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Atonement: Orthodox vs. Western

Discussion in 'Other Christian Denominations' started by Rebel, Mar 4, 2015.

  1. Rebel

    Rebel Active Member

    Dec 26, 2014
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    An excerpt from writings about how the Orthodox understanding of the atonement differs from the Western views, whether RC or Protestant:

    "There are four aspects of salvation taught in the Orthodox Church from the beginning. These cannot be reduced to one of the things. All of them have to be considered together.

    1. Christ gives the truth to the human race. All the human race will be taught by God. So that first act of salvation is to see Jesus - the Truth. One who belongs to Christ and who is in Christ knows the truth that Christ makes available.

    2. Redemption - ransom from slavery to sin, death, and the devil. We are reconciled with God. Atonement through God and humanity through Jesus.

    Sacrifice means - a person recognizes his life is not his own but belongs to someone else.

    A crucial point about ransom price...We have to understand how precisely or what precisely is being taught concerning to whom is this sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ being offered because many, if not in most cases, those who come from Western Christian backgrounds, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, have inherited an understanding significantly different from what has been the understanding of the Church from the beginning. We have to answer the question then to whom is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered - by first of all naming the negatives - by saying to whom it is not offered."
    "There are some who have said throughout Christian history that the sacrifice of Jesus is offered either to the devil, on the one hand, because the devil has become prince of the world by man cooperating with the devil, man has become the slave of the devil and has certain rights over humanity. He keeps humanity imprisoned in death. So in order to liberate man from the devil, Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice to the devil.

    There are also those who say, and this is more common, that Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice in repayment to God the Father who's anger at the human race must be satisifed. It is that I wish to address right now because that understanding and the effects that proceed from it, I believe, are one of the most crucial differences between Orthodox Christianity and non-Orthodox.

    The realization of what that means, the ramifications of it, because we emphatically say that the sacrifice that Christ offers Himself obediently to the Father, yes, of course, but not as any sort of satisfaction payment to the Father who demands satisfaction because of sins of the human race.

    This idea is based on the understanding - comes from various sources but mainly the mideival ages - that its understanding of the relationship of God and human beings is in terms of a legal contract - God is infinite, immeasurable; therefore, when the human being sins against God, God is immeasurably offended. You cannot, in no way measure God in His perfect goodness how much that goodness is offended by sin. God is just and His justice is spoken as something that operates almost independently from His mercy, and God's justice must be satisfied. In other words, somebody must be punished for the sins of the human race.

    Because there is no human being capable of being infinitely punished by God for the sins of the human race because we are limited and God is infinite, God sends His own Son, Who is infinite, punishes Him in our place.

    And so, by that punishment inflicted on Christ by His Father, finally the justice of God is satisfied and His anger is turned away."

    Fr. David then reads of Fr. Thomas Hopko's book on doctrine (from one of his set of four books), which is quoting St. Gregory the Theologian "Now we are on this to examine another fact and dogma, which in my judgment, is very necessary to inquire into. to whom ws that blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and famous blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice. We were detained in bondage by the evil one. Sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask then to whom was this offered and for what cause? If it was offered to the evil one, what an outrage to say such a thing. If the robber receives ransom not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself and has such a lusterous payment for his tyranny, then it would have been right for Him to have left us alone all together."

    Fr. David says on this "that is to say that the devil is a creature. Whatever tyranny he holds over the human race, and death is his greatest tool, is the tyranny of a creature. It would be an outrage for a ransom which consists of God Himself to be given to the devil. It would be treating the devil as if he were greater than a creature."

    Back to St. Gregory the Theologian - "But if it was offered to God the Father, I ask first how? For it was not by God the Father that we were being oppressed."

    Fr. David says, "It was not God the Father who was holding us in bondage. God the Father is not a slave master."

    St. Gregory - "And next, on what principle did the blood of His only begotten Son delight the Father who would not even receive Isaac when he was being sacrificed by his father, Abraham, but changed the sacrifice by putting a ram in his place. Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for, that neither asked for the sacrifice, nor demanded it, but on account of the Incarnation, and because humanity must be sanctified by the humanity of God, voluntarily, that He might deliver Himself and overcome the tyrant and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, whom it is clear, He obeys in all things."

    back to Fr. David. "If the sacrifice to the devil and it is not an offer to God the Father as a satisfaction to turn away His wrath, but rather is a voluntary offering of obedience of the Son, not demanded by the Father. Rather it is spoken of that God the Father is the one Who so loved the world that He gives His only begotten son.

    God the Father participates in the offering of the sacrifice in the story about the Prodigal son in the gospel of St. Luke as the one who kills the fatted calf, you see. That's an image of God the Father freely giving out of love, out of mercy, His son.

    So Fr. David repeats John 3:16 again in reiterating the love and mercy of God the Father.

    "How familiar that verse is, but that is exactly the opposite of saying that God demands for the satisfaction of His justice a perfect being to punish in His wrath. It is not the wrath of God that endures forever. It's the mercy of God that endures forever. It is not the justice of God that operates independently of His mercy. The justice and the wrath of God are manifestations in time of His mercy." <--- Very important point Fr. David makes here! I hope this can be absorbed and realized for all....how wonderful God the Father truly is...for those who thought He was an angry God (my feelings).

    Fr. David goes back to Fr. Tom Hopko's book - "The mercy of God is consistently expressed throughout the entire Old Testament, even in the midst of expressions of God's wrath when His people are unfaithful. We are even told that God is grieved to his heart because of the sinfulness of His creatures. God says 'My people, what have I done to you and how have I wearied you? Answer Me. I have reared and brought up children, but they have rebelled against Me.' But He says, 'How can I give you up? How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart recoils in Me. My compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger."

    Fr. David goes on to point out that all the prophets, at the end of their testaments, end with God's promise of mercy.

    "So, for the Orthodox Christian's experience of God, God is the merciful one who does everything possible, the ultimate sacrifice of sending His only begotten Son, Who freely offers Himself, one of love, as the perfect sacrifice. And so, how are we going to answer that question? To whom or to what is offered?

    In the Liturgy of St. Basil that we say at certain times in our Church special services - He gave Himself up as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin - The sacrifice of Christ is not made to a Who. It's made to a What. Christ offers Himself up in sacrifice to the condition that fallen man has become imprisoned in. That man has become cursed and sinful and dead. So Christ who is the blessing and sinless and life offers Himself up freely so that what is His can become available to the human race, whom He loves. And in that, the price is paid, the reconciliation and the atonement are made possible. So this whole thing of the satisfaction of an angry Father which so influences so many people's understanding of who God is, it's something that anyone who grows in the life of the Orthodox Church eventually transcends. It's necessary to transcend it because otherwise one remains forever imprisoned in the legal battle between God and the human race.
  2. Yeshua1

    Yeshua1 Well-Known Member
    Site Supporter

    Mar 19, 2012
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    The truth is though that God MUST hate and condemn all sins, as he alone is Holy, and He must judge all sinning, so His hatred and wrath is indeed real, and Jesus did experience what sinners will face, eternal seperation from God!