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South end -on-sea Congregation Recognized as New Parish

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ENGLAND: The Diocesan Metropolitan Dr. Mathews Mar Thimotheos of UK, Europe and Africa declared the Orthodox congregation at South end – on –sea, England as a new parish of his diocese on 25th July 2009. The new a parish is named after St. Gregorios of Parumala. Fr. Mathew Abraham is appointed as the vicar of the new parish.

On his visit, the Metropolitan was given fabulous reception at All Saints Church by the overwhelming children of the new parish. Metropolitan Mar Thimotheos was the chief celebrant for the Holy Qurbana and assisted by Fr. George Joy, the Diocesan secretary and vicar Fr. Mathew Abraham.

An ecumenical meeting was arranged after the Holy Qurbana. In his address to the parish, the Metropolitan affirmed the joy of experiencing the spirit and goodwill of the community in organizing the parish in a wonderful manner. Rev. Neil Paxton, Vicar, All Saints Church, Rev. Stephan Burdett, Rector, Church of England, South end on sea, Fr. George Joy, P.O Joseph, Shibu Thomas and George Mathew spoke on the occasion.

The managing committee of the parish expressed their utmost gratitude to the Metropolitan for granting their wish in declaring the congregation as a new parish. In the meantime they remarkably honored the contribution of Rev. Abraham Thomas , former vicar, Indian Orthodox Church, London for creating the background to bring the community together and forming the congregation in shape.

Large number of faithful from different parts of UK and several different Kerala Christian denominations took part in the event.

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News World News

Naz Foundation and Faith Based Organisations Debate Homosexuality

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NEW DELHI: For the first time after it won the eight-year-long battle seeking the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the non-governmental Naz Foundation (India) came face to face with Christian and other faith based organisations in an enthralling debate on Saturday.

Coming close on the heels of Delhi High Court judgement legalising homosexuality among consenting adults by reading down Section 377 of 150-year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC), the open debate at the capital was held to hash over the decision and the hazards or its aftereffects on the society.

Organised by the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), the polemical argumentation contained Anuradha Mukherji of NAZ India; Mujtaba Farooq, secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind; Very Rev. MS Sakariah Ramban of the Indian Orthodox Church; Rev. Christopher Rajkumar of the NCCI and others.

Giving the welcome address, Anjna Masih of NCCI said the debate will help in “avoiding the escalation of arguments on homosexuality through awareness and dialogue” and will take a “holistic view keeping the concern of all sections of the society.”

Indeed inarguably the religious leaders keeping all differences apart seemed united as one against the gay ruling, terming it “immoral”, “dangerous” and “unacceptable” to the Indian society and religious communities.

Expressing his views, Mujtaba Farooq minced no words in his condemnation against the Delhi High Court allowing plea of gay rights activists July 2. “Same-sex unions will derange the society and will completely destroy the family order. It is unnatural and it bars procreation,” he said.

While he did praise the Naz Foundation for fighting against discrimination, he vociferously questions “there have been calls for prostitution to be legalised in India, can we do it?” adding “before talking about violations of human rights one must understand the true meaning of ‘freedom’ and where and when it can be applied.”

“Those who are sick we should serve, but those who are going to be sick we should stop and protect. We should not approve this ruling that can cause a disorder in the society and create problems,” he added.

Agreeing with much of it was Rev. Sakariah who touched all religion, social and health aspects and said the “ancient and traditional Orthodox Church is very much against the controversial gay ruling.”

“Religion is to make a healthy society. It is a custodian of morality and has a responsibility of protecting and building a meaningful culture in par with the Indian society and not the West,” he said, asking, “Sadists derive pleasure from cruelty and may be few thieves from stealing, so can we approve this too?”

Facing staunch disapproval of religious leaders was Anuradha Mukherji of Naz India who hailed the Delhi High Court order and said, “The court has only de-criminalised homosexuality and has not legalised it. This verdict will only free the victims (LGBT community) from harassment.”

