Archive for July, 2012


Brother Christopher of New Skete here speaks at a retreat on the subject of Theosis (the becoming divine of persons and in this presentation he especially emphasizes of the world).

Br.Christopher of New Skete
Paper given at Christ the King Spiritual Life Center
Greenwich New York

I have no desire to pretend to explain things that would require a much longer treatise and which no doubt would be beyond my competence. My desire is simply to share some questions and reflections from my monastic point of view on what theosis might look like from a modem-day perspective. It is self-evident that we live in a world that is vastly different than the one understood by first millennium Christians. In view of evolutionary theory, for example, does the traditional understanding of divinization change? Can they be compatible? Hopefully these few reflections will be a point of departure for discussion and dialogue.

I’d like to begin with a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, entitled “In Memoriam”.

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing Walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete:
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shriveled in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.
Behold we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.

Tennyson movingly intuits the impulse we have to believe that there is a legitimate basis for hoping that all life passes into a mysterious beyond that exceeds whatever we can imagine… “Behind the veil, behind the veil…”. Yet it seems many in our day would simply write him off as a hopeless romantic, naive and childish, unable to face the stark reality of the abyss. Personally, methinks not. As it is with so many poets, I think Tennyson’s intuition comes out of an encounter with the depths of reality, and I trust it. I also believe that it relates to theosis.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time relaying what you already know. Nevertheless, a few markers are helpful to begin the reflection. Theosis is a Greek word meaning “Divinization”, “Deification”. Pseudo-Dionysius describes it as “Becoming God-like (and in union with God) insofar as thai is possible for a human being.” While often linked intimately with Eastern Christian thought, a good argument can be made that is equally central to Christian thought more broadly, both East and West. It certainly is implicit in the teachings of the early Church, both in the Scripture (Psalms, Gospels, Paul, Peter, John), as well as in the teachings of the Fathers (e.g. St Athanasius). For example, consider these important texts:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet 1:3,4)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (I Jn 3;2,3)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

“God became human so that human beings might become God”
St Athanasius.

From such a core, we can see that theosis affirms the realism of the divine human communion while avoiding pantheism. It is an event, something that occurs, but in a dynamic way, which is why the translations “deification” and­”divinization” are helpful. Theosis is not a once and for all event–it happens progressively.

As an important element of Church teaching, it continues to develop within the tradition from Maximus the Confessor eventually down to St Gregory Palamas, where the VA essence/energies distinction is articulated and wins the day. St Gregory’s teaching was able to balance the unknowability of God in His essence with knowing God through his energies. This distinction affirms two modes of existence for God, both equally valid, On the one hand, God is absolutely unknowable, beyond fathoming; on the other God communicates Himself through his energies. This illustrates the paradox of theosis: in being infinitely close with God, we are infinitely far.

While this is intrinsic to our understanding, such a notion of deification always seems to focus on the human being, or even human beings; on individual salvation more than on a corporate mystery of communion, a cosmic communion hinted at in St Paul. When Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “For he has made known to us his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him (ta panta), things in heaven and things on earth…Christ, who fills all in all” (Eph 1) this act, this bringing together seems to include the whole of creation. The traditional way we have thought of theosis risks becoming an exclusively anthropocentric reality, one caught up in the head and which frustrates the very experience it seeks to communicate, precisely because it is too narrow.

Even the Fathers note the dynamic character of this mystery. For example, Gregory of Nyssa anticipates this temptation with a stunningly visionary intuition: “For those rising in perfection, the limit of the good that is attained becomes the beginning of the discovery of higher goods. Thus we never stop rising, moving from one new beginning to the next.” The process of deification is ongoing, without a definitive end.

But how might we link theosis with our own age, an age in which evolution and evolutionary thought have altered how we understand the way life has emerged? Can it have any relevance at all to a Post-Darwinian world in which our roots extend beyond the human, into the animal and further into the cellular? If we listen to contemporary voices such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Michael Ruse who champion a materialistic metaphysic in the name of Darwin, no. They believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution demolishes any possibility of a world cared for and guided by divine providence.

It’s interesting to note here, however, that when these specific evolutionists critique Christianity (and theism more generally), they turn their eye most often towards Christian fundamentalists, biblical literalists who take the scriptures only on one level, the literal level of the scriptural text. Since fundamentalism doesn’t allow for evolution, they think they have faith in God in a corner. How they seem to delight in punching the straw-man of biblical literalism as evidence of the shallowness and futility of religious faith — of its being irreconcilable with evolution. They trumpet the belief that the universe has no message, no meaning: only the frigid unfolding of an evolutionary world.

