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Salvation in orthodox theology, документ консультация православных и католических богословов, монастырь Пендели (Pendeli), Греция, 1972 г.


(International Review Of Mission, 1972)

The following aide-memoire was drawn up and agreed upon at the end of a consultation of Orthodox theologians on "Salvation Today", organized by the CWME. The purpose of the meeting was to acquaint the members of the Consultation with the issues as they had been raised in the study thus far and to provide an opportunity for Orthodox theologians to make a contribution to the study.  The programme included the presentation of papers and discussion on the "Biblical Understanding of Salvation", the "Orthodox Understanding of Salvation", the "Notion of Theosis' ",  "Salvation as Liberation", and "Salvation in the Dialogue with People of Living Faiths."

1. We met together as a group of theologians mainly from the Orthodox Churches, along with some members of the staff of the World Council of Churches and a Roman Catholic theologian at the Inter-Orthodox Centre of Athens at the Pendeli Monastery in Greece, from May 23rd to 27th, 1972, to consider the theme "Salvation Today", in preparation for the Bangkok meeting of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the WCC.

2. We were concerned to relate the traditional understanding of Salvation in Jesus Christ to the questions posed and the problems confronted by man today. This calls for a faithful and careful re-interpretation of the tradition in the Eastern Churches also.

3. We are all agreed that it is God who has once and for all wrought the salvation of mankind in Jesus Christ. It is the divine-human life, death, resurrection and exaltation of God's Logos incarnate that is the ground of our salvation. The Holy Spirit continues the saving ministry in Jesus Christ for all mankind through the Church till the end of time. But our difficulty was mainly in relating the experience of salvation in the Church to the life of mankind which seems to have its own momentum independent of the Church:  and we need to find criteria for discerning what is of God and what is demonic in the many movements for emancipation and liberation in our time.

4. Most of us regarded it as unsatisfactory to see the distinction between the participation in Christ's salvation of man outside the Church and of man in the Church in terms purely of potentiality and realization, for this would be to insist that man outside would be unable to benefit actually from Christ's salvation except through faith, baptism and membership in the Church and that the only activity of God outside the Church is to draw men to the Church. Other theological categories are required to deal with the work of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit outside the Church.

5. One such category may be provided by a new understanding of sin as having its locus not merely in personal existence, but also an equally strongly, in the structures of society. It does not take much arguing to show that corruption, bribery, oppression and exploitation are so deeply entrenched in society that a few men of goodwill in positions of authority cannot eradicate this evil. If Christ came to save mankind from sin, then personal sin as well as structural evil has to give way to his saving power and to the work of the Spirit. From this perspective, it became necessary for the Christian to see the work of God the Holy Trinity in the secular struggle for justice, dignity and freedom for all mankind. One should not overlook the fact that the Devil, though dethroned, is still at work in the world in these last days, and Christians have to develop the capacity to discern what is of the Spirit and what is demonic in various secular movements (I Jn 4: 1-3).

6. Yet another way of dealing with the work of God in humanity as a whole is to proceed from an adequately biblical doctrine of creation. It is God's grace that has given existence to the creation, and it is by that grace that the creation continues to exist and to move towards its God-appointed goal. God the Holy Trinity has given the archy (origin) and the "telos" (end) to creation, and it is he who provides it with the ("dinamis" or the power for the creation to move from its coming into being towards its fullness or perfection. The work of God in the incarnation cannot be opposed to creation, but has to be seen as a completion and perfection of the creation. If this is so, the Church has a responsibility to identify and support all secular movements which contribute to the completion and perfection of the creation and to the full development of mankind according to the image of God.

7. We also recognized certain problems in the above approach. Would this not have the effect of making us complacent about the unbelief of the world and weaken the incentive to proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers? Would this not constitute too easy a resolution of what should be the task of the Church to bring all men to the fellowship of the Spirit in the community of faith?

8. In our attempt to formulate an Orthodox interpretation of the meaning of salvation, we found the Patristic notion of theosis or deification a helpful framework. The term, however, is less familiar in the West, and often puts off theologians by its overtones of man's wanting to be God. The first sin of man, or of man dispensing with the mediation of Jesus Christ in whom manhood is deified. While the concept itself has pagan associations and parallels, the Fathers, who used pagan philosophy to communicate the Christian understanding of salvation to their cultured contemporaries, have given to the concept of theosis a precise meaning which is fully and integrally Christian.