The discussion heard both views of religious leaders and Naz Foundation and finally came to a conclusion with a serious question posed by Rev. Christopher Rajkumar of NCCI who asked if “faith based organisations that condemned homosexuality took any preventive steps in the past to mediate the issue?”

He urged Churches and other faith based organisations to “take further steps to educate the youths, study the issue and initiate engagement in the need” of people with different sexual orientation.

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Church News News

Fr. Abraham Thomas Joins Seminary Faculty

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LONDON: An emotional farewell was given to Fr. Abraham Thomas, the vicar of the St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church, London on  July 5 by the parishioners and friends. The Holy Liturgy on the day was celebrated by Fr. Abraham Thomas  along with co-celebrants Fr. George Joseph, Fr.Mathew Abraham and Fr. Varghese Kaleekal.

The farewell ceremony began with a melodious song by the Sunday School children who were also celebrating the final day of their annual OVBS. Parishioners representing the Sunday School, Youth, Altar Assistants, St. Mary’s League and elderly spoke on the occasion.

A commendation letter of the Diocesan Bishop Dr. Mathews Mar Thimothios, read by Dn. Sujit Thomas, expressed indescribable gratification for Fr. Abraham Thomas’ work in the parishes in UK.

Fr. Abraham Thomas reached Kerala earlier this week to join the faculty of Orthodox Seminary, Kottayam.

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We Believe

The Spirit Of Divinazation

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Is Christianity an impossible deal? The answer is yes and no. Yes, for only those who do not take the indwelling Holy Spirit seriously. The apparently impossible teaching of our lord can be practiced if we cooperate with the guiding spirit. That is why Christian life is often defined as a new life in Christ guided by Holy Spirit. And this article focuses on the Holy Spirit who assists man to become not a superman but a real man. Yes humanization is divinization or by becoming like God by the help of the Holy Spirit is.

Holy spirit and the church.

Jesus Christ promised to the church the assistance and the guidance of the spirit when his physical presence left it. In Pentecost the early Christian community received the Holy Spirit and the church was officially inaugurated. They witnessed the erection of the tower of church which gathered together the people beyond the language and cultural differences, which is contrary to the building of the tower of Babel, which brought about the division and dispersion of people due to the communication gap. The principle unity in church is not the Catholicos or the pope or the Holy Synod but the Holy Spirit. As blood is circulating through all parts of the body. The Holy Spirit strives to empower all members of the church and keep them in fellowship.

Holy tradition of the church which contains the bible, doctrines, councils, canons, church fathers and saints is an expression of the life of the church through the Holy Spirit, and the spirit uses these to inspire and vivify the members of the church.

The church is supposed to be the kingdom of God. Participation in the renewal and sanctification brings about by the Holy Spirit is inevitable to make the church “the kingdom of God”. The Son of God incarnated in order to establish the kingdom of God on earth. The ministry of the church is nothing less than to continue the mission of Christ. This is fulfilled by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. According to Gregory of Nyssa the petition “thy holy spirit come upon us and cleanse us” Unfortunately the pride of man and his reluctance to subject to the sanctification enacted by the spirits thwarts the establishment of community on earth as God wishes.

Major functions of the Spirit.

Edification and guidance of the church, sanctification of its members, and thus the enlightment of the world are certain fundamental functions of the spirit.

Various symbols employed in the New Testament to denote the indescribable Holy Spirit indirectly explain certain aspects of his functions. Water (Jn 7:37-39) as water is indispensable for life; Holy Spirit is essential for an abundant life. The purifying thrust of Holy Spirit is also implied in this symbol. It is noticeable that water is used in the service of Pentecost as a lively symbol of the spirit. (b) Fire: as the pillar of fire and the cloud led the Israelites through the desert, the holy spirit functions as the light to the way of the church. (c) During the time of Christ dove was a sacrificial object, which restores the communion with God. (d) Advance: the Greek word Arrabon means advance payment or first installment. Life in the Holy Spirit is a foretaste or advance experience of the life in heaven. (e) Seal: seal is a guarantee of ownership. The seal of the Holy Spirit, which the Christians receive in baptism, always remind that they belong to God. (f) Oil: oil was important for healing in ancient days. The Holy Spirit restores the health of soul and mind.

