There are many people who ask themselves: “OK, we Christians have our faith -the true faith; we have our Church, we have our Lord’s Revelation, we are already inside the channel leading to salvation, towards the Kingdom of Heaven – PROVIDED of course that we are appropriately careful during our lifetime.
But what about all those people who belong to other faiths? What happens to Buddhists? What happens to Muslims? (Not to mention the other, Christian Confessions). But, let’s tackle the other religions for now: don’t those people go to Heaven? What kind of judgment does God have in store for them? Are we the only ones that will be judged and accordingly be either “promoted” –so to speak- or ……”left out”? What happens to the others? Is there no salvation for them?
The answer is: of course salvation can exist for them. The status of this matter is as follows: Someone who has become acquainted with Christianity and has been baptized will be judged on the law of the Gospel, the Law of Grace. But someone living –for example- in Madagascar, Sumatra or Borneo, South America, the North Pole, wherever the Gospel has not been preached, will be judged according to the clarification cited by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to Romans; that is, he will be judged on the basis of the law of his conscience: “..when the gentiles (=all those who do not have a written, moral code) instinctively uphold the stipulations of the law, to them –albeit having no written law- the law shall be their own self. They prove that they have the enforcement of the law written in their hearts”. (Romans 2: 14-15)
God has placed inside every single person, without exception, wherever they may be found on this earth, that unbiased tribunal – the inherent ethical law – based on which they will be judged. If they lived faithful to that innate moral code, they shall enter Paradise; if they don’t, they will not qualify to enter.
Of course there will be – according to the words in Corinthians I, 15:41 “a star differs to another star, in its glory” – a gradation in Paradise, just as there will be in Hell. People of other faiths will, because of their good deeds during their lifetime, enter Paradise, but they will not enjoy the same pleasures that, say, Apostle Paul or Saint Makarios will enjoy there.
Some may think: “Isn’t that being “unfair” to those people? No, it isn’t, because they will also be judged more leniently. Christianity is very strict, with the rules that it contains. To briefly deviate from the subject, we could underline that evidence of Christianity’s truth is also the multitude of its faithful. When seeking to attract followers, one doesn’t project negative aspects. On the contrary, the prospective followers are promised all sorts of benefits and conveniences; they are flattered and they are pampered. In the case of Christianity, however, Christ had stresses to His disciples that “You shall suffer tribulations in the world” (John 16: 33) and “If they persecuted me, they shall also persecute you” (John 15: 20); and many more such ‘promises’, which are totally deterrent if used to attract followers. But, when Christianity ‘promises’ such harsh conditions, and yet it attracts people to it, it only proves that Christianity is the truth.
Getting back to our subject, on the matter of other, non-Christian believers. A Christian is not as ‘lucky’ a follower, given that Christ demands much more from Christians! They will go to an even more INFERIOR place than the non-Christians, if they do not enforce those things that Christ requires of them. The non-Christians will NOT be judged in accordance with the Gospel, but more leniently.
See the difference here: A man who will be judged according to the innate moral law, will be held accountable to God, only for –let’s say-the actual act of adultery that he had committed. But a Christian will be judged much more severely: even for his one, single, lustful glance, for example. He will be judged “in his words, in his acts and in his thoughts”. The benefits may be more for a Christian, but the criteria will be more austere and his path will be far more difficult to walk. Everything is fair. God is meticulously just. As father Paisios of the Holy Mountain had said, “God doesn’t have even two identical scales; He weighs every single person on separate, personal scales”. Depending on where the person is born, what kind of environment he was brought up in, the kinds of parents, the school, the country, the religion, the peculiarities of every single person. God makes no mistakes.
The late Christos Androutsos, professor of Dogmatics, used to say that Orthodoxy is the only sure path for salvation. It is not the only path for salvation, but it is the only safe road.
Fr.Joel Yannakopoulos gives us a visual example, in order to comprehend the words of Androutsos. He says: During the war, there was a safe path that joined the town of Kalamata to Athens: it was the one used by the armored convoy. Of course there were other paths, which were used by people moving between the two cities, but they weren’t safe paths. This is exactly how things are with the Orthodox Church and the heterodox and other non-Christians.
We have to stress however, that if someone is baptized an Orthodox and then becomes a heretic, or, even worse, an infidel, that person will never be saved by remaining in that new faith, no matter how many good deeds he may perform. There is a distinct difference between being a Buddhist or a Muslim and not knowing Christ, and a totally different thing to deny Christ for the sake of Buddha or Shiva or Allah.
So much for the salvation of others. What is of chief concern is OUR OWN salvation. The question “What about him?” that Peter asked, regarding John the Evangelist (John 21:21) - in other words, “What will become of him?” - was a “show of compassion”; it was an external display of his caring for John. We, however, take This expression and use it simply informatively and gnosiologically, i.e.: “What will become with the heterodox or the non-Christians?”, without concerning ourselves with our own salvation! Therefore, the proper thing to do is to attend to the salvation of our own soul, and at the same time show an interest in the salvation of other people who have entered the Orthodox Church (of their own free will), and not merely wonder in our minds what will become of them.
Source: fr. John Kostov: “Faith and Logic”
A publication by Manolis Melinos, Athens 2002, pages 19-23 (adaptation).