This is a question that I have pondered for many years, and now after almost 12 years as an orthodox Christian I feel I can only just in some manner respond to it. This is a question that you will hear, and quite often be confronted with by protestants in mission work, that is terribly confusing for most Orthodox Christians. This is mostly due to the fact that the Protestant understanding of salvation is very different to the Orthodox understanding salvation.
When I was around 11 years old, in my first year of high school, I began going to the school’s Christian Fellowship. I had been baptized in a Methodist Church, went to many Bible studies as a young child and of course attended the Sunday School. My spiritual life was a little bit skew by the fact that I also went to a Roman Catholic public school and as a class we attended Mass every Friday. Even this young age I understood that I was not Catholic, and could understand some of the basic differences between Roman Catholicism and the pietistic Protestant tradition in which I was involved.
Often during primary school when certain Roman Catholic traditions were being undertaken by my school friends, such as 1st holy Communion and confirmation, I was left out with a couple of other Protestants and quote the Greek students”. This in many ways helped me to understand the differences but I must admit that I never felt really left out as the parish priest and my teachers were very loving towards those not of the faith.
So upon entering high school I considered myself a Christian. At one of the functions of this Christian Fellowship, a Christian rock concert, I was confronted by something most confusing to my young mind. There were a handful of more senior students roaming the crowds ministering to the younger kids. Three of them came to me and asked me if I was a Christian. This was something I was not expecting and I fumbled through an answer throwing up points around going to church, praying, and reading the Bible; then came the kicker “have you invited Jesus Christ into your heart?”
The only thing I could find in response to this was “huh” and this was exactly what my newfound friends were waiting for. Soon I was politely lead to a side room that was put aside for prayer and private discussion while the band clanged away in the other main auditorium. At this point I was asked if I would like the other youths to pray for me and to let Jesus into my life. They prey variation of what we would now referred to as the “sinners prayer”. Apparently now I was a Christian.
Unfortunately when I woke up the next morning this newfound Christianity had not let me to any great oratory windfall. My main response to the activities of the previous night was still “huh”. In many ways this scene of confusion would stay with me for another 18 years until I discovered orthodoxy.
I won’t bore you at this time with those 18 years, however, even during my deep dives into Calvinist theology I still couldn’t grapple with this one moment that apparently made everything in my life OK. Many of my friends and peers would brushoff times in their life where they acted not as their best with the mantra “I been saved”. Any discussions around our attempts to write ourselves with God led to a polite tirades on works based theology and arrows targeted at the nearest Roman Catholic Church. I had begun to feel the effects of losing the baby with the bathwater that had been the Protestant Reformation.
Looking back on this confusion through the lens of the orthodox churches more synergistic understanding of salvation I can more fully understand and appreciate my muddled brain during this time. More recently when I am asked this question I have replaced my befuddled “huh” with the slightly wittier “with God’s grace every day I am saved” or “with God’s will I hope so”. That at least gets me into the start of a more realistic conversation and an opportunity to speak the truth in love rather than being dragged into that side room.
We need to focus ourselves on our continual conversion. Everyday we need to recommit ourselves to Christ, immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, give ourselves to Christ in our services, and participate in the holy mysteries of the church given to us by our Saviour for our salvation.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner