How Are We Saved? The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Christian Church (Part II)


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

HOW ARE WE SAVED? The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Christian Church (Part II)
By His Eminence Kallistos Ware (Diokleia)

From What Am I Saved?

*       First, then, from what am I saved?

*       How does the Orthodox Christian Tradition understand our fallen and sinful condition?

*       To sin, first and foremost, the "miss the mark":

*       "The primary meaning of the Greek word (αμαρτία) is "failure for which one is created".

*       Pursuing the analogy of a journey, we may say that sin is to love one's sense of direction, to deviate from the right path, it is "every departure from the way of righteousness".

*       It means not just disobeying rules but also, and more profoundly, what the Greek Holy Fathers term, πλάνη "wandering", "error", "illusion" - a key term in Orthodox Ascetic Theology.

Sin as Absence of Communion

*       Sin, that is to say, is to be viewed not primarily in juridical terms, as the transgression of a moral code, but rather in an existential perspective, as the failure to be one's own real self.

*       Sin is a lack of true humanness.

*       This means that it is above all else a loss or relationship.

*       To be human according to God's Trinitarian image is to love one another after the model of the mutual love of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

*       Sinfulness, then, as a lack of True humanness is isolation - from God and from our fellow humans.

*       It is the absence of communion.

*       In hell, as Saint Macarius (4th century) warns us, we cannot see each other's faces.

An All-Embracing State of Sinfulness

*       If we find ourselves in this condition of illusion and isolation, then that is in part because of our own personal errors, because of the mistaken acts that we have each committed by our own free choice.

*       But that is not all.

*       Beyond our individual acts of sin, we are each aware of being involved in a profound and all-embracing state of sinfulness; and this is something that we have inherited.

*       From our birth we are fallen beings, existing in a fallen environment.

*       As the Holy Orthodox Church affirms in its hymns on the Sunday before Holy Lent:

*       "See, I shall not stop my lips from crying out to Thee: I am fallen, in Thy compassion have mercy on me".

*       While the fact of the fall is not to be doubted, Eastern Orthodox Christendom has been reluctant to specify the exact consequences of this fact.

*       In this domain we have no dogmatic definitions that are irrevocably binding.

*       None of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (Synods) promulgated decrees concerning the fall, original or ancestral sin, free will and grace.

*       The Pelagian controversy was a Western dispute, in which the Greek Orthodox East was implicated only to a very limited degree.

*       Whereas in the West (Roman Catholicism) the teaching of St. Augustine was endorsed - admittedly only in a qualified manner - by the Second Council of Orange (529 AD) and later by the Fifth and Sixth Sessions of the Council of Trent (1546-7).

*       In the East the precise interpretation of original sins belongs to the realm not of dogmas but of theologoumena.

*       It is true that a theologoumenon is more than merely the private opinion or personal speculation of an individual author.

  • For it signifies a teaching more or less widely maintained by the Holy Fathers of the Church.

*       Yet certainly it lacks the binding character of a conciliar definition.

*       Let us take care then, not to over-harden the doctrine of ancestral sin: proper scope should be given to a legitimate diversity of opinion.


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


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

+Father George