A post originally shared on my old blog, Orthodox Ruminations:
Today I had an old friend, with whom I have recently reconnected with more over Facebook, ask me, “What is your goal as part of the Orthodox Church?” This prompted great thought in me as I later drove to visit a Catholic bookstore to purchase some icons. It brings to mind thediscussion of ethics from my Senior Capstone where we studied the deontological, teleological, and areteological ethics. Deontological ethics are ethics informed by rules we keep. Telelogical ethics are ethics informed by the goals we set for ourselves or as a society. Areteological ethics are ethics informed by the virtues that form us from within. I believe that the goal (teleological ethic) of Orthodoxy is union with God via the ascetic practices (a form/type of deontological ethics) which seeks to kill our flesh, our passions, and restore us to right virtue within (areteological ethics), to restore us to right living and right relationship with God. The goal of Orthodoxy for me incorporates all the ethical avenues into one ascetic cocoon that takes us in as sinners, but transforms us to one day be resurrected in new life.
I, again, would say that the overall goal of Orthodoxy is union with God through what we call theosis, meaning “to be made divine”. Orthodox Wiki states of theosis, “Theosis (‘deification,’ ‘divinization’) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (‘missing the mark’), being united with God, beginning in this life and later consummated in bodily resurrection.’ Of course we aren’t made divine as God is in His essence, but divine as we were made to be in our original glorious state. We become truly human again, which is what Christ shows us in His becoming human. Theosis is, as St. Peter said in his epistle, “putting on the divine nature”. Saint Athanasius said, “God became man that man may become god” (note the lower case g).
Now not to confuse readers unfamiliar with Orthodoxy too much we have a teaching about God’s energies and God’s essence. God’s essence is who He is, which is unknowable to us; it’s His ontology, His beingness, His ousia. It is the Numinous. His energies is manifestations of that essence. Grace itself is the energies of God which allow us to experience something of the Divine. We become like God in His energies. We become divine once again. We become Eucharistic. The real fall of man is that he ate that which he could not give thanks for. We become thankful. We take what God has made and given for our lives here on earth, along with our very lives, and offer them up in thanksgiving back to God through what we call askesis. Askesis is the practice of the spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship in the Divine Liturgy, etc. It is participating in the ascetic life to kill the Old Man, our flesh, and live from our hearts, where our true selves lie.
The goal of orthodoxy is theosis, the uniting of man with God, in holy love and holy light. It is union of the Divine with humanity. This is the goal of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is both internally focused, but externally present and manifested. Meaning the spiritual life is a struggle inherent in our own personal lives, but lived out and witnessed by all. Our goal is theosis, complete union with God. We are in continual repentance, and we are continually being made holy and are continually dying to the flesh. This is a struggle faced all our lives and is lived as repentance.
But we also live lives of holiness and show others the work of Christ in our lives. We do preach. We do evangelize. You don’t have 250 million adherents worldwide at this moment without evangelization. Of course our understanding of those things are vastly different than Protestants, but we do preach the Gospel and plant missions (new parishes) that feed the poor, hungry, etc. We do all of these things. Especially monastics.
However, it is by the quality of our inner lives that others see Christ. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” This is what we do. We share with many, with all, the peace of Christ who has taken us into Himself. Our lives as St. Paul says are hidden in Christ with God. (Col.)
When we gain this inner peace from the hell that is our lives we spread that joy to others. It is participating in the grace, the energies, of God. We reinvest that grace given to us by our own askesis and spreading the light of Christ, making Him present in our mortal flesh to those around us. We become little Christs.
I’d say that this is the goal of Orthodoxy. We have the teleological goal of union with God via the deontological goal of askesis which transforms us areteologically and conforms us to the image of Christ. This is theosis. This is Orthodoxy. We are eschatological beings and Orthodoxy is an eschatological faith. This is a very short answer to a very complex question posed to me, but I hope I do it some ounce of justice. This is the Orthodox Ethic so to speak. I believe the ethics perspective paints a great picture of Orthodoxy and what it seeks to do in the human heart and mind. This is our goal; this is our ethic.
May God have mercy on us all and remember us in His Kingdom.