Wednesday, November 11, 2015

There is Salvation Only in Christ

       "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" 

                         (John 14:6).

Christ Is the Way

At a moment in mankind's history which had been determined by God and foretold by prophets, about 2000 years ago, in the ancient nation of Israel, the Saviour of the world was born - Jesus Christ, the Messiah Who had been foretold by the ancient prophets.

At His Incarnation a great and unfathomable mystery came to pass. In the one Person of the Son of God there were united two natures: His Divinity, Which was before all time, and the humanity Which He assumed, so as to become like us in every way.

Living among men, Jesus Christ taught them by His Words and His own example to believe correctly and to live righteously. His public ministry did not last long, only three and half years, but it was extraordinarily full. His every word and act reflected His infinite wisdom, love and moral perfection. He shone like a brilliant light that had come to us from the ideal world above, a Light Which enlightens, and will continue to enlighten, every person who seeks goodness.

The teachings of Jesus Christ contained everything that people needed to know in order to live rightly; however, man had become morally weakened, so much so that he was unable to attain spiritual renewal by his own efforts alone. Sin had grown its roots too deep in human nature; evil had acquired such immense strength in all aspects of human life that men could not throw off its yoke by their own unaided efforts.

Therefore, out of unfathomable compassion for us sinners, and moved by His immeasurable love, the Righteous One took upon Himself the sins of all men - the sins of each one of us - and on their account offered a redemptive sacrifice on the Cross. With His most pure Blood He washed away our guilt before God; by His Death He conquered our death. Then, descending into the depths of hell, He, as Almighty God, freed and led out the souls of all those who wished to return to God and to live rightly. He took away Satan's power over men and set the day of his final condemnation in fiery Gehenna.

Why was it necessary to have such a terrible sacrifice as the shameful and excruciatingly painful death on the Cross of Christ, the God-Man? Was there not any other way for God to bring about man's salvation? These are mysteries which we cannot comprehend. We only know that Christ's redemptive sufferings, together with His glorious Resurrection from the dead, contain a power by which we can be born again. Through this great power, which overcomes all obstacles, any sinner, no matter how deeply he has sunk in the mire of vice, can undergo a complete spiritual renewal; he can become a righteous person, and even a great saint.

Forty days after His Resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, where He now abides as the God-Man. He is the Head of the Church, and together with the Father and the Holy Spirit He governs the world. On the fiftieth day after His Resurrection, Jesus Christ sent down the Holy Spirit on His Apostles and disciples and founded the Church, to which He entrusted everything needed for the salvation of believers.

If the Son of God Himself undertook to perform such extraordinary acts, coming down to the earth, taking on Himself human nature, suffering and dying the shameful and exceedingly painful death of the Cross, it is clear that there cannot be any way to salvation other than that which is offered to us by Jesus Christ.

Thanks to all that our Lord Jesus Christ did, everyone is now able to be freed from sins, to throw off the burden of passions, to be spiritually renewed and to start to live rightly, with the help of His grace. Anyone who wishes can now attain eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. The devil cannot stop us, unless we fall away from Christ through our own carelessness or lack of seriousness.

Thus, thanks to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, immortality and the bliss of paradise are not the dream of poets or the fantasy of philosophers, but a reality accessible to all. Everyone who wishes can reach the kingdom of heaven by following the path indicated by the Saviour, and by imitating Him as much as possible. He is the ideal of moral perfection, the supreme criterion of truth, the infallible spiritual authority and the inexhaustible source of inspiration.

Truly, He is our Way, Truth and Life! All other "great teachers" of mankind (such as Confucius, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, and including the founders of today's totalitarian cults) turn out to be poor parodies if they are set up in opposition to Christ, or if they are used in an effort to "correct" or "improve" what He said and did.

Christ Is the Truth

God the Father foreordained that men should find salvation through His Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. All that Jesus Christ did and said is contained in the New Testament portion of the Bible, in what are called the Gospels, of which there are four. The Old Testament portion of the Bible contains the writings of the prophets who lived before the time of Christ. Their purpose was to prepare the human race to receive Christ as the Messiah, that is, the Saviour anointed by God. The books of the New Testament were written by the disciples of Christ, the Apostles, and set forth the teachings of Jesus Christ more fully and in greater detail.