Besides these the Holy Spirit works in numerous ways to bring people to perfection. The holy spirit makes us aware of sin and judgment, strengthens us to stand for the truth, assists in prayer, leads us in deification, imprints the image of Christ in us, brings about fellowship, leads us to truth, produces fruit of the spirit and imparts special gifts etc. among these I would like to highlight four important functions of the spirit.

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Articles We Believe

Why Turn To East For Prayer?

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Why do we turn to the East while we pray ? Can we not pray in any direction ? Since God is present every where and can hear our prayer, is it really necessary that we turn to a particular direction while praying?

Jews who live anywhere outside the holy city of Jerusalem traditionally turn to the direction of Jerusalem in Palestine ( modern Israel) for prayer, Muslims anywhere in the world will turn to Ka’aba, the sacred black stone in Mecca, Saudi Arabia for the prescribed hours of prayer. Christians from very ancient times used to turn to the direction of the rising sun for public prayer. For Christians in the western world this tradition is nearly lost. However all Christians belonging to the Eastern (Orthodox ) Christian churches still maintain this venerable practice of turning to the East for the public act of the community worship.

In the Christian church, we make a distinction between the personal prayer of an individual and the public worship of the Christian Community. An individual is free to pray any time, in any direction and in any posture. In fact, Christ and and the Apostles encouraged the practice of “unceasing prayer”. One can pray while taking a bath, playing or eating. One can maintain the mood of prayer through out the day. This kind of continuous prayer of an individual has no fixed form or style or words. This could be done mostly in silence or with words one chooses or with the help of ancient prayers like the famous ” Jesus Prayer”. This can be practiced without engaging our conscious mind at all. This is essentially the practice of the presence of God every moment of our earthly life.

But public worship is different in its form and style. It is a community prayer in which many individuals together constitute one body, an expression of the body of Christ, the Church. They are not an ad-hoc community, but they continue the unbroken tradition of worshipping the Triune God from the time of the Apostles onwards. The best example of this kind of public worship is the Eucharistic liturgy or Holy Qurbana. In public worship we turn to East, the direction of the rising sun.

The Apostles of Christ were all Jews. The early disciples of Christ in Palestine were mostly Jews. They prayed like other Jews. Soon however, Christians developed their own prayers addressed to Christ as the saviour.

Because of a new spiritual awareness in the early Christian community, Christians developed a detachment to physical places like Jerusalem. Their absorbing concern was with the “Heavenly Jerusalem” and the way to reach that abiding spiritual city. All places on earth were the same for them. No place was particularly sacred. So the early Christian community gradually moved away from the Jewish orientation to the city of Jerusalem in Palestine. At the same time a new sense of direction emerged in Christian worship, namely the direction of the rising sun.

This eastward direction developed in Christianity has a strong biblical basis:

1. In the biblical story of creation we read: ” And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed ( Gen. 2:8). Eventually Adam and Eve, after their act of disobedience were sent out from the Garden of Eden in the East. According to Christian interpretation, since the time of this expulsion of the first parents by the eastern gate of paradise (=garden), all children of Adam and Eve look back to their lost home, the paradise in the East, with a deep sense of spiritual home sickness. So salvation is understood partly as a return to the original home.

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The Principles Of Orthodox Worship

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1. Transfiguration of the whole being

Human mind is provided with conscious, sub conscious and unconscious layers. Worship is not only the transfiguration of the conscious mind. It transforms the whole being . St. Paul expresses this process as follows: “ And we all, with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory , just as by the spirit of the Lord”.  ( 2 Cor.3:18). The three representatives of the Apostles could experience this glory of the Lord in their Taboric Transfiguration. Christian witness is not only to see the glory of God, but also to become glorified. Human beings , created in the image of God are transfigured from glory to glory through incessant prayer and worship. This process is not intellectual but experiential. The whole being is involved in this process. In other words, worship is infinite growth in goodness. It is theosis or Deification.

