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January 06, 2008


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brad jersak

Thanks for this, Fr. Azkoul. Very helpful.


Fr Michael Azkoul

Is this what you wanted? If not please indicate what you think is lacking.

As one writer said, "deification is the religious ideal of Orthodoxy." It is the way the Scriptures and the Fathers defined salvation (soteriology). Thus, the expressions --- "partakers of God," "partakers of Christ," "partakers of the Spirit" --- "partakers of the divine Nature" (2 Pet. 1:4).
At the same time, deification presupposes a unique understanding of God; and, therefore, of Christ, the Church, the Mysteries (Sacraments), of monasticism, of Christian morality, to the human levels of knowledge (gnostic, rational, empirical).
The Scriptures (implicitly) and the Fathers (explicitly) call upon us to recognize a distinction in God --- but His uncreated and incommunicable Essense (substantia) and His uncreated and communicable Energies (operationes).
"God", as St Paul declares, "alone possesses immortality, dwelling in unapproachable Light" (I Tim. 6:16). Thus, the question: if God alone is immortal, how do finite creatures become "immortal"? How does God communicate His Immortality to things mortal? After all salvation is nothing more.
First, there is a certain principle in both the type of the Burning Bush and, to be sure, the Incarnation. The finite welcomes the Infinite without being consumed. Agreed, the former is not deification; while the second speaks of the possibility.
Let us add another element: it is by grace that we are saved. What is grace? If it is created it cannot elevate mortal to the condition of uncreated immortality. Therefore, grace must be immortal. But, as we have said, God alone is immortal.
It follows that there must be a distinction in God --- contrary to Augustinian-Thomist tradition --- between Essence and Energy in God. But God cannot communicate His Essence to us --- we would become God, absorbed into the divine Being. Consequently, there must be can uncreated means (other than the divine Essence)by which we are granted immortality. Grace is the uncreated Force by which we receive it. We partake of the divine Nature without partaking of the divine Essence; hence, immortality; hence, deification.
How does He communicate divinity to us? "God became man that man might become a god." Christ is vehicle of our salvation. The immortal, invisible and Infite God became mortal, visible, finite man. He is God-Man. What then? Does deify us with the wave of His Hand? All we need to do is believe in Him to become immortal? That is not what the Apostles and the Fathers teach.
Deification comes to those who are organically united to Christ, for it was He Who was born of a Virgin, walked among men, died on the Cross, rose from the dead --- by which the man Christ became immortality --- and ascended to His Father.
To participate in this Christ, we must be united to Him. Baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ. His Body is the Church, if I read St Paul's letter to the Ephesians (5: 22-33) correctly. Belonging to Christ, we are eligible to partake of His deifying Life through the Eucharist --- the Body and Blood of Christ. We are justified and sanctified by the Holy Spirit Who dwells in Him --- in the Church --- as His earthly Temple.
But there is more to the soteriological process --- yes, a process ---which began with our Baptism. We must "work out our salvation with fear and trembling." The children of God --- with "the Grace and Truth which come by Jesus Christ" --- must cooperate with HIm in the transformation of our fallen nature.
In other words, Christian morality demands "the works of righteousness," "works of salvation" only in our individual efforts to overcome death and sin from out bodies. Human nature is in the grips of the passions (pride, hate, anger, lust, etc.). In that mutual or cooperative effort, we begin in this world for life in the Age to Come.
Dispassion is more easily achieved in the monastery. The monk (male and female) lives not on the edge of eternity. His most intense purpose is to live now as he will live in the everlasting Day of the Kingdom. For the Orthodox, the monk is the role model or, as St Basil has it, "the authentic Christian."
Why, then, is the state necessary? As St Irenaeus said, "it exists to restrain evil among men." The Christian state also has a divine purpose, apart of which to protect the Church, to remove the obstacles to her growth, and to promote her way of life. It was not uncommon for Orthodox sovereigns to visit monasteries to speak with its holy men, men of mystical knowledge and discernment. Although he was anointed "image of Christ," the Tsar or Basileus was also a member of the Church.
In other words, deification is the foundation of the Orthodox world-view. It is the end of history that Chris should become King of the creation. It is the destiny of creation that "God shall put all things under His feet, and give Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all" (Eph. 1: 22-23); that is, all things shall be suffused by the Divinity. This is the Orthodox eschatology: the mortal shall put on immortality, and the corruptible incorruptibility. As sponge soaks up water, so shall the creation soak up God.

