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Nyssa's Opinions on Theology--Page 3 
 
Page 3 Topics: 
--Why do bad things happen? 
--Should we criticize our brethren's artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then? 
--Angels: Is "This Present Darkness" by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction? 
--Halloween: Not the Devil's Holiday! 
--Hell and the Nature of God 
--Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
--Is everybody going to Hell except Christians? 
--How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
--What about predestination? 
--Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
--An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west--Uncreated Energies of God 
 
 
Why do bad things happen? 
Here is an excellent article on this subject, with several contributors: 
http://www.pcusa.org/health/usa/resources/trauma-stress/page5.htm 
Also see question 14 from the Presbyterian Study Catechism of 1998: http://www.pcusa.org/catech/studycat.htm 
 
Should we criticize our brethren's artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then? 
An amusing take on the value of criticism in the church--as opposed to saying, "You shouldn't criticize praise music/popular writers/mega-churches/people doing the Lord's work": 
http://www.internetmonk.com/critic.html 
 
Here is a webpage which shows that we must critique these things, since many trends damaging to the witness of the Church have been allowed to go on, unchecked: 
http://www.areopagos.org/lausanne/ 
It's the "Moving New Religions from the Fringes to Mainstream" document. 
For example, says the writer, "Laity and pastors alike seem to be enamoured with Christian fiction, particularly novels that cast new religions and alternate spiritualities in the role of an identifiable social and spiritual enemy. This observation is supported by the massive sales for Frank Peretti's novels This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, and the Left Behind series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins."  He refers to the plots of such works as propaganda, morality tales, McCarthyism.  He says that depicting new religions as "the source of Antichristic power" leads readers to not respect the followers of those religions, which damages our witness to them.  He also is disturbed that readers' attitudes toward these religions are being "powerfully influenced by pop novels." 
 
This page also addresses courses you find in evangelical churches these days on how to evangelize, discipleship, etc.  For example, he complains that many of these courses have apparently not been "road-tested" with non-Christians who are not influenced by churches.  The courses give answers to questions that are important to Christians, but often have little in common with questions people are actually asking.  He also says that Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life program is a product of "Southern California Christian culture," and does not work so well in other cultures. 
 
I know what he means, because I have experienced a few of these courses.  For example, one course gave a lot of pat answers to a list of stock questions a non-Christian might ask, but these answers may not always work in the real world.  One stock question was, "But what about people who sincerely believe in their religion?"  The pat answer was, "You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong."  This might work on some people.  But there are many people in this day of cynicism and alternative religions who would say to that, "Well, how do you know that you're not sincerely wrong?"  Or, "That's arrogant!"  Or, "My religion says that is a morally reprehensible attitude."  Or, "I'm a Pagan, and you're focusing on the path rather than the ultimate goal of religion.  What's more important is what kind of person your religion makes you, not what the religion is."  The problem is getting into a logical argument over religion, which cannot be proved scientifically.  If you want an effective witness, then your life must be your most important tool.  Show that Christianity is different; don't just use theological arguments, because a determined person can always find some way to disagree with them. 
 
Here's a more useful tool for witnessing to Pagans, "How to Share the Gospel with Pagans," written by a Pagan: 
http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usxx&c=words&id=1946 
 
DON'T use Chick Tracts ( http://www.chick.com/default.asp).  The ignorance and paranoia in these tracts is appalling, as is the intolerance (see how Roman Catholics are treated).  They seem to have gotten their information about witches, Satanists, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. from 700 Club episodes, Bob Larson, medieval propaganda, and various other questionable sources, rather than asking real, honest-to-goodness Wiccans etc.  If any of that stuff does happen, it's probably done by serial killers and rebellious teenagers who want to shock their parents.  It is not the practice of actual Wiccans to drink blood, sacrifice animals or babies, pledge allegience to Satan, or any of that stuff.  For the truth, go here: http://www.religioustolerance.org/chrw_int.htm and http://www.religioustolerance.org/witchcra.htm#menu1.  Also, some of the other tracts are, frankly, appalling.  In the "Happy Halloween" tract, a child gets hit by a car and goes to Hell; the tract about gays portrays ridiculous, stereotypical caricatures, and celebrates a child's use of the word "queer"; various tracts about Roman Catholics say that they are going to Hell, too.  Any D&D gamer can tell you that "Dark Dungeons" has nothing to do with actual Dungeons and Dragons games.  They are not a "gateway drug" into real witchcraft.  How can you make an honest convert through fear and misinformation?  I was shocked one day to discover that we have one of these tracts in our house, the "Who, Me?" tract.  It seemed innocent enough, but its identity as a Chick Tract makes it worthy of Gehenna (the burning trash heap).  It was given to us by an evangelical minister as a tool.  I can only hope he was not aware of the more ridiculous Chick Tracts. 
 
The Religious Tolerance site (http://www.religioustolerance.org/) also has articles on practically any other religion you might think of, such as Satanism.  Articles on Satanic Ritual Abuse are here: http://www.religioustolerance.org/sra.htm.  You can research the truth so that you can witness with knowledge and respect, such as the Apostle Paul did.  Evangelicals have gotten a bad name among the followers of alternative religions because many have tried to convert without knowledge or respect, trying to scare with Hell rather than appealing to one's desire to connect with deity.  This hinders the work of Christ. 
 
Here is an Orthodox perspective on religious tolerance: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8075 
 
Now, considering that some people have been attempting to bring rituals, beliefs and terms from other religions into Christianity (also here), I want to make my feelings clear: We must be tolerant and respectful of other people and their religious beliefs.  However, we must also draw the line at adopting these beliefs into Christianity.  I do not believe Wiccans, for example, are worshipping Satan, though I am suspicious of where the magical powers really come from, if they truly exist.  But no, I do not believe you can be "Christian Wiccan," "Buddhist Christian," "Hindu Christian," "Christian Muslim," or whatever else.  This website shows just how far heresies can go when allowed to spread unchecked, how damaging they can be to the truth of orthodoxy.  I also don't believe that tolerance means saying that other beliefs are valid or correct.  It just means respecting that other people have the right to think differently than you, even if they're wrong. 
 
Angels: Is "This Present Darkness" by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction? 
Back when I first read the book This Present Darkness, I thought Peretti had uncovered amazing truths in his research.  People were treating This Present Darkness like divine revelation of angelic and demonic activities.  I seem to recall Peretti going on The 700 Club because of this and saying it was just fiction, which helped me to treat it as such.  But it took me quite some time to stop seeing demons under every bush, as the saying goes.  Much of the world's evil comes from the human heart.  A review of this book is now posted in the "Reviews" section. 
 
If you want to know Church teaching about angels, reading "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" by St. John Damascene. 
 
Halloween: Not the Devil's Holiday! 
When I was a kid, Halloween was just the time to trick-or-treat in a cool costume and get candy.  When I was real little, we trick-or-treated from one Sunday School classroom to another.  And I grew up in a conservative church!  Nowadays, Halloween is the "Devil's Holiday," a day for Christians to avoid at all costs and complain about.  Where did this come from?  It's not based on truth.  Maybe it came from The 700 Club, since that's where I first heard it was "evil" (late 1980's).  In any case, this is the true story of Halloween, basically an ancient harvest festival, no worse than the pagan traditions absorbed by Christmas and Easter celebrations: 
http://usaweekend.com/05_issues/051023/051023halloween.html 
Here is even more information, from a group which really does its research: 
http://www.religioustolerance.org/hallowee.htm 
Apparently, the Orthodox Church allows Halloween fun: 
http://www.christianforums.com/t3690428 
Also see: Halloween: A Distinctly Christian Holiday, where the author says we must not let the pagans do our thinking for us.  And http://lifeofanorthodoxsoldier.blogspot.com/2011/10/on-halloween.html
 
 
Hell and the Nature of God: 
I'm trying to get the bulk of my information here from official, Orthodox Church-run sites, and avoid using "River of Fire" by Alexandre Kalomiros as a resource, because many charge that he was anti-West and part of a schismatic, non-Orthodox group.  Nevertheless, I find many of his claims to be echoed on official Orthodox Church websites, such as the one for the Orthodox Church of America.  In fact, I checked with the Very Reverend John Matusiak, who answers questions in the Q&A section of the OCA website, and he said that yes indeed, the Orthodox idea of Hell is of a place which is beyond time and space, not physical but in God's presence, with metaphorical fire.  He says that apparent differences between websites and other sources are really just different ways of explaining the same truth.  Also, there are many websites, especially those which are not official Church websites, which have incorrect information and theological opinion which does not match Church teachings. 
 
