This may be a bit long -- and not the most helpful for your purposes -- but it is a decent little summary. It comes from the notes Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis gave out in his Dogmatics II class at Holy Cross. NB: I have selected just a few paragraphs from about 30 some pages on the "Gift of Salvation," a section which examines all of the various metaphors and explanations of salvation depicted in Scripture, the Fathers and in theology. What follows are some bits from the introduction and the section on divinization. Most of the footnotes are included...The Gift of SalvationGeneral Remarks
The doctrine of salvation refers to the ecclesial experience and understanding of what Jesus Christ has accomplished through His life, death and resurrection for the life of the world. In Orthodox dogmatics the work of Jesus is not separated from His personhood and consequently the doctrine of salvation is always to be seen as an inseparable aspect of Who Jesus Christ is...
[Several paragraphs omitted]
Soteriology is not an abstract notion for Orthodox theology because it refers to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, Who through His incarnation and suffering participated in the totality of human life. It is because of this ontological identification of God with the world that the resurrection granted to creation the possibility and gift of participating in the fullness of God's glory. Salvation in the Scriptures is primarily God's initiative, an indirect or direct act of the Triune God Who desires to save human beings from all physical, psychological, individual or social harm. The life endangering situations from which God intends to save His people and His creation are seen as consequences of sin that bring death to the world. God's saving acts reveal the love of God for His people (His filanthropia
), and the fact that He is the Lord of creation and of history. It is the responsibility of those who experience God's saving actions to bear witness to what they have received. Orthodox theologians view salvation primarily in terms of communion, sanctification, or deification (theosis
) that is based on a synergy of divine grace and human freedom. Bishop Maximos Aghiorgousis reflecting upon biblical texts summarizes the prevailing Orthodox view of salvation:
Salvation in Christ is given to humankind through Christ's incarnation, His entire life and work, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection from the dead. Salvation in Christ is freedom from sin, from death, and from the powers of darkness, and healing of our human nature. Ultimately, salvation is restoration of life in communion with God. (Bishop Maximos Aghiorgousis, "Orthodox Soteriology," in Salvation in Christ: A Lutheran - Orthodox Dialougue, ed. John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias, (Minneapolis, 1992), 36.)
As Vladimir Lossky states, the divine plan of salvation was not fulfilled by Adam; instead of a straight line of ascent toward God, the will of the first man followed a path contrary to nature, ending in death. God alone can endow man with the possibility of deification, by liberating him at one and the same time from death and from captivity to sin. What man ought to have attained by raising Himself to God, God achieved by descending to man. Nicholas Cabasilas, a Byzantine theologian of the fourteenth century, said on this subject:
The Lord allowed men, separated from God by the triple barrier of nature, sin and death, to be fully possessed of Him and to be directly united to Him by the fact He has set aside each barrier in turn: that of nature by His incarnation, of sin by His death, and of death by His resurrection. (De la vie en Christ, III.)
The different images of salvation found in the Scriptures do not necessarily represent different models of salvation but aspects of the same reality which compliment one another as they communicate God's love for the world. A study of these images presupposes a serious reflection on the human predicament because it would be meaningless to discuss what salvation is unless we know why humanity is in need of being saved by God. Furthermore, salvation only becomes meaningful when we reflect on the human condition and the alienating forces that bring destruction and death to the world. A coherent theology of salvation demands that we communicate the redemptive and sanctifying work of Jesus Christ through all the images and notions that Scripture uses for that purpose. It is also desirable to trace the interconnection of all these images so that we may avoid the danger of overemphasizing a dimension of salvation that a particular image portrays thereby ignoring other aspects of it.*
*Footnote: The ARCIC report on "The Church and Salvation" states: —The concept of salvation has the all-embracing meaning of the deliverance of human beings from evil and their establishment in that fullness of life which is God's will for them (e.g. Luke 1:77; John 3:16-17; cf. John 10:10). The understanding of salvation as reconciliation and forgiveness stresses the restoration of broken relationships (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:18ff; Eph. 2.13-18). The language of expiation or propitiation (hilasterion, etc.), drawn from the context of sacrifice, denotes the putting away of sin and reestablishment of right relationship with God (e.g. Rom. 3:25; Heb.2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10). To speak of redemption or liberation is to talk of rescue from bondage so as to become God's own possession, and of freedom bought for a price (e.g. Mark 10:45; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18ff). The notion of adoption refers to our new identity as children of God (e.g. Rom. 8:15-17,23; Gal. 4:4ff). Terms like regeneration, rebirth and new creation speak of God's work of re-creation and the beginning of new life (e.g. John 3:3; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 1:23). The theme of sanctification underlines the fact that God has made us his own and calls us to holiness of life (e.g. John 17:15ff; Eph. 4f:25ff; 1 Pet.1:15ff). The concept of justification relates to the removal of condemnation and to a new standing in the eyes of God (e.g. Rom. 3:22ff, 4:5, 5:1ff; Acts 13:39). Salvation in all these aspects comes to each believer as he or she is incorporated into the believing community.
