The Orthodox Teaching on Personal Salvation (Part 1)

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Martyr Boniface at Tarsus, in Cilicia

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

"...it is not only important for us Orthodox to be able to explain what we believe but also to express to our opponents and listeners our approach to the Christian faith in general and theology in particular--that delegitimizes the approaches of the non-Orthodox denominations and individuals and makes their interpretation of particular Biblical quotes largely irrelevant.

Simply put, our teaching on salvation cannot be reduced to a set of Scriptural or Patristic quotes that we just happen to read in a certain way. Our teaching on salvation can be traced back to the early Apostolic Church through the uninterrupted continuity of worship and practice, of the life of the Church. In other words, our doctrine of salvation is embodied by the life that the Church has lived since the times of Christ and the Apostles..." (Deacon Klimenko).

INTRODUCTION: OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE SALVATION

"The dogma of salvation in Christ is the central dogma of Christianity, the heart of our Christian faith."

We call Christ Himself our "Savior" and in our Symbol of Faith we confess our belief in "One Lord Jesus Christ..." Who for our salvation came down from the heavens and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried..." By these words the Orthodox Church teaches that the salvation of the human race is achieved by the Son of God, Lord Jesus Christ, Who said about Himself, "the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45).

Why do we call Christ "the Savior"? Likewise, we can also ask: what is salvation? Salvation from what? If we are talking about salvation, someone must be in danger. The answers that the Orthodox Church gives to these questions are tied to the Orthodox teaching about the "original sin" and its consequences. "The doctrine of original sin has great significance in the Christian world-view, because upon it rests a whole series of other dogmas."

From the beginning, the Church's teaching has been that the nature of man was profoundly corrupted as a result of the fall. Adam and Eve sinned by violating God's order and breaking their connection with God--Who alone is Life. "The breaking of this communion with God can be consummated only in death, because nothing created can continue indefinitely to exist of itself. Thus, by the transgression of the first man, the principle of "sin (the devil) entered into the world and through sin death, and so death passed upon all men..." (see Romans 5:12)." Our nature was damaged and became completely dislocated. Our wholesome essence got split into three parts--mind, heart, and body--that got in conflict with each other. We inherit that damaged nature, with its pre-disposition to sin. "Original sin is understood by Orthodox theology as a sinful inclination which has entered into mankind and become its spiritual disease."

"...With the transgression of the commandment, the principle of sin immediately entered into man--"the law of sin"...It struck the very nature of man and quickly began to root itself in him and develop...The sinful inclinations in man have taken the reigning position; man has become the servant of sin (Romans 6:7). Both the mind and the feelings have become darkened in him, and therefore his moral freedom often does not incline towards the good, but towards evil." This damage "was transmitted to [Adam's] descendants and weighs upon them." We are not guilty of Adam's sin (as Western soteriology puts it) but still have no deal with its consequences, as it affected the whole of mankind.

This understanding of Adam's sin as damage has deep implications for our understanding of what Christ has done for us, because otherwise one could ask: why couldn't a loving God just forgive the sin of Adam? Why did Christ need to come? The Patristic answer to this is that the "original damage" cannot be "forgiven"--it can only be cured! Adam and Eve repented--however, "repentance [does not] recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning" (Saint Athanasius the Great, "On the Incarnation").

Christ did not make us sinless, as there is still sin in the world, even after the Resurrection of Christ. He delivered us from the power of sin, from pre-disposition to sin that man was unable to reverse by himself. The Holy Fathers say that Christ assumed the perfect nature (of Adam before the fall) but with all the deficiencies (afflictions) caused by the fall. "The Divine essence, as fleshless, does not partake in suffering. But since it was His Body that got subjected to all these sufferings, we say that the Logos (Word) was suffering for us, because He Who is without passion was in a suffering body" (Saint Cyril of Alexandria). Christ restored our human essence in Himself. "Jesus Christ, by uniting humankind and God in His own person, reopened for us humans the path to union with God. In His Own person Christ showed what the true "likeness to God" is, and through His redeeming and victorious sacrifice He set the likeness once again within our reach." This is how the Church has always understood salvation delivered to us by Jesus Christ.

However, the word "salvation" is used in the Scripture with two different meanings.

"In the preaching of the Apostles, especially worthy of attention is the fact that they precisely teach us to distinguish between the truth of the salvation of mankind as a whole, which has already been accomplished, and another truth--the necessity for a personal reception and assimilation of the gift of salvation on the part of each of the faithful, and the fact that this latter salvation depends upon each one himself. "Ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God", writes the Apostle Paul (Eph. 2:12).

"Our objective salvation is realized only in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whereas our personal salvation or subjective salvation, which in the language of the New Testament is called 'righteousness', 'holiness', or 'salvation' (in the narrow sense), is realized as a continuance of this objective salvation, with our personal energy or activity acting in co-operation with Divine Energy or Grace."

It is the Orthodox teaching of personal (subjective) salvation that we intend to outline in the present work.

CHAPTER 1. THE ORTHODOX TEACHING ON PERSONAL SALVATION

1. Personal salvation is the restoration of our original communion with God.

The Orthodox teaching on personal salvation is based on the teaching on the purpose of God's creation of man and the damage suffered by human nature as a result of the "original sin". God created man "in His Image and His likeness" (Genesis 1:26)--that is, God intended man to be god by grace. "The loss of the Kingdom of God was the most severe consequence of the fall. Adam and Eve lost blessedness that they had already tasted in Paradise." "After his first fall, man himself departed in soul from God and became unreceptive to the grace of God which was opened to him; he ceased to listen to the Divine voice addressed to him, and this led to the further deepening of sin in him."

Salvation is the restoration of the wholeness of God's image in us, of the possibility of our union with God. It is the restoration of our original essence. "Holy Tradition teaches that...we will be saved when we become like Christ…Because of our faith in Him and our desire to become God-like, we are not so much saved all at once as slowly changed into the creatures we were created to be."

Everyone is called to salvation.

Salvation is not for the "elect" or "chosen people." God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). Furthermore, "in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him" (Acts 10:35). Christ said: "I...will draw all men unto Me" (John 12:32). He "died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again..." (2 Cor. 5:15). From Christ the Apostles "have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations..." (Romans 1:5). With the Apostles "we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).

PERSONAL SALVATION IS A PROCESS.

There are a multitude of places in the Scripture testifying to the fact that salvation is not a single act but extended in time: "He that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 10:22), "To us who are being saved" (1 Cor. 1:18), etc. Christ Himself indicates that salvation is a life-long journey: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Apostle Paul exhorts the Philippians to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

One can get closer to or farther from salvation: "...Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Romans 13:11). Striving to become righteous, one can progress through various degrees: "...Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). Christ links entering the Kingdom of heaven--that is, eternal salvation--to the level of righteousness one is able to acquire.

"Our Church, however, teaches that our personal salvation is neither a gift, nor a simple work, but rather a process and an undertaking that matures or develops gradually and is realized in the cooperation of two persons: God and man."

(To be continued)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,

The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George