Salvation and, in particular, justification for the Orthodox is a free-moral state, although it can be accomplished only with the help of the grace of God. In order to be regenerated by grace, a person must himself contribute to his regeneration. “Coming to the good Physician,” writes St. Ephraim the Syrian, – the sinner must, for his part, “bring tears – this is the best medicine. For it is pleasing to the heavenly Physician that everyone heals himself and is saved with his own tears,” and not involuntarily undergoes only salvation.
“Thoroughly wash yourself with tears, as a dyer washes a wave, indulge in humility and reduce yourself in everything; for having thus cleansed yourself, you will come to God ready to receive grace. Some of the penitent return again to sin, because they did not know what was hidden in them the serpent, and if they knew, they did not completely remove him from themselves, for they allowed the traces of his image to remain there, and he soon, as if conceived in the womb, again restores the full image of his malice. that he has not changed in his mind, because all the reptiles of sin are still in him.The sign of one who brings firm repentance is a collected and severe way of life, the laying aside of arrogance, conceit, as well as eyes and mind, always directed to the longed Jesus Christ, with desire, by the grace of Christ, to become a new man, as a wave becomes purple or blue or hyacinth-colored cloth.
Thus, the effectiveness of the sacrament depends on the degree of free participation in it by the person himself. In order to emerge from the sacrament as a new person, he himself must strive to be new and, as far as he has the strength, must destroy in himself the slightest remnants of the former sinful dispensation. That is why the Fathers of the Church insist that the free decision and effort of a person is just as necessary, although not sufficient in itself, a condition for justification in baptism, as well as the grace-filled help of God. “If there is no will,” says St. Macarius of Egypt, “God Himself does nothing, although He can by His freedom. Therefore, the accomplishment of the work by the Spirit depends on the will of man.”
The rebirth of a person is accomplished through a moral path, with the free-conscious assistance of the person himself. “A renewal of life is taking place in a person,” says Rev. Theophan, “not mechanically (that is, not in such a way that the grace of God expelled sin from a person’s soul, as something independent of the will of a person, and also settled in his place against his will righteousness), but according to internal arbitrary changes or decisions; this is also done in baptism because the person being baptized has loved to live this way in advance. Therefore, before immersing in the font, having renounced Satan and his works, we are united to Christ the Lord in order to devote our whole life to Him. the location in the font by the grace of God is imprinted and takes on the power to be effective. Coming out of the font with him, the baptized one is, thus, completely new, renewed in his moral and spiritual life – he is resurrected. Just as Christ the Lord is resurrected, and the baptized, into the font, he dies, but, leaving the font, he rises: he dies in sin and rises for the truth, for a new and renewed life. present place of St. Paul the Apostle: Buried to walk in newness of life.
Therefore, giving full power and meaning to the grace-filled influence on the human soul, the Fathers of the Church depicted the sacrament of baptism in the form of a covenant with God, i.e. such an action that directly presupposes freedom not only for the reception of grace, but in the very fruits of grace. “Briefly, under the power of baptism,” remarks St. Gregory the Theologian, “we must understand the covenant with God about entering into another life and maintaining greater purity”; and this presupposes both the desire to be good, and the decision to be good, and actually work on oneself, and the free efforts of a person under the most mysterious influence.
A person can save himself on the path of good only by direct efforts of his will, by forcing himself to do good. “The fact that our former sins are buried in baptism – this, according to St. I. Chrysostom, is a gift of Christ; and in order to remain dead to sin after baptism, this should be a matter of our own zeal, although in this feat, as we will see, God helps us most of all. For baptism has the power not only to atone for past sins, but also to protect against future ones. Just as you used faith to atone for past sins, so that you would not be defiled by sins after baptism, show a change in disposition. Although grace-filled help is always ready for the baptized, although he is in sincere union with Christ, however, only with the assistance of his will can a person make use of this grace-filled help. “The Evangelist,” says the same Holy Father, “never gives place to coercion, but shows the freedom of will and the independence of man; he expressed this even now. it is another for a Man to show faith, but then a lot of care is required from a man: for in order to preserve purity, it is not enough for us to be baptized and believe, but if we want to acquire perfect lordship, we must lead a worthy life. The mystical rebirth and our cleansing from all former sins is accomplished in baptism; but to remain clean in the subsequent time and not allow any filthiness in ourselves again – this depends on our will and care.
So it is in baptism, and so it is with every other sacrament: the freedom of man is always preserved. “The honest blood of Christ,” says St. Cyril of Alexandria, “delivers us not only from perdition, but also from all impurity hidden within us, and does not allow us to cool to indifference, but, on the contrary, makes us burning in spirit.” However, this is only with the voluntary effort of the person himself: “it is necessary and beneficial that those who have once been worthy to partake of Christ should strive firmly and unswervingly to cling to a holy life”; so that even at the highest degrees of grace-filled illumination, a person still remains the cause of his actions and can always go in a completely opposite way. “And those who are filled with the Holy Spirit,” according to St. Macarius of Egypt, “have natural thoughts in themselves and have the will to agree to them.”
Therefore, the Fathers of the Church have always taught that the grace of justification is to a certain extent a temporary phenomenon, i.e. temporarily felt and temporarily hidden from consciousness, that it may finally be lost for a person. “Even the perfect ones,” says St. Macarius of Egypt, “while they are in the flesh, they are not freed from worries (that is, about their salvation) because of freedom and are under fear, which is why temptations are allowed upon them.” And only, “when the soul enters that city of saints, then it will only be possible to remain without sorrows and temptations.” Righteousness is a fire kindled within us that threatens to be extinguished by the slightest inattention on our part. “The fire that we received by the grace of the Spirit,” says St. I. Chrysostom, “if we want, we can strengthen it, but if we don’t want, we will immediately extinguish it. And when it goes out, nothing will remain in our souls but darkness. Just as great light appears when a lamp is lit, so when it is extinguished nothing remains but darkness.
However, it is not necessary to imagine the subsequent life of a person in such a way that his whole task will consist only in not losing somehow this righteousness he has received.
Source: with abbreviations that do not distort the meaning, from the work of Archbishop (Finland) Sergius: “The Orthodox Doctrine of Salvation”. Ed. 4. St. Petersburg. 1910 (pp. 140-155, 161-191, 195-206, 216-241). Photo by Ron Lach :