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.
The Holy Standards was given to me by my godfather after I was received into ROCOR. It’s a compilation of the sacred creeds, confessions, and catechisms that make up the foundation of the Orthodox Church. Specifically, it contains the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, The Athanasian Creed, The Confession of Chalcedon, The Confession of Disitheus, The Shorter and Longer Catechisms of St. Philaret of Moscow, The Catechism of St. Peter Mogila, and The Synodikon of Orthodoxy. It was an essential read that allowed me to start my faith on the right foot.
Christianity is a religion of asceticism, instructing us to store up our treasures in heaven, where the benefits have eternal value. Throughout the New Testament we read of the importance of struggle, where focus on the acquisition of a humble and contrite heart is paramount to what it means to be a Christian. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that if we are to be worthy of Him, we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Him. We are to be a people whose true homeland is Christ’s Kingdom, which is within. Christ Himself calls us to holiness, and this change of heart can only be brought about through struggle.
The reader will find below a most pertinent letter by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. In it, he addresses mentalities and ideas that have only become more accentuated in our times. As Orthodox Christians, St. Ignatius calls us to cultivate our understanding, not on arbitrary ideas from the world but rather the everlasting Truth of Jesus Christ. Great is the temptation to place a worldly narrative and reasoning above that of the Gospel. The ideologies that St. Ignatius exposes are still very much alive and active in our times, from ecumenism to covidism, and numerous other topics. St. Ignatius speaks squarely to us when he says, “If you are a Christian, you should have a Christian understanding of this subject, and not some other arbitrary opinion taken from nowhere.” As Christians, we must have a truly Christian understanding of the many subjects that surround us. But the Christian understanding is not popular in our times, and, as he addresses in his letter, many prefer to set fallen human reasoning above that of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
In this age where secularism is on the rise, and materialism has become a major distraction from spiritual pursuits, Christian friendship has never been more important. The pursuit of personal fulfillment, entertainment, worldly pleasure, and the acquisition of material goods, has become the dominant theme of our age. Families that once placed the life of the Church as the center of their week, have drifted away from God. Having made idols of worldly pleasures and pursuits, their family life has become focused on transitory goals, leaving them in a state of spiritual bankruptcy. Parents who once brought their children to the temple, having lost their own way, watch those children stray far from faith.
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.
Christ gives us the living example of submission, which is the opposite of demonic self-will. He comes to us, as a new man with new precepts. He calls us to abandon, to leave behind, and to put to death the old way of living, The old way of life that is living according to our own will our own desires and passions. All of this, he tells us must end.
We are not compelled to love God, having been created with free will. God does not, nor can He, compel His creatures to love Him. Mutual love requires, by its very nature, freedom to either respond in love, or not. Yet when we respond to God’s love with love His mercy leads us into holiness, for entering into this relationship with our Creator transforms us, changes us. When we respond to God’s offer to commune with Him, He changes us into His likeness. We were meant from the beginning to be in His image and likeness and our positive response to the invitation to enter into divine communion leads to holiness.
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 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.