Purification in the desert is an ascent, for all our untoward attachments are removed so the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – can come and live in us. If we are not thoroughly purified this way, how can we open ourselves up sufficiently for Them to come and live in us with power and might? Perfect light and life cannot dwell where darkness resides. This is why we are presently being led into the desert or are already in it, for only from the wilderness can we ascend toward that union with God envisaged for us since the beginning and referred to by the Apostle Peter: “He has given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature” (2 P 1:4).
To the extent we cooperate with our purification, we ascend by realizing how empty and rapidly dying the world is, losing our taste for it while our hunger for God increases, whereas the Holy Trinity descend to live in us – in a disproportionate manner since all this is pure grace – until the illumination occurs and our deification commences (if we accept the outcome of the illumination and are sufficiently purified). The Trinity are coming to us from Heaven with Their fullness, for a union not experienced by mankind since the fall of Adam – that fullness of divine life in, through and with Jesus Christ referred to in Chapter 5 of Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
Deification of mankind in the era of peace – The New Jerusalem
The defining characteristic of the forthcoming era of peace is not just the latter but the deification of mankind, as described by Irenaeus of Lyons in Adversus haereses and Gregory of Palamas in his Triads for the defense of the holy hesychasts. These teachings are accepted both in the Western Church and the Eastern Church, but were marginalized for centuries in the West in favor of Scholastic interpretations of Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. But to say, as many have, that the latter two never referred to mankind’s deification in the same way as Irenaeus, subsequently elaborated by Palamas – that is, deification starts in this life not the next and specifically in the era of peace (the era of the Divine Will) – is to misinterpret both Augustine and Aquinas, for they indeed referred to this kind of deification but with less bluntness.
Specifically, in Sermon 166.4 Augustine said, “God, you see, wants to make you a god; not by nature, of course, like the One whom He begot; but by His gift and by adoption.” Aquinas in his Summa Theologica (2.1:112.1) said, “The gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the divine nature, which exceeds every other nature . . . God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the divine nature by a participated likeness.” Both Augustine and Aquinas were referring to the words above of the Apostle Peter, as understood by Irenaeus and later elaborated fully by Palamas into the stages of deification. All four saints were addressing the transfiguration of mankind through divine grace while still on earth (as experienced in part by Seraphim of Sarov), being transformed by the divine nature into little lions of Judah by likeness, after the illumination of all consciences granted by the Lion Himself. This is the beginning of the second Pentecost.
It is also the beginning, though not the fullness, of the wedding feast: “The marriage of the Lamb is come: and His Bride has prepared Herself. And it is granted to Her that She should clothe Herself with fine linen, glittering and white. For the fine linen are the justifications of saints . . . And I saw heaven opened: and behold a white horse. And He that sat upon him was called faithful and true: and with justice did He judge and fight. And His eyes were as a flame of fire: and on His head were many diadems. And He had a name written, which no man knew but Himself. And He was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood. And His name is called: the Word of God. And the armies that are in heaven followed Him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword, that with it He may strike the nations. And He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treaded the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty. And He had on His garment and on His thigh written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun: and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that flew through the midst of heaven: Come, gather yourselves together to the great supper of God: That you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of tribunes and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of them that sit on them: and the flesh of all freemen and bondmen and of little and of great. And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, gathered together to make war with Him that sat upon the horse and with His army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet who wrought signs before him, wherewith he seduced them who received the character of the beast and who adored his image. These two were cast alive into the pool of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were slain by the sword of Him that sitteth upon the horse, which proceeded out of His mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rv 19:7-21).
The deification addressed differs in kind and quality from sanctification as normally understood, for “the divinization of the Christian is not an identification with God; it is only an assimilation, a very eminent restoration of the original divine likeness . . . The Christian participates by grace in the perfections that God possesses by nature . . . Due to the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the righteous, the Spirit transforms the soul to the image of the Logos, the natural Son of God, thus making the Christian an adoptive child of God . . . Affecting, it seems the very essence of the soul, this mysterious conformation is not of a moral nature only but of a physical nature; it is a veritable partaking of the divine nature and of the divine life” (Gross, J. 1938/2002. The divinization of the Christian according to the Greek Fathers, p. 272).
Note: Heartfelt thanks go publicly to the Holy Spirit who highlighted for me the particular reference above to include from the Book of Revelation, when I was searching for the chapter-and-verse numbers of a different reference altogether.