To help us as we walk the path to salvation He established the Church both here on earth and in heaven.
Beginning of the Church Triumphant
The Church Triumphant is the Church in Heaven. Before His departure, Christ said to His disciples:
In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2-3)
Life of saints in heaven is shown to us in the Book of Revelation. Saint John saw the following:
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. (Rev 4:4) I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. (Rev 6:9) I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! (Rev 7:9-10).
The Heavenly home is called “the city of the living God,” “Mount Zion,” “Heavenly Jerusalem,” “Church of the firstborn written in heaven.”
At the Resurrection there entered into the Kingdom the first who believed in Christ, the Apostles, first martyrs, confessors; and thus until the end of the world the Heavenly Home will be filled until it shall come to its perfect fullness. This is the Heavenly Church or the
Scriptures tell us that the blessedness of the souls of the righteous in heaven consist of:
- Repose or rest from labors.
- Non-participation in sorrows and sufferings.
- Being together with and consequently being in the closest communion with the forefathers and other saints.
- Mutual communion between themselves and with thousands of angels.
- Standing before the Throne of the Lamb, glorifying Him and serving Him.
- Communion and reigning together with Christ.
- Joyous beholding face to face of God Almighty.
Establishment of the Church of Christ on Earth
Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to remain with the apostles forever and after the Resurrection. He granted them the Grace-given power of the Holy Spirit with the words,
Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. (John 20:22-23) Ten days after His Ascension, the Lord sent down the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost in the form of fiery tongues. “In the Holy Spirit, in His Divine power, is given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3). These Grace-given gifts are in the Holy Church which the Lord founded on earth. They comprise the means of our sanctification and salvation
The Church is not a social organization but is the presence and life of Christ on earth. The life of the Church is the life in Christ. It is not simply a place where we learn about God. In church we experience and participate in the life of Christ.
Paul referred to the Church as the body of Christ. By joining the Church we are uniting ourselves with the body of Christ. The Church is not a building, but a People who are filled with the Holy Spirit and who share in His life bringing His life into the world. It is through the sacraments of the Church that we are united to Christ. These are the primarily the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Holy Eurcharist.
Saint Nicholas Cabasilas writes,
Baptism confers being and in short, existence according to Christ. It receives us when we are dead and corrupted and first leads us to life. The anointing with chrism perfects him who has received [new] birth by infusing into him the energy that befits such a life. The Holy Eucharist preserves and continues this life and health, since the Bread of life enables us to preserve that which has been acquired and to continue in life. It is therefore by this Bread that we live and by the chrism that we are moved, once we have received being from the baptismal washing. In this way we live in God. We remove our life from the visible world to that world which is not seen by exchanging, not the place, but the very life itself and its mode.
Christ is the head of the church
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
- Christ is the Head of the Church (Eph 1:22-23).
- He is the founder (Matt 16:18)
- And the Foundation (1 Cor 3:11).
- Christ is the Chief bishop and the eternal High Priest. T
- he Church is Christ’s Body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:23)
The Orthodox Church does not recognize any other head of the church in the form of a “vicar of Christ on earth, a title given in the Roman Catholic Church to the Bishop of Rome.
Church is our spiritual home
In it we work out our salvation. Through the church is accomplished the dispensation of the fullness of times foreordained by the Father, so that He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth. (Eph 1:0)
The Church is a Spiritual Hospital
We can think of the Church as a spiritual hospital. The Holy Eucharist is the medicine of immortality for those who are properly prepared. Grace works on us in the Church in many ways. It is like medicine when working through the sacraments of the Church. But we need to have proper guidance so this medicine can be properly applied. Our lord Jesus Christ is known to us as the Great Physician. He brings those who are sick with sin to His Church. In the Church we not only receive the medicines we need ( the holy mysteries or sacraments), but we receive the spiritual advice and training that we need so that the mysteries will be for the benefit of our health and salvation.
Salvation is Theosis
Ultimately, salvation is a matter of theosis or deification. Theosis is based on the understanding of the nature of Christ which the council of Chalcedon affirmed is both human and divine natures united “without mixture or confusion and without separation or division.” Mankind is not naturally divine. We are creatures. Just as Christ’s human nature did not become mixed or confused with His divine nature, so we in the resurrection will not become mixed or confused with God. There will always be an irreducible gap between the nature of God and that of man. Saint Peter tell us that we shall be partakers of the divine nature (2Peter 1:4). It is the divine energies of God that we join and participate in. Grace is not created and we therefore participate directly in God with His energies. The deepest thirst that exists in mankind is not simply moral improvement, but nothing less that union with God. For this to take place God gives Himself to Man through His energies. And in this way man is fully united with God and participates in His life and still remains man.
How does the Orthodox view of Salvation differ from many in the west?
Clark Carlton explains this difference clearly in his book, The Life: Orthodox Doctrine on Salvation. He states that the problem is that Orthodox and Evangelicals do not use the word saved in the same sense. This means we are talking about different things. In the evangelical understanding the satisfaction theory of atonement is assumed. It presupposes that the difference between the saved and the damned is the attitude of God toward them, not any inherent quality of their own. It also presupposes that our state of being guilty can be changed in an instant.
For an evangelical, to be saved means to be declared “not guilty” by God. In other words it means that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s righteousness instead of our sinfulness. It is through His atonement substituted on the Cross that Christ has satisfied the Father’s justice and honor and calmed His wrath. The saved person now stands before God “justified,” cleared of all charges against him and he can now enter heaven and enjoy the blessed life that god has prepared for His elect.
Those who reject Christ as the personal Lord and Savior remain in their sin that was passed down from Adam. When God looks at them He does not see the righteousness of His Son, but the sinful state of the sinner. All sinners are cast into hell as the deserved punishment for all who violate God’s laws.
We can see how they can think that once saved always saved makes sense. It one has accepted Christ then one can be confident that Christ will keep his promise: “Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) Being saved in only a matter of accepting Christ and God changes His view towards you.
For Orthodox is is quite a different story. Salvation is not a matter of how God views man. God is unchangeable and always looks on us with love no matter what our actions are. His love is unconditional. for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust (Mat 5:45) For Orthodox it is our ability to relate to God and not God’s ability to relate to man.
This is why there is a difference from the general salvation of mankind and a personal salvation. For Orthodox salvation means that we attain to a god-like state through which we attain a real union with God. Salvation refers to the spiritual state of the individual so Orthodox Christians are hesitant to make any pronouncement about their own salvation. For to an Orthodox Christian this would be to make a presumption on the judgement of God. But when an Evangelicals make a statement that they are saved they ares not commenting on the state of their soul but on the fact that God no longer sees them as a sinner. For an Orthodox Christians to say that they have been saved implies that they have attained a high level of righteousness before God.
We saw from the story of the fall of man that the fundamental sin that cause sin to enter into the world was pride. For us to be healed we must become humble and embrace the spiritual poverty spoken of by Jesus in the sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their is the kingdom of heaven…. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mat 5:3,8). The Scripture does not say that the kingdom of heaven are promised to be not guilty but to those who are humble and pure.
Orthodox reject the satisfaction theory of atonement because it leaves man unchanged. It is not God’s attitude that must change but man needs to be changed to be reconciled with God.
The issue of faith versus works is not an issue for Orthodox as both are required for our salvation. We cannot be saved by faith alone or by works alone.
Orthodox also do not believe in he notion that once saved we are always saved. Salvation is a continuing task for Orthodox christians. At any time we can make choices that will cause us to fall off the path even after we have been baptized. Baptism is the starting point of our salvation.