Orthodox Criticism of the Western Christian Teaching on Personal Salvation

Chapter 2

Below we present Chapter 2 of the thesis, " The Orthodox Teaching on Personal Salvation," by Deacon Victor E. Klimenko, Ph.D., a graduate of the Pastoral School of the Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

The Pastoral School of the provides a program of study leading to a Diploma in Pastoral Theology (PTh.D), and in Orthodox Studies (OS.D). The program is designed for those who are prevented from attending a theological seminary by their current family or professional situation. It is open to any Orthodox Christian interested in studying Orthodox theology, and Orthodox clergy or laypeople interested in increasing their knowledge of the Faith. For more information on the Pastoral School, please see their website.

The School has given OrthoChristian.com permission to present several student theses for the benefit of our readers.

Go to Chapter 1

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St Augustine refuting a heretic, New York, Morgan Pierpont Library, (a C13th Book of Hours)
St Augustine refuting a heretic, New York, Morgan Pierpont Library, (a C13th Book of Hours)
The two main “bastions” of Western non-Orthodox Christianity – Roman Catholicism and Protestantism – are not as opposite as many tend to think. In Protestantism, we have “a legitimate, although very insubordinate, offspring” of Latinism.[1] Protestantism “did not re-establish ancient Christianity, it only replaced one distortion of Christianity with another…”[2]

Many characteristic features of the Roman Catholic and Protestant approaches to personal salvation stem from the same historic background.

2.1 St. Augustine’s radical teaching on original sin as the heart of the Western non-Orthodox theology of personal salvation.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), “perhaps, the most important writer of the Christian West”, was a bishop in Roman North Africa. The legalistic view of salvation – that has truly become a “trademark” of Western Christendom – would not have been possible without his theology of original sin that had grown out of his famous dispute with Pelagius, “a British ascetic who lived c. 350-425 and taught in Rome as a well-respected moral preacher and biblical commentator.”[3]

The dispute started with St. Augustine’s publication of his Confessions – an autobiography detailing his early spiritual struggles. Pelagius and his circle found two themes in this work to be particularly objectionable – “and so began a controversy that was to mark all of Augustine’s later life, and cause him to elaborate a profound and careful doctrine of grace that would become determinative for Western Catholicism.”[4]

First of all, St. Augustine was “setting forth the idea that in fallen man any dependent freedom to do good has been completely annihilated, unless grace comes to his aid.”[5] In many examples from his early days as a Christian he “seemed to suggest that his moral will was rendered impotent in the face of so many difficulties, and he could only be saved when God came to his assistance and gave him the saving grace to be converted.”[6]

Pelagius countered this “fatalist” view of salvation with an “optimist” one – emphasizing his belief that, while God did give grace to humans, “his primary grace was the freedom to choose and respond. Those who chose the path of goodness would be given further encouragement by God to progress in the spiritual life.”[7] His teaching – while not immediately standing out as non-Orthodox – was still dangerously bordering on turning “Christianity into a simplistic cult of moral “self-improvement””, where sin and sinfulness were seen solely as a matter of one’s conscious moral choice.

This difference in St. Augustine’s and Pelagius’ views on the process of one’s salvation was rooted in their difference of views on Adam’s sin.

St. Augustine saw Adam’s sin as “a deliberate preference of human pride to the law of God… which then became endemic to the human race. Sin…was in the very bones of the race, as it were, transmitted to the species as a whole”, almost like an infection. As a result, “the human race’s capacity for free moral choice was so damaged… that even the desire to return to God has first to be supplied by God’s prevenient grace.”[8]

Pelagius denied the inheritance of Adam’s sin by humans. He taught that people are born innocent, with a pure and incorrupt nature – the same as Adam’s – but fall into sin because of their moral freedom, thus producing their own personal “version” of the fall – again, the same as Adam’s – however, the effects of this fall can be completely erased through one’s moral effort. In Pelagius’s view, “disease and death are characteristic of this nature from the creation, and are not the consequences of original sin.”[9]

Eventually, St. Augustine “won” the dispute, as Pelagianism was condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council. The Orthodox East largely stayed out of this controversy, seeing the dispute as a local Western affair and both theologies as opposite extremes. As we already mentioned in Chapter 1, the Orthodox position could be, in a way, seen as a compromise between the Augustinian and the Pelagian views: that in the process of our salvation, our human free will cooperates with Divine grace.

St. Augustine’s exaggeratedly negative teaching on original sin and its consequences for human freedom and spiritual capacity – clearly a theologumenon not supported by Patristic consensus – became nonetheless the dominant teaching and, eventually, the doctrine of the Western (Roman Catholic) Church. The main problem is that “the Western notion [of original sin] compromises the spiritual goal of man, his theosis…”[10]

2.2 Roman law and secular customs as the foundation of the Western non-Orthodox theology of personal salvation.

From Apostolic times, the Christian Church in the West was developing in the highly legalistic Roman society and undoubtedly bore its imprint. Law was “the main element” of the Roman culture and “defined all its familial, social and state relations. Religion was not an exception – it was one of the applications of law. When becoming a Christian, it was from this side that a Roman citizen would try to understand Christianity: in it he was seeking first of all, juridical consistency.”[11]

A typical young person in the medieval West would learn Latin first, before anything else. And the way one learned Latin then was through studying the best Latin texts available. Those would typically be the speeches by the best orators – who invariably were courtroom lawyers. So, before one would get to study the Gospels, written in Latin, he would already have been immersed in legal terminology and a legalistic way of thinking for years.

So it would be natural for him to start looking at the Gospels as would a lawyer: the world as courtroom, with God as the judge, man as the accused, devil as the accuser, and Christ as the advocate. The law says that the punishment for sin is death. Wishing to defend man, Christ tells the Judge: don’t kill him, kill me instead. So, according to this legalistic picture, God the Father agrees to kill His Son instead of man – and thus to forgive man.[12]

This simplistic but convincing (on the human level) picture would also fit very well with the customs existing in medieval Western society. “The Latin-Protestant concept of the Redemption as the revenge of the Divine Majesty, once offended by Adam, on Jesus Christ… grew out of the feudal notion of knightly honor, restorable by shedding the blood of the offender.”[13]

In other words, the sin of Adam was seen by medieval Roman Catholicism as an infinitely grave offense against God which caused His wrath – which, in turn, manifested itself in the removal from man of the supernatural gift of God’s grace. Man found himself in his original “natural” condition – that is, with his nature not harmed as a result of his fall but brought into disorder: the flesh would now dominate over the spirit, dragging man deeper into sin and eventual death. The aforementioned Augustinian teaching on the spreading of Adam’s sin to the whole human race grew to mean the passing of Adam and Eve’s infinite guilt before God to every human.

The ensuing difficulty concerning the objective side of salvation – if Christ assumed the pure essence, then there was nothing to heal, so what did He do then? – was resolved by legalistic soteriology in the following way: Christ brought satisfaction to God the Father for the sin of Adam.

Here it is important to emphasize that in the West, the very concept of sin grew to mean “guilt” – a crime, a violation of law – while in the Patristic theology, sin is always seen as a wound, a trauma: you do not justify sin, you heal it. (Not surprisingly, the main Orthodox prayer, “Kirie eleison” – in which the Greek word eleison means “to anoint with oil in order to heal” – never received a Latin translation.[14]) For the sins committed by a Christian after his baptism – that is, the additional guilt which was not paid for by Christ – God also needs satisfaction. So what should a believer do to bring it to God? – or, How does one acquire personal salvation?

Here the legalistic mindset found support in the fact that one of the dominant analogies used in the Holy Scripture when talking about salvation is the one of labor and reward. Easily understandable on the human level, this view would immediately supply to a Western Christian the juridical consistency of the theology of salvation he wanted to see, prompting him to stop looking for any other foundation of the Christian soteriology. Doing good works became the way for a believer to bring satisfaction to God.

