Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can the non-Orthodox be Saved?

Last year, our dear friend Vasilea, in Greece, raised this question over dinner; for a summary of that discussion, see here.  This year, she did it again, mostly to pre-empt another endless discussion of politics.

The Orthodox Church has never taken a position on this matter.  Therefore, the only correct answer an Orthodox Christian can give is, "We don't know."  We_do_not_know.  Truly.  There is no "official" teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church.   

There is reason to doubt they can be saved; for example, they are not members of the Body of Christ, they do not, so far as we can tell, have truly Life-giving sacraments, etc., etc. 

And there is reason to believe they might nevertheless be saved, if for no other reason than that we have known God, Whose mercy is always endlessly astonishing, His ways, mysterious, His judgments, unsearchable, His Holy Spirit unconfined and unconstrained.

But we do not go by reason; we go according to revelation; and so far, the Holy Spirit has not revealed this to the Church.  So if any Orthodox Christian tells you yes, the non-Orthodox can be saved, or no, they cannot, that person is expressing his own opinion and nothing more.  Nothing more exists on the subject.  We are allowed to hope, but not to proclaim our opinion as Truth.

My own hope, my own belief, my own opinion is a resounding yes.  Yes, it is indeed possible for a non-Orthodox person to be saved.  Extra difficult, but not impossible.  Why do I think this?  Simple:  I have known Carl Harris.  And others like him.  And I think it would be blaspheming the Holy Spirit to suppose Carl did not belong to Christ.

I have known Salmon, too, who is Muslim, and my heart, with wonder and awe and joy, recognizes in him another heart belonging to Christ, even though not conceptually, for fear it would make him a polytheist.  (Yes, I do know my heart can be mistaken.  I just don't think it is, in this case.)

But don't they have their doctrines all wrong?  Sure.  But what are doctrines for?  For guiding our feet into the way of peace, which means into the way of Love.  And Love, be it carefully noted, is what we were created for; in other words, Love is built into our human nature.  Granted our nature has become corrupted.  Granted, correct doctrine and practice are incalculable advantages in overcoming that corruption; but it is not impossible, and indeed appears to me indisputable, that certain people who may not even regard themselves as Christians have nevertheless (not without Grace) found their way back to their true, natural selves, which is to say, back to Love, which is to say, to Christ.  To some extent, that is - just like you and just like me.  And to the extent they have done this, it just doesn't matter about all their mixed-up doctrine.  The purpose for which true doctrine has been revealed has been accomplished in them without it.  (Compare the passage in Romans in which St. Paul mentions that Gentiles who are without the Law [of Moses] can do "by nature" the things that are in the Law.)  At the Last Judgment, we are not going to be given a theology quiz.  We are going to be carefully examined to see how closely we resemble Christ.  It's a tautology to say those who resemble Him are the saved; that's what salvation IS, being made like Him. 

But they haven't been baptized, someone will say.  They aren't members of His Body, aren't incorporated into Him or into His Life, Who alone has immortality.  Well, Christ can baptize whomever He pleases, whenever He pleases, however He pleases.  Who can say He will not admit certain people into His Church, into His Body, on the Last Day, just as He will cut off some of the existing, dead members?

Recently, I caught Santa Claus traveling incognito.  I really do believe Christ sometimes travels incognito.


Chris Jones said...

Can the non-Orthodox be saved?

I hope so.

It's a tautology to say those who resemble Him are the saved; that's what salvation IS, being made like Him.

This tautology reminds me of another tautology on the same subject. This is my all-time favourite quote from Fr Georges Florovsky (quoting from memory, but I think this is verbatim):

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus: all the power and categorical strength of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation because salvation IS the Church.

There may be some who are being saved who are not Christian in this life; but if there are any, they will be Christians in heaven.

Chris said...

His Grace, Bishop BASIL of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid America once said that there will only be Orthodox Christians in heaven. Of course, the room skipped several heartbeats but he was then allowed to finish and said: No matter what they were in this life, in Heaven there will be no other choice but to be an Orthodox christian.

Xen Xen said...

I have been chewing over a lot of this same sort of thing lately (well, rechewing, I guess) due to some friend having a back and forth on a link I posted on fb, but that's another story! Thanks for posting!

Chris, that is a great story, I love it!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just stumbled upon this blog because my husband is taking our family on a spiritual food journey which will involve observing an Orthodox fast for advent. But that's another story...

I'm not Orthodox, but I have given my life to Christ, trusting in his grace to forgive me and lead me on the path he has for me. I'm not perfect in this endeavor by no means(!) but I'm trusting in God's grace through Christ. Since becoming a Christian I thought Jesus' promises regarding salvation were for people like me who have put our faith in Christ and seek to live for his glory. Do you believe the Orthodox faith requires something more that I need to do/believe/follow? Oh, and regarding the sacraments, I receive them faithfully as my church understands them acc. to the Scriptures, w/in the body of Christ, well the community of Christian faith of which I am a part, but we are not of the Orthodox Church. Would love to hear from you on this. Thanks!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Unknown,

You wrote:

Since becoming a Christian I thought Jesus' promises regarding salvation were for people like me who have put our faith in Christ and seek to live for his glory.

They are, they are!

Do you believe the Orthodox faith requires something more that I need to do/believe/follow?

It's more a question of what we *want* to do/believe/follow. I'm very sure you'll agree, we want to do everything we can for love of Him, Who first loved us, not selecting only what someone deems necessry. Love wants to do it all!

The Orthodox Christian Church is unique in retaining the *fullness* of the ancient Faith. Her two thousand plus years of experience provide a vast treasury of tried and true ways of growing in Him, of becoming closer to Him and more like Him. No other Christian community has such extensive guidance, so much "how to" wisdom.

I wish you well and pray for you and hope you are doing the Advent Fast under the mentoring of some Orthodox spiritual father (or mother).

And although it's probably presumptuous, I hope you will keep in touch, because your note has moved me deeply.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Unknown,

Here are some more posts from this blog you may find relevant to your concern(s).




Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you Anastasia Theodoridis! Thank you for your direction on more posts. So far every Orthodox blog I've turned to has mentioned your blog as one they read faithfully. Just after I wrote that comment my husband came home and said, "we need to find someone to mentor us through our fast." We will seek an Orthodox priest where we live (Spokane, WA) to guide us. Yes, I will keep in touch and keep reading your blog. Thank you, bless you!