The Fathers and Theosis
30-04-2009, 11:53 AM
I have been thinking about this subject over the last day. It seems to me that we must avoid several extremes.
First of all I would wish to say that though I have always used the word theosis, I have generally understood the spirituality which I meant to describe by that word as being that more closely described by the word theopoiesis. It strikes me that even while there are those within the Oriental Orthodox tradition who perhaps have developed a too philosophical spirituality in recent times, nevertheless the majority of Oriental Orthodox, certainly Coptic Orthodox, are more ready to accept it practical spirituality, both of action and contemplation.
On the other hand, I would suggest that outside of some monastic circles and groups of Western converts, within Eastern Orthodoxy the traditional spirituality remains practical in the sense we have described.
It seems to me that for ordinary eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox the goal of spiritual life remains that described by St Seraphim of Sarov, the acquisition of the holy spirit. And it is this practical seeking of the holy spirit, both in the active and contemplative life, which distinguishes, as far as I can see, traditional Orthodox spirituality from a philosophy of the human spirit which is essentially that found in many other Eastern religions.
I must admit that I was always concerned, even while reading Thomas Merton before I became Orthodox, that it seemed so easy for many Roman Catholic spiritual fathers to find a common ground with Eastern monks, especially Buddhist, when in fact the substance of spirituality is so different and it is surely only the practice which is essentially similar.
But while I can see that a philosophical approach to spirituality has certain dangers and can become divorced from the truth of the Gospel, nevertheless I can see that a reliance on what might be called practical spirituality, both active and contemplative, can also become divorced from the gospel and become either a routine or simple moralism.
This is perhaps why I hesitate simply to abandon one technical term for another, since it seems to me that what matters most is the substance of the spirituality we are describing, and this is found not so much in simple adherence to a word, but in a deeper apprehension of the goals and methods the various spiritualities which we could consider.
Surely, as St Seraphim teaches, as indeed father Matthew the poor teaches, a truly Orthodox spirituality must have the same substance and goal even while it may use a variety of methods, as appropriate in the unique lives of those who live out that spirituality.
I have no problem at all with the spirituality of St Seraphim, it seems to me to be at one with the essential spirituality of the Oriental Orthodox tradition, as found in the deserts. And this seeking of the holy spirit, this reliance on the holy spirit, this being rooted in the holy spirit, seems to me to be liable to an out working in every life, both monastic and secular.
This is why I have always struggled with some strands of spirituality within Eastern Orthodoxy, and essentially these are those which developed in the middle ages and are therefore not necessarily, and I'm willing to be convinced, the same as those of the earlier period. These strands seem to rely on technique, and given some time I can find some passages which explicitly give instruction on how most quickly to see the uncreated light. This seems to be a different goal to that of St Seraphim.
On the other hand I also struggle with some strands of spirituality within Oriental Orthodoxy and these are essentially those which have developed in the most recent times. Some of these, it seems to me, are based on Protestant and Roman Catholic ideas and spirituality, while others present a morality based on lists of sins and a legalistic requirement to perform certain spiritual and religious practices.
Therefore I hope that we can discuss here both the extremes spirituality which fall away from the gospel, perhaps explaining those spirituality is common to our own communities which while different are perhaps Orthodox enough, and find that true common ground where we can all genuinely agree with fathers of both traditions, and experience a true unity of spirituality.
I must say that in my own life it has only really been over the last year or so that I've finally came to understand a little better at the role of the holy spirit in the life of a Christian. It seems to me that in many regards the holy spirit is not understood nor recognised enough. Indeed it has only been through my study of Christology that I have been taught that true life in Christ is the presence of the holy spirit in our hearts. It seems to me that if we fail to develop a new pneumatological spirituality then we fall to easily into a philosophical spirituality, only for the illuminati, or a ritualised spirituality which may include many worthwhile activities, but is also based on our human endeavour and fails to become the experience of a life lived in the freedom of the spirit.
I hope that we can be very honest and open with each other here in this fairly private forum, trusting each other's intentions, seeking together to find a shared experience of truth and love in the holy spirit.
God bless our seeking.
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 - admin - 30-04-2009 11:53 AM