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Grace and Salvation

Speaking about every truly good, Christian activity, the Lord Jesus Christ said, "Without Me, you can do nothing." Therefore, when the matter of salvation is being considered, the Orthodox Christian must remember that the beginning of that truly Christian life which saves us, comes only from Christ the Savior, and is given to us in the mystery of baptism.

In his conversation with Nikodemos about how one enters into God's kingdom, our Savior replied, "Amen, amen, I tell you, except one be born again, one cannot see the kingdom of God." Further, He clarified this saying, "except one be born of water and of the Spirit, one cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:34). Baptism is, therefore, that only door through which one can enter into the Church of those being saved (Mk. 16:16).

Baptism washes away the corruption of the ancestral sin, and it washes away the guilt of all sins previously committed by the one being baptized. Nevertheless, the seeds of sin - sinful habits and desires toward sin - remain in one and are overcome by means of life-long moral struggle (man's efforts in cooperation with God's Grace). For, as we already know, God's Kingdom is acquired by effort, and only those who use effort attain it. Other holy mysteries of the Church - repentance, Holy Communion, anointing and various prayers and divine services are moments and means of the consecrating of a Christian. According to the measure of his faith, a Christian receives divine Grace in them, which facilitates his salvation. Without this Grace, according to apostolic teaching, we not only cannot do good, but we cannot even wish to do it (Phil. 2:13).

If, however, the help of God's Grace has such immense significance in the matter of our salvation, then what do our personal efforts mean? Perhaps the entire matter of salvation is done for us by God and we only have to "sit with arms folded" and await God's mercy? In the history of the Church, this question was clearly and decisively settled in the fifth century. A strict and learned monk, Pelagius, began to teach that man is saved by himself - by his own strength, without God's Grace. Developing his idea, he finally reached a point at which, in essence, he began to negate the necessity itself of redemption and salvation in Christ. The teacher Augustine [of Hippo] stepped forth against this teaching, and demonstrated the necessity of the Lord's Grace for salvation. While refuting Pelagius, however, Augustine fell into the opposite extreme. According to his teaching, everything in the matter of salvation is done for man by God's Grace, and man has only to accept this salvation with gratitude.

As usual, the truth is between these two extremes. It was expressed by the fifth century ascetic, Righteous St John Cassian, whose explanation is called synergism (cooperating). According to this teaching, man is saved only in Christ, and God's Grace is the main acting strength in this salvation. Nevertheless, besides the action of God's Grace for salvation, the personal efforts of man himself are also necessary. Man's personal efforts alone are insufficient for his salvation - but they are necessary, for without them, God's Grace will not begin to work out the matter of his salvation.

Thus, man's salvation is worked out simultaneously through the action of God's saving Grace, and through the personal efforts of man himself. According to the profound expression of certain of the Fathers of the Church, God created man without the participation of man himself - but He does not save him without his agreement and desire, for He created him unfettered. Man is free to choose good or evil, salvation or ruin - and God does not impede his freedom, although He constantly summons him to salvation.

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