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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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The general economy of salvation
A. The condition of the world before the coming of the Saviour.
In the prophetic books of the Old Testament, and in particular in the psalms of David, the
chosen Hebrew people, as the representative of all mankind, is presented as “the planting of
God,” as the vineyard of God (see Isaiah 5:7, 61:3). The image of a garden, having the same
meaning, is given also in the Gospel. A vineyard or garden must bear fruits. Preserving and
guarding His planting, the Lord expects fruits from it. But what should be done with a fruit garden
when it bears no fruits, and, what is more, is infected with a disease? Should it be looked after
if it does not justify its purpose?
“The axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth
good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3:10). Thus did St. John the Forerunner
warn and accuse the people before the coming of the Lord.
The Lord speaks of the same thing, and gives to His disciples the parable of the fig tree.
“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit
thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, there
three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none; cut it down; why cumbereth
it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till l
shall dig about it, and dung it. And if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou
shalt cut it down” (Luke 13:6-9).
Like this fig tree, the human race was fruitless. Once already it had been exterminated by the
flood. Now it would have been doomed — it would have doomed itself — to the loss of eternal
life, to the general loss of the Kingdom of God, because it had lost all value as not having fulfilled
its purpose and as drowning in evil.
“Hath not the potter power over the clay? . . . What if God, willing to show His wrath,
and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted
unto destruction, that He might make known the richer of His glory on the vessels of
mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?” (Rom. 9:21).
Mankind, in the person of its best representatives, acknowledged its unfulfilled debt, the heavy
debt of numerous preceding generations and of its own age. It was a debtor unable to pay. This
feeling of guilt in its purest form was present in the Jewish people. Mankind tried to erase its sins
by means of sacrifices, which expressed the giving over to God of the best part of what was in
man’s possession, in the possession of his family, as a gift to God But these sacrifices were not
capable of morally regenerating men.
Let us quote here the words of the holy righteous Fr. John of Kronstadt, from his sermon on
the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord: “Let us enter into the meaning of the mystery
of the Cross . . . The world, that is, the human race, would have been given over to eternal death,
to eternal torments, according to the unchanging, most strict justice of God, if the Son of God
had not become, out of His limitless goodness, a voluntary Intermediary and Redeemer of mankind,
which was criminal, defiled and corrupted by sin. For, by the deception of the serpent, themurderer of men, it was cast down into a frightful abyss of lawlessness and perdition . . . However,
so that men might be capable of this reconciliation and redemption from above, it was necessary
for the Son of God to descend into the world, to take upon Himself a human soul and
body, and become the God-Man, in order that in His own Person, in His human nature, He might
fulfill all the righteousness of God which had been brazenly violated by all manner of human unrighteousness;
in order that He might fulfill the whole law of God, even to the least iota, and become
the greatest of righteous men for the whole of unrighteous mankind, and teach mankind
righteousness with repentance for all its unrighteousness and show forth the fruits of repentance.
This He fulfilled, not being guilty of a single sin, and was the only perfect man, in hypostatical
union with the Divinity” (Sermon on the Feast of the Exaltation: “The Meaning of the Mystery of
B. The salvation of the world in Christ.
How was the general justification of human existence accomplished, and in what did it consist?
It was accomplished by the Incarnation of God, together with all the further events in the
life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The light of Sanctity shone forth upon the earth. In the person of the
Immaculate, Most Pure Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, all mankind was sanctified. By the
steps of the Saviour, by His baptism in the Jordan, by His life on earth, the very nature of the
earth was sanctified. The Gospel teaching and the deeds of mercy of Jesus Christ kind led love
and faith in the hearts of the disciples of Christ, to such an extent that they “left everything” and
followed after Him. And, above all this, in His voluntary death on the Cross, there is a manifestation,
“surpassing the understanding,” of the heights of the love of Christ, concerning which the
Apostle Paul reasons thus:
“The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For
scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would
even dare to die. But God commendeth His own love towards us, in that, while we were
yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:5-8).
