Fellow Workers with God
Norman Russell, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press
What is church for? More vaguely, what is the point of Christian life?
An ancient and continuing tradition — some would say the tradition — teaches that ultimately it is all about theosis, that is, “becoming divine.”
Church is and should be (sometimes despite all appearances!) a way of living in which we become like God through cooperation and union with God in all we do now.
Norman Russell gives an excellent and accessible survey of the history and content of the idea of theosis as it has developed over centuries of reflection in Orthodox theology and spirituality.
I remember how startled I was when I first heard about this theosis business — that it was Christian business, for one thing. I understood, or thought I did, about a human craving for the divine that made us reach out in search of God, continually to grasp depraved substitutes for God.
And I understood, or thought I did, about how, despite eluding our grasp, God reached out to touch us through Jesus (who is, of course in secret, both God and our neighbour). But that beyond this it was possible to act in true communion with God as a “we” — well, it gave Christianity as I understood it astonishingly greater power and beauty.
Russell does not gloss over the philosophical and theological complexity of thinking on theosis, but the writing is always clear, and often inspiring.
To end with one such example: “Our choice in fact is between a personal going out towards God (ec-stasy), by which we attain union with [God] … or a falling away from God (apo-stasy), by which we become increasingly fragmented parts of a merely natural world … Grace is not a ‘thing’ we receive. It is God of [God’s] own free will meeting us in ecstasy. It restores us to our integrity and wholeness, making us complete persons.”
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