Man follows the pattern set forth in Christ but in a reciprocal way. He is of one essence with all his fellows [he shares the same essence with them], but he is still a person in himself. He is human and receives that which he did not possess – i.e., participation in the divine nature – through grace. This participation in the divine nature is a gift , and thus, by virtue of the Incarnation, man now lives a twofold manner of existence: one divine – which he receives as a gift; and the other human – which he possesses by nature. It is open to man (5) to choose to participate in the divine nature by grace. When he does so, his human nature is not lost but is perfected.
In his human nature fashioned in the image of the Trinitarian God, man exists as a person having a common substance or essence with every other human being, while at the same time possessing his own particular, individual being or substance. He exists as many persons who are consubstantial with one another. The tradition of our Church teaches that each individual strives through ascetic struggle to ascend in the likeness of God in order to become a pure vessel of the grace of God. One struggles to become a “God-bearer”, a living repository of the Holy Spirit and thus of the divine virtues revealed to us by Christ. Having Christ as our prototype, this is the aim of the ascetic endeavors that the Church puts forth for us. However, being created in God’s image man is also, as already stated, an ontological community of being, a community of persons sharing the same essence and meant to exist in relationship with each other. Though many persons, man shares a common human nature or essence with his fellows and thus comprises an ontological community of being. Our ascetic efforts should lead us to an existential knowledge of this; that is, they should lead not only to the development of virtues but also to the experience of the communal property that is natural to man.
Thus considering mankind as a community of individual persons with a common human nature, and the potential (5a) of participating in the divine nature by grace, one might ponder this: wheredoes the development of personhood in Christ lead us? Where does this lead us when we see each man as a person consisting of a human nature with the possibility (5b) of participating in the Divine nature? Where does the development of our human nature and this participation in the Divine lead us according to the model given us in Christ? Christ is perfect God and perfect man. If the life of God is completely and perfectly active within us, andin our human nature we are functioning to the highest degree. When we are in possession of our being and the hidden man of the heart participates in the uncreated energy of God, then what have we become? We have become a properly functioning human being in Christ beingenlivened by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Let us reflect upon these words, “A properly functioning human being in Christ being enlivened by the grace of the Holy Spirit” and then let us see if we can further explain the subject at hand. Through the incarnation of the Son of God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ we have become partakers of the divine nature (6). As Christ is one Person with two natures, human and divine, so we also [to a certain degree] follow this pattern, yet not perfectly. (7) By nature we have a human manner of existence. By grace we partake of the divine nature and participate in the uncreated energy of God. The grace of God in which we participate is a manifestation of God’s love. St. Silouan indicates this when he writes, “The Holy Spirit in the saints is love”. The Holy Spirit teaches love; and the Holy Spirit desires the salvation of all mankind. Through development of personhood in Christ we simultaneously come in contact with our natural common human essence in the image of God and the divine nature or energy of God. The first leads us to the understanding of our existence as a community of being and love on the human level. The second inspires us with love on a divine level and with the longing for the salvation of all mankind. In this way our manner of existence becomes one of intercession for the world because of the fall of man and his state of separation from God. The development of personhood in Christ leads us to prayerful longing for the salvation of all mankind because in unison with divine grace working within us, our human nature begins to function properly. Through our human nature we are united indissolubly to all mankind and through divine grace—which is ours as a gift—the love of God is activated within us. So, in one who is perfected in divine love, the individual characteristics of the self becomes secondary but are not obliterated. The prime force and form of existence is a communal one enlivened by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as Archimandrite Sophrony writes: “man transcends the boundaries of his own individuality and enters into a new form of being—personal being in the likeness of Christ”. One participates in Christ’s love for man and likewise in His suffering for the fallen race of Adam. Therefore we can conclude that development of personhood in Christ brings one to a state of intercession “par excellence” and it is thus “a calling to pray for the world”.
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“A saint is a sign for his generation”, these words were spoken by one of the monks of St. John the Baptist Monastery founded by Archimandrite Sophrony. They were said in reference to St. Silouan ; but I believe that we could also call Fr. Sophrony a sign to his generation. In this cruel world in which love has grown cold, in a world where personal identity is vanishing and we are either a statistic or part of something that is pressed into a general mold, Fr. Sophrony stands out as a sign. He indicates to us a new way to view deification, a new definition that does not alter that which has been handed down, but instead reveals another side of the truth. Deification is the complete development of personhood in Christ.
People today need to know that each of us is a particular creation, and – in a certain sense – someone special. We cannot endure the destruction of our particular personal identity – this would be inhuman and unnatural. Each of us is someone that is unique, unlike any other; and therefore each person is a new encounter with God. Each of us can give to God something no one else can, that is, ourselves; and yet, simutaneously we are an ontological community of being. Both our nature and manner of existence are communal. This concept of communal existence is also quite expedient for us to understand today because of the complete breakdown we see in community life. People are enchanted by the fascinations of the world and this engenders a lack of communication. The result is that people share entertainment but never themselves. Families are rarely communities these days but function instead in an idiorythmic manner with each member going in their own direction.
We particularly need to understand this latter point, that is, that we are meant to exist as a community. Fr. Sophrony is a sign to our times pointing out to us that in ourselves we are each a particular person; yet the manner of existence in which we are only truly alive is a communal one that is expressed in relationship with God and each other.
5 Here we use the terms “it is open” and afterwards “potential” and “possibility” because this gift of deification is not involuntary but dependent upon our will. Man must exercise his will and struggle, then the gift of deification is completed through synergy—a co-working of God and man.
5a Refer back to footnote 4
5b Refer back to footnote 4
6 IIPeter 1:4
7 We cannot follow his pattern exactly because we do not have two natures. We do not possess the divine nature rather we are given a participation in it as a gift.