Interview with Fr. Anthony Coniaris
by Dr. Tony Vrame
Christification or "the putting on of Christ." In the Orthodox Church salvation is much more than salvation from sin. It is much more positive. It is the salvation from sin so we may "put on Christ."
Why should this strange word be important to me as an Orthodox Christian?
It is important because when we are baptized we vow to "put on Christ". When at the end of life we appear before the throne of God, we will be asked, "I gave you the image of God, restored in holy baptism, where now is the likeness of God?" Theosis or Christification for the Orthodox Christian is the purpose of life.
Can I find theosis in the Bible? If so, where? If not, where did the term come from in the Orthodox Tradition?
The word 'theosis' is not found in the Bible but the process of theosis or Christification is mentioned in 2 Peter 1:4: "...that we may become participants of the divine nature." Partakers of divine nature means being like Christ or theosis. St. Athanasius said, "God became man so man may become god."
Theosis sounds like something only a monk or a nun can accomplish? Is it really possible in today's world?
Orthodox theology calls the potential for which God created us: THEOSIS. Some are frightened by this word. Yet it's really a very simple concept, namely, the core of the good news of Orthodoxy is that we are called to share in the very life of God. Salvation in Orthodox theology is much more positive than it is negative. It means not only justification and forgiveness of sins; it means also—and even more so—the renewing and restoration of God's image in us, the lifting up of fallen humanity through the Trinity into the very life of God. Christ forgives us and frees us from sin and death that we may proceed to fulfill our potential, which is to become like God in Christ.
The above quotation is from one of the most recent studies of this doctrine, translated from the French, The Divinization of the Christian According to the Greek Fathers, by Jules Gross, translated by Paul A. Onica, and published by A. and C press. Anaheim, CA. 2002.
Comparing theosis with its pagan Hellenic precedents, Gross shows how the Fathers saw theosis as a decidedly Christian doctrine.
Theosis is not part of what Harnack called the transformation of the primitive Gospel into pagan Greek metaphysics. It is rather the development of something that was there from the very beginning, something to which we must continually return, to what St. Irenaeus calls "the Word delivered to us in the beginning." The early Fathers of the East did not Hellenize Christianity as much as they Christianized Hellenism.
This sounds like something someone has to work on throughout their lives. What does someone do? Can theosis be "accomplished"?
Yes, you are correct, becoming like God in Christ, or theosis, is something we work on throughout life. The process of theosis begins here on earth and is fulfilled in heaven. My latest book, Tools for Theosis speaks at length on how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the process of becoming like Christ.
You've written a great deal on the topic. Other than yourself, who else should I be reading? Why are they important?
Other books on Theosis are:
- Am I saved? By Fr. Theodore Bobosh. Light and Life.
- Partakers of Divine Nature. Archimandrite Christoforos Stavropoulos. Translated by S. Harakas. Light and Life Publ. Co. 1976.
- The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Vladimir Lossky. SVS Press. Crestwood, NY. 1976
- Achieving Your Potential in Christ: Theosis. Light and Life Publ. Co. A. Coniaris. Mpls, MN 2004
- Tools for Theosis or Christification. A. Coniaris. Light and Life Publ. Co. Mpls, MN 2014
Why did you begin Light and Life Publishing?
Light and Life was founded because of a retired school teacher, Sally Ingram. I had no intention of being a writer or founding a publishing company. For years she kept hounding me to publish some of my sermons. For no other reason than to get her off my back I decided to self-publish my first book "Eastern Orthodoxy: A Way of Life" whose success led to the founding of Light and Life Publishing Company. At that time (1966) there were just a handful of books available in English on the Orthodox Christian Faith.
When you meet a new author, what advice do you usually offer?
Persevere. Be aware of the few Orthodox publishing houses in existence. If they refuse your manuscript, try to self-publish it; such as Lulu.com or Iuniverse.com. Then ask the existing publishing houses to advertise it for sale or use Amazon.com. Persevere!
What topics do you think need more attention in books?
The topics that are covered at this conference are of significant importance. My latest book, Tools for Theosis cover the many ways available to assist us on our journey to theosis. Our people need to be educated on their extremely high potential in Christ. The Orthodox understanding of salvation is much more positive than negative. It is salvation from sin for the "putting on of Christ." It is proceeding from the image of Christ (in which we were created) to the likeness of God or Christification which we must attain.