St. Maximos here elucidates the process of deification through yet another set of metaphors, and frames it through the contrast between passivity and action, good and evil.
Evil does not exist unto itself and we do not have the capacity to generate it. When we suffer evil, it is because we ill-use our will and abuse our intelligence to surrender to something contrary to our nature.
However, as our nature is inherently good, we possess the natural capacity for “actualizing the virtues.” St. Maximos calls this “active accomplishment” because it requires intentional action from us—the exercise of free will and the correct use of our intelligence “whose natural task is to accomplish the virtues.”
St. Maximos next dissects the paradox of the state of passivity and brings out the duality within it.
Passivity can be either good or evil he explains. It can involve either surrender to God’s will or abandonment to evil. Yet, paradoxically, while it takes deliberate activity to exercise the virtues, it takes passivity to ascend beyond virtue to deification.
“The principle of passive suffering,” he tells us, “signifies experiencing either the grace of what is beyond nature or the occurrence of what is contrary to nature.”
While we are able to actively exercise the virtues, we cannot raise ourselves to the higher level of deification on our own, without divine grace. The exercise of virtue is still within our nature and our own abilities. It requires action on our part. To ascent beyond what is achievable within our own nature and capabilities, however, we must engage in passivity.
“But, when raised to a higher level, we experience deification passively, receiving this experience as a free gift of grace.”
Through the gift of grace, “we experience things passively,” discerning the inner Cause, without effort on our part. “We are able to experience created things “in a manner which is beyond conception to the Cause itself of created beings, and there suspend the activity of our powers, together with all that is by nature finite.”
Our nature, in itself, “does not possess the power to grasp what transcends nature.” Through deification our struggles and efforts at active achievement cease. “We become something that is in no sense an achievement of our natural capacities,” and “Grace irradiates nature with a supranatural light and by the transcendence of its glory raises nature above its natural limits.”
Only God can bestow Grace and through it, deification. Yet God is not a passive being who grants deification at appointed times and then disappears. He reveals himself and the inner “principles of created beings” through images and the practice of virtues. And by constantly imbuing created things with “divine blessings,” “God continually becomes man,” in them.
St. Maximos draws a picture of unspeakable promise, hope and love here. The universe is inhabited by God and God is in a continuous relationship with man. He constantly reveals to us clues of His presence, communing with, and becoming one with us.