Question: “If the Orthodox faith is the only true faith, can Christians of other confessions be saved? May a person who has led a righteous life on earth be saved, while not being a Christian?”
Answer: “For He said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that struggles, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15–16). In the Orthodox Church we have the most direct and complete path of salvation indicated to us, and we are given the means by which a person may be purified and have a direct promise of salvation. In this sense St. Cyprian of Carthage says, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” The Apostle Peter writes exclusively to Christians saying: “According as His divine power He has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that has called us to glory and virtue. Whereby are given unto us exceedingly great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:3).
And what should one say of those outside the Church, who do not belong to Her? Another apostle provides us with an idea: “For what have I to do with judging them that are without? You judge them that are within? But them that are without, God judges” (1 Cor. 5:12–13), having “mercy on whom He will have mercy” (Rom 9:18). The question, “Can the non-Orthodox, i.e. those who do not belong to Orthodoxy — the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — be saved?” has become particularly painful and acute in our days. In attempting to answer this question, it is necessary, first of all, to recall that in His Gospel the Lord Jesus Christ Himself mentions but one state of the human soul that unfailingly leads to perdition — i.e. blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:1–32). The Holy Spirit is, above all, the Spirit of Truth, as the Savior loved to refer to Him. Accordingly, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is blasphemy against the Truth, conscious and persistent opposition to it. The same text makes it clear that even blasphemy against the Son of Man — i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God Himself, may be forgiven, as it may be uttered in error or in ignorance, and subsequently may be covered by conversion and repentance. (An example of such a converted and repentant blasphemer is the Apostle Paul. See Acts 26:11 and 1 Tim. 1:13.) If, however, a man opposes the Truth which he clearly apprehends by his reason and conscience, he becomes blind and commits spiritual suicide, for he thereby likens himself to the devil, who believes in God and dreads Him, yet hates, blasphemes, and opposes Him.
Thus, man's refusal to accept the Divine Truth and his opposition to it makes him a son of condemnation. Accordingly, in sending His disciples to preach, the Lord told them: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16), for the latter heard the Lord's Truth and was called upon to accept it, yet refused, thereby inheriting the condemnation of those who “believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:12).
The Holy Orthodox Church is the repository of the divinely revealed Truth in all its fullness and fidelity to apostolic Tradition. Hence, he who leaves the Church, who intentionally and consciously falls away from it, joins the ranks of its opponents and becomes a renegade as regards apostolic Tradition. The Church dreadfully anathematized such renegades, in accordance with the words of the Savior Himself (Matt. 18:17) and of the Apostle Paul (Gal. 1:8–9), threatening them with eternal condemnation and calling them to return to the Orthodox fold.
It is self-evident, however, that sincere Christians who are Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or members of other non-Orthodox confessions, cannot be termed renegades or heretics—i.e. those who knowingly pervert the truth. The Greek word for “heresy” is derived from the word for “choice” and inherently implies conscious, willful rejection or opposition to the Divine Truth manifest in the Orthodox Church. They have been born and raised and are living according to the creed which they have inherited, just as do the majority of you who are Orthodox. In their lives there has not been a moment of personal and conscious renunciation of Orthodoxy. The Lord, “who desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) and “who enlightens every man born into the world” (Jn. 1.43), undoubtedly is leading them also towards salvation in His own way.
An inquirer once asked St. Theophan the Recluse if the non- Orthodox would be saved. The blessed one replied, “You ask, will the non-Orthodox be saved? Why do you worry about them? They have a Savior who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins.”
By Metropolitan Philaret (+1985)
Other Quotes To Ponder:
St. Theophan the Recluse: "Why do you worry about them? They have a Savior, Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your sins.... I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox, and possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy and enter a different faith, you will lose your soul forever."
Elder Nektary of Optina: One of Elder Nektary's spiritual children then inquired: "But what about the millions of Chinese, Indians, Turks and other non-Christians?" The elder replied:
"God desires not only that the nations be saved, but each individual soul. A simpl...e Indian, believing in his own way in the Creator and fulfilling His will as best he can, will be saved; but he who, knowing about Christianity, follows the Indian mystical path, will not." [Ivan Kontzevitch, Elder Nektary of Optina, p. 181].
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