This non-Orthodox, non-Patristic view of good works naturally led to further distortions of the Christian teaching in the Roman Catholic Church: most importantly, the concept of indulgences (that is, buying from the spiritual “treasury” of the Church the “extra” good works done by the Saints) – that can be credited with bringing about the Protestant Reformation.

Having developed in the same Western society and having legalistic Roman Catholicism as a “father”, Protestantism was unable to overcome the “forensic” view of personal salvation and instead radicalized it: the difference of the Protestant (Lutheran) soteriology from the Roman Catholic one is that Catholics teach that Christ brought satisfaction to God the Father for the original sin only, while Protestantism teaches that Christ brought satisfaction for all the sins of mankind. As to personal salvation, a variation of the same concept of reward was offered: salvation is yours once you bring to God your faith in Christ.

2.3 Medieval scholasticism: replacing faith with the knowledge of God.

And as if the excessive legalism was not enough…

Up to the 10th century, theology, as a separate field of learning, did not yet exist in the West. All theological interests revolved around the study of the Holy Scripture. However, in the 11th-12th centuries, the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle spread in the West and spurred interest in society in abstract science – which infiltrated theological matters as well.[15]

Scholasticism developed as a method of learning that placed an emphasis on dialectical reasoning, with the primary purpose of resolving contradictions. Applied to Christian theology, scholasticism sought to unite Christian revelation and Greek philosophy, faith and knowledge. Revelation gave the material for theology, while philosophy gave the form. Scholasticism would not touch the content of the faith – whether correct or incorrect – and would treat it as absolute truth. Its job was to process, assimilate, prove and order the material given by Revelation.

Scholasticism tried to answer questions posed by Revelation: Why did God become human? How is Christ present in Eucharist? Etc. Human mind and logic were given complete freedom to produce all kinds of dialectic formulas explaining and proving every point of faith. The job of philosophy was to present all these pieces in their complex interrelationships, as one theological system. As a result, the truths of revelation would receive their basis and explanation in human reason and logic – and thus become the subject of knowledge, and not faith. Faith was being turned into knowledge. However, it has been known to the Christian Church from the beginning that mere knowledge about God does not mean communion with God. The devil knows about God better than any theologian, but that does not save him.

Scholasticism polluted theology with a plethora of mundane and sometimes nonsensical matters, presented in excruciating detail. The brilliance and resourcefulness of the answer often trampled the theological essence of the question. Thus scholasticism helped raise a multitude of incorrect teachings from an embryonic form or a private opinion to the level of dogma. In general, the rule of scholasticism lifted the form of theology above its content and became the door to the understanding of the dogmatic teaching of the Church. The actual living faith – as well as anything that would not fit the scholastic models – was rejected.

The 13th and the early 14th centuries are generally seen as the high period of scholasticism. In the 14th century scholasticism evolved into dark and empty formalism. In the moral sphere, scholastic hair-splitting was even used to justify crimes. Scholasticism died off by the beginning of the 16th century but left a long-lasting imprint on Western theology. In particular, it produced a number of new dogmas pertaining to salvation within the Roman Catholic Church.

Three of those new dogmas – the result of an attempt to “systemize” the dogma of Redemption – became of paramount importance in Roman Catholic theology: the merits of the saints, indulgences, and purgatory. The first two in this list are the result of a scholastic taking to the extreme the concept of mutual love and help among the members of the Church: the merits of one (a saint) could be imputed on another (who is lacking them),[16] with the Church being a natural “financial institution” to control these “transactions.” The desire by the scholastic mind “to nail down” the question of the fate of those who died in repentance but had not yet brought fruits of it produced the concept of purgatory, where one is paying God with temporary sufferings.

In the modern era, scholasticism should be credited for the existence of tens of thousands of Protestant denominations disagreeing with one another in terms of doctrine, as everybody is welcome to take a shot at analyzing the “scientific” facts presented in the Bible and constructing his own “scientific” theory of salvation based on them. (Various Protestant theological “gimmicks”, fueled more by the “makes sense/does not make sense” type of “analysis” than anything else, will be addressed in more detail in the subsequent sections.)

The Holy Fathers never had the attitude that everything in Christian teaching can be analyzed and figured out. Many questions were left “unresolved” – such as the question of to whom Christ brought Himself as a sacrifice. An honest answer to another “tough” question (one which prompted Calvin to come up with his theology of pre-destination) – “Why did God create those about Whom He knew that they would choose sin?” – is: we do not have the fullness of Revelation about it.

2.4 Purging the teaching of the Church on salvation of its complexity.

In Apostolic and Patristic thought the term “salvation” is used interchangeably with terms like “the Kingdom of Heaven”, “the Kingdom of God”, “redemption”, “acquisition of the Holy Spirit”, “adoption”, “holiness”, “likeness to God”, “deification” (“divinization” or “theosis”), etc. All these terms are synonymous. However, one can see that the Roman Catholicism and Protestantism each have their “favorite”: the former puts an emphasis on “redemption,” and the latter on “justification” – with these aspects of our salvation stressed at the expense of all others.

The Orthodox approach to salvation can be termed as “integrative.” “Christ's incarnation, ministry, death, descent into hades, resurrection, ascension; our sinfulness, repentance, baptism, carrying our cross, “doing to the least of these”, running the race, confidence in God's love and mercy, fear of falling away, putting on the new nature, . . . . There is no tendency to pick one aspect of salvation “to reinterpret everything else to fit”.”[17]

Furthermore, “soteriology was never something that became a specific focus of attention in early Christian history. As such it was never specifically defined in the dogmatic or conciliar traditions, although there are recognizable and recurrent themes by which it was approached, notably illumination, purification, redemption, divinization, victory, and reconciliation… In the Latin West many of the earlier wide range of soteriological images came increasingly to be restricted until the ideas of redemptive sacrificial substitution predominated.”[18] In other words, the West picked one Scriptural image (legalistic) out of a multitude and built an entire theological system around it.

Likewise, one of the key terms of the Western theology of salvation – “doing good works” – is the result of another such narrowing down of a Patristic theological concept: in this case, the preferred Patristic term is “keeping God’s Commandments” (which are not necessarily external acts.) In general, modern Protestantism is very non-dogmatic[19] and tends to replace the “old” concepts pertaining to one’s internal spiritual struggle with an external code of behavior (for example, the so-called Social Gospel movement.)

2.5 Replacing the content of personal salvation with one image used by the Scripture to describe it.

This is, perhaps, the biggest flaw of the legalistic-scholastic approach to the teaching on salvation that developed in the West.

The legalistic approach had been known to theology before – and it is not illegitimate. Throughout the history, the Holy Scripture has been often preached to people having a pagan religious mentality. For this reason the Divine truths had to be presented in the way that would be easy to understand by a pagan mind and logic – as well as by people of the lowest ranks of the society.

For example, a multitude of Scriptural quotes may be given that contain anthropomorphic descriptions of God – including descriptions of passions like hate, wrath, revenge, etc. – which the Scriptures themselves condemn! God uses these images of Himself as a tough, authoritarian earthly king because that is something people could understand very well.

Among other everyday images we find in the Scripture, the one of salvation as “ransom” was very powerful because “in those times the world knew three forms of ransoming people [Greek verb lytro-o], namely… 1) ransoming from captivity, 2) ransoming from prison, for example, for debts, 3) ransoming from slavery.” All three have counterparts in Christian theology: “ransoming from the captivity of sin, ransoming from hades, ransoming from slavery to the devil.”[20]

Another powerful term used by the Apostles is the Greek verb agorazo – to buy for oneself at a marketplace (Greek agora). “Christ has acquired us for Himself so that we might belong to Him entirely, as bought slaves belong to their Master.”[21] “Ye are bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23).

St. John Chrysostom – perhaps, more than any other Holy Father – had to rely on this kind of “financial” language because in his pastoral practice he often had to confront heartlessness and selfishness towards poor people. For this reason, in many places in his works we see St. John’s “inclination” to calculate when, for what and how much one would receive for every action.[22] There is no doubt that these quotes – and even more so the similar passages from the works of the Western Fathers – were used for support by the legalistic theologians.

