Salvation in the Orthodox Christian Church

It seems that in recent years the word "salvation" has been dwindled down to a single question...Are You Saved? And what is meant by this is, when you die, do you know for sure if you going to heaven or hell? While certainly eternal life is of the utmost importance, this is just a part of what salvation truly entails. For Orthodox Christians, salvation is something deeper, truer, and much more magnificent.

The following is from the book Surprised by Christ, by the Rev. A. James Bernstein. In his book, Father Bernstein chronicles his journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity (with a few stops inbetween). His opening paragraph from Chapter 16 entitled "What Is Salvation" does an excellent job in explaining the Orthodox Christian understanding of this topic.

The Orthodox Christian understanding of atonement is incarnational. It has as its basis not the law or the courtroom, but God's unconditional love and grace. We begin with the understanding that forgiveness and atonement are not essentially legal or juridical concepts. They are principally therapeutic, organic, synergistic, transformational, and ultimately ontological in nature. In fact, the Greek word translated as "salvation" is soterias, whose root meaning is "health." So being saved means more than being saved from something, such as death or hell; it also means being healed or made whole. When Jesus says, "Your faith has saved you" (Luke 7:50), He means, "Your faith has healed you," or "Your faith has made you whole." Forgiveness and atonement pertain to God's participation in His creation in order to renew His image and likeness in us, bringing us to wholeness and fulfillment."

Salvation is not a one-time decision, it is an ongoing decision. It is a synergistic work between God and us. It requires both our willful participation and God's grace. It is about using every breath at every second to attain to this salvation, this healing of our broken selves to the fulfillment of the hymn sung at an Orthodox Christian baptism "As many as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ." (Gal 3:27) At baptism, we begin the journey of healing, of "salvaging" that image of God that is given to us at our conception, but is already damaged because we are born into a world that is anything but Paradise. That is why, to be a Christian, we are "born again" at baptism but this time to the glory of Jesus Christ. To quote St. Paul we "die daily" (1 Cor 15:31) to our old self and "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling"(Phil 2:12). Not fear that God will punish us for a slip-up but with the fear that if we stop trying and reaching for the goal of restoring that image of God within us, that we will re-vert back to our old selfish ways, and lose whatever healing we have gained thus far. And it's not just a healing of our own imperfections, but a healing of the wounds created by the world around us that we had no choice but to just be recipients. In knowing this Orthodox Christian definition of salvation, it now makes complete sense that Jesus says: "He who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt 10:22, Matt 24:13, Mark 13:13)

Fr. Bernstein's book is available from Conciliar Press. There is a link to this merchant on the homepage of this blog.

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