However, I cannot just discount "River of Fire."  It is controversial, yes, especially because of the polemics against the West.  It's also accused of bad theology.  However, it also has fervent backers among the canonical Orthodox, including priests, monks and archimandrites.  Some find it too harsh against the West; some find it to be full of beauty and light, bringing them ever closer to God.  It was the first Orthodox book or article to start me down the path of investigating Orthodoxy's claims.  After I first read through it late one night, I felt as if I truly loved God for the first time ever--before was just infatuation.  Not only did it discuss Hell, but the nature of God and the atonement.  A good friend, who was recommended the book by an archimandrite (unmarried priest or head of a monastery), requested me to put "River of Fire" back on my site.  He says that whether something comes from an Old Calendrist (very conservative Orthodox, no longer in communion with the official Orthodox churches), or from a New Calendrist (official Orthodox), makes no difference: You can tell if it's of God.  So here is "River of Fire" by Alexandre Kalomiros. 
 
My research is pulling up an Orthodox vision of Hell which contrasts sharply with the famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards: http://www.ccel.org/e/edwards/sermons/sinners.html 
 
In essence, this "Hell" is not necessarily a physical place.  Many say it is within the heart.  God will not separate anyone from him; he will bathe every single soul with love.  But this is not "universalism"; even in God's presence, some will resist his love, while others bask in it.  For those who accept the consuming fires of his love, which burn away all impurities, this love will be bliss.  For those who resist them, this love will be Hell.  Is it eternal, or never-ending?  Some Church Fathers disagree, but there seems to be a consensus that it will never end, that after the Resurrection when all souls are given eternal bodies, that eternal nature means we can no longer change or repent.  The Fathers who disagree say it's possible for the soul in Hell to repent; it's also possible to never repent, but become so full of despair that you enter an existential void which you never escape.  (A friend's priest told him that the meaning of "eternal" has never officially been fixed.)  So whether you're dealing with physical flames or metaphorical flames, Hell still should be avoided. 
 
Also, demons will not torture the condemned, because they and Satan will also be condemned--their own fault.  God is not raging at them; he loves them and wishes they had chosen another route.  But they could not be allowed to continue in wickedness. 
 
St. John Damascene wrote in Book IV Chapter XXVII of An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith: "Again the divine apostle says, For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. And again: It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory: it is sown a natural body (that is to say, crass and mortal), it is raised a spiritual body, such as was our Lord's body after the resurrection which passed through closed doors, was unwearying, had no need of food, or sleep, or drink. For they will be, saith the Lord, as the angels of God: there will no longer be marriage nor procreation of children. The divine apostle, in truth, says, For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus, Who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body: not meaning change into another form (God forbid!), but rather the change from corruption into incorruption....We shall therefore rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ: and the devil and his demons and the man that is his, that is the Antichrist and the impious and the sinful, will be given over to everlasting fire: not material fire like our fire, but such fire as God would know. But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages. Amen." 
 
As is written on the website for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: 
 
The resurrection of the dead is a miracle that will happen at the second coming of the Lord. According to the Creed: "I await the resurrection of the dead." This resurrection will be a new creation. However, our physical bodies as we know them now will be restored, in a spiritualized existence like that of the Lord after His Resurrection. 
 
The final judgment will follow the resurrection of all. Some will rise to the resurrection of life, and some to the resurrection of judgment and condemnation. Christ will be our Judge on the basis of our deeds, our works of love or our acts of wickedness. 
 
The end-time will follow, with a permanent separation between good and evil, between those who will be awarded etemal life of happiness and bliss in heaven, and those who will be condemned to the fire of eternal damnation, to the eternal remorse of their conscience for having rejected God and authentic life in Him and having joined the inauthentic life invented by the devil and his servants. 
 
A new heaven and new earth will be established, inhabited by righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). The Kingdom of God will be fully established; the Church will cease to exist. Finally, the Son of God will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, "that God may be everything to everyone" (1 Cor. 15:28). 
 
Spirits first go to Hades, or Sheol; this is also where Christ went between his death and resurrection.  He set free the captives there, the Harrowing of Hades (also known as the Harrowing of Hell).  (Though some say this is a misreading of 1 Peter 3:18-19, my research shows that this is how the Early Church understood it.  The Orthodox Church still understands it this way.  See http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1932&ecid=1932&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861 (Communion of Saints) and article by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev.)  Some theologians of different denominations say that the blessed dead go to Paradise (not Heaven, but a holding tank for the righteous) and the wicked dead go to Hades (not Hell, but a holding tank for the condemned); some say that before Christ, there was no Paradise, only Hades; some say that before Christ, there was Paradise and Hades.  At the Resurrection and Judgment, we will go to either Heaven or Hell, which are eternal and unchanging, unlike Hades.  An Orthodox catechism put out by the Russian Orthodox Church (link below) says that the spirits of sinners in Hades could potentially be saved--until the Resurrection and Judgment.  After the Judgment, there is no more salvation.   (It's hard to tell if this is official church doctrine or just one school of thought.)  In On the Soul and the Resurrection, St. Gregory of Nyssa argued that, since spirits were in Hades without their bodies, it could not be a physical place, the gulf separating the blessed and the wicked could not have been physical, and the fires torturing the wicked could not have been physical. I'm not sure what he said about after the Resurrection.  St. John Damascene, as we have just seen, also said that the fires after the Resurrection of mankind are not material. The Greek Orthodox Church seems to agree with the Russian Orthodox Church that change is possible after death until the Resurrection, though I'm not sure if they're referring just to the saved or to everyone.   http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8038  According to the Orthodox Church in America, at the end of the ages the Earth will be renewed and we, in our resurrected bodies, will all live here in God's presence and love.  For those who love God, it will be bliss (Heaven); for those who hate God, it will be torment (Hell): http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=28 
http://oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=208 
So when you hear people say, "This Earth is not my home," they are wrong: It is our eternal home, though then it will be in a perfect condition.  On another page, we see that this inner Hell is worse than the Dante-ish external Hell, so it still must be avoided.  This is also proclaimed to be the teaching of the Church Fathers: http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=23 
 
In a book commonly used to introduce people to the Orthodox faith, The Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos Ware writes that God does not imprison man; man imprisons himself.  Man experiences God's love as suffering because of his own free will.  Yet, though Hell is viewed as eternal, several Church Fathers have believed in universalism, or that all will be saved.  It is perfectly all right to hope that universalism is correct (even though it is not church doctrine), and we must pray for the salvation of all.  St. Gregory of Nyssa even said we could hope for the salvation of Satan.  http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/history_timothy_ware_2.htm 
 
Check out how Wikipedia describes the Eastern Orthodox view of Hell, and what it says (in the "Rabbinic Judaism" section) Jews considered Gehenna to be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell#Eastern_Orthodoxy 
Also read the "Roman Catholicism" section: apparently, the Catholic church no longer believes in Dante's Inferno, but in Hell as a state of being--separation from God--not an actual place.  Of course, Wikipedia is not run by the Catholic or Orthodox church, so keep in mind that their articles could potentially be inaccurate. 
 
