Kenosis is a Greek word for emptiness, which is used as a theological term. It is the concept of the self-emptying of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God and its perfect will. It is used both as an explanation of the Incarnation, and an indication of the nature of God’s activity and condescension.

An apparent dilemma arises when Christian theology posits a God outside of time and space, who enters into time and space to become human. The doctrine of Kenosis attempts to explain what the Son of God chose to give up in terms of his divine attributes in order to assume human nature. Since the incarnate Jesus is simultaneously fully human and fully divine, Kenosis holds that these changes were temporarily assumed by God in his incarnation, and that when Jesus ascended back into heaven following the resurrection, he fully reassumed all of his original attributes and divinity.

Specifically it refers to attributes of God that are thought to be incompatible with becoming fully human. For example, God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience as well as his aseity, eternity, infinity, impassibility and immutability. The Orthodox Mystical Theology of the East emphasises following the example of Christ. Kenosis is only possible through humility and presupposes that one seeks union with God. The Poustinia tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church is one major expression of this search.

Kenosis is not only a Christological issue in Orthodox theology, it has moreover to do with Pneumatology, namely to do with the Holy Spirit. Kenosis, relative to the human nature, denotes the continual epiklesis and self-denial of one’s own human will and desire. With regards to Christ, there is a kenosis of the Son of God, a condescension and self sacrifice for the redemption and salvation of all humanity. Humanity can also participate in God’s saving work through theosis; becoming holy by grace.

Another perspective is the idea that God is self-emptying. He poured out himself to create the cosmos and the universe, and everything within it. Therefore, it is our duty to pour out ourselves. This is similar to C.S. Lewis’s statement in Mere Christianity that a painter pours his ideas out in his work, and yet remains quite a distinct being from his painting. In so doing, we become deified like God. Another term for this process is theosis.

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