Sunday, October 19, 2008

Metropolitan Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos on Theosis

12th-Century Icon and Image of Theosis
St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt
Monks Ascending (and Falling from) the Ladder to Jesus
(Image from Wikipedia)

In preparing my response to a couple of papers to be presented at this week's international conference on mysticism, I learned something quite new . . . for me. Actually, it's quite old.

My past couple of posts have treated issues in William James, for the first paper that I'll be responding to is titled "The Young William James and Ontological Wonder Sickness" (by Nobuo Kazashi). The second paper is by the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Korea, Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos, who will be presenting on “Orthodox Christian Spirituality and the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer.” From this paper, I have learned something new, the concept of theosis.

I don't want to quote from the Metropolitan's paper without his permission, so I'll quote instead from an Orthodox website. According to the OrthodoxWiki:
Theosis ("deification," "divinization") is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamártía ("missing the mark"), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection. For Orthodox Christians, Théōsis (see 2 Pet. 1:4) is salvation. Théōsis assumes that humans from the beginning are made to share in the Life or Nature of the all-holy Trinity. Therefore, an infant or an adult worshiper is saved from the state of unholiness (hamartía -- which is not to be confused with hamártēma “sin”) for participation in the Life (zōé, not simply bíos) of the Trinity -- which is everlasting.

This is not to be confused with the heretical (apothéōsis) -- "Deification in God’s Essence", which is imparticipable.
This OrthodoxWiki entry is rather more technical than the Metropolitan's presentation on theosis, but it says the same thing. In my response to the Metropolitan's paper, I inquire about this "deification" expressed in theosis. The New Testament passage cited above is 2 Peter 1:4, which has the crucial words ‘ινα . . . γενησθε θειας κοινωνοι φυσεως, namely, "that . . . you might become sharers in the divine nature," which seems less striking somehow. Here is what I plan to ask about theosis:
I confess . . . 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? . . . Perhaps the Metropolitan could explain more about this. For instance, 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. Also, . . . are there other biblical passages that support the Orthodox view of "deification"? (Or is Orthodoxy drawing upon the concept of henosis in the Neoplatonic tradition?)
I'd also like to know how theosis differs from apotheosis, and I'll perhaps find out this week . . . albeit not firsthand.

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