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Meyendorff, John Category: Texts Hilarion Alfeyev

Christ is the Saviour of all men
Prof. Alexei Osipov

    St. Isaac of Syria wrote with utmost confidence: “A sinner is unable to imagine the grace of his resurrection. Where is the fiery hell, that could bring us grief? Where is the suffering, multiformly terrifying us and winning over the joy of His love? And what is fiery hell as compared with the grace of His resurrection, when It would withdraw us from hell, would make so that perishability will turn into unperishability, and he who had fallen into the hell, would be restored in glory? There is a reward for sinners, and instead of reward for the righteous. He will reward them with resurrection; and instead of perishing of bodies, who violated His law, He will cover them with perfect glory of unperishability. This grace to resurrect us after we have committed sins, is greater the grace – to drive us to the existence, when we did not exist”[i].

    These words of the Venerable from his famous “Words of Podvizhnichestvo”, which have not been subjected to any doubt or criticism whenever and by anyone from Saint Fathers of the Orthodox Church, the Russian ones as well, of course, amaze us. What else could be more expressive: “not a righteous, but a sinner is unable to imagine the grace of his resurrection. Moreover, Christ will restore the fallen in hell in the glory, instead of a reward for the righteous…will cover them with perfect glory of unperishability. The universal resurrection, St. Isaac of Syria is sure to demolish fiery hell: “where is the fiery hell that could make us sad, us, sinners? - he exclaims.

    St. Isaac of Syria, of course, is lucky that he does not live in our time. His life would have been hard and the same would be with St. Iustin the Sufferer, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Ephraim of Syria, Amphilohius of Iconia, John of Damascus, Maximus the Confessor and many others for their persuasion about the possibility of salvation of non-Christians – they would not have got out of heretics.

    The issue about the salvation of non-Orthodox, belonging to a different belief, non-believers, is outstanding – it worries a lot of people, especially those who have just come to the Church. Its essence is simple:

    – How come? Are only Orthodox saved, and out of Orthodox – only righteous, that means only a thousand or a million fraction of one percent of the mankind? And the rest – will they go to the eternal suffering? Didn’t God know it, when he created a man? And you say that He is love. What love is it – nothing can be worse!

    You listen to these reproaches and feel pain. But we are guilty, when we give grounds to such ideas and conclusions by our ambiguity or worse, by our formal approach to some “sore questions”, by doing this we avert people from Christ.

    By how actually we are to answer this ambiguous question, which is considered differently by Saint Fathers themselves? One part of them asserts point blank, that salvation is possible for members of the Orthodox Church only, and for everyone staying outside it – salvation is not possible. Right? Right. The other part of Saint Fathers insists that Christ – Savour of all men. Right? Yes. So what is the correct answer?

    I’ll try to make it clear by way of an example. They say that during the World War II there were several instances when an airplane was shot down, a pilot fell on the ground without a parachute and…remained not only alive, but even unharmed. How? That happened in winter, a pilot fell down, went downhill, where there was a great thickness of snow, which saved him. But could a conclusion be made that we should to jump without a parachute? No. Salvation is possible with parachute only, but it happens that they save themselves without it. Though this is the analogy, but it reopens the reason behind the diverse answers of Fathers to the raised question.

    Orthodoxy shows the right way of life (laws of spiritual life), indicates precisely its aim (deification of a man in Christ), gives unique means of help (sacraments). The other beliefs show different ways, means and aims, which do not only differ to a great extent from the Orthodox ones very often, but absolutely disorient people.

    What other ways are offered to us? Figuratively speaking, the following is proposed: in order to get to Petersburg from Moscow, they offer to go through Kiev or through Vladivostok or to fly and even more so by the airplane of the beginning of the 20-th century, through New-York, or to cross the Pacific Ocean in a single boat – with ambiguous coordinates of the point of destination. Could we reach Petersburg choosing these ways and by these means of transport? Theoretically we could, but it is very easy to lose way and what is more, it is difficult, it is dangerous, and it takes a lot of time, and etc.