[Extensive discussion of the human condition and Orthodox anthropology; then "Salvation as Liberation"; then the following:]Salvation as Deification
What does the liberation of creation and especially of humanity from the oppressive and destructive forces of evil and death mean for the life and the destiny of the world? The world created ex nihilo
by God's creative will is by nature a created, mortal, finite entity destined to return to nothingness by death and corruption when it cuts itself from communion with God's creative and life-giving love. The world does not have in itself the power to avoid death. Death permeates whatever is created in nature. In fact, according to John Zizioulas, what the fall brings to the world is an impossibility to overcome death. Thus liberation from the devil, sin, corruption and death commences with God's love for His creation which leads to the incarnation of His Logos, that is, the ontological identification of God with humanity. The liberation of the world discussed in the previous section implies that man now has the potential through and in Christ to be in communion with God, and thus participate in God's glory since the only way to overcome death and corruption is to achieve continuous communion with the uncreated, eternal, and uncorrupted God.
The destiny of man is to unite the world with God, since through the material element of his being he relates to the world and through his spiritual element he relates to the spiritual world. Human beings are mediators between God and creation destined to bring the whole creation into communion with God. The fall signifies the human desire to be gods and to possess the world. Yet since man is created in the same way as the world, creation -- due to human rebellion against God -- is unable to escape or overcome the reality of death. Thus the fall signifies the impossibility of transcending death. Neither law nor ethics can liberate humanity from death. They have the potential to limit sin and thus improve the world, but they cannot save the world from corruption and death. Humanity can be saved only if it is united with the uncreated, immortal and incorruptible God.
It is the fundamental belief of the Orthodox Church that the one Lord, Jesus the Christ, Who is Himself salvation in person, saved humanity by becoming human Himself, and so enabled humanity to share or rather to participate in what He is. This notion of salvation is explicitly asserted in II Peter 1:4: "Through these promises" -- that is, through the promises given by Jesus Christ — "you can be partakers in the divine nature." St. Paul in II Corinthians 8:9 upholds a similar view, stating: "You know how generous our Lord Jesus Christ has been: He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich." Orthodox theology understands as ontological and not metaphorical the language of II Peter 1:4 and those Pauline texts which refer to salvation as participation, through baptism and Eucharist, in Christ's life. As Nicholas Cabasilas writes, commenting on St. Paul's words:
Christ is truly united with us, He permeates us through and through, takes complete possession of us inwardly and surrounds us....Think what it means for Christ's mind to be mingled with ours, our will to be blended with His, our body with His body, and our blood with His....And that this does indeed happen Paul indicates when he states that he has neither mind nor will of his own, but Christ has become all these things for him...God Himself is made one with us in the most perfect of all possible unions. (De Vita in Christo 4 (PG 150, 584c-585ab).
Salvation consequently is much more than an imitation of Christ on the level of moral action; it is a genuine organic participation in the Savior’s life and power. However, for such participation humanity needs to be liberated from the forces of destruction; namely, the devil, sin, corruption and death; which alienate humanity from its true nature and destiny. This liberation of humanity from sin, death and corruption, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, was accomplished in the resurrection of Christ because of the mysterious identity of all men with His human nature.
Christ conjoined Himself with our nature in order that by its conjunction with the Godhead it might become divine, being exempted from death and rescued from adverse tyranny. For His triumphal return from death inaugurated the triumphal return of the human race to life immortal. (Or. Cat. 25.)
Salvation in the Orthodox tradition, therefore, is the transcendence of death. The origin of evil is not disobedience but the impossibility of transcending death and corruption. Obedience is not the remedy for the problem of the fall, because while it could stop sin it could not liberate man from the limitations of his created existence. This could only occur by the initiative of the uncreated God to establish a communion of life and love with creation. St. Athanasius wrote a whole book in order to emphasize that the primary goal of incarnation was the unity of creation with the uncreated God. In his opinion "the Son of God became man that we might be deified," (Ad Adelph
. 4). Athanasius emphasizes that only Christ can save us because He alone is man and God:
Seeing that all men were perishing as a result of Adam's transgression, His flesh was saved and delivered before all the others because it had become the body of the Word Himself, and henceforth we were saved, being of one body with Him in virtue of it.(C. Ar. 2,61.)
St. Athanasius defends the divinity of Jesus as the necessary basis of our salvation. We become gods by being consubstantial with Christ only if Christ is consubstantial with the Father:
By partaking of Him [Christ], we partake of the Father; because the Word is the Father's own. Whence, if He was Himself too from participation, and not from the Father His essential Godhead and Image, He would not deify, being deified Himself. (De syn. 51.)
