Archimandrite Alexander Mileant
Translated Ana P. Joyce / Barbara Olson
“Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mat. 23:13).
NOT SO LONG AGO, the actress Shirley MacLaine delighted a large television audience when, by standing with open arms on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, she began to sing, “I am God, I am God, I am God." This was shown in the television mini-series “Out On a Limb” in 1987. Believers could have ignored that eccentric actress’ silly performance if it weren’t for the fact that it was a planned act for the popularization of the New Age movement. This now-fashionable teaching preaches that everything is God and God is all; i.e., that God and nature are one. Consequently every person is God. From this comes the conclusion that the task of human life is to reveal one's latent divinity, to recognize oneself as “god.” “When you finally understand your divine nature,” say the ‘apostles’ of the new doctrine, “a remarkable sensation will overcome you that you are above space and time, above all that is material.”
Similar proud statements are not new; Hinduism has preached them for a long time. One of the modern popularizers of Hinduism, Sai Baba, writes, “You are the God of the universe… You truly are God … You are not man, you are God” [Sathyam-Shivam Sundaram; Sathya Sai Speaks, Bangalore, India, 1973]. During transcendental meditation, one is advised to convince oneself, “I am the sun; I am the true, true sun… The whole universe moves by me and receives its existence from me… I was before the beginning of the world… I penetrate every atom and bring it into movement… Oh, how marvelous I am… I am the entire universe... Everything is in me… I am God!” [Swami Visnudevananda, The complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, New York, Pocket Books, 1972].
There is no need to say how ludicrous such claims are to the Christian point of view. Recognizing the high purpose of man, Christianity teaches to clearly distinguish between the infinite omnipotent Creator and everything else. “God dwells in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Tim. 6:16). In essence, God is everything and we are nothing. If a person humbly bows down to his Creator and submits to His will, he is able, with God’s help, to grow and improve — within the limits of his nature.
Therefore, it is very strange to listen when preachers, posing as Christians, echo the Indian guru and call for their followers to find their deity. Listen, for example, to what the Mormons preach: “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become” [Lorenzo Snow, Millennial Star, vol. 7 and vol. 54]. Also, “Remember that God our heavenly Father was perhaps a child, and mortal like we are, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome until He has arrived at the point where He is now” [Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, vol. 1]. Joseph Smith, the founder of the sect of Mormons, preached, “I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see .… It is first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of all us, dwelt on an earth…” [J. Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-347]. Similar statements can be heard from other Mormon “prophets." For them, the Lord Jesus Christ is not the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, consubstantial with the Father, but rather one of the gods, equal with the angel Lucifer and with other spirits! The subject of things doesn’t change the fact that the Mormons consider one of the gods as the main one, but the fact that their god is limited and is not the unique.
We, however, believe that the true God is not only the main one among those allegedly similar to Him, but that He is unique and the only God, to Whom there are none similar. There exists only one God — the almighty and eternal Creator; all other creatures are like small numbers in comparison with the infinite.
What is tragic for the modern society is the fact that with all its scientific and technological progress, on the spiritual level mankind is becoming primitive and all the more yields to the sin of pride, under which crazy ideas about the unveiling of one’s divinity are met with greater sympathy. In accordance with apostle Paul, the distinctive characteristic of Antichrist, the last enemy of Christianity, will be his boundless pride. This will be “that man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or holiness, so that he will sit in the temple of God as God, portraying himself that he is God” (2 Thes. 2:4). Will not his absurd claim of deity be approvingly met by his contemporary society, because it itself will be completely poisoned by the ideas of deification of man?
It is necessary to note that all doctrines exalting man at the expense of the Creator, although they may differ on some minor issues, are either of occult origin or at least have developed under the influence of some occult teachings. For example, the ancient pagan polytheism with its magic and mysteries, as well as the modern Mormonism — dictated by “spirits” — introduce a great number of deities. Theosophical teachings, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and the modern New Age movement also preach pantheism. Rejecting the personal God-Creator, they teach that nature itself is Divine. Of course, the pantheistic god is not in any way God, but nature to which is attributed some god-like properties: eternity, ubiquitousness, rationality, and distinctive fairness. Strictly speaking, pantheism is an ennobled atheism.
The ancient Pythagorists, Gnostics, Neoplatonists, and a number of subsequent philosophical schools belong to the third group of doctrines, as, for example, Jacomba Beme, Shopenhauer, Swedenborg, Parasels, Shelling, and others. It is known that Gnostic sects were especially active during the first three centuries of Christianity and were a great hindrance for the Church. The doctrines of this group introduce different intermediary beings between the Absolute-God and the lower world. Some call one of these as Demiurg; others, Logos or Sophia; still others the “universal soul” or the “feminine principle in God," and so forth. These doctrines are extremely confusing and contradictory in many details, but some form of emanation from the Absolute is common to all of them. Lower deities, or “eons" of ancient Gnostics, flow as graded waterfalls from one to another, beginning with the transcendental Absolute, the Highest Beginning, or Primary Source, and ending with our physical world. For some Gnostics, the number of intermediaries between the Great Unknowable and the material world reached thirty-two, for others it was limited to just a few.