The Orthodox also reject the Catholic view of Purgatory.  Some, Orthodox and Catholic, have argued that the Orthodox view of metaphorical purifying fires is the same as Purgatory.  However, these purifying fires lead to bliss, not pain, and they are eternally part of Heaven, not a temporary place of punishment.  Since these views are not officially from the Orthodox Church, they could be inaccurate.  For these views, see: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/death/stmark_purg.aspx  
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatory#Eastern_Orthodox_theology 
 
Here is an online catechism from the Russian Orthodox church, which includes an explanation of Hell and Christ's visit to Hades/Hell.  See Death & Resurrection, which says there's a possibility of the soul being released from Hell before the final Judgment.  See The Last Judgment, which talks about what happens to non-Christians.  See What is Hell and A New Heaven & a New Earth
 
Check this out:  
 
"In a remarkable instance of freedom from biblical literalism, St. Isaac the Syrian, arguably the greatest mystic in the tradition of Eastern Christianity, intentionally demythologizes the image of hellfire. Although he by no means rejects the reality of hell, he reinterprets it as a separation from and inability to participate in God's eternal love, a separation more painful according to him than any physical hell. For St. Isaac, hell did not exist prior to sin and its ultimate end is unknown. Hell is not a place of punishment created by God, but a spiritual mode of anguished suffering created by sinful creatures willfully separated from God. According to Isaac, sinners in this hell are not deprived of the love of God; only they suffer in the profound realization of having offended against love and of being unable to participate in it. Hell is none other than this bitter awareness of separation and regret, what St. Isaac calls the 'scourge of love.' Thus, the same divine love radiating towards all is bliss to the righteous but torment to sinners. Certainly the patristic tradition, known for its spiritual exegesis, cannot be charged with slavish literalism to an absolute holy word. In the end, as H. Chadwick has observed, the Church fathers knew that Christianity is not a religion of a book but of a Person." 
http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/new_testament_stylianopoulos.htm 
 
Here's another quote from an Orthodox Catechism by the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto: 
 
"Let us be careful here. All that the Holy Scriptures say regarding hell should not be understood physically, as we know these things today. We should always keep in mind that with the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgement everything will change. Everything will become 'new.' The whole universe. The Fathers of the Church explain this very well, particularly, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who writes the following: 'Because you learned to understand something different from what exists in reality, when you hear the words fire or worm, you should not think of the earthly fire or insect.' In other words, when you hear of fire and worms do not understand it as the fire and worms that you know of here. St. John Damascene also writes the following: 'eternal fire is not a material thing such as we are familiar with; rather it is something that only God comprehends.' In other words, the fire of hell is not physical as we know it, but will be fire as God knows it. 
http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/concerning-death/eternal-life-and-eternal-hell/ 
 
Also see http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1934&ecid=1934&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861 (Eschatology) and http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1935&ecid=1935&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861 (Purgatory). 
Here is the view of the Orthodox Church of America: 
http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=23 
http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=28 
http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=208 
http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=209 
 
Also see: 
http://joannicius.sovereign.us/UNCREATED%20ENERGIES.htm 
 
This is a testimony of a convert from the Baptist to the Orthodox church.  I see some similarities with him: disenchantment with evangelical Christianity, a discovery that Hell is not fire-and-brimstone but an inner reaction to God's love, a discovery that relying on individual interpretations of the Bible (as opposed to examining doctrines of our forefathers) can be a trap.  (I've read that even Luther did not mean "scripture alone" as "ignore tradition.") 
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/tca_carltonfirstbaptist.aspx 
 
What does my priest say about "River of Fire"?  He found it very hard to get through, with too many negatives about other faiths and not enough positives about the Orthodox faith.  But he said that Hell is not physical or material as we are: Everything will be transformed at the Resurrection, no longer material as we know it now.  Pictures of Hell are made material so we understand the devastation of it.  We can burn inside without being materially affected. 
 
An interesting aside on Isaiah 66:24, which is about the continual burning of the bodies of the wicked, and the righteous looking upon them, after all wickedness is finally defeated:  
 
The Talmudists (t) observe from hence, that the wicked, even at the gate of hell, return not by repentance; for it is not said, that "have transgressed", but "that transgress"; for they transgress, and go on for ever; and so indeed the word may be rendered, "that transgress", or "are transgressing" (u); for they interpret it of the damned in hell, as many do; and of whom the following clauses may be understood: 
 
for their worm shall not die; with which their carcasses shall be covered, they lying rotting above ground; or figuratively their consciences, and the horrors and terrors that shall seize them, which they will never get rid of. The Targum is, 
 
"their souls shall not die;'' 
 
as they will not, though their bodies may; but will remain to suffer the wrath of God to all eternity: neither shall their fire be quenched; in hell, as Jarchi interprets it; those wicked men, the followers and worshippers of antichrist, will be cast into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; they will for ever suffer the vengeance of eternal fire; and the smoke of their torment shall ascend for ever and ever, Revelation 14:10, 
 
and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh; the true worshippers of God, Isaiah 66:23 to whom their carcasses will be loathsome, when they look upon them; and their souls abominable, because of their wicked actions; and who cannot but applaud the justice of God in their condemnation; and admire distinguishing grace and mercy, that has preserved them from the like ruin and destruction. The Targum is, 
 
"and the ungodly shall be judged in hell, till the righteous shall say concerning them, we have seen enough;''  
--Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible 
 
From what I understand, the Targum was an oral explanation of the Torah given by rabbis in ancient times, to help the people understand the Torah better.  So--according to the Targum, the punishment goes on because the wicked never stop sinning, yet this eternal punishment only lasts until the righteous ask for it to end? 
 
 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
There have been charges in recent years that Easter and Christmas have been "stolen" from pagans and Christianized, or that they're not really Christian holidays, or that we're ignorant to speak of "the reason for the season" being Christ.  In truth, Christ is the reason for the season for Christians.  Whatever the reasons others celebrate them, wherever many of the traditions come from, for centuries, Christians have celebrated the birth and death/resurrection of Christ on Christmas and Easter.  The Santa Claus traditions have many pagan elements, but the original Santa was Saint Nicholas, Catholic patron saint of children.  He was a real person who lived in Asia Minor in the early days of the Church.  http://www.domestic-church.com/CONTENT.DCC/19981101/SAINTS/nicholas.htm  
http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=23 
Christmas was apparently celebrated as far back as 200 in Egypt.  The date was under dispute for some time, as church authorities tried to figure out what exact date Jesus was born.  It was celebrated in various parts of the world before the date of certain pagan feasts (December 25) was finally set for Christmas in the fourth century.  The Catholic Encyclopedia has an exhaustive history of the celebrations, along with origins of some Christmas traditions: 
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm 
Here is an article from Touchstone Magazine, "Calculating Christmas": 
http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v 
"How December 25 Became Christmas" by Andrew McGowan: 
http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp# 
Here is an Orthodox answer to the charge that Easter is really a pagan feast: 
http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=237&SID=3 
Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Easter: 
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05224d.htm 
Here is an article with tradition's take on the origin of Easter eggs: 
http://www.thenazareneway.com/mary_magdalene.htm 
This article shows that the Resurrection has been a centerpoint of the Church since the earliest days: http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/10/1.aspx#39 
Here are websites attempting to debunk the linking of Jesus with Mithras: 
http://tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.html 
http://www.christian-thinktank.com/copycat.html 
http://www.frontline-apologetics.com/mithras.htm 
A wonderful, Orthodox blog on this subject: 
http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2006/12/16/why-pagans-arent-really-pagan/ 
Another Orthodox blog: 
http://www.lillian-csernica.com/index3.htm 
Wikipedia: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#Date_of_celebration 
 
It seems that even the symbol of the Cross is not safe from revisionism.  A while back, probably around 1998 or 1999, I was confronted with an outrageously ignorant question, asking: "Does it bother you that the cross, supposedly a Christian symbol, was actually stolen from the Egyptians? Why or why not? (The Egyptian cross, the ankh, was a male-female symbol similar in concept to the yin-yang. When the Christians stole the ankh from the Egyptians, they removed the female symbol, or yoni, leaving only the masculine symbol– a subtle way of reinforcing the idea that women are lesser beings)." 
 
You see, somebody on a Christian Usenet newsgroup--probably rec.music.christian--asked if anybody wanted to answer her questionnaire, saying that if they were answered to her satisfaction she would convert.  I volunteered, and she sent me a modified version of Heirophant's Proselytizer Questionnaire.  (One question: "Why are you trying to convert me?"  Answer: "Because you asked."  No, I was not an "evangelical proselytizing zealot," and never have been, but I'm always willing to answer questions from honest seekers.)  This questionnaire is obviously meant to be witty and a way to shoot down overzealous evangelicals, supposedly well-researched etc.  But as you can see if you have any knowledge of Christian history and theology--and especially if you've been looking around the websites I reference here--that questionnaire is full of ludicrously funny questions, full of ignorance about Christianity.  I don't know where the "research" was done, but it sure wasn't in theology books or a Bible--probably various hate sites around the notoriously inaccurate Web.  
 
