There is absolutely no salvation outside the Church, this we can be sure is the teaching of the Scriptures and the fathers. So, why not rag on the schismatic Protestants?
The obvious truth is that God wants the salvation of the sinner more than the sinner wants his own. This is unequivocal and universal.
One of my favorite recent saints, because he speaks the language of western theology in strikingly modern terms, is Saint Philaret of Moscow. On the question, he points out the obvious:
It is self evident, however, that sincere Christians who are Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or members, of other non-Orthodox confessions, cannot be termed renegades or heretics—i.e. those who knowingly pervert the truth…They have been born and raised and are living according to the creed which they have inherited, just as do the majority of you who are Orthodox; in their lives there has not been a moment of personal and conscious renunciation of Orthodoxy.
To buttress his point, he quotes Saint Theodore the Recluse:
You ask, will the heterodox be saved… Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins…I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a different faith, you will lose your soul forever.
The first time I heard the above saint’s words on the subject, I’ll admit, I did not like them. This was for several reasons. They contradicted my chief reason for becoming (and still my main reason for staying) Orthodox–schism will damn you. I also did not like a “modern” saint, with their fluffier and friendlier answers, contradicting the straight-forward treatment of the same topic by martyrs and saints of old. It seemed to be an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it too–to have a pro-modernist position all the meanwhile threatening the rank and file not to leave Orthodoxy.
In response to this, as I reflect on this, I believe my earlier sentiment comes from ignorance and pride. Ignorance of simply not knowing enough yet, nor ever having the Eucharist. Pride from doubting the saints, who speak from the vantage point of knowing God more intimately.
Our Savior and God teaches, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).
In our modern day and age, we take the preceding as license. If God may save schismatics, then He will save schismatics. This is untrue. Normatively, schismatics are unsaved. Period.
We must affirm an essential Christian truth, however. Those who have been given little will not be judged like those who have been given much.
My wife and I once attended a Greek Orthodox service. It was the most nominal and impious service one may imagine. They cut the liturgy in half to make time for a prayer service for a family afterwards, kept “left-over Eucharist” for those who were about one hour late, and laughed all about it afterwards. This was absolutely the worse possible face one could have put on for Orthodoxy, the very epitome of nominalism. It would be no surprise that the next time I visited this parish, the priest was far more impassioned than usual and in fact taught two sermons–inspired by his cousin being baptized into a Protestant communion.
My wife and I then went to our old Reformed Baptist church after the liturgy that day to say hi to old friends. The teaching was long, engaging, and Biblical. Everyone was friendly (other than the Pastor himself, who was less guarded with his view of me an an apostate.) We, my wife and I, immediately felt a sense of sorrow.
Not for ourselves and our poor excuse for worship earlier that morning–no, it was for the Protestants. Our Reformed Baptist church, as solid, level-headed, and Biblical as one may find–nothing zany or crazy about it, did not worship God.
This stabbed us like a knife. We were once the people in the pews. Engaged, quiet, sitting down while reflecting upon every word of the Scriptures exegeted. We used to love every second of it. To us, this was worship. We did not know any better, because this is all we knew.
We never fasted. We never did long, prepratory prayers before worship. Most importantly, we never had the Eucharist.
I refuse to rag on a Protestant. “Lord, forgive them, they do not know what they do.” They do not know, for they do not have the Eucharist.
Just as those in Plato’s cave think the shadows are reality and the one who has left the dungeon, after seeing the light, cannot convince them of the outside reality–those without the Eucharist are no different. They will not believe, because they cannot believe. All they know is their world of shadows. The cross is foolishness to those perishing. God has laid low the wisdom of the wise with the cross, with the Eucharist! But those who do not know what it is like to have the Eucharist desire wisdom or even signs. But, the cross requires spiritual discernment.
This is why Paul went to the Corinthians knowing nothing but Christ and Him crucified. This was not merely the spoken word. For those baptized, which apparently were most of the Corinthians, it was the epitome of the cross–the Eucharist!
It is the Eucharist in which the sacrifice done once and for all is made available to us. We experience Jesus Christ in His flesh and blood and He becomes increasingly one with us.
How can I rag on a Protestant that has known none of this? He has never experienced it. He has never seen miracles, like I have seen–people who get sick from bread and wine stay well. Others getting sick. The Protestants have Eucharistic pageantry, but they do not have the Eucharist.
To me, this does not make them without blame. However, it gives us ever more the reason to have pity.
Who is with blame? Us Orthodox Christians. I am beginning to understand what Saint Theodore the Recluse wrote about when he said we who are in Orthodoxy cannot be saved if we leave the Church. How can one, who has had the Eucharist, turn his back on Christ being physically present in His flesh and blood? Such a faithless person is without excuse.
Let’s study our own sins and concern ourselves with not losing our own souls. May how we love one another, and our God, draw all men to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist–not in word, but in deed as well.