Saving Faith

In a recent post I quoted Vladimir Lossky on the nature of faith. Several have asked me to expand on the Orthodox understanding of faith. I begin with Lossky’s quote:

What one quests is already present, precedes us, makes possible our question itself. ‘Through faith, we comprehend (we think) how the ages have been produced’ (Heb. 11:3). Thus faith allows us to think, it gives us true intelligence. Knowledge is given to us by faith, that is to say, by our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself. Faith is therefore not a psychological attitude, a mere fidelity. It is an ontological relationship between man and God, an internally objective relationship for which the catechumen prepares himself, and through which baptism and chrismation are conferred upon the faithful: gifts which restore and vivify the deepest nature of man. (From Lossky’s Orthodox Theology).

As I noted previously, Lossky is notoriously thick to read. I will offer a small amount of exposition.

Lossky begins by noting faith as a gift. It is what we seek (quest) and is already present and precedes us and even makes our questions possible. Quoting Hebrews he notes that we “comprehend” or “think” by faith – it allows true thought, true understanding. Thus faith is a mode of perception, not simply a side-action of our intellect. When we say, “I believe,” in ordinary conversation, we are not using the word belief in a manner that means the same thing as belief or faith (pistos) in the Scripture (it’s all one word in Greek).

Lossky defines faith as “our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself.” It is a very interesting phrase he uses, “participatory adherence.” And, I think, it goes to the heart of what he is saying about faith as well as the Orthodox understanding of saving faith.

I have written numerous times about the importance of communion or participation (koinonia) in both New Testament usage and in subsequent Orthodox thought. Salvation is not mental or volitional, though our mind and will are also a part of our salvation. Salvation is not metal or volitional because this is not the nature of our problem. We are not fallen because we fail to think correctly (that would be the heretical contention of Christian Science – of the Mary Baker Eddy type). Nor are we fallen simply because we choose incorrectly. According to the fathers, there is something “fractured” about the human will as a result of our sin. Making correct choices is insufficient for salvation.

St. Gregory of Nyssa said that “man is mud whom God has commanded to become god.” The proper end of our salvation is union with God – true participation in the life of God.

Faith became a diminished term of understanding as the nature of our salvation was diminished – particularly in the developments of medieval Western theology – most particularly in the debates that surrounded and followed the Reformation. Some will point out that there is a distinction made between salvation and sanctification in Protestant thought – but such a distinction is neither necessary nor Biblical.

Saving faith is more than mental or even volitional assent because our problems are not addressed by such an understanding. Only if salvation is an external reward would such an understanding of faith make sense. Salvation as external reward fails to rise above a child’s Sunday School class in its comprehension of the gospel.

Lossky turns our gaze to a deeper place and a deeper understanding of our salvation. A “participatory adherence” speaks both of an action of our will (adherence) as well as a true participation in the Reality which is our salvation. It is difficult to find simple words to describe such an existential reality – but that reality must be expressed. It is inferred occasionally in New Testament phrases. One of the first that comes to mind is St. Paul’s statement: “…I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:12).

St. Paul is reaching out for something that has already grasped him. Faith is not an objective acceptance of certain facts, but a “participatory adherence” in that which has laid hold on us. Even faith is the gift of God. It is true that we must respond – without a response it would not be our own selves that adhered to Him who has offered Himself to us.

In a fairly scandalous statement, Dostoevsky, following his deep conversion in prison, said that it was Christ Jesus who was everything. His scandalous statement was to say that even if someone should prove to him that the “truth” was elsewhere, he would choose Christ. Of course, Christ is the Truth, so such a choice is not put before us. But it speaks of the nature of the great author’s heart and to the heart of any Christian. Christ is not secondary to the truth. Faith is not an intellectual exercise. Christ is He who has “laid hold” on us. And apart from every mental perception, every hesitancy, the heart finally says ‘yes’ to Him, or there is nothing more to be said.

Saving faith is a “participatory adherence” – both a surrender of our heart – but also a living reality which has grasped us and made us His own.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





14 responses to “Saving Faith”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    Photo: Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theologian, (1903-1958)

  2. […] Some will point out that there is a distinction made between salvation and sanctification in Protestant thought – but such a distinction is neither necessary nor Biblical. Saving faith is more than mental or even volitional assent … View full post on protestant – Google Blog Search […]

  3. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When the question is asked, “Where is your faith”, it is a question that pre-supposes that everyone has faith, it is a question asking, “In whom, or what, do you place your faith”

    Faith is required for all thought and action. The quality and nature of the thought an action is a direct result of the nature of one’s faith.

