He said, “Truth is rendered meaningless without love.” Orthodoxy is rendered meaningless without orthopraxy.
Think about that. It doesn’t matter if we’re right. It doesn’t matter if on the Sunday of Orthodoxy we sit up there and read the synodikon from the seventh ecumenical council: “This is the faith of [the] Fathers! This is the faith of the Orthodox!” We’re all: “Yeah! Go, Orthodox!” [Laughter] And then we walk out and don’t do anything. How many of you have read the book on Fr. Arseny? So you know it, so I don’t have to go into it. Well, it happens. Fr. Arseny, who’s this loving, spirit-filled man who spent how many years in a Russian gulag, finally gets to go home—even though he’s been released, they’re still under Communism, but he gets to go home. He goes to the Church of the Holy Dormition, the cathedral in Moscow. He goes underneath, and there are some of the patriarchs of Moscow buried there. At the time it’s still under Communism, so he goes and he sees a particularly holy patriarch of Moscow, and he starts to make the sign of the Cross and to venerate the tomb of this holy patriarch—and the Russian Communist guard says, “Stop, comrade! What are you doing? You can’t pray in here. This is a museum.”
Here’s the question I have: How many of us Orthodox in America treat our church like a museum? Is that all it is? Do we get converts just because “oh, they have nice smells and bells”? “I like to dress up and have ponytails”? I’m serious. I worry about that, guys. Is it the accoutrements of our faith, or is it the essence? To say: No, Jesus came to offer the world a new way, and Orthodoxy has been faithful to that new way, and we need to present that—a way not to just talk about sin and the degradation of human beings and the total corrupt nature of man, but to talk about the possibilities like that butterfly. That’s what we have, guys! Do we really present that? That’s praxis. That’s orthopraxia, and that’s what you and I are going to be judged on, when we go before God, and he says, “I gave you this treasure; what’d you do with it?” Theosis. Through action.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware makes five points about theosis. First of all, theosis is not something that’s reserved for just a few special saints. That’s an important thing to remember. Remember the whole thing with the controversy with the Gnostics? Some of you have studied theology; you know the Gnostics talk about “oh, we have this special knowledge; we have this secret kind of thing that’s only for us.” Uh-uh. Theosis is for all people. Kallistos makes that point.
He makes another point, though. Being deified or moving towards theosis does not mean that we cease to be conscious of sin. It pre-supposes a continual act of repentance. So, again, this isn’t about arriving: “Oh, I’m saved.” Again, please… I’m not criticizing some of our Protestant brothers and sisters when I say that, but for us it’s a continual process. There’s not this point where I say I’ve arrived. We’re constantly in growth, and we’re constantly being tempted by Satan.
If you read the Desert Fathers you can read all kinds of stories, but one that sticks with me is a Desert Father who’s [lying] there—many of these guys, as you know, before they died, they’d go start sleeping in a casket. Talk about “whoa!”—you think we’d start doing that in America? I don’t think so. But this one particular old Father, he’s holding a staff, this monk, and he’s [lying] there, and they’re kind of waiting and they’re all around him, and he’s dead. So one young monk goes up to take the staff, and he starts to take it, and the guy wakes up and goes: “Wo-oh-oh! Don’t take that!” He goes: “Sorry. I thought you were dead.” He says, “No, no, I need this to my last breath so I can fight the attacks of the demons.” So that idea, when we’re in the process of theosis, it’s a continual process, and it sensitizes us more to our sinfulness and the need to constantly repent.
Then he comes back and says there’s nothing extraordinary about the methods to achieve theosis. That’s an important thing, because it would be easy for us laypeople to think, “Oh, that’s just for the deacon and the priest and the bishops and the professors and those people with special knowledge of all this stuff.” No. It’s about us in our everyday lives, as teachers, as parents, as sisters, as brothers, as daughters, as fathers—being God-like.
And there’s nothing solitary about theosis, because you might think, “Oh, I could achieve theosis if I could just go to Mount Athos! If I could just…” I see Professor Bousalis up there, and he leads a group every year to Mt. Athos. He might think, “Oh, if we could just go hang out on Mt. Athos, then that’s it: I’ll get theosis.” No. This isn’t about just going in your cave. It has an element of “you’re in the world and you work out this process in the world.” So it’s very practical. Not only with silence and prayer, but also caring for our fellow man.
I’ve alluded to this already, but this is unique to Eastern Christian understanding. It’s not just about being saved from sin. It’s saved from sin for life in God. That’s the rest of that sentence. It’s not just about justification and forgiveness. That’s that Roman juridical mind, that legalistic mind that talks about: “Well, Christ died for our sins, and the blood…” It talks about all of that only. Orthodoxy says: No, beyond that it’s about renewal and restoration of the image, and giving us the grace to become like God. It’s about lifting up the fallen man, not just from sin to ground zero, but from sin to ground zero and then up, into the glory, to go from glory to glory.
Transfiguration. We said that word, or you said, “Transformation,” but in Orthodoxy we talk about metamorphosis, transfiguration, participation, putting on Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit and becoming temples, temples of the Holy Spirit. We say these words, right? I don’t think there’s anything that we’ve said tonight thus far that you haven’t heard before. You know the Scripture verses we’ve quoted. You know some of the Fathers; some of you quoted them. So we know this stuff here. Somebody said the longest distance in the human body is from here to here. That’s our challenge.
Then this beautiful word that, again, was already alluded to is “synergy.” Hugely important in our Orthodox understanding of salvation and the process of theosis. Again, it’s a Greek word. [Accented:] It comes from the Greek. [Laughter] Syn and ergo, right? Syn means “together”; ergo means “work.” So we work together, and we have to participate. We’re not saved in spite of ourselves. We’re not just… We don’t believe that there’s 144,000 elect and that’s it and it’s predestined and you’re either going to be one of the saved or you’re not. We don’t believe that. That’s a heresy, according to the Church.
God stands at the door and knocks, and later on, because one of the tools is free will… And there’s an icon… I hadn’t… I’ll be honest. There’s not too many Orthodox icons of that Scripture, is there? In the Protestant world, they use that a lot, but you notice… and I did find an Orthodox icon that I’ll show you in a little bit, but you notice something on that door that Christ is knocking on? Everybody notice something? There’s no doorknob. It’s got to be opened from the inside. It’s a great theological point.
So there’s synergy, but the last part I want to make sure that we’re clear on. It’s not a synergy where there’s a 50/50 cooperation. God does the work. God comes to us. God reaches out his hand through Jesus Christ. We have to grab it. That’s it. He’ll leave it there for us, and he’ll keep coming back. You know, we have alluded to this, and some of us have said it: Theosis is a journey. Theosis is a process. And I stand before you as a human being who’s made some detours on that journey, and I’m sure every one of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, could say the same thing. And yet the Hound of heaven doesn’t let us go. He keeps coming, and he keeps reaching out his hand. Sometimes that blows me away, because I don’t deserve it. And I don’t know you that well, but you don’t deserve it either. [Laughter] He doesn’t love us because we love him. He loves us because he is love, and we’re able to love because he loved us first. He extends his hand to us, but we have to clasp it.
