In the Creed which we recite at every Liturgy, we confess our belief that Jesus Christ became incarnate “… for us [humans] and for our salvation.” The Creed professes a belief that all that Christ did was for the salvation of all humans, not just for Christians or for the Orthodox. We repeat this same line on feast days in the Orthodox Church when at the final dismissal the priest blesses the congregation saying, “may He who for us (humans) and our salvation, Christ our true God…” Orthodoxy is very clear that Christ Jesus did everything for the life of the world, for the salvation of all humans – for all who are created in God’s image and likeness, whether everyone believes that or not.
This sense that everything is moving us toward this salvation is also clear in the Church’s celebration of Pascha–Ascension–Pentecost. All three events are for our salvation and necessary for our salvation. In the resurrection, Christ unites even the dead to God, filling all things with Himself, even the place of the dead. Christ raises the dead with Himself, and then ascends bodily into heaven, bringing our created nature into the Kingdom, into God’s presence. Then Christ sends the Holy Spirit upon all flesh at Pentecost, restoring the Holy Spirit to humanity. We are thus not saved just by the death of Christ on the cross, but by the continuous work of Christ who lifts us from Hades to Heaven. Both the incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit restore humanity’s union with divinity. We sing about all of this throughout the Pascha-Pentecost cycle of services. On the Monday of the Holy Spirit, one hymn proclaims:
COME, O FAITHFUL, LET US CELEBRATE THE FEAST OF THE FIFTIETH DAY,
THE DAY WHICH CONCLUDES THE FEAST OF FEASTS;
THE DAY ON WHICH THE PRE-ORDAINED PROMISE IS FULFILLED!
THE DAY WHEN THE COMFORTER DESCENDS UPON THE EARTH IN TONGUES OF FIRE;
THE DAY OF THE DISCIPLES’ ENLIGHTENMENT!
THEY ARE REVEALED AS INITIATES OF HEAVENLY MYSTERIES,
FOR TRULY THE LIGHT OF THE COMFORTER HAS ILLUMINED THE WORLD!
Salvation, the restoration of human communion with God, fully occurs in all of the events of Pascha-Ascension-Pentecost and as we participate in these events through life in the Church, especially through baptism and the Eucharist. In Christ, we are saved from sin and death and by the Holy Spirit we are enlivened and enlightened. We are thus saved – restored to being fully human – by both the work of the Son/Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
With Pentecost we see a full restoration of what was lost by our sins. In Genesis 6:3, the grieving Creator says of us humans, the focal point of His creation:
“My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.”
God withdrew the Divine and Holy Spirit from us, and with this separation from God’s Spirit, death became part of our condition on earth.
With the coming of Christ, this ‘curse’ is lifted from us as John the Baptist bears witness:
The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-35)
In the incarnate Word of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit also remains on a human, which was the sign for John the Baptist that Jesus is the Savior of the world. At Pentecost, that Spirit which came to dwell in Jesus and remain on Him, comes to dwell on all humanity. The curse from Genesis 6:3 is lifted, and humanity is restored to full communion with God. The salvation of us humans is brought to completion in this complete cycle of incarnation, resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit to humanity.