Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Saved To The Max!

In Orthodoxy (and therefore in scripture), salvation is viewed in maximal rather than minimal terms. In his book Orthodox Spiritual Life according to St. Silouan the Athonite, Harry Boosalis of St. Tikhon’s Seminary writes:

“For the Orthodox Church, salvation is more than the pardon of sins and transgressions. It is more than being justified or acquitted for offenses committed against God. According to Orthodox teaching, salvation certainly includes forgiveness and justification, but is by no means limited to them. For the Fathers of the Church, salvation is the acquisition of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. To be saved is to be sanctified and to participate in the life of God—indeed to become partakers of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4).”

In Orthodoxy, salvation means not simply changing God’s attitude, but changing ourselves and being changed by God. Salvation ultimately means deification; and deification, as we have seen, entails transformation. It is being united with God ever more fully through His Grace, His Uncreated Energy, in which He is fully present. As we participate ever more fully in God’s life through His Grace, we become ever more deified, ever more in the likeness of Christ. Then, at the time of our departure from this life, we can dwell forever with Christ in His Kingdom because we “look like Him” spiritually, because we are shining with the Grace of God.

By Hieromonk Damascene

Monday, October 22, 2012

Legal Security vs. Conditional Security- a biblical analysis

Did the early apostolic church believe in the “once saved, always saved” teaching of the contemporary church?

The short answer is NO! The early church believed and taught that a person must be humble and faithful in order to stay on the long path of salvation. 

Why did the early church reject this teaching? Because “once saved, always saved” presupposes that salvation is a once and for all completed “event” that happens at a particular time, simply by a legal transaction.  It is this reduction of salvation to a legal pronunciation that the church rejected.  In fact, that legal framework for theology is of pagan Roman origins and not of apostolic origins.  

Roman paganism that believed that if a religious rite was done properly, the gods were bound by law to deliver what the rite sought (The Nature of the God’s – Cicero).  This legal binding of the gods made its way into Christianity through Origen, Augustine  and Anselm.  Once this foreign legalism made its way to Christianity, some concluded that  if "baptism" (or any other legal act, such as a one time repentance and profession of faith) was carried out rightly, then God would legally bound to save that person. it is from this legal framework that the teaching of "once saved, always saved" finds it origins!

However, the early Church, and consequently today’s Orthodox Church, has always rejected 
the legal framework.  The apostolic church has never believed that God is bound by the rubrics of a courtroom.  The early church affirms that salvation indeed includes forgiveness, but justification is the consequence and outcome of  love in a royal family, not in a courtroom.

According to the apostles, salvation is in itself  "a two-way living relationship of love between a person and God." Therefore, if salvation is to occur, this relationship must endure to the end. For this reason, salvation in its fullness cannot be said to be complete until the person is fully transformed into the image and likeness of God. That transformation will not occur until the resurrection takes place, only then will Christ will be all in all. 

The Scriptures affirm that God has freely made us in his image, and as His image we are given with the ability to choose.  If  God were to override our free choice, especially when it comes to co-operating with his grace, then this would be a violation of His image. Moreover, this human love towards God would be the result of a reprogramming by God. This reprogramming would cause a coerced relationship. Imagine if one could reprogram another person to love them, would that be genuine love? As that the only way God can be loved, by reprogramming persons? No!

We have the have been given capability to love or reject God while we exist in the flesh. This is not to say that our wills are not corrupt, they truly are. Yet, we can receive grace, and by that grace we can be healed and freely love God.  If we simply take the witness scripture at face value, and set aside a preconceived systematic theology it is easy to see this voluntary nature of our relationship God.  

Consider the words of St. Paul:

26 Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:26-27).
St. Paul makes it clear that he sees the need to work at his salvation in order to attain that for which he has hoped for. And yet, he also knew that he was not working under his own power, but in the power of God. this is what is called synergy. Thus he urged the Philippians:

12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (Phil. 2:12-13)
The apostles did not doubt the power of God, and neither do we doubt that God is able to keep all that come to Him. But, we acknowledged that He will not keep them against their will, or to say it another way, if God will not override the rejection of those who choose not to co-operate with His grace. Salvation must be a free and willing relationship, or it is no relationship at all. 

