This past Sunday was one that contained at least 3 distinct themes. Yesterday we celebrated the last Sunday of the Orthodox ecclesiastical year, so you could have spent time thinking about the end of the year and the start of a new one. It was also the Sunday before we celebrate the beheading of St. John the Baptist (the subject of the bulletin icon). And finally, the gospel reading for the day was taken from Matthew 19:16-26 where Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all that he has and follow him, another trail that you could have followed in focusing for the day. Each Sunday has so many different elements that it sometimes difficult to find a focus point. With so many saints and so many gospel readings and so much depth, there can be no less that 10 significant themes happening any given Sunday!
But this Sunday, I was focused on theosis. I was learning last week about how the doctrine of the incarnation leads to the doctrine of theosis. Prior to becoming Orthodox, I had no idea what that word meant and when I read what it meant, I decided they were wrong. Theosis is the idea that Christians become like God – in energy, not in essence – through their relationship with Him. The energy but not essence part means that as we grow in Christ, we become like God but we never can become divine. A created being will always be a created being, but as God’s children, we become LIKE Him.
DISCLAIMER: This stuff is way more complex than I have been or probably ever will be able to grasp. I have been guilty of teaching the wrong thing before and will definitely do it again so please look further into this and don’t just take my word for it.
I heard an illustration used by the fathers that made a lot of sense to me. When you take an iron sword and heat it up in a fire until it is white-hot and then touch that sword to wood, the wood is scorched or could burst into flames. You could say that the sword caused the wood to burn, that would be true. However, the sword is still a sword and fire is still fire; one has not become the other but the two have become one within the sword. This is how the Orthodox understand the incarnation of Christ; the fire is His divine nature and the sword His human one. He was one person with two natures, fully God and fully man. We understand that since we are called to be like Christ, this is what can happen to the Christian who walks with God.
We also believe that when Jesus taught His disciples that His flesh was food indeed and His blood was drink indeed, He actually meant it. He meant that when we partake in Communion, we are participating in Him, literally. And it is through this participation that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and become LIKE God. The early Christians believed this and practiced participating in the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) daily. You didn’t go to church to get a few songs and a message, but you went to participate in the life-giving flesh and blood of Christ. It is called the bloodless sacrifice and should make sense to those who are familiar with Judaic worship with the Passover lamb: the lamb was slaughtered and then everyone ate it. As a side note, if Jesus didn’t really mean that when we “did this is rememberance of Him,” why would Paul have told the Christians to partake in a worthy manner or else they would be condemned and could become sick or die (1 Cor. 11:27-32)?
So for me, yesterday was the first time that I began to realize what was really happening during the Divine Liturgy: I am actually becoming like God. I am actually participating in the life-giving body and blood of Christ. The divine is actually coming into my body and what happens in my physical body is affecting my soul. It was amazing and eye-opening. I am so thankful to be on this journey within Orthodoxy.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.