Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
Glory to Jesus Christ!
One traditional approach to the Orthodox Christian life says that there are three stages: catharsis, enlightenment, and theosis (deification).
The first stage is where the necessary purification of heart and mind are accomplished. This is the stage over which we have control. Our efforts here are very important. As long as we refuse to recognize what is wrong in our lives and do something about it, then catharsis cannot take place. Repentance, forgiveness, renunciation, detachment are all words that have to do directly with this stage. All of this takes real courage. To look at ourselves as we really are is not always a pleasant thing, but done with tenderness and compassion it is always liberating.
We need to bring to this exploration of ourselves a great deal of understanding and loving-kindness. When we act poorly it is often because of the pain and fear that are deeply embedded in our lives. For example, St. Maximos the Confessor writes that the fear of death is at the root of all our sinful actions. Catharsis is a positive ministry of healing, not a negative path of self-abuse. It is up to us to put all our efforts into catharsis and with the help of God the heart and mind become pure.
The second stage is enlightenment, when everything becomes clear and perception is no longer cloudy.
The truth of who we are as human beings made in God's image reveals itself and the false self of ego loses its power. This stage comes as a gift from God when he knows we are ready to receive and embrace it. At this stage the beauty of human nature begins to shine forth and the natural gifts God has given to all human beings become active. It is a truly wonderful stage, filled with grace and light, but it is not the end.
The final stage is theosis, or deification. Here the union of God and the human person is complete. "God became man that man might become God," wrote St. Athanasius. We become what God is by grace. It is a gift beyond any other; absolute communion in the Divine Nature. The light that appears during enlightenment is merely an integral part of human nature, a created thing, but the light of theosis is the light of God himself. This stage, like enlightenment, comes as a gift from God at the right time. We have no power to grasp it on our own.
Great Lent is a school for catharsis. Everything the Church does during Lent is to help us along the road to purification so that enlightenment and theosis will be possible for us as God wills. A wonderful aspect of Great Lent is that we do not have to go it alone. The whole community gets involved and we are carried along by the energy of the communal effort. The more each of us contributes the stronger that energy becomes ("Where two or three are gathered..."). Yes, what each of us does or does not do affects the whole. So, join us as we walk the road of repentance and healing together. Let everyone do his or her part so that the parish together will experience even more the blessings of Almighty God.
Yours in Christ,Fr. Antony Hughes