… men have the possibility of being glorified (deified). There are no privileged categories that can travel towards glorification (theosis). The cure and theosis of man is achieved, on the one hand, by the sacramental life, and on the other hand, by the ascetic life which we live in the Church.
I would like to emphasise this fact particularly. All the holy Fathers teach that man’s salvation is a combination of sacraments and asceticism. We cannot understand the mysteries (sacraments) without asceticism in Christ, and we cannot live a real ascetic life without the mysteries of the Church. Moreover, the whole life in the Church is an experience of a great mystery. Asceticism is in reality experience of the commandments of Christ which is attained by partaking in the purifying, illuminating and glorifying (deifying) energy of God. Insofar as anyone experiences the purifying, illuminating and glorifying energy of God, he is experiencing rightly the sacramental life.
I say this because in our time a great deal is being said about the sacramental life, the eucharistiological life is being much emphasised. This is very good. But, unfortunately, the ascetic tradition of the Church is being overlooked. St. Gregory Palamas, as well as all the other Fathers, was a catholic (universal) theologian, and therefore he made a parallel struggle against the Massalians who overemphasised the hesychastic life at the expense of the mysteries, and against Barlaam, who overemphasised the sacramental life at the expense of the hesychastic life. This is essential to be emphasised.
The beginning of our experience of salvation is achieved by holy Baptism, which is also called an introductory sacrament, because it introduces us to the life of the Church, which is life in Christ at the same time. But in the early Church Baptism was preceded by purification. The exorcisms also have this meaning.
Apart from others who refer to other books on this subject, here I must emphasise that the Fathers of the Local Synod in Antioch specify that the country bishops should not ordain Priests and Deacons without the permission of the Bishop of the city, but only to appoint “Readers, Subdeacons and Exorcists”. And St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, interpreting what the exorcists are, says that they are the catechists. He writes characteristically: “The name of exorcists is given to the catechists of those faithless or heretics who are coming into the faith, because in catechising them, they exorcise the evil spirits dwelling in them, in the name of the Lord, that they should leave them, and this is evident, sometimes from those sons of the Evil spirit who called the name of the Lord into the demonised, saying to the demons, we exorcise you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul proclaimed (Acts 19,12); sometimes also from the exorcisms where the Priest reads to those who are about to be baptised”.
So it seems that the Catechumens go through the stage of purification and the Catechists were the exorcists who had the special blessing of the Church to do this work. Through catechesis the catechumens passed the stage of purification, when by holy Baptisms and by Chrismation they experienced the illuminating energy of God, discovered their nous, their noetic energy moved naturally and supranaturally, and for this reason Baptism is called illumination.
If we study the New Testament carefully, especially the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, we shall we convinced that really it is speaking about purification, illumination and deification. Some passages refer to the stage of purification, some to the stage of illumination and others to the stage of deification. I do not choose to make an analysis of this point here. I only wish to underline that the things said about purification, illumination and deification are not an influence from ancient Greek philosophy, but an experience of the Christians, which can be discovered also in the texts of Holy Scripture.
At all events it is a fact that all people have the possibility of attaining deification, provided that all are catechised members of the Church and then baptised and anointed and have the possibility of Holy Communion. Hence, in the Church there is one common way of life, relatively speaking, of course.
With Baptism and Chrismation a new life begins. But this life must be continued and increased. This new life is expressed and energised by three basic factors: by applying the commandments of Christ, by divine Communion and by prayer.
The commandments of Christ are mentioned at all the points on man’s journey towards deification. We have been accustomed to regarding the commandments as legalistic orders, to which we must adapt our life. Without excluding even one such means of adapting, we emphasise that God’s commandments are medicines to help us to be cured in our souls. St. Dionysios the Areopagite says that our union with God is achieved “only by love and holy work”. And of course Christ’s commandments refer to many topics, such as to the divine Liturgy. The celebration of the Divine Liturgy is an application of Christ’s commandment: “this do in remembrance of me. . . “.
Still, the divine Communion leads a person to deification. Of course we must add that divine Communion deifies man when he is in this state. Otherwise it illuminates him, purifies him, while if he has not repented and has not entered the stage of purification, it burns him up, condemns him. This is why Nikolas Kavasilas, interpreting the Apostle Paul’s “if someone does not want to work, let him not eat”, says that this is true not only for material bread, but also for the spiritual bread. He who does not wish to work and to practise asceticism spiritually should not approach the Holy Table and receive Holy Communion.
But also prayer, especially that which is called noetic prayer, is that which expresses the new life which man attains through Baptism and helps him to increase it, because according to the teaching of the holy Fathers, there is no limit and boundary to perfection and virtue. The passage of the Apostle Paul “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5, 18-19) refers to noetic prayer, which goes on in the heart with hymns and psalms and spiritual songs, by the energy of the Holy Spirit. The connection of prayer with the Holy Spirit and with the heart indicates the existence of noetic prayer which goes on unceasingly, and therefore we have the commandment to pray without ceasing.
From: Mind of The Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos