Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Psychotherapy


On the experience of Theosis *

By Protopresbyter fr. John Romanides (†)

University Professor

Theosis does nothappento everyone, nor is it “just one” of the stages of our spiritual life.  

In the excerpt that follows, we can see what Theosis entails, and what its prerequisites are.


So now, when reading the Old and the New Testaments, who do we learn has attained Theosis?  In the Old Testament it was the Prophets, and in the New Testament it was the Apostles.  But before all others in the New Testament, it was saint John the Baptist who had attained it. Then followed some of the Apostles. Not all the Apostles simultaneously, because only three of the Apostles were present at Mount Tabor.  Even during the Transfiguration, the only ones that we are certain had attained Theosis in the New Testament were (apart from the Holy Mother of course) saint John the Baptist and then the three Apostles: Peter, James and John.  The entirety of the Apostles attained Theosis, only during the Pentecost. During the Pentecost, all of the Apostles (all seventy of them) attained Theosis, except for the traitor Judas of course, who was replaced by Matthias. And it was not only the Apostles who attained Theosis during the Pentecost, but numerous others also, who were also baptized on that same day.

Then we observe an odd phenomenon: that the first among idolaters – the first Gentile in the New Testament to attain Theosis – was the centurion Cornelius, who attained Theosis before his baptism. This example is reminiscent of Job in the Old Testament, who, even though he was not a Hebrew but an idolater, nevertheless attained Theosis. But we also have another example of a person attaining Theosis and being baptized afterwards: that of Paul the Apostle.

The Spirit “moves where He wills”. That is why Peter had said in the case of Cornelius: “Who am I to contradict the Holy Spirit Who gave Cornelius the same Grace that we received on the Pentecost, and refuse to baptize him?”  But, it is one thing for God’s will to not be confined when leading someone into Theosis, and another thing for us to claim that we all partake of the Grace that leads to Theosis, which would be a foolish thing to assert.  God’s Theosis-giving energy acts only on those who have reached (by the Grace of God) the required state of receptiveness for Theosis.

This Theosis-giving energy of God acts in stages, that is, gradually. Its first stage is calledellampsis (an inner ‘flickering’ of light).  The duration of the state of “ellampsis” ranges from one second up to a few minutes; in other words, only for a short while.  Then follows the second stage, during which we speak of a “viewing of the uncreated Light”. Those who have experienced a viewing of the uncreated Light (theumens) are the ones who have reached the stage of Theosis.  Then there is the third stage, the stage of the perfected ones, during which we have a continuous viewing of the uncreated Light. These are the classifications of the experience of God’s Theosis-giving energy.

God’s enlightening energy is not the same thing. Because this energy is the enlightening of the heart by the Holy Spirit, which, at its higher level, relates to the noetic prayer. At its lower level, that of the neophytes, this condition is usually not accompanied by the noetic prayer.

This is the condition of those newly-baptized during Great Saturday of the Holy Week of Easter, the neophytes. Those neophytes are supposedly going to become enlightened, through further catechism, between Easter and the Pentecost. Of course, not everyone will undoubtedly reach the state of noetic prayer on the day of the Pentecost (that is, in 50 days), because they may require sixty or a hundred days, or a year, two years, three years, or they may never reach that state at all. Reaching it will depend mainly on the neophyte, in other words, on how persistently he struggles – and legitimately at that – and also on how proper a guidance he has received from an experienced spiritual father. According to Patristic tradition, if that person never attains that desired state, it means that he has fallen into some kind of spiritual stagnancy.

Man’s catharsis from the passions of the soul and the body cannot be achieved merely through knowledge. Knowledge of the dogma is of course required, as well as a knowledge of the content of the Holy Bible, a knowledge of the prayer, etc.. In other words, logic is useful for man to make his calculations, to determine what his therapy entails, and even to decide on whether he wants to be cured or not. In this way, Man can weigh and evaluate the potential results of his decisions, and then proceeds to decide.

All the aforementioned are processes of Man’s logic. Naturally, the Holy Spirit Who acts upon Man’s intellect and his heart through his conscience helps Man choose the right direction. However, the Holy Spirit does not compel Man to do anything, if he does not desire it; but once Man has decided to follow the narrow and sorrow-ridden path that leads to Life, that is when a particular education from God begins for Man.

