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Are the notions of theosis and spiritual gifts privileges that only saintly monks immersed in ascetic lifestyles can attain? Is there hope for the ordinary person, amidst the distractions and pressures of modern life, to attain them as well?

I ask this question impressed by the examples of saints such as Porphyrios of Kafsokalyvia, of whom books have been written, including e.g. Elder Porphyrios Testimonies and Experiences:

"Elder, where can we find the solution to our problems?"

"Only holiness will solve your problems."

The realm of the sacred and the transcendent, as expressed by that child of God and true man, Elder Porphyrios, belongs to the category of the unbelievable. It can however become believable because, «sin does not prevail where grace abounds”. Elder Porphyrios was a person filled with grace, a bearer of the power of the Holy Spirit, a child of the Kingdom, a genuine and true tree of paradise.

Whoever wishes to speak about the inner spiritual life of a saint, must be a saint himself. We, the writers of this book, are not saints. We are confined to what we saw and what we heard. We are amongst those many others, who, as St. Luke the Evangelist says, have “taken in hand to set in order a narrative.” We are not trying, with our poor and futile speech, to describe the life of a contemporary saint, but rather we are falteringly trying to express our joy in having met a saint; our joy that Christ lives yesterday, today and forever; our joy that holiness is not a thing of the past, that grace can be felt next to us, that our hands touched a “little father” who really lived the expression “I no longer live, for Christ lives in me.”

Until the Lord reveals the servant who was Elder Porphyrios’ eye-witness, who observed him throughout his life and in all his works and will write about his life accurately and fully, we are forgiven. For we have only seen “in part.” We describe, write about and speak of the miraculous things that God did for us through His servant, Porphyrios.

One of the reviewers of the book said:

His life was a Jesus Christ's life. He was living the Theosis, loving without limits and expectation above all Jesus Christ and all humans. He was there 24/7 for all those who everyday were waiting to receive his blessings his advice and his healing power through the Holy Spirit. He used to tell me, I love all people and they love me, after that I gently bring them to Jesus Christ. A Wonderful book with a lot of little stories from people who met him and learned or were helped by him.

Another example is Saint Paisios of Mount Athos:

Saint Paisios of Mount Athos (1994) is perhaps the greatest and most revered Elder of the Orthodox Church of our time. Even though he lived the monastic life in obscurity on the Holy Mountain of Athos in northern Greece, he became a shining light for thousands of faithful who flocked to see him. His life, miracles, and teachings continue to touch the hearts of people throughout the world to this day. Unquestionably, this present biography (written by his spiritual disciple Elder Isaac), which is the most authoritative account of his life, will inspire readers forevermore.

Given the challenges of a modern lifestyle, is there any hope for the average busy or distracted individual, who lacks access to full-time dedication to a monastic life, to even dream of reaching this level of holiness and spirituality?

Note: All denominations that believe in theosis and spiritual gifts are in scope.

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    The idea that modern 'Western' societies have 'hectic busy lifestyles' is totally false. They have a huge amount more leisure time, than in past history, at their disposal did they wish to avail themselves of it. The majority of the rest of the world spends most of their precious waking life struggling to survive. The 'Westerners', if they wish to be more godly and spiritual, have ample leisure time, assuming they (just for an hour or two) put aside their gadgets and entertainments and distractions. This question is an insult to at least 75% of the inhabitants of the planet.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 16:13
  • @NigelJ I edited the question, so the critique is now misplaced.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 0:05
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    I still dispute that 'distractions and pressures of modern life' 'challenges of modern lifestyle' and 'average busy or distracted individual' are either relevant or historically accurate. Compare short lifetimes, disease, death in childbirth, the gruelling drudgery of an agricultural lifestyle against what is modern and there is no excuse whatsoever for the 'modern' not to be more devoted than in the past. In any case, all are to 'seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness' before even considering food and clothing for tomorrow, as Jesus said, Matthew 6:33.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 7:14

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As a protestant, I with Luther say:

