Kallistos Ware on Salvation

While not as far-reaching as John Michael Talbot’s, Kallistos Ware’s beard is still magnificent

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).


20 thoughts on “Kallistos Ware on Salvation

  1. Reblogged this on Eclectic Orthodoxy and commented:
    I’m delighted to see this summary of Met Kallistos’s little book How Are We Saved?. Orthodox synergism is easy enough to verbalize as a slogan but not so easy to understand, at least not if one thinks about it for more than ten seconds. Met Kallistos does a wonderful job stating the mystery in plain language.

    • Fr Aidan,

      Thanks for the reblog! Met Kallistos’ lucidity dispels a lot of darkness on the topic, hopefully helping Orthodox see what the tradition teaches more clearly as well as helping non-Orthodox see that Orthodoxy proper does not teach works-based rightesouness!

  2. “Kallistos Ware is the most likely of Orthodox writers to convert me (if the grace of the Spirit so chooses).”

    He had a great influence on me, in writing and personally. I was blessed to meet him many years ago when he conducted the traditional quiet day held at Westminster Abbey on the first Saturday of every Lent. His topic was The Jesus Prayer.

  3. I understand your struggle. I agree and adore the wonderful writings of people like Kallistos Ware and bloggers like Stephen Freeman, but it is not clear to me that if I go to my local ethnic Orthodox congregation that I would hear similar teachings.

    • Allen,

      Your comment reminds me of a friend who is thinking about becoming Orthodox, but one of her concerns is what would happen if her local priest were to change parishes. What sort of preaching and pastoral care would there be — if any worth talking about? She says that it’s evidence she’s still pretty Protestant! But it is a concern, and one some Orthodox aren’t blind to. Bradley Nassif commented once that, for all the triumphalist readings of evangelicals who become Orthodox, most Orthodox don’t talk about the numbers who eventually leave — probably because their local church doesn’t have a Kallistos Ware or Alexander Schmemann or Raphael Pavouris (that last being a priest in Edinburgh!).

  4. I have been studying Eastern Orthodoxy for a while now. I too have read a couple books by K. Ware, and have listened to umpteen podcasts by Fr. Hopko and others on Ancient Faith Radio. I am intrigued, challenged—I’m not sure what word is best—by the theology. I just don’t quite get the veneration of icons and the veneration of Mary, although I am open yo studying both further. Thank you for your post.

  5. Andy,

    Mary bore in her womb the very Word of the Father, the Logos who created all things. Think upon that. It is almost impossible to fathom her greatness — which is her humility, obedience, and lowliness. She is the ideal Christian: the one who “heard” the Word so perfectly that He implanted himself within her. She is, in a sense, the heart of the mystical Body of Christ, by which all Christians participate in the various offices of Jesus. One of those offices is Mediator. Thus I wrote in another thread:

    “The intercession of the saints is rooted in the communion of the saints: that is, in the mystical Body of Christ. Insofar as a Christian partakes of Christ’s life through faith, Word, and sacrament, he partakes of Christ’s several offices, including Mediator. The mediation of Mary, or Augustine, or Francis, or Dorothy Day, or any of the countless saints in heaven and on earth, occurs by virtue of their participation in the heavenly work of the Son in whom they are sons and daughters.”

    Christ the Head works with His Body, the Church, in his priesthood, his kingship, and prophethood, all of which are combined in his mediation of heaven and earth, God and man.

    Similarly, iconography is rooted in the incarnational nature of the Christian faith. Just as Christ is the Image of God made flesh, so the saints are images of the Image by membership in his Body.

    Christ shines in his saints, whose merits are his gifts. To honor and pray to the saints is to honor and pray to Christ, who with the Father and the Spirit brought us from nothingness to show forth his greatness in us, and to enable us to enjoy the life of beatitude which is the inner-life of God.

    God is not a miser. He does not grow jealous of his holy ones. He wishes them to reign with him: to be co-heirs with his Son, Jesus Christ. If anything, I imagine Christ would be displeased by a failure to adore and laud his mother, the creature chosen from all eternity to bear the Creator.

    • Interesting, I once heard Roman Catholic apologist Scott Hahn say something along these lines:

      Would you agree with me that Jesus kept and fulfilled the law perfectly?
      Would you agree that we are supposed to follow the example of Christ and try to emulate him?
      Since part of the law includes honoring one’s father and mother, doesn’t that mean Jesus did this for Mary and Joseph?
      (I suppose so)
      Then by honoring Mary, all we are doing is following Jesus’ example and trying to be more like him.

      As one who calls himself an “Anglo-Lutheran evangelical catholic” (who is in a confessional Lutheran church now), I “get it” to a certain extent. It often gets lost that many of the major reformation figures (Luther, Calvin, Wesley and even Zwingli (!) etc…) actually held to the perpetual virginity of the Theokotos, and that this wasn’t really challenged wholesale until the 19th century or so (with the occasional exception of course).

      I can also get the idea of “intercession” or “mediation” in regards to all Christians being intercessors for each other, “praying without ceasing.” If one dies “in Christ,” I understand the logic of saying that asking Mary to intercede is no different then asking your brother down the street to pray for you…I’m not completely convinced that this is necessary and that the potential for abuse is very real here (of course that doesn’t disprove it). I don’t call people idolaters who practice this correctly of course, and respect the very “realistic” theology of the church it represents…

      For an interesting discussion, see this:


      I disagree with the author of this site on several things, but the discussion here does a good job with the objections. Any thoughts? Scholiast?

      • My thoughts run generally that, done properly, seeking the intercession of the saints does not endanger one’s eternal soul. And, given the vibrant faith in and love of Jesus demonstrated by many devout Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers I know, I’m willing even to concede that for these people, seeking the prayers of the Mother of Our Lord has possibly been beneficial. JP2, for example, was famous for his devotion to the Theotokos.

        I also think that we should hold the Mother of God in high veneration precisely because, when done properly, it keeps us orthodox! It forces us to succumb our minds to the ineffable mystery of the man who was God, the God who was born, that the infant born at Christmastide was fully God and fully man, not some ‘Nestorian’ ‘schizophrenic’ Messiah.

        As with all things, though, I think care should be taken. I believe in the freedom of the believer on this issue. So my concern is not the Catholic dogmas or the beautiful Orthodox Akathist Hymn (‘Yperayia Theotoke soson imas’) but the distortions. Since I consider most Marian dogmas unnecessary (holding her in high veneration is not the same thing as believing everything approved by the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions), I believe that there may be some people who need to tone it down re the BVM and get a little more Jesus in their lives.

        From my readings in the early and mediaeval monastic tradition and the liturgies of the Church, the vast bulk of the devotion of these Christians who forged our spiritual tradition is towards our Lord and Saviour or one/every hypostasis of the Most Holy Trinity. It is the danger of imbalance in devotional life that makes me cautious of Marian devotion. A rosary done ‘properly’ is meditation on the Mysteries of Our Lord’s life and ministry. Done otherwise, it is an endless repetition of a prayer to the Virgin, and if it is someone’s sole devotional exercise, there is an imbalance that needs redressing.

        I hope that makes sense.

  6. I agree that we must on guard for abuses. I myself have written essays in opposition to Marian excessed. For instance, I resist the title “Co-Redemptrix,” although I do think that it is technically — technically — legitimate (as it is technically legitimate for any of Christ’s “co-heirs”). Still, I find it unnecessary and unsettling.

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