But the Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are not a mere collection of quotations. They both express the word of God and point to the same consistent view on the essence of salvation that the Church has always held.

The Holy Fathers were always careful about using this earthly imagery when describing matters of salvation. For example, by “redemption” they understood the reconciliation of mankind to God and adoption by Him. Thus “redemption” was understood as a manifestation of God’s love for man – and not a demand for a payment in a state of wrath. According to the Patristic view, God’s love is the only reason for Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. This is supported by the words of the Apostle: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). According to St. Symeon the New Theologian, Christ brings the mankind redeemed by Him as a gift to God, once and for all liberating it from the power of the devil.[23]

While being legitimate images to explain particular aspects of salvation, the afore-mentioned analogies of ransom, of labor and reward came to be seen in the West as the dogmatic expression of the very essence of salvation. Western theologians developed this dogma further by using it to explain many other theological points connected to it. That, of course, meant a multitude of compromises with the Patristic teaching in favor of the scholastic “success”. For example, the concept of salvation as “ransom” prompted the theologians to ask further questions like, “To whom was that ransom offered?” To this particular question, one of the founders of scholasticism, Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – 1109), gave the answer “to God”.

A “legal” relationship, a “legal” union between God and man – taken as the essence of the Gospel – is nonsensical in its core and fails its own test on multiple accounts.[24] First of all, God, being self-sufficient, does not need anything from us. The legalistic worldview is unable to explain the “agreement” in which one of the sides has no practical interest in having its “demands” met by the other. Secondly, the collective “debt” of our “side” of the agreement is constantly growing, as the whole of humankind continues to sin, while we are unable to pay it, as there is nothing we have that is not already God’s. Thirdly, the “reward” we get from God – eternal salvation – is immeasurably higher than any “labor” on Earth with which we could pay for it. Finally, this is a one-of-a-kind agreement, because not only the debt holder is going out of His way to help the debtor – but the debtor considers the debt holder obliged to reward him (the debtor) for trying to pay his debt.

2.6 Accepting an absurd, non-Biblical image of God.

The Roman Catholic theology of salvation presents God as interested more in the “letter” of the law, in the visible side of our “agreement”, than in its essence: God cannot see our deeds as “merits” but agrees to accept and reward them as such. Likewise, Protestants do not seem to have a problem with believing that God agrees to accept a sinner as sinless because of Christ. Needless to say, both of these views present a flagrant contradiction to the dogmatic teaching of the Church about God as Truth and as Unchanging God, in Whom there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). “Concerning God one cannot say that any kind of process is being performed in Him, whether of growth, change of appearance, evolution, progress or anything of the like.”[25] God’s attitude toward man does not evolve.

The doctrine of “satisfaction of God’s justice” is not only non-Patristic but also offensive. Man profoundly damaged himself as a result of his fall – and brought upon himself sickness and death – but God is mostly concerned with satisfaction for man’s “insult”? Is He also so petty that, having promised us eternal bliss, He takes away from us all earthly pleasures?

Other aspects of the Western theology of salvation also sharply contradict the traditional Christian concept of God as a loving Father. He appears to be more of a tyrant – solely and arbitrarily deciding who lives and who dies. What is the “saving faith” in Lutheranism? It is a strong agreement with and reliance on the Church’s preaching about Christ. One can say that Christ Himself is present in this faith. And justification is determined by this faith in Christ. But where does this faith come from? It is from God, the Lutherans say. So, if one’s faith does not depend on himself, but is given by God, then God is guilty of the deaths of all those to whom He did not give faith! This is what Luther could not utter – but Calvin did! According to Calvin, God predestined some for perishing.[26] Calvinists do not seem to be bothered by the fact that they are worshipping the “loving” and “just” God Who created some of His children (in His image!) with the sole intent of subjecting them to eternal damnation.

2.7 Reviving the pagan concept of God and man’s relationship to Him.

The concept of God as tyrant Who can be and has to be appeased (“satisfied”) is not simply the result of scholasticism run amok – it is also familiar and very appealing to a pagan inside each of us that we are called to conquer. Here we approach the most fundamental difference between the Western non-Orthodox and Patristic Orthodox soteriology: for Roman Catholics and Protestants it is not man who is changing – it is God Who changes His attitude towards man. Thus salvation is not an act of change of man, it is in act of change in God! This concept of a deity changing from wrath to mercy is characteristic of paganism.[27]

Neither Roman Catholics nor Protestants will deny that they are longing for God, for holiness – but, like in pagan religions, their idea of salvation boils down to the desire to avoid punishment. This attitude of man towards God is devoid of love.

Most importantly, the Western concept of God is fused with the pagan concept of man as a “dummy” in the hands of God. While Orthodoxy states – on a dogmatic level – that one cannot be saved without his own participation, Protestantism is trying to strip one of any responsibility for his salvation by offering a soteriology that devalues humans as free creatures who make choices that can potentially affect their salvation. This is a false humility that opens the door to a full-fledged pagan life. On the human level, Protestantism can be seen as nothing other than the adaption of Christianity to the desires of a fleshly man: the desire to keep the idea of God but at the same time not to disturb the pagan in yourself.

2.8 Reviving the Judaic mentality.

Calvinism in particular is also a revival of the Judaism-like attitude towards Christians as a people chosen for a special mission: in Judaism it is by blood, in Calvinism by faith. Those who have been chosen for salvation can be identified by an unmistakable external sign in the form of good works. Calvinism is indeed very similar – in cult, and in essence – to Judaism. Their temples – with the services devoid of any sacramental meaning and having an emphasis on the study of the Scriptures – are essentially synagogues.

All Protestants are, in a way, the descendants of the early Church’s Judaizing sect of Ebionites, who “considered Jesus Christ to be a prophet like Moses; they demanded of all Christians the strict fulfillment of the law of Moses; they looked on the Christian teaching as a supplement to the law of Moses.”[28] While modern Protestants do not, of course, keep the Jewish law, the balance between the use of the Old and the New Testaments in their worship has been severely distorted in favor of the Old Testament. This was, once again, a result of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura – that sees the Bible as a sole source of authority for Christian faith. “Left with the Holy Scriptures only, these “Christians” frenziedly began studying it…The Bible, three quarters of which, in terms of its overall volume, consists of the Old Testament, became a constant reference book… They began to lose a sense of proportion; they thought of the Old and New Testaments as two equivalent sources of the same Faith, as mutually supplementing each other, as two completely equal aspects of it... Thus the Judaizing sects made their appearance… The commandments given on Sinai became more important than the Gospel teaching…”[29]

2.9 Reviving the ancient heresies defeated by the Church.

Having rejected the Tradition of the Church, Protestantism was bound to struggle between the extremes of old (and already resolved by the Church) dogmatic disputes – such as the Nestorian-Monophysite controversy of the 5th century. “Modern man, deliberately or subconsciously, is tempted by the Nestorian extreme. That is to say, he does not take the Incarnation in earnest. He does not dare to believe that Christ is a divine person. He wants to have a human redeemer, only assisted by God. He is more interested in human psychology of the Redeemer than in the mystery of the divine love… On the other extreme we have in our days a revival of "monophysite" tendencies in theology and religion, when man is reduced to complete passivity and is allowed only to listen and to hope.”[30]

Virtually every heresy defeated in the early Church and the Church of the era of the Ecumenical Councils can be found in the teachings of modern Protestant sects. For example, Anabaptists, Adventists, Swedenborgians and others have resurrected chiliasm (known today as “millennialism”) – the heresy associated with the name of Apollinarius, Bishop of Laodicea, according to which “long before the end of the world, Christ will once again return to earth, defeat the Antichrist, resurrect the righteous only, and establish a kingdom on earth in which the righteous, as a reward for their struggles and sufferings, will reign with Him for a period of a thousand years, enjoying all the good things of temporal life.”[31]

2.10 Replacing personal salvation as internal moral conversion with a fictitious external “legal” act.

We have seen above, when we talked about baptism, that the Apostles and Holy Fathers never saw our forgiveness as a merely external act. If we are truly cleansed from sin, there is no need to insist that the merit of Christ is imputed to us and serves as a payment for our sins.

