“In the fallen world nothing can be ‘normalized,’ but everything can be saved.” (THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN, p 163)
One obsession some Orthodox have is for establishing what is ‘normal’ behavior for themselves and others – especially in terms of piety: fasting, prayer, prayer corners, frequency of confession, name’s day celebration, even dress, styles of icons, customs related to Feasts and fasts, etc. There sometimes is a desire to homogenize all the Orthodox and insist that Orthodoxy is a monolith and that all Orthodox always practiced the same piety without change through the centuries.
But historical studies show a wide range of customs and practices regarding piety were done even among traditional Orthodox ethnic groups. All of them considered themselves Orthodox but their practices varied from ethnic group to ethnic group and even from village to village. And while it is certainly true that some practices and pieties are better for bringing people to understanding and salvation, it is also true that all people can be saved – even with imperfect practices and understanding as was noted in the previous blog.
We can be edified by the efforts and writings of all of those who seek Truth.
“We do not have to create, sustain and save ourselves; God has done, is doing and will do all. We have only to be still, as Moses says to the people of Israel on the shore of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:14).” (Rowan Williams, SILENCE AND HONEY CAKES, p 48)
We don’t save ourselves – we can’t. We enter into the salvation which God has brought about for us. God has already saved the world; our task is to enter into this salvation, to experience it, and to be instruments of spreading it throughout the world.
Commenting on 2 Cor 5:18-20, biblical scholar James Dunn writes:
“One is the strong insistence that the reconciliation is between God and the world. It is the fundamental Creator/creature relationship which is being restored here. Christ is the medium of the reconciliation, not the one who is reconciled.” (THE THEOLOGY OF PAUL THE APOSTLE, p 229)
Salvation is not just about the forgiveness of sins or of saving souls. Salvation is the reconciliation of God to humanity. Salvation is about relationships, even ones badly fractured by sin and evil. Christ Himself – in His very person – is the means by which we are reconciled to God. Salvation not only is extended to individuals, it is done for the restoration of human nature and the human race as a whole. It is not just what Jesus did, but it is Who he is by which we are saved. The incarnation is central to our understanding of Christ and why He is essential to our salvation and the salvation of the entire world. It is because He is the incarnate God that He can be savior of the world.
“The heart of early Christianity was the belief that in Jesus of Nazareth the creator God had dealt with the rebellion and corruption of the present creation, particularly of the humans who were supposed to be in charge of it, and had opened up the new and living way into a new and living creation in which the original intention would now be fulfilled.” (N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, 2674-77)
As a number of biblical scholars of the “new perspective” school of biblical interpretation note, the early Christian struggle as documented in St. Paul’s epistles is not really a debate centered on a faith and works tension. The real tension centered on the person of Jesus and whether or not He is the incarnate Son of God.
“For neither Paul nor the Jews of his time was the law seen as the entryway into God’s covenant. For both Christian and Jew, entry was by God’s grace. The crucial (and obvious) difference, however, is that Christians saw God’s grace in the cross and resurrection of Christ; Jews saw grace in their election in Abraham and subsequent ethnic and national identity—and circumcision was a sign of that identity. So, with respect to the churches in Galatia, these were made up of two different ethnic groups, Jew and gentile. The struggle Paul was addressing was not that these Jewish Christians were advocating “salvation by works” as opposed to grace. Rather, they were telling the gentiles among them that they had to take on the mark of Judaism, circumcision, in order to have access to Christ.” (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 2958-64)
Salvation is not something we accomplish for ourselves, not even by strict adherence to Torah or Tradition. Salvation is brought about for humans by God becoming flesh, by His becoming a human and thus ending all division and enmity between God and humanity. What we can do is accept this salvation, enter into it and begin to live by it. We cannot earn it and cannot attain it apart from the incarnation and resurrection.
Next: Image of Salvation (XVI)