Redemption According to Orthodox Christianity (Part III)

St. Artemon (Menignus) the Bishop of Seleucia

St. Artemon (Menignus) the Bishop of Seleucia

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Jesus, the Reconciler of Man with God

The second aspect of Christ's one, indivisible act of salvation of man and his world is the accomplishment of man's reconciliation with God the Father through the forgiveness of sins. This is the redemption and atonement strictly speaking, the release from sins, and the punishment due to sins; the being made "at one" with God.

"While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly, Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man--though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since therefore we are now made righteous by His Blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation" (Romans 5: 6-11).

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, Who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor.

5: 17-19).

The forgiveness of sins is one of the signs of the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, as foretold in the Old Testament:

"...they shall all know Me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more" (Jer. 31:34).

Christ is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb that is slain that through Him all sins might be forgiven. He is also the Great High Priest, Who offers the perfect sacrifice by which man is purged from his sins and cleansed from his iniquities. Jesus offers, as High Priest, the Perfect Sacrifice of His Own very life, His Own Body, as the Lamb of God, upon the tree of the Cross.

"For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He trusted to Him Who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Pastor and Bishop of your souls" (1 Peter 2:22-25).

The High-Priestly offering and sacrifice of the Son of God to His Eternal Father is described in great detail in the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament Scripture:

"In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated a High Priest by God, according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 5:47-10).

"But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come...He entered once for all into the Holy Place [not made by hands, i.e., the Presence of God] taking...His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience form dead works to serve the Living God. Therefore, He is the Mediator of a New Covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant" (Hebrews 9:11-15).

According to the Holy Scripture, man's sins and the sins of the whole world are forgiven and pardoned by the sacrifice of Christ, by the offering of His life-His body and His blood, which is the "blood of God" (Acts 20:28)--upon the Cross. This is the "redemption," the "ransom," the "expiation," the "propitiation" spoken about in the Holy Scripture which had to be made so that man could be "at one" with God. Christ "paid the price" which is necessary to be paid for the world to be pardoned and cleansed of all iniquities and sins (1 Corinthians 6: 20; 7:23).

In the history of Christian doctrine there has been great debate over the question of to whom Christ "pays the price" for the ransom of the world and the salvation of mankind. Some have said that the "payment" was made to the devil. This is the view that the devil received certain "rights" over man and his world because of man's sin. In his rebellion against God, man "sold himself to the devil" thus allowing the Evil One to become the "prince of this world" (St. John 12:31). Christ comes to pay the debt to the devil and to release man from his control by sacrificing Himself upon the Cross.

Others say that Christ's "payment" on behalf of man had to be made to God the Father. This is the view which interprets Christ's sacrificial death on the Cross as the proper punishment that had to be paid to satisfy God's wrath over the human race. God was insulted by man's sin. His law was broken and His righteousness was offended. Man had to pay the penalty for his sin by offering the proper punishment. But no amount of human punishment could satisfy God's justice because God's justice is Divine. Thus the Son of God had to be born into the world and receive the punishment that was rightly to be placed on men. He had to die in order for God to receive proper satisfaction for man's offenses against Him. Christ substituted Himself on our behalf and died for our sins, offering His blood as the satisfying sacrifice for the sins of the world. By dying on the cross in place of sinful man, Christ pays the full and total payment for man's sins. God's wrath is removed. Man's insult is punished. The world is reconciled with its Creator.

Commenting on this question about to whom Christ "pays the price" for man's salvation, Saint Gregory the Theologian in the 4th century wrote the following in his Second Paschal Oration:

"Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worthy enquiring into. To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was It shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice.

We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause?

If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, then it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether!

But if to God the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed. And next, on what principle did the Blood of His Only-Begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being sacrificed by his father, [Abraham], but changed the sacrifice by putting a ram in the place of the human victim? (see Genesis 22).

Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the incarnation, and because Humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant [i.e., the devil] and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, whom it is manifest He obeys in all things."

In Orthodox Christian theology generally it can be said that the language of "payment" and "ransom" is rather understood as a metaphorical and symbolical way of saying that Christ has done all things necessary to save and redeem mankind enslaved to the devil, sin and death, and under the wrath of God. He "paid the price," not to the devil whose rights over man were won by deceit and tyranny. He "paid the price" not to God the Father in the sense that God delights in His sufferings and received "satisfaction" from His creatures in Him. He "paid the price" rather, we might say, to Reality Itself. He "paid the price" to create the conditions in and through which man might receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by dying and rising again in Him to newness of life (see Romans 5-8; Gal. 2-4).

By dying on the Cross and rising from the dead, Jesus Christ cleansed the world from evil and sin. He defeated the devil "in his own territory" and on "his own terms." The "wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). So the Son of God became man and took upon Himself the sins of the world and died a voluntary death. By His sinless and innocent death accomplished entirely by His free will--and not by physical, moral, or juridical necessity--He made death to die and to become itself the source and the way into Life Eternal. This is what the Church sings on the feast of the Resurrection, the New Passover in Christ, the new Paschal Lamb, Who is Risen from the dead:

"Christ is risen from the dead! Trampling down death by death! And upon those in the tombs bestowing life! (Paschal Troparion)


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


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George