From a transcribed interview between Fr. Thomas Hopko and host Kevin Allen from The Illumined Heart podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, 30 September 2007:
Fr. Thomas Hopko: “But let’s make another scenario. Suppose you have a friend who has never been baptized, and he says, “Please baptize me.” And you say, “Okay, I’m going to run and get some water.” While you are gone the guy dies. Is it too late? Does he go to hell? Some people would say, “Yes, God arranged for him never to get baptized so he could send him to hell because he is among the damned.” That would not be the Orthodox teaching.
“St. Gregory the Theologian said a long time ago that desire would count before God as the baptism, itself. He spoke about the baptism of desire, the baptism of fire. In other words, God is not an ogre, and He is not a machine, pagan-type God, saying, “Not baptized; go to hell.” You could be baptized, chrismated, and serve the Divine Liturgy and go to hell. John Chrysostom said hell would probably be filled with guys wearing porphyria [purple], the stole—pastors.
“So let’s be more serious about our God, but let’s be more serious, also, about the reality of our struggle, and our salvation. You just can’t say, “I believe in Jesus; I’ll go to heaven.” That’s just plain stupid. Devils believe. You have to believe, you have to prove it, you have to be delivered from the evil one, you have to accept forgiveness. You have to fall and get up again. And then you have to make it through death. And the death has to be a martyria. It has to be a witness to the victory of Christ. And in the process of dying, it is no picnic. Every demon in hell is out to get your soul, … .”
Kevin Allen: “Again, I am still struggling with one thing you just said about the baptism of desire. Are we getting then, a little too close for comfort with those who want to reduce everything to faith alone, faith alone, faith alone, faith alone?”
Fr. Thomas: “I would say, and forgive me for saying this, but, faith is great, except it isn’t alone. How can a person say, “I have faith in God, but I’m going to stick with my demon of sodomy” or “I’m going to stick with my demon of greed, but I believe in Jesus. Oh yeah, he saved me, he died on the cross for me”? That’s just blasphemy.
“So faith is not alone. But I would say, if a person wanted to speak that way, I would say, okay, say faith alone, as long as you admit that real faith is proven by what a person does, and as long as you agree that, according to Scripture, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Prophets, the New Testament writings, the Apocalypse, all say that we are going to answer on the day of judgment, kata ta erga, according to our works. Not according to what we claimed.
“And even our works won’t save us, if they are not done for the love of God and the love of the neighbor. Jesus said that in the Sermon on the Mount. He said that on the Day of Judgment, many will come to him and say, “We cast out demons in your name, we prophesied in your name, we did miracles in your name (we talked on the radio in your name),” and he will say, “I never knew you, depart from me, you evil-doer.” “
Kevin Allen: “Ouch.”
Fr. Thomas: “Yeah, sure, because why? Because we are doing it out of vanity, we are doing it out of pride, we are doing it out of judging people whether they are baptized or not baptized. We are getting involved in all kinds of stuff that is not our business, and we are not loving God with all our mind, soul, heart and strength, and loving our neighbor, including our worst enemy, as ourselves, and being ready to die for them any moment, and to pray for them until our last breath. If that kind of love is not in us, we are not going to be saved. Period. That is the teaching of Scripture.”
Kevin Allen: “But that’s a scary thing.”
Fr. Thomas: “Well, Scripture is terrifying. I mean, Scripture is terrifying.”
Kevin Allen: (laughter) “Nobody wants to read it anymore, huh?”
Fr. Thomas: “Well, you can say that again. I can give a plain sermon on the New Testament and people will say, “Man, you’re tough, Father.” I say to them, “I’m not tough, I’m just reading the New Testament. I’m just reading what is said there.”
“And on this issue, two things are clearly said. You cannot have faith and love without showing it in actual deeds. But it is also said that deeds may be done, even in the name of Jesus, without real love for God. So either one of those will not save you. You have to have both, together. In other words, Jesus said, “I was hungry, you gave me food, I was thirsty, you gave me drink.” You actually have to do those acts.
“In the first letter of John, the apostle says, “Let us not love in word only, but let it be in deed and in truth, erga and alētheia. It has to be done in truth, in reality, and in actual act. Erga means work, act, or deed.
So, on the one hand, a person cannot say, “I love God, I believe in God,” but they never help the poor, they never do anything for anybody. On the other hand, a person can say, “I gave my body to be burned and I worked miracles in Christ’s name.” And the Lord may also say, “Yes, you did it, but you didn’t really love. It wasn’t really done from love. It was done out of vanity and pride.” “