  4. WW2 Marine Veteran, Tucson, AZ Avatar
    WW2 Marine Veteran, Tucson, AZ

    I concur with what Father Stephen has posted here. Saving Faith is very important to me. It’s something I understand and can grasp when I look to a future life with my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο, Fabio Leite. Fabio Leite said: Saving Faith: In a recent post I quoted Vladimir Lossky on the nature of faith. Several have asked me to expand on… […]

  6. Fr Mark in Baton Rouge Avatar
    Fr Mark in Baton Rouge

    “gifts which restore and vivify the deepest nature of man.”

    Gracious words which I’ll carry (and will carry me) through the coming days!


  7. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! This is something to try to wrap my mind around. If I am understanding him correctly, in Lossky’s phrase, “internally objective relationship,” the adjectives seem from a western mindset to be something of an oxymoron. That something can be both internal and objective it seems to me is not perceivable apart from faith as Lossky defines it. In addition to the Hebrews 11:3 text, I find I still relate this to St. Paul’s assertion in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that “We walk by faith; not by sight.” It is clear in that context that St. Paul considers faith its own kind of “sight”–a perception by the heart of things eternal–not mere belief (even as trust in a Person). I wonder what other passages of Scripture might bring this sense more to light?

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think if we carry this understanding to other passages where St. Paul speaks of faith – they all might be seen in a new light. To say that we walk by faith and not by sight is not to say that we walk blindly. Indeed, the one who walks only by sight is the one who walks blindly – because sight alone cannot reveal the true nature of things around us, our situations, etc.

  9. mic Avatar

    Christ is Risen!

    Fr, i spent the first 7-8 years of my Christian life as a Protestant, and as such, i never once heard faith explained as anything more than belief.

    Faith was/is a synonym for belief, nothin more and nothing less, which always seemed shallow at best. And unfortunately, i don’t know that i have been taught any different since my Chrismation…not that i have been taught the same, but i haven’t heard really anything (or at least remember hearing anything) about what faith truly is until now.

    i think i need to re-read this post a few more times.

    Thanks for the post Fr.


  10. Mary Bongiorno Avatar

    GOD”S GIFT IS FAITH. It is up to ME to use, and I have to cry out to GOD so that I will know and use if for GOD and for HIS kingdom. Or faith is useless, perhaps this is why GOD gave me faith in prayer. I read what I know, some here some there, I have been copying and pasteing and praying for MY CREATOR in and though CHRIST to bring it all home for the GLORY OF HIS NAME and I know that GOD wants my Idenity in HIM still I believe that I as Mary matter to GOD. HE only made one, not two. Somewhere in HIS word it says, He Made me a unique creation, still being created constantly the GLORY TO GLORY even when what I am living seems nothing like GLORY GOD is still constant and faithfull. I praise GOD for all the little things and the teachings that I have gathered along the way. I praise HIM for rooting me in Orthodox tradition of the Father’s and Apostles. Like Father said in one post I am far from an Orthodox chruch and do not even have transportation, like GOD my heritage has to live within and without me even as I take in new things. Thank You for this site Father AMEN

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not sure I understand your question. Essentially I would say that salvation and sanctification are speaking about the same thing – salvation is union with God. Sanctification is the ongoing process of that salvation being worked out in our life. I would say the same thing about purification, illumination and Deification. For a variety of reasons we speak of these things as though separate – but I would say of the last set – they are all descriptions of Deification – or an aspect of it.

    Interestingly, theosis in the fathers is most often used when speaking about Holy Baptism. In Baptism we are purified, illumined and deified. But the fullness of what is given to us in Baptism is made manifest (if it is made manifest) over a lifetime.

    I hope that’s not too apophatic. 🙂

  12. […] recognizing that this will only be known and understood by the mystical knowledge of faith (and by faith I do not mean an intellectual leap of judgment). I will return to this matter of faith […]

  13. […] recognizing that this will only be known and understood by the mystical knowledge of faith (and by faith I do not mean an intellectual leap of judgment). I will return to this matter of faith […]

  14. […] Saving Faith | Glory to God for All Things […]

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