An Eastern Orthodox perspective on salvation

Molly has written an interesting post on Eastern Orthodox Theological Distinctives. Now I generally find eastern Orthodox theology rather attractive. But, having lived in countries where the majority of Christians are Orthodox, I tend to have a much more negative view of their church practice, and of their at least implicit attitude that if you don’t do things exactly as they do it you are not really a Christian at all.

Like Molly, I love this:

This emphasis on personal experience of truth flows into Orthodox theology, which has a rich heritage. Especially in the first millenium of Christian history, the Eastern Church produced significant theological and philosophical thought.

In the Western churches, both Catholic and Protestant, sin, grace, and salvation are seen primarily in legal terms. God gave humans freedom, they misused it and broke God’s commandments, and now deserve punishment. God’s grace results in forgiveness of the transgression and freedom from bondage and punishment.

The Eastern churches see the matter in a different way. For Orthodox theologians, humans were created in the image of God and made to participate fully in the divine life. The full communion with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed meant complete freedom and true humanity, for humans are most human when they are completely united with God.

The result of sin, then, was a blurring of the image of God and a barrier between God and man. The situation in which mankind has been ever since is an unnatural, less human state, which ends in the most unnatural aspect: death. Salvation, then, is a process not of justification or legal pardon, but of reestablishing man’s communion with God. This process of repairing the unity of human and divine is sometimes called “deification.” This term does not mean that humans become gods but that humans join fully with God’s divine life.

And some more from the same article not quoted by Molly:

Christ’s humanity is also central to the Orthodox faith, in the doctrine that the divine became human so that humanity might be raised up to the divine life.

Indeed, while the law court and penal substitutionary atonement offers a valid and biblical set of metaphors for Christian salvation, the reality of it is surely “reestablishing man’s [and woman’s] communion with God” such that “humans join fully with God’s divine life”. And what accomplished this was not just the crucifixion, but the whole process of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. We should not focus on just one little part of this process but see the spiritual dynamics of the whole.

0 thoughts on “An Eastern Orthodox perspective on salvation

  1. I agree…good comments on the penal substitutionary atonement…

    On your first comments, it’s funny, isn’t it Peter, the “we’re the only true Christians” attitude? I learned the very same thing in my little Christian world (where we doubted that most Catholics and Orthodox were actually “saved,” as well as all liberal Christians, etc).

    I find it unattractive, wherever it is.

  2. Thanks, Molly. It is of course not only the Eastern Orthodox have this “we’re the only true Christians” attitude. Years ago I was also part of an evangelical group which gave this impression without explicitly teaching it. And I get the same impression from some of the blogs I used to read, though mostly I don’t read them any more.

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