. greekorthodoxchurch.org header


St. Seraphim of Sarov

Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

John Romanides

History of the Church

Orthodox Monasticism


On Union1 With God and Life of Theoria

By Kallistos Katafygiotis (identified with Kallistos Angelikoudis)

*Explanations of terms can be found in the Glossary, at the end of the text.

Translator's Note:
Kallistos Katafygiotis's masterpiece (14th Century?), which was included in the 5th volume of the Philokalia, has not yet been published in English translation. This is my humble attempt to bring to the English speaking world an important work in the Orthodox Tradition: union with God (theosis, deification, becoming god by Grace, self-realization, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, experience of the uncreated light; "glorification" being the term in the Old and New Testaments), which is a purpose of man's life, as presented to us by a saint who experienced it.

Comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome. |FEEDBACK|

This American English version is based on Antonios G. Galitis's (+) modern Greek translation, published by Perivoli Tis Panagias publishers, Thessaloniki, Greece, 4th edition, 1998. It will be incomplete while I am in the process of translation. I post each segment as I finish it, subject to revision. The complete work consists of 92 numbered chapters. You may wish to visit again.

1. Every living being, by its nature, and by means of its higher natural energy, partakes of both rest and commensurate pleasure. And from this energy it tastes joy and becomes attached to them [i.e., the rest and the pleasure]. Man, then, because he possesses a nous, and because by nature he has a life of intellect, tastes great delight, and really takes part in rest when he contemplates the higher and the good or beautiful – one can call these as one wishes – for himself. This happens truly when he has his nous in God, and contemplates His virtues, who is actually the extreme and above the contemplating nous, and loves man extremely and beyond the nous, and Who prepares extreme awards and goods beyond the nous for His people, and indeed for the ages of ages.

2. Every born being acts in a manner of having been born to resemble that which gave it birth, as the Lord said that “what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit”. If, then, the one who is born of the Spirit is spirit, it is apparent that he will also be god, like the Spirit who gave him birth, because Spirit, from whom the partaker of the Spirit was born by grace, is a true God. And if that man is god, quite obviously he will also be theoritikos. Because God was named God (gr. “Theos”) since He engages in theoria. Therefore, the one who is not theoritikos, either has not yet accomplished the spiritual birth and participation, or he has accomplished it, but from ignorance he shuts off his seeing power and, as if untaught, turns away the divine rays of the noetic sun of righteousness. And while he became a participant in the force of theoria, he is unfortunately deprived of its energy, even if he is elevated toward sanctity.

3. All beings received their movement and their natural characteristic from Him who created them by the Logos; therefore, the nous, as well. But the movement of the nous has as its characteristic the “for ever” (gr. aei), in other words it is uninterruptible; and the “for ever” is infinite and unlimited. Therefore, it would have been beneath the value and the nature of the nous if it moved in a finite or limited way. And this would have happened to it if it had its movement in finite and limited things. Because it is not possible that, while something is finite and limited, the movement of the nous for, or concerning it, would advance towards the Infinite. The perpetual motion of the nous then also has the need for something eternal and unlimited, towards which to move by the logos and by its own nature. Nevertheless, nothing is really infinite and unlimited but God, Who by nature and above all is One. The nous then must fly to, gaze at and move towards the -above all- infinite One: God.

4. Whatever we think in relation to God is infinite and unlimited. Indeed, even in these the nous cannot taste perfect joy, as it seeks the One from whom it originated. Because, by nature, everything rejoices with its like. Because the nous is one by nature, but many in relation to contemplations, when it tends or moves towards God -- who is One by nature but many in energy -- it is impossible to rejoice completely before it reaches the naturally unlimited One through Spirit, after it passes in some way through the many. Therefore, by its nature, the nous rejoices completely only in God. But also among the beings each rejoices above all for its own quality; and the natural quality of the nous is to move towards, to reach for, and to rejoice completely only inside God, who is the simply and unlimitedly One.