Nevertheless, what leaps out at the unprejudiced observer ­here is the literalism of the evolutionists themselves, who cannot see anything beyond their own superficial, literalistic reading of reality. For them, seeking truth means seeking only scientifically verifiable truth. This puts them in a bind right away because the very premise on which their theory rests requires more faith, more non-scientifically verifiable faith, than perhaps even the religious believer might have. The idea that the universe spontaneously self-started and has then been blissfully following its course ever since clearly departs from demonstrable fact. When science appropriates a materialistic metaphysic to its understanding of life, it becomes a faith system itself that curiously imprisons and diminishes science itself.

To apply one criteria alone to what is valid as truth–scientifically verifiable truth–seems misguided. For example, using such a standard, how would we get at the truth of music? Is music simply the mathematically verifiable sequence of tones and sounds that occur in a structured manner? That’s pretty sterile, even if scientifically accurate. More significantly, it doesn’t get at the real truth, which goes much deeper on many different levels.

Why must it be an either/or? Science and religion involve two ways of reading the universe that need each other. Why must the argument always be competitive in character? When we view them integrally, the results can have profound implications for a concept such as theosis. For example, when we look at evolutionary biology as a gift to theology, it invites us to understand divinization on a more cosmic level, one in which the whole of creation is involved in this upward movement of communion, not solely human beings. Such a mindset squares well with the following passage from St Paul:

“For the whole creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:19-23)

This passage implies the deep connection between creation and the human race. And that reconciles with a lot of recent science. After Darwin, Einstein, Hubble and Hawking, we know that each human story is linked intimately with the evolution of life on earth and the larger narrative of a cosmic drama of an expanding universe. In telling our stories we can’t leave out the introduction illuminated by astrophysics, geology and evolutionary biology. Human life is inextricably linked with the cosmic drama and with biological evolution in a movement of continuous unfolding. What other explanation other than that God has used evolution as the means through which all life enters into a free communion with God, with the Divine Mystery?

What happens when we look at divinization as the process of God drawing all the separate moments of human existence into the divine depths in an act of unfathomable communion? Would creation be left behind in this as an afterthought–something cast off–as litter? Or, would it be brought along in the very awakening of consciousness that has occurred in’ human life? All that is created is linked to what is uncreated and a true “new creation” truly comes about. Theosis, from such a perspective, is the dynamic communion of event after event in which the entire past, both personal and cosmic, is progressively taken up into the Divine Mystery.

If, as the Gospel says, the very hairs on our head are numbered, or if, in the words of the Psalmist, all of our tears are stored up and gathered in God’s skins, is it any more of a stretch to believe that the vast litany of cosmic “presents” that have aggregated throughout time would be any less capable of being gathered into God’s mystery with an immediacy that doesn’t pale? This at least suggests the possibility that every event in the cosmic process somehow gets salvaged, gets transformed in what ultimately is the mystery of the Risen Christ, the terminus of the cosmic story. I realize I’m leaning on Teithard de Chardin here without shame. I believe he was a mystic that caught the breadth of what is going on in a remarkable way. Evolution is the means that takes us towards this reality, and it seems to me one of the deepest blessings of God.

Coming from such an integral perspective, the
implications on our prayer, and on our daily living are profound. We have the opportunity to be continuously open to the presence of God not only at times of formal prayer and in our relationships, but in our experience of creation as well, a creation that is dynamic and alive, and which we are intimately connected to. Such an opportunity challenges us to an attitude of wholehearted listening, one in which we participate deeply as we’re ushered forward from moment to moment, alive with awe and gratitude. Could one think of a better characterization of this than as a living experience of theosis, one in which all creation is lifted with us, to God?

To close, I would simply quote this poem from Edith Anne Stewart, called “Everyman”.

All things search until they find
God through the gateway of thy mind
Highest star and humblest clod
Turn home through thee to God.
When thou rejoicest in the rose
Blissful from earth to heaven she goes;
Upon thy bosom summer seas
Escape from their captivities;
Within thy sleep the sightless eyes
Of night revisage Paradise:
In thy soft awe yon mountain high
To his creator draweth nigh;
This lonely tarn reflecting thee,
Returneth to eternity;
And thus in thee the circuit vast
Is rounded and complete at last,
And at last, through thee revealed
To God, what time and space concealed.


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On the 7th of July, 2012, his Beatitude, Archbishop Jonah resigned from his position as Metropolitan of All America and Canada of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). His Grace, Bishop Matthias of the Diocese of the Midwest (OCA) wrote an archpastoral letter with a detailed explanation of why Archbishop Jonah had to step down.


“July 16, 2012, Hieromartyr Athenogenes, Archpastoral Letter No. 149

Beloved Clergy, Monastics, and Faithful of the Diocese of the Midwest:

Christ is in our midst!

We, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, have hesitated to release further details surrounding the resignation of Metropolitan Jonah as Primate of our Church, this in a desire to preserve his dignity and to prevent further harm to an innocent party.  We did this knowing there would be appeals for additional information regarding our decision.  We also harbored some hope that Metropolitan Jonah would show a willingness to accept responsibility for his actions and failures to act.  However, things said and written by Metropolitan Jonah since his resignation have demonstrated that he is not accepting that responsibility.

Why did we ask Metropolitan Jonah to resign?

In slightly less than four years as our leader, Metropolitan Jonah has repeatedly refused to act with prudence, in concert with his fellow bishops, in accordance with the Holy Synod’s Policies, Standards and Procedures on Sexual Misconduct (PSPs), and in compliance with advice of the Church’s lawyers and professionals in expertise in dealing with cases of sexual misconduct.

The most disturbing and serious matter, indeed the final matter that caused us to ask the Metropolitan to resign or take a leave of absence and enter a treatment program, involves the Metropolitan’s poor judgment in critical matters of Church governance, lack of adherence to the PSPs, and the risk of serious harm to at least one other person.  While the names, dates and other details must be held in confidence to minimize the risk of further harm, we can say the following.

At some point after his enthronement as our Primate, Metropolitan Jonah unilaterally accepted into the OCA a priest known to him and to others to be actively and severely abusing alcohol, which more than once was coupled with episodes of violence and threats toward women.  One of these episodes involved the brandishing of a knife, and the other the discharge of a firearm, the former resulting in the man’s arrest.  The man was also incarcerated for three days in yet another incident, shortly after he was accepted into the OCA by Metropolitan Jonah.  While under Metropolitan Jonah’s omophorion, this priest is alleged to have committed a rape against a woman in 2010.

Metropolitan Jonah was later told of this allegation in February 2012, yet he neither investigated, nor told his brother bishops, nor notified the Church’s lawyers, nor reported the matter to the police, nor in any other way followed the mandatory, non-discretionary PSPs of the OCA.  The alleged victim, however, did report the rape to the police.  We know, too, that the alleged victim and a relative were encouraged by certain others not to mention the incident, and were told by them that their salvation depended on their silence.  As recently as last week Metropolitan Jonah was regularly communicating with one of those who tried to discourage the reporting of this crime by the alleged victim and her relative.  In addition, the Metropolitan counseled the priest to pursue a military chaplaincy, without informing the military recruiter of any of the priest’s problems.  Finally, the Metropolitan attempted to transfer the priest to other Orthodox jurisdictions, and ultimately did permit him to transfer to another jurisdiction, in each case telling those jurisdictions there were no canonical impediments to a transfer.

We have started an investigation into the rape allegation, and cannot assume whether the allegation is true or not.  We only know that earlier allegations of misconduct by this priest were handled by Metropolitan Jonah in a manner at a complete variance with the required standards of our Church.

Moral, canonical and inter-Orthodox relations issues aside, in light of the recent widely-publicized criminal cases involving sexual abuse at Penn State and in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Kansas City Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, the extent of the risk of liability to which the Metropolitan has exposed the Church cannot be overstated.  We knew already from past experience with Metropolitan Jonah that something had to change; we had hoped that change would come about as the result of Metropolitan Jonah fulfilling his promise to comply with the recommendation given him by the medical facility to which he was admitted for evaluation and treatment last November, as he assured us he would do at our last All-American Council in Seattle.  That promise having gone unfulfilled, when this latest problem came to our attention at the end of June, we felt that we had no choice but to ask him to take a leave of absence or to submit his resignation.  The moral, human, canonical and legal stakes were simply too high.

Leading up to this most recent problem, there has existed for several years now a repeated pattern by Metropolitan Jonah of taking other unilateral actions that were contrary to the advice of the Holy Synod and/or the Church’s lawyers, which prolonged or caused litigation involving the OCA, which substantially increased legal fees, which created confusion in negotiations, and which exposed the OCA to otherwise avoidable additional financial and legal liability.

He withheld information from his brother bishops and from the Church’s lawyers concerning litigation matters, and matters which might have resulted, and still might result, in litigation.

He has spoken unilaterally with and provided sensitive information to opposing counsel and opposing parties concerning pending and threatened litigation, although he had specifically been warned many times of the perils in doing so.

He gave to unauthorized persons a highly sensitive, painstakingly detailed internal Synodal report concerning numerous investigations into sexual misconduct, risking leaks of names of alleged victims and alleged perpetrators.  While those who now possess the report are wrongfully in possession of OCA property, they have not yet returned their copies of these highly confidential and sensitive documents, further exposing our Church to potential legal liabilities.

What we have said here is based on the Metropolitan’s own words, both during numerous Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council meetings, and established in documentary evidence.  We cannot release that publicly, and the Metropolitan Council members have legal and moral obligations to maintain in confidence information pertaining to threats to individuals and alleged crimes.  We have however been communicating with and will continue to communicate with law enforcement authorities.

