Tonight I attended the discussion with Metropolitan Kallistos I mentioned earlier, titled “My Lord and My God: Personal Faith in Christ, the Savior.” There were roughly five hundred people in attendance. Below I expand my notes as far as my memory will allow, in order to share what His Eminence shared with us this evening. If recordings or a transcript are made available of these, I’ll post about them. In the meantime, these will give you at least an outline of his talk. Please note that the “I” in the below notes represents Metropolitan Kallistos, not myself. We begin.
The title of this talk is “My Lord and My God: Personal Faith in Christ, the Savior.” That “My Lord and my God” is a quotation of St Thomas the Apostle [John 20.28], his words of recognition and acclamation at recognizing the risen Christ. Though he is often referred to as “Doubting Thomas” it would be better to refer to him as “Believing Thomas” for he travelled from doubt to belief. Note the very personal nature of this acclamation: my Lord, and my God. This personal relation is something for all of us. It is not just that some time ago, as an historical even, Christ was born, was crucified, and died, but that Christ is born for me, was crucified for me, died for me.
There was an old fairy tale in which there were three questions asked, and the answers required: “What is the most important moment?”—Now. “Who is the most important person?”—The one before you. “What is the most important task?”—What I am now doing. Tonight’s questions are simply: Who? How? Why? The answers follow.
Who is Christ? In 112 AD, in Bithynia, the governor there, Pliny the Younger, wrote to his friend the Emperor Trajan to learn more about some people he’d run across, the Christians. He’d found out that they were not what he had thought, but actually rather respectable. The rumours of their indulgence and cannibalistic feasts were untrue. He noted one thing in particular: “On a fixed day [Sunday] it is their habit to sing by turns [antiphonally] hymns to Christ as God.” Christ is God, in the belief of these early Christians, attested to by this Roman governor so long ago. A little earlier, in 107, Ignatius of Antioch, in one of his letters [Trallians 9.1-2], referred to Christ as “truly born . . . truly persecuted . . . truly crucified and died . . . truly raised from the dead.” There is no deceit involved—all of it is real. He was God, but fully human as well, with a genuine human body subject to hunger and pain, and a genuine human soul subject to loneliness and anguish, as we see in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26.36-45; Mark 14.32-41; Luke 22.39-46]. In Hebrews [4.15] we learn “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Christ is totally committed to solidarity with us, in both life and death, and rising in that same human body. He is theanthropos, and Immanuel, the Divine Man, and God With Us, both Creator and brother. Dietrich Bonhöffer said, “Christ is the beyond in our midst.” This is summed up in the refrain of the Christmas kontakion: “A newborn child: God before the ages.” There is a double completeness in Him: He is both totally one with the Father, and totally one with us. He is yet one single person, though with two natures. As in our Creed, He is “true God of true God . . . through Whom all things were made.” From Paul we learn in Philippians [2.7] that He “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, born in the likeness of men.” Ephrem says it well, as poets are often better able to convey truth: Christ is “the Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept, the Pure One who was baptized, the King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.” So, this is the answer to “Who is Christ?”
How? The Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle once returned home from church with a complaint about the lengthy sermons he had to endure. To his mother, he said that were he the pastor, his sermon would always be short and the same: “Good people, you know what you ought to do. Now go do it!” His mother replied, “Yes, but would you tell them how?” How is Christ both God and Man? Christ incarnate is a mystery. This is the only kind of God in which I can believe: a God who loves me so much that he would become human, with all that entails. Any other kind of God seems irrelevant—I’d rather be an atheist. Christ our God, the Theanthropos, the Divine Man, or nothing, “Who for us men and our salvation . . . became man.” Christ is above all the Savior. In the writings of the Apostles and the Fathers, we see five models of salvation: 1.) Teacher: this is a salvation of illumination. This is only part of the truth, for it leaves out sin. 2.) Sacrifice: the Paschal victim. First Corinthians 5.7: “Christ our Passover lamb is sacrificed for us.” John 1.29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The problem with this is how to make it come alive for modern people. It must also be understood as a voluntary presentation toward sacrifice. 3.) Substitution. Christ our ransom is our antipsychon, who gives His life for another. Salvation as ransom shows it as him paying something we couldn’t. Mark 10.45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Second Corinthians 5.21: “For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Galatians 3.13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” The danger in this is to make salvation seem too external, done outside of us, over our heads. What Christ did was not just for us or instead of us, but in us. Salvation seen as Sacrifice and Substitution can, taken to extremes, separate the Cross and the Resurrection, which more properly are one, part of a spectrum rather than separate. 4.) Victory. “Christ is risen from the dead, through death trampling death, and bestowing upon those in the tombs the gift of life.” The Cross is the making of that victory, his resurrection is the manifestation of it: a victory showing that love is more powerful than hate. 5.) Jacob’s ladder. John 1.51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (These five are not alternatives. It’s rather all/and than either/or.) Second Corinthians 8.9: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” This is about sharing and exchange. Christ takes our humanness, our brokenness into himself and makes us share in the Divine nature. Second Peter 1.4: “Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.” Why did God become man? 1.) Only God can save. A prophet cannot save the world. A man’s death is only his own. 2.) Divine salvation has to reach the point of human need. As Gregory Nazianzen said: “The unassumed is unhealed.” Christ saves and heals us by taking up our nature, by becoming what we are. If Christ were not true God, he could not save us. If he were not truly human, his act of salvation would not be accessible to me. Irenaeus said, “He in his unbounded love became what we are so as to make us what he is.” And Athanasius said, even more succinctly, “He became man that we might become God.” He was incarnate so that we might be in God. Something that is in each and ties together all the five models of salvation: Love. John 3.16: “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.” God became man because he is a God of love. John 13.1: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” That “end” is telos, to the utter completion.
