What is the aim of life (death)? For Orthodox Christians it is salvation and eternal life with God. How are we saved? Paul tells us we are justified in Christ through our faith (Gal 2:16). But what is faith? Faith is our surrender to the truth of the Gospel and TheTradition of His Church. Faith is not some general belief in God, but specifically total acceptance of the life, death and resurrection and teachings of Christ as recorded in the Scriptures. Our Faith implies a way of life following the teachings of Christ. Faith means we accept the Gospel and Epistle writings and do it! It is not enough to be good citizens, we must also have faith – complete and total faith in the Word of God. At the Final Judgment our lives will be examined and we will be saved through the grace of God. The Church provides us with the structure and guidelines to live our faith.
A holy person recently told me that there will be few in this society who will be saved. That should be scary, it made me think. It challenged me to wake up. I found that it was important to recognize that our current day culture is based on as set of assumption or values that differ from our Orthodox Christian faith. An Orthodox Christian stands as a stranger in today’s culture. An Orthodox way of life has a worldview that is quite different from the dominate culture we live in and have been conformed to accept.
What is a world view? To make sense out of all the sensual data we receive at any time, our mind relies on assumptions to simplify all the inputs we receive through our senses. This is how we can make sense of what we experience and act. It is these often hidden assumptions that make up our world view. One person may have the assumption, “If I do good, I will be saved.” Another may assume, “To be saved, I must first have faith and follow the teachings of the Bible as commandments from God and work to perfect myself though repentance and by partaking regularly in the sacraments of the Church to become a holy person and then by God’s grace I can be saved.” This is the Orthodox view. As another example, one may not firmly believe that God created the world and believe that truth is only determined by scientific evidence. Alternatively, the Orthodox assumes without question that God created all we know, provides all we have, He is “Our Father,” and that Truth is revealed to us by Him and is made known to us through the Scriptures as interpreted by the Church which is the body of Christ on earth headed by Christ Himself. With just a few differing assumptions we can interpret what is good and bad in quite different ways leading to different actions based on the same reality. It goes without saying that people with differing world views have a difficult time communicating on issues that matter for salvation. Even the idea of salvation may not be in their worldview. How many actually put God at the center of everything they do?
In an Orthodox world view, we accept without question, based on faith, that God is our Creator and Lord. Through the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles we have documented for us the example of God Himself in human flesh, His actions and teachings, showing us the path to salvation.
We must accept that our Orthodox worldview puts us at odds with our current society. As we act out of our Orthodox world view, others will not understand our actions and we will be seen as a bit weird, out of step, not with it, or old fashioned. We can expect to be ridiculed and ignored. And when we try and explain our actions, we should not expect to be understood, because our reasons will not make sense in their worldview. It is only by exposing their underlying assumptions that we can ever hope to explain. We must remember these assumptions are generally hidden. Salvation requires that we have a firm understanding of the basis our Orthodox way of life.
In today’s culture it is generally accepted that truth is relative. Many believe that what is the truth for one person may be different than that of another, and it is accepted that both are equally valid. One thing that is not tolerated in this view is someone who thinks they have the absolute Truth. But, we Orthodox know through faith that there is but one Truth. Therefore we can expect that our worldview will not be welcomed in general, and that others will work to undermine it. We can expect to shunned and persecuted, just as the early Christians were persecuted in the Roman pagan times. Even though we act out of love to our neighbors as we are commanded, we will still be rejected and ridiculed for our practices. Because of this it is important to be careful about who we choose to spend our time with. It is important to follow the practices of our faith, which are there to support us on a path to salvation. We must regularly read Scripture, attend worship services, pray daily and throughout the day, participate regularly in the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion and follow the fasting guidelines. These activities are all intended to help us. They are not the end we seek but the means to prepare ourselves to enter the Kingdom of God. It is important for us to constantly work to purify our hearts and to cultivate our inner strength so we can carry out the Boss’s commandment to love others. Christ is there always to help us along the path of salvation, and He has infinite compassion for all of mankind.