The Justice of God in Stages

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The Justice of God in Stages
Front cover of the book 'The Justice of God in Stages'
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The path of each person to God is unique, so it is difficult to speak about spiritual life with a general pattern or model. However, the holy Elder Sophrony, having observed that certain attributes are common to all of us – because we all bear the same human nature – came to consider the spiritual life in three distinct stages. This theory sets out fundamental ascetic principles, which apply to the life of every Christian in practice.

Each stage is a level with a unique state. It aims to train the Christian athlete in the way of the Lord, to initiate him into the ‘mystery of the ways of salvation’, and, finally, to make him a lawful heir of the grace of divine adoption, ‘heir of God and joint-heir with Christ’.

The Elder refers to the first stage as the visitation of the Divine Spirit, during which man enters into a covenant with God; the second stage is the long and hard struggle which man undertakes when God withdraws His grace; and the third stage is the permanent reacquisition of saving grace.

The first grace is a pure gift from above. It is given, sometimes richly, when God sees a good disposition in the soul, an opening of the heart. God by His gift reveals to man a God-like way of life. He reveals to him the pattern of divine virtues and His promises. He instructs him concerning his wondrous destiny before the foundation of the world and what he must seek in his life.

Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou

The Justice of God in Stages

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The Justice of God in Stages

This period is an opportune time for the acquisition of good habits: repentance, unceasing prayer, vigilance. However, it is an ‘unrighteous mammon and a foreign wealth’. Man cannot keep the first gift for long. For manifold reasons, at some point the first grace is withdrawn. What at the first stage of his calling seemed to be a perfect bond of love between God and man, now becomes the ‘hell of God-forsakenness’.

Saint Sophrony, speaking from the inverted perspective of the Gospel, considered the second stage, which is characterised by spiritual aridity, as a privilege, as an opportunity given to man to manifest his free will, as a time of a creative search for ways to recover, preserve and increase grace.

The often protracted second period of spiritual life is precious, because then man proves to God that he is indeed His, whether he lives and delights in the bliss of His grace, or dies in the abyss of separation from Him.

In essence, the second period is an ascetical exercise through which man receives the grace of adoption and hears in his heart the voice of the Lord proclaiming: ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee.’

Then the transition is accomplished from the human sphere, from the temporary and shakeable, to the divine sphere, to the eternal and unshakeable. The third period begins at this point. It may be that on the visible plane the ‘fire of temptation’ remains the same and man outwardly suffers, but the soul now rises to another level of being. Endued with power from On High, he rejoices in the fulness of grace, peace and the joy of sonship. It is taught that in the Christian life there are infinite sufferings and a daily death, but there is no tragedy. Still and still, every time man tastes the passage ‘from death to life’, he desires to sing a ‘new song’ of gratitude and love to the ‘Author and Finisher’ of our faith, the Almighty Jesus, supremely divine.