One of the things that sometimes drives me crazy is when an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic writer says, ‘Protestants believe x, but we believe y,’ — I find myself believing y, not x. (This was a frequent occurrance in Clark Carlton book The Faith: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church.) Or when non-evangelicals say, ‘Evangelicals think x,’ but I certainly don’t think x, despite being raised in the evangelical wing of Anglicanism and having strong ties with IVCF/IFES and the Wee Frees in Scotland.
On those grounds, I should probably, then, delete my post on why I’m not Orthodox. But the discussion in the comments was too good, so I really don’t want to. But if you’ve read that one, take note that the position discussed there is not official Orthodoxy — maybe not even majority Orthodoxy. What follows, however, I have no doubt closely adheres to official Orthodoxy.
Because if you want to get to know official Orthodoxy, I know of no better guide than Kallistos Ware, who presents the teachings of his church in a clear, readable, accessible and often affordable way. In the midst of the conversations arising from that post, I was looking for Ware’s book on the Jesus Prayer (which I found), when a book came up in the university library catalogue, How Are We Saved? The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition.
It’s a nice, little book, and if you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend it.
Kallistos begins by talking about being asked by strangers on public transit, ‘Are you saved?’ His polite answer that probably leaves the inquirers nonplussed is, ‘I trust that by God’s mercy and grace I am being saved.’
My friend’s dad is a priest who wears a black shirt with dog collar when on duty — even when involved in music ministry at, say, Alliance churches. He has been asked by low evangelical ministers, ‘Are you saved?’ His answer is less diplomatic than Kallistos:
‘Damned if I’m not.’
Which should be enough to shame a brother or sister who’s trying to evangelise someone who’s visiting and involved in ministry because of that person’s dressed.
I like Kallistos’ answer. It holds onto the same faith in God’s grace as the standard Protestant response, but admits the frailty of the human who responds to the question.
The book has a new little section every two pages, with a main point bolded along the way. So here are the bolded points for your reading pleasure:
- While the Lord’s victory is certainly an accomplished fact, my personal participation in that victory is as yet far from complete.
- I am on a journey, and that journey has not yet reached its conclusion.
- Sin is failure to achieve the purpose for which one is created.
- Sin is failure to be one’s own real self.
- Beyond our individual acts of sin, we are each aware of being involved in a profound and all-embracing state of sinfulness.
- For a writer such as St. Athanasius of Alexandria (d. 373), the fall is not an isolated event but a gradual and progressive development.
- Because of the fall we often feel ourselves trapped in a situation in which all our choices lead to evil, in which we end up doing what we know to be wrong even though we genuinely desire to do what is right.
- By virtue of the fall, on the moral level we each have an inherited inclination towards what is sinful; we are born into a world in which it is easy for us to do evil and hard for us to do good.
- According to Gregory of Nyssa … Adam’s transgression is something for which we must each of us ask forgiveness.
- The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbour, for without active love they cannot be made perfect. … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.
- Without being personally guilty of Adam’s sinful act, we are involved in it and even in some measure responsible for it, by virtue of the fact that we all belong to a single human family.
- While Orthodox agree that we all suffer by virtue of the fall from a weakening of the will, we would not say with Luther or Calvin that our nature had undergone a radical depravity or total corruption.
- In our fallen state the human will is sick but it is not dead; and, although more difficult, it is still possible for humans to choose the good.
- Believing as it does that even in their sinful and fallen state human beings still possess the power of free choice, the Orthodox Church sees salvation in terms of synergeia or ‘cooperation’ between divine grace and human freedom. [Ware also notes: What God does is incomparably more important than what we humans do; yet our voluntary participation in God’s saving action is altogether indispensable.]
- Even though we affirms that ‘Human free will is an essentiall condition’, in no way does this signify that salvation can be ‘earned’ or ‘deserved.’
- We should consider that the work of our salvation is totally and entirely an act of divine grace, and yet in that act of divine grace we humans remain totally and entirely free.
- At every point our human cooperation is itself the work of the Holy Spirit.
- We are saved by faith, and not by works; but faith signifies an act of receptiveness on our part, our willingness to accept what God is doing, and so our salvation comes to pass only with our voluntary consent.
- Salvation is Christ the Savior.
- We are saved through the total work of Christ, not just by one particular event in his life.
- Salvation according to [the Irenaean] model is realized above all through indwelling — ‘Christ in us’ rather than ‘Christ for us’, although obviously both formulae possess validity.
- He takes into Himself what is ours and in exchange He gives us what is His own, so that we become by grace what God is by nature, being made sons in the Son.
- Only if Christ is truly human as we are, can we humans share in what he has done for us as God.
- To be saved is to share with all the fullness of human nature in the power, joy and glory of God.
- Orthodoxy links sanctification and justification together, just as St. Paul does in 1 Cor. 6:11
- The determining element in our humanity is the fact that we are created in the image of God, and that means in the image of the Holy Trinity.
There is more, but this was getting long. Those are the ones that address the issues that I talked about in that other post. If only more people who bear the name Orthodox actively believed and represented that view! I agree with almost everything Ware says in the book, although I think imputation and satisfaction are not incompatible with the more common Orthodox trends of thought, along with the judiciary aspects; which is good, since I read about some of it in the Bible.
Anyway, worth a read. In his irenic manner, although he tackles St Augustine on several occasions, he even gives us an Augustine quote to demonstrate the Orthodox position on one occasion. Kallistos Ware is the most likely of Orthodox writers to convert me (if the grace of the Spirit so chooses).