I just spent 32 minutes talking about theosis—not the tools of theosis, just “what have we been talking about when we’re talking about theosis.” Why? Because remember that—I think it was Diana Ross—“Do you know where you’re going to?” Isn’t that her song? Because if we don’t know our telos, if we don’t know our destination, then how are we going to get there? That’s the one thing that—I don’t know about you guys—I find it so hard to use those GPS things on my phone. I’m such an old-fashioned, white, middle-aged map guy, but now I’ve done it. But I hate it when she just says, “Go on US-30 for 6.2 miles,” and I have no idea where I’m going. I’m just going. [Laughter]
That scares the heck out of me, because I’m wondering: where is my final destination? And I’m not that trusting, and I think that’s fairly indicative of us human beings with God. We’re not that trusting. We want to go where we want to go, our way. And that’s tough. Who said it? Katie? Maybe somebody over here. “To conform our will to God’s will.” “Not my will, but thy will be done”—isn’t that what Christ said? And, heck, if Christ had to do that in the garden of Gethsemane, when he was sweating drops of blood, and he’s the theanthropos, the God-man, how much more do you and I have that struggle, of really submitting to him as our King and our God? But he doesn’t forget us.
Hopefully we have a fairly good sense of what we mean when we say “theosis.” Now if I was speaking to a dogmatic theology course, it would be tough because we don’t have one little [sentence], although I liked yours as far as what it means, but all of these sentences, all of these ideas, all of these concepts, all these theological precepts work together to help us somehow understand what theosis is. Before we move into the tools, any comments or questions or thoughts on anything that’s been said to this point?
Okay, well, let’s talk for a second about tools, because the rest of our time is going to be talking about the tools of theosis. Fr. Anthony answers it in his new book. He says, “Why tools?” Why do you think we need tools to achieve theosis? What do you think?
A13: We need tools for all jobs.
Mr. Christopulos: Ah! We need tools for all jobs, right? We need tools for all jobs: things that helps us get there, help us do it. How many times—and, again, this is a fairly sexist thing to say, but I’m fairly sexist—how many men sit there and think, “Oh, if I just had the right tool”? You know, you’re doing something in the yard, and you’re trying to do something and you’re trying to make do—that happened to me in Africa all the time. I’d be in Africa and I’d be doing something and I’d think, “Oh, man, if I just had this—wrench.” They call it… “Wrench” in Africa is “spanner.” That’s the British term, “spanner.” If I just had this right wrench…
So the reason we need tools is that theosis is something that’s important, but God in his love for us, God in his compassion, gives us things to help us. And the only question is: do we pick them up and use them or do we leave them sitting in the garage, hanging very nicely on the pegs? And that’s a question we can ask ourselves in general in Orthodoxy. We have all of these things: we have fasting, we have the Liturgies, we have the holy Fathers, we have all these writings! I love this church called the “Full Gospel Church.” We’ve got the full Gospel, but we also have so much more.
Those, I think and Fr. Anthony says, are gifts of God to us. Why? Because he wants all people to be saved. He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world, to lift us up, to give us the opportunity to re-unite with him and to share in his glory and the glory that exists in the Trinity and the love that exists in the Trinity. God in his infinite grace and his love for us gives us these tools, so that’s why we have tools.
All we’re going to talk about for the next 35 minutes or so is: What are some of these tools and how can we use them? What are some of these tools? And this is not—what we’re going to talk about tonight with Fr. Anthony, identified in his new book—are not an exhaustive list, but they’re some of the main ones that can help us on this journey. The journey for us as Orthodox Christians certainly starts with the two entrance mysteries or sacraments of the Church: chrismation or baptism and chrismation.
How many of you in the room were bap— No, how many of you in the room came into the Church as adults? Raise your hand. Wow. So, that’s great. So you remember this probably better than those of us who were baptized. And personally, I was baptized when I was dying in a coma by my dad; he baptized me, and then immediately I came out of the coma, and I was in the hospital, because I had rheumatic fever as a baby. I turned blue and went into a coma. They said, “He’s going to die,” and my dad said, “Well, he hasn’t been baptized,” and the nurse said, “Well, I’m sorry,” and they called the doctor [who] said, “Let him do whatever.” So he took me out of the—they had me in one of those oxygen-tent things, I guess—took me out of the tent, took some water from the hospital, prayed, put it on me. Immediately I came out of the coma.
So I don’t remember that. [Laughter] But you do remember, those of you who were baptized or confirmed as adults, what that process is. So what’s the first thing we do in the Orthodox baptism service? Where does it start, first of all?
A14: In the narthex.
Mr. Christopulos: In the narthex. And in Greece and in other places, they do the whole service there, but we start in the narthex. And what happens first before we ever come into the church and proceed to the actual baptism? What’s the first thing that takes place?
Audience: You renounce Satan.
Mr. Christopulos: You renounce Satan. We turn to the West, right? “Do you renounce Satan and all his works…?” “I do renounce him.” Three times, right? “Have you renounced him?” Three times. The first tool that is critical in our journey in theosis is the renunciation of Satan. Now, let’s be honest. For many of us—and I’m Greek, right? So we go in the narthex, and we’ve got the little Greek and we’ve got the Greek baby’s in—well, no, not at this point yet. He hasn’t gotten the long tunic or anything yet. But we’re all sitting in the narthex, and you’ve got the godparents and you say, and they answer on behalf of the baby. And then what do you say? “Then blow and spit upon him.” So we go: ptu, ptu, ptu. How cute. We’re going to do the blow and spit.
So I’m at a mass baptism in Kenya. 42 Turkana. We’ve got this big drum, a 50-gallon drum. I mean, I’m dying, right? We’re baptizing first the babies—that wasn’t so hard; we get them and do them—then we’ve got the adults. Before we get it, we do the catechism. So I’m speaking English to translated into Turkana. When I get to that point… Now, I’m standing in front of these guys. There’s 40 of them lined up. “Do you renounce Satan?” “Yes.” “Have you renounced Satan?” “Yes.” “Then blow and spit upon him.” Right? I’m an American, Greek, “ptu-ptu,” right? No. [Phlegmy throat-clearing sound.] And they’re shooting loogies at my feet. They’re like this.
That was serious. I’ll never forget that moment, because I thought, “Hey, this isn’t a game.” I swear to God, since that point, every point I’ve been at an Orthodox baptism and I’m back chanting or something, I’m in the narthex, and I’m praying hard for Satan to be dispelled. That’s serious, whether we see it, whether we know it, whether we really grasp that or not. One of Satan’s biggest tools is to make us think he doesn’t really exist, especially Halloween, right? Halloween’s all: “Oh, we can get dressed up and put horns on,” stuff like that. No, this is real.