One word that can describe the Protestant idea of salvation is pronouncement: a sinner is pronounced righteous by God. Salvation is seen as “some sort of negotiated agreement between us and the Godhead, stipulating, for reasons unknown, that we accept certain obscure statements and rules, and receive in return a reward of eternal salvation.”[32] “In this understanding, Christ’s death does not destroy sin but just liberates man from being responsible for it.”[33] One is “justified” with all his sins intact because of someone else’s (Christ’s) righteousness (“imputed alien righteousness.”)

According to the Protestant teaching, the relationship of the Father to the Son defines the Father’s relationship to us. One can even say that God the Father does not know us and does not see us – except in connection with His Son and what His Son has done. The fact that our faith can be poor does not really matter. God is covering the sins remaining in us (Lutheran terminology!) by the perfect righteousness of Christ. He is saving us not because He loves us (John 3:16 is somehow forgotten!) but because of the righteousness of Christ.

The main consequence of such a view of salvation for one’s spiritual life is that it eliminates any requirements for it. A believer is essentially told, “Someone up there agreed to look at you as sinless even though you are still sinful.” Protestants will be quick to add though, that having been justified, one is called upon to lead a righteous life out of gratitude for the received salvation. In reality this does little to change the fact that one’s spiritual life is perceived as ultimately unimportant because it does not influence the fact of whether one is saved or not. Furthermore, human efforts are “even dangerous, as they diminish the merit of Christ.”[34] The forensic concept of justification simply does not offer one any meaningful goals for his spiritual life. One’s earthly life becomes an automatic and useless “appendix” to an already-received salvation.

However, “the main danger of [the legalistic view of salvation] is that with it one may consider himself having a right not to belong to God with all his heart and mind: in a legal union, such closeness is not presumed and not required; one just has to observe the external conditions of the union. One may not love good and may remain the same old lover of himself; he just needs to keep the Commandments in order to get a reward.”[35]

This cold attitude of a mercenary who expects a reward for the bounty he brings (to a deity) invariably leads one to the minimalist attitude towards his spiritual life. If one compares the Orthodox and the Western Christian teaching on salvation, he finds that “one is based upon the concept of Christian perfection, or holiness, and from this standpoint evaluates the present reality; the other is firmly established on the status quo of the earthly life and strives to determine the minimum of religious practice which still allows for salvation – if eternity truly exists.”[36]

“I think one can construct from the Church Fathers a “normal” Christian life: instruction, baptism, on-going participation in the life of the Church: repentance, confession, receiving the Eucharist. But it is rare that you will find them attempting to answer the question “What can I get by with and still be saved?” or “How far can one be from this “norm” and still be saved?””[37]

This “soteriology” is about finding a simplistic “instant solution” to one’s problems without the “hard part”: internal conversion. One of the “undercurrents” of Protestantism was the need of the post-medieval Europe for “Christianity lite” that would do away with the strict moral requirements preventing one from enjoying the new “blessings” of life in a rich, industrialized, rapidly developing society. When enjoyment replaces holiness as the goal of one’s life, salvation as liberation from one’s sins themselves is naturally replaced by the legalistic view of salvation as liberation from the punishment for one’s sins.[38]

2.11 Leaving one’s soul’s thirst unquenched by purging personal salvation of its present-time content.

Another effect of the Protestant “forensic” soteriology on one’s soul is spiritual confusion, as a believer struggling with his sinful inclinations cannot find a true peace through simply being told that he is already saved. On some level he has to keep fighting off his conscience that exposes to him his true spiritual condition. His soul is left in a state of permanent longing for the real, “internal” salvation – which is the experience of communion with God here and now. The fictitious “forensic” act of salvation simply cannot be tasted in this life. The Protestant term “saved” means “going to heaven (upon death).” Needless to say, the concept of atonement in the afterlife is an accidental product of a legalistic view of salvation and is totally foreign to Christianity.[39]

Even the Roman Catholic monasticism is largely lacking in the understanding of one’s spiritual life as a communion with God that is already taking place. “…There are ascetics in the West, to be sure, but their life is dominated by dejected, senseless obedience to the age-old rules and requirements, for which they are promised forgiveness of sins and future eternal life. Eternal life has already appeared, as Apostle John says, and blessed communion with God is obtained by unflinching asceticism right now, in the words of St. Macarius the Great, – all this is unknown to West.”[40]

It was that longing of a soul for true salvation that, having “expressed itself, albeit unsuccessfully, in innumerable sects, in many attempts to correct the Catholicism… finally exploded in that horrific upheaval that is called the Reformation.”[41]

2.12 Dismissing the role of the Church in one’s salvation.

The Protestant “faith only” doctrine (justification through faith alone) means rejection of the Church – the Church that, as we already mentioned, Christ founded (Matt. 16:17), loved and “gave Himself for” (Eph. 5:25). 16th-century Protestantism was a revival of Donatism – the 4th-century heresy that preached that the Church must be a church of saints and connected the validity of the Sacraments to the moral state of one performing them – as part of Luther’s opposition to Rome was fueled by corruption among the Roman Catholic clergy. This, in turn, led to the modern Protestant ecclesiology, which can be summarized in the belief that the “true” Church exists only in heaven, while the “visible” Church on Earth is not necessarily “true”: in fact, nobody knows how much the “invisible” and “visible” Churches “overlap”.

Furthermore, Protestants believe that the “visible”, earthly Church can err; and that is why no denomination can claim having the fullness of Truth. In this worldview, the Church hierarchy is obviously unimportant as well. Ultimately, the rejection of Tradition and the invention of false teachings like Sola Scriptura, common for all Protestants, can thus be traced to Donatism (as disrespect of the “earthly” Church hierarchy) – because the Church hierarchy, as we know, is the keeper of the Tradition.

“Protestantism… objected [to the Papacy]: why is the truth given only to the Pope? – and added: the truth and salvation are open to every individual independently from the Church. Every person was elevated into an infallible “pope”… Protestantism… with its innumerable number of “popes” completely destroyed the idea of the Church, replaced faith with the reasoning of an individual person and replaced the salvation in the Church with a contemplative confidence in salvation through Christ without the Church…”[42]

Even though Luther and Calvin split from the Roman Catholic Church, the early local Protestant churches still played an important role: they decided theological matters and were places where one would learn how to read the Bible, worship, etc. In modern American Protestantism this role of a local church is largely extinct and has been replaced by the “just me and my Bible” attitude.

2.13 Persisting in adjustments of an inherently dead-end doctrine.

In addition to contradictions with the spirit of the Holy Scripture already mentioned – a loving God Who knowingly creates some of His creatures for eternal torments, an unchanging God Who changes His attitude toward man, a true God Who does not see sin as sin, etc. – the Roman Catholics and Protestants have had a long history of contradictions with their own doctrine of salvation.