"Abraham left Mount Moriah, the mountain where he had been asked to sacrifice Isaac, the place where he had heard the voice of an Angel and experienced the presence of God. It was a holy mountain, a place unlike any other in the world. This is where Abraham received God's promise and pledge. The story shows how highly Abraham regarded his duty toward his family, and his god-given responsibilities as head of a household. But since God gave him no further commands, he didn't do anything differently after this experience than from before. No, instead he went back to his familiar household activities: overseeing his servants, guiding his family, living his life. In fact, he didn't appear to be especially religious or spiritual at all. Abraham left all of that on the top of Mount Moriah! He didn't even let the fact that he had seen Angels on that mountain hold him there. He went back to the servants he had left watching his donkey at the foot of the hill, and then went home. If certain 'over religious' types were to comment on this passage, they might question his piety or condemn him for leaving. They might think that if Abraham really was such an outstanding example to later generations, perhaps he should not have just up and left that holy place. After all it is where he met God and his angels. How can one just go back to his donkeys, house, family, and everyday work without any change whatysovere after meeting God on the top of a mountain? What kind of piety is that! It's remarkable to me how much certain 'religious people' can despise honest work and everyday chores! Perhaps it is because real Holiness is not found at the top of a mountain, it is found in your place of work, in the place where you live, and amongst the people whom you love!"

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    Brother Lawrence wrote "Practicing the Presence of God". While peeling potatoes or doing other menial work, he was also in communion with God. Combining work and spiritual devotion can work wonders. Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 18:58
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    The excellent quotation you give would be greatly improved, from this site's point of view, by source reference details - either a book with page numbers, or a link.
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 16:43
  • @Anne, I found it at google.com.br/books/edition/Faith_Alone/… but have yet to find a primary source.
    – Leandro
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 20:29
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How can one overcome the distractions of modern life to attain theosis and become a vessel for spiritual gifts?

In a nutshell it takes work, perseverance, prayer and penance. Most Christians would have us believe that ”union with God” could only be achieved if you were some kind of a religious such as a Catholic Carmelite nun or a monk from the Greek Orthodox monasteries from Mont Athos. However this is not true. Laypersons can and have achieved theosis and spiritual gifts privileges that you are asking about.

To be honest, most individuals are not willing to put in the time or effort to attain these heights. But the notions of theosis and spiritual gifts privileges are still possible to ordinary souls, if they are willing to work at it, with perseverance and prayer. They do not come over night, although God could accord such a grace, it is more important that souls see their spiritual progress themselves and the spiritual efforts needed to get there.

I would venture to say that God desires to have all souls attain a genuine level of true ”union with God”.

Some writers tell us that the attainment of mystical contemplation requires conditions that are impossible of realization for the majority of souls, no matter how generous they may be. According to this opinion, a special environment is necessary, such as a Carthusian or a Carmelite monastery, where silence, solitude, and long hours of prayer are the common rule. Without this atmosphere, a special temperament inclined to recollection and prolonged prayer is needed. Lastly, we are told that a soul must have appropriate spiritual guidance, directing it more and more toward the contemplative life. These conditions are usually wanting in the lives of the majority of generous interior souls that remain in the world or that enter active or even mixed religious orders. The cares of administration which occupy superiors and the demands which intellectual work makes on a priest whose principal activity is teaching, also hinder the development of the mystical life, properly so called, even in interior souls much attached to their duties.

We now offer our reply to this objection. Even if the above mentioned conditions, difficult of realization for many, were required, we should not, as a result, necessarily conclude that the mystical life is not the normal summit of the development of the life of grace. We should simply have to say that, for the attainment of this summit, conditions are demanded which are difficult of realization in the world, or even in a religious life that is not very fervent. In this case the soul is like a cedar, which attains the summit of its normal development only in certain conditions of soil and climate.

Moreover, the conditions enumerated, though very useful, are not the chief ones. We recognize the fact that environment has its importance; also that a calm temperament is much better disposed to the contemplative life than a restless and agitated spirit. It may indeed be that among these last, some, even though quite generous, would reach the mystical life only after a period longer than the ordinary span of life. And it is certain that bad spiritual direction often allows souls to vegetate or turns them away from infused contemplation, whereas another type of direction would definitely turn them toward contemplation.

