Book Review: Partakers of the Divine Nature

The heart of Orthodox theology is the notion of theosis. This is the ability to participate in the life of God and be transformed by this communion. It is a deep communion that allows man to truly touch God and be changed into God’s likeness. The book Partakers of the Divine Nature summarizes the Orthodox theology of theosis. Coming from Evangelical Protestantism there are a multitude of book on living the Christian life. This is the definitive Orthodox version and draws each individual into the life of God. This review summarizes the contents of the book and provides an understanding for partaking of God’s life.

Theosis is a term that describes the process of the Christian life. It is a Greek term that describes becoming like God. This is not a novel idea rooted in late Orthodox theology, but has been part of the teaching of the people of God since the beginning. In the first chapters of Genesis, God creates man in the image and likeness of God. The image is an unbreakable stamp of God upon human nature that can not be eradicated. This is man’s purpose as pointed out in Mt. 5:44, “That you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Gal 4:4-7 calls man to become sons and heirs of the Father. However, through the fall man lost this likeness of God, and the story of redemption and the purpose of the Incarnation was God restoring man once again to become like God and journey this path of theosis. St. Athanasius makes the oft repeated statement that “God became man, so the we might be made gods.”

Through the Incarnation Christ restored human nature and the power of the Incarnation according to the author is “realized in the Holy Spirit” (29). It is a process that begins now and will ultimately be fully realized in the future age, as the author states: “our nature becomes adapted in this life to eternal life.” The important concern is how this can be accomplished in the life of man. It is through the Church that the answer is found. In fact the Church has given us all the objective means to achieve theosis (30). Yet this is not a passive operation in the life of the individual; it requires co-operation by man with the grace of God. Because man is free, God allows him to freely accept or reject His grace which would transform him into God-likeness. The author quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa: “when the righteousness of works and the grace of the Spirit come together at the same time in the same soul, together they are able to fill it with blessed life.”

The Church leads man into ways of receiving God’s grace. Often this is referred to as receiving God’s grace, acquiring the Holy Spirit, participating in the life of the Holy Trinity. All are the same act. Those things that the Church prescribes such as fastings, vigils, alms, etc are not ends or disciplines in themselves. The goal of the Christian is not to become a better faster or chanter but to allow those things to open the heart to God’s grace in order to be transformed. The Christian must be attentive to this place of the heart because it in the heart that the work of theosis is accomplished. The disciplines and sacraments of the Church facilitate this process.

The sacraments are a necessary part of this process. The Sacraments “actualize” the grace of God in the life of the Christian (36). Baptism opens the heart and frees it from the control of the devil allowing God’s grace to penetrate and transform. Baptism teaches us that the Christian life is being oriented to God and thereofre a denial of the world. Life is a continuous turning back to God when we are seduced by the world. This turning back to God is repentance and is often called the second baptism. The act of repentance culminates in the sacrament of confession as the believer expressing contrition and receives freedom from those sins which have enslaved him. Confession then as the author states is not “only the beginning of repentance but the fruit (55).” The Eucharist then is the pinnacle of the sacraments. Both Baptism and confession prepare one for the reception of the body and blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we are united with the body of Christ and enter into a physical communion of God.

The author spends much of the book discussing what he considers the “divinizing virtue”. This virtue is prayer and in many ways it is the common theme that runs through each of the other actions—sacraments and disciplines—that the Christian will experience in the life of the Church. Prayer is communion with God. It is the act of placing oneself in the stream of God’s life in order for it to transform and change. In prayer the Christian learns to appropriate everything given in the other disciplines and sacraments. The author is serious about its role and states “if you can not turn to God willingly or with desire than you can not be healed.” Therefore to accomplish theosis in the life of the Christian, the Christian must learn to pray.

He gives beautiful expressions to prayer. True prayer begins with contrition and ends in freedom from the passions. It elevates man to God not bringing man down to God. St Isaac of Syria says that prayer ultimately births love for both God and man. It is love which will be the ultimate fruit of prayer and the ultimate expression of theosis itself. In fact to transformed into God’s likeness means to become what God is which is an eternal life of love.

Advice is given concerning prayer in that prayer may begin with requests but this is merely preparatory for later stages. This will lead to awe of God and the stripping away of all images of God and will be a clear vision of God Himself. The Jesus Prayer is held up as method whereby man’s life can become a permanent expression of prayer. For by letting this penetrate every aspect of life, man gradually becomes prayer.

It must never be forgotten that the fruit of prayer is love, just as the goal of all the disciplines is theosis As magnificent as the virtue of prayer, it is not the end but the beginning of love for God and man. As the Christian becomes like God he will embrace all mankind in love just as God has done for all eternity. If there is a indicator that theosis is being accomplished in the life of the believer, it is evident in love. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, that you love one another (John 13:35).”

you can check this out at Light and Life here.

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