I had no idea the questionnaire would be so huge--her version had about 150 questions--and she did not mention that it wasn't her own creation, but something she took off some website copyrighted 1997.  (I found it just now by accident.  There's even a forum for people to answer the questions.)  Thinking she had actually sat down and come up with all or most of the questions and was serious, I sighed and decided to plod through it, answering as best I could.  For question 121, after saying that whoever came up with that theory obviously knew nothing about history--the Cross came from the crucifixion, and the manner of the crucifixion from the Romans--I heard no more about such theories.  But now, in doing a little Web searching on the symbolism of the ankh, I've come across similar theories.  Apparently, now people are saying the Cross comes from the ankh.  This theory does not mention the anti-woman element, just that Coptic Christians thought it would be a good idea to incorporate the popular ankh into their symbolism, and the other patriarchates soon copied them.  So now there are people saying that, yet again, the Christians stole something from the pagans.  (Some people don't care where the Cross symbol came from, while some hate anything Christian, and take any excuse to accuse the Church of stealing pagan holidays/symbols/deities and being ignorant for calling these "stolen items" Christian.)  Now, as is clearly shown in the above links, we cannot trust the sources of these theories to tell us the true origins of Christmas and Easter.  So why should we trust them on this ankh theory?  Instead, here is an extensive article by the Catholic Encyclopedia on the origins of the Cross symbol: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04517a.htm   
Also, this article which shows the true meaning of the Cross for the Church: http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/10/1.aspx#38 
Yes, the Coptic Church seems to have based its cross on the ankh.  But that's the Coptic Church, and there was nothing sexist about it.  There are many different Cross symbols, which seem to have developed on their own, and all go back to the Crucifixion--not to making a pagan symbol anti-woman. 
 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians? 
Though conservative Protestant denominations tend to agree that the answer is yes, this is by no means what all churches believe.  See above section on Hell. 
 
The Orthodox view is that unbelievers are judged according to the natural law, the law written on the conscience which every human being has.  We are naturally good; to sin is to act against our nature.  Habitual sins can dull the conscience; the conscience is also the means by which unbelievers can ultimately be saved.  The goal is not man's praise, but pleasing God.  This is based on Romans 2:14-16 and 29.  Also, those of us who are aware of the Mosaic Law (particularly the moral one, which still stands) are also aware that it is impossible to keep it perfectly; it cannot make us righteous.  We are accountable to both the natural and Mosaic Law.   Those who "become righteous by grace through faith fulfill in Christ both the natural and the Mosaic Law" (pp. 341-343, The Orthodox Study Bible).  Also see: 
http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8089 
http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=191&SID=3 
http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/10/1.aspx (The Last Judgment section) 
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/metphil_heterodox.aspx 
 
The Catholic view: 
http://www.catholic.com/library/Salvation_Outside_the_Church.asp 
http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html 
http://www.oncecatholic.org/reading_answers.asp?QC0700 
http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0700.asp 
http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Nov2005/Feature2.asp 
http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jun1999/wiseman.asp#F1 
 
So, in the Orthodox view, what does it mean that Christ is the "Way, the Truth and the Life"?  It does not mean that belief in Christ is the only way to Heaven, or that Christ is a gatekeeper keeping out the unbelievers.  (One Orthodox forum poster jokingly referred to this belief as "Bouncer of Heaven.")  Rather, it means that Christ is the Judge of who receives salvation. 
 
How will people be judged if they were not properly taught about Christ?  We don't know.  But, as my priest says, we who were properly taught have the responsibility to believe/live the faith, be an example of it, and pray for those who are not Christians. 
 
And how do the Orthodox answer the question, "What's the point of missions, then, if good Muslims/Hindus/etc. can go to Heaven anyway?"  The point of missions is not to get spiritual notches on your witness belt, or to increase believer counts, or to snatch people out of Hell.  Our eternal life begins now, not in Heaven, and here we begin sanctification ("theosis").  The point of missions is to spiritually feed the church and then the people outside the church, getting them started on theosis right here and now. 
 
"You ask, will the heterodox be saved....Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins..." --St. Theophan the Recluse 
 
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
This is a baffling question which continues to trouble me whenever I read it, no matter what explanations people come up with.  The November 2005 issue of Presbyterians Today, in the column "Troubling Texts in the Bible," dealt with this very question: http://pcusa.org/today/department/bibleexplorations/bibleexplorations.htm 
This column is not available in its entirety online, though the website has an "order" button so you can order a copy of Presbyterians Today.  Obviously, I cannot copy the article here.  So I will summarize as well as I can without violating copyright: In contrast to Yahweh's (God's) commandment not to murder--which Jesus Christ expands on by saying that even hating someone is akin to murder--we are told in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua that Yahweh commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanite peoples--in many cases, even the small children and infants.  But "biblical scholars generally agree" that these accounts were written long afterwards, during a time when Israel was disobedient to Yahweh's commands (the time of King Josiah, according to The New Oxford Annotated Bible).  Instead of being recorded as a human vow made in hopes of victory in battles, it is recorded as God's command to get idolatry out of the land.  So the text unintentionally becomes a lesson for us on what can happen when we try to justify killing for our own purposes.  
 
The Jewish Study Bible (edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler) agrees that much of Deuteronomy was probably written during the time of King Josiah, and considers the genocide commands to be "an after-the-fact literary compilation rather than an historical portrayal."  This is because of major variations in how the Canaanite peoples were listed and numbered, the use of the symbolic number 7 (completion or totality), variations in numbers of peoples listed depending on where in the Bible you look, and the fact that the genocide was not carried out except in "very limited areas."  The law of the ban, or genocide command, "first arose centuries after the settlement; it was never implemented because there was no population extant against whom it could be implemented.  Its polemic is directed at internal issues in 6th century Judah.  Often the authors of Deuteronomy use the term 'Canaanite' rhetorically to stigmatize older forms of Israelite religion that they no longer accept" (p. 382-383).   
 
Another explanation put forth recently by archaeologists or scholars is that these stories were actually rumors spread around by the Israelites to keep the surrounding nations from messing with them.  Somehow, they made it into Holy Writ.  I don't know how much support these theories have. 
 
Of course, to accept such explanations, we also have to believe the Bible is true, but not always historically or scientifically accurate.  This belief is supported not only by moderate and liberal denominations such as the PCUSA, but also by the Catholic and Orthodox churches. 
http://www.jsonline.com/lifestyle/religion/oct05/364929.asp 
http://holytrinitymission.org/books/english/new_testament_stylianopoulos.htm 
 
Another option is to look at these passages from a Jewish perspective I was fortunate enough to receive: The Israelites did not have the option of peaceful coexistence, because the surrounding peoples were ready to destroy them.  Also, the commandments were not meant to be taken literally, and in fact were not.  (The written Torah was limiting; an oral tradition was passed down from God to Moses to Moses' successors to rabbis--this tradition helped to interpret the Torah properly.  The written Torah was not always to be taken literally.)  The Israelites did not destroy everyone, they often fell into idolatry from the influence of the surrounding peoples (with whom they intermarried), and eventually ten tribes were expelled from Israel, never to be seen again. 
 
As others have noted, there is also the possibility that, if the Israelites kept the young children and babies alive, those children would grow up to destroy the Israelites because of what happened to their parents. 
 
It's a tough part of the Bible to deal with, but needs to be viewed from all angles, not just accepted or discarded without care. 
 