Rejecting the notion that salvation can be “merited”, both Catholics and Protestants, nonetheless, see personal salvation as a reward for something. “…They would not even understand, let alone agree, that it is precisely moral perfection that is the goal of the Christian life – and not merely the knowledge of God (as Protestants would say) or service to the Church (Roman Catholics), for which virtues, in their opinion, God Himself gives us moral perfection as a reward.”[43]

The Orthodox Church supported Protestants’ criticism of the Papal abuses which became the integral part of the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation – indulgences, first and foremost – but Protestant leaders failed to connect with Orthodoxy and went their own way instead, founding a new heresy upon existing heresy. Luther’s doctrine of Sola Gratia (“salvation is by God’s grace only”) led to the rejection of everything that the Orthodox Church viewed as means to assist the faithful in their salvation: the Church (as the treasury of the Grace of God), its hierarchy, and the Sacraments.[44]

“…The first Reformers learned to speak and think using the same Aristotle and Cicero as did their Catholic opponents. For this reason, being indignant over that flagrant distortion of Christ’s truth that they saw in Catholicism, they were seeking to explain it with accidental reasons only – such as the abuses by the hierarchy, etc. – and did not realize that in the place of those conclusions, others, just as false, will appear, because the falsehood is not in the conclusions, but in the foundation itself, in the very point of view on the subject. Instead of rejecting this main falsehood, Protestants only found the strength to reject some fruits of it, and thus only replaced one set of distortions with another.”[45]

Protestantism rose against Roman Catholicism’s mercenary attitude towards good deeds – however, the legalistic view of salvation that the two of them share could not allow Protestants to escape the concept of “merits.” If one is expected to do any concrete deeds in his spiritual life – like keeping the Commandments – it necessarily divides all Christians into those who do and those who do not, those who do more and those who do less. The legalistic worldview is built on the premise that those who do more are rewarded more than those who do less. But what can this reward be? It cannot be salvation, as all those who have accepted Christ are saved already. Lutheranism (in “The Apology of the Augsburg Confession” written by Melanchthon) was forced to declare that good deeds earn one “other rewards, physical and spiritual, in this life and after it.”[46]

But this makes things only worse. Not only do these rewards still diminish the merit of Christ, they also put Protestantism in a position morally inferior to Roman Catholicism: at least in Catholicism one does good works to earn salvation – while in Protestantism one does good works for earthly things. And is it even acceptable to desire these earthly things when Christ already gave you eternal life? Does it not make it morally superior to reject these things – and thus to do no good deeds that earn them? Also, how can one feel that these good deeds are truly his, if they are the consequences of one’s salvation and thus are produced by the Holy Spirit? Why should one earn anything for the work of the Holy Spirit?

This is just one illustration of how Protestantism gets entangled in contradictions with its own doctrine of salvation. To be true to their doctrine, Protestants have to reject the necessity of doing good works. Up to today, this necessity remains unjustified in Protestantism from the dogmatic point of view, because it is something that exists outside of the merit of Christ who already earned us salvation. However, the longing of the human soul for a life of continuing moral perfection forces Protestants to find “creative” ways to string the good deeds along as stemming out of feeling thankful to God, indebted to God, etc.

Unlike the Reformers, the Roman Catholics have always tried to remain faithful to the many centuries of the Tradition of the One Universal Church whose experience taught that doing good deeds is necessary not just as a consequence, as evidence of salvation, but first of all as a condition for salvation. Likewise, the Roman Catholic concept of justification is not purely “forensic”: it is not just a declaration of righteousness but is also an infusion of righteousness. It involves a supernatural act by the grace of God that imparts internal renewal (that is, holiness) to the soul of a believer for the sake of the merit of Christ.

However, once again, the legalistic picture of salvation did not leave the Roman Catholics many ways of retreat in the face of the Protestant criticism that no human merit is possible before God: one’s holiness imputed by the grace of God can only be seen as a reward for a merit. Who receives this holiness? Why do some receive it and some do not?

That forced the Roman Catholicism to try to diminish as much as possible the human role in receiving this initial renewing grace to make it truly “unmerited.” But in the end, this is not much different from the Protestant teaching: the justification remains an external action imparted to a human without any involvement of his will – and it is thus deprived of any moral value and is unjustified from the very legalistic point of view that both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism insist on. This is the wall that the legalistic view of salvation is not able to overcome.

The Roman Catholics did try though. Let us assume, they said, that the initial infusion of righteousness is unmerited and equal for everyone – however, one can keep it and increase it (with God’s help) and thus increase his reward by his own will. God sees one’s efforts and adds to his holiness. This, however, did not answer the question of whether one is capable of having any merits or of earning anything before God. Catholics tried to remove this obstacle by proposing that it is the infused grace of God that performs the good deeds through one – and thus the human will does not create holiness but simply accepts it. But here, the same question arises that was mentioned above with respect to Protestantism: if one’s deeds are not truly his, how can he earn a reward for them?

Roman Catholicism responded by declaring that, even though it is the grace of God that is the first and main reason for any virtuous deeds, the human will is the second. Whenever the grace of God directs itself towards a good deed, one “feels” that like his own inclination and has to decide whether to do this deed or not. In other words, human will “transmits” the grace of God into an actual good deed. But can we really say in this case that human will is free? The answer is no. And this brings us back to the same question: if one is not free, how can his deeds be his merits that can earn him anything?

Thus Roman Catholicism was unable to explain, using legal language, the necessity of one’s participation in his salvation. The Council of Trent simply declared that even though “Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified… we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified,” and that “by those very works which have been done in God, [they] fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life.”[47] In other words, they made it sound like part of the Christian revelation that one must simply believe.[48]

As was already said above, it is the legalistic framework that is the main problem faced by the Roman Catholic and Protestant theology of personal salvation – not the details of their teaching. In the realm of labor, merits and rewards, human deeds are entitled to a reward. At the same time, they cannot have any “justifying power”, because we have already been justified through the merit of Christ. But the downgrading of one’s efforts to the level of having no bearing on his salvation blatantly contradicts the general teaching of the Scripture and the voice of conscience in one’s soul. Roman Catholics and Protestants simply use different ways to disguise this inconvenient fact.

2.14 Introducing theological novelties and redefining the traditional concepts to support new doctrines.

While one can always claim that his doctrine is not new but simply removes later distortions to the Apostolic doctrine – as the Reformers have declared – a sure sign of this claim not being true is a number of theological novelties that this doctrine has produced in order to prop itself up.

Modern Protestantism offers a never-ending abundance of these novelties. For example, the well-known Protestant concept of “getting saved” – as one specific event fixed in time (some even remember the exact time of the day when they “got saved”!) – is one of these novelties. The expression “getting saved” is actually not found in the Scripture.[49] We have already mentioned that the Apostolic and Patristic tradition has always maintained that salvation is a life-long effort, in accordance with the Holy Scripture: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), “…to us who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18), etc.

If an outsider presses an evangelical Protestant to explain what exactly that “act of salvation” is and why they believe it happened to them on some particular day – he will be dealt another theological “gimmick”: salvation as… realization that you are saved. In other words, one is saved the moment he felt acceptance of the fact that Jesus Christ had died for his sins. This is also often termed as “accepting Christ as personal Savior” and/or “asking Jesus to come into your heart”. Such a realization (“feeling”, “trust”, etc.) of having been “saved” (“redeemed”, “justified”, etc.) is what Protestants call “faith.” Once you experienced it – “faith”, that is – you are saved.

While the Orthodox Church sees the aforementioned spiritual experience as legitimate and vitally important in one’s life, it looks at it as “conversion” and not “faith”. Needless to say, the conversion experience is seen by Orthodoxy as just the very beginning of the journey towards salvation – that by no means guarantees it.[50]

The Protestant concept of “faith” is an example of redefinition of traditional Christian terminology – that one has to be watchful about when dealing with Protestants. It is important to understand what the Apostles and Holy Fathers meant by the word “faith”. In Apostolic times “faith” meant the opposite to remaining a pagan or a Jew. In Patristic times “faith” also came to signify one’s belonging to the true Church, the Orthodox Church. This being in the true Church – as opposed to paganism, Judaism, or a heretical sect – and adhering to all of her teaching – was what constituted “faith”. In other words, “faith” meant the entire Christian lifestyle, the entire spiritual life of one belonging to the true Church.[51] The Church never understood “faith” as simply a passive mental conviction in the truth of the Gospel.

Another example of redefinition of terminology is the term “born again” – used by Protestants to refer to someone who used to be a nominal Christian but became a true believer through a conversion-like experience. Jesus Christ does use this term in His conversation with Nicodemus but He refers specifically to baptism (John 3:3-7).

