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Does repentance lead to the 'certainty' of salvation?


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#1 Brad D.

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:47 PM

I thought that I understood the Orthodox doctrine on salvation, to a fair degree, but this thread has made me wonder if I do not in fact quite understand. In order to really get at the crux of the potential misunderstanding, please allow me to just ask a simply "yes or no" question. My guess is there will not be a simple "yes or no" answer, which will essentially be an answer in itself. My question is this:

If a man lived a life of absolute evil for fifty years, doing literally no good whatsoever (Just suppose for this example that he literally did zero good, even though that is unlikely), but one day God granted him true repentance and he felt the shame of his past life, turning to Christ with sincere faith and love for help - and all of this from a pure heart, but died the following day, would he with certainty go to Paradise?

The key in my question here is in the words "with certainty". Thank you very much for your replies. I know there are many threads on this subject, but it seemed far better to just ask a "simple" question to get to the core of my potential misunderstanding. Thanks again

Brad

#2 John S.

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 03:45 PM

The key in my question here is in the words "with certainty".


I think the answer to your question is “no.”

No one knows “with certainty” where they will go (except maybe some of the saints). We are to live our lives in fear and repentance, and to approach the judgment seat of Christ with godly fear. There is the story of the holy elder in the desert who died for a few moments before returning. His disciples around him asked him what he saw. He wept and told them that he saw sinners and prostitutes going into heaven, and many holy monks descending into hell.

Besides this, any so-called “certainty” of salvation would be quite a hindrance true repentance, which is the only way to God.

#3 IoanC

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 04:01 PM

Yes. That is our understanding of what happened with the thief on The Cross, and I wouldn't complicate things beyond this example. (so to give you the simple answer that you asked for)

#4 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 09:06 PM

Trick question. You say he did "literally no good whatsoever" but "God granted him true repentance," as if the man had no part in his repentance. I suppose some Calvinists still believe that can happen, but we Orthodox never have. The man himself must repent, and his repentance counts as a good deed.

#5 Brad D.

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 11:06 PM

Trick question. You say he did "literally no good whatsoever" but "God granted him true repentance," as if the man had no part in his repentance. I suppose some Calvinists still believe that can happen, but we Orthodox never have. The man himself must repent, and his repentance counts as a good deed.


I was not intending to offer a trick question. :) With your comments in view, then, I could rephrase my question to state that his single act of true repentance and turning towards Christ was his only good deed and then he died. We don't even have to say he literally did no good prior, but we could say that he lived his life completely in violent sin and rebellion up until this point.

I am not trying to pin anyone down on agreeing that there is a "point of salvation". These are not leading questions, I am honestly just trying to better understand the mechanics of the Orthodox view of the process of salvation.

#6 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 11:19 PM

Salvation is not an end-point, it is not a destination. It is the journey itself. The destination is Christ.

#7 Brad D.

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 01:49 AM

Salvation is not an end-point, it is not a destination. It is the journey itself. The destination is Christ.


That is a very nice quote...very well said. I guess I will just leave it at that. I have a textbook coming in the mail on Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Hopefully it will explain the intricacies of the Orthodox doctrine of salvation more clearly.

#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 03:05 AM

I have a textbook coming in the mail on Orthodox Dogmatic Theology.


If you mean Fr Michael Pomazansky's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, then you are probably right - it will explain things quite well and is quite readable.

Fr David

#9 Brad D.

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 03:07 AM

Yep, that's the one...should be here tomorrow. :) Very much looking forward to reading it.

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 04:21 PM

It's also very important to have it in mind that for us repentance is part of a process. For example someone confesses a sin at confession. Absolution follows so this means the sin is forgiven. But still it could very well be that the person according to the nature of the sin would later on feel contrition for what they had previously done. It could even be that God periodically brings this awareness to the person's mind and conscience of what they had done in the past. All of this is part of the larger story of repentance.