Fr Michael Azkoul

Give me a week and I will produce a tract to accomodate your website. The subject-matter is profound and, unlike C.S. Lewis, I have not the skill to make what is complex simple. Nevertheless, I shall make every effort to provide clarity. I gave a brief explanation of "deification" to an agnostic acquaintance and he was utterly amazed and incedulous. "Do you know how absurd that sounds!" was his reply.


Dear Fr. Azkoul,

Because we're on the web, we have fewer parameters re: length. Whatever is manageable for you.

Re: style, the format you used in "Ye are Gods" seems preferable, where you construct the basics of the doctrine and illustrate it from the Scriptures and the Fathers.

Since I've got yet another piece coming from Archbishop Lazar with some anti-Augustinian polemic, we'd prefer your focus to be largely constructive rather than contrastive for this article. I.e. We've given a fair bit of "ink" to the problems in Augustine, but we still have no end of need for the actual presentation of the Fathers, which we're impressed with in your work.



Fr Michael Azkoul

Thanks. Have you any suggestions about the length and style of the article?


Ron and I are co-editors, along with Kevin Miller and Derek Weiss. You have OUR request to submit a piece. Then we'd need to approve it based on seeing it in the end, but if it serves to advance the discussion on spirituality and justice, we're pretty committed to publishing it.

Fr Michael Azkoul

I was thinking about a summary of the doctrine --- which, of course, would appeal to my work on the subject. I would like to know the attitude of Mr Dart. As the editor, of what would approve.
"Digital version"? In any case, the book is limited in scope.


A brief discourse on deification would be excellent. I have indeed read your "You are gods," essay and had something like that in mind. If you have a digital version of that piece that you'd allow us to reprint, that would be excellent ... or some version thereof.


Fr Michael Azkoul

Obviouly, I cannot write a treatise on the subject. If Mr Dart appoves, I can provide a brief discourse on "deification." If you have read my "You are gods," you are aware that the subject has been covered. Apparently, you would like something a little different --- the political, social, artistic and monastic implications. If that is the case, you must be satisfied with pertinent generalizations. Is that what you want?


I think it has a section or appendix on the Fathers. I need to double-check. It's basically a reaffirmation of "the glory of penal substitutionary atonement." One positive review I saw praised this section on being the book's strongest point. Others, however, were dumbfounded at the anachronisms.

But I wouldn't worry about that for now. I'd be looking for something that builds on the Fathers rather than reacting to an abuse of the Father's. What were they getting at, really? From what I've read of you, you may be able to take us there nicely.


Fr Michael Azkoul

Tell me about the book "Pierced for our Transgressions." I looked its table of Contents and the Index and found only a few references to the Fathers. Did I overlook something?


Yes, something on "deification in the Fathers" for Clarion ... length is up to you. Ron Dart is somewhat of an expert on theosis and contributed a fine essay on the topic to our recent compilation, Stricken by God? The book also contains excellent chapters on the topic by Andrew Klager and the late Kharalambos Anstall.

When we use the word "theosis," "deification," or "divinization," I find that very few in the Western churches have even heard those terms, much less understood them.

What I'm imagining is that you'd give us an introduction to the topic aimed at an audience that is eager and open to learn. If you're willing, we'd need a basic definition and explanation of the doctrine, along with some Scriptural foundation along with how it developed in the writings of the Fathers. So many of them are quoted as saying, "God became man so that we can become god(s)." As you'll know, nearly the entire third generation of bishops affirmed the doctrine and then Athanasius explained it in more detail thereafter. That's the kind of thing I was hoping an Orthodox scholar would bring to Clarion. So if you're game, please go for it.



Fr Michael Azkoul

To write an article on "deification" (salvation)? Teachings of the Fathers? What length? For what audience?For the Clarion? What does Mr Dart think?


No offence taken, dear Basil,

Thanks for checking though. I love your heart. And this has been a lively discussion for sure. I appreciate your thoughts on the Syro-Phoenician woman. I once heard an amazing interpretation of those events via a Benedictine brother.

