The Three Steps of Spiritual Perfection
Many people believe that the purpose of religion is to prepare them for the life after death. Some Orthodox Christians believe that the Orthodox Faith has this exclusive purpose. They do not do much in this life, but they wait until they die, so when that time comes, they can go to Paradise, because when alive they were Orthodox Christians.
Another group are quite active in this life – they pray regularly, ask the priests to offer supplication [paraklesis] or holy unction prayers, attend church frequently, etc, so that God may help them to live a quiet and pleasant life, bless their business, help their children to succeed, etc.
Both these concepts about the ultimate function of Faith are wrong, as they do not have a common spiritual axis or centre of reference. The only true axis that maintains the coherence of the Orthodox Faith, and places everything on a correct footing is the axis of: Catharsis, Photismos, and Theosis.
Each of these come to fruition only with the help of the Holy Spirit.
- Catharsis [Κάθαρσις – Cleansing of the inner self]. This means rooting out: one’s passions (ie. sins done habitually, over time); defects of character; bad habits; evil thoughts; and, even the occasional evil deed or sentiment. Cleansing of one’s inner self is the task of the one who undertakes the procedure, although his spiritual father plays a significant part in it. In fact, the process cannot succeed without his active participation. It is the Grace of the Holy Spirit that completes the process.
- Photismos [Φωτισμός – Illumination of the mind]. This arises when the person is in a constant state of being conscious of the presence of God within himself, even when he may be asleep: “I slept, but my heart was awake” (Song of Solomon 5:21). The knowledge of God by the person is “empirical”, due to his personal experience.
- Theosis [Θέωσις – State of sainthood]. This is the condition which is given to those who live in a constant state of Photismos and who experience “Noetic Prayer” [ie. the Jesus Prayer]. Those in Theosis see the glory of God, commonly as God’s Uncreated Light, or some other vision. The experience may last only minutes or hours, in fact as long as God determines. All Saints belong to this category, and end up as friends of God.
The Fathers of the Church emphasise that what will happen to the person after death, depends upon the kind of life they lived whilst on earth. As this determines our eternal future, the Fathers insist that our earthly life should be dominated by Catharsis and a partial state of Photismos. When this is achieved, we will be able to see God, both in this life, and in the other to come.
This raises the question what is the purpose of Catharsis and Photismos? From the Orthodox theological viewpoint, whether one is Orthodox, Buddhist, atheist or whatever else, everyone will see the Glory of God at the common end of humankind during the Second Coming of Christ.
Yes, everyone will see the Glory of God, but each one in a different way. Those who are saved will see it as “Light” which is soothing, pleasant and never ending. In contrast the condemned will see it as “Fire”, eternally burning and tyrannising “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” [Mk 9:44].
This event, which no human mind can possibly comprehend, has defined the work of the Church on earth. That is, preaching to the world that God is real. He will be seen by all men during the Second coming, and the Church works so that its members will see God as Light. The task and the agony of the Church is to prepare its members to see God as Light, which in fact is “a therapeutic process, which has to start and be completed in this life.” This dogma is the substance of the Orthodox Tradition, and the major task of the Orthodox Church.
For us, the above ideas are challenging. They bring to the fore that as Christians we have to make many sacrifices in our life. And yet these sacrifices can be made with the Power of and the Faith in Jesus Christ, as we accepted His word, that “he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me, has everlasting life” [John 5:24]. This secures our future.
The present will be secured by the continuous presence of Jesus Christ in our daily life, having in mind His admonition, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” [Μat 11:24]. This means that we need to work by being forceful on ourselves, and active in our life.
[Key article source: Romanidis J: Patristic Theology, Parakatathiki; 2004, pp46-48].
Source: Lychnos June – July 2021