However important these conditions may be, they remain superficial compared to others which are the chief ones. Here again the same rule holds true as in the matter of salvation, which is possible to all who possess a developed conscience, even to those not born in a Christian environment, who are strongly inclined to evil, and who have not had an opportunity to hear the Gospel preached. If they ordinarily follow the dictates of their conscience, they will be mysteriously led from grace to grace, from fidelity to fidelity, to eternal life.

Anyone who wishes to advance in the spiritual life and to prepare himself for the grace of contemplation must, to the best of his ability, use the great means which the Church gives us all. The assiduous reception of the Sacraments, daily hearing of Mass, frequent Communion, love of the Eucharist ...

Another great means to prepare for the grace of contemplation, a means within the reach of all interior souls, is found in the liturgy, in an ever more intimate union with the great prayer of the Church. "The graces of prayer and of the mystical state have their type and source in the hieratic .lire of the Church; they reflect in the members the likeness of Christ which is perfect in the body." Liturgical prayer recited with recollection, in union with our Lord and His Mystical Body, obtains for us holy lights and inspirations which illumine and inflame our hearts.

Consequently it is advisable to make mental prayer after the psalmody which prepares us for it; just as after Mass and Holy Communion, it is well to prolong our thanksgiving, and if possible devote an hour to it.

Lastly, the frequent reading of Scripture and the study of sacred doctrine, undertaken in a truly supernatural manner, are other excellent means to prepare the soul for contemplation. Thus the ancients used to say that Divine reading (lectio divina) by pious study (studium) leads to meditation (meditatio), then to prayer (oratio), and finally to contemplation (contemplatio ).

... The supernatural predispositions for infused contemplation are chiefly (1) great purity of heart, "Blessed are the clean of heart"; (2) great simplicity of mind which seeks only the truth; (3) profound humility; (4) habitual recollection; (5) perseverance in prayer; (6) fervent charity. This last disposition is the most important together with a profound humility. In the order of material preparation, humility is fundamental, according to St. Thomas, ut removens prohibens, inasmuch as it removes the principal obstacle which is pride, intellectual pride so frequent in a certain type of learning, or spiritual pride. This is why St. Teresa insisted so strongly on this fundamental disposition in all her works, particularly in the Epilogue to The Interior Castle. Our Lord Himself taught this to us when He exclaimed: "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones." Often, by reason of humility, the inequality of supernatural conditions or of graces balances marvelously the inequality of natural conditions or dispositions. In the exposition of traditional teaching, too much insistence cannot, therefore, be placed on the supernatural dispositions to contemplation. And who can answer that he is unable to have this purity of heart, simplicity of mind, profound humility, spirit of prayer, and charity? We ought to beg God to give us these dispositions.

... The external conditions that favor contemplation and union with God are: a certain solitude, silence, sufficient time given to prayer, no overburdening, no useless reading, no preoccupations foreign to our vocation. To these external conditions must be added natural aptitude and also enlightened direction. If many of these exterior conditions are lacking, it is difficult to reach contemplation, which no longer has its normal environment. Profound humility and ardent charity, however, may supply this lack, especially if joined with great devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. He who habitually begins his prayer with these two mediators, will be led by them to intimate union with God, since the object of the Blessed Virgin's influence is to lead us to her Son, and that of Christ to lead us to the Father.

... We might add that unfavorable surroundings often provoke a salutary reaction in good souls, especially in very good ones; and the Lord helps them in proportion to the difficulties to be overcome. For example, the suffering caused by injustice reveals to us the worth of justice; self-sufficiency and pride, which become unendurable, demonstrate the worth of humility. Love of truth, relish for the word of God, solid piety, all of which are not content with appearances, react by common accord and quite spontaneously against empty and pretentious learning, which alters everything by its false spirit. The lack of simplicity in life emphasizes the desirability of that frank cordiality without which there is no true union of hearts and minds in God. A discordant note, which violates the order of charity by placing the love of neighbor above the love of God, startles us and by contrast recalls the grandeur of the first precept.

Falsehood under its various forms shows us the worth of truth; the absence of truth in varying degrees is one of the greatest obstacles to the life of prayer. A soul becomes contemplative only if it is established in the truth, because infused contemplation is simply the immediate effect of the direct operation of God's truth on the soul to bring it to a greater love.