He spoke about how Christ showed his humility in being able to pause to hear the voice and guidance of his Father through others. He gave two illustrations:

1. First, at the wedding at Cana, to that point, Jesus was clear that the Father had not yet released him to do signs and wonders--that his ministry had not yet been given the green light. So initially, when his mother suggests that he helps with the wine, he declines (based in his understanding of the Father's will til that moment). When she insists, he pauses and then acts in accordance with her wishes, not against his Father's will, but rather, because he perceived the Father's voice through his mother.

2. In the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman, up until that point, Christ's mission was clear: "I've come to the Jews. That's my mission field." But the woman insists, answering well by faith and again, Jesus pauses and then acts according to her request. But it was more than that: he recognized the Father speaking through her that as of now, the mission expands such that he is also a Light for the Gentiles. Look where he goes next to minister! In the Mark 7 version, he heads off to the Greco-Roman region of Decapolis... a Gentile area for the most part as I understand it.

Just thought I'd throw that in, strictly as an amazing bit of Christ's character and as a model for our ministries.

Fr. Azkoul,

Believe me that I am listening carefully. To shift the direction at this point, and hopefully to inspire an article, I see the potential for you to have great theological influence on the Western Church, particularly in the area of atonement theology. The atonement is such a hot topic among the Protestant churches right now, such that for the first time since the Reformation, our juridical models of wrath and appeasement are vulnerable to giving way to healthier therapeutic approaches as seen in the East.

The problem is that it is nearly impossible to bring the Church Fathers into it without Reformed theologians reading their own theories back into those texts. The anachronisms are atrocious (e.g. the recent book, "Pierced for our transgressions," which has been trumpeted for it's use of the Fathers.

I see the time as being ripe for someone like you, who knows what the Fathers said, what they meant, almost how they thought... to step off the Ark (teasing) with a word of clarification and an invitation for us in the West to see the atonement afresh. We need to be introduced to theosis and detoxed from some of our former paradigms.

From my vantage point, whether or not my colleagues board your Ark, they do well to embrace the wisdom preserved there. From your vantage point, the greatest likelihood that you'll lure us aboard will be along those lines.

I'd like to see you contribute something of your own re: the atonement, theosis, sin and salvation, etc. It's certainly your strong suit.


Fr Michael Azkoul

    When we say "true Church" we do not mean that there non-true Churches. That is tantamount to saying there are "non-true Christs." Furthermore, there can be no invisible true Church and a shattered visible Church. First, such an ecclesiology is nowhere found in the Fathers or the Scriptues; second, to adopt this view of the Church, is to hold that the two Natures of Christ are divided (contrary to Chalcedon) and that His humanity --- a single male individual---is unreal (docetism); and relatedly and third, christological dualism always leads to ecclesiological dualism. Thus, the Church must be divided because Christ is divided, for she is the Body of Christ.       As the holy Fathers teach, there is,  one Lord, one Baptism, one Faith "once delivered to the saints." Also, the doctrine of ecclesiological and christological dualism have ramifications for the Eucharist --- the crown of all the Sacraments or Mysteries. How shall we consume the Body and Blood of Christ if the invisible and Divine dimensions of the Eucharist are seperated?       What is the Church? The Body of Christ, you say? But for her to be His Body, it is necssary for her to be like Him, that is, to be united to Him visibly and invisible, with the two dimensions "interpenetrated" as the two Natures of Christ. There is one Christ and one Church. Therefore, one Lord, one Baptism, one Faith or divinely revealed truth.     Given these premises, the Church is the source of the saving truth, for Christ is the truth; nay, she is also the truth, by virtue of her union with Christ.     Let us admit that there are many temporal churches, each with some truth and some error. You will say the saving truh is the same in all the churches--- or else they would not be churches?  What divides them are their errors. What is that "saving truth"? The Trinity (with or without the filioque?), Incarnation (divided, confused, united Natures?), Ransom (Atonement?), Resurrection (how?), Ascension (to what end? with His Body?) --- and the fellowshp of believers? (collocation or organic unity?)  With the Sacraments (Actual Body and Blood, baptismal regeneration, etc.?) Priesthood? (Is the Pope the head of the Church or not? hierarchy or not?) Which belongs to the dogmas of truth and which are accretions? subtractions? Does God care?    Where is the error? By what criterion is it found? The Bible! Whose interpretation? Apostolic Tradition?     Silly discussion! There are no answers, save that Christ is my personal Savior. Really? Then, what Christ taught has no saving value? We may accept Christ without His teachings? What do you think St Paul meat by term "heretic"? What does that mean? Merely someone did not accept Christ as his "personal Savior"? In which gospel epistle do the Biblical writers oppose Christ to His own teachings?   In other words, if we deny that Christ imparted to His Church a body of true and immutable doctrine, we have taken a dubious position on the qustion before us, a position which cannot be justified by the Scripture and/or holy Tradition.  If we do not know what is the saving truth and what is error, of what value is that truth to us?To what purpose did God reveal it?   Perhaps, God has spoken to you? Maybe He has spoken to me? He obviously has not not told us the same thing. He contradicts Himself.    Our salvation depends on "one Lord, one Baptism, one Faith of the one Church, of the one Christ, of the one God. The Apostolic Faith must have survided in toto to this day. Where is it found?     


