Title: Introduction to Orthodoxy 5: Salvation
Subject: Repentance, Good Works, Sin, and Death
Age: 16+ years
Prerequisites: Introduction to Orthodoxy 1 Church Tour, 2 Church History , 3 Jesus Christ, and 4 Holy Spirit
Materials: (optional) Icon of Christ the Savior and Icon of the Last Judgment
Begin with this thought: "If you die before you die you shall not die when you die." This is an epigram from the Stavrovouni monastery. The level of our attachment to the things of this earth will determine the pain or joy we feel when we depart from it.
A overview of the fall of humanity: Humans were created to live in communion with God. We were also created according to the teaching of the Church as a psychosomatic whole. Death therefore is an abnormal phenomenon, an affront to God's perfect work. In Christ, God counters death so that it is not victorious in the end and the resurrection of Christ proves this. This communion was broken through disobedience when we tried to become gods without God. The effects of our disobedience are:
- Separation or a loss of communion with God. We were expelled from paradise;
- Separation and a loss of communion with our fellow human beings. Recall the murder of Cain;
- Exploitation of the physical world;
- The fact that we are born with the propensity, the inclination towards sin. We are, however, not born with sin.
Another way to speak about salvation is to discuss the three stages of being saved. "I have been saved." We are saved from sin and death through baptism; baptism is the tomb. "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death" (Romans 6.3). This phase is called Justification. The second stage is, "I am being saved." This is our daily journey with Jesus. This phase is called Sanctification. The final stage of salvation is "I will be saved." It is our final glory with Christ, called Glorification or Deification.
How do we work out salvation? On the day you are married, you are pronounced man and wife, but that reality is reconfirmed each day and takes a lifetime of working on. God desires the same type of relationship of love, trust, and commitment. He desires a dialogue of love and obedience, a relationship that involves both His will and your will. What the Church and scripture teach us is that we cannot at any point stop; the work of salvation is never finished. From the saint to the sinner, from the altar boy to the bishop, each one of us must work out our salvation daily. Each day we must take up anew our life of faith, our struggle for salvation. St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians 2.12, "Therefore, my beloved...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
Why fear and trembling? The alternative is gruesome. If we are not working out our salvation then we are working out our damnation. We either have turned ourselves towards the light or we have chosen to walk down the path that leads to darkness.
Read Psalm 1.
- "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Psalm 1.1-6).
Salvation occurs each day. "The great saints of the Church were humble men and women who radiated grace and love. They were not converted just once. Nor did they repent just once. Their life was a daily conversion and constant repentance...Daily they sinned and daily they repented" (page 48). Daily Repentance!? This is the first step towards salvation: repentance. "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3.2, 4.17). Is repentance only for those who have sinned greatly, the murderer, the rapist, and the thief? Emphatically, no. To be able to say this has something to do with how we understand sin. Is sin something we can place value on or scale to? Or is sin merely anything that distorts, or disfigures human beings by separating them from God? Sin is this later thing, it is any act that cuts us off from God; this is the value of the word amartia, to miss the mark.
Therefore in choosing repentance as a way of life, we choose to do the same with our lives that the great saints have done. Repentance, then, is for everyone; it is the gateway to the Kingdom. In the end we must say that repentance opens us up to our true potential, instead of something that is mournful and sad, a thing that points out our weaknesses, repentance reminds us of who and what we can truly be.
Salvation is more about a relationship than it is a direction or a destination. More importantly, salvation is a relationship more than it is a decision we make, or an acceptance of something Christ did. Salvation is something that is dynamic. Salvation is a relationship and intimacy with our Creator. Salvation is something internal; it is not something that "happens" to human beings. Salvation is not something that was simply "done" for man. It is not external to man. You don't "get" saved.
Is salvation about gauging where we are at? When the moon is full, it appears in the night sky as a perfect white sphere. Yet under the eye of a microscope you discover that it is cratered and pocked. On a computer screen, the images and icons that appear on it are easily broken down into pixels. Often we compare ourselves to others and that is both silly and ridiculous. We take our self and compare it to another finite being whereas we should look at ourselves in light of the infinite: in comparison to God. Now, what we compare ourselves to affects our potential. Why shoot for the moon when you could shoot for the stars? If you compare yourselves to the finite that is all you will ever be.
"What must I do to be saved?" This is a profound question. This is the question we should ponder, an inner salvation that produces a changed society. This inner salvation is what will produce an outer salvation. The rule is that changed people produce a changed society. For too long now salvation has been wrongly viewed as something external.
(Show the icons of Christ the Savior and Christ the Judge. Discuss Christ's function as our savior and our judge).
Why are we saved? We are saved for love and for fruit-bearing. What is salvation? It is theosis, participation in the Divine and uncreated energy of God, real communion and union with Christ; a journey of dynamic growth, a journey of potentials that are reached and then surpassed. Salvation is growth; it is a movement from glory to even greater glory.