5. The whole movement of any creature, and especially of the nous itself, tends to and aims towards stopping and serenity, and to stop from its movement and calm down is a goal, and at the same time rest, for the creature. But the nous, being one of the creatures, when it moves inside created things, it is unable to gain its stoppage and serenity. Because a created thing, appropriately for its nature, has accepted its termination having received a beginning, the perpetual motion of the nous will justly fall behind and will subsequently ask where will it move. And thus, the nous will do anything but calm down, nor will it succeed in its purpose, nor will perpetual motion stop accompanying it, as it will have been enclosed inside the limited and finite, something that differs greatly from the Nature-wise state of the nous, which is quite obviously in perpetual motion. Therefore, it is not reasonable for the nous to find serenity, or to stop, when it finds itself in created things. Where then will the nous utilize its characteristic, in other words to stay still inside motion, and to thus calm down, and to pacify, and to receive the certain feeling of relaxation, if it does not find itself inside something uncreated and unlimited? And that is God, who is the true and supermundane One. So, in that One, the Unlimited, the nous must arrive with its movement, so that it finds, as it should, its natural serenity inside noetic rest. Because it is there that spiritual stopoing is found, the atypical rest and the eternal beyond all; and movement is not missing at all from any nous found in that One, after it becomes indeterminate, and infinite and unlimited and formless and shapeless and absolutely simple. Because that is how the One we speak of is, in other words God.

6. If God, according to David, makes His Angels spirits, and if all the people to whom Spirit gives birth are made spirits, as the Lord said, then the man who is born of Spirit by means of actual participation of the Spirit becomes an angel. But surely the work of Angels is to continuously see the face of our Father in the heavens, as the Lord also said. So, the one who is quite apparently a participant of the Holy Spirit, when he is elevated as he should, will necessarily also contemplate (gr. theoria) the face of God. This is why David teaches: “Seek the Lord and gain strength; tirelessly seek his presence”. So, the one who became a participant of the Holy and life-giving and illuminating and eros-inducing Spirit, who received experience of the ineffable birth from Spirit, and who climbed to the worth of an Angel and then, from fruitless devotion, caused his noetic sense to God to close, and to not want to be elevated towards God and divine things, does not maintain the rational and appropriate course. And this, while the Lord commands us to stay inside Him, as he stays inside us, and David says: “Approach Him and be illuminated”. And indeed, if we have the intention of performing the appropriate actions, and with accountability towards them, inside the light of God the Father, I mean the Holy Spirit, we will see the light that surrounds God, in other words, the divine truth. Unless, due to ignorance, we prefer not to turn towards the divine rays.

7. Only in three ways does the mind (gr. nous) ascend to the theoria of God; with the self-moving way, other-caused and mixed. The first way is performed with the nous, with the use of its will accompanied by imagination; its conclusion is the theoria of things related to God, which the ancient Greeks had somehow imagined. The second way is supernatural, and it is performed only with the will and illumination of God; and then the entire nous is found under divine possession, and it is caught in divine revelations, and it tastes ineffable mysteries of God, and it sees the outcome of future events. The mixed way consists partly of both ways. As long as he works with his own will and imagination, he is in agreement with the self-moving way; and he takes part in the other-caused as long as he unites with his self by means of the divine illumination, and he sees God ineffably beyond the noetic union with his self. Because at that hour he goes out of all that we consider and say in relation to God, as he does not see either the Reign of Goodness or theosis, nor the wisdom or the strengthening force or the providence, nor any of the other divine things, but he is entirely full of noetic light and gladness, which is activated by the divine fire mixed with love.

8. A nous which uses its imagination to contemplate (gr. theoria) the ineffable is guided by faith (gr. pistis). When it receives the illumination of the Grace, it is assured with hope. And when the divine light takes hold of it, it becomes a treasury of love towards the people, and much more so towards God. Thus, the triple alignment and movement of the nous with faith, hope and love, becomes perfect and deifying, certain and immutable. And when it arrives at that spaciousness of the summit (gr. acropolis), as one could say, it has insurred itself in the fortress of love. And then that which Paul said happens: "Love embraces all and endures all" for the sake of the virtue of faith and hope; "love never fails", on account of its fervent union and its indescribable binding to God.

