On Self-Deification

Christopher Veniamin

Father Sophrony also makes another very interesting and important observation concerning the example given by Christ and our own theosis or deification. He points to the fact that even though the deification of Christ’s human nature was, as Saint John Damascene says, effected from the very moment in which He assumed our nature, nevertheless Christ as Man shied away from anything which might give the impression of auto-theosis, that is to say, self-deification or self-divinization. That is why we see the action of the Holy Spirit underlined at His Holy Birth: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee… therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35); also, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ at His Baptism in the Jordan (Matt. 3:15); and concerning the Resurrection, the Scriptures speak thus: “God, that raised Him up form the dead, and gave Him glory” (1 Pet. 1:21); and finally, Christ Himself, teaching us the way of humility and how always to ascribe glory to Our Heavenly Father, says: “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is Another that beareth witness of Me; and I know that the witness which He witnesseth of me is true” (John 5:31-32).

The same movement may be observed in the Divine Liturgy. The Words of Institution — “Take eat, this is My Body”, “Drink of this all of You, this is My Blood” — by themselves are not regarded as sufficient to effect the consecration of the Holy Gifts; they must be accompanied by the Epiklesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, precisely in order to avoid any notion of self-deification, to avoid, that is, giving the impression that simply by speaking the words which Christ spoke, we are able to transform the Holy Gifts into the precious Body and Blood of Christ. (Veniamin, ‘The Orthodox Understanding of Salvation: “Theosis” in Scripture and Tradition’ pp. 20-21. The Orthodox Understanding of Salvation: “Theosis” in Saint Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony of Essex)

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