Would the good people who are outside the Church be saved?
Just finished reading the article: “The Guru, the youth and Elder Paissios. I had employees who worked for me who were Hindu by birth, and who were good people. I could say I am a greater sinner than them, especially because I am Orthodox. How could such a situation exist, for good and just people due to their place of birth not to have the possibility to get to know Christ? Are they demonized? If they are, then I am afraid I am too, since they are truly better, more humble than me. This puzzle bothers me a lot. I hope you are able to answer me. Forgive me.
Christ is Risen!
We wish you good spiritual and physical health. We are happy for your interest on topics of Faith but also for your obvious love for your fellow man. Your query which you sent through the internet causes puzzlement to many Orthodox. However should it be so? Could it be that the question transcends our level of understanding or perhaps it falls under the transcendent jurisdictions of someone else? Let us make some simple considerations taking advantage of some passages in the Holy Bible, always being based on the Holy Tradition of the Church of Christ, the one and only Orthodox Church.
Some famous teacher of theology was specifically questioned by his students: “Would all those who are outside the Church, not having known Christ but being good people, be saved?” The answer provided was simple, yet it had unrivalled spiritual depth: “We who are in the Church, would we be saved?” naturally meaning, does our work conform to the Will of God? To a similar question by Peter- on what would be the future of John-the Lord responds with the known: “What is it to you? You follow Me (John 21, 20-23). He lets him know directly that it is not his concern what would happen to someone else. This is a topic that without exception belongs to the just Judge Himself. His duty as is of each disciple from the earliest times is to follow Him. To walk always on the road which He traced and to have as his only aim in life the cleansing of his mind and heart of the passions and sins and his enlightenment by the Holy Spirit so that he may become a worthy son of God, to unite with God, to obtain theosis. This is the meaning and aim of the “follow Me”, always going together with the carrying of our cross (Matt 16: 24-25).
The understanding of the distancing from all those things that belong in the sphere of the absolute knowledge of God is a little bit difficult for our curious mind to accept. However, even this can be achieved – as it happens with the acceptance of all the holy dogmas- through the steadfast and at the same time unadulterated faith to the Heavenly Father and provider of everything. This disposition is not a passive and fatalistic stance but a position of life, true life. For the one who follows Christ is not just a follower but an enlightened man (John 8:12) by the true Light.
This Lord therefore, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) declares to us beyond any doubt that “he who believes and is baptized is saved, he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16: 16). That is what we know, that is what is certain for us His disciples. For the rest it is safer to declare ignorance (we have explained this position in the previous paragraph). Of course we do not condemn someone, wherever he may belong, whatever he may have done. His “I believe” is condemned as false, his action is condemned as unbecoming or sinful but not the person. This is the area of the Judge, of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Also, specific to your question if believers of other religions are demonized, there is no teaching within the Church which states that whoever is heretic or believer of other religions is certainly overcome by unclean spirits. Of course a faith to something foreign to Christ without doubt constitutes the understanding “of the one against” and it is understood that the followers of other religions or dogmas are easily exposed to the influence of the evil spirits. This is inevitable since they do not partake in the One faith of the One Triadic God and have received a baptism (Eph 4:5) which restores and protects man (John 3:5) (in the passages of 1John 4:2-3 and Ps 95:5 you may find what the word of God says of those who do not believe in Him).
The solution to this general puzzlement resides, as was analyzed to the abandoning of this problematic interest for our fellow man. This way we do not suggest indifference but through the warm love for Christ, the total surrender of every one of our brothers to the certain, just and full of loving providence of our Holy God. This is achieved through pure prayer that is realized with faith and longing with restlessness and spiritual suffering not on the if they will be saved or not, all those who ignore the Truth (=Christ) but on the when every man will come to know the Truth and will unite with Him , becoming member of His Church. This way we become imitators of Christ, for He is the first One who desires the salvation of everyone. (“(God) wishes to save all the people and come to the truth” 1Tim 2:4).
The “father of lies” however does not cease setting obstacles, misleading us into false directions which of course do not agree with whatever Christ taught. This view of the “good man” happens unfortunately to be widely spread. Something so relevant – since everyone considers whatever he does is correct- that it whittles away the meaning of the Bible. The goal of the Christian struggle is not for us to become good and moral men, which can also be taught by some man made philosophy, what is required is to become HOLY. Our Christ tells us clearly “become holy as I am holy” 1Pet. 1:16. If goodness was enough, who of us would it not have been necessary for God Himself to be incarnated to save us. We must understand that sin does not mean some sort of deviation from certain rules but exists as a separation and denial of our Heavenly Father. So, therefore, what we all need, whether “good” or “bad”, whether great sinners or small sinners, is for a frank and continuous repentance. Namely, the awareness of our wretchedness, its confession and supplication for forgiveness through the Mystery of Confession and finally our re-unification with the Good Father.
To make it easier to understand the above suffice to think of who was the first resident of Paradise. The robber who was crucified on the right side of Jesus. Was he perhaps a good man? No! He was a violent criminal who however repented! In any case the teaching of the prophets and especially of Christ – and as a result of the whole Church- is an open and continuous invitation to repentance (Matt 4:17)
The good deeds, my brother, do not save. The Grace of our God saves, which acts over us when we draw her through humility (goodness fully tried with repentance) (Prov. 3:34).
Again however, someone may agree with the above but still wonder how those who never heard of Christ know all these. Just earlier we explained that we should act as true Christians for the benefit of all the people. Are things so simple and shallow? Permit me to submit two well known examples from the Holy Bible that have taught a lot on this topic.
The first refers to the turning back of the Apostle to the Nations, Paul (Acts 9:1-18). He not only he did not know who was truly Christ but he so morbidly hated Him that he persecuted with vengeance the Christians. His soul however had a zeal for the true God and whatever he did was through demonic deceit and ignorance. Thus, Christ Himself appeared to him and revealed Himself to him. Immediately, he believed in Him, repented and embraced Him forever. Second similar example consists of the knowledge of the true Faith of the Ethiopian of Candac (Acts8, 26-39). A total stranger to the truth. His wish for the divine led him to embrace the faith of the Jews (the single faith to the true God before the coming of Christ). It would have been easy for him to remain attached there. However, his true zeal was attracted by the Holy Spirit that sent Deacon Philip to catechize and baptize him.
We see therefore that the Ever-loving God does not only set general preachers of His Holy Bible but is involved separately with every soul. He, of course knows the how, the when and the why to act. The word of our God informs us that even the hair of our head are counted (matt 10:30)! Oh! All pure Lord what providence, what love and what condescension and affection! You who are concerned with our useless hair with how much greater care You must envelop our soul!
We hope you were helped with what you read. More will be accomplished with faith and prayer. You may get in touch with us on whatever topic you wish.
May God bless you! Good strength in your struggle for Christ.
† Archimandrite Kyrill.
(Retrieved from The Holy Monastery of Pantocrator, Holy Land website: http://www.impantokratoros.gr/E5E9E2B0.en.aspx)