Theosis; the true purpose of human life – Part 1

The question of the destiny of our lives is very serious, as it concerns the most important question for man: for what purpose are we placed on earth? If man takes a correct stance on this issue; if he finds his true destiny; then he will be able to take a correct viewpoint in relation to particular questions that arise in our daily life; in our relationships with our fellow men; in our studies, profession, marriage and the bearing and upbringing of children. If he does not relate correctly to this basic issue, then he will also fail in life’s particular purposes, for what meaning can a particular purpose have if human life as a whole has no meaning? Our life’s purpose is declared in the first chapter of the Holy Bible, when the Holy author tells us that God created man “in His image and likeness.” From this we discover the great love the Triune God has for man: He does not wish him simply to be a being with certain gifts, certain qualities, a certain superiority over the rest of creation, He wishes him to be a god by Grace.

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Externally, man seems to exist in a purely biological way, like the other living beings, the animals. Of course, he is an animal, but “an animal… which is in the process of Theosis through its inclination towards God,” (Homily on the Epiphany, Migne Patrologia Graeca 36, 324, 13.) as St. Gregory the Theologian says in his characteristic way. He is the only being that is distinguished from all else in creation, because he is the only one which can become a god.

The phrase “in His image” describes the gifts which God gave only to man in order to complete him as an icon of God, and not to any of His other creatures. These gifts are: a logos-related nous, conscience, and individual sovereignty, i.e. freedom, creativity, eros, and the yearning for the absolute and for God, personal self-awareness, and anything else which puts man above all other living beings in creation and makes him a man and an individual. That is to say, everything that makes man a person. These are the charismata by which we are formed “in His image.”

Having been endowed “in His image,” man is called upon to be completed “in His likeness.” This is Theosis. The Creator, God by nature, calls man to become a god by Grace.

The charismata that form us “in His image” were given to man by God in order that he may reach very high; so that through them he may attain a likeness to his God and Creator; so that he may have not only an external, moral relationship, but a personal union with his Creator.

Perhaps it is very daring for us even to say or think that our life’s purpose is to become gods by Grace. However, neither the Holy Bible nor the Church Fathers have hidden this from us.

Unfortunately, ignorance not only exists in people outside the Church, but also in many within the Church, because they assume that the purpose of our life is, at best, simply moral improvement to become better men; when we are told by the Gospel, by the Tradition of the Church, and by the holy Fathers, that the purpose of our life is not just that man should become better than he is, more moral, more just, more self-controlled, more mindful; all these must happen, but none of them are the great purpose, the ultimate purpose for which our Maker and Creator moulded man.

What is this purpose? Theosis – for man to be united with God, not in an external or a sentimental manner but ontologically, in a real way. Man is placed so high in Orthodox anthropology that if we compare that with the anthropologies of all the philosophies or social and psychological systems we will very easily find out how poor these are, how little they correspond to man’s great yearning for something very great and true in his life.

Since man is “called to be a god” (i.e. was created to become a god), as long as he does not find himself on the path of Theosis he feels an emptiness within himself… he feels that something is not going right, so he is not joyful even when he is trying to cover the emptiness with other activities. He may numb himself, create a glamorous world, or cage and imprison himself within this world, yet at the same time he remains poor, small, limited. He may organise his life in such a way that he is almost never at peace, never alone with himself. Surrounded by noise, tension, television, radio, continuous information about this and that, he may seek to forget with drugs; not to think, not to worry, not to remember that he is on the wrong path and has strayed from his purpose.

In the end, wretched contemporary man finds no rest until he finds that “something else,” the highest thing; the thing which actually exists in his life which is truly beautiful and creative.

Can man unite with God? Can he commune with Him? Can he become a god by Grace?

(End of part 1)

(Source: The book “Theosis the true purpose of human life“, by Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios on Mount Athos)

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