Message from Fr Gary January 2017
Are you Saved?
Have you been greeted with the question, “Are you saved?” The question is well intentioned, but what is the Orthodox reply? To simply say, “yes,” would give a speedy conclusion to the interrogation, but would not reveal the fullness of the true Orthodox teaching of salvation.
The three stages of salvation in the Orthodox Christian Church are past, present and future. A more specific response to, “Are you saved?” would be, “I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.” The road towards eternal life is an ongoing process to the Orthodox Christian.
Salvation is not a one-time deal; it is a course of action that we maintain on a daily basis. We were saved by Christ’s death on the cross, we are saved during our daily walk with Christ and we will be saved at the end of time. The three stages of Salvation are, through Baptism we are justified, during our daily walk with Christ we are sanctified, and in the end times, with Christ, we will be glorified. St. Paul explains that, “We are saved by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8)” Grace is God’s gift to us. Faith is our reception of that gift. Without God’s Grace and Mercy, we cannot be saved. Basically, our salvation depends strictly on God’s compassion; there is nothing we can do to earn salvation.
Orthodoxy’s concept of “salvation” then leads to the following, very appropriate, question I received in the form of an email: “If everyone is saved at birth through God’s grace and all they need is faith to be saved, and there is nothing we can do to earn God’s Grace, what is the point of attending Church, learning more about religion and following Christ's way, because if you have faith you don't need to work very hard to be saved?”
The best way to respond to this question is to break it down into its components. “Is everyone saved at birth through God’s grace?” At the service of the Forty-Day Churching of a child, the Priest prays, “So that when the child is made worthy of Holy Baptism, it may gain the portion of the elect of Your Kingdom, safeguarded with us by the grace of the Holy Trinity.” We receive God’s grace at Baptism; this is the first step in attaining God’s gift of grace and entering salvation.
“All we need is faith to be saved?” Yes, but this leads to the classic Christian debate of “are we saved by works or by faith?” Our faith in Christ produces fruits, those fruits then are the good works we display during our daily walk with Christ. Therefore, faith and work go hand in hand. Our faith in God and our love for Him produce good works.
“Then there is nothing we can do to earn God’s Grace?” Right, regardless of how many souls we bring to Christ, the amount of empty stomachs we fill and the number of backs we clothe, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s Grace. His Grace is a gift. “Faith is man’s hand reaching up to grasp the already outstretched hand of God’s grace.”
What is the point of at-tending Church, learning more about religion and following Christ's way? First, as mentioned earlier, God’s gift of grace is given at the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is grant-ed because of active participation in the life of the Church. When a child is brought to be baptized an adult (sponsor) stands for the child and promises to live according to Christ’s commands, just as an adult would do when entering the Sacrament. Second, we must remember that nothing we do is worthy of God’s Grace, the reason for attending Church and following Christ’s way is to communicate with God, to receive His grace, and to find sustenance for our daily walk with Him. Some live by the time-worn excuse that “you don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian.” Christ Himself found it important to attend and participate in weekly worship, so by what bench-mark do we feel that we are entitled to do less? At the Last Supper the Lord said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We some-times say it is our duty to go to church, and it is; but few go for this reason. I would prefer that no one come to church out of a sense of duty. A duty-bound Christian is not a committed soul. The ones who come just from a sense of duty come to criticize. They won't sense the presence of God. The Orthodox church building represents God amongst His people. Our attendance is for communion with Him. When we gather as a Church, that is God’s people, we gather in communion with one another and with Him. Christ tells us in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” Sacraments are offered through the Orthodox Church. Through the Sacraments we grow closer to Christ. It is at the Church where we receive Baptism, Chrismation, Unction, Communion and Confession (the five mandatory Sacraments). It is the Church that gives us instruction for the way in which we are to imitate Christ. Can you call yourself a Christian devoid of attending weekly services? Yes. But consider this, could you play on a baseball team and in a game of base-ball without practicing? Yes, but without practice, where do you get your instruction, preparation and fellowship with your team-mates? Going to Church gives us nourishment for life’s challenges.
Salvation is God’s gift to man, as abundant as it is, man must be willing to accept it. Receiving this grace is faith and faith is “Forsaking All I Take Him (F-A-I-T-H).” Are you saved? Yes, we have been, we are being, and we will be saved!
In Christ’s Service,
Fr. Gary Kyriacou