And that statement: how can that be a tool for you and me? Again, the majority in the room just had this happen to you as adults. But I would challenge every one of us in the room, every time you go to an Orthodox baptism: when you hear that catechism being done, use it as an opportunity to renew your own vows of renunciation of Satan. Silently say to yourself, “I renounce him.” That’s a constant, daily battle.
But that’s not enough. That’s the first thing that happens, is to renounce Satan, say no to Satan. But then we have to say yes to Jesus, to Christ. “Do you join Christ?” Why is that important? What happens if all we do is renounce Satan, and that’s where it ends? [Inaudible] Sure. If we’ve gotten Satan off the throne of our heart, somebody, something’s going to get on that throne, and if we haven’t been intentional about who that is, it’s likely that Satan will regain that throne position. That’s why we need to say yes to Christ, and that becomes a daily practice, saying yes to Christ.
Fr. Anthony writes in his book that actually saying no to Satan is a by-product of saying yes to Christ, which I’ve found kind of interesting, because you say no to Satan first, but what he’s really saying in that statement in his book is that that no to Satan isn’t sealed, isn’t totally done away with until you put Christ on the throne. And that’s why this next statement is so important which says: “I believe in him as King and God.” Because the priest asks, “Do you believe in him?” That’s what the question is in that catechism, and the response of the catechumen is, “I believe in him as King and God.”
Again, I would say that most of us just say those words, but I think over these next couple of days here is a good time to ask ourselves that question. Do we really believe in Jesus Christ as our King and as our God? Do we really allow him [to] reign on the throne of our heart? That’s a critical question.
I love this prayer in the baptism service. Can somebody read that for us on the right, please, loudly?
R4: “Thou hast given us the new birth from above by water and spirit. Be present, Lord, in this water, and grant that those who are baptized therein may be refashioned so that they may put off the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on the new man which is restored after the image of him that created him.”
Mr. Christopulos: That pericope, that portion of the prayer of the baptism service, gets at the heart of theosis: dying to the old self, putting off the old man—but that’s not the end of it—so that we may put on Christ. All you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. That’s theosis.
When we talk about chrismation specifically, really a good way to think about it is: it’s our personal Pentecost. What happened at Pentecost? So it was the ninth hour… No, it was the third hour, right? It was 9:00 a.m.; it was the third hour, according to the Book of Acts. And they thought they were drunk. They were like: “Wow, these guys are drunk and it’s only 9:00 a.m.” It’s like being in Serbia. [Laughter] Drink and sleep a bit at 9:00 a.m., but that’s another story; it’s part of breakfast. So they thought they were drunk at 9:00 a.m., the third hour, but what happened is the Holy Spirit came upon them.
At our chrismation, when we’re sealed with that oil… And Fr. Anthony… He’s so cute. He pulls me into the office yesterday. I had given him the slides. I said, “Father, here’s what we’re going to go over on theosis.” He said, “Tell them that in the Orthodox Church we don’t just put the oil right here. We put it all over.” He said, “Make sure you say that.” So, Father, I’m saying it! [Laughter] Because our whole body is sealed as a temple of the Holy Spirit, not just our mind, not just our heart—every ounce of us, every sinew of us, is called to be the dwelling-place for the Holy Spirit.
So chrismation becomes for us a personal Pentecost, when we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, because it’s that power, because we’ve got the attacks going on, because of just living in the world but trying not to be of the world, because of all that, we need that grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to fight this, because we are in spiritual warfare. That’s the thing. I’ve got kids, and I just—a son and two daughters—I’m like: “Do you guys get it? This is real spiritual warfare.” And I sometimes say: you wouldn’t walk into a battlefield without a helmet on, or a flak jacket. Then what makes us think we can walk into this spiritual battlefield without the protection of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
I love this prayer: “Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who is everywhere present and fills all things. Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us” is the usual English translation. In Greek we say, “Elthe kai skēnōson en ēmin.” Elthe—come. Skēnē in Greek is a tent. When it says, “Elthe kai skēnōson en ēmin,” it says, “Come and pitch your tent in me. That’s a very personal, intimate… I mean, maybe the word “abide” is that way, but when I think of that, I can visualize it. I grew up in Wyoming, and I’ve been camping. It just… That whole idea that, wow, God really… I mean, he’s not just going to Motel 6 and getting a room. He’s, like, pitching the tent in me! That’s what happens at chrismation.
That’s why it’s a tool for theosis, because that’s our baseline, that’s our starting point. Baptism takes that damaged nous which we all share in by being part of the Fall… What separates Orthodox theology from Roman Catholic and Western theology? We don’t… We’re not culpable of original sin. That’s what the Western Church teaches: there’s culpability. We don’t say that, but we do say we suffer the effects of original sin. What are those effects? The damaging of the nous. But it’s not totally lost. It’s not erased. It’s smeared, it’s smudged, it’s blurred. That’s why we don’t say man is totally depraved. That’s what separates us from some of our Protestant brothers and sisters. They say man is totally depraved; he can’t do anything good. We say: wait a second. No. That’s not what happened. But what baptism does is it restores us to that original state, and then chrismation gives us the opportunity now to grow into that likeness.
That’s my phone. That’s Fr. Anthony saying that he’s ready. [Laughter] So I’m going to stop for a second. I’m going to Skype him in, and then… Let me go to one more slide real quick so we can finish this one.
In baptism and chrismation, Fr. Schmemann says they’re two sacraments, because baptism restores us into our true human nature, obscured by sin; chrismation gives us the positive power and grace to act as Christians and be responsible participants in the life of the Church.
Oh, and here’s the other one I’ve got to… I should put him on here so he knows I’ve said this. “Through chrismation we are ordained into the royal priesthood.” Each of us in this room, if we have been baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians, we have received an ordination, not just those who were ordained as deacons and priests. They receive another ordination, but we also have been ordained, and we can’t shirk that responsibility. That doesn’t in any way downgrade what the role of the priest or bishop or deacon is, but what it does is it makes us say, “Hey, he’s not my proxy Christian,” because, let’s be honest, we do that in Orthodoxy sometimes. “Oh, Father, did you go visit the sick? Did you go to the prison, Father? Oh, Father, did you… So-and-so is hurting. Did you go see her?” Whoa, wait a second! What about me? Why can’t I go visit the prisons? Why can’t I go visit the sick? Why can’t I fully accept my mantle of ordination into the royal priesthood? We don’t talk about this much in Orthodoxy, and that’s a shame.
[Buzzing] They’re getting impatient. [Laughter] All right. What I have to do is stop this for one second and Skype and… Where are you? Melpo.
C2: Get us on the camera so he can see us?
Mr. Christopulos: What? He can see me! Hi, Father. [Laughter, then applause] So what we’re going to do: Father’s going to stay with us now on the line, and we’re going to keep going through the presentation. I’m going to minimize him—not that he can ever be minimized [Laughter]—but this way it’ll give him a chance to see where we’re at. Father and Melpo, we are on slide number 13. Well, we just finished it. We’re going to slide number 14 which is “Theosis, the Bible, and holy writings.” The Bible and holy writings. All right? Can you hear me okay? Melpo? We can’t hear you, but we’ll work on that later. Melpo, do you have the… Oh, I know why. Talk again, Father. Say something.