And the Apostle concludes his thought with this: By this means was accomplished the fact that
“when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10); “by
the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Rom. 5:18).
This is why the Apostle Paul in his Divinely-inspired writings so often joins together, as if identifying
them, even using them interchangeably, the words “we are saved by the love of Christ”
with the words “we are saved by the Cross, or by the death, or by the righteousness of Christ,”
since in all of this there is expressed the active, merciful, compassionate, man-loving
self-sacrificing sacrificial love of God.
1. This general economy of the salvation of the world is presented in the Sacred Scripture of
the New Testament in various words similar in significance, as for example: justification, reconciliation,
redemption, propitiation, forgiveness, deliverance.
Here are some texts relating to this general economy:
“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
“And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the
whole world” (1 John 2:2).“Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but
unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15).
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who
gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
“Trust in the living God, Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe” (1
2. In addition to the broad significance of the salvation of the world here indicated, the death
of Christ and His subsequent descent into hades (1 Peter 3:19-20, 4:6; Eph. 4:8-10) signify in a
narrower sense the deliverance from hades of the souls of the reposed first ancestors, prophets,
and righteous ones of the pre Christian world; and thus they express the special significance of
the Cross of the Lord for the Old Testament world, a significance which comes from the death of
Christ accomplished upon it: “for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first
testament” (Heb. 9:15). In accordance with this, our Orthodox hymns for Sunday also sing of the
mystical truth of the victory over hades and the deliverance of souls from it: “Today Adam
dances for joy and Eve rejoices, and with them the prophets and Patriarchs unceasingly sing of
the divine triumph of Thy power” (Sunday Kontakion, Tone Three).
3. The deliverance from hades testifies also to the lifting of the curses which were placed in
the Old Testament: a) the curses in the third chapter of the book of Genesis, which were joined to
the deprivation of life in Paradise of Adam and Eve and their descendants; and then b) the curses
placed by Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy (ch. 28), for the stubborn non fulfillment of the
laws given through him.
The personal rebirth and new life in Christ.
The transition from the idea of the general economy of God to the call for the personal salvation
of men is clearly expressed in the following words of Apostle Paul: “God was in Christ,
reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed
unto us the word of reconciliation . . . We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2
The personal salvation of man is expressed in Sacred Scripture usually in the same terminology,
in the same words, as is the salvation of the world in the broad sense of the word “justification,”
“redemption,” “reconciliation”), as we see in the text we have cited above. Only the
words are applied here in a narrower significance. Here the Apostles already have in mind men
who have come to believe in Christ and have received Holy Baptism. The common phrases used
to express both kinds of salvation may be seen in the following examples:
“Christ according to His mercy saved us, by the washing of regeneration (in baptism),
and renewing of the Holy Spirit... that being justified by His grace, we might be made heirs according
to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).
“Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption”
(that is to say, the day of baptism and the receiving of the seal of the Holy Spirit) (Eph. 4:30).
But the chief place among all such expressions with relation to Christians is the conception
of “resurrection in Christ.” The mystery of baptism is a personal resurrection in Christ: “Ye are
risen with Him” (Col. 2:12).The Apostle Peter writes in his First Catholic Epistle: “Baptism doth also now save us... by
the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). The very preaching of the Apostle is, in its essence,
the preaching of the Resurrection of Christ.
Baptism by water is called in the Apostolic Scriptures likewise a “new birth, adoption,
sanctification. But ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus”
(1 Cor. 6:11). “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal.
From this it is clear that in the mystery of redemption the Cross and Resurrection of the
Lord are inseparable. In the consciousness of the Church this truth is expressed in full measure in
the Paschal hymns, which confess the power of the Resurrection of Christ not only for the personal
salvation of the Christian, but also in the final, complete justification of the world: “Passover
of incorruption, salvation of the world” (Exapostilarion of Pascha). By the Cross has been
accomplished the cleansing of the sins of the world, the reconciliation with God; by the Resurrection
new life has been brought into the world.
The word “redemption” in the usage of the Apostles.
