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
Personal Salvation is both in the future and now.
In accordance with the teaching on salvation as theosis, the Church has always understood salvation as something that starts and can be already experienced in our earthly life. Christ Himself referred to salvation in present tense: "Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21)--and assured that "there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1). One can say that "we are gradually saved as we are deified, by doing Christ's teaching and His Commandments."
The writings of Apostle Saint John the Theologian are especially full of references to eternal life as something already present: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life..." (John 3:36). "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life..." (John6:54). "We know that we have passed from death unto life..." (1 John 3:14). "...And ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him..." (1 John 3:15). Etc.
Since eternal life is communion with God, the presence of God in us, "it does not have in its essence anything that would prevent its revelation her on Earth; in other words, eternal life--as a state of a human soul--does not depend on the conditions of space and time, does not belong only to the world beyond the grave, but depends exclusively on one's moral development, and thus, for the elect, can begin this life."
We are not laboring for some future reward, since "for anyone longing for truth and life, that very truth and that very life are the reward; because it was for them that he was laboring."
One can find a complete Patristic consensus on understanding of our spiritual life as a development that starts here on Earth and continues in the afterlife. Eternal salvation is not something qualitatively new--but a full revelation of what was sown by one in his earthly spiritual struggle. A great ascetic of the 4th century, Saint Macarius the Great, who had tasted communion with God in his earthly life, was so permeated with that experience, that he almost could not imagine what else could be given to his soul beyond the grave and was inclined to believe that on the day of Resurrection it will be just the body that "will be covered and glorified with the Light of God that there is in the human soul now--so that the body could reign with the soul, even now partaking in the Kingdom of Christ, consoled and enlightened by the Eternal Light" (St. Macarius the Great, Discourse 2, "On the Kingdom of Darkness").
Jumping slightly ahead, we will add, that, it is in the nature of the Church in general to be simultaneously the preparation of the future (eternal life) and already the fulfillment, the foretaste of it: "On the one hand, the Church herself is preparation: she "prepares" us for life eternal. Thus her function is to transform our whole life into preparation. By her preaching, doctrine and prayer she constantly reveals to us that the ultimate "value" which gives meaning and direction to our lives is at the "end," is "to come," is to be hoped for, expected, anticipated. …Yet, on the other hand, the Church is also and essentially fulfillment. The events which gave her birth and which constitute the very source of her faith and life have taken place. Christ has come. In Him man was deified and has ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit has come and His coming has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Grace has been given and the Church truly is "Heaven on earth," for in her we have access to Christ's table in His Kingdom. We have received the Holy Spirit and can partake, here and now, of the new life and be in communion with God."
FAITH IS A STARTING POINT OF ONE'S PERSONAL SALVATION
How does one embark on the journey of theosis? First, he needs his will to be awakened to the desire to be with God. Faith is what awakes it. Faith is a driving force and the "heart" of one's spiritual life. How does one get it? God gives faith to those who seek Him. One has to be a seeker of the truth, attentive to his conscience and checking it against the law known to him. Seeing that "spark of seeking," God will always help.
Without faith in Christ, one cannot be saved because he does not know that God is all-forgiving love. Knowing himself to be a sinner who deserves punishment, he sees God as an All-Powerful, hostile, and unmerciful ruler of the Universe. In this state, being frightened of God and awaiting punishment, one simply cannot spontaneously turn to love Him--without which there is no salvation. "How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed?" (Romans 10:14). One cannot learn that God is a merciful. loving Father, because "no man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18). One can only learn that God is love (agape) because "the Only-Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18). Through faith in Christ one gets "boldness and access [to God] with confidence" (Ephesians 3:12). And, seeing that God is a loving Father, one can call God "my God"--that is, freely associating oneself with God. Thus through faith a close personal union is established between a believer and God. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15).
The Holy Scripture and the early Church Fathers are absolutely clear on this importance of faith as an outset of one's journey towards salvation: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). "But as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder for them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him for the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, whosoever believeth in Him shall not be ashamed…For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10: 9-13). "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). "...And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or undertaking or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning..." (Saint Clement, "First Epistle to Corinthians").
(To be continued)
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of Gold