"Being 'saved' isn't a deathbed event. Eternal life begins now, if it's eternal; death must be defeated in our lives every day. A story from the Desert Fathers concerns Abba Joseph of Panephysis, who was approached by Abba Lot with a question. 'Father, as far as I can I say my Little Office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as much as I am able I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?'

"Abba Joseph, the story goes, then stood and spread out his hands toward heaven, in the prayer stance called the 'orans' position. Each of his fingertips was lit with flame. He said to Abba Lot, 'If you will, you can become totally fire.'

"This is one of my favorite stories because it illustrates so well the concept of 'theosis,' the goal of Orthodox life. All the spiritual disciplines are tools to help us get self-will out of the way so that we can gradually become totally filled with the light of God. We are to catch fire from God's fire and shine with it, until the 'theos' himself animates us.

"This doesn't mean that we are going to become independent mini-gods. We remain beloved but humble creatures, simple as a lump of coal. But coal has this essential attribute: it can receive fire. One could even say that accepting fire, being consumed by it, is the 'telos' or destiny of coal — the thing it was made for. Dusty, dark, cold, and hard, coal has no beauty of its own, but when it is consummated by fire it is beautiful and becomes what it was designed to be."