Where is justification by faith in Orthodox theology and preaching? Absolutely nowhere at all. It just doesn’t make an appearance. It’s a curious omission, given the importance of justification by faith in the epistles of the Apostle Paul. How does one preach on Galatians or Romans without proclaiming it? Its absence suggests that the doctrine is deemed pastorally irrelevant. If Paul’s formulation of justification by faith is governed by the question “Are the works of Torah binding on Gentile believers?” then his answer must disappear once the question disappears—and disappear it did. By the fourth and fifth centuries, Christians no longer worried about keeping kosher. When St Augustine of Hippo recovered for the Latin Church the language of justification, he was driven by very different concerns, while in the East deification established itself as the preferred way to speak of salvation in Christ. Justification by faith simply has no place in Orthodoxy: there’s no theological work for it to do.1
Orthodox theologian Lucian Turcescu, however, believes that justification by faith needs to be recovered. In his essay “Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification,” Turcescu argues that Orthodoxy should explicitly integrate justification as the first step in its ordo salutis, with deification being the second and final step. Turcescu complains that Orthodox theologians jump too hastily to the second step: before deification there must be justification—the reconciliation of the sinner with his former enemy, God.
Turcescu begins with the Gospel of John. Jesus speaks of the reconciliation between God and humanity as occurring in two steps. First, Jesus calls his hearers out of their bondage to sin and makes them his friends. Second, having become his friends, they become, with him, children of the Father:
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus spoke of two steps toward the full restoration of the broken relationship between humans and God. In their fallen state, humans find themselves in bondage to sin, and Jesus calls humans slaves or servants at this point; then, humans become Jesus’ friends; last, they are said to be adopted by God the “Father” as children. There is thus a progression from a state of bondage, ignorance, and fear that characterizes the master-slave relationship to the state of discipleship that characterizes the friendship state to that of filial knowledge and love that characterizes the parent-child relationship. The passage from bondage to friendship occurs because of reconciliation, as an enemy cannot become one’s friend unless the two have been reconciled. The passage from friendship to adoption occurs by divine initiative and human cooperation.2
Turcescu suggests that the Apostle Paul also sees salvation as a two-step process, correlated with justification and adoption: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption” (Rom 8:14-15).
I suspect that those who are well read in Johannine and Pauline studies will find the above analysis seriously flawed. Is it accurate to speak of a two-step process, as if one first is reconciled to God (justification) and then one becomes a son of God in Christ (adoption)? This just does not sound right to me. Part of the problem is that Turcescu is thinking in terms of “process,” which is unavoidable when one wants to speak of synergistic cooperation with grace (always the preferred Orthodox way of looking at these matters), rather than as divinely-effected translation into an eschatological mode of existence. I note the striking absence of Holy Baptism in Turcescu’s analysis. For the Apostle Paul, baptism marks the divine act in and by which the sinner is incorporated into Christ and his Church and thus justified, sanctified, regenerated in the Spirit, and adopted as a son of God.3 When I was preaching regularly, one of my favorite texts was Galatians 3:21-4:7:
Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.
In baptism the convert to Christ is initiated simultaneously into the Church and the trinitarian life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not as if one is first justified and then subsequently adopted as a child of God and made an heir to the kingdom. It all happens at the same time. As the Apostle tells his congregation in Corinth: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). The Spirit breaks into our fallen world and appropriates us to the life and worship of the Kingdom. Only on this basis does the liturgical prayer and ascetical practices of the Church make proper sense.
But back to Turcescu:
The Greek patristic tradition and Orthodox theology have referred to human participation in the divine nature as deification (theosis), and that has become the fundamental metaphor expressing salvation in the Orthodox Church. The passage from bondage to sin to friendship with God necessitates a reconciliation between humans and God. One cannot become a friend with a former enemy unless the two have been reconciled. It is at this point that I see justification taking place, that is, the declaration by God of the sinful human person as a righteous person because of the faith a human has in Jesus and his work of redemption done freely on behalf of all humanity.4
Does Turcescu’s proposal make preaching the Epistle to the Romans any easier? I suspect not. Does St Paul actually teach an ordo salutis? I suspect not. Will it restore justification by faith to the Orthodox Church? Again, I suspect not. A bit more thought is necessary.
(31 May 2013; rev.)
 When justification is discussed by Orthodox writers, it is typically dismissed as a Western problematic: e.g., Valerie Karras, “Beyond Justification.” Carmen Fragapane offers a more sympathetic appraisal in his article “Salvation by Christ.”
 Lucian Turcescu, Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Winter 2001): 69.
 Turcescu, p. 70.