2. Communication with the five senses.

The five sense help us in human communications. The same is applicable to our communication with God. In real worship we see, hear, smell, taste and experience the divine communion. Preaching the word of God and listening to it are not the exclusive factors of worship. Take the example of the three fold colors by which the Holy Altar is decorated. The red covering at the altar indicates the universe and the solar system. The green coloring denotes the earth with the greenish variety of biological species. The white covering indicates the Church made sanctified and pure through the blood of the unblemished lamb of God , Jesus Christ. The blood and body of Christ  were given to  the Church and the whole creation is sanctified through the Church. In worship we listen to the word of God , smell the odor of incense ,touch the hands of our brethren in Kiss of Peace and taste from the divine chalice perceiving the mysteries of the liturgical scenario.

3. Rituals, offerings and incense

God became man. He took flesh, matter was used in the redeeming process of  incarnation. Rituals offerings and material objects were given sufficient role in the ministry of Jesus. St. Luke chapter 5 verse 14 states , “ And he charged him to tell no one : but go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing as Moses commanded for a proof to the people”. Thus Jesus commanded to give offering and rites of thanks giving. Jesus is serious towards those who disobeyed the commandments. Jesus taught that offerings and rituals must help to be firm in faith and for the glorification of God. Jesus was respectful towards priesthood , offerings of thanks giving and vows . Even St.Paul cut his hair at Cenchreae, for he had  a vow ( Acts 18:18) .Bread , wine , water, oil and soil are all seen  used in the redemptive process according to the Bible.  “ You do this in remembrance of me, this is my  body and this is my blood” commanded Jesus. The offering of the incense is practiced in Christian worship ( See Rev. 8 : 3,4 Rev. 5:8, Heb 9:4, Mt.2: 11). Offering of the incense is to get rid of the plagues to remove the foul smell of sin, to please the Lord with complete dedication and to keep the Biblical commandments ( See Num. 16:46- 50 ) . Ex. 35: 8, 2 Chron 2: 4, 1 kg 9: 25, Malachi 1:11 etc.) With the offering of incense we are mingling with the prayers of all the saints. ( Rev, 8:4)

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Scripture And Tradition

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Tradition constitutes the Christian faith. It can be devoted as the act, by which something, which is handed down from ancestors of posterity. The Orthodox churches hold the view that apart from the Holy Scripture, other sources of divine revelation manifested through the incarnating Jesus also form part what churches believe and practice today. As social creatures, human beings depend not only on a contemporary group or literal writings, but also on earlier generations and their living conditions. They receive a heritage from a rich and diversified heritage, which may be called as tradition. However, when we assume the terminology ecclesiologically, the concept has deeper and wide meanings. There could be fundamental difference between tradition and traditions even. When traditions cover the concept and practices, which were handed down from ancestors, tradition, imbibe the integral part of everything that is it includes all the socio economic religion background in its integrity. When we transfer this aspect in ecclesiology, we will reach to the point that “Church itself in the traditions”.

What is Holy Scripture?

The Holy Scripture is the sacred book that reveals the divine plan of Salvation in Jesus, which God the Father has began in the Old Testament times. The Holy Scripture relates the history of salvation revealed to Israel (OT) and the church (NT) for the benefit of the whole humanity.

The OT and NT are Holy Scripture. The OT predicted and expected a saviour, the Messiah in the fullness of time. In the incarnation of Jesus, the prediction of OT, one part of the Holy Scripture was fulfilled. This fulfilment was recorded and preserved in literary form, which is the NT.

Why the Holy Scripture?

Thus, since the NT reveals the God through Jesus Christ, the Bible is a holy scripture. According to the church, God inspires the Holy Scripture. Therefore, the scripture is true, Sacred and infallible and normative. In this sense, the Holy Scripture is a divine book.

