Our fellow brothers and sisters who come from an Ecumenical Christian background will often ask intriguing, and sometimes challenging, questions to us when we share our background. My uncle recalled having such a conversation a number of years back with a prominent Baptist minister in greater Houston. The pastor looked at my uncle and asked, “Are you saved?” How are we as Orthodox Christians to answer a question like this? If you live in the United States, you are likely to be asked.
It is clear that we understand the answer, as well as the question, differently than do our friends who come from Evangelical Protestant faith backgrounds. There are a couple of points of contrast to help illustrate a difference in theological perspectives. Evangelicals tend to concentrate more on the Cross, while Orthodox on the Incarnation and Resurrection; Evangelicals come from the perspective of atonement by penal substitution and Orthodox from Christ as victor over death; Evangelicals proclaim Christ for me, Orthodox Christ in me.
We Orthodox see salvation as a process; we do not preach a doctrine of assurance. We describe the process through the teaching of theosis. Quoting St. Peter, “he has granted to us his precious and tremendous promises, so that having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust, you may become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) We are in a continuous process of transformation to become more godlike. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom wrote that conversion begins, but it never ends. Orthodoxy is not forensic and transactional, it is more organic and therapeutic, to quote Metropolitan Kallistos. Orthodoxy uses imagery of healing. It emphasizes love in its understanding of the Incarnation, whereas Calvin approached the cross through a sense of justice and honor of a slighted God.
Orthodox tend to be once born, more than twice born, the language used by Evangelicals. This is not to say that we Orthodox do not have turning moments in our lives, that might turn us Christward; we do. However, it is not an event, but a process–a life in Christ.
To summarize Metropolitan Kallistos, we should not answer ‘no’ to the question, “are you saved,” as that would be a denial of our savior. But, we hesitate to say ‘yes’ as if all is complete with no possibility of change. God will not change, but we are imbued with free will. A person could choose to turn away from God. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13)
Even St. Paul expressed fear that he might find himself rejected: “I chastise my body and bring it into submission, for fear that after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)
I trust, that by God’s grace I am being saved. Salvation is a process, not a single event. An ongoing journey; a pilgrimage that is only finished at the moment of our death.