One may be able to obtain a University diploma “under the table”, however, the diploma of enlightenment cannot be obtained this way, but only with one’s worth, with one’s personal labors. You are enlightened, or you are not.  You are a “theumen”, or you are not. According to modern Orthodox Theology however, when one is baptized he is called newly-enlightened (neophyte) and is automatically considered “enlightened” and a “temple of the Holy Spirit”.

In fact, nowadays, we hear priests asserting in sermons that since we are baptized, we are all temples of the Holy Spirit, and since we are temples of the Holy Spirit, everything that the Apostle Paul writes, applies to all of us!  But when we read saint John the Damascene and specifically all that he wrote regarding the holy relics of the Saints of our Church, all those verses by saint Paul pertain only to the Saints, as regards who is truly a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Saint John the Damascene also explains why the Saints were Saints of the Church. He clarifies that they were truly temples of the Holy Spirit and he refers only to the Saints as temples of the Holy Spirit.  Proof of this, is their holy, undeteriorated relics. Based on the above, it would mean that, if all of us who are baptized are temples of the Holy Spirit, then, according to modern theologians of Orthodoxy, we shall all leave behind us holy, intact relics, and we shall all become Saints, after our departure for the afterlife!  But something like that is out of the question.

If one were to read the Fathers carefully, one would see a certain deviation between the Patristic teachings on the Sacraments of the Church and the teachings that are included in modern textbooks on the Sacraments of the Church. This is the reason that modern Orthodoxy is at a certain stage of alienation from Patristic tradition and Orthodoxy. This signifies a necessity for us to return to it.

Thus, we have the Grace that provides us with Theosis, we have the Grace that provides us with enlightenment, and we have the Grace that provides us with catharsis. The first stage of spiritual life is catharsis. And this stage is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit Who cleanses, illuminates and bestows Theosis.  The procedure for catharsis and enlightenment is the job of the catechumen himself, but also the job of the catechumen’s spiritual father, whose task it is to open the eyes of the catechumen and to prepare him for the Baptism. Of course the spiritual father is obliged to be in a state of enlightenment, so that he can introduce others into that state and lead them towards Baptism, both by the water (=the cleansing of sins) and by the Spirit, which is the visitation of the Holy Spirit inside the heart of the one being baptized, and the illumination of his heart.

Thus, in the ancient Church, we have neophytes first (that is, the newly baptized), then they proceed to undergo catechism and ascetic upbringing by their spiritual father, and, when a spiritual father says that someone is ready for enlightenment, then he is taken to the temple and is “enlightened”, through his chrismation with the Holy Unction. At a later stage, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells permanently inside that person, because he has love, he obeys all the commandments, etc.

Should you wish to verify these spiritual stages, please read chapters 14 to 17 in the Gospel according to John. These are all clearly written in there, and that is the reason these chapters are cited in church, during Great Thursday of the Holy Week of Easter.

In the past, those who were to be baptized on Great Saturday of Easter were given an explanation and were catechized as to what was expected to happen during holy Baptism, during which the neophyte was to be received, so that he could be introduced smoothly and be directed properly towards the new spiritual experience. From the neophyte stage they had to reach full enlightenment on the day of the Pentecost. In other words, their enlightenment had to be completed within fifty days (from Great Saturday to the feast of the Pentecost), without this being something absolute, as we already mentioned. During this period, there would be an intensive catechism regarding the stages of spiritual life. For this reason, the Gospel according to John would be read in the temples, between Easter and the Pentecost, because John’s Gospel is the Gospel of enlightenment and theosis, whereas the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are the Gospels of catharsis.

On the basis of these distinctions, we have – apart from the other energies of God – the energy of theosis, the energy of enlightenment and the energy of catharsis, the latter of them being for the catechumens. In all these energies, in other words, the cathartic, the enlightening and theotic energies, only the Orthodox Christians can partake. Not all Christians; only Orthodox Christians. And not all Orthodox, but only those of the Orthodox who have the necessary spiritual prerequisites.

Apart from these three energies of God, we have the creative energy of God, in which all creations participate, and God’s connective and conservative energy, in which creations again participate. Everything in the universe participates in the connective and conservative energy of God, because God preserves the world. Apart from these, there is the provisional energy of God (Divine Providence), the loving energy of God, the chastising energy of God, etc.


*theosis = Greek, deification, glorification.

Fr John Romanides, Patristic Theology , Parakatatheke Publications 2004, Prologue by Protopresbyter George D. Metallinos,  Supervision – Commentar: Monk Damascene, Holy Mountain.


Greek text

Article published in English on: 2-5-2007.

Last update: 3-5-2007.