Fr. Anthony Coniaris: Is everything all right?
Mr. Christopulos: Yes, we have to do it on our side, but I’m going to turn you down just like they do at the Archdiocese Clergy-Laity when they don’t like what you’re saying. [Laughter] They just turn the microphone off. Some of us know what I’m talking about. And we’re going to keep going, and then it’ll give us a chance in about… We’ll be ready in about 20 minutes for Q&A, okay? Very good. Isn’t modern technology great?
Mr. Christopulos: So I’m going to put him down here. Then I’m going to… All right. We’re good. He’s there.
So we’re going to keep going through some other tools. Chrismation and baptism are the first two tools. A huge tool for us, though, in our journey of theosis, is, of course, the Bible, right? Again, I just pulled a couple of quotes about the Bible. We could find so many. I love actually in Psalm 119: “Thy word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my path and a light unto my feet.” How appropriate is that if theosis is a journey? That what the Bible does… It lightens the way. And Fr. Paul, our local pastor at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis mentioned something on this; he was talking about this in a sermon a few weeks ago, and he said he did think of something but he said, “You know, a lamp at the time of Christ really didn’t give off a lot of light. You would have to hold it down by your feet just so you could take one step. How much did you have to trust that light just to take one step after the next.” And that’s like us in our spiritual walk of theosis. The Bible can give us enough light for that next step, and that’s a good way to think about it.
This is one of Fr. Anthony’s favorite one-liners. “The Bible is God’s personal love letter.” God’s personal love letter. Everything in that is an intimate letter from God to us. And then somebody else said: “The Bible informs, reforms, and transforms.” Informs, reforms, and transforms.
Sometimes we get accused in the Orthodox Church [of] not knowing the Bible, not reading the Bibles, and we even say things like, “Well, Bible study is part of the Protestants.” [Laughter] Just remember that St. John Chrysostom had four Bible studies a week. The early Fathers were infused with the Bible. We should never have an excuse as Orthodox Christians of not knowing our Bibles. It is the word of God. We are not bibliolaters; we don’t worship the Bible. It’s a record of God’s love for us; it’s not God himself, but we venerate the Bible, don’t we? We kiss it. It has a place of prominence on the altar table. There are two main things that happen in the Divine Liturgy. One is the proclamation of the Word, and the other is the reception of the Word, meaning holy Communion.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the Bible as a tool, but every day… And now, through modern apps, I think through the Archdiocese you can have an app where you can get the daily Bible reading. There’s no excuse for us. I used to try to do something when I was younger, before we had these, where I would leave in the morning, I would put the Bible on my bed, so that at night when I got ready to get in bed, I couldn’t get into bed without picking up my Bible, to force me to read it. Now I force myself on my smartphone to read it, every morning, because we get it on an app. The point is: If we aren’t doing that, we’re not using one of the most important tools to help us on our journey of theosis.
And it doesn’t matter how many times you read the Bible, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve heard the same Bible stories in the lectionary that we hear year after year—because of the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us and says just what we need to hear at that point in our life, and I can say that as somebody who has preached the Bible, the Gospel, sermons, years after years, and said many of the same things on the same topics, and yet when I go to prepare a sermon the next year, something else jumps out at me that I hadn’t thought of before, because it’s a living Word of God. You can see the quote from St. John Chrysostom.
But as I alluded to earlier—and I’m not going to talk too much about this because I’ve already said it—in Orthodoxy, though, we don’t have just the Bible. The one that Fr. Anthony brings up as one of the tools is that great five-volume set in English called the Philokalia. The Philokalia means—philo and kali—the love of the beautiful and the good. So this is a collection of sayings from Church Fathers and writings from Church Fathers from the fourth to the fifteenth century. That great Russian classic, The Way of the Pilgrim, it influenced it. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite says, “The Philokalia is a book which is a trumpet which calls back the grace. In two words, it is the instrument itself of deification.”
The point that Father would make and that I would echo here is that… I looked at the bookstore here today. You have them in your churches. We have Light and Light Publishing. We have Conciliar Press. (Is that still the name or did they change it?) Ancient Faith? Ancient Faith. Sorry, Bobby. Ancient Faith Press. Holy Cross Press. St. Vladimir’s Press. We have accessible to us now, in this country, in English, all of the materials to supplement the Bible and other readings, so let’s take advantage of those tools, because, again, when Fr. Anthony started writing in 1965, they weren’t in English. Many of these things were not in English. Today they are, so we can’t use the excuse that “I can’t read it; it’s not accessible to me.” It is.
I’m going to a little bit faster, because I want to make sure we get as much time with Fr. Anthony as we can. Prayer. In prayer, we encounter the risen Christ. Think about that. That’s what happens. It’s a conversation. It’s a communication, not with an idea, not with a philosophy. It’s an encounter with our God; that’s what prayer is. Especially in Orthodoxy, we have so many ways to make this happen. Through the liturgies of the Church… Again, when we say the word “Liturgy,” we think of “Divine Liturgy,” but “liturgy” means any work of the people. It’s the erga tou laou. Any work of the people. So we have all kinds of liturgies. Not just the formal ones like vespers and matins and the Divine Liturgy, but we have all these liturgies, but every one of them is an encounter with the resurrected Christ. Again, I’m going to make some assumptions that you know what these things are.
I do want to point out one thing about the hours of prayer. We have a whole daily prayer cycle, and usually we don’t follow this in the parishes, but in the monasteries we keep them. But one thing I’d like to point out, that I use and a lot of people us: our hours of prayer. What does that mean? The Roman day… We have two cycles at work in the Church. One is with the Hebrew reckoning of time, which starts at sunset. Vespers, which we just did, is the first service of the next day, because it was after sunset. And in the Roman reckoning of time, it goes from midnight on.
But the hours of prayer deal with sunrise and sunset, so the first hour means one hour after sunrise. If you live on the equator, that would be 7:00 a.m., give or take, so that’s the time for the first hour of prayer: one hour after [sunrise]. First hour is 7:00 a.m., third hour 9:00 a.m., sixth hour noon, ninth hour 3:00 p.m. Can you think of what happened at those particular times, in history? The first hour is usually thought about as the coming of the sunrise, but what did we say about the third hour, at 9:00 a.m.? The reception of the Holy Spirit. I know a lot of us are busy: we’re working, we’re doing all kinds of things, but what if at 9:00 a.m., you covenanted to say, “I’m going to shoot up a prayer just to say: Holy Spirit, come. Abide in me. Dwell in me”? What if you said that prayer: Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth? Just to be cognizant, to be intentional, about calling the Holy Spirit to be with us every day and on this day?
What happened at the sixth hour, which is noon? What happened historically?
A15: Nailed him to the Cross.
Mr. Christopulos: Christ was nailed to the Cross. It says: From the sixth hour to the ninth hour there was darkness over the whole earth. Because at the sixth hour, Christ was put on the Cross.
