Focus on the Faith
Is Jesus your “Personal Savior?”
Coming from a Protestant background, I was always taught to think of Jesus as my “personal savior.” Is this view based on scripture and Christian tradition? What is the relationship of the individual believer to Jesus? How does it work?
I too come from a strong evangelical Protestant background and the idea of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is strong in my upbringing. I think the Protestant emphasis comes from the recognition that just a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah or as Son of God or even as the Accomplisher of Salvation is not enough, but that there must also be some type of commitment involved.
In the Orthodox Church the understanding is much more organic than in the Protestant confessions. In Protestantism, the individual is saved by a personal (meaning relating to me alone) action of God and the Church is the collection of all of those saved individuals. Salvation is an individual state, according to this view. The Orthodox Faith teaches us that salvation is not individual but corporate – the whole Church is saved together and apart from the Church we cannot be saved. The conversion experience as a “saving act” is not a part of Orthodox faith – rather this conversion experience (accomplished by baptism, btw) is only the door into the saving ark of the Church. Jesus by His death and (more importantly) resurrection has defeated sin death and the devil and has unlocked the door to paradise (it had been closed against fallen man and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword) and leads us in. Will we follow? – that is what “salvation” is all about; following Christ into paradise.
The words individual and personal bring up another interesting and important aspect. Within Orthodox teaching, we can say that Jesus is our personal Savior in that He takes individuals (a being that is independent and separated from all others) and makes them persons (a separate being that is united to other beings in a larger whole, in this case, the Church) This contrast between individuals and persons is a little bit of an extrapolation from the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship One God (individual) in three persons. Similarly, there is only One Church (individual) which is made of many persons. The emphasis on individuality in western and especially American culture is in this sense anti-Christian and derives from an incorrect understanding of the Church which is the result of the reformation in Western Europe and the resulting theology which had to justify salvation apart from the Church. We must remember that salvation is corporate – the whole Church is saved together and will be presented as a single entity as the Bride of Christ (there is only one Bride – Jesus is not a polygamist) at the 2nd coming. Our individual judgment is not whether we are saved or not, but rather we are part of the Church and following Christ. If we are part of the Church following Christ then we are being saved along with the whole Church but if we cease to follow Christ and separate ourselves from the Church by placing our own judgment and will as higher and more important than that of the Church, then we are not being saved because we have “jumped out of the ark”.
Fr David Moser – St Seraphim Orthodox Church – Boise, Idaho
From the Fathers
The Mature Christian’s Rule of Life:
“The mature Christian does not only try to avoid evil. Nor does he do good for fear of punishment, still less in order to qualify for the hope of a promised reward. The mature Christian does good through love. His actions are not motivated by desire for personal benefit, so he does not have personal advantage as his aim. But as soon as he has realized the beauty of doing good, he does it with all his energy and in all that he does. He is not interested in fame, or a good reputation, or a human or divine reward. The rule of life for a mature Christian is to be in the image and likeness of God.”
—Clement of Alexandria
“My poor soul! Sigh, pray and strive to take upon you the blessed yoke of Christ, and you will live on earth in a heavenly manner. Lord, grant that I may carry the light and goodly yoke, and I shall be always at rest, peaceful, glad and joyous; and I shall taste on earth of crumbs which fall from the celestial feast, like a dog that feeds upon the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.”
—St. Tikhon of Voronezh
Where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that she must humble herself and love her enemies, for there is no other way to please God.
— St. Silouan the Athonite
Lives of the Saints
St Andrew the Fool for Christ (911)
St Andrew was bought as a slave by Theognostos,a wealthy citizen of Constantinople, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise. Theognostos recognized Andrew’s unusual ability and taught him to read and write. Despite this, Andrew, obeying a divine revelation, took up the ascesis of folly for Christ, behaving as a madman all day and secretly praying most of the night. His master endeavored to have him cured of his apparent madness, having prayers read over him in church, but to no avail. Finally, he discharged Andrew, who thereafter lived in absolute poverty in Constantinople, clothing himself in rags and living on the bread given him by kindly Christians. Anything that he received, beyond that needed for bare survival, he gave to beggars, usually mocking and insulting them at the same time so as not to be thanked or praised for his deeds. Such was the wholeheartedness of his prayers that he was given grace to see angels and demons, to discern the secrets of others, thereby turning them from their sins. It was he who, with his disciple Epiphanius, saw the vision of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God (see October 1). After a life of profound ascetic struggle, he reposed in peace.
Hieromartyr Cyprian and Virgin-Martyr Justina (304).
“Saint Justina, who was from Damascus, lived in virginity for the sake of Christ. Saint Cyprian, who was from Antioch, began as an initiate of magic and worshipper of the demons. A certain foolish young man who had been smitten with Justina’s beauty hired Cyprian to draw her to love him; when Cyprian had used every demonic device he knew, and had failed, being repulsed by the power of Christ Whom Justina invoked, he understood the weakness of the demons and came to know the truth. Delivered from demonic delusion, he came to Christ and burned all his books of magic, was baptized, and later ascended the episcopal throne in his country. Later, he and Justina were arrested by the Count of Damascus, and having endured many torments at his hands, they were sent finally to Diocletian in Nicomedia, where they were beheaded in the year 304.” (Great Horologion)
Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite (96)
He is mentioned in Acts 17:19-34. He was a learned Athenian, a member of the Athenian court on Mars Hill (Areos Pagos in Greek, from which the title ‘Areopagite’ comes). At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, he was studying in Egypt and saw the sky darkened there for three hours when Christ breathed His last. He later married and had several children. When St Paul preached in Athens, Dionysius was among the first to believe, and became either the first (according to some) Bishop of Athens, or the second, succeeding St Hierotheos (commemorated tomorrow, October 4). With St Hierotheos he was present at the Dormition of the Mother of God. He received a martyr’s end in his old age, possibly in Athens. Several famous works of mystical theology, including On the Divine Names, Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Mystical Theology, and 10 Letters are attributed to him.