Divine inspiration of the scripture

The Holy Scripture has divine origin. The inspired men of God under divine directions speak God’s word or write it (cf. Ezekiel 3:4; Acts 1:16, 4:25; Rev. 2:1, 8, 15). The divine mysteries revealed by God to persons who then were under spiritual compulsion to speak or to write. Consequently, the creative intuition of the writer is reflected in the Holy Scripture. In other words, the scripture reflects divine charisma by which inspired words of God is written.

The divine inspiration is uttered in the Bible as St. Peter, the chief of the apostle says “First of all you must understand this, that no prophesy or scripture is a matter of ones own interpretation, because no prophesy ever come by human will, but men and women moved by Holy Spirit spoke from God” (II Pt. 1:20-21).

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Palestinian Christians Want A Peace Lamp In Every Church

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Its population may be dwindling, but the Palestinian village of Taybeh is striving to maintain normality in the midst of conflict, and hope in the midst of oppression.

Taybeh, 14 kilometres north east of Ramallah, is one of the few predominantly Christian villages in Palestine. Like villages all over the West Bank, it is suffering as many of its people decide to emigrate, seeing no other choice given the economic and physical hardship they suffer under Israeli occupation.

In the 1960s the town had a population of 3,400. The population today is 1,300. Unemployment stands at around 50 per cent.

But for Father Raed Abusahlia, priest of the Latin (Roman Catholic) church of Taybeh, the grim situation only adds urgency to efforts to empower the local people spiritually and economically, as he explained to an ecumenical delegation visiting the village in March.

The delegation – a Living Letters team travelling on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) – visited churches, ecumenical organizations and civil society groups in Israel and Palestine from 7 to 14 March.

There are three congregations in the village – Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic. The congregations worship together at Easter and Christmas, and are all actively involved in local projects.

The Latin parish runs a school, a medical centre, a hostel for pilgrims, and numerous church services and youth activities. These projects are designed to give the people hope, and a reason to stay in Taybeh, says Fr Abusahlia.

Its Peace Lamp initiative makes use of an abundant local product – olive oil – to promote peace and justice in the Holy Land. The lamps are produced in a workshop in Taybeh, providing jobs to 20 young men and women.

The goal is to place a Peace Lamp, with accompanying olive oil and a small candle, in every church in the world, and in this way, to encourage prayer and solidarity with the people of Palestine. All revenue from the sale of the lamps goes to charitable organizations like the Caritas medical centre and Beit Afram, Taybeh’s home for senior citizens.

Around 50 young people aged between five and 15 sing in the parish youth choir. The choir has produced a CD called With One Voice, and in 2006, eight children from the choir participated in a musical tour of France, performing 14 concerts throughout the country.

Around 100 groups of pilgrims visit Taybeh each year. Fr Abusahlia says that visitors can play an important role in breaking down the stereotypes that exist about Israel and Palestine.

“Maintaining the Christian presence in the Holy Land is the responsibility of all the Christians in the world,” he said. “When people visit, they can see that Taybeh is a place of peace. We encourage them to talk about Taybeh to their friends and family when they return home, and promote products like our Peace Lamps. That is the best sign of solidarity.”

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Oriental And Eastern Orthodox Churches

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How Different is The Eastern Orthodox Church?

Several people have asked me this question in several different forms:

– Who are these Orthodox– Protestants or Roman Catholics?

– What do they believe differently from the others?

– What is the difference between Orthodox and other Christians?

Let me try some simple answers to these three questions.

Who are the Indian Orthodox?

First, both Roman Catholics and Protestants are Western Christian groups. The Orthodox Church is not Western Christianity. Eastern in origin, it was from the beginning open to influences from all cultures. In the first century, Christianity was primarily an Asian-African religion. Only by the 4th century did the Roman Empire become increasingly Christian. The Strength of Christianity in the early period was in Palestine, Syria, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Libya. We can make a list of the earliest Churches — the Churches of the first century.

In the West, i.e. Italy: 2 Churches — Rome and Puteoli (today Pozzuoli near Naples)

Western Greece: 5 Churches — Nicopolis, Corinth, Athens, Thessalonica and Philippi.

