How are we saved? What is the process by which God is saving us? Is it enough to agree with the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection? To say, I believe this? Is it enough to say a certain formula of words or say a certain prayer? And that is it, we are saved. Well, to answer this question, we simply need to look at Jesus’ own teaching.
In the Gospels of St. John and St. Luke there is an account of a woman that approached Jesus as he was eating at a Pharisee’s table. St. John identifies her as Mary, the woman who had been possessed by seven demons. The same Mary that had been exercised by Christ. This woman approached Christ unashamed. She approaches Christ because there she recognizes her hope. She knows that she can only find salvation in Christ.
In the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark, we have the story of Jesus’ encounter with the boy who is possessed. The Father seeks Christ in the hope of having his boy released from this evil and the story is presented to us every lent on the fourth Sunday of each lent to teach us a number of things. First of all, we see how the disciples come to Jesus and they say to him that they could not drive out the demon from the boy. Jesus says to them that this kind of demon can only be driven out through prayer and fasting. So the first lesson that this incident teaches us is that fasting is a means to authority over evil spirits, along with prayer. Fasting gives us the authority, not only to cast them out, but to drive them away, and to protect ourselves from them from their influence in our lives.
It is only human to become despondent when we have failed in keeping to our moral, ethical and spiritual standards, succumbing, instead, to temptation. Our Orthodox Faith teaches that we must be compassionate towards others, loving, quick to forgive, exemplar in our Christian living, and always demonstrating to the world that we belong to Christ. Yet we also know we fail, most of the time, in living up to the standards of the Gospels, appearing no different than the pagans.
Cultivating the heart in Christ Jesus is vital to true Christianity and steadfast confession. Our Lord Himself warns us to guard our hearts so that they do not grow cold with the times (cf. Matt. 24:11). God’s thunder sounds forth to call the hearts of men back to Him, most of all to arouse slumbering Christians. Has our Lord not said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of sorrow” (Matt. 24:6-8). Sorrows multiply because of sin. Sorrows multiply because hearts, the hearts of Christians, grow cold.
Much has been written in recent years about the question of universal salvation. Several authors have shown in detail that universalism is not and can never be the teaching of Orthodoxy, since it is incompatible with both Scripture and the great majority of our patristic and liturgical tradition.
In an age that seems to be forever witnessing wars between nations, and civil wars within nations, peace seems to be something that is about as possible as the alchemy that would turn metal into gold. Peacemakers struggle to find peaceful solutions for the conflicts between nations, political parties, religions, neighbors, and even within families. Peace is something we all hope for, but never seem to see in our lifetime. When peace comes to one part of the world, war breaks out in another part of the world. War seems to always have the upper hand, while peace seems only the dream of pacifists, dreamers, and poets.
In the Sundays preceding Lent the church calendar presents to us images of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness. The parable of the prodigal son and then immediately following this, the Last Judgement, we are reminded that God’s mercy has compassion but judgment is coming. This is the time to seek His mercy, to repent, and seek forgiveness of our sins because the moment judgment comes all time will end. We will have exhausted our opportunity to repent.
Some people abandon themselves to sin in order to cover up their lack of self esteem. In their need for intimacy and acceptance, they seek out worldly pleasures, thinking these will fill the void that has kept them from achieving happiness. In their desperate search for love, they are unable to form lasting friendships, and they spiral down, failing, ultimately, to achieve that which will satisfy them. Replacing carnal pleasures for true intimacy, they fall further into their brokenness. Falling ever more deeply into the abyss of their self-serving ego, they are estranged from true joy, and lasting peace.
Many times in the teachings of the Church Fathers, we are told to interpret and understand the teachings on the actions of Christ as being applicable to us. This is the way that we really understand the spiritual meaning of the Gospels. These teachings apply to our lives today. We may say that of all the healings, perhaps the most applicable to us is that of the blind being restored to sight.