Our Holy Mother Pelagia (461)
“This Saint was a prominent actress of the city of Antioch, and a pagan, who lived a life of unrestrained prodigality and led many to perdition. Instructed and baptized by a certain bishop named Nonnus (November 10), she departed to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, where she lived as a recluse, feigning to be a eunuch called Pelagius. She lived in such holiness and repentance that within three or four years she was deemed worthy to repose in an odour of sanctity, in the middle of the fifth century. Her tomb on the Mount of Olives has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.” (Great Horologion). The Prologue adds that Pelagia had accumulated a large fortune as a courtesan, all of which she gave away to the poor upon her conversion.
Saint Thaïs the Repentant Harlot (4th c.)
She lived in Alexandria, where, when she was seventeen, her own mother placed her in a brothel, where due to her great beauty she was able to amass some wealth. Saint Serapion (March 21), hearing about Thaïs and her way of life, was moved by God to try to convert her. He dressed himself as a soldier, found her, gave her a gold piece, and went with her to her room. When the door was shut, he put aside his tunic, revealing his monastic robe, and asked if he might speak with her. With tears he told her of the doom that awaits sinners, and of the infinite mercy of God, who desires that all should be saved and welcomes every repentant sinner. Thaïs, her heart melted by his words, ran to the public square, burned all the fine clothes and possessions that she had acquired through her trade, and went with Serapion to a women’s monastery. There he instructed her to stay secluded in her cell, beseeching God’s mercy constantly and only eating every other day; she was to do this until she was instructed otherwise. Thaïs lived in this way for three years, with such zeal that she amazed all her monastic sisters. Meanwhile St Serapion went to St Anthony the Great to ask him if God had accepted Thaïs’ repentance. Saint Anthony and his brethren spent a night in prayer and received a vision in which they were assured that Thaïs had been found worthy of God’s mercy. Returning to the monastery, Serapion made the repentant Saint leave her cell, though by now she only wished to spend her life in repentant prayer. After spending only fifteen days in the common life of the monastery, the holy Thaïs reposed in peace.
Righteous John, Wonderworker of Kronstadt (1908).
“Saint John of Kronstadt was a married priest, who lived with his wife in virginity. Through his untiring labours in his priestly duties and love for the poor and sinners, he was granted by our Lord great gifts of clairvoyance and miracle-working, to such a degree that in the last years of his life miracles of healings — both of body and of soul — were performed countless times each day through his prayers, often for people who had only written to him asking his help. During his lifetime he was known throughout Russia, as well as in the Western world. He has left us his diary My Life in Christ as a spiritual treasure for Christians of every age; simple in language, it expounds the deepest mysteries of our Faith with that wisdom which is given only to a heart purified by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Foreseeing as a true prophet the Revolution of 1917, he unsparingly rebuked the growing apostasy among the people; he foretold that the very name of Russia would be changed. As the darkness of unbelief grew thicker, he shone forth as a beacon of unquenchable piety, comforting the faithful through the many miracles that he worked and the fatherly love and simplicity with which he received all. Saint John reposed in peace in 1908.” (Great Horologion)
Orthopraxis – Clergy Etiquette
Why Orthodox Christians Stand for Prayer or Worship
To express the respect of God which is congruent with the worship of Him, Orthodox Christians stand while in worship as though they were in the presence of a king. Traditionally, women stood on in the north side of the church in front of the icon of the Mother of God while the men stood on in the south side of the church in front of the icon of Christ. Now, however, this is rarely done and worshipers simply stand in any open space in the nave facing the altar and praying silently or singing as they stand. In most Orthodox churches, the congregants stand through the entire service with the exception of the elderly, the ill, pregnant women or mothers with babies, who may choose to sit in chairs or on benches in the back or along the sides of the church.
The custom that Orthodox Christians stand during prayer arid church services is not only a representation of spiritual service in the Heavenly Church, but also in the Church of the Old Testament. In the description of the blessing of Solomon’s temple it is said: “The Levites and all the singers, being arrayed in white linen… stood at the east end of the altar” (II Chronicles 5:12); and “All the congregation of Israel stood” (II Chronicles 6:2).
The holy prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, speaking of the services of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, say: “And they set priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, King of Israel” (I Ezra 3:10); “And the Levites stood according to their rank and cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God, and the Levites caused the people to understand the law; and the people stood in their place” (Nehemiah 9:4,5; 8:7; also Matthew 6:5).
To stand during prayer was thus the customary rule among the Jews, as is proven in their writings, in the manner of the Old Testament Church, Orthodox Christians have maintained the same custom, since apostolic times, of standing during divine services. The correctness of such a practice is evident from the Scriptures, the holy fathers, and from the texts of the services themselves, where it is often proclaimed “Let us stand well, let us stand with fear, let us stand upright, let us stand at attention!”
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