9. No created thing is distinguished as being one. That one is different from the other, by some difference of attribute, that we know. But, as created things, they are not dissimilar from one another, because each one has beginning and end, and they carry on under nature, and they are not simply one in the proper meaning of the word. Because only the Uncreated is actually One, as simple, without beginning, without end and unlimited, and for this reason infinite, which is God. If the nous gazes towards It with the participation and help of the life-giving Spirit, it receives the necessary growth day by day, just as it became one and simple within a deifying state. It knows well that without the One, and the Gazing towards It with the grace of Spirit, it is impossible to acquire a more perfect nous. And this, because the nous was scattered towards the composite world and the passions, and therefore it has the need for a supermundane power -- and consequently from the supernatural One, towards whom it gazes -- so that, once it is taken from the world of the partitives (the created things), to escape from the passions and separation, and to achieve god-realization. And this is why the Lord asks the Father for us the faithful to be one with the Father and the Son with the grace of the Spirit, and indeed the way They are one (not the way that Sabellius misbelievingly means the one), so that we are perfect, and with the grace of the unifying Spirit and with the unifying theoria, in the one God. For us this is quite obviously the real perfecting, and it is our purpose and our true and only rest. And this is why the envious and misanthropic demonic gang, by sowing delusion in the nous, scattered its unity, as it should not have, towards the worship of many gods, and it did not permit it to retain the thought of the supermundane One, so that with the worship, with the aim and the division into many, to tempt the nous into moving outside of its nature, and to cause it to desire all kinds of passions and falsehoods, instead of truth and virtue. This is why the Holy Spirit advises through the Prophet: "Approach Him -- in other words the One -- and be illuminated". And elsewhere he says: "I am the first God and the one after these; there is no god but me". And also: "Listen Israel; your Lord God is one Lord". Because the tri-hypostatic nature of the one Divinity does not divide the one Lordship, but also exactly three are the Persons, and then again it is not at all less One in essence, in power, in will, in energy and other essential properties. Therefore, to worship the unity of God, and to look towards it and to gather ourselves from the many with all our strength, is the will of God and the perfection of the nous, because it is the discovery of truth and of the divine eros, and consequently it is the offspring of deification (gr. theosis).

10. If falsehood is multifarious, while the Truth is one, then the nous which is elevated with the grace of the Spirit to the One, the supermundane, the above all, from which the many originated, it [the nous] is elevated to the Truth itself. But the nous cannot be freed from the passions, unless the truth frees it. Consequently, the nous is freed by extending itself in a cohesive manner towards the supermundane One. And it is the sort of truth that befits the nous very much for the purpose of acquiring dispassion (gr. apathia), a deiform state and spiritual adoption, and not at all servitude. Because the servant, as the Scripture says, does not know what his master does. And if ignorance is an attribute of the servant, it is obvious that the freeman knows the mysteries of the Father, and that he succeeded in rising well and beautifully to the post of adoption. Because, as ignorance is clearly the opposite of knowledge (gr. gnosis), so the category of servant is obviously opposite of the category of son. And if whoever is ignorant is a servant, then whoever has knowledge (gr. gnosis) is free or, may I say, son; because the Spirit of Truth, by really liberating those to whom it comes, makes them sons of God, as the Apostle says: "All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God". If then the gazing towards the supersubstantial One is the truth, and the truth grands freedom to the nous, and freedom is an explicit sign of divine adoption, and there is neither greater gift than adoption nor other which suits more to common-sense nature, then it is very logical and very much necessary that the nous be elevated, and that it gaze at and be concentrated with all its strength towards the supermundane One, in other words God.

11. "The Lord your God, says the Holy Spirit, is one Lord". Thus, it is by all means our concern to elevate the nous towards the supermundane One with the help of the divine Spirit. And surely it is not legitimate for one to proclaim the One, but to avoid the turning and lifting up of the nous towards It. Because what the Holy Spirit says, is also what [It] wants us to comprehend; and whatever is comprehended, is also that towards which the nous wants to be turned. Because when there is no turn of the nous towards that which is comprehended, whatever the nous comprehends is absent, and so, necessarily, instruction about the One, and thus also faith (gr. pistis), would be in vain. And if this is improper, it is therefore improper for tne nous not to be meditating on the One by means of turning and being elevated towards It.



"Holly" or "Saint". Also written as "hagios"; fem. "hagia".
Etimology: Either from the Sanscrit cognate yαjati (from Protoindoeuropean yaj = "to sacrifice") or yβjyah = "worthy of reverence".

Dispassion. Passionlessness. The unrooting of the passions. Alternatively, a state in which the passions are exercised in accordance with their original purity and without committing a sin.

The effort or spiritual training waged by Christians to keep the commandments, to purify the heart from passions and to practice the virtues, together with prayer and related activities, so as to bring harmony between the body, soul and God.

The prohibition of women in Agion Oros. A mandated aspect of its autonomous status, which is enshrined in the constitution of Greece.

Diakonia, diakonima, diakonimata (pl.):
Service or ministration, in other words the assigned work tasks of a monk. [Anal. sanscr. "seva".]