Our request for Metropolitan Jonah’s resignation, or that he take a leave of absence for treatment, came at the end of a rather long list of questionable, unilateral decisions and actions, demonstrating the inability of the Metropolitan to always be truthful and accountable to his peers.  The Metropolitan’s freely-chosen resignation has been characterized by him and others as the result of politics and internal discord among the members of the Holy Synod.  Quite to the contrary, the other members of the Holy Synod stand firmly together in our unanimous astonishment at the Metropolitan’s actions.  We cannot stress enough that while the most recent events are likely the most dangerous for the Church, these represent only the latest in a long series of poor choices that have caused harm to our Church.  We understand and agree that an ability to work or not work well with others, or a challenged administrative skill set, or Metropolitan Jonah’s refusal to comply with the recommendations of the treatment facility, while not the reasons for his requested resignation, were fundamentally related to the consequences of his actions.

Each bishop of the Orthodox Church in America has a duty to Jesus Christ to shepherd his respective diocesan flock, and to be a good steward and trustee of the temporal properties of the Church entrusted to his care.  After the developments of the past few weeks, we knew, individually and together acting in one accord as the Synod, that we could no longer exercise our duties as shepherds or as trustees and stewards without asking for the Metropolitan’s resignation.

There are some who are seeking to promote a variety of rumors or other reasons for the Metropolitan’s resignation, in their conversations or on the Internet.  Some argue that the resignation had to do with moral or political views publicly expressed by Metropolitan Jonah that conflicted with the views of others in the Church, the so-called “culture wars.”  Such views have never been a point of contention in Holy Synod or Metropolitan Council meetings.  These issues were discussed, and statements and actions of the Holy Synod have demonstrated their unchanging position on traditional Orthodox views of morality.  This speculation as to other motives behind the resignation is simply not true; the reasons for the resignation are detailed in this message.

We continue to pray for Metropolitan Jonah’s spiritual needs even as his brother bishops have provided for his immediate material needs.  He has no Church assignment obligations, allowing him to focus on himself and his family.  Meanwhile, he is drawing full salary and benefits until at least October, when the Holy Synod next meets.

We ask your prayers for the Church, for Her clergy and faithful and for Her mission in the world.

Your shepherd in Christ,

+MATTHIAS Bishop of Chicago and the Midwest”

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From RT News:

“Shocking images have surfaced, revealing the alleged desecration of Christian churches in Syria by Western-backed rebels. The pictures, taken by local Christians outraged at the violence, were published by PrisonPlanet.com.

In one of the photos a man who is said to be a member of the Free Syrian Army poses in a stolen priest’s robe while brandishing a looted cross in one hand and a machine gun in the other.

The photos were taken by a Christian woman in Homs, one of the cities most devastated by continued violent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Everyone knows simply removing these garments from the church is a sin. The priest is the only one who wears them. They even pray before putting them on,” the woman told PrisonPlanet.com.

She added that after the rebels tore the church apart, they went inside to document their violence.

Images show church pews broken apart, with pieces strewn all over the nave. The floor is covered with rubble, and even the altar looks like it has been desecrated.

Christian minorities are facing a growing threat and thousands are  being forced to flee their homes as they face harassment and  discrimination from opposition radical Islamist factions. At least 9,000  Christians from the western Syrian city of Qusayr were forced to seek  refuge after an ultimatum from a local military chief from the armed  opposition, the Vatican’s Fides news agency said.

Earlier, a Christian man was shot dead by a sniper in Qusayr, which neighbors the city of Homs.

Some reports have even suggested that a number of mosques in the city have announced that “Christians must leave Qusayr within six days.”

Two Catholic priests who fled the city confirmed to the news agency that they heard the ultimatum repeated from the minarets “with their own ears.”

Attempts  to evacuate Christians from the city of Homs over the past two weeks  have also been unsuccessful, and a priest in the city said the rebels  appeared to want to keep the civilians inside to use them as bargaining  chips.

Thousands of Christians have fled certain areas of Homs that fell into rebel hands in February.

Meanwhile,  US intelligence operatives and diplomats continue to step up their  contacts with Syrian rebels to help organize their growing military  operations against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

According  to senior US officials, the CIA and the State Department are helping the  Free Syrian Army develop logistical routes for moving supplies into  Syria and providing training in communications.

Reportedly, Saudi Arabia and  Qatar have been paying salaries to the Syrian rebels for several months  now. Meanwhile, Turkey, which hosts some units of  the Free Syrian Army, ensures material and technical support, according  to sources.

And many believe that as long as the US and its  allies continue to blindly support the radical rebels, stability in  Syria will remain unattainable.”


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