Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Response to Paper by Metropolitan Ambrose Zographos

Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos
Metropolitan of Seoul
(Image from OrthodoxWiki)

My responses to the papers by Professor Nobuo Kazashi and Metropolitan Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos were delayed from 5:00 p.m. until nearly 7:00 due to the length of some afternoon presentations, so I got home late in the evening and am not yet rested well. Consequently, I'll post what I said in response to the Metropolitan's paper because I'm still too tired to be even minimally creative this morning (and because my response is relatively short).

By the way, I finally learned what the conference is called: "Mystical Tradition and Autobiography as the Source of the Multi-Cultural Spirituality in a Global World." It continues all week, until the 24th.

Anyway, here's my response to the Metropolitan's paper, which was titled "Orthodox Christian Spirituality and the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer":
I now respond to Metropolitan Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos's paper, which I have understood better because I have more knowledge of religion than of philosophy. Consequently, my remarks will be brief, followed by some questions. The Metropolitan has explained the fundamental goals of Orthodox spirituality:
First, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit through a life in Christ and, second, to experience a living unity with God (Theosis). The sole reason why God created human beings was to make us partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3-4) . . . . For Orthodox Christians, . . . the grace of the Holy Spirit . . . . effects deification (Theosis), which implies nothing other than direct union with God.
Clearly, a type of mystical union with the divine is at the center of Orthodox spirituality, which therefore places the Metropolitan's paper squarely at the center of this conference on mysticism. Quite startling, however, is the statement concerning the change effected through the "grace of the Holy Spirit," for we learn that "it is this divine grace that effects deification (Theosis)."

The Metropolitan has cited 2 Peter 1:3-4, which reads (minus the accents, though I've tried to add the rough breathing marks):
1:3 ‘ως παντα ‘ημιν της θειας δυναμεως αυτου τα προς ζωην και ευσεβειαν δεδωρημενης δια της επιγνωσεως του καλεσαντος ‘ημας ιδια δοξη και αρετη
1:4 δι ‘ων τα τιμια και μεγιστα ‘ημιν επαγγελματα δεδωρηται ‘ινα δια τουτων γενησθε θειας κοινωνοι φυσεως αποφυγοντες της εν τω κοσμω εν επιθυμια φθορας (Greek NT (Nestle-Aland) UTF8)

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (New International Version)
The operative phrase here is ‘ινα . . . γενησθε θειας κοινωνοι φυσεως, which literally means "so that . . . you might become sharers in the divine nature." This promise already sounds remarkable enough as expressed in 2 Peter 1:3-4. All the more astonishing is the startling Orthodox statement already noted: "It is this divine grace that effects deification (Theosis)" -- though our astonishment is perhaps reduced by the clause declaring that this deification "implies nothing other than direct union with God."

I confess, however, that I am somewhat unsure of the meaning. The word "deification" is very powerful. It is the substantive form of "deify," which literally means "to make a god of." Does the Greek "Theosis" imply something this strong? Or does the phrase "nothing other than direct union with God" weaken the meaning? Either way, is this union temporary, or eternal? If eternal, what happens to one's human nature? Does one have a union of divine and human natures similar to that of the incarnate Son? I'd like to know more about this apparently "mystical" union. I wonder to what degree it is biblically grounded and to what degree it draws upon Greek thought, such as the Neoplatonic concept of henosis.

Similarly, what are the respective roles of God and the individual in this process? The Metropolitan states that "the means through which one may reach . . . deification . . . can be summarized in the following five steps":
1) The technical means, . . .such as the bending of the head and controlled breathing.
2) Reciting the holy name of Jesus
3) The blocking of any image or thought during prayer
4) Heartfelt prayer
5) Ceaseless prayer
If I have understood correctly, the prayer consists of these words: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." I understand that this is no automatic, magical formula, but also requires obedience to God's commandments (cf. Matt 7:21-23). I suppose that my question is a very Protestant one, but to what extent is "deification" a gift of divine grace, and to what extent is it earned by human works?

I have one final question. The Metropolitan has stated that "the Jesus Prayer is not to be practiced intensely without a guide," for there exist "spiritual, psychological and physical dangers . . . without the guidance of an experienced spiritual father." Yet, the Metropolitan has also stated that the prayer can be practiced "by anyone . . . . alone . . . as a private . . . prayer." If so, then what sort of guidance is meant?
Such were my words. Unfortunately, I did not get to hear a reply by the Metropolitan, for my own response was so long delayed that he had already left.

Perhaps I should email him.



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