The totality of the consequences of the Cross and Resurrection are usually expressed by the
Apostles, and therefore in theological terminology also, by the single concept of “redemption,”
which literally signifies a “ransom,” an offering of payment. This conception is sufficiently vivid
and lively that it has been accessible to the understanding of people even of the lowest rank of
society. But this vividness in itself has inspired attempts to ask further questions which do not
relate to the essence of salvation, inasmuch as this term has only a symbolical, allegorical significance.
Therefore, St. Gregory the Theologian puts off these further questions and establishes the
essence of the present expression in the following reflection:
“To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the
precious and famous Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice. We were detained
in bondage by the evil one, sold under sin, and received pleasure in exchange for wickedness.
Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was
this offered and for what cause? If to the evil one, fie upon the outrage! The robber receives
ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has
such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been
right for him to have left us alone altogether. But I ask first, how? For it was not by Him
that we were being oppressed; and next, on what principle did the Blood of His
Only-Begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Issac, when he was
being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the
human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him
nor demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and because humanity must be
sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the
tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the
honor of the Father, Whom it is manifest that he obeys in all things?” (St. Gregory the
Theologian, Second Oration on Pascha; English translation in Eerdman Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 7, p. 431).In this theological reflection of St. Gregory the Theologian, the idea which appears in the First
Catholic Epistle of the Apostle Peter is given complete expression: “Ye were not redeemed with
vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ,
as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, who verily was foreordained before the foundation
of the world” (1 Peter 1:18-20).
For a theological definition of the concept of “redemption,” a philological examination of
the Greek words which correspond to this concept has great importance.
In the Greek text of the New Testament Scriptures, this concept is expressed by two words,
and each of them has a significant shade of meaning. The first of them lytro-o, means “to buy
off,” “ransom.” In those times the world knew three forms of ransoming people, namely (according
to Greek dictionaries), 1) ransoming from captivity, 2) ransoming from prison, for example,
for debts, 3) ransoming from slavery. In the Christian meaning, the Apostles use this term to express
the moment in the accomplishment of our salvation that is joined to the Cross of Christ,
that is, the deliverance from the sinful world, from the power of the devil, the liberation from the
curses, the liberation of the righteous from the bonds of hades. These are the same three forms of
“ransoming:” ransoming from the captivity of sin, ransoming from hades, ransoming from slavery
to the devil.
The second verb, agorazo, signifies “to buy for oneself,” “to buy at the marketplace” (agora
means “marketplace”). The image utilized in this term refers only to believers, to Christians.
Here it has an especially rich significance. This verb is encountered three times in the writings of
the Apostles, namely:
“What! Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which
ye have of God, and ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Cor. 7:23).
The hymn in heaven to the Lamb: “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy
blood” (Apoc. 5:9).
In all three places this verb signifies that Christ has acquired us for Himself so that we might
belong to Him entirely, as bought slaves belong to their Master. It remains for us to reflect upon
the depth of this image, which was placed in the word by the Apostles themselves.
On the one hand, the name “slaves” of Christ signifies a complete, unconditional giving
over of oneself into obedience to Him Who has redeemed us all. Such precisely did the Apostles
feel themselves to be. It is sufficient to read the first verses of a number of the Epistles of the
Apostles. In the first words they call themselves the slaves (or servants) of Christ: “Simon Peter,
a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter); “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and
brother of James” (Jude); “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle” (Romans);
“Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ” (Philipians). Such a self-awareness should be
present, according to the teaching of the Apostles, in all believers. The Holy Church in precisely
the same way at all times has called and does call the members of the Church in the language of
the Divine Services, “slaves (servants) of God.”
But there is another side. The Saviour addresses His disciples in His farewell conversation
with them: “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14); and in the
same place He calls them “My children” (John 13:33); “as the Father hath loved Me, so have I
loved you” (John 15:9). And the Apostles teach: “Ye have received the spirit of adoption” (Rom.
8:15); “We are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs withChrist” (Rom. 8:16-17). And the Holy Apostle John, he who lay upon the breast of Christ, cries
out in inspiration: “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we
shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as
He is” (1 John 3:2).
