In my last blog, Struggling Toward Salvation, I discussed how in Orthodoxy I had to let go of the idea of “blessed assurance,” that salvation is taken care of and now I can just sit back and enjoy life.
In my own reflections, and in discussions with several friends, I have seen a great deal of discouragement. Once we begin to recognize our pitiful, sinful state, a feeling of hopelessness can easily grip the heart. But such hopelessness is not godly.
Our fear of God and the Day of Judgement is meant to be reverential and not anxious. So, while we do not go through this life feeling like we are already saved and the struggle is done, we do persevere in the hope that God, through whatever hardship and trials encounter us, is actively saving us.
St. Macarius in his 26th homily writes of the person struggling toward salvation,
He ought every day to have the hope and joy and confidence in the future kingdom and in redemption and say: ‘If today I have not been delivered, tomorrow I will be.’ …Unless a person keeps before his eyes joy and hope, namely, ‘I shall obtain salvation and life,’ he cannot bear patiently afflictions or the burden or accept to travel along the narrow road. For it is the presence of hope and joy that allow him to labor and bear afflictions and the burden of traveling along the narrow path.
St. Macarius at times discusses those who have been made perfect in love, they are no longer moved by sinful desires. Though sinful thoughts come, they immediately reject them and constantly abide in a state of spiritual peace, joy, and love.
Fortunately, somebody asked him about those of us who never arrive at such a heavenly state, who have both grace and sin warring within us. What happens to such a soul when the body dies? He answers, The mind goes where it finds its goal and where it loves. In other words, when the soul departs from the body, and the angels and demons come for it, whichever side it loved by its intentions and the inclination of its will, to that side will it go.
If temptations continually arise against us,
you ought to resist and hate them. For the fact that war comes upon you is not your doing. To hate it, however, is up to you. And then the Lord, seeing your mind, that you are struggling and that you love Him with your whole soul, drives death away from your soul in a very brief time….He receives you to His bosom and into His light. In a flashing moment, He snatches you from the jaws of darkness and immediately takes you into His kingdom. For to God in a flash all things are easily accomplished, if only you show love toward Him.
In other words, if we continue to be beset with temptations, we continually find ourselves falling and getting back up, as long as we are truly struggling with all of our heart, we have nothing to fear. Temptations and difficulties will come, there is nothing we can do about that, and being freed from sin is not something we can do anyway, but something God accomplishes within us in His own timing.
Whatever the case, we must not lose hope in God’s love and His goodness. If we persevere to the end, we will be saved, for that is God’s great desire.
End note: All quotations from St. Macarius come from Pseudo-Macarius: The Fifty Spiritual Homilies and The Great Letter, Paulist Press, 1992.