The Orthodox Dogma of Redemption

The dogma of salvation in Christ is the central dogma of Christianity, the heart of our Christian faith. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Redeemer and Saviour of the human race. All the preceding history of mankind up to the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the clear image given both in the Old Testament and the New Testament Scriptures, is a preparation for the coming of the Saviour. All the following history of mankind, after the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord, is the actualization of the salvation which had been accomplished: the reception and assimilation of it by the faithful. The culmination of the great work of salvation is bound up with the end of the world. The Cross and the Resurrection of Christ stand at the very center of human history. Neither descriptions nor enumerations can take in the majesty, breadth, power, and significance of the earthly ministry of Christ; there is no measuring-stick for the all-surpassing wealth of God’s love, manifest in His mercy for the fallen and for sinners in miracles, in healings, and finally, in His innocent sacrificial death, with prayer for His crucifiers. Christ took upon Himselfthe sins of the entire world; He received in Himself the guilt of all men. He is the Lamb slaughtered for the world. Are we capable of embracing in our thoughts and expressing in our usual, everyday conceptions and words all the economy of our salvation? We have no words for heavenly mysteries.

“We faithful, speaking on things that pertain to God, touch upon an ineffable mystery, the Crucifixion, that mind cannot comprehend, and the Resurrection that is beyond description: for today death and hell are despoiled, while mankind is clothed in incorruption” (Sedalion after the second kathisma, Sunday Matins, Tone 3).

However, as we see from the writings of the Apostles, the very truth of salvation, the truth of this mystery, was for the Apostles themselves entirely clear in its undoubtedness and allembracingness. Upon it they based all their instruction, by means of it they explain events in the life of mankind, they place it as the foundation of the life of the Church and the future fate of the whole world. They constantly proclaim the good news of salvation in the most varied expressions, without detailed explanations, as a self-evident truth They write: “Christ saved us;” “you are redeemed from the curse of the law;” “Christ has justified us;” “you are bought at a dear price;” Christ “has covered our sins;” He is a “propitiation for our sins;” by Him we have been “reconciled with God;” He is “the sole Chief Priest;” “He has torn up the handwriting against us and nailed it to the Cross;” He “was made a curse for us;” we have peace with God “by the death of His Son;” we have been “sanctified by His blood;” we have been “resurrected together with Christ.” In such expressions, chosen here at random, the Apostles have contained a truth which in its very essence surpasses human understanding, but which is clear for them in its meaning and in its consequences. In a simple and accessible way this truth has penetrated from their lips into the hearts of the faithful so that they all might know what is “the economy of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:9). Let us, therefore, examine the teaching of the Apostles.

In the preaching of the Apostles, especially worthy of attention is the fact that they precisely teach us to distinguish between the truth of the salvation of mankind as a whole, which has already been accomplished, and another truth — the necessity for a personal reception and assimilation of the gift of salvation on the part of each of the faithful, and the fact that this latter salvation depends upon each one himself. “Ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God,” writes the Apostle Paul (Eph. 2:8); but he also teaches, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

Man’s salvation consists in the acquirement of eternal life in God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. “But nothing unclean can enter the Kingdom of God” (cf. Eph. 5:5; Apoc. 21:27). God is Light, and there is no darkness in Him, and those who enter the Kingdom of God must themselves be sons of the Light. Therefore, entrance into it necessarily requires purity of soul, a garment of “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

The Son of God came into the world in order a) to open the path to mankind in its entirety for the personal salvation of each of us; and in order by this means b) to direct the hearts of men to the search, to the thirst for the Kingdom of God, and “to give help, to give power on this path of salvation for the acquirement of personal spiritual purity and sanctity.” The first of these has been accomplished by Christ entirely. The second depends upon ourselves, although it is accomplished by the activity of the grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit.