DEIFICATION AS THE PURPOSE OF MAN'S LIFE
The issue of the destiny of our lives is very serious, because it concerns the most important question for man: the purpose for which we are placed on earth. If man takes a correct stance on this subject, if he finds his actual destiny, he can then take also a correct stance regarding particular questions, and those that arise in his daily life, such as his relationships with other people, his studies, profession, marriage and the bearing and upbringing of children. However, if he does not take the correct stance on this basic issue, then he will also fail in his particular goals. Because what meaning can particular goals have, if human life as a whole has no meaning?
The purpose of our life is declared already by the first chapter of the Holy Bible, when the holy author tells us that God created man ‘in His image and likeness’. We thus ascertain the great love that 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, but He wishes him to be a god by Grace.
Externally, man seems to be just a biological being, like other living beings, the animals. Of course, he is an animal, but ‘an animal ... which can be deified through its inclination towards God’, as St. Gregory the Theologian characteristically says (Homily on the Epiphany MPG 36, 324, 13). He is the only being that stands apart from all creation; the only one which can become a god.
‘In His image’ refers to the gifts which God gave only to man, alone among all His creatures, so that he constitutes an image of God. These gifts are: a rational mind (gr. nous), conscience, and self-authority, in other words 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 a personality. In other words, everything that makes man a person. These are the gifts of the ‘in His image’.
Having been formed ‘in His image’, man is called upon to be acquire the ‘in His likeness’, in other words, deification (gr. theosis). The Creator, God by nature, calls man to become a god by Grace.
The gifts of ‘in His image’ were given to man by God so that that he may ascend very high; so that through them he may attain a likeness to his God and Creator; so that he may have not 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 purpose in life is to become gods by Grace. However, neither the Holy Bible nor the Church Fathers have hidden this from us.
Unfortunately, there exists ignorance 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, whereas this is not what is given to us by the Gospel, by the Tradition of the Church, and by the holy Fathers: that man should only improve, become more moral, more just, more self-controlled, more mindful. All these must be done, but they are not the great purpose, the final purpose for which our Maker and Creator formed man. What is this purpose? Deification (gr. theosis) – for man to be united with God, not in an external or a sentimental way, but ontologically, really.
This is how high Orthodox anthropology places humanity. If we compare the anthropologies of all the philosophies, social and psychological systems with Orthodox anthropology, we will ascertain very easily how poor these are; how they fail to respond to man’s great yearning for something very great and true in his life.
Since man is ‘called to be a god’, i.e. he was created to become a god, as long as he does not find himself on the path of deification (gr. theosis) he feels an emptiness within himself; that something is not going right; he feels no joy, even when he is trying to cover the emptiness with other activities. He may numb himself, create a fancy world, but at the same time poor, small and limited, and cage and imprison himself inside it. He may organise his life in such a way that he is never quiet, alone with himself. He can try, through noises, tension, television, radio, continuous information about this and that, as if with drugs, to forget, to not think, not worry, not remember that he is not on the right path, that he has strayed from his purpose.
In the end, however, the wretched, contemporary man finds no rest until he finds that ‘something else’, the greatest thing that actually exists in his life, the truly beautiful and creative.
Can man unite with God? Can he commune with Him? Can he become a god by Grace?
A new English translation of the Greek text will soon be published, with commentary by Robin Amis, Director of Praxis Research Institute, where he explains the same concepts in terms of modern Western thought.
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