Hearing Anew the word “Salvation”

“First, let us stop to consider the word salvation. We need to dwell on this because we are dealing here with a concept so familiar to every believer, a concept to which he has become so accustomed that he no longer hears its full significance. Christianity is a religion of salvation. This means that it is not merely a ‘life improvement’ plan, it is not a scheme for overcoming life’s day to day adversities, nor is it a set of abstract principles and norms of behavior.

Salvation presupposes that one is perishing. A drowning man, a man whose home is engulfed in flames, a man falling over the edge of a cliff does not pray for comfort or comforting words, but for salvation. Yet it is just this sense of perishing, and therefore the experience of Christianity as salvation, that has been suffocated over the long centuries of Christianity.

The vast majority of Christians continue out of habit to say words such as ‘Savior’, ‘salvation’, ‘save us’, but within themselves they now unconsciously experience these words in a different way than did the early Christians. Within Christianity itself a peculiar substitution of words has taken place, or rather, not of words, because the terminology stays the same, but of meaning, how the words are heard.

This substitution has taken place because we have stopped viewing ourselves as beings who are truly perishing, beings whose life is rushing inexorably toward meaningless collapse, whose life is engulfed by evil, by senselessness, by the horror of dying and death, by the bestial struggle for survival, by the terrible lust for power, by the war of all against all, by lies which poison the very sources of life, by ignorance and by the universal sentence of death; in other words, we are engulfed by everything which our so called civilization uses – alas, successfully – to suffocate life and deface it.” (Alexander Schmemann, Celebration of Faith: Sermons, Vol. 1 – I Believe, pgs. 68-69)