[ VERSE OF THE DAY's Pentecostal Feature ]
Achieving Your Potential in Christ:
X   Theosis   X
Plain Talks on a Major Doctrine of Orthodoxy
By Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris
Edited by G. A. Henry

Achieve Your Potential: Theosis (1)
       X The Purpose of Being is to Become
       X My Best Painting is Yet to be Done
       X Simon Peter
       X We are Human Becomings
       X Power to Become
       X Power to Ascend Spiritually
       X Achieve Your Potential
       X Achieving the Ideal
       X Salvation: A Matter of Becoming
       X A Constant Conversion
       X The Beginning, Not the End
       X Only God has Arrived

Achieve Your Potential: Theosis (2)

Achieving Our Potential in Christ: Theosis (3)

Achieving Your Potential in Christ: Theosis (4)

The Bible and Theosis

Man Does Not Become A God

What Theosis Is Not

v    v    v

Achieve Your Potential: Theosis (1)

IN THE COURTYARD OF our church stands a pool with the words of the Greek palindrome engraved on it: Nipsonanomimatamimononopsin, i.e., wash your iniquities not just your face. In the center of the pool stands a bronze sculpture representing a human figure alighting upon the water. As it touches the water with its hand to wash not only its face but also its soul through the tears of repentance, the figure suddenly acquires wings and is about to fly into the heavens.

This sculpture represents our potential as Christians. Through repentance the soul within us sprouts wings and soars to achieve its great potential in Christ, i.e., theosis or union with God.

Let's talk about our great potential as Orthodox Christians. What is it? How can we achieve it?

X  The Purpose of Being is to Become

When asked what he thought the business of the Church was, one person said, "It is to show people what they can become by the grace of God." The one thing that holds us back from becoming what God created us to be is sin. That is why the Church calls on us constantly to repent: because it is sin that holds us back from greatness, from achieving our great potential of theosis.

X  My Best Painting is Yet to be Done

A young artist won an award for a painting of unusual merit. On receiving the award he said to a friend, "That really isn't my best painting." "Oh," said the friend, "then why didn't you exhibit your best?" With a smile he replied, "Because my best painting is yet to be done."

As Christians, we are painting pictures of Jesus with our lives each day. But because we are constantly growing and becoming, the best painting is yet to be. As St. Paul said, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfect; but ... I press toward the goal" (Philippians 3:12, 14).

X  Simon Peter

When Jesus first met Simon Peter He saw beyond the exterior to the depth of his soul. He knew the kind of person Simon Peter had always been - impetuous, easily influenced, even cowardly. But Jesus saw what He could do in the life of this man, how He could change him from the kind of person he had been to use him for His glory.

So, after gazing at Simon intently, Jesus spoke these words, "You are ... but you shall become." "You are" expressed the real and actual - what was; "You shall be" referred to the potential - what can be.

That's the way God looks at you and me. He looks at a shepherd boy - David - and sees in him a king. God sees our shortcomings and weaknesses. But He sees beyond these. He sees what we can become through His Son Jesus Christ. He sees our potential to become all that He originally created us to be.

In John 1:42, "Jesus looked at him, and said, 'So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas'" (which means Peter). You are! You shall be! The actual and the possible! Realism and idealism! What is and what can be! And between the two, the Lord Jesus Christ. His presence is like a mighty bridge spanning the vast chasm between the actual and the potential.

X  We are Human Becomings

Like Michelangelo who looked at a rough, shapeless stone and saw a statue of David in it, Jesus was constantly looking at people in terms of what they can become. We may be defeated, degraded, soiled, enslaved by our passions, yet through Christ we can be saved, cleansed of all unrighteousness, and clothed in the beauty of holiness and service. Jesus can take our potential and convert it into reality. The purpose of being is not to remain as we are but to become.

"We are not yet human beings; we are human becomings," someone said. "To become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life," said Robert Louis Stevenson. Louis Pasteur said, "When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments: tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become." Someone asked a boy, "Who made you, Sonny?" And the boy replied, "To tell you the truth, sir, I ain't done yet."

X  Power to Become

God gives us power to become. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). The Apostle Peter once came upon a lame man begging for alms. He walked up to the cripple and said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6).

That is the kind of power Christ gives us -
      X power to get up and walk out of a crippled past into a life of power, meaning, peace and joy;
      X power to become better than we are;
      X power to become new creatures in Christ Jesus;
      X power to become gods by grace, partakers of divine nature, heirs of His kingdom.

Psychiatry can tell us what is wrong with us, but only Christ can give us the power to rise out of sin and sickness to become what we ought to be and can be: children of God and gods by grace.

X  Power to Ascend Spiritually

Before Darwin, people believed that creation had ceased. God had created the world long ago and had stopped. After Darwin, people came to realize that God has not finished the creation of the world. He is still creating. This is part of what theistic evolution is. Our own creation is still going on. Man is evolving intellectually. Everything from the Ford automobile to the Einstein equation has been created in the past 100 years.

Tilhard DeChardin, the great anthropologist, believed that the destiny of man is to rise toward spiritual perfection until at last he is united with God. God has given us the power to become better than we are. He has given us the ability and the grace to evolve not only intellectually but also spiritually. We do not have to be captured by our past or by our smallness or by our sins. With God's power, we can rise to new heights of intellectual and spiritual perfection. The ladder of divine ascent is there for us to ascend, to climb each day, that we may achieve theosis and be united with God.