Finally, the chief obstacle comes from certain subtleties of intellectual or spiritual pride which, especially when found in those who direct souls, can have irremediable consequences, at least for a time. In this case, mystical grandiloquence is no less to be feared than a certain sterile intellectualism. This explains by contrast why more real contemplation and sanctity are sometimes found in poor convents that are very little known, but are exceedingly dear to our Lord Jesus Christ. The Divine mercy often compensates for the inequality of natural conditions by great graces.

  • Infused Grace, Contemplation and Mary - Taken from Christian Perfection and Contemplation According to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross* by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

While it is true that we can achieve great levels of mystical union through the sanctification of work and prayer, the genuine means to achieving this is through contemplation. Of course it must be understood that we practice a Christian life of virtue and frequent the sacraments often (confession and holy communion).

Although these heights of mystical union with God are even more rarely found in Protestant denominations, I believe a few individuals have achieved something very similar, albeit there were extraordinary circumstances involved.

Given the challenges of a modern lifestyle, is there any hope for the average busy or distracted individual, who lacks access to full-time dedication to a monastic life, to even dream of reaching this level of holiness and spirituality?

Hope is always there. Individuals must fight against such things and that requires work and perseverance. There are more individuals out there that are doing it, that you would be amazed at. Fighting against distractions will always be there. The Devil 😈 knows what he is doing; so should souls that desire to be with God.

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Speaking as a Catholic, I would affirm that "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], paragraph 2013). St. Gregory of Nyssa puts it memorably: "Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none" (CCC 2029). In the opening paragraph of this section on Christian holiness, the Catechism cites Rom 8:28-30, which speaks of the destiny common to all Christians of becoming "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29; cf. CCC 2013). This very high destiny, higher than any other, is the birthright of all the baptized.

All are called to holiness: 'Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt 6:48).

In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ's gift, so that...doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints. (CCC 2013; cf. Lumen Gentium 40)

I would encourage you to take a look at this whole section of the Catechism, which is brief and readable. Paragraph 826 is also highly significant, and its quotation from St. Therese of Lisieux is worth giving in full:

Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it "governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification."

If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn't lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE. And I realized that this love alone was the true motive force which enabled the other members of the Church to act; if it ceased to function, the Apostles would forget to preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. LOVE, IN FACT, IS THE VOCATION WHICH INCLUDES ALL OTHERS; IT'S A UNIVERSE OF ITS OWN, COMPRISING ALL TIME AND SPACE–IT'S ETERNAL! (CCC 826; CF. St. Therese of Lisieux, Autobiography of a Saint, tr. Ronald Knox)

The heavy caps and italics there are St. Therese's, according to her own mode of expression. But the truth she realized so powerfully is that of St. Paul in 1 Cor 13 regarding the "still more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31) of love, or charity. This is the text that provoked St. Therese's epiphany of the divine love. In St. Paul's description of the Body of Christ in which "God arranged the organs...each one of them, as He chose" (1 Cor 12:18) she saw this great truth, that every one of these elements of the Body is animated by the same Christic life which binds them together into one, and that this "little way" of love was the solution to her desire to become a missionary and a martyr: though her vocation was to live a brief life in the small enclosure of her convent in France, still she was able by the love of Christ living in her to transform all of her actions into prayer, to offer her life in all its particulars to Him, and to receive from Him the same grace that brings into effect all that God wills. And He wills for us, first of all, that we should be made holy through our union with Him: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess 4:3).

The life of a monk or nun is not a life free from work, either. Quite the contrary: in most cases that I know of, the whole daily life of a vowed religious is centered around the particular kind of work done in and for their community. This useful, and in this sense ordinary, communal life is centered around prayer and hinges on prayer: but so may all our lives be, each in its measure, whatever our circumstances. God does not ask that we give what we do not have: He asks that, like the widow's mite, we give all that we do have, holding nothing back, and commit our life–not some other life–to Christ. In doing so, we may all by His grace achieve the heights of union with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and we are all called to the summit of this union.

I hope that helps!

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