Therefore the Christian remains ever vigilant lest he fall. In the Orthodox Study Bible we find these comments: 

“And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. Mar 13:13 NKJV
“There is security of salvation of him who endures to the end, but it is not ours to say when the race is over. The modern innovative doctrine of “eternal security”—once saved, always saved—is not the teaching of Jesus; rather, He teaches the endurance of the faithful through God’s strength and grace.”
The point that must be understood here is that the Lord knows who will and who not endure to the end. He foreknows all things, and exists outside of temporal time.  Yet, as part of His eternal plan he pre-ordained that "all who will be saved do something." WHAT?  They must receive His grace, and through that grace: 
1] Repent,
2] Believe in Him, 
3] & endure in love towards Him until the end of their lives.  
God does not repent, believe, or endure in love for us, that is ours to do!
This need for us to freely choose to cling to God's grace in order to do these things is the overwhelming witness of scripture, as well as that of the apostolic church.  Consider the following verses:
12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. 16 In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Php 3:12-16 HCSB 
According to St. Paul we are to be zealous to press on (v. 12) toward the completion of our salvation, the prize of the upward call of God (v. 14)—the resurrection to eternal life.

The possibility of an evil heart overturning our love is a present reality.
Heb 3:12-15 NKJV Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (13) but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, (15) while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

According to this passage those in Christ are not immune from turning away from God. We know for certain that there is a temporary attractiveness in sin, which leads to a hardened heart and ultimately to apostasy. Therefore, constant care must be taken not to be deceived and thus fall away (see Mark 4:4, 6, 16, 17). According to these words, union with Christ belongs to those who persevere in their faith to the end, not to those who stop with a one-time profession of faith. Faith (3:19) and obedience are inseparable. Lack of one is lack of the other. Lack of either bars entrance into rest. 

Therefore the author of Hebrews writes:

Heb 6:4-6 NKJV For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
This clearly refers to those who once believed but now have apostatized—that is those who, after being baptized, have rejected Christ and His saving power.

Consider St. Peter’s words:

2 Pe 1:9-11 NKJV For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. (10) Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; (11) for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In his critique of the Gnostics who claimed to know God without becoming godlike St. Peter makes it plain that this framework is not Christian. Why? Because we reach participation with God though the increase of spiritual virtues, not the absence of them. 

As with all eschatological warnings in the New Testament, admittance to God’s kingdom is conditional upon a faith which exhibits perseverance and holiness. However, some Christians are so romanced by the world (2:15-17) that they stand in danger of falling away from God (5:21). John exhorts us to detach ourselves from the world in order to serve the living God.

1 Jn 5:13 NKJV These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
When we know we have been given the gift of eternal life, we are to continue to believe and follow the Son of God.

Rev 2:10-11 NKJV “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (11) “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”‘
Christ encourages faithfulness to the end. The crown of life is an allusion to the wreath awarded to a victor in an arena (Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 1 Pet. 5:4), is the reward of eternal life granted to those who conquer in Christ. The second death (v. 11) indicates eternal damnation, the “lake of fire,” wherein sinners will receive their reward of final and lasting estrangement from God (20:6, 14, 15; 21:8).

Rev 21:6-8 NKJV And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. (7) “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. (8) “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Repeating the concluding exhortation in each of the seven letters (chapters 2; 3), only he who overcomes (v. 7), and who persists in his allegiance to God, will inherit, becoming a permanent son of God. Those who fall away through cowardice or unbelief face instead the lake of fire (v. 8). They lose God’s inheritance, receiving instead the damning recompense of sin and death (see 20:15; 22:15), in company with the Beast, the False Prophet, Death, and Hades.

In summary, the view of the apostles, the early church, and of the Orthodox Church is that of “Conditional Perseverance.” He who overcomes to the end shall inherit all things.

Monday, October 15, 2012

More On Sacred Tradition

In the original precise meaning of the word, Sacred Tradition is the tradition which comes from the ancient Church of Apostolic times. In the second to the fourth centuries this was called "the Apostolic Tradition." 

One must keep in mind that the ancient Church carefully guarded the inward life of the Church from those outside of her; her Holy Mysteries were secret, being kept from non-Christians. When these Mysteries were performed — Baptism or the Eucharist — those outside the Church were not present; the order of the services was not written down, but was only transmitted orally; and in what was preserved in secret was contained the essential side of the faith. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century) presents this to us especially clearly. In undertaking Christian instruction for those who had not yet expressed a final decision to become Christians, the hierarch precedes his teachings with the following words: 
"When the catechetical teaching is pronounced, if a catechumen should ask you, 'What did the instructors say?' you are to repeat nothing to those who are without (the church). For we are giving to you the mystery and hope of the future age. Keep the Mystery of Him Who is the Giver of rewards. May no one say to you, 'What harm is it if I shall find out also?' Sick people also ask for wine, but if it is given at the wrong time it produces disorder to the mind, and there are two evil consequences; the sick one dies, and the physician is slandered" (Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures, ch. 12).

In one of his further homilies St. Cyril again remarks: 
"We include the whole teaching of faith in a few lines. And I would wish that you should remember it word for word and should repeat it among yourselves with all fervor, without writing it down on paper, but noting it by memory in the heart. And you should beware, lest during the time of your occupation with this study none of the catechumens should hear what has been handed down to you" (Fifth Catechetical Lecture, ch. 12). 
In the introductory words which he wrote down for those being "illumined" — that is, those who were already coming to Baptism, and also to those present who were baptized — he gives the following warning: 
"This instruction for those who are being illumined is offered to be read by those who are coming to Baptism and by the faithful who have already received Baptism; but by no means give it either to the catechumens or to anyone else who has not yet become a Christian, otherwise you will have to give an answer to the Lord. And if you make a copy of these catechetical lectures, then, as before the Lord, write this down also" (that is, this warning; End of the Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures). (These three citations may be found in St. Cyril, Catetechical Lectures, Eerdmans ed. pp. 4, 32, 5.)

This strictness with regard to the revelation of the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments) to outsiders is no longer preserved to such a degree in the Orthodox Church. The exclamation, "Catechumens depart!" before the Liturgy of the Faithful is still proclaimed, it is true, but hardly anywhere in the Orthodox world are catechumens or the non-Orthodox actually told to leave the church at this time. (In some churches they are only asked to stand in the back part of the church, in the narthex, but can still observe the service). The full point of such an action is lost in our times, when all the "secrets" of the Christian Mysteries are readily available to anyone who can read, and the text of St. Cyril's Catechetical Lectures has been published in many languages and editions. However, the great reverence which the ancient Church showed for the Christian Mysteries, carefully preserving them from the gaze of those who were merely curious, or those who, being outside the Church and uncommitted to Christianity, might easily misunderstand or mistrust them — is still kept by Orthodox Christians today who are serious about their faith. Even today we are not to "cast our pearls before swine" — to speak much of the Mysteries of the Orthodox Faith to those who are merely curious about them but do not to seek to join themselves to the Church.)

We find this sacred ancient Tradition
  • in the most ancient record of the Church, the Canons of the Holy Apostles; (See above note on the Canons of the Holy Apostles)
  • in the Symbols of Faith of the ancient local churches;
  • in the ancient Liturgies, in the rite of Baptism, and in other ancient prayers;
  • in the ancient Acts of the Christian martyrs. The Acts of the martyrs did not enter into use by the faithful until they had been examined and approved by the local bishops; and they were read at the public gatherings of Christians under the supervision of the leaders of the churches. In them we see the confession of the Most Holy Trinity, the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, examples of the invocation of the saints, of belief in the conscious life of those who had reposed in Christ, and much else;
  • in the ancient records of the history of the Church, especially in the book of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea, (English translation: Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, tr. by G.A. Williamson, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1965) where there are gathered many ancient traditions of rite and dogma — in particular, there is given the canon of the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments;
  • in the works of the ancient Fathers and teachers of the Church;
  • and, finally, in the very spirit of the Church's life, in the preservation of faithfulness to all her foundations which come from the Holy Apostles.
The Apostolic Tradition which has been preserved and guarded by the Church, by the very fact that it has been kept by the Church, becomes the Tradition of the Church herself, it "belongs" to her, it testifies to her; and, in parallel to Sacred Scripture it is called by her, "Sacred Tradition."

The witness of Sacred Tradition is indispensable for our certainty that all the books of Sacred Scripture have been handed down to us from Apostolic times and are of Apostolic origin. Sacred Tradition is necessary for the correct understanding of separate passages of Sacred Scripture, and for refuting heretical reinterpretations of it, and, in general, so as to avoid superficial, one-sided, and sometimes even prejudiced and false interpretations of it.

Finally, Sacred Tradition is also necessary because some truths of the faith are expressed in a completely definite form in Scripture, while others are not entirely clear and precise and therefore demand confirmation by the Sacred Apostolic Tradition.

The Apostle commands:
 "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15).
Besides all this, Sacred Scripture is valuable because from it we see how the whole order of Church organization, the canons, the Divine Services and rites are rooted in and founded upon the way of life of the ancient Church. Thus, the preservation of "Tradition" expresses the succession of the very essence of the Church.

