by Rev. Fr. Theodore Ziton
St. George's Church, New Kensington, Pennsylvania
It has been wisely said, no doubt inspired by Holy Scripture, even inscribed on the stone of an edifice adjacent to this building where we are presently situated, that ... “The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It.”
For a few moments, then, let us gaze at this subject of salvation. I use the term ... gaze ... because it is a voluminous subject. Much has been said and much has been taught regarding this subject which governs our spiritual future, and, in time to come, much more will be said, written and taught regarding this subject.
Today, in our time, we oft times hear the term used ... “I am saved ...” or at some religious gathering, people are called forth ... “to be saved!” This is a false impression of salvation for salvation is a day to day, life-long companionship with God. It is where the individual in the Church seeks to live with God day by day in such a manner that when other individuals see that person walking down the thoroughfare of any city they can say ... “There goes God ... walking and talking with and through that individual.” And that man does not know that such is true for he seeks only to live serving his God through other men.
In our day and age if God were to come before man and utter the remark . . . “I am God, follow me!” ... the remark might be accepted with a bit of reluctance ... maybe even with an air of disbelief. Thus, it is when man is living in a spiritual preparatory manner that God becomes alive and very real to him and to others ... through the fact of how man himself is inspired by the Almighty.
There is an irony regarding this subject of salvation. Properly speaking, salvation is a gift from God. The individual being “saved” never realizes it, nor does it ever cross his mind ... for the individual never feels himself worthy in the eyes of God of being saved.
If we scan the pages of Holy Scripture we will find the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Here was a sinner par excellence, who after his riotous living, felt that he could never return and be accepted by his father whom he “betrayed,” but his internal desire prodded him to try. Upon returning to the confines of his father’s estate, based upon the inner desire to change his way of life, he finds in loving, caressing and accepting arms of his father ready to accept his return. The father was so enthralled to have him return that the honor and the dignity that were his in the past hold no comparison to the glory that now awaits him ... because he “returned” to the dignity of a son.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is also self evident of this internal unworthiness. The publican felt himself the lowest of the low, unworthy to even raise his eyes or head to the heavens. In the silence of his prayer and in the remorse of his soul, salvation comes to him, because his future earthly life will now reflect another facet of living to try to please God, but still, no doubt, feeling ... unworthy!
St. Paul was one of the greater writers of our New Testament, and whenever he reflects upon himself in his epistles ... he regards himself as being “a sinner ... chief amongst all the sinners upon this earth.”
Thus, the ironical feeling of unworthiness prevails within the man who lives day by day with God and for God. Regardless of the effort that a man puts forth for his Church and for his spiritual preparation ... it is not good enough.
To better comprehend the ideal of salvation we have to understand it, also, as an approach by God for man, because God is forever knocking at the doors of man’s heart, mind, and soul, seeking him. Salvation is a “seeking” process by God for man and man for God. In man it is internal, within and outgoing, because man responds to God’s grace which is magnetically pulling him up ... up ... up to a better life.
Khalil Gibran’s book “The Prophet” better reveals this internal ideal in his chapter on “Teaching” (Page 56). He writes, “The teacher, if he is indeed wise, does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind ... for no man can reveal to our aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.”
“The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding” ... the knowledge of science and space must be there already within you to more appreciate the astronomer’s teachings.
You see the Priest in your parish lead you in prayer and in a prayerful life, and you see him sacrifice upon the Altar of God on your behalf, as well as his own. Do you sincerely believe that he and he alone has the only altar of worship? Each of us has an altar upon which he sacrifices daily. Holy Scripture teaches us in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (I Corinth. 12:4-11) that there are many gifts which God bestows upon man; one man may be a teacher, another a physician, or a master of languages, or a lawyer, or a carpenter, or a mason, or a housewife, or what-have-you. Yet each individual has that task with which he or she is gifted as a sacrifice upon his or her own altar ... but it does not cease there ... for that individual must now come and compare his sacrifice to that upon the eternal Altar of God where the Son of God gives Himself to save man from himself. Thus, the individual must have the compassion, the mercy, the patience, and those attributes which makes his altar comparable to the Eternal Altar upon which the Priest sacrifices on his own behalf as well as on behalf of his people.
Religion then is of no use if the man internally does not attune himself to the ideals, the teachings, and the wisdom of what his religion is truly all about.
How often we go to our TV sets or to our radios to gently turn the knob to relax to some program which will grant us enjoyment or entertainment. Many of us do not know the inner workings of these electronical gadgets, yet once turned on they bring solace and enjoyment. This is so, because they are so made that they capture certain wave lengths already in the atmosphere. Once attuned to these frequencies they transmit what the naked eye cannot see, but which is always there, now in a tangible pictorial form and voice.
This situation is true with any created individual. God is always there seeking after man ... knocking at the portals of his heart and mind and soul, striving to awaken that higher ideal of life, morally as well as ethically, which “already lies half asleep in the dawning of his own knowledge.”
In concluding, I want to recall a religious picture to your attention one which you all, no doubt, have seen at one time or another, or will, one day, come to see. The picture I refer to centers around the Son of God, Christ, knocking at a door ... Look at that picture, scrutinize it, search it out. Christ knocks at that door, but there is no doorknob on the outside of that portal. Do you know why? Because the DOORKNOB is on the inside of that door. That door must open from within.
So it is with us. Christ comes knocking at the door of our heart. He knocks, seeking a place to implant and impart His virtues and His grace and His blessings, but unless that door is opened from within, the God of the Ages stands knocking for naught.
But, so it is with our salvation ... as with our temporal earthly life ... “The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It” through the Church.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America