Bishop Maximos Aghiorgiussis writes, "The fathers make a distinction between the image of God in man, and his likeness to God; image is the potential given to man, through which he can obtain the life of theosis (communion with God). Likeness with God is the actualization of this potential; it is becoming more and more what one already is: becoming more and more God's image, more and more God-like. The distinction between image and likeness is, in other words, the distinction between being and becoming."[1]

X  Achieve Your Potential

A modern psychologist writes:

     "It is part of the tragedy of the human situation that the development of the self is never completed; even under the best conditions, only part of man's potential is realized. Man always dies before he is fully born.
     Man's main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is."

X  Achieving the Ideal

Many of us go through life wishing for the ideal - the ideal parent, the ideal child, the ideal husband or wife.... We forget that none of us is a finished product, complete like a piece of beautiful china. Each of us is in the process of becoming. How many divorces occur because there is a foolish idea in our minds that some perfect mate exists somewhere, and that we must shed the present mate to find the perfect one? We forget that the perennial problem in marriage is not to find the ideal partner, but to become the ideal partner.

It is this power to become better than we are, a new creation, sons and daughters of God, gods by grace, that Christ offers to those who receive Him and believe in Him;
      X power to overcome the world;
      X power to crucify every besetting sin;
      X power to shout in triumph over every trouble and temptation in life, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13);
      X power to become what we are by baptism: children of God, heirs of God's kingdom.

X  Salvation: A Matter of Becoming

Salvation according to Orthodox theology is not a state of being but a state of becoming, a constant movement toward union with God (theosis) which can never be fully achieved in this life. It is a process that begins here and is consummated and perfected in heaven.

Never would the saints of the church say, "I am saved. I have made it. I have arrived." They were always on the way. So they kept praying the Jesus Prayer to the very end: "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner." The Christian life is constant growth, constant becoming, a constant journey from being the image of God, to becoming the likeness of God.

Speaking of this ongoing growth toward theosis, Vladimir Lossky writes,

     "The deification or theosis of the creation will be realized in its fullness only in the age to come, after the resurrection of the dead. This deifying union has, nevertheless, to be fulfilled ever more and more even in this present life, through the transformation of our corruptible and depraved nature and by its adaptation to eternal life."[2]

X  A Constant Conversion

The great saints of the church were humble men and women who radiated God's grace and love. They were not converted just once. They were not "born again" just once. Nor did they repent just once. Their life was a daily conversion and a constant repentance. They were saved once at the cross of Golgotha, but they were also being saved daily in the yielding of their will to Jesus. Daily they sinned and daily they repented. Daily they fell and daily they rose.

X  The Beginning, Not the End

Fundamentalist Christians are constantly proclaiming on radio and TV that all we have to do to be saved is make a "decision" for Christ and be "born again" by believing in Jesus. They tell us that one becomes a full and complete Christian as soon as this happens. The whole process of growth is thereby omitted. One goes immediately from the cradle to mature spiritual adulthood.

Orthodoxy believes that to confess faith in Christ is the beginning, not the end. It is a journey, not a bed on which to lie while we wait for the Lord's return. The moment we become like the Pharisee and say, "I have arrived. I am where I am supposed to be. I thank God I am not like the others" - at that point we become stagnant and stagnation in the spiritual life is condemnation.

X  Only God Has Arrived

Human Perfection is not the state of "having arrived." Only God has arrived. Only God is perfect in this sense. Human perfection consists in a constant growing toward perfection, a constant journey from the image of God to the likeness of God, a constant "becoming" as St. Gregory of Nyssa says when he speaks of "the eternal discovery of the eternal growing."

St. Gregory Palamas believed that even in the age to come, the saints' vision of God would not be static. He writes,

     "Clearly it will develop infinitely... The saints, communing in the grace of God and rendered through that communion more and more able to contain the divine radiance, will receive grace upon grace from God Himself, its infinite and unfailing source."

Orthodox Christians, for example, are named after saints because once we are baptized, achieving sainthood (which is a fruit of theosis) becomes our potential and our goal.

Fr. Thomas Hopko writes,

     "St. Gregory said that there are two differences between God and us: 'God is the archetype and we are the image'; 'God is the Being, the Super Being, and we are the becoming,' that is, 'God is an inexhaustible possibility of growth.' Therefore, the human spirit is as inexhaustible as the Being of God because it is created in the image of God. The growth in perfection is, thus, the human perfection.
      It is not as if, 'keep on trying and some day you will be perfect,' but Gregory of Nyssa said, when you try, when you are growing, then you are perfect. Then you are as perfect as a human can be, because the growth is perfection, the movement toward perfection, is in fact what it means for the human to be perfect... Whatever stage you reach, there is literally an infinite possibility for growth still before you. And according to the Fathers, this goes on for all eternity, even in the Kingdom of God. That is the character of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God."

V    V    V    V    V

            [1] "Salvation in Christ - A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue," John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias. Augsburg Publ. House, Minneapolis, MN. 1992.
            [2] "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church." V. Lossky. James Clarke and Co. Cambridge and London, 1968. Page 196.

Last updated on May 27, 2000