9. If man is created in the image of God and if it is this image that Christ restores by his death and resurrection, then the effect of salvation must be that man is more and more conformed to the image and likeness of God in which he was originally created. The distinction between the Creator and the creature cannot be annulled by theosis, for the Creator has life in himself and is beyond all being and time, while man, as created, derives his life from God and is continuously dependent on him for it. Man also lives in time, that is to say, he does not come into being in the full perfection of his being, but has to acquire this perfection through time-existence.

10. The Christian understanding of theosis is fully christological and pneumatological. The word theosis was first used in Christian literature in a christological context, to refer to the communication of divine qualities to the flesh of the incarnate Logos. The theosis of man has become a possibility, because of, in and through the assumption of human nature by the divine Logos. According to the Fathers, theosis takes place in the Church through the priesthood and the sacraments as well as by the life of discipline and struggle against evil. As St. Paul says in II Cor 3: 18 it is the Spirit of the Lord who liberates us, makes us capable of reflecting the glory of the Lord, and thus "transforms us from glory to glory", thus making us "participants in divine nature" (II Peter I: 4). Theosis has as its final goal not an ultimate merging of the individual in God, but being united with the God-Man Jesus Christ by the Spirit, in order to constitute the body of Christ, the temple not made with hands, where God dwells in holiness and righteousness. Man thus united to God, becomes more and more holy and righteous, more and more loving, and the process of growth itself is without end, since the holiness and goodness of God are infinite.

11. Orthodox christology cannot confine its understanding of the person of Christ to his historical existence alone, divorced from his pre existence "before the ages", and his exaltation to the "right hand of God", and therefore a secular understanding of salvation in the sense of political, economic and social liberation alone would not be Christian. The fact that the scientific and historical methods are unable to cope with "pre-existence" or "exaltation into the heaven lies" reflects not so much on these aspects of christology but rather demonstrates the limitations of scientific and historical methodology. For the Orthodox the Church's understanding of the world "beyond" historical existence, and her total eucharistic experience nurture her in the awareness of and participation in this transcendent world, along with the angelic beings and the Saints of God, the whole community in heaven and on earth.

12. Neither can an Orthodox soteriology emphasize primarily the negative aspects of salvation like deliverance from sin and death or even the fight against injustice, but has to emphasize even more a positive evaluation of salvation as unceasing transformation into greater conformity  with the image of God and participation in the divine nature, both in Christians and in mankind as a whole.

13. Salvation is the annulment of the old and the creation of the new in Christ. "Behold I make all things new." (Rev. 21: 5) But newness needs to be distinguished from novelty: though life eternal docs spring up ever new, bringing out novel forms of the good, novelty by itself cannot constitute the new in Christ. The old is ragged and disintegrating; the new is resplendent and alive, ever renewed by the power of the Spirit and not by novelty artificially invented.

14. "The new in Christ not being limited to historical existence alone, we need categories other than the scientific-historical, or academic, for both the understanding and the communication of the reality of salvation. Symbols, images, poetry, liturgical acts, and sacraments are forms of expression and communication with their own power to illuminatethe reality of God's world and his saving work. Our vision (theoria) and experience of God's salvation, as it takes place in the euchanstic community by the power of the Spirit, enable us to transcend both history and the written word of Scripture.

15. Salvation becomes distorted in our understanding when it is seen only as "my salvation" and not also as salvation embracing the whole of reality, healing and transcending all brokenness, fragmentation and closedness in humanity and in the whole cosmos. In fact, to be saved means also to be delivered from personal egoism, and from the desire to judge and discern all things on the basis of one's selfish interests. To be saved is also to have the mind of Christ, and therefore to labour for the good of all.

16. We encountered more difference of opinion among ourselves when we began looking for God's saving work outside the church, not only in secular movements of liberation but also in the reality of religions in the lives and traditions of people who fellow them. With regard to the reality and practice of religions we noted at least the following three points of view. While recording these points for further discussion and research we wish also to note that we do not regard them as in any way exhaustive nor do we suggest that they represent alternative positions, exclusive of one another, with regard to the Christian approach to men of other faiths. It is also to be noted that the Fathers do not provide evidence of any one tradition or viewpoint in this matter.

17. As far as our own very incomplete discussion went we observed that it is possible for Christians to regard the traditions, scriptures and practices of other religions in a very positive light as reflecting the wide-spread human search for and response to the Spirit of God. A second method of approach would be to see them, from a Christian interpretation, as containing a preparation for the Gospel and many hidden and unrecognized expressions of the one truth which is Christ. It was, thirdly, felt necessary to point out that religions and philosophies have also been regarded as putting barriers in the way of the coming of men to Christ.