What about predestination? 
The Presbyterian Church (USA) no longer believes in double predestination, or the idea that God predestines some to salvation and some to condemnation.  Even predestination of a Lutheran type--some are predestined to salvation, but no one is predestined to condemnation--is taught, but I'm given to understand that you don't have to believe it to be Presbyterian.  I believe in a more Orthodox view: God works on every one of us.  He makes the first move.  It is up to us to decide; because he loves us, he will not force us.  This is closer to Arminianism and different from Pelagianism, which puts everything on man's decision, while God sits back and waits.  Predestination--as in, God determines who will be saved, based on His own unknown reasons--was not a biblical doctrine; it arose in the Latin church, particularly with St. Augustine's writings.  The Early Church Fathers said that we can't take texts used to support predestination "at face value without leading to unacceptable deductions about God who is loving and just, and not arbitrary" (http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/new_testament_stylianopoulos.htm).  St. Justin Martyr and St. John Damascene both criticized the view that God decides who will be damned and who will be blessed, arguing that it would make God unjust.  Apparently, this view of "fate" came from paganism.  Rather, God gave us free will to make up our own minds.  Before the Reformation, occasionally, someone would teach double predestination, and be proclaimed a heretic.  If not for Luther and Calvin, double predestination would probably never have taken such a hold in Christian thought.  http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1931&ecid=1931&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861  (Free Will and Predestination) 
 
In this PCUSA article on atonement, limited atonement (Calvinist) is not mentioned; it is more Orthodox and even says our goal of being is communion with God: http://www.pcusa.org/today/archive/believe/wpb9404.htm 
http://www.pcusa.org/today/archive/believe/wpb8509.htm 
 
Musings on Sin, Salvation, and Discipleship 
In the Old Testament, in the laws given to ancient Israel, animal sacrifices were required.  But they were so that God would "wink at" sins, a purification of the flesh (Heb. 9:13).  They could not remove them from the conscience or transform the person (Heb. 10:4).  They also did not cover everything; certain sins had no sacrifices, so the sinner had to beg God for forgiveness. Since sins could not be removed from the conscience, even the righteous had to go down to Sheol/Hades, awaiting the day that Christ defeated death and led the souls of the believing dead out of Sheol.  (Did anybody stay behind?  I doubt anyone would want to, but nobody knows.)  Since all have sinned, no ordinary priest could be the sinless one who takes on the guilt of the sinner and atones for the sins of all mankind. Our eternal salvation is not just about Christ willingly giving himself as the ultimate sacrifice. The Orthodox note at least three parts to redemption, while the Catholic and Protestant churches generally focus on Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the atonement of our sins: Christ took on human nature so that we could again take on God's nature.  Christ atoned for our sins; he took the punishment and paid the price for them--like a fine or a price set for a slave's redemption, or freedom--so we could be set free from them.  When he was resurrected, he broke the bonds of Hell and defeated death so we can live forever.  Also note that Christ did this willingly, and that Christ is God himself.  It wasn't the Father beating up the Son to appease his wrath, nor was it God beating himself up to appease his wrath.  Basically, wrath was introduced into the world because of the Fall, and God's self-sacrifice ended it.  I've read that the concept of the angry god who must be appeased by blood sacrifice is not from Judaism, but from paganism, that even when Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac, the word is "Elohim"--not "Yahweh"--because the order did not come from God at all.  (I read this in a Web theology forum, so I don't know if it's correct or not.)  The Orthodox say that God did not have to use this way to save mankind from sin and death, but chose it because it was just and righteous.  God is not at the mercy of some righteous law higher than he; he creates the laws according to his righteousness.  "The plan of God for man's salvation is called the plan of 'divine economy,' i.e. divine dispensation.  God the Father conceives the plan, the Son executes it, the Holy Spirit fulfills it and leads it to perfection and finalization."  http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8038  God could have redeemed us in another way, but wanted to demonstrate his love for us by giving up what meant the most to him: his only son.   
 
So there is no reason for you to sacrifice an animal now; it won't help you eternally, and you have a much better way to be redeemed.   
 
There is a teaching, though by no means widespread in the modern age, that unbaptized babies who die go to Hell.  This teaching stems from the Western (European) idea that Original Sin means we all inherit Adam's guilt.  Many Protestant Christians do seem to believe that babies are innocent, that Original Sin means an inborn tendency to (not guilt of) sin, and anyone who has not heard of or does not fully understand salvation is judged by conscience. There is support for this in Romans, that conscience condemns some and may perhaps save others. The Eastern Orthodox church says that the Western concept of Original Sin is totally wrong; we do not inherit Adam's sins; since he became mortal, and we are born from his seed, we are also mortal and subject to mortal weaknesses (death, sin, etc.).  Death is seen not so much as a punishment but as mercy, preventing us from sinning forever.  The Orthodox church insists that the concept of a God who must be appeased in the proper way or he will send you to everlasting punishment in a Hell he created, is a Western perversion. Instead, God is loving; even his wrath, justice and judgment are loving, not cruel or discriminating; our eternal suffering comes from us (NOT God); and we cannot say how he will judge those who are too young, mentally deficient, uninformed or misinformed, or of other religions.  We must remember that his justice is "the divine energy which accomplishes man's salvation"--full of mercy, compassion, love, fidelity, and truth.  "The earth too had a beginning and man was created by God's love. The creation of man and of the universe was not out of necessity.  Creation is the work of the free and unconditional will of the Creator.  If He had so wished, He need not have created us; the absence of creation would not have been a privation for Him. The creature's love is not one that gives Him satisfaction.  God has no need to be satisfied.  He needs nothing. God's love cannot be compared to human love, even as His other attributes such as paternity, justice, goodness cannot be compared to their human counterparts.  God's love is a love that constitutes a mystery unfathomable to man's reason or intellect. God has no 'emotions' which might create passion, suffering, need or necessity in Him.  Nevertheless, although the nature of divine love remains incomprehensible and inexplicable to human reason, this love is real and genuine and I confess, in agreement with Scripture, that God is love."  (http://www.orthodoxfaith.com/doctrine_believe.html
http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8038 
Note that the Nazarene church agrees with the Orthodox church on the meaning of original sin: 
 
"We believe that sin came into the world through the disobedience of our first parents, and death by sin.  We believe that sin is of two kinds: original sin or depravity, and actual or personal sin.  We believe that original sin, or depravity, is that corruption of the nature of all the offspring of Adam by reason of which everyone is very far gone from original righteousness or the pure state of our first parents at the time of their creation, is averse to God, is without spiritual life, and inclined to evil, and that continually....We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected.  We believe that actual or personal sin is a voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person....We believe that personal sin is primarily and essentially a violation of the law of love; and that in relation to Christ sin may be defined as unbelief" (p. 27-28, Church of the Nazarene Manual, Nazarene Publishing House, c. 1997). 
 
The Nazarene church is not Calvinist.  Traditional Calvinists believe, "Once saved, always saved," and that because of "total depravity" or "original sin," only God's predestined chosen are enabled to believe in Christ. The Nazarene church believes that saved persons can be lost if they turn away from the faith; it also believes that Christ's atonement is full and sufficient for all human sin and all human beings, and that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed on everyone, allowing anyone to turn to faith and God.  The Orthodox believe that no one is totally depraved, that the image of God is still in everyone, that the Holy Spirit invites everyone to Christ.  You're not just "saved from Hell," as some might put it; you're saved from "sin, death, and evil" (also more in keeping with the Nazarene and Lutheran definitions of salvation).  You receive the Holy Spirit and he begins to change you, make you more like Christ.  Being like God and Christ (in heart though not in substance) is our ultimate goal; another word for this is sanctification.  We must make a distinction between modern catchphrases and proper definitions: It's not, "a believer knows he's saved from Hell and a disciple knows he's saved for glorifying God by loving God and people."  (I'd never heard that definition before now.  Is that another TULIP Calvinism-based doctrine?  Based on my most recent research, it probably is. Apparently TULIP Calvinism says that were are saved from Hell for the glory of God.  In my tradition, being saved from Hell was part of it, but the most common thing I've always heard is, "saved from our sins."  I grew up Arminian.)  A believer is anyone who believes in Christ, has repented of his sins, and is now reconciled to God.  Many traditions include baptism in that.  Being saved from eternal torment (whatever exactly that means) is only part of it, and any conversion based merely on that is based on fear, therefore dubious.  (If you stop believing in Hell, you no longer have to believe in Christ to feel "safe.")  Discipleship is a "life-long process of learning and living the faith": 
Living as Apostles to America by Fr. Constantine L. Sitaras 
Here, we are said to be saved from "sin, death, and evil," and redemption means "repossession by God": 
http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7114 
 
The Nazarene church defines discipleship as Christian maturity, a way of life, "the process of learning how God would have us live in the world," with the ultimate goal of becoming like Christ in character. http://nazarene.org/welcome/values_missional.html  These are the definitions I keep finding as I search the Web for definitions of discipleship: lifelong learning, lifelong seeking to be like Christ, obedience to Christ. As for what you are saved for, Catholics believe it's for union with Christ/God. http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=105 
This sounds much like the Orthodox belief as well, since reconciliation with God and taking on his character and eternal life to commune with him is seen as our primary purpose in salvation.  I do see several Protestant fundamentalist sites which say that we are "saved for service."  It seems the newer traditions look at it as, you are saved to be a tool, while the oldest traditions say you are saved for union/communion with God. Which one seems more loving and less manipulative to you?  Which one seems like God saying, "Well, what's in it for me?"  If you are in communion with God, service is something you naturally want to do.  But it's not the biggest thing God wants out of you.  One site says that we are saved for "a full and abundant life"; some others say we are saved for Heaven.  So now it's all about us?  I think I'll go with the ancients on this one.  In all the parts of the Early Church, salvation was "understood as union with God.  This was the primary focus: union," though this union was seen in different ways by the three main branches--Syriac, Greek and Latin--of the Early Church (http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1927&ecid=1927&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861 Soteriology).   
 
