The Power of Faith

My beloved spiritual children 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 POWER OF FAITH
by Metropolitan Philaret

"At that time, Jesus saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick. And when it was evening His disciples came to Him, saying, 'This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.' But Jesus said unto them, 'They need not depart; give ye them to Me.' And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to Heaven, He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And they did eat, and were filled: and they took up the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children. And straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitude away" (St. Matthew 14:14-22)

It has been said more than once in this holy church that when the Apostles were with their Divine Teacher, the Savior, it was a time of spiritual education for them, when the best of Teachers, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, prepared them for the great ministry they were to accomplish upon the earth.

From the lessons that the Lord taught them, we often see in the Gospel that He taught them to rely wholly on His All-Powerful Divine Power and help, never considering any circumstances to be hopeless, but to remember Him, His Omnipotence, and His love.

In today's Gospel we read of the instance when the Savior was surrounded by a mass of people (the Gospel says that there were nearly five thousand men alone, not counting women and children). The Apostles approached Him, saying: "How shall we feed such a multitude? Send them away, that they might go and buy food for themselves and those with them. "The Lord replied: "They do not need go; you will give them to eat."

The Apostles said: "We have five loaves and two fishes, but what is that for so many people?" The Lord said: "Tell them to sit down in rows." They sat down in rows on the grass. The Lord blessed five loaves and two fishes, giving them to the Apostles to distribute to the people. And this tiny amount, compared to the mass of people, not only filled everyone, but more pieces of bread remained than there had been to begin with.

This amazing miracle should have reminded the Apostles again that, if they had faith, they should not fear anything or consider any circumstance to be hopeless, for in their faith they have the support and help that can help them everywhere and in all things. Recall that the Lord soon repeated this same miracle. Again there was a mass of people, again the Lord fed them all, and in all else the miracle was the same. The Lord performed it twice, so that the Apostles could properly discern the truth that they could rely wholly upon Him and that He could make much from little.

Deacon Victor E. Klimenko in Chapter 1 of his thesis on "The Orthodox Teaching on Personal Salvation" writes: How does one embark on the journey of theosis (deification)? 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 for 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" (St. John 1:18). One can only learn that God is love because "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him" (St. 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 begins to long for Him and love Him in return. Only through faith 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 Holy 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" (St. Mark 16:16). "But as many as received Him, to them gave the 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" (St. 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 shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from 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 on 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" (St. Mark 1:15). "...And so we, having been called through our own wisdom 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").

Reading the above quotes, one can ask, though: is faith all that is needed for salvation? Here it is important to note that there are two parallel narratives both in the Holy Scripture, and in the Patristic (Holy Fathers) works: one give an impression of salvation through "saving faith", and the other preaches the importance of works in addition to faith. In every case one has to be careful and should try to understand what each writer was talking about and whom he was addressing.

In the early Church, "faith" meant the entire lifestyle of a believer--as opposed to remaining a pagan or a Jew. Good deeds were taken as an integral part of such "faith." On the other hand, when talking specifically about "faith" and "works", an Apostle or a Holy Father most often desired to stress that "cold faith"--that is, being a Christian in name only, for social, familial or other reasons--could not save one: one actually has to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Thus both narratives--"faith" and "faith and works"--are consistent with each other.

In addition to a subjective spiritual experience, "faith" is understood by the Church also as "a doctrine to be followed, that is, the entire content of Christ's instruction to the Apostles" (St. Matthew 28:20) "The faith once delivered to the Saints" (St. Jude 3): the teaching of the Church. To believe in Christ as Savior and God is to also believe all that He taught. In other words, the Orthodox say that faith is not merely "that we believe" but "what we believe."

Simply confessing Christ as Lord does not earn you salvation: "Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven" (Saint Matthew 7:21). Demons are not saved, even though they have faith too: "...The devils also believe, and tremble" (St. James 2:19)--and even confess Christ: "A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much pain gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation" (Acts 16:16-17).

Thus faith is only the beginning. "Faith only reveals to one the truth that for his prior sins God will not punish him, on the opposite, He is ready to accept him and pardon him and recognize him as His son. But this...only clears for one the path to God but does not do anything with him. Before that he was afraid to turn to God, but now he got to know God and stopped fearing Him, and, on the opposite, grew to love Him. But he is still the same man.  It is necessary for him not just to begin loving God but actively, really turn to Him."

In order to believe truly, it is necessary for one to understand the magnitude of his sins forgiven by God, to realize that he is a sinner worthy of death. One can only have true love for God when he realizes the true horror of his sins that God forgave him for free. This state--repentance--can even be called "the beginning of faith." Without judging himself, one will not ask God for forgiveness--and without asking for forgiveness, one will not receive it and thus will not be saved. One's return to God starts with repentance. Seeing it, God, like the father in the Parable of Prodigal son, runs to meet us: "...when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him" (St. Luke 15:20).

Faith accompanied by repentance--"the faith of the Wise Thief"-- is thus the true faith that saves. Christ expects repentance from His followers: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (St. Matthew 9:13). And He makes it clear that the possibility of one's salvation is tied to his repentance: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel" (St. Mark 1:15). "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Revelation 2:5)...

"...True repentance--the ability to see the depth of one's sins--is the foundation of the entire "building" of Christian life, which is humility ("Blessed are the poor in spirit..."), the realization that one cannot rid himself of his sins without Christ. The Holy Fathers agree on the primacy of humility in one's spiritual life. We can note here that Adam had all gifts of God but he did not have the experience of humility.

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With love in the Incarnate Logos,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George