Attaining deification: The process
God the Father “has essence and energy, and we participate in His energy . . . divine grace. The theoria of the uncreated Light is the same as participation in, and vision of, divine grace . . . [deification. But Gregory Palamas said that] the theoria of the light is union . . . [Hence] participating in this theoria, the deified person acquires by grace characteristics that are God’s by nature” (Met. Hierotheos. . The science of spiritual medicine, pp. 450-453).
When deified, the person “is radiant in this state and becomes spiritual” (ibid.) – according to Symeon the New Theologian, “the deified shine and are on fire” – because Maximus the Confessor said that, “the person who has been united with God has become without beginning or end; no longer living the life that begins or ends” (ibid.). The latter is, of course, speaking about the full and final state of deification, after death. But the process itself of deification contains phases that we pass through, as we journey toward final deification; these phases being increasing attainable in the here-and-now, due to the ever-increasing goodness of God in our increasingly dark world. How do we strive, therefore, more effectively toward both the latter phases of the process of deification and final deification, since we are mere mortals?
According to Basil the Great, souls “that have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit transmit this grace to others and at the same time receive many gifts, including foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of spiritual gifts, heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, being made like God, and, highest of all, being made god” (ibid.). Deification occurs because man becomes, through participation, what God is by His own essence: mankind become gods by grace “without identity of essence . . . [In this state, man] acquires knowledge of God, because . . . [it is] communion in the existence of God, union with Him and vision of Him . . . [But Gregory Palamas said that union with the Divine Light is] “not continuous for those who are imperfect” (ibid.). Man is deified and “sees the invisible God, to the extent to which his nous has been purified and illumined” (ibid.). This is why we have an urgent, present for total, rather than partial, purification and illumination; because without such a level of purification and illumination, we would be unable to attain and hold the latter phases of spiritualization and deification prior to final deification; that is, the forthcoming era commonly known as the era of peace.
Purification and illumination are none other than movements toward initially the partial, then the full, vision of the Divine Light: final deification, the Beatific Vision, with purification and illumination effectively occurring “by the divinizing communion of the Spirit, through the mysterious visitation of the perfecting illuminations” (Gregory Palamas, ibid.). Deification, divinization, theoria, and union with God are one and the same. Hence, once illumination occurs through the working of the Holy Spirit, after purification, and if it is wholeheartedly embraced rather than feared or rejected, mankind enters into the latter phases of deification because he becomes “united with God and God dwells within him” (ibid.).
Deification, therefore, is neither a matter of just acquiring virtues or the final state of deification itself, as many seem to think, because “all who are being led towards participation in the uncreated . . . [Divine] Light, as well as all who share in this light, are referred to as deified . . . [with deification going] beyond the virtues: it is the vision of uncreated Light” (ibid.). According to Gregory Palamas, deification is “above nature and virtue and knowledge . . . [for] this grace effects this ineffable union . . . [it] is more far-reaching than the acquisition of virtues” (ibid). So deification is, above all, union with God through the vision of the Divine Light.