In questions 1-4, 8, 16-19, and 21, see what the Presbyterian Study Catechism of 1998 says on the subject: 
http://www.pcusa.org/catech/studycat.htm 
 
From "Belonging to God: A First Catechism": "Forgiveness and eternal life with God are what we mean by salvation." 
http://www.pcusa.org/theologyandworship/confession/firstcatechism.htm 
 
The Lutheran view is that we are redeemed "from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil."  For what are we saved?  To be Christ's own, righteous and blameless in God's sight; to live under him in his kingdom, being freed from the slavery of sin and freed to serve God; to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, honoring him with our whole lives and rejoicing with him on Earth and in Heaven (p. 131 and 141-2, Luther's Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House, c. 1986). 
 
I've been hearing traditional Calvinistic doctrines coming from my previous church's leaders for a couple of years now, not just through sermons but through mailings we still get. The doctrines probably came from the pastor reading Calvinist theologian John Piper.  Because of the absence of predestination and limited atonement doctrines, we didn't know they were Calvinist doctrines until recently; we just knew they were totally foreign.  I've just discovered (from websites about or run by Evangelical Free Church of America) that the EFCA does not hold an official stance on Arminianism or Calvinism--which means that pastors in the EFCA are free to be TULIP Calvinists--and many of them are!  (And if the PCUSA ever abandons its modern Reformed, moderate theology to return to its strict Calvinist/Reformed roots, we will be right to leave it as well.  As long as they're only 2- or 3-point Calvinist, if that, we can stay.) 
 
It has been said that even Calvin focused quite a bit on mystical union with God, but in TULIP Calvinism, it's practically absent. 
 
The Orthodox church has a different take on salvation than Protestant denominations.  I will soon describe again the three-step process which Christ took to save us, contrary to the Western view, which focuses on the atonement.  For now, I will mention our part of salvation.  The Orthodox do not believe it happens at one particular time: the altar call, the time of decision, whatever.  In this, they are more akin to Calvinists and Lutherans, who recognize the Spirit's work in a person before he actually believes.  That makes the altar call useless.  In Orthodoxy, salvation means you've been saved, "being joined to Christ in baptism"; you're being saved, basically being sanctified; and you will be saved at the Last Judgment (p. 348, The Orthodox Study Bible).  "Salvation, for Orthodox Christians, is seen as deliverance from the curse of sin and death, which makes it possible for us to enter into union with God through Christ the Savior. Salvation includes a process of growth of the whole person whereby the sinner is transformed into the image and likeness of God. One is saved by faith through grace, although saving faith involves more than belief.  Faith must be active and living, manifested by works of righteousness, whereby we cooperate with God to do His will.  Hence, if one is 'being saved,' one is on the way to one's ultimate goal: eternal union with God and participation in the divine nature, as Saint Paul writes." http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=36&SID=3    
 
In the Early Church, the Syriac branch saw sin as rupture between God and man; salvation was universal restoration of all things, and between Creator and creation.  It was union, communion, fellowship.  All of creation is offered up to God; peace and Paradise are restored.  The Greek branch saw sin as alienation; salvation was reconciliation between God and man, exchange which leads to transformation, regeneration.  "Salvation is the establishment of a new creation."  The Latin branch saw sin as disobedience; salvation was redemption and restitution.  Note the legal emphasis.  To the Greeks, the "economy of grace" was "God's taking care of the household of faith throughout history."  The word used for economy, oikonomia, meant a "steward dispensing money for the management of the household."  The stewards were the Apostles, proclaiming and explaining the Gospel.  The means of salvation included Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection, not just the Cross.  The Latins, who did not have a word for oikonomia, made up their own word, oeconomia, which they "interpreted in financial terms, and not without warrant."  Latin culture, since it was based in the ancient Roman Empire, focused on "law, order and justice."  God seems to have been given a position similar to a king or an emperor, that of supreme Lawgiver and Judge.  Paul's letter to the Romans--using, as he commonly did, terms and understandings of the local culture in order to explain things--used this legal terminology.  So to the Latins, the "economy of grace" was Christ paying the debt of sinners who broke God's laws and deserved punishment; salvation is "legal and economic redemption."  Christ's death is the means of salvation and the center of Latin theology--and, by extension, Protestant theology.  Though the Orthodox and the Catholic/Protestant branches all include the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the Cross, and though they all include reconciliation, redemption, restitution, and regeneration, the emphases are different because of the difference between the Eastern and Latin branches of the Early Church. 
http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1927&ecid=1927&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861 (Soteriology) 
 
The Orthodox do not believe in the TULIP Calvinist or even Lutheran forms of predestination, or that grace is irresistible.  Instead, God knows what will happen, what choices we will make, and predestines based on that--not based on some mysterious or arbitrary choice of his own for his glory or any other reason.  The Orthodox say that the early church did not believe in irresistible grace.  (Double predestination, the Calvinist version in which many are predestined to damnation, is pinned on Augustine--not the view of the Early Church or the Church Fathers.  Though St. Augustine is considered a saint by both East and West, he is also acknowledged to have erred in certain writings. http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8153)  The atonement is not limited, because God wants to save everyone; because of his love, God gives us the freedom to choose or reject him.  He will not force anyone.  This is the same teaching used by Arminians, so can it truly be called "Arminianism"--as if it were a recent heresy? Shouldn't we instead reject Pelagianism, which Arminianism is often confused with?  Pelagianism makes salvation purely man's decision; Arminianism (and Orthodoxy) says that the Holy Spirit brings a person to faith.  The Orthodox and Lutherans alike reject Pelagianism.  (I would suspect that the Orthodox also reject the idea that God plans out for us what spouse, career, etc. we will have.)   
 
For us it is sufficient to know these two clear, understandable, basic precepts: first, God desires that we be saved, for He loves mankind. Second, we can be saved, for we are free. Thus, the will of God and the desire of man make up predestination. God desires, and if man desires also, then he or she is already predestined.  Yes, God, the Lover of mankind, desires that we all be saved. This is confirmed by His three non-contradictory attributes: divine justice, divine mercy, and divine providence. . . . Even the slightest suffering of Christ had potential to expiate the universal sin. One drop of His most pure blood could extinguish all the flames of eternal torment. His death alone, had it been natural, without sickness, could have saved the entire human race. Yet when He suffered, He suffered as no one has. When He shed His blood to the last drop, when He died on the cross, enduring such torment and shame, can we possibly think that He did all this to save only part of the human race, leaving the remainder to be damned? He could so easily have saved everyone. Yet, after such an effort, would He desire to save only a few? Did He expend such a priceless treasure in paying for such a small purchase, did He pour forth all the wealth of His divine mercy just to be benevolent to a numbered few? NO! The Divine gift is for all! The wounds of Jesus Christ are healing for all. The blood of Jesus Christ is the miraculous ladder by which we all can ascend to paradise. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as ransom for all, says Paul (I Tim. 2:5). One died for all (2 Cor. 5:14). If He died for all, then He wants all to be saved. "The Son of Righteousness," we are told by St. Gregory the Theologian, "shown forth for all, lived for all and died and is risen for all."  http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/predestination.aspx  
 
Also see: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/ec_salvation.aspx 
 
Now, as for the question of works vs. faith saving a person: First of all, God does the saving, based on our faith.  We are saved by grace through faith.  Second, we are inspired to do good works as the Holy Spirit works within us to make us righteous.  If we don't do good works, if we don't love anyone but ourselves, if we care nothing for obedience to God or following Christ, if we do not repent for sins we still commit, then how can we say we have faith?  The issue is not works vs. faith, but works and faith.  http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=234&SID=3  The works don't cause our salvation, but are the proof of it.  The Orthodox and the Nazarenes agree that "once saved, always saved" is unbiblical: you can be saved but still turn away and lose your salvation. 
 