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, teaches that everything visible and invisible was created by God from nothing. First God made the invisible world of the angels (heaven), and then our visible or material world (earth). To crown His creation of the material world, God made man, adorning him with His own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). The physical world was made by God not all at once, but in stages, which are called in the Bible "days." God did not make the world out of any necessity or need for it, but because of His all-good desire that other beings, created by Him, should enjoy the gift of life.

Being infinitely good, God made everything good, beautiful and pure. Just as the angels were, man was also predestined for eternal life and everlasting blessedness in a union of grace with His Creator. The Creator was pleased to honour man with His most precious gift, free will, in order that man might grow towards perfection in the moral life. By this gift God gave rational beings a dignity incomparably greater than the rest of irrational nature, but at the same time it was a test. Being a boundless ocean of love (1 John 4:8-12), God wanted us all to love Him with the purest and most selfless kind of love, as tender children love their caring father. It was His desire that we should run to Him because we ourselves wanted to do so, and that we should grow steadily towards perfection by imitating Him to the best of our ability.

In order for us to get to know Him more fully, God revealed to us that He is not simply Oneness (a monad), but Three-in-Oneness, or Trinity. This means that in God there is one divine nature or essence, but three free and rational Persons - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - Who dwell in perfect harmony and love with one another. In the Deity, God the Father is the source of the divine nature which is common to all three; this is His hypostatic characteristic (what characterizes Him as a distinct Person). The Son was "begotten" from the Father before all time; the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father before all time; these are their hypostatic characteristics. The words "begotten" and "proceeds," however, do not carry any connotation of time. God was always the Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Since God is three in Persons, but One in essence, He desired that the human race which He created should also reflect His three-in-oneness to a certain degree. In other words, He desired men to live, not as isolated individuals, solitary "I's," but as "we," as an integral and cohesive society, held together by love, in which each one takes the joys or sorrows of his neighbour as his very own. This, of course, was the ideal intended by the Creator. This all-encompassing unity was not meant, however, to suppress the personalities of rational beings. On the contrary, just as in the Creator Himself each Person possesses His own personal qualities, which are beyond our comprehension, so too in human society each distinct person was meant to preserve his own individual and unique characteristics, his particular talents. This unity in multiplicity was the type of existence that man was called to live, first of all in family life, then in society and finally on the level of the whole human race.

As we have already said, sin did great damage to human nature. As a result, mankind was not only torn away from its Maker, but it was also broken into a multitude of individuals, who were mutually jealous and at odds. Jesus Christ intended to bring men back to the path of unity with their Maker and closeness with one another; therefore, He began His preaching with the good news, or glad tidings (which is the meaning of the Greek word Evangelion, or "Gospel"), that "the Kingdom of God is at hand." God is ready to forgive each one of us and to accept him as His son, on condition that a man believe in the Saviour Whom God has sent, accept His divine teachings and begin to live rightly. Everything that Jesus Christ did and said had the purpose of teaching people and inspiring them to start to live for God, for the good, for inner renewal. The kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus Christ had to begin within believers, in hearts made new by love.

After His glorious Resurrection from the dead, and shortly before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus Christ revealed that He will come to the earth again before the end of the world. This Second Coming of Christ will not be like the first, when He came in the form of an ordinary man, as the merciful and compassionate Saviour. He lived in poverty and meekly endured all the reproaches of sinners. Before the end of the world He will come in His heavenly glory, as the terrible and just Judge, surrounded by a multitude of angels and saints, and He will give each one the reward of his deeds. Immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ the worldwide miracle of the resurrection of the dead will take place at His almighty command. The bodies of all the people who have ever lived on the earth will rise up out of the dust in the twinkling of an eye and will be reunited with their souls. At that time every man will be restored in his bipartite nature, in which soul and body form a single human being.

Let us recall that man was created for eternal life. Death, in the sense of complete annihilation or reduction to non-being, simply does not exist. What we call death is only the temporary separation of the soul and the body. When the body loses its life-giving principle, which is the soul, the body decomposes into the elements of which it was made up. The soul, the very personality of man, in a fully conscious and aware state, crosses over into some sphere of existence which is unknown to us, where it remains until the day of Christ's Last Judgement. At His Second Coming Christ will resurrect us in our twofold nature.

With the Second Coming of Christ the history of the human race will come to an end. The earth and everything on it, matter and the whole cosmos, will be subjected to fiery flame. Yet this fiery furnace will not be the destruction of the material world, but rather its transfiguration, as if in a smelter that removes all impurities. The physical world will be transformed into "a new heaven and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-2).

