Images of Salvation

“’Salvation’ is not just a matter of avoiding hell and somehow getting into heaven.  It is, as its etymology indicates, the wholeness of good health.  Present-day Italian still says la salute, with the two meanings of health and salvation.  No-one is healthy who has any sort of infirmity.  Every fault, even the smallest and least noticeable, means the contamination of a little health, a little ‘salvation.’”  (Irenee Hausherr, PENTHOS: THE DOCTRINE OF COMPUNCTION IN THE CHRISTIAN EAST, p 23)

In the long history of the Orthodox Church many descriptions of salvation have been offered, many metaphors used to describe salvation, and numerous theological treatises written to tell us what salvation is.  The abundance of this literature, its diversity, and varied insights give to us the sense of richness of the concept of salvation.  In this blog series I intend to offer “images of salvation”: a collection of quotes that in some way help us understand the Christian theology of salvation.

As in all the other blog series I have composed, the quotes I offer in this series are not based on researching a theme, but rather represent quotes that I tagged over the past 30 years of reading as being related to salvation.  As such they don’t follow one consistent idea or presupposition.  Rather as I was reading various texts through the years, I occasionally tagged a quote with the title “salvation.”  The quotes collected are related to what I was thinking about salvation at various times through my Christian sojourn.  What ties them together is that in whatever year I read the book I found them in, I tagged them with the word “salvation.”   Now I’m gathering together all of those quotes so tagged and assembling them into this blog series.

I hope in and through this series to challenge thinking about what salvation is and to expand the understanding of the concept of salvation.  As the Orthodox consider the Scriptures to be a treasure house of insights and revelations into God and His relationship with us, so too we find “salvation” to be an inexhaustible treasury of wisdom and understanding.  This is because salvation for us means union with God – which proves to be a never-ending journey of spiritual growth.

And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  (John 17:3)

In the Sacrament of Baptism, we offer prayer for the salvation of those to be baptized and in those prayers we find images of how we conceive of salvation.  When we Orthodox bless the water for the baptism, we pray:

“And grant unto it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities, the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with Angelic might…”

We begin to see in Baptism, which is the beginning of our life in Christ, the beginning of salvation for each Christian, some of the themes of salvation which Orthodoxy emphasizes.   Look again at the imagery used for salvation in the prayer above – for in these various images we come to understand the depth and breadth of salvation – what all was needed and what was accomplished in Christ.  The priest continues praying in the Baptism service:

“But Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the laver of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. . . .

You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the spirit. Wherefore, O Lord, manifest Yourself in this water, and grant that he/she who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he/she may put away from him/her the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he/she may be clothed upon with the new man, and renewed after the image of Him who created him/her; that being buried, after the pattern of Your death, in baptism, he/she may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection and having preserved the gift of thy Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed unto him/her, he/she may receive the prize of his/her high calling, and be numbered with the first-born whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

All the ideas contained in this prayer are images of salvation. Take time to list them for yourself.   Salvation is not merely the forgiveness of sins nor a lifting of the guilt of sin, for salvation is the healing of the entire person as well as the entire world.  It is the process by which the world including sinners is transfigured and transformed in order to participate in the divine life.

Next: Images of Salvation (II)

The Merciful Heart

St. Isaac the Syrian describes what it is to have a heart for creation – to love the world as God so loves the world:

“And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for humans, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing…From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or see any injury or slight sorrow in creation.”          (In Communion: Journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Spring/April-June 2012, pg. 12)

Bishop Kallistos Ware quotes St. Isaac:

“When a man with such a heart as this thinks of the creatures and looks at them his eyes are filled with tears because of the overwhelming compassion that presses upon his heart.  The heart of such a man grows tender, and he cannot endure to hear of or look upon any injury, even the smallest suffering, inflicted upon anything in creation.  Therefore he never ceases to pray with tears even for the dumb animals, for the enemies of truth and for all who do harm to it, asking that they may be guarded and receive God’s mercy.  And for the reptiles also he prays with a great compassion, which rises up endlessly in his heart, after the example of God.”   (THE ORTHODOX WAY, p 157)