But can you be a good Christian, then lose your salvation by stubbing your toe and letting out a string of obscenities?  Or do you have to turn away from Christ and the church to lose your salvation?  The Nazarene church says you have to turn away from Christ, though I have heard of a school of thought which says you have to repent every time you do something or you'll be condemned.  This school of thought never seemed to predominate in my church, however.  Salvation was seen to happen at a moment in time, but you had to reject Christ to lose your salvation.  With the Orthodox, since salvation is a process rather than a moment in time, it comes out the same: you don't "apostasize," or lose your salvation, unless you totally reject Christ. "While some Protestants would say that once a person is saved, he or she is always saved, and other Protestants would say that once a person is saved, he or she can lose his or her salvation, Orthodoxy, by virtue of its understanding of salvation as an ongoing process of spiritual growth, would say that one can indeed jeopardize one's salvation, but that it is not realistic to say that one has 'lost' something that one has yet to experience or possess in its fullness."  http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=36&SID=3  So, I don't think they're saying that you will go to Hell if you are a faithful Christian but cut somebody off in traffic and die.  It is important to continually pray for forgiveness; this is a discipline I started in my childhood, so it is totally familiar to me, even as a Protestant.  Public confession is also included in the liturgies of various denominations, such as Presbyterian and Lutheran.  Continual repentance shows that you are truly interested in following God, and allows God the opportunity to forgive you.  You don't repent for a lifetime of sins over and over again after your first repentance, but for new sins; you don't lose your salvation if you do something, but it does hurt your standing with God.  If you forget something, you won't stand before God at Judgment and hear, "But you never repented for hitting the cat when you were five years old, so you are now condemned to burn for all eternity."  Or, "You were a faithful Christian, but you really should have eaten less, held your tongue, and worked at a soup kitchen, so you will now burn in Hell for all eternity.  How could you have been imperfect?  Didn't you understand what I told you to do?" 
 
"The Orthodox Church teaches that we are saved only on the basis of God's grace.  However, God himself has established conditions for us to receive this grace, namely faith and works--the first of which must be repentance.  These conditions do not earn our salvation, but God nonetheless requires them of us, and this is what the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers through every century have taught.  In fact, it is also what many Protestants teach." http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/thema_response.aspx  This article goes on to say that the aim of Christian life is not works--fasting, vigils, almsgiving, etc.--but to acquire the Spirit, which is done through these works.  Also see  http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=12&SID=3.  As we find in  http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frag_salv.aspx , we do these works out of free will, but even our free will is the work of the Holy Spirit.  In the doctrine of synergy, or cooperation with God in our salvation, we do our part because of the Holy Spirit's work in us.  Even our initial faith is from the work of the Spirit. Justification and sanctification, "accompanied as it is" by good works, is "totally grace driven" because only God can give us the strength to keep doing them.  As seen above, the Orthodox insist that, though we must work for our salvation, we do not earn it: a contrast with the Roman Catholic teaching of merit, which Luther disputed.  How do they reconcile Paul's words--"we are justified by faith, not by works"--with James'--"we are justified by works and not by faith alone"?  (Luther did not like the book of James, which contradicted the theology he had built up.)  When you discover the answer, it is quite simple: They were talking about two different kinds of "works."  Paul was fighting self-righteousness and Christians who demanded that Gentiles follow Jewish laws.  He meant the works of "formal, legalistic obedience," such as circumcision, observing festivals, etc.  James was fighting "dead, legalistic Christianity" and faith which is merely agreeing to Christian doctrine, without living it.  By works, James meant "willed actions flowing from belief, as the life of faith," such as the Ten Commandments, giving to the poor, etc.  Works and faith are not separated from each other (p. 539, The Orthodox Study Bible). 
 
I see no indication in Orthodox doctrine that we are expected to be perfect in this life.  After all, salvation is seen as a lifelong process.  Neither do I see the idea that we are holier than others because we follow a set of dos and don'ts; rather, it's about discipline, learning obedience to Christ.  The "good works" lists tend to include fasting, repentance, vigils, almsgiving, works of charity--rather than legalistic rules such as, wear your hair a certain way, wear certain clothes, don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, don't cuss, tithe ten percent gross and give it all to your local church, etc.  As a Protestant from a Holiness background, I don't understand the "vigils" or "fasting" part, but even Protestants know about repentance, giving to the poor, and works of charity.  We know they are expected of us.  Other Orthodox "good works" lists I have seen are simply based on Christ's question at the Judgment, in which he asks how we treated our fellow man: the poor, the sick, the hungry, etc.  The Orthodox say there is no quota of good works which we must fill; what is important is that we show our faith through our lives and how we treat others.  Our salvation depends on our willingness to do this. You'll note that, at the Judgment, Christ divides us based not on how we worshipped or what we wore or what we put into our bodies or how many church programs we headed or whether or not we went on Work and Witness teams, but on how we treated each other.  http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=234&SID=3  
 
"Every Christian is called to holiness and throughout the Church’s history there have been true saints; however, saints who have managed to transcend sin and the passions are very few. The majority of Christians are sinners who are members of the Church not by virtue of a holiness attained, but by virtue of their striving for this holiness and their repentance. The Church’s task is to sanctify them and lead them to God. In this sense it is said of Christians that they are in patria et in via — in the homeland and on the way, that is, simultaneously within the Church and yet on the way towards her" (http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/10/1.aspx#33). 
 
A good explanation of the Orthodox doctrine of synergy and faith vs. works is here: http://www.orthodoxfaith.com/doctrine_believe.html 
Also see: 
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/ec_salvation.aspx 
 
The understanding of "justification" and "sanctification" is different from the Protestant understanding, as well: Justification means "make righteous" (which the original Greek supports), rather than just a legal term meaning "declared righteous."  Sanctification means "make holy."  They're basically two sides of the same coin: being made righteous and holy, a continuous process.  The moral law--the part of the Mosaic Law that did not pass away, as opposed to the civil (legal) or ceremonial Mosaic Laws--was given for our benefit, not to make us sinners deserving of wrath; through following the law, we receive blessings.  God requires us to be holy because that's what we're created for, not so he can have something to hold over our heads.  We also do not have to be perfect to be forgiven.  As you can see on page 11 of "Salvation by Christ: A Response to the Credenda/Agenda," http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frag_salv.aspx, Lutheran and Orthodox scholars have discussed justification and discovered their teachings are much the same.  Check out this article if you want a full understanding of the Orthodox view of justification. 
 
If we look at the beliefs of the Early Church for a guide, we find that they looked at the whole of the teachings by Paul, Peter, and James.  And if we read "justification" as "make righteous," then it has to include acts of charity, prayer, and the like--especially if you want to strengthen your faith.  After all, we wouldn't consider Ebenezer Scrooge to be saved, even if he were to say he had faith in God.  Christ Himself railed against those who cared nothing for the poor and needy, culminating this teaching in a parable which showed a rich man in suffering, while the poor man he neglected, Lazarus, was experiencing bliss.  (Both were in Hades, where all souls went, but their experiences differed because of and were separated by the spiritual gulf of their different choices, as St. Gregory of Nyssa explains in On the Soul and the Resurrection.)  The danger is getting faith and deeds out of balance.  Just as we wouldn't believe Scrooge if he called himself a Christian, we also should not concentrate on good deeds over faith, as if they will somehow get God to love us more.  In the late Middle Ages, the Catholic church overemphasized works, which led Martin Luther to say that salvation is by faith alone.  "In the final analysis, faith holds primacy, and that is why the Early Church (both East and West) consciously said one is saved by faith and good works, not by good works and faith.  Just as meaningful doing should naturally flow from authentic being; life-giving good works should spontaneously arise from a living faith" (http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1929&ecid=1929&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861 Faith and Good Works).   
 
