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 IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
The Holy Scripture and the early Church Holy Fathers are absolutely clear on the 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 of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall 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 His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding 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").
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 works: one gives 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 teachings of the Church. To believe in Christ as Savior and God is to also believe all that He taught. In other words, the Orthodox Christians 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" (St. 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 gain by soothsaying. The same followed Saint 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).
Repentance is a Necessary Condition of One's Personal Salvation
Thus faith is only the beginning. "Faith only reveals to one of the truth that for his prior sins God will not punish him, that, 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 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). Furthermore, resistance to the Truth once it is known to one--that is, the lack of repentance--is something with which salvation becomes impossible: "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men" (St. Matthew 12:31).
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 experience of humility.
FROM THE LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS
THE PRAYER OF THE FOURTH ANTIPHON
Praised by the heavenly powers with hymns that are never silent and doxologies that never cease, fill our lips with praise of You, that we may fitly magnify Your Holy Name. And grant us a portion and share with all who truly fear You and keep your commandments; at the intercession of the Holy Theotokos and of all the Saints.
For You are our God, a God Who shows mercy and saves, and to You we offer up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God