The following will briefly answer/rebut the theology and theological statements made by the Orthodox Church in America relating to salvation by grace. Posting as a reference for anyone who may need it.
See the original O.C.A. article titled “Salvation Is Indeed by Grace” here: https://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/salvation-is-indeed-by-grace
Excerpt from article: If we were not continually tempted to fall back into sin, there would be no need for such a “synergy.” Then we could declare, with absolute confidence, “once saved, always saved!”
Response: No one is able to overrule salvation that comes through belief. The only way to not be saved is to not believe:
“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:26-28).
Instantly upon true repentant faith and belief we are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the Day of our redemption: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
So… yes, once you are saved you are ALWAYS saved.
Another point – No one can believe unless Jesus Himself reveals the Father and Himself to them: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Luke 10:22).
Now that is eternal security. Jesus Himself chooses those to whom He reveals Himself and the Father. (I’m absolutely not a Calvinist because I do not believe in limited atonement – but wow… Why would God – Who is all-knowing – waste His time on someone whom He would un-save?)
Excerpt from article: Temptation and spiritual struggle, however, mark every day of our life. And the way we face and, by the grace of God, overcome those forces (demonic powers), is precisely through the “spiritual warfare,” the ascetic struggle that enables us to confront those forces day by day and overcome their destructive influence.”
Response: Beating (disciplining) your flesh will have no sanctifying effect on your spirit: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
How could the weakest link which has no strength (the flesh) give strength to the strongest link (the spirit)?
“For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:22-24).
How can beating (disciplining) your flesh result in making your spirit more willing than it already is to love and serve God? The Bible says the opposite. The Bible says that you are to discipline your flesh through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
Please do not be deceived by wolves in sheep’s clothing who attempt to twist the true grace of Christ back into the Law: “How much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:29-31).
Just in case you doubt to whom Paul was referring: “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).
Do you see? Satan is a crafty devil. Satan has been mixing grace with the Law from the day that Jesus rose from the grave. Do not be deceived.
Excerpt from article: And he (Jesus) concludes, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt 23:23). Those “others” include precisely the sorts of ascetic practices Orthodox tradition calls us and invites us to assume…
Response: We are no longer bound to any part(s) of the old Law (the others mentioned above): “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). “Fulfill” Greek word is pléroó. Definition: to make full, to complete.
The Law was God’s prescription for right fellowship with Him to be followed exactly. OT prophets like Abraham, Moses, David, etc. knew full well that one day God would send His Son to finally do what they could not do, fulfill the Law.
That’s why God required their belief long before the Cross: “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
This is also why the Lord Jesus laid out such a strong case (the verses about adultery in the heart, plucking your eyes out, etc.) for fulfilling the Law in the very same sermon in Matthew chapter 5 (Sermon on the Mount). He was trying to get us to understand that we could never achieve what the Law required: TOTAL PERFECTION.
He obviously knew that He was about to fulfill the requirements of the Law (and the Feasts of God: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Weeks) at the cross and beyond, so the very heavy burden He was laying out via the Sermon on the Mount was about to be lifted through faith.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus was saying that we should not be arrogant and proud (for I am gentle and lowly in heart) in our own “good” works as the Pharisees were. This is the exact same lesson God had to teach to Job. Job was a very righteous man but he had a very critical flaw at his core: PRIDE in his own good testimony.
Some final notes: “ascetic practice” does not produce spiritual discipline. In fact, the exact opposite is true: Spiritual discipline will result in obedience in the flesh. If you beat/discipline your flesh with your flesh then you are not using the power of the Spirit, but instead you are using the “power” of the flesh.
It bears repeating: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
“But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:9-10).
If “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (above), then you are saved and sealed until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14).
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The subject of grace can be very confusing because Satan (through false teachers) uses the different categories of church groups that Paul had to admonish and teach not to twist grace into different meanings:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (but I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (Corinthians 9:19-22).
If a particular group was bent toward using grace as an excuse to engage in all manner of embarrassing sin, Paul would say the following:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
In the verses above, no doubt Paul was thinking of the Isthmian games that were held not far from Corinth. The Corinthian believers were well acquainted with those athletic contests. Paul reminds them that while many run in a race, not all receive a prize. It should seem obvious that if a believer can run in the race yet be disqualified from service in the millennial kingdom, then this is an admonition to remember:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
What will the good works produce?
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:9, 14-15).
“So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord'” (Matthew 25:20-23).
Our good works (which only born-again believers sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption will be judged at the Bema Seat of Christ for), will lead to more service in Christ’s millennial kingdom as our reward. If we were ever in danger of “losing” our salvation, why wouldn’t Paul just come out and say that? Instead he said… “he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
More about the two judgments of Matthew 25:30 and 1 Corinthians 3:15…
These are both two separate judgments. The separation of the two judgments happens to prove that the Rapture of the Church has to take place before the Tribulation.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul is referring to the Bema Judgment Seat of Christ—a judgment only for believers saved during the Age of Grace.
During the Age of Grace, salvation is through faith plus nothing else (Ephesians 2:8). During the Tribulation (after the Age of Grace), salvation is based on faith in Jesus plus denying the Mark of the Beast (Revelation 20:4). Those who deny the Mark of the Beast, even unto the point of death, will obviously also at the same time have to be believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. How else could they overcome (Matthew 24:13) such Tribulation?
Both sets of victorious defendants from both judgments will be serving in the millennial kingdom of Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:15 proves your works cannot save you. Matthew 25:30 proves that your work of denying the Mark of the Beast and faithful service to the Lord through other works (like helping Christ’s Jewish brethren during the Tribulation) will also be judged to determine your entrance into the Millennial Kingdom after the Rapture of the Church—the kind of works that equal the fruit of a genuine faith (James 2:26).
Now, to get a sense of Paul’s attitude toward those who attempted to incorporate the Law back into grace (i.e. forcing circumcision as a qualifier to salvation) Paul said the following:
“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12).
In response to Father John Beck from above – We can indeed have absolute confidence in our salvation: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).