He Who sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of the One (God); therefore Christ
calls those who have been sanctified His brothers. Most important, He is the “captain of our salvation”
(Heb. 2:10); He is the High Priest of the New Testament. “Wherefore in all things it behooved
Him to be made like unto His brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful
High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in
that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted” (Heb.
2:17-18). Of Him we ask forgiveness of our sins; for the Heavenly Father does not judge anyone,
but has given judgment over entirely to the Son, that all might worship the Son as they worship
the Father. The Son Himself proclaimed before His Ascension: “All power is given unto Me in
heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). This is why almost all our prayers-whether for ourselves, for
our fathers and brethren, for the living and the dead — we offer to the Son of God. We are in the
house of God, we are the house of Christ. Therefore for us it is easy, joyful, and saving to have
communion with all the heavenly members of this house: with the Most Holy Theotokos, with
the Apostles, the Prophets, the Martyrs, the Hierarchs, and the monastic Saints — a single church
of heaven and earth! It is for this that we have been bought by Christ.
So great are the consequences of the Sacrifice of Christ which was offered on the Cross and
signed by the Resurrection of Christ! This is the meaning of the new song before the Lamb at His
throne, which was given in the Apocalypse to the Apostle John the Theologian: “Thou wast
slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood” (Apoc. 5:9). We have been purchased for
Therefore, let not the sorrowful spiritual condition of the world which we observe confuse
us. We know that the salvation of the children of the Church, the slaves of Christ, is being accomplished.
And the salvation of the world, in the broad, eschatological meaning of the word,
has already been accomplished. But, as the Apostle Paul instructs us, “We are saved by hope; but
hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for
that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8:24-25). The spiritual forces in the
world may be hidden, but they are not extinguished. The heavenly-earthly body of the Church of
Christ grows and draws the world near to the mystical day of the triumphant and glorious open
manifestation of the Son of Man, the Son of God, when, after the great and righteous General
Judgment, the renewal and transfiguration of the world will be revealed, and He Who sits on the
throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new” (Apoc. 21:5). And there will be a new heaven
and a new earth. Amen.
A note on the Roman Catholic teaching.
The interpretation of the truth of the Redemption was greatly complicated thanks to the direction
which was given to it in the Western theology of the Middle Ages. The figurative expressions
of the Apostles were accepted in medieval Roman Catholic theology in their literal and
overly-narrow sense, and the work of redemption was interpreted as a “satisfaction” — more precisely,
a satisfaction for offending God, and even more precisely, “the satisfaction of God (God
in the Holy Trinity) for the offense caused to Him by the sin of Adam.” It is easy to see that the
foundation of such a view is the special Latin teaching on original sin: that man in the transgres-sion of Adam “infinitely offended” God and evoked God’s wrath; therefore, it was required that
God be offered complete satisfaction in order that the guilt might be removed and God might be
appeased; this was done by the Saviour when He accepted death on the Cross: the Saviour offered
an infinitely complete satisfaction.
This one-sided interpretation of Redemption became the reigning one in Latin theology and
it has remained so up to the present time. In Protestantism it evoked the opposite reaction, which
led in the later sects to the almost complete denial of the dogma of Redemption and to the acknowledgement
of no more than a moral or instructive significance for Christ’s life and His death
on the Cross.
The term “satisfaction” has been used in Russian Orthodox theology, but in a changed form:
“the satisfaction of God’s righteousness.” The expression “to satisfy the righteousness of God,”
one must acknowledge, is not entirely foreign to the New Testament, as may be seen from the
words of the Saviour Himself. “Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). An
expression which is close in meaning to the present term, but which is more complete and is authentically
Biblical, and gives a basis for the Orthodox understanding of the work of Redemption,
is the word “propitiation,” which we read in the First Epistle of John: “Herein is love, not
that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1
John 4:10;. “Propitiation” is a direct translation of the Greek word ilasmos. The same use of the
word is to be found in 1 John 2:2, and in St. Paul's epistle to the Hebrews 2:17, where it is translated
as “reconciliation” in the King James Version).