Salvation outside the Church?

Quite often in debates on Christianity, we hear the argument regarding whether or not there is salvation outside the Church. For the apostolic Christian, those holding the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, the debater means precisely those Churches. He is then villified by heterodox Christians, secularists, and those adhering to other beliefs for holding that stance, especially in today’s “I’m OK, you’re OK” world.

In a very real sense, however, such a statement by an apostolic Christian should be rejected. We are told throughout the New Testament, in the words of Christ, Paul, James and others, that judgement belongs to God alone, that God shows mercy to and blesses whomever he wishes, that what we cannot lovingly forgive in others we will not be forgiven of ourselves. In light of these revealed teachings, it seems clear that I am wrong whenever I judge another’s prospects for salvation before God; in fact, I endanger my own soul.

We are called to discernment, however, and we are called to preach the Faith as received into the Church through Jesus Christ and His Apostles. There are things we need to shout out from the rooftops and be willing to die for (as did the martyrs of the Church,) namely:

THERE IS SALVATION WITHIN THE CHURCH, WHICH CONTAINS THE FULLNESS OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST…THROUGH THE GRACE OF GOD, THE CHURCH RECOGNIZES AND DISTRIBUTES THE MEDICINE OF IMMORTALITY THAT IS THE EUCHARIST. 

The Medicine of ImmortalityWe live by keeping the commandments of Christ to draw life from His Body and Blood. Compare the words of Christ in John Chapter 6 and the actions of Christ at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic meal of Mark Chapter 14. Christ did not reveal the Eucharist as a symbolic act only.

Those who deny the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as faithfully maintained in the Apostolic Churches are either ignorant of or willfully in denial of the earliest teachings of the churchmen who immediately followed the Apostles. 

One example among many is from Justin Martyr. He was born not long after the composition of the Gospel of John and the time of that Apostle’s death. Justin lived until around 165 AD. His writings form one of the largest deposit of early records of the Church. From his work, The Apologies:

This food we call the Eucharist, of which none are allowed to be partakers but such only as are true believers, and have been baptized in the Laver of Regeneration for the remission of sins, and live according to Christ’s precepts; for we do not take this as common bread, and common wine. But as Jesus Christ our Saviour was made flesh by the Logos of God, and had real flesh and blood for our salvation, so are we taught that this food, which the very same Logos blessed by prayer and thanksgiving, is turned into the nourishment and substance of our flesh and blood; and is in some sense the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus. For the Apostles, in their commentaries called the Gospels, have left this command upon record, “That Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He said, Do this in commemoration of Me, for this is My body; And in like manner He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He said, This is My blood,” and delivered it to them only… After this sacrament is over, we remind each other of the obligations to his duty, and the rich relieve the poor; and upon such charitable accounts we visit some or other every day.

So it was from the very earliest points of faith in our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the undivided First Thousand Years of the Church, and up until the falling away of the past few hundred years due to the teachings of Protestant extremists. Salvation was known to come to us through living out our baptism: keeping faith with Christ by uniting ourselves with His Altar and receiving the Eucharist and the Real Presence, while we imitated Him in all things and lived with everyone in love, peace, and self-sacrifice. 

I risk judgment on myself if I dare to ask who outside the apostolic Churches can be saved, especially as I abuse Christ and deny God every day in my own sinful life. If there is such a question to be asked, however, this is it: “Except through His abundant mercy and compassion, how does God save where the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is denied?” 

The prayer of the Eastern Church just prior to the faithful’s receipt of the Eucharist:

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. Amen 

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me. 

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation. 

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.

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Are you a “Cafeteria Christian”?

Paul, writing to the Church in Ephesus: 

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him. We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place.  Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Eph 4:11-16, CEV)

Ambrosiaster, from his fourth century commentary on Ephesians:

Considering the love of Christ by which he loved us and gave himself up for us, we should make everything subject to him as members of the body are to the head. Others, either through error or through malice, may not confess that Christ is the head of everything or that everything is created from him by the Father’s will. But we who adhere to the wholeness of faith ought nonetheless to take pains with all care and devotion that we bring no harm to this faith but rather to uphold it. We do this by remaining steadfast in this affirmation, so as to constrain the talk of depraved minds armed against the truth.

The prayer of a servant:

My Lord God, I confess that I often do not follow the teachings of the Church and I dispute my Bishop over matters that I claim to be conscience. I overlook the foundation of the Church’s teaching in Christ, in Peter and the Apostles, and in the blood of faithful martyrs and confessors. I do not live as I am taught and know in my heart to be right; I compromise so that I can pursue the things I want and avoid the sacrifice and suffering that Jesus lived with as he remained faithful to you.

Father God, grant me strength and wisdom in humility. In the light of your Spirit, help me to cooperate with your grace in rooting out the willfulness that is displeasing to you and ruinous for me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the sinner. Amen.