From:  Orthodox Dogmatic Theology
       Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tradition and Scripture

St. Basil the Great says of this as follows:

   Of the doctrines and injunctions kept by the Church, some we have from written instruction. but some we have received from, apostolical tradition, by succession in private. Both the former and the latter have one and the same force for piety, and this will be contradicted by no one who has ever so little knowledge in the ordinances of the Church; for were we to dare to reject unwritten customs, as if they had no great importance, we should insensibly mutilate the Gospel, even in the most essential points, or, rather, for the teaching of the Apostles leave but an empty name. For instance, let us mention before all else the very first and commonest act of Christians, that they who trust in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the sign of the cross--who hath taught this by writing? To turn to the east in prayer--what Scripture have we for this? The words of invocation in the change of the Eucharistic bread and of the Cup of blessing--by which of the Saints have they been left us in writing? for we are not content with those words which the Apostle or the Gospel records, but both before them and after them, we pronounce others also, which we hold to be of great force for the sacrament, though we have received them from unwritten teaching.
   By what Scripture is it, in like manner, that we bless the water of baptism, the oil of unction, and the person himself who is baptized? Is it not by a silent and secret tradition? What more? The very practice itself of anointing with oil--what written word have we for it? Whence is the rule of trine immersion? and the rest of the ceremonies at baptism, the renunciation of Satan and his angels?--from what Scripture are they taken? Are they not all from this unpublished and private teaching, which our Fathers kept under a reserve inaccessible to curiosity and profane disquisition, having been taught as a first principle to guard by silence the sanctity of the mysteries? for how were it fit to publish in writing the doctrine of those things, on which the unbaptized may not so much as look? (Can. xcvii. De Spir. Sanct. c. xxvii.)

The words of Saint Basil are shocking to most American Christians, why? Because they expose the weakness of the "sola scriptura" model established at the reformation.  It was not until the abuses of the Roman church that "holy tradition- paradosis" received a bad name.  Long before Rome's innovations the church held to one opinion regarding the relationship between tradition and scripture.

According to Basil, "Both the former (written tradition- scripture) and the latter (oral tradition) have one and the same force for piety, and this will be contradicted by no one who has ever so little knowledge in the ordinances of the Church."  Here is where the "yes but" takes place for many.  Yes, but how do we know what this apostolic tradition is?  This is where the ancient teaching of the church sorts the matter out.  Consider the longer catechism of the Orthodox Church.

On Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture.

16. How is divine revelation spread among men and preserved in the true Church?

By two channels--holy tradition and holy Scripture.

17. What is meant by the name holy tradition?

By the name holy tradition is meant the doctrine of the faith, the law of God, the sacraments, and the ritual as handed down by the true believers and worshipers of God by word and example from one to another, and from generation to generation.

18. Is there any sure repository of holy tradition?

All true believers united by the holy tradition of the faith, collectively and successively, by the will of God, compose the Church; and she is the sure repository of holy tradition, or, as St. Paul expresses it, The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Tim. iii. 15.

St. Irenæus writes thus:

We ought not to seek among others the truth, which we may have for asking from the Church; for in her, as in a rich treasure-house, the Apostles have laid up in its fullness all that pertains to the truth, so that whosoever seeketh may receive from her the food of life. She is the door of life. (Adv. Hæres. lib. iii. c. 4.)

19. What is that which you call holy Scripture?

Certain books written by the Spirit of God through men sanctified by God, called Prophets and Apostles. These books are commonly termed the Bible.

20. What does the word Bible mean?

It is Greek, and means the books. The name signifies that the sacred books deserve attention before all others.

21. Which is the more ancient, holy tradition or holy Scripture?

The most ancient and original instrument for spreading divine revelation is holy tradition. From Adam to Moses there were no sacred books. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself delivered his divine doctrine and ordinances to his Disciples by word and example, but not by writing. The same method was followed by the Apostles also at first, when they spread abroad the faith and established the Church of Christ. The necessity of tradition is further evident from this, that books can be available only to a small part of mankind, but tradition to all.

22. Why, then, was holy Scripture given?

To this end, that divine revelation might be preserved more exactly and unchangeably. In holy Scripture we read the words of the Prophets and Apostles precisely as if we were living with them and listening to them, although the latest of the sacred books were written a thousand and some hundred years before our time.

23. Must we follow holy tradition, even when we possess holy Scripture?

We must follow that tradition which agrees with the divine revelation and with holy Scripture, as is taught us by holy Scripture itself. The Apostle Paul writes: Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle. 2 Thess. ii. 15.

24. Why is tradition necessary even now?

As a guide to the right understanding of holy Scripture, for the right ministration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites and ceremonies in the purity of their original institution.