Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Salvation has many facets

Salvation: all the facets of a single diamond
By Fr. John Parker+

Author's note: This is the unedited version of my article published in the Post and Courier on SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2006 entitled, "For Christians, salvation has many facets"]

When an Orthodox Christian is asked the question, “Are you saved?” we don’t exactly know how to answer. It isn’t that we don’t know Jesus Christ; we’ve known Him from the beginning. It isn’t that we have a lack of understanding about salvation—history and theology books are filled with our teaching on these matters. We don’t know exactly how to answer because it is not a question with which we are familiar. In fact, we would say that the question raises a deeper question: What is salvation?

Consider these scenarios:

A sailor falls overboard into the swirling, stormy sea. His shipmates have their eye on him as they make preparations to recover him. In a shrill voice, muffled by the storm, he cries out to them, “Save me!” If they are not able to get to him in time, he will be regarded “lost at sea”.

A vibrant young tennis star is involved in a terrible car accident which crushes her right arm. Once at the hospital—things are looking grim—she musters a question for the surgeon amidst sobs mixed with pain and fear: “Can you save my arm, Doctor?” If the skilled medic is unable to perform such a medical miracle, she will lose her limb.

A wealthy woman is taken hostage. To spare her life, her captors demand a million dollars for her return. The cash is delivered to the drop site, and the relieved woman is set free.

An evil enemy is striking fear into the hearts of many and wreaking havoc on a certain people. Troops are sent in, the enemy is put down, victory is clear, and life returns to ‘the way it is supposed to be.’

Salvation is rescue, healing, ransom, and victory reflecting equally together [editor, please leave italics] what it is ‘to be saved’. The rescued man is saved. The tennis star’s life is saved. The hostage’s life is saved. The victory in and of itself is a salvation. These are all facets—the carefully fashioned sides—of a single diamond called salvation.

The man overboard is like St. Peter, called to walk to Jesus on the water. The wind and the tumultuous sea around him caused him to take his eyes off of his Lord, and to sink. “Save me!” he cried out, and stretching out his hand to raise him up, Jesus saved him.

The maimed tennis star is like the crippled man who was healed by St. Peter. “’I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” Later, Peter and John were questioned about the means by which this man was saved (most English translations say ‘healed’ but the verb is ‘saved’). The means was a person: Jesus.

The hostage is like any one of us held captive in sin and death. We are bound up, and a ransom is necessary for our release. Jesus paid the ransom, saving us. But we must be very careful! We are not tied up by God, who made us Himself and loves us. Jesus did not pay off His Father by His own death—to assuage the “wrath of a justly angry God”. Nor is the Devil paid. To offer money to him would be to give him power equal to God, and we are not dualists. Rather, the ransom is paid to death itself. Our self-inflicted wound (running away from God) results in death. God died to release us from it. He beat death to save us from its eternal grasp.

The evil enemy in the fourth scenario is death. Death strikes fear into the hearts of men and women. No one is spared physical death, but Orthodox Christians believe that we are saved from the finality of eternal death, singing our belief about Jesus’ victory, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” St. John Chrysostom said this another way—in his homily which is preached in every Orthodox Church in the world on Pascha (Easter). “Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see…Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!”

Salvation is the fullness of life. It is sanity, health, communion with God. It is a return from rock bottom to the sure foundation made of stone. It is a rescue from eternal death. It is a restoration, in fact, of all creation, a renewal of the whole cosmos. Are we, can we be, saved in a particular moment? Surely! But it must be this moment…because this moment is the only one I have. I am not living five minutes ago or five days ago or five years ago. I am living in what some call the eternal now. Salvation, like life, is at once a process and a moment.

Timothy Ware, perhaps the most well-known Orthodox writers in the world (he wrote The Orthodox Church, one of the Penguin Classics), was once asked, “Are you saved.” His answer is the only one we can give, if we take salvation in the fullest, most ancient Christian way as I have described. His answer, “I was saved. I am saved. I am being saved.” Are you?

Fr. John Parker is Priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in the I’On community of Mt. Pleasant. He can be reached at frjohn@ocacharleston.org or by phone at 843-881-5010.