18. In any case we feel convinced that if God's love is both the source and the expression of salvation then Christian love demands a relationship characterized by more respect for and interest in the faith and the aspirations of adherents of other religions. We need to develop criteria in the light of experience and after close study of what happens in the life of adherents of other religions, for discerning a properly Christian approach to the religious systems themselves. The place that the religions occupy in the economy of salvation in Christ remains a question for further elucidation, but such elucidation is hardly possible without a much closer and more personal and informed acquaintance with the people who live by these faiths.

 19. The salvation of mankind is God's will and purpose. And that will and purpose cannot be frustrated. This assurance which is the ground of our hope, cannot however justify pure passivity on our part. It demands from us new exertions of the will, new expansions of the horizons of our mind, and new incentives to love which can discern the love of God operating in hidden and unexpected ways among all mankind.



The following elaboration on the Notion of Theosis is taken from the
paper given by Father Paul Vergehese at the Consultation.



In order to grasp the idea of theosis in its fundamentals, we need to apprehend two basic realities, which belong so centrally to the Biblical vision, and which Christians can reject only at grave peril. The first of these ideas is the creation of the kosmos or an ordered universe which God has brought into being out of chaos. The very first verses of the Bible tell us that the Universe was Tohu Bohu, disorder and chaos, and that God later introduced, by the Spirit and by his Word, order into it, thus making the chaos into a cosmos. The cosmos is still in process of formation, moving out of chaos or darkness into cosmos which is ordered community in truth (light) and love. The salvation wrought in Jesus Christ belongs integrally to creation, and is not in opposition to it. The act of creation is just as much an act of grace, not of necessity, as the act of salvation. Any opposition between creation and redemption or nature and grace can basically distort Christian soteriology.

The second idea, which also belongs to the first verses of the Bible and runs through to the end is that this cosmos has two aspects usually called heaven and earth, ha shemayim and ha ar'a, - sometimes distinguished as visible and invisible. This earth or the universe that is now open to our senses is only a part of the kosmos and does not exhaust its "geography" or its significance. The earth or the universe open to our senses is not self-contained. There is a "heaven", another dimension of the same kosmos, but different from the earth or the universe open to our senses. If we forget this and seek autonomy for man and the universe open to his senses in some pseudo-secular sense, we are betraying one of the central insights of the Christian tradition and thereby leading men astray. The cosmic order is one that integrates heaven and earth. The two are inseparably linked. The process of salvation can be understood only in relation to certain "transcendent", i.e. "heavenly" realities. Both these ideas can be found in Plato, but should not be rejected for that reason, for if we reject everything in the Bible which can be found elsewhere, we will only be so much the poorer. Indeed, the fact that a great mind like Plato's came to these insights is a remarkable testimony to its verity rather than to its falsehood. Plato says in Timaeus (30 ab) that the world came from disorder into order. The Stoics insist that the kosmos is a system which integrates heaven and earth. The kosmos or universe as an ordered process with a purpose, and as made up of "heaven" and "earth" should be the basic structure within which salvation or theosis can be understood. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ has a central significance in the ordered and directed kosmos, and salvation or theosis is the essence and goal of the cosmic process, which is by no means a purely secular or this-worldly process. The two hierarchies, the heavenly and the ecclesial, are two aspects of the cosmic salvation process, both having their origin, source and centre in the being of God, and are manifestations of God's creative and saving activity. Both have the same purpose and the same energy or dynamic.

The common purpose of all hierarchy is the constant love of God and of things divine, which operate in a holy manner, in the unifying presence of God. (Dionysos the Areopagite, Eccl. Hierarchy, ch. I P. G. 376 A.)

The Cross and Resurrection form the central manifestation of this love of God and towards (God and the whole hierarchy operates on this principle of receiving, responding to and transmitting the love of God. Love purifies, illumines and perfects, through knowledge and action. And everyone and everything that is caught up in this process, becomes himself or itself an agent with God of imparting the same purification, illumination and "precertification" for others. The two processes of receiving and giving belong to the entire hierarchy (except God who always gives but has no need to receive?). The two are actually one process. The one cannot be done without the other being done in the same act. Mission is the counterpart of being sanctified by Christ. To be loved is impossible without loving. To be forgiven is impossible without forgiving. The authenticity of being loved, being forgiven, and being sanctified, can be tested by its results in a person's becoming loving. forgiving and sanctifying in his turn.

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