Christ will pass judgement not only on men, but also on the devil and his demons. This judgement will decide the eternal fate of every rational creature. All who did not wish to respond to God's love with love, all who did evil and spread falsehood, will be condemned to fiery Gehenna. This will be a "second death," which will not be annihilation, but rather complete separation from God in unending and fruitless sufferings.

On the "new earth," under the "new heaven," in the "new Jerusalem," a new life will begin, the happy and endless life which God foreordained from all eternity for those who love Him. There will be that true salvation, for which each man thirsts, thought not always knowingly. The purpose for which God in His boundless love created us will finally be realized.

Christ is the Life

The goal, then, of our earthly life is to inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. To reach it our loving Creator requires of us only that we respond to Him with the kind of sincere, pure and selfless love with which He loves us.

Such love is a spring which flows from this temporal life into the beauty of eternal life. The reason for man's life is to become more and more like God and to draw nearer and nearer to Him. The substance of our life should be the continuous upholding of everything in us that furthers nearness to God and rejection of everything that takes us away from Him.

How can the fire of such love and such striving be kindled in the soul? Once it is lit, how can it be guarded, so that it is not allowed to go out, but rather, as much as possible, it is turned into the flame of salvation, which burns up all impurity in the heart? Man cannot do this by his own power, no matter how sincerely he desires it. The winds and waves of the passions are too strong, and they come from sources hostile to man: the world which lies in sin, the flesh which loves sin and the devil, the originator of all evil.

For salvation, therefore, it is necessary to cling to Christ with all one's strength, to become one with Him. Then His divine power and His love will fill our souls. They will protect, sanctify and strengthen us; they will lead us on the sure but narrow path to eternal life. Christ speaks thus about the necessity of staying with Him: "I am the Vine, ye are the branches. The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine" (John 15:5). In other words, authentic spiritual life, which brings forth good fruit, is impossible unless one is united in the closest possible way with the Source of spiritual strength - Christ.

The Need for the Church

The mystery of the Church, the kingdom of God - a mystery which is great and wise, surpassing our understanding - was brought into being by Christ in the following way. First, when He was baptized by John in the Jordan, at the moment when the Holy Spirit came down and the voice of the Father was heard, He sanctified the nature of water. By this act the water of Baptism became a conduit of God's grace, which gives a man new birth. Christ taught that a man is spiritually born and becomes a member of the Church only by being "born of water and of the Spirit" in the sacrament of Baptism (John 3:5).

Just as a newborn infant requires nourishment in order to grow, so also one who is born anew in the mystery of Baptism requires spiritual nourishment, which the Lord gives us in the sacrament of Holy Communion, of which He says: "I am that bread of life. ... The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. ... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. ... He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me" (John 6:48-57).

At His Mystical Supper, the evening before He suffered on the Cross, Christ Himself first changed bread into His true Flesh and wine into His true Blood and gave Them in communion to His disciples, thereby showing them how the Sacrament of Holy Communion should be observed.

From that time on, the sacrament of Holy Communion has been celebrated at a divine service, called the Liturgy. Believers receive the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ and are thereby united with Him, and not in a purely abstract or mystical sense, but really and truly! The whole being of a man, spiritual and physical, partakes of the spiritual and physical life of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Love opens a path to spiritual closeness; moreover, in Holy Communion, while people are united with Christ, they are united with one another at the same time, and in Christ they become a single whole, a living organism, called the Church. This is why the Apostle Paul called the Church the Body of Christ (Col. 1:24).

Just as the Incarnation of the Son of God was accomplished by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Virgin Mary, so also the Church was founded on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus Christ sent from the Father to the Apostles on the fiftieth day after His Resurrection. Since that day the Holy Spirit has remained with the Church constantly, giving it life, illuminating it and cultivating it as a single living organism of the Body of Christ, consisting of many "members," faithful Christians.

There is something which must not be forgotten, especially in our times when Christianity is being split up into more and more churches and "jurisdictions." Man is called to be saved not by a mere mental acknowledgement of the truth of Christianity, and not merely by his own best efforts, but by belonging organically to the living body of the Church. Only in the Church, in this mystical Body of Christ, does the believer find correct spiritual guidance and the strength necessary for an authentically Christian life.

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