As a practicing Christian, my only hope is for salvation through Jesus Christ. I note that scripture addresses salvation, and that in Paul's letters being justified is proclaimed to be of importance. I have spotty understanding, at best, of Greek/Eastern Orthodox doctrines/beliefs and how they differ from what is familiar to me: Catholic teaching and belief.

If I am to be saved, must I be justified? I don't think that the two words mean the same thing.

The issue of justification arises in verses like Luke 18:11-14(NAB):

11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'
13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

What is the distinction between being saved and being justified?

This question is asking for the Greek/Eastern Orthodox view on the distinction.

2 Answers 2


Salvation (σωτηρία)

Like non-Orthodox, Orthodox believe that salvation culminates in the attainment of eternal life in God. The path to this attainment in the Orthodox view, is one of purification and ascetical effort on the believer's behalf, cooperating with the grace of God (synergia), keeping in mind that nothing unclean can enter the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:5, Revelation 21:27). Entrance into the Kingdom "necessarily requires purity of soul, a garment of holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)"1. This is in contrast to what Orthodox see as an overly juridical understanding of salvation in the west, which - Orthodox hold - is contrary to the beliefs held by the Church Fathers.

A more concise definition is offered by Monk Damascene, Abbot of the American Orthodox Monastery of St. Herman in Platina, California: "The Orthodox Church takes a maximalist approach to salvation, seeing it as a process which ends in deification (theosis)"2. Quoting a contemporary at St. Tikhon's Seminary, Harry Boosalis, Fr. Damascene writes:

For the Orthodox Church, salvation is more than the pardon of sins and transgressions. It is more than being justified or acquitted for offenses committed against God. According to Orthodox teaching, salvation certainly includes forgiveness and justification, but is by no means limited to them. For the Fathers of the Church salvation is the acquisition of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. To be saved is to be sanctified and to participate in the life of God - indeed to become partakers of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4)3

There are quite a few criticisms leveled at these views. Some will maintain that Orthodox are confusing salvation with sanctification. Others have basically accused the Orthodox Church of pelagianism - a 5th century heresy (fought viciously by Augustine) that minimized the role of God's grace in one's salvation. I think, however, that the root of almost all disagreements with Orthodox soteriology come from having a completely different understanding of grace, free will, and the consequences of man's fall.

Grace, in the Orthodox understanding, is not something that is created or dispensed by God, but is essentially the energy of God - to borrow a term used by Gregory Palamas. It is not, again in the Orthodox understanding, something that is turned on and off or given and withdrawn by God, but is something that is always present. The degree to which man experiences God's grace depends on his spiritual state and how disposed he is or is not to cooperate with it. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:3) comes close to summarizing this view in a single Bible verse.

The above puts the fall of man in the Garden in a distinct light. Whereas western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and most Protestant confessions) hold to a doctrine of "original sin" as a guilt that was inherited for Adam's offense, the east understands this sin not in terms of guilt but of illness. Western confessions generally hold that the effect of Adam's fall was the withdrawal of God's grace, whereas Orthodoxy holds that the effect of Adam's fall was serious impairment to his ability to experience God's grace. These are perhaps subtle distinctions, but when extrapolated lead (I think) to understanding salvation either in terms of restitution or in terms of rehabilitation.

It is interesting to note in this context that the root of the Greek word for "salvation" (sōtēria) is the verb σωζω (sōzō), which is usually translated as "save", but is also the word meaning "heal" (e.g. If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be healed - Mark 5:28).

Justification (δικαιοσύνη)

"Justification" and "righteousness" are signified by the same word in Greek - δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē). The verb form (e.g. Luke 18:14) can mean "to justify" or "to make righteous". This can be interpreted in a legal sense, as is favored in most western exegesis (e.g. someone is "made right with the law", "justice", etc.), but it can also refer to an existential change.

This distinction was pointed out by the recently reposed Orthodox writer, (Bishop) Dmitry Royster of Dallas:

The terms "just" (Greek dikaios) and "justified" (dikaioō) are obviously related terms, the first usually being translated as "righteous" and sometimes as "just", and the second as "justify"; a third related word dikaiosynē is most often translated as "righteousness". There exists a problem among interpreters, especially our contemporaries, concerning the relationship among these three: most reject the possibility of translating the verb dikaioō as "to make righteous", using rather "to justify", and doing so in a juridical sense, that is, as of being acquitted of guilt before God's tribunal.4

Bishop Dmitry goes on to explain well (I think) the difference between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox understanding of "justification":

It is a fundamental tenet of the faith that any righteousness or justification of a man is the fruit of God's grace poured out on him by the work of Jesus Christ, which culminates in the sacrifice of the Cross and Resurrection (2 Corinthians 1:9-10; Philippians 3:9-10). This granting of grace is the work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:9). Misunderstanding seems to arise from opposing God's act of justifying or "rendering a man righteous" to the attainment of righteousness (1 John 3:7) by the man of faith. A man or a woman is not a passive recipient of God's grace; his or her response to God's gift is the "doing" of good works. As the Apostle points out to the Ephesians (2:8), we have been saved (His part) by faith (our part); we have become a new creation (2:10) specifically for good works.5