I used to play a game with my girls—and I still say it to them, and now I’m teaching my granddaughters. I say, “S’agapō,” which means in Greek? I love you. And my girls, and now my granddaughters, say, “Poso?” “Poso?” means “How much?” and what do I say? “Toso! This much.” Isn’t that what Christ says to us? “I love you this much.” What if we thought of that at noon every day? That I have a God—Outōs gar ēgapēsen o theos ton kosmon ōste ton yion aftou ton monogenē—For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believed in him would not die, but have everlasting life.” What if every noon we covenanted to stop for a second and accept that love of God? There’s a lot of hurting people in the world, and we’re hurting sometimes, too. How much would our hurt be assuaged, would be healed, if we really grasped the fact that in spite of my sinfulness, in spite of the mistakes I have made, God loves me? Do you think we might treat each other differently?
Then at the ninth hour, 3:00 p.m., God gave up his spirit. He died. He didn’t just come down on earth. There’s a great… We talk about the one prayer in the baptism service where it talks about putting off the old man, putting on the new one. Here’s another prayer of the baptism, where the priest is blessing the water, that I love:
For you, O Lord, through the great tenderness of your mercy, could not endure to see the race of men (and women) tormented by Satan, so you came and saved us.
Think about that. He didn’t stay aloof on his throne. He didn’t look down at us and say, “Oh, you poor people.” He did something about it. You talk about a God of action? You talk about a God of orthopraxy? That’s our God, that awesome God who came down to save us, to die, to even… on a cross. So that’s what happens, so just think about that.
Then we’ve got to talk about hesychia, the hesychistic movement. It’s this idea of silence, because a lot of times in our prayer life—let’s be honest—a lot of our prayers are talking to God: I need this, please do this, I’m worried about my kids. My prayer lately is: Lord, bring two good, godly, Christian men into my daughters’ lives. Here’s a picture of my daughters, guys. Let’s see… Any young guys out there? They’re really cute… [Laughter] Jordan is 24. Zoe’s 21. They’re dolls, good girls. So if you have any sons… So that’s my prayer, right? My prayer is a lot about what I need. We just had two baby twin grandboys last week. So: God, please watch the grandbabies, blah blah blah. But the idea of hesychia is to be silent, to listen. And that’s what Fr. Thomas Hopko’s talking about. In order to get to know God, you’ve got to be quiet, and that’s hard for us to do in America. It’s hard for me to do. My wife and my kids always tell me that. Prayer. Look at St. Isaac the Syrian: “The highest form of prayer is to stand silently in awe before God.”
I’m going to take about five more minutes, and then we’re going to turn this over, but I want to go over a couple of things. I’m going to move forward.
The first words of Christ recorded, and also echoed… So these two verses, Matthew 3:2 and then Matthew 4:17. Matthew 3:2 is St. John the Baptist, and what are his words? “Metanoite, ēngiken gar ē vasileia [tōn ouranōn]. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven…” “Ēngiken” is a great word. In English, we’d say, “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” but ēngiken in Greek means it’s [imminent]; it’s almost touching. It’s like when you get to watch the space at the dock, and they get to the last point or so, and there’s no pulling back: we’re going to dock. That’s what it means; that’s what ēngiken means. It’s [imminent]; it’s going to happen. So when John the Baptist, and then Christ, says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” that’s what we’re talking about in theosis, but we’re talking about to receive that kingdom, to be part of that kingdom.
We have to acknowledge our own sin, and not just feel bad. A lot of us, I think that’s one of the problems we have in this country, is a lot of times we talk about feeling sorry, but that’s not repentance. Metanoō comes from meta and nous. It means to change our thinking, to change our actions, to change our mind, our nous. So it’s not just: I did something and now I feel bad for it. That’s not repentance. That’s what we talk about. It’s not just feeling bad.
What is it? It’s like… Two examples from the Bible: the prodigal son. What did he do? He came to his senses, it says, and he says, “I’m going to go back to my father.” That’s repentance. It’s like King David, after he has this sin and has Bathsheba’s husband killed, murdered, he repents and he writes Psalm 50: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy; by the multitude of your compassion, blot out my transgressions.” Look at what Solzhenitsyn wrote: “What distinguishes human beings from the rest of creation is the gift of repentance.”
I’m going to move through this. Forgiveness, we’ve already alluded to this. Fr. Anthony, you’ll be proud of me about tools within liturgy, because I said it, but I’m going to say it again. Look at what Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes: “All prayers in the Orthodox Church are always written in terms of the plural we.” There’s only one prayer in the Divine Liturgy which is a personal prayer of the priest, and it’s the prayer right before the Great Entrance where he says, “No one is worthy,” and it’s a personal prayer of his so that he can handle the Gifts. Every other prayer in the Divine Liturgy is in the we form. And that’s why they should be heard. They were not meant to be so-called “mystical” prayers. That was a later corruption. That was not… When you read the early Liturgikons, it’s very clear.
And here’s the part Fr. Anthony wanted me to say. He said the five most important words in the Divine Liturgy are—anybody know? (You guys can’t play.) Does anybody know? The Amens of the consecration. The Amens of the consecration: he says those are the five most important words in the Divine Liturgy, because without those Amens, it doesn’t happen. We cannot do special-intention Masses in the Orthodox Church. According to the canons of the Church, if there is not a layperson present, you cannot do a Divine Liturgy? Why? They have to be there for the Amen.
“And make this Bread to be the Body, and this Wine in this cup to be the Blood.” This Bread to be the Body—Amen. This cup to be Blood—Amen. “Changing both of them by the power of your Holy Spirit”—Amen, amen, amen. Five times. Without those five words of the laity, we have no Divine Liturgy. That’s not me, that’s not Fr. Anthony, that’s the canons of the Church. And we’ve corrupted that, and we have bishops and we have priests that teach something different and it’s wrong. It was never part of the ear— We never had this clericalism in the Orthodox Church. That was a Catholic phenomenon. We didn’t have that, and it’s a shame that it’s crept in. Okay, Father, [are] you proud I said it? [Laughter]
The Divine Liturgy is theophany. It’s a manifestation of God. And in the Divine Liturgy we encounter and are enfused two ways: with the Logos, through the preaching and hearing of the Word, and then through holy Communion. That is the most powerful tool that we can have.
And I want to make one other statement about tools within liturgy. On this right side. You teach sociology, right? One of the things in my undergraduate sociology—and we like to talk about the sacred and the profane; that was something that gets talked about and everything like that. In Orthodoxy we don’t subscribe to that. And that’s why, even when we talk about the sacraments of the Church, the idea of seven sacraments really comes about later in history. It calls about when some Orthodox theologians really studied with some Germans and really got into counting: “Okay, how many?” But when you read the lists of the sacraments, many times there’s many more than seven. But the point I want to make, and the point that Fr. Anthony makes: There’s no such distinction in Orthodox theology or understanding between sacred and profane. Everything is meant to be sacred. Every act. Our whole life. And Schmemann would say this, too. And Lossky, Vladimir Lossky. Our whole life is liturgical. It’s meant to be made holy.
