Purification, Illumination and Theosis
August 4, 2022
Transient all the misery, sorrow and pain in life, one can taste the sweet fruit of spiritual life. Walking upon the narrow road of it in reality, love, peace and spiritual contentment, consume the esthetic mystical fare within Christianity. Those who fought and defeat enemy by the power of Gospel and Holy Cross just as our righteous father Abune Tekele Haimanot, have reached up to the last ladder of spirituality.
It is certain we differ in our spiritualty and diligence. But with the talent bestowed from God, we shall inherit everlasting Kingdom. Mankind can be granted spiritual virtue as witness in the stories of saints in-scripted in holy scriptures.
Father Michael Gillis, reverend in Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, explains the ladder as, “The metaphor of a ladder is often used to discuss the various stages or steps or transformations of Christian life and growth. The steps of the various ladders are sometimes expressed as virtues (obedience, patience, faith), sometimes in terms of experiences (tears, peace making, confessing) and sometimes as abstract nouns (purification, renunciation, detachment). Sometimes the ladder has many steps, like the thirty in Saint John Climicus’ Ladder of Divine Asscent. Saint Benedict of Nursia describes twelve steps in the acquisition of humility. Others have based their discussion of Christian growth on the nine Beatitudes mentioned by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter five. Many have reduced the steps to three. Perhaps the most famous version of these three steps in the Orthodox Church is quoted from Saint Maximus the Confessor in his Four Hundred Verses on Love in the second volume of the Philokalia. These are Purification, Illumination and Theosis.”
Father Michael noted also about Father Stephen Freeman famous explanation. He said, “he famously referred this way of thinking as a two storey universe. In a two storey universe there is a God, but God is far away. In a two story universe one must ascend up and out to God who comes down to meet us. However, in a patristic understanding of God, a New Testament understanding of God, God is in our heart, in our midst. God is not far away; God is near at hand. The problem, however, is that we have become so alienated from ourselves that only with much difficulty are we able to perceive Him.
In the one storey universe, the ladder, or steps of Christian development, identifies both the means and the markers of the return to one’s own heart, one’s true self, where one genuinely encounters God. To return to the three stages mentioned by Saint Maximus the Confessor (and others)–purification, illumination and deification–we might say that the means of returning to one’s heart begins with purifying one’s life. That someone is purifying his or her life, or seeking to be purified by the grace of God, is also a sign, a marker, that one is likely on the right path inward towards one’s heart, to one’s true self, to the place where one genuinely meets God.”
The stage where saints purify entirely from sins and all harmful deeds is purification. It is feasible with the grace of God. It is the foremost and vital stage in spiritual life for those saints reaching up to this ladder.
Saints reaching up to this ladder will be granted gift of seeing, of knowing or of understanding that comes from a source deeper than our rational faculty. “One’s participation in illumination is to apply what is newly seen or known to deeper levels of repentance and purification.”
At this stage they must confess and treading on very thin ice. As it said, “Eye has not seen nor ear heard…But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit”(2 Corinthians 2: 9,10). It is witnessed by Saint Paul and other saints “inexpressible words, which it is unlawful for a man to utter.” (2 Corinthians 12:4)
Theosis or Deification
Theosis is the third stage in Christian growth refering to “the transformative encounter with God.” Saints at this ladder encounter with a spark, a spark from a very bright light which seems far away. It is not far away: God dwells in our hearts by faith. But it seems far away because of my blindness. Or it is like the scent of a flower from a garden on the other side of a wall. As Saint John the Apostle said, “To see God is to become like Him.” (1 John 3:2)
Father Michael explains as “God became man so that man, by grace, might become like God. We must indeed become like God for Christ has promised mankind a relationship with Himself as intimate as a husband and a wife. A man does not marry a rock. A man marries a woman, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Christ has betrothed to Himself the Church, and during the engagement period, the time we have left on this earth, we are invited to be transformed into Christ’s image.”
Though it is the destiny of mankind to inherit the Kingdom of heaven through Christian life, the saints have reach up to up to the maximum ladder of spirituality and heaven even as living in flesh on earth. Their life became a witness to God’s will and marvelous work upon His chosen children. This shall be exemplary His Glory and Kingdom.
So brethren, it is our part to seek and crave for the life they lived in seeing the beauty of Heaven, hearing the hymns of Angel in Glorifying God and enriching eternal happiness.
May it be God’s will to live in His Kingdom, Amen1
Source: Homily of Father Michael Gillis in Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese