Salvation by the Power of the Union of Persevering Trust and Effort

Method, strategy, tactics, formulas… None, all by themselves, will save. Christ Jesus saves in relationship with the soul who yearns for salvation, the community of those who also yearn in baptismal newness of life, a universe of people who are indifferent and/or intensely opposed to this work who are, none the less, positive participants in salvation by virtue of the redemptive power of God’s love. I could point out more of the facets of this ongoing work of salvation but you probably get the idea.

This is Mystery. This is relationship. This defies the either/or linear model of “cause and effect” of “faith vs. works” and all the rest.

This is way bigger than what I can manage. And it is exactingly designed for me to perfectly participate because I cannot manage it but must participate by offering – mysteriously — trusting surrender and persevering effort. In an essential way not only do I participate in my own salvation but I also participate in the salvation of others as well.

The matrix of prayer, scripture, mystical fellowship, ministry, witness, sacrament, iconography, obedience to our spiritual father, fasting, almsgiving, etc. offer an organic environment for this Mystery of salvation. Let me focus, briefly, on one aspect of it.

The “both and” of our work and the work of God. The conflict between who does the work – God or me – or how much does God do in proportion to how much I do and vice versa is a false conflict. There is no such conflict. To be sure, we can make it a conflict but that is not God’s design for the relationship between “His work” and “my” and “our” work.

There is no such thing as an “equilibrium” or “creative tension” or any such other label that describes the relationship. Those conceptualizations so easily reduce persons to projects and objects of our concern and dedication. If the person is to remain a person I have to relate not formulate.

There is living union without separation and without confusion between persons. There is the Mystery of the power of a healthy marriage of love between God and me. But, even that is not right because I used the word “me.” In point of fact, “my” salvation is yours as well. And, likewise, yours is mine as well. This brings up the whole issue of obedience. Obedience is more than “doing what you are told.” It is about entering into the truth of the interrelatedness of our salvation as persons (without separation and without confusion).

Now, of course, if heard in a linear, formulaic context, such a statement is problematic. Rightly so in such a context. But, the truth of the statement cannot be understood using that paradigm of understanding. That is why so many of the sayings of Jesus from an earthly point of view, make no sense.

The “sense” of it is the sense of the heart first and foremost not the sense of the head. It is noetic in nature first and foremost rather than rational first and foremost.

I am passing on to you a saying that was passed on to me by a friend. It is a Mysterious saying. It is a relational saying. It is definitely not linear or formulaic. Be careful not to read it that way. You may feel the urge to “solve” the passage. Forget it. Just receive it. Let the weight of it take you to the “place” where it really “makes sense.”

68. No one among us can prevail by his own unaided strength over the devices and wiles of the evil one; he can prevail only through the invincible power of Christ. Vainly, therefore, do conceited people wander about claiming that they have abolished sin through their ascetic accomplishments and their free will. Sin is abolished only through the grace of God, for it was made dead through the mystery of the Cross.

This is why that luminary of the Church, St John Chrysostom, says: ‘A man’s readiness and commitment are not enough if he does not enjoy help from above as well; equally help from above is no benefit to us unless there is also commitment and readiness on our part. These two facts are proved by Judas and Peter. For although Judas enjoyed much help, it was of no benefit to him, since he had no desire for it and contributed nothing from himself. But Peter, although willing and ready, fell because he enjoyed no help from above. So holiness is woven of these two strands. Thus I entreat you neither to entrust everything to God and then fall asleep, nor to think, when you are striving diligently, that you will achieve everything by your own efforts.

69. ‘God does not want us to be lying idly on our backs; therefore He does not effect everything Himself. Nor does He want us to be boastful; therefore He did not give us everything. But having taken away from each of the two alternatives what is harmful, He has left us what is for our good.’ Truly does the psalmist say: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain’ (Ps. 127:1). For it is impossible to tread on the asp and basilisk and trample on the lion and dragon’ (Ps. 91:13. LXX), unless you have first cleansed yourself as far as you can, and have been strengthened by Him who said to the apostles: ‘See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and on all the enemy’s power’ (Luke 10:19). It is on this account that we have been commanded to entreat the Master not to ‘lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from the evil one’ (Matt. 6:13). For if we are not delivered from ‘the fiery arrows of the evil one’ (Eph.

6:16) through the power and help of Christ, and found worthy of attaining dispassion, we are laboring in vain, thinking that through our own powers or efforts we shall accomplish something. Therefore, he who wishes ‘to stand against the wiles of the devil’ (Eph. 6:11) and render them ineffectual, and to share in the divine glory, ought day and night to seek God’s help and divine succor with tears and sighs, with insatiable longing and fire in his soul. He who wishes to share in this glory purges his soul of all worldly pleasures and of hostile passions and desires. It is of such souls that God Speaks when He says: ‘I will dwell in them’ (2 Cor. 6:16). And the Lord said to His disciples: ‘if a man loves Me, he will keep My commandments; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and take up Our abode with him’ (John 14:23).

82. Love has fittingly been called the citadel of the virtues, the sum of the Law and the prophets (cf. Matt. 22:40; Rom. 13:10). So let us make every effort until we attain it. Through love we shall shake off the tyranny of the passions and rise to heaven, lifted up on the wings of the virtues; and we shall see God, so far as this is possible for human nature. St Theodoros the Great Ascetic A Century of Spiritual Texts, The Philokalia, Volume 2.

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