I’m sorry. I’ve got to skip some things here. St. John Chrysostom talks about the different altars. Again, I’ve alluded to orthodoxy and orthopraxy, but look at this quote.
Do you really wish to pay homage to Christ’s body? Then do not neglect him when he is naked. At the same time that you honor him with hangings made of silk, do not ignore him outside when he perishes from cold and nakedness. For the One who said, “This is my Body,” also said, “When I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat.” Don’t neglect your brother in distress while you decorate his house.
It’s a powerful statement, and one we have to remember.
I’ve alluded to the sacraments. I’m going to skip through this. The one… I love the quote by St. Leo the Great. “He who is visible as our Redeemer has now passed into the sacraments.” I’m going to skip Holy Week. The only thing I’d say about any liturgy is that, in the liturgical understanding of Orthodoxy, the events are re-presented in the eternal now. We participate mystically. When we take holy Communion at any Divine Liturgy, we are participating mystically in the Last Supper. It’s a one-time event, but mystically God allows us to participate in it.
I’m going to stop there because I think that we have gotten the gist of things, and I’m going to get Fr. Anthony up on the screen, and the only thing I’m going to ask you… Father, you still there?
Fr. Anthony: Still here!
Mr. Christopulos: Okay. [Laughter] Let me pull you up, because they’re tired of looking at me.
Fr. Anthony: This thing is running.
Mr. Christopulos: What I’m going to ask you to do is… Maybe, Tony, you can help. If you have a question for Fr. Anthony—and it doesn’t just have to be over what we’ve covered, but anything you want—say it in the mic, and Father can try to respond. So if you want to question, raise your hand, and you can ask it to Father. And, Fr. Anthony, I’ll repeat it for you if you need.
Mr. Vrame: Father, this is Tony Vrame. How are you?
Mr. Christopulos: Can you hear? Tony is asking how you are.
Fr. Anthony: Thank you. I’m fine.
Mr. Vrame: Good. How did Dan do? Let’s start there. [Laughter]
Mr. Christopulos: Silence! Silence is deafening, Father.
Fr. Anthony: Well. I can see everybody now. [Laughter]
Mr. Christopulos: That’s the idea.
Fr. Anthony: What a happy group of people! [Laughter] I wish I were there.
Audience: We wish you were, too, Father.
Fr. Anthony: A beautiful sermon.
Mr. Christopulos: I’ll repeat the question so you make sure you can hear it.
Fr. Anthony: Please repeat it.
Mr. Christopulos: Okay.
Q1: Just a simple question: What does it mean: “kairos,” time in prayer?
Mr. Christopulos: So, Father, the question is: kairos—the word “kairos”—how is that different [from] chronos when we’re talking about prayer?
Fr. Anthony: There’s a vast difference. When a mother’s expecting, and she feels the pains, and she says to her husband—she could say either chronos or kairos—but it’s so personal, so ready, that she says: “Kairos! It’s time. Take me to the hospital!” So kairos and chronos are two words in Greek that mean the same thing—they mean time—but one is chronological time and the other is immediate time, the opportune time, the right time, the now time. So she says: “Kairos. Take me to the hospital now.” She doesn’t say “chronos”; she says “kairos.” So the Bible says, “Now is the time of salvation”: kairos. It uses the word kairos and not the word chronos. Chronos is something… Chronological time comes from chronos. Kairos means it’s urgent; it’s right now; now is the time for salvation. Thank you. That’s the answer to that question. [Laughter]
Mr. Christopulos: Another question…
Fr. Anthony: I want to share with you what a famous New Testament scholar says about the word theosis, because I mistakenly said to a person once, “Look it up in the dictionary.” She came back and said to me, “I did, but it’s not in the dictionary.” [Laughter] This New Testament scholar, who is William Barclay, he writes—this is from his book The Mind of Christ; if you haven’t read it, The Mind of Christ, it’s a treat. This is what he says:
Sometimes in Greek when a noun is used without the definite article, it has a kind of adjectival force. To say that man could become “O Theos, the God,” would be to say that man can become identical with God: one and the same person, one and the same God. But to say that man can become “theos,” using the word without the definite article, is to say that a man can come to have the same kind of life and existence and being as God has, but without being identical with God. The conception of deification is that man, through Christ, can be lifted out of life of the fallen and corrupt humanity into the very life of God.
This reminds me what George MacDonald, the famous Scottish writer, said once. He became a person who was ultimately one of the favorite writers of C.S. Lewis. He said this beautiful example. He says, looking out from the window of a palace in England—I forget the name of the palace—you could see two children playing in the gutter and finding pennies there. He says those children, according to God, don’t belong in the gutter, they belong in Buckingham Palace. That’s where they really should be, but because they don’t know enough about how much God loves them, they’re outside of a palace, playing in the gutter, when they should be in the palace, playing with the king and the queen.
So much for theosis. It’s a beautiful word, but here you have an eminent Protestant scholar, New Testament scholar, William Barclay, giving us a beautiful definition of theosis. Now, other questions that you may have on the subject of theosis. And, by the way, if you’ve not read the book, Achieving Your Potential in Christ: Theosis, you should read it, because all of this material is in this wonderful little book. And we have another book coming out; it should be out any day now: Tools for Theosis.
Mr. Christopulos: We have another question, Father. Go ahead.
Fr. Anthony: Now another question.
Q2: I noticed on this hand-out, Father, that it says that one of the tools for theosis is the tool of icons, not just for decoration, but an encounter with the Prototype. Can you speak more about that, because we didn’t cover that yet?
Mr. Christopulos: So, Father, the question is: One of your quotes from the new book says that icons are a tool for theosis, and on the hand-out that we gave them it says that icons are not just for decoration but an encounter with the Prototype. So could you talk about that?
Fr. Anthony: Yes, icons serve to present the transfigured, deified state of man. This is why they don’t look normal. The people in the icons look like different people, deified people, transfigured people, people who have already experience deification, and that’s the effect of… and you cannot do that with a statue. The statue represents the human person, but through the icon you can present the deified, transfigured state of man, and when you look at these saints and they look so different [from] the icons, it’s because the iconographer who was writing the icon is attempting to bring out the deified, transfigured state of man, because… And this is why we have such a great respect of icons in the Orthodox Church. That’s the answer to the question.
Mr. Christopulos: Let me just ask something. Father, I’m going to just elaborate. The idea is, though, that, remember: we don’t worship icons, but the veneration passes to the Prototype. So the whole point is you’re not just dealing with an image at this level, but that there’s a real connection through the prayers to that Prototype. So in the case of the saint, as Father said, you’re connected with that saint who’s been already in that process of theosis, so that’s the communication there. Or in the case of Jesus Christ himself, whom we can depict because he took on flesh, again, we don’t worship that wood. So that becomes an encounter, too, with the real Person of Christ, not with the wood and the painting of Christ. Other questions?