Christ is in our midst!

Dear to God Brad and Father Michael, I hope to offer one (last, I hope) comment on the topic of the salvation of the 'unbaptized'. Most of this is in conversation with Fr Michael.

However I'd like to make two quick responses to you Brad; I feel I might have caused unintended offense.

1) When I used the term "dog", I did not at all intend to call you this Brad! Forgive me for the ambiguity.
I was referring to a specific passage of scripture where Christ himself uses that clearly derogatory term. I believe the point of this in the passage (and certainly the point I was trying to make) was that even someone considered lowly and *outside* the clear boundary of God's People, demonstrated greater faith than those on the very most inner circle (the Apostles of Jesus)!
However if I may be so bold Brad, it is worthwhile for us both to reflect on this passage quite a bit. What are my feelings, when I put myself in the Canaanite woman's position? Would I show her humility, and her faithful persistence?

Imagine you have come to love a great spiritual teacher, and you go up to him and make a request of him.
Imagine how you would feel if this teacher simply ignored you! How utterly offensive that is.
And when you persist, he insults you!
How quickly would anger rise up within me if this happened. How quickly would my regard for this teacher change! God help me, should I ever be put to such a test by my Teacher Whom I love.
here is the passage:

"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.
He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour."
(Matt. 15:22-28)

(juxtaposed to the disciples' faithlessness a short time later in Matt. 16:8-11 : "Jesus said, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?... How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.")

2) Brad you do rightly cite the Apostle Paul's many references to the *Chuches* of God. However I think we must be careful how to understand this.
As an Orthodox Christian, I have been taught that every individual parish is "the Catholic Church."-- this because our catholicity is located in the fullness of the Apostolic Faith that we all share. 'catholic' does not mean 'universal' in any organizational sense.
Additionally, while St. Paul would certainly agree that the many different Churches are One, he locates this Unity quite clearly in the Eucharist-- we are one because we share One Bread.
Thus you would surely admit possible for an individual or a group to divide himself from Christ?
And while Paul clearly speaks of Churches, he also clearly speaks *against* false apostles-- the "Judaisers" who preached a different faith and a different christ. Paul clearly did not consider their faith 'authentic' (i.e. it was not part of the apostolic tradition he received; it was not faith in the *real* Christ), and he would not consider any congregation fully won over by them (or by proto-gnostics, say), to be numbered among the true *churches* of Christ surely, when he spoke of the "churches" in the plural.

But this is just food for thought; nothing like a complete argument. the majority of what you say I agree with Brad.

Anyway please pray for me, that I learn better to speak with love and not be the cause of offense to any brother or sister! :)

Thank God for the temperance, respect, and love of dear Archbishop Lazar and of Ron in their conversations with you Brad.
I have a ways to go.

Love in the bond of peace;


Thanks to both Basil and Fr. Azkoul for these clarifications. I truly appreciate your voices here and find that the contrasting tension is important for my understanding.

Some biblical data that I would bring to the table will hopefully supplement your perspectives.

First, Paul, in 1 Cor. 12, affirms that there is indeed one Lord, one faith and one baptism. We are all baptized by one Spirit into one Body and given the one Spirit to drink. In chapter 1, he acknowledges the reality of schism (of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, even of Jesus) but rather than pointing to who came first or who was most correct, he called them all to acknowledge their oneness.

The Jewish Christians thought they had the corner on the true faith because of their faithfulness to tradition and Gentile churches like those in Corinth were apt to disregard their brothers because of their impressive manifestations of the Spirit's power. Paul gives neither of them quarter or preeminence; they are one Body and must learn that their differing spiritual family trees (whether via Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium or Rome) all find their roots in the One Apostolic Faith.