The concept of communion with God by deification (theosis
) can be misunderstood in a pantheistic way. St. Athanasius who coined the famous formula, "The Logos assumed humanity, that we might become God" (On the Incarnation
54), also defended the absolute transcendence of divine nature; creatures exist by the will
of God, but the divine Logos is Son of God by nature
. For Athanasius, therefore, deification can only be based upon the historical fact of the incarnation: the assumption by the Logos, consubstantial with the Father (and not with creation), of the mortal, limited, perishing human nature.
The will of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is to reconcile to Himself all that He has created and sustains, to set free the creation from its bondage to decay, and to draw all humanity into communion with Himself. To bring us to union with Himself the Father sent into the world Jesus Christ, His only Son, through Whom all things were created. He is the image of the invisible God; he took flesh so that we in turn might share the divine nature and so reflect the glory of God. Through Christ's life, death and resurrection, the mystery of God's love is revealed, we are saved from the powers of evil, sin and death, and we receive a share in the life of God. Through Christ's assumption, in the incarnation, of the universal human nature which was crucified and raised from the dead and in which all have the potential to participate, sanctification (deification) becomes possible for all people and through them for all creation. All this is a pure and unmerited gift.
The unity of man with God, of created beings with the eternal and unbegotten God, is accomplished through the operation of the Holy Spirit that brings all into unity with the risen Christ. The Spirit of God is poured into the hearts of believers. The "Spirit of adoption" makes us sons and daughters of God, uniting us with Christ and, in Christ, with all those who by faith are one with Him. Through Baptism we are grafted into Christ's body by sacramentally participating in His death and resurrection. Through Baptism and the Eucharist each person shares in the risen humanity of Christ constituting a communal unity, koinonia
, which is the Church. And since Christ's humanity is emphatically united with the divine Logos, "life in Christ" can also be termed "deification."
It is important to remember that the intervention of God in creation is accomplished mainly by one person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos of God. However, since the three persons of the Holy Trinity are not separated or independent of each other, we must assume that all three persons of the Trinity are involved in Christ's redemptive work. The salvation of the world is not just the preoccupation of the second person of the Trinity but of all, with the one qualification that each person of the Trinity assumes a specific role which the other persons do not assume. The role that the Logos assumes is His identification with the fallen creation and consequently His identification with corruption, death and all its consequences, such as pain and grief. This, however, would not have been undertaken by the Logos if it was not the will of the Father. Thus, Christology begins not with Christ the Logos but with the Father.
It is the will of God to save the world. Everything is derived from the Father and our salvation is the experience of His care. The Father wills and the Son becomes man. Although our salvation is by the will of the Father, it is the Son who entered into history. Thus the Father does not participate in His plan of Salvation in the same way as the Son. The Holy Spirit cooperates without becoming incarnate in history. The Holy Spirit is always together with Christ. The Spirit is the One Who liberates the Son from the consequences of His identification with the corrupt and death-bound creation. Whenever Jesus makes a serious decision, the Holy Spirit assists Him to decide freely and not to be subject to natural instincts. The Holy Spirit is present in every major stage of Jesus' ministry (birth, in the desert, baptism, resurrection). Whatever is done through the Holy Spirit is a free act that transcends natural reality. Christology is an event of freedom because Jesus in His humanity decides freely to do the will of God for our salvation. Thus we cannot study Christology without referring to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, fulfills the will of God the Father in redeeming creation from its bondage.
The three persons of the Holy Trinity participate in God's act for the salvation of the world. Soteriology therefore cannot be understood apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. It involves the Father's will, the decision of the Son to execute the will of the Father and enter into history, and the giving of the Holy Spirit by which we are united with God. The Holy Spirit always leads us to Christ since He, in His glorified humanity, offers salvation to the world.
One interesting additional footnote:
Why did God choose to come to the world through Mary and the Holy Spirit? God had to come to the world freely and man had to accept him freely! Mary as the representative of humanity freely concedes to God's love. The fact that the Logos of God became man in that free manner is indicative of God's personal relationship with His creation and of creation’s relationship with God. His incarnation is not a coercive act, a natural law or a necessity. God took the initiative to become man not because He wanted to prove His power but in order to reveal His Love for the creation and make creation a participant of His glory. Man was the mediator, the one who through his freedom would unite creation with God. Whatever God had hoped for man was destroyed by Adam's freedom. Now Mary freely brings God into the world. The rebellion of man against God did not change God's intentions for the world but it changed the process employed since that process had to take seriously man's refusal to be united with God, i.e. man’s rebellion. Man in his freedom and because of his fall causes God to radically change His methods for the fulfillment of His salvific plan. God, however, does not permit the modification of His eternal goal for His creation.
If the fall did not occur, according to St. Maximus, Adam would have been the one to unite the created world with God. The fall created a new reality that caused God to change His initial plan.