St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022AD), as with other Patristic writers, understood that the Word of God not only became incarnate in Jesus Christ, but also in some fashion that same Word of God comes to abide in each Christian. The Christian is the one who is united to God the Word. The process of being united to Christ and the end result of this spiritual sojourn is referred to as theosis or deification.
In the Baptism service of the Orthodox Church the candidate for baptism is asked both of these question:
“Are you united to Christ?”
“Have you united yourself to Christ?”
Union with Christ is essential to being a Christian from the very start of one’s Christian life. St. Symeon writes:
“So, brothers, let each of you has bent his mind to the force of these sayings see himself.
If one has received the Word Who has come,
if he has become a child of God,
if he has been born not of flesh and blood alone, but also from God,
if he has known the incarnate Word tabernacling in himself and
if he has seen His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father,
then behold! he has become a Christian and has seen himself born again, and has known the Father Who has begotten him, not in word alone but by the work of grace and truth.”
(On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, pg. 157)
And as the Word dwells in one’s heart, one becomes united to God the Word, being transformed into a disciples of the Son of God. Saint Tikhon of Voronezh (d. 1783AD) pleads with God to help this personal transfiguration take place:
“Give me ears to hear You,
eyes to see You,
taste to partake of You,
sense of smell to inhale You.
Give me feet to walk unto You;
lips to speak of You,
heart to fear and love You.
Teach me Your ways, O Lord, and I shall walk in Your truth. For You are the way, the truth, and the life.”
(in The Pearl of Great Price, pg. 56)
It becomes even possible for us to see in others this transformation of a person into a Christian, to see God united to that person whose life has been transfigured by their union with Christ our God. Saint Pachomius the Great (d. 346AD) says:
“If you see a man pure and humble, that is a great vision. For what is greater than such a vision , to see the invisible God in a visible man.” (in The Pearl of Great Price, pg. 156)
When the invisible God becomes united to a Christian, that union becomes visible in the life of the Christian. We indeed become God-bearers, and others who see this in us become themselves transformed by the experience. The early Church Fathers expressed this process even more forcefully in the phrase made famous by St. Athanasius the Great (d. ca 337AD), “God became man so that man might become god.”