May 7, 2009

Soul's Journey To God - A Challenge

Stephanie Betsa, a Silver Lake College theology student, sitting in the college chapel

[Here is the challenge! I was going to comment on this, but I decided to leave it up to someone else to spot the common errors made in this otherwise very rare article published in a secular newspaper. To help one spot the errors, I highlighted the words, phrases and sentences to pay special attention to. Tell me the error along with an Orthodox response. Please comment! -J.S.]

May 2, 2009

Soul's Journey Toward God

SLC student explains the '3-fold way' of Orthodox Spirituality

by Charlie Mathews
Manitowac Herald Times Reporter

MANITOWOC — Stephanie Betsa doesn't believe one has to die and go to heaven before being able to be with God.

"The '3-Fold Way' enables us to have union with God right now here on earth," said Betsa, 42, a freshman at Silver Lake College majoring in theology. "We don't have to wait for heaven … to participate in God's energy."

Betsa was one of several dozen SLC students who recently participated in A Celebration of Ideas at its Generose Enrichment Center.

The academic conference brought together students, faculty and guest speakers celebrating intellectual inquiry across many disciplines.

"Orthodox Spirituality" was the title of Betsa's presentation, discussing the "mystical, other-worldly spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox Church."

Betsa, a custodian at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, attends Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church in Milwaukee.

It is an Eastern Orthodox Church, part of the faith tradition that split from the Roman Catholic Church during the so-called "Great Schism" in the 11th century. Its earthly spiritual leader is Patriarch Bartholomew, the archbishop of Constantinople in Turkey.

"We believe that if you are a practicing Orthodox Christian then you're salvation is guaranteed," Betsa said. "Outside the Church, we leave it up to God to decide who goes to heaven … it's not up to us."

She said Orthodox Christians do not believe in purgatory, "but there is hell and that is the absence of God."

Betsa said Orthodox Christians do believe in original sin. She said consequences have resulted from Adam and Eve failing to realize they were made to be in continuous contemplation of God.

"Once we lost that, we have the jumbled brains we have now," including a pre-occupation with secular things, said Betsa, who is taking New Testament and public speaking courses this spring semester.

'Stuck in Catharsis'

Betsa said one's soul is on a journey toward God. The first step towards experiencing unity with the Almighty is purification of the soul.

"I'm stuck in catharsis," Betsa said of the stage where one seeks to overcome worldly passions and reliance on senses in order to achieve inner freedom and humility.

The second stage is "fotisis," or the enlightenment of the soul, including developing holy wisdom, acquiring paranormal abilities, and having visions and experiences of God's divine light.

The third stage is "theosis," which is the soul's deification. "It is the final destination, it defies all human understanding, and includes changes to the mind, soul and body, and one becomes an emissary of the Holy Spirit," Betsa said.

If this sounds mystical, it is. Betsa said the motto of Eastern Orthodox mysticism is "God became human so that humans may become God."


"I was hesitant to return to college after 25 years … I was skeptical I could do it," Betsa said. "When I came here to SLC everyone has been very helpful (as) I get back into the swing of things."

It will take her several years to earn her bachelor's degree. After that? "God willing, I would like to become an Orthodox nun, go out and help the homeless. I feel I have a calling to do that."