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Gregory of Nyssa

Epektasis: it may sound like a venereal disease, but it is actually Latin for “perpetual progress;” and it has been around since the fourth century whenGregory of Nyssa coined the term as a way to explain his understanding of true perfection in the spiritual life.  True perfection, for Gregory, consisted not in reaching some elusive, Platonic destination of total “stasis”- as if “to arrive” in the spiritual journey meant an end to the adventure of learning and discovery.  This would be virtual condemnation to an endless state of being a couch potato eating bon bons. Give me Traveler’s diarrhea in exchange for the rush of new people, places, and of course, new food, any day over that!

Instead, perfection takes shape in the journey itself- a journey into the life of God that continues incessantly after death- so that “imperfection” becomes a positive, life-affirming space in which to receive God’s grace, rather than an Achilles’ heel. Those prickly imperfections we brush up against in ourselves and others?  They become, when infused by God’s Spirit, vehicles of our progress in the spiritual life- progress that, thankfully, is perpetually incomplete.

The take-home point?  We’re imperfect (duh!), thanks be to God!

For a more extensive, scholarly treatment of epektasis, especially its contemporary applications for worship, ethics, ecclesiology and mission, see my article, “Gregory of Nyssa’s ‘Perpetual Progress,'” in the July 2008 issue ofTheology Today.

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