I offered a quote from Charles Taylor in a previous posting – as a small reminder I offer it again.
One of the central points common to all Reformers was their rejection of mediation. The mediaeval church as they understood it, a corporate body in which some, more dedicated, members could win merit and salvation for others who were less so, was anathema to them. There could be no such thing as more devoted or less devoted Christians: the personal commitment must be total or it was worthless…. for Protestantism there can be no passengers. This is because there is no ship in the Catholic sense, no common movement carrying humans to salvation. Each believer rows his or her own boat. From Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity
My thoughts in my earlier post were focused on the corporate character of our existence – we are persons who partake of a common substance – we are consubstantial with one another. “If one member suffers, then all the members suffer,” as St. Paul says.
I add a further thought in this post – that of the role of the saints – for it was particularly the saints that the Reformers had in their crosshairs – with the battlecry, “There is but one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus!”
It is certainly the case that in Holy Baptism we are not asked, “Do you unite yourself with the Theotokos and all the Saints?” but rather, “Do you unite yourself to Christ.” For union with Christ is the very definition of salvation. Everything else flows from that union.
But being united to Christ also means that we are united to the Theotokos and all the Saints – because they are in Christ. You cannot have a Christ apart from them because there is no such Christ. St. Paul (whom I am sure knew the implications of his statements) said:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:21)
I recall reading this very carefully as long as 35 years ago, long before my conversion to Orthodoxy, and being struck that St. Paul, in using the analogy of the body as an image of the Church, had just said that the “head” cannot say “I have no need of you,” knowing full well that it is Christ who is the head of the body. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (12:12).
This is the Church revealed in its true character. As the Church has defended the title Theotokos for the Mother of God, we must always be mindful that there is no incarnate Christ apart from her. We are not merely traveling together in a common ship – we are living together in a common life – which life is Christ.
I began to be aware of the saints as a young Anglican. The stained glass windows bore witness to their presence, much in the same way that icons do in an Orthodox Church. But in Orthodoxy the role is clearer and the presence always there. Taylor noted that the Reformers wanted no one other than Christ to gain salvation for us by their merits. Of course, this kind of language is foreign to Orthodoxy in the first place. But the corporate character of our salvation is not in the least foreign to Orthodoxy. We are saved together. Not first a hand, then a toe, later an arm or leg – the whole body works together as we grow into the head – into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
I frequently think that we contemplate our salvation in the commercial terms of our modern culture. It’s not that we think that we are “buying” our salvation – but we do see ourselves as great “choosers.” We choose to sin or not to sin and with our choices we are choosing Christ. But, of course, he first chose me. And the choices of so many around me mean that when I have to make a choice I am not standing alone. Were I to show up week after week at Church and no one else were there (what an odd thought!), doubtless something in me would begin to waver, as it would in all of us.
I have served in start-up missions, where fingers and toes are sufficient to count the congregation. You know when someone is not there and their absence is felt like an ache. The same ache is present with me as I pray over the names of each member of our congregation in preparing the bread and the wine on Sundays, particularly if it is the name of someone “missing”. In some manner I am diminished in their absence – we are all diminished.
I give God thanks for the untiring faithfulness of so many – who like icons take up their place within the worshipping Church. They stand as witnesses to Christ, but also as those who pray for me, as I pray for them, as all of us are uplifted in the risen Christ. And this is salvation. I know nothing of merits or the like – but I know prayer and that through your prayers and that of all our holy fathers and mothers we will find the grace necessary to live as a Church – a Ship bearing Saints and All the Company of Heaven.