My thumb rolls over the chotki, knot after knot, I breathe in deeply and think with all my soul; “Lord Jesus Christ only son of God…” I pause, “have mercy on me a sinner…” I exhale. As I do so I picture myself in a void of effervescent light, immersed in a shower of mercy ever encircled by the supreme love of God. In this place, in the depth of my soul, no disordered passions affect me. The singing of Trisagions and Eastern bells on Spotify fills my heart as I continue filing over knot after knot into the interior bliss of meditation facing my icon wall. In this place I am not addicted, I am not broken, I am not gay…I am whole.
Theosis — literally “making divine” — is the term used by Eastern Catholicism and Orthodoxy for the transformative process whose aim is likeness to or union with God. The first step to theosis is purgative; katharsis, the giving up of sinful attachments which purifies the mind and body. The second step of theosis is theoria in which the student progresses — by means of illumination or direct relationship with God — in his school of sanctity towards a life in the light of Christ. The final step, theosis; consists in living the wonderful gift of sainthood, union with God in this life. I am a faithful Eastern Catholic; one called by God to the grandeur of the Eastern Lung of the Church. I was not led as such in some whimsical whirlwind of nostalgia towards pretty iconography nor was I seeking an alternative out of frustration for the too often bland modern expressions of the Roman liturgy. The East promises me, with fullest assurance that as a I progress towards sainthood in this life, even prior to reaching Heaven, I can return to my original personhood. I can get myself back to my original nature, in which my thoughts, feelings, and desires are integrated according to reason and oriented toward the glorification of God as my Father. This was our initial design and foundational personhood. What a glorious promise indeed!
You see, as I have progressed through my conversion and trials as a Catholic and my biggest stumbling block has been a struggle with same-sex attraction. Though those words may sound ugly to some – I have learned that while it is certainly a trial and a cross – the joy of Easter Sunday comes to those who persevere in seeking a transformative perfect union with Christ – divinization. For so long, I despaired of both my life and my salvation in attempting to give these things over to God. What life would I have? Would it be possible to remain steadfast? Why couldn’t God give me instantaneous healing? Did God abandon me to a horrible life and eternal self-separation thereafter from him? The answer to all of these questions is very simple; no!
For years I was anchored in my identity as a “gay” man, even while I was striving for Christ. I allowed this belief to permeate every other aspect of my mind. Wrestling with which identity was to be primary became an all consuming preoccupation, overwhelming my psyche each time I attended Vespers and Divine Liturgy. St. John Climacus warns us that spiritual preoccupations such as this are tickets to despondency. The time came in my life where I needed to not let this label direct my identity; and thereby neither would I allow it to direct my hopes and dreams.
In the west, the Calvinist influence on our culture has told us the lie that salvation has been provided for a being of total depravity. In his story, Christ is like a legalistic judge with a chemistry set full of punishments and He awaits us after death with vengeance for our sins. Unless, by special exception, you are one of those for whom His sacrifice has mercy. Contrariwise, Eastern Catholicism focuses on the goodness of man; he is the apex of creation, but he has been afflicted with sin like a sickness. This sickness is made all the worse by our human dignity, not better. How sad indeed that a creature so blessed has injured itself so fundamentally. Instead of viewing salvation as some sort of ethereal transaction, a trade of my soul for another fashioned by the Holy Spirit on reserve in Heaven; we focus on going inward and unlocking that primordial Adam and Eve stuck inside of us all. The original self, the beloved person waiting to be unleashed by grace. The saints, as they have walked the Earth, have put secular humanists to shame through their reverence for humanity. They raise up the glory of their being to heights higher than the angels — through the aid of the Divine Physician’s grace — to ameliorate their passions and launch them into glory and union with God.
In light of these musings, why should I allow same sex attraction to rule my identity? Why should I let it dictate how I live my life? Why not rest my soul in the arms of God and proceed forward living one day at a time in marvelous expectation of his transformative power? The other option would be to painfully and despondently resign myself to a forced chastity while clinging to a fabled immutable gay identity? I find the rest and peace of the former a much better pathway than the latter.
In this realm of light, I am nothing but a son of God. I always have been for I was made from always to be so. The more I remain in union with God and live it out day by day, the more my disordered passions fade away to silence. They are meaningless; mists dissolved by the warm sunlight of God’s inexhaustible love. There is nothing to fear here.
Every divine liturgy and vespers service I look up at the iconostasis. Golden hued saints of all walks of life: ascetics, virgins, martyrs, and contemplative theologians adorn the sanctuary. Each of these men and women regardless of their state as married, unmarried, clergy, or laity achieved theosis by releasing themselves from any attachments to earthen molds so as to embrace the true self within. As I have learned to trust and rest in God’s grace, I have become — even on Earth and I say this without pride — one of the most loved men I know. The only reason I stress this is because I was long convinced that due to my struggles I would never know love. However, my current single state has opened me up to so many communities, parishes, friendships, and families that I am in a constant state of self-gift and love, friendship, and spiritual fatherhood. I am less lonely than many I know who are married and suffering in the world.
Why resent where God has called me? He has woven around my difficulties a tapestry of love taking all my desires into account. And as I weave this cloth with Him I am aware of a gradual dissipation of my inclinations. They are silly, an attempt to heal a masculinity I already have. I believe that through grace, through friendship, through service, through community, through the giving of my talents, in sum living theosis — that this aspect of my identity is healing. I did not “pray the gay away”; I resolved to trust God as he provided the tools needed for a life without the habituations of pornography, sexual sin, alcohol, pride, and anxiety. He replaced these things with the heights of love both divine and human. I have not been given a new soul; I have returned and am returning to my true self, trapped within for so so long. I journey forward upon this path forged by the Divine Physician. A sojourn of grace on the shores of this life with waves form the Ocean of God’s love crashing and echoing in the distance.