The Church Fathers also understood salvation as salvation primarily from sins. “Our Christ,” says St. Justin the Martyr, “redeemed us, immersed in the gravest sins committed by us, through His crucifixion on a tree and through the sanctification of us with water, and made us a house of prayer and worship.” “We,” says St. Justin, “while still being given over to fornication and to every vile deed in general, have drawn within ourselves the grace bestowed by our Jesus according to the will of His Father, all the unclean and evil things in which we have been clothed. The devil rises up against us, always acting against us and wishing to draw everyone to himself, but the Angel of God, i.e. the power of God sent down to us through Jesus Christ, forbids him, and he withdraws from us. sins, and from the torment and flame that the devil and all his servants are preparing for us, and from which again Jesus the Son of God delivers us. Thus, St. Justin does not forget the consequences of sin, but deliverance from them appears to him as a consequence of salvation, and not his essence and main goal (“saves again”). The essence of salvation lies in the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ gave us the power by which we overcome the attacks of the devil attacking us and remain free from our former passions.
“I,” says St. Ephraim the Syrian, “saved from many debts, from a legion of sins, from the heavy bonds of iniquity and from the nets of sin, I was saved from evil deeds, from secret iniquities, from the filth of corruption, from the abomination of delusions. I arose from this mud, came out of this pit, came out of this darkness; heal, O Lord, according to Your unfaithful promise, all the infirmities that you see in me. In these words, Rev. Ephraim not only expresses the essence of salvation from the point of view of its content, but also makes it possible to understand its very form, the way in which it is accomplished: it is not some external judicial or magical action, but a development gradually taking place in a person by the action of God’s grace, so that there may be degrees of redemption. “The perfect Christian,” the Holy Father expresses the same thought, “produces every virtue and every perfect fruit of the spirit that surpasses our nature … with delight and spiritual pleasure, as natural and ordinary, already without fatigue and easily, no longer struggling with sinful passions, as one who has been completely redeemed by the Lord.”
The same thought can be found in a very clear form in St. Athanasius of Alexandria, “Because,” he says, “human nature, having undergone a change, left the truth and loved iniquity, then the Only Begotten became a man in order to correct this in Himself, to inspire human nature to love the truth and hate lawlessness.”
Christ “is called, according to St. Gregory the Theologian, “Deliverance” (1 Corinthians 1:30), as he frees us who are held under sin, as he gave himself for us as a ransom, as a cleansing sacrifice for the world.”
The Essence of Salvation
So, from the Orthodox point of view, the essence, meaning and final goal of a person’s salvation is to deliver him from sin and to give him eternal holy life in communion with God. The Orthodox does not forget about the consequences of sin, death, suffering and other things, is ungrateful for deliverance from them to God – but this deliverance is not for him the main joy, as it is in the legal understanding of life. Like the Apostle Paul, the Orthodox lament not so much that he is threatened with punishment for sin, from which (sin) he cannot be freed in any way, but that he cannot “get rid of this body of death,” in which lives “other law who opposes the “law of the mind” that pleases him (Rom. 7:22-25). Not fear for oneself, but the desire for holiness, life according to God, makes the true ascetic of piety grieve.
If this is the essence of salvation, then the very method of it becomes certain for us.
If one thinks only of delivering a person from suffering, then it makes absolutely no difference whether this deliverance is free or not free on the part of a person. But if a person needs to be made righteous, it is necessary to be freed precisely from sin, then it is not at all indifferent whether a person will be only a suffering subject for the action of supernatural power, or whether he himself will participate in his deliverance.
Salvation is accomplished without fail with the participation of human consciousness and freedom; it is a moral matter, not a mechanical one.
That is why, in the Holy Scriptures and in the works of the Fathers of the Church, there is a constant desire to convince a person to work out his own salvation, because no one can be saved without his own efforts. Holiness, if it is an involuntary property of nature, will lose its moral character and turn into an indifferent state. “You can’t be kind out of necessity” (I. Chrysostom).
Therefore, it is equally wrong to conceive of salvation as a deed both externally sane to a person and occurring in a person apart from the participation of his freedom. In both cases, a person would turn out to be only a weak-willed subject of someone else’s influence, and the holiness received by him in this way would not differ in any way from innate holiness, which has no moral dignity, and, therefore, not at all the highest good that he seeks. human. “I,” says St. I. Chrysostom, “I heard many who said: “Why did God create me autocratic in virtue?” But how to raise you to heaven, dozing, sleeping, betrayed by vices, luxury, gluttony? You are there too would not lag behind vices? “A person would not accept the holiness forcibly imposed on him and would remain the same. Therefore, although the grace of God does a lot in saving a person, although everything can be attributed to her, however, she “also needs a believer, like a writing cane or an arrow in an active one” ( Cyril of Jerusalem.) “Man’s salvation is prepared not by violence and arbitrariness, but by persuasion and good nature. Therefore, everyone is sovereign in his own salvation “(Isidore Pelusiot). And this is not only in the sense that he passively perceives the impact of grace, so to speak, gives himself to grace, but in the fact that he meets the salvation offered to him with the most ardent desire that he “zealously directs his eyes to the light” (of God) (Irenaeus of Lyons). Ephraim the Sirin, – is always ready to give you His right hand, and raise you from the fall. For as soon as you are the first to stretch out your hand to Him, He will give you His right hand to raise you up.” only his own salvation, but “helps the grace that works in him.” Every good thing that happens in a person, every moral growth, every change that happens in his soul, necessarily does not take place outside consciousness and freedom, so that not someone else, but “man himself changes himself, from the old turning into the new.” Salvation cannot be some external judicial or physical event, but must be a moral act, and, as such, it necessarily presupposes as an inevitable condition and law that a person he himself performs this action, although with the help of grace. Grace, although it acts, although it does everything, is without fail within freedom and consciousness. This is the basic Orthodox principle, and it must not be forgotten in order to understand the teaching of the Orthodox Church about the very method of human salvation.
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) – in Russian.
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