The Orthodox Christ – By Fr. Maximus Lavriotes

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Church-historians admit that the Orthodox Christ is more than slightly different from the Christ of the mainstream Christian traditions, even that of the so-called “orthodox churches”. He is the all-encompassing Christ, who embraces within His universal Body saints and sinners alike. Church membership never mattered to Him; neither faith, nor lack of such faith in Him ever made a great difference. Not only had He practically proven Himself indiscriminate, by drawing “near unto Him all sinners” (Luk.15:1) and forming out of them His inner-circle and table–companions (Matt. 9:11), but even made Himself known in advance as “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Joh.1:29). And the only sin, which the world in its entirety ceaselessly commits, is divisiveness and separation from Him, which shall be thoroughly taken away when the world shall be inevitably absorbed into Him.

Indeed, the most amazing event in history was that He was born already being the Saviour of the world and was not merely destined to become the saviour of mankind in due course. The Angel’s announcement to the shepherds of Bethlehem leaves no room for doubt: the Good Tidings of Great Joy, that a Saviour is born in the city of David apply “to all people” (Luk.2:10): it is meant neither only for believers, nor just for Christians, nor for particular members of any Church… For the born Saviour has been the Saviour of the world long before His Birth, indeed, before the creation of the universe. He has saved the world before all ages, certainly before creating.

This is what many modern Christians do not want to know. This is what all Churches and denominations find ridiculous, meaningless, even threatening to their very existence. What would be the point of any Church function if indeed, without any church support, He has “finished the work” of mankind’s Salvation given Him “to do” by His Father (Joh.17:4) and that before all ages?

The question they would never ask is; whether someone who has not yet saved anyone and who means to save only a few at the end of time and that only with their collaboration could ever be construed as Saviour of the world. The issue at stake, therefore, is whether medieval and modern Christians have ever believed in Christ as Saviour of the world. Were the angelic Good Tidings to the shepherds of Bethlehem true or false?

Of one accord then, all Christian denominations believe those tidings to be false and – inevitably – persist in their conviction since most churches have anointed themselves saviours of mankind and consequently face Christ as their most dangerous adversary. As Dostoyevsky has succinctly put it, they have modified the Good Tidings to safeguard an influential lifespan for their institutions. Hence, nobody in their membership can any longer be “exceedingly glad” (Mat.5:12) at the angelic message. They all sense that it must be a lie and dread having to admit that it has always been a lie. (Saviours can never be born nor become Saviours before achieving somebody’s salvation). They nonetheless realise, that it has been an utterly necessary lie. Otherwise, nobody would go to church!

This line of thought is a good guide to understanding medieval church history as well as shedding light on the ensuing social developments that occurred throughout Christian centuries. Since the Great Joy of the Good Tidings has been annulled, human life looks grey and the future of humanity seems bleak. The human race is destined to perish, aside from a slim portion of saints, unless we dare to take seriously the early Christian certainty that the world has indeed been saved before all ages, which is to say that the angelic Good Tidings to the shepherds of Bethlehem were definitely true…

Then, we may see rising again like a sun, that universal Great Joy which thoroughly transformed human life in primitive Christian communities; that endless Day of “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1Pet.1:8) which Abraham and all of Christ’s Holy Ancestors “were glad to see” (Joh.8:56). The Great Joy that stems from the Vision of the Glory of God continues shining round about (Luk.2:9) saints and shepherds alike. It thus proves that holiness and innocence constitute the certainty of Salvation, a certainty of which mere mortals are deprived until their eyes see the Salvation, which Christ before all ages had “prepared before the face of all people” (Luk.2:30-31).

No one “in the region and shadow of death” (Mat.4:16) can “rejoice and be exceeding glad” without the certainty of Salvation. Yet, so many people–not necessarily Christians – celebrate Christmas worldwide without any faith in anything, while they lead completely insecure, directionless and unstable lives. The mere fact that they contrive to celebrate Christmas despite their personal precariousness, suggests that Salvation has already been vouchsafed to them. Since they were called to share in the inalienable gift of “being” by a Creator, who, has irrevocably assumed their very human being into His Divine Self, they cannot but end up becoming everlastingly “complete in Him”(Col.2:10)…

Ample evidence convincingly shows that the Eastern Orthodox Fathers’ teaching on salvation is identical with the biblical message, which the angelic Good Tidings suggest: There was no “time” when Christ did not exist or was not yet Saviour. There was no “time” when either the Eternal Saviour or His Eternal Salvation was not. No creature whatsoever can ever save either itself or whatever it cannot create! To create and to save are distinct Divine potencies or energies both of which demonstrate God’s extreme abundance in Goodness. Therefore, the Fathers inferred, Salvation is Eternal without beginning and without end, that is to say, Salvation is an uncreated Energy of God and appears under many names in the Bible, the most characteristic of which is: Kingdom of God.

Indeed, angelic Good Tidings once again, of such paramount significance that it was deemed necessary to be included in the Creed – to the Mother of the Saviour this time on the Day of her Annunciation – attest that Jesus “shall reign for ever and of His Kingdom there shall be no end”. (Luk.1:33).This and many similar biblical utterances have led early Fathers to the formation of a proper definition of Salvation as the state of complete identicalness with the Saviour Himself without involving either His Divine Essence or any creatural mediation.

They have proven this ineffable intimacy to be the ultimate purpose for which Christ has eternally been King and Saviour of all without exception even if His Reign over mankind implies pain and suffering for those who will be inescapably united with Him without deserving it. This makes absolute sense as human failure never became the determining factor of Divine Benevolence. As Great Eastern Theologians such as John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, Isaac the Syrian, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus and Gregory Palamas have explicitly taught, Salvation never ceased being an eternal Divine Initiative. Their view excludes any possibility that by becoming disobedient to God, mankind might either have initiated or caused its own salvation by forcing God to enact, as an emergency plan, His Incarnation. This anthropocentrism has marked Christianity in the West since the middle ages. It lost sight of the fact that Christ was eternally the unmediated Saviour of the world out of utmost love for humanity. His Incarnation was not necessitated by human sin as Scholastic theologians had assumed, for in that case sin and evil would have become the motivating factors of all Divine Activities!

As there is no past, present or future in God but only timeless Kingdom, what He wills, never remains a plan or mere intention; all His decisions are not only eternal and everlasting, but at once constitute eternally actual Reality. Their impact is fully realised even before these decisions materialise in space and time. This explains why Christ had always appeared in the form of man to the Old Testament Patriarchs and Prophets or why He is described in the Bible as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world! That is why Salvation takes precedence over the creation of the world and Adam, Eve, and millions of righteous people have been saved through His Cross and Resurrection, ages before His Incarnation! He never needed messengers to announce all these Good Tidings to everyone. He did reveal all Himself “whenever He willed and to those He willed and as His Father willed” as St. Irenaeus has succinctly indicated commenting on Matt.11:27. His Salvation is not subject to awareness of It in order to be granted. Nothing can cancel His Eternal Will to save all humans, one way or another, as He always wanted(1Tim.2:4).The mere fact that He assumed humanity in order to be eternally united with all human beings, transcends the bleak impact of sin on our inalienably good nature, which is already deified in Him…

The Orthodox Christ can never become the private property of any Church, human society or company. Humans are destined to be possessed of Him but cannot take possession of Him. Thus, He is still at large, elusive and dangerous to all anthropocentric religious systems, yet utterly accessible to all peoples without mediation. This is the reason why the Good Tidings to the shepherds of Bethlehem continue being proven correct for all human generations; even more so, they never ceased generating the very same Great Joy to All People down the centuries.

Maximus Lavriotes
Peterhouse
University of Cambridge.