C3: While he’s doing that, I’ll say that, knowing a little bit about icons, we talk about icons as having a—here’s a fancy term—“magnetic” function, “magnesis” in English, meaning we imitate what we see in those pictures
Q3: Father, in the paper that I have that you wrote, you referred to the fact that we live in a day when popular psychology and cults are propagating a day when there’s this kind of self-improvement, self… being who you want to be. I would also say—and a question with this—are we not blessed and yet cursed with so much material that we have that sometimes we think that because we bought the book we are it? And this whole idea of the tools and the laboring—can we not end up using some popular psychology, with the grace of God, with the triple-teaching, to help apply some practical applications to the teachings?
Mr. Christopulos: Did you hear that, Father?
Fr. Anthony: Yes, I heard it.
Mr. Christopulos: Okay, good. Go ahead. [Laughter]
Fr. Anthony: I’d like to add something: that we have, we hear a lot today about evolution, and there’s something that we have to… This ties in with the ultimate purpose of man achieving theosis. The Greek word for man is anthrōpos, from which we get the word anthropoid. Anthrōpos in Greek means a creature that was made to look up, so man, by nature, looks up, in contradistinction to the animal, which walks on four legs and always looks down. So through evolution, they say, we are looking at man’s descent—downward descent, and we have, through evolution, theistic evolution, we come to the conclusion that God must have taken the most highly developed form of animal life and perfected it, and breathed his soul into it.
So anthrōpos means a creature who doesn’t look down, as the animals do, but looks up, and, looking up, he comes to the realization that he has been made in the image and likeness of God. So he looks up and, in looking up, he sees that he’s made in the image of God. By the way, the Church Fathers, some of the Church Fathers differentiate in Greek: image and likeness. They say that once Adam sinned, he marred the image of God, but through baptism the image of God is restored, and after baptism, with the restored image of God, we can proceed from the image to the likeness of God. This is why St. Basil the Great calls each one of us “artisans of the likeness of God.” So the call to theosis, the call to deification, is a call from God to each one of us, inviting us to build on the foundation of the image into something we call the likeness of God. The likeness of God is none other but what we see in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And in baptism, we say that beautiful prayer, as we now do receive, to put on Christ, because we then proceed from the image to the likeness of God in Christ.
And when we appear before God on the last day, he will ask us: I gave you the image; you marred the image. I re-created the image at baptism. I made you the image; now show me the likeness. And what are we going to show God as the likeness of God? It all depends on what we’re doing now, proceeding from the image to the likeness, putting on Christ. So when Protestant Christians, Evangelical Christians, ask us, “Are you saved?” We say, “Yes, I am in the process of being saved. I am in the process of putting on Christ. I am in the process of repenting every day, because every day, every time I fall, I do not remain fallen; I immediately rise to repentance and proceed on my journey toward the likeness of God.” So the likeness of God is a process and constant growth, a spiritual evolution toward the likeness, of putting on Christ, to the likeness of God.
Mr. Christopulos: Thank you, Father. Did that answer your question?
Fr. Anthony: Any questions?
Mr. Christopulos: Hold on.
Q3: ...any tools? For example, if I got a couple before me who’s having communication problems. Would I not use psychology, psychological communication tools? We’re honoring one another as Christ said for us to do, loving one another as Christ said for us to do, but here’s a method?
Mr. Christopulos: Yeah, Fr. Anthony, let me try and answer this, too. Yeah, and Fr. Anthony, if he wasn’t a priest, probably would have become a psychologist or a psychiatrist. If you’ve read many of his books, he uses many examples from modern psychology and psychiatry, so I don’t think he in any way would say we can’t use some of those things, but when it comes to theosis specifically, there are tools that the Church provides as well. So I don’t think it’s a matter of either/or; I think it could be a matter of both, as long as they’re within that context. I think that would certainly make sense.
Q3: Thank you.
Mr. Christopulos: Other questions?
Mr. Vrame: Anyone else?
Mr. Christopulos: It’s a great opportunity; don’t shirk.
Mr. Vrame: Anestis, I’ll just tell you as your boss: keep it a question! [Laughter]
Mr. Jordanoglou: What do you mean? [Laughter] I don’t want to… Father, what would you say… You’re a spiritual father to a lot of people, I know. What would you say is the greatest impediment to theosis?
Mr. Christopulos: What is the greatest impediment to theosis?
Fr. Anthony: What is the greatest what?
Mr. Christopulos: Impediment to theosis. Stumbling block to theosis.
Fr. Anthony: The greatest impediment to theosis is double-mindedness. You ask a person if he does a good job; he says, “Occasionally.” So we have to be… Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, expresses it so well when he says: “To will one thing is the key to success.” To will one thing, and if we make theosis our one thing in life that we have to achieve, that we must achieve, and there are so many… And this is why I’m recommending the second book on theosis, Tools of Theosis, which means Christ-like-ness, because there you will see: to will one thing is the most important thing in life. God deserves to be placed first, not second or third or last. We must prioritize theosis, which means we must prioritize Christ in our life, and always keep him as the number-one Person in life. So the greatest impediment to theosis: double-mindedness. We call it double-mindedness; there are many other names alike it today: secularism is another word for double-mindedness.
Mr. Christopulos: Another question.
Q4: Fr. Anthony, is there a special way that we should present theosis to young people, particularly high school students, young college students?
Mr. Christopulos: Is there a special way to present theosis to young people, especially high-school-aged and college-aged students?
Fr. Anthony: Yes, there is a special way. We are related to the lower forms of life physically, but spiritually man was made to look up, and that’s where theosis comes into the picture. We have been made in the image of God, and the early Greek Fathers say we proceed from the image to the likeness, and we achieve the likeness of our life to Christ by grace, but it’s also a task that is entrusted to every baptized Christian: “Go and make disciples of all nations,” says Jesus: Make disciples of all nations once you have become a Christian.
Mr. Christopulos: So, Father, a lot of the people in the room are Sunday school teachers, and I think the question might be specifically… Let’s say you were teaching and you were going to cover the topic of theosis in a high school Sunday school classroom. How would you approach it with high school kids?
Fr. Anthony: You were made in the image of God, and your purpose in life is to proceed from image to likeness. And when we say “likeness,” we mean specifically Christ’s. Okay? That’s, in essence, what we should say. We are related to the animals, yes, but we are related more so to God, and we develop our relationship to God through theosis, through proceeding from the image of God to the likeness of God in Christ.
Mr. Christopulos: Let me just add: do you remember that retreat I told you about in Houston? That was for high school kids, and that visual was really powerful for them. When we… Each one of those pieces, basically on the back had a different aspect of how we restore that image. So as we covered that in the retreat, and they put it back together, it became a very tangible way for them, beyond just the words, to show them visibly. And now with modern technology you could do it with a PowerPoint; you could do all kinds of things. That might be a nice way for high-school-aged kids.