Here is something to think about:
- "Salvation is Christ overcoming for us our greatest enemy which is at the root of all insecurity, the fear of death. God does not remain aloof in the heavens while men suffer and die. He takes on a body and by His death destroys our death so that now death becomes a doorway through which we must all pass to enter the splendor of His glorious presence" (page 51).
Once again, we must examine the idea of death. Is it necessary to our salvation? Must we die? Must all of us die? Can death be overcome? The revelation of Jesus Christ tells us that it is through death that we are born anew. Death is necessary; it becomes a gateway.
For the Orthodox there is a positive spin on how we view salvation. It is not a simple transaction of Christ taking on our sin and paying our sin debt, per se. Orthodoxy tends to view salvation not in terms of whether one is righteous/justified or guilty/condemned, but whether or not one is becoming like God. Remember that salvation is not an external condition but an internal one; it is about being fundamentally changed. For many there is also the belief that salvation is more or less about moral improvement. In people's minds there is the idea that the grace of God is a created intermediary and not the uncreated energies of God. This implies that no direct participation in the life of God is possible. No union with a holy God is possible, since humans cannot be deified by what is created, grace. What is left is simple moral purification, improvement, and maintenance.
Yet, in the Orthodox model, sin is missing the mark; it is a distortion or a disease that needs therapy. Sin has no temporal and eternal debt per se, nor must it be "worked" off. One does not do "penance" in the Orthodox Church, but rather one seeks to be healed of their passions, their imperfections. Thus we use the language that compares the Church to a hospital and views sin in medical terms: sickness and cure.
Good works, then, are part of the overall therapy humans do towards healing their corrupted nature. Good works are also a real participation in the Divine life and so they bring life and restore human beings to the likeness of God. As Fr. Coniaris says, "[salvation] means also the renewing and restoration of God's image in man, the lifting up of fallen humanity through Christ into the very life of God." Christ forgives man and frees him from sin that he may proceed to fulfill this destiny, which is to become like God. Christ came to save us from sin for participation in the life of God. It boils down to the question of human kind's destiny.
This exalted vision of the Christian life was expressed by St. Peter when he wrote that we are invited "‘to become partakers of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1.4).'" This is only possible when we consider the fact that the grace which we experience from God is nothing short of the uncreated energy of God, this guarantees the reality of man's deification (The Truth, Clark, page 89). In the end we are saved so that we might live a new life in Christ, something exalted and unique, something unlike our current state. Salvation is thus about our potential and not only our condition.
Once again this is why death is necessary, we are not raised to a new life in Christ that is simply a continuation of this present life, but something new, something greater. Christ participates in death and is resurrected; however He also ascends into the heavens, taking His human body and human nature with Him!
Now for some technical language and theology: first, we are saved by grace. We affirm as Orthodox Christians that we are saved by the grace of God. God's grace is a free gift of God, it is something that can not be earned, it is never deserved, but rather it is something that results from the outpouring of God's great mercy. This is a good thing. We should never hope for a salvation that is dependent upon us. For such a salvation is uncertain at best. Rather a salvation that is rooted in the mercy of God is a salvation that becomes possible to all. Recall the passage from the gospels; what is not possible for man is possible for God. Second, we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is our response to grace; it is our side of the equation. God grants us salvation through His grace and once this is recognized, our faith is our acceptance of this gift. It is our way of saying, "yes" to the gift of God. Faith, "receives what God gives, not as something we deserve, but as a gift of His grace" (page 53).
Good works are the fruit of salvation. Faith, true faith, is shown in the good works one does. We were created for good works. Good works do not result in merit points. "Good works do not produce salvation, but salvation produces good works" (pages 54-55). The work of Christ is such that it changes us first, and this in turn produces in us the desire and the ability to do good works.
What do we know about the second coming, the end? First, we must realize that the Church says very little about the end. However, she is certain of a few things. First, no one knows the time nor the hour of the end. "But of that day and hour no one knows, no even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 13.32). Second, there will be a general falling away of faith before Christ comes (2 Thessalonians 2.3), and third, before Christ's return the Anti-Christ will appear (2 Thessalonians 2.3-4).
- "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2.3-4).
When Christ does appear we know that He will come again physically to judge the living and the dead. Everyone will be brought forward to be judged based upon their works.
- "Who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds': eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 2.6-10).
In regards to Heaven and Hell, what happens after we die? Think of a soccer tournament; we know whether we have won or lost, but we don't receive our trophy until the banquet. Olympic medals are not handed out immediately after the event. Again, what happens after we die? Our body dies but not our soul. Yet the body will be resurrected so that as a psychosomatic whole we cam experience the joy of the Uncreated Glory of God. The soul does not go to sleep or into limbo, it grows eternally towards God, while feeling satisfied at the same time, a sort of paradox of feeling complete and evolving eternally. There will be a new heaven and a new earth.
What is heaven? It is not just a place but a relationship. What is hell? We are not sent there so much as we choose it. When we meet God, we will either say to Him, thy will be done, or He will say to us, your will be done. There is a sense that the love of God is the same in heaven as it is in hell. We experience that love as joy in heaven but as pain in hell.
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas
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