Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE ORTHODOX TEACHING ON PERSONAL SALVATION
by Deacon Victor E. Klimenko, Ph.D. Pastoral Theology
Please note: Too often Orthodox Christians assume that personal salvation is automatic and without any personal effort. The false belief is that just by being baptized and chrismated in the Church is enough to be saved. Many Orthodox Christians fall in the category of nominal Christianity and who do the least possible work to be saved and whose commitment to Christ and our Christian faith is diluted and weak. I may sound harsh to some of you but it is unfortunately the truth. Some have absolutely no prayer life, no sacramental life, no spiritual life, and yet they are convinced that they will be among those who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How is that possible? If you do fall into this category of being a nominal Christian, a selective Christian, a conditional Christian, a cafeteria style Christian, you have no time to lose but to immediately change your mind, your attitude, your life style and begin with faith, humility, conviction, determination, commitment to practice your Orthodox Christian faith in Christ daily. "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer live for themselves, but for Him Who died for them and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
THE ESSENCE AND THE GOAL OF PERSONAL SALVATION IS DEIFICATION (THEOSIS)
This process of the restoration of our original communion with God is our "personal salvation." As Christians, we seek not simply blessings from God but God Himself--and our salvation is the experiential knowledge of God. "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the Only True God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou has sent" (John 17:31). "...The knowledge of God and eternal salvation...are inseparable from each other" (Saint Clement of Alexandria, "The Stromata").
Growing in the knowledge of God, in communion with God, one becomes more and more deified--"in the sense that the Holy Spirit dwells within Christian believers and transforms them into the image of God in Christ, eventually endowing them in the resurrection with immortality and God's perfect moral character."
Compare to the multitude of terms that the New Testament uses as synonyms for "salvation"--"redemption", "reconciliation", "adoption", "justification", etc.--a later Patristic term theosis seems to best encompass the most important aspects of it.
There is an abundance of Scriptural and Patristic evidence showing that the Church has always believed in the possibility of our theosis (deification) and has seen it as the means of our salvation. "When Christ said, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17), "this is a call to a life of Theosis (Deification)." "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19). "He, indeed, assumed humanity that we may become God" (Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, "On the Incarnation"). "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). "Since the Lord has redeemed us through His Own Blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh, and has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man, imparting indeed God to men by means of the Spirit, and, on the other hand, attaching man to God by His Own Incarnation, and bestowing upon us at His coming immortality durably and truly, by means of communion with God..." (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, "Against Heresies", Book 5, 1:1). "(Christ) will have with us such a unity by grace as He himself with the Father by nature...That glory that the Father gave to the Son, the Son gives to us as well by grace…Having once become our relative by flesh and having made us partakers of His Divinity, He (by that) made us His relatives...We have such a unity with Christ...that a husband has with his wife and wife with the husband" (Saint Symeon the New Theologian).
"Saint Maximus the Confessor says: "Strong and sure basis of the hope for deification (theosis) of man's essence is God's becoming man, which makes man god in the same measure as God Himself became man. For it is clear that He who became man without sin, can deify the (human) essence without turning into Divinity, having lifted it up to Himself in the same measure, in which He humbled Himself for man." Saint Maximus refers to God as "desiring salvation and hungering for deification" of men. By His immeasurable love for man Christ ascended Golgotha and suffered death on the Cross, which reconciled and unite man to God."
It is important to emphasize that, according to the Patristic teaching on theosis, the human person is not getting absorbed, or "swallowed", by Divinity. In His "High Priest's prayer", Jesus Christ prays to God the Father about His followers that "they all may be one; as Thou Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21). Just as Three Persons of the Holy Trinity dwell in each other without losing their individual character, we are also called to "dwell" in God without losing our identity.
Through theosis (Deification) we, of course, do not become God by essence--we become God by grace. Our communion is with the Divine energies--that is, the manifestations of God in this world--not the essence of God.
Finally, it should be noted that, since Christ saved the whole person, our personal salvation involves both soul and body. "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Romans 12:1). Holiness is not just a moral perfection. Many Orthodox Saints have physically demonstrated the fruits of theosis. From the lives of the Holy Fathers of the early Church we know many examples of visible, bodily signs accompanying theosis--like Uncreated Light ("the Light of Tabor") surrounding the living Saints. The bodies of some Saints have been miraculously preserved from corruption. In Mark 17 Christ lists the outward signs that will accompany those who will have achieved theosis.
(To be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God