A Protestant acquaintance of mine was able to hear Archbishop Joseph speak this past weekend. He was impressed and (perhaps half jokingly) wrote to me referring to those who heard St. Peter’s first sermon: “what must I do to be saved?” He also wrote later, “what must I do to repent?” Below is my response. Perhaps others will find it interesting.
I’m glad you were able to be there. Yes, His Eminence, Archbishop Joseph, is a godly man.
You are asking the right questions—they are really the same question. Sts. Paul and Silas said to the Philippian Jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved and your household.” But what does that mean? The western, particularly Protestant, tradition has reduced “believe” to an intellectual ascent to the verity of an assertion (the Wesleyans and their children [including Pentecostals] have added a feeling component]). However the Greek concept of belief is much more along the lines of the old English meaning of faith or fealty, as in “faithfulness.” To believe is to be faithful. It does not mean “believe or accept the correct propositions.” Neither does it mean “feel a warming in your heart” or “know in your knower” (as my beloved Baptist foster mother used to say). Knowing, feeling and accepting are all part of it; but to believe in Jesus is to faithfully follow Jesus. That is how the Church and the Bible understands believe.
How do we follow Jesus? We follow Jesus by following those who are following Jesus. As St. Paul put it, follow me as I follow Christ (c.f. 1Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thes. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thes. 3:7) and “hold fast to the traditions which you were taught by us” (2 Thes. 2:15). The Way, the worship, life, and practice of the Christians, is not something reinvented each generation, it is something passed on as a deposit received: it is a tradition. See, for example, 1 Cor. 15: 3 “I delivered [paradidomi, literally, “I traditioned”] to you as of first importance what I received…” or 1 Cor. 11: 23 “I received from the Lord what I also delivered [“traditioned”] unto you…”
Because of the mess Scholastic thought made of the western Church in the late middle ages and the rampant corruption, several people sought to reform the Church. But instead of reforming the Church, the Princes used the excuse of reformation for political ends. And once the reforming movement left the Church, all kinds of extreme expressions manifested and, you might say, the baby of Tradition was thrown out with the bath water of corruption—only to be replaced by new forms of corruption.
What I and others have found so appealing about Eastern Orthodox Christianity is that it has preserved, basically intact, the Tradition as it has been received and passed down through the ages. The western experiences of Renaissance, Scholasticism, Reformation, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Modernity were hardly felt in the areas of the Orthodox Christians since they were largely under the dominion of the Turks or in far-off Russia; or, in a few cases, because Orthodox leaders intentionally rejected as heretical the foundational premises of these western shifts in thought. This is not to say that Orthodox Christians are backward—many famous contemporary scholars are Orthodox Christians. Rather, it is to say that the Orthodox Church itself was not morphed and formed in the crucible of these major paradigm shifts as western Christian churches were.
When an Orthodox Christian speaks of being saved, he or she does not understand the term juridically. That is, salvation is not a matter of being reprieved before the Judge of all. Rather, to be saved is to renew the image of God in which we were created, an image that has been marred, but not destroyed, by sin. To be saved is to be filled with the Holy Spirit, manifested by the fruit of the Spirit and the Life of Christ. Salvation is a process, it is a transformation, a transfiguration—in and through time. It requires on-going repentance. Repentance is not something we do once, it is our lifestyle: We are continually putting off our broken selves and putting on our new selves, being renewed in the image of Christ (c.f. Col. 3:10).
So, to be saved, you must follow Christ; and to follow Christ, you must follow those who are following Christ: those who have received and who are passing on the tradition delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
My Friend, I hope you don’t think I have been too bold writing to you so directly. I respect your faith and your relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t doubt that. It’s just that in Orthodox Christianity there is a whole Church, a whole Tradition of being a Christian that has been largely lost in the West. And I and others have found Life and Peace and sanity here.