Now for another visit to the Orthodox view of redemption.  First of all, the reason for the Cross is a bit different.  God is seen as impassive; that is, he's not stirred to strong passions for evil in the same way we humans are, passions which drive us to defend ourselves or our good name at the expense of rational thinking or love or justice.  He does not hate sinners, as demonstrated when Christ spent so much time with sinners.  He hates sinful deeds--those are what condemn a soul.  And when the Bible speaks of his wrath, that "wrath" is actually the way sinners experience his love and sense of justice--you know, just as with a parent and child.  A good parent loves the child, protects him, and tells him not to do things because they will hurt him, make things difficult for the parent changing his diaper, or will hurt someone else.  But the child does not like being told no, and will act up.  The parent punishes, but not to upset the child or be a tyrant, though the child thinks so.  This is corrective discipline and loving.  The use of the word "wrath" was not meant to be literal, but something that the writers and readers of the Bible could understand.  It basically means "consequences."  Redemption redeems us from sin's consequences; it heals our spiritually diseased condition. 
 
The way I understand it, though some disagree, the Orthodox do not reject the idea that the Cross redeemed us from our sins.  Make no mistake, it has great importance.  But it is only a part of what Christ accomplished: 
 
Again, Original Sin, as the Orthodox and Nazarenes agree, is not inherited guilt, but inherited weakness. Babies are not guilty of any sin.  Our own sins make us guilty.  When Adam fell spiritually and became mortal, he passed on his mortality to us.  Three things now separated us from God: our nature, sin, and death.  When Christ was born, he took on human nature so that we can take on God's nature, or character (not abilities). When Christ died, he broke through the barrier of sin which prevented the Holy Spirit from dwelling inside humans.  He became sin so sinners could become holy.  Since Christ was innocent, he paid the debt for us and redeemed us, like a slave or someone who owes a fine to a court.  We no longer have to be slaves to sin.  (The Eastern view is that it is the satisfaction of God's righteousness and justice, that it is propitiation, or reconciliation.  The atonement is not just Christ's death, it is his offering of himself.  The way I understand it, the Orthodox church accuses the Catholic church of taking the figurative terms of the Apostles and, in the Middle Ages, making them overly literal terms fitting with the Latin view of Original Sin.  The Latin view of Original Sin is that Adam infinitely offended God, the guilt has been passed to all of Adam's descendants, and only Christ's sacrifice could appease this angry God.)  And, most importantly, Christ defeated death by dying, which he had to do so he could resurrect.  When he rose again, he made it possible for us to also rise again and live eternally in new bodies.  (The Latin view is that Christ came to Earth so he could be the sacrifice for our sins, and that the Resurrection shows his glory.)  We are saved not because we say a magical prayer, but because we repent, are baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, and begin the process of becoming like Christ.  Being just like God and Christ is a goal to strive for, though not a goal we'll reach until the Resurrection.  This is done not just for God's glory, but so that we may have communion with God.  This is his desire, and inside every one of us is this desire. 
 
So why don't the translators of our English Bibles bring us understandings such as these?  It is claimed that the Orthodox have a better understanding of Greek, and that they have faithfully held to the interpretations of the Early Church. 
 
To Greek and some Syriac Early Church Fathers, the Incarnation had nothing to do with Adam and Eve sinning.  Its purpose was union between God and mankind, a union expressed in marital terms.  To the Latin Fathers, the Incarnation only happened because of the sin of Adam and Eve.  This offended the Eastern church and even some Latin Popes, but after the Schism in the 11th century, it became the official doctrine of the Roman church.  As explained in http://cte.rockhurst.edu/index.aspx?sid=945&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1927&ecid=1927&crid=0&calpgid=1295&calcid=1861 (Soteriology), "From the Eastern perspective, God's desire and reason for the Incarnation was loving intimacy, not punishment for sin.  The Sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, while foreknown by God, was not the primary motivation for the Incarnation.  The East accentuates God's mercy over God's justice; the West is vice versa." 
 
Some Western Medieval theologians came up with the idea that the redemption, or ransom of humanity, was paid to God the Father, that the Fall "aroused God's anger and that divine justice necessarily required satisfaction: as no human sacrifice could suffice, the Son of God Himself became the ransom in order to satisfy divine justice.  This theory, which rose at the heart of Latin scholastic theology, bears a juridicial stamp and reflects the medieval concept of an offended honour that demands satisfaction."  The Eastern Orthodox Church stated in 1157 that the sacrifice was not just to the Father, but to the whole Trinity.  "Christ voluntarily offered Himself as a sacrifice, offered Himself in His humanity and Himself accepted the sacrifice as God with the Father and the Spirit.... The God-man of the Word offered His redemptive sacrifice to the Father, to Himself as God, and to the Spirit" (http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/10/1.aspx#31). 
 
For more detailed information, describing not only redemption in detail but also how the Orthodox view the Western view of atonement, see: 
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/christcross.aspx 
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/thema_response.aspx 
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/frag_salv.aspx 
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/florov_nt.aspx 
http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=20 
http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7114 
http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?t=64208 
(The first links are to theological defenses.  The last is to a forum in which Orthodox and Protestant posters debate the meaning of the atonement.  One of the posters is so good at this that I wish I could clip and paste everything he says, with phrases such as, "God is not some boiling rage-pot" who needs to vent on somebody, that somebody being Christ.  He also goes into the meaning of the Hebrews passages about sacrifices.) 
 
This is how I understand the Orthodox view of redemption as it has been explained in the above articles. 
 
Links on original sin: 
http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=3&SID=3 
http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=4&SID=3 
http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=5&SID=3 
http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=16 
 
Here is a brief, easy-to-understand article on the Orthodox views on righteousness, works vs. faith, justification, deification/sanctification/theosis, and original sin.  It says we are saved from death, not as a "forensic liberation from guilt through imputed or imparted righteousness."  Rather, salvation is "incorporation, by baptism, into Christ's death and resurrection, such that we 'die and rise' with Him."  Also, "Good works should thus be understood to be a response rather than a means to salvation.  And God's righteousness should be seen as a gift of loving, merciful, saving grace, rather than as a forensic tool, wielded in the service of divine judgment." 
 
The Orthodox do not say that other Christians are not saved, and they do accept previous baptisms by converts as long as they were done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  (No "Parent, Child and Spirit" baptisms are considered valid, for example.)  But they do say they have the fullness of truth, just as many Christians say that other religions have elements of truth but Christianity has the fullness of truth.  
 
Many Protestants hold some teachings similar to Orthodoxy.  I think that Luther and Calvin had many good things to say as well.  But I also think that the West has, at one extreme, made God into a monster so horrid that it's easy to see why so many people run to alternate religions, and at the other extreme, made God into a loving but overly indulgent Father who cares more about making you happy than about saving the world (the "Buddy Christ" image).  One extreme is too strict; the other uses snappy catchphrases and McPraise & McWorship music that often talks about feeling good.  One extreme has one neo-Gnostic view that everything of the world is evil, including holidays and rock music; the other extreme has another neo-Gnostic view that we should do whatever we want, even if it means bringing in Pagan rituals and beliefs.  (See  http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=268.  You see, there were different kinds of Gnostics in the Early Church: one denied the flesh, the other embraced it.)  The Orthodox church's insights can help bring us all back into line with true Gospel.  One thing on which they and the liberals agree is that God has been sorely misrepresented for centuries, and his love should be emphasized. 
 
Individual interpretation is the way to confusion; we need to have the church examine theologies and bring them into line with truth.  But finding a church which can be trusted to do this, is another matter.  One abandons all tradition and won't even recite the Apostle's Creed; another does not want to change any traditions, no matter if the traditions are from God or manmade.  (This also makes it hard for me to take quotes from the writings of just one denomination.)  The Catholic and Orthodox churches are right that just abandoning tradition has led to our current atmosphere of thousands of denominations arguing with each other. 
 
It's funny that many of the spiritually abusive cults claim to be resurrecting the Early Church's practices.  Many of the mainstream, nonabusive churches also claim this.  Yet these are fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant churches with little resemblance to the Early Church.  The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, has practices and beliefs which have been carried down intact through 2000 years. 
 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west--Uncreated Energies of God: 
Check this out.  It's amazing, and sometimes even changes how familiar verses are to be understood.  Yet it is biblical, since I checked my Greek New Testament and found the word energeia where this article says it is: 
http://joannicius.sovereign.us/UNCREATED%20ENERGIES.htm 
 
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