On the other hand, the One Holy Catholic Church--the universal Bride of Christ--is only found manifest in the local churches. Note the plural: twice in Acts, twice in Romans, thirteen times to the Corinthians, twice in Galatians, twice in Thessalonians, and ten times in the Apocalypse.

Those who have an ear are to listen for the voice of the Spirit to the CHURCHES, whether or not they are in fellowship to one another or in danger of the judgement due to schism. Regardless of who abandoned whom, irrespective of when or why, the churches (whether Orthodox, Roman, Anglican, Protestant in all their confusion) are to cease from their arrogance and chauvinism and acknowledge our common Head, our Lord Jesus Christ. As far as the apostle Paul is concerned, ANY church, ANY group, from the greatest to the least, that sees itself as the sole purveyor of God's truth is itself perpetrating schism and appears as ludicrous as a body-sized eyeball or severed hand.

I follow Christ, his Apostles and the Holy Fathers, as does my little fellowship. I affirm the Creeds and attest to the Faith once delivered. Until recent years, my observation was that the oldest well is not always the freshest. I saw the obvious tendency of the Great Tradition churches (Anglican-Celtic, Roman and Eastern) to accumulate theological sediment and traditional accretions that look not even remotely like Jesus and his disciples out in the hillsides and meeting house to house.

But in the last few years, I've looked to the mentoring of Archbishop Lazar and Anglican scholar, Ron Dart, who showed me how much of the Faith was lost in the West, esp. through the Reformation era. I've been enriched, particularly as they've treated me as a brother, rather than a dog, and humbly verbalized their need of me and my church (small c). As one of the little boats of Christian faith drawing back to the Great Ships, they chose not to swamp me and even threw us a line.

While our union as One Church, many churches may convey confusion to some, I see in it both the reality of denominational damage and the beautiful variety of God's family. In any case, our union at this point is not formal (in the comparatively shallow organizational sense), it is very real at the highest levels of Christian love, fellowship and co-labouring (in ways I don't often see even within many denominations, including the Orthodox Church). It is both relational and functional, testifying to and manifesting Jesus' prayer that we would be One.

At the end of the day, I am saying, "We are One." To those who disagree, I'd ask, "Who is being schismatic now?"

The fact that this conversation is even possible in a Christian journal where Orthodox, Anglican, Anabaptist and whatever I am (pre-Reformation Celtic largely... hence our mutual distrust of an uncritical read of Augustine) can meet is evidence that we're working on saying YES to the High Priestly prayer. So glad to have you at the table.


Fr Michael Azkoul

I am aware that there are some who call themselves Orthodox that disagree with me; but I stand or fall with the holy Fathers. There is only one Church as there is only one Christ. She is His Body. She has physical perimeters that give us access to an invisible reality. At the same time, the visible and the invisible in Christ are united "without separable or confusion."
The Church cannot be broken into a thousand denominations. If that were so, then, God is "the God of confusion." There is one God as there is one revelation of the saving Truth.
The Orthodox Church is "the Ark of salvation." Yet, as I said, in the Age to come the prayers of the Church may move God to welcome non-Orthodox into the Orthodox Church, which at that time will become the Kingdom of God in it full realization. The Age of the Spirit will have come.
I urge you to read the Fathers, the supreme witnesses to the Christ Faith and the sole exegetes of the Holy Scriptures, the Church's Book. These are comprehended by the Apostolic Tradition.
Your views of Baptism smack of Protestantism. Read the holy Fathers; or else take your chances with "faith" (instead of the Faith)and the fideism or rationalism of modern theologians.
The Canaanite and Samaritan women do not make your case. They belong to the old Covenant. Christians belong to the new Covenant of Christ's Body and Blood --- a "liturgical" celebration. Read the holy Fathers.
If you are offended by the sentiments I express, and wish to silent my contrary voice, what does that say about your "faith"?


Dear Brad;

You've got a great heart!
I truly hope you *never* convert to anything for reasons other than you have expressed here.

