By Protopresbyter George Metallinos
8. Worship and Spiritual Life
The course towards theosis (deification) is attained through the induction of one’s whole existence into the body of Christ, with a lifestyle that will allow the uninterrupted collaboration of Man with the Grace of God. The main constituent of this lifestyle is ascesis, as a permanent struggle of man. This is what is meant by the words of Christ, that: “the kingdom of heaven is taken with violence, and by violence it is seized” (Matthew 11:12). Ascesis is a continuous course of repentance, by which the faithful becomes the recipient of the Grace of God, without which, his existence is deadened. On the contrary, with ascesis, our revolutionary nature is deadened, only to regain its God-centeredness.
However, the ascetic endeavors of the faithful do not have a moralistic character; that is, they do not aspire to improving one’s character and behaviors, but to enable the participating in the celebration and the rejoicing of the ecclesiastical body. That is why it generates in the faithful a sense of unspoken joy, refuting every artificial (pharisaic) frowning and faked gloom, which are nothing more than manneristic forms of pietism. Christian ascesis is a voluntary participating in an obedience to Christ and the Saints for the mortification of our personal will and its eventual alignment with the will of Christ (Philip. 2:5).
Orthodoxy’s piety, however, is liturgical in nature. This is why ascesis is perceived as being supplementary to liturgical life. Ecclesiastical worship is festive in its ethos. Ascesis is the foretasting of joy through partaking of the Church’s festivity, but it is also a preparation of the faithful for their entry into this spiritual celebration. It is the path for one’s return to the “natural condition” (the authenticity of human existence), so that the passage to the “hyper-natural” (where Worship elevates us to) may be made possible. Besides, that which is sought in worship –according to the blessed Chrysostom – is “a sedate soul, an aroused intellect, a humble heart, a strengthened mind, a cleansed conscience”.
The spiritual progress, which the faithful attains through his personal ascesis, is “churchified” during worship; it is incorporated in the body of Christ, and from being a “personal” event, it becomes an ecclesiastical one – in other words, a social one. If individuality does not become “churchified”, it cannot be saved. Outside the body of Christ, not only can there be no salvation, but even the most perfect of virtues remains nothing more than a “woman’s unclean rag” (Isaiah 64:6), in other words, something chokingly filthy. Worship renders the faithful’s life a life “in Christ”. Ascesis provides this possibility, since the person who is governed by his passions cannot truly glorify God. In ascesis, a “cleansed heart” is the objective. (Psalm 50:12), because it is only ‘in a cleansed heart” that man can possibly see God (Matthew 5:8), thus attaining the purpose of his existence.
This is what the resurrectional hymn by Saint John the Damascene expresses: “Let us cleanse ourselves of our senses, and we shall have sight of the unapproachable light of the Resurrection: Christ Himself, ablaze…” Through the Divine Eucharist, worship leads us into theosis (deification), provided however that there is a cleanliness of heart and a transformation of our senses, from physical to spiritual ones. If worship, therefore, is the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, ascesis is the road to the kingdom. Worship defines and reveals the purpose of our existence; ascesis collaborates towards the realization of this purpose.