A woman on a train once asked me, “Are you saved?” I thought of the possible answers. To have said, “Yes, thank you very much” is too much, for even Paul was not so confident, as we learn from First Corinthians 9.7: “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” If I said, “No,” the lady may have asked, “Then why are you dressed as a clergyman.” I thought of Paul who said that Christ in you is the hope of glory. My answer was, “I trust that by God’s grace, I’m being saved.” It’s an ongoing process, continuing to the end, by God’s grace.
[Regarding all the models of salvation above, His Grace then told a humorous anecdote about his first trip to the United States some fifty years ago, on the Cunard Line ship Queen Elizabeth. He, a starving student, was pleased to find that the variety in the menu on the trip was not limited to a number of items one might have per meal. One could have all of it, and he certainly tried to, at every meal, striding along the decks in order to work up a healthy appetite. So his recommendation for understanding salvation, with all those models above and then some: “On the subject of salvation, I recommend the practice of the Cunard menu.”]
There were then several questions:
Question 1: Could you expand on the concept of ransom from the wrath of God?
Answer 1: God is a God of love. What then is meant by his wrath? It’s nothing other than his love. Acceptance of his love brings enormous joy. Rejecting it results in suffering. We inflict suffering on ourselves. Isaac the Syrian said, “Even in hell, people there are not cut off from the love of God, which is everywhere, inexhaustible, unchangeable.” They, by their rejection of it, suffer. Their scourges are the scourges of love. The suffering which we experience in refusing and rejecting love is the most bitter, as perhaps we know from our own lives, our own friends. God is always love, but what is a source of joy to the saints who accept and respond to it is also a source of suffering to those who reject and refuse it. As C. S. Lewis said, “The doors to hell are locked from the inside.” Salvation means freedom, for a life in sin is a life in slavery. “To whom is the ransom paid?” is a question never asked in the New Testament, much less answered. If answered, “God the Father,” this separates Father and Son. Paul’s “God in Christ” is against this, among other things. To answer, “the devil,” brings up many problems. It is better to say that the ransom is freedom.
Question 2: Please say something on personal prayers.
Answer 2: We should pray, as is the ancient tradition, morning and evening. We should neither begin the day without prayer nor end it without prayer. Throughout the day we should have many moments of recollection of Jesus. Use of the Jesus Prayer [“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”] is recommended throughout the day, when walking from one place to another, waiting for the bus, whenever a moment arises. As Paul said, “Pray without ceasing” [First Thessalonians 5.17]. Also, use what the Desert Fathers called “arrow prayers,” short, directed prayers fired into heaven like arrows.
Question 3: On Salvation versus Justification.
Answer 3: We Orthodox don’t often use the word “justification.” It’s used especially in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I would understand justification rather in the sense it bears later in Romans, in chapter 6. As Paul says [Galatians 3.27], we have “put on Christ,” uniting with him. Justification is union, not Christ for us, but Christ in us. Salvation is not a single moment of event, but our life, a health grown into. Not, “I am saved,” but “I am being saved.” Not an event, but a movement. There is no sharp distinction between salvation and sanctification. The Fathers use the word theosis, deification or divinization, which refers to being filled with Divine grace. As Athanasius said, “Christ became man that we might become God.” Not God in essence, as in more members of the Trinity, but sharing in the Divine Life.
Question 4: How do you wrestle with Christ as victor, and how not all are saved?
Answer 4: To be answered tomorrow!