I know of many holy Orthodox who would laugh at the thought that no one will be saved outside the Church... in the sense that you are asking the question.
however those same Orthodox would be the first to say that there is indeed *no* salvation outside the Church!
This has been expressed as a tautology-- there is no salvation outside the church because the church *is* salvation! It is the reconciled humanity-- it is the Bride wedded to the Bridegroom, the place of Union with God.
And so likewise, no one can be saved without being *baptized*, into this Church!
But what is baptism? As Fr. Tom Hopko has said, "baptism has nothin' to do with water! It's your death and resurrection with Christ."
There can be baptism of fire and desire-- anyone who loses his life for Christ's sake, is considered "baptised" (by his own blood!). Catechumens who might die *before* they are baptized (and before receiving the life-saving Body and Blood), are nevertheless given an Orthodox Christian burial (i.e., publicly recognized as dying in the Church).
And then of course, there is the archetypal 'turning to Christ' found in the witness of the thief on the cross-- heck he doesn't even meet the biblical criteria of 'personal faith in Jesus as Lord' that you yourself point to Brad! (all he asks is that Christ remember him (call him up by remembrance) in his Kingdom; no explicit confession of belief even!).

All of this points to the most oft repeated truth we Orthodox pray-- God is MERCIFUL.
His mercy on the last day will scandalize many zealous for the Orthodox faith in this life, to be sure. His mercy will doubtless save many that I, in my unforgiving heart, could not imagine have any good in them.

So of course people who dont identify themselves as Orthodox (through 'liturgical baptism') in this lifetime are going to be saved (i.e. live with Christ in His New Kingdom)-- and they are by the invisible workings of the Holy Spirit united to the Orthodox Church.
If Fr Michael will say less than this, then let him speak somewhere else I suggest.
For as I say, the contrary notion is a laughable (or weepable) one among the vast majority of Orthodox I have encountered, including all levels of clergy, and very holy persons zealous for Christ in our Orthodox Church.
(again I will recommend this widely read Orthodox blog as a proper and worthy 'Orthodox voice' that can speak to this matter: "Glory to God for all things" http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/ )

At once, Christ called the Canaanite woman a "dog" unworthy of the food He brought for the House of Israel-- and then holding up this *dog's* faith as an example for all, he turns to his very disciples (those on the inside) and chastises them for their faithlessness!
so it will be with us Orthodox, no doubt.

At once, Christ told the Samaritan woman at the well that, indeed, her and her people were wrong and salvation "comes from the Jews"-- and yet He would give a scandalous example of neighbourly love shown not by any pious Jew but by a Samaritan!
So will it be for us Orthodox.

Christ is faithful to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church he founded in the beginning as His own (visible, yes) Body.
Yet He will never turn away anyone who even seeks! Let alone anyone who finds so much as my "God-fearing" non-Orthodox Christian, brothers have found.
On the last day many of you non-Orthodox will be held up as examples of faithfulness, to my own shame no doubt.

In the irresistible love of Jesus the Christ;


I would be grateful if you would explain exactly what you mean by "Yet,it is possible for non-Orthodox to be saved --- through our prayers that the Lord may make non-Orthodox His Own."
Thank you.

Fr Michael Azkoul

Allow me just a few more words --- since your message contains various questions.
I agree that too many Orthodox clergy conduct themselves in such a way as to belie the claims of their Church. But Christ never promised that there would be no schisms or heresies among His People.
Indeed, everyone who rightly calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. "Rightly." According to what He commanded the Apostles to preach.
There is no salvation outside the Church as there was no salvation outside Noah's Ark. Yet, it is possible for non-Orthodox to be saved --- through our prayers that Lord may make non-Orthodox His Own.
Start thinking with a different mind. Look at ecclesiology from the perspective of unity: one God, one creation, one man, one Israel, one Christ, one Baptism one Faith, one Church. "All things proceed from unity."


Thanks for this, Father Azkoul. I appreciate where you're coming from. I value your presence here precisely because I see in parts of the Orthodox Church a theology which reflects well the theology of the Apostles and the Fathers.

Sadly, among some of your own priests and bishops, I see an acquiescence to militarism and nationalism that appears to me an abandonment of the Fathers and of Jesus' own teaching. In this regard, the Anabaptists have been more faithful to the Fathers than some of those Orthodox leaders. I am aware that some of your own teachers see this problem and are "one" with their Orthodox brothers in name only. The unity of the Orthodox Church in formal ways means little to me when their priests functionally disfellowship each other and when there is major division over such simple teachings as "love your enemy."

Because I'm familiar with some of these vitriolic in-house debates, I do find some of your statements about "one church" or "not adding to or subtracting from the Fathers" to be fine claims but obvious overstatements.