Again, the Absolute of these doctrines is not the true God we Christians believe in, because by emitting from himself lower beings he himself becomes subject to the laws of change and compulsion. Besides granting his eons with divine characteristics, such as creativity or the power for world management, the Gnostics limit their Absolute. In this way they erase the distinction between the Creator and the creature.
By the way, the temptation to make a bridge between the Creator and the creature has touched Russian theology as well, thanks to the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov. A great number of religious thinkers, enthusiastic about his ideas, as for example Rev. Sergei Bulkakov, Rev. Pavel Florenski, Prof. Nikolai Berdyaev, and some theologians of Saint Segius Theological Institute in Paris, developed further his ideas about Sofia, the global soul and “the feminine principle” in God along the Gnostic ideas. (On this subject refer to the detailed article by protopresbyter Mikhail Pomazanski, Readings on God as Man, Orthodox Way, 1956).
Professor A.V. Kartashov, concerning the influence of V. Solovyov on Russian religious thought, writes, “The mystical horse on which Solovyov flies over the formidable abyss that exists between God and the world is the long-deserted and forgotten Sophia. Repeating thousand-year-old ancient attempts of the Hellenic philosophy, the biblical hokism, the rabbinical Cabala, and the wild Gnostic science-fiction writings, to fill by illusion the abyss between the Creator and His creatures, Solovyov chooses for this purpose… Sofia, and thus infects our religious-philosophical thinkers and poets for a long time... No gradualness, no bridges of eons can possibly cross the ontological breach between two polarities [God and world]… No crescendo-diminuendo from the creature to the Creator et vice versa can create the solid continuity; and through any of the microscopic cracks, as if into the bottomless pit, falls everything that was constructed" (Article on the 1500 year Ecumenical Council in Chalcedony).
Professor Rev. Georgi Florovskii commented about the Sense of Love by V. Solovyov, “This is some ghastly occult project of reunification of humanity with God through multi-sexual love” (The Paths of Russian Theology).
Disassociating oneself from all attempts to make a bridge between the infinite and the finite, the Orthodox Church does not recognize any independent deities, nor emanations from the Primary source, nor intermediaries between God and creature.
The church teaches that originally nothing existed — neither a spiritual nor a material world. Even time and space are not eternal but are qualities of this temporary world. There existed always the Singular, unchangeable and all-perfect God: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit as Trinity, one in essence and undivided.
When it was pleasing to God, He first created a great spiritual world which He populated with rational spirits called angels; after that — our visible, material world. For creation of one and the other He did not use any substance, because there was none, but created everything from nothing by the distinct action of His omnipotent will. Nothing forced Him to create: He created when and how it was pleasing to His will. So, God is the single source of existence for all things visible and invisible. The angels and human souls are not eternal, but only immortal, and are so not by nature, but by the will of their Creator. Only God is eternal and immortal by His essence.
“God always was, is and will be, or better to say, always is,” explains St. Gregory the Theologian, “because the words 'was' and 'will be' indicate divisions of time and are characteristic to transient nature. But ‘being’ is always. And by this name (Jehovah) He calls Himself… because He concentrates within Himself the most complete being, which does not begin and will not end. He is like a sea of essence, indescribable and infinite, extending beyond the limits of any comprehension of time and nature.”
Between infinite and perfect being of God and everything else there exists a qualitative abyss, which does not allow for any intermediary. Between God and the world there cannot be anything in the middle, just as there is nothing between the logical one and the logical zero.
But being infinite and all perfect, God is not far from the world, as some think, as if he dwells somewhere far beyond the limits of the universe. On the contrary, He embraces everything and penetrates everything with Himself; He is simultaneously everywhere, but at the same time He, as the purest Spirit, does not mix with anything and nothing touches Him.
One must speak of God always with the greatest reverence and self-restraint because "He dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see" (1 Tim 6:16). Only with weak hints can we attempt to describe Him, Whom we call this mysterious name. “Wishing to theologize,” edifies Saint Maxim the Confessor, “do not attempt to comprehend God in His essence, because that is not attainable to human or any other kind of intellect. Reflect if possible on His qualities: eternity, infiniteness, incomprehensibility, bliss, wisdom and omnipotent power, which directs everything and which righteously judges everyone. After all, one becomes a great theologian among people, when he learns at least some of the Divine attributes.”
Sometimes a person, forgetting the greatness of God, compares himself with people similar to him, and begins to dream of how important and wise he is. In such a situation it would be useful to gaze at the starry sky and to mentally envision himself from the depths of space: somewhere in the boundless sea of space there is a small dot of light which is our galaxy called the Milky Way. On the edge of it, among billions of other stars, hides our solar system which is so small that it cannot be discerned with the most powerful telescope. And still further somewhere within the solar system lies buried our microscopic planet Earth. And there, on its surface some virus-like one-day creatures bustle about — who are you and I! If we are so insignificant in comparison to the universe, then what are we in comparison to Him, Who has created everything with the power of His word?