This is not to say that a juridical interpretation of "justify" is not entirely warranted, but the Orthodox understanding is not that one is declared righteous, but rather that one becomes righteous by the grace of God. There is nonetheless a tie-in to the juridical interpretation, in that we (according to Orthodox belief) will be judged according to our works. This seems clear in the Orthodox understanding of such Scriptures as the Last Judgement description by Christ (Matthew 25:36-41), as well as Scriptures such as found in Revelation (20:12):

And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

(See also Psalm 62:12, Job 34:11, Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6, Revelation 22:12)

Some of the above makes Orthodoxy a hard sell for other Christians. The constant awareness of one's sinfulness and the compulsion to continually "do" something about it does not sit well with other Christian faiths. What is misunderstood about Orthodoxy is that this asceticism is not for God's benefit - i.e. it is not a "work" to earn salvation. But it is, rather, a work for one's own benefit - something intended to instill humility and spiritual poverty (cf Matthew 5:3) that forces one to abandon the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 3:9) and turn toward God, eventually relying on His grace and not one's own strength. That turning - and perhaps repeated re-turning - toward God is understood within Orthodoxy to be the true meaning of μετάνοια, or repentance.

1. Michael Pomazanski, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (3rd ed.), p.199
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., p.199n
4. St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary, p.58
5. Ibid.

  • I see that I did not really address the difference between the two terms. I will provide a more complete answer a little later today.
    – guest37
    Mar 16, 2017 at 12:07
  • @KorvinStarmast - I added an additional section on the Orthodox understanding of justification
    – guest37
    Mar 16, 2017 at 13:51
  • the east understands this sin not in terms of guilt but of illness. I recently received an epiphany regarding receiving communion, and the significance of the last words said by the laity during the mass before receiving ... "I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." Christ as healer is a profound theme. A great deal of what is in this answer overlaps with my belief, even though I am in a different confession. Thank you for taking the time. Mar 16, 2017 at 16:48
  • Thank you for guiding the answer @KorvinStarmast. I was raised a devout Roman Catholic - I converted to Orthodoxy late in life - and I often remember that very prayer.
    – guest37
    Mar 16, 2017 at 19:49
  • I find this to be superbly stated: "Western confessions generally hold that the effect of Adam's fall was the withdrawal of God's grace, whereas Orthodoxy holds that the effect of Adam's fall was serious impairment to his ability to experience God's grace." Also the reference to Mark 5:28 is excellent. That said, I suggest that justification is part of salvation but not the entirety.
    – Traildude
    Feb 26 at 20:25

I am an Orthodox Christian, but not an English native speaker.

In the Romanian version, the equivalent for justified has the sense of becoming more just, as in righteous, as well as becoming justified in front of God to be granted His mercy (according to His Eminence Bartolomeu Anania).
From all the sermons and Orthodox interpretations of this passage, we understand that Jesus meant that the tax collector became a better man by having his humble attitude, whereas the pharisee did not.
But your intuition that salvation is tied to humility is totally valid. Father Arsenie Papacioc was saying that we need to have an abyss of humility.


Salvation, in our view, is being able to accept God's love. To accept God's love, we need to know, understand and love God. We can only truly do that if we give all our heart (100%) to God.
We can see if we love God by how much we follow His advice and how much we resemble to Him in our actions (Imitatio Christi).
As long as we love (or fear) something else more than we do God, it means that we are not saved (yet, let's be optimistic, as long as we really try).

In the Orthodox view, salvation begins in this life (or doesn't begin at all). In this life, salvation is not something irreversible - we can lose this love if we get distracted by other things.

After we die there won't be anything to distract us from God - it'll be God and us. So if we hate God, or He annoys us, or we love some things more than we love Him, after we die we'll be pretty unhappy because we won't appreciate His love and we will crave for what we used to like in this life (that would be the hell). After we die we won't have intelectual or physical pleasures, so if these take an important place in our life (that competes the place of God), then we might be unhappy or tormented by confusion.

According to our Church, afaik, what torments the demons is exactly God's love, which they don't want to accept out of pride (this is why humility and obedience to God is important). If we spend 1% of our active time praying or trying to be in communion with God (by thought and deed), there's 99% chances we might be unhappy. This is why St. Paul said that prayer has to be continuous (and this is the isychastic practice of Orthodoxy), this is why St. James said that faith without deed is dead, and this is why Father Arsenie Papacioc recommends a continuous presence of spirit, always to be aware of God's presence in our life and His love for us.

And this is why heresies are bad - they insult the love of God for humanity. Either they say that Jesus is a creature (thus God the Father didn't give His Son for humanity), or when He was born he wasn't fully God (thus He didn't empty Himself of His Power out of love for us), or He wasn't fully human (thus he didn't suffer like a human) etc.

This is why it is important to seek the True God rather than our own image of Him. Because after we die, we'll spend a lot of time (an eternity) with God, and if we have a wrong image of Him, we might love our own image of Him and be tormented by the Truth.

Apologies for the long answer and forgive me if I wrote something wrong, I am not a theologist. This is my current understanding of my faith. God bless!

  • You've given a good explanation of justification means (and it seems to be the same as a native English speaker would say), but you haven't clearly explained what the Orthodox view of salvation is. Could you please edit this to explain a little more?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 31, 2016 at 23:56
  • Thanks for the comparison, and for your efforts in a second language to explain beliefs (tough enough sometimes in our own native tongues). Nov 7, 2016 at 18:31

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