Eastern Greece (Asia Minor, today Turkey): 15 Churches — Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Troas, Miletus, Colossae, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe.

Syria and the East: 6 Churches — Antioch, Tarsus Edessa, Damascus, Tyre, Sidon

Palestine: 4 Churches– Caesarea, Jerusalem, Samaria, Pella

Cyprus: 2 Churches– Paphos and Salamis

Egypt: Alexandria

Pentapolis (North Africa): Cyrene

India: Malabar

As you can see, only 2 out of 37 Apostolic Churches are strictly Western. If Western Greece and Cyprus are also regarded as Europe, then nine Churches are in Europe, while 28 are in Asia and Africa.

The Orthodox Church claims to be the true successor of all these Apostolic Churches, including the Italian Churches, which used Greek as their language of worship in that century. So the Orthodox Church is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. It regards itself as the true and faithful successor of the ancient Apostolic Church, and regards the Western or Roman Catholic Church as a group that broke off and went astray from the true tradition of the Christian Church. The Protestant Churches broke off much later (in the 16th century and after) from the Roman Catholic. The Orthodox are today in two families — the Oriental Orthodox family, to which the Indian Orthodox Church belongs, and the Byzantine Orthodox family, which is four times as large.

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Orthodox Spirituality

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Spirituality may be defined as the life in and with the Holy Spirit.  It is an ascetic and pious struggle against sin through repentance, prayer, fasting and participation in the sacramental life of the Church.  St. Paul Says: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish…. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like……  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And those who have are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-25). Orthodoxy has preferred always to use the terms ‘life in Christ’, ‘life in Spirit’, ‘the spiritual life’, and the ‘life in God’ to describe the life of the Christian in union with God, regardless of the level of this life. See Galatians 3:28; 3:20; 2 Corinthians 4: 11; 1 Corinthians 7: 8; Romans 8: 15; Ephesians 3: 16-17; Colossians 3:3; John 14: 23; 1 John 3:24 etc.

What is Orthodox Spirituality and what is it Goal?

Orthodox Spirituality presents the process of a Christian’s progress on the road to perfection in Christ, by the cleansing of passions and the winning of the virtues, a process which takes place in a certain order. Spirituality describes the manner in which the Christians can go forward from the cleansing of one passion, to the cleansing of another, and the same to the acquiring of the different virtues. Thus a certain level of perfection is reached and culminates in love. This is a state that represents the cleansing of all passions and the winning of all the virtues. As man/woman climbs toward this peak, he/she simultaneously moves toward union with Christ and the knowledge of Him by experience, which also means his/her deification.

The goal of Orthodox Spirituality is the perfection of the believer by his/her union with God in Christ. But as God is unending, the goal of our union with Him, or our perfection, has no point from which we can no longer progress. So all the Eastern Fathers say that perfection is unlimited. Thus our perfection is not only the goal but also an unending process. In this process two great steps can be distinguished: first, the moving ahead toward perfection through purification from the passions and the acquiring of the virtues and secondly a life progressively moving ahead in the union with God. At this point, man’s work is replaced by God’s. Man contributes by opening himself up receptively to an ever-greater filling with the life of God.

In short, we may narrate the following features of Orthodox Spirituality:

1. The culminating state of the spiritual life is a union of the soul with God, lived or experienced.

2. This union is realized by the working of the Holy Spirit, but until it is reached, man is involved in a prolonged effort of purification.

3. It takes place when man reaches the ‘likeness of God’. It is at the same time knowledge and love.

4. Among other things, the effect of this union consists of a considerable intensification of spiritual energies in man, accompanied by all kinds of charisma.

The Orthodox uses the word ‘deification’ or participation in the divinity to characterize the union with God. It, however, does not mean that here there is a pantheistic identification of man with God. But it asserts with courage the possibility of a ‘union’ of man with God, of a direct ‘vision’ of Him, of a ‘participation’ in Him, through grace.