And then there are the more mysterious aspects of repentance which again according to the nature of the sin which had been committed, it could be that events happen in that person's life (illnesses, trials, etc) which in effect even the scales as it were. The person who experiences such does so with endurance or even gratefulness to God. This too enters into the process of repentance. Similarly to this it often happens that the manner of a person's death is also an evening of the scales, a purification as it were, in order to stand before God after death.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#11 Alexander Ignatiev

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 05:54 PM

Repentance is like hammering a nail. Sometimes it is easy to drive the nail, sometimes it is hard. But you always have to swing the hammer.

#12 Brad D.

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 11:04 PM

It's also very important to have it in mind that for us repentance is part of a process. For example someone confesses a sin at confession. Absolution follows so this means the sin is forgiven. But still it could very well be that the person according to the nature of the sin would later on feel contrition for what they had previously done. It could even be that God periodically brings this awareness to the person's mind and conscience of what they had done in the past. All of this is part of the larger story of repentance.

And then there are the more mysterious aspects of repentance which again according to the nature of the sin which had been committed, it could be that events happen in that person's life (illnesses, trials, etc) which in effect even the scales as it were. The person who experiences such does so with endurance or even gratefulness to God. This too enters into the process of repentance. Similarly to this it often happens that the manner of a person's death is also an evening of the scales, a purification as it were, in order to stand before God after death.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael


Fr Raphael, Thank you very much for this insight. Very, very helpful.

#13 Jesse Dominick

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Posted 18 November 2011 - 02:24 PM

going just on what you have provided i think the answer is yes.

#14 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 19 November 2011 - 02:59 PM

Of course, when one reads the lives of the great saints and ascetics, he sees how little the great men of faith were rooted in a 'certainty of salvation'. What consumed them, instead, was an unyielding desire to turn from sin and live in the hope that, by God's grace, the evil in them might be overcome.

#15 Brad D.

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Posted 19 November 2011 - 03:28 PM

Of course, when one reads the lives of the great saints and ascetics, he sees how little the great men of faith were rooted in a 'certainty of salvation'. What consumed them, instead, was an unyielding desire to turn from sin and live in the hope that, by God's grace, the evil in them might be overcome.


Thank you very much for your reply. That is definitely the attitude we must have, they are great examples for us. Some un-Orthodox theologies claim that a person could never lose their salvation, as if God owed us something. I am not seeking to support such theology...I am just trying to learn some of the specifics of Orthodox theology. I received a beautiful letter from a monk at St. Gregory of Palamas monastery that I am hoping to receive permission to post here. I had asked them this question since they are the publishers and distributors of the book that began this discussion in my life, and I am so grateful for his wonderful response. Hopefully I can post that soon, it is a very comprehensive and well written answer to this question.

#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 19 November 2011 - 03:58 PM

If you have certitude, then you don't need faith.

#17 Brad D.

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 09:25 PM

Here are some stories that were shared with me recently by a monk, speaking about this subject:

Saint Alonios of Egypt (fl. 4th cen.), “If a man but so desires, he can return to the Divine standard and repent anytime, whether early or late.”


Saint Sisoës the Great (†429):

“A certain brother asked Abba Sisoës, ‘Counsel me, Father, for I have fallen to sin. What am I to do?’

“The Elder said to him, ‘When you fall, get up again.’

“With bitterness the sinning brother continued, ‘Ah! Father, I got up, yet I fell to the same sin again.’

“The Elder, so as not to discourage the brother, answered, ‘Then get up again and again.’

“The young man asked with a certain despondency, ‘How long can I do that, Father?’

“The Elder, giving him courage, said to the brother: ‘Until the end of your life, whether you be found in the commendable attempt at lifting yourself up from sin or falling again to it. For wherever it is that a man is found at the last moment of his life on earth, whether it be in things good or evil, there he will be judged, going forth either to punishment or to reward.’”

“A brother lived in a cell in Egypt and, with all humility, spent his life in asceticism. This monk had a sister who lived in the city and who was a prostitute. She had been the cause of many losing their souls each day. Thus, many times the Elders had urged the brother to go meet with his sister. At last, they one day convinced him to go, that perchance his brotherly admonitions might have the desired effect and she might cease the sin that she was committing.