Fr. Anthony: Never forget that question, because when you appear before God, he will ask you personally: I gave you the image; show me the likeness. Show me the likeness. Where is the likeness? How did you achieve the likeness? The fruit of faith is showing it.
Mr. Christopulos: We may have time for one more or two more. Go ahead.
Q5: Thank you. Father, I have a question. I wrote it down. What do you see as the role of a spiritual elder in the life of a lay Christian, and how important is it today to have a spiritual elder or father?
Mr. Christopulos: So the question is: What do you see as the role of an elder or spiritual father in the life of a Christian, of a layperson? And how important is it today for a layperson to have a spiritual father?
Fr. Anthony: It’s very important, because we are discovering every day that everybody needs to have—in Greek it’s called an epistēthio philo—a friend that you can really trust and rely on, and who reflects back to you exactly who you are, exactly what you are. You say you’re a Christian, but are you really a Christian? This friend of yours, this spiritual elder, will keep reflecting back to you when you’re a Christian and when you are not a Christian; when you spoke the right word and when you spoke in hatred instead of love. So we all need in our spiritual life—we call it a spiritual elder, staretz, or spiritual father, to guide us, to lead us, and those who have such a spiritual friend are indeed blessed by God.
Mr. Christopulos: Last question.
Q6: If double-mindedness is the greatest impediment to theosis, then what would be the greatest tool to conquer double-mindedness or to be singlemindedly after Christ and theosis? So what is the best tool… I know you have many tools. Is there one tool that is more effective than another that we should focus on in not being double-minded?
Mr. Christopulos: So the question is: If double-mindedness is the greatest impediment to achieving theosis or to be on the road of theosis, what would you say is the most important tool that can help us combat double-mindedness in our journey of theosis?
Fr. Anthony: The most important tool is prayer. Prayer. The fact that you realize that God is always with you. I’ll never forget the person, the atheist who said, “Oh, so you believe in God.” Oh, I certainly do. I hope he’s for real. I just spoke with him this morning. If we believe in God and we believe in prayer, and we’re constantly, prayerfully, asking him to help us, he will be right there, helping us, right by our side. He is for real. He’s very, very real to us. He’s right next to us, sitting, and we have a speaking relationship to him. So it’s the greatest… And I didn’t say that it’s the greatest [for] double-mindedness; it’s one of the great impediments, double-mindedness is, but not greater than prayer, because if one really goes to the Lord in prayer, then he is really with us. He will lead us and guide us, and he has many, many tools that he has given us to lead us to this theosis that we’re talking about.
Mr. Christopulos: Very good. Father, I’m going to close with one last thought. Thank you for being with us. Do you want to thank everybody? [Applause]
Fr. Anthony: Thank you. [Applause and cheering] For listening! [Laughter]
Mr. Christopulos: I’m going to just close with one last slide. How many of you recognize this icon that’s on the screen right now? What do we call that icon?
Audience: Holy Napkin. Mandiya. Icon made without hands.
Mr. Christopulos: Okay, and I’m sure most of you know this story, but let me just recount it for those of you who don’t. King Abgar, who was the king of Odessa, which is in modern-day Syria—or Turkey, yeah, it’s kind of right there on the border—lived during the time of Christ. He heard about Christ, but he had leprosy, so he sent a letter with the royal artist, and he asked him to go find Jesus and draw a picture of him and bring it back, because he believed in Jesus even though he hadn’t seen him. So the court artist’s name was Ananias.
So Ananias travels to Palestine, and he in fact goes to a place where Christ is, and he sees him, and he goes up on a high rock, because there’s a big crowd around him, and he started to try and draw a picture. You know, nothing will happen. He can’t get anything on the paper. Jesus sees Ananias, and he calls him and he says, “Ananias, come here.” He calls him by name, which, if we remember in the Bible, is reminiscent of who?
Mr. Christopulos: Zacchaeus, to come down from the tree. So it’s the same type of story, where Jesus, by name, says, “Ananias, come here.” Ananias goes down, and Christ brings him close, and Christ hands him a letter. Well, first he says, “What do you need?” And Ananias tells him, “I’m here at the request of my king, Abgar, who has leprosy, and he believes in you and would like you to heal him.” And Jesus hands Ananias a letter and says, “Take this to him.” And he says, “But also bring me water,” and they bring him water and he washes his face. And he asks for a towel, and he wipes his face and he folds it up.
And he gives it to Ananias, and Ananias goes back to King Abgar, and when the king unwraps it, this image is what you see on the holy Napkin. And King Abgar venerates the icon of Christ, and he’s partially healed. What Christ said in the letter was: I will send one of my followers, then you will be fully healed. And he sends Thaddeus, one of the seventy. So Thaddeus goes to Odessa, and when Thaddeus arrives, Abgar is completely healed of his leprosy. Then this icon goes throughout the kingdom for many centuries.
But here’s my question for you: Where is the icon of Christ today? We’ve been talking for the last two hours about moving from image to likeness, and the thought I’d like to leave us with, as we look at this image of Christ, which is an image made also without hands, the image of the holy Napkin, is the challenge that we would give our eyes to be the eyes of Christ. And what does that mean? That means seeing things that other people don’t see, seeing the pain and suffering, seeing the image of God in each person whom we encounter. That we give our thoughts to become God’s thoughts, not the way we sometimes think, but think on a higher level. That we would give our ears to become God’s ears: hear the cries of our brothers and sisters, not only in Syria, in Iraq, in places like that, in West Africa, but right here, in this room, in our own families. That we give our hands to become Christ’s hands, to do the praxis of our Orthodoxy. Mother Teresa says, “You are the pencil through whom God writes his love letters.” I think that’s achieving theosis, when we become the pencils through whom God writes his love letters.
And finally the mouths. Anybody notice something? Eyes, head, ears, hands. In Orthodox icons, all of those things are big. You notice that? The eyes are big, the ears are big, hands are big. You look at that blessed icon of Christ, the hand is huge, right? The only thing that’s small in the Orthodox icon is the mouth. So maybe our mouths can only say words that are Christ-centered words, because I think if we can do that, then we’re on our way from moving from that image to that likeness. And then that kingdom of God which is at hand starts to take root right now, and that journey of theosis which we are all on starts to change the world right now—not just at some future time, but right here, right now.
So thank you for allowing me to step in the place of Fr. Anthony, which nobody really can do. I had to do that after 44 years at St. Mary’s Greek Church when he retired, so I know what that’s like, but through the miracle of modern technology, it was wonderful to have that kind of discourse with Fr. Anthony.
The last thing I need to announce is we fully intended to have copies of the book here with us, but we ran into some glitches at the publishers, but in order to make up for that, everybody who is here will get 20% discount if you want to order the new book, Tools for Theosis, in the month of November. So if you go to our website at Light and Life, it’s l-i-g-h-t-dash-the letter n as in Nancy-dash-life.com. light-n-life.com. You can order online or you can call. It’s (952) 925-3888, and just say that you want that book, Tools for Theosis, and you’ll get a 20% discount.
Thank you for participating this evening. [Applause]