Nevertheless, I want to know what the Fathers have to say and what they mean without hearing it through Reformation lenses, so I can't say this strongly enough: we need you. This is what it is to "discern the body"... knowing that the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you." The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, is sometimes perceived as thinking it is the whole Body of Christ. It appears this is what you're affirming. So too, outside of baptism in the Orthodox Church, it appears that you see no salvation. That I for one am not "in" or "saved." I am outside the ark and destined for destruction. Am I hearing you correctly?

What of "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved," or "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved," or "Anyone who believes" (repeatedly)? I understand that this is best done in the context of the Church... but that's not what the text says.

For my part, I don't believe that the ability to discern other followers of Jesus Christ is a flaw. I understand that ecumenism and syncretism and schism and worldly tolerance have done great damage to the true faith. Yet when the Orthodox Church makes absolute exclusive claims, it needs to be acknowledged that they are one of many many Christian groups who do so. They appear to be part of the current schism, history notwithstanding.

To those who watch, the claim "we're right because we're most faithful," is not self-authenticating. Not for you or the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Muslims or the Right Wing Evangelicals. There needs to be a criteria by which seekers can examine which of these exclusive clubs is walking in the truth... if any.

My counsel on this is that when you bear witness to the teachings of Christ and his Way, the Holy Spirit confirms it in my heart as truth. When you bear witness to yourself, you depart from the pattern of Jesus, who let the Woman at the Well say, "I perceive you are a prophet," or Nicodemus who recognized, "We know you are a teacher sent from God." So too, when the Orthodox Church presents the Way of Jesus, I think, "Ah, this is truly Gods church," but when I hear, "We are God's church," I think, "Why would I believe that? Just because you say so?" Trust the Spirit of God to do this.

Re: a personal relationship with God, I understand that you are reacting to the individualism of the age and the way this has become a catch phrase attached to all sorts of extremely poor theology. Nevertheless, again I would argue that biblically speaking, you seem to be overstating the point to the exclusion of many of the New Testament texts that regard an existential knowledge of God and friendship with His Son as essential to living faith. Fellowship with God is both personal and relational AND corporate and communal. 1 John 1 puts ties these aspects together beautifully.

Enough for now. I look forward to more from you. Blessings,


Fr Michael Azkoul

Dear Brad,
Thanks for the opportunity to speak on this matter which is my "ultimate concern." I am well aware that in an age of "change" and "tolerance" (i.e., relativism)the belief in absolutes of any kind is "intolerable." I have no way to show you by apodictic logic that the Orthodox Church is the the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church: the Church of the living God, His Bride, His Body.
Let us look at the question another way: Jesus Christ commanded His Apostles to teach all nations whatsoever He He called upon them to observe. He promised the the first rocks of His Church that the Holy Spirit would guide them in all (saving) truth. We must assume that the Lord did not want His doctrine to be altered. If His gospel mutated with every culture, what must I believe to be saved?
A "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is nowhere taught in the Scriptures or the Holy Fathers as the prescription for salvation. In any case, what is "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ"? It seems from the writings of St Paul that community is preferred before any "personal," individualistic, subjective
"relationship." Koinonia describes the Church, the New Israel, the humano-Divine society. The baptized are visible "members" of His visible Body.
Furthermore You may not separate Christ from His teachings. You cannot say I believe in Christ but hold doctrine contrary to that which He ordained the Apostles to spread throughout the world. You cannot have Christ without the divinely revealed truth, without the witnessing Church which is its steward on earth.
There is only one Church on earth which has never added or subtracted from the Apostolic Tradition. Of course, I do not refer to the substance of that religion, but to the forms which reveal the substance: the Orthodox Church. Despite the mischief of the "new Orthodox" (ecumenist) the Christian truth is still availabe to anyone who seeks it. The Apostolic Tradition has not been corrupted by place or time.
Orthodoxy is the Church of the Fathers ---the disdain of modern thinkers notwithstnding. I have no interest in the false wisdom of Karl Barth or Jacques Maritain or Nicholas Berdyaev. I will not be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. If the gospel changes with the passing of time, then, we shall never know the truth by which we are saved. You do not believe that way of salvation takes a different course according to circumstance? You wo not believe that the first century Christians were saved differently from the twenty-first century Christ? If that be the case, we must maintain that the Holy Spirit changes His Mind with every new generation. Just what Jesus mean when He commissioned His Apostles teach the Truth He gave them? What truth? By what criterion do we determine it? Is the criterion constant?
Unless there is One Faith, one Lord, one Baptism --- and one Church with one immutable saving truth --- none will saved.


