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March 18, 2015

Christian Perfection and the Mystery of the Cross (1 of 3)

By Protopresbyter John Romanides

1. Perfection and the Mystery of the Cross in the Bible and the Fathers

It should be stressed that in contrast to the Franco-Latin systems in general, the Biblical and Patristic teaching concerning perfection is not Stoic. After the first stages of theosis, or vision of God, the progress to higher conditions of perfections for angels and human beings are endless. Thus, angels and human beings were created relatively perfect, so that they may become eternally and endlessly more perfect.This means that the ages of the angels, as well as the time of human beings, will not be abolished in spite of the shining of the Glory of God, since there will always be a succession of conditions of perfection.

The necessary means of perfection is the crucifixion of all desires and through it the uprooting of self-love through the inherent faith and the unconditional obedience to the will of God. The perfection through obedience is applicable to the angels before the fall of the devil and the demons, since after the fall there is no repentance for the angels who fell. For human beings, obedience is the means of perfection before and after the fall. Obedience, however, is not an end in itself, so that through a servile attitude one may attain to a static condition of bliss, which leads to rendering permanent a servile or self-interested relation to God. In the stages of servant and hireling, the human being participates in the perfection of God through partaking of the purifying, illuminating and deifying grace of the Mystery of the Cross, which purifies the passions and illuminates and sanctifies the whole of man, making possible through man's collaboration (synergy) the obedience to the will of God unto death, through which the grace of God transforms this self-interested submission to selfless love, and as a result, man is granted theosis, becomes God's friend and collaborator, brother and co-ruler by grace with Christ and the adopted son of the Virgin.

Without the appropriation of the Mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, through which man is purified, illuminated and receives theosis and, thus, transcends self-interest and self-love, which are rooted in his fear of death, it is impossible for any man to reach participation in the deifying love of God, through which he becomes God's friend. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love overthrows fear, because fear incurs punishment, and he who fears cannot be perfected in love" (1 Jn. 5:18). This is because, among other things, death is the weapon of the devil against the whole ecumene, through which the main enemy of God enslaves human beings to the servitude which springs out of fear. "Since, however, the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He too partook of the same in a similar way, so that through death, He may destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and liberate those who, on account of the fear of death, were guilty of servitude throughout their life" (Heb. 2:14-15).

It should be stressed that the cross, which is taken up by every follower of Christ, is not, as many think, the various problems which one meets in their life. On the contrary, the cross is an active struggle, which every believer undertakes in order to preserve the obedience to the will of God unto death, through which they arrive at theosis. The salvation of human beings does not consist simply in the crucifixion of the Lord for them and in the appropriation of the fruits of the sacrifice of the Cross for satisfying blissful desires. On the contrary, each believer should himself be crucified not by chance, but willingly, exactly as Christ was, because only through this self-willed crucifixion is participation in the Mystery of the Cross achieved, through which man is transformed from self-loving to being God's friend and a god by grace.

2. The Mystery of the Cross and the Boldness and Mediation of the Saints

It should also be stressed that the Mystery of the Cross is, indeed, identified with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Golgotha, but it is also distinguished from it, because it pre-exists the former and works out reconciliation before it, i.e. before the Incarnation and even before the Law of Moses. Thus, the Old Testament bears witness to the existence of Righteous friends of God before the Law and after the Law, while the New Testament does the same before the sacrificial crucifixion at Golgotha.

It should be noted that before the abolition of the one who has the power of death, there existed those friends of God who by God's grace were not afraid of death, but had a boldness before God which transcended servile obedience to at least a seeming will of God. With regard to Moses' resistance to God's threat to destroy the people, Clement of Rome writes the following: "And Moses said: 'But now, Lord, forgive the sin of this people, otherwise wipe me out too from the book of the living.' What a great love, what a superb perfection! A servant speaks boldly before the Lord, requesting forgiveness for the multitude, or demanding that he too is wiped out with them" (Clement, 1 Cor. 35). Paul's totally selfless love is similar, which comes out when he writes: "For I would wish that I became anathema to Christ for the sake of my brethren, my relatives according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:3). Perfect love is not only above everything in the world of self-interest, but also above even of the care of the friend of God for his own salvation when the case of the salvation of others arises.

It is from this selfless love of theosis and friendship with God that the boldness of the Saints before God is derived, who are in theosis in Christ even beyond the grave, and it is on this boldness before God that the people of God place their hope, when they invoke the mediation of the Saints. Christ Himself speaks about this friendship and boldness, which is based on the Mystery of the Cross, i.e., theosis, when He says: "No one has greater love than this, than to lay down his soul for his friends. You are My friends, if you do whatever I ask of you, and I no longer call you servants, for a servant does not know what his Lord does; but I have called you, because all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and I placed you that you may go and bring fruit, and that your fruit may last, so that whatever you may ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you. These things I ask of you, that you may love one another" (Jn. 15:13-17).

It should also be noted here that the fruit is not the alleged meritorious works or the works of irresistible grace, as the Franco-Latins think, but the love of those who are in theosis, which does not seek its own benefit but is crucified for the neighbor like Christ. Good works are not sufficient in themselves to prepare man to see God as light. Good works themselves, apart from grace, are the leaves of the withered fig tree, which, by not bringing forth as fruit the love of the theosis in Christ, do not lead to an entry in the marriage chamber with the Bridegroom with the baptismal candles lit with the light of the divine glory and kingdom, but to the condition of the five foolish virgins, of the withered fig tree and of the person who had no marriage garment, which symbolizes the quenching of the charisma of the Spirit, which St. Paul commands us to avoid.