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Theology of the Cross, Part 1

7-34 Byzantine Greece CrucifixionThe third in a short series of Bible Study classes exploring the themes of the Sundays of Lent focused on the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is venerated on the Third Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church (last Sunday, March 15th).

An audio file of the class is attached, together with the PowerPoint presentation and a PDF version of the PowerPoint file. These files are made available here primarily for the benefit of class participants. But others are welcome to listen to the audio and view the PowerPoint slides that accompany the audio recording of the class.


To access the PowerPoint presentation or the PDF version, click on one of the links below. It should be viewed in conjunction with the audio file.

Themes of the Cross, Part 1 (PowerPoint)

Themes of the Cross, Part 1 (PDF)

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Theology, our last hope

A few weeks ago I wrote an article here titled, “Ecology is an Orthodox word.” Today I came across an amazing little quote:

The proposed solution to our environmental problems are no longer a matter of saving a few watts, using less plastic or stopping an oil pipeline… It is our entire industrialized lifestyle that is obsolete…

The alternative is theology, not ecology – the birth of a new Golden Age which cultivates what Russian novelist Chyngyz Aitmatov calls the “divine spark.”

The issue is not man’s tools, but man’s spirit. (Rudolf Bahro)

What this quote is saying is that the issue is fundamentally theological, not technological. We can spin the word “ecology” any way we want, but in the final analysis it is a word that comes with so much baggage that it is easily dismissed by those who are stuck in a particular way of thinking. No matter how one spiritualizes the word “ecology” it is difficult for people to see it as anything other than a political or scientific slogan.

But “theology” is different. To be sure, most people reject theology as something antiquated, something irrelevant to our life today. Many people even see theology as something dangerous, something that divides people and even leads to violence and hatred. All these accusations are 100% accurate. Theology through the ages has done more harm than good. But not because theology itself is bad, but because people and churches and religions have used theological concepts as weapons of mass destruction rather than means of mass sanctification.

The light of deification touches everyone who recognizes the divine spark in us.

The light of deification touches everyone who recognizes the divine spark in us. (Click to enlarge)

And yet, despite the bad legacy of theology through the centuries, it is our only hope. At the heart of Orthodox theology is the concept of theosis, deification. This too has been reduced to triviality, especially by those who turned theosis into something that you work to attain through fasting and endless repetitions of the “Jesus Prayer.” Ascetic practices are helpful in other ways, and I don’t want to diminish their usefulness and importance. But deification is something different: it is the recognition and cultivation of the divine spark in us. Deification is only possible because God made us in God’s image and likeness.

The root of all our problems is the failure to recognize the divine spark in each other and the refusal to see every so-called political, economic, moral or technological problem as fundamentally a theological issue! This is the great secret that the powerful of this world want to keep from us, but which God wants us to know! Isn’t it time that religions started telling the truth, instead of aiding and abetting the wars and self-aggrandizing strategies of the rich and powerful? Isn’t it time we started seeing each other as what we truly are: deeply and beautifully gifted by God with the divine spark?

Deification is not limited to those who are officially recognized as saints by the Church.

Some of the deified men and women of the 20th century at New Skete Orthodox Monastery. Deification is not limited to those who are officially recognized as saints by the Church. (Click to enlarge)

We deify each other! It's always the neighbor who is most important for followers of Jesus.

We deify each other! It’s always the neighbor who is most important for followers of Jesus. (Click to enlarge)

Deification does not come from what we do, but from what we recognize. We deify each other by recognizing the divine spark in each other! I know this is not the way deification is usually presented in the Orthodox Church, but perhaps it might be more meaningful for some of us. Plus, I believe it is consistent with the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ when he walked the earth 2,000 years ago and lifted every person he met from the dirt to be his brother or sister. He taught that our relationship with God depends on how we view the neighbor, the other person, whoever that other person is. That’s the Jesus I believe in: the Jesus of the neighbor, the Jesus of freedom, exaltation and deification. Be exalted, O mortal, be lifted up. Find the divine spark, the divine life already in you. And recognize it in everyone else. That’s where theology begins, and it is our last hope.

Jesus lifts up everyone who comes to him.

Jesus finds the divine spark in us. Be lifted, rise up, he says.