    However the erroneousness, from the Orthodox point of view, of such or other belief gives no ground to make a statement about unavoidable destruction of its adherents, because the final fate of a man is concealed from an earthy glance. As the Russian proverb says correctly: “The alien soul is darkness” (meaning “you cannot tell what goes on in other people’s hearts and minds”, or “another man’s mind is a closed book”), it always remains a mystery for us. Look, how angrily

    God condemned many the most righteous (or Orthodox), according to human yardstick, many lawyers, theologians, hierarchs, priests who saw themselves better than other people, proud by their righteousness, by their orthodoxy, despising so-called sinners. And on the contrary, He accepted, justified and brought undisguised sinners into the paradise abodes, who became conscious of their sinfulness and who sincerely repented. The first man who entered the paradise was a mere villain , a criminal, whose unfortunate eternal lot was evident for everyone – he entered only due to the fact that already being suspended on the cross, during the last moments of his life he cognized with all his heart the entire abomination of his acts and he repented! And if not for evangelist Luke’s message, would it ever occur to anyone that this scoundrel would be saved? That is why “do not judge, or you too will be judged”. (Matthew 7, 1), and don’t undertake a risk to cross a storming ocean of this life on a board or by swimming, recklessly dwelling on, whether it really matters how to believe and according to whatever commandments of what religion to live – but search for a reliable ship for salvation. And having found it, we shouldn’t be proud with this God’s mercy to us and should not condemn the others, but feel sorry for them with all our heart, giving them in the hands of God’s love, remembering the words of the Apostle: “God will judge those outside” (1Corinthians 5, 13). The Orthodox belief resolutely excludes both the indifference to the truth and hostility for the people of other beliefs. We don’t know who will be saved first. The Church only by its collegiate reason may say who has perished, and who is saint, we should think about our own salvation, but not to condemn the others.

    There is no salvation outside the Church, of course. What does that mean – outside the Church? Could we identify unconditionally the canonical, or visible boundaries of the Church and the Church as the Body of Christ? What Orthodox Church, for one, Russian or Constantinople (The Great Church) remained the only Church within which the salvation is possible, when starting from February 23 through to May 16 the 1996 Eucharistic communion was ceased between them (because of the jurisdiction problem in Estonia)?

    When Saint Fathers say that the salvation is possible within the Orthodox Church only, they don’t assert that the entrance to the church is possible only through the sacrament of Baptism and that all those who didn’t take it during their earthy life – that is the overwhelming majority of the mankind, will perish. You know that now there is more than six billion people on the globe, the Orthodox number about 170 million (and how many out of them are really Orthodox?), all the rest are non-Orthodox or the overwhelming majority are not Christians. May we assume that God, knowing that these and the former and subsequent billions of people would perish, gave life to them in order to subject them to endless torments? I cannot help repeating wonderful (in their power of love and thought) words of St. Isaac of Syria: “It was not for the reason that merciful Lord has created the reasonable creatures in order to expose them ruthlessly to an endless grief – those, about whom He knew before their creation whom they would be transformed into after their creation and whom, despite, He created”[ii].

    And here is what other saints speak on the subject.

    St. Irenaeus of Lyons: “Christ has come for the sake of not only those who had believed in His, but for all the people in general, who… wanted to see Christ and to hear his voice. That is why He will raise the latter first of all upon His Second Advent…will resurrect and place in His Kingdom”[iii].

    “We are taught that, - writes St. Iustin the philosopher and martyr, -that Christ is the begotten of God, and we declared above , that He is Word, to be communed with all the humankind. Those, who lived in accordance with the Word, are Christians, though they are considered to be godless: between the Greek are Socrates and Heraclitus and the like, and from the barbarians –Abraham, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, Elijah and many others”[iv]. In another place he says:”As those, who did universal, natural and eternal good, are pleasant to God, they, like righteous who lived before, - Noah, Enosh, Jacob and others, will be saved upon the resurrection through our Christ, together with those, who recognized Christ as a Son of God”[v].

    And how should we evaluate, in this connection, the Bible story about sending the prophet Jonah to the pagan country of Nineveh with the aim of proclaiming repentance (Jonah, 1, 2). “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth”. (Jonah, 3, 5). And God accepted the repentance of the pagans: “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah, 4, 11) Who baptized the Nineveh pagans, and how far Orthodox was their belief, that God accepted their repentance and showed mercy on them not only here, but, no doubt, in eternity?