The Protestant concept of “good works” as something that demonstrates that one has already achieved salvation is an attempt to fill a Scriptural concept with a novel theological meaning. It was born out of the necessity to reconcile the “faith only” doctrine with the fact that the Scripture says quite a lot about the importance of good works. According to Protestantism, one cannot be expected to do works to be saved because he is already saved through his faith – hence the “solution”: it is necessary for one to do works… to demonstrate that he is really saved. This is truly a theological “sleight of hand”: seemingly staying true to the Scripture yet asserting something contradictory to it.

Even the Last Judgment – that will ultimately decide whether one is saved or not based on his works – gets a whole new meaning in Calvinism. Simply put, the salvation of the “elect” does not depend on this judgment. The judgment will only determine where they will be in the Kingdom of Heaven. One may ask, “Then what about the sins that the “elect” committed after they were “justified”? Will anyone be judged for them?” Protestants respond with another theological novelty. Yes, they say, Jesus will be judged for those sins.[52] One can only wonder how this is compatible with the fact that it is Jesus Christ Who will do the judging.

2.15 Misreading, manipulating and editing the Scripture.

There are multiple ways in which Protestants interpret the Scripture– some of them deliberately, some not – to find support for their doctrine of personal salvation. The Orthodox Church has always maintained that the Scripture was written by the Church for the Church – and thus can only be interpreted in the Church.[53] Any attempt to treat the Scripture differently – for example, as the “message from God” addressed personally to every individual – leads to distortions of unpredictable magnitude.

The founder of Protestantism himself, Martin Luther – in accordance with his conviction that any individual can be divinely inspired to interpret the Scripture on his own – judged the Scripture based on whether it felt right to his “spirit.” He did not consider the book of Revelation as Apostolic and admitted that his “spirit” “could not stand this book.” [54] He also did not believe in the Apostolic authorship of the book of Hebrews and the epistles of James and Jude.

Luther felt that he had a license to edit the Scripture. He famously inserted the word “alone” (allein) after the word “faith” in his translation of Romans 3:28: “…A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” He also struggled with the book of James. “Luther, more realistic than today’s Protestants, realized that his “faith only” doctrine just did not agree with what St. James wrote, so Luther declared that the book of James is not a canonical part of the Bible.”[55]

Indeed, what we have in the book of James is the repeated refutation of the “faith only” doctrine in plain language: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” (James 2:14). “Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).

Another verse that bothered Luther was that God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) “Luther, who took the “severe” position on predestination, translated this verse “God wills that all be assisted.” Those before and after him who teach his view on predestination (such as John Calvin) have had to twist (if not mistranslate) this text.”[56]

One of the less radical methods of the leaders of the Reformation in dealing with the “inconvenient” passages of the Scripture is mistranslation of the original Greek text. We will look at just one telling example here.

1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”, must have made the Reformers uncomfortable, because here not only does Apostle Paul talk about his ascetic feats as means of achieving salvation, he is also making it clear that his own salvation is not a “done deal” to him. With respect to his body the Apostle uses the Greek word hupopiazo – which means “to beat black and blue, to smite so as to cause bruises and livid spots.”[57], [58]

In his commentary on this verse, John Calvin downplays the asceticism that the Apostle advocates: “…in my opinion the Apostle has employed the word ὑπωπιάζειν here, to mean “treating in a servile manner.””[59] Furthermore, he uses this passage to attack the Orthodox monasticism: “The ancient monks, with a view to yield obedience to this precept contrived many exercises of discipline, for they slept on benches, they forced themselves to long watchings, and shunned delicacies. The main thing, however, was wanting in them, for they did not apprehend why it was that the Apostle enjoins this, because they lost sight of another injunction – to take no concern for our flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof (Romans 13:14.) For what he says elsewhere (1 Timothy 4:8) always holds good — that bodily exercise profiteth little. Let us, however, treat the body so as to make a slave of it, that it may not, by its wantonness, keep us back from the duties of piety; and farther, that we may not indulge it, so as to occasion injury, or offense, to others.”[60]

Calvin uses the quote from the Apostle’s Letter to Timothy to make the Apostle sound like he opposed the mortification of the body. In Calvin’s point of view, it is not objectionable to “enslave” our bodies to some extent – but only because our fleshly desires may get in the way of “our duties of piety” or because we may “injure or offend others”. No mention, of course, of the fact that our sinful passions get in the way of our own salvation. So here we have an example of how Protestant doctrines are “supported” by the Scripture.

And what about the second half of Apostle Paul’s quote? Calvin reads this verse figuratively: “…It will suit better to view this expression as referring to men, in this way – “My life ought to be a kind of rule to others. Accordingly, I strive to conduct myself in such a manner, that my character and conduct may not be inconsistent with my doctrine, and that thus I may not, with great disgrace to myself, and a grievous occasion of offense to my brethren, neglect those things which I require from others.””[61] Here Calvin is trying to avoid acknowledging the fact that the Apostle was concerned about his own salvation as well – and instead rewrites the verse in a less “threatening” way, as if Apostle Paul was solely concerned with not offending his flock.

Another method frequently employed is simply ignoring an inconvenient passage. Regarding the second part of 1 Corinthians 9:27, the Quest Study Bible (NIV) avoids dealing with this issue: “The debate centers on whether the prize lost is salvation itself or reward for faithful ministry. This text alone does not settle the argument.” [62] The reader is referred to the articles “Can believers fall away? (Luke 8:13)”[63] and “Should we fear falling? (Heb. 6:6)”.[64] Both offer an argument that those who “fall away” are those who probably never truly believed. Was there a chance Apostle Paul was not a true believer?

Protestants also frequently take Scriptural quotes out of context. For example, “Only believe!” (Mark 5:36) in reality is addressed not to all Christians but to the ruler of the synagogue and in very special circumstances.[65] Likewise, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5), used by Protestants to “prove” that God provides all the work at our conversion, is talking about “cooperation between God and man. Man can forbid it. Love and obedience are our part.”[66] “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44) cannot be taken as a proof of the doctrine of pre-destination because later in the same Gospel Christ says: “I… will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32)[67]

One of the sincere but still faulty approaches to the Scripture that may lend “support” to the Protestant doctrines regarding salvation is taking the Biblical passages literally, as if the meaning of the quote is self-evident. “This approach was no doubt the first approach used by the Reformers, though very early on they came to realize that by itself this was an insufficient solution to the problems presented by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura… This approach still is the most common one to be found among the less educated Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and Charismatics – “The Bible says what it means and means what it says,” is an oft heard phrase.”[68]

However, the fact, for example, that salvation is a “free gift” (Romans 3:24, 5:15-17, 6:23) does not automatically mean that this gift cannot be stolen or lost.[69] Likewise, the fact that the Wise Thief died on the cross right after confessing Christ as Lord cannot automatically “prove” that he earned his salvation without any works: he publicly repented, publicly confessed Christ as Lord, and defended Him when the other thief berated Him. These all are works, not just faith.[70]

Calvin’s concept of “predestination” is based on a literal reading of the following: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30) “Predestination means God’s pre-assigning of each person to either be saved or lost. Orthodox say this is based only on God’s foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29) that the one would make a right use of his free will and the other a wrong; this is the only explanation proposed by anyone until the year A.D. 400. Non-Orthodox with the “severe” view on predestination believe we have no say in this assignment, a view developed by Augustine, who was the first to question free will.”[71]

Calvin’s concept of “irresistible grace” draws its Biblical “support” from the literal reading of the parable of a man throwing a feast (Luke 14:16-24): “…And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23) The word “compel” here does not mean “an irresistible invitation, or any forceful constraint of man’s will”: the Patristic consensus here has been that it simply means “to bring great pressure on.”[72]

An unconstrained, straightforward reading of the Scripture often involves lumping together different uses of the same term. In rejecting the necessity of works for one’s salvation, Protestants make no distinction between two kinds of good works: the works produced by God through us (“…it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), “…he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21)), which are needed for our salvation, and the human-produced “works of the law”, without faith in Christ, which cannot save. Protestants’ favorite quotes – “…By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20), “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28), “for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal. 2:21), “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9), “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5), etc. – obviously, talk about the “works of the law” that one performs without guidance from God, thinking that they are his own and that those works can earn him salvation.