Not necessarily. Primarily, I have been utterly buried in ministry this week. I would be especially interested in hearing about your zeal for Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings, which is ultimately the test of whether your Orthodoxy is worth investigating. Personally, I think it is and I want people to hear more from those, like you and Lazar Puhalo, whose understanding of the Gospel needs a broader hearing.

Unfortunately, if your zeal for Orthodoxy comes across in tones reminiscent of Christian or Islamic fundamentalists, it will be dismissed before you get a fair hearing. But from what I've read of you previously, I'm not too worried about that. I suppose my challenge would be to use this as a venue to allow those outside the Orthodox Church to be won over to the higher ways of the Church Fathers.

Fr Michael Azkoul

Dear Mr Jersak,
Has my zeal for Orthodoxy led you to change your mind?

Brad Jersak

What's on your heart? We tend to look for essays on any of the categories that you see in the left column, but especially that place where spirituality and justice meet... My favorite is when these themes come out in the prophets or in Christ. We really enjoy the Orthodox perspectives on salvation, atonement, divinization as well. But as I said, what's on your heart.

Email me your stuff at bradjersak@gmail.com.

Fr Michael Azkoul

Yes. On what topic? May I send it e-mail? Which?

Brad Jersak

Father Azkoul,

I'm wondering if you would consider contributing some articles to Clarion. Your voice needs to be heard more in these quarters.

Fr Michael Azkoul

The purpose of the book was to show the unity of Patritic thought. To draw out the social and political implications of theosis would have been to be exceed the limitations I placed on my purpose.
Yes, we shall be like Him in the Age to Come: sinless, incorrupt and immortal.
Chrisitan perfection or deification is possible only within "the communion of the saints," which includes not only othe people, but the angels and the Saints. Even hermetical ascentics have intercourse with other Christians from time to time, and often with the angels. You must have familiarity with the lives of "pillar monks."


Glory to Jesus Christ!

Father Michael, if you still check the comments here, what would you say to Ron's last critique, and what I referred to as the "compartmentalizing" of 'divinization (I have not read your book yet so I'm not charging you with this, only raising it as a general concern). By this I mean that there is often little reflection on the political and social 'repercusions' or implications of the process of theosis.
I go back and forth in my thinking on this, whether it's truly a 'failing' or not.

I wonder precisely because divinization *is* the goal (of the Christian spiritual life; salvation), par excellence. And if we truly believe this (as Orthodox should, but many non-Orthodox perhaps do not quite), we must necessarily believe that a truly holy person (who is well advanced in his or her salvation) *will* take on all attributes of Christ, which will include of course 'social and political responsibility' in the truest Christian sense.

So then, why not simply focus on the importance of theosis, trusting that these 'social and political' dimensions will simply emerge as communion with God is deepened and maintained? I suppose, because it seems many people these days (Orthodox and otherwise) simply do not seem to realize these political and social dimensions of theosis. There seems to be a mistaken understanding that "focusing on one's own salvation and holiness" somehow implies not caring so much for others. This is of course certainly not true, yet it seems to be a common misconception among Christians (including Orthodox).
Would you agree? Or am I off base in this?

In the Love of Christ;

Fr Michael Azkoul

Your Roman Catholic resources have a vested interest in defending Augustine.
He is not only the author of numerous heresies, Augustine also presumes to correct the Fathers.

Read him and see for yourselves.


...And now I have *two* books on theosis to read!

Funny timing; I just finished reading about another good book on deification (and it's central place in Christianity) over at the exemplary blog "Glory to God for all things":


When I came here and read this Ron, I actually had to check again to see if it was the same book!
Have you read Keating's "Deification and Grace"?

I am curious, you raise the question why Azkoul is not 'given a voice' in the 'St Vlad's world'... do you have an answer?
If it was a rhetorical question, I failed to see it.
Just curious.

Thanks as well for your third critique, of Azkoul's compartmentalization of divinization-- an especially dangerous mistake today when so few Christians are sensitive to the connection between "personal salvation" and "social/political responsibility".


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