A collection of texts, primarily short stanzas and anecdotes from monastic life, illustrating the struggles and rewards of monastic life.

See pistis

Gerontas, gerontes (pl.):
Also called Elder, or Staretz, an honorific appellation of a spiritually developed monk or a senior monk in a monastery, such as the abbot.


Hagios (fem. Hagia): see agios

Hesychia, hesychast, hesychastic:
Silence, stillness. Stilling of the thoughts, but not emptiness, whereby the nous may descend into the heart through the Jesus prayer. It is the inner attentiveness in prayer which brings the remembrance of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Kelli, kellia (pl.):
A monk’s cell in a monastery. Also, in Agion Oros, a dwelling, something like a farmhouse with a small chapel, where the monks pray and work out their salvation.

Koenovion, Cenobitic:
A monastery where all monks follow the same rules.

A monastery.

The Greek word for both "word" and "reason" is variably nuanced with several meanings in context. In many cases, I tend to include that of the "Final Cause" (pl.: "final causes") in the Aristotelian sense** (in a pulling manner, rather than pushing, such as "Ice cream is the reason (cause) that I left the house [to go buy it]"), rather than the sense of "reason" (as in reasoning and logic), in my own understanding of it [but then, I am neither a theologian nor a philologist]. Hense, και ο Λόγος ήν προς τον Θεόν ("and the Logos was towards God").***
Saint Maximos the Confessor and other fathers of the Church saw in all creation the spiritual "logoi" (pl. of logos) that God placed in them. These logoi make up images of the divine attributes, through which the nous rises to God. There are two kings of logoi of the beings. There are the united, pre-existing, equally eternal with God logoi, and the apparent logoi in creation. (see Maximos in the 2nd volume of the Philokalia).

Often translated as repentance. Radical change of heart and mind, accompanied by meekness/humility.

Nepsis, neptic:
Nepsis is vigilance of the nous and watchfulness at the gates of the heart, so that every thought that moves in it can be controlled. Neptic is an adjective pertaining to the method used for nepsis.

Nous, noetic:
Often translated as "mind" or "mind in the heart". The highest faculty of man, through which, upon purification, he can contemplate God, and the inner essences of created things, by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Noetic understanding is not intellectual, but it comes from immediate spiritual experience.

Faith. The modern idea of faith, based on Aquinas's differentiation of knowledge from blind belief, is not what is meant in the Orthodox tradition. Although it can be a component of what the fathers of the Church, such as Saint Maximos the Confessor, referred to as "introductory faith", it can only be considered an initial stage in our ascent towards knowledge and the Logos, which is true faith based on experience, a gift of God. At a higher stage, faith (gr. pistis) leads to noetic knowledge (gr. gnosis) that is founded on experience and completed by inspiration and, therefore, cannot be overthrown by reasoned argument. It changes the heart, it leads to substantial changes in being, it can move mountains, and it leads to salvation.

See also agios:

Typically similar in appearance to a small village, where kellia are built around a central Church. Each kelli performs its daily prayers independently except on Sundays and on feastdays, where theygather together in the main Church to worship.

Pertaining to theanthropos, man-god.

(gr. "Theos" = God, "oro" = to view) The perception or vision of the nous, through which one attains spiritual knowledge. Depending on the level of spiritual growth, theoria has two main stages: it may be either of the inner essences or principles of created beings or, at a higher stage, of God Himself. Some times translated as "contemplation": 'Contemplation is a matter, not of verbal statements but of living experience. In pure prayer the Father, Son and Spirit are seen in their consubstantial unity' [from Archimandrite Sophrony: His Life is Mine translated by Rosemary Edmonds, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Oxford, 1977]

An individual who has accomplished theoria.

The deification of man. According to the Orthodox tradition, man’s purpose in life is to achieve union with God, and to become god by grace. Self-realization. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

1 Analog. Sanscr. yoga (eng. "tying", "binding").

** The Philosophy of Aristotle (Signet Classics) by Renford Bambrough (Author), J. L. Creed (Author), A. E. Wardman (Translator) "For an understanding of Aristotle's metaphysical doctrine, it is necessary to consider further the nature and influence of his presupposition in favor of the subject-predicate...".

*** John 1.1

www.greekorthodoxchurch.org is owned and maintained by Photius Coutsoukis, © 1995-2007 All rights reserved.