For the Son of God became man so that we might become God — St. Athanasius of Alexandria
Today is Athanasius’ feast day. He is the great defender of the divinity of Jesus, and he spins out the implications of the incarnation of God as radical beyond human conception.
What Athanasius is saying in the quote above is essentially this: God became all that we are so that we might become all that he is. It’s simply a reworking of John 1:13-14:
But to all who received him,
who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God,
who were born,
not of blood
or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man,
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and tented among us
i.e. we are born of God (think on that a bit!) because he was first born of us.
We “become God” by grace and participation, not by being ‘fused together’ into a confused hybrid, but by being two-in-one united in a love so profound and total that, as the Song of Songs 2:16 says: “My beloved is mine and I am his.” Or as Jesus says in John 6:57 (which is more stunning than we generally realize): “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me will live because of me.” United in Trinitarian communion by “gnawing on” the torn Flesh and drinking the spilled Blood of the Son.
All this idea of theosis — “becoming God” — is beautiful, mysterious, mind-blowing. But what it looks like as a lived reality? Well, see Christ. So much to say here, but let me let you learn from my theological mentor, the late Fr. Tom Hopko, in what I consider one of his finest meditations. I cannot surpass his greatness of expression. It comes from a transcript of public lecture:
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…I can tell you that being loved by God, and loving Him in return, is the greatest joy given to creatures, and that without it there is no real and lasting happiness for humanity.
And I can also tell you, alas, that such loving is always a violent, brutal and bloody affair.
The God who is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, who gives us his divine life and peace and joy forever, is first of all the Divine Lover who wounds His beloved, and then hides from her, hoping to be sought and found. He is the Father who chastens and disciplines His children. He is the Vinekeeper who cuts and prunes His vines so that they bear much fruit. He is the Jeweler who burns His gold in His divine fire so that it would be purged of all impurities. And He is the Potter who continually smashes and refashions and re-bakes His muddy clay so that it can be the earthen vessel that He wants it to be, capable of bearing His own transcendent grace and power and glory and peace.
…I learned that all of these terrible teachings of the Holy Scriptures and the saints are real and true. And so I became convinced that God’s Gospel in His Son Jesus is really and truly God’s final act on earth. It is the act in which God’s Word is now not simply inscribed in letters on pages of parchment, but is personally incarnate as a human being in his own human body and blood. And so I became convinced of the truth of all truths: that the ultimate revelation of God as Love and the ultimate revelation of humanity’s love for God, are to be found in the bloody corpse of a dead Jew, hanging on a cross between two criminals, outside the walls of Jerusalem, executed at the hands of Gentiles, by the instigation of his own people’s leaders, in the most painful, cursed, shameful and wretched death that a human being — and especially a Jew – can possibly die.
So to the measure that we are honest and faithful, and try to keep God’s commandments, and repent for our failures and sins, we come to know, and to know ever more clearly and deeply as time goes by, what we have learned here at St. Vladimir’s. We come to know by experience that the Word of God (ho logos tou theou) is always and necessarily the word of the Cross (ho logos tou stavrou). And — in language befitting a commencement ceremony at an Orthodox graduate school of theology — we come to see that true theologia is always stavrologia [cruciform]. And real orthodoxia is always paradoxia. And that there is no theosis without kenosis [emptying].
Theology is stavrology and Orthodoxy is paradoxy: the almighty God reveals Himself as an infinitely humble, totally self-emptying and absolutely ruthless and relentless lover of sinners. And men and women made in His image and likeness must be the same. Thus we come to see that as there is no resurrection without crucifixion, there is also no sanctification without suffering, no glorification without humiliation; no deification without degradation; and no life without death.