    St. Gregory the Theologian says: “How many of us happen to be not from us, because life makes them alien to the common body; in the same way many, who didn’t belong to us happen to be ours, as by their good disposition they anticipate belief, and while possessing the substance proper, they haven’t got the name” of a Christian so far.[vi]

    Venerable Nectarious of Optina thought even, that “an ordinary Hindu, believing in the Lord and fulfilling, in the way he can, His will, - will be saved. But he who, knowing about Christianity, is going the Hindu way, - will not”[vii].

    One of the most well-known Russian saints ascetics-confessors of the 20-th century bishop Athanasius (Saharov +1962) wrote: “For me the most cherished of all is Orthodoxy. I cannot compare it with any other confession, with any other religion. But I don’t dare to say that all the non-Orthodox have perished hopelessly. God has a lot of mercy, and a lot is subjected to be delivered by Him”[viii].

    What do the words of the apostle Peter mean: “God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”(Acts, 10, 34-35) or of the apostle Paul, that Christ “is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy, 4, 10)? Or “Glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism”. (Romans, 2, 9-16). There is no doubt that both apostles speak about the salvation of not only Christians, but of all men, making good in any nation. For there is no favouritism in God.

    The principled answer to the question “who will be saved”, is given by God Himself: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”. Saint Fathers understand these words unequivocally. Who speaks a word against the Holy Spirit – this is pride, inordinate praise of yourself, callousness against the justice, truth, conscience. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah, 5, 20) – proclaims the prophet Isaiah. In general saint fathers say: ‘There is no sin that cannot be forgiven – except for the sin, which has not been confessed”[ix]. But until the state of arrogance governs in the man, he is incapable for repentance, consequently for salvation. All the other sins, even denial of Christ (“a word against the Son of Man”), if they are committed because of ignorance, because of humankind weakness, due to a false bringing up and education and etc., but they are not connected with cognized opposition to the justice and truth – they will be forgiven – as a possibility of repentance, spiritual change, correction remain.

    To sum up, these words of Christ contain the idea, that the possibility of salvation , that is to become members of the Body of Christ – the Church – is preserved for everybody, including those who  didn’t receive the sacrament of baptism in their earthy life, but who did not say a word against the Holy Spirit. This possibility is stipulated by the fact that the gift of grace of the sacrament is sent by God, but not a clergyman, administering sacraments only. God imparts this gift to the worthy – the poor in spirit (Matthew, 5, 3). As He gave the grace of Baptism to the Old Testament righteous man, to the reasonable criminal and many others.

    What is the way might they choose to enter the Church?


[i] St. Isaac of Syria. Words of Podvizhnichestvo. Word 90. P. 615. M., 1858

[ii]  St. Isaac of Syria. About Divine mysteries and spiritual life. M.,1998. Conversation 39. Par.6

[iii] St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Creations. Book 4. SPb.: 1990. P. 381.

[iv] St. Iustin the philos. Comp. Apologia 1. Par.46. M.,1892 (reprint 1995)

[v] St. Iustin the philos. Talk with Triphon the jew. Par.45.

[vi] St. Gregory the Theologian. Creations. V.1. Word 18. SPb. 1912. P. 264.

[vii] Quoted from: Mitrop. Veniamin (Fedchenkov). God’s people. (my spiritual meetings). M., 1997, p147.

[viii] Collection of letters of the venerable Athanasius (Sakharov) .M., 2001. P. 272.

[ix] St. Isaac of Syria. Words of Podvizhnichestvo. Word 2. P.12. M., 1858.

Prof. Alexei Osipov
Soul´s life after death [doc]

See also

Links

  • Wikipedia: Alexei Osipov
  • Downloadable English translation (in Word Doc.) of Osipov´s "Soul´s life after death" (Posmertnaya Zhizn Dushi). Moscow: Danilovskiy Blagovestnik, 2005; 4-th edition: Мoscow, 2007.

Bibliography

       
     
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