Orthodox America

  Called To Divinity

We apologize to our readers for the long delay in getting out this issue. As you can see from our new address, we have moved across the country, and what with settling in, looking for a car, transferring bank accounts, applying for a mailing permit, and getting reacquainted with wood stoves and snow shovels, it has taken time to get production in gear. It took what seemed forever to pack up all our books and papers, the OA archives (multiples of 135 issues), and all that had accumulated over the past eighteen years. On a hot day in early October, we stuffed it all into a Ryder van, together with our 12-year-old cat, and bade farewell to the mountains of northern California.

To move was not an easy decision. We felt we needed a place conducive to a more concentrated spiritual life and increased productivity.  There were also family considerations, but our primary concern was to discern the will of God. While we often have good intentions and good ideas, God's will is for what is best.  And so we tried to be patient and to pray, waiting for His all-perfect will to be revealed. A number of possibilities presented themselves but nothing seemed to provide a definite answer until, in late August, our parents' old house unexpectedly became available for rent.  It is pleasant, of course, to find ourselves in familiar surroundings (although we ourselves never lived here), but the house's principal merit is its proximity to Holy Trinity Monastery.  Quite apart from being a valuable resource center, the dedicated life of the monks is an inspiration to keep our own lives focussed on "the one thing needful."

Monastic centers have always attracted communities of lay people and streams of pilgrims weary with the ways of the world and in need of spiritual refreshment. It is difficult (although by no means impossible) while living in the world to maintain the spiritual concentration and singleness of purpose that the true Christian life requires. Since time began, the Enemy of our salvation has contrived by all means to prevent us from achieving-from even comprehending-what is our high calling as Christians.  And we have to admit that to a great extent he has succeeded. At this time of year it is all too evident.  The wonder of Christ's birth, which once "held fast every mind with amazement," is today overshadowed by tinsel trappings and secular ideologies.  Manger scenes, nativity pageants and religious carols, prominent in the public square just decades ago, have been replaced by Santa Claus (now completely divorced from his prototype), Rudolph and Jingle Bells, encouraging people to "eat, drink and be merry." This is all part of the general apostasy, and if, by God's grace, we have not succumbed to such gross delusion, we must beware the more subtle snares which the Evil One lays for us. He tries, for example, to content us with ritual, with external observance, with the Old Testament law and religious propriety, with being "good." Does he succeed? In asking ourselves this question, most of us will have to admit that our spiritual life is indeed very shallow and our Christianity mundane. It is no wonder that we are easily drawn away by the glamor and amusement of the world. However, Christ was born not only to save us from the jaws of hell but to raise us to the heights of heaven.

While there are many beautiful Protestant Christmas carols heralding the birth of God made man, it is only in the Orthodox services for the Feast that we find so eloquently expressed this wonder of man's potential for divinity.  "Today has God come upon earth, and man gone up to heaven" (Lity stichera). "Taking man's form, Thou hast now bestowed upon him the joy of becoming godlike" (Matins canon). ". . . the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life, and I partake of the delight of Paradise" (vespers stichera). This aspect of the Incarnation inspired man of the Holy Fathers.  St. John Damascene writes:

"Since the Creator bestowed on us His own image and His own spirit, and we did not keep them secure, He Himself took a share in our poor and weak nature so that He might cleanse us and make us incorruptible, and reinstate us as participants in His divinity" (The Source of Knowledge). This is even more strikingly expressed by St. Maximos the Confessor: "A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to the deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man. For it is clear that He who became without sin will divinize human nature without changing it into the divine nature, and will raise it up for His own sake to the same degree as He lowered Himself for man's sake."

Man is called to the most intimate union with God. When, in cooperation with divine grace, man cleanses himself of the passions, Christ comes to abide in him, making him "light from Light, true god from true God" (St. Symeon the New Theologian). We see a striking example of this in the conversation of St. Seraphim with Motovilov.  The Saint had achieved such a degree of union with Christ that he shone with a radiance as brilliant as the sun-such that it was difficult for Motovilov to look at him.  When questioned by Motovilov, the Saint explained that most Christians assume that the Christian life consists of going to church, praying to God, fulfilling the commandments, doing good. All this is only the means; the aim of the Christian life is deification, union with God through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.  By contemplating this mystery and focusing their attention on it, the saints found strength to withdraw so radically from the world. The same high calling inspires the ascetic struggle of monastics, and it is only because our sights are set so much lower that some laymen consider these struggles to be "extreme."

Our calling is not to be good, but to be perfect, to be gods by grace. During this Nativity season may we find inspiration-by attentive participation in the church services, by reading patristic texts and lives of saints-to concentrate our lives on ascending the ladder to heaven. We greet our readers with the joy of Our Lord's Incarnation and wish you all a spiritually profitable new year.

The Orthodox America staff

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