THEOSIS IN THE CITY by Giacomo Sanfilippo

The Department of Theological Studies at Concordia University in Montreal is hosting a conference called Theology in the City: Resilience and Hope in an Age of Fear on October 31-November 1. I submitted the following proposal, which I share with Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s readers to generate reflection and discussion on all that “Orthodoxy as a way of life” consists of.

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Theosis in the City: An Orthodox Reflection

Orthodox spirituality, anthropology, soteriology, eschatology, even cosmology, revolve entirely around the doctrine of theosis, or deification: the eternal purpose for which God created us, and for which the Son and Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, finds its fulfilment in the transfiguration of the human person by grace into all that God is by nature.

As a foretaste of the age to come, the experience of deification here and now is often thought to lie uniquely within reach of Christian mystics who practice hesychastic spirituality in remote hermitages.

Yet St. Maximus the Confessor makes deification accessible to ordinary Christians in the heart of the city: “Unless you give money to the poor cheerfully every day, you have not even begun to become God.”

Maximus is not alone among the Fathers. The consensus patrum witnesses unanimously to the voluntary redistribution of personal wealth, not in occasional acts of dispensing spare pocket change, but in the very way of life required of all of us by the Gospel.  

After a brief introduction to the Orthodox understanding of theosis, my paper will explore the practice of almsgiving as central to the urban Christian’s path to deification. In the daily act of laying down our life for “the other” at every street corner, outside every Tim Horton’s, on every sidewalk grate in the dead of our frigid Canadian winters, we dispel fear. We discover hope. We renew the resilience of the human spirit in the image and likeness of God.

Giacomo Sanfilippo is an Orthodox Christian, PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, founding editor of Orthodoxy in Dialogue, and contributor of religious commentary at the Kyiv Post.

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