Using modern translations of the Bible – as opposed to the Greek original – to make theological points is not uncommon among modern Protestants. For example, in “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit…” (John 3:5), the Greek original says “anyone” (tis) and not “a man” – so it refers to the necessity of baptism for any human being, not just an adult.[73]

Roman Catholics are also no strangers to drawing support for their teachings related to salvation from mistranslated Scriptural passages. The Latin translation of “…and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12) as “in whom all have sinned” [Adam, that is] “overstates the doctrine and might be interpreted to imply that all men are guilty of Adam’s sin.”[74] As we know, this is indeed the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

2.16 Disregarding the Tradition of salvation accumulated in the Church and replacing it with delusional mysticism.

With all that said about the interpretation of the Scripture, it is the Orthodox tradition of

spirituality – and not any selection of Scriptural or Patristic quotes – that delegitimizes the Western doctrines of salvation like “faith only.” The Orthodox teaching on salvation can be traced back to the early Apostolic Church through the uninterrupted continuity of worship and practice. The Orthodox Church, since the earliest times, has never lived in a manner that would have been consistent with later Western doctrines.

Having fallen away from the Orthodox dogmatic teaching on salvation, Western Christendom also developed a non-Patristic mystical spirituality. Mysticism was a movement concurrent with scholasticism[75] and, technically, opposed to it. However, it could, perhaps, still be called an estranged child of scholasticism, as it possessed symptoms of the same disease – namely, looking for “shortcuts” to salvation, bypassing the “narrow way.”

Mysticism asserted that one can come to the knowledge of God and His Revelation not through dialectic proofs, but through one’s spirit ascending to God through the state of ecstasy. In that state one feels the presence of God in his soul, and he is filled and illumined by it. Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), the Franciscan friar Bonaventure (13th century), and Thomas a Kempis (15th century) were the most famous proponents of mysticism.

The starkest contrast between Orthodox and medieval Roman Catholic spirituality is that in Orthodoxy there is no meditation. The Holy Fathers have always warned against deliberately seeking mystical experiences. This teaching is Biblical and Apostolic as well: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4: 1-3). Apostle Paul warns that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

However, it became characteristic of Roman Catholic spirituality to seek and receive, without discernment, any mystical experience as coming from God. The medieval teachers of mysticism, in fact, encouraged one to imagine, for example, a very detailed and graphic picture of Christ’s sufferings on the Cross – which was intended to induce in one the feelings of repentance and gratitude. With time a practitioner of such mysticism would develop consistent emotional states – the states of ecstasy – that would even manifest themselves physically in the form of wounds similar to Christ’s (stigmata).

Protestantism, even though it largely eliminated all mystical spirituality – Orthodox or Roman Catholic – from its tradition, could not help but adhere to non-Patristic mystical practices, as they are much more appealing to human pride and other passions than the ascetic Patristic teaching of “the narrow way”. Many Protestant denominations were born and developed out of their leaders’ receiving “divine” revelations and “ordinations”. In modern Pentecostalism, non-denominational evangelicalism, and charismatic sects, we encounter conviction in their “divine” or “apostolic” authority and possession of the “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, belief in receiving additional “revelations” directly from God, encouragement of ecstatic “prophesying”, speaking in tongues, etc.

To the Orthodox, all Western spirituality is what is called prelest’ in the Russian tradition: the state of spiritual delusion. The Holy Fathers have pointed out that without the struggle with one’s “old man” and passions, without fulfilling God’s Commandments, without repentance, it is impossible to achieve communion with God. “No man putteth new wine into old bottles” (Luke 5:37).


With God’s help, we were able to demonstrate that the teaching on personal salvation held by the entire Orthodox Church today is of Divine origin, internally consistent, and traceable to the teaching of the early One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church – as preserved in the Apostolic and Patristic writings, as well as the Church’s two-thousand-year cumulative experience of the “life in Christ”. We also demonstrated that the distortions of this Tradition of salvation in Western Christendom go well beyond theological nuances or purely academic historical interest – but are, in fact, evidence that “a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (Matthew 7:17), and have manifested themselves in a wide range of phenomena having direct implications on one’s salvation: from virtually purging the believers’ spiritual life of any practical meaning to presenting them with a blasphemous image of God, from distorting the Scripture to fit the new doctrines to accepting the practices promoting mystical delusion. We pray for our non-Orthodox brothers and sisters to our Lord Jesus Christ – “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) – that He will guide them to the paths of true salvation. “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

Glory to God for all things!


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_____. “The Old Testament in the New Testament Church.” http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/old_new_testament_e.htm.

The Quest Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.

Romanides, John S. “Original Sin According to Saint Paul.” http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frjr_sin.aspx.

Schaeffer, Frank. Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994.

Schmemann, Alexander. Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.

St. Athanasius. On The Incarnation. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1998.

St. Clement of Alexandria. The Stromata. http://www.biblicalstudies.ru/Lib/Father2/Kliment8.html.

St. Clement of Rome. “First Epistle to Corinthians.” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-lightfoot.html (accessed April 9, 2010).

_____. “Second Epistle to Corinthians”. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/2clement-lightfoot.html (accessed April 8, 2010).

St. Cyprian of Carthage. “Kniga o edinstve cerkvi” (“Book on the Unity of the Church”). http://apologia.narod.ru/earlyfat/fath/IIIage/kipri1.htm.

St. Cyril of Alexandria. “Epistle to Nestorius.” http://azbyka.ru/otechnik/?Kirill_Aleksandrijskij/poslanie1_k_nestoriyu.

St. Hilarion (Troitsky). “Christianity or the Church?”. http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/christianity_church_e.htm.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.vii.ii.html (accessed April 9, 2010).

St. John Chrysostom. Homilies of the Epistle to the Hebrews. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf114.v.xiii.html (accessed May 14, 2010).

St. Justin the Martyr. The First Apology. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxi.html (accessed April 10, 2010).

St. Polycarp of Smyrna. “Epistle to Philippians.” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/polycarp-lightfoot.html (accessed April 9, 2010).

Stragorodskii, Archimandrite (later Patriarch) Sergii. Pravoslavnoe uchenie o spasenii (The Orthodox Teaching on Salvation). http://azbyka.ru/dictionary/17/sergiy_uchenie_o_spasenii.shtml.

Talberg, N. Istoriya hristianskoi tserkvi (History of the Christian Church.) Moskva: Izdatel’stvo Pravoslavnogo Svyato-Tikhonovskogo Bogoslovskogo Instituta, 2000.

Tertullian. On Baptism. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.vi.iii.xiii.html (accessed April 10, 2010).

Uspensky, N. “Spasenie veroi” (“Salvation through Faith”). http://www.golubinski.ru/academia/uspensky/spasenie.htm.

Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. London, England: Penguin Books, 1991.

Whiteford, Fr. John. “Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds”. http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/sola_scriptura_john_whiteford.htm.


Victor Evgenievich Klimenko was born in 1971 in Moscow, Russia, to a family of scientists. Grew up atheist – the situation typical for the 1970s – 1980s Soviet Union. After graduating from high school, entered the Physics Department of Moscow State University to follow in father’s footsteps (he is a physicist by training). Upon graduation, in 1993, became a researcher at the P.N. Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. In August 1995 left for the U.S. to start graduate studies at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, VA. In 2002, graduated from UVA with a Ph.D. in Physics, moved to Arlington, VA, and got married. Worked for a small engineering company in Rockville, MD, for four years. Since December 2007, Senior Analyst at a small scientific consulting company in Dulles, VA. Married (wife is an Orthodox convert), with two daughters, living in Falls Church, VA.

In July 2002, started attending the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Washington, DC. On August 24, 2002, was baptized by Fr. Victor Potapov into Orthodox faith. Started serving in the altar in the Summer of 2005. The following year also started helping with the readings – the Hours, the post-Communion prayers and occasionally Epistle – almost exclusively at the English-language services. On March 11, 2007 – the Sunday of the Cross – tonsured a Reader by Metropolitan Laurus. On September 14, 2008, tonsured a Subdeacon by Metropolitan Hilarion.

