Illumination and Deification
He who enjoys illumination is greater and receives more that he who only tastes, for he has within himself the assurance of his visions (Maximus the Confessor, Hom. 7,5-6, PG 34, col.527).
The Divine One purifies the man who desires Him: by this purification, He creates men of divine character, conversing as with friends with those who have attained this state; and uniting Himself as God with gods, and making Himself known to them perhaps to the same extent that He knows those who are known to Him (Gregory of Nazianzus, Hom, XLV.3, PG XXXVI, 625C-628A).
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Mt 5:8).
Union with God became discontinuous after the fall because man became imperfect. Therefore, man can become deified and attain theoria – start seeing God – only insofar as his nous has first been healed by the trials of purification and reopened by the illumination which occurs through baptism in the Holy Spirit (Vlachos, 2005, 2010). The phrase ‘baptism in the Spirit’ as used herewith refers to it as historically understood throughout Christian tradition (e.g., Kontzevich, 1989).
Basil of Caesarea said that souls who become
illuminated by the Holy Spirit transmit this grace to others and at the same time receive many gifts, including foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of spiritual gifts, heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, being made like God, and, highest of all, being made god (De Spir. Sanc, 9.23).
Illumination is thus “visible to those whose hearts have been purified, and…[is] utterly different from knowledge, though productive of it” (Gregory of Palamas, The Triads, I.3.3).
Deification is neither the process of simply acquiring the virtues as commonly understood, especially in Western Christianity, nor is it the end-aim of deification commonly known as participation in the Beatific Vision after death, for anyone who participates in the uncreated light, even if interruptedly at first due to lack of perfection, has started becoming deified; with deification itself being above all nature, virtue and knowledge.
Cyril of Alexandria maintained that
Through knowledge and the gift of a divine vision, the Father leads those to whom He decides to give His divine grace towards the Son. When He receives them, the Son gives them life and, to those whose own nature destined them to corruption, He adds His own good grace, and pouring into them, as upon sparks of fire, the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit and transforming them utterly into immortality (Commentary on the Gospel of John 4, [Jn 6.40], PG 73.545A).
Deification, therefore, is none other than the sheer grace granted to man by God, through His ceaseless desire to make us like unto Himself. And when illumination occurs, with this contingent upon being embraced rather than rejected, man enters directly into the latter stages of deification because he becomes united with God.