A Calendar of Saints Revered Throughout Christendom

 

The hope included in these posts is that through our prayer and interior reflection, a true spirit of unity might manifest itself in our lives and therefore in the life of the Church. 

 The Saints of the Church pray along with us as the “great cloud of witnesses” that we read of in the book of Hebrews. An excellent calendar is available for a small charge through the Fellowship of St. James that identifies the blessed ones that are shared among all Christians. Many, if not most, are from the First Thousand Years of the undivided Church. You can find more information on the calendar at http://www.fsj.org/pages/fsjcalendar.php

 It is my hope that you will remember these mutually revered saints them in your daily prayers with a special request for the unity of the faith and the reconciliation of our churches. St. James Ecumenical Calendar of the Christian Year 

Other on-line sources to find the common saints of the day is to compare such databases as on the website http://www.ecatholichub.net/study/saints,whichis a database taken from the most recent Roman Martyrology of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican’s official list of saints and blesseds; and as a secondary source, http://www.catholic.org/saints On the Eastern Orthodox side, I have found “The Lives of the Saints” complied by the Orthodox Church of America at  http://www.oca.org/FSIndex.asp?SID=4  to be fairly comprehensive.

 This blog is not connected with the Fellowship of St. James and in no way benefits from calendar sales.

 

Part II, Reflections on Matthew, Chapters 13 and 6: The Lord’s Prayer

In the post of 12 March, we heard Jesus warn us about becoming people whose “heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing…” The post suggested that one way to open more fully to the Word of God was to try to hear it in a fresh version and with fresh ears. 

 The English version of the Lord’s prayer that we are all familiar with favors the preferences of translators from Latin and does not fully reflect the understanding of the apostolic Churches regarding the place of the Eucharist in relation to the prayer. Nor does it make clear that it is not our God that is the maker of the temptations that we face, but rather that they arise from the evil one and due to our own failings before God and man.

In the spirit of freshening, we offer you another translation of the Lord’s Prayer, an English version that better reflects the nuances of the original Greek that the Eastern Orthodox Churches recites on a daily basis (as well as the Slavonic.) This version does not originate with me; in fact, it is used in Lenten services in an Orthodox parish precisely for the opporThe Good Shepherdtunity to hear it fresh and embrace it more fully. I hope you will share in that blessing.

OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in Heaven. Our bread for the Morrow give us today. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the power, and the glory, unto the ages. Amen.

St. Sabinus & the Dangers of the Third Century A.D.

St. Sabinus

St. Sabinus

 

To call the third century A.D. merely dangerous is an incomplete statement. It was chaotic, violent, and contentious.  Imperial Rome was in chaos. The rule of law was spotty throughout the empire. Even where there was law, Christians regularly faced threats to life, limb, and reputation.

 

One such martyr was St. Sabinus, an official within the Egyptian city of Hermopolis. In 287, a persecution of Christians was launched there. (Although it happened early in the reign of the emperor Diocletian- 284-305- it is unlikely Diocletian initiated the campaign. His bile was fully released on Christians early in the fourth century.)  St Sabinus and his companions hid in a remote village. An ungrateful beggar, previously helped by the saint, revealed his hiding place for a few gold coins. Sabinus and six other Christians were captured, tortured, and then drowned in the Nile for their failure to renounce their faith.

St. Sabinus is remembered this day in the Roman Catholic Church and on Monday the 16th in the Orthodox and Melkite Greek-Catholic calendars.

Kontakion – Tone 2 

O God-bearing Sabinas, you are an unfading flower and bloom of divinity. Branch heavy-laden with fruit, fill with your gladness those who in faith honor your memory, and pray for us all unceasingly.

First of Two Reflections on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 13, Verses 14-16

Our Lord said:

 “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which said, “By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see and shall not perceive;  for this people’s heart has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.”

Matthew recorded these sayings in Greek. They recount the words of a man whose native tongue was Aramaic and who himself was quoting a writer who used Hebrew. This Babel of language complicates things, but also enriches.

Lent is the time to renew our vigilance over our hearts, to sharpen our sight, and reinvigorate our hearing. One way to do this is to depart for a while from the translation of the Bible that our hand most often falls to. English has developed to the point that most words have the singular beauty of an individual red rose, clear and crisp. Other languages, as do the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, more often resemble a single branch of an ancient azalea. While the impression of the branch may be white or pink, a closer look reveals shadings in tint, streaks of color, and a richness in vibrancy that defies easy description.

Translations of the Bible into English use the precision of a single stem to describe the swirls of color within the original words. Ask your priest or a trusted elder to recommend a translation unfamiliar to you. Read it through Lent and beyond if you wish, comparing it with your old favorite. Hear the words fresh, as if for the first time, and pray to God for the grace to ever be more fully converted.

From a prayer of St. Antioch:

O Lord, enlighten my mind with the understanding of Your Holy Gospel. Enlighten my heart with the purity of Your Word. Enlighten my body with Your passionless Passion. Keep my thoughts in Your humility. Amen.Christ the True Vine