(Eph. 2 : 4–10)
“By grace you have been saved,” (Eph. 2:5) says St. Paul, and then repeats it again (Eph. 2:8), just in case any one of us might think, in our feeble-mindedness that we can contribute to our salvation by our weak efforts. “Without me you can do nothing,” said the Lord (Jn. 15:5).
I have noticed a few among us here that have taken upon themselves some sort of difficult ascetic feat. I see that they have all of a sudden become very grave and stern with an aura of piousness all around them. They frown upon everyone else, comparing others to themselves, and, I suppose themselves to others as well. They are very strict in their judgments. I do believe that over time they will get hernias from their unique asceticism. They have attained such a high level of spirituality that none of us can compare to them and no one is good enough for them. They perform all their bows and prostrations, publicly demonstrating their wisdom to the community. Then they disappear. Their own people are not good enough for them, let alone the Serbian Church. They have barely learned the Our Father and already, in their eyes, this little church in which we pray and sail towards our salvation has somehow become a church for “beginners.” “Solid” spiritual food is what they are after. They run off to other churches and bring us tales of “elders” whose spirituality and virtue is way above anything we have ever seen. And so, Serbian “zealots” are scattered all over Toronto, in Orthodox Churches of Greek and Russian jurisdictions, both canonical and uncanonical. If we happen to meet them, they look down upon us, thus letting us know that we are more foreign to them than any foreigner. After wasting all their spiritual energy and changing many churches, many of these “zealots” end up in some sort of spiritual apathy, or even worse, in schismatic communities and sects of dubious dogmatic teachings.
“By grace you have been saved,” the holy Apostle reminds us, so that we may not get carried away in our self-love and overlook our Lord Jesus Christ who, “rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us” (Eph. 2:4), came down to dwell among men and to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sake of our salvation, so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:15).
Does this mean, dear friends, that we can sit back and cross our legs in a state of blissful nirvana, waiting for our salvation to come to us on a plate? Of course not! Does not the Lord command us, in the gospel story about the talents, that we must multiply the gifts we have received from Him. When he says “by grace you are saved,” St. Paul reminds us not to seek salvation by our own efforts only, but to rely on the Lord through our faith and to place our lives in His hands. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
St. Nikolai of Zhicha explains this well. “Once a certain child traveled at night and stumbled along, tripping and falling into one hole after another. Finally he fell into a very deep hole and could not make his way out by himself. Just as the child abandoned himself to his destiny, thinking that his end had come, someone stood above the hole and let down a rope, shouting to the child to hold on to the rope. It was a king’s son. After saving the child, he took him home, bathed him and dressed him and sat him by his side. Was this child saved by his own efforts? No. He only took the rope that was thrown to him and held on to it. How was the child saved? By the mercy of the king’s son.
In the relationship between God and men, this mercy is called grace,” says Bishop Nikolai.
St. Paul says that we are God’s workmanship, “created in Jesus Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2;10). He answers all our questions with the name which is above all names (Eph. 1:21) and again tells us that we are saved by grace, by faith in Jesus Christ, not by paying lip service to our faith, but by a faith that is supported by our works and our witnessing. We hear the story by St. Nikolai, how the child had to hold on to the rope for dear life. It must have required a great effort on the part of the child to hang on to the rope. If it had let go of the rope even for a second, it would have crashed back down into the pit and would never have come out alive.
Our anchor, sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19) is our Lord Jesus Christ. He has given Himself to us so that we may hold on tightly to Him as He pulls us out from the pits of our sins. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
You will hear people whose faith has grown cold in their hearts telling you that “God is one and all religions are the same.” According to this logic, it is of no importance where one prays and to which god one addresses his prayers. Do not listen to them, for they have succumbed to the devil’s lies and by their equanimity they have become easy prey for accepting the faith of the Antichrist. The “engineers of human souls,” as the creators of the new world order like to think of themselves, want us all to believe that all religions are the same , so that when the time comes, they can offer us their “religion” as the only “different” one. Faith in “all religions” in equal to no faith. Think about it: in once atheist Russia and in Communist China, can one find as many godless and soulless people as one finds here, in the West, where freedom of religion is so strictly applied? The moment Western man accepted the fact that everything is the “same,” he has been left without anything.
You may have noticed that these spiritual wolves in sheep skins (Mt. 17:15), sectarians of every kind put on a very pious face when they approach you and you tell them that you already have your own faith. They smile knowingly and nod, saying that they, too are Christians, and that God is one! Then, if you let them, they will go on forever about their sect. I, most sincerely, do not recommend anyone to have a conversation with a person who does not listen to you, or even see you, let alone respect your opinions. However, if you can manage to get a word in (while they are pausing for breath), ask them about our Lord Jesus Christ, who became man, who was crucified and who arose again on the third day. Tell them to leave aside Jehova and the whole business of Saturdays versus Sundays, and to talk to you about Jesus Christ. Very soon you will see that “the chief cornerstone, elect and precious,” our Lord Jesus Christ, is not the main subject of their story and their interests.
The Lord knew that many would come to re-open His wounds and put salt in them by their blasphemous words and teachings. He knew that many would seek other ways beside the Way that He taught us. He knew that they would try to swap their lies for His truth. This is why He said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no one can come to the Father, except through Him (Jn. 14:6).
Our Lord Himself bore all our sins in His own body on the tree that we may be healed by his wounds (1 Pet. 2:24). Let us hold tightly on to the anchor of salvation which is the Lord, that He may raise us up and give us the gift of eternal salvation.