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“Am I saved?” A Short Introduction for “Evangelicals” on “Salvation” in Eastern Orthodoxy

“Am I saved?” A Short Introduction for “Evangelicals” on “Salvation” in Eastern Orthodoxy

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“Am I saved?”
A Short Introduction for “Evangelicals”
on “Salvation” in Eastern Orthodoxy
by Fr. Christofóros Schuff

Orthodox Theology
“Am I saved?”
A Short Introduction for “Evangelicals”
on “Salvation” in Eastern Orthodoxy
by Fr. Christofóros Schuff

Orthodox Theology

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Published by: Rev. Fr. Christofóros Schuff on Feb 20, 2009
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1
“Am I saved?”
 A Short Introduction for “Evangelicals”on “Salvation” in Eastern Orthodoxy
by Fr. Christofóros Schuff 
In Western, post-Reformation circles a use of terminology and expression hasdeveloped which has become an intricate part of a Western Christian’sunderstanding of many theological phenomena, including
salvation
. When thequestion is asked,
“Are you saved?”
 , a certain set of associations come to mind toanyone familiar with, for example, Evangelicalism in the United States. In somedenominations the understanding that a Christian has
“Assurance of Salvation”
hasalso become a part of many’s idea about whether or not they will be going to heaven.I present below a list of questions common for modern “evangelicals” whenengaging in one-on-one, door-to-door or street evangelism:
- Are you saved?- Do you know Jesus?- Are you going to heaven when you die?- Have you accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?
Though for many Western Christians these questions and the answers to them aresatisfactory explanations of
salvation
 , problems arise when Western Protestantismmeets Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity. When Orthodox Christians, hearing thesequestions, seem to be taken aback it is assumed by many Western missionaries thatthe reason is because they don’t have “Assurance of Salvation”. Even if thesequestions are asked only after having built a relationship with the object ofevangelism (i.e. through relationship evangelism), the same terms are used and theend to such an approach is that a type of
“Sinner’s Prayer”
is said. Another way ofmisunderstanding an Orthodox Christian’s difficulty in answering such questions isthat they don’t
really
know Christ
 personally
. Generally, the next step is to talk aboutthe heresy of
religion
and the pharisaic following of
traditions
.In my opinion, the greatest difficulty with West meeting East is that though the sameterms are used, the general definition used by each part may be diametricallyopposite.
 
2
Towards an Orthodox understanding of Salvation
I wish to present
salvation
as understood by the Eastern Orthodox Church. This may be shocking to some, interesting to others and hopefully dynamic for those willing toinvestigate Orthodoxy seriously and on it’s own premises.
1. The Fall
What are we being saved from and why do we need salvation? Is man “wicked” bynature or does man have a tendency to rebel against that which is good?Man was made
“...according to the image of God”
(...
κατ’ εἰκόνα Θεοῦ
Gen. 1,27) and
”...and behold, it was very good...”
(.
..καὶ ἰδοὺ καλὰ λίαν...”
Gen. 1,31). When the deviltempted Eve he played with questions of the will; he caused Eve to doubt the reason(logic) behind submitting her will to the will of God. Obedience is a matter of will.When mankind sinned it was because it allowed it’s will (
 βούλησις
or
βούλημα
) to beoverrun by desire (
πάθος/ἐπιθυμία
). This, passion or desire, is the greatest weaponof the enemy according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church. The paradox is thatwe were created with a free will. We were given the ability to choose. Man’s nature(φύσις) did not fall, for the nature of man (as God created it) was to be obedient andincorrupt (ἄφθαρτος)
1
. When we sin, we go against our “being” by way of our will(
 βούλησις
). It is our will which has fallen. Thus, when we speak of the fallen will, wespeak of a “tendency” (
κλήσις
) to sin and not determinism to sin due to our fallen being. The sons and daughters of Adam have because of him inherited
mortality
; nothis specific sin as such, but rather the
“wages of sin”
(Rom. 3:23), which is death. Assuch, though a child may die because of sin (i.e. the common denominator of allhumanity), this does not mean that the newborn child per se individually hascommitted sin nor has genetically (so to speak) inherited the specific sins of his or herparents. It is rather the
inclination to sin
 , i.e. to do that which goes against the naturalorder, and as a result death which is the fruit of the “Fall of Mankind”.
2
Thefollowing text by St. Athanasius the Great sums this up very well:
Thus, then, God has made man, and willed that he should abide in incorruption
(
ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ
)
 ; but men, having despised and rejected the contemplation of God(τὴν πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν κατανόησιν), and devised and contrived evil for themselves[as was said in the former treatise
3
], received the condemnation of death withwhich they had been threatened; and from thenceforth no longer remained as theywere made, but were being corrupted according to their devices; and death had themastery over them as king.
4
 
1
This word is used both as
incorrupt
and
immortal
 , many times without distinction. The antonym ofthis is φθορά or φθαρτός. See 1
st
Peter 1, 23.
2
See: Cummings, THE RUDDER pg. 679.
3
St. Athanasius,
 Against the Heathen
.
4
St. Athanasius,
On the Incarnation of the Word
§ 4.
 
3
2. Salvation: Continual and Communal
Salvation, according to Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers, is a process. Salvation isthe path from death to Life, transgression to Forgiveness, hate to Love. Salvationtranscends time itself. It is simultaneously punctual and continual. Through salvationwe obtain the “kingdom of God/Heaven” which is
“already within...”
us (St. Luke 17,21). We pray for the Lord’s will to occur
“as in heaven, also on the earth”
. This is a here-and-now occurrence. However, as while on earth we receive the kingdom of heaventhrough struggle, tears and prayers, in the kingdom to come we see God in thecontext of eternal rest, also partaking of the nature of God, but in peace. We are
being
 saved and we
will be
saved.Salvation is co-operation (
συνέργεια
) with God; God operates, man co-operates.However salvation requires the willingness of the individual. We are not forced tosubmit ourselves to the process. It is our choice to continue in the transformation thatsalvation is. Salvation is only hindered by one’s turning from God. Yet, even whenwe are unfaithful,
“God remains faithful, for He cannot deny His nature”
(2
nd
Tim. 2, 13).Salvation is a process common to all the members of the Church; it is communal. Wecannot obtain heaven but by participation in the Divine Mysteries together with allthe saints. Salvation is not merely a private event. With or without our knowledge,others will lay down their lives for our salvation. We too must do the same. Layingdown one’s life is praying, weeping and petitioning God for the salvation of others.Laying down one’s life is living out the Gospel to such an extant that our lives become worthy of exemplification. Salvation supersedes our own wishes to “get toheaven”.The Liturgy of the Word (preaching and teaching), by the grace of God, producesknowledgeable Christians, giving them a practical guide to living out the example ofChrist and following the commandments. Good teaching offers “the truth in love”(Eph. 4, 15), sometimes correcting, always encouraging and to the end of formingChristian character and adjusting practice on the practical level. However,knowledge without Grace is of little value.
Every good work which we perform through our own natural powers causes us torefrain from the corresponding sin; but without grace it cannot contribute to oursanctification
.
5
 
5
St. Mark the Ascetic:
On Those Who Think they are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty-Six texts
 , §24. In the Philokalia, Vol. 1, pg. 127.

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