And one does not know at which to marvel more: the greatness of God or that with all His boundlessness He remembers and cares for each of us! He not only sees each of us, but completely knows everything that is within us: our deepest thoughts, forgotten feelings, and future intentions; and all of this he knows better than we do ourselves. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Knowing our needs and our frailties, He cares for us, as the most caring and loving of mothers; and all while He manages the limitless universe, everything visible and invisible. He directs towards goodness and the existence of every creature — regardless of how insignificant it may be. If we all have followed His Divine will then what a paradise and bliss we all would have enjoyed!
But instead of that we see something completely different. What is the reason for the disasters for humanity? In accordance with the Bible, it is our ancestors’ proud desires to become gods. That ancient snake-devil, himself having fallen from the Heavens due to his own pride, had instilled the knowledge in them that by eating the forbidden fruit, they would not die, but “will be as gods” (Gen. 3:5). But why did our ancestors believe such an insolent proposal? Probably because it sounded credible. A lie is most effective if it holds a grain of truth in it.
Primordial man understood that he was given something great, something that raises him above other unreasoning creatures. That something great was the mark of the image and likeness of God, which the Creator placed on his immortal soul. It was the mark of resembling God which opened to man the way to uncovering the mystery of being and creativity; it attracted him to the ideal and the infinite; it made him capable of unselfish love, it attracted him to communion with God, it made him king over nature. By God’s plan, man, working on himself and developing his spiritual abilities, should have been perfecting himself. God set for man the high goal of following His perfection, to which he was to have ascended under His direction and with His help.
The devil’s lie was that man — by just desiring it, with one daring leap, apart from and even contrary to God’s plans — could attain the state of deity and could attain all knowledge and perfection. Instead, however, the deceived man by his own insolent "salto mortale” not only missed the state promised to him by the tempter, but rather fell into a terrible abyss of sin and thus lost even that which he had already. From being the ruler over nature he became a pathetic toy of his own passions. Adam and Eve transmitted their nature damaged by sin to their descendants. Apostle Paul thus presents the moral poverty of sinful humanity, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death: the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:19-24).
God should have destroyed man for his insolence or simply should have turned away from him and left him at the mercy of the blind and destructive forces of nature. But God is as great in mercy as He is omnipotent in creation! Instead of rejecting man, He Himself, in the Divine person of the only-begotten Son, descended from the throne of His unapproachable glory to our valley of sorrows and darkness.
By coming to us He not only taught us to believe correctly and to live righteously, but He adopted our human nature. Through this wonderful and incomprehensible unification of His Divinity and His humanity, God injected invigorating spiritual energies into our decrepit nature. Thanks to them the ascent to God became for us a real possibility. Without the miracle of incarnation the Gospel doctrine would have remained an inaccessible ideal.
One must say that in the days of the Old Testament people also had many sensible ideas about good and evil; many people had very elevated ideas about God, but they were morally powerless to perfect themselves. God’s help was necessary to all, and the Lord Jesus Christ brought us that help. That impassable chasm between God and creature, which no one could cross, was crossed by the Lord Jesus Christ by His becoming man. He became like a bridge between the transcendental and the finite, between the Creator and the creature. He took us in communion with Himself. Not with our own efforts, but because of Christ we “might be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).
Thus, the deification of man, from one side, is an unattainable dream and a terrible temptation, when man himself tries to reach it. Any attempt to self-servingly jump across the abyss between earth and Heaven inevitably plunges one to the depths of hell, where Lucifer the proud angel fell. If man with humility and repentance turns to Christ, then, as holding His hand, he can begin to ascend to God spiritually.
Unity with Christ, partaking of His Divine nature, is not an abstract theory, but reality, which happens during the Sacrament of Communion. Tragically, the world of other beliefs, which speaks so much about the spiritual revival, does not understand the purpose of the incarnation of Christ. It was precisely for this reason that Christ became man — i.e., to join us to Himself. Of course, an angel or one of the prophets could have taught us or could have given us a good example. Christ incarnated specifically because only through unity with Him true rebirth and communion with God becomes possible, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6).
Therefore God taught, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Who so eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day… He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him”(John 6:53-56). In the sermon about the grape vine Christ explains how important is to unite with Him: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
Thus, the purpose of incarnation of the Son of God is the spiritual and physical rebirth of man. Spiritual renewal begun in this life will be finished by physical restoration of man on the day of all resurrection of the dead. Then shall “the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mat. 13:43). Apostle John the Theologian wrote about this a little bit mysteriously: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
So, we are still not yet capable of completely comprehending the entire grandeur of the calling to which the merciful Creator is drawing us. It is important to remember, however, that perfection is possible only under the direction and with the aid of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only He can renew our damaged state, only He can pour into us the so needed spiritual strength; only He, by uniting us with Himself, can deify us. Without Him we are nothing, just dust and ashes, as other lower creatures.
Therefore, remembering our sinfulness, let us hasten to our Doctor, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us humbly and obediently follow the path shown by Him remembering that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mat. 23:13).