“As soon as he arrived at the place where the sinful woman was staying, a certain acquaintance of theirs saw the monk and ran to inform her, saying, ‘Your brother is asking for you at the door below.’

“The sister, on hearing this news, abandoned her sinful compatriots and, just as she was, ran down to greet her brother, without bothering, in fact, even to put a covering on her head. When the brother and sister saw one another and she, out of joy, tried to embrace her brother, he said, ‘Truly, my sister, I pity your soul, beholding how you will suffer the bitter and unending torments of Hell, for not only have you lost your soul, but many others have also done so because of you.’

“The sister listened attentively to the sincere counsels of her brother and, overwhelmed by them, with true repentance said to him, ‘Are you sure that, even now, I can be saved?’

“‘If you wish so, there is salvation,’ the kind brother answered with certainty.

“With tears in her eyes, she then fell at the feet of her brother and doggedly entreated him to take her with him into the desert to be saved. The brother, also moved by her sudden conversion, told his sister, ‘Put a scarf on your head and follow me.’
“She, however, said to her brother, ‘Come, come, let us go quickly. It is preferable for me and better for my soul if I leave this vile place and set forth on the way bare-headed, and not enter again into this workshop of sin.’

“They thus departed for the desert, and the brother advised her tenderly, enumerating for her the fruits of repentance. She listened with silent attention, while Divine Grace slowly won over the soul of the repentant sinner.

“Then at a certain point in their journey, they saw some wayfarers coming toward them from the opposite direction. So the brother, in order not to cause scandal to them, told his sister, ‘Since not everyone knows that you are my sister, get off the road just a little until these people pass by, so that we do not cause them scandal.’ The sister immediately went away, some distance from the road.

“When the caravan had passed, the brother called to his sister. But he received no answer at all. Curious, he searched the place where he expected her to be and, astonished, saw that she was dead. He noticed at the same time that her feet were torn to pieces from the trip, since she was barefoot.

“The brother related these incidents to the Elders. They, taking counsel regarding the matter, all disagreed, some maintaining that she was saved, others insisting that she had lost her soul.

“Finally, after praying, one of the Elders, who appears to have been more virtuous and insightful than the others, received the following revelation from God: ‘This sinner was saved, for as soon as Divine Grace, at the counsels of her brother, moved her heart, she repented and thought of no material thing. But rather, she gave no heed to her body and did not complain about the pain and wounds inflicted by the journey. For this reason, her repentance was accepted.’”

And there is another story, also about a prostitute who repented just before the unexpected end of her life, that concludes with the observation, “The single hour for which this woman repented was more quickly received than that of many who spend years in repentance, since the repentance of the latter is not as earnest as hers.” (This was Saint Taisia of Egypt [fl. 4th cen.].)



#18 Owen Jones

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 01:50 PM

I think what most Christians need today is a regular practice that banishes anxiety and worry. It is not exactly the same as salvation, but salvation has two parts, one being salvation right now from the cares of the world (and it is really these cares and worries that often lead to sin, and salvation as a destination. With regular practice we can be confident in our faith and confident in God's promises, because we have the experience of God's presence in our lives and in the world -- daily. Perhaps that is the same as certitude. I don't know.

#19 Father David Moser

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 03:01 PM

I think what most Christians need today is a regular practice that banishes anxiety and worry.


We do have this! Its called prayer.

Fr David

#20 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 31 October 2012 - 03:22 PM

Dear readers and members,

As another thread that's swiftly 'gone off the rails' into tangents and unproductive areas, I've gone through this thread today and removed all posts that are not direct engagements with the thread's topic, which is on the question of the relationship of repentance, salvation and a sense of 'certainty.' Broader questions of 'faith vs. works' are not in the scope of this thread; neither are issues of Scripture vs. tradition, etc.

As always happens when a thread is culled of tangents, some posts with perfectly good and useful content in their own right have had to be deleted as part of this process, since they were posted as part of tangents that are not directly on the topic of the thread. My apologies to any whose good and valid points have had to be removed for this reason.

Please help keep this thread (and other threads) on point, so that this will not be required in future.

INXC, ​Fr Irenei




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