[1] St. Hilarion (Troitsky), “Christianity or the Church?,” http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/christianity_church_e.htm.

[2] St. Hilarion, ibid.

[3] John Anthony McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 256.

[4] McGuckin, ibid., 40.

[5] Pomazansky, ibid., 162.

[6] Pomazansky, ibid., 162.

[7] McGuckin, ibid., 257.

[8] McGuckin, ibid., 257.

[9] Pomazansky, ibid., 162.

[10] Pomazansky, ibid., 165.

[11] Stragorodskii, ibid., “Vvedenie” (“Introduction”), Part 1.

[12] Deacon Andrei Kuraev, Public lecture on Catholicism, http://www.predanie.ru/mp3/Lekcii_diakona_Andreja_Kuraeva/.

[13] Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), “Way Apart: the Difference between Orthodoxy and Western Confessions,” http://www.stjohndc.org/Russian/orthhtrdx/e_Antony.htm.

[14] Kuraev, ibid.

[15] The discussion of scholasticism in this Section is based on N. Talberg, Istoriya hristianskoi tserkvi (History of the Christian Church) (Moskva: Izdatel’stvo Pravoslavnogo Svyato-Tikhonovskogo Bogoslovskogo Instituta, 2000), 347-360.

[16] Stragorodskii, ibid.

[17] Paul Jacobson, “Orthodox Teaching on Salvation as Compared to That of Protestants,” http://www.stjohndc.org/Russian/homilies/e_HOMSALV.HTM.

[18] McGuckin, ibid., 315.

[19] Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The Lost Scriptural Mind,” http://jbburnett.com/resources/florovsky/1/florovsky_1-1-scripmind.pdf.

[20] Pomazansky, ibid., 205.

[21] Pomazansky, ibid., 206.

[22] Stragorodskii, ibid., Chapter 1.

[23] Alfeyev, ibid.

[24] Stragorodskii, ibid.

[25] Pomazansky, ibid., 68.

[26] Osipov, ibid.

[27] Osipov, ibid.

[28] Pomazansky, ibid., 375.

[29] Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, “The Old Testament in the New Testament Church,” http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/old_new_testament_e.htm.

[30] Florovsky, ibid.

[31] Bishop Alexander (Mileant), “End of the World,” http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/end_w.htm#_Toc26622239.

[32] Khrapovitsky, ibid.

[33] Alfeyev, ibid.

[34] Stragorodskii, ibid., “Vvedenie” (“Introduction”), Part 1.

[35] Stragorodskii, ibid.

[36] Khrapovitsky, ibid.

[37] Jacobson, ibid.

[38] Osipov, ibid.

[39] Stragorodskii, ibid., Chapter 3, “Iskuplenie” (“Redemption”).

[40] Khrapovitsky, ibid.

[41] Stragorodskii, ibid., “Vvedenie” (“Introduction”), Part 1.

[42] St. Hilarion (Troitsky), ibid.

[43] Khrapovitsky, ibid.

[44] Talberg, ibid., 383.

[45] Stragorodskii, ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47]The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent,” Chapter 16, http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/trentall.html.

[48] The above discussion is based on Stragorodskii, ibid., “Vvedenie” (“Introduction”), Parts 1 and 2.

[49] Fr. John Whiteford, private communication.

[50] Schaeffer, ibid., 254.

[51] Stragorodskii, ibid., Chapter 5, “Vera” (“Faith”).

[52] This is a quote from a Presbyterian pastor.

[53] Fr. Georges Florovsky, “Revelation and interpretation,” http://www.scribd.com/doc/31364644/Florovsky-Georges-Revelation-and-Interpretation.

[54] “Martin Luther”, http://www.krotov.info/spravki/persons/16person/luther.html.

[55] Platis, ibid., 58.

[56] Platis, ibid., 61.

[57] Interlinear Study Bible, http://www.searchgodsword.org/isb/.

[58] Translated as “to buffet”, “to pommel”, and “to beat” in ASV, RSV and NIV translations, respectively. The Apostle undoubtedly refers to the brutal sport of pankration, which was a part of the Isthmian Games that Corinth was famous for.

[59] John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom39.xvi.iii.html.

[60] Calvin, ibid.

[61] Calvin, ibid.

[62] The Quest Study Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), 1581.

[63] Ibid., 1431.

[64] Ibid., 1665.

[65] Platis, ibid., 56.

[66] Platis, ibid., 61.

[67] Platis, ibid., 62.

[68] Fr. John Whiteford, “Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds”, http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/sola_scriptura_john_whiteford.htm.

[69] Platis, ibid., 56.

[70] Platis, ibid., 57.

[71] Platis, ibid., 61.

[72] Platis, ibid., 62.

[73] Platis, ibid., 80.

[74] Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise Exposition, ibid., 166.

[75] Talberg, ibid., 359.

Yasen1/3/2019 4:12 am
Actually that every man is guilty of Adam's sin, is the Orthodox teaching. Canon 110 of the Council of Carthage (419),says:''Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother's wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.''If all men weren't guilty of Adam's sin,the infant's baptism(an Apostolic tradition)would not be truly for the remission of sins-that view is condemned.
Wes Walton1/2/2017 3:33 am

Your example with the desert island is great as it really illustrates the Protestant need to KNOW and understand everything. This is reflective of the scholastic mindset and is to be applauded.

As a cradle Baptist with a heart for Orthodoxy I think that God works his will as he will- certain rare scenarios and how God would address them are a mystery.

But beside that point, the protestant dogmas that are culled from the Sola Scrpitura method are ultimately harsh. Additionally, there is no guarantee that our island dweller would come up with some Protestant faith.
Bob Petrochko11/24/2015 8:56 pm
I must give a tremendous amount of credit to the author for attempting such a comprehensive discussion of salvation from three main perspectives. Considering his background, he came at this with an impressive set of "fresh eyes." But as a convert from Russian Orthodoxy to Protestantism, I keep coming back to this one question: What if you were alone on an island with no foreknowledge of God and came across a copy of the KJV Bible - and nothing else? Would God have written His Word to be so confusing that a person could not come to a clear understanding of salvation without the presence of the Church and its Patristic tradition? I think the clarity of the gospel is so clear and clean in the Protestant's view that we can live the full joy of our salvation without continuous worry if we will "make it" by the time we die and hope that someone will continue to pray for our entrance into heaven after we have passed on. With all respect and understanding, there is very much missing from your representation of the Protestant's view.
Jonathan Trebilco11/18/2015 12:29 am
Your over-generalizations and multiple errors about both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant perspectives is truly breathtaking. Orthodox often complain that the West does not understand its paradigm. Just as often, I find the reverse to be true.
norman collins7/8/2013 8:12 pm
the observation of a legalistic mindset in the western church is true, but surely they were praying to the same trinitarian God as the orthodox and reading the same scriptures, and held that tendency for a long time .huge numbers of clergy, monks and nuns praying night and day were maybe wrong to some extent but to be badly wrong for so long a time, surely undermines the confidence Christians have in prayer, why did God or conscience not protest and cause them to see their error?

pt 2.5 "God uses these images as a tough earthly king .....because that is something people can understand"

ie it's not really true but we are too stupid to take higher concepts
is this not accusing God , the church the bible of deliberate deception?
is the solution to much of this stuff to simply acknowledge
that there is truth here and hold these different perpectives alongside one another without choosing to emphasize one against another
Peter Bolton11/5/2011 10:34 pm
I found Chapter 1 really very helpful. Thank you so much. It is a shame that in Chapter 2 you did not acknowledge that some of the ancient tradition has survived in Western thinking about salvation. It is more nuanced than you suggest -especially, for example in Wesley's hymns and elsewhere. However, I must say I am enjoying this very much. Is there to be a chapter 3?
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