A happy and blessed Good Friday to my Protestant and Catholic friends; Christ is risen!
Orthodox Christians are in the middle of Great Lent, a period of increased fasting, praying and helping the poor. This culminates in Great and Holy Pascha, which this year is celebrated very late – on May 1.
I want to quote extensively from Vladika Lazar Puhalo, retired Archbishop of Ottowa. This is perhaps the best explanation I have read of the difference between the Protestant conception of salvation and the Orthodox concept of theosis:
To whom did Christ offer the ransom, and from whom or what did He redeem us? If He offered the ransom to God, then He redeemed us from God. And if that was the whole of the transaction, then the Incarnation was for no other purpose than to provide a human sacrifice of sufficient importance that the human sacrifice could mollify the anger of this god, so that he does not release the web and drop the spider into the flame.
This being the case, there was no need for the Christ to have a healing ministry or to co-suffer together with us in the flesh. Indeed, the resurrection of the physical body of Christ would be redundant, since it was only the torture and death of the human sacrifice that was necessary.
If, on the other hand, the clearly metaphorical use of the words ransom and redemption mean that the ransom was “offered” to death, the power of which, as Paul says, was used by Satan to hold us in bondage through the fear of death, then we are redeemed from bondage because the fear of death has been abolished, and, since Christ has ended the alienation of man from God by uniting both man and God in Himself, He has restored the human nature to unity with God in Himself.
Thus, the mystery of redemption is not an offended god creating a human sacrifice significant enough for Him to accept it and have His vindictiveness assuaged; rather the mystery of salvation is the co-suffering love of God with mankind. We struggle to assimilate the redeemed human nature, which exists in Christ Himself, and thus participate, by theosis, in the immortality that belongs to God alone. This is why the Apostle says we strive to become a “new creature.” And the healing ministry of Christ reveals the actual nature of salvation: the healing of the fallen nature of man.
Let us also contemplate the meaning of the Ascension of Christ, since it tells us that there is now one whole and complete human being seated at the right hand of the Glory, fully united with the Godhead in Christ Jesus, unconfused and uncomingled (something that is repeated over and over again in the Orthodox Liturgy). Thus Jesus Christ has become, for humanity, the “firstborn from the dead,” and the forerunner of mankind’s deification, his immortality